Girl in the Snapshot

Looking at old photographs is not something I do much. I live here, after all, in the present tense. Last week, however, I got a jolt. A friend sent me a few old photographs. I wasn’t expecting them. In fact, I didn’t even know these pictures existed until the moment they popped up in a text message—pictures of pictures. 

SNAPSHOTS

She had come across them in a photo album. They came from the time before smart phones, back when taking a picture was an intentional act. You had to have a camera. With film in it. You had to get the film processed. You had to store the pictures, in this case in an album. You had to value them if you were going to hang on to them. She valued these snapshots.

THE OFFICE

One was taken at work. She and I were part of a larger group who were friends because we spent so many long hours together at work. There are ten of us in the picture, all laughing. I wonder about the joke. What is it we find funny as we pose in a conference room of the law firm where we worked? Papers strewn about on the table in the foreground; we must’ve been taking a break in the day, maybe lunch. Someone had a camera. 

WHO’S THAT GIRL?

I recognized others before I recognized myself. In fact, I wondered at first why I wasn’t there. Then I saw someone I couldn’t place; the girl in the middle, in the front, smiling big and laughing. Me! I was shocked. When that snapshot was taken, I was around 25 or 27 years old. Over thirty years ago. 

1988, that’s my guess. Give or take a year or two. Chicago. Married. I look so happy. I don’t remember being quite that happy. I don’t remember feeling so sure of myself, confident like the girl in the picture. Proof that what’s outside is no reflection of the turmoil and doubt surely swallowing her up on the inside. But why? Why such doubt and insecurity? Look at the girl. She sits surrounded by people who like her, care about her. She is dressed in her designer office attire with her hair combed straight and long. Her eyes shine. She is pretty. Why would such a woman be so lacking in self-esteem? Looking back, it makes no sense. 

THAT GIRL NEEDS SOME ADVICE

I would like to talk to that girl, tell her some things.  First of all, I keep referring to her as “girl” when, in fact, she is a woman. 

Stop fighting independence, I would like to tell her, stop wanting to be taken care of and embrace your autonomy. Pragmatism now will lead to time and space for self-expression later. Be kind to yourself and believe in yourself, your dreams. Stop fretting and live your best life. Don’t believe the myth, I’d tell her, the white-picket-fence is not for you and that’s okay! Create the life that works for you. And above all, stop compromising! 

If only I could give her a hug, talk to her and prevent the pain and poor choices that were to come. 

To all young women I say, please be kind to yourselves, listen to your heart, have the confidence to live your dream.

Reading About Writing

On becoming a writer, the one best piece of advice is to read. Read everything. Read all the time. Read what you love and emulate author’s whose work you admire. Separate from that is reading about writing which also helps. It’s helped me anyway. I have shelves of books on writing. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

 Bibliography: Writing Books

Cameron, Julia, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998.

Cameron shares her writing tools. This book is a guide to developing a daily writing practice.

Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, New World Library, 1949.

“The hero’s journey” can serve as a stepping off place for story-telling. It’s a hefty read but useful for writers of fiction.

Conner, Janet, Writing Down Your Soul: How to Activate and Listen to the Extraordinary Voice Within, Conari Press, 2008.

This is about living your fullest life as much as it is about writing. I came across this one during a particularly vulnerable time in my life. If you are unaccustomed to journal writing, this might be a good place to start.

Darwin, Emma, Writing Historical Fiction, Teach Yourself, 2016.

This one includes exercises on plot development, research, and aspects that are unique to the genre of historical fiction.

Dillard, Annie, Living By Fiction, Harper & Row, 1982.

While this book is less about writing and more about reading, it’s a classic for any writer of fiction.

Gardner, John, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, Vintage Books, 1984.

It is quite a feat to get through this one, but it is filled with treasures and insight that every writer needs.

Goldberg, Natalie, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, Free Press, 2007.

Half of the front cover is missing from my copy; a literate dog tried to eat it. These writing prompts and exercises  inspire going deep in memoir writing.

Goldberg, Natalie, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Shambala, 1986.

An absolute classic. If you don’t already have this book in your collection, I have to question your “writerliness.” Doesn’t everyone own this book?

Hurwitz, Diana, Story Building Blocks: Craft Your Story Using Four Layers of Conflict, Hurwitz Publishing, 2011.

If you are looking for a basic template to outline a novel, this is your book.

Karr, Mary, The Art of Memoir, Harper, 2015.

It’s Mary Karr, what else needs to be said? Seriously, with this book she will help you write the scary stuff.

King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Scribner, 2000.

Another “must-have” for any writer. Get it. Read it. Mark it up.

Lamott, Anne, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anchor Books,1994.

I have so many pages tabbed in my copy! Again, just read it.

Le Guin, Ursula K., Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, The Eighth Mountain Press, 1998.

Here is another book with exercises to help you with your writing practice. Use your current project as you complete these exercises and you might have a good beginning.

Pressfield, Steven, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Black Irish Entertainment, 2002.

I really like this one. It’s a small quick read that builds confidence, guides you toward feeling “professional” and tells you to “slay the dragon.”

Prose, Francine, Reading Like a Writer: A guide For People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, Harper, NY, 2006.

Here is my newest discovery and I am excited about it. I have just started reading it.

Wittig Albert, Ph.D., Susan, Writing From Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story, Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1996.

Explore your personal narrative, discover the truth of your life and share it with the world. Susan Wittig Albert is a huge proponent of women writers. She is encouraging and a role-model.

Some of these are classics, some newer. All have proved useful to me and I refer to them often. As I’ve been wandering through this stack, I realize that I should revisit some of these. In fact, I look forward to reading them again and finding treasures that I missed before.

My Writing Practice

Over the course of my life and especially the last nine months I have a established a practice of writing that works for me. It is multi-faceted, layered and requires some planning and organization on my part. Using multiple resources, I am able to grow my craft and learn new skills to make my talent work for me. Any form of creativity requires talent and drive, but more importantly, learned skills and collaboration. 

Finding a writing community can be difficult, especially if, like me, you don’t live in a city. Fortunate for writers like myself and thanks to the pandemic, we’ve got Zoom.

STORY CIRCLE NETWORK

Some years ago I became a member of The Story Circle Network. SCN provides an on-line writing community for women and it is wonderful. Three days a week, members of my WIP (Work In Progress) group check in with one another to share goals, share our current reads and brag about our writing accomplishments. It is a way to hold yourself accountable and to know you are not alone. SCN puts out a newsletter and provides enriching workshops that cover a variety of genres and writing skills. I serve as a reviewer for SCN’s book review web page and I am a juror for SCN’s annual Sarton Awards. SCN continues to help me grow as a writer.

WRITER’S LEAGUE OF TEXAS

Although I have been a member for several years, I have yet to take full advantage of my WLT membership. WLT offers so much regarding editing and publishing your work. As of now, I have attended some of the workshops. Every WLT workshop I have attended have been well worth the time and money. I always come away with new skills to add to my craft.

LET’S WRITE CLUB

A month or two ago, Amy Isaman, author and writing coach, started a virtual group with the goal of “let’s write the damn book!” Not only is it an honor to be a founding member, but it is also quite helpful. Amy has scheduled several writing sessions a week when we meet via Zoom and write for a two hour stretch. We all work on our own WIP’s, hold each other accountable and support one another. Amy also provides excellent workshops and Q&A sessions. The concept might sound a little strange. We are all working from our own homes around the country and we are writing. You might wonder why we can’t just write on our own. Well, we can. But coming together provides a sense of community, we get to share ideas and it’s less lonely. 

WORKSHOPS

Not only have I attended writing workshops offered by Story Circle Network, Writer’s League of Texas and Amy Isaman, but I am currently taking a five week course from The Attic Institute of Portland and have registered for another. 

There are millions of workshops out there and I recommend doing some research before committing to any one. Don’t waste your time or your money. Evaluate your needs and look for good reviews. Research the instructor. You don’t have to have an MFA to be an excellent writer. Finding a community of writers and good workshops are super helpful though. Again, talent and drive can only take you so far. Writing is a craft requiring learned skills and a community of collaborators. Writing is communication; it is useless to write into a void. 

JOURNALING, MORNING PAGES AND PRACTICE

For several decades I gave up on journaling; I am not sure why. When the pandemic started and we went on lockdown, I began to journal again. I wanted to make sure to have a personal account of all the incredible things that were (are) happening in these unprecedented times. I am so glad to be back in the habit again. It helps my overall writing.

 I have also started the habit of Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages.” Every morning instead of scrolling through the news and social media feeds, I pick up my “Morning Pages” notebook and write stream-of-consciousness three pages in long-hand. A lot of junk comes out of that, but there is good stuff too. 

Besides journaling and morning pages, I practice. That is, I play with words, sentence structure and experiment with writing styles and cadence.

MY BLOG

Another form of practice is this blog. I am committed to posting something new each week. Since January I have missed two weeks: the week of my daughter’s wedding and the week of an impromptu family reunion. Some weeks I have to force myself to “throw” something out there, anything. Other weeks are more successful. Ironically, the posts I put less effort in are often the ones that get the most feedback. Go figure. The reasons for having a blog are as follows: it serves as a platform to share my random thoughts; the feedback feeds my writing by building my confidence as a writer; it serves as practice; it reminds me that people actually read what I write which makes me work harder at writing better and makes me careful about what I say and how I say it. 

WRITING ABOUT WRITING

 Writing about writing as I am doing now, provides me with the metacognitive insight to better understand my own relationship to the craft of writing. I am also sharing my experiences with others and maybe helping other writers in their own writing journeys. 

READING ABOUT WRITING

There are a lot of crappy books on writing, find the good ones. In a future blog post I will share an annotated bibliography of some of my favorites.

READING

Reading is the single best way to become a better writer. Read everything. Read all the time. 

PLANNER/WEEKLY ASSIGNMENTS

Every Sunday I make a list of things to accomplish and add it to my weekly planner. I follow this list and my calendar religiously. If it’s on the list, it gets done. This serves as a guide and gives me a sense of accomplishment. 

POETRY

Every time I sit down to write, I start by reading a poem or two. This has been my habit the whole of my writing life. Poetry influences my prose writing and I believe poetry is reflected in my writing and makes it better. 

This is how I scaffold my own writing practice. It is a combination of all of the above and it works for me. Find what works for you and dedicate yourself to it. And create!

Story Circle Network https://www.storycircle.org/

Writer’s League of Texas https://writersleague.org/

Let’s Write the Book Club https://amyisaman.com/letswrite/

Attic Institute http://atticinstitute.com/

September

For nearly twenty-five years I spent the month of August preparing for a new school year. I commuted back and forth to school. I attended professional development workshops and meetings; some less relevant than others. I decorated my classroom and later my library to welcome students back. I collected certificates from the state-mandated online courses about blood borne pathogens, sexual harassment, and a myriad of other topics repeated exactly the same every single year. Every August I studied a new way of doing old things because every year the wheel is re-invented. I learned the expectations of the school principal, the district, and the state; I adjusted accordingly.

Students returned and we all fell into a routine that was unique for that particular year. I learned my students’ names, their strengths and weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. And they got to know me too. 

A TEACHER’S YEAR

The life of an educator cycles through the year in a way that is unique compared to other professions. Each season or month holds its own, distinct expression. From August to June, time is measured by holidays and test dates. Valentine Parties and Field Days. Cafeteria Thanksgiving and book fairs. Pep rallys and football games. Homecoming and Prom. 

SEPTEMBER SLOWLY

September is a completely different experience when you don’t work in a school. It feels slower than it used to be. When September comes, teachers and students are so involved in activities that it’s hard to notice the days growing shorter. It’s still hot here in Texas, but the mornings and afternoons are cooler than before. There is a breeze and the air has a different scent. Now that I am no longer part of the education system, I get to slow down and notice the gradual and quiet change that occurs this time of year. It’s nice. 

MINDFULNESS

Now I get to immerse all of my senses in the changes around me. I get to spend more time outside. For the first time, I see that September is a wonderful month. It’s not just being away from school culture that makes me so aware, but also because I have learned to live in the moment, to be mindful of the here and now rather than constantly planning what comes next. This is a fantastic way to live. It’s what we strive for. 

FALL MINDSET

In September birds behave differently, squirrels are busier, different kinds of flowers bloom. People act differently too. Although the weather still says summer, people display pumpkins on their front porches, suffer the heat in pants and sweaters and drink pumpkin lattes. They fall into an autumn mindset, looking ahead to Halloween, Thanksgiving and beyond. Not me; I squeeze out as much summertime as I possibly can. 

Teaching is a rewarding profession. For many years it was just right for me. I feel fortunate, however, to explore new ways to live, to see things from another perspective, to really stop and look around and watch the seasons change. I am lucky to have so many experiences. 

I left the school in December. Other retired teachers told me I wouldn’t feel retired from education until the beginning of the new school year; then it would hit me. That is true. I do not miss it. I loved what I did at the time, but no, I don’t miss it. Both things can be true. 

Happy Fall ya’ll. I think I’ll go for a swim!

Living With a Writer

Perhaps the person who should write an article with this title should be the person living with a writer rather than the writer. Since the writer is the one who writes, however, it gets to be written by the writer. If you, like my husband, live with a writer, here are some things you might want to know:

  • Patience. Just be patient, please. This is especially important if you don’t understand the creative process. 
  • Creativity is not an excuse; rather it’s a way of thinking that is different than the kind of thinking required for everyday existence. 
  • Know that your writer has to have the ability to think both ways, and they have to know when and how to move from left-brain to right-brain thinking. Sometimes this is really hard. Sometimes this causes them to be scatterbrained. 
  • Your writer requires both space and time. You know, “a room of one’s own and all that.” A place with a window that preferably has a nice view, for staring out. A place to pin notes of inspiration, ideas, writing advice, and and plans for writing. A place for books. A place that has multiple cups filled with every kind of pen, pencil, marker. Note paper of various sizes. Very likely your writer is an office supply nerd. I am.
  • Give them the time they need to write, to think, to read, research, to daydream. All of that is writing. 
  • Space also relates to sound. 
  • Encourage. The other week my husband after overhearing me tell writer friends that I had written 2,000 words in two hours, woke me up at 6:30 to tell me he had it figured out. He made coffee (like every morning) and excitedly told me that if I start writing at seven, I can have 2,000 words by nine. Who wouldn’t love a man like that! Such enthusiasm! 
  • Know that some days are more productive than others. Know that 2,000 or 5,000 or 100,000 words written does not mean 100,000 words closer to the end of a novel. Those words may not even make it into to the novel at all. 
  • Chances are, your writer regularly interacts with people you cannot see. They have conversations with these folks. They may or may not tell you about them. If they do, listen. I guarantee these people you cannot see, do some pretty insane things and their stories are fascinating! 
  • This is super important, if your writer is folding laundry, working a crossword, watering the plants or walking to the mailbox, they are very likely working out an idea in their head. When that is the case, they should tell you so; please respect this. 
  • Writers are always writing. Period. Always. 
  • Whatever you do, please never tell your writer what they should write. Please. They know what they are doing. If you have a writing idea, write it yourself.
  • Writing is an integral part of your writers life. They should be living holistically with their writing, so that everything they do is related to writing. If that is not the case, know that they are struggling to make it so. Support that.
  • There is an amazing world inside your writer’s head. If you are patient and supportive, it will be revealed to you in its final glory. 

These are just a few thoughts that have come to me. If you are a writer, please feel free to add to this list. I am fortunate that I live with a person who, while he may not always “get” it, he always supports and encourages me. 

Determined Fig

Sometimes my husband goes a little crazy purchasing plants for our yard. He can be a bit over-zealous shopping at the nursery. When he brings plants home, he has a habit of setting them at the side of the house, between our house and the neighbor’s privacy fence. Sometimes he forgets about them. 

Several years ago, he bought a small fig tree. The tree was maybe a foot tall, and came in a plastic disposable planter. You know the kind. He set it by the fence and left it there. This fig tree was ignored. It was not watered. That is to say, we did not water it; we did nothing to care for it. It sat in its little pot and waited.

It waited until it became tired of waiting and finally took responsibility for its own well-being. The fig tree began to grow. The roots, determined and strong, broke through the plastic planter bottom and dug into the earth beneath. The fig tree branched out reaching for the sun, its leaves wide and green and healthy. It grew against the fence, such was its strength, it nearly knocked the fence over. Before that could happen, because we were not interested in building a new fence, my husband chopped down the tree, right down to the plastic pot.

Guess what: it grew back. Again, right through the pot. Not only did it grow back, but it withstood our infamous winter storm that took so many other trees and plants in our yard. Once again, our determined fig grows thick and healthy and strong. Nothing can stop this tree! It wants to live. The pot still encircles it.

Over the years I have had to restart my writing life over and over again. I have always been a writer. In my head. Due to a myriad of circumstances, I have gone through periods of not writing, but I never considered myself to be anything other than a writer. The thing is, a writer is always writing even if it’s just in our heads. It’s what we do. It’s a way of viewing the world. My writing life has been “chopped down” in so many ways. Earning a living, raising a child, caring for family—all legitimate and positive reasons for not writing. I embrace all of those things, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade my life experiences for the world. In fact, without them there would be nothing to write about.

The biggest “chop down” for any writer I think, is getting past the events in life that serve as triggers. Some stuff is really hard to write about and those are the things that most need to be written down. The hard stuff. So often, I used to get to the hard stuff and just quit. Going deep is scary. Downright frightening. But when you push through, like the fig tree, you grow. You push those roots down and reach for the sky, you write through the hard stuff and suddenly you find you have become a better person but you have also produced better writing! Those things go hand-in-hand. 

Sometimes we all have to be like that fig tree and soldier through. Life will cut you down. No one is going to water you. You’ve got to do it yourself. To grow you’ve got to do your own hard work.

Where We Stand Now

Even the most cynical of us thought it would be over by now; didn’t we? And yet, here we are.  I have to think it through: it began in earnest in March of 2020, isn’t that right? This is September 2021. Not only are we still in it, but it seems it’s really bad again.

MASKS

When the state of Texas unmasked, I continued to wear mine in public and still do. It’s annoying. A lot of things that are good for us are annoying. No big deal. It’s a big deal to be sick, to suffer, to find yourself alone in a hospital. I don’t intend for any of that to happen to me or to any of my loved ones. Death does not scare me; pain and suffering terrify me. I wear my mask.

CHANGES

The world has changed so much since the Covid outbreak. There have been big changes on a global scale and also on a personal scale. My life is completely different today than it was a year ago. Oddly, for the better. I am extremely fortunate; for many the changes have been and are catastrophic. If you were already living from one paycheck to the next (or worse), the pandemic pushed you down even farther on the socio-economic scale. I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way, but this pandemic has done many things including exposing our flaws as a society. We have a lot of work to do.

BE SAFE

At our house, we will do our best over the upcoming months. Already, we don’t leave the house much and when we do, we are as careful as we can be; we, of course, are vaccinated, we mask in public, hand sanitizer after filling the car with gas, so much handwashing. I don’t hug as much as I used to.

TRAVEL

A few weeks ago, we flew for the first time since before the lockdown. We were apprehensive about it and wouldn’t be doing it at all if it weren’t for a very important event: my daughter’s wedding, something I would not miss for the world. While traveling we distanced ourselves from others as much as we possibly could. We wore our masks. I always shower and change clothes first thing when I leave an airport. The airports were crowded. The planes were filled to capacity. The airline was not cleaning the planes between flights.

When we got there, we smiled and celebrated and danced for the happy event! It was worth it!

GOD BLESS US ALL

The wedding and the trip are over now, and we are home. We will wait and see. School has started. There doesn’t seem to be anything in place this time around to keep students and teachers safe. Last year, safety protocols were “in name only,” at least where I am, but this year it seems the powers-that-be are just pretending none of this is happening. My heart goes out to all the teachers, students and parents who will be at risk. I am grateful to no longer be a part of the fiasco that is public education right now.

I can’t believe more is not being done. What will it take? How many people will die and suffer? At what percentage of death does empathy set in for a society? For our society?

Lean on Me

These are exceptional times. There is no doubt. The political is personal. Not being able to get to a polling booth to vote is personal. Not enough beds for a hospitalized loved one is personal. Feeling unsafe in public spaces is personal. Losing a job is personal. Protecting vulnerable loved ones from a debilitating, even deadly virus is personal. Watching police officers who we depend on for our safety being attacked during an insurrection at our nation’s capital is personal. Watching climate change occur in fast forward is personal.

WHY AREN’T YOU CRYING?

 Everything on the news seems to land right on our doorsteps. In the old days, it landed in the form of a newspaper; now it arrives as actual events happening to us all. We are not talking about a faraway war or disease and starvation in an unrelatable third world country (which is awful enough). No, gone are the days of first world entitlement. The pandemic is here. Racial strife is here (always has been, but why still?). We actually had an insurrection at the U.S capital; who could’ve imagined? Climate change is happening so fast we can’t keep up. Fires, floods, drought, extreme temperatures, hurricanes, melting polar caps, animals quickly becoming extinct.  If you haven’t cried lately while watching the news, then I have to ask: What is wrong with you?

CALL ME

Today one of my dearest friends, one of my most favorite human beings on the face of the Earth (she knows who she is) called me. As soon as I heard her voice, I sensed stress. Tears. I immediately “got” it. We both acknowledge all the zillions of blessings in our lives. However, the early 21st century is hard. Yes, it is way easier for us than it is for most people on the planet. Neither of us deny that; in fact, the recognition makes it all the more difficult. When did this start? The intensity?

YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND

What’s important here is that she called me. She reached out. I was able to be there for her, but in doing so she did something for me in return. She reminded me that I am worthy, that I am someone who can be depended on. Sometimes it is just as important to know that you can be depended on as it is to know there are people you can depend on. It’s a two-way street. It feels good to be needed. She is a person who has been there for me. I love that I can finally reciprocate no matter how small.

HEY SHITHEAD!

You know a friend is family when you go for a period of time without communicating but when you do get in touch it’s as if no time passed at all. It might be months or years or weeks or days. It doesn’t matter. We are always right where we left off. We can talk about today and refer to decades ago and it all makes sense. That is love. Who else can call you a “shithead” and you know it is a compliment! That’s better than family.

TOUGH TIMES

We are living in a time where we are touched by everything. Everything is connected. The insurrection of January 6, being laid off from a job, climate change, a divorce, a friend becoming widowed, the economy, the pandemic. Every single thing hits so very close to home. It’s knocking on your own effin front door. For this reason, we especially need to be reaching out to one another more than ever. Let’s be there for each other, even if it’s just to provide a smile.

GOOD TIMES

There are all the good things too; an impromptu trip to another state to visit a small-town bookshop, a wedding, college graduations, laughter, a phone call, an early morning run, watching your dog swim in the river, a job you like, a night out with your daughter. I promise, this list is much longer than the bad stuff. That’s the thing. A conversation that starts with tears and ends with laughing so hard you snort! No matter what happens, with some people life is just so beautiful. It’s always beautiful with beautiful human beings.

Hey Shithead, you are one of the most beautiful humans on the planet, and I love you.

The Re-Invention of Self

Every day is a re-invention of the self. It is a chance to start fresh. Every day is an opportunity to evaluate your beliefs about yourself and the world. In so doing, you can set the standards for the relationships in your life.

SETTING STANDARDS

What’s important is that you get to set the standards for those relationships. When others fail to meet those standards, it is not your fault. You are only capable of controlling your own behavior, not that of others. For some reason we so frequently need reminding of that. At least I do.

Set those standards. Leave the door open. If others choose to enter, welcome them with open arms, allow them to know and accept you. If they choose not to enter, accept their choice and know that you are living your own best life. Boundaries help maintain balance.

You get to choose the folks you surround yourself with. Remember the old adage that you are a reflection of those you choose to spend time with. I hope that is true because when I look at my circle, I see some mighty fine people.

I am well aware of the mistakes I make and have made in the past. That’s the cool thing about living; you get to start fresh every time the sun comes up This reminds me of The Four Agreements, a small book I recommend no matter your religious affiliation or lack thereof. It’s good advice.

THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

The four agreements:

Be impeccable with your word.

Don’t take anything personally.

Don’t make assumptions.

Always do your best.

I often fail the four agreements; we all do, but every morning we get to wake up and try again. We get to know that every single day we do our best. The thing is what your “best” is on Tuesday may not be the same as your “best” on Wednesday. As long as you know that on any given day, you did your best, you can strive to make the next day even better. The trick is awareness. Be aware of the words you use, remember that everyone has a story, and we all have burdens to carry. Be aware, evaluate daily, accept what you are offered and breathe.

A PRAYER

Such awareness is a daily prayer of sorts, a meditation. It helps you focus, keeps you centered. Think through the events of the day and take measure of your actions. Write about the days’ events in a journal. Read a poem. Enjoy your quiet time, if only for a moment. Give yourself grace by recognizing progress and remembering that if you trip that’s okay because tomorrow you get to start fresh all over again.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

This is a mantra of mine: be kind to yourself. When you are kind to yourself, you have more confidence which in turn makes you nicer to others. When you are kind to yourself, you are also kinder to others. It relaxes you, causes you to smile more, makes you friendlier, more likeable. This is true. If you don’t believe me, try it. Stop beating yourself up about every little thing and give yourself some grace.

Re-invent yourself every day and watch how you grow and thrive. Surround yourself with people who love unconditionally. Give yourself a break and say a little prayer.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

Where Ideas come From

Ideas can come from anywhere and from many places. Rarely (at least for me) is a story idea generated from just one thought, but from an odd collection of seemingly random information or experiences.

Today I completed reading a remarkable book, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. It was the acknowledgments at the end that really struck me though. The author, Robert Dugoni, tells the story of how the idea for this novel came about. As a writer I relate to his experience about how ideas develop. In his acknowledgment, we learn about his growing up with a “special needs” sibling who was “different,” his Catholic upbringing and a news article he came across about a child with ocular albinism; all topics relevant to the novel and collected over time.

FIRST DRAFT

An especially important point that he makes, that all writers, myself included, need to remember, is that “a first draft is written for the writer and should never be shared with anyone.” That goes right along with Terry Pratchett’s quote: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

THINKING IS WRITING

I am not sure if non-writers really understand the process; that even when we are not writing, we are writing. Recently, I was part of a conversation with fellow writers where we all agreed that thinking is writing. If you happen to share a household with a writer (God bless you), you may laugh and joke about this; you may see this as an excuse to not write. You would be wrong.

LAUNDRY IS WRITING

Stepping away from the desk to throw in a load of laundry is writing. Gardening and pulling weeds is writing. Even sitting among friends and listening to conversation can be writing. We are sneaky people, us writers! You never know when an idea is growing in our heads! But seriously, sometimes we need to get up and move around, perform a menial task to allow ideas to evolve.

WRITING IS A PROCESS

Writing is a process, something I was constantly reminding my students when I was a teacher and a librarian. You cannot skip steps! One of the most important steps, if not the most important is thinking.

IDEAS MORPH

Story ideas happen in an instant and simultaneously develop in the writers’ mind over a long period of time. Bits come to us from unexpected places sometimes, and sometimes they are right there in front of us having been with us forever. Ideas are not born whole and complete; they gestate. They begin as a seed and slowly grow until one day you have a story, whole with a beginning, middle and end. Ideas have no sense of time; they come upon us at once, in a flash and also slowly like molasses in the wintertime. This is why writers carry little notebooks. This is why we often appear distracted.

AN EXAMPLE

Currently, I am working on a short story whose ideas derived from many sources. I had an idea for the story based on a news article that ignited my imagination. Thinking about it brought up memories of events that actually happened to me. I took those events and molded them to fit the story, gave them meaning. I created a character who embodies what I believe to be some basic truths about humanity.

That story is not yet ready to be “born,” but it’s getting there. I have messes to clean up, the timeline is jumbled, and kinks to straighten. I have not completed the process. Non-writers have commented to me that writing must be fun for me. It can be. Most of the time it’s more like someone is ripping your fingernails off. Slowly. Still, it’s worth it.