Tag Archive for writing

The Benefits of Being Wrong

by Barbara Clarke

We were in Best Buy looking to buy a laptop. But first, we were looking for a geek in the familiar blue shirt. “Someone who looks smart and won’t talk down to us,” we agreed.

“Hey, how’s it going?” said a non-geeky looking young guy. We started to walk past him—too cool sounding—we were serious! But, given that it was a late Sunday afternoon and a sales-associate desert, we stopped. Tony, by name, turned out to be so knowledgeable, kind, and so many other fine attributes we couldn’t wait to get home to send off our five-star reviews of him.

Later that night, thinking about writing this blog on resistance, it hit me. Wanting to be right is really a form of resistance—to being wrong. Or that middle place where you are kind of right, but short changing yourself by closing your mind too soon. And then my own examples began to pour out of me. All of the times I had been so sure and had missed out on—well, life.

Here are a few of the costs and benefits of being wrong:

  • This is going to take too long or an even better one—a very long time—so why start? It can run the gamut of a long line for coffee at 7:00 a.m. to signing up to start a memoir. I’m 90,000 words into my memoir—thanks, Cami and classmates!
  • This is going to be too hard. I don’t have the skill set, the training, and of course, the MFA. Everyone in the class will be way ahead of me, right? Wrong. We are all there to learn, whatever our training. When I think I’m simply not good enough or know enough, I lose out. If it were just negative thinking, I’d be more lenient, but this is pressure from me on me to not be caught wrong.
  • I’d like to attend an RWB gathering on Saturday, but I don’t know anyone, and when I picture myself there, my heart races like those “wall-flower moments” from my teen years. What if no one talks to me? Wrong, so, so wrong! I found my tribe. And they are very talkative.

I’ve been wrong on these occasions and many others, driving home with regret as my faithful companion. Now that I am writing a memoir and doing a lot of digging deeper, I found these personal sources of my need to be right—or resisting being wrong:

  • I grew up in Missouri—the “show me” state. A blessing and a curse. We are given a finally honed bollox detector, passed down through the generations. My homeland favors black and white, right and wrong—not so keen on the color gray where more surprises, more choice, and fun reside.
  • I don’t “get those people.” This is so prevalent in today’s post-T_____ election world. I worked in the healthcare racket for fifteen years and can’t tell you how many executives and doctors refer to their patients—especially the ones they blame for their illness—as those people. So now when I see variants of this on FaceBook and in the harsh comments after articles and posts, I cringe.
  • Rather than feeling so right(eous), I’d rather try for understanding. I may not wind up having “those people” in my circle of friends, but at least I don’t want to think of them as the enemy?* Since I’m flawed, seriously so at times, why can’t they be?
  • Being right sometimes—well, it feels good. But, having to make snap or hard-edged judgments, even in Best Buy, to overcompensate for own my insecurities, close my mind and heart to all that lives in the gray area—these are my losses.

I leave you with my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, who, whenever I’m lost or at a loss for an open heart, reminds me:

“Becoming keenly and consistently aware of what’s good, true, and beautiful demands a discipline: we must open our eyes, minds, and hearts, and keep them open.”

*One disclaimer to my compassion quest: my noble venture does not apply to so many politicians. They earn every bit of the resistance we can muster!

 

Author’s Bio:  Barbara Clarke works as a freelance grant writer and is extremely tardy posting to her blog www.thiscertainage.com . She is not tardy and working very hard on The Shape of the Brain, a memoir, and grateful for Memory into Memoir coming into her life. Her first memoir, Getting to Home: Sojourn in a Perfect House, was published in 2009. She uses Beckett’s “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” as her mantra and writing guide. www.barbaraclarke.net

Waltzing My Piano

by Jean Waight

An old envelope fell out of the piano bench the other day, and I asked Bill about tossing it out. But its scratch marks held details of his 1989 trip to collect what is now our good, heavy, rather old upright piano. The trip was a December adventure, and a leap of faith, since a piano is a formidable opponent for someone going alone, with a not-good back, the six hundred twenty miles to Redding, California.

The seller wasn’t there at the appointed time. No one had cell phones in those days, and Bill was left to wonder and linger over a long breakfast until, 90 minutes late, the fellow pulled up, having finally made his way through fog-obstructed traffic.

A professional mover, he waved away Bill’s help. Actually asked him to stay out of the way. He had a solid block constructed of layers of sheet plywood, about 15 X 15 inches square and about nine inches high. Onto this block he set the piano on its side, and from there choreographed a dance of tips and pivots. In about five minutes he had the piano down from his truck and into the back of Bill’s rented trailer.

Now, no one is going to confuse a neat, five-minute piano-moving trick with the long slog we face as we do the work of, among other things, defending our open and welcoming society. But what I take from the piano mover is this hope: that when I’m trying to move a seemingly immovable hulk of problems, distrust, and ill-feeling, and I’m straining, that there may be a better way.

One way my piano surely becomes harder to move is if I fail to recognize all my allies in changing the public stories we hear, especially unexpected allies. Often enough I have used the simplified term “The Christian Right.” But this term doesn’t seem as meaningful as I thought before I saw Danny Westneat’s January 29 column (Seattle Times). From his column I learned how distraught the workers have been at Washington state’s largest refugee resettlement program, a charity of a coalition of mostly evangelical churches identifying conservative. They take large exception to the Administration’s assertion that immigrants have been coming in unvetted. And they love the immigrants they’ve been able to help, most definitely including the Muslims. Seeing this gave me goosebumps of joy.

One way my piano may be easier to move is if I can make music as well as generate sweat. We are not just in a historical moment that we can resolve in the near term. While our current crises are a special class of danger and damage, I think we are all recognizing that we’re in the midst of an upheaval that’s already been going on for decades and now shows no signs of resolving into peace in my lifetime, or maybe yours. So why not build our resilience with joys as well as activism? Joyful activism, if we can manage that. Continue to make music. And in writing my lyrics, I’d like to try this: using words like gains and setbacks instead of wins and losses—I think that will send the message to my bones that this effort is going to take endurance. And that my emotional ups and downs can be smoothed by letting go of winning. This isn’t a sport to me, anyway. Nor a war.

The late Hugh Prather once spoke of a growing family whose strength lies in their gentleness and whose message is not so much in their words as in their treatment of others. I hope to carry that thought with me, at least in my better moments, whether I’m pushing or waltzing.

Author’s Bio: 

Jean Waight, formerly with Group Health Cooperative’s Communications and Community Relations department, is a Bellingham writer of memoir, short fiction, and essays. Her work has appeared in the Red Wheelbarrow Writers anthology Memory into Memoir, in “Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim,” and in the sociological journal, “Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.” More blogposts are on GreenTeaSympathy.blogspot.com.

 

 

Slow Writing: Why I Write At A Snail’s Pace

by Jennifer Karchmer

This is an excerpt from Jennifer’s upcoming book,“Take (Your) Time To Write: The Path to Peaceful Writing,” based on the concept of slow writing.

I’ve always been a slow writer. In the 1990s, at my first job as a reporter, I would take hours to finish just a 500-word column that should have taken me an hour or two after sifting through my notes. I would return from a school board meeting or a run-of-the-mill press conference and toil over the lead (first sentence of a news story) and every sentence. I would rewrite until everything was just right. Of course, accuracy is critical in journalism, so I checked, rechecked, and made my quotes perfect. Still, my editor pulled me aside one day, and while assuring me I was doing a good job, she said I needed to work more quickly. They were paying me by the hour ($5) and wouldn’t be able to afford me if I kept up the tortoise pace. Thankfully, I learned to speed it up. After putting in more than a decade in busy newsrooms, I can say I have never been fired for missing a deadline. (Admittedly, as I work on this post, I see out of the corner of my eye on the TV, three episodes of Seinfeld have passed in addition to at least half of “Dirty Dancing” so we’re moving in on three hours and I’m only halfway finished.)

Several years ago, I made the transition from a “Just the facts, ma’am” reporter to a personal essay freelance writer. Today, I make my own deadlines – a dream come true for a writer, but with the autonomy comes discipline. So I’ve turned to other writers for guidance. Frightfully, at a cocktail party, I overhear a writer say she jumps out of bed at the crack of dawn to get her butt in the chair before the family begins to stir. Similarly startling was the time I heard a fellow scribe say he neurotically crosses off “Wrote 1,500 words!” on his daily To Do list.

Getting up before the roosters? Hitting a daily self-imposed word count? Is this discipline or competition?

Realizing these conventions are not for me, I try to build my confidence, and my writing practice, around a slower, more relaxed pace that seems more in tune with my molasses gait. I admire you early risers, I really do. But it’s just not my style, so why force it? Writing is not only a career but an art, a passion–one that inches along to the tune of the muse whom I invoke when the sun and moon align. Well, it’s actually not that magical but I put a lot of stock in how I am feeling. I am a productive writer, but these laments make me feel stressed out and depleted. Am I really a writer if I don’t adhere to these routines? I had left the busy newsroom grind and didn’t want to replace it with tortuous rules that seemed to leave me with a wet blanket of guilt draped over my shoulders.

Along the way, I have adopted some precepts that seem to keep my writing in tune with my natural (slower) stride:

  1. Write when you feel like it. If I go a day or two without writing, I don’t beat myself up. I trust my body to know when I need a respite. Often, I will have a marathon writing session later in the week so I consider the earlier rest period a necessary recharge.
  2. Writing is writing. Period. Some days I lament that I haven’t written a lick on an essay I’m been mulling around. Then, when I reflect on the day, I see 27 in my Sent folder. Writing is writing, whether it is an email to client, a pitch to an agent, a handwritten sick note for your kid, or a FB post asking for travel advice. I consider all of these ways in which I am exercising my writing muscle (I actually love writing emails).
  3. Do a 7-day reset. Take off an entire week from your writing schedule and habits and allow yourself to do whatever feels right. Maybe you write one day and then not come back to a manuscript for two or three days. If it feels right to get up at the crack of dawn and put in some butt time, then go for it. Or perhaps writing feels really good at 3 pm with a cup of coffee as the afternoon light reflects off the trees. Give yourself a full week to see what develops for you and use that as a baseline for your writing habit. This is your “natural” schedule so use it to your advantage to be productive.

Not only do I hold the dubious distinction of being a slow writer, I am also a slow reader. I take months to finish a novel (although I did finish “Fifty Shades of Grey” in three days…shhh). So I try to mix up my pleasure reading between fiction and a nonfiction magazines so I am getting a regular dose of different genres including some longform or “slow” writing. Here are some resources and examples I recommend.

Jennifer Karchmer is a creative writer, book reviewer, and editor, based in Bellingham, WA and Brooklyn, NY. When she’s not writing first-personal essay, she is a volunteer correspondent for Reporters Without Borders defending and protecting freedom of the press and freedom of speech around the world. Find her latest work here: http://www.jenniferkarchmer.com/essays.html

Give Me a Topic and I’ll Write You a Story

by Jared McVay

I’ve been writing stories and doing storytelling for quite a few years now and whenever I do a session, storytelling or book signing, I’m always asked, where do I get my inspiration, and I say, “Give me a topic and I’ll write you a story, it’s that easy.”

But I guess that’s not true for all writers. You’d be surprised at how many people tell me they need to do tons of research, develop the characters, and then do an outline before they write the first word, and even then, it might take days or even weeks before the opening paragraph is finished.

I’ve had at least a dozen people tell me they’ve been working on their book for over a year, some, several years and my heart goes out to them. I encourage them to not give up, but inside, I feel most of them will never get the first book off the ground, and that brings me to my subject today – A book series…

Not only my publisher, but also most of the people I talk to say they love a series where they can follow a character from book to book. But most of those folks have no idea of what it takes to write a series. And for those who write the first two or three feel they are easy, but after that things start to get a little tougher.

Unlike a stand-alone book, the author has to build a life for this character, then keep coming up with adventures for that character [man or woman] to get involved in.

At this point I need to point out that the storyline must be able to carry your character from one book to another, like say, a detective, an attorney who specializes in a certain type of law, a western that is filled with action or whatever the writer may come up with. All I can say is make sure the road he or she is to follow will have a strong storyline.

It will be helpful if you have a mind that can slide your character into and out of situations that are both, funny and serious. After all, life is not all funny or serious. We all have our ups and downs. Life is full of surprises, and for the reader to be able to be drawn into your story so deep that they hate to put the book down, the writer has to keep coming up with fresh material, which for many becomes pressure they don’t want to deal with. For those writers, I suggest you stick to stand-alone stories.

With that said, who is to say the writer can’t build a following using the same character in stand alone stories. For some that might be tougher, but for others it is the very foundation they can build a career on.

So, whether you follow a character down a long path with many twists and turns, or put him or her in a stand-alone situation, find the path you are comfortable with and enable you to write your stories.

My publisher suggested I write a western series. I said, alright and sat down at my computer and began. My biggest challenge was what his name was going to be. Once I established that in my mind, I placed my fingers on the keyboard and turned them loose. Two hundred and ninety-two pages later, I had book one, ‘Stranger On A Black Stallion.’ I have written three Clay Brentwood books this year and book four should be out in the early part of 2017. I like to write two to three books a year.

My biggest advice is; don’t let anyone tell you how to write your story. It’s yours and yours alone. Just do the best you can and allow your mind to roam freely, whether it is a stand-alone book or a series.

For me, I like to write several genres, stand-alone, series and children’s books.

In parting, I will leave you with this, “Write to have fun. Tell the stories you want to tell, in your own voice… in a way only you can tell them.”

Author’s Bio: Union stage, film, and television actor for more than twenty years – semi retired. Storyteller – children and adult – part of several storytelling guilds from coast to coast. I write, historical fiction, action adventure, westerns and children’s books… Have won several awards. A humble man who enjoys spinning a yarn.

Do You Have Time to be Reasonable?

by Dawn Groves

Most of the writers I meet are genuine, pie-in-the-sky optimists. They believe that a best-seller lurks in their subconscious minds, waiting to catapult them into glory. I’ve been a member of this club since I started writing in the sixth grade. Each article I write is a stepping stone toward my personal “50 Shades of Grey” success story, except my book will be good.

Well, recently I’ve noticed a subtle shift in my optimism. It has grown more—for lack of a better word–reasonable. There’s less urgency, more comfort with moderation.

Hmmm.

Charting Life as a Writer

Four months ago I surfed into a website called Wait But Why. It’s a playful, practical take on productivity and time management. One of the authors, Tim Urban, wrote an excellent post containing three different charts that depict a 90-year lifespan in years, months, and weeks, respectively. There’s a big laminated version the Weeks chart on sale for 20 bucks.

dgroves1

Urban suggests using the chart to diagram life accomplishments. Shaded blocks represent periods of time that can be dotted with notable events and experiences. The example here is one of several displayed on his website.

It was a cool idea. I eventually ordered the blank chart, unrolled it as soon as it arrived, then promptly went into overwhelm and stashed it in the closet.

That was four weeks before election day.

The morning after the election in a pique of god-knows-what, I fished the chart out of the closet, grabbed a couple of highlighters and started dragging long lines of color left to right. I used blue for the weeks in the past and switched to green for the weeks in the future.

Below is the result I generated. The green ribbon is my working future. I ran out of ink on row 70 but at that age I’d like to be playing and living on—guess what?—proceeds from my best seller.

dgroves2As I toyed with the 70-year line of demarcation, the ribbon of green started looking mighty thin.

There’s Always More Time to Write

In my 20’s and 30’s, I gave myself plenty of time to write the grand book of books. Other things took precedence. When I hit the 40’s I shifted into motherhood and wrote very little. In my 50’s I started working again on a part time basis and did a lot of kayaking with my husband.

Then at age 57 my mate decided to start a new relationship with someone across the country. I jumped back into a variety of working gigs. It was tough but there was always that potential best seller giving me hope.

This year I’m 62. When I’m not avoiding and procrastinating, my top priorities are paying the bills, trying to get fit, and supporting my two daughters. I live a reasonable, proactive lifestyle. People think I’m doing fine.

There’s NOT Always More Time to Write

The chart was a cold shower.

Urban understood this kind of response. “It kind of feels like our lives are made up of a countless number of weeks,” he writes. “But there they are [on the chart -ed] —fully countable—staring you in the face.”

It was too much. I stood up, flipped the chart over, grabbed my car keys, and drove to my first experience of a marijuana shop.

Yesterday I was ready to face the chart again so I moved it back into the living room next to the piano and the kettle bells. I’m looking at it right now. My reasonable optimism whispers how there’s plenty of time to make money and enjoy life. I just need to be more realistic about what’s possible.

Reasonable Thinking, Reasonable Results

I put a lot of things on my bucket list and writing that damn best-seller is numero uno. But now my hope is fading. I’ve seen the green ribbon. I’ve heard the voice of reason and it makes good sense.

It’s like I’m in a real-life adaptation of the classic two-wolves parable. Here’s my version:

There are two hungry optimistic wolves living in my back yard. One wolf is a young, reasonable new tenant. An accountant. The other wolf has been with me since the 6th grade. She’s demanding and wild, forever howling at the moon, eyes filled with stars.

Which wolf should I feed?

Author’s Bio: 

dawn-205x266-einblauDawn Groves is a Bellingham author who teaches writing and WordPress at Whatcom Community College. 

www.dawngroves.com

Images used with permission from WaitButWhy.com