This Writing Life…

I haven’t blogged about writing since May.

Six months of a writing life and so much has happened.

Mostly living and writing.

In the in-betweens of rejections and self-doubt, there have been a handful of acceptances and publications:

I’ve completed my first essay collection and am now plugging away at a memoir, which is painful, therapeutic, traumatic, healing.

I love this, this writing life, this sorting my crud on the page and in my heart.




This Writing Life…

Writing is a sporting event.

This is how I approach the page. It is what I know. When I was a kid, I believed you could become anything you wanted. You simply choose what you desire to become, then train hard and become that one thing:  a dancer, a gymnast, a swimmer, a sprinter. Just pick one. Teach your body. The concept of genetic predisposition? Nonexistent in my mind.

As an athlete, you develop an understanding (and a trust) on how muscle memory works. I remember pushing hard to learn choreography, looking ridiculous as my arms seemed uncooperative with the timing of my feet. And after hours, months, days; my body knew what to do at precisely every beat. I could focus on performing, believing  my body would lead the way. It did. Most of the time. I also experienced epic failures.

Writing is much like this, for me. I have a process with warm up exercises; my time of day, my meditation, my mind-place I must enter before ink reaches the page. An emotional space. Once I’m there, my pen moves as if on autopilot, much like muscle memory. This is my creative method.

Revision feels much like the discipline aspect of training. Regimen. Diet. Sleep. Stretch. Strengthen. I believe my approach with this stage in writing is shaped from a combination of my days as an athlete and my time in military service. Systems. Not everyone appreciates structure. I thrive with boundaries, form-limits, word counts. My own revision system consists of steps, my methods.

Both processes take time, hence the endurance side of writing.

Often, time set aside; when the project is removed so I can return with a fresh set of eyes. Or my time approach might be my brain-writing during day-to-day mundane tasks, such as; cooking, gardening, driving, making a bed. This is story-marinade for me. These are the moments I sort through my writing ticks and personal obstacles. My journal is full of my jottings throughout the day, things to change or add or modify. My journal is always with me, like an old friend from far away. Like a coach who knows me well.

I always wanted to be a writer. This is something, much like an athlete, you must become. Train for the page. Teach your body. Teach your mind.  Discipline forms a habit. Soon, you can move through the page as if in the trance of a well-rehearsed dance. One word at a time.

This Writing Life…

Twenty Pages.

Actually Twenty Creative Pages.

This is my commitment to writing. My commitment to me. Six days a week (I don’t write on Shabbos or Holidays). I also take a break if I’m suffering, especially when my body fails to cooperate, or when I require rest.

Some writers dedicate four or five hours a day to writing. Others measure writing through projects or completing tasks. This never worked for me. I don’t always have time nor ability to write for hours. I measure in page count.

How do I define twenty creative pages?

First, I don’t consider the following part of my “Creative Twenty”:

  1. Critical essays, writing responses for other writers.
  2. Editing for other writers.
  3. Book reviews.
  4. Blog posts.
  5. Social media posts.
  6. Curriculum development.
  7. Book proposals, bios, cover letters, etc.
  8. Marketing, business, “work” writing.

This helps me define what IS my “Creative Twenty”:

  1. Journal entries that are first drafts (I hand-write first drafts)
  2. Restructuring projects, including essays, narratives, or books.
  3. Any phase of editing or revision.
  4. Any combination of my projects. For example, I might work on a poem that is two pages in length, then flip to a ten-page essay, then diagram a new short story in my journal only four pages long. This would tally to sixteen pages and I would need to find four more pages somewhere in my life, to work in a  creative way.

Why does this approach work for me? Everyone has a method or a system of some sort. Even those without a system–THAT’S their way.  I prefer to write towards inspiration versus a start-to-finish approach. “Creative Twenty” affords me the opportunity to work on anything at anytime and then file away.

It’s the filing system that matters the most.

I currently have five book projects. Two are collections. Two are full-length novels. One is memoir. I sort my content into projects. One of my writing challenges is some material doesn’t “fit” into a category. At least not yet. Often essays or shorts turn into something more later. But sometimes they retain a “stand-alone” strength and I can submit them for publication as they are, all by themselves. I have a “finished” and “unfinished” filing system for these delectables.

The strength “Creative Twenty” offers is consistent inspiration.

I’m also a system-oriented analytical thinker. I work far better with a method in place, especially creative work, which can become daunting (to me) if not organized.

This is my writing life, how I approach the page, how I keep several working projects organized. My goal in sharing my method isn’t to encourage other writers to emulate this, but instead, to find their own way. Find a way to write that keeps you excited every time you arrive, pen in hand, blank page, blood pulsing, and a sense of eager energy to begin.

Keep the good words flowing.

This Writing Life…

I recently wrote a 2,000 word fiction story.

In a day.

It’s fairly solid. On first read, aloud and to a colleague, it made sense. I wrote it at midnight in my journal, then woke at five a.m. and tapped it into my laptop. I set it aside for a few hours. Revised it. Corrected overuse of descriptors, reworded my “to be” verbs into something more urgent or interesting, cut unnecessary lines, the ones that proved unable to move the story forward. In the final draft, the word count totaled 1993.

It took me much longer to write the two lines of synopsis.

A day later, I submitted. Or better, I offered.

You might ask, where did this story come from? There are two answers.

The first:  a writing competition. This particular challenge gives a genre, a character, and one other device. The interpretation of each parameter offers some latitude for writers to morph for the sake of art and story. The word count must equal up to 2000 words and the turn around time for this portion of the competition is 72 hours. I love this stuff. It gets me out of my essays and into pure creation.

The second answer proves more difficult. This story has dwelled within me for almost thirty years. I’ve thought about it. Studied these characters. Absorbed the philosophy behind it. Researched answers, even in my twenties, unaware I would use this information later. I’ve marinaded this tale as I’ve walked through life. Its existence in my head began first in my heart and, sometimes, you just need the perfect prompt(s) to pull that one story out of you, to the surface, and onto the page.

The story? I’ll let you know how it measures and, if it does well, I will share.

Keep writing the good words.

This Writing Life…

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Maya Angelou.

I was surprised with the recent publication of my essay, “Harnessed”. It wasn’t only the fact that I finally felt a writer, meeting the literary criteria of a journal. It wasn’t simply because this was a fresh piece of prose, put to the page late July in Benjamin Busch’s class at Sierra Nevada’s MFA program. There were painstaking hours spent with this work, in my early journals while in the Air Force, and later, marinading in my heart to brave up and pen it to paper. Once written, Busch asked us to surgically hone our narratives to less than half, to something so concise that only the essential story would remain.

This was tough work. But the edit did not surprise me.

What caught me off guard was the response once the piece published. The out-pour of support through texts and emails. Messages from those who knew bits of my story and secretly rooted me on from afar. Those I grew up with and those only recently met. There were also those who were concerned.

“I didn’t know you still carried so much anger, so much hatred,” someone told me.

I didn’t expect the conversation to open this way, but I realized there is a grand misunderstanding about how someone might process their own life. For me, I no longer held rage and the fact that I could write or talk about aspects of my life was proof that I was healing.

No, I haven’t written everything down about my journey. No, I don’t know that I will be able to share portions of myself, submit them for publication, even if I do draft them into an essay. No, I may never be able to open up, even to myself, and ink out the darkest times. I’m okay with all of it.

But that conversation prompted me to reach out to my family and close friends and tell them to not worry about me, that finally speaking out and breaking my own silence was a good thing, not a sign of my past wounding. The funny thing was that in the dialogues that followed, we finally cut through the quiet and talked about something that had remained unspoken. Most of them shared how they worried for me over the years and how they prayed for me and wished, somehow, they could’ve stepped in and intervened in my suffering. It was the type of talk that helped us all.

I’m thankful “Harnessed” made its mark in Gravel and out into the world. I’m full of more gratitude that in doing so, it changed and encouraged those close to me to know that I am doing all right. My hope is that it will reach those I may never cross paths, those who may have faced or are enduring similar circumstances and that, in reading this short piece, they will know that they are no longer alone. They will, I pray, have a glimpse of hope.

This Writing Life…

I’m really thrilled to have this piece published in Gravel Literary Magazine.

I’d love for you to read and share:

A separate story of mine made the short list of semi-finalist for American Fiction Short Fiction competition this year.

Slowly, slowly, I am feeling like a writer.

This Writing Life…

Writing is water.

I need it to survive. I find myself at the page, lost in the words. I cry and laugh aloud when I write. I put things on paper that I would never say out loud. This is my safe place, my best friend, my therapy.

I don’t feel worthy to keep a writing blog. It’s hard to arrive and feel like a writer. My hope was that in blogging about writing, especially revision, I would stay the course and finish my bigger project, my manuscript and hopefully inspire others to write as well.

But I don’t need the blog to write. I need only to write. Life water to live.

Instead, this blog has become a sort of process for anyone that needs encouragement in writing through a busy life. This year, I’ve irked quite a few people with my unavailability to preserve my treasured time, my gold nugget, my writing time. This is new to me. This is new to them too. They don’t get it. To sit, with peace, coffee, a candle and a pen is ecstasy. It is all that is needed.

I’ve spent the last two months reorganizing my files. To date, I have 52 short stories, 20 horrific poems, two screenplays, one manuscript and 12 flash fiction pieces. These are in a constant state of revision. But this organization process has given me clarity – a sense of how I can now combine these pieces–thread them, weave them–through theme and emotional arc. Part of this awareness was the realization that my manuscript, which I had hoped to revise over the summer, would be completed.

It doesn’t really work that way.

I’ve only revised half the manuscript. With that, I began to pummel “unproductive” self.

But then, half is good. These are hard revisions and I’m still in grad school and producing new material along with revising other shorts. I’m a writing-manic.

I know writers who can focus on one thing. One story. One book.

I’m not THAT writer.

My life is full of interruptions. I embrace the breaks because it is usually my children, pausing my work for a need. I love that I’m still needed by my sons.

Besides, I have to marinade ideas.

My brain soak is done in the kitchen and garden. This is the space I sort out dialogue, character development and problems with my work. I make sun-dried tomatoes with garlic from my garden or create new recipes, like smashed sweet potatoes with a hint of Wasabi. This is part of my writing process. The “think time”.

For me, this works; the interruptions and the time away from the page.

I’m learning to encourage the writer-me more, cheer her on and tell her, at the day’s end, this was a life worth living and she indeed has been “productive” enough.

Favorite passage is an excerpt from my short narrative, “Garden”:

“A new routine would begin each morning before the children woke. I’d rise, and with coffee, tend this garden. This morning was no different. I was finally here. My garden. This would become the place I could return when there were in-between moments needing filled. A place to grow a habit, something grounded, something I could count on. It offered both a sense of release and control.”


%d bloggers like this: