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Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Faith as a Writer

 


Welcome to IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of the amazing and generous Alex Cavanaugh. Thank you to the June co-hosts: SE White, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguire, Joylene Nowell Butler, and Jacqui Murray!


June’s optional question: When the going gets tough writing the story, how do you keep yourself writing to the end? If you have not started the writing yet, why do you think that is and what do you think could help you find your groove and start?

The title of my very first blog post was “I Can Do This.” All these years later that theme continues to resonate through my writing life. Joyce Carol Oates wrote a book called Faith of a Writer. In truth, it’s not my favorite book on craft, but the title has always resonated with me. Faith in my writing allows me to slog through many a story-struggle because once I get something down, I know the result can be edited. So many initial and fairly awful attempts end up deleted or changed beyond recognition, but as long as there is something to work with, I know forward progress is possible. Case in point, my current novel was inspired by a small glass bottle we dug up from our backyard. That bottle has long disappeared from the story, but a draft novel resulted from that initial passage.

Sometimes, when the effort feels notably painful, rather than decide I can’t write, I give myself permission to think. Recently my writing group suggested one of my characters wasn’t giving my story complexity. I agreed but didn’t know how to give it to her. I spent many middle-of-the-night-I-can’t-sleep-hours pondering her—letting her drift around my mind until she obliged me by fleshing herself out. Once I make the changes those think-sessions suggested, she’ll be less wallpaper paste and become more of the pattern itself.

And finally, on pieces like this blog post when often I have no idea what I want to say, I start by writing stream of conscious. Most of that ends up as a pile of discarded word glop—which happened to the entire paragraph with which I initially started today’s post. But once I get something down, a nugget appears that informs me of the direction in which I need to go, and I follow its lead. The fun part is more often than not, I end up in a totally different place than where I thought I would land.

It’s a little like sculpting. I chisel away, cutting, pasting and editing, knowing the right words will emerge as long as I trust they are there.


How do you keep writing when the going gets tough?

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Back to Earth - IWSG May 2022

Welcome to IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of the amazing and generous Alex Cavanaugh. Thank you to the May co-hosts: Kim Elliott, Melissa Maygrove, Chemist Ken, Lee Lowery, and Nancy Gideon! To find links to all IWSG contributors, click here.

This month’s question: It's the best of times; it's the worst of times. What are your writer highs? And what are your writer lows?

A few years ago, I signed up for Grub Street’s Muse in the Marketplace. Generally, I’m reluctant to attend conferences because when I arrive, my “I’m-nothing-but-a-fake” demon inflates inside me, but somehow that year I beat down my fear. I even signed up for a critique session which involved sending sample pages to an agent prior to the event.

In spite of high anxiety, the day was a success, the workshops outstanding and in my mind, my agent one-on-one went worlds better than expected. The woman I’d been partnered with seemed engaged. She offered me sound advice and even appeared regretful when our time was up. All I’d wanted that day was to sit with a professional and acquit myself competently, so when she asked me to send her partial of the book I was querying, I didn’t so much walk out of that meeting, I sailed. It was enough of a rush to have enjoyed the conference, but piquing an agent’s interest in my novel? That wasn’t just frosting on the proverbial cake, it was ice cream, homemade fudge sauce and a massive dollop of whipped cream, too. I sent my submission lickety split.

But that’s all she wrote—pun very much intended—because I received no follow up—no request to read more, no “Thanks, but no thanks.” Nothing. Zip.

Now in case you’re wondering, by that point I’d written three books and queried two. I’d received partial requests, full requests, every manner of form rejection and was no stranger to dead air. But that day, I let my guard down. I left the conference over the moon. My husband took me out to dinner that night and I couldn’t stop talking. I was so proud of myself for conquering my fears, and while I wasn’t expecting a book deal out of it, I was convinced the agent was enthusiastic. I thought at least I’d get a helpful letter telling me why she was rejecting my novel. But instead, I got nada. I emailed after a couple of months, crossing my fingers that the lack of communication was an oversight, but received no reply to my email either.

I get it. Agents drown in volume. One  needs to be a great writer with a unique concept with the best query, and it needs to land in front of the right person at the perfect time. I can’t imagine all the queries agents (or their assistants and interns) have to wade through. But darn it. That meeting filled me with hope. These days, the cynic in me figures I was na├»ve—that requesting a partial was that agent’s personal code for “no interest.” It was easier than saying “no” face-to-face to an eager author wanna-be.

So, there it is, a best and worst tied together. Nothing earth shattering. I keep writing. Periodically I rouse myself to query some more. But this month’s question triggered the memory of that happy day I blasted off like a skyrocket, only to drift to earth a few months later—wondering how I’d managed to fool myself into believing my agent meeting had been a success.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Audio for Anxiety - IWSG April 2022


Welcome to IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of the amazing and generous Alex Cavanaugh. To find links to all IWSG contributors, click here. Thank you to April co-hosts: Joylene Nowell Butler, Jemima Pett, Patricia Josephine, Louise - Fundy Blue, and Kim Lajevardi!

Optional question: Have any of your books been made into audio books? If so, what is the main challenge in producing an audiobook?

I can't answer the question, but I can speak about audio books.

While I'm fine driving locally, I’ve never been the most comfortable highway driver. For that reason, I was most often a passenger while my late husband and I listened to books when we took road trips and invariably my mind would drift. Before I knew it I’d wake up having missed Lord knows how much. But these days, I am the driver and audio books have begun to save me. 

During my husband’s illness--I supposed as a way to pretend we had some control--we kept our lives as normal as possible. We didn’t share what we were going through with others and few people knew he was sick. Unfortunately for me, bottled-up stress manifested itself in a panic attack that occurred long before he died, on a day I was driving alone on the highway. Imagine unexpected dizziness, clammy hands and paralyzing fear of fainting while traveling 65 MPH down a four-lane highway. After the first awful one, they became self-induced. What if I have a panic attack? I’d think anytime I was alone on the highway. Too often, the thought triggered the symptoms. 

Now, as I recreate my life, letting this issue rule me could mean never leaving my area, which is not acceptable. At first, I pondered taking a driving course, but Covid (or more likely fear) dissuaded me. I utilized alternate means of transportation or found back-road options to get where I needed to go, until an invitation to my sister’s surprise birthday party arrived last fall. Getting there meant all highway driving. Neither public transportation nor the word “no” were an option. Enter Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on audio. It's a story I know so well, if I missed a line it wouldn't matter but one I love enough it could divert my thoughts from that damaging and self-fulfilling, What if?

Ever a hero, once again Harry saved the day. With the book keeping me company, I made it to the party and home without issue. Even better, the trip helped me see it's in my power to drive where I need to. I'm not all the way there yet, but thanks to Harry, I’ve taken a few trips, sometimes with an audio book and notably last weekend because I forgot to download one, my longest trip without.

So, while I have not had an opportunity to turn a book into an audio book, audio books have offered a turning point for me.

What has your experience been with audio books? What type of methods would you suggest to calm a reluctant highway driver?



Wednesday, March 2, 2022

CONFLICT[ED] - IWSG March 2022

It's IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of the amazing and generous Alex Cavanaugh. Thank you to this month’s co-hosts: Janet Alcorn, Pat Garcia, Natalie Aguirre, and Shannon LawrenceTo find links to other IWSG contributors, click here.

March Question: Have you ever been conflicted about writing a story or adding a scene to a story? How did you decide to write it or not?

A long time ago, a writing instructor said, “Think about the worst possible thing you can do to your characters and make it happen.” With that in mind, I figured out I needed to kill off the character in the novel I was working on who was the single force mending a family wrought with discord. Decision made, I procrastinated for two weeks. I loved him. I couldn’t imagine writing the scene—but the story was a lot of bla, bla, bla if he didn’t go, so eventually, I pulled up my big-girl writer pants and got on with it, bawling away while I typed.

Nowadays, I make bad things happen, but not always bad enough. Someone from my writing group recently described a couple of chapters I read as “pleasant,” an exceptional example of what my father used to call, “damning, with faint praise.” Time to ratchet up the conflict, Liza. But how much?

I’m currently reading a novel recommended by a friend about couple in a struggling relationship who agree to live on a sailboat with their young kids for a year. Think, four people confined to a miniscule space, away from all the comforts they’ve known. Everything about the trip has been more expensive than planned. Unbeknownst to the wife, they are underwater financially. They’ve lost their satellite phone overboard, are out of cash and almost out of food when their engine quits. Anchored off a group of islands near South America, they don’t speak the local dialect. The husband has to leave his family on the boat while he travels for several days to get parts, and his wife isn’t an experienced sailor. All I can hear is, dun, dun, dun…

Here's the deal. This author has mastered conflict and suspense. The writing is excellent and the storyline is gripping. But, I keep putting the book down because I’m too worried about what’s coming next. Things keep getting worse. I know it’s NOT going to end well and it’s causing me so much anxiety I’m not sure I’ll finish. I have enough to be anxious about in real life.

Hence, my dilemma: how do I find a middle ground between writing a book that’s so stressful a sissy reader like me puts it aside, and writing a story that’s merely “pleasant?”

Somehow, I’ve got to find it.

How do you deal with writing conflict?


Wednesday, February 2, 2022

In Gratitude to A. and J.

 

It's IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of the amazing and generous  Alex Cavanaugh. Thank you to co-hosts for the February 2 posting of the IWSG: Joylene Nowell Butler, Jacqui Murray, Sandra Cox, and Lee Lowery.

This month’s optional question: Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn't around anymore? Anyone you miss?

In a previous life, years into a business relationship with an outside recruitment professional I learned he had been diagnosed with OCD. This explained a lot of things, especially his habit of calling me at the same time every Thursday morning regardless of whether or not we had business to discuss. It was all good. Through those weekly calls we became friends.

In those days, I was a wistful wannabe writer so when he told me his MFA and published author daughter had challenged herself to write 750 words a day via a blog, I became a regular reader. At the time, I was a long-term HR manager and the work was, well—fine. The job was close to home, paid well, and the company was flexible when demands arose related to raising my then-teenage daughter. And, while I did wonder if there could be more to my [work] life, nothing motivated me to think about change—until I started reading that blog.

The author wrote with a luminescence and clarity that more than once brought me to tears. Her posts about family, motherhood, parents, and grandparents, writing and volunteering touched on truths inside me I had yet to admit. I began arriving early to work each morning to read the newest post, commenting on some of them—editing my own thoughts to make sure they read just right. It's no exaggeration to say her words reached into my heart, forced me to FEEL and stirred the writer in me.

Then one afternoon, in a company-wide expense reduction, the job I would have never left on my own left me. I woke the next day unemployed but with a singular recognition that my next phase had to be more than a 40+ hour work week that was simply “fine.” Inspired by my recruiter-friend’s daughter, I created Middle Passages to hold myself accountable to a regular writing schedule. Every word I’ve written since, for this blog or anywhere else traveled a direct path from those days when I couldn’t wait to fire up my computer to read what she had to say.

A year or so after I started Middle Passages, the writer’s blog went dark. Absent Thursday morning phone calls from her dad (which I confess, still happened long after my employment change), I only know she encountered heartbreaking life challenges. I’m afraid she may no longer be writing. The thought touches me beyond loss.

So, this post is a tribute to the woman whose words centered me with a focus I had no idea I was lacking. I write now knowing it’s the one thing that makes me feel whole and accomplished and connected to my core—and with eternal gratitude that so many years ago she triggered my introduction to the me I was always supposed to be.

 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

No Regrets - IWSG January 2022

 

It's IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of the amazing and generous  Alex Cavanaugh. Thank you to this month’s co-hosts: Erika Beebe, Olga Godim, Sandra Cox, Sarah Foster, and Chemist Ken!

Optional question for January: What's the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Were you able to overcome it?

As I’ve stated here before, writing brings out my truest self—so I’m not sure that I can associate the word “regret” with the process at all. That said, in the spirit of this month’s question, I’ll admit to a certain wistfulness that I’d started writing in earnest soonerbut try not to give it much counter space. My focus on writing arose out of a specific need when it was most welcomed. Since then, it’s never subsided.

Looking back, it's easy to recognize words have always lurked inside me. As a sixth grader I lay on my bedroom floor for hours, working on a writing assignment for Miss Markey’s English class because I was having too much fun to finish it. The A+ I received triggered the realization that if you love what you are doing, it feels easy.

As I grew older, I kept diaries and wrote long-winded letters to distant friends (admittedly never receiving anything comparable in response). In college I took journalism and poetry classes. I submitted my works to the campus newspaper and literary magazine. As an English major, I wrote paper after paper. Clearly, reading and writing were my gig. But when it came time to find employment, it didn’t dawn on me to seek a position in my “field.” Who made money as a writer? Rent was rent. A job was a job. I took the first one I was offered which put me on an HR path —a good fit, I suppose, as I wrote employment ads, policy and procedure documents, emails, and memos as a matter of course. Looking back, the “not-in-my-job-description” newsletters, relocation manuals and training documents I wrote while at my "helping-to-pay-the-mortgage" job were enough to keep the blinders on, to stop me from seeing what I really wanted to do. But finally, cracks appeared in my facade. I began writing and submitting essays for publication. I won a little contest and had a couple of pieces published. 

Not long after, my job was unexpectedly eliminated and less than twenty-four hours later, I wrote my first blog post. After that, I was all in. Committed. It was as if someone yanked up a room darkening shade one afternoon and I could view what had been circling me all along. Whatever the heck I did next, I’d write. Since then, I’ve tailored things such that, one way or another, writing has a firm place and priority.

So now, seemingly a lifetime since that first blog post, perhaps I’m wistful, but mainly, I’m pleased and aware. For a huge portion of my life, I let words sneak in unobserved because I figured I didn't have the wherewithal to be a writer. These days, I understand I’ve always been one.

What are your regrets about your writing career? How have you overcome them?