Tag Archive for writing process

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

Writing for Personal Insight

by Laura Rink

This month I took a writing workshop with Andre Dubus III. He said just because something happened to you doesn’t mean you know what happened. You must explore, with authentic curiosity, that particular event, and your place in it. This piece of advice resonated with the insight I gained last summer while writing a memoir piece for the upcoming Red Wheelbarrow Writers’ memoir anthology, Memory into Memoir, being released this September. I had had an unsettling experience and writing about it freed me from a skewed sense of myself that I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding onto for thirty years. This kind of writing is not reserved for writers but is for everyone.

Writing about your experiences creates, at the same time, an objective distance and a subjective intimacy. The physical act of pen to paper or fingers on keyboard allows you to view yourself as a character in a narrative and be the person who had the experience. Writing gives form to the images floating in your mind, and the emotions coursing through your body. Writing is a way to capture that voice in your head and prod it for truth.

Logically knowing something to be true—I am a capable person, for example—is not the same as feeling it to be true in your body and in your heart. Writing can help bridge that gap. Put yourself back in an event and using all your senses describe the scene, the other people involved and especially yourself. Be open to whatever arises—write without judgment, without preconceived conclusions. Take your time exploring the sensations, questions and ideas that present themselves. Writing about an experience with a strong desire to understand is a powerful way to learn, to find meaning, to discover your truth.

A caution: if you’re not ready to write about a particular event, don’t. Sometimes time must pass, a lot of time. Some experiences you may never write about. That’s okay. Honor yourself. Pick an experience you are ready to write about. And remember this writing is for you alone—it is not necessary that another person read it, unless you deem it necessary.

You can also rewrite the story you tell about yourself to yourself. The science, solid and anecdotal, behind this idea is explained in the New York Times blog “Writing Your Way to Happiness.”

There are similarities between writing a good story and living a fulfilling life. Slapping a label on a character or on yourself is a sure way to limit both. You tell yourself you’re lazy or unlovable or even infallible. Write to get at the specifics behind those generalizations—the things you, or others, do or say that make you view yourself that way. The specifics may or may not support the label. Either way there is opportunity for change and concrete ideas on how to do so. Author George Saunders illustrates these ideas in this video, which applies to everyday life as well as storytelling.

Jane Fonda said she wrote her memoir so she could figure out where she’d been, so she’d know where to go. Writing about myself has allowed me to move forward along a more personally fulfilling path. I encourage you to write about your past to see yourself as you are now with more clarity and to discover where you want to go from here.

About Laura Rink:

LAURA RINKLaura Rink writes most days—dreaming up stories keeps her grounded in everyday life. She is currently working on a collection of linked short stories, writing with authentic curiosity to find out who the characters are and what they want. Her website LauraRink.com features an occasional blog and a picture of her calico cat.

EMBRACE THE JABBERWOCK!

Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! –Lewis Carroll

After I turned in the final drafts of each of my books–From Paradise to Puddledub (Coughing Dog Press 2002) Little Bookstore (2012 St. Martin’s Press) Public Health in Appalachia (McFarland Press 2014) Fall or Fly: the strangely hopeful story of Adoptions and Foster Care in Coalfields Appalachia (Swallow Press 2017)–my agent Pamela, a diplomatic woman of great gentleness, would drop hints: “Working on anything?” She doesn’t push, she just . . . asks. Every once in a while.

It’s very effective.

Lest poor Pam bear the brunt, I have WANTed to be writing again almost immediately after each successful manuscript delivery. (Following the requisite three days of sitting in a dark room staring at the wall.) A vague idea has swirled into semi-solid form, and the little pin prickles of desire, of inspiration–of guilt–have grown into claws that reach out to pull my butt back in the chair.

Those of you out there who write know what it’s like: toy with an idea, write a scene, think, daydream. Start to build. Force yourself into the chair and silence your internal critic’s voice: “This is stupid. This is crap.”

Beware the jaws that bite.

Then that half-formed beast of an idea eats at you, bite by resisting bite, and you’re hacking at it bit by resisting bit, until you’re dropping social engagements left and right to get another hour with your characters. You never want to leave that chair.

It’s not unlike being in love.

Last weekend I fled to a quiet place for two days of butt in chair and fingers on keyboard. It’s funny how writing begets writing in the same way that exercising first exhausts you, then energizes you to exercise more. First your brain goes into a post-writing meltdown where you have nothing to say; every last spark of creativity gone, you curl into fetal position under a quilt. Lying in the dark, you start to think “what if he…” and you’re up again, fingers on keys, butt in chair.

And then you hit a bald patch, or the characters take over and drive you into a corner you can’t see a way out of, and you pout and fume and go back under the quilt, and a mental image comes to you, and up you get, and so it goes.

Perhaps it’s less love than lion taming. You don’t want to completely subdue the beast of an idea, but you can’t let it take over, either.  Partnership rather than dominance; you need it and it needs you. Plus you and that roaring beast have swallowed each other whole by now, so you’re in it and it’s in you.

I’m not sure the chair-quilt swing is a healthy lifestyle, but oh glory, it’s fun. When it’s going well. And when it’s over. It’s fun the same way half-way through the marathon is fun (my running friends tell me) even though every step is pain. Sometimes it’s about the moment you’re in. Sometimes it’s about the goal you’re reaching.

But it’s always, always a thrill when those claws reach out and catch you, and you see in your mind’s eye what’s going to happen next, and you’re just waiting for the chance to put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard and hear that beast you can’t quite tame roar again.

RWB wendy welchBio: Wendy Welch is a writer who with her husband owns a bookstore in rural Virginia. Her books tend toward memoir and journalistic storytelling set in Appalachia. She is currently working on a memoir about rescuing cats in the bookshop. The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap was published in six additional languages and brought visitors from many interesting places to visit the shop, plus no one threw a brick through their window, so she considers that memoir a great success. 

URL www.wendywelchbigstonegap.wordpress.com