Keep Writing

“Keep writing.”
It’s the most common piece of advice that you hear seasoned writers tell the novices. It’s also one of the most important. It’s about not stopping at the moment to check the spelling of a word or to see if you are using it correctly. It’s about keeping the writing flow going and it takes time, effort and repeated practice. The most common method is to start with five or ten minutes. Some writers suggest doing 15-minute chunks. Others will tell you to just keep writing until the thoughts are all on the paper in front of you, (this can lead to a grocery list being thrown into the middle of a creative word vomit) and this is okay too.
It’s not just sitting down with a piece of paper or a keyboard and putting the words down, although it starts that way. Then it’s doing that over and over but with different ideas and objectives. It’s playful and fun and yet can still manage to be hard work. It takes practice and reading the works of others mixed with learning the ropes (and there are lots of writing ropes to learn). It’s creation fueled by inspiration. It’s learning to trust that part of your creative self and learning to be honest with your voice (writing what you mean versus what you think others want to hear).
It’s about writing even when you don’t want to because even with as much as I love it there are days where I just don’t want to. I at least write what has become a sort of diary which I have come to call my “morning dump”. I write these 750 words as fast as I can when I wake up in the morning and use that space to just vent or verbalize anything that I feel needs to be said. I do this for me only. I always feel like I start off the day with a clean slate that way. I use the program 750words.com because I like the feedback it gives at the end of each session as to where my mind is at for the day. I feel it gives me a sense of self-awareness and it gives me the opportunity to redirect my mindset if I am in a negative mood.
Keep writing. It’s how you get better. I don’t always reach my goals for writing every day but my agreement with myself is that if I don’t write like I should, I read instead. I think the combination keeps me balanced and gives me things to chew on when I am not writing. I believe writing reflects back to you ways you can work harder on becoming the best you that you can be and there is nothing wrong with a little self-improvement in the mix. It is an amazing thing to watch a person and their writing grow together (it is also a personally enjoyable thing to do).
Don’t stop writing. I love it when after someone reads something I wrote and they lock eyes with me and tell me this. “Don’t ever stop writing.” To me, writing has become such a strong and stable part of my life that I can’t imagine living without it. My dream is to write for a living and while I am unsure if this dream will ever come true, I know I will write even if I never get published. I will write for the handful of people who have begged me to keep going and for myself, always for myself.
I am not a perfect person and have made plenty of mistakes. The only mistakes I continuously regret are the times when I stopped writing. I regret that wasted time, the words I did not write. When I look back at old stuff I have written I cringe sometimes but often enough I find a glimmer of a phrase or an idea that was good. I also love to see how far I have come over the course of this journey and looking at older works is beneficial.
Fix what you write. I used to be terrified of the editing process. Over the years, there were editors that I met that wowed me. What I didn’t realize was that my limited experience prevented me from being able to edit a piece effectively. I still struggle with this one from time to time. I am more free with putting things down rather than asking myself why or looking deeper. I am learning how important editing is…however … not until the story is written entirely. You can’t edit the first draft until you have the first draft.
Then there is the sharing. Oh, one of the hardest parts. To become so vulnerable as to share these intimate thoughts, ideas or stories. What will people say? Will it be awful? Will they like what I wrote? Do I like what I have written? How can I make it better? What will happen next? That is the question that helps me finish. When I feel the settling that signals the end, I will still try to keep writing. With the help of good readers, I go back in and hope that I can make the story better with the next round of edits.
Keep writing. Then there is the final piece. The submissions or the putting a story to bed. Yikes. Scary stuff. Waiting to see what they will say about my work if anything. Will they like it? Did I send it to the right place for that particular story? Will they publish it or reject it? I try not to worry about what could have been better until I see if I have found it a home first. With the pieces I put to bed, I keep them in a “cuts” folder on my computer for now. Either way, my goal to send my pieces to find their new homes, wherever they may be. This last piece has become as important to me as the entire writing process.
So I keep writing and I don’t stop.

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My Writing Life–Every Word is Worth it

Writing is one of my favorite things and my love of words started at a young age. Not things like poetry, but the language itself. I am still fascinated by the way the words themselves are formed. I am awestruck by the variety of ways words can be transformed into sentences and subsequently into stories. In school, I loved the Dictionary games and deciphering a word’s meaning based on its parts. In one elementary school class, I remember memorizing the prepositions. (Yes all of them, in alphabetical order and I am still able to recite most of them.) I was very proud of myself for these things, these odd abilities.

I got an old desk when I was around 10 years old. I loved that desk and would “set it up” so that I could pretend to be a writer. I had stacks of paper and pens and pencils. I had managed a handful of office supplies; a mini-stapler, some tape, and a pair of scissors. I remember sitting there for hours creating. My step-dad who was never very encouraging questioned me about my new behavior followed by the lecture that “Writer’s don’t make any money and it’s not a good job option.” Finishing his lecture with the comment that my handwriting was awful.

To say my dreams were subdued by this incident is, to say the least. I allowed my dreams to crash themselves and break on the shore—evaporating into thin air. I did work on my handwriting though but I never really wrote again. I even had to be pushed to write basic things like letters or thank you notes. Not because I didn’t want to but because it hurt too much to write. It broke my heart when I tried.

I didn’t really have to face that fear again until high school, at which point I ended up with a decent English teacher who pushed just hard enough to stir that dream again from its sleep. It wasn’t much, but I wrote again for a little while. And then, life happens as it does and I wasn’t able to write and didn’t allow it to take precedence. That is until my late 20’s when I went back to college.

I probably wasn’t as serious about college as I should have been. But it did stir that urge to write again and this time pushed a need to read along with it. That was nearly 20 years ago and my commitment to writing has been mainly sporadic until about 4 years ago when I started down my own road and paved it with self-education. Since then, I have read 17 books about writing (and am currently reading 3 others), Read and watched interviews, read blogs about writing, watched webinars, participated in a handful of writing groups around town and (most importantly) have been writing like crazy. It’s been over a year and a half that I have written every single day. Even if it was just for ten minutes, though most of the time I write for at least an hour or two.

So now my love of words comes full circle. I still play dictionary games but now it’s usually trying to find the right word. I try to spice up my preposition and verb choices. I put all the things I have learned into practice as I work to improve my prose and write better stories. I have learned to trust my voice and not listen to the little nagging voice that attempts to tell me that it’s all awful and that there is no point to it. Although, (it might be right), I have been writing steadily for 4 years and have not been paid one cent for my time even though I have technically written several novels worth by now. Who does that? Works for free? But it’s what I love to do. It brings together all the little parts that mean nothing by themselves.

Now, as an adult, I sit at one of my two desks to write. I have one for the organic writing (long-hand) and one for editing and word-processing (my computer). For the first time in my writing life, I am finishing stories and sending them out for submissions. I have a handful of helpful readers who give me feedback so that I can focus and tighten what I am trying to say. My final drafts are far more interesting than my first drafts and I suspect that is the way things are supposed to be. I love the writing process and that love has surpassed my love of words. My work has evolved, grown, and improved along with me. I am proud to say that every word has been worth it.

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Working on the Weak Spots

This week, I learned that one of my weak areas within my writing (at least initially) is the area of character development. I can throw out hidden themes that I only catch later, or I can easily come up with a unique setting or problem. But fleshing out my characters never materializes very well in my first initial draft no matter how much I have thought about the character first. This might not sound like a big deal, but considering that great characters are what keeps us reading, it is actually a big problem.

 
I think it is one of the reasons I struggle to write effective short stories. It is a problem that I would love to see myself outgrow and I am now constantly working on developing my main characters. Like all good stories, the current short story that I have been working on started out as a singular thought and is morphing out from that. With the work I have done this week alone, I have turned a 500-word piece into a genuinely good short story of at least double the size. I am actively putting the writing lessons that I have learned over the last several months to work as I polish and develop this story to its fruition.

 
I feel I am learning at an alarmingly fast rate like I am flying downhill on a bike with no brakes. I am scared and thrilled all at the same time. As my deadline approaches, and I see the bottom of the hill, I am wondering if I will find the right way to stop without crashing a good thing. Essentially, I am worried because (another weak area) I know I am not good at endings. They scare me and leave me feeling pained and anxious. But I will do it. I will find a way. I always do.

 
I am starting the actual rewrite today and my goal yesterday was to get as much of the fleshing out and piecework done before my rewrite. Now I can sit down and start piecing it together, weaving in the necessary details together to bring the whole thing to life. Someone once told me that writing is magic and I am beginning to learn how to cast the spell. I am grateful that I have taken the time to learn, question, study, and pursue the aspect of getting it right. It is the most satisfying ending I have come up with, so far.

 

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My Dad was Mr. Rogers

I was separated from my father at an early age. It was a combination of divorce, circumstances and over 3,000 miles. This was in the 1970’s and I ended up being what they called a “latch-key kid”. What that meant essentially was that my primary caregivers (mom and step-dad) worked so much that I was left alone at home with instructions to keep the door locked and not let anyone in. The concern was that I would and could possibly get snatched up. We lived in Florida and at that time, there were children all over the state being taken mostly from public places and mostly because the parents turned their backs for only a moment. That was all it took.

 
I missed my fun and kind father, despite the strange things my mother told me about him and why he left. I remembered him wearing a sweater and his black hair was parted on one side and laid obediently next to the others, swooping to the opposite side. I had a few pictures of him. He looked like Mr. Rogers to me, only less gray.

 
I ran across the show one morning and began to fantasize that this is why I never saw my father because he was too busy making this caring show for all the kids in the world. So he was too busy and important to come to see little old me. I could see his face every time the show came on and it brought me a little closer to him. It eased my pain. It comforted the scared little girl who felt alienated from the entire world. Since he could not come to me, I would go to him every day and watch him interact and teach me things from inside his tubed box.

 
I must have known in my heart that it was just something I made up. I don’t think I told anyone. I might have told mom, to which I am certain she must have told me how ridiculous that was. I remember being devastated when my step-dad lost his job and was home for a few weeks and I was told to stay in my room and not allowed to watch their TV. I missed seeing my dad and my alienation grew.

 
I ended up seeing him twice over the years between 5 and 16. Once when I was about 6 or 7, not too long after both of my parents were remarried and once when I was 11, just before my grandfather died. Both times I remember him changing his shoes when he got home and putting on a button-up sweater. It doesn’t matter if this part was true or happened, it happened for me. The fantasy in my head played it out over and over again. In my mind, my dad was Mr. Rogers. And if as an adult I had to compare him to an iconic figure, that would be the one. Even though I rarely saw my father during my formative years, he was always with me, always guiding me and always told me he loved me.

 

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A Cleaner Slate

This month I started a new exercise in my writing program. (I believe I picked it up from James Scott Bell.) It’s called the “10-minute warm-up” and it starts off each time with the phrase “I remember…” This exercise has done more than just get my writing muscles warmed up and jump-kicked into action, it has also been eye-opening each time I do it and I am discovering new corners of my memories that have been previously ignored.

 

As I get older, there are always moments from my past that stick with me. Oftentimes these moments have either negative connotations or ended up having negative or very unintended consequences. These feelings leave a sting on me and mark me by never letting go. Regrets, I think they are called. Anyhow, doing this lesson has allowed me to look past the moment, around it, under it and giving me the ability to now uncover little things that lay dormant in the corner like dust bunnies waiting for me to sweep them out into the light. These new perceptions and freshly unearthed feelings are becoming something more…some bigger part of a once narrow picture.

 

While currently these memories and images are becoming fresh organic writing fodder, I am also experiencing a wash of healing and acceptance. This is an unexpected outcome of this exercise. One I was not warned of, but I like it. It’s the satisfaction of cleaning and the gleam of a hopeful future instead of the constant hopeless memories that tug at me daily. It is the resurgence of newness and freshness, a cleaner slate to work with.

 

Besides writing every day, this exercise has produced the quickest and most fertile results. I feel like I just leveled up, found a key I have been looking for, or found a satisfying answer to a nagging question. Relief for my regrets while heading for results.

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Dear Friends,

I hate to admit that I still have a few racist friends left. I have justified keeping them out of some strange sense of loyalty. However, as time passes I feel I am not being loyal to myself. I feel that, especially in this current political climate, it is impossible to keep them. Not that being racist is ever fine. But in the past, at least they were learning and growing and (I thought) evolving. Now that the “American” narrative has gone backward (and it has), it seems impossible for me to ignore this problem any longer.
Perhaps I have outgrown these friends anyway? Or perhaps I should overlook their shortcomings and accept them for who they are as I have always done? Perhaps I am overreacting? I am here to figure this out. Writing is the best way for me to do so.
In the past there were bits I could let fly, so long as no active harm was being done. I was naive to think that if I didn’t see it, it wasn’t a problem. At this point in the narrative, EVERYONE now has an opinion on the kneeling thing; some for, some against and I understand the reasoning behind both. But that doesn’t mean I agree. (I honestly hate what football has become and detest organized sports for the most part.) But, I think that when you have a platform you should use it and do something that matters. Whether or not anyone agrees or likes it. (The president is a perfect example of following this unwritten rule.)
But now, with this whole Roseanne thing? Well, I’ll just state things the way I see them. I will admit, back in the day, I used to watch her show. I used to think she was funny but eventually I became disenchanted. Whether I outgrew her or she changed I am not sure. But I started finding her more and more …unlikeable. It happens. I had no desire to watch her new show and still don’t. I have no need for her crass attitude in my life.
Now that she has shown her racist colors to the world as well as shown her fragrantly rude and disrespectful side (example: that one time someone decided to let her sing the anthem) over and over without any remorse, my opinion of her is beyond low. Why are people upset that she got fired? Are these the same people that said Kaepernick should be fired for kneeling? In most cases yes. This is the blatant and disturbing hypocrisy of our time. What scares me most is this is the mental framework that is helping to shape the next generation.
Look, I don’t care what side you are on. Go ahead, pick a side and wave those colors proudly. But when you look to me as a friend and I am gone, you should know why. So, in writing this, I have decided, this is my goodbye letter to my racist friends who are left. I am sorry that we could not continue. But I cannot in good conscience continue to pretend that these attitudes and beliefs don’t go against the very fiber of my being. I am not mad at you. I am disappointed that you chose to quit evolving. I am sad that I have to let you go because you don’t understand that what you are doing is wrong. The words “racist” and “friends” cannot fit together in my vocabulary. And common decency means it never should have had to.

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Be the 20%

I was in Costco yesterday picking up a few things. I had the rare opportunity to casually cruise through the store while making a list for a bigger trip later. I had been up since 6 am and hadn’t really eaten so I was hitting the sample stations one at a time. Each time, I would come up with my cart and at least 3 or 4 people would rush or push in front of me in order to get there first and literally swiped up whatever sample was there to be had without even a thank you. The fourth time this happened, the attendant was an elderly woman about 3 inches shorter than me with the typical white smock and hair net. She was beginning to look fatigued. I made eye contact, smiled, and said “thank you” as I took my sample and pushed my cart off to the side just out of the way. While I snacked, I watched her as she refilled her tray. I struck up a conversation with her by mentioning the “vultures” I witnessed. She smiled with a sad understanding and said that what I just witnessed was “mild” compared to most. Curiosity got the best of me and I asked her, “How many people are like me verses like that?” and nodded in the direction of someone else who just swooped up another sample without a “thanks”. “Honestly?” she paused as she thought, “People like you are probably only about 20% of what I see daily.” I was shocked. And yet, looking around at my fellow Americans right now, not really all that surprised. I shook my head with shame and then smiled at her. “I am sorry. Thank you for what you do and experience.” She returned my smile and stood a little taller and I could feel the gratitude pouring out of her as she thanked me. I couldn’t quit thinking about this experience and it made me want to write about it.
I now want to challenge anyone reading this to step into the 20% of the population. Instead of rushing to be first, let’s take a little more time to be courteous to others. Say “thank you” instead of expecting. We all have shit to do. Let’s do so with a little gratitude instead of attitude.

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