Category Archives: Why We Write

Time is On My Side (Or is it?)

Can’t you just hear Mick Jagger’s rousing voice now? Of course he was only twenty years old when he uttered these famous words; plus, he was referring to the inevitability that a lover would return to him. But in essence, time has been on Mick’s side, hasn’t it? How else could he take part in the production of one-hundred singles, over two dozen studio albums, various compilations and live albums, and not to mention the fathering of an inexplicable amount of offspring? Besides, fifty years later and Mick (along with the Stones) are still touring, performing, and rocking out.

Pretty impressive. Not going to lie.

Photo Source: newyorkchronicles.blogspot.com

But this isn’t about the prowess of The British Invasion. It’s about the life of the average writer—particularly those writers leading a presumed double life, i.e. day jobs, parenthood, general housekeeping—and his or her capricious relationship with time.

Over the weekend I went to Sears to pick up my newly repaired watch. As I forked over the fifteen dollars it hit me: I’m actually paying someone to provide me with yet, another device to tell time. There’s a clock in every classroom at the college where I teach. My husband and I have two alarm clocks in our bedroom. Downstairs in my kitchen, I sometimes feel cross-eyed staring at the double digital imprints on the stove and microwave. Our cable box tells the time. If I turn on the television and go to the preview channel, I can see the exact hour, minute, and second of the day. Sometimes TD Bank even offers a courtesy update in between commercials. My car shows the time. This laptop I’m currently writing on shows the time. My iPhone has clock app. If interested, I can view the time in the Philippines.

mrceviz → in Graphics

It’s no wonder so many people I know (myself included) are near-lunatics. The constant ticking and tocking and shifting numbers are forever reminding us of the things we haven’t yet done, of the things we’re supposed to be doing. As a writer—particularly one who aspires towards publication—this obsession with time has had some pretty negative impacts on my psyche.

Many of us have been asked this question: what is your biggest fear when it comes to writing? Some obvious answers might be “failure,” “success,” or “failure to reach success,” or even, “successfully reaching failure.” Others might say, “Never being good enough,” and “not finding an agent,” etc.

In hindsight, my personal writing fears have always been rooted in Time. Not finishing in time. Not finding the time [to write]. Or worse, not making time to write—in essence, wasting time. Wasting precious, valuable time. Not using enough time. The list goes on.

Consequently, this fear often spirals out of control into some sort of wicked slippery slope. The ‘what if’s’ run rampant and in a span of two minutes “time” I wind up feeling depleted, doomed, and hopeless.

It sounds something like this:

How could that author finish an entire, polished manuscript in only nine months? Well maybe if I had all day every day to write then I would too. Oh my God, I’m thirty years old and I have nothing to show for it. The publishing industry is changing faster than I can write and what if by the time I’m finished with my book no one is reading anymore? Everyone is just watching cat videos on YouTube? What’s the point of investing all this energy into something people don’t even do anymore?!

Every time I open my inbox I get flooded with offers—webinars on the ‘craft,’ books on snagging an agent, methods for improving characterization, tips to enhance social media! At this rate, it’ll take me a decade to master all this stuff, never mind actually write a novel…what if I compose an amazing story, written brilliantly, but I get rejected because I’m lagging in social media? What comes first? Chicken? Egg?

Not to mention with all these other things on the horizon—buying a new house, selling this house, and starting a family, what if I lose track of my goals? I’ll end up putting it off and putting it off and next thing I know I’ll wake up one day and I’ll be seventy years old and no one will be reading anymore because the world will have gone to s**t and in fact no one will even be talking to each other anymore, let alone reading, we’ll have the attention spans of fish and…and…and…it’ll all be lost, and I’ll say, Man! I wish I had spent more time on this when I was thirty….

Merelize → in Objects

And so it goes. It’s one thing to write, it’s another to revise and edit. Even still, there’s mastery of the craft. All of this takes…you guessed it, time. And this is why I fear time. I don’t fear failure, actually. I fear not having the time to fail. I don’t fear rejection. I fear not having enough time to be rejected.

But at least I’m discovering that this is a counterproductive way of thinking. In all the time I spend seething about my lack of time, I could be well, doing something about it.

I’ve discovered some “truths” to help this issue of time when it comes to writing.

1. The writing industry IS competitive. But that’s a good sign, because it means that there are thousands upon thousands (probably millions, in fact) of literary types out there that want to keep this craft alive. And where there are writers, there are readers.
2. Some of the greatest novels I’ve ever read took the author years to write.
3. As long as I’m doing something towards my writing goals each day I’m making good use of my time. Even if it’s simply subscribing to a helpful blog.
4. It helps tremendously to ask myself where I was in the writing process one year ago today. This shows me how far I’ve truly come

Then of course there’s Mick Jagger. You could always reflect on that guy’s life. Because, be it as it may, The Rolling Stones know how to make good use of time.

Osama Hasan Khan → in Objects

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes on “Time”:

“All that really belongs to us is time; even he who has nothing else has that.”
-Baltasar Gracian

“An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth.”
-Bonnie Friedman

“Calendars are for careful people, not passionate ones.”
-Chuck Sigars

“If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.”
-Maria Edgeworth

“We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch.”
-John F. Kennedy

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15 Comments

Filed under Why We Write, Writing Fears, Writing Process

Ten Days in the Life of a “Non-writer”

A few weeks back, in a post titled “Today I Resign from Writing (well, maybe),” I unabashedly vented my grievances with the written word, or more notably, my desires to be a writer. I knew at the time that my threats were likely empty, but I felt compelled to at least toy with notion of quitting, giving up, or in the formal sense, resigning.

I explained how my personal identity was suffering, and I couldn’t see myself as being worthy if I didn’t write. This is a dangerous game to play when one is virtually unknown, unpublished, and unfinished with a novel two and half years in the making.

Consequently I dared to wonder if my life would be better without the prospect of writing.

Many of my wonderful readers suggested taking a break, which believe it or not was something I hadn’t considered. Others advised me to figure out the kind of writer I wanted to be—another insightful piece of wisdom that hadn’t dawned on me. Some swore that if I wrote for myself and not for publication that I’d find what I was looking for.

So I devised an experiment. Ten days. No writing. More than that actually, for ten days I am no longer a writer. I don’t think about writing, I don’t talk about writing, I don’t know about writing. I will strip myself to the bare essentials and see what’s left.

Here’s what I discovered:

1. The urge to write is difficult to ignore. It didn’t matter if I was doing laundry, going grocery shopping, holding my friend’s new baby, or teaching one of my classes, the act of writing still called to me. It’s a subtle, sneaky kind of feeling that makes me glance over my shoulder, as if someone is watching me.

2. The void is vast. I learned that self-identity comes in many different forms from many different sources. I’m a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a colleague, and a teacher. But I’m also a writer. And when I deliberately hack off that part of myself, it can feel like I’m walking around with a missing limb—or a hole in my chest.

“There’s a part of me missing!” Melissa Nicklen → in Food & Drink

3. Subconsciously, the writing doesn’t stop. Even though I boycotted my novel for more than a week, I still deliberately drove the past the house in my neighborhood that inspired the setting for my story. Even now, I’m silently categorizing its features, its blemishes, its overall vibe, and the role it plays in the story. In other words, if it’s in you, it’s in you.

4. This respite is likely an excuse to slack off. I’m tired. I work. I clean. I cook. I make and keep appointments. I run errands. Writing can sometimes feels like an added responsibility. I often find myself rushing through more menial tasks so I can attend to my writing. But on days when the writing just isn’t working and I start to lose faith in my talents and abilities, the craft itself turns to work. Worse than that. Extra work. But hey, sacrifices need to be made. I now understand that in truth, my desire to “resign” from writing was based in fear of failure, and hence, a loss of personal identity—which is really silly if you think about it.

5. The real reasons for writing start to emerge. To be the next Danielle Steel? To prove myself to former classmates, colleagues, etc.? To make money? Not really. It turns out my true purpose for writing comes from someplace deeper.

Janis Urtans → in Flowers

 

So, for each day I didn’t write, I came up with one GOOD reason to continue writing:

 1. Because stories are powerful

2. Because I’ve always been fascinated by time and place

3. Because I want to contribute to peoples’ reading

4. Because the human condition is expansive

5. Because we ARE our characters

6. Because our READERS are our characters

7. Because I’ve got something to say, and I don’t know how else to say it

8. Because we all need to escape when we aren’t otherwise able to

9. Because it’s all about perspective

10. Because one day, it’ll be all that’s left of me—of all of us

As it turns out, that whole resignation thing was a fluke. But I’m glad I considered quitting, because if I didn’t, I’d still be stuck in that whirlwind of false hope, delusional motivation, and indulgent yearnings of writing for all the wrong reasons. Real writing is about scratching an itch, answering a calling, and following an instinct.

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

-Red Smith

What are your GOOD reasons for writing?

20 Comments

Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, Self Discovery, The Writing Life, Why We Write

Today I Resign from Writing (well, maybe)

I’ll start by sharing a recent “brick & mortar” journal entry, dated January 18, 2013:

Geoffrey Whiteway → in Paper & Books

“…this publication and that publication and ebooks and agents and I’ve had it! What if I were to just stop? Give up on the notion of ever becoming an author? Get my manuscript back from [freelance editor’s name here], pay her, thank her, and then put the damn thing in a drawer somewhere. Forever.

 I could focus on teaching, creating a nice house, and preparing to become a mother. That’s it. No more nonsense. Would I be happier?

Would this writing dream chase after me anyway?

How much more satisfied would I be if I STOPPED writing?

Maybe I should consider this.

I’m serious. What if I were to simply…give up???

What do I really want anyway?”

I have been toying with my resignation letter of late. What I find puzzling though, is who would I address it to? My muse? My readers? My future agent? No one?

Yesterday I received my tenth rejection letter for a short story I’ve been sending to various literary magazines. I didn’t even care. I shrugged. Tossed it in the trash and set about feeding the cats.

Ed Davad → in Toys

What’s wrong with me?

I don’t feel discouraged per se; I know the writing business left and right—rejection and uncertainty come with the territory. It has more to do with my personal happiness. My identity. How much of myself do I associate with writing? What percentage of my brain is solely focused on “making it”?

If I were to strip myself from all writing obligations, what would I be left with? Is this why I push myself to write? To be something? As if I’m nothing without the possibility of becoming the next Jodi Picoult?

How many hours of my day would clear up? Suddenly doing laundry would be nothing more than doing laundry. A day off would mean I could climb in bed with a book or watch the entire third season of Beverly Hills 90210 without feeling guilty because I’m “not writing.”

Intrinsic Writer?

The term “intrinsic” suggests something that is built-in, inherent, natural. As in, I was born to write, no one taught me how (not initially anyway) and no one suggested that I write—I just did. As a kid I wrote stories abound, filling countless spiral notebooks with tales of haunted houses, conniving best friends, and handsome boyfriends. In fourth grade, I won the “Best in Storytelling Award” for my fictional piece about a talking vacuum cleaner. Back then I wrote because I liked it. It was organic. I had an idea, so I wrote it down.

Then I got caught in the fog of adolescence and forgot all about my talent.

But in college I rediscovered my insatiable need to write, only this time my priorities were different from my childhood days of scribbling stories and poems. I started using writing to identify myself, to impress others, to become something I never was before. That’s the way it’s been ever since. I push and push and practically delude myself into thinking that I’m already a New York Times # 1 Bestseller. The pain of it all occurs when reality hits: I’m still plowing through a sixth, seventh, eighth draft of my novel, quietly—by myself—in my upstairs office.

Maybe I’ve been doing this for all the wrong reasons.

So I hereby resign from this practice on the grounds of reclaiming my sanity, my morality, and my overall well-being…

Wait.

Nicolas Raymond → in Objects

I’m suddenly reminded of an episode of Mad Men:

Ken Cosgrove, an account man at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, is a fantasy writer on the side. He keeps it on the down low. He’s supposed to be focusing all his energy on the firm, and a side practice—of any kind—is simply forbidden, and many of his superiors have told him just so. So Ken, not be discouraged, uses the pen name “Ben Hargrove” to continue his writing and manages to find some success.

One day, Peggy Olson, one of the ad agency’s copywriters, spots Ken in a diner with his editor. She promises to keep quiet.

Later in the same episode, Ken is at a dinner party with some colleagues—including Don Draper, main character and one of the four partners of the agency. Ken’s wife accidentally spills the details of his writing, along with his pen name. Don eerily questions him on the plotlines, themes, and characterization of his fantasy stories. Ken answers respectfully and calmly, but it’s clear that he’d rather not be having the conversation.

In a later scene Ken admits to Peggy that after having dinner with Draper, he’s decided to “resign” from writing. Ben Hargrove is no more. He shrugs it off, chalks it up to a silly hobby and goes on his way.

However…at the end of the episode, there’s a quick shot of Ken sitting in bed with a pad of paper, writing a story under a new pen name, Dave Algonquin.

I think the point comes across here. Can a writer ever truly stop writing? Is there a force that won’t let us resign—even if we want to? Maybe I’ll keep going for a while. See what happens (rips up resignation letter).

I think there is one line in my journal entry above that is louder than the rest: Would this writing dream chase after me anyway?

You too?  Tell me all about it.

31 Comments

Filed under The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Why We Write

Un-Follow Your Heart: When Our Blogs Lose Readers

Got my ducks in a row?

Got my ducks in a row?

I know I shouldn’t focus so much on the numbers, but The Intrinsic Writer’s “following” has been rather stagnant for the past two or three weeks. Right now, I’m stuck on number 264, which is both low and high depending on who you are, and where you’re at on the blogger’s assembly line.

Last week my number was 266. Over the weekend it dropped to 263. Then yesterday, it jumped up a notch to 265. When I checked this morning, I saw that it had sadly fell to 264.

Sigh.

Let me tell you this. The more followers I lose, the stupider my latest post seems. On Facebook, the “un-friending” tactic is the ultimate social media bitch slap. On Twitter, it’s a little less severe, since avid Tweeters tend to have followings in the ten-thousands.  But on our personal blogs, the occasional “un-follow” feels a little more, well, personal.

I’m always two steps ahead with my blogging, often pondering ideas days before they are written. This alone takes vast amounts of mental energy. Then, when I compose a post, I don’t just write off the whim. Any of my loyal supporters (you know who you are and you’re wonderful) knows I’m no willy-nilly blogger. I take time to craft my pieces. I put thought into them. I aspire to spread knowledge and raise awareness.

So when someone dumps me, kicks me to the curb, gives me the shaft…it hurts.

And as a result, the slippery slope of toxic mental activity begins to roll: No one likes me, I’m not appealing enough, My writing is no good, I’ll never be published, He or she is interesting, but I’m not.

And so on…

Do I need to take the proverbial “chill pill”? Most likely, yes. After all, blogging is not about racking up the numbers; it’s about making connections with others. I have a group of blogging friends who have helped me in valuable ways, and in the long run that’s all that should matter. And it does. And I know that.

But I’m human and I forget sometimes. And no matter how you slice it, rejection simply sucks. Furthermore, I’m curious. What makes someone “un-follow” another writer’s blog?

Ducks walking Joses Tirtabudi → in Birds

Some reasons to possibly consider:

1. Posts too much

2. Posts too little or sporadically

3. No particular reason, just cutting from the list to make this experience less overwhelming.

4. Just not interesting enough

 Sound familiar?

In response to # 1: I don’t post too much. I’m not blowing up anyone’s inbox…I don’t think. At the very most I’ll post three times a week.

In response to # 2: I don’t post too little either. Again…three times a week. I’m consistent, yet not obsessive.

In response #3: Not much I can do about that.

In response # 4: My worst nightmare realized.

But hey that’s life, right? No matter what I do there will always be some “non-fans.” I’m a teacher, I know. You can be as fair and engaging and helpful as you can, but some students just will not take to your style.

Focus on the ones that do…in teaching, writing, and in any endeavor.

While I’m at it I’ll tell you what makes me ‘un-follow’ someone’s blog. I’ve only done it maybe three times at most. We are all striving to get our voices heard and we are all struggling with the truth that getting people to give a !@#$ about what you have to say is a very difficult enterprise. This is why I typically don’t kick people off my list. I know how it feels.

However, I draw the line at these two notions:

1. Not following the standard blogging “etiquette.” If I reach out to you, leave comments, make it known that I now subscribe to your site, and I hear zilch from you, yet meanwhile you’re posting away and responding to other bloggers, then likely, yes, I will set you free. No hard feelings. There’s just obviously no “blogger chemistry” there.

2. You leave a nasty, unprecedented, comment to one of my posts. I’m not talking about simple disagreement; that’s good, in fact, that needs to happen sometimes to keep the conversation going. But a rude, uncalled for comment or unrelated rant will give me plenty of incentive to give you the boot.

I’ll reiterate…it really isn’t about numbers. Unfortunately though, the brain recognizes numbers. We’ve been trained since a very early age to assign meaning to said numbers. Therefore it’s only natural that we bloggers become “follower counters.”

Still, it’s nice to recognize the true, underlying purpose in this enterprise and that is to make friends, to show support, and spread ideas.

I am still curious though…what makes you “un-follow” a fellow blogger?

58 Comments

Filed under Why We Write, Writing Process

They Call Me The Wanderer: A Letter to My Readers

To My Readers:

There’s been a common theme running through my dreams the past several nights: Losing My Way.

In one dream, I was going the wrong direction on a busy highway. People blasted their horns, yelled curses. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to turn around. Readjust myself. Find my way.

Last night I dreamt of being at a cousin’s house down the shore. I went for a walk and couldn’t find my way back. I stood on a hill and could see the house. I saw where I wanted to go, but I just couldn’t get there. I walked in circles, losing my breath, my feet aching, only to find myself back in the same place that I started.

Finally I came across a stranger—a short woman with a cropped hair cut—and asked her for directions. I followed her instructions and it led me to a shallow swimming pool with clear blue water. Apparently, it seemed, it was necessary that I walk through this water in order to arrive home. I dreaded getting my shoes wet, but saw no other alternative. When I eventually made it, a black dog the size of a pony was there to greet me. He leapt onto his hind legs and hugged me the way a human would. I laughed and laughed.

"Beyond the horizon"Sunset Beach, Cape May Point, July 2010

“Beyond the horizon”
Sunset Beach, Cape May Point, July 2010

So what does it all mean?

Well, for one thing I am directionally impaired. My inner-navigation system is shot. In fact, I’ve been known to get lost even with the GPS. My husband likes to joke that the Dion song “The Wanderer” was written about me: They call me the wanderer, yeah the wanderer, I roam around and round and round and round…

But dreams often carry more metaphorical interpretations. Perhaps I’m mentally lost? Emotionally lost? Spiritually lost? Psychologically lost? Answer? All of the above.

It’s a rare person who knows exactly what she was born to do. I was born to write. Does that mean I’m destined to be the next Danielle Steel? Of course not. But during these past two months I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, and realized, with more certainty than I’ve ever had in my whole life, that if I don’t write in some shape or form during my time here on earth, I may never feel complete.

You may have noticed that I’ve all but disappeared since the holidays. I truly have lost my way. Things happened. Life got busy. I went through a very weepy, “blue” period. I lost track of my writing life. Maybe it was burnout. Lack of confidence. Mixed up priorities. There’s no real good explanation for it—though I imagine any writer out there reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a compulsion that has the ability to make us miserable, yet we can’t resist. We aren’t physically able to.

We lose our way sometimes. We ride the wrong direction. We know exactly where we want to be, but can’t seem to get there (Hmm…sounds just like my dream).

That being said…I’m back! And I’d like to share with you my plans for The Intrinsic Writer 2013:

Saturdays: I will be beginning a new feature called “Serene Saturdays” where I’ll share new and different ways to “relax.” A life goal of mine is to achieve that oh-so-elusive peace of mind. I’m no Deepak Chopra—which is partly why I’m doing this, to teach myself to relax—but I’d love to reveal the small, everyday things that help me cope with stress.

Sundays: Old School Sundays will continue!

Tuesdays: My featured posts on the life and craft of writing fiction and more!

It’s a new year for all of us. What I’ve learned during my brief reflection period is that it’s OK to hide out for a while, to lose your way, so to speak; so long as you come back regenerated and stronger than before. I’m grateful for my life, this blog, all of you followers, and of course, that special knowledge that tells me to do what I absolutely need to do to survive.

-Katie

15 Comments

Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Why We Write

In Memoriam: When a character dies

Merelize → in Church & Cemetery

In fiction, a character’s death is the ultimate spoiler. When I taught high school English one of my favorite books to read with students was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. It proved to be a popular one in my class, as we spent weeks on end discussing Gene Forrester’s motives for “jouncing” the infamous limb, and gravely injuring his spirited friend, Finny. The funny part was each time I covered the story, there’d be at least one student who’d read ahead (or perhaps log onto Sparknotes) and do the unthinkable: spread the ugly truth around the classroom in venomous whispers, Finny dies!

As writers, why do we kill our characters? Is death a good plot twist? Does it make a story better? More dramatic? Emotional? Symbolic? Does death effectively touch on the greater human experience?

I’ll admit it. I’m a convicted character killer. Lock me up. I’m not vicious about it though, I simply understand their fates. As sad as it can make a reader or writer, some characters just seem destined to die, and as far as I know there is no set of criteria to follow, except for this: it must reflect the larger web of the story.Otherwise, as my characters’ divine creator, I think it would be too difficult to do.

Some surface elements to consider:

Who: Which characters will be plucked from the page? This needs to be carefully considered. Usually it’s not the main character, particularly if he or she is also the narrator (unless you’re going for a Lovely Bones angle, which I just find unsettling). If you know who will perish in advance, you can characterize accordingly. If not, there’s always revision.

When: At what point will the unfortunate character(s) pass on? Those who die in the middle of the story might have a dynamite personality to make up for lost time. If a character goes early on, perhaps it’s to set a precedent, or to establish an important plot point.

How: Tragic death? Violent death?Peaceful death?Inevitable death? It all depends on the individual character(s).

Why: This is a big one. Does the death serve a purpose? It most likely should.

I’ll take this last point—the “why”—a bit further. Based on everything I’ve ever read, written, watched in films, or seen on television, I’ve come to find that characters almost always die for one of the five reasons below.

1. The Extraordinary Person Syndrome: This character has a spirit that’s too big for life (not unlike poor Mr. Finny). Think of rock stars—Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin—all robbed of life at a tender age. It’s as if their brilliance was meant to be solidified.

2. The Stigma of the Very Important Person: At least to the main character. In fact, maybe too important to the main character. It could be a friend, lover, relative, etc. of the protagonist. This person’s passing is often a lesson in love or guilt.

3. The Evil-Doer’s Demise: A nasty villain. A murderous creep. An abusive spouse, parent, or significant other. This is someone who has done no good throughout the story, and flat out deserves to die. Perhaps at the main character’s hands.

4. The Magnitude of the Martyr: This character’s death will quite literally shift ‘the sands of time.’ A mother of two estranged sisters dies of natural causes, and thus forces her daughters to reconnect. The passing of a woman’s controlling husband will influence her to take a spiritual journey. A former high school quarterback overdoses and brings countless alienated peers back home to pay respects. Get the picture?

5. The Reprieved: This one is for the disease-stricken, the ill-treated, and the less fortunate. They die because the suffering has become unbearable. In death they are in peace.

I believe there is room for some blending. Maybe one character’s end will fit into two of these categories, or three. Even those who die for political reasons, or while at war will likely touch on one or more of these elements. Our characters are our babies, and with time, we share them with the world. Losing one can no doubt be super sad. But sometimes, for the sake of the story, it must be done.

Have your characters gone on to a better place? For what reasons? I’d love to hear your comments, morbid as they may be.

23 Comments

Filed under Characters, Why We Write, Writing Process, Writing Tips

What are your writing obsessions?

I’ll admit, I’m ripping this one off an old college professor. In a poetry writing course some years back, she asked us to consider our “poetic obsessions.” She even brought in some of her own compulsions from her office within the same building. Vintage advertisements from a younger America, books with brown, image-less hard covers and yellowing pages, china cat figurines with chipped ears. She spread it all out on the long conference table. Told us to sift through it, get inspired, write a poem. “We all have our own obsessions,” she said, “obsessions which fuel our writing, whether we’re aware of it or not. Go home and scan your bedrooms, work rooms, or other places you may sanctify. Examine your bookshelves, closets, dresser drawers. What seems to come up over and over again? These are your obsessions. And I’ll bet you anything that from time to time, they inexplicably show up in your writing.”

I was eager to come home and observe my space for my obsessions. I went straight to my office, and just as my professor said, I noticed some patterns. Flowers, for one thing. Fake flowers. Feather flowers, glass flowers, plastic flowers, wooden flowers. On my desk, shelves, end tables, etc. Then there was my lighthearted fixation on the occult: astrology books, psychic books, palm reading cards. I also have a greeting card with a painted fairy balancing the scales of justice on her shoulders. LIBRA it says in fancy font across the bottom. I have posters, calendars, and books on Elvis Presley. Numerous more books on rock ‘n roll, and Rolling Stone compilations, etc.  I was surprised to find I had more than one book on England–some simply images of the countryside, some tour guides, and some chronicled histories, including an anthology on the kings and queens.

My photo albums are chock full of pictures of myself as a child. On an antique step ladder that I use for decorative purposes are photographs of my grandparents as children. I have another framed picture of my father and uncle as young boys. Then there are the lighthouses–tiny knick knack versions of course. My grandfather–formerly of the Coast Guard–was an avid collector. I also have an image of a lighthouse I took with my digital camera on the background of my computer. And cats…paintings, books, and a humorous tapestry that says, “The more I get to some people, the more I like the cat.” Plus two real live ones that like to rub against my face as I write.

I could go on (Thomas Kinkade desk calendar, prints, and collectors’ coffee table books), but I’ll stop and say this: At one point or another, all of these things have turned up in my work. We all write for various reasons, and sometimes we get too caught up in the ‘business’ side of it–publications, queries, conferences, platform building, etc. and while these elements of living the writing life are both important and thrilling, I think sometimes we forget that writing is a subliminal, unconscious process that can help us connect to our hidden depths, those things that make us who we are. Writing is channeling, it’s drudging up the dirt, and these ‘obsessions’ of ours are symbols, or keys have you, that unlock what we consider to be important.

So I’m interested…what are YOUR obsessions, and do they, perhaps inadvertently or not, reveal themselves in your writing?

5 Comments

Filed under Inspiration, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writing Details, Writing Process, Writing Tips

How often should we be writing?

I believe that this is something writers often ponder. I’ve read interviews of prominent authors, attended panel discussions, participated in writing groups, taken writing courses, etc. and usually at some point in the discussion, this question will pop up like a shiny, red pimple on the morning of the prom. The truth is, various writers will give various answers. Some well-established storytellers will tell you to write everyday for hours at a time. Clearly we don’t all have this luxury–I sure don’t, but I’m working on it! Here’s my personal opinion on this widely debated writer’s conundrum.

On average, I write five to eight hours a week. When I say “write,” generally what I am referring to is my novel-in-progress or one of my many, many underdeveloped short stories. For the most part, I don’t include writing this blog or engaging in other forms of social networking as part of my writing time. I am solely commenting on my ‘work,’ or in other words, the pieces I hope-upon-hope, wish-upon-wish will one day be in print.

I teach both day and evening courses, and as a result, certain days of the week are unavailable for writing. The benefit of this is that on other days, I have a light course load, which leaves plenty of (non-excusable) hours to enter the thriving world of my own creation. In other words, it is necessary that I both find and make time to be the scribe I so desire to be. On Tuesdays, I’ll grab an hour after work. Thursdays I finish teaching at 3 pm, hence I can fit in two hours or more. This quarter, I am off on Fridays, so I take at least a three hour chunk to devote to the art. Then there are the weekends, which depending on my level of ‘open availability,’ I either have two extra Fridays, or, sadly, a Monday or Wednesday (days in which writing is not possible).

Of course when the quarter changes I’ll have to formulate a new plan, but until then this is what I work with. Are there some weeks when I write only three hours? Of course; life’s ebb is ever changing, but the key truly is persistence. If I miss a day, I’ll find another where I can make up for it. But regardless of the unpredictability of time, I’ve been working with this (albeit inconsistent) schedule since August 2010. The truth is, though I am still in the midst of perfecting it all, I really have made considerable progress.

I think the key is this: Look for time, make time, and utilize time. You know your schedule better than anyone else. But if you decide to write, you need to sit down and do it. Trust me, in this enterprise, it truly is the only way.

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Filed under The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writing Fears, Writing Process, Writing Tips

Just maybe

“We, and I think I’m speaking for many writers, don’t know what it is that sometimes comes to make our books alive. All we can do is to write dutifully and day after day, every day, giving our work the very best of what we are capable. I don’t think that we can consciously put the magic in; it doesn’t work that way. When the magic comes, it’s a gift.”
—Madeleine L’Engle

It’s true. I wonder everyday if what I’m writing is good enough, interesting enough, worthy enough. I dreamed that one of my short stories received an honorable mention in a particular contest. When I woke, feeling jubilant no doubt, I realized that I never submitted that story to said contest. I’d let the deadline pass, assumed another rejection. My dream woke me up (no pun intended). What I really let pass was an opportunity.

They’ll be more contests. Not all is lost. But maybe my subconscious is telling me that it’s possible. Everyday I pray, not for success or fame or bestselling novels, but for belief. To dare believe I can do this. Perhaps it’s working? I’m pushing myself to break through?

I’m not sure that what I’m doing is groundbreaking. To be honest, that’s not really my intention. All I truly want is to believe. Yes, that and both the liberty and leisure to able to write more. My whole life maybe. This sounds so pseudo-inspirational. But to me it’s actually very important. Regardless of what happens.

So I won’t stop. I’ve been rewriting my novel and discovering all the things it didn’t have the first time around. Now it does. It brings me personal happiness each day. In this endeavor that’s all I can hope for. If not for that, I don’t have much. I’m glad I’m learning to understand this.

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Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writing Details, Writing Fears, Writing Process, Writing Tips