Grateful

Sometimes life gets in the way and the best you can do is plug along. I am plugging along as best I can. This has been a rough week at our house. If I actually post this, it will be a minor miracle. 

That said, this being Thanksgiving, I am going to count my blessings.

What I am grateful for:

The opportunity to write everyday.

The love and support I receive from my husband. He encourages me to reach my goals and he is proud of me. He is the best partner for me and I really enjoy traveling through this world with him. I love you Michael.

Zoom. Zoom has provided me with a writing community. Being a part of a community of writers is integral to writing. Without Zoom, I don’t know how I would find that. 

My job. I really like my job. Yes, I like that it is part-time, enabling me to write full-time finally after all these years, but I just like it. I work with sincere and dedicated people. I have the opportunity to work on interesting projects and I am learning how to edit and write in a business setting. 

My daughter is in a good place. This is what we all want for our children. She has worked hard to make a wonderful life for herself and her new husband. I am so grateful for both of them and for their accomplishments. I am grateful that they have each other, that they are happy and that they are eager and curious about the world. I am especially grateful to be a part of their life.

I am so thankful to get to spend time with my Mom and Dad as they age. The conversations we have and the time we spend together are such a blessing. They continue to teach me things.

My friends and family who have my back. Ya’ll know who you are. You are the ones who believed in me when I was at my lowest point. You are the ones who never disappeared when I needed someone to trust and to trust me. You are the ones who stayed to celebrate my successes and encourage me to write. Thank you. I’ve got your back too. And I love you.

Books. 

Sunny days.

Laughter. 

All the joy in my life and there is so much of that now!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Oh, and also dogs. Of course, I am grateful for dogs.

My Yes Marble

Sometime around 1995 or ’96 I was taking a college course required to get my teaching certification. This particular course had little to do with the field of education. I don’t know why it was required but I’m glad it was. The course was all about curiosity and research. It was about data gathering and subjective inferring. I ate it up. I wish I could remember what the course was called and the professor’s name. 

What I do remember is that at the time I knew what I learned there would help me in the future as a writer. We were required to read a book called The Search for Emma’s Story: A Model for Humanities Detective Work by Marian L. Martinello. I have kept it all these years. As I look through it now, I am thinking it is time to re-read it. 

On one level, the book is the story of a woman named Emma Beckmann who lived her life in Albert, Texas in the late nineteenth century. This story was inspired by her wedding photo and the authors’ curiousity about Emma’s life. 

On a deeper, more universal level, the book tells the story of the research that took place in order to tell Emma’s story and how the author filled in the gaps of that story. This process can be used to explore any story. Start with an artifact and reconstruct a life. Fantastic! The book is a guide. I highly recommend it for anyone who writes historical fiction, family history or has an interest in genealogy.  

Clearly, this course impacted me deeply. A shout-out to the professor, I wish I could tell her how she has influenced me, one student. On the last day of the class, she passed around a box. The box was filled with marbles and we were told to take one. 

I chose my marble, small and black with little specks. It looks like the universe. Once we each held a marble in our hands, she explained that these were our “yes” marbles; that they were meant to serve as a reminder that when life offers an opportunity say “yes” and go for it! 

I still have my marble. It sits in the little dish on my dresser where I set my jewelry at night. My marble brings me joy! It is always there to remind me of possibility.  It tells me to say yes. It tells me to live! My marble tells me to write my stories, to run those miles, to love my people, to laugh and to sing in my terrible tone deaf voice! 

Professor whose name I cannot recall, thank you!

Martinello, Marian L. And Weinheimer, Ophelia Nielson. The Search for Emma’s Story: A Model for Humanities Detective Work, Texas Christian University Press, 1987.

Late Bloomer

I have always been a late bloomer. There’s that. 

DIARY WITH A GOLDEN KEY

My first memories of writing and of wanting to be a writer go back to the year 1969 when I was seven years old. I had a pink and white diary with a tiny gold key. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed in my grandmother’s house and writing in that diary. I remember deciding that I would be a writer. That room had white french provincial furniture with blue floral covers on the twin beds. The azalea bushes just outside the window were in full bloom creating buckets of fuchsia so it must’ve been springtime. 

JACK OF ALL TRADES

In college I was not an English major or a journalism major. That would’ve made too much sense. Instead, I focused on Latin American literature and Spanish. Not too far off, but still. Over the years I have studied a little bit of everything, eventually getting a master’s degree in Library and Information Science, again, not too far off. But I still wrote.

WORKING & WRITING

When I reached my twenties, I would get up early most morning before work to write. I was diligent. I found writing groups to join and workshops. I submitted short stories for publication. I collected lots of rejection slips, but I did have a few pieces in some very minor journals. My goal back then was to be able to write full time. That did not happen as I had hoped. I just plugged along writing when I could.

LIFE HAPPENS

At 31 I was suddenly a single mother. I put writing aside, deciding that my daughter was my “opus.” I would get back to it later. Decades went by. Sure, I would dabble now and then but that proved to be frustrating. Although I have always identified as a writer, I have not always pursued the act of writing. 

PRATICALITY VS CREATIVITY

Yeah, you can say that life got in the way. However, it’s more complicated than that. I have spent a lifetime battling between others telling me that I have to “be practical” and practicing my art. Like it’s one or the other. Both things can happen. All art forms are under-appreciated in our society. I lacked the confidence to stand up for myself as a creative.

STORIES TO TELL AND THE TOOLS TO TELL THEM

I knew a time would come when I would pick it up again. And I have. Here’s the thing; I have so much catching up to do. All those decades I was not studying my craft. I have so much to learn. I have, however, collected experiences. Because of all those years, I have lots of stories to tell. So many stories! The stories will go nowhere without the tools to tell them.

NEVER STOP LEARNING THE CRAFT

If I could talk to my younger self I would tell her not to stop writing, to at least continue reading everything possible about the craft. Acquire the tools. Now I have no choice but to study the craft every day, write like a crazy person, stay healthy and live a very long time because I have a great deal to say.

My Narrative is Mine

“A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life.”

—Virginia Woolf

Don’t let someone else interpret your narrative. Recently, another writer told me (my apologies for not remembering who it was) that “writing is a way to get the narrative to be your narrative.” I don’t want anyone else to tell my life story. I get to do that. Just like no one else gets to be the main character of my story. You do you and let me do me. 

GOSSIP

This is exactly why writing matters. We all have a story. In my experience, there are many people who believe they have the right to tell the stories of others. That’s called gossip. It also reminds me of the adage that “history is written by the winners.” Let’s tell the truth. Let’s stick with our own stories. 

I need to tell my story because I want to be understood; because I don’t want others to fail the way I failed; because I want to help others in the way I know how; because I want to understand both myself and the larger world. I try to take the ugly parts of life and make something beautiful from them. We all need to tell our own narratives because we are human beings and it is our very essence, sharing stories.

SILENCE & SICKNESS

Too often I have been forced to choose between silence and expending an inordinate amount of energy to be heard. It can be exhausting. Sometimes what takes the most energy is remaining calm, holding my breath, thinking carefully about my words and demanding quiet attention. Too often, I have lacked such self-control. 

As women we are practiced in holding in thoughts, feelings, ideas until they build up and fester into a physical representation of that frustration. In the meantime, our stories are being told for us. Women’s voices are still under-represented meaning we only get half the story. This includes the mundane daily life of humans as well as world events and, well, everything. Story-telling is what makes us human. Taking away that opportunity is an attempt not only to silence us but to make us less than human. 

DON’T

Don’t allow others to speak for you. Don’t allow others to feed you their own fears. Do not allow them to impose their dreams on you. Don’t allow others to interpret your history for you. Be confident, take care of yourself, evaluate your own circumstances. Only you know your own needs and dreams and desires. 

TOOLS

That’s a lot of don’ts. The thing is, throughout history we, women, have allowed others to name us, claim us, shape us. Not me. Not anymore. I want to shape my own sense of self. My entire life I have struggled to make this happen, but I lacked the tools. I struggled in all the wrong ways, only making my situation worse. I know that now. For the remainder of my life, I will seek out those tools and I will use them. I will live my own story, my way. I will tell my own story. My narrative is mine to tell.

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.