A Jealousy of Dysfunction

I’m going to admit something I’ve never admitted before. I am jealous of people who possessed a good, decent, and normal upbringing. I’ve spent some time wishing I had that one key thing which ripples across the surface of so many facets of a lifeline. I know that having a normal upbringing wouldn’t have guaranteed me success. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my flawed upbringing. There are some wonderful things I might have missed without that dysfunctional sidecar.

I’ve had to learn interpersonal communication skills as an adult that I should have been taught as a child. These things would have helped me with everything from developing and keeping friendships to being successful in the workplace. Some of these missing skills would have made me a better parent. These tools would have helped me make better decisions and choices in my life. I would have avoided some heartbreaks.

I would have succeeded in life much sooner.

Yet, when I look back at my life, I am grateful for the things I went through and the things I experienced growing up. Yes, life could have been easier for me. I have mostly learned the hard way, sometimes the hardest way. I am glad that I’ve made it as far as I have and wonder if I had been brought up differently if I would have been able to reach the same level of experience that I currently have.

So, while I wish that my growing up had been in a nurturing, close, loving and supportive environment and while I wish that I had been taught all the profound moral values while being surrounded by knowledge and diversity, perhaps by being the child of University Professors or Business Professionals, I accept that I was not involved in any of these things. I accept that what I wanted and what I needed were two different things. I’ve accepted the life and challenges that life has brought. Rarely has my life been easy but neither has it been so difficult that I couldn’t figure it out.

While my upbringing lacked, my adulthood has been an active process of learning and growing and creating the life I want. My adulthood has been the classroom where I taught myself, searched for truth, filled the voids, fixed the holes and learned to develop a resilience to my dysfunctional sidecar. I’ve learned to grow through what I go through. I’ve learned that a lifetime of self-improvement is more valuable than having a cookie cutter foundation and wasting it anyway.

I feel like in the end, I probably turned out the same. I just have a heavy rich suitcase full of unique experiences that are better than any I come up with for one of my fiction stories. These experiences will pepper everything I write, every character, every scene, every motivation and for that I am grateful. So, while a part of me is still a touch jealous or envious of those with great childhoods, I am glad for the variance in our society, knowing each of us can take control of the handlebars and lose the sidecar, anytime we want to.

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Writing Allies

Writing is perhaps the greatest love of my life. I estimate that I have been writing regularly for twenty years. This is a solitary practice for me and something I can do anywhere I go. While I have shared snippets over the years, including college papers and a short stint as an editorial columnist, and exchanged letters with dozens of people, I am still shy when it comes to sharing my work.

Within the last two years, between blogging and writing groups, I have managed to not only share my work but openly embraced criticism and in doing so gained new perspectives. Seeing my work through the eyes of others is thrilling to me. Listening to fellow writers read their creative versions of the same writing prompts is absolutely mind-blowing. The communities that I have found myself in elevate my soul in ways that I cannot express on paper or even verbally.

I have gained these “writing allies” through my connections with writing and the sharing of ideas. I am encouraged and supported by these other writers, these other amazing souls who speak the same language I speak and allow me to be myself and explore my writing possibilities. They are great companions to my personal studies of character arcs, mirror moments and plot points.

I am grateful that I now have a strong circle of amazing writers around me. Their verbiage is like a secret language that beacons me to open my imagination to the possibilities around me. When they can relate to something I have written or find the beauty and depth in the smallest seed of my writing, I feel as though I have won some grand prize. The fodder exchanged between writers contains a fertile space where the cross-pollination of opinions and ideas becomes an accelerator. We are all steering the craft with each piece we read and every project we write.

It is also a relief to hear how another writer’s struggles against their inner critic, their worst enemy, their inner naysayer, their impostor syndromes. Even for many published writers the criticism of family and friends, critics and reader’s reactions can all be cruel or overwhelming. It is nice to have others to turn to who know and share the pain of rejection and criticism. It is comforting to hear another person who says, “yes, I can relate to that.” I don’t know that there are many other communities like this one. Ones where the souls are connected and tug on emotional strings. It’s good to know that I am not alone as I sometimes feel.

Yes, I want nothing more than to be a professional full-time writer, being paid to do what I love, working from my cozy little room surrounded with my armamentarium of books, word-processors, paper and pens, supportive quotes, special red editorial pens, and desk mascots. I would love to churn out amazing stories that my readers love, can’t put down and can’t get enough of. I long to mingle with masters of the craft at writer’s conferences and go on writing retreats. My biggest and most ambitious dream is to become a successfully published author who can churn out a best-seller every year. I don’t know if I can really make any of these things happen for myself but I am damn sure going to try and enjoy doing it. I know I couldn’t do it half as well as I do without the assistance of my writing allies.

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Wild Failure

I’ve been thinking about failure and mistakes lately.

During my formative years, the mindset in my house was that making mistakes was a sign of weakness, leaving me terrified of any possible failures and petrified to make mistakes. It took until later in adulthood to realize that this lack of experimentation left me with limited experiences and rendered me maladapted for personal growth. My belief in this negative notion shadowed many choices in my life.

I felt so lost. I was Alice, asking the cat which way I ought to go but never caring where that was. I moved forward in life and always made it somewhere, but not necessarily where I really wanted to be. And definitely not where I needed to be most of the time. I was stuck in the place between back there and my wildest dreams.

I think this feeling of being so scared to fail or do anything wrong, it prevents one from even trying. How can you learn new things if you never try? How can you learn what doesn’t work if you never fail?

I’ve been a keen observer of this within my writing. I started off failing and could see it plainly on the page but least I was trying. So I wrote and wrote and wrote. And some of it was good and some of it sucked. But I learned. Every day I write, each new story, scene or essay; I improve. I smell the fertile words and plant the seeds that I will get to blossom later. I smile when my writing comes together and makes sense. I am proud when I see it shine and glow, my own private magic on paper. I love the writing process. I might not get it right the first time and maybe not even the second time I revise it. Maybe the third time though. Some days I feel like I am painfully ripping the words from deep in my chest and other days the words flow from my fingertips like a powerful stream. I can empty my mind on the paper and analyze what is there. I feel blessed to be able to create like this. I am grateful for the teachers who have encouraged me to go wild and make mistakes. I am grateful to have listened to them.

I feel this change occurred because of my writing or because of getting through my writing or perhaps it is simply a huge coincidence. With my writing I am now willing to make mistakes, realizing that any mistake I make, I can fix. This has been a vital component of my personal growth as well.

While I aspire for perfection, I know I am far from it. I know that I will continue to make mistakes along the way. I also know not all of those mistakes will be bad. Some of them might just become exactly what they are supposed to be… such as a fresh new insight or a fresh new idea.

I think it is vital to look at and talk about what works and what doesn’t work. I think it is nice to chew on new things and to play with new ideas and test different ways of doing things. That is the coolest thing about writing, everything can change or be changed. A word here or there can change the entire feeling, the meaning or even the readers’ expectations. Like an attitude or a favorite piece of wardrobe, writing is so mutable. So diverse. So integral. Mistakes and failures are clay in the author’s hand, illuminating around an idea, building through alchemy.

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Writing is Easy, Submitting is Hard

Writing is easy, submitting is hard.

 
Although, actually, it’s more like preparing for submission is hard. Most submissions can currently be done over the internet and the guidelines, requirements, and expectations are all clearly laid out. It’s as easy as attaching a file and hitting send. The harder part is deciding what to send and where to send it to. It is a lot like dating, no matter how good your profile is you might be swimming in the wrong pond. Finding the perfect match usually takes a lot of trial and error.

 
I recently sent out my very first submission. It seemed like a good fit, a contest for emerging writers. My story was good, had an interesting topic and was very unique. I wanted so badly for this to be my first published piece (and I still hope that it will be). The deadline loomed and I panicked, rushing to have other writers read my story and give me feedback. Waiting for their feedback was like watching the clock, painful at times. I did finally get some amazing feedback and rushed to make the necessary changes. Scrambling for last-minute advice, I asked a handful of people read the story and their reactions seemed fairly positive. None of the reactions really glowed. I knew right then that my story was lacking or missing something but I sent it in anyway.

 
The waiting for a response to my submission was arresting. I could hardly write at all. I checked my email constantly and stalked their online submission tracker. I waited for any kind of update or anything that would clue me in to how I did. I have never been that kind of anxious besides during pregnancy. It became long brutal weeks of waiting, wondering and worrying. I started reading my story over and over again and continued to let others read it, listening to their comments. I even took the piece to my new writing class to enlist their opinions on the story and my writing.

 
I started to feel the weight of jumping in too fast. I began to see all of my stories flaws waving at me like giant red flags. My dreams sinking heavily. The writing was good. The story was good. I had done a good job: but that is all, it was not great. There were some key elements missing. There were glaring issues that needed my deepest attention. I continued to languish in my writing depression.

 
Then the results came in. My story was not chosen. I faced my first rejection. I won’t lie, I cried (I am an emotional creature so I was not surprised). I was also relieved. I knew that the story still needed work and I was determined to bring those areas out of the woodwork and begin a new.

 
I admit I am still having trouble. I have written very little since that submission at the end of July. I still languish in the feeling of hopelessness. Yet, I know I must keep writing. I know how to reconcile the problem but have not the fire or the desire to see it through. This essay is possibly the longest thing that I have written since and I am hoping that just forcing myself through this wall of self-doubt will somehow manage to take me to the other side. I cannot indulge this feeling any longer. It is time to dust myself off and get back in the saddle again and this time find the mark.

 
I know in my heart that I will never give up writing as it gives me something that I cannot get from any other source in my life. It is like water, I can live without it for a while, but not for long. Writing keeps me grounded and centered and allows me to blossom. It adds it’s own fuel to my fire. Without writing, my life is dull and dim. I can’t live that way.

 
So, today, I will begin the revision. I will allow myself to put my heart and soul into this story I love so much and see what comes out on the page. I will jump back in and enjoy the crisp cold shock of the water and let it wash over me and renew me once again. I will glean through all my notes and comments as I strengthen my story and make the beginning clear and the story concise. This time, when I send out the story for submission, I will let it go, knowing I did my best and will not rush it out the door. I will pick up the next story in earnest and give that one all that I can give and continue to keep the ball rolling back and forth until I finally score.
Keep writing. Keep submitting. It’s all part of the process.

 

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Judgy

I think dealing with your own personal issues is probably one of the hardest things in life to overcome besides great loss. It’s a painful thing to accept something problematic about yourself. It is also quite difficult to have both the courage and ability to change these things. There is no simple step-by-step guide. There will be trial and error, mostly error.

 

However, I have learned that if one does not navigate one’s own issues, not only will everyone else around you have to continue to deal with them, eventually those people will tire of you not dealing with your own issues and will possibly leave your scene.
I personally have grown tired of another’s refusal to grow or to outgrow things that don’t work for them and decided to walk away. Usually, these are things related to drama and drinking. Likewise, over the years, I have had others walk away from me due to my problematic behavior.
I was recently referred to as “Judgy Jaimee.”
Ouch.
But is it true? To some degree, yes.
Does it need to change?
Well, after some deep introspection, I believe it does.
(Even when I am right.)

 
You see, the thing is, I can’t become the person I want to be with this current mindset. And while there have been times that being judgmental has kept me out of a potential problem, it has also lead me into some as well. This is a jagged pill to swallow but I believe in taking my medicine. I believe in self-improvement and personal evolution.
The experts say that the first step to change is to admit that there is a problem and while I have been chewing on this for weeks, this is the first time I am truly admitting my problem. I am actively working on changing it and becoming a more accepting and hopefully more acceptable human being. While I cannot change the past, I indeed hope that anyone who has been negatively affected by this issue forgives me for something I did not see before now. I am sure that during this process of change, I will stumble, as that is part of the dance, though I hope that my actions are harmless when I do.

 

One other thing that I have to remind myself is to not be judgy with myself as well. I have been my own biggest critic for far too long. I have judged myself harshly for every mistake I have ever made. This has kept me from growing into the person I need to become and perhaps cost myself some amazing friendships along the way. I have prevented my own growth and my own enlightenment. I imagine that I am not alone, and perhaps there are those who will judge me for admitting these things. I accept that. This is my path and my road. I will continue to do the best I can to navigate it.

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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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