Listen, I feel like we’ve known each other a good while now. I feel like I’ve showed you some pretty vulnerable and tender under-belly stuff here in the last few months so we’re working with a good soul-rapport. Therefore, I feel comfortable spilling the beans.
This is not a new blog.
I was pounding my head against keys last night in the midst of a very stressful and busy week, wondering what I could possibly come up with that was meaningful and timely. I began looking through my old blog posts from the NCW Writing Bug days (still a FANTASTIC blog, go and check it out if you can; The Writing Bug) and found this one. Though years have passed, it was serendipitous to see myself immersed in the same turbulent cycle of stress and not writing, so I’m sharing it again for all of those out there who are suffering in kind as a gentle reminder:
Find your joy. Life’s too short and miserable to live without it.
“I haven’t been writing.
There. I said it.
I thought I’d give it up for a little while, because, hey, life is busy right now and I have things that NEED to be done.
Writing is a luxury. It feels selfish and languid to sit in front of my computer and write, especially with such little measurable profit for my effort. It feels greedy. I mean, how can writing be more important than getting through the never-ending pile of laundry or the constant but unnoticeable job of keeping the house from tanking into disarray? How can it possibly be as necessary as feeding the kids or taking the dogs to the vet? The living things must take priority after all.
I haven’t been writing. I’ve been cleaning out closets and cutting back the dead and brittle death of winter in my garden. I’ve been carting the kids to school and extra-curricular activities and logging countless, mind-numbing miles in the process of training for a marathon (which, have I mentioned? I’m so over the joy of running).
I’ve been planning and executing birthday parties (which I wish meant that I actually got to execute the idea of gift baggies filled with tiny, un-organizable stuff). I’ve been replacing broken crowns and Craiglisting the contents of my crawlspace. But I haven’t been writing.
The result: It’s been one of the most stressful, anxiety-ridden months of my life. I can’t ever seem to catch up on anything, and when I do it falls back into needing done. There’s no progress. I’m as irritable and surly as a hamster stuck on a wheel, running but not moving. I have no patience and no joy. In short I’ve become a jerk.
And I can’t help but wonder if the lack of doing something, just one thing, that I love is letting the dark and ugly side of me run rampant.
Somewhere in the scramble to be an independent adult I sacrificed the idea that my own joy was a worthwhile venture.
When did following our happiness become something selfish?
I’m putting “WRITE” on the top of my list today, and I’m not doing anything else until I’ve given time to my own happiness. It will pay more than money. It will pay in fulfillment and give meaning and beauty in a world of laundry piles and dentist appointments.
What brings you joy in life? Have you invested in your joy today?”
For the last few weeks I’ve been listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack, catering to my daughters’ obsession of the rhythmic and addictive lyrics. I realize there’s some language in it that many would deem inappropriate for kids. But being a lover of all language and knowing my kids’ ability to differentiate between words used for flavoring and appropriate alternatives for mixed company, I don’t shy away from it. Because more important than a few f-bombs is the fact that they love it, and by loving it are learning from it.
I love it too. I love that this amazing man (hats off to you, Lin-Manuel Miranda), took an overlooked story and breathed life and passion into for a new generation with quick-witted writing that tied the past with present day issues. Suddenly, not just my family but our nation as well, is interested in history and the grit it took for our country to break free of tyranny.
I have to look up the answers to questions my littles bring up and I love that they are making me revisit it, because we should all strive to remember our past. When we don’t, we stop being on guard for the behaviors and situations that can lead to tragic ends in our own country.
I don’t make political posts, in general. Tempers flare quickly and civil discourse takes too much compassion and introspective thought for most people. However, we are living with a surreal administration and I think we can all agree that when one person in power disenfranchises entire groups based on their gender, race, religion or economic status, it sets us back as the nation built on the idea that all humans are created equal.
Larger scale problems deserve attention, but for this post let’s think about independence on a smaller scale.
On this day, I want you to consider what it means to you to be independent.
Independent in thought; independent in pursuing your true self. Conversely, think about how dependent you are.
What makes you dependent? What ties you down, what chains you? Is it your past? Is it your job, your partner, or your family? Is it your fear?
What keeps you from being your best self? What keeps you from following your passion? How can you, today, on this Independence Day, free yourself?
Revolutions rarely take a day. They are years in the making, with sacrifices of blood and lives. Revolutions are not free. There is a cost to rise up against the powers that seek to tie us and use our one precious lifetime for their own gain.
So today, I could tell you to sit back, relax, enjoy the barbecues and hot dogs, slather your standard American body down with potato salad and jump into a kiddie pool filled with Bud Light while waving sparklers from every available appendage…but I won’t.
Today I’m going to tell you to remember the past, remember the fight. Remember there are things worth standing up for and things won’t change unless you rise up and change them. One person’s anarchy is another’s revolution.
Free yourself from the fear, trepidation, and self-doubt that keeps you from the things you want. Free yourself from the ideas and practices that hold you back.
Don’t throw away your shot.
Be young, scrappy, and hungry.
Take back your life, your country, and the principles that sparked revolution and won freedom to pursue happiness.
Not everything free is worth the taking and there’s much truth to the adage that nothing is ever, truly free. But occasionally, in life, we land a jackpot. Its all about in our perspective.
I bring up this subject for selfish reasons that will be discussed later on, but for now, I want to talk about appreciation of free stuff.
What kind of free stuff?
The samples at Costco? The swag bags at your local 5K races? The couch sitting on your neighbor’s lawn for four days with a sad cardboard sign begging someone with a large truck and a strong back to take it home? (Sorry, by the way, Harvest neighbors…you’ll be happy to know the large brown beast is gone).
Sure those things are “free”. Somewhat.
I mean, you pay for your Costco membership, you pay for your race fee. You pay with a minor rotator cuff tear from hoisting a giant sectional onto the roof of an Elantra. In some way, we always pay.
We pay with our time. We pay with resources or trades of our services. We do favors and scratch backs. But what’s really free? It deserves a moment to slow down and think about it.
Take a deep, slow breath.
Notice that? The air. Free of charge, yet something we take for granted. Take a moment to notice the summer finery around you. Hear the birdsong, allow yourself to be mesmerized by the sunrise lifting over clouds. The laughter of babies, the hug from your child, the cuddle of a furry friend. (I hesitate to expunge on the ‘free’ affection between adults as, sadly, a price is sometimes attached.) A smile from a stranger passing on the street. Someone opening a door for you. Even better–you helping someone else with no expectation for reciprocation.
Here’s the main point I’m making…Free doesn’t always mean cheap. Free doesn’t always mean worthless. We can give freely our hearts, our compassion, our empathy, our decency and respect for our fellow humans.
Kindness doesn’t cost a thing.
So today, think about what you have in your life, the little and big, that you get for free. The 86,400 seconds in every day you are gifted with, your dog’s love (minus the cost of a beggin strip or six), the beauty of the natural world, daydreams, sunshine, and most importantly, your human capacity to love others.
With all this talk of free stuff, here’s the shameless plug:
Today only, my novels will be available, FREE, for download from Amazon. If you’re looking for something to enjoy in your summer hours, please check them out and let others know.
Hey Darlin’. Listen, I know this is a little late in the posting, but I was spending an amazing afternoon with my kiddos touring Fort Collins’ awesome Museum of Discovery and spending upwards of three hours testing out every. single. musical and weather related experiment. It was a rare moment of beauty when I could drop being the “serious parent” and play. I hope you can find this in your life too.
Today is an oldie but a goodie. I’ve hung on to this one, revamped it, tweaked it, poured over it and abandoned it in a thousand ways, so I’m submitting it to ya’ll with a grain of salt and the caveat that I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.
Partly inspired by that amazing song of Paul Simon’s “Train in the Distance”, partly from the muse of young love (like I said, this one’s been around a long while because we all know, I ain’t no spring chicken.)
Hard is the moment when your heart loses hold,
Throws you down the last stair you didn’t see.
Shakes your body, breath-catching, squawk of fear.
The impending release, a train in the distance.
Hear the canyon-rolled moan, feel the grumble,
Shaking through the bottoms of your feet.
When you thought there was time.
Time to roll the memories over your tongue.
The smell of his shirt,
the fleshy warmth of his bottom lip between your teeth.
The particular scrape of stubble against your neck.
Time to hold your lonely gravity against his charming heart
Time to hope for a chance
that his soul might settle into yours
Like some god made him just for you.
The key to your dreams.
But that damn train…
Howling as it knife-edges closer.
Until, predetermined on its track, it rolls in
and the horror hits you.
They have to go.
And trying to hold them is like holding on to madness
Except, you’ve already stitched him there,
With that unreasonable spark hope. Incredible notions of destiny.
The train pulls away; tugs at delicate threads,
Unevenly, where your heart has grown around the stitches.
(Like the stitch of crows feet around laughing eyes.
The stitch of a stolen kiss while he watched you sleep)
And you ache from the pull. but you can’t stop the train.
And when it’s billowing stacks are all you see,
When its mournful bawl is all that’s left your ears,
you look down.
To all that remains… a gaping, bloody mess.
Shredded tissue, dripping a fever
Soaking wooden platform beneath feet.
That’s what letting go feels like;
Dripping blood, hot on your toes, shadowed by the fading
This particular phrase came to me me during last week’s abbreviated post on home. I was limited on time and a bit “Chihuahua and fireworks” excited about Verseday, so I didn’t do justice to what home can mean and why its important to filling our lives with good things.
I’m from Wyoming, born and raised, with some detours along the way.
Wyoming has some pretty awesome colloquialisms (for more on that, keep in the loop about my new series set in Wyoming—very romantic-west) and “Home is Where You Hang Your Hat” is no exception. (Some other, unrelated, favorites; “wouldn’t mind if his boots were under my bed,” and “wish I had a swing like that on my back porch.”)
I could go into the history of hats, cowboy and otherwise, what they meant, where they came from, who wore them, the political and pop cultural significance each one carried, but you didn’t come here to listen to the historical social scientist in my back pocket, you came here for an expansion on home.
Hanging your hat up was something you used to do when you came in from a long day of work. I’m looking at you…slack-jawed twerker, with your suuuuper cool trucker’s hat turned sideways at the dinner table…you realize that it’s the same ‘model’ my 97 year-old grandfather would get free from NAPA (that’s the part store, not the wine country) and wear until the brim fell off… And, he wore it better but never at the table… sorry where were we?
Yes, gentlemen used to take off their hats inside and, in the case of coming home, would hang them on a hook or rack by the door.
A simple move that signified something so much more profound.
Hanging your hat, coming home, dropping the world at the door and breathing. Breathing in the place of your own, the space you occupy, the people who wait for you; who love you, who have seen your head without hat, your hair going gray. Coming home meant escaping the life’s demands and the outside world’s burdens and just be.
Why is it important, that we take off our ‘hats’ in today’s world? Why does it matter?
I’m glad you asked. It’s kinda why I’m here.
Humans these days are so connected by technology and the speed-of-light information bursts, that there’s really no such thing as a safe space anymore. Now your home has multiple outlets for this information to stream in, constant and blaring.
And the ‘hats’ have changed too, haven’t they? We used to wear one, maybe two. Now, we’ve got them stacked one on top of the other until they tilt in the breeze and wobble when we try to move forward. We’re doctors, and scientists, social activists and martyrs. We’re frienemies and friends, lovers and exes. We’re husbands and mothers, daughters. Victim and accuser, the pious and the demon.
We’re chained to the images that we build on our pages and constantly feel the need to live up to the happy smiling selfie that the world thinks we are. It’s getting so one can’t even close the door and drop what’s not real for a few minutes.
And if you can’t ever drop it, how do you even know who you really are?
It’s no wonder we’re overmedicated, depressed, anxious and stressed. People constantly shoving hats into our hands, telling us what we should be, what we could be, showing off how beautifully they’re balancing their own stack with perfect pictures of perfect lives through perfect filters that they post fresh every day.
It can leave a person feeling that if they aren’t getting enough ‘likes’ that no one actually likes them. That the measure of being loved is dependent on some superficial and meaningless emoji.
Listen, kid, ain’t nobody that happy. Ain’t nobody that perfect.
And the brilliance of those images, I guarantee, is hiding the same nasty, visceral darkness that resides in each of us, fed on self-doubt and anger. Jealousy, dis-ease with the person in our skin, and the pressures squeezing through our walls each day.
I just want to go home.
Let’s go back to that place.
The place where you put your phone on the shelf by the door and kick off your shoes. Leave your meal un-Instagramed. Your run un-shared. Write down the cute thing your two-year-old said, and then tell your mom face-to-face over a cup of un-tagged, un-pinned coffee.
Wait for your meal in silence and anticipation. Look up something– in a book. When you feel the need, the itch to pick up that screen, or turn that television on, or otherwise disconnect from real life, don’t. Over half of our lives are spent looking at the world through our screens and its becoming a new, cold, disconnected home where we find no respite.
The ball is in your court, the stack of hats in your arms. Drop them all, for just a moment and pick up only the ones that satisfy your soul. Even those, hang up once in a while and sort through how they make you feel when you wear them.
Find your home by letting go of the things you feel you need to be. Find the home in the center of your chest, your truest self, and come back to that. Hang your hat there. That’s your home.
Okay, look. I realize that I’m a couple of days late. I could go into the messy details of powder room renovations, balcony patio refreshes, banister painting and contractor calling that has overtaken my life in the last two days but I don’t want to waste the precious time we have, gentle writer. So. here I am, as my grandfather used to say, a day late and a dollar short (several dollars short, blown away at Lowe’s mostly on fifteen different paint samples of varying shades of gray–not the bondage kind, just the regular old, actual shades of gray kind). But here, nonetheless, is a final bit of information I think you should have.
If you’ve gotten through all of my previous blogs on the matter, first of all: Kudos to you, Kid! You’ve put up with a lot of tenth-grade-level writing, inappropriate swearing, probably some sort of weird butter sculpture or Robert Downey Jr. memes, and cut through all of that to, hopefully, gain some inspiration and insight into finishing your book.
So let’s say, for argument’s sake, you followed all the handy tips and tricks. Let’s say you’ve taken the time, effort and guts it needed to type those final words and sit back in front of a finished novel. You’ve let other’s read it, you’ve taken suggestion and time to fix it. Now, here you are.
You big stud. You big amazing pile of human visceral awesomeness. You should take a night off. Go have a drink, or a movie, or a hot bath, or a cat-o-nine-tails whipping. Whatever you like to do to celebrate.
Then, come back to your work space…and write a query letter.
Gulp…a…a…what? A what kind of letter? Qu—Qu—Query?
Yep. You heard me.
At some point along your journey you’ve wondered what it would be like to see your book, your blood, and sweat, and sleepless nights up on a bookshelf. Something hold-able.
Maybe some of you want to leave behind something beautiful, and tangible, and real, before you shuffle off your mortal coil. Some part of you wants to share your story, or you would have never come this far.
Getting an agent is one of the best ways to get your book shared on a large scale. But you don’t just get one (unless you’re fucking fabulous and have the superpower of Luck…)
You have to catch them (not like kidnapping–please don’t let your takeaway from this be an agent abduction). You have to entice agents, capture their attention and interest, and to do that, you’re going to need a rockin’ query letter.
Make sure to research what a good query letter looks like. Here, it’s Friday and I feel bad for being late so I did some of the hard work for you.
There are some key elements that you should in mind.
Address the agent by name and do your research. Know who you are querying. Know what they’re asking for. Don’t send your erotic space opera to a Christian YA publisher.
Keep it short, but snappy. After the greeting, jump into the most intriguing aspect of your story. “Victoria Sullivan threw herself out of a moving car to escape her husband. How far will she go to start over?” A query letter starts like a movie preview and it has to make an impression.
Keep it under a page. Three to four paragraphs, with three to four lines each and don’t indent them.
First paragraph is your greeting, brief, personal but professional
Second paragraph is your project summary: Title, genre, word count, comps (which style or writer can your book be compared to).
Third paragraph is your PITCH, remember this is the movie tag line, the “Sell Copy” not the “Show Copy”
Fourth paragraph is your bio and credentials.
Write a bio that shows you are committed to your craft. I don’t care if you’ve been published sixty times or zero. Write about your passion, any successes you’ve had, and the work you’ve done that relates to your book. Agents love new, undiscovered talent, so don’t shy away if your accolade list is short.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS follow submission guidelines, including correct genre, correct word count, and appropriate agent for your specific project. These poor agents (yeah, I just gave a sympathetic nod to them–little secret, they’re actually human too…with feelings and families and all that beautiful stuff you’ve got filling your life) slog through a lot of queries a day. It behooves them to weed out any that haven’t followed the rules right off the bat. Don’t waste their time; submit in the form, length, and manner they request.
That’s the cut and dry of it.
I will add this; if you have met an agent at a conference or workshop, mention it. Try to remember something specific about them (not creepy-stalker specific “I really appreciate how thoroughly you brush your teeth in the morning, and are those new panties?” is too personal). Try something innocuous and personal; “I enjoyed exchanging stories about our Jack Russell terriers.” or “I enjoyed meeting you at the Erotic Space Opera Conference and talking over our mutual obsession with Jean-Luc Picard.”
Well kiddies, I think we can wrap up this little project on finishing your work in progress. I’m not saying there isn’t more (so, so much more) about writing and publishing to learn. But I’ve got limited time and it’s Friday; I’m sure ya’ll got more fun things to get to.
Write that query letter. Find yourself an agent (go local and small, independent and new agencies are more open to building their own portfolios) and offer them a chance to be a part of your journey. Until next week, when I PROMISE to be on time, write on.
Did you separate the amoebic tendrils of your technological parasites long enough to remember how to write, free-style? Did you get hand cramps? Keep it up, before you know it, you’ll be cleaning and jerking 7,000 words a week, vocabularian veins popping out all over the place.
For this week we’re going to zoom ahead to the future; to the cumulation of all your writing efforts and the massive chunk of story sitting in front of you. All of those beautiful words you’ve poured into a pile are just waiting for the dexterous hand of a good story teller.
Your rough draft is like a thousand pound hunk of stone. If you want to get all “Americana” on it, you could even say its akin to a 100 pound ‘pat’ of butter. Yeah, let’s go with butter.
The rough material has potential. Your story has energy and power. But if you were to send in a stick of butter to the Iowa State Fair judging committee, they’d probably to one of three things: write you a scathing review for wasting their time; send it back and write a scathing review for wasting their time; or batter it, deep fat fry it, and send their thanks for the mid-morning snack.
Your book, your words, your ideas deserve better. If you loved it enough to write it, then love it enough to shape it into the best it can be. And by that I mean…learn to edit your work properly. This week’s true secret to finishing your damn book is something you won’t hear from a lot of writers and here it is:
Being a great writer is 20% writing. and 267% editing. Shut up, I’m not good a public math. Seriously though, when you get your ass in that chair and throw all the good and bad down, and your mind learns to work in the space and time you give it to create, you can really accumulate a massive amount in a short period of time. But the art of writing, the finesse, the je ne sais quoi, if you will, lies in the ability to edit that beautiful mess into a story that captivates.
Que voulez-vous dire?
How does this magic happen, you might ask? If you’ve been around in the writing game for any amount of time, you’ve had the old adage banged into your skull over and over “Kill your darlings, Kill your darlings…” Yes…yes Maestro Faulkner, whatever you ask!
What does that really mean? Well–*le sigh*–it means you as a dreamer, a wordsmith, a lover of story and character…you, creator…must become a destroyer. A hard, eagle-eyed machine; disconnected from the rapport you’ve built over the years with your characters. You must let go of the personal angst, pain, and joy you’ve brought into the world enough to see its true potential. You have to take that beautiful hunk of marble (or butter) and break the rough and useless parts away to reveal the true work of art beneath.
Oh, Mon Dieu! (which literally translates to OMD—OMD Becky, regarde ses derrière!)
The practice of “Killing your Darlings” is meant to make you understand that editing is hard. That letting go of the phrases and pieces of your novel that you love, when they are distractions to the story and its flow, can be the best thing you do. Cut. Cut deep. Cut the subconscious catch phrases and passivity. Give your readers a stronger character by making them the center of the action; by putting the reader in their shoes. Stop telling us everything. Cull the useless, the distracting, the stuffy, the monologues and head hopping. Give us the moonlight glinting off of window panes.
Take that lump and make it into something where details pull double-duty and every word counts. Line by line, strike out that which does not serve purpose or cause emotion to rise in the chest. Because even the most indescript lump of butter can turn into something quite magnificent when given the time and attention it deserves.
Next week…after all of you hoodlums have taken a hard look at your work and gutted it to buttery perfection, we’ll take a look at what you can do next to get that silky minx out into the world.
Until then, keep writing. Drop me a line. Tell me how you’re doing.
Does anyone really want a giant baguette right now?
Hey there, writer? Whatcha doin’? Surfing the Internet? Caught up in some devilishly clever blog post that has promised to give you the secrets of the craft in one easy-to-read, bulleted list with some fancy-schmancy graphics?
I see you.
I’m glad you’re here, actually, I DO have some important advice in this my first lesson on finishing your work in progress.
Get off the Internet and back to your writing, you filthy animal.
Ok…wait! Not right now…just hear me out. I promise, I’ll be brief (500 words or so…Look! Only 420 left! 418…)
Fewer things deter the creative process like the multi-faceted distractions we face in our interconnected world. The phone, social media, the addictive thumbs-up ‘likes’ and sympathetic sobbing emojis. Constant information streams into our overworked, underfed brains; the lies, the truth, the barrage of sight and sound that, when boiled down, amounts to so much nothing. So much noise.
So shut it down.
That’s all. Part 1, in a neat little nutshell. Expand? Ok, but only because you asked…
Do you want to write more? Then disconnect. Grab a pen and paper and sit your ass on a park bench or in a coffee shop with your phone and laptop “conveniently” left at home.
“But…but I can’t justwrite! I won’t be able to spell check or word count (320 left) or research the typical milk production of a Nubian goat in April!”
First of all, my little perfectionist, rough drafts don’t need to be spell checked the moment words hit paper (shocking, right?)
Secondly, one page of average handwriting has about 250 words give or take. You’re welcome.
Third (ly?), you sound like someone who could use my patented “Blah Blah” technique to avoid distraction in the middle of your writing flow.
Not familiar? Well, don’t search it on line (Jesus, haven’t you been listening to me?) It’s a secret I share with only my closest creative misfits, lucky you.
When you don’t know a factual detail of some part of your scene, insert the words “Blah Blah” into the space and move on.
Did you—did you just roll your eyes at me? Watch it…I will mom voice you so hard…
“Victoria knew that the Nubians would produce at least blah blah of milk next month, giving her blah blah bars of homemade soap to sell.”
It also works if I’ve forgotten a secondary character’s name but know that scrolling back to find it will dry up the good stuff that’s pouring out:
“ ‘You’re a handful,’ Mr. Blah Blah said and scowled over the drag pole fence.”
Don’t fiddle with your flow. Let the unnecessary lay in wait and avoid the pitfall of jumping on the Internet to do some ‘quick research’ which will curtail your thought process and take you away from your work (16 hours of baby-goats-in-pajamas-videos later and I’ve forgotten evil exists in the world. Good for sleep, bad for fleshing out antagonists.)
When the creative dust has settled into a beautiful, uninhibited outpouring of ingenuity go back and find your ‘blah blahs’ (they stick out like sore typos, especially being ‘repeat’ words) and you can designate a specific, allotted time to research and check them.
There it is.
But in my forty or so words left, I should give you at least one bullet (I believe I promised it somewhere up there.)
More than just in your writing, consider disconnecting in your life. Be present in the world around you, not face down in a screen. Your writing will be better. Your life will be better. Power down for at least an hour a day. No phone, no television, no laptop, no screen. Live through your eyes, your ears… all those messy, beautiful human senses your mother worked so hard to make for nine months. Notice the vibrancy of color in nature, the way wind feels against your cheek. Listen to your own breath. Taste your food. Powerful writing comes from living with powerful intention.
Ok, now you can leave me. I apologize for surpassing the mark. What can I say? I didn’t want to mess with my flow.
Go work on your book. Your poem…your passion. Come back and let me know how it’s going.
I’m signing off for the day, but I’ll get back to you when my creative dust settles.
A child of the late 80’s and 90’s will remember the daring and billed crime fighter and his catchphrase of “Expect the Unexpected.” I’m pretty sure that phrase has since been taken over by an insurance company, or pregnancy tests, or police searches; but once, it was the mantra that a hero lived by to always be on the ready.
Adults live by it in more boring ways (insurance, pregnancy tests, radar alert gear on the dashboard of our cars). We’re taught to prepare for the unexpected. At least, in all of the adult ways we live by. But to expect the unexpected isn’t just about saving for a rainy day or assuring ourselves, in the most pessimistic of ways, that something bad will inevitably happen and we must be prepared for it, it’s also about preparing for opportunities.
How do we prepare for something that can’t be predicted? In a similar way as with expecting the worst; by keep open in our mindset that anything can happen and allow for flexibility in our plans.
Now, I’m a big believer in the fact that the only constant in our lives is inconsistency. Change. We can always count on things to change. The world turns, human’s doot around in their peculiar and quirky little ways and the tides of life fluctuate. Sometimes they recede, sometimes they tsunami. The more ridgid we are, the harder we are pushed against by the ever-changing, chaos-driven shift of time that swirls around us. Or the more disappointed we become when that tide draws ever farther away from us.
But if we can shift our mindset to accommodate this certainty of the quirky dance of life around us, then we will be prepared to deal with the challenges and also find opportunities in them. Because when you open your mind, you can look past the immediate hurdles of a change, to the bigger picture beyond. This is the important part. Remember how I italicized that “anything” up there? Pay attention to that.
I like to call this the “Anything Can Happen” moment. Here’s the caveat; shhhh…come closer and I’ll tell you…little closer…little closer… okay that’s too close, did you have onions at lunch? Back up a bit, here’s it is:
You have to look at what’s beyond the obvious challenge, with a positive lens.
UGH! Positivity! No! I’m a bitter and jaded, starving artist! I don’t DO positivity! It’s sooooo naive!
Yep. Sometimes it can be. Trust me, I’m a former, card-carrying member of the Pessimistic Society of Debbie Downers. I still get stuck in that rut too. But, it always leads me to nothing but dead-ends because I’m limiting myself by the perceived constraints change seems to bring.
I’m not asking you to be all zipidy-do-dah-Disney-slap-happy-blind to reality. I’m asking that you take a step back and be a realist with an eye for what good can come from the situation. There’s always something good.
Expecting the unexpected means being at the ready. Not just for danger and doom, but for the possibility of something better. To always be in a position where you can slip through the crack of those opening doors and explore new paths, different ideas, an unobstructed view. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but this can lead to an ever-increasing sense of well-being and a little more calm when faced with upheaval.
Stagnation may seem safer, but it will leave you treading water eventually and you’ll look back on the things you should have, could have, done but didn’t have the open mind and the faith to try.
In your writing life, which can often seem to err on the side of challenging rather than rewarding, I urge you to keep your mind open. To throw yourself into opportunity and be willing to accept with a sense of curiosity and humor the outcome. Life is chaos and beauty; destruction and creation. Remain flexible and willing to see the challenges in your life as opportunities to grow, to learn, and thereby succeed.
Veered off of course; far outside of the navigational beacons?
Maybe an unanticipated wind hit you on the 45 and you didn’t crab enough into it. Maybe you paused to look to the side and the wheel shifted with the direction of your gaze. By the time you’ve roused yourself into present moment awareness, you’re fifty knots south of course or three feet deep in a burrow ditch, and it’s too late for small corrections.
I’d like to take a moment and share a problem that I think many of us struggle with in our over-packed, over-scheduled lives. Distraction. A falling off of our horse. A monumental sidetrack.
I’ve spoken before about being true to your path and not straying from your destiny and the things you love. But life has a quirky way of making us look away. We all veer. We all must. Life is not a straight-line stretching out into infinity. It’s a curvy, succulent dance, filled with random peculiarities and delicious distractions. Honestly, we’re all really just one absent-minded neuron away from dog-and-squirrel level diversion.
Let me tell you a story. I’ll keep it brief.
Once upon a time a writer needed a break from her head. So overpacked and under inspired were her thoughts that she looked outside of her normal realm of expertise for a hobby that would balance her mind and body. She found something that she loved. She dabbled. She accelerated; one might say she began to excel.
The problem with acceleration and the momentum associated with skyrocketing off on a new and less-resistance riddle path is that in no time at all, you’ve soared hell-and-far from your home, and it becomes increasingly hard to slow your trajectory down. By the time this writer looked up and realized what had happened, she was soaring across the cosmos, her original pursuits long behind her. Worse, she realized she was tied into the obligations of a hobby that had become something different.
Something more akin to work.
She’d thrown her effort, her energy, her time and body in so wholeheartedly that nothing was left for her writing. She became tired; uninspired. The sidetrack, the hobby, had taken over. The horse dumped her in the ditch.
Awareness came as her child lay battling the flu on the couch next to her, with nowhere else she COULD be. She slowed down enough to read her writing group’s newsletter; something she hadn’t “had time for” in months. Because she was too engulfed in the everyday (some days every hour) demands of her ‘hobby’.
Glancing over the call for submissions she thought, “Wow, I remember when I used to submit. I just don’t have time for it. Wish I did.” (What did daddy alway say? If wishes were fishes, we’d all stink?)
The child snorted in the silent house and roused her into awareness of the present. To remind her that she was not truly bound to anything except that which she loves. And if she does not love it any more, the universe says (perhaps even demands) it’s okay to let it go. So our writer got a pencil and she numbered off ten promising leads. She reconnected the creative powerhouse in her brain, adjusted her heading, checked the map and 180’d her ship. She put a foot in the stirrup and hoisted her ass back into the saddle.
Now, after months of excuses and “too busy”, and “just until this next benchmark is met”, she’s at her laptop. Writing. And she doesn’t care if its good, or if it fits guidelines, or if it will be picked apart by whoever may be watching. Because she’s writing. Again. Like the first time.
My hobby took over. It sort of ransacked my life. I resisted and succumb, I got angry for submitting and resisted more. I felt guilty because I enjoy it still. I got mad for feeling guilty. Like a cat bouncing on the end of the leash, frantic to get away, feeling trapped and powerless against the ties, I forgot that I’ve got opposable thumbs, brains in my head, feet in my shoes. I can steer myself wherever I choose.
I’m choosing to turn back to the place I call home. To the page. To the work and the characters, the words and worlds and delicious dance of ideas and thought. Will I visit the other place again? Of course! Balance is balance. And I’ve learned too much to cast it aside completely. I’ll still dabble.
But it isn’t my home. It isn’t my story.
Some moments it feels like a long way back, and remembering my brain and fostering creativity will take some priming of the neural pumps. But even the longest journey starts with a single submission.
Human lives are constantly being pulled in different directions and subjected to demands from outside forces. Some of them we want to go along with; some we’re forced to ride along beside. The older we are the more paths we’ve walked, lost, found ourselves on, resisted to leave, and feared to lose.
Of late, I’ve found myself being pulled off of my desired path by well-meaning but (for lack of better word) pushy people. They are people in my life that I respect and admire. We are compatriots in a common goal and therefore, we walk beside each other on parallel paths. But sometimes their strong personalities engage in manipulative tactics to pull me over with them on their path.
It is, in part, my own fault. I’m a people pleaser. I want to make people happy, often at the expense of myself. After all, what greater gift can I give than to be a benefit to another?
But now, after months of stress-related, psychosomatic issues, I’m realizing how detrimental this pattern can be. When I tie my worth around my ability to be useful and giving to others, I let myself be pulled along by people who insist that their path is the right and best path for me in order to feel valuable.
I let myself believe that they know me better than I do, that perhaps, they could be right. Their path seems like a good one. It’s not a bad path. It has interesting things to see along the way, it’s headed to different and new places, it has challenges and triumphs…it’s a decent path. Nothing is acutely wrong with the path.
Except it’s not mine.
I am slowly learning that there is no goodness in putting yourself second time, and time, and time again. There is no goodness in letting someone lead you away from your dream and your path. It twists your gut, it drops your mind into dark places, until all you can do is stare at your feet and feel the heavy weight of someone else’s wants and expectations breaking you down into the ground with every step as you cast longing glances back at the sunshine dappled trail you once took to so excitedly.
So how can I stop, mid stride on the dusty path, let go of the expectations and wants of others, and get back on my path? How do I love myself enough to know that I am worth the leaving?
Every decision, no matter how coerced, is a lesson, not necessarily a mistake. And what I’ve committed to for the wrong reasons, I don’t have to continue with. I tried another path. I tried to please others. I did what I thought life wanted from me. I’ve learned. I gained education along the path, methods, techniques, and experiences but most importantly–I’m learning about Me. Learning about oneself is never a mistake.
Sometimes the most important thing we can learn about ourselves is what we don’t want, what we will not endure, what we will not take, and what we will not put up with. That is how we grow strong.
So the next time you are on your path, where you should be, and someone takes your hand and says, “Hey, come check out my path over here!” you can look at it, and understand that your priorities and dreams are important enough to stay on course and take your hand back with a firm no thanks.
Your dreams are important, more than anyone who isn’t wearing your shoes will ever understand. You don’t have to justify their worth to anyone else. Your goals along life’s journey are enough. Your path is well-suited and enough. You are enough.
I’d love to hear any stories or comments you may have about how you’ve chased your own dreams and what it has brought you in terms of fulfillment and/or hardship.
I get a lot of good questions from readers and curious friends about the art of writing. Recently, I was asked how I create characters and if they were ever based on people I knew. Since character development is one of my favorite aspects of writing and I thought I’d pay homage to it’s process in a two part post.
So first, let’s address where characters come from.
I’ve had characters come to me in dreams (day or night), sometimes they’re inspired by true stories from the news that I trip across. Sometimes they spring from hazy memories of a childhood friend, or the curious behavior of the neighbor across the street who steals decorative rock from the common area and smuggles it away in her purse. Any one adept at studying human nature and observing their fellow human beings can get inspiration simply from watching what our nutty human brethren do and don’t do in the course of their day.
Often, though never in their entirety, I write from people I know. By this I mean people I know both casually and intimately are good places to start for characters.
Although real people can help jumpstart the process, they rarely become the character in the final draft, and here’s why.
For one, it would be creepy (and, depending on the story and topic, possibly slanderous) to write about an actual person from your life, unless it is a memoir of said person and they are asking you for your help. Ethically, a writer looking to publish or share their work with the world must adhere to certain rules of respect and common decency concerning using the likeness of other people. That being said, you can (and should) borrow personality traits, history, and physical attributes that enhance your character’s believability, without putting someone’s life down, verbatim, on your page.
Secondly, even when based on someone you may know, something magical will inevitably happen when you put a ‘real’ person on a page and shove them into a conflict (the driving force of your story). The character you began with will be forced to shift and evolve into someone else because we don’t know how the actual person will behave in a, let’s say, apocalyptic dystopia and the situations and subsequent decisions that the character is faced with and make are more a result of the author’s reactions based on their experiences and what they want or need that character to do to move the story forward.
For example, Joe Smith may start off looking like your high school biology teacher but if you write him exactly as he was, including is normal day to day, your audience will be too bored to stick with his story.
Now, if you put the body of an alien in the school science lab’s freezer next to the dissected frogs, Joe Smith, your old biology teacher will automatically become way more interesting. And as he does, he will move away from the real person you started with and morph into a different character. A man of his own alien-hiding design.
A writer can tweak, correct, enhance and play with personality types, turning one, real-world person, into a completely different but still realistic character. But it’s important to keep the relatable aspects of the initial ‘muse’, including the physical attributes that you can describe in realistic detail, or the personality types that can be explored in depth from a place of personal interaction.
What can be left behind are names, exact and undeniable physical description (don’t be a creeper) and any ‘boring’ or typical parts that may be cliché or expected. The character will change to be their own person with the natural progression of their role and development within your story.
The other method of character development is to begin with a story and let your mind follow the natural path of who lives it. This is one part plot-driven creation and one part spontaneous combustion.
An atomic bomb goes off, a virulent disease hits the population, a train switches tracks, a car runs through an intersection, an alien shows up in a freezer.
Start with something that happens and ask yourself; who would it affect most? Who stands to lose or gain the most? Who is equipped to deal with the situation? More interestingly, who is least able to cope with it and how do they survive?
Characters will find their way into your mind. They may look and act like someone you know or they may have a mind of their own. As a writer you will find that as your plotline advances the character will become less and less your creation and more a product of their history combined with their destiny.
We all have these personalities in our heads that sit dormant on the shelves until something shakes them loose. Most writers, (yes, I’m saying it) are a little bit schizophrenic. We are geniuses of introspection and observation. Humans are interesting and a good writer will watch and learn from their interactions how to build characters that could be a best friend or a worst enemy in their reader’s own world. They talk to us as we write their paths, they argue when we move too far away from their true reactions. They trip us up by throwing random but necessary bits of history our way that we hadn’t considered for the bigger picture. It’s maddening and magical all at once.
Next time we’ll talk about developing intricate characters and some tips I’ve picked up along my journey to make them somebody your reader’s will root for, love, and hate. Until then, take a few minutes today to think about some characteristics that you love and loathe in human beings and think about why they draw your attention.
Make a list of character traits that are interesting in both beneficial and detrimental ways.
Also, feel free to write or comment about your favorite characters, and if you’ve ever found yourself ‘accidently’ writing about someone from real life. Next time we’ll have an exercise on character development and I look forward to your responses!
I threw naked in there so you’d read this. There’s really no nudity…but you might as well continue on, because there’s some good stuff here.
This week I’m launching a new project. Wednesdays will continue to be a weekly rant about writing, and life, and inspiration, and all the strange, obscure references to pop culture I can muster while still being relevant to the topic (it’s an art form people).
But every Thursday I’ll be starting a new post series called Verseday.
I’ll be posting a poem each week that I’ve written either recently or dusted off from some old file folder. You’re welcome to contribute your criticisms and comments.
In addition I’ll be hitting up some of my talented and nimble-worded friends and colleagues for poetic contributions. This whimsy will continue until I gather a good pool of work and I’ll select the finest pieces, mine and yours, to publish the first ever Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology (I’m thinking of a snappier title as we speak).
So if you love poetry, if you write poetry, if you’d like a chance to be a part of a gathering of words and ideas, drop me a line.
The only requirements for entries are that they have to be yours, previously unpublished, and be something you’ve sunk some part of your soul into. Humorous or dark, nature-inspired or industrial driven, pious or chocked full of the f-bomb, I’ll look at them all.
I’ll set up a Facebook page to more easily contact me specifically for VersedaySubmissions. Not every poem will be selected (there’s only 52 weeks in a year after all, and I want a little of the glory too) and if you send me anything that’s horrifically violent (shockingly awful gore etc.), racist, or otherwise unjustly hateful, you probably won’t be hearing back from me.
With that in mind, keep an eye out here at The Beautiful Stuff and on my author page (S.E. Reichert on Facebook) for links to the submission guidelines.
This week’s blog was taken up by a lot of hoopla for Verseday but I want to spend the limited time left talking to you about HOME.
Home is something we humans have an odd sense of connection to. Home is where your heart is. You can’t go back Home. Home for the Holidays, Hearth and Home. Home Sweet Home. Home alone. Home again. Homeward bound. Home safe.
For some home is a physical place, for some it’s a person, some it’s a meal or a smell, or a sound. For some, it has negative connotations, a place where they suffered fear or abuse. For some it was a place that moved with changing guardians. For some it was a grandparent’s arms, or a roommate’s couch. For every person, there is a different sense of it and some of us still haven’t found it.
What does home mean to you? Is it a place you can close the door on the world and take off your bra and relax? Is it the person who’s smile and voice lowers your heart rate and washes you over in calm? Is it the wiggling furry body of a dog, anxiously excited to see you EVERY SINGLE TIME you walk in the door?
Is it a church, a synagogue, a mosque? A quiet corner where you meditate or yoga your little heart out?
Is it turkey dinner? Is it Sunday football? Is it the smell of fresh cut hay, or campfire? Is it the sound of a river rushing down a mountain’s craggy side? What makes these things home?
I’m inclined to believe that we build home at the first instrumental moments we are aware of a sense of place, safety, and worth.
When the pitch of your sister’s laugh is the same as your own. When the smell of Swedish meatballs cooking on the stove came with your mom’s hug after a tough day.
When, in the midst of personal crisis, spiraling depression, and loss of self and worth, a mountain takes you in and shows you how meaningful and symbiotic you are to the world.
Home is the lightness and comfort that settles into your heart when you don’t have to question or fear that you belong.
Next week, I want to touch on this again, and am looking for comments and replies about your version of home, and what it means to you. Good and bad. Warm or ugly. Tell me all.