Writing is one thing. Marketing yourself to the world is another. On the one hand I don’t think that the desire for readers is an unreasonable one for a writer to have. On the other hand, I feel like that little kid on the diving board screaming across the pool to her parents: “watch me, watch me, watch me,” just before she dives into the pool.
Marketing myself, my message and my book is in part exciting because it will bring me readers. But another part of me, the old-school, older-generation part feels awkward in the me, me, me, proposition. Plus calling attention to yourself to a point where you actually get people to turn their heads and watch you go off the diving board takes a lot of energy and time.
An assembled marketing team that’s walking me through the process of reaching out on social media tells me that when I post a picture of myself, I get three times more engagement than if I post a picture of something else. They ask me to make video and get more pictures taken. I wince a little bit, hearing the sound of old Catholic nuns in my head who tell me that vanity is a sin. Obviously those nuns never had to promote a book.
Everything has two sides. I feel passionately about my message which is: Embrace your years. Growing older is a privilege not a sentence. Take note that this is a creative, vibrant and noble passage. We are never too old to make a difference.
I love that my message and my book might inspire someone to be a little less afraid of growing older. That’s the gift I want to give. But the me, me, me, me, thing often times makes that lovely message feel less like a gift and a more like the kid on the diving board. And we all know that kid after three of four shouts across the pool of “watch me, watch me, watch me,” becomes annoying.
But here I go, head first into the pool. And just in case you didn’t see the dive, I’ve posted a picture of myself to go with this post.
Today I’m 66 years old. The number seems wrong. It can’t possibly be true that the group of people with grayer hair and deeper lines are the same ones who walked with me out of childhood. Wasn’t it just last week that we were in Topanga Canyon? Last week that we were listening to The Eagles new album and drinking margaritas?
My friends are precious to me, some known for 40 and 50 years. They’re the source of birthday cards and calls, emails and birthday lunches. Gestures of love scatter like almond blossoms across a well-worn path, and I feel blessed that it’s the small, heart-felt things that have come to mark the years.
The past and the future colloid: I’m rooted in the longhaired, idealistic girl with bare feet and poetry on her lips; now the serious writer, with wool socks and messy pages, trying to tell “the” story, because honestly, I’ve only ever written one story. My life has grown out of that place where idealism and reality crash into each other, and the current takes you. Marriage, career, divorce, marriage again happened in a kind of planned chaos, but let me live to tell the tale.
I’m 66 years old and keenly aware of how life recedes as the numbers increase, aware of wavering significance and limited hours. So many things fall away, and what remains is the fullness of the experience; the gratitude alive in the heart, the old friends from a certain time and place who remind me of where I’ve been.
Today my true companion, my one great love, will sing to me. We’ll wander the aisles of the gardening center and gather flowering plants for the empty containers on our deck. We’ll hold hands. We are that older couple that makes young people sigh, envying the kind of love that survives the journey.
This morning, as I drink my tea and muse about the years, I reach an easy conclusion: I love my life. I love my friends. I’m grateful for each turning of the wheel, for each memory, for each deep line etched into the map on my face, telling a story of so much joy, so much pain, so much living . . . I’m blessed to able to say, “this is a very happy birthday, indeed.”
This is a pep-talk sort of rant that is as much for me as it is for anyone. Be forewarned: I speak of some unsavory aspects of writing that most of us dare not consider out loud!
Recently a very sweet friend of mine started a group on Facebook for writers. It was filled with support and goodwill, certainly a well-intended endeavor. She is a positive person who is always looking for ways to help others.
Sometimes I think it would be lovely to be that kind of person, but I’m not. When someone first told that I have an edge, I took it as a compliment. But I digress. . . after being in the group for a couple of weeks, I realized that writing memes and caffeine posters will never nurture my writing life, and I left the group. I didn’t want to share my word count or my struggle with scene structure. Why? It was such a supportive, loving environment . . .
The simple answer is, I prefer to be alone with my writing, and groups can (not always) become an excuse for not getting your yaya into the chair and writing. It’s so much easier to talk about the problems of writing in a group than it is to be alone with the problems of writing inside of yourself. But being alone with your writing problems and working through them can push that growing edge that allows you to improve. I believe that serious writers should always be improving.
I Am a Selfish Writer: My writing time is sacred. I hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door because I really don’t want to talk to you — even if you’re my husband. Even if you’re my dog. I don’t want to be a selfish person, but I do want to be a selfish writer.
Routine and Ritual: I’m a ritualistic creature. I do things out of habit and a need for order. Each morning the ritual is the same: Put water on for tea. Feed the dog. Drink the tea . . . And here’s where it can get tricky: I can either get online and visit Facebook, the news or my email, or I can open my laptop and write. If I go for the first plan, I never really recover. I can never re-capture that moment of raw, morning creativity again. It’s gone until the next day, lost to the news and the Internet. I must stay true to the ritual in order to create.
A Writing Prayer: Start here. Here is a little meditation that I found (author unknown). I edited and changed it slightly to make it my own. I recite it before I write. It calms me. It makes me feel good about myself. It’s easier to write for few hours if you feel good about yourself. It’s harder to write if you are thinking, “What the eff do I have to say, anyway? What makes me think I can write?” The second scenario is my default setting, so I have to deliberately do something that soothes the beast of self-doubt before I begin.
May I welcome my creativity with the curiosity of a child.
May I own my voice and trust my experiences.
May I practice mercy in the gap between what I want to create and what comes out.
May I remember nothing can eat me.
May I live with a creative heart.
May I appreciate the gift.
Do The Work: My favorite Robert McKee quote is this: “Do the work. Tell the truth. The results will follow.” Do the work seems to be the hardest part. It’s easy to set intentions. It’s easy to talk about ideas. It’s easy to write a first chapter. What’s hard is a hundred pages into a novel. What’s hard is sitting down and creating a scene and living with the uncertainty of whether or not it’s any good. When I get too hung up on wondering whether or not what I’ve written is good, it’s paralyzing. Do the work. Eventually your work becomes better, but only if you sit down and do it. That’s the other part of the meditation.
Everything Changes: I write articles for one of the local newspapers. I write guest post for two fairly well-known blogs, StoryFix and Sixty and Me. Sometimes I hit it just right and the articles or posts are wonderful and other times they are so-so. But I turn in my work no matter what. And I write novels. My first novel didn’t sell. Now I’m writing a second novel and I am afraid of giving it to my agent for fear that I will have the same experience of rejection. But I get up and write every day anyway. Here’s a truth: Everything changes. Your work today may be brilliant, and tomorrow not so hot. Your failure today may be just the stepping-stone you need for your success tomorrow. Life is not static. Writing is not static. Everything changes.
For the Love of the Life: What remains the constant grace in all of this mess is that I love the writing life. I may be a success one day and I may not. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t care about the outcome of my efforts. Hey, we’d all like to succeed. On the other hand, if I fail, I will fail spectacularly and no one will ever fault me for a lack of commitment or effort. Those qualities are part of striving for personal excellence. And that, in some sort of weird and wonderful writing way, is what I love the most. That and all those blogs, articles and guest posts that break up the slog of writing in long-form.
And that’s the rant-a-rama for today. What are you working on? Please share with me in the comment section.
If you are a writer, you’ve probably asked yourself why. Writing is serious business. It’s solitary. It’s demanding. And no matter how much you study and how much you practice, it is a craft that you never master.
On the one hand, you have to be a little bit crazy to want to lock yourself into a room several hours each day to create worlds with the written word. On the other hand, story telling is sacred art. Stories can teach us, provoke us and make us feel and think in ways that we might not have otherwise. And the writer is always looking for this–what is it that I am writing which touches a universal place in the human condition?
Even with a lofty vision of what writing is to you, it will always be an unforgiving taskmaster. I write and perfect to the best of my ability only to discover the one flaw in the work that will unravel it all, baring my insecurities. I laugh at the rookies who when confronted with cutting 6,000 words thinks that they will be able to use it somewhere else, as through you can just cut and paste one world into another. But I digress. . . In spite of a daily discipline, in spite of focus and unending practice, I have moments where I wonder if I am good enough? Can what I’ve written cut muster? Why do I do this?
That answer ebbs and flows, and it sucks to wrestle with the demons of insecurity and not good enough. So why then, put myself through it? Why does anyone, in any craft where excellence is held in high regard, put themselves through it? It would be so much easier to be a lady who lunches.
I don’t know about other writer’s reasons for creating in this way. For me, I think it comes down to how it informs my unsettledness and gnawing discontent. It feeds something in me that wants to look down from on high and move the pieces around the board to make it mean something. Writing is born of a dark, chaotic place in my psyche that is engaged in the perpetual activity of examining the what if’s in life. The meat of grief, falling from grace, love, betrayal, revenge and how those things can push us toward transformation is my grist. It makes me lick my lips.
Still on a day like today, when I am filled with doubt and I sit down to write anyway, I feel as though I am doing the right thing. And I suppose that counts for something, that and a fervent prayer that I will get to the “good enough.”
Most people who read my blog are writers too. So the question of the day is: why do you write?
With the advancement of new technology, there is also loss. Today I mourn the demise of the letter. Yes, I know that email is faster and more efficient. I also know that you can get easily addicted to checking your phone every 10 minutes to see if someone has contacted you. Facebook has replaced the intimate chat once provided by letters with a very public façade of the personal life. Facebook and other social media have become the mask of happiness and rainbows that we wear for the world.
A few days ago an old friend, Kitty, emailed me that she was cleaning out a file cabinet and had found several of my letters. She scanned and attached two of them. And when I read them, I cried. It was a glimpse into the anticipation we held in our younger selves, and of course now, I knew how all of it had turned out.
I was punched in the emotional gut by those letters written in 1989. I’d just moved from Los Angeles to Boulder, Colorado. I was the in my thirties and in the midst of two enormous life-changing events. I’d become a college student, finishing up what I’d left behind. It was making me into a different person. AND I was falling in love with the man who would become my husband. Simultaneously my best friend, Kitty had recently given birth to a son. Her life was in a great state of change too.
The record and account of all this was documented in a series of long-distance letters in which Kitty expressed to me the fears and joys of being a first-time parent, the angst of wanting to do it right and how the ups and downs of all of that was affecting her.
I wrote about how getting a college education in my mid-thirties was giving me a sense of confidence, a sense of pride for going back and turning around something that for the longest time I didn’t believe I could fix. And then there was the tenuous narrative of my love life, words revealing the most cautious of hopes. I was in a relationship that I desperately wanted to work and feared might not, so I tiptoed around how I wrote about it. Of course looking back, I can see how much was said in what I chose not to write down.
Checking the mailbox to find a letter from Kitty brought me a rush of excitement. Her musings were a thoughtful deliberation on life, often accented by newspaper clippings and photographs from days when we were much more cavalier. I sent her short stories I’d written in school and a running commentary on my adjustment to Colorado. The letters reveal the depths of a friendship between two young women growing into their potential and purpose.
I appreciate that I can email a friend across the country and get a response in the same day, but emails are never as thoughtful as my letters once were. The anticipation of an email is more habitual than the delight of the ongoing dialogue contained in letters which were more emotionally honest. I miss that.
I am fortunate to have received many letters in my lifetime. I believe that their legacy can be found in my heart-felt love for stories. As a child traveling between divorced parents, my affection for the one I wasn’t with found expression in letters. And the connection I had from the absent parent was made up by hand printed reassurances. In my jewelry drawer, I still keep a letter from my husband, written to me one anniversary. It is a meaningful conveyance of his love and unwavering devotion to me. That he took the time to commit it to paper makes it a treasure.
When did Kitty and I stop writing letters to each other? It wasn’t a decision. It just unfolded that way. We are still in touch all of the time, but there is a sense of rush and hurry that was never in our letters. Our email sentences are shorter, and there is no longer the salutation of “Dear.” Many of our sign-offs are a promise to talk soon, knowing that the email was squeezed into a too-busy-day and that what needs to be said, what wants to be said does not exist in the paragraph on the screen.
I miss the letter. I fear that it is an art form that has met its death. I can’t imagine a title like Rilke’s Emails To A Young Poet ever gracing my bookshelf.
What about you? Have you kept letters from a friend or family member that you revisit from time to time? Do you still write letters? And like me, do you miss the delight of a letter in your mailbox? I’d like to know. Please share with me in the comment section.
There were lots of Facebook messages this birthday. I enjoyed each one of them. It was part of the celebration, a veritable cyberspace party. And, I was surprised when I read that someone thought I was inspiring. Obviously they had just run out of verbs and that was the only one left. But then a couple more people wrote, “You inspire me.” Inspire? Me? Is this because I’m old or because it’s my birthday? It certainly can’t be because of some level of attainment. What is it that I do that inspires you? It got me thinking about where or how I might be inspirational in my life.
My writing journey is pretty inspirational, at least to me. For the past four years, I have been doing what musicians call “woodshedding,” the process of locking yourself in the woodshed and practicing until you can’t stand yourself anymore. That’s what I think it takes to become a good writer, and in my case a good novelist. I probably threw away more than half the words I wrote last year. So, is this what people mean by inspiring? Or is it possibly the definition of crazy? But I digress.
In January of 2016, I signed with my first ever-literary agent, and a really good one too. I thought, piece of cake. She’ll sell my book to a publishing house. My book will be released to thrilling accolades. Tom Hanks will call me and want to do lunch and I will wash, rinse, repeat and move on to my next novel.
It didn’t happen that way.
I’ve spent the past year learning to revise and rewrite my novel so that it is better. During that year there were some members of my writing community who told me “if the agent doesn’t like it this time, you should just stop.” But I couldn’t stop. How can you turn down the advise of someone who has been in the business for thirty years when you’ve just walked through the door? So I slogged away. I wrote, rewrote and revised, painstakingly correcting the rookie mistakes I’d made in my book. By the end of the year I was exhausted, but the last round of revisions finally made the agent’s cut.
I sometimes get frustrated with this culture of instant gratification, quick results and “it’s good enough” mediocrity. I think there is a special place in hell for self-help gurus whose only success criteria is money and things. And while I have never been a particularly patient person, I scoff at promises to write and publish your novel in 90 days, replete with revisions that take us mere mortals six months to a year to complete. What’s the old adage? Anything worth doing, is worth doing well, and I will add to that, to do it well, you need to slow the fuck down.
And you know what I find really inspiring? The determination to be a viable writer at 65-years-old; making writing a second chapter career and coming face to face almost daily with 30-somethings who can get up earlier than me, write longer than me and have twenty years a head of them to work out the kinks in their craft. That being said, I’ve just started another novel.
Having mulled over the you inspire me comments written on my birthday timeline, I have come to this conclusion: We are all inspired by hard work, tenacity and the striving for personal best, regardless of age or anything else. I will never be a savant. I’m one of those poor schmucks who have to earn every page, every scene, and every chapter that I write. I don’t often get things right the first time, it takes me several. I’ve had to learn to be humble in the face of the competition, become a perpetual student and keep an upbeat attitude of gratitude throughout. Is it the positive attitude juxtaposed to unrelenting hard work that is inspiring to others?
I find deep satisfaction and purposfulness in doing the work of writing to the best of my ability and then pushing myself to do better work. Either I’m a masochist or maybe that narrative is what is inspiring to others.
What’s your take? Do you inspire? Does it happen by accident or is it deliberate? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section.
Ask most writers, and they’ll tell you that the traditional publishing industry is fickle if not unkind; and that self-publishing is a tremendous amount of work for what, in most cases, amounts to the sale of 100 to 200 books. In an age of offerings worth binge watching, time for the written word is receding into an antiquity of independent books stores and rotary dial phones. Technology has the influence and the edge.
So why write a book at all? I’ve asked myself this question in the past year as I’ve slogged through the slow revision and polish process of completing a novel.
I fell in love with stories before I was even in grade school. A slightly inebriated mother with a vivid imagination made up bedtime stories for me that delighted and enlivened my imagination. And the slight hint of vodka that hung in the air was my first understanding that life was interesting, messy and rarely as polite as we try to make it out to be.
Although I was a terrible student in school, English class was my great joy and I couldn’t wait to do the writing assignments. By the time that I was a teenager I was typing the poetry of unrequited love on my baby blue Smith-Corona, trying to bend the words to capture the horrible, beautiful, angst that I felt. Emotions that lived in the captivity of my heart and mind needed to be liberated by carefully chosen words.
There has never been a time in my life when I did not write. Eventually I would earn a degree in creative writing and poetics. I would work an internship at a newspaper and write a few magazine articles before life intervened with marriage and a mortgage. Then one day as I approached retirement, I decided that it was my time to write a book.
And wouldn’t you know it, as I got around to writing that book, technology was sucking the life out of the written word. The fast pace of our techno-driven society had replaced the slow, delicious reading of a story with hand-held screens, communicating in abbreviations and initials. OMG! So much for choosing words carefully. Back to the question: why, when knowing all that would I even want to write a book?
I wrote my book, not because I am a writer, but because I am a storyteller. Yes, writers can construct beautiful prose, but it is stories that connect us. They give us clues into who we are and how we need to be. A good story can change the world. And even when you strip away the focus and deliberation necessary to read, storytelling must endure. Technology cannot replace story, it can only replace its delivery.
It’s difficult to predict what will happen to books. Clearly there are fewer readers for the novel format. New fiction writers come and go each year with few breaking out into careers with any promise of longevity. Writers must now be marketers too, participating in an Internet that is a cacophony of unrelenting promotional noise to sell their wares. And most of all, one-time readers are turning to other media to involve themselves in story. What will be the result? A book engages the imagination, while the flickering light of stories on a screen requires little engagement at all. In fact, it has an addictive quality to it. Does anyone remember the feeling tone, let alone the details of binge watching, or just the feel-good seduction it has provided?
You and I are meaning seeking creatures, and story gives our world meaning. That is why I write. I see storytelling as sacred art that engages and enrages its audience to think, feel, and reflect. Yes, I would love to be widely distributed and have millions of people read my books, but I’m not convinced that books will survive our technological age. In the event that they don’t, I will keep writing stories anyway. It’s the thing that keeps me in awe about what it is to be human, and provides a sense of purpose.
It will be interesting to see what happens next: from gathering around the fire to tell stories that teach us, to reading books that engage us, to new forms of media that will continue to inform us about our miraculous lives. Whatever delivery system our stories take on in this brave new world, storytelling will remain essential.
It always feels good to get to the other side of the holidays. Decorations put away. Check. Promise not to eat any cookies until February. Check, albeit reluctantly. Make it a good writing year. Check.
Even though one day is pretty much the same as another, and an arbitrary line between December 31st and January 1st doesn’t really mean that much, there’s still something compelling about the idea of a new start, a fresh beginning, new goals. When I look back, it seems that most of my New Year’s goals bleed from one year into the next: be nicer; stay away from the damn cookies; write better; exercise more. Except for the cookie thing, I usually make progress in all of the other areas.
A few weeks ago, I read an article about New Year’s goals and the author suggested that instead of having a list, you just pick one word and let it be your focus word for the 2017. I like that idea. One word points you in a general direction and gives you a touchstone and a reminder. Too, goals tend to get very narrow, whereas vision and intent paint a much larger landscape, setting you up for greater success.
By way of example, the word I chose for 2017 is “fulfillment.” My vision is to know fulfillment in my writing. In my physical activity, in the way that I relate with and to others. Fulfillment can mean that I finally secure a contract with a publisher, and it can also mean that I am fulfilled by my writing whether that happens or not.
Fulfillment is a kind of acknowledgement for the good that has come to me and is yet to come. I’m fulfilled that I can hike in the woods several times a week. I’m fulfilled by a happy and humorous marriage. I will be fulfilled by finishing the revisions on my current manuscript and I will also be fulfilled by working hard in the garden and then taking a nap.
So, fulfillment seemed like the right word for me this year. It has a component of gratitude and acknowledgement. In the year’s first nine days, I’ve returned to the word several times. I have a feeling that the word will continue to inform and help me to hone my vision of living the fulfilled life.
Just one word. There are so many good ones. My husband chose “gratitude” for his word and I am pretty sure that my dog chose the word “wag.”
What one word would best describes what you want for yourself in 2017? Please share with me in the comment section. Happiest of New Years and may you be fulfilled.
Just a dusting of snow, not much at all, but enough to punctuate the date, December 24, 2016. My neighbor’s have all turned on their tree lights and smoke escapes the chimneys mingling in the morning fog.
I am hunkered down with tea and a laptop, moving forward on a manuscript that has had its hands around my throat for the past year and may finally be loosening its grip. Learning is like that, two steps forward and six steps back.
My husband and I will go to the movies this afternoon. For most of our marriage it has been just the two of us and our holiday rituals are simple. I’m appreciating the quiet that has fallen over our house, the twinkle of tree lights and the promise of roasted duck for two.
My life is blessed beyond measure: a loving husband, fun and kind friends, a beautiful town surrounded by woods and trails, a faithful dog, plenty of food and decent health.
Dear readers, thank you always for stopping by. May your heart be full and your spirit light. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Recently I was given a list of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. It’s a great list for anyone who writes fiction. Number #14 on the list is not really a rule, it’s a question, and it’s the most valuable question for a writer that I have seen.
#14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
What a great question. Readers don’t read because of the “what.” They read because of the “why.” Doing the exercise as part of my novel revisions process is proving to be revelatory.
The what and how of my novel can be found in the external plot points and milestones, but the heart of the story that will keep a reader engaged can be found in the answer to question #14, because that answer is about what I believe in and what I stand for.
I can tell you that my novel is about a surviving twin who has never been able to accept that her sister committed suicide and this sets her upon a quest to find out the truth about what happened; or I can tell you that my story is about how grief is an advocate of change and growth when you embrace it, because when you walk through grief, it becomes a healing grace. I like the second answer best, even though the first answer is true too.
Now while many story coaches may tell me “no,” a story has to be about something that happens, I am starting to view that stance as only partially correct. Yes, a good plot does prevent you from writing just a rambling narrative. But it is the “why” of the story that will be remembered by the reader more than the what and how. What I remember about Toni Morrison’s “God Help The Child,” is less the milestones of plot and more the feeling tone of a woman who is trying to untangle the wounds of her past with a heroic determination that leads to her transformation.
Here is what I am learning: A plot is the external events of a story. The emotional arc gives us the internal events of the story. To have a full, rich, compelling read, a writer must find a way to wed the why of the story with the what and how of story. As I pondered question #14–“why,” I found myself wishing that I would have known to do this before I started my novel, but interestingly, the answer was still within me. Now that I am clear on it, I know that it is coloring my revisions, inviting me to a deeper dive than if I had not answered the question at all.
As I wrote down my answers as to why THIS story, I noticed the power and passion behind the statements that I was making. This was not just answering a question about my story, this was laying out what I believe about life. Readers want to know the why. Even though the exact words may not make it to the page, the why will be revealed in the emotional logic of the story. The passion birthed from the question is the quality of emotion that I want to capture on the page. Here are a few of the things that I wrote down:
I am compelled to tell stories about women who rise above inner and outer adversity, because they courageously answer a higher calling within themselves to stand in the light of their truth.
My heart is touched and moved by women who learn to believe in themselves; by women who are determined to create and live a new vision for themselves in spite of and because of adversity.
I believe that women are not victims, but heroines in their own story; that women do not need to be saved or rescued. Their strength and courage are innate.
I believe in transformation.
I want my story to be an inspiration to women who believe in second chances.
That’s some good stuff to know about a story. It’s some good stuff to know about yourself. A lot of writers look upon words as being their artistic tool. But cranking out sixty-thousand words is just a jumping off point. A writer’s tools are emotion. It’s the emotion and passion that you are able to put on a page that will make a reader care about your characters and the story that they are living through.
I will never write another short story or novel without first contemplating this question: Why must I tell THIS story?
How about you? Do you think that this is a good question to ask before you begin writing your next work of fiction? Hit me up in the comments section and let me know.