Write On Wednesday

Write On Wednesday: Writing it Down

"The most important function my writing serves is to help me make sense of life in general - and my own in particular."

Those words are as true for me today as they were 10 years ago when I wrote them in the “about” page on my first blog. Writing things down in almost any format - from a hastily scribbled list or a soul searching journal entry to  a carefully considered essay  -writing clarifies my thinking, opens a channel for new ideas, and relieves anxiety and tension. 

Because writing is often the midwife to new ways of thinking, or a working out of one’s feelings on the page, it’s most appreciated when one is in the midst of a particularly unsettling period of life.

So it begs the question: How does being happy with life in general play out in one’s writing? Does a writer need a pinch of angst as seasoning for the pot? Is being happy and content a deterrent to deeply expressive writing, the kind that connects emotionally with readers?

Write On Wednesday: Into the World

Tonight I will be doing something brand new for me, at least new for me as a writer. Tonight I am attending a book club meeting in the role of “author,” a word I still feel strange applying to myself. It’s a momentous occasion, and, as you might guess for this introverted person, a little bit terrifying. 

But still, it’s something I have been so looking forward to doing, something I was honored to be asked to do. And in the end, I keep reminding myself, these women in the book club who read Life In General are women very much like me. They are in the throes of this Life In General business just like I am. I am hoping there was something in my book, something in the words they read there that has connected with their heart and spirit.

This week I’ve been reading The 10 Letters Project, a book by Jen Lee and Tim Manley that captures a year’s worth of emails between these two creative people, emails in which they discussed the intersection of life and art and work. It’s the perfect book to read this week, as I prepare my thoughts for tonight’s gathering. Six months after the publication of Life In General, I’ve been able to see more clearly the importance of putting our voice into the world and gain some greater perspective on the reasons this endeavor was so important for me personally.

And because my original expectations for my book were small, I’ve felt continually bowled over by the reception it’s received. I have been given the gift of being heard, of connecting my story to the lives of other women, many of them total strangers, who now know me in some way, who carry a small piece of me around with them. 

Make no mistake, it’s a scary thing to put your life out in the world for all to see. I have said jokingly to people that “my life is now an open book,” but it’s really true. There is part of me that sometimes want to pull it all back in, to run around and grab everyone’s book and say, “Just erase all that drivel from your mind.” That is the part of me that thinks my life is so ordinary that it’s not worth writing about, and certainly not worth reading about.  

But then one of those readers will reach out to me with a comment like, “I feel so much better since I read the chapter you wrote about church and religion.  I thought I was the only one who felt that way!” 

The gift of a message like that is two-fold: of course it’s validation that my words and experiences can mean something to others. But it also gives me the gift of knowing I’m not alone either. And for someone like me, whose circle of family is SO small, it helps to know I’ve left something of myself behind, let it loose into a world of people that become a little bit like an extended family to me.

“The truth is,” Lee writes, “that with all of our work we are asked to do it on faith. Faith that it is worth making whether we ever see the difference it makes or the pleasure it brings or not, because we never really get to know how far it travels and how much it means and to whom.”

Tonight I will get a glimpse of where Life In General has traveled, and I’m thrilled to go out into the world along with it.

Write On Wednesday: Who Needs It Most

“There are people out there - unique human beings with uncommon desires - each of whom deserves ten minutes of beautiful music. That’s why we’re musicians. You never know who is listening. It might be someone who really needs the music you play. Maybe the person who needs it most is you.” Robin Meloy Goldsby, Piano Girl

Last night I was in a grumpy mood. I was fed up with bureaucracy and modern day annoyances. I got a nail in my tire and had to buy a new one. I got a notice in the mail about a new fee arbitrarily imposed that I would have to pay.

It was an “I think I’ll move to Australia" kind of day.

Then last night I went to a concert. It was my friend’s high school end-of-the year Pops concert, a night when the choirs appear on stage in matching t-shirts and jeans, when (some incredibly talented) soloists took the mike in the style of The Voice and belted out songs of their own choosing. There was a live band. There were strobe lights. There was purple haze.

And all of a sudden I wasn’t grumpy anymore. Who could be, in the face of so much music  being so thoroughly enjoyed?

Goodness knows, we all need a little bit of beauty in our daily lives. Music is one of the ways I’ve always gotten my daily dose: sitting down at the piano and playing whatever takes my fancy for 10 minutes or 2 hours, depending on what the day will allow. Sometimes it’s the same way with writing. I might be in bad mood, I might think there isn’t an ounce of creativity in my head, I might be as certain sure as anything that I have absolutely nothing to say. 

And then I pick up a pen. 

The words come from somewhere, every single time. Words I need to write, words that need to be said. Sometimes I share them here, sometimes I let them stay buried in the pages of my journal, but I always feel differently when I’m done. 

Perhaps we should think of art as a public service. Even in small doses, it is a powerful thing - to hear beautiful music, read words that resonate in your soul, stare into the depths of a masterful painting. It can turn your day around, perhaps even turn your life around. Art heals by "activating the medicines of creative imagination.” Current studies confirm that "art has the power to evoke strong transformative responses in the observers’ psyche by changing their emotions, attitudes, and behaviors."

The medicines of creative imagination  - we can all use those, probably more than some of the expensive prescription drugs we turn to in times of anxiety and stress. You never know who most needs to hear your music, read your words, or envision your art. It might be your partner, your child, your friend. It might be a total stranger.

It might be you.









Write On Wednesday: Change of Venue

 I am a creature of habit. I count on my morning coffee (in my favorite mug) and my evening glass of wine. I do morning pages in the comfy chair upstairs, and read my book on the sofa in the den. I like a walk before lunch and one after dinner, a hot bath before bed, and a few minutes of quiet time with my book before turning out the light.

I write at my computer, which sits in the center of a large walnut writing table underneath the upstairs corner casement windows in the guest bedroom on the second floor. On nice days, I crank open each window and listen to the finches and cardinals serenade me while I ponder and peck away at the keyboard. I prefer to write in the mornings (after the walk) but sometimes an hour or two between 7 and 9 in the evening works well too.

This week I had some time to myself on Monday, a hour or so in the afternoon between places to be when it wasn’t convenient to go home. Before I left for rehearsal that morning, I packed up my notebook and pen and thought I might spend that time in a coffee shop doing some writing.

Because I had some other errands to do, the most convenient coffee shop was a Starbucks, located in the midst of a small downtown area in a neighboring suburb.

I’ll tell you a secret.  I don’t really like Starbucks - not the taste of the coffee, not the ambience in the stores, and certainly not the prices. 

But I went in, because it was raining and chilly and I needed somewhere to be.

Inside this very dimly lit Starbucks were four comfy leather armchairs nestled in the corner by the window. All occupied of course. Two college students with piles of spiral notebooks and fat soft covered textbooks were sprawled comfortably in two of them, while two young girls sat in the other two, their legs tucked beneath them, busy texting or tweeting on their iPhones and sipping frothy coffee drinks.

There were about a dozen tiny dark tables with hard, short backed chairs clustered around them. Many of these were occupied by people working on laptop computers, most of them wearing headphones attached to their cell phones, listening to music I assume, because they weren’t talking to anyone. 

I ordered tea (because remember I don’t like the coffee) and chose one of the empty tables by the wall, rather than one in the middle of the room. I tried to get comfortable in a chair that reminded me a lot of the chairs we’d been forced to sit in at elementary school. I dunked my teabag a few times into the cup of (scalding!) hot water and stirred four packets of sugar into the tall paper cup.

I opened my notebook and tried to write.

It should have been a perfect writing atmosphere. With the exception of the one middle aged woman sitting across from me with a book, noisily licking her fingers after each bite of a sticky pastry, every other person was completely in their own private zone, plugged in, tuned out of the rest of the room. Even the baristas were quiet. There was background music, but it was subdued and generic. No one new came in, there were no hisses or spurts of foaming espresso makers. 

I’d like to say I felt prolific and creative, that the various people in the coffee shop inspired interesting character sketches. Mostly, I felt self-conscious, pretentious, and even a little silly. 

There is a mystique among writers about writing in coffee shops and cafes. We all think of the romance of Hemingway and his companions on the Left Bank in Paris, scribbling away all day, holding court with tiny cups of espresso in the morning, giving way to goblets of wine in the afternoon. 

Certainly I’m no Hemingway. I’m just a woman who likes putting words on paper, who thinks better when she has a pencil in her hand or her fingers on a keyboard. It was an interesting experiment, changing up my writing venue, tiptoeing for a moment into a different atmosphere. But probably not one I’ll repeat any time soon.

I am definitely still a creature of habit, and it seems I’ll be keeping my writing habits intact for the time being. 










Write On Wednesday: Desperate Distractions

I’ll be honest - I nearly cried when I looked out my window this morning.

Snow fell in wet, white sheets, and the sky was gunmetal gray. Skeletal tree branches rattled in the wind, and the chickadees clung desperately to the feeder as it swayed dizzily back and forth.

It wasn’t going to be a good day.

This winter has seemed plagued to me, with illness and unrest, bitter cold and gray skies. I’ve been sick again this week, some odd combination of maladies that appeared out of nowhere.

The winter of my malcontent, I’m calling it. 

So far, 2015, I am not impressed.

I had great plans for the day too - nothing scheduled outside of the house, so I was going to catch up on writing, make headway on publicity for an event involving both my handbell ensemble and the community theater I volunteer with, and maybe even do the taxes (or at least gather the paperwork - yes, I’m one of those tax procrastinators.)

But my energy and ambition fell with a wet thud, just like those snowflakes that were piling up on the porch. 

 Most successful writers will say it’s necessary to put yourself in inspiration’s path: show up at the page every day, don’t wait for inspiration to come find find you. 

One of my favorite writers, Dani Shapiro, whose book Still Writing sits on my desk, talks about the pattern she has for her writing life. “Three pages every day, five days a week,” she maintains. But then she goes on to note that if you “do the math,” this means she could write a novel length manuscript in half a year. 

“I have never written a novel length manuscript in half a year,” she admits. “In fact, two years would be fast for me."

So what happens? As author William Styron put it - “the fleas of life” get in the way. Shapiro agrees. “The dog has a vet appointment; the school play is at noon; it’s flu season, a snow day, who knew there were so many long weekends? The roof springs a leak; the neighbor’s house is under construction; a friend calls in a crisis. Life doesn’t pause to make room for our precious writing time. Life stops for nothing and we make accommodations."

There is an incredible amount of willpower necessary to write, especially when writing isn’t your “bread and butter.” Distractions abound - not only the alluring call of the internet, but homelier distractions as well. Like the bed sheets that should be changed, the towels that needed washing. There is always tea to be made, maybe it would help settle my queasy stomach - or if not that, some toast, dry but still something after all. While the tea brews, perhaps just a few more pages in that new novel I just started. Maybe I’ll finish the chapter before the tea cools, and then go back upstairs to write. By then it’s time to take the dogs outside, which means another pass with the shovel so their short legs don’t become encumbered with icy snowballs.

Ah yes, you know the drill, I can see you nodding your heads guiltily out there. After a while, it all becomes a little desperate, doesn’t it? Sort of like the way we feel when we open the window and see another snowstorm, another gray sky, hear the thunk and scrape of the snow blade as it passes down the street for the 10th time today.

Perseverance. I managed to put myself into the chair, open the page, start to write. Time slips by, you get lost in whatever world you’re creating. For the writer - and I suspect for the musician, the painter, the cook, the seamstress - it’s all part of the same battle. Put yourself where ideas and inspiration will find you. 

And hope it doesn’t get sidetracked by distractions of its own on the way.