She Thinks I’m Fierce!

There’s nothing quite as satisfying to a writer as having your work published; that is, except having someone else mention your publication in their own work! This week I’ve been twice honored:

First, by Hospital Drive who pubbed my short story “Things Long Dead” (read it here).

two trees in the fog

Second, by award-winning poet Gabrielle Brant Freeman who interviewed me for her #FierceFriday feature on her website!

Cover art and design by Dawn Surrat

Thank you to the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Hospital Drive and to Gabrielle Brant Freeman for believing in me and supporting my work! You’re FIERCE!

 

 

The Hiatus: Taking a Break from Writing

 

“Write every day.” We writers have heard this mantra from nearly every teacher, writing coach, agent, and editor we’ve encountered. We’ve heard it from other authors who’ve had it drilled into their heads so often they have no choice but parrot it when asked about their writing habits.

I call bullshit.

First, I believe that all writers can—and should—have different processes for creating new work, and that a particular process can—and should—change to fit the creation. If forcing yourself to sit each morning in front of a blank screen until beads of words form on your brow is a technique that works for you, that’s great. Goody for you. And if waking from a deep sleep with a scene in your head rouses you from bed at 2:00 a.m. to pound on your keyboard, that’s equally as wonderful. Or, if staring out the window for an hour, or sitting on the beach for three days, or walking your neighborhood each morning for two weeks is what causes (or allows) a story to jell in your mind before you type the first word, then that’s fabulous, too.

If your particular way of writing works for you, then it’s the perfect way for you to write. One size does not fit all.

There’s nothing like a deadline to encourage your words to appear on a page. When you were in school, your teachers gave you a due date for every assignment, because if they didn’t, you wouldn’t do the research that resulted in ideas that formed the thoughts you typed onto the page. Now that you’re out of school, it may be up to you to set imaginary deadlines, if that’s what it takes to keep you focused. Or maybe you work with a writing group, and you set deadlines for each other to meet. If deadlines are what you need, then set them.

Whether your deadline is real or imaginary, sometimes life gets in the way, and you simply must take a break from writing. Recently, that’s happened to me.

I work multiple jobs (adjunct professor, Realtor, ghostwriter, editor) and have myriad “unpaid” responsibilities (mother, wife, homemaker, book reviewer, blogger). It’s no surprise that these tasks often come with their own deadlines, and sometimes those deadlines bottleneck into the same week or same day. My personal writing simply has to take a back seat for a while.

I’m not advocating putting your writing aside for other duties: no! Writing—if you take your writing seriously at all—must be a priority. However, if you’re sitting in front of your computer in an attempt to get into the mind of your main character while ignoring more pressing responsibilities, your brain often won’t let you slide into the creative mode required to write well. The muse—if you believe in muses—will tell you to get your butt up and do what must be done.

When, then, will you get back to writing?

Here’s what I believe: writers are always writing. Just because we’re not sitting in front of our computers or holding a pad and pen in hand doesn’t mean we’re not creating stories.

During my low-residency MFA days, we were tasked with keeping a writing log that detailed the hours we spent reading and writing. I always struggled with how to approach this log, because it seemed to me then—and now—that rare are the hours when I’m not reading or writing. When I’m driving, I’m plotting. When I’m drifting off to sleep at night, I place my characters in a scene (one that may or may not be appropriate for my story), and I see what they’ll do. When I’m doing housework, I imagine a setting and how I’d describe it from my main character’s point of view. When I’m in the shower, I consider what obstacles I can put in the way of my characters’ goals and dreams. When I’m walking, I figure out how in the world my character can get around those obstacles I’ve created. This is writing.

Sometimes I make notes when a great idea pops into my head. My desk, my purse, and the inside covers of books I’m reading are littered with scribbles; scrawled ideas, scenes, sentences, or even sparse phrases that I know I’ll use when I next sit down to write.

And when time has passed and that precious, quiet hour arrives when I finally sit down in front of my screen, the ideas are all there. The sticky notes and index cards are placed in front of me, the books are stacked within reach, their pages flagged with points of inspiration. My fingers fly over the keys.

It’s then I realize that my time away from the keyboard is not and never has been a hiatus from writing: it is my impetus to create.

 

 

Six Things You Need to Know about Your Writer

writer girl

So your friend—or, God help you, your spouse—is a writer. Chances are, the more you get to know your writer, the more confused you’ll feel. Writers are odd ducks. We’re fun. We’re irritating. We’re enigmas and amoebas. How are you supposed to make sense of someone who flip-flops more than cheap rubber shower thongs? It’ll help you to know a few things about us that might make us a little easier to understand. Or not. No one says we are easy.

1. We are extroverted introverts. Writers realize the importance of socialization; in fact, we’re often pushed to network, self-promote, and mingle in order to make the necessary connections to publish our work, or sell it once it is published, so that we can publish again. We can juggle Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, all while texting and providing riotous dinner-party banter. Sometimes we are wildly gregarious, prone to spontaneous road trips or bar-hopping. We can be the life of the party, cracking witty jokes you can’t wait to tell your friends at the water cooler, and boogying to every song the band plays. Don’t count on our amusing behavior to last, however, because . . .

2. We are introverted extroverts.  You know that party we looked forward to all week? The one we chattered about incessantly, the one for which we bought a sparkly dress and fabulous shoes? We might arrive and sit quietly in a corner. Yes, last weekend we sang karaoke at midnight and break-danced as an encore, but this weekend we’re happy to play the wallflower, soaking up all that energy we expended the last time we were out. We’re having fun—don’t think we aren’t, even if we’re not smiling—because we’re watching, we’re processing, and we’re thinking. And it’s likely that something we see, hear, smell, feel, or taste will show up later in the story we’re writing.

3. We are usually right. Writers are sometimes perceived as know-it-alls. It isn’t that we believe we know everything, though we surely wish we did. We’re avid researchers, constant readers, and we’re always questioning how this works and why that doesn’t. We study the ingredients on cereal boxes. Our dictionaries actually wear out from overuse. Our Google search history could easily get us arrested. We’re smart, because we thirst for knowledge like a sponge in the Sahara Desert, and we’ll track down an expert for answers as doggedly as if he were the Aquafina man. When we offer unsolicited advice, consider it a gift (this is one we hope you’ll return!), because we give it in the spirit of helpfulness, not haughtiness.

4. But we are often wrong. And it breaks our hearts. It embarrasses us. Mortifies us. Many times, we know the answer, but our always-in-overdrive brains sometimes can’t shift gears quickly enough to turn a tight corner. So when you ask us the difference between a simile and a metaphor, and we answer incorrectly—though we’ve known the answer at a cellular level since third grade—it isn’t because we’re dumb. It’s because our minds are absorbing new information, or we are creating a new character in our minds, or writing a scene for a work in progress—or all of this is happening simultaneously in our heads while we’re attempting to answer your question. Besides, if we truly don’t know the answer, you can bet we’ll look it up.

5. We are not ignoring you. Yes, you’ve said our name three times, and when we finally respond, we ask you to repeat yourself twice. It’s sometimes difficult for us to come back to this planet when we are in a world of our own making. We are often visiting universes that we’ve created inside of our heads. We have to go there. Have you ever read a story and envisioned the scene as if it were playing out in front of you? That’s because a writer became so intensely involved in the creation of that setting that she pictured it in vivid detail—scents, sounds, surfaces, and more—so much so that she temporarily blocked out this world in order to create that one. It’s a necessary part of the job, and it’s what makes us good at what we do. It’s hard to hear you when we’re intently listening to the monologue or dialogue inside of our heads. Be patient. Repeat yourself. We’ll catch up to you.

6. Except when we’re ignoring you. Writing is a solitary profession driven by creativity that requires deep internal thought. The busyness and business of everyday life must be shut out both mentally and physically for us to work at peak capacity and get in touch with our highest creative selves. We’re okay with shutting the door—and locking it. We’re fine going all week without television, and we may equally be fine letting it play all day on the same unwatched channel. We don’t feel guilty letting your call go to voice mail. (In fact, when we’re writing, a ringing phone can be the equivalent of a pipe bomb exploding in our laps.) We can exist for days on coffee and candy corn or wine and Doritos. Don’t worry. We’ll come around soon enough, and we’ll again be ready to jabber until your ears wear out or spin you around the dance floor until your legs grow numb.

We know we’re different. We’re okay with that. And we hope with every breath that you’re okay with it, because we need you. When we come back to this earth, this country, this room, we want to find you there. After all, it’s you we’re writing for.

Tip for Writers:  Be sure to email the link to this article to your your friend or significant other, or print it out and strategically place it where they will see it. Then get back to writing!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Pencils

. . . Or pens, or laptops. Someone probably once told you that writing has benefits. I’m talking about benefits that go far beyond getting published and making a fortune as a bestselling author. (Thank God, because that rarely happens!) Did you their advice seriously? Did it really sink in that writing has actual health benefits? It’s true that writing can heal you and help you in myriad ways, some of which you’ve likely never considered.

Writing helps you gain control of your emotional state. Sure, it would feel great to verbally tear into that co-worker who always takes credit for your work or offers backhanded compliments, but you’ll be the one left looking petty. If you put those feelings on paper (and maybe burn them, depending on what you wrote!), you’ll experience relief similar to what you’d have felt if you told him off in person.

Journaling can help you land a job faster. Laid-off engineers who kept a daily journal had more successful interviews—they were hired—four times faster than their peers who didn’t write.

Writing improves your sense of self and self-trust. Seeing your private thoughts and emotions on a page is validating. It provides self-recognition of your feelings, and this acknowledgment allows you to better appreciate yourself and accept yourself—positive and negative attributes alike—for who you really are.

Keeping a gratitude journal makes you happier. Regularly writing down the things for which you are thankful has been proven in psychological studies to heighten your sense of well-being and actually alleviate the physical pain associated with neuromuscular diseases.

Addressing a problem on paper helps remove fear. Discussing a problem with yourself on paper requires you to organize your thought processes and create clarity. Drawing out your inner wisdom by focusing your thoughts into strings of written words eases difficult decision-making and creates resolve for solving problems.

Journaling inspires you to make better choices. Knowing you will write down your actions later in the day may prevent you from making poor choices. (Would I really want to write that in my journal? Wouldn’t I rather brag about this, instead?)

Writing with pen or pencil improves memory recall. While I’m all about MS Word, I’ve personally experienced the fact that, if I take notes by hand, I do a better job of remembering what I wrote than if I typed those same notes. Now there’s scientific proof that handwriting lists, notes, addresses, incidents, events, and so on better helps you remember them.

Writing reveals limiting beliefs. Re-reading what you wrote weeks, or months, or even years ago helps you see patterns you didn’t know existed. You’ll clearly see answers that were once cloudy. In retrospect, you’ll be able to make better sense of the past, and seeing positive growth through your journaling is an excellent boost to your ego and self-esteem.

Journaling is an ACTion. It is a physical accomplishment that subconsciously directs the mind. It’s a form of written meditation, like downloading your mind. This release of thoughts and feelings is healing—emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically.

Do you journal now? If so, what benefits have you found from this “daily dump” of your thoughts and thought processes? If you have never tried journaling, why not start today?

I challenge you (call it a triple-dog dare, if it’ll motivate you) to start and keep a journal for ten days. When that time is up, go back and re-read what you’ve written. What did you discover about yourself during those ten days? Did you sleep better after getting those swirling thoughts out of your head? Do you feel more motivated to work toward a goal? Will you continue to keep a journal? Share with me below how this ten-day experiment worked for you.

triple dog dare

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