Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Op-Ed Writing

I ran across this helpful article the other day: "10 Rules for Writing Opinion Pieces," by Susan Shapiro. Here is a summary, but I suggest you read the entire article.
  1. Be timely or early.
  2. Be very opinionated.
  3. Convey a strong link to your subject.
  4. Add unknown facts.
  5. Don't share the obvious slant.
  6. Keep it short and sweet.
  7. Be aware of your audience.
  8. Don't be afraid to be Sybil.
  9. Don't comment on another commentary.
  10. Follow up.
This article appeared in the May/June issue of Writer's Digest. Click here to order your copy in print. If you prefer a digital download of the issue, click here.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Women Writers and Success

"From George Sand to George Eliot, Isak Dinesen to E. Nesbit, P. D. James to James Tiptree Jr., there’s a long history of women writers who have used disguised names to realize their ambitions. Even J. K. Rowling—the best-selling author of all time—adopted a neutral moniker on her way to success: Before Harry Potter became a phenomenon, Bloomsbury, Rowling’s publisher, asked her to use initials to reassure the target audience of young boys who might be reluctant to pick up a book by 'Joanna Rowling,' a female author.

This is just one of the observations by Anna Clark in her article, "The Ambition Condition" that first appeared in Bitch Magazine's "Loud" issue in Fall, 2008. I've touched on this problem before (see my Femagination blog for the post "Women Writers Get No Respect."), but Clark has more to say about the way women are treated if they are talented and ambitious.

It's all too common for a woman to belittle her accomplishments or pretend to not care about fame or fortune. If she shows her hand, she is either ridiculed, criticized or, worst of all, ignored. She does what she has to do be successful, knowing all along that her success will never be rewarded to the degree that men writers' are. She's damned if she fails and damned if she succeeds.

I see this pattern in my own writing career. I'm working on an essay right now that I really think has potential. Okay, I'll go ahead and say it: I think it's marketable. But after the first burst of enthusiasm I found myself downgrading what I'd written: It couldn't possibly be that good. Not only that, but I began to doubt whether I had a right to publish an essay that mentions other people. Isn't that an invasion of privacy? Women aren't supposed to make others uncomfortable, especially for the sake of their own ambitions.

So what do I do? I'm at a stalemate right now. I've lost my motivation to finish because I don't know if I will ever try to market it. Better to just keep it with my papers, as if it is only a journal entry. Maybe it will be discovered after I die.

I think that a lot about things that I'm working on: if I don't have enough guts to submit this, I'll save it and maybe someday after I'm gone someone will read it and say, "She was a really good writer!" But maybe they'll also say, "Why wasn't she ever published?"

Is that really how I want my career to play out? Am I so damn afraid of success and of being seen as ambitious that I will passive-aggressively let the dice posthumously fall where they may? How pathetic!

Ms. Clark suggests at the end of her article that perhaps women shouldn't worry about fame and fortune. Maybe what women have to offer is "simply writing to a different standard. It may be a part of the creation of our alternative to the traditional literary culture."

I take issue with that. I'm not saying that women can't contribute something that is uniquely their own, or that they can't show men different ways to be successful. I am saying that they shouldn't have to, if that's not what they want. Women should be taken as seriously as men are, and if they're not, they should raise a stink about it.

Of course, the tricky thing about writing is that you're competing with yourself, trying to beat your own record, struggling to find your own voice. You can't afford to spend any of your energy on righteous indignation.

But then again, you could write about it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Author Interviews

I just happened upon a gem: Powell's Books Author Interviews. Each interview I read was lengthy and revealing. Just the thing for readers and writers who are fascinated by what makes authors tick.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Five Tips From Michael Crichton

Click here for Michael Crichton's top five writing lessons.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Following Blogs

I have a friend who just recently decided to get on the Internet with a blog of her own. She started it toward the end of January and has written every day since. Her blog is called "Erasing the Bored," and that's exactly what she attempts to do with every one of her posts. She could have written about a multitude of topics but she zeroed in on Change and Creativity and her post is all the stronger for it.

I've been reading her post almost every day (and I always catch up if I've missed any). I enjoy reading her thoughts and gleaning bits of knowledge from her posts. I am officially a follower of her blog--she has 18 official followers already--but I would follow her blog even if I wasn't. She has a voice that I love to "hear." And she makes me think.

This got me to thinking about all the blog followers out there. Unless you have analytical tools that keep track of your visitors and what they view (see Google Analytics, for one), you would never know that they'd been there unless they leave comments or link to your post from their own. I have a blog on Word Press, too and it keeps track of your visits automatically. From that I found out that one of my posts, "The Future of Newspapers" drew 13 "hits," but only one of them left a comment.

These ghosts that pass through our lives are our audience and we don't even know them. That's not so different from writing a book and not knowing who is buying it (hopefully) and reading it. But the Internet is so transitory and so secretive. People who followed mailing list conversations used to be called "lurkers" and that's a little bit how it feels when people visit your blog without leaving a trace.

I do the same of course. We're too busy to leave comments everywhere we go, not to mention that sometimes we just can't think of anything to say. But now that I've become a blogger, especially one who hopes to be read, I can see that I've been remiss with the blogs I follow. I need to let the posters that I'm out here and that I care. That might sound sappy, but I'd hate for someone to stop blogging just because they think no one is reading the words they've thrown to the universe.

I have my blogs listed in my profile, except for my newest (and most personal) one: If you do happen to pay me a visit, leave a sign. It will encourage me to keep on blogging. (Although to tell you the truth, I'd probably keep on doing it anyway.)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Tips for Writing a Novel

For those of you who are interested in writing a novel, here's a great article on It includes a Story Plan Checklist. Good stuff!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fear of Marketing

I love to write--I hate to market. I can't be alone in this, but all you ever read about in articles about writing are the success stories. People who were published because they learned how to promote themselves, through queries, submissions and networking.

All I've ever wanted to do was write, and I don't even mind being left in my own little world in order to do so. But I admit that there's a part of me that needs more: I want to be read. I want to make my mark on the world, no matter how small.

I have been published a few times, but being published at all is like a drug: once experienced, you want to experience it again. And again and again. And that's besides the need you may have to make money. Like me, you just want to be read. The money is frosting on the cake.

I wouldn't turn down the money, but what I really want is fame. I want to become a word-of-mouth writer, to have people recommend my writing to others. But I don't take the steps necessary to be read. I'm overwhelmed by the marketing process.

First of all, I have trouble picking out suitable markets. If I find something before I write, I get twisted into knots trying to cater my writing to that publication. If I find a market for something I've already written, I'm afraid it's not quite right and will just be rejected. And it's not so much that I fear the rejections--okay, it is partly that. But mostly I need the feedback (which you don't usually get in rejection letters anyway). I need encouragement and validation. Publication gives you that. Hiding your work under a bushel gets you nothing.

Almost all of us have special readers: friends, family, fellow writers. But it's easy to dismiss their judgments because they know you and might not want to hurt your feelings. The opinions of editors and unknown readers carry more weight. I'd love to get those outside opinions--I crave them, as a matter of fact. That's one reason I write for my blogs. But how do you get readers if they don't know you're there?

I don't know how many times I've read that if your writing is good, you will eventually get published. I tend to think that my writing must not be any good, because I'm not getting published. It hardly ever occurs to me that I can't get published unless I put my work out there. And not in some blog that people only discover by accident.

Don't get me wrong: I love to write posts for my blogs. Because it gives me practice, it gives me an outlet for my writer and it gives me the illusion of being published. But that's just it: it is an illusion. I didn't have to pass muster with any editor or make money to prove that I'm a writer.

But I have to admit that I feel like the tree that falls in the forest: if there's no one to hear, does it make any sound?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Reading Nonfiction

I ran across the post "Reading Nonfiction" today and thought I'd share it. It's from the blog Educating Alice.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I just ran across a thought-provoking post on Bookpuddle about not finishing books. It's called "What's Your Abandonment Rate?" and it contains many jewels about the relationship between reader and books, like, "Regarding consummation, how many boring and uninteresting pages or chapters will you endure before you annul your vows and open the covers of another?"

The avid reader can relate to the concept of taking a vow every time you open a new book. That's why it's so hard to give up on it: you feel like you're asking for a divorce--and you're the one who is at fault. I know that I do. I don't give up on a lot of books. But when I do, I agonize over my decision. I generally will hold onto the book as long as the library allows me to. (I rarely buy books: I can't afford to and haven't the room for them if I could. I will often buy a book after reading it from the library if I just have to have it.) And if I haven't finished it by then, I let it go. There are so many books in the world, I rationalize, I just can't afford to waste time on a book that I'm not enjoying. But still I feel guilty.

I do three kinds of reading: books that are good for me (Literature with a capital 'L'), "junk" books, and books that give me information. I always have to have a junk book on hand for quick reading--I can go through two or three while I'm perusing one non-fiction or literary book. My junk books of choice are mysteries and thrillers. Sometimes horror or science fiction. I don't care for chick lit or romances, although I've read them from time to time.

I'm terrible about reading Literature. I tend to rebel against authority and if someone tells me that reading a certain book is mandatory if I want to be well-read, I instantly take a dislike to it. In all fairness to myself, however, the literary novels I do read rarely satisfy me. They tend to be about nothing, in my humble opinion, and therefore make for slow reading. I'm an extremely fast reader, but only because I skim like mad, and it's hard to get anything out of a literary work if you skim it. Basically, I'm just impatient.

One of my resolutions for this year is to read more meaningfully. That means, I guess, that I'll give Literature a fairer shake than I have in the past. I've been looking at book lists for suggestions and tuning in at Good Reads and Library Thing. I've also found a couple of really good book blogs besides Bookpuddle: So Many Books and Semicolon.

The books I read for information depend on what I'm delving into at the time. I periodically gather up several writing books, I've gotten books on motherhood, feminism, biographies and memoirs, how the brain works, travel, spirituality and religion--and the list goes on and on. I'm sure my librarian thinks I'm schizo, my reading list is so eclectic.

I spent four months in Germany a few years ago and was appalled to learn that their libraries are not free. You have to pay a fee for so many books, sort of like a subscription. Since I regularly have 50 books out of the library at a time, I'd be broke in no time. Or terribly frustrated. I have to have a lot of books around me for fear that I will run out of things I want to read. (As if.)

I know I'm not exactly an oddity--unless all bibliophiles are oddities. But I suspect I'm in the minority. Except for readers of this post: if you're a writer, you're probably an avid reader; the two seem to go hand in hand. What and why do you read?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Excerpt From "Write Is A Verb"

In this excerpt from the book, Write Is A Verb, by Bill O'Hanlon, the author discusses the four energies of writing and what it takes to write a book. I particularly like his quote from Henry Miller: "If you can't not be a writer, then be a writer."

That might sound simplistic, but it's actually good advice. First, it requires that you determine how badly you want to write and second, it exhorts you to give it your all. Be a writer. The subtitle of Write Is A Verb is "Sit Down. Start Writing. No Excuses."

You can find the book from as well as Barnes & Noble, Amazon and I'm sure at other book sites and stores.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Fear Obstacle

I always have to have something to read, from the time I get up in the morning until just before I turn out the light at night. If I'm not reading, I'm writing. I have an almost pathological need to be doing those two things to the exclusion of all else. I've often wondered why I'm this way. The other day, I think I found at least a partial answer.

I like to keep my mind occupied, because if I don't, I think about things that drive me crazy. I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but I don't think you have to be mentally ill to be debilitated by anxiety from time to time. At any rate, if I'm not reading or writing--in other words, if I'm not directing what I'm thinking about--my mind goes wild. Thoughts of what could go wrong in any area of life--health, finances, family, marriage, nationwide and worldwide events--come close to paralyzing me. My mind is so overcome by fears that I can't think of anything else, let alone of creative writing ideas.

I think I need to learn to trust my mind. To believe that I can handle whatever fears and anxieties come my way. Unless I learn how to do that, I will never be able to move beyond those actions and thoughts that make me feel secure. What complicates matters for me as a writer is that I am always anxious about my writing as well. I start things and then don't finish them because my anxieties prevent me from doing so. I'm not just afraid that I can't finish, I'm also afraid that the finished product will be crap, and that that will be the best I can do. I'm afraid of being found out to be talentless. Of having to face that reality about myself as a writer.

Better that I not finish and leave my potential as unknown and unverifiable. Then I can at least fool myself into thinking that I do have talent--as long as I don't let myself think deeply about it. Better to keep busy with reading, journal-writing and blogging than to set out in uncharted waters. The saying goes that it is better to be safe than sorry, but that's assuming that you will always be sorry if you let go of what is safe. I need to convince myself that there is greater joy in challenging myself than in protecting what I already know to be true. Fear keeps me from exploring the world, even the world of my own mind. I need to reject that fear and let myself go.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Chutzpah and the Writer

Michael Schiavone says in his short essay on Glimmer Train's website that he would "rather address my irrational fear of being followed (I always run up stairwells for this reason) than announce to a stranger that I'm a writer. The shame I endure should be reserved for ticket scalpers and animal abusers, yet I feel like a sleaze when I confess to being a writer."

Now this is a writer who has been published in numerous literary magazines and won several contests, who has earned close to $5000 so far this year, and who has an agent "with a New York zip code." But he fears that he will never consider himself a writer until he has a book on the New York Times' bestseller list, an appearance on Oprah and his work is made into a movie. But from what I've heard about successful writers, even they suffer from the feeling that they are never quite good enough. They fear that they aren't quite there yet.

If we could only tell ourselves that we are successful as soon as we set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Because it is a major accomplishment when we are able to put our thoughts into words. Even if no one ever reads them. We need to recognize the sheer brazenness of the act of writing. It takes a lot of chutzpah, which is defined in Wikipedia as a "non-conformist but gutsy audacity." And that's exactly what it takes to be a writer.

We are already non-conformists because we assume that we have something new to say. There would be no point to our writing if we were just going to repeat what someone else has written. So we break out of the pack and set our sights higher than the average person does. To do that we need supreme self-confidence or we wouldn't even try. The trick is to keep believing in ourselves throughout the entire process. We not only need the nerve to start writing in the first place, we also have to have the gall to send our work out for others to read. Even a letter to the editor in your local newspaper causes anxieties we'd rather not encounter--but we do it anyway.

Michael Schiavone titled his essay, "Must I Write?" and he concludes that he has no choice. No matter how anxious or depressed he gets about his (lack of) progress, he knows that he's stuck; writing is in his blood. It feels almost genetic, the way that an athlete has a body designed for physical activity. Even when we fear that we are not the best writers that ever lived (and who really has that distinction anyway?), we feel compelled to keep on trying to express ourselves through words.

But it goes a step further than that, if we're honest. We must write because we want to be read. This is the part of being a writer that we are reluctant to reveal to others: our need to be heard. It takes real chutzpah to admit that we want attention, even fame. But what's wrong with that? What would be the point of writing if we didn't care about communicating our ideas to others? That means putting ourselves and our words out there. We already have chutzpah or we wouldn't write or call ourselves writers. So let's just muster some of that outrageous energy and send our words out into the world. What do we have to lose?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Courage to Write

I am currently reading Ralph Keyes' The Courage to Write. It's not a very long book--203 pages, not counting the notes and bibliography. It was written in 1995 and you can also find it in paperback. I forget where I heard about it. It might have been when I was browsing at Barnes and Noble. Instead of buying books I might not like, I write down the titles and try to get them from the library. Then if I do like them, I buy them, but usually from Amazon or I'm not sure if I'm going to want to buy The Courage to Write yet. But so far it seems promising.

Here is an excerpt from page 7:
"I've learned that a rising tide of anxiety isn't necessarily bad. It's a sign that I'm getting serious. Nervousness keeps me alert. Fear forces me to focus and to work longer hours. Restless nights mean I'm gaining momentum. The end is in sight. Getting there isn't always pleasant. Neither is running in a marathon. Or staging a play. Or climbing a mountain. All such activities take courage. And all reward those who complete them not only with an unparalleled feeling of achievement but with a thrilling sense of adventure along the way."

I don't know about the thrilling sense of adventure, but the part about anxiety makes a lot of sense to me. I suffer from anxiety anyway, about everything. I take medication for it, but it creeps into my psyche several times a day. And it is worse when I'm trying to write. I get so far and then start feeling anxious and can't continue. Apparently this isn't as unusual as one might think. But it sure wreaks havoc with my writing career.

If I could just learn to work through the anxiety, I might be able to finish more pieces and even submit them. But I even experience anxiety about writing query letters. The only reason I'm able to write my posts for my blogs is because they don't feel real. I don't think anyone is really reading them. So I can make mistakes, write sloppily, even be incoherent and who's going to know? I almost dread the day when (if) someone lets me know that they're reading my posts. I wonder if I'll start experiencing anxiety once that happens and not be able to write them anymore.

Right now the blog posts I write are the only writing outlet I have, besides my journals. I've gotten addicted to them. I don't often write good ones, but every once in a while I think I've done a pretty good job and then my spirits soar. But it's very hard for me to maintain a sense of self-confidence. Especially when I'm working on other things besides blog posts. I've started countless essays and I just can't finish them. I've written over 50,000 words of a novel and it's awful, but I don't have the guts to start over.

Maybe this book will give me some insight into why I let myself choke so often when I'm writing. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Thoughts on Writing

I've heard some writers say that they hate to write. I don't believe them. Maybe they hate to rewrite; I can understand that. But I can't imagine why anyone would do this if they truly hate it. The closest I come to that is when I hate what I've written--that's actually a common experience for me. But that doesn't negate the pleasure I get from putting the words down in the first place. It's just that they don't always work out the way I'd like for them to.

My doctor recently told me that I should do something for myself at least once a week. What he doesn't realize is that I do that every time I sit down to write. I agree that it's good to do something different every once in a while or else your writing becomes sterile. You need to feed your mind. Of course, I do that every time I read a book about something I never knew that much about before. I'm so busy writing and reading, I rarely find time to go outside the house. I worry that I'm becoming a recluse. But I'm happy in my little world. So why should I have to change what I do and the way I do it?

I could make some improvements, however. I read a lot of non-fiction, but the fiction I read is usually genre stuff. I'm especially drawn to books about serial killers (I know, I'm sick). But I can't imagine writing one, even though I've often heard the advice that you should write what you like to read. Perhaps the reverse is also true: you should read what you like to write. I have trouble making myself read the classics and literary giants. That could be an indicator that I'm not meant to write like those authors. (As if I could.)

What I really like to write are essays. Which is a pity, because essays are as hard to sell as poetry, in my opinion. And I do read a fair amount of essays. I love essay collections. I fell in love with essays years ago when I read Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. And I also love memoirs, which are really book-length personal essays. I should probably write a memoir some day. One reason I have trouble writing anything other than essays is because I keep trying to interject my life experiences into what I write. So maybe I need to get that all out at one time and get it over with. But can you ever exhaust your life experiences as material?

Maybe I'm destined to write about myself and my opinions for the rest of my life. I'm not sure how I feel about that prospect. I keep thinking that I should be able to write all kinds of writing (see my post "A Real Writer?"). But then I keep writing the same old thing. I don't know why I disparage my efforts. What's wrong with striving to excel at essays? If that's what keeps coming out of my mind, who am I to question it?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Real Writer?

I have a confession to make: I'm not a real writer. I must not be because I can't seem to write fiction. And real writers can write anything. I can't even come up with ideas, let alone be able to write the story afterward. Every idea I do have is about something that really happened, and then I find myself wanting to write an essay instead. I just can't get away from wanting to write the facts, and just the facts.

I know that fiction can be as true as nonfiction and maybe even more so sometimes. I get that. But I've always thought, "Why gussy up an idea and hide it in a story? Why not just come right out and say what you mean to say?"

I don't think I'm a bad essay writer. But essays don't get noticed. And I find it hard to find markets for them. A lot of journals and small presses take what they call creative nonfiction, but I'm not even sure that I can write that. I took two courses in writing creative nonfiction and it turned out that I didn't write enough scenes; my essays weren't enough like stories to qualify as creative nonfiction.

I also took a magazine article writing course and felt a little more comfortable there, but I don't have the guts to query magazines with my article ideas. So the bottom line is, I don't get published. Which further proves that I'm not a real writer.

And yet I feel like a writer. I've felt like one ever since I started writing stories and poems for my grandfather when I was a little girl. He paid me fifty cents for the stories and a quarter for the poems. So I guess I was a professional (read: real) writer even then. What happened to my ability to write fiction?

They say that children are naturally creative and that school and life experiences (including that of growing up) gradually leach it out of them. I wonder what leached it out of me, if I indeed had any to begin with. What I don't understand is that my dreams are incredibly vivid and inventive. If my brain can do that while I'm sleeping, why can't it do it while I'm awake?

I suspect that it's not true that a real writer can write anything. But I used to believe that I could. And I feel like a failure because I can't. I envy short story writers (I'm not even getting into how I feel about novel writers!) for their facility for telling stories. I seem to have lost mine.

I truly believe that God gave me the talent I do have and that He means for me to use it. But how? I already write every day. I write posts for my blogs, work on my essays, and if all else fails, I write in my journal. But I tend to judge myself on whether or not I get published. I've had a few things published, but that was a while ago. It would be a little hard for me to get published now because I never send anything out.

I need to be patient with myself. It hasn't been that long since I've been able to devote myself to my writing. I'm still developing the discipline of writing every day and finishing what I write. The next step is to submit. I'll get there, I know. I feel overwhelmed by the prospect, but because I can't stop writing, I know that eventually I'll get off my duff and get my stuff out there. I'll keep doing it until I get published and then I'll keep on doing it.

And then maybe I'll feel like a real writer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Writer First?

In Marion Winik's book, Rules For an Unruly Life, she writes that she finally got to the point in her life where being a writer wasn't her be-all and end-all. (pp. 86-88) She actually took a four-year hiatus from writing. She ended up going back, but with a different perspective: people are more important than any achievements, even as a writer.

I, too, took a hiatus (except for writing in my journals), but it wasn't by choice. It was during the years when I was having and raising children (four in six years, before I was 28). I've often said that having children is like having ADD: you can't keep your mind on what you're doing for two minutes at a time. If I tried to write, something always came up with the kids. I finally gave up.

It wasn't until I was forty that I found real chunks of uninterrupted time to write again. My then-husband bought me a Brother word processor for my birthday, bless his soul. It changed my life. Most of my submissions and acceptances (and just a few rejections) took place in the three years afterward. But then I got waylaid by my parents' deaths, a divorce, and a "breakdown" and I found myself in another hiatus. After that I went back to school, where I finally got my bachelor's degree. I did a lot of writing in those three years, but it was for school, not publication.

I've been struggling ever since I finished school to "get my groove back" as a writer. I've found that I'm not the writer I used to be. I don't have the same perspective I had when I was forty, let alone when I was twenty. But one thing that hasn't changed is that writing is still more important to me than anything else on earth (except for reading).

I feel terrible admitting that. Don't get me wrong: people mean a lot to me. But without writing to help me sort out my feelings and my actions, I don't think I'd be worth all that much in the people-department. My writing keeps me from going crazy. And yes, it gives me a sense of accomplishment (on the days when my writing goes well, I'm much happier). In fact, I would love to achieve some level of fame, as a way of validating--and perhaps justifying--all the time and effort I put into writing.

But at the same time, without relationships in my life, what would I have to write about? Part of my problem in finding things to write about is that I write too much about myself and not enough about and for others. That's probably why I get so bored with what I write: I'm not that fascinating of a subject. But it's more than that. I need interaction with others to give my life real, not artificial, meaning. My essays and stories tend to be dry and intellectual. I live too much in my own head.

What I know about life I get from my reading. Oh, some of it comes from my own life, as I've lived it. But I don't often make the connection between my truths and universal truths. Or maybe I do too much of that instead of using my writing to open up the worlds of others.

If I were to describe myself in order of importance (to me), I would say that I am a writer first, a mother second, a wife third, a Christian fourth, and a friend last. That doesn't mean that I don't value my friendships, just that I don't spend as much time cultivating them as I do my writing. It doesn't mean that being a mother doesn't define so much of who I am, I can't tell where one begins and the other ends. Nor does it mean that I don't know that I owe my very life and well-being to God. And as for husbands, well, I've had four: I'm still not sure that I'm getting that part of my life right. (Just kidding, hon!)

I guess I don't want my tombstone to say: "Beloved writer, mother and wife." Or do I? Okay, maybe not in that order. But it would mean everything to me to know that my words and my love of words left an impact on people's lives. To do that, though, I need to have a better idea of what others' lives are like. I need to work on this.

Realizing that I put writing first is quite a revelation to me. If that's true, then I need to be taking it even more seriously than I already do. I need to allow myself to put it first in fact as well as in my heart. Writing every day is one way to do that. Opening my heart is another.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Fire in the Belly

The other day I read this advice: To write a best-seller, you should write from the fire in your belly. That until you do this, you can't move onto the next thing. I agree with that. It's just that many things fuel the fire in my belly and I can't distinguish the one that generates the greatest flame.

There is one thing that lurks in my mind and my heart that I hardly ever write about. And that is my faith. I'm what I consider to be a "born-again" Christian. I was raised in the Lutheran Church, baptized as an infant, confirmed at fifteen, accepted Jesus as my personal savior when I was 21, started to attend a Methodist church, was baptized again in light of my renewed faith, married a man who became a minister, and was a minister's wife for ten years before we were divorced.

That was a major blow to my Christian life. I lost the church we had been attending (I'm the one who had to leave) and many of our Christian friends. I briefly took my kids to an Episcopal church, but because I got a job which required me to work on Sundays, I soon stopped attending church altogether. I didn't start attending church again until after I was remarried, at my new husband's request. We were active in that church (another Methodist one) for another eight years, until that marriage ended in divorce as well. I attended that church a couple of times after that, but since I had moved out of the area, I found it too inconvenient and stopped going. The last time I attended church was at a Catholic mass. I cried my way all the way through it and I haven't been back since. That was in 2000.

Sometimes I look back and wonder how I got here. I also wonder how I could get back to where I once was. But do I want that? I still consider myself to be an orthodox Christian, but I hesitate to write about my faith because I'm afraid that I wouldn't be considered to be "legitimate." Not unless I had a new experience in Christ. An indwelling of the Holy Spirit. A renewed commitment to Jesus. But I hold back because I don't want to become a "Bible-thumper." My beliefs don't line up exactly with the evangelical or fundamentalist communities. Is there a place for a Christian writer who doesn't go to church?

Perhaps this is the "fire in my belly." At the very least it feels like unfinished business. But I feel stuck. I don't know where I want to go to church. I don't know that I do want to go to church. I do want to be closer to God and I don't know how to get there. Perhaps I'm at a crossroads and I need to choose a direction before I can get where I'm meant to be.

Friday, September 05, 2008

My Blogs

Most of the writing I've been doing these days is posting to my blogs. I actually have five, but rarely write in two of them. They are:
This one:
ADD Women
German(e) and Human(e)

The first one is a feminist blog. I've considered myself a feminist since 1971 and lately have become much more interested in feminist issues. Recently I've been writing a lot about politics (what else?): Hillary, Sarah Palin, Obama, and mothers' political movements.

The second one is about city living. I moved into the city (of Columbus, Ohio--yes, it is a city) about ten years ago and I love it. It's not for everyone, but I use this blog to encourage those who are thinking about a similar move.

The third is about writing. I have been a writer all of my life, but only in the past sixteen years have I taken myself seriously as one. Still, I struggle with the whole process and that's what this "sounding board" is all about.

The fourth is about women with ADD. I was diagnosed with ADD eight years ago, when I was 48. It's not widely accepted that adults can have ADD, nor do most people think of it being something that females have very often. I like to shine a light on those misconceptions.

And the fourth is about all things German. I call it "German(e) and Human(e)" because its premise is to show that the German people don't deserve the prejudice that is often leveled at them. (Even though I understand it.)

Posting to these blogs is great exercise for a writer, but it is also an escape from my other writing. When I'm having trouble writing an essay or working on my novel, I find that I can almost always think of something to write about for one of my blogs. Whether or not what I write is interesting to others is something I have yet to discover. I have received only two or three comments among them. But one of my posts was cited on Mothers Book Bag in connection with a review of The Maternal is Political. ("Taking Mothers Seriously," Femagination, July 15, 2008). I felt very good about that.

I don't know how bloggers get their blogs noticed. I keep hoping that someone will stumble across one of mine some day and spread the word. But in the meantime I'm going to keep on "bloggin'."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fear of Offending

I have a dilemma common to most writers: I'm afraid to write freely for fear that I'll upset someone I care about. I thought that once my parents died, this would no longer be an issue. But I forgot that there are plenty of other people I could offend, including my children and husband. For instance, I have four children: how do I write about parental favoritism without making it sound like I do have favorites? Or, when writing about my marriages, how do I write frankly about my marital satisfaction without upsetting the one(s) who come across unfavorably?

I realize that the chances of ex-husbands or lovers reading my work is not high (unless my work becomes well-known--which of course is something I want, but am afraid to expect). But my family is very interested in my writing--at least my husband is--and wants to read what I write. I also want to share it with them. But how do I do that and be completely honest about certain things? It's no good to try to cloak what I have to say in fiction--in fact, that's almost even worse: I might want to embellish something that happened to me in real life and the embellishment might be interpreted as something that's real. If I write about a married woman who has taken a lover, or wants to, will my husband think that's what I've really done or thought?

This reminds me of the joke about the one-hundred-year old couple who go to a lawyer for a divorce. The lawyer asks, "Why did you wait so long?" And they reply, "We wanted to wait until the children were dead." Do I have to wait until every one is dead before I can write exactly what I want to write? Chances are I won't make it.

One alternative is to write under a pseudonym. Donald Westlake writes about doing that in his essay "Pen Names Galore," but he never says that he did it to protect the feelings of people he was writing about. His reasons were mainly so that he could write prolifically, or change his style, without spreading his own name too thin. He doesn't address whether or not pen names are a good idea to protect the reader.

Some writers protect their loved ones and even acquaintances by disguising who they're writing about. But how does that help when you're writing about your husband and you only have one?
Or one of your children? (As if they couldn't tell which one you're writing about.) Or the person you've been friends with since the sixth grade? Some people might not know who you're writing about, but those you're writing about will?

I guess the only answer is to write freely and the consequences be damned. I'm just not sure that I'm ready to do that. The problem is, until I am, I probably won't be the writer I long to be. Because writing requires honesty. I can't cheat by pretending to feel differently than I really do. The result will ring false. Writing also requires "opening a vein"--letting it all hang out. Not every little detail, but the deepest meaning of the details you do include. Otherwise your writing will be flat. Mine often is, and I've diagnosed my problem as fear of offending. I need to get off this fence, jump in the mud and get dirty. Worrying about what others think of me is only going to give me writer's block. And it has.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Writing Memoirs

"I can't stress enough how different it is to write about the real and the unreal. When I started writing my memoir my whole metabolism changed. I'd just turned 50 and I assumed it was just age, but I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning and I had the most delicious lie-ins of my life! It was just sheer emotional exhaustion, I now realise. Communing with your significant dead is what it amounts to, and that is an exhausting thing. Not unpleasant, but still hard work."
Martin Amis

"For me, the memoir is not autobiography. It's very, very distant from that. There's no attempt to give a chronological rendition of one's life. I was looking at the traces of the legacies. I used the novelist's skills of going into the minds of the people you know least - namely my parents before I was born! These are totally mysterious others. You also need to be able to set scenes and to be able create movement in the text and create characters the way a novelist would."
Lisa Appignanesi

"Lisa Appignanesi and I may have had peculiar lives but they're also fundamentally universal. The only things that really matter are births and deaths and separations and unions - and we all have them. This is the advice I'd give a prospective memoir writer: the critic leads the reader from quote to quote, but that's also what the memoir writer does - you're quoting from memory, and what stays in your memory is the interesting stuff and that's the stuff you should quote. And if these things hang together at all, you're on to something."
Martin Amis

"I think the first thing to do is to select out. Otherwise you'll have no time to live as you recollect the past - there is a great deal of it! So select out for the moments that have a particular resonance for you. Play with those and see where they take you. They may take you into interesting places and not necessarily the places where you thought you might visit."
Lisa Appignanesi