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.

DSRLQUZWAAAiKxv

#52essaysnextwave

Advertisements

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.

 

600_468892021
#52essaysnextwave

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.

15871724_10154747016731291_2590610531883832484_n

#52essaysnextwave

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.

photo-1502375904982-3ef7e39c4439

#52essaysnextwave

I Read to Write

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve joked or commented that I wish I could get paid to read. I always envision myself, all curled up on the couch in comfy clothes, my back cushioned on pillows and my legs tucked underneath blankets, a pile of books and snacks on the table next to a cup of hot tea as I sit intently lost in an open book.
Until a couple of weeks ago it hadn’t dawned on me that it could really happen. Yet there I was, sitting in on a conversation about all the ways that writers could make money doing writer related jobs while they work on their novels. The topic of audiobooks came up, to which I joked was my “other dream job” (with the first dream job being a full-time writer, of course!). There was a stir in the room and something stirred inside as the others told me that I could do it, that I should do it. That is when I was introduced to the idea of doing an audiobook audition.
The following week was a whirlwind of research and watching hours of Youtube videos. My research was on everything from microphones to editing software. I got a used USB microphone. I started to learn and utilize the free software that I found called Audacity and played with recording my own voice. I watched video’s on narration and voice-overs and practiced recording myself reading. At first, I was choppy and mechanical. I repeated the same sentence over and over in different tones with different inflections. Finally, I moved my make-shift studio into half of the closet in my writing room. I have arranged, recorded, and listened to my audio, over and over again until I finally felt satisfied with the results.
Luckily, I am proficient enough with a computer that I can set-up, record and edit the tracks easy enough. Now that my “booth” is set up the way I like, I have spent the last few days practicing. I’ve enjoyed the practice so far even though I have to repeat things over and over again. I’m quickly developing an ear for what sounds good. (Although, I now know by heart almost an entire random text out of “A Wrinkle in Time”.)
After my limited experience, I would have to say, this is a good job for someone with some acting skills or background, neither of which do I have. But I long to be an amazing storyteller. I get to try my best to present a story with all the intention and excitement an author has put into the story thus far. I get to dress it up and take it out for a stroll. It seems to me a little ironic that for the last two years, my focus has been on becoming a better storyteller and now I get a chance to… just not in the form I expected.
I still have my dream. I would still love to become an author. I will still try. But I now feel this is also part of my journey. I know that doing this, whether I succeed or not, will help me become a better storyteller. Perhaps this is a door I must walk through to get to the other side or perhaps this is just the next piece of my writing evolution. Either way, I am here and learning and doing as much as I can to tell good stories, to share great ideas and to perhaps add to my working resume. I am both intrigued and blessed by this opportunity and I will do my best to honor it.

20180516_172700[25]
#52essaysnextwave

My Experience with a Sledgehammer

Last year an intriguing contest rolled across my Facebook feed. It was held monthly at a local wine shop in Portland, OR. All I knew was that it was a short story writing competition and at the time, I was just getting my feet wet with writing fiction. I had studied books and kind of dabbled a little but that was about it. At this point in my writing progress, I was a strictly solitary writer. I had no groups that I was involved with outside of stalking a handful of websites and Facebook groups online. I was also somewhat disillusioned that all one needed to be a great storyteller was to be able to write well, which I felt confident I could. I walked into the shop knowing no one in the group, at the time that was the part that I thought was brave.

The administrator explained the process. We had 36 minutes (which is why it is called the Mini-Sledgehammer) to write a complete short story (beginning, middle, and end) and it had to include all four prompts (usually a character, action, object, and phrase). At the end of the 36 minutes, we would have a short break to upload our story to the online thread so that we could all follow along as we each read our stories out loud. Then the judges (usually an admin or two plus the previous month’s winner) would select the current winner based on things like story arc and originality. Honestly, the first time, I was devastated that I didn’t win.

But I learned and after I swallowed that jagged little pill, going and participating became something that I loved to do. When I started, I was unaware that actual short stories are deemed the hardest pieces of writing to do well. I was hard on myself for not grasping the concept more, month after month. I was also discouraged but I fought that discouragement back with a heavy dose of determination.

With each session that passed, just listening to the other’s stories, I was so inspired by their levels of creativity that it started to affect my own. I learned and I grew as a writer because of the group. Last night was my fifth time attending and while I once again did not win, I smiled with the acceptance that I am getting better. While I still have a long ways to go, I am grateful for the improvement. I am inspired by the group’s observations and comments on my writing and am more dedicated than ever. Not to win but to succeed where I once floundered.

Here is yesterday’s attempt, unedited.

Mini-sledgehammer for May 2018
36 minutes, 4 prompts

 

Character: a kid with chickenpox
Action: opening a window
Object: a lava vent
Phrase: “I always perform magnificently!”

Smoke and Scars
Written by Jaimee Walls

Baxter Bradley sat in his dingy south facing room, the sun beat across his spotted chest and sweat gathered on his brow like the smoke on the horizon. He itched all over even where his mom had spotted the calamine lotion leaving him feeling like a bingo card on breast cancer awareness night. Grandma used to drag him along with her before she died. Like a statue, he waited for the alarm to sound again. He wanted to get up and at least draw the curtain but he didn’t have the strength to do so. His mom would be home soon.
The alarms were sounding again and the ground shook from time to time. He knew the danger was growing closer but it’s not like he could run or anything, not today. Why did all the cool stuff happen when he was sick? He had a vision of being like the men years ago who engineered a series of pipes to put out the lava flow hardening it into a crispy crust of new land. He pictured the congratulations from all the community and news crews. He would announce with no unnecessary certainty that he outsmarted the lava vent that grew into a fissure covering miles of his hometown. “I always perform magnificently!” he announced as he tried to raise himself slightly so that he could creep into a spot where the sun wasn’t going to make things hotter.
He heard the front door as his mother came in and fought to open the window, it slapping open and wind rushing in. “It’s as hot as that lava vent in here!” she announced and turned on the overhead fan. “How are you feeling?”
“Like butter burning in a pan…” he winced as she checked his forehead.
“I’m going to go run you a bath.”
“Not another bath mom, come on. Besides I can barely get up. Shouldn’t we be evacuating or something?”
“There is a ship waiting, just in case, but the authorities say we should be fine.” She grabbed the calamine lotion and the bag of cotton balls. He started scratching just at the sight of them.
“Don’t scratch, you’ll scar.” She held his hands down as she dotted the spots again.
The siren went off with a sick sound of its own followed by a low grumble beneath Baxter’s bed. A dog howled along with the siren. Outside a scar in the earth was growing wider, setting things ablaze and devouring every little thing it touched. Smoke drifted in through the window and danced with the thin curtains. He pictured the pools of lava licking flames along the little things in his life. Part of his school was gone so at least there was that. It might be a nice long summer, he just wondered if there would be anywhere left to play.

#52essaysnextwave

Photo by Pierre-Yves Burgi on Unsplashpierre-yves-burgi-579335-unsplash

The Divided States

In some ways, our country has always been divided. Our two system party, the American Dream vs. Big Brother, North vs. South, Rich vs. Poor, Cowboys vs. Indians… Yet even with the violence of the civil war, our current divide seems more dangerous and more deadly. Is it because of our ever-growing population? Is it because of the ease of modern communication? Is it because of our growing and impassioned beliefs? Is it because of politics and the political systems in place? Or does it simply boil down to the fact that we are human and have a very primal human nature? Or is it because these continuing issues seem to be uniquely American in nature and are forever woven into the fabric of our life and our flag?
Our divided states are like one big chopping block instead of a melting pot. Combining and emersion are not encouraged; keep things divided, separate from others not like you, alienate anyone who is different. This is how the dividing occurs and we are willing participants because we all have opinions and preferences. I would rather not indulge some of our cultures worst traits, yet maintaining freedom means those traits get to stay. It is a serrated edge that cuts and separates the “what could be” from the “what is”.
“They” have us fighting with each other, solidifying the division, closing our ears and our hearts off to viable solutions. Alienate. That is what an abuser does. If he can alienate his victim, then the abuse can go on as directed, without interruption. The abused usually is clueless as to what is going on, too busy trying to juggle the blame and horror of the situation. That is what many of us are doing or experiencing. And yet we are blind to it.
If you say to me, “The kids don’t know anything about gun control! They were just eating Tide Pods last month!” Perhaps you are right. Still, as adults we are supposed to protect the children until they are old enough to make their own decisions, that is our job. It is our job to raise “responsible members of civilized society”. Whether as an adult or a parent, you have to realize that if we don’t like what the children are doing, then we need to educate them and guide them, not belittle them. The age of abuse is passing out of existence and we must lovingly evolve our thinking. Let us use communication as a tool instead of a weapon.
I believe that we are mainly divided by those who want change and those who don’t. It’s almost like a couple who is continually fighting. One side thinks everything is “just fine just how it is” and the other side is showing all the ways things aren’t fine. Perhaps there are some things that shouldn’t change. But we obviously need to sit down and really look at what is working and what isn’t. Isn’t that what you would do with car trouble? Or financial issues? What is working well and what needs to change? And then how do we change it? It is pointless to constantly point the finger of blame and not provide or explore working solutions.
I believe sometimes problems arise so that we can (together) find solutions. Perhaps strength and change come from having the hard and difficult discussions. Perhaps this is where we find our true humanity. Perhaps in the process of breaking down is where we create the strength of building up. Perhaps this is where we bridge the divide. Let’s fix this rift before it gets wide enough to swallow us up. We can fix things without losing what we have. But if we continue to fight amongst ourselves we could lose all that we have built. Divided cannot be United.

photo-1505027368917-30e7dd23ced4

#52essaysnextwave