The Moment of Pay Off

Every year I learn something new from participating in National Novel Writing Month. This year was no different. This year, I learned that sometimes, the project you think is a total loss, is reborn into something amazing with a little time and added experience.

The story idea that I began the month with was an old short story I wrote before my children were born. That’s probably 14 years ago people. Nearly a generation. I don’t know what drove me to pick it up again. I actually don’t know what drove me to keep it. But there it was on my computer—converted from an older version of Word, ratty and thin, barely holding ink on a page.

I’d seen the file, hanging on the end of my groupings of files like an unwanted 41st wheel, always in my peripheral. There’s that really odd one. Yeah, the one I wrote when I was in massage school? All about the herbalist turned witch. The one where I was still clinging to my Anthropology degree and geeking out over the prehistory of Scotland and Norse invasions? The one with the Mary Sue characters that fell flat on the page and fit too perfectly into every stereotype a 20-something inexperienced writer would believe?

Some of you may be asking why I didn’t just start a new project. Some of you are probably wishing I’d just get to the point, since you’re reading this out of a strange sense of obligation.

Well, when I went into a blank document for this year’s challenge, with 2020 hanging like a wet and heavy blanket over my body, squelching (yeah, I used the word squelching—don’t judge me—that’s the kind of word that needs to be brought back into the vernacular) any creative fire that might ignite, I just didn’t feel like I could accomplish the goal. I needed a buffer. A little boost. Something I wasn’t tired of working on, something not always shouting in my face to finish it…

Something in my peripheral.

And there it was—over there in that file innocuously labeled “Scot1”.

On to my point—

Knowing it was a shitty short story didn’t dissuade me. Because, somewhere in my brain, I knew there was potential. And the only reason I knew that, was because (and here’s the point) in 14 years of writing I’ve learned stuff.

Ah, here reposes the introverted house slave–bereft of even her rodent companions.

Since I wrote the story, I’ve taken numerous classes, conferences, and workshops, on everything from plotting and character development, to crossing genres and writing fight scenes. I’ve taken classes on editing and how not to write. I’ve written some novels. I’ve done a lot of hard cutting. I’ve explored different genres and played around with suspense techniques and “aha” moments. So when I saw this shabby little house-maid in the cinders of the proverbial fireplace, I looked past the soot and rags and saw the potential beneath, not because I’m all-knowing about what would work, but because I had learned, through investing in my craft, what didn’t work about it.

And maybe more importantly, that it could be changed.

So, what was lesson number one? Trust in the process of investing in yourself as a writer. Admit you don’t know it all, and that others have good advice to give. Soak all the information in, approaching each class or workshop as a beginner, no matter how many years you’ve been writing.

With knowledge, even the worst story can be made better. Knowledge also loosens the hold of fear that sometimes keeps us from progressing. Knowing how to cut and change becomes less heart-wrenching with the perspective of a better finished product. Knowing what makes a more interesting character, learning to take some of the polish off the Mary Sue, and turn her into more of a Jess Jones.

You can take a Snidely Whiplash and turn him more into…well…

When you give yourself the gift of knowledge, the list of what you can do breaks the boundaries of what you can’t.

Sometimes…you may even discover doorways that will bring over characters from other beloved series you’ve written…

Ladies and Gents–have a little Faith.

So there you go—look forward to a future magical realism/Norse mythology mix up with a delicious little love triangle, and the potential for a new generation of crooked smiles and bouncy red curls.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #19: Writing Your Truth

In the midst of a nation undergoing painful and necessary growth, I’m happy to have you joining me here today.

If you follow my writings and my blog, you know where I stand on the issue and I want to take a moment to urge every white person in this country to re-examine their own lives, understand the privileges they have, and really start opening your hearts, minds, and ears to listen to People of Color.

Keep your mouths shut and listen.

It isn’t about you. It isn’t about your guilt, it isn’t about how it makes YOU feel. It isn’t about arguing your way out of the discomfort. It’s about anyone and everyone who has had to limit themselves out of fear, who was held back or down because of the color of their skin. Listen, work to understand and ask what you can do to be the most effective in fighting alongside them. Let’s start working towards a country and nation where we are all free to walk down the street, drive our cars, go out for ice cream, go out for a jog without being pursued, punished, incarcerated or killed.

Now, in line with that, I wanted to talk about a program that I had planned to start this summer with a beautiful human and social organizer, Queen (you may remember the piece on her son Dontré. If you haven’t read it, please do: “Weapons Used Against Me”)

Queen and I had envisioned a free writing workshop for disadvantaged youth and others in the community who’s voices were constantly being silenced or marginalized. The idea was to encourage and teach them how to find their true voice (outside of influence), to tell their story, in their truth and have a safe place to do so. A place where it wasn’t about the moderator’s discomfort, or what could or could not be said. A place for them to find power in their own purpose. Then, how to take those words and get them noticed. How to be heard in a world that is too used to turning away when something makes it uncomfortable. I had hopes of finding publishers for their work, and if nothing else sponsoring publishing of their work myself with all proceeds going back to the participants.

Then COVID came along and sort of blew it all to hell. But, I’m in contact with Queen and will find a way, in the next coming months, to bring the workshop back to the table. Because writing things down matters. Because putting emotion, thought, and personal truth down in words on paper immortalizes the truth of you and your place in time. And the more voices we listen to, the bigger the truth we find.

Today’s exercise is about finding your voice. And that can be scary as hell. We humans can harbor some pretty dark shit in our souls. We hold on to traumas like moths in a closet that we’re afraid to let out. But they slowly eat away at everything we own. We shrug and say “It’s okay, it’s no big deal how I feel, how I felt, how I survived…”

Humans, it is a big deal. It matters and you matter. So write it down.

Write down what you’re feeling about today’s social climate. About your own feelings about racism, what you notice in yourself at the bridging of the topic, what you wish for, what you hate about yourself, what you love. What can you change? What will you change?

I will keep you updated on the progress of the class and how you can participate, contribute, or spread the world to people who may need this kind of therapeutic and power-restoring practice.

Normally I’d say “Happy Writing” but today I’ll leave you with this.

Write in Truth.