Why Writing is Better Than Talking

My good friends know that I’m depressed this winter, partially because of SAD and partly because of family issues.

I think of myself as a warrior woman. Machine gun me with nails, I’ll spit them right back at you. Say I can’t and I’ll prove that I can. I create out of a deep need to express myself, and with a vengeance. You can try to chop me into pieces, but like the burls of a redwood, I’ll just multiply and conquer you a little at a time.

But not this time.

Depression has kicked my ass.

So I have sought out help. I have medications, which don’t seem to be helping one bit. I have a therapist, but confronting the things that are bothering me results in a sob fest. I’m not sure if talking helps.

I’m not good at speaking. I never have been. I signed up for Mr. Dionysio’s speech class in high school and spent the entire semester in silence. When I took speech in college, I had one successful speech, one that was rather “meh”, and one where I bombed completely – end grade, B-.

I couldn’t speak on the phone, and therefore gravitated toward factory jobs instead of those involving customer service. I thought I didn’t like people, and that people didn’t like me.

(Imagine me now, on the phone all the time. You can teach an old dog new tricks.)

I’m not stupid, I’m in the low Mensa range. I have coherent, cogent thoughts. I read smart books, funny books, inspirational books. But speaking, either publicly or privately…I’m the stereotypical writer, an introvert who’d rather hole up with my laptop or pen with a hot cup of green tea by my side.

So I have decided to write (again) about these deeply seated feelings. Get them on paper. Because I sure as heck don’t want to burden my friends and family with the intimate details.

Plus I can’t.

Last night, I had a Facebook “conversation” with a friend in a similar position. I received more insight in that thirty minutes of back and forth than I did the last time I saw the therapist. Why? Because we were typing. I don’t think I could have the same conversation in person. I cannot verbalize my sadness. Not yet.

And this is why writing is better than talking.

Why I Am NOT Participating in NaNoWriMo

Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which starts November 1 and ends November 30. If you’re a procrastinating writer like me, you need every cattle prod or device out there to kick you into the writing mode.

This is not to say I don’t enjoy writing. OF COURSE, I enjoy writing. But having other responsibilities, what ends up being short shrifted is my writing time. This year, there’s been other factors as well. Family members in dire health. Business in flux. An incredibly Bummer Summer which resulted in lots of rain, an extraordinary flash flood, and resulting damage, which of course, takes me away from pleasurable activities and instead has me planning out construction worker schedules.

Here is why I love me the NaNo… It’s an extremely useful tool. Just like jumping on a treadmill exercises your body, jumping head first into the waters of NaNoWriMo exercises your brain. It introduces you to keeping a schedule. It gives you a not unreasonable goal of 50K words in 30 days. There’s a camaraderie of fellow writers, across the internet and across town, that cannot be beat.

I’ve participated in NaNo many times. In fact, because of it, I managed to complete three manuscripts that turned out (with much editing and fine tuning) to be decent novels. (Still in the editing phase on two of them.)

Last year, I tried it for a week, and then decided that editing the work I’d been suffering over since 2007 (Finding Cadence) had to take precedence over any new material. So I put that idea aside. For later. I like the story, I just can’t have three completed novels in various states of disrepair hanging over my head like a black cloud.

This year, my problems are much the same. I’ve been toying with Virtually Yours Forever (completed during NaNo a few years ago) for… well, forever. It’s time to clean up this tale of moms, the internet, and high intrigue and get this story nailed down and move on to the next project.

I can no longer tell myself that I’ll write more when I retire from this business. The sad truth is that I might have to work until I die. But I’m also a writer, and I’m not going to sacrifice my art for outside influences.

Not anymore.

So to all you writers out there who are participating in NaNoWriMo – Bravo! or Brava! Keep pushing on. I’m there with you in spirit, and I hope will have my edit complete by November 30.

 

My First Books and Authors Event

Yesterday, I attended my first Books and Authors Event at Leon and Lulu‘s in Clawson, Michigan. This store is trendy, hip, and sells everything from jewelry to clothing to furniture to toys. It’s one of my favorites, as my husband can tell you from our VISA bill.

I can’t even believe I went through the event; hell, I can’t believe I filled out the application. And then sent it in! And then was selected as a participant! As you might know, I’m rather lackadaisical about selling my work. (I’m also rather lackadaisical about writing – sometimes.) But, I’ve been in a slump since summer, so I’ve signed up for writing prompts, classes, and have committed to (somewhat) weekly Skype conversations with my editor to sort of kick start my juices. So I figured, might as well throw this event on the pile.

I had NO IDEA what to expect at this event. NONE. I had hoped to sell a few books, get my name out there. As with everything new that I do, I was petrified. And as with everything, in order to get rid of the petrification, one must dive in head first.

Leon and Lulu’s does a fabulous job of making all 50 of us authors feel comfortable. They provide food, coffee, water, even hot dogs! The friendliness relieved some of the sting. :-) After being shown my table, I set up.

booksandauthors

We had an hour after that to look around. While all of the authors were from Michigan, amazingly many of them were from Royal Oak. I found I was speaking with authors who were neighbors!

Some had many titles to choose from. Some, like me, had the one physical book, and the eBook. Some were traditionally published; many more were self-published. Most of the books were for children, picture and chapter books, many were mysteries, there were some non-fiction, and just a few novels.

If you’ve ever been to Leon and Lulu’s, you’ll know that walking into the store is a total assault on your senses. Bright colors, things hanging from everywhere. Add to that 50 authors and their many books, and even I was shell shocked. It was a long day, but it’s what I needed. Suddenly, I’m energized to get that manuscript out and start editing in earnest. I sold a few books, handed out a ton of business cards for those who wanted to buy the book in eBook format (one woman did it from her phone while chatting with me!), and made a few new author friends. I enjoyed it so much, I’ll definitely do it next year.

The only thing is, I need to have another book for next year.

Better get to work.

Another Set of Eyes

I’ve spent quite a few months in inactivity. My creativity hasn’t dried up, it’s just taken a sabbatical. Hopefully, somewhere nice and warm, like the French Riviera.

As an artist and a creative person, when the well threatens drought conditions, you start to worry. The worry turns into a bigger monster, into self-doubt and self-loathing. You begin to second guess your choices, your methods of operation, your intelligence, and your stamina. All of that conspires to make the largest black hole of negativity that will swallow you whole if you allow it to.

If you allow it to.

If your writing life pitches to these historic lows, there’s only one thing you can do: Get another set of eyes. Meaning, find someone else to read your work, to offer honest commentary and critique, even to read and gush. Yes, these are times when even your mom or your sycophantic employee will do. When the stakes are that low, you need all the uplifting you can scrounge up.

It’s not going to be easy. You may have to beg someone. Not your mom, of course, she’s always going to love you, but that employee who claims to love your writing while rolling her eyes behind your back, yes, you might have to beg her. You may have to barter one skill for another. Find another writer and offer to do the same. It doesn’t have to be a long term critique-partner commitment. What you need is short term. The idea of a set of different eyes works for everyone – we as writers ALL feel deficient at some point. Plus, I find it interesting to read the WIP of others.

In my case, I turned to my Editor for Life. I try not to bother him too much, as he has other clients, most of whom are NOT tied to him in a lifetime commitment. This time, the urge to cry for help was overwhelming.

We normally email, occasionally text, but this time he wanted to Skype. (I don’t really like Skype, but what the hey? At this point, I was willing to try anything.) Our first meeting was a blur. I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. The next was the “light bulb” moment. I saw clearly what vision he had for my novel. It’s “okay”, it just needs a little je ne sais quoi. It was as if my writing block needed a tow truck to pull it out of the mud. I’m not on the highway yet, but I’m on my way.

So, thanks to another set of eyes, I’m on my way to (yet) another rewrite. Thanks to another set of eyes, I’ve found the spark that was missing in my writing. Thanks to another set of eyes, I’m back on my way.

Yes, writers are a solitary bunch. But if you don’t have that other set of eyes, you might as well fold up your tent and go home. Because even if your ideas are fabulous and your technique is flawless, you don’t know everything.

The Excavation of Words

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I don’t know how I’ve been struck with the ambition, but I am in the middle of deep cleaning and purging my house, in advance of a monster garage sale I plan on hosting late in August.

I’m not a consummate slob. I tend to veer toward the lived-in but not dangerously germy look. Deep cleaning is something I haven’t done in the ten years we’ve been here. Just consider: a four-bedroom house with plenty of nooks and crannies, a basement full of boxes (most of which haven’t been opened since we moved), and a walk up attic bulging with the hastily packed mementos of my children’s school years. (Yeah. I didn’t oversee that operation, and I should have.)

Back at another place I wrote for online, an orange, hazy, huge toxic bubble, I remarked in a post that I had misplaced my folder of poetry, and asked the pressing question, “Where the hell is it?” The resulting comment thread blasted me for being a dumb ass, and how the hell would the Internets know where my poems were?

Even back then, my feelings were rarely hurt. Just temporarily slapped silly. I imagined I’d thrown my folder out by accident (I grew up in the Ice Age, and had only the typewritten copies, having not had the time or inclination to put the work on an actual computer, where my words could be backed up on a flash drive or by Carbonite), or maybe the guy we had staying at our home as it was being sold decided to run off with my silly scribblings.

Eventually, I chalked up my loss as a learning experience. My teenage and new adult angst-ridden lyrics and poetry forever absent, never to be enjoyed by posterity.

(Now I back up in several places and pay Carbonite for the stuff I’m apt to forget.)

Imagine my pleasant surprise last weekend. After fighting years of cobwebs and nearly retching over an army of dead bugs, I opened a box labeled “Kids Books” to find my folder of poems prominently sitting atop well-loved copies of Pat the Bunny and every book ever penned by Mercer Mayer.

Win! (clean basement) – Win! (possible garage sale windfall) – Win! (my book of poems). I momentarily died and went to heaven.

I spent an hour reading them. Most of my “poetry” was set to music. I played the guitar back then, and wrote simple songs with (what I thought were) tender lyrics about unrequited love and loss. Reading the words brought back the music, and I found myself humming. Most of my songs were god-awful, music and lyrics, but some of it wasn’t half bad.

What was most interesting that my writing voice back then isn’t that far removed from my writing voice now. The excavation of words cements the fact – in my mind – that I was destined to write.

Now, to celebrate my wonderful find, I will regale you with one of my favorites, written after a trip to Sioux Falls, SD, where we lit sparklers during a midnight tornado warning after ingesting Black Star.

 

Black Star

 

his grandpa was a cowboy, he said

you nod in silence–

your dreams are riding the range.

 

a little wine, a little smoke

helps to ease the loneliness,

shake off the chains –

lose those midnight blues.

you laugh and joke,

ha! your smiles are plastic

flowers molded from pain.

and still you choose

too much wine and smoke

the strawberry madness.

so you’re backed against the floor.

from another galaxy, he leans toward you

and shouts in a foreign frequency

heyareyouallrightdownthere?crazybroad!

o-zoned again.

 

lonesome cowboy,  roll me in your arms

just once.

i know i ruin everything good

but sometimes one kiss is all i need.

 

what space tripper? you’re returning home?

but you’ll soon return to ride the range

blue skies your rolling prairie

unlimited, weightless, darkened void.

you’re always searching for the light

in a heaven that gives no easy answers,

in a heaven where the sun

is just a black star.

October 28, 1978

Finding Inspiration Everywhere

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While I feel writing is my artistic outlet, there are times where producing actual writing is hampered, by real life, by other interests and responsibilities, by the lack of time. This happens to be one of those two week periods where finding a good, solid block of writing time is just not possible.

It’s not that I’m lazy – well, yes, I’m kind of lazy, although I’m trying to reform myself. It’s not like I’m lying around eating bonbons and watching daytime TV (which I guess is now NOT soaps and might be Judge Judy). I work – a lot, in fact, it’s a holiday and I’m taking a break from work right now (and the phone is ringing off the hook! Shouldn’t they be barbecuing or something?) I have a huge house and a bigger yard that I maintain on my own (with the help from the other half), and there are other commitments that eat into time. It’s not unusual, in fact, you could say that outside influences are a prevailing factor amongst us “struggling” artists. It’s a monumental struggle to create.

Still, you can find inspiration everywhere.

I force myself to do writing prompts. I’m currently doing 21 Moments (I’d link you, but this month will be the last set). Short writing prompts are the easiest. They take about 30 minutes to complete, perfect for those days where a block of three or four hours just doesn’t exist.

Even without the prompts, life gives you plenty of opportunities to explore your creative side. I have a huge vegetable garden, and have had to devote many days recently (thank heavens the days are sunny and clear!) to tending it.

At my age, I rather enjoy gardening. There’s something organic about the human hand digging in dirt, getting rid of the weeds, planting new material and seeds. There’s an order, a certain Zen about it. It’s the circle of life, and hopefully in a few months, I’ll be able to bring the fruits of my labor to the table. In the quiet of the early morning hours, I can entertain entire conversations in my head, play out plots and scenes, and think about the larger picture.

During breaks, I scribble down the meat of the moment. I’ll uncover it later, and use it in my writing.

It might seem strange, but I find cooking gives me a similar artistic charge. Many modern people think cooking is a bore, that it takes a lot of time, that you can nourish yourself a lot quicker through a drive-through or with ready-made meals. Not me. Home cooking takes a little forethought but it’s not difficult. There’s a care and love in making a meal, and the machinations always translate into tasty literary morsels. In fact, I’m working on a story with food as an underlying theme.

(I used to be able to write at work; unfortunately, things are more stressful now than they used to be.)

Art can be born of any action. The artist has to take a germ of an idea and go from there.

Any art takes a commitment. The artist has to be able to carve out time from the day to create.

It’s a daunting task, but you can find inspiration everywhere.

And Now a Few Words That Have Nothing to Do With Writing

I am currently armpit deep into a MS with a beginning and a middle but no end, and waiting on my Editor for Life to provide feedback for another finished novel. My head is full of [too many] words. So I guess I’ll just unleash a rant on a completely unrelated subject.

Equality and the Fairness Issue

For some reason, there’s been a lot of emphasis put on the “virtues” of being “equal” or “fair.” I really don’t get it.

I know. I’m old. I’m a freaking dinosaur. I’m definitely not hip. I’m so opinionated that I’m politically incorrect. I’m also busy with my own pursuits; I don’t have time to luxuriate in new (maybe imagined?) slights.

There seems to be some consensus that if only the playing field were level, people would be happy. If only minorities could get a special dispensation for being minorities, they could get into college. Or if only the Evil Rich One Percent would give away all their money, the poor wouldn’t be poor. Even our President and our Pope says we have to do something about income inequality.

If only we could get special consideration for our shortcomings, no matter what they are.

If only, if only.

(Let me say right here, right now, that I’m several shades of minority, I’m a woman, and I’ve been on the dole – for three months, the worst three months of my life. So I’m not an over-privileged white person who has never had to struggle.)

It’s not fair! *stomps foot* Remind you of something? Like a headstrong toddler who wants candy NOW or a defiant teen who wants a later curfew? As if demanding “fairness” will make the world right.

The world isn’t right; it was never right. It’s not going to be right, ever.

Life is not fair, so what?

I might be in the minority, but the purpose of life is not to get everything you want. The purpose of life is to work for everything you want. It’s to take your struggles, puzzle out a solution, and come out on the other side a better person.

The past might be a bad thing, full of heartbreak and injustices. So what?

At what point do you drop the past and journey into the present (and the future) on your own two feet?

One should build (positively) on the mistakes of others, instead of falling back on the negatives of the past.

And here, for my own personal rant of things that aren’t fair:

1. It’s not fair that my ancestors were Native American. It’s not fair that my great-grandfather had to take my grandmother (when she was a toddler) and hide her in the northern bogs of Minnesota to escape the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their plan to put them on a reservation. It’s not fair that for much of her life my grandma couldn’t vote, hold property, or drink alcohol because she was 1/2 Chippewa.

2. It’s not fair that the male members of my Greek grandfather’s family were killed by the Turks, and that he had to travel across the ocean all by himself to start a new life in America.

3. It’s not fair that my father had to join the Army to escape poverty. It’s not fair that after he married my mother, she had to wait in the immigration line for two years and accumulate 4 inches of paperwork to come here and become a citizen.

4. It’s not fair that I had to quit college before finishing my degree. It’s not fair that eating and putting a roof over my head became more important than my education.

5. It’s not fair that my health insurance is so high (even though for an old lady, I’m in fairly good shape) that I’ll probably have to work the rest of my life just to be able to afford it.

6. Speaking of that, it’s not fair that I’ve worked since 16 (actually 13, if you count the time spent working for my father in his gas station) and that I’ll NEVER be able to retire.

7. It’s not fair that I have to pay taxes. It wasn’t fair that my tax dollars couldn’t fund a decent school system and we had to pay out of pocket of our kids’ education, or that our tax dollars aren’t enough to repair the city-owned sidewalk in front of our house and we’ll have to pay for that ourselves. Or that we pay exorbitant fuel taxes to keep the roads up, but they’re still like driving on the moon. (I wouldn’t mind taxes, if I could see a return on investment that wasn’t lining some millionaire politician’s pocket with retirement possibilities.)

I guess I could throw a couple more trivial unfairness issues on that shit pile, ones that have to do with writing. It’s not fair that I don’t have unlimited time to write, or that I don’t have a wonderful agent, or that I’m not traditionally published, or that I’m not sitting on a pile of writing-related money.

*********This part of unfairness rant over. It didn’t feel good, so it was likely not worth it.************

My husband (who is very wise) says that for some the whole “fairness” issue is not one of leveling the field, but rather it’s borne out of jealousy. Whipping out fairness (or unfairness) is the easy fall-back explanation for everything not right in your world. It’s a way of blaming everyone else for your woes, instead of working toward fixing the problem on your own. You can give people whatever they want, but you can’t give them happiness, or equality. These things come from within.

As for me, I’m going back to doing what I do best: making my own world better, despite my shortcomings, my history, and my circumstances.

And I’ll be happy no matter how unfair life is.

 

 

 

 

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