write like a mofo

Writing is Hard, So Write Like a Motherf*cker!

by Pamela Helberg

Writing is hard. Just a quick look at some of my favorite quotes about writing confirms this:

  • If I waited til I felt like writing, I’d never write at all. Anne Tyler
  • Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words. Mark Twain
  • A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Thomas Mann
  • There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. Ernest Hemingway
  • Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open. Natalie Goldberg
  • There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. Somerset Maugham
  • Easy reading is damn hard writing. Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Anne Lamott
  • Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: It’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen), and quite often the blank piece of paper wins. Neil Gaiman
  • I hate writing. I love having written. Dorothy Parker
  • The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink. T.S. Eliot
  • Writing is hard work and bad for the health.  E.B. White

So, given that it’s so terrible, why do we do it? I mean, I spent the entire last three days agonizing over a research paper for a class. It had to be done if I want to get credit and graduate and launch my new career. But why else? Lots of people write who aren’t in graduate school. What drives them to the blank page, the shining empty screen?

I think Maya Angelou said it best when she said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”

And Anais Nin said “we write to taste life twice: in the moment and in retrospect.”

Others have said similar things: I write to find out what I know (Cheryl Strayed); I write or I will go mad (Lord Byron). I write for the same reason I breathe, because if I didn’t I would die (Isaac Asimov). A word after a word after a word is power (Margaret Atwood). A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. (Franz Kafka) Writers are desperate people, and when they stop being desperate, they stop being writers. (Charles Bukowski)

We have to do it. We make sense of our world by writing down our thoughts, by dumping our brains onto paper and into our computers and picking through what lands, sorting the words and the sentiments into something coherent, something we can share. Maybe we write to just scratch that itch, or maybe we write because we don’t feel safe speaking our thoughts. Perhaps we’ve been silenced or shushed. Maybe writing is our way of processing so we can talk.

Whatever your reasons, whatever your pull, dear friends who suffer from this terrible affliction, this dangerous compulsion, pick up your pens and write. Write like a motherfucker! (Cheryl Strayed)

DSC00863Author’s (haiku) bio:

Pam’s a therapist-
in-training. Runner, writer,
Mother, black sheep, friend

You can find other
musings by Pam on her blog
which can be found here.

Sharon Avatar 2

When did I know I was an author?

by Sharon Anderson

I think I probably always had stories coming out of me. As a kid, I would gather up the neighborhood gang on the front lawn and tell them ghost stories – sometimes in costume. I’m not certain how I could have done anything else, really. But the kicker for me is looking back and seeing those moments in my life where I didn’t trust myself. Time where I thought there was no possible way I could ever make a living at telling stories – that was a dream that would never come true. There were times – don’t laugh too loudly – where I thought that if I were meant to be an author, then I would put perfect words on the page and never have to edit them. I sorely misunderstood the process…

I came from a family of story tellers. My dad had all sorts of stories with which he would regale us over dinner, my mother, too, had her fair share of tales from work. I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents and those two – Esther and WP – were full of stories. Each visit brought out another hilarious and poignant adventure I hadn’t heard before, from scraping through university during the Depression to my grandmother hearing a whistling sound emit from her dead brother in the parlor, those stories are so rich with texture and identity, I think they play a big part in who I am today. My paternal grandmother was quite a story teller as well, and I’m glad I knew her when she had calmed down a bit. She was a child evangelist and my dad used to say that when she took the pulpit, the parents would send their kids to children’s church – but when his dad preached, everyone would gather around to soak it up. I never knew William McDonald, my dad’s dad, but I would have loved to meet him. In fact, I heard so many stories about his life, I wrote a children’s play, God is in the House, that was performed in church a few years back.

Stories are important. Even if they are bad stories.

Michel de Montaigne asked himself every morning, What do I know? Of course, he asked it in French, because, you know, he was French… The point is, I am beginning to ask myself the same question. What do I know? And to take it a little further – what can I learn? These last few years in my career as an aspiring author, I have won a prize for a dark fantasy piece, signed on with a publisher, put out a book, started a blog, supported countless fellow authors in marketing campaigns, published a non-fiction piece in a parenting magazine, sent a second book to an editor, survived the death of my publisher – and do you know what? Dreams do come true.

Author’s Bio:   Sharon Anderson is the author of the paranormal romantic comedy, Curse of the Seven 70s, and the award winning short story, Stone God’s Wife. She lives in Skagit Sharon Avatar 2Valley with her amazing husband, two brilliant children, a sweetheart of a dog, two cats, a small grouping of fish, and a sketchy guinea pig. Sharon is just about ready to release her second paranormal romantic comedy, Sweet Life of Dead Duane. You can find out more about Sharon on her website http://www.SharonAndersonAuthor.com follow her on Twitter @SharonEAnderson and make friends with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SharonAndersonAuthor

debbie brosten

I’M GLAD I DIDN’T CHOOSE POTTERY

 

This summer as I visit the Idyllwild Arts program, I realize that it has been twenty-five years since I first visited the campus. I am accompanying my friend to a jazz concert in which her teenage son is performing. The first time I came as a student myself. Only I was no gifted musician, nor was I a teen. Instead I was a newly married woman in my thirties with an extended summer vacation to fill. I perused the offerings at Idyllwild; music, pottery, drawing, painting, sculpture, writing. I did not think of myself as an artist. Rather the idea of a week in the San Jacinto Mountains exploring something new appealed to me. I signed up for a creative writing workshop, a decision which has impacted my life far more than I had imagined.

The workshop was taught by a poet who worked as an artist in the schools. Twelve of us sat around u-shaped tables and introduced ourselves. At least half of these men and women were published, even the teenager who sat to my right. The instructor announced that we would do a short 10-minute quick write. She looked at each of us in turn and mouthed an individual word. Although I no longer remember that instructor’s name, I remember my word, slowly. All I could think about was how much better off I would have been in the pottery workshop. Yet somehow I wrote the word at the top of my page and scribbled what turned out to be a tension filled piece.

During the week, our instructor cultivated our writing and our bonding through a series of writing prompts. As we participated in her “out-of-the-box” exercises, we were encouraging our unique voices to emerge. She taught us to get out of our own way, to let the writing emerge naturally. A group of us continued in a monthly writing group of our own for about a year until the demands of life, the limitations of crossing the vast Los Angeles area bogged us down more than it uplifted us.

It was our instructor who first introduced me to Natalie Goldberg. I became a devotee of Writing Down the Bones, and kept my hand moving as I lulled monkey mind to sleep and accumulated journal after journal of writing practice. I joined other groups, took the occasional class, but never really thought of myself as a writer. A writer was someone else; someone disciplined, someone with a story to tell, someone published. I was none of those things. I just enjoyed the company of writers. Most of all I enjoyed having a prompt thrown out, a timer set, pens scratching across the page until time was up. I marveled at the myriad ways in which a single word or phrase landed in our hearts, drawing a unique story into the world. I still do.

As a recent retiree, I moved to Bellingham and began the process of forming a life within a new community. I signed up for a Flash Fiction class at Whatcom Community College. Through that class I met other writers, became a part of the local writing community. This year I volunteered at the Chuckanut Writers Conference. During an interview with Jessica Lohafer, the conference chair, I was asked the usual questions writers get asked. What do you write? Why do you write? I told her I mostly write memoir, but I’m not sure I need to be published. While the validation of being published would be affirming, I balk at the work needed to achieve it. For me, it’s all about spending time in the company of writers, listening to their words. My heart opens as they share sacred thoughts couched in language that causes me to stop and think, “Yes, that’s exactly what heartbreak is like” or “I’ve never thought of that feeling as a color before, but you’ve nailed it.”

Jessica smiled and assured me there is no need to be on the publication crusade. While I know I don’t need Jessica’s permission, or anyone else’s, hearing that truth was somehow liberating. It even allowed me to think of myself as a writer.

debbie brostenAuthor’s Bio:  Debbie Brosten is a retired teacher, an inveterate traveler and a sometime writer. While she has had a few short pieces published in local publications, she has no book sitting at the back of her closet waiting for discovery. Instead she participates in two writing groups to keep her creative juices flowing. She also began a prompt writing group at Village Books. You can find her there at 4 pm on the second and fourth Monday of the month, when she isn’t exploring distant lands. Wherever she finds herself keeps an ear or an eye cocked for an unusual phrase that may or may not find its way into her writing.

Barbara-Clarke

Charming Notes

In 2010 I was invited to write an essay, “How Many Writing Books Does it Take?” for a new print magazine, Line Zero. I used my bookshelves for my “research” and wrote about a variety of helpful books on craft, editing, finding agents—you know the “must haves” we succumb to, especially as beginning writers.

I set two books aside and called them “best friend” books. One was Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, of course, and the other was Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers (2002) by Carolyn See. Here’s what I wrote about See’s treasure of a book:

“She advocates for me as a writer and reminds me that being a writer is the best profession ever (and I’ve had several) and I’m lucky to be in it. She understands how lonely, boring, scary, and exciting it is to be such a person. Her chapters on “Pretend to Be a Writer” and “Charming Notes” are laugh out loud and insightful.”

I took See up on her challenge and sent her a “charming note.” We had both been at UCLA in different capacities. She taught there; my ex-professor-husband had an affair with one of her students. Her sense of humor in fine fettle helped me find the funny again in that ill-fated time in my life. We emailed now and again for several years.

I continue to send charming notes and treasure it when an author, far above my paygrade, replies in an email or (in the old days) with a note or a postcard. I have a delightful little collection by now. Every now and again when I’m down in the writerly dumps or so demoralized that my writer’s learning curve is still going up and hasn’t met its zenith, I get out my collection and spend some time with “my” authors.

Just this month I read an essay by Lucy Ellmann in The Baffler magazine called “Birdies in America.” The Baffler often exhausts my brain with its highfalutin essays by writer who toss in, like a salad, obscure, long-ass words. I loved her brilliant essay and emailed her. Turns out she works as an editor and lives in Edinburgh, Scotland and will read some part of my novel for free to see if we might work together. Small, wonderful world—all from a charming note.

At the end of my essay on writing books I confessed that since I was too late for Oprah’s book club, my dream had changed. A review of my novel (still sitting here in its umpteenth draft) by Carolyn See in the L.A. Times would be the answered prayer. She “has been championing great books and wittily skewering bad ones for decades,” Ron Charles said about her. Even if she didn’t love it, I’d be honored that she took a look.

I took too long. Last week I read that Carolyn See had passed away on July 13, 2016. I leave you with a sample of her advice that meant so much to me as a new writer and mourn her loss:

“It’s my experience that you first feel the impulse to write in your chest. It’s like falling in love, only more so. It feels like something criminal. It feels like unspeakably wild sex. So, think: When you feel the overpowering need to go out and find some unspeakably wild sex, do you rush to tell your mom about it?” 

Author’s bio: 

Barbara Clarke’s memoir, Getting to Home: Sojourn in a Perfect House, was published in Barbara-Clarke2009. “How Many Writing Books Does It Take?” appeared in the 2010 debut issue of Line Zero, a literary-arts magazine. Her essay, “Good Vibrations,” was published in the online magazine Full Grown People in 2015. She is currently at work on a novel that mixes memoir with fiction and is calling it a “novoir.” Barbara lives by Beckett’s “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” when it comes to writing and often her life.

daisy table_sloan

Forward with Strength: Finding Inspiration in a Holocaust Survivor

by Susan Sloan

It all started at the Daisy Cafe. It all started at this exact table across from the cash register. Fred was sitting there in the corner with Sylvia to his right side. She introduced me to him and I think we shook hands . . . but I’m not positive. I had seen Fred one other daisy table_sloantime at the Health Department on State Street.

In that brief introduction, in the quick real or imaginary handshake, something was imparted that would begin to inspire. And inspiration was what was needed to sustain a five-year writing effort. If you want the complete story of why I wrote Fred’s biography, you’ll need to read the book. It’s due out in November and called Yishar Koach: Forward With Strength. Beyond this initial meeting, there’s a coat of many colors and a love story that really grabbed the author’s heart and attention.

Elie Wiesel said that the story of every survivor should be told and I agree. The traces of Fred’s life were still accessible thanks to the audio and video tapes he preserved and to his friends and family who were still around to talk to and share their unique perspectives on his life.

Ferdinand Fragner was a remarkable person from just about any angle. He spoke some seven languages, sacrificed everything he had to fight the Nazi regime, survived five terrible years of hard labor and little sustenance in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and came out of the war with a heart to help the war orphans of Aglasterhausen to begin lives of renewed hope.

This blog post promised a bit more on my book but I’m still embroiled in the challenges of marketing. Yesterday, I had an exciting moment when I received my Kirkus Reviews’ review. It was very positive even though I was dinged for using certain populous resources that are not considered up to academic research standards. My answer to that is–cue Gene Pitney–“She’s a rebel and she’ll never, ever be any good. She’s a rebel and she never ever does what she should.” But just because I don’t always follow hallowed academic paths, my populous paths ring true.

Truth . . . now that’s the holy grail of writing and I feel comfortable with my choices, sometimes finding that Truth is a bit of a hippie. To hell with convention if those conventions confine more than set us free.

Okay. I confess that I used Wikipedia as a reputable source of information. I did so because I love the idea of Wikipedia. Along with Wikipedia, I also imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. Anyway, back to Fred’s story.

The centerpiece of the book is the chapter on Aglasterhausen. Sure, everyone wants to know about Fred’s time in the Czech underground, his capture, and his five years as a prisoner at Buchenwald. But after his liberation he was made the principal at Aglasterhausen, one of the United Nations’ schools for war orphans. It was there that the children gave him back his life and he likewise did the same for them. Fortunately, Fred left a detailed scrapbook that vividly tells this part of his story in his own words.

By the way, did you know that only one percent of all Jewish children in World War II Europe survived the war? That’s right. One percent.

When I started writing Fred’s story, the world didn’t seem such a dangerous place as it does today. But Fred was already cautioning about the rise of hate groups long before the signs were so obvious. I hope you’ll consider reading my book. It’s a cautionary tale. Fred always said that the most important life lesson is to have respect for your fellow human beings even when you don’t agree. It still holds today. Can you imagine a world where everyone showed respect for all?

Author’s bio:  Susan Lynn Sloan is an author and communications specialist who has lived in Maple Falls, Washington since 2004. Susan was born in Chicago and she’s a susan sloantransplant from northern California. Her interests include family, gardening, snorkeling, books, and film. Her biography of Holocaust survivor, Fred Fragner, is due out this fall. It’s called Yishar Koach: Forward with Strength. Susan is hoping it will inspire readers to understand the importance of persevering even in the midst of the most daunting challenges.