Hey kids! Today’s blog is all about writing, specifically pinpointing a very prevalent problem novelists face.
Now, most of my novels are character driven. That is to say, I begin with a person. A beautifully flawed and imperfect hero who has a problem. Hopefully a big problem. (If they don’t have a reason to cry, by God, I’ll give them one!) And normally, not to pat myself on the back, I can write a pretty interesting character. Someone readers want to follow through the ups and downs of plot arcs.
When I found myself mired in yet another round of editing my latest novel, wondering why nothing was working and everything seemed so boring and flat in nearly all of my scenes, I realized the story was trying to support dead weight. That is…my character was not providing any sort of flame to heat the story. They were just being pulled along by their circumstances. She was the equivalent of a wet blanket draped across a closeline, pulling both ends of it down in the middle.
I started this novel many years ago around a situation. And the situation was driving the plot. Instead of my character driving the story, she was just a passenger. Not only does that make everything in writing your novel a struggle, it also makes it less interesting for your readers. No one wants to know about the girl sitting complacently in the back seat. They want to know who in the hell is driving the car and how close it is to the cliff.
All the rounds of editing were wasted in trying to make the scenes and plot more vibrant but it never seemed to be enough. Because it couldn’t carry itself and her lazy ass too. A flat character, lacking depth, quirks, a solid core of values or lack thereof, is like an empty billboard in the middle of a field. Taking up the view without contributing to it.
So I’m back to the drawing board and today, I’m going to start it right. I’m starting with a detailed account of just who this girl is and what drives her. If it’s not interesting enough then I’m going to try out some weird shit until that awe inspiring ‘ah-ha’ hits me between the eyes. And then I’ll re examine every page of her story to see if she’s behaving the way she would and saying the things she should. The story will change, scenes will change, her interaction with others and the direction they head will change. I’ve got a ton of work ahead of me.
It’s going to be like starting over and I’m a little disheartened by that. But if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right and I’m not ready to give up on her just yet.
After all, she does know how to shoot, bakes the best biscuits in the county, and can shear an angora goat in under a minute-thirty.
(By the way, the world record for sheep shearing is 37.9 seconds. Goats take longer, because they’re feisty and require a more careful ‘clipping’ technique.)
Don’t be lazy. In the same way certain Robin Hood actors wouldn’t learn a British accent (ooo, Kevin Costner BURN!) don’t half-ass your main character. They should carry the story, not drag it down.
What are some of your favorite character development tools?
I’m so pleased and excited to feature this stunning contribution by Jennifer Carr for your weekly dose of poetry.
Jennifer Carr lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her partner and two children. She is an EMT, Firefighter and Poet. When she is not working at the local hospital or firehouse, she spends way too much time (is there every enough time?) reading and writing poetry.
Her poetry has been published in print by Triumph House Poetry With a Purpose and in many anthologies. Her poetry has been published on-line most recently in the Organic Journal ‘Under the Basho’ in the Modern Haiku section.
Jennifer loves flying by her own wings and looks for any opportunity to soar to new heights. Don’t forget to follow her on Twitter @PoetryHaiku13 (https://twitter.com/Poetryhaiku13).
Jennifer can be found on Facebook as Jennifer Carr Munoz or on Instagram.
The Map to Motherhood
Traveling on a good solid trail until a bump in the way
led me to a dangerous detour of winding twists and turns.
The route becoming more rocky – I never saw the speed limit sign
warning me to slow down so I continued speeding ahead
never realizing I was lost and alone even though I was about to crash.
Even when I came to the crossroads I still disappeared
into the shadows where thunderstorms washed away
any chance of me finding my way back home.
I stopped looking over my shoulder
as my dreams disappeared into grey skies
along with the the compass and my sense of direction
all hope seemed lost until one day a miracle happened.
There was a ray of hope, a small ray of sunlight
beamed onto my path – I felt it and I followed it.
A heartbeat that was felt long before
his heart began to beat. He brought me somewhere
out of nowhere breaking into old lost forgotten dreams.
In a universal moment I was dancing in a different direction
towards tomorrow’s bright promise the compass that carved a new path
he was the map that led me to motherhood.
The son I would come to know as my “Milagro.”
Hello Poetry lovers…or maybe you’re just poetry dabblers. Whatever the case, and your current thoughts on the boiled-down marvel of words, here’s today’s poem. Share it, comment on it, like it or don’t.
Again, still open for submissions. I’m super excited to be featuring a beautiful poem next week from Jennifer Munoz, so stay tuned for that!
You can go back, but you can’t go back all the way.
Last weekend I was able to attend a writers conference in my home state of Wyoming. I graduated from the University of Wyoming many moons ago. Long enough for them to completely move my Anthropology Department home into a brand-spanking new building and rearrange so many other departments that my morning run through campus was surreal.
The world keeps spinning around us, and the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve been away.
The conference goers came from all corners of the state, Colorado, and even Florida. It was a small group but friendly and supportive. I enjoyed meeting everyone and getting a chance to speak about publishing options to a crowd of over thirty (I managed not to vomit, so let’s all take a moment in recognition of that).
I couldn’t help but notice, however, that during some of the talks about trying to bring more diversity into the state and the writing group, dissent from a few gentlemen at my table.
Eye rolls and curses, crossed arms and head shakes.
Psh…Diversity. Libtard Bullshit.
Some things don’t change.
And the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve grown into more decent humans, while our past stays stagnant.
Sometimes you move on while the world you once knew stands still. The world that raised you and built you; the world you want to be proud of coming from, remains encapsulated in a time and space that relies on fear and old beliefs to such a degree that you almost want to slink away and change your own story.
My sister and I have discussed this. She said she could never move back, that the minds were too small. And I agree. There are some pretty petty, tiny minds there.
But this weekend I also saw a lot of open and gracious minds. I met “typical” rancher types who wrote magnificently about the importance of land stewardship and the quintessential diversity and equality of hearts. I met people who shared poetry and thought even though it was hard for them, who took outsiders into their arms and world and accepted them. I saw the stirrings of change.
So I can’t agree with her.
The potential for something better is like a river being stopped up by a long-left beaver dam. If we refuse to take out the dam and just leave the stagnant pools lie, then we leave entire worlds and cultures isolated enough to breed their own hate and misconception. The more people start moving the wood, start letting the fresh water in, start encouraging the current, the faster and cleaner that river will flow. The more good and open hearts we put into a place, the more good and open it will become.
I’ve come to many cross roads in my life, I’ve had challenges both self created and imposed upon me, and it’s taken years of experience to know that growth comes with great discomfort. And choosing a road doesn’t always mean you’ll stay on it. And quite often we’re lost in the boonies…but it doesn’t mean we should stay stagnant, or allow others to stay stagnant when their potential is for something much greater.
Challenge yourself this week writer. Step forward into paths that scare you, take chances with your writing and your ideas. Join that critique group, invite an outsider in, always work on the side of fairness, equality, and love. IF we all choose that road, this life will be a much more beautiful place to travel in for all of us.
I missed last week’s blog due to some conflicts with my reason to care, but I’m back again with a stirring edition of The Beautiful Stuff and today, I’m talking about kids. Particularly the three to eight crowd whom I typically work with in my karate classes. You see, this week is testing week.
It’s the exciting hours when those little bright-eyed darlings bound out on the floor (hopefully remembering to potty first and bow upon crossing the threshold) to ‘earn’ their brand new belt and no doubt bragging rights the next day.
Now heading the school’s instruction team is a stoic former Marine and a stalwart of rules and order on the floor. Absolutely excellent in the face of a rowdy teen or an unsure adult in need of the structure and control.
Absolutely useless and frustrated in the face of the giggling, juggling mass of pent up life force.
And testing time is rarely different.
Though the potential for their future of order and restraint is glimpsed (and I suppose that’s why they come to the school in part) some of the instructors will roll their eyes at the still inadequate control. While I stand in the back and lament the beauty of their childhood being chipped away.
I was told repeatedly that “the Dragons class will eat you alive”. Both male instructors said so, shaking their heads and trying to bury the horrors of war. I nodded, in that reassuring way you do when someone has no idea.
Son (I call them son because I’m grow’d up over them by a few good years), I’m a mom. And on top of that, I’m a mom that actually enjoyed the ages of my daughters when I had to staunch nose picking while watching them ping-pong off the couch and sing “Let It Go” at the top of their lungs. Every day. All day. Seven days a week, most nights, and EVERY vacation.
So when those little bouncy balls landed on line tonight, wiggling in their gis until their belts untied themselves, and the jaws of less-seasoned warriors clenched, I glowed. I smiled. I adored and dote on.
Want to know why?
One of the greatest beautiful moments in life is when the life in us cannot be contained in man-made illusions of order. It’s in the misdirection and distraction. It’s the exuberance and unconditional love. It’s all that we lose as we age, either by the weights of life tying us down, or from being told repeatedly to stand straight and stop wiggling.
Ok. I understand that order has to exist. Ask any of the poor souls on I-25 while the uninformed attempt to merge. We do have to learn order and self-control. Or everyone would just live on cake and would never go to work, and we’d get into fights and stray from our homes… I’m not saying that order isn’t important.
But order imposed on a mind still fluttering like a million startled butterflies in a sunny meadow, is like trying to…well catch a million startled butterflies in a sunny meadow. At some point. You need to just let go and enjoy the ride and the sunlit flash of pure color. Keep them safe, keep them engaged, and love every odd-ball story and uncontrolled giggle.
I hope you realize I’m not just talking about from kids here. From the people in your life. Encourage, especially the adults in your life (You TOO reader), to barrel through it all with a bit more frivolity and joy.
Sometimes we’ve been so long from it that we’ve forgotten how. It’s not so hard to find your way back. Here are some things that may help:
Go barefoot in the grass
Dig for worms, put them back in the garden.
On the way to your car from the grocery store, work up a good speed and hop on the back of your grocery cart…ride it all the way to the car.
Say no. To them. To yourself…to every “how to be perfect” blog or article you read.
Read the comics first and throw the rest of that shit away.
Go for a bike ride with your kids around the block and name your bike like the noble stead it is.
Tell a dirty joke.
Laugh at dirty joke.
Laugh at a fart.
Fart (and pull the covers over your spouse’s head so that they may truly enjoy it…if your marriage is really meant to last it won’t matter. If it matters well…then I’m going to let you think about that for awhile)
Belch in front of your kids, and follow it with a “Holy cow! That was awesome!”
Grab a bowl of lucky charms and watch some cartoons (Teen Titans is my fav these days).
Sing “Sweet Caroline” LOUDLY out your car window at the stop light. Those who don’t join in or at least smile are to be pitied.
Never say no when a child wants a hug.
Always kneel down to meet them, their perspective is so much better anyway.
Tell people you love them.
Tell them you love them without needing it to mean anything more than just what it is.
Someday, remember just the good bits, fondly.
You see, kids and older people get what we’ve forgotten. That the beauty of life comes from the dancing in chaos, not the standing still on line.
Still, go potty before you try the standing still…it does help the wiggles.
Belated is better than be-not-at-all-ed? Okay, I’m a little loopy from a day of summer kick offs and emotional rollercoasters from various areas of my life. Here’s what I got. They can’t all be pretty.
Don’t forget to send me your stuff…seriously. I will print it.
John Lennon’s quote is the basis for my Tuesday soapbox.
Listen, I do write about writing. I do want to inspire your creativity and help you along with your craft. It’s integral to my purpose in life.
But part of inspiring creativity means reminding you of the massive computer sitting atop your shoulders and why we should neverforget to use it.
This week I’ve been researching statistics, studies, and references for an article (probably a book one day) on the staggering racial disparity present in our privatized prison systems, in particular, how it affects young black men in our communities and the short and long-term damage it causes to their families as well as to our society as a whole.
So you know… a real fluff piece.
The problem with scrubbing off a bit of dirt from the surface of something like this is that you expose a teeming cesspool of disease and horror beneath. And once you look into that darkness, falling ever-deeper into that rabbit hole of associated cultural setbacks, systemic traps, and loopholes for those in power, you CAN NEVER NOT KNOW.
You’ve opened your eyes.
You swallowed the red pill.
You know the truth and life becomes difficult.
(Well, if you’re a human being with a heart and a decent-sized sense of empathy, and compassion, life becomes difficult.)
Suddenly, with your eyes open, you see it everywhere.
You see it in the unarmed black woman body-slammed by an officer twice her size, when she wasn’t even fighting back. You see it in the teenagers of color who are convicted of crimes while their white counterparts go free. You see it in the wary HOA’s that lodge baseless complaints against a family because the color of their skin makes the neighbors ‘nervous’, and cause entire families to lose their homes.
I’m not talking about 1955 Alabama here… I’m talking today, here. In our city. In our community.
And I’m ashamed of us, and I’m shaky, and I’m pissed off.
I feel like if I were the mother of dragons…I might pull a Season 8 Episode 5 and burn it all down to rebuild from the ashes.
The problem is too big.
That’s what we’re told right?
You can’t fight the system! It’s so much bigger than us. We don’t have the power. The government controls it. The rich control it. The churches, the states, the universities, the public schools, the whole of American culture…
But if you will remember…
The computer on top of your shoulders. The big 10 pounder. The one that processes thoughts and emotions, chemicals and body regulation, the one that creates poetry, writes novels, formulates complex plot and character design.
That’s not nothing.
That’s a powerful weapon in the hands of an informed public. And the way I see it, once we open our eyes, it’s our duty to shake as many egg pods as possible, peel back some eyelids and make the world pay attention.
Two open eyes becomes four. Becomes eight. Becomes sixteen. Becomes hundreds…
The Beautiful Stuff has everything to do with facilitating the best version of humanity we can muster. The most compassionate, fair, and just human we can be. And when we are faced with a hard and ugly cesspool, teeming beneath a society built on the death and destruction of so many lives, we can no longer live easy.
So neither should the powers that be.
My eyes are open and I will do my damndest to keep those that benefit from the broken and ugly system from covering them up.
We may not have the money. We may not have the loopholes and congressmen in our pockets. We may not have law degrees, or time, or the power of influence on large groups of people.
But we have our words. We have our minds. We have our actions and, I hope, enough anger to bypass our fear. Pay attention and acknowledge that this is a problem. Shine a fucking light on it so the rest of the world can’t ignore it anymore.
Find that spark in your chest. That pinprick of light that knows every human deserves to be safe, to be heard, to be healthy and fed, and treated with respect. Find a way to make it grow. Let it lead you to do what you can to change the inequality of the world around you.
You can always do something. Little. Big. It doesn’t matter the size of the action but the heart you put into it.
One water droplet may not have much impact, but a rainstorm can change the landscape.
Go out there. Be bold. Be heard. Stand up for each other.
Today’s blog comes to you from a second-floor hotel room after a full and productive day of classes at the 2019 Northern Colorado Writers Conference. The second floor is also hosting the attendees of the Brewery Collectable Club of America, so this humble blogger has witnessed some interesting trade deals in the world of rare Colt 45 paraphernalia.
On to my point:
For every year I attend the NCW Conference, I add a layer to the writer in me. That is to say, through the people I meet, the classes I take, and the lectures I attend, I learn more about the craft. How, and when, and why, and what, and all the technical attributes that come along with the delicate balance of creativity and grammatical science. But more than just the sum of these limitless parts, I learn a greater whole.
The whole that is me as a writer.
And in doing so, I’ve learned how to enjoy myself more at these kinds of functions by listening to my body, my brain, and my growing years of experience.
Back in the day, I would be hand-cramping from the steady stream of notes at each session. I would be tumbling from one class to the next, chugging down coffee between in hopes to keep my energy up so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I would strategically place myself at the agent’s table who I wanted to garner the literary affections of. I would, in essence, be the adult version of my grade-school, brown-nosing self.
Then…Something happened last year, when I drug myself to the meet and greet “networking” event, long past my emotional and mental boundary and crossing all lines of my introvert nature, to garner the attention of at least a few more experts in the field, I stood on very shaky ground. I spilled my drink, I felt like crying,
I didn’t want to be there.
I hated that I hated being around other writers. Which seems a terrible thing to say, but bear with me.
I didn’t know I had a limit to writing.
I thought I could talk it all day, learn it all day, do it all day. I could go to class for days!!! Nerding on a pro-level is a quintessential part of who I am. I loved hearing about other projects much more than I like talking about my own and reveled in the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow conference goers.
But…the more stories I heard the more I questioned if I was doing enough. The less sure I became of my ability. The more tired I got, the more flustered I became, the wearier my mind, the less information I could process.
Until everything was just noise and words.
Then I learned a secret.
You don’t have to throw yourself under a bus to catch it.
Knowing your limits is not just useful in this particular scenario. Knowing your limits is useful for all humans in many aspects of our lives. It comes with age and the ability to let go of unrealistic expectations.
During a few of my sessions, even as I listened to the speaker, I listened to myself. If I was inspired to write; I let myself write. If \the iron was hot, I struck while in the moment, abandoning the mad scribble of notes for the mad scribble of thoughts.
Did I miss some parts of the presentations? Sure, but in the midst of other brilliant minds and the energy they impart, in the middle of shutting out the rest of the world, the heart and brain start to do this funny little dance and learn to play again.
Inspiration doesn’t always happen at the opportune times. You have to write when the words are ready and when the heart is open. And the presenters this year gave me more than a notebook full of query-letter tips or copy-editing tricks. They gave my heart a doorway, an acceptance into writing what often builds up behind all my carefully constructed walls. And in stumbling and unorganized prose/poetry form I filled over ten pages of free-form when it was all said and done.
In years past, I’ve forced myself to jump the hurdles of social interaction and witty conversation until late hours, when all I really wanted was to wander off to a quiet room and take a nap.
So this year, after a relaxing dinner and a fabulous keynote speaker, I said goodbyes to new and dear friends and retired to my room for quality pajama time and a little writing.
I reserved a room, not so I wouldn’t have to drive the five miles home, but because I knew I would need quiet alone time to decompress after a long day of people and ideas, and focus on my own personal craft and projects I love.
I know when my mind is best, and after 8 pm is not that time. That’s my repose time. I had to make that OK for myself in order to get the most out of my time.
Conferences, classes, and meet ups like these open pathways, but only when we’re not too busy or overwhelmed to see them. If we are embroiled in getting the most out of every single planned moment of the time, then we may miss the real lesson. Creativity is like a river and if you fully submerged, yourself, you’ll easily drown. You’ll miss the beauty of the ride, the view, and the sounds.
So, know yourself, Writer. Do the things that you know work for you. Let the river of creativity, carry you, but always leave yourself plenty of breathing room to be inspired.
In the karate school where I volunteer the word of the month is courtesy. It’s not a new concept in martial arts. Courtesy and respect are two of the most fundamental principles of the art. Respect for each other, respect for the rules, respect for the art and for the generations that came before us. Courtesy to our sparring partners, our instructors, and people in general.
The basics of courtesy often start with the ‘magical words’:
I forgive you
These words are like leaves and branches of language that convey the deeper roots of courtesy and respect. Simple polite words that are just the beginning of a much bigger lesson wherein we acknowledge the validity of other humans as equal and important by showing them kindness, compassion, and empathy; the cornerstones of living a beautiful life.
By this time in your lives you have probably all been taught about the “Magical Words”. Magical because they can open doors, springboard friendships, heal broken ties, and encourage smiles.
The typical phrases your parents and grandparents tried to instill greased the wheels of everyday interactions but also taught you something much more.
By saying “Please” we are acknowledging that we need help, and that we aren’t afraid to ask for it.
By saying “Thank you” we acknowledging that the action of giving requires another’s time and effort and we understand the amount (small or large) of sacrifice involved and are grateful for it.
By saying “You’re Welcome” we acknowledge that the favor was done willingly and we are happy to help where we can. This can leave a lasting warmth between people that perpetuates reciprocity and trust.
By saying “I’m sorry” we acknowledge that our actions or words have harmed someone else. That we have done damage, either intentionally or not, and now regret the pain we’ve caused. Showing regret shows that we are empathetic to what the other person has gone through on our account.
I’m saving the hardest one for last.
By saying “I forgive you”, I acknowledge that you hurt me and I am choosing to let it go.
Forgiveness goes beyond common courtesy. Forgiveness is next level stuff, and it’s the hardest thing we’ll ever have to learn when it comes to compassion and empathy.
Pain serves as a powerful teacher. It reminds us to not make some mistakes over and over again. And when we are hurt we want to hang on to it, for the stupid reason that we don’t want it happening again.
But that’s the thing. We hang on to it.
And by remembering we relive, and by reliving, we stay hurt, we stay angry, and the pain is done to us over and over again, not by the original perpetrator but by our own insistence to keep it close to our hearts. That’s how we build walls against compassion and empathy to others.
So here’s what I offer instead:
By saying I forgive you, we are also showing courtesy and respect to ourselves. We are choosing to acknowledge the “I’m sorry” (even if there isn’t one) by letting go of the harm so we can keep our hearts open for something better than pain to fill it with.
And to those who are truly sorry, who offer up their apology from a place of genuine desire to make right a wrong, we give a gift that is priceless with our forgiveness. We acknowledge to them that we are human too.
All of these phrases can be used without thinking. They are often just little idioms of our nature; thrown around without realizing we do it.
But this week I’m challenging you to think about them, consciously. Understand them before you say them and mean them when you do. It will make a difference. It may only be a difference in your own mind, but that’s where the power of those words really comes from anyway.
So, please…do something kind and courteous to yourself and others today. You’re welcome for the reminder. Thank you for reading this blog; it means the world to me that you do. I’m sorry if I tend to wander in thought and subject from time to time. But I forgive myself and the creative process that demands a little haphazard chaos in the order of life.
Nope. I didn’t miss a “t”. And this isn’t a self-reflective rant about the aging spread going on behind me. Today’s blog is about excuses, dare I even say… self-imposed limits.
I believe I’ve talked about the dangerous ‘but’ in terms of how we love one another, and how we limit feelings by making excuses from perceived imperfections. However, today’s talk is more about the detrimental “but” that gets between us and our dreams.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances the exact phrase:
“I’d love to write a _______ but…”
But…I have no time. But…I just can’t get started. But…I’m not very good. But…It’s hard to publish these days. But…people may not like it.
Stop it, no.
Not valid (and who cares if they like it?)
Article done! BAM! Shortest blog ever. Happy writing!
Those big buts up there don’t lie. They are all valid excuses. Excuses that we build like walls in front of our potential. Walls of excuses to keep us from even attempting the loving art of writing because it also keeps us safe. Safe from rejection, safe from the work, safe from the expectation. Safe from failing. Safe from succeeding.
But is a wall builder.
But builds walls based on fear and hatred and not scientific, psychologically proven facts.
(Maybe I am missing a couple of T’s up there and a title…like President Butt…ahem. *Awkward throat clear*…back on topic.)
But keeps you away from ever having to actually start.
Now I’m sure there are people out there saying they want to write a novel to make me feel like I’m not so strange, all wholed-up in my pajamas, afraid of the general public. Maybe people tell me they’d “love” to write more, to make polite conversation.
This blog isn’t for those small-talkers (but bless your heart for trying to make me feel comfortable about my chosen/driven profession despite its financial drawbacks).
This blog is for those whose eyes shine with longing when they talk about that book they want to, need to, would love to write. This is your permission slip to the great unknown outside your stuffy, self-imposed safety.
No more buts.
Say it outloud…softly “I would like to write a book.”
Little bit louder now: “I would love to write a book!”
Say it like you mean it!: “I want to write a book!”
So the people in the back can hear!!: “I WILL WRITE A BOOK!”
Deep breath you crazy loon.
And rejoice in not using the but.
You will write that book.
Stop looking at the world as a place of excuses waiting to trip you up and make you fail and start looking it as the beautiful, messy experiment that has no wrong turns, only lessons.
Need help starting? Great! Let’s strike while your fire is hot!
If you have an idea for your novel, or article, or short story, write it down. Loose outlines are great but if you are a type-A outliner, then give yourself an hour or two to adequately plot it down. There are some great computer programs if you’re that kinda nerd. Or if your MY kind of nerd, post-it notes on a wall or story board are awesome.
Chances are if you’ve been thinking about a book then you already have some characters in mind. Spend twenty minutes (or whatever you can spare at kid’s practices or boring meetings) writing down your main and sub characters’ physical attributes, their strengths, their weaknesses. Write about their childhood, their friends, their parents…none of which needs to go into the book, but it will help you understand their motivation so that when you write the story, they behave in ways coherent with their core.
Join a writing group and take the classes they offer. Todd Mitchell (Todd’s Website) once offered an amazing four week class on writing a novel that covered everything from plotting, to dialogue, to genre, and story arcs. It was maybe the most profound and important class I’ve taken and I highly recommend you start with something like that if you are struggling at the start. Plus going to classes and joining groups helps to build the immensely important network of friends and cohorts who will help you along in your process.
Stock up your library. One of the first things I did after scribbling down a rough outline was lay in the fetal position in tears (well, not quite that dramatic but it makes for a better story) and wonder how someone actually created a functioning plot. Enter the Write Great Fiction Series. They’re some of my favorite resources and they offer everything from plot and structure, dialogue, character and viewpoint etc.
Final bit of advice. Don’t let the but come back into your process. (I’d love to edit my novel but the laundry needs doing– the vacuuming, the scope of work meeting notes, the kids fiftieth soccer game this month.)
Nope. Fuck that noise.
There is time in your life to write a novel. You just have to want it and learn to say no to buts.
You have to make your word count your priority. And no cleaning for god’s sakes until your daily goal is met. No video games or puttering around either.
If you want the novel; if you want to unleash the story burning inside of you, then stop giving yourself the excuses to not write it.
Make the time. Make the novel. Banish your but(t)… to the chair.
In observance of the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred 6 years ago Monday, I’m reposting a poem I wrote the day after.
Running on a dark highway, under speckled stars and the approaching dawn, I felt the legs of thousands of runners alongside me. The shrapnel of fear and terror, echoing thousands of miles away, gave rise to such indomitable hope and strength for so many.
Today I ran.
Not out of fear,
not out of obligation to a scale or a time.
Today I ran to remember why we run,
to share the heavy hurt,
to find the solace that only comes in the gentle cadence of the body and road.
Today I ran for them,
For the hearts and soles that carry the world with them as they go.
just as I do.
Down pavement, and sidewalks, and dirt trails we fly
Down these paths to lighten the burdens of life.
Today I run with my countless brothers and sisters.
Those who came before me,
those paced beside me,
those still on their way.
For all of the tireless legs, the calloused feet, the hardened lungs and loosened smiles.
For those that find their peace and promise where feet connect to Earth.
I don’t have to know you, to know you.
You are me.
In the dark morning, pavement shining in just-stopped rain.
In the quick wedge of afternoon between meetings and bus drops.
In the long weekends when we find out what we really can do in the hours
Okay, so I promised two weeks ago that last week we’d be talking about writing conferences. Then my squirrel brain shouted “I do what I want!” and flicked its squirrel brain tail and stole some nuts and ran off on a tangent.
Adult Sarah remembers. So without further prodding, let’s get into the meaty goodness of writers conferences and why you should strive to attend at least one a year.
If you’ve never been before or even if you are old-hat in the world of conferences, here are a few tips on how to choose the right one for you, how to get the most out of it, and how to not feel completely overwhelmed in the process.
How do you choose which one to attend?
If you are anything like me, you’re wealthy in creativity but strapped for cash. One of the biggest deciding factors, for me, is the cost of the conference (including travel and accommodation expenses) against what classes, speakers, and agents will be there. Getting to pitch to an agent, or multiple agents for publishers specific to your genre is a boon. Classes that are not just interesting but will help expand your craft are also good factors to consider.
Some conferences are genre specific and if you are a comfort-hugging archetype who doesn’t flirt around outside your style and subject matter, then definitely consider something specifically geared to your genre. The Romance Writers of America is hosting its annual conference in New York City this year…but, as my first bullet point states, it’s a little too much expense for my budget. Plus, I like to flirt… (outside of my genre, that is *wink)
If you’re stuck deciding between two, look at the courses offered, the speakers presenting, and if they are offering pitch sessions, especially agents suited to your work. Pick the one that gives you the most opportunity for growth and stretches your creative and ambitious goals.
How do I get the most out of my conference?
Here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead but be flexible. Conferences don’t just start the minute you pin that snazzy name badge on your seldom-used dress clothes. They start the year before, during writing when you (hopefully) self-reflect on the issues you have with your WIP, your style, your grammar, or even the steps you want to take next. If you have trouble with dialogue but are a whiz at plotting out the perfect story arc, then use your conference to build up your weak points. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Which leads me to my next point:
Sit it on at least one session that is outside of your genre, comfort zone, or even interest. Look, conferences can be amazing experiences but if you’ve been through sixteen hours of various takes on the query letter, trying to perfect your memoir pitches, you’re not growing as much as you could be. “But Sarah, why do I need to grow as a writer? I’m practically perfect as is!” Of course you are…but I ask you this: why does an athlete cross train? Why does an engineering major still have to take social science classes? Because learning about the realm outside yourself will make you better. Try a sci-fi world-building class or screenwriting. I guarantee, you will get something new out of it that will help your project and your craft.
Push your limits. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally, share your story, your success, and your pitfalls. This is an awesome opportunity (I’m talking to you little introvert from up there) to commiserate, vent, and rejoice in the craft you love so much. Pitch your novel, article, or story. Talk to the larger-than-life keynote speaker (here’s a hint: every single one of them I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been the kindest, most down-to-Earth and supportive writer). Come away feeling like the weekend/day was an experience that has changed you in some fundamental way.
How do I not get overwhelmed?
For goddess’ sake, take a break in the midst of it all. I’m the worst at this. I paid the money and I’m going to hit every single class. I will volunteer, pitch, hit up the speakers at the dinner table, and stuff every bit of information into my head until explodes! Then by day two, nothing makes sense in my mind, words are blurry, I’m not sure what my name is, and I’m crying into my mashed-potato tower, while wearing Underoos on my head that clearly are not my own. Take the breaks between sessions or even forgo a session and find a quiet corner or go for a walk outside. You need it to recharge, allow time to absorb the information and be refreshed for the next round.
If you are pitching to an agent or editor, polish the shit out of that thing. Take your pitch to your critique group, your friends, random people on the street before the conference and learn how to deliver it with confidence and clarity. Know your story, your characters, and your plot, inside and out. That first page should sing the sweetest siren’s song anyone has ever heart and lure the tepid agent from the afternoon lunch lull into something exciting they want to read more of. The more you practice your pitch, the more it will feel like a conversation with a good friend instead of an interview.
If you are pitching, don’t be intimidated by the agent or editor. Remember they are people. They are there, specifically, to talk to you. To hear your story. To find the next big thing. Most of them are also just like you…they may even be wearing Underoos and like mashed potatoes. The point is, it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go in assuming they relish the idea of shooting you down. Be polite and always thank them for their time and any advice they have to give.
Sleep before. Sleep after. Eat nutritious food, take walks outside whenever you can, and watch the caffeine and the booze. Free coffee stations are like crack for me (okay, I’ve never been addicted to nor have I ever even tried crack but…you get the idea) and cash bars are a tempting mistress at the end of a long, people-filled day. But you have things to do tomorrow and Underoos stay safely tucked in if you can avoid that third cocktail.
Well, good luck out there writer. Go find you a conference and learn to mill about in the wealth of knowledge and inspiration. Leave any comments or helpful hints you’ve gained over the years here, or even your worst experiences. I can’t wait for you to jump into one and discover how decadent it feels to immerse yourself in the craft you love.
Sometimes, as a poet and writer, it behoves us to stretch ourselves and try out new forms, word use, and technique. I encourage you all to step out of your normal patterns of verse and play with alliteration, assonance, and the ever-popular to say but disastrous to spell: onomatopoeia.
Enjoy this little experiment of mine and pass it along.
DON’T FORGET TO SEND ME YOUR OWN POETRY TO BE ENTERED INTO THE ANTHOLOGY AS WELL AS TO BE FEATURED AND PROMOTED HERE ON THE BEAUTIFUL STUFF!
I am the marksman and martyr
The ever-present effervescence.
Symbiotic soul-light, illuminating illustriously
Black nebulous annihilating, extinguishing entirely
Let’s talk about fear and how it changes us, how our fear changes over time, and what purpose it all serves.
This all began in yesterday’s yoga class when we were told to try a handstand, with and without the use of the wall. The instructor is amazing and even at 5:30 in the morning, she’s been able to get into my pre-caffeinated head and merge my body and mind in a beautiful symbiosis of breath, and heat, and general bendy awesomeness.
Yesterday I began the morning by suffering through five miles of a run I didn’t enjoy. The week itself had been long and the weekend was short on sleep…yesterday was a cumulation of unhelpful factors.
So even though I was on my mat, carving out my own space in the universe to detach for an hour, I was still too much in the world. And watching my tiny little guru flip herself upside down effortlessly, knowing that my ass is WAY bigger, and understanding that I wasn’t on the most solid of ground emotionally, didn’t help my middle-age sense of insecurity.
While hopping up on one leg repeatedly in a effort to find balance the thought of “Why is this so hard, I’ve done cartwheels, I’m tough…my ass is big but I’m a sturdy girl all round, I got this…why, can’t I just–“?
*grunt*, *groan*, *heave*, *plop*.
It came down to fear.
I was afraid.
I was afraid that my own body would overcorrect. That to avoid pain, I’d swing my pendulum too far to the other side and really end up in a mess. Even though the wall was right there to catch me and there were no demands for me to even achieve the pose.
My physical fear was manifested out of my emotional fear of going too far.
Sure I worry for my rotator cuffs, and I don’t like the idea of barreling into the wall, but I think I was more afraid I would leap out into the world, heart on sleeve, hope in eyes, and fall off the edge. The headstand was a metaphor, for the cyclical “Why bother–you’ll just end up hurt” pattern that affects so many of us.
I held myself back physically. Because I was trying to protect myself emotionally.
I gave it effort, but not:
I knew I could do it, if I’d let go of the expectation of perfection and the fear of falling. Just like anything in life.
But humans are funny creatures and we spend a lot of time trying to protect ourselves from past physical and emotional pain by avoiding the effort that resulted in that pain.
Yesterday’s lesson brought up an honest question about my fears and where they came from and how they became so entrenched beneath my surface.
Fear serves the purpose of protecting and defending your life and your livelihood. But it also cages you. It stops attempts before they start. It can even set you up to fail.
Now failure isn’t a bad thing. It helps us grow and learn. And it’s not as Churchill so aptly said, “fatal”.
So why can’t I put my ass over my head?
Maybe the answer lies in the day I was having, maybe it’s that I wasn’t physically stable enough yet…maybe it’s because I’m afraid I’ll get it right.
Because sometimes failure is more easy to accept than success.
Why is it scary to succeed? Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do, in life, in our writing, in our day to day?
You’d think that’s what we want for the effort we put in. But self-sabotage is something most of us have done before especially at that hair-breadth distance away from obtaining our goals.
Maybe it’s the unknown aftermath of success…or the expectation to always be searching for the next success, climbing ever farther, faster, higher. If we stay mediocre. If we give up or don’t try…then we can stay nicely tucked into our pajamas on the couch midday, and no one would expect anything more.
Maybe if we start off mediocre, then any effort or tiny improvement we make seems like a mountain climbed.
And that’s just us lowering our standards.
Is it good to let our fear pigeon-pose…er…hole us into mediocrity?
I dunno. I think that’s something you need to talk to yourself about. Maybe it’s a good measurement of what we really want in life, and what we really hold dear.
If you no longer want to give it your best then maybe it’s not worth doing all
Thoughts and comments appreciated on this discussion.
Until I hear from you, I’m going to go find myself a wall and see if I can hoist this ass over my head, in the privacy of my own home where my grunts and groans will be mirrored in the aging basset taking over my yoga mat.
Nope, that’s not a typo. You’ve all heard the adage (or if you’re a writer worth their Peter DeVries salt you have…)
“Write drunk, Edit sober.”
I’m not going to recommend you write drunk. You can… It’s totally possible, and more often than not, highly amusing the morning after. Unlike the headache you’ll be nursing.
DeVries’ meaning was simpler. Write with abandon, in love, fervent and without inhibition. Lower your boundaries and kiss the words you wouldn’t normally, dance with phrases you’d been afraid to hold in your arms. Grab the lampshade of crazy plot twist and wear that son-of-a-bitch as a hat while you twirl through the story.
But in the morning…edit like you’re highly regretful and aiming to pinpoint every mistake you’d made the night before so as to never repeat the debauchery again. Be remorseful. Be judgemental, and like the Spanish Inquisition, show no mercy.
I’m in, let’s say the twelfth round of editing on my WIP. A round that was inspired by a recent submission editor’s advice. This time I’m proceeding with a more somber attitude, one that knows I wrote it, in part, like a drunken idiot and now have dropped my ego enough to be receptive to the advice.
Never before have I been so close to getting a traditional publishing contract for one of my books. Part of this is due to a more polished product (it’s not my first rodeo…or book kids), a more general genre and subject (why do people shy away from paranormal romances and hot ghost sex?), and, I like to think, a cute, relatable plot that’s just enough dark to be interesting.
So, I’m buckling down and doing what I was told to help get this baby off the ground. I’m about thirty pages in and catching some of the ‘problems’ that were brought to my attention. But as I work, I have a concern:
How much of myself and my voice am I taking out of this thing to appeal to the personal likes/dislikes of one editor.
So we come back to somber. Serious. Earnest. Grave. Unsmiling.
Sometimes there are hoops we have to jump through to get to where we want to go. Sometimes we have to shelve our pride and ego and be willing to see past what we love about our work to what could be better.
How do we make sure it’s not just some dime-store novella like the fifty other ones on the shelf? How do I make sure, with all the dead darlings lying beside my computer, that its still my story?
I don’t know those answers exactly, but I’ll tell you what I do know.
I know my characters and the way they react to situations and each other. And where my grammatical prowess may be lacking, I will always stay loyal to them first. When the critique is centered on prepositions or wordy description, I can be earnest in cutting it clean. And not only will my story be stronger, it will be easier to read…hopefully to the point where hands don’t want to let go of it until they finish “just one more chapter”.
So my advice for this week is this:
Take good advice from people in the industry who know when it comes to the technical mishaps of your work. Take the advice to tighten your writing from people who have to spend hours of their lives sifting through the slushiest of slush piles.
But always keep true to the drunken passion of your story that made your heart dance and giggle while it awkwardly pulled that plot line in for a kiss. Keep your story’s heart, but don’t be afraid to pluck it’s wayward eyebrows and wipe its nose.
Good luck, in whatever step you are of your process. Editing, writing, or contemplation of either.
Next week is my homage to writer’s conferences, with some good advice on how to spend your time and get the most bang for your buck.
Now, I know last week I talked about taking life down a notch, enjoying the time we have and not stressing about impressing others. And I was honest in my expression of those thoughts.
Then what did I do? I turned around and signed up for a writing challenge last weekend, sponsored by the lovely folks at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a volunteer group based in Colorado. The challenge was done through a dedicated page on FaceBook and the aspiration was to reach 25,000 words in 4 days, with daily check ins.
I know. I know. I said I wasn’t going to push beyond what I needed and no one needs to finish a novella or half a novel in four days. That being said, of the few things in life that bring me true joy, writing is one. So to have a challenge that gives me reason to put my writing first above all other priorities was very good for my practice and for my mental health. I had a justifiable reason to get on the computer, shut out the world and work. I had a goal to get to!
And here’s what I learned:
1.) Sometimes a thing seems impossible; until it’s not.
That is to say, that mountain looks insane and unclimbable when all you’re doing is standing at the base looking up at the top. But if you start walking and focus on the trail ahead of you, taking on the obstacles in your present moment one at a time, soon you’ve found you’ve reached the next rise… and the next, and the next.
Large things aren’t accomplished in one step. They are accomplished by persevering through all of the little steps on the way.
2.) My family didn’t fall apart when I retreated into my writing for a while.
Sure…eventually if you lock yourself away in hermitude, giving everything you have to your craft, your children forget they had a mom, your spouse doesn’t remember what you look like, and all your houseplants will die.
But nine times out of ten, when you need an hour to focus on your work in progress, your kids and family and houseplants will manage just fine. They might even be better for it, having been so bored for so long that they had to go and make their own fun.
In your life, the laundry can wait, the e-mails, the FaceBook updates, the schedules etc, can take a back burner temporarily while you work on a dream.
3.) Writer’s block sort of disappears when you don’t have the time to self-edit or doubt.
Now listen, this thing I wrote is rough. I mean ROUGH.
The spelling, the punctuation, the grammar, the inconsistent plot line and character flaws… the total lack of reasoning in some cases…it’s a bonafide mess. But it’s also raw and flowing. There were no stutter stops or abrupt changes because I didn’t have time to stop and rethink. Character’s said what they meant, and did it efficiently because I had a story-line to build. And I think my ability to follow the character’s lead improved, letting them do what they do without my intervention led to a more interesting twists, and brighter characters.
4.) Never underestimate the power of having people in your corner
Ya’ll…I didn’t even know the people who participated in the Spring Novelrama either to write, or to mediate writing sprints, or to send memes and inspirational videos. And yet not a single one of them, from what I read, had a disparaging word for their fellow writers. When the word counts were paltry, or life was distracting us, or if someone had gotten caught up editing and *gasp* lost words, every response was that of “I’ve been there, I know it, you’re gonna get through this! You’re doing great!” And getting told that three or four times a day by writers more experienced and talented than you can really start to make you feel like:
5.) I’m kind of awesome.
Now listen, I know that sounds cocky. But if any of you know me in real life, you know that I’m not very generous when it comes to dolling out self-esteem. I’ll be the first to tell you all of my flaws and give you a detailed list of why I’m the least capable person in the world for anything.
But when you get to the top of a mountain that you once thought was impossible to climb, you learn a lot about yourself. How dedicated you can be. How well you can step up when something matters to you. So the next mountain over still might be scary but now you know you have the determination and persistence to conquer it. And knowing that is half the battle in recognizing your awesomeness.
So big picture message here is this: Don’t not try something just because it seems hard or even impossible. Mastery is achieved by accepting difficulties. Living in the moment and taking the steps we can until the impossibility passes beneath our feet like rocky ground. Go do something amazing today, startle yourself, challenge yourself. Whether it be in your work or in your passion (I would love if, for all of us, that was one and the same), take a little leap and trade the fear for faith that it will all work out.
Surround yourself with good people who are sympathetic to your struggle but won’t be enablers to your pity party.
Thank you to all that participated and helped run the contest. Thanks for my quirky new novel that has everything from deep-rooted government conspiracies, to genetically modified super soldiers, to in depth conversations about leg shaving.
Go on now writer. Set a goal, give it a timeline, and get on with discovering who you can be.
Something changed in the last month, my friends. Something kind of big. I didn’t really feel it at first, much like a solar flare or an earthquake a thousand miles away. The gentle flap of a butterfly’s wings somewhere in Malaysia. That’s how it began. Just an itch. A bit of a tickle…
You see, for the past seven or so years I’ve been on this track, inspired by the loss of a friend who left this dizzying ride far too soon. The day his light went out, I vowed to shine mine brighter; to burn out if necessary, but to always, always push towards my desires and passions.
And I succeeded in many respects. I achieved goals I had set, I went forth, even with paralyzing fear, to put myself and my work out there, to try new things, to live each day as if death might snatch me in my sleep.
And it’s a beautiful way to live. But no one mentions how hard it is to burn that intensely for so long. It’s nearly impossible to sustain in any healthy way. And I ended up sustaining it in not so healthy ways. Losing sleep, detrimental coping mechanisms, the overwrought sense of always being tired and worn out. Damage to my physical body. Damage to my mental health.
That’s when the butterfly fluttered somewhere in the distant neurons of my brain, and inspired this rising tsunami.
Living like you might die is a great way to get shit done. But I think I’m coming to grips with the idea that I might not go out like a candle extinguished, surprising and fast. That maybe, I’ll make it to 98…and if that’s the case, I have to slow my roll enough to make those fifty-some years just as beautiful and full.
Well, watch the wave come in…
I have to learn to slow the moments down. I am learning to say no to what doesn’t bring me joy. I am learning that not every day, week, month, year is the day, week, month, year that will see startling changes and massive accomplishments.
Sometimes I won’t get out of my pajamas all day. Sometimes, even after being a meticulous worker for most of my life, I won’t take the extra shifts. I may even put on a few pounds and kick my fucking scale to the curb.
Because I’m learning to save my effort for the things that really matter.
I’m committing myself to the things that fill my time with meaning.
This life-altering shift has helped me take a hard pass on things that have only been important because they mattered to the other people oscillating nearby. It’s got me skipping out on the mundane shit that doesn’t serve the purpose of my joy. Most importantly, it’s giving me permission to let go of people who don’t deserve my time or energy.
Does that mean I walk around being an asshole to everyone, shirking my commitments, and letting the laundry and bathroom scum build up to disgusting proportions? No. Because I might not die tomorrow, but if I did, I’m not going to leave a dirty mess behind me.
But does it mean if the bathroom looks fine but for a few spots on the mirror and some toothpaste in the sink I’ll put aside my ten pages of editing to clean it up?
Not any more.
Does it mean I’ll take all the jobs I can get, pro bono, because my platform ‘needs’ the solid underbelly from it?
Not any more.
My time is worthwhile, my craft is worthwhile. And if I don’t get any more of those little side jobs because they cost even the kindest, well-intentioned acquaintances then at least I will have the time that they took for me. And that’s priceless.
Does it mean I’ll drop my precious hours of writing, or family time, to take on a few extra shifts at my part-time jobs?
Does it mean I’ll sign up for the time consuming races that guarantee I’ll end up with some injury, just for the ‘glory’ of bragging rights and the ‘challenge’?
Not this year.
I think I’m done with bragging. I’ve proven I can rise to challenges and I think I’m good with getting over giant accomplishments. I think I’m going to shoot the curl of this tsunami and ride it out…let it take me past all of the underlying reasons and expectations of others and do what’s best for me.
After all, I’ve only got half my life left. I spent a great deal of the first pleasing others, trying to anticipate and follow through with what they expected and needed of me.
I think it’s time I shook up some of those misperceptions.
Today’s Verse Day is brought to you by the amazing and talented, one-of-a-kind, Rebecca Cuthbert.
Rebecca (Schwab) Cuthbert lives and writes in Western New York. She is a hopeless believer in “the beautiful stuff,” like gardening, caring for shelter dogs, reading and writing, and spending time with people who fill her heart up.
Please enjoy and share this gem of writing. Don’t forget to send me your own entries for consideration!
“It’ll be just like playing house,” she’d said. “You’ll wear slippers, but not cologne. I’ll wear an apron, but only on Thursdays, only in April and June, and not if I’m not at the bus stop.”
She made me a key, but I saw the framed pictures, coffee rings and toast crumbs I didn’t leave.
Her hair smelled like hyacinths. She left the porch light off when she kissed me goodbye, ignored my declarations, told me not to creak the gate.
It’s August now and I sit behind her on the early bus. She focuses on her crossword or stares out the window, and I wonder if she’s pretending now, too.
Okay, that title makes it sound way more important than it is. It’s really just a normal weekly blog post, but I thought I would make it sound more official. It’s “Inaugural”…makes it sound like a need a fancy dress and an invitation… neither of which I have.
From now on, my weekly blog will be posted on Tuesdays. I wanted to spread The Beautiful Stuff out a bit more and appreciate your continuing to follow me.
Let’s get into stuff.
You all know I love this lady…and this is one of my favorite quotes from her:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.
I never expect perfection from myself or others. True beauty lies in the quirks of our imperfections, after all. That being said, our larger-than-comfortable-for-birth brains have no excuse for not changing behavior that is damaging. We have this funny little thing called foresight and allows us to think ahead, from the point in time we’re at to where our decisions can lead.
Learning is one of the greatest gifts we were given. Learning from others, from books, from experiences; our mistakes, our pain. We learn most from struggle and strife…and hopefully use that knowledge to do better the next time around.
Think of the amazing things that have come from this process!
As a species we’ve made great advances in society with science and medicine, saved species, and ended disease. Now…that doesn’t mean we don’t fall in equal and terrible measures and sometimes fall back into dark areas of ignorance and inflexibility.
We’re still losing species, spreading old diseases that used to be nearly eradicated. Some of us are falling off of the edge of a misconstrued flat world, it’s true. Idiocy is a hard condition to fight and I don’t have enough words to do it today, so let’s just focus on the theme.
Do your best. Until you know better. Then do better.
Our survival depends on the constant improvement…the evolution, if you will, of our knowledge.
When you become aware, when you wake to a cultural fallacy or the inconsistency of a prescribed “truth” don’t stay stagnant. Don’t support the norm out of fear, or worse, laziness. Ask the questions, the hard ones, and when you see the dark lying beneath, use what you know to bring it to light, and fix it.
This is a large scale hypothetical and it feels overwhelming to the small human. So, I urge you to think about it in terms of your own life. It doesn’t have to be vast, sweeping, cultural change to make a difference. Sometimes changing ourselves, piece at a time, can be the spark that starts the big fires. So start with you. What can you do today to “do better”?
Standing up for the fallen? Extending a hand to the broken? A kind word? A donation of time or money? A voice against injustice?
It doesn’t even have to be something so altruistic. What about an acceptance of your own happiness? Saying no to what you don’t want, or to that which makes you heart or soul sick? Letting go of the habits and addictions of your past to do better for you?
Taking a goddamn nap when you want one, eating that piece of chocolate cake, saying no to that glass of wine, or yes to that bourbon. I’m not going to tell you what you can do to “do better”, but I will tell you this;
Sometimes “doing better” is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Because better is often a rocky path, a steeper hill. It’s so much easier to falter, to roll down that hill, to let yourself go…and we’re all going to stumble. That’s ok. Remember? Imperfections are beautiful.
Just keep on, doing your best, until you know better…then do better.
Let me know what ‘better’ you’ll shoot for today? What about for the week? Year? Longer? I want to hear it all, throw some inspiration my way.
Before I wow you with my versatile verses here are a couple of quick announcements:
Send me your poetry for consideration in the The Beautiful Stuff 2019 Poetry Anthology. If you don’t write poetry, but know someone who does, encourage them. Contributors will get two free copies of the anthology and bragging rights. And we all know bragging rights are way better than a cash payout…um…ahem…(*nervous throat clearing).
You can send entries via the contact page on this website or simply by emailing it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “2019 Beautiful Stuff Poetry Submission” as the subject line.
Also, The Beautiful Stuff’s weekly blog post will now be moved to Tuesdays of every week, as I want to spread out all the thought. I will be looking for guest bloggers at the beginning of April so keep your eyes open for that announcement.
And now…a little scuttle into Sarah’s latent memories.
Remember days, sunlit and spread
Tentacles of diving suns and
Russian thistles, green teeth bared,
Before winter tumbled them dry.
The sand blasted faces, relentless wind,
Grit swallowed with water from the hose.
Remember the stolen boards,
The battle of nail and hammer; an engineering feat.
The tree house mansion at the end of the road
That dropped my brother from leafy heights
And gave him the best scar of the summer.
Remember the joyful toil
Sticky hands and brown feet
Mosquito bites torn into angry holes,
Captured horny toads, succumbing to belly rubs
Such degradation of the regal king of sagebrush.
Awe filled fascination, as blood fired from their eyes
A defense of true dragonry.
Remember settling into M*A*S*H with dad,
Never noticing the sting of war around the click of Klinger’s heels.
Or the soft, seeking peace of Radar’s eyes.
The MacNeil Newshour always put me to sleep on the floor.
A sleep that never paused for the bustle of adult worry, or nuclear meltdowns.
Remember toe-headed boys and dirty-dishwater blondes,
Running naked round houses on dares,
Unfathomable speed of youthful freedom
Still not faster than motherly wrath.
When laughter tickled like a persistent cough
And sadness reserved itself for opened knees and epic bike wrecks.
Wounds that healed far faster than the heart.
And left scars you bragged about, not buried.
When life was immortal and endless,
Possibilities not yet limited by the bottleneck of time.
No one likes to be rejected. Well, I can’t generalize, maybe there are those that get a kick out of it. Maybe for some, it serves as a driving force to continue with even more fervor. Maybe they’ve never had a problem with self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy.
I’m not one of those people.
My rational brain knows that there’s nothing personal meant. My rational brain knows that it’s just one opinion in a sea of possibilities. But day after day, letter after letter, even the most devoted to their art have to ask…did I miss my calling as a waitress?
Or a forensic anthropologist, or an archaeologist, or a pilot, or a teacher, or an EMT, or…ANY other job that doesn’t require me to put my heart in the hands of someone else to be judged and weighed to justify doing what I love?
Wouldn’t it be nice to just go into a nine-to-five, perform some task that doesn’t have to have any of my heart in it, go home, and get a paycheck and possibly health insurance if I’m lucky?
Writers…man, we’re a strange breed.
Rising in the dark early hours, still up at dark late hours, scribbling on napkins and notebooks. Our mental faculties always distracted to some degree by the dialogue in our heads. We write, we pour out, we mull over, and edit, and form, and shape, and create. We fester and brood. And when it looks, to our over-thinking eye, that it might be something worth sharing we throw it out into a world that’s saturated with thousands of other ideas worth sharing.
And we wait. And we hope. And we fester some more.
So it should be a relief when we get the rejection…the thirtieth or first, because now we know. And It’s better to know.
So you can go back to the drawing board and change your heart all over again. Mold it into something someone wants to read…make it something that’s acceptable.
Sometimes, you do everything they ask and find you hardly recognize your own voice afterwards.
So one has to wonder; if we take our hearts and cut them to fit the trend of the market, how much of us are we really offering to the world? And is it worth selling out to get our name on the front cover? And what makes that any different than a nine-to-five, heartless job with dental?
Except there’s no dental…
So much time, effort, and tears spent trying to tell the world a story, or explain the feelings of our hearts only to be told it isn’t enough. That if we change our story, that if we change our hearts we might be able to garner a $2.50 royalty someday.
Sounds like madness to me.
Sounds like unchecked mental disease.
At some point, don’t we have to admit, that maybe, our thoughts, our stories, are just not good enough, and maybe it would be less painful to just stop trying.
After all, life’s plenty painful enough on its own.
If I could tell you one thing that I know to be true it’s this: Words are power.
Words have weight.
What we say to others will shape not only their perceptions of themselves, but also their perception of us and the world at large.
The old adage of sticks and stones breaking bones but words as ineffectual, is dangerously incorrect. Physical wounds heal over. But harsh words, implanted on the heart and brain of a young, impressionable human last and can shape the way a person’s brain is formed.
As a parent and mentor I can tell my kids in countless ways and repeatedly why others sling these arrows and try to reason with them that the hatred and hurt is a result of the bully’s own feelings of inadequacy. But it does little to sooth the pain.
In the higher stakes of a social-media driven society, words are slung at a faster pace, with a farther reach then we ever had to deal with as kids. Farther than the playground, and in more permanent ways that have lasting and sometimes deadly consequences.
So how do we change these verbal arrows from something potentially life-altering, into something that can offer hope and let the victims of bullying take back their power in the situation?
In Dean K. Miller’s latest poetry anthology, “Before Understanding Life, Love Yourself: 101 Acrostic Poems Reshaping Words Used By Bullies” he utilizes acrostic language to change the most common words used by bullies into more positive, life affirmations.
The time he spent analyzing these words and what they could be changed to is evident and Miller offers us a bright light in an otherwise dark topic.
As he says:
“Through the use of acrostic poetry, my goal is to reshape the words used by bullies into positive pictures, thereby creating new lists of a thousand words that spark upbeat feelings, inspire positive self images, and defuse the stress associated with bullying words.”
In “Before Understanding Life, Love Yourself”, Miller takes the worst and most cutting words and breaks them down into ideas that can, hopefully, offer an alternative way for victims to think about the word. Like taking a tarnished penny and turning it over to reveal the untouched copper shine, this poetry anthology gives victims of bullying a tool to reshape the negative words into positive ideas.
If you’re familiar with Mr. Miller’s work, I don’t need to gush about his poetic prowess (though I could if you had a few hours). If this is your first time hearing of him, I urge you to check out his work. Miller is a master at crafting poetry that resonates and paints images in your mind.
If you are a teacher or in another profession that holds responsibility over the health and wellness of our kiddos I highly recommend you check this book out.
You can even contact me and I’ll offer it through The Beautiful Stuff at a discounted rate.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” ― Elie Wiesel
I’m back after a short hiatus.
I could bore you all day with the details of how much mucous I’ve been producing, and how little sleep this incessant cough has left me. The sinus pain, like a vice grip against my cheeks and teeth. How little the pills, and vapors, and natural cures have cured.
But there’s something darker that reared its head last week as result of this bug.
I’ve suffered a lot of mental hiccups. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and all the twisted coping mechanisms that come with them, have been the monsters in my closet for a while now. But something else slunk out, ironically, in the midst of my attempts to get well.
I’m not talking about your general and passing lack of fucks to give.
I can’t explain to you how frightening it was to feel nothing. To have no care. Ordinarily, this might be a good thing for me, a way to let go, if you will, of the petulant details and relax for once. But this kind of apathy left me in a strange state. I wasn’t hungry, and didn’t eat. I stopped caring that I wasn’t sleeping. I fell into a lull wherein the idea of quitting my job, retreating from friends and relationships, and even throwing myself in front of a truck didn’t seem like such a big deal.
I just didn’t care. I felt so utterly numb that I didn’t recognize being in my own body or the life that surrounded.
And it scared the shit out of my rational self, who sat locked in a store room in the back of my brain during this apathy’s hostile takeover.
It was like having my mind overtaken by The Nothing. You remember, don’t you? The Nothing?
Maybe, if you’re into more modern day SCIFI/FANTASY you could say it was like the Alliance Conspiracy on the planet Miranda. Nothingness. A utter and complete lack of care.
What made this feeling worse than other things I’ve felt, was its lack of any dramatic or shocking arrival. It was only a calm letting go of everything–so easily laid over me that it seemed nothing ever really mattered to begin with.
Worse than black. All was gray.
Then I stopped taking the little clear pill that was supposed to suppress my cough. And the gray receded, like a wave pulling back from the shore. Just enough, that I remembered to take out the trash. That I felt hungry enough to eat something. That I cared enough to engage in my children’s lives again, and get the mail.
It took me a while to understand what had happened. That a combination of lack of sleep and fighting a virus, and the pressures of life, my hairbreadth distance from depression, and that little suppressive pill were like a team of anti-heros that kidnapped me for a few days.
I started to wonder if maybe the things that drive us to fight so hard (or even cough), even when its a stupid and pointless battle (and sometimes pops your hernia out or makes you pee yourself), shouldn’t be suppressed.
Because maybe the instinct that makes us react to even small things is a switch that could turn off our fight for and against the big things.
I don’t know where you are in your life, in your creative process, in your flu season. But I wanted to offer you a few key things I learned in hopes they can help you fight off any oncoming Nothingness in your own world.
1.) Stay grounded. With something, anything, that is important and true in your life. Maybe your family, or your job, or your art. Maybe it’s something as simple as your breath. Just keep yourself tethered to that one true thing. So you don’t lose sight of all true things.
2.) Know your body. I get a little head heavy on this blog, and that’s ok, but remember that our brains are organs too and when the body is out of balance and we’re throwing weights on either side of the scale, willy-nilly, things can get out of whack really fast. Listen to your body. It’s okay to be tired, its okay to rest. But it’s not okay to be consciously asleep with indifference.
3.) If you suffer from a mental illness, you should probably make sure your doctor knows before they prescribe you anything, even a simple expectorant. I’m not sure if my reaction was common, or just a fluke, but I’d hate to think what could have happened in a more severe scenario.
4.) Be better than me. When you feel this, if you feel this…please reach out to someone, hug on your babies, go to coffee with that friend, reconnect even when you don’t see the point. That little rational slice of brain locked in the cleaning closet will recognize it, cling to it, and hopefully use it to pick the lock.
That’s all I’ve got for this week. Heavy stuff. Leave your comments, questions, experiences below. I look forward to talking to you again…soon. And I mean that.
Before you immerse yourself in this succulent little slice of verbiage, take a moment to remember that I’m still calling for submissions to the poetry anthology and look forward to featuring your work here on my website. IT’S FREE PEOPLE…and you get all the feel-good bragging rights of being ‘published’. So consider and send me your stuff.
Okay, proceed to the Verse…
If I could stand in those empty fields once more.
The sun and wind bearing down,
Driving back the faint of heart.
If I could catch the notes of sage on the back of my tongue,
And the distant blue horizon
Far and stretching for eons
The time of endless days, turned eye-blinks.
If I could walk those creaky halls, and the comfort of shadow
The patterns of wood and love
If I could smell the dust of my bedroom, hear the closet door creak,
Lean against kitchen countertops, where the coffee pot left
Traces of brown on the laminate.
If I could just go back.
To that time
To that girl.
Maybe I could find the pattern of me,
The places before broken lines were drawn.
And piece the puzzle back together.
Maybe in this place, the dirt that grew beneath my fingernails,
The dust that scattered through my hair
The sweet sunshine that painted my cheeks in freckles
And the smell of an innocent child who belonged to the wild.
If I could just run those tracks, single and winding through empty fields,
On the squeaky tires, of the most faithful steed,
Who’s cracked seat pinched tender thighs, if ever the thought to sit occurred.
If I could spend the day on an adventure,
I could find the greatest one yet.
The one that tells the story,
Of a girl who was fearless
A girl who loved the wind and the sun
And the freedom beneath her was a fair gale to wings
Sometimes opportunity knocks on the door…sometimes it knocks the door down.
Gentle readers, this week I’ve been filling my life up with a few new opportunities though time is sparse and energy is waning.
Times like these often make me question my ever-lovin’ sanity.
I know that we’re all busy. I know that we’re all overworked, and underpaid, and hanging on to the ledge by our fingernails. But sometimes…
Sometimes a light breaks out of the storm clouds above you and shines on a seemingly small and inconsequential moment. Everything else around it falls away… And you just know that this is something worth exploring.
This, a diamond in the rough.
When that kind of light shines in your life, the reason you tend to drop everything else is that what you’re looking at isn’t just an opportunity; it’s something more.
It’s food for your soul. In a world where we’ve been starving our spirit for lack of genuine sustenance, these moments and opportunities strike a stark contrast.
And we have to re-learn what we so often forget; that the soul will not be dissuaded.
Despite that fact, sometimes we fight the idea. We shy away. It’s too brilliant, it’s too bright; it could burn us or illuminate all of our own shortcomings. It will be too much work and presents a slippery a slope.
It could be our downfall.
It’s the sun and we, Icarus.
T’was ambition that killed Caesar… and all that jazz.
But what if this light is something so much bigger than you and your human fears of failure? And what if it’s not just an opportunity for you but for a better world, a small piece at a time? What if it’s a hand to someone who’s been too long forgotten. What if this dangerous journey, hard-pressed and gritty, means more than just your own happiness?
What if it’s a chance to use your voice to change the world?
Well then, you chase that light. You open that goddamn door.
You don’t hesitate, you don’t reconsider. You fling it open and feed your soul.
Times in this country are pretty fucking dark. I’m not even kidding, ya’ll.
We’re spiraling down the bowl of a very large toilet. Hate, hurt, injustice, anger, suicide, depression, gloom…it’s all a shadowy mass, constantly pressing in.
I’m asking…nay, tell you—chase the light. Find a way to be of some use…not for the perpetuation of hate and hurt but for the healing of our country, our world, and our place in history.
How do you want your grandchildren…your great grandchildren to remember your actions in this time? Will they remember your hatred? Will they look back to see disgusting and disrespectful behavior towards your fellow human beings?
If that’s your idea of legacy, you can go kick rocks, kid…I don’t want your kind in my playground.
It is no longer enough to sit idly by and just do no harm. It is time to actively participate in doing good. In lifting the downtrodden, and striking out against those who keep us all underfoot.
So go out there, find your brilliant light, your opportunity to make a difference, and throw yourself into the fire of it. Feed your soul.
Biting the Dust and Chewing the Fat: A Word About Idioms
My daughter is learning about idioms in school. With new eyes on them, these expressions and figures of speech can range from all-out ridiculous to so over used that we barely notice them. Keep your eyes open, I’m about to idiom all over this place.
The conversation with my daughter got the ball rolling in my head, thinking about the idioms that pepper my own work. Writing coaches and how-to books tell you constantly to watch out for these little story killers, and with good reason. They dull your dialogues. They’re cliche, they’re drab, and boring and are the written word equivalent to a speaker saying ‘um’ and ‘uh’. Idioms are skipped over by the reader’s eye because they are so common as fixtures of language and culture. In other words, they’re time and space wasters.
Now, I don’t want to steal someone’s thunder or throw the baby out with the bathwater because sometimes idioms can be useful. Occasionally a specific phrase used in dialogue can denote or solidify where your character comes from or give us insight into their personality.
Saying ‘that dog won’t hunt’ or that someone ‘doesn’t know shit from Shinola’ (oh, and ‘please excuse my French’) are phrases one expects from a certain region or even generation. But unless it is something your character is at home saying, or that paints them in more vibrant colors to the reader, avoid them like the plague. After all, do we really need to swing a cat in a room to see if it’s big enough to do so?
It’s hard to cull the herd of idioms in our language; to make our work more precise and original, but it is part of fighting the good fight. When editing, ask yourself if the line has a double meaning. Ask if it’s the best possible way to say what you mean. If it’s an obvious idiom, what could you use instead? Does it contribute to the scene and charm of the moment, or distract from it?
So don’t beat around the bush or cry over spilt milk. When the ball is in your court and you’re back to the drawing board, remember; although idioms can be a cloud with a rare silver lining, it is always better to hit the nail on the head and kick overused phrases to the curb.
Now, if I can get the use of the Oxford comma right and stop double spacing after periods, I may just level the playing field.
If it’s not one thing…it’s another.
What are some of your common (or favorite) over-used expressions?
While you’re making all of those resolutions, resolve to send me some of your poetry, essay or flash fiction to be featured on The Beautiful Stuff. Just use the contact button on my WordPress site, or e-mail me your brilliant stuff at email@example.com
Don’t lose your direction, nomadic heart.
Look to the needle swaying
In the depths of blood and bone
Old soul encased.
Waylaid by the plans of men and monsters
Fears and agitations,
False desires and hollows.
Don’t lose your direction, traveler.
Your feet alone touch dust and rock
Trails of world and earth,
Don’t let them plot the miles you go,
Before you rest.
Do not waver into their squall.
Do not falter, drifter.
Remember what your feet are for
The strength of legs, unbuckling
The pulse of your rhythm.
Cling to it.
Let it draw your map,
Let it lead you.
You know you.
You know the truth of your existence.
Though they’ve taught you to fear it.
Though they’ve convinced you to deny it.
To question it.
To distrust the very core of your happiness.
Do not let them take your journey.
Do not let them own your path.
Be the master of your fate,
The commander of your soul.
Do not falter.
Do not falter.
Seek the astrolabe inscribed on your heart
The Heavenly body.
The incline of space.
That can’t be measured by the methods of any other man.
You made no promise to tread on their pristine track.
Their paved and acceptable roads are not your obligation.
I hope that you all find yourselves well and recuperating from a holiday season that seemed more like a mac truck hitting us than a season of joy and light. But now we’re past all of the wrapping paper, and crowds, and tortuous replaying of Wham’s “Last Christmas”, and on to bigger and brighter things. Right?
That’s what the New Year is all about? Starting over, becoming a better, new and improved version of you? Everyone say it in your heads… “New Year, New Me!”
Let the marketing campaign wash over you in brain-addling waves.
Well…I’m not here to crush your dreams, or dissuade you from improving yourself. I don’t want to take the proverbial wind from your sails in the early stages of the month, but I do want to remind you about last year…and the year before that, and the one before that as well…
You know what I’m talking about.
The years where you went in, guns blazing to become the ideal human, clean of diet, kind, financially responsible, organized, and positive to a fault.
Don’t look away, you know you promised those things.
I’m not here to judge or berate your failure…quite the opposite actually.
I’m here to let you know that the old you is a fucking amazing individual.
S/he isn’t perfect, sure. Who is? But think, for a moment, what you’ve survived this far. The battle wounds, the trials, the breaks and heart aches, the falls and doubts. The beautiful human failing that’s left you with regrets and scars.
Why in the hell would you want to change that warrior? That warrior has seen some horrible shit and lived to tell the story. That warrior’s roots run Earth-deep. Don’t discount the strength of who you already are, in this moment.
You want to lose a few pounds or not blow your paycheck at Target? Fine by me…great goals…but don’t look to change the beautiful beast you are. Look to change your perspective on your own imperfection.
Wanting to be healthier is good, but I’m asking you instead of drinking lemon-juice laced vinegar three meals a day, to try taking care of the warrior. Good food, (things that build us up and make us stronger, not limit us or feed on weird ideas of food guilt), exercise (to keep us strong, flexible, and energized), more sleep (put your goddamn phone down at bedtime, lovey). All of these things are important to keep that warrior ready for the next battles they’re sure to face in the coming year.
So stop telling lies to yourself, stop trying to fit your old, battle-scarred body into the cute little New Me box. Don’t be a New Me. Be the impeccable Old You…just aim for a slightly better version…one that eats a salad once in a while instead of a bag of Cheetos. One that goes to bed before ten instead of playing an extra hour of video games. One that forgoes the hard runs once or twice a week to pay homage to the beautiful abilities and flexibilities of the human body in other ways.
Hell, walk to the post box instead of driving.
You don’t have to pin a board of ideas on how to change yourself to be ‘better’. You don’t have to change you. Just tweak some of the things that aren’t good for you.
Good luck out there, you old battle axe. Go find a salad…and a bag of Cheetos (for later).
For the last VerseDay of 2018 I wanted to give you something amazing and powerful. Alas, this is what you get instead. (Well? Laugh!)
Next week, dawning the New Year, I will once again be promoting my submissions to VerseDay for the anthology out next fall. If you want to see your poem in print, please feel free to email or contact me with your poetry and/or essays.
And now…the final poem of 2018’s VerseDay adventure…
I miss you.
Miss the sound of your voice,
And the slight buzz
Dripping Carolina, Honey
I miss your fire,
the uplifting energy; an element so unconfined
The rushing ideas,
The rebellious feeling and defiant
I miss you, and your hover,
The way you called my flower the sweetest,
The only, under this sun,
You’ve ever loved, and danced so delicately across my
I don’t miss the way
Your deluge engulfed me,
Suffocated and overran in conversation,
The sting of barrage, welting my heart over and over again
And feeling that I was never quite important enough
To stop and take a
I don’t miss the pain,
Of the aching guilt you pierced me with,
The weight of what I should be,
What you wanted me to be,
The ideal you set
A high ivory honeycomb of complex,
Life does this.
It educates us.
Sometimes in human form,
and one sweetly hovering honeybee
Hard and hurtful once lured by the beguiling warmth
We must choose the limb to chew off to spare our
You were my lesson
To enjoy the drawl but not submit to the voice
To know the sweetness of honey, without succumbing to its
To stoke my own energy,
To comprehend that I don’t need yours.
Orbiting in the clouds of your unfathomable passion taught me
Okay…that’s not entirely true. Those of you who know me outside of the blogosphere know that I can be extroverted in some situations. On the floor of the dojo, I have to be loud and energetic under the necessity of keeping a five-year-old karate kid engaged and focused. I must be direct and clear spoken towards older students to convey the intricacies of technique and motion. Amongst friends at book club or UFC fight night I can be lively and even, occasionally, funny. But I have a very finite well for social interaction.
A friend once told me she could pinpoint the exact moment when I become introverted. She said,
“Your expression all the sudden fades from open and smiling to gray and downcast and you just sort of sink back into the furniture, and I think well, she’s done.”
I couldn’t have described it better myself. That’s exactly how it feels inside too. Like someone turns a light off inside of me and I’m no longer open for business. It isn’t that I stop caring, I just run out of the ability to express concern. I am overwhelmed with the individual energies surrounding me. I absorb too much.
I like people, in small amounts. I like to hear their stories and their laughter. I like when they feel they can open up to me even about the hardest subjects… but it takes a lot of energy to be honestly and truly engaged in other people’s lives.
And it should.
Some people have an endless well for this kind of interaction. Unfortunately I am not one of those people, not for lack of trying. Sometimes I wonder if I engage too well and end up caring a little too much and the energy that takes sucks my well dry faster than if I remained more aloof.
Some people are no good at alone. From a woman I know who can’t stand not to be married, and going on her sixth husband. To the friend constantly texting all the contacts in her list looking for conversation or justification, or just someone to escape normal life with…to the guy who’s always got a better-than-yours story and has a pathological need to share…constantly. The world needs all types and, to be clear, they aren’t bad people, they just need connection in a different way.
Sometimes I think they fear being alone. And I’m not sure why but it may have to do with how scary introspection can be. How scary the thoughts are that come up from the dark recesses when called out by the lack of outside stimulation.
Such things are easy to cover up with noise, and new love, and impressive stories.
If you’re uncomfortable in your own company, that’s something you should really take a look at. You should ask yourself why. Chances are, it’s because you’re afraid of what you might find.
We are scary, us humans. We have scary, weird thoughts, irrational, sometimes haunting. There’s a reason horror movies exist and why Steven King has sold millions.
Don’t forgo the experience and the knowledge it brings just because you’re afraid of what you might find on the inside, of what you’ve ignored. Facing it will help to make it real, and we can only deal with/solve/accept what we know to be real.
Most introverts know how to be alone. We don’t just know it; it’s our homeostasis. The safe place we return to at the end of the day to recoup and refill the well. We thrive in the quiet, where our brains and hearts can focus on one thing, usually of our own, that doesn’t involve the constant dance of keeping another person’s feelings and thoughts in our mind, ahead of and instead of our own.
That’s not to say that all introverts are good at self-reflection, but I think it happens more often for us, in part because of the quiet we seek out. Quiet fosters uninterrupted thought. I, like most introverts, am a person who needs to shut down everything else in order to check in with what’s happening in my own head.
Sometimes, without the quiet, and only the loud and obligatory, chocked-full days, emotional backlash catches me. I will spend time with friends, co-workers, students, etc and wonder why I feel so frustrated or angry, or sad, or antsy when I return home. But with all the obligations at home and work, I often don’t have time to understand that they aren’t my feelings, but ones that I have absorbed. So I am angry, frustrated…sad. It’s only when I can spare a moment to look at the interactions from a place outside of them that I begin to understand their effects.
From the quiet I can understand that one friend is an attention seeker, outwardly sweet, but always demanding of justification and the need to be right. So I walk away feeling drained and always wrong. From a distance, I see how I am often captivated by an individual and every tiny crumb of attention they drop, because they give them so sparingly. So that when they give I feel like I could fly from the elation in my heart, and when they hold back, I am cast into a hopeless darkness.
The friend who swears she is here to listen to me but every time I begin to talk, barges over my words with stories of her own so I can be assured that she understands my exact feelings. To the person who shrugs off my insecurities, because how can my life be as hard as their own…and proceeds to tell me why. To the parent who makes up their own side of a conversation when what comes out of my mouth is too hard to face.
It’s often difficult to convince myself, at the end of the day, that I’m ok. Just me. Outside of the worldly distractions, outside of the demands of family and friends, and coworkers and students.
I don’t know if I’m okay.
How can a sponge that absorbs so much of the dirt, and grime, and ugly underbelly of the world be okay? How can I be fine when my whole being takes in the emotions and worries of those around me? I can’t be.
Which is why being alone is so necessary to repair my damaged calm.
With only my own company to keep, I feel weight lifted off of my heart. I find I’m quite a pleasant person to keep the company of. I’m quiet. I’m funny. I’m hard working and driven. I don’t make a big mess and am an excellent stretcher. I’ve been known to cave into a nap when left alone, and always, always leave space for thought and breath.
I like who I am without people.
But I have to carve out this time and space for myself. I have to make my health as important as I’ve made their company, even though it’s not an easy task for someone who wants to help others, to be sympathetic and supportive. As much as I enjoy being alone, I will always gravitate towards helping others lighten their load.
It’s in being conscientious enough of my own health to let it go of that burden at the end of the day that’s my challenge going into the new year.
I hear there have been some questions at school and amongst your friends, about if Santa Claus is real.
There comes a time, in most kids lives, when they are taught to grow up and out of what some adults call “silly, fanciful, daydreams.” And so adults and peers will go about destroying everything that even whiffs of magic, and work hard to wipe away every ounce of stardust from the eyes of children who believe.
To this I say…shut it your mean-hearted pieholes, you wankers. (And anyone who hasn’t, at some point in their existence, called a middle schooler a wanker is probably lying. Let’s face it, middle school was/is not our finest hour as humans.)
And I’m willing to bet that these are the same little judgmentalists that gave you sideways glances for not going to church.
These are the people who say it’s obviously impossible for a generous old guy to deliver presents to kids one night of the year, while simultaneously cherishing and accepting the “fact” that a deity impregnated a virgin and their child wiped away the entirety of sin in the world…
If they can suspend reality, nay, even base their lives around this idea of, albeit a cool, hippy/demigod, is it such a stretch to believe in a jolly old elf that spreads the ideals of generosity and selfless giving for just one day?
(To be clear–I’m an equal opportunity believer so I won’t touch your demigod hippy if you don’t touch my fat guy in a red suit.)
I refuse to lose my stardust. As Anne Shirley would say; I refuse to be poisoned by their bitterness.
You want to know if there is magic? If Santa is real?
Here’s what I know…
Santa is real and magic exists.
How can I be sure?
I’m here aren’t I? You’re here, yes? We’re all here.
We were sprung from the unlikely combination of a chemical lottery and dumb, cosmic luck. We went on to survive hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary death traps.
If that’s not magical, what is?
Here’s what I also know.
There are two types of people in the world.
Those that destroy joy, and those that spread it.
I say, it does no harm to believe in something better, more beautiful, and magical in our lives (Hippy Demigod or Santa Claus).
I say, it does no harm to fill our eyes with wonder and joy in the midst of the darkest day of the year.
I say, it does no harm to hope and anticipate.
I say, it does no harm to walk into these short cold days with elation in our hearts.
I say, what a horrible, dark and sad world it must be for those that seek to take away such light; those who disbelieve and ridicule others who hold magic in their heart.
It does harm to take someone’s joy.
It does harm to smother the fire of giving and generosity.
It does harm when we seek to oppress the light of selflessness in a world so dark.
I know this; each one of us chooses what we believe.
We choose what we fill our hearts with. And in a world that can be so gloomy and wretched, why would you want to fill your heart with anything that would make it even more so?
I choose to believe.
I believe in Santa Claus and I believe in magic.
I believe that there is light in the darkest of times. And I believe that the joy radiating from the hearts that hope, and love, and give, is more real than any hot air getting blown around by a bunch of self-conscious, hormonal, dying-to-fit-in middle schoolers.
I can’t decide for you, but neither can they.
Embrace the joy, be the magic, and light the dark… or reject the lot of it and wipe the stardust from your eyes.
I’d created some pretty flashy, quiet-inspired, philosophical posts last weekend on retreat. They’re beautiful but I’m leaving them in the bank because today I want to repost something that I’d blogged about years ago that is timely and still rings true.
Have a safe and happy holiday. Be with the ones you love. And if you can’t; love the ones you’re with.
Making Do and Giving Thanks
One of my earliest memories was of waiting in a dark and crowded hall while my mother picked out ‘groceries’ from piles of white and black generic boxes. I didn’t understand at the time that the blocks of Velveeta-like cheese, powdered milk, and bags of rice were part of assistance programs that kept us from going hungry when the insecurity of the uranium mine had left us teetering on the edge of destitution.
My father is, and always has been, a hard worker. He took whatever job he could to support us, but in the unstable energy economy of 1980’s Wyoming there was always a fear behind my parent’s eyes. My mom was a teacher on and off and she stayed home with her three wild and creative kids. Anyone who’s a mother knows that each child is a full time job just in themselves, with no hazard pay given and no time off. She was a genius at making ends meet, and squeezing out the most of everything we had, including our time together.
Their amazing resilience still brings tears to my eyes, especially as a parent myself. Because, back then, I never knew we lacked for anything.
We were always fed. We were always clothed. We had a roof over our heads and wild game in the freezer. We made do. When lay offs hit, they squeezed the most out of what we had and made do. When dad went back to college for a second degree in teaching, we lived in a small house in Laramie and made do. When Christmas came around and three kids rushed to the living room, there was always something there to be thankful for.
I didn’t have cable as a kid; I had books. I didn’t have a TV in my room; I had the library less than two blocks away. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford vacations to far off places because I could go there in my mind. Pages were like my wings, rocketing me towards new and fantastic horizons. My parents couldn’t give me designer clothes or name brand shoes. They gave me Jean M. Auel, Jack London, L.M. Montgomery, Louis L’Amour, Piers Anthony, and Jane Austen. They gave me hours and days of uninterrupted reading time. I still remember mom peeking in on me, sprawled out in bed, pouring over a book, completely lost to the world around me, asking if I needed anything.
Looking back now, and knowing what I do about how much it costs to raise a child (nonetheless three), I really couldn’t have asked for more.
We made more than just meals from small staples. We made worlds out of our love and support of one another. My parents gave us the belief in where our minds could take us. And we made do.
The best part of Thanksgiving, is the giving. If you find that you have an abundance, I urge you to consider donating to some of the fine folks listed below.
Remember; Money is like manure, it doesn’t do a lick of good until you spread it around and encourage things to grow.
Good morning fellow readers, writers, and friends. This morning marks nearly the half-way mark of NANOWRIMO.
In the month of November a gauntlet is thrown, where in writers of all types, genres, and experience levels attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. While this ain’t my first rodeo (fourth year participant) I’m quickly finding that every year is different.
Most notably this year’s project has been a study in what happens when I let my “pantser” out.
Before you call the authorities and request a restraining order, what I mean is that usually I have a rough idea of what my novel will be about, some basic plot points, a shady little arc where in I can fit most scenes with relative smoothness. I’m not an all-out “plotter” I don’t have graphs, or charts, or beat sheets. Usually later in my process I come up with something that formal if it helps me fill in the gaps.
But this year–
This year I just started writing about a girl who’d suffered a horrifying assault, ran away, and returns to her childhood home with no intention of staying past the point of handling her grandfather’s affairs.
That’s all I had.
Oh…and a murder has been committed.
And there’s this seasoned old detective who’s lovable but grouchy as shit.
Oooo, and lets make him a divorcee, trying to quit smoking while raising a curious 12-year old boy.
And let’s say he doesn’t deal well with horses. Or heights. And he’s got a paunch, because he’s over forty and can’t get rid of it no matter how many weeknights he plays rugby.
And she gets panic attacks. Bad ones.
And what happens when the lady in question has a panic attack while driving just ahead of the cop and his son on their way to rugby practice?
And her sisters hate each other, and are polar opposites hippie versus yuppie.
And I need to learn Greek. And I gotta start looking into regional varieties of grapes and how rare the Andravidas horse is…and what’s the shape and size of a typical head wound from a roncola…
See what I mean? I’m all over the place. And this book, ladies and gents, it might be the messiest first draft I’ve EVER written. I jump from scene to scene, character to character, out of time, out of place, sometimes contradicting myself within the same paragraph. I’ve never had such a mess of a project.
I’ve never worked on a book that I wasn’t sure I would absolutely finish and make into something better.
But this fella, he’s a different breed.
He’s a quirky little story and I’m sort of hopeful that all of the pants-ing going on here is going to produce some really raw and gritty emotion, boiled down description, some complex characters in tender situations that will amount, later and with a lot of elbow grease, to a decent and intriguing novel.
The point, (yep, there’s one–it’s coming. Wait for it–) is that by jamming out words, even in their flagrant misuse of proper grammar or form, even with complete disrespect for story arc, has allowed me to explore a genre I’ve never written in before without the halting self-doubt that might have stopped me before. I’ve discovered characters who are more than a little fucked up (*gasp* where’s the romance in that?) and may or may not find out the truth let alone a happily ever-after. And that might be okay this time around.
If you’re in the middle of it, and have a day that knocks you back, jump ahead, jump behind…write the characters ten years in the future or what their sixth-grade year was like. The words don’t have to be in order, they just have to be there.
Good skill writers. 16 more days, and you are all over this like a bunch of bacchantes on Dionysus.
We’re back this week after a short break with a new entry from Stephanie Chou. Stephanie is a mom, writer, photographer, and poet in the Northern Colorado area. She is currently working on some new projects. Enjoy a quintessential Autumn verse.
The gorgeous photo featured above is also Stephanie’s work. How lucky are we?
Hey ya’ll, listen up, I don’t have much time. I’m on a deadline, with not many words to spare.
So far, in this week, I’ve managed to keep up a hearty 2,000 a day word count on a new novel idea that sprung from my last trip to California and it’s vibrant rolling hills of vines and orchards. It’s been a trip of a different kind these last seven days. I’m dipping my toes into a new genre and, of course, committing any and all time in my day to getting the words on the page.
I haven’t had much time to spare a thought for much else, but I did want to share what I’ve discovered on this year’s NANOWRIMO journey, in the event that it could help you on your own craft.
Not all of us are reaching for 50,000 words in 30 days but I think we’re all striving to finish something and, in doing so, come across many of the same road blocks.
Here’s some bulleted info to keep you engaged.
Word counts help. They give you a goal. Goals are measurable, ensuring that you have a start, an end, and a way to track your success. Pick a word count and stick to it. Even after November is over, I plan to recommit to my pre-NANOWRIMO word count ambitions in order to keep myself in the thick of it. The inspiration of word count goals should do a lot to…
Unclog your creativity ducts (Okay, I’m not sure we actually have those but…) there’s definitely a correlation between writing without the time to edit and the uprising of new and unfettered ideas. You may start with a stupid sentence but one word of it, or phrase, or character trait will pop the top of the bottle and unleash a whole outpouring of possibilities.
FINAL THOUGHT—The Curse of The-Want-To-Be-Writer, the thing that stifles us most and keeps us from getting those word goals is the self-editor sitting on our shoulder EVERY TIME we sit down to write. He’s the jerk that points out the misspellings, the grammatical errors, and the plot holes. He whispers, “Oh no, go back and delete that, it’s not good. And take out that part, and fix that ‘they’re’ to ‘their’, and you forgot to use an ellipses, and is that name spelled right? Let’s make sure the spell check learns it. Now…that’s a pretty sentence…nope! Just kidding, it’s awful delete it! Ah…now, a nice fresh blank page to start…over…on.” Do you see what I’m getting at? Don’t do that shit.
Leave all the grammatical errors, spelling mishaps, and mistaken names or plot holes where they lie.
Imagine someone excavating the tip of a gemstone. But instead of digging all the way down, seeing how big it is, what its natural shape is, picturing what can be crafted from it, they just dust off the tip, and begin carving it meticulously, polishing it to a shine. Then they uncover a little more, but that doesn’t look like the first bit so they hone it down even more. They uncover another bit and another but there’s no flow because each part of the gemstone is cut differently, polished oddly.
First drafts are made to give you raw material. So make it raw as hell.
So far I’m at about 16,000 words and I’ve typed things that I’ve regretted the second they’ve left my fingers. Mistakes. Glaring ones. Things that don’t fit, behaviors that don’t gel with my characters, point of view shifts.
Honey, I’ve seen it all in the first twenty pages.
But I also see a story. An interesting arc with characters that are starting to smile coyly in my direction with secrets I will only learn if I stop telling them to shush.
If you’re writing a novel this month—Keep at it and kick your nasty self-editor to the curb. You can go pick him up later (or send an uber for him if he won’t get in your car again)
If you’re just thinking about writing a novel sometime: stop thinking and do it…we ain’t getting any younger sweetheart.
Now, I’ve got to get back to my work in progress, because these 753 words don’t count on my dashboard and I’ve got words to go before I sleep.
Send me your word counts, send me your questions, send me your inspirations. Let’s keep this sprint going.
It’s a whirlwind of lies and vitriol out there right now, am I right? Social media sites spreading memes about the other party, the dangers of our world, the arrogance and wrongness of the side ‘opposite us’.
There’s something about fighting with someone online that can whip us up into an adrenaline laced mania. Maybe it’s the anonymity. Maybe it’s the conviction we have in our own righteousness, the hard line we draw against any challenge to our perceptions.
And when you try to disengage you are still frowned upon. If you don’t stand up for what you believe, you’re in danger of being part of the problem. That is true to some extent. But there’s something to be said for the deep-breath pause that begs us to consider if the argument we’re forming is going to change any minds or just throw gasoline on the fire.
All of this made me think of the world, and what we contribute. What we give to it.
So often we give our opinion, we give our hatred, we give our disapproval and judgments. We give our anger and our raised voices. So we give. But we give things that hurt our humanity, often, without making worthwhile differences.
I’m not judging. It feels good to vent.
It also feels good to do heroin, I’m told. Doesn’t mean it’s a good thing for us to do.
See what I’m getting at?
How about, just for today, you and I think about what we can give to the world that will lighten the dark?
Can you give your time?
Can you give an open mind and a willing ear?
Can you give forgiveness that you’ve been holding back?
Give to your charity. Give full un-technology distracted attention to your children. Give your boss a break. Give your smile, even when you haven’t been able to in a while.
Sometimes, I think we feel if we give these things (our love, compassion, forgiveness, time, etc.) then we will have none left for ourselves.
But just like the worry that comes with a second child, (how could we possibly love another as much, when we love the first so ardently?) we quickly learn that love doesn’t subtract or divide.
The more you forgive…the more forgiveness you will want to give (you’ll find the lightening of your heart is such sweet reward).
The more you love…the more you want to love.
The more you listen…the more you learn…the more you learn, the more compassion you give…and the more you feel it in and for yourself.
And you spread light, you lighten sadness, and lightening of sadness drives away the haze of hatred that’s settled over us all.
You may not get it back 100% of the time, that’s ok…because that’s not the reason we give.
We give because we can.
We share our light to push the darkness back from one other.
If it comes back, it fills our cup to do it again.
So this isn’t a rocket-science, grand-idea blog today.
This is a remember blog.
Remember, human. You are a force to be reckoned with with both great and terrible results. You’ve a light inside. And you can guard it with closed arms and gnashing teeth, suffocating its power inside for yourself alone. Or you can open your arms to the dark, and let your light spill across the vastness.
The night is dark and full of terrors. But we’re pretty terrifying too. Beautifully terrifying.
And the darkness won’t ever leave if we do not light it up.
“How often, you wonder, has the direction of your life been shaped by such misunderstandings? How many opportunities have you been denied–or, for that matter, awarded–because someone failed to see you properly? How many friends have you lost, how many have you gained, because they glimpsed some element of your personality that shone through for only an instant, and in circumstances you could never reproduce? An illusion of water shimmering at the far bend of a highway.”
― Kevin Brockmeier
As a fiction writer, especially of the romantic persuasion, it’s often easy for me to get caught up in my own imagination. My writerly brain has been trained to play out scenarios and let them run wild. It’s part of the creative process and the free reign I give these thoughts allows me to write the scenes and stories that cause heart palpitations and fingers to eagerly turn to the next page.
But sometimes, the delicate barrier between the two halves of my brain is a bit too porous. Sometimes the barrier is permeated. Sometimes, the imagination bleeds over. And it begins to skew my reality. What is actually before me can be muddled with the over-active nature of my creative process. Instead of observing at a safe distance, I scoot in closer and start to ask…”and then what if…”
It’s taken me to some interesting and inspiring side roads, but it has also led me this to some pretty dark and hurtful places. Places like paranoia, obsession, depression, and a loosening of the bonds of my reality. It can cause a false sense of what is real and, from that place, I have made poorly founded decisions.
I have been in situations where I lived in an heightened-aware but still fuzzier, reality. Lines get blurred and harmless words and actions became life altering. Sideways glances were sure signs of betrayal. Meaningless banter, the grounds for turning my back on people I loved. I’ve spent a lot of time hurting, in tears, wondering why the path I saw ahead felt so wrong to what my brain was telling me. I was at sea. Lost and drifting with no anchor to keep me grounded.
What’s the cure? What’s the fix? What can any of us do when our brains run away from us and our behaviors follow suit?
Sometimes the consequences of those misguided actions we take, in our obsessive/paranoia state, are severe enough to shake us back into reality. That may be the only way, when we are in too deep, to regain proper perspective.
But it is also the most damaging.
Occasionally it takes someone who can see your reality outside of yourself. Who cares enough about you to point out the cloud surrounding you and who can start asking the right questions. Like snapping spiritual fingers in front of your eyes, breaking through the rosy hue of illusion.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s easy. It’s often a long fall and a hard landing when you come down from your illusion. It’s painful. Reality isn’t usually a fun place to live in. But walking around, shrouded in falsehood, does nothing to better our humanity and the way we interact truthfully with one another.
Take a good look at your life. Be aware of the way you react to situations, be introspective with the perspective you use and step outside yourself to see what’s really going on. Because the further you go down the rabbit hole of the world you want to live in, the worse the consequence, the higher the risk, and the deeper the damage in the world you actually live in.
Sometimes I have to remind myself to keep my mouth shut and calm the creative-brain response, until I’m sure my words and actions are justified and are coming from a place that is true. It requires that I remove myself from being the central character in a story and take a moment to look at the setting, the other characters, their perspectives, the actual thread of what is going on.
Being a good human is hard. But if we truly love, when all illusions have been stripped away, then we owe it to our fellow humans to try to live the most honest, real life we can.
“Meanwhile, the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.
She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly -the thought of the world’s concern at her situation- was found on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself.”
― Thomas Hardy
We live deliciously. And when I say that, I mean that we often tend towards the magnificence of highs and lows. I’ve always been more partial to the belief that artists, musicians, writers, poets and the like tend to live life on the shorter wave-length side of things.
Imagine life as a string. We all get the same length of string. Pin it down to one side of the desk. Now, give it a nice, soft undulation of a small lake and see where it lands. That’s a good example of a typical life.
Take another string, same length, same starting point, and make those undulations like the waves of the ocean, impressive highs and catastrophic lows. The ocean string runs out far before the lake string. This is the life of a creative.
Does that mean we die sooner? Not necessarily. In some extreme cases (think Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix) death was aided in his cause by the use of drugs or alcohol. But it begs the question, why do such creative geniuses seem to expire sooner?
I have an unsupported theory that living in a creative mind isn’t easy. Often, it’s a discombobulated place, filled with wild fantasy, grim darkness, and a dash of bipolar tendencies. The fantastical neurons are on overdrive and move in spiraling thought storms that are often uncontrollable or at best frustratingly elusive.
That’s not an easy brain to live in.
We may scoff at Hemingway’s whiskey or Stephen King’s cocaine but it’s hard to make quick judgments when we’ve all had to deal with voices in our heads, characters doing whatever-the-damn-well-they-want, plot failures and to top it off, the cycles of elation and rejection that line this path we’ve chosen (willingly or not).
Writing can be hard on the heart.
We get diagnosed with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, emotional disorders or other mental health issues. And I’m prone to believe that part of that comes from a society and educational system that values the boxed in test score measures than the immeasurable brain power involved in creative and critical thinking.
When we’re standing at the precipice of throwing our work into the world, firing out the query letters, calling editors and agents, pitching novels, or even entering contests, the mountains of hope and valleys of despair can be wretched chemical surges that amplify the already swirling thunderstorms in the creative mind.
No wonder we are driven to seek out the numbing magic of fermented fruit or dried poppy milk. We’re seeking to elongate the valleys and peaks.
Unfortunately for the human body, those distractions are just that…distractions. Bandaids over too deep a wound.
My point is this, writer, creator, artist with vividly full skull… you are a colorful, magical, beautiful soul, who’s gift comes at the cost of a little sanity. You will see things and know things the world at large is not ready to see or know.
They may call you a dreamer.
But you’re not the only one.
Surround yourself with people who get it. Who know when you need to pontificate in unruly and unrelated thought strings out loud once in awhile, and who understand when you want to stay quietly tucked into a corner avoiding eye contact. You know… other vividly full skulls.
Find your weirdos and keep each other on the gentle undulation side of things, so that when your mind and talent have created in the frothing whirlwind, you can bring your ideas, books, poems, articles, and novels, to the world while standing on solid ground.
When you are in the fire of creating, let it burn.
Then cull your flames with rest, and good food, and time away so that you have the fuel to burn for a long, long, long time to come.
Enjoy today’s VerseDay and be sure to send me your poetry, essays, thoughts and musings for consideration in The Beautiful Stuff’s 2019 Poetry Anthology aptly named “No Small Things: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2019“.
Send your work for consideration in the body of an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, with “POETRY SUBMISSION” in the Subject line, along with a brief bio and your website/promotional information.
Hey friends. This week is a little hectic with projects, both nearing completion and those just getting started, so today’s blog will be short.
I just wanted to let you know about an awesome conference coming up in Laramie in June (the 7th-9th) hosted by Wyoming Writers, Inc.
Though I’m based in Fort Collins, Wyoming is my home state and I’m excited to be returning there next month to meet new friends and writers as well as attend some stellar classes.
Some of you have heard me talk about Jovan Mays and Angie Hodapp (Nelson Literary Agency), two of my favorite presenters. They will both be there and giving inspirational and technical advice for all levels of writers.
In addition to a seasoned and talented lineup of presenters, I have snuck in as a presenter on Saturday and will be giving a little intro on which publishing path is right for you. (Ahem…the official title is: “Out In The World: Publishing Your Novel in Today’s Market” Fancy, huh?)
Registration is still open and they have several options to choose from, depending on your budget and time. Local authors’ books will also be available for purchase (if you’re in the market for some steamy paranormal romance…along with I’m sure much higher-quality books).Here’s the link if you’d like to check out what they’ll be offering, from classes to the Keynote speaker (the talented Brad Watson).