Here is another valuable and practical lesson from Jane Freedman’s blog:
Here is another valuable and practical lesson from Jane Freedman’s blog:
IN MEMORY OF NALA
Decades after high school and college, my husband and I were packing up to move to our “dream house.” (Hint: that was four homes ago, which tells you dreams are not always what you think they will be.) As we pulled boxes from the attic, we found many of them contained ancient history—as in stuff from high school and college that each of us had been unable, previously, to let go.
Included in “my” boxes were stories I had written dating back to high school. To say they were awful would be kind. Oh, they were grammatically correct: complete sentences, properly punctuated, absent dangling participles, no misspellings, etc.—following all the rules that had been pounded into me since first grade (as in “See Jane run” vintage). The story lines had potential, but the telling was, well, the word “vacant” comes to mind. That is, the story was told with the amount of emotion that accompanied the sentences we typed over and over again in typing class. “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” Anyone old enough to remember those typing exercises as we trained our fingers to type without looking at the keys?
Those typing class sentences were vacant. They contained no emotion of any kind. And neither did my high school writing. I recall thinking, as I re-read the stuff I ultimately discarded prior to the move, “Who the hell wrote this crap?”
The thing was, by my high school years—not counting the melodramatic responses to ordinary pre-teen and teen “traumas”—I had yet to experience and assimilate any genuine losses. My parents were alive and together. My siblings were alive and well. We had enough food and clothes. We lived in a decent house with a big yard. We weren’t rich, and there were lots of things I would have cited back then that I wished I had. But in the big scheme of things, we had everything we needed, and we knew we could depend on our parents for anything important. Like I said, no real lacks or losses.
That changed when the usual and less usual losses began. My first love and I parted ways, a loss that in retrospect seemed like a gift from my guardian angel, but at the time was my life’s biggest trauma to date. Then the losses piled on. (Editorial note: everyone experiences losses, and mine are not itemized to compete with anyone else’s. They just are mine. Each one changed my being at a cellular level to bring me to where I am now.) My beloved fiancé died in a freak accident. One by one my parents died. I loved and lost my first dog, then my second, each bringing its own heartbreak. Close friends died suddenly or after known illnesses.
These are the life experiences that, while tragic and painful beyond words, change who we are, how we relate to life and the world—and what we can bring to our writing.
A little over a week ago, my sweet border terrier died. She was the one who kept my feet warm during the writing of my first three novels, and barked only once in the twelve years from the day we adopted her when she was three, and LOVED running in the woods, and seemed reluctant to bother me when her aging bladder couldn’t make it through the night so she gently tapped me with her little paw, and snuggled between my husband and me on cold nights, and—most painfully—panted and paced through her last night because she was in such distress, because I didn’t want to let her go one second sooner than I absolutely had to. I held her as her little body relaxed as she was medicated and, finally, as the vet nodded that her heart had stopped beating. Should I have done it sooner? Should I have waited to see if she could have a few more good days? As I write this, tears of loss and pain pour down my cheeks.
I haven’t written a word since that day until this. But I will.
One of the greatest review statements for all my novels have focused on my ability to convey emotion and to evoke emotion in the reader, as in this review by Foreword Clarion: “This talented author knows how to evoke emotion, so much so that delving into her work hurts….”
I could not do that if I had never experienced great highs AND lows.
My current “low” stemming from loving and losing my sweet little Nala, will add to that feature of my writing, as it can for anyone’s. We must not be afraid of the emotional pain of loss, and we shouldn’t try to deny it. Don’t listen to anyone who says the equivalent of “snap out of it,” or “time to move on,” or—one of the worst offenses in my book—“it was only a dog.” While we have to keep functioning after a loss of any kind, don’t minimize it. Absorb it and let it add to your being.
Each loss becomes part of who we are, making us richer, more compassionate human beings. And that, in turn, can add depth and meaning and richness to our writing.
RIP My Sweet Nala
Source: Writing Down the Bones
Laurie Buchanan’s latest post is a reminder that, as writers, we must also make time for reading.
A lot of what I write about draws from personal experiences. Usually those experiences don’t translate precisely onto the page, but rather are selected pieces that fit a particular story line. Since I grew up in the fifties and sixties, when life was so-o-o-o very different for children, the activities and environments would seem alien to today’s kids, but there’s a commonality to experiences of being a child surrounded by other children and learning social skills through that medium.
With summer on the horizon, I started thinking about my summers as a child. From age six to age twelve I spent four weeks of every summer (last two weeks of July, first two weeks of August) at Camp Yowochas, in Grafton, NY, and one or two with my cousins in Valley Falls, NY. They were idyllic times.
Camp was structured, which didn’t always fit my personality. But I met kids from far and wide–places as far away (to me) as Long Island and even California. And, it turned out, many of those same girls reappeared in my life in high school. That was when I began to understand the concept of “it’s a small world.”
The weeks with my cousins were completely unstructured, but never boring. We’d spend whole days riding our bikes around the village (never past the Post Office! was the rule), playing our own game called Wild Goose Chase, various forms of hide-and-seek, plodding through the woods, chasing butterflies with a net (and, I’m embarrassed to admit, killing them in a jar and adding them to my collection). ALL unaccompanied by adults. And no one worried about our safety. Evenings we’d lie in the grass and view stars and chase lightning bugs. All pretty idyllic compared to today. Of course, it was the height of the Cold War, and the frequent air raid drills at school drove my mind to believe that the Russians were going to bomb us any day now – to the point that my heart raced every time a plane flew overhead for a number of years. Still, they were good times for growing up.
Any photos that survived from Valley Falls vacations are tucked in an album somewhere, I think at my brother’s house. But photos from Camp Yowochas resurfaced a few years ago.
Simpler times–so different from today.
It’s all about the writing. Excuses don’t cut it if you are serious about your writing goals. Whining won’t get the words onto the paper. Taking your dog for a walk doesn’t take all day, and still leaves time for writing. Have an appointment midday? Instead of seeing that as breaking up your day and therefore an excuse for not writing, look at it as a gift – an opportunity to write early, refresh your creative juices, and go back to it with renewed writing spirit.
Typical Other Excuses:
“I don’t have time to meet my writing goals.” MAKE TIME! HOW COMMITTED ARE YOU?
“I keep getting interrupted.” SET GROUND RULES. LOCK YOURSELF IN A ROOM. GO SOMEPLACE (LIKE A LIBRARY) WHERE THE INTERRUPTIONS ARE ELIMINATED. JUST DO IT!
“I need to be inspired to write.” FIND WHAT INSPIRES YOU. MUSIC? ESSENTIAL OILS? CONNECTING PEN TO PAPER INSTEAD OF SITTING AT A COMPUTER SCREEN? IF YOU STILL AREN’T INSPIRED, JUST WRITE. ANYTHING! IT’S LIKE EXERCISING YOUR BODY – ONCE YOU GET PAST THAT CRITICAL FIRST 10-15 MINUTES, IT FLOWS.
“I don’t like what I’ve written.” SO SET IT ASIDE AND JUST KEEP WRITING. YOU CAN FIX OR DISCARD IT LATER! THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO MAINTAIN THE HABIT OF WRITING EVERY DAY. EVERY DAY. EVEN IF IT’S ONLY FOR A HALF HOUR. EVEN IF YOU PRODUCE GARBAGE. AGAIN WITH THE WORKOUT ANALOGY, YOU HAVE TO WORK THOSE MUSCLES TO SEE ANY RESULTS. YOU HAVE TO WORK THAT WRITING MUSCLE TO PRODUCE A STORY, A NOVEL, ANY WRITING.
Are you really, truly, not-just-an-excuse busy? EVEN THE BUSIEST PEOPLE CAN CARVE OUT TIME TO WRITE. THE BLOCKS OF TIME MAY BE SHORT. YOU NEED TO TRAIN YOURSELF TO GET RIGHT INTO IT AT THE APPOINTED TIME AND WRITE, FOR A HALF HOUR, FOR AN HOUR, WHATEVER YOU CAN MANAGE.
Long before I had the luxury of retirement and was trying both to write and to train for marathons and work full time, my weekday schedule looked like this:
As you can imagine, by the end of dinner I was done in for the day. Good thing, because I had to get to bed early so I could get up and repeat this 5 days per week. Weekends allowed a little more time for writing, but even writers need a life – so weekends included socializing, doing some kind of workout or hike with my dog and husband, and catching up on TV shows taped throughout the week.
My point is clear. Making time for writing is in your hands.
JUST DO IT!!
Kasey Hill - Author & Poet
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