[THE WRITER'S LIFE] Seven Things

Sometimes I go on the Internet when I should be writing. I know, it’s a startling confession, but it’s true. (Even now, I have my email screen open alongside my Word doc, so I guess I should just close it...wait...J Jill has a sale...)

What I tell myself in these situations is that I am looking for inspiration; a spark to ignite my neurons into firing so I can start or finish a piece that is giving me trouble.  I get distracted for a while until I finally wrestle my attention back to the blank page. Or I’ll go get a snack. Either way, the diversion doesn’t typically pan out and I either spend money or gain weight. Except the time I checked out a new writer friend’s blog. She had been “tagged” to write about seven things her readers might want to know about her writing. I was desperate...I took the bait.

Seven things about my writing that readers might want to know.

1. I don’t believe that readers want to know anything about my writing.  But I’m going to do this exercise anyway. My new friend AJ says it will make me think about my writing. Ugh...homework. I think I don’t like homework. And I don’t want to think too much about my writing. Processing my experiences through writing is how I make sense of my life. I like to leave that process alone and not mess with it too much.

2. I love to write more than anything else I do for myself. At least among the healthy things I do for myself.

3. I am not disciplined. As many times as I’ve been advised, even admonished, to create a writing schedule and stick with it, is as many times as I have not done so. I fit it in when suddenly the house is empty and I run upstairs to my office, glancing this way and that for unsuspecting duties, obligations or family members who might intercept me. I do not practice what I preach: I tell my writing students that they MUST have a commitment to a writing time even as I don’t.

4. My writing makes me feel confident. As a writer I am 5-foot-8 with a slim build and a closet full of Eileen Fisher clothes and black flats. My hair is not sticking out at all angles, but lies smooth against my head, with the ebbing blonde blending imperceptibly into the glimmering gray. As a writer, I am not clumsy. And I can dance...beautifully.

5. I love encouraging others to write and teaching my writing classes gives me almost as much of a thrill as getting my own writing done. I believe everyone can write and that it is a phenomenological process available to every thinking human being.

6. Finally publishing a book/having a dream come true is definitely worth the work and effort it took to bring it about. I recommend it. I love it when someone has read my book and takes the time to tell me that it made them think differently about something or do something new. Even the negative responses have been an opportunity for me to grow and learn about myself and that has been an unexpected and extraordinary lesson for me.

7. If I never publish another book, I will continue to write for myself.  For me, writing is a way of understanding my passage through this world and is as essential as breathing to me. Although it is true that I could go a few days without writing and I would die if I went that long without breathing, the lack of writing shows up in my demeanor and my physical self. I can feel it when I don’t write for any length of time.

So, there you have it. A whole list written almost entirely without any side trips to the Internet. (It was a grammar check, I swear.) Thinking about my writing gave it form and function. Even as much as I’ve always loved my writing, I have a little more respect for the process now that I defined its importance in my life. It’s not a bad little exercise, now that I’ve completed it, and I’d recommend it to all you other writers out there, even if you don't have "readers" yet. You will someday. And, in a pinch, you can always use it for your next deadline.

Like I just did.

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  • Michelle Cox

    I really enjoyed your post, Cindy!  I suspect we can all, being writers, relate in some way to each of the posts here.  The following, however, are ones I related the most to: 

     I, too, don't believe that readers want to know anything about my writing.  That's why I'm adverse to most blogs, especially ones by writers about writing.  (Yet here I am...)

    I, too, feel that if I don't write daily I will die. (Heck, right now I'm on vacation in Liverpool, England; it's 11:30 pm - my family is watching Shaun the Sheep on the tele, and I'm in a tiny kitchen writing/catching up on shewrites blogs!).  I will be at it again early in the morning before anyone gets up, working on my current book. 

    Rochelle - I write on scraps, too.  Napkins, my hand, receipts, brochures, business cards, candy wrappers - you name it!

    Paula - I walk, too!  A daily walk (especially in the evening) does something to the brain.  Supposedly Dickens walked the streets of London for hours at night.  Now I know why.  I like to plot out the next chapter while I walk so that when morning comes, I know exactly what I'm doing.

    My own private little secret:  I switched to (gulp) LIGHT beer so that I'm clearer in the mornings.  Wine has gone out the window.  So that's good, right?  Sorta healthy...  

    Anyway, this was fun!

  • What are my seven secrets of writing?

    1.  I write mostly fiction, noir... dark, dirty, gritty tales about bad people doing bad things.  No, that's not the secret.  The secret is that there is something about me, myself or something in my life, in just about every story I have written.  I insert something about myself into the character or the plot.  Why would I do that, you ask?  Am I so self-absorbed (aren't most writers?) and certain that the world revolves around me that I have to put myself in everything I write?  No.  Not at all.  I do it for one reason.  It gives me confidence.  What is that old maxim?  "Write what you know."  Well, I know me.  And by putting something of me in a story helps me to develop characters and write the story.  Of course, in the stories I am 5' 9" and sexy in a kind of Angelina Jolie / Scarlett Johansson kind of way.  5' 3" and 'cute' just doesn't seem that impressive in a villain or heroine, does it?

    2.  I do some of my best - and by best, I mean darkest - writing around 3 in the morning.  That dark, silvery time time between the witching hour and pre-dawn when "things" happen.  ;-)

    3.  I am a 'follower' of Julia Cameron.  I do my 'morning pages' every morning.  Sometimes it is little more than what I politely refer to as 'stream of consciousness', but in reality is just my brain shoveling out crap from the previous day.  Hey, words on paper... that's what counts, right?  Conventional wisdom says that to be a successful writer, one must have a routine and stick to it.  Yeah, well guess what?  "Conventional wisdom" also used to say that you would get hemorrhoids from sitting on concrete.  Besides... I do have a routine.  I write every day.  My routine is just not as structured as some people's.  Someone recently told me there are two kinds of writers... the architect... and the gardner.  Needless to say, I'm the gardner.

    4.  Once the 'garbage' (see #3) has been taken out, I am ready to write.  I don't have a set length of time or a set amount of words.  I write what's there... a little or a lot.  I am not troubled if the pen seems a little dry because I will be back at it in the afternoon.  And, one very important thing.  At least for me.  I always have several pieces going at the same time.  If I get stuck on one story, I will move on to another.  Writer's block isn't a big problem for me.

    5.  When I do get stuck, when my brain refuses to come up with anything more constructive than "You know, Veronica... Pop Tarts don't have that many calories.  You totally should have another one.", I go for a run.  Getting outdoors, some fresh air and a change of scenery, works every time to unstick my brain.  It also burns off some calories so that in the event I do surrender to the siren song of the Pop Tarts, that delectable little pastry won't go straight to my hips.  ;-)

    6.  I carry a notepad or composition book with me everywhere.  Rare is the day that I am not jotting something down somewhere and when I come home in the evening there are often more words on the scraps of paper I've collected throughout the day than in the notebook.  Then when I sit down to write in the evening, I pull all those scraps out.  They are like little 'triggers' to get the ink flowing again.

    7.  I never start writing a story at the beginning.  I write the ending first, then I go back and write the beginning.  After that it is just a simple matter to connect the two.  Okay, maybe it's not that simple.  Some times my characters see the middle as just a big playground for them and I am the mother trying to control a crowd of ten-year olds. But, hey... this is what works for me.

    8.  Yeah, I know... only seven... only seven.  But this is important!  ENCOURAGE AND SUPPORT OTHERS.

    I spend a fair bit of time on social media.  Not just to catch up with the latest political news (snickers), but to chat with other writers and would be writers.  One of the most important things... next to reading and writing... that a writer can do is to connect with and encourage and support other writers.  Ask each other questions.  Talk about each other's work.  I am currently reading two books by Nicole Baart... her latest novel and one of her early ones... and I tweet about them.  Short little excerpts... little teasers if you will... for anyone out there in the TwitterVerse.  This shows my appreciation for and helps promote Nicole's writing... and who among us doesn't appreciate feedback from readers?... as well as shows others that authors don't just talk about themselves.  We help each other.  It is a big community out there... some deep waters... and we all need a little help now and then navigating those waters, catching the right current... getting in a good flow... finding inspiration in the world around us... and inspiring others.

  • I love this idea of secrets about writing.

    My secret is that I, too, fall easily into self-doubt despite a publication history. A rejection still hurts, both my feelings and my belief in my work, even as my rational mind tells me that this is not an evaluation of my worth and simply part of submission process: not to have expectations but secretly coveting the acceptance! I brood and daydream, then suddenly it is time to get it down so I am not actively engaged in writing every day and often have that "should" overlooking whatever else I am doing. (I should be writing, but I would rather drink coffee and stare out the window ...) My memoir is being edited and I am revising (much more work than I expected) and I alternate between the desire to share my story and the dread of what others might think of me. #5: I also am a writing instructor and am always encouraging others, with gratitude and awe at people's stories, but I give advice that I am guilty of not taking myself!

  • I write on scraps, I write sideways on lined paper. I write on napkins, on the backs of dry cleaning tickets, anything to get myself started. It helps me not think of my work as precious. It helps me overcome the fear of What if this isn't good? 

  • Paula Lozar

    I write crucial scenes and dialogues in my head -- complete, or nearly so -- before I ever put fingers to keyboard.  (Taking a walk helps:  mindless physical activity seems to lull my brain into a more focused creative state.  If only housework did the same thing!)

  • Cristina Olsen

    My "secret" is that I'm fearful of what happens when I finally put metal to the petal.  I'm unstoppable.  I can write 6-7 hours at a time and any interruptions elicit growls and roars.  Once hovering over my prey (The Writing), I'm a lioness in a jungle.  I have to be careful with this because years back when I was writing my doctoral dissertation, 7-9 hours a day, I woke up one morning unable to move.  I had developed two herniated lumbar disks.  So in most instances, when I write I have a timer set on the hour to remind me to stretch and move about.  But after a long gestation in which my memoir has been writing itself in the depths of my psyche, it suddenly came knocking loudly demanding entry into the light of day.  Fully written in some mysterious realm of the muses, the memoir now pours out on the screen with all the pent up love and force held in check up in those solitary snow-capped mountains all these years.  Frightening did I say?  Well yes because there are times when I don't even hear the timer go off!  Oh well, maybe in a few more weeks I'll start winding down...just not to a full stop I hope.

  • DelRica

    I love this and will post mine on my blog (with a link here of course).  My secrets are numerous but I think the most pressing one is that I'm Esther and she is me...minus the university instructor part.  But I'm well educated and well read and tend to draw on those to give my work depth. I chuckle when re-reading my work too, even my old blog and Facebook posts.

  • Jo Ann--who? Me.

  • My writing is so all-over-the-place that I can't think of a brand. Maybe "quirky female scientist turned social commentator" is close. Who could possibly be an audience for THAT kind of writing?

  • I love this conversation! I am happy for those of you who tried out the 7 things and am impressed by the honesty of those who have shared their secrets (particularly Gary...shhh...my lips are sealed!) Thanks so much for the feedback...what fun this is. (#8 - I love and rely on being a part of the She Writes community.)

  • Martha Moffett

    My secret? I write to seduce. My plots, my language, my dialogue, my characters are all intended to seduce the reader. (Is that why I write so often about infidelity?)

  • I really like #7. Sometimes I want to give up, simply because of competition, or rejection notices, or the difficulties associated with trying to build a platform. Telling myself I will write whether or not I ever get publishes, reminding myself there are other reasons why I write, really helped me recommit. Thanks Cindy!

  • Gary Kriss

    OK, time to eschew the facetious, especially given the fine responses that have been offered.

    Jill, I feel your pain and often it's hard to remind myself that self-doubt is good. As the finest actors will readily admit, if they don't get a bout of self-doubt before stepping out on stage, they they have a bigger worry: a flat, uninspired performance. (And, yes, Trudie, nausea is not uncommon among the finest of thespians just before that take that proscenium plunge.)

    Confidence? Not necessarily bad but all too often a sign of complacency. Self-doubt doesn't mean you don't feel you have the interior goods, but rather whether you can bring these out onto the page in ways that make your work a new and different experience for the reader instead of one more example of "s/he's just rewriting her/his last ____________ (FILL IN THE BLANK) books.

    Self doubt means you're raising the stakes with each new thing you write, that you've left the comfort zone, that you've entered uncharted territory and, yes, you may fail. But one thing is certain: you'll grow.And rather than a duplicating machine, you'll be what you fear you aren't: a real writer.

  • Sharon McDonell

    Thanks Cindy!  I wrote my own seven as you suggested.  It was eye opening, I might even post it to my unused blog. Thanks again.

  • I am both a writer and a performer. I'd rather write a new song and learn it than practice old ones, even if I have a gig coming up. Like tomorrow. But once on stage, I love performing. I started out in dance, then toured as a performing storyteller, then the songwriting snuck in. Don't tour much any more, hardly dance at all. Lately I've become addicted to writing fiction and writing to prompts in Amherst method workshops. I highly recommend those workshops if you're stuck. You can respond to the prompt either as yourself or as one of your characters. I've gotten good material that way.

  • Pamela Fender

    Since I only write memoir, writing releases my emotions, whether it be fear, frustration, anger (yep, that's a good one) or joy, I must write it down. Then, I breathe.

  • Deedra Climer

    If you substitute a short, chunky chick with wayward hair for #4, that one is me exactly (even the Eileen Fisher!). My secret is that I am embarrassed when someone compliments my writing. I've learned to just say, "thank you" but I'm sure I still flush. 

  • Kathie VanKeuren

    I have a private blog where I write down ideas that might be of use later. I am also working on revamping the first few chapters of my manuscript. However, I find myself procrastinating on this and venturing out onto the internet instead.

  • My secret: if I do not write, I will throw up. Maybe after reading what I have written, I will be nauseated. But not writing when something is sitting on the back of my brain, possibly connected to my whoopsie nerve center, is a definite bad time. So I write. Daily. I hate throwing up.

  • Esther Essinger

    My "secret" might be that I am a wonderful writer. I realize that may sound arrogant to some, especially since I'm unpublished, (but my story is not over). It's true for these reasons: first, I love to read and reread my writing, and as my harshest critic in many ways, as a woman who has worked to heal on self-esteem issues all her life, I feel that if I like it, it must be wonderful. Second, I have a rich, fabulous background and education in literature, as a scholar, student, and university instructor in this field, meaning I have formal training and experience as a critic. Third, I read and have always read, since childhood, countless books on many subjects, which gives perspective. And last, I've never stopped writing my whole life long, even when my lamentable marketing skills have brought me no recognition to speak of (although publishers have praised what I've submitted.) Writing has been the love of my life, the magic I've sworn by, since I was fourteen years old. Gratitude is my emotion and will always be, even if I never get to share my gifts with my world.  

  • Jill Jepson

    What a great post! Thank you. I love this! Here is my secret: Although I've published 3 books with traditional publishers and have over 60 articles in print magazines, I'm riddled with self-doubt about my writing. Ironically, writing is also my way through the self-doubt, my light in the darkness. 

  • Gary Kriss

    Excellent post!

    And now my confession: I'm not a woman. Shhhh! I'm still keeping that from my wife.

  • Jenna Sauber

    What a great post. Some of these hit home with me. I have not yet published a book, but I'd like to someday! I am generally a very disciplined and organized person -- I GSD. But since I quit a regular office job and have become a consultant, I've let my flexibility control my life, ironically. I make lists and calendars and plans, but haven't been able to do so for my writing. Yesterday, I spent three hours trying to get a handle on things, so that I could truly give writing my all. I hope it works. Thanks for sharing these things!