WriterFairys

SPARKING WRITERS TO ENGAGE, EMBRACE & SOAR

“Grab the reader,” they say. “Grab them by the face! Don’t let their attention wander for a second. Seriously, if you see their eyes leaving the page for even a millisecond, throw in an explosion or a multi-car pile-up to keep them engaged. Assume they have the attention span of a fruit fly.”

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. However, I’ve always been a little bit leery of the whole “grab the reader” school of thought. Sure, you want your book to be interesting and command people’s attention. But the idea that you have to spoon-feed the reader delectable action constantly, otherwise they’ll wander away, has always seemed disrespectful. Presumably, readers read because they like reading, right? Therefore, they know that the concept of pacing exists, and you can’t just have a constant barrage of action all the time?

I thought I had made my peace with this, but if anything, this school of thought has gained even more traction in the world of Indy publishing than it had traditionally. Now they say, “Grab the reader immediately, otherwise they’ll return your book to Kindle Unlimited and you won’t get that sweet Page-Reads money.” With so many people publishing to Amazon and other digital platforms, the competition is insane, and you need to write crackin’ prose just to stand out; I understand that. But does that mean I have to throw away my love for elegant, languid pacing just to have a chance of success?

Get your hands off me!

I was weaned on nineteenth and early 20th Century fiction: I may not be worthy of the mantle of Thomas Wolfe, but I do prefer my pacing to be more along the lines of “slow burn” than “constant explosions.” And I wonder how much tolerance modern readers have for that. It seems that many Indy authors have embraced the “grab them with a trowel” school of thought, to the point that when I pick up an Indy book, I feel the grabbing attempt, and it feels forced and icky. Get your hands off me!At least break the ice with some expertly crafted exposition first!

A lot of modern genre fiction, particularly from Indy authors, leaves me cold. It moves like gangbusters, but I just don’t care because I’m not drawn into the inner lives of any of the characters. Obviously, this isn’t a universal thing; I think we can safely assume that the crew reading all of those 200,000+ word historical fiction epics has a pretty healthy attention span. But in the genres I write in—urban fantasy and romance— it seems like letting a story breathe is downright old-fashioned.

I hesitate to talk about this, because it sounds dangerously close to an entitled whine. “Waaah, if only today’s readers were refined enough to appreciate my BRILLIANCE–insolent FOOLS!” I really don’t mean it like that; I mean, I do sometimes pretend I’m an evil overlord, but I’m pretty sure it’s just for fun. Nevertheless, I do sometimes wonder if my preferences as a writer are at odds with the market.

After all, instead of grabbing anyone, I prefer to think of myself as poking my head around the corner and whispering “Hey, you, wanna c’mere? I heard a rumor there might be a story going on over here…” Is that viable in this day and age? Or will people put down my book before I get to the action (which is superlative, I might add), and go play a video game?

I guess in the end it doesn’t matter, because I can’t control the market; I can only tell the kind of stories that I like to tell.


Karen L. Mead was born on Long Island, New York and still lives there because she’s too lazy to move. As a freelance writer and editor, Karen lives the double life of writer by day…writer by night. Okay, so maybe it’s not much of a double life. When not writing for work or for fun, Karen also enjoys drawing, playing games, playing with her My Little Ponies (which she liked BEFORE it was cool) and watching anime. Currently, Karen is working on the next book in her urban fantasy Demonic Café series, as well as several other projects in various stages of completion. Rumor has it that dragons, mermaids and penguins are involved.

I’ve always believed everything happens for a reason.

Whenever I had a setback, I always tried to find the positive consequence it brought and, usually, I found it. I could see how that bad moment led to everything that came after, the sequence of events that unfolded as a result.

Then in 2012, I moved to Germany for love and struggled to find a job. I have a PhD in Food Science but after three years of looking, I gave up the search. During this time, I prayed for a sign, looked for the reason this was happening to me. If I couldn’t work in the field I dedicated more than ten years of my life, what was I supposed to do? That’s when I found writing.

I’d never thought of becoming a writer. I never considered myself creative, hence why I pursued a career in science. But I’d always had these movies in my head that came to me out of the blue. Some faded with time while others persisted through the years to be revisited and revised in my head. While I was going through my existential crisis, one of those movies was very present in my mind. One day, I downloaded it from my brain onto paper.

To be able to make something out of the few scenes I had, I needed to fill in the gaps. I had no idea how to do this, so I researched how to write a short story, never imagining I could fill in a whole novel. Then I jotted down a few details about those other movies in my head, now recognizing them for what they really were—story ideas. Could it be that I was always meant to be a writer? Is that why I couldn’t find a job, so that I could finally recognize that in myself? 

That a-ha moment was invigorating. I felt so blessed. This was the reason I’d been struggling to find, the answer to my prayers. So, I wrote. And it came so easy to me. Effortless. I couldn’t believe it. In three months, I completed the first draft of a novel.

After all my struggles I thought the journey would be easy. I would be one of the lucky ones, I thought. All I needed was to avoid the rookie mistakes and I’d land an agent and a book deal fast. No more struggling.

But it didn’t turn out like that. Although I had positive feedback on my writing and plot from beta readers and contests, I only got one full request from an agent. After forty-three queries and two years, I had to admit to myself that my novel wasn’t ready yet, that it needed more revision. The path I thought would be easier turned out to be just as hard.

I wanted to give up. But during that time, I had a baby and wanted to prove myself to her. Plus, I got another idea for a novel, one that popped up in a dream. This time I would be more strategic, I decided. Now I knew so much more than when I started writing. I would make sure that my novel was in the best state possible and get as much feedback as I could before querying it. 

“I have to hope because if not, what was the point?”

This is the stage where I am now. revising the third draft of my new novel. I have high hopes it’ll be the one. I have to hope because if not, what was the point? It can’t be that I found the answer to my prayer only for it to lead to a dead end. And so, faith is what keeps me going through the doubt and the fear. I can’t give up. I need to keep working hard and find out where this path leads me. 


Delise Torres is a Puerto Rican writer of Women’s Fiction residing in Germany, hoping to land a traditional publishing book deal. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, doing yoga, reading, and watching movies and TV shows. To read more posts about her writing journey, visit her website at www.delisetorres.com. You can also find her online as @torresdelise on Twitter and Instagram.

A lot of time and effort go into writing a book. Regardless of the genre, much needs to take place prior to when that work of art arrives in the public’s eye to be consumed. The writing process is grueling: outlining, picking character names, developing those characters to become who you need them to be, killing off characters that don’t add anything to the storyline or content, researching anything and everything having to do with every topic you decided to include within the front and back covers of your project, pounding out page after page of your horrible first draft–because every first draft is horrible–editing, cutting and pasting, throwing out your manuscript and then retrieving it from the garbage because you can’t bear to give up on something that initially seemed to mean so much to you. But the preparation for my novel began years before I knew I would even write it.

My life changed forever when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Until then, AD was something that happened to other people. I had friends whose parents or loved ones were diagnosed with it, but I did not think it could get close enough to harm me. You see, I had hoped my professional work in the assisted living and memory care field would be as close as I would ever get to the dreaded disease that is always fatal, but I was wrong.

Years after my father’s death I prolonged my involvement with all things dementia, venturing forth into an extraordinarily competitive field–writing. Competition is stiff because everyone…everyone…has a story to tell, and many have chosen to tell it. With over 8 million books currently available on Amazon, and just a fraction of those touted as Best Sellers, a person would have to be crazy to even think about adding to those numbers!

Or that person would have to be brave.

Bravery sounded better than crazy to me, knowing that putting myself out there would leave me vulnerable, exposed before every critic who would not shy away from tearing apart my completed labor of love. I wanted something positive to result from my father’s and my family’s Alzheimer’s experience, so rather than shy away from failure, you know, doing nothing that might prove disheartening, I chose to lay my heart out on the line.

Am I a success?

Yes, I am a success, but not because Requiem For The Status Quo made it to Oprah’s book club, or the New York Times’ Annual Book list, and certainly not because of any wealth publishing a novel has brought me…relatively few authors make money in this field. I am a success because I let my love for my father be translated into a novel, creatively based on my family’s experience, so that other–whether a million in number or just a thousand–could find some encouragement and hope through the ashes of my family’s grief.

And guess what, others read my story and told me time and again how much it resonated with them; how my writing seemed to mirror what they too went through, or were currently going through. Readers thanked me for my story. They thanked me! If that isn’t success, then I don’t know what is.

All I can say is, “You’re very welcome.”

——————————————————————————————————————

Irene Frances Olson writes from passion and experience. She was her father’s caregiver during his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Having previously worked in memory care, she was not new to the disease, nor was her family immune. Irene hopes to make a difference in the lives of others by writing novels that encourage and support those who just might need another person in their corner. As a matter of fact, she has her own byline, In Your Corner, in the Australian online publication, Grandparents Day Magazine. Ms. Olson is on the Management Team of the 501(c)(3) non-profit, AlzAuthors, an organization that through a digital platform and community events, uses the art of storytelling to light the way for those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. For updates on the author’s current projects, please visit www.irenefrancesolson.com, or on Facebook: @RedmondWriter.

 

I recently entered a writing contest for the sole purpose to be reviewed. As part of the process each entrant was given two reviews from various people in the industry: published authors, unpublished authors, previous contest winners, etc. If the score was high, you were pushed forward in the competition to an agent and editor. Don’t get excited–I didn’t make it that far and here is the reason why:

One reviewer, a published author, loved my story, character, and writing. She scored me pretty high, with a few exceptions. Her one critique was to add more depth to the main character’s emotion, “To bring the story to the next level.” She felt my writing was strong, the story intriguing, and even commented she wanted to read more.

Great, she liked it! 

The other reviewer, a past contestant, wasn’t so generous. She found my main character “too emotional.” She critiqued my word usage claiming I was verbose. And, apparently my lack of contractions was dated. She claimed, “No one speaks like that.” 

Really? I do. But then again, I grew up in a world with no texting, emails, and barely an answering machine. Okay, I am not that old, but I grew up in a world where you actually had to write things out and intelligently talk to people. I could complain about the negative review, countering her critiques, but I won’t. The bottom line..

Crap, she didnt like it!

How could two people give such contradictory reviews? So, the question begs itself, “Who do I listen to?”

As a writer, you have a responsibility to protect your writing from others…” Marcy McKay, Positive Writer Blog

We put ourselves out there in the most vulnerable way–we share our thoughts and people judge them. It cannot be any more personal than that. A positive review is like gold–we are invincible writers! But when we hear a critique, we cringe and fall into our insecurities. Our first impulse is to fix it. I did immediately when I gave the title of my latest novel to my best friend. She screeched, “Oh, that’s awful. You can’t name it that!” Her words rang in my ear every time I saved the file under the title’s name. I racked my brain, struggling to give it a title she would be proud. But then it occurred to me. I liked the title!

Writers are in a constant tug of war: they like me vs. they hate me. But why are we giving up so much of ourselves and our writing to what other’s think? 

In the querying process, we hope that so-and-so will like our story, identify with our character, and accept us on as a client. We are constantly looking for approval and acceptance. When we are rejected it is our inabilities–our failures–to be a great writer. But is it? Can’t it just be that some will like our story and some won’t? Why must it always hit our ego and have to be an indictment about our writing?

If you are to survive as a writer, you must learn to filter the advice given. After the initial ego boost or blow, you should pick out craft advice versus opinion. We can all improve our craft! But opinions? There are many, as my two reviewers revealed. Both offered craft advise that was useful; potentially improving my writing. Both garnered opinions, that could have altered my story. Is that the goal of critique? Opinions, whether good or bad, do not define your writing. You define your writing and the opinions help you see it more clearly, but it doesn’t mean to fix it.  Know the difference. There is the skill of safely driving a car, but everyone has an opinion on how you drive! Be careful of how you change your story to accommodate someone else’s opinion.

People are not going to like everything you do. But learning to believe in your work and feel confident in what you are producing takes a lot of thick skin, willpower, maturity, and the ability to decipher what advice to take and to throw out. You need to be discriminating and not allow people, no matter how close, change your writing unless you feel it’s valid.

Now go on…take on your writing!

In the ebb and flow of our writing, distractions crowd our periphery. In those lean times when hunkering in the chair and clacking out sentences seems drudgery, I fight to recall what captured me in the beginning. What nudged me to write.

For me, the love of words.

Simple words, better words breathing life into my writing. 

Like any love affair gone stale, we must recall how we fell in love (with writing). What visual, taste, or unexplainable high seduced you? I find the simplest of words, the succinct two beat sentence, a temptress.

She wept.

Oh, the razzle dazzle words captured my writing soul too.  Flabbergasted. Doubleganger. Gizmo.  Catttywampus. Discombobulate. Lollygag.

Those words twist my tongue, exercise my cheeks and spill from my lips all wrong. I giggle. Those words are like the shiny bulbs on the tree, spit polish and razzmatazz. Yet, when writing prose, simplicity shines brighter. Example of such simplicity fill our bookshelves.

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” John Green, The Fault In Our Stars

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.” Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

“Do I love you? My God, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches.” William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Sometimes to find our way back to writing we must find the shiny thing. Rekindle love lost. Find the spark again and let it catch fire. And like any love affair worth fighting for, you’ll fill with desire, a willingness to try harder, and a need to beleive what you’ve known all along. 

You are a writer.    

I will be honest, I don’t want to write all the time. I know the rule: write even when you don’t feel like it. But it’s stressful to be creative. It’s also time consuming. Dare I say it? There are too many things that need to be done versus writing. When I write, my family is pushed aside. My kids question my commitment to being a mother. My husband wonders if he has wife. The dog lays by my chair wondering when I will remember to feed him. I resent working. The reality is, for me, writing is all-consuming and takes me away from real life in a pursuit of a make-believe one. When you are not getting paid, and there is no agent or publisher warranting your dedication, the value of giving up so much living for the pursuit of writing is questionable. 

IS WRITING A SACRIFICE?

I didn’t start writing until my children were self-sufficient. And even then, my first novel was written when my family slept. I lived on four hours sleep–at best–a night. I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my valuable time for something that I didn’t know I could accomplish–writing a novel. When I started my second novel I gave myself the luxury of writing during daylight hours. But I had to sacrifice other things. Giving up television was easy, but I stopped reading and my weekends were locked away in my office. By the third book, where I dedicated all hours of the day to writing as if it was my job, my family seriously questioned my commitment to them.

CREATIVE FORCES

When I write I jump all in. It’s like a flipped light switch. I am turned on and have to write until the story is finished. When I get a story idea, the characters enter my world. They chatter alongside me, interacting with each other in an alternate plane, simultaneously as my life functions. If I don’t sit down and write what is happening, their co-existence becomes burdensome. It is like I must write to make them go away. They are in my car, when I shower, in my sleep. They won’t go away. And thus, I must write and write until their story is told.  

METHODS OF WRITING

I know this is not every writer’s method. It’s my own creative force at play. I am hoping as I continue to write my methodology will have more formality or structure. So far it has not changed. I have taken courses, read from experts, and listened to successful authors about how to be a trained writer–a professional writer. Some say outline, map it, chart it, write note cards, diagram… all in the vein of organization and systematic writing. But what if your creativeness is not systematic? 

WRITE WHEN IT POSSESSES YOU

When I write I give my all–mind, body, and soul. It’s almost like possession. My creative spirit takes over and I am no longer a wife, mother, friend, or employee. I am a writer! Thus, when I declare there are times I don’t want to write… I mean it. I have nothing to give; nothing pulling at my attention. I don’t force myself to create. I don’t try to write anything. When it comes–and it will–I will sit back in my chair and let my fingers play their harmony. Until then, I indulge in living like a normal person, saying yes to a new project for work, taking time for lunch with girlfriends, enjoying a late-night ice cream run with my family, or playing with my dog in the garden, letting them know I don’t choose writing over them… at least for now. 

We all have those people, the Uncle Sal who holds us all captive at the dinner table with his gift of describing something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary. The business partner who can mesmerize the table of clients with words of wisdom that transforms lives. Or the husband who can get a room full of people laughing uncontrollably about the silliest observation. I am not any of those people! I can speak, and a lot! I can argue a point, object to an argument, and present a resound opinion. But to describe something beautifully, interestingly, or captivating was never my gift of gab.

THE GIFTS OF PROSE

My creativity flows through my hands, or in this case, through electronic clicks, not my voice. So, I struggled with the noble aspiration of becoming a storytelling. Did I have what it takes to be captivating, interesting, and awe-inspiring? I discovered that I did with the completion of my first novel. But when the task to write the second novel was at hand, I struggled with what it meant to be a true storyteller. Telling “a” story was far different from being able to continue to tell many stories. Fear crept into my psyche. Not with the usual worries of being good enough. I had the blissful naiveté of inexperience. When I wrote my first novel, I was carefree. I didn’t get caught up in ego, pressure of the industry, or expectations from others and myself. But as I delved into my second novel, anxiety crawled inside of me and kept good company with dread and trepidation Panic set in. Did I have more in me? Could I produce a second, a third, or twenty stories to come? Would I measure up?

ONE-HIT WONDER?

Storytelling was the way people communicated throughout the centuries. It was our link to one another from generation to generation, culture to culture, keeping people, traditions, and ways of life alive. I am not carrying on the world. (I know I am not that important.) But the burden is huge, or the shame damning, if I could not live up to this noble trade. It sounds so simple: telling something that happened, what will happen, or how it happened–with drama, intrigue, a voice, a catchy beginning, a thought provoking ending, and lots of stuff in between. (Yes, I am being facetious.) But the reality is, not everyone is meant to be a storyteller. Was I  a one hit-wonder, or a lifelong storyteller?

I knew I could write. I proved that with the completion of my first novel and some inspiring comments from agents who requested to see more. I learned what it took to be a writer. I had the gumption to keep pursuing even in the face of hardships and rejection. Drive was never a worry. I believed all that would take me on my journey to get published–the end prize! But as the years have rolled by, and the struggles of an industry has kept me at bay with publishing, I am still writing. Why?

DEFINING YOUR ART

Writers are varied. Some are poets, others novelist. There are journalists and copywriters, and others who write manuals for business. All hold meaning and value as writers. When I started writing, my goal was to be a published author. What that means today is dynamic. In the struggles of that goal, I discovered there was more to this writing gig than I expected. I love to write! In the face of rejections, I still write. I get excited to create new stories, new characters, new worlds. I write because it’s in me, a part of my soul. Maybe my Uncle Sal’s DNA passed down? Whatever the reason, I have discovered I am more than a writer, I have stories to tell. My purpose is not just to write but to add to the fiber of our civilization… the stories that make up a small part of who we are, left for the future to discover. It is my footprint like a painter, a musician, or a teacher who leaves a little of themselves in what they do to transcend into future generations. We all have our part in the commentary of who we are. I play my little part with storytelling. 

KNOWING YOUR LEGACY

Noble or grand in gesture, storytellers leave a legacy. As writers we need to not limit ourselves through the process, or lose sight of the meaning of what we do because of the process. I thought my end game was to be a successfully published author. This industry can easily make us forget why we write. Storytelling has purpose. Don’t stop writing because no one “important“ is noticing. Storytelling is a destiny. Do, create, imagine, and put it out there for the world to take notice, even if it is one reader at a time or a thousand. It will transcend.

I love new writers. Naïve, passionate, slapping words together at a feverish pace. Often pantsers, their unbridled confidence is awe-inspiring. I wish we remained in that glorious state, certain we are writing best sellers and that readers will love us.

For most writers authordom is a long hall. Seasoned writers find themselves in deep ditches for longer than they’d like to admit. Plunging to the surface is a welcome sight. Weight lifted, words tumble from our minds onto the page. Experience gained through these blips make us better writers. Stronger writers. When the crud (it will be thick crud) buries our self-confidence, remember the truths gained along the journey.

You know you can fix problems in your writing

Once you’ve learned your craft and laid down a fair number of pages, and received useful feedback, a wonderful thing happens. You realize you can fix problems in your manuscript. The relief is mind blowing. Your boundaries expand and you breathe in confidence.  

Your opinion counts

Earn your street cred (or crud), meaning share your work with others, seek opinions, and other’s perspectives. Become an expert in your genre. Dive into craft books. Even if only to refresh. Then, when criticism comes your way, your opinion holds weight. Because it comes from a place of experience and knowledge.

You have something to say

Have you tried not to write? Writers are a unique breed. They must write. Consider this a litmus test. True writers are unstoppable. And rightly so. 

Naysayers deserve a shove to the curb

Lean into your abilities when challenged. Each writer is unique. Each opinion is subjective. Learn to peal apart negativity. See it for what it is. A suggestion or resource should follow a healthy negative comment. Otherwise the giver has no license to muddle in your writing. I often find truth in criticism. Sometimes it takes a while to see it. Most times I don’t like it. Listen. Still, if said naysayer brings you down, edit them out of your writing life. 

You have talent

Anything, And I mean anything you’ve written is an homage to your talent. Read over a favorite piece now and then, remind yourself of why you write and what you’re capable of creating. I’m certain you’ll impress the heck out of yourself. Could be just a word, phrasing or delicious description. Take it in like nourishment. Enjoy the feast.

These truths assume your adult hat is on. Seeing truth is difficult when emotions bubble to the surface. Joe Friday on Dragnet (a show I occasionally watched) used to say, “just the facts, ma’am.”  Consider the above truths facts. 

If you focus on the facts, believing in your writing is possible.

The television program, “This is Your Life,” a jewel from the fifties, lured unsuspecting famous folk in studio. Audio clips touting their achievements followed. Next, those who’ve witnessed the celebrity’s accomplishments were paraded in.

Hugs, sometimes tears, followed. Presents, including jewelry, a memory scrapbook, a 16 mm projector and camera, were presented to the honored guest. The well-deserved tribute touched the viewing public, often reminding them of the good in people, the contributions they’ve made regardless of their craft or walk of life.

In that vain, let’s roll tape. 

Dear Unpublished Writer,

Cue music.

This is your life!

You, the lonely writer, hiding behind your laptop. Yes you. No doubt you’ve been highly criticized in your writing career. At times even, discounted your own abilities.

You, my friend, have a gift.

The ability to find the right words, string them together, create story that evokes feelings and thoughts.

Soak that in a moment. Little you, harnessing creativity, imagination, and talent into a well-crafted story. Wow.

At your disposal are 170,000 (general use) words, give or take. All a keystroke away. A jumble of endless letters and words.

The stories you write can change people. Language processing parts of the brain activate when people read. When a passage takes the reader on a bicycle zooming along a winding road, the reader’s motor sensory cortex lights up. A line about a woman’s velvety touch arouses the sensory cortex. This is science folks. And you, dear writer, possess the ability to light reader’s brains. In fact, a great story can put the whole brain to work.

And it gets better.

Telling your stories shape how others think. The brain of the person telling the story (writer) can synchronize with the reader, according to Uri Hasson from Princeton.

When (readers) understood the story, their brains synchronize with (the writer). Specifically, in the insula, an emotional brain region in the frontal cortex.”

By simply telling a story, we plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the reader’s brains, according to Hasson.

He adds, “Anything you’ve experienced, you can get others to experience. Or at least, get their brain areas to activate the same way.

Challenging and expanding our understanding of the writer/reader relationship deepens the need to experience more stories through various lens.

Powerful stuff.

So, bravo writer. You’re brilliant. Readers are waiting to read your unique imaginings. You’re a born storyteller, a creative mind dizzy with ideas. Daydreams are your story fodder. Subconscious thoughts bubble to the surface and spill onto the pages. Unleash your muse and bathe in your gift.  

This is your life.

Disclaimer: no presents, including jewelry, a memory scrapbook, a 16 mm projector and camera will be sent to you.

Mental Floss provides links to the top 5 episodes of “This is your Life.” View them here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/60936/5-must-see-episodes-your-life 1 \lsdpri

Betsy Ross came into the spotlight recently. I’m not going to succumb to the political dialogue. Betsy Ross deserves better. She was a grand woman that is due more credit than just being a target for an ideological debate. She was an inspiration and her story should be a reminder that hard work, a faith in oneself, and an independent spirit are key to becoming the best version of yourself and maybe even change the world.

Betsy Ross came into my life when I was a little girl. We learned in social studies she was the woman sitting in the chair stitching our first American Flag in 1776. The year the continental states were in a bitter war with Britain to obtain freedom from a tyrannical monarchy. The continental states were a young nation of thinkers, tinkers and dreamers who believed in inalienable rights that granted people from all walks of life the ability to live freely, independently, and as happily as one could muster. It was a strange concept–the idea of born freedoms outside of bloodlines, economic status, country and heritage. But for the people who had settled, endured hardships, created something from nothing, and produced generations to follow, freedom seemed like the natural state of affairs. Thus, a country was born!

This was the world of Betsy Ross. She was a common, working class woman, living in the “uncivilized” states, with people from all walks of life, religions, cultures, trades and levels of education. Her world wasn’t simple and sweet. It was fraught with struggles, inequality, slavery, injustices, and a battle to find a sense of humanity among so many different people. But in the face of a world that was in chaos, change, exploration, expectations, and struggles, she was never deterred to be true to herself, work hard, push forward and live a life of personal fulfillment, creating a legacy we honor today.

A Quaker, and an apprentice to an upholsterer, she defied her parents and eloped with a fellow apprentice who was the son of an Episcopal rector, expelling her from her Quaker church and family roots. They opened up shop together before her husband joined the militia, and died two years later. Betsy acquired his property and kept up the upholstery business, working day and night to make flags for Pennsylvania. She married again, having two daughters, but her husband died in a British prison. Her third marriage was to a man who was imprisoned with her second husband. He was freed upon the Treaty of Paris–ending the Revolutionary War, and they eventually had a family of five children. Over the next decade, Betsy and her daughters sewed upholstery and made flags and banners for the new nation. She retired with failing vision, and died in 1836 at age 84.

Betsy Ross was an example of what many women of her time endured: widowhood, single motherhood, managing household, owing property, and remarrying for economic reasons. Her strength is a prime example of the true will of women who helped this country survive during war, and set the standard of the women who would follow. Her iconic symbolism is not the true story of this woman. Courage, strength, and a will of her own is the true heroism and memory of Betsy Ross.

It is this heroism and strength that I embrace as I take on my own struggles in a world, still filled with chaos. But it is because of her that I know my work, my writings, and my desire to create beauty in the world means something. My small life is not without merit. Betsy Ross proved that. Write, and let your spirit change the world in ways you never will be able to predict. 

I love my family and my teaching life, but sometimes they feel like they’re going to squash me. At the worst of times, it’s like people are grabbing chunks of me and carting them off, and at the end of the day, all that remains is a pile of vibrating nerves that no one else wanted.

All my life, writing has been where I run away to when there’s too much. It’s solitary, but creative and productive: at the end of it, I’ve created something. It’s personal and self-expressive even when it’s fiction. It satisfies something deep within me that can’t be soothed by any other means. It’s why my daily writing time matters so very much. Even when my writing feels stymied, it’s still a selfish little moment that is only about what I want to create. It really is a mental health release valve for me, even more than walking (and walking helps me immensely, too).

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get run away from my regular life for three days for a writer’s retreat. I spent those days in a lovely mountain house with six other writers, writing, talking, walking, reading. I didn’t make a meal, wash a dish, wash anything, or give ANY of my time to something that wasn’t about my writing life.

I’m discovering that short bursts of focused time like this are essential to my writing life. I can’t always take a trip and surround myself with like-minded folks, but at least during summer vacation, I’m fortunate that I can arrange a few days during which I am only a writer, during which I can bring the full force of my considerable concentration to my current creation and push the rest aside, just for a little while.

I send the youngest to camp or to visit Grandma. I tell my family that I’m off the grid. I cash in all those gift cards I received for teacher appreciation day on take out meals. I prep ahead with snacks and tea so I don’t have to go anywhere. I don’t answer the phone.

I don’t think I’d fare well if this was my life all the time. I am a writer, but I’m also a teacher, a mother, a wife, a friend, a sister, and various other kinds of human and even though I run towards introverted, I’m not willing to give up all my other loves JUST for writing. Even Emily Dickinson had people visit and wrote letters, after all. I do need and want people. I’m not really a hermit, even though the idea is tempting sometimes.

But as a respite, it’s wonderful to run away from everything else for a little while and give myself over completely to my life of words. May you all find a respite like this when you need it, an oasis that lets you refill your well and gives you the wherewithal you need for harder times.

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Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. That makes her a superhero all the time. Her secret superpower is finding lost things. When she’s not writing or teaching, Samantha enjoys time with her family, watching old movies, baking, reading, and going places. Her favorite gift is tickets (to just about anything). You can find her Menopausal Superhero series from Curiosity Quills on Amazon, or request it at your favorite independent (or big box) bookstore. You can find her online on her blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Goodreads, on the Falstaff Books page, or on Instagram.

The blank page is a writer’s worse enemy. How many times have we sat frozen, staring at a blur of white space? It amazes me to hear famous authors have suffered this fate. The whole “get back on the bike” analogy doesn’t apply, or maybe we get back on-write a few lines-only to fall off again as our pros halt to a slow leak.

I visited the Tundra last week. Alaska in all its majesty. Just the word Tundra creates a picture: icy cold, barren and brutally absent of life. Most writers, I believe, carry a whisper of their writing life with them, even when the rest of our brain and body vacation.

Outside Skagway, as the train climbed the Yukon route, I admired the coastal mountains, waterfalls tucked into ravines. We found little snow, only the dusting of cottonwood floating in the cool breeze. Western hemlocks, kelly green, filled the mountainsides. It was all breathtaking, the steam engine chugging upward towards the Tundra.

Twenty miles in, at the Summit, the terrain slipped away. Uneven rocks blanketed the land. But the Tundra wasn’t as I expected. Jagged white rocks reminded me of my blank pages waiting for me at home, waiting for life.  And as the train navigated the tight curves of White Pass the rugged slopes obliged. Pines filled the craggy land. Not upward but horizontal along rocks, dipping into shadows and snaking outward like hungry roots damned to survive.

As the locomotive looped and began its decent, in the distance the mountains opened and a slice of the ocean rested below, shimmering in sun.

The excursion left me awe-inspired and the writer in me, ever hopeful, came away with these thoughts:

  • My journey may not end as I imagine. By all means this doesn’t make it less fruitful. I’m open for what’s around the bend. Another route perhaps? Maybe steeper than I expected. Either way, I’ll enjoy the view.
  • I’m tossing my preconceived ideas of authoress to the caboose. No more focusing on the endgame, that summit, where we switch tracks from writer to author. Okay, I’ll consider bragging should I achieve the honor someday. Beyond that I’m not expecting my life to change anytime soon.
  • Writers, like me, grow like trees. Some of us grow upward, other’s outward, like the pines in the Tundra.  I plan to read many genres, even a few I dislike. I’ll see more plays, listen to classical music, paint and sculpt clay. Diverse exposure deepens our discipline. I want to stay hungry like the roots damned to survive.

In the end, what I gained aboard the train ride is a glimpse of a railroad built against odds. That’s me, I suppose.  Finding an agent is an uphill climb. Filling white space, a daily challenge. But I’ll keep chugging along, blowing off steam along the way.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Pexels.com

WRITING FORMALLY vs FREELY

As a college professor, I wrote three successful textbooks and many scholarly articles. Quite frankly, I found academic writing to be tedious. Still, from the drafting, editing, redrafting and proofing, I learned the discipline to pace myself, accept criticism, and write clearly and concisely. 

Once retired, my audience and focus changed. Creative notes I had been jotting down for years burst into my “free time.” Write it all down! I encouraged myself. This is what you’ve always really wanted to do

LEARNING FROM EXPERTS

I attended writing classes for a year to provide the push I needed. In one class, the instructor asked what we were reading. Eight of the ten class members hadn’t read a book in at least five months. Writers should be readers to learn their craft: appreciating splendid sentences, well-wrought dialogue and concise but powerful use of words. We should be asking: how did the author do that?  How can I do that

One teacher rated a story I submitted an “eight out of ten.” So far, I’ve sent that story out 19 times and received 19 rejections. I keep trying because his praise sustains me. I can get it “right.” I know it!

AVOIDING FAMILY CRITIQUES

My sister-in-law asked me to critique a children’s book she’d written. Alas, it was a rough draft of a stereotypic story. To avoid telling her that, I assembled advice from experts to send her. These can help you more than I canwhen you write the second draft. She never wrote another draft; I suspect she thought writing would be an easy one-off.

My husband made his living as an editor, but I don’t ask him to read my stuff. It’s painful for him to be objective about my writing. The first and last time I asked him “to take a look,” he resorted to copyediting. Now I find beta readers. We are both still happily married.

READING REJECTIONS

I am told that, when the rejections include comments, that’s a good sign. I consider the editor’s words carefully.

  • I’d say, almost, but I think the story would improve with less dialogue that seems chiefly to take care of business and a few more abrupt transitions. 
  • This is a sweet story, generally well written, but it is missing an opportunity to explore more deeply the issues.
  • We want you to know, though, that we read your piece with interest and it was almost there. It made our short list. 
  • We are not accepting your submission. I know that stings. Maybe a little, maybe a lot… But please know that we appreciate you sending a small chunk of your soul every time you send something to us. It does not go unnoticed. Best of luck to you in the future.

That last rejection did take a chunk of my soul. After being mad, sad and discouraged, though, I filed the story for a while. I won’t give up because with each revision, I get closer to writing a better story. I am learning and improving. 

MY WRITING PROCESS

When I sit down to write, often I can’t get started. I sigh and stare at the monitor. Faulkner needed “tobacco, paper and a little whiskey.” I get a cup of coffee (my equivalent of whiskey) and a small snack (not tobacco). Then I shuffle through notes scribbled on scraps of paper and left wherever I happened to be when I had that “brilliant” thought. Most I end up discarding; how could I have thought this paltry piece of prose would blossom into anything? But some notes spark me and then I am lost in the writing for hours.

DISCOVERING MY NICHE

In 1946, sportswriter Paul Gallico wrote, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.” Metaphorically, I bleed a lot. I have discovered that I seem to have a knack for sharing a memory that is both amusing and poignant. That has surprised me because I am a pretty serious person. 

EMBRACE THE EQUATION

In all, during the past three years I have written multiple drafts of 21 stories, including memoir, travel essays, narrative non-fiction and fiction. Only seven of those have been published, about 30 percent of my finished pieces (excluding all the drafts and revisions). Two stories won prizes so I have made a whooping $350.00. It is good that I didn’t expect to make a living as a creative writer. What I hoped for is what I achieved: purpose, enrichment and an opportunity to write creatively every a day.

By the way, what I’ve written for this online writing journal took eight drafts.

Judy Richardson lives in Richmond, Virginia. She has written numerous articles for academic journals and three textbooks. Currently, she is writing a narrative non-fiction manuscript about her many years of mentoring refugees. She has published in The Penman Review, The Persimmon Tree, and Lowestoft Chronicle, as well as in Stories Through The Ages: Baby Boomers Plus-2017 and Nuance, Anthology of Ventura County Writers Club, 2018

I was chatting to a woman I met at a party and I asked what she did for a living. She was in medical equipment sales and her voice became low and sorrowful adding, “I will probably do this the rest of my life.” What was she lamenting? I looked at her and said, “Never predict your future!” 

CAREER CHANGE

Writing had always been that “thing” out there that I believed was for someone else. I was a “business woman.” Who did I think I was writing a novel? I had stories to tell, but didn’t everyone? As my family fell asleep–even the dog–I put my fingers to work and finished my first novel, then my second, and now my third. I have written articles, a collection of short stories, blogs, and even a series of poetry that could fill two books. I succeeded at something I had always wanted but never thought I could do… become something different­–a writer. 

RE-INVENTION

I have been fortunate to surround myself with people who have reinvented themselves in their careers. Some because they’ve had to, others because they’ve wanted to. But the point is, life is not stagnant if you don’t want it to be. I have reinvented my career many times: marketing director, corporate sales, mother, garden designer, interior designer, and now, writer. I put myself out there, not knowing if I could do any of it. I had fear, reservations, insecurities. Who wouldn’t? But as I took on the challenges of career changes, I discovered a broader sense of who I am, what makes me tick, and what I am capable of. 

HALTED MOMENTS

After querying my first novel I realized I was one, little, tiny speck in the sea of sand that falls at the feet of agents and publishers. After years of writing and re-writing, critiques, failed submissions and hundreds of rejections (Yes, you read that number right!) I asked myself, “What the hell am I doing?” I panic I will never be good enough, published, read, or noticed. I worry someone will judge me as a loser. I may fail miserably! Then I sit back and realize, at least I’m trying! 

NO REGRETS

Despite what others may think, or laugh at, they will not be with me at the last breaths of my life when I say, “Did I do all I thought was possible?” I won’t predict my answer to the question just yet. Each day brings something new and challenges me. There are so many things I wish I could have done, should have done in the past; things that make you question yourself. For writing, I will not have regrets!

PERSPECTIVES OF SUCCESS

You never know how your life will turn, where it will take you, or what you are capable of. But what you must never do is think you cannot change your life or do what you really want to do. I do not regret that I moved into different areas and tried different things. I have loved the challenges and realize that I am capable of more than I had planned on. Have I been highly successful? Well, maybe not the way my husband would like–he would like to retire early on the wings of my success! (Sorry Honey!) But I took chances and that is a lot more than most people can say. For that I am successful! 

I hope the woman I met listened to my words and they gave her hope to realize that she has more in her than she thought was possible. Stagnation is only a rest stop, not the end of the journey. Don’t let fear stop you!

How I Turned Breast Cancer into a Writing Career

Autumn evokes warm memories for me growing up on the east coast.  Leaves change from green to crimson and bright yellow, delicious air brisk and soothing.

My perennial October joy ended abruptly in 1993 when I became that one out of seven women diagnosed with breast cancer.  It’s also when I noticed the color pink.  It was everywhere.  TV commercials, clothing, perfume, sports team gear… you name it, there was pink.  For the first ten years after my double mastectomy and a year of anguishing chemotherapy, every October brought back fear.

Pink reminded me daily of being in survival mode. The color represented nausea, sleepless nights, baldness, and I wondered if I’d live to see grandchildren born, if I’d have a recurrence. 

Then my compassionate and brilliant oncologist had a conversation with me.  I was dealing with “chemo brain.”  He kindly suggested I do things to strengthen my brain.  He suggested going back to college and taking math courses.  I laughed.  I’ve never balanced a checkbook. 

We chatted about things I love like travel and writing.  He asked about my favorite place to travel.  My answer was Italy.  His next suggestion was to enroll in a junior college and learn how to speak Italian.  That sounded fun.  But could I learn a language at my age?  Two weeks after that appointment, I enrolled in an Italian class at Orange Coast College.  I studied for 4 semesters and still take private lessons. 

Who knew breast cancer would lead to such an adventure.

At the next appointment, I had just returned from a villa trip in Italy with five women.  And that was it.  I knew I had to write a book.  I enrolled in a night class, joined a critique group, and finished my first novel. 

It took 8 years, a lot of rejections, an agent who took my book and then told me to change the setting to India.  (Because India was “in” at the time.)  I fired him.  I found a small press and published.  Out of that first book, I burned with a desire to write more.  Currently, my fourth novel is with my editor.

I have been able to make a consulting business out of my travels to Italy.  All because my doctor made suggestions, and I followed them. 

Pink no longer represents fear.  It represents joy.  Winners wear pink.

Breast cancer taught me how to turn a tragedy into triumph.  Now I speak Italian, write until my fingers tire, and travel as often as possible.  I’m always looking to learn something new, wanting my life to count, to be remembered as someone who faced adversity, survived, and lived life to the fullest.

When it’s my time to leave this earth, I have every intention of arriving at the grave in a pretty pink dress, skidding in broadside, thoroughly used up and loudly proclaiming, “Wow, what a ride.”

Before writing her first novel and current travel book, Janet specialized in self-help and spiritual guidance with articles on overcoming breast cancer, dealing with dying parents, and other life-changing issues. She has also published stories about the search for her roots including the poignant discovery of her grandfather’s journey from Italy to America.

Janet has been a teacher of English and History for gifted high school students, owned an editing and writing business, and was a co-owner of a large construction company. She is available for speaking engagements regarding her adventures in Italy and is available for trip planning to Italy…including suggested itineraries, hotel and villa recommendations, restaurants…and places to sit and sip and enjoy the Italian culture.

Rock bottom became the solid foundation upon which I rebuilt my life ” – J.K.Rowling

The bottom leaves few options.

Whether you’re starting a novel or stuck somewhere in between, consider yourself at the bottom. Daunting I know. And counter intuitive. Yet the bottom leaves only one direction. Up.

Underground tunnels often lead nowhere. Writing seems that way sometimes. I’ve found myself huddled over my laptop, moving in circles. I drift down a tunnel only to learn I’ve headed nowhere new.

The bottom line (see what I did there?) is you can’t sink deeper. Believe that. Then step up. Here’s how.

SEEK LIGHT

Creepy things dwell in darkness. For a writer this means negative thoughts, self-loathing. Worry mushrooms. Light awakens our muse. Find it. Begin by bathing in all five senses. Surround your writing space with sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.

In the article, It’s Just Common Sense: Accessing All 5 Senses To Enrich Research Insights, disrupters (the five senses) can access the less-conscious brain. They impact how we really experience and think about things. It also helps broaden the tools and the language that people can use to express their feelings and reactions.

My muses:

  • Lamp showers light on an inspirational picture: a watercolor of a blues bar, musicians playing.
  • Wine, if I’m in the mood. Or a hot tea. Write, sip. Repeat.
  • Pandora in the background. Maybe Michael Bublé crooning.
  • A leather-bound notebook. Book ideas. Smells of parchment.
  • A smooth stone, polished and weighty. I palm it, consider my next line. Like a pen in hand, my rock helps me think.

CLIMB

Where do you want to go next? Maybe you can’t see it yet. Views from above provide insight.  Problems, whether plot points, or revealing character arc, for example, require big picture views. The higher you climb, the less troublesome the issue. Think lounging by a pool and spying a bug. View the pool out the second-story window and the bug disappears. Recall the big picture. Review timelines, plot points, character sketches.

REROUTE

Linear thinking is one option. Amy Hempel, who recently published a short story collection, Sing to It, said she didn’t write the sections in Bluets in order.

“It rings true in the way memories come to us and how we experience anything. We don’t go through a given day in a linear fashion. At least I don’t,” Hempel said.

It’s okay to skip ahead. Maybe you’d rather write about the climax. Maybe another character’s speaking to you at night before you drift off. Often a secondary character exposes truth only they can tell you. Write your way. The way the story unfolds to you. Don’t be afraid to change a paragraph or two. Dump a chapter. I just did that and it improved the book.

As I wrote this, I was traveling through New Mexico. In that jag of I40, desert greets the highway. In the distance plateaus rise. Their flat crests rebuff the desert shapes below. Given the chance, I’d sit atop that firm foundation, view the desert floor from above. The clay earth is littered with shrubs, obstacles to seeing the big picture.

Wandering the bottom is futile. Step up and leave the view from the bottom behind.

THE UGLY TRUTH

Elizabeth Conte, Writerdeeva

MASTERFUL THINKING

Authors, like James Patterson and Stephen King, have gotten into the business of selling “their knowledge,” claiming they have the secrets which will make you a successful writer. Okay, they don’t actually promise that, but the assumption­ is well. Follow him/her and you, too, will be a well-known author!

NEWSFLASH! IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY

Masters writers are what we aspire to be. They make a lot of money, hold the valuable space in bookstores, get the big advertising dollars, and have access to interviews and talks across the country, if not the world. They sell a lot of damn books. They’ve made it! But, in this new age of publishing, where publishing houses are doing less and less, budgets are smaller, staffs thinner, the opportunity for a no-name author to get attention is remote. Well-known authors may offer courses on how to be the “next” Stephen King or Dan Brown, but do they instruct you how to become a success? 

REALITY IS UGLY

In the article, With Fewer Debut Novels Selling, What Do Editors Want To Tell Authors? , Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader noted debuts were “way” down. He noted, in the weeks leading up to London Book Fair in 2016 there were 34 debut fiction sales, 37 in 2017, and only 27 debut fiction deals in 2018. The opportunity for new writers in traditional publishing is not growing. Writers are fighting for fewer and fewer spots.  

OPTIMISM VS OPPORTUNITY

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t indulge in courses from best-selling authors. I’m sure they have a bundle of helpful advice. Master writers offer priceless experience and knowledge. Well, not priceless MasterClass will charge you $180 for a year’s access to learn from master writers like Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman. If you can fit it into your budget, taking courses that help you grow as a writer from people who have walked-the-walk and have proven successful should be a part of your repertoire. But I wonder if these masters of writing were in the trenches with debut authors of today, would they be so optimistic about their keys to success? Or would they give up because it is so damn hard?

DON’T SEEK PROOF… IT’S NOT THERE

I’m a hardworking, committed writer. I have pushed myself to learn everything I can about writing and the industry. I don’t know many who have kept up a passion for success as I have. If there was a roadmap–a mountain to climb, or a river to forge–that would prove me successful, I would have found it and done it. I would be shouting it off the rooftops to all my fellow writers to do the same. I want everyone who works hard, and is committed, to find their success. But I haven’t found the roadmap. I am not sure the masters of writing have “the” proven methodology to success either. Authors like John Grisham, J.K. Rowling, or Judy Blume hold keys to their success, and maybe are just as passionate to share with others. Their aspirations are noble.

FACING TRUTH

The truth is, nobody’s advice is going to work for you. In publishing, you have to find your own path, travel down it, and if it leads to nowhere, find another one, and another one, until you see a clearing. We are all looking for someone to tell us how it’s done. I honestly wish I had the answers. I can only offer my inspirational spirit and encourage you to keep writing because you love to.

KEEP GOING

Believe in yourself. That is what I do. I am not giving up. I am still searching for the opportunity. And when I find it, I’ll let you know. Maybe I’ll have my own Master Class.

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