Writing is…

“Writing is… being able to take something whole and fiercely alive that exists inside you in some unknowable combination of thought, feeling, physicality, and spirit, and to then store it like a genie in tense, tiny black symbols on a calm white page. If the wrong reader comes across the words, they will remain just words. But for the right readers, your vision blooms off the page and is absorbed into their minds like smoke, where it will re-form, whole and alive, fully adapted to its new environment.”―Mary Gaitskill

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“Writing is communication, not self-expression. Nobody in this world wants to read your diary except your mother.” ―Richard Peck

“Writing is its own reward.” ―Henry Miller

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“Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself .” ―Franz Kafka

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” ―Carlos Fuentes

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Writing is madness, obsession, release—it’s a desperate need to make sense of things.

“Writing is creative but the guts of it boils down to discipline.” ―Susan Duncan

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“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” ―David McCullough

“Writing is probably like a scientist thinking about some scientific problem or an engineer about an engineering problem.” ―Doris Lessing

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“Writing is like a sport, it’s like athletics. If you don’t practice, you don’t get any better.” ―Rick Riordan

Writing is letting go of the fear that you can’t say what you need to say.

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“Writing is seeing. It is paying attention.” ―Kate DiCamillo

“Writing is rewriting. Even after you’ve gotten an agent and an editor, you’ll have to rewrite. If you fall in love with the vision you want of your work and not your words, the rewriting will become easier.” ―Rick Riordan

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” Writing is hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then un-hypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly.” ―Anne Lamott

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“Writing is the painting of the voice.” ―Voltaire

“Writing is the only thing, that, when I do it, I don’t feel that I should be doing something else.” ―Gloria Steinem

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Writing is a way of life. 

The not-so-magical time between stories

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Writing is a magical process…

Magical because the whole experience of creating a world from nothingness is so mysterious and so beautiful that you can’t possibly explain what it’s like to a non-writer.

But what happens when you’re done with a writing project?

Take reading, for instance… do you ever take some time to process a book when you’re done with it? Let it simmer in your mind for a while before you pick up another? I do… and quite similarly… I take some time between writing stories. When my brain is coming down from its writing high and relishing the small but earned break I give to myself before I tackle the next world I have on queue to create.

I write short stories. I can only work on one story at a time (even though I may have 10 other story ideas poking at my brain all at once). Coming to the end of a story draft is a glorious time filled with light and hope and happy dances and the feeling that you might actually be able to call yourself a writer after all.

I print my draft, feel the paper in my hands, my inked words, my tangible imagination—it feels so good!—I read it over with a pen, circling, underlining, running a line through sentences, words, paragraphs, praying that I won’t hate this draft in the morning; I email my story to a few trusted readers who promise to get back to me with feedback. And then I wait.

And I wait.

And I wait some more.

I might pluck a few guitar strings while I’m in this time zone between stories.

I might write a poem or two. Or bake some cupcakes. (I don’t bake very often, so the latter is a big deal.)

I might peruse through other story drafts, scratch my head and wonder where to pick up and continue the narrative.

I might binge on a TV show I neglected while I was being so good sticking to my writing routine all those weeks, before I arrived at “The End.”

And all the while the glorious feeling of having finished a story begins to slowly fade. The time between stories stretches along and I realize I should probably stop waiting idly for feedback from my readers and start working on another story while I wait.

But I need closure! I need closure for my finished story draft. I need it to be a final draft, which is much different from a finished draft, mind you. And so I’m working through this struggle that is moving on to the next story when the one before isn’t exactly done yet. (But can a story ever really be done? That’s another post all together…)

I’ve been doing really well with my writing routine this year and I’m proud of myself. When I’m on a roll, I’m on a roll, and I feel invincible as far as productivity goes. But when I finish a story draft… that’s another… well, story. I’m finding that I have a hard time gearing back up into writing mode again.

Does this ever happen to you?

I guess the trick is to not spend too much time away from writing. Celebrate the fact that you’ve finished a draft, but don’t hang by the camp fire long enough for it to go out at your feet. Initially, I extend this time between stories because I’m waiting for feedback from my readers… I can’t work on another story until I get feedback about the story I’ve just finished…

Excuses, excuses!

And yet… I know that taking time away from finished drafts is important for perspective. If you’re like me, you’ve read your story draft 1001 times and you can therefore no longer read it objectively. So you do in fact need some distance from your story, so you can come back to it with the fresh perspective needed to revise it fully and completely.

But I need to get better at controlling this time between stories. I can’t linger in this limbo for too long… I need to learn to set my finished story aside and move on to my next project a little faster. I’ve been getting better at consistency as far as writing regularly goes, but the juncture between one story and the next has proven to be a little trickier to navigate.

How about you? Do you linger in the time between stories? If so, how do you spend this time? How long does it take you to bounce back into the writing zone—into your next writing project? Or do you not take a break from writing at all?

I’d love to hear from you!

When I Write

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When I write, I suddenly remember that my room needs to be dusted. I see the particles on my window sill, I hear them calling me, accusing me of being lazy. I am suddenly aware of my clothes everywhere. The clean and the dirty and the in-between. And that I should probably get to sorting them, because let’s face it, I’m not going to come home one day and find that my dog has so kindly decided to help out with the chores.

The priorities in my life, it seems, are mounting, and my eyes keep lifting from my computer screen, shooting disconcerting glances at pairs of shoes and socks tossed in a corner, and the despicable pile of mail that swells larger on my shelf each week.

My room is my comfort. My cocoon. It holds me like a giant pillow. No one disturbs me here, at least not directly. The walls are not sound proof (I need silence when I write) but it’s where I do my writing, usually on my bed with my back against the wall because I have no headboard (I don’t know why I have no headboard, I just don’t).

I have a small desk that I bought at a yard sale a few summers ago. The old lady’s hair was a fizzy, blonde-grey. She sat in a folding chair and smiled so jovially that you just felt drawn to oblige her. She seemed very pleased with her collection of unwanted things, among which was the desk. It might have been a school girl’s at one time (or boy’s, I suppose). Its pale yellow paint was chipping all over, revealing streaks of wood underneath, and I found the desk’s imperfections to be charming.

Now it sits in my room holding a small hill of clothes and a stack of books and papers that I should really get to sorting. It’s spotted with post-it notes and I don’t remember the last time I used it for writing.

Oh, yeah… writing. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

Why is it that I get so paralyzed when I sit down to write sometimes? All these menial chores that sit on the back burner of life suddenly rise to eye-level when I pull up my work in progress. If only my characters would tell me how they felt instead of beating around the bush so much. I spend so much time prodding them to trust me. I feel like a shrink in a clock-ticking room: Talk to me about your childhood. Tell me your most precious memory.

I enjoy getting to know my characters, but sometimes it’s exhausting. Sometimes they’re so tight-lipped and snooty faced I wonder why I even bother. I threaten to kill them off or thrust them into tragedy, until finally they uncross their arms and agree to tell me a juicy secret, albeit reluctantly.

It’s easy coming up with story ideas. They come to me multiple times a day, hitting my brain like jolts of caffeine, making me giddy. But sometimes when I write, the white page pours over me like salt water. I wonder, is this even a good idea? Maybe I should do laundry first. I just took my dog out but maybe she needs to go out again. Do you need to go out again? Huh, girl? But my dog is napping, of course. You should really get a job, I tell her.

Sometimes when I write, the words flow through me like a waterfall, and I feel like I’m swimming, no—gliding, with so much exuberance and grace, that no one, not even my noisy neighbors, can disrupt my immaculate flow, and I feel like the writing gods have lifted me up in the palms of their hands, holding me up high, past the clouds, far above the earth, in a perfect and complete glow of illumination and transcendence. Yes!

And then I retreat into the book I’m reading and I think—how did the author do that? What an asshole. And my characters all of a sudden look like flailing fish on my page, squawking like ugly one-eyed birds, and I sulk, and wonder about my plants and the last time I watered them. They’re probably thirsty. And I’m kind of hungry, come to think of it.

There is magic to writing, but mostly hard work. You have to do it everyday, religiously, I keep hearing. I am getting better at consistency. At ignoring the pointy finger of my inner perfectionist who says (because he always has something to say): Well, this is a step up from the rubbish you wrote last week, but not by very much, I’m afraid.

I just know that I love stories, and that even though I struggle, I’ve decided to use my stubbornness for good and work hard to not give up on my characters. They need me, but I’m finding that I need them more. They are real. They dwell inside me, lost in an avalanche of words, and the only way to dig them out is to keep writing.

Keep writing!

Or I can just go for a run. It’ll make me feel totally refreshed and ready to take on this next scene I’ve been drafting, which is going to be epic, by the way. So epic! And it’s going to look marvelous on paper. Just marvelous! And all the world will rejoice because I didn’t give up on my stories. All will be saved and all will make sense. There will finally be peace on earth.

And then I can finally get to dusting my room. It’s not going to dust itself, you know. And I would just hate for the dust bugs to grow into a monster and clog my air passages at night and choke me while I sleep. Because then how would I get my writing done? You can’t do much when you’re dead. And writing is serious business.

There is Nothing to Writing

I sit at my desk, typing then backspacing, typing then backspacing. Highlighting paragraphs. Deleting, undoing, rewriting. What’s wrong with me? I look at my dog who looks up at me helplessly. What? You want to go for a walk? I’m busy writing, okay?

Well, not really…

I get up to make coffee.

I think of Hemingway’s words: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

And of John Gardner’s words: “The dream must be vivid and continuous…”

And of Anne Lamott’s words: “Perfection is the voice of the oppressor…”

Why would anyone want to be a writer?

I’m hard on myself when it comes to my writing (in case you couldn’t tell). It’s healthy to be self-critical of your work, necessary to hone an objective eye, but not to a degree that makes you lose confidence. I want my writing to be perfect. Perfect! But this yearning for perfection has only gotten in the way of my writing. The quest for perfection is nonsense. It’s distracting, and not the point of writing at all.

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say the most valuable of traits is persistence.” Octavia Butler

You know what else is distracting? Comparing yourself to other writers. They cannot write your stories just as you cannot write theirs. So focus on your own work.

I have my coffee now. I look down at my page and think of Hemingway’s words again, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Well that’s great. I suppose I should whip out the band aids. (Or does he mean internal bleeding? Probably both.)

But I love this quote so much because it gives me hope. It reaffirms that I’m not crazy. That the path to the most coveted words “The End” is supposed to be thorny, is supposed to draw blood. That I feel the way I do about my writing because I am a writer. All writers have their insecurities, moments of self-doubt and agony. But real writers write their way out of these emotional trenches. Real writers don’t stop writing.

Because writing is a passion. We don’t write for money or recognition (and certainly not for physical well-being). We write because we have an aching in our hearts, a story to tell. A story that occupies our daydreams and keeps us awake at night. A story that we need to set free into the world so we can finally set ourselves free.

A story worth telling and a story only we can tell.

There is nothing to writing. So I sip my coffee, roll up my sleeves metaphorically, pet my dog because she calms my nerves, and get to writing.

I have this ache in my heart for a reason.

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Writing is Hard (and other writerly problems)

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Writing is hard.

It’s the process of extracting with tweezers the intangibles (thoughts, dreams, ideas, images, emotions) from your mind and heart, and molding them into beautiful tangibles (inked words on paper) that not only have to make sense to another mind, but must provide a certain level of enjoyment, deemed worthy of a reader’s time.

Forget inspiring your reader to revelations, evoking thoughts and epiphanies. That will grow on its own time… later.

You just want to write.

You just want to create the conditions by which your reader will keep reading beyond the first few lines… keep reading the words that you poured so much of your blood into… so much of your blood… that you’re now lying dizzy and dehydrated, hallucinating slightly… and not water, not love, not fresh air, not a child’s hug or a cat’s purr can bring you back… because what you really need are more words… more words from your churning imagination.

Perfect words.

Writing is hard.

It’s excruciating, and feels near impossible sometimes.

It can drive you to madness… to doubting yourself (am I even a writer? Why am I doing this to myself?!)… to talking to or about your characters as though they were real human beings… to laughing out loud when your characters say something funny, only to realize… that you’re alone on your couch with your dog, and your laptop is burning your lap, and you’ve been holding your bladder for hours and you haven’t eaten since morning and you’re somehow sitting in darkness and your neighbors can see through your window, and they’re waving at you.

Writing is hard.

It’s walking through a dark room, hands along the wall, and each word you find is a light switch that makes the room a bit brighter, so that you can finally see the window on the other side, and make your way to it; the window that will show you the world from an angle that makes sense… so that you can finally understand… something… a little better.

Writing is hard.

It’s a thrill. To see your mind’s fruits BECOME. To CREATE… and then cast that creation into the world. 

Here! you yell from the mountain top, wind tousling your hair. Here is a piece of me! And you rip that piece of you from your chest, and it drips. Here is my offering, my sleepless nights and daily ponderings! Here is my contribution to the endless stream of consciousness that envelopes and connects us all!

Only for your book to end up in a used-book store with a $2.00 price sticker. All that agony of pulling images from your brain and surgically manipulating them onto a page, of saying no to friends and family because “I can’t, I have to write”, all that despair of wondering if this is the right idea, the right word, the right way to frame this scene, the right pace, the right allusion, the right calling for your life…

All that, and your book ends up in a donation box somewhere, or worse— a recycling bin— or worse— an attic or basement— dusty, unknown, forgotten.

And you just want to write.

You don’t want to be forgotten.

Isn’t that what writing is, partly? A validation of sorts? A confirmation of I Am Here or I Was Here?

You need only to scroll through social media to see how much people want that validation… that desire to be heard… that platform on which to announce to the world: I AM HERE. I MATTER. THIS IS WHAT I HAVE TO SAY. DO YOU SEE ME? I AM HERE.

Writing is hard.

You just want to create an oasis in a world of chaos. You want your book to be a refuge, a parallel universe unaffected, though very much inspired, by the truths and lies and questions of life. A safe place to visit. A place of comfort and enjoyment, but also a place that stirs you.

A place that reassures you: you are not alone in this wonderful explosion of thoughts and emotions and experiences. You are not alone and you are not crazy. And if you are crazy, then by all means be crazy. Be fabulous crazy. Be brave crazy. Be you.

Writing is hard.

But when you write…

Write with all your heart and blood and soul…

Write like your blood cells are letters in every single language that ever existed, and you’re the only translator left…

Write like it’s an involuntary bodily function, like your lungs need it more than air…

Write until you fall to the floor in hopeless exhaustion, then close your eyes and let your dog sniff your face (because that’s what dogs do and you love your dog), and when your dog’s done sniffing, sink into beautiful sleep, where your imagination can play and wander in your dreams, unbridled… where your words can simmer and bubble in your mind’s subconscious.

And when you wake up, head straight to the kitchen to make coffee— strong coffee— then sit your ass back down and write some more. Because you’re a writer, dammit. It’s what you do.

Also, don’t forget to eat. (And take your dog out.) You’re only human, after all. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

The Plight of the Artist: Inspiration vs. Habit

ImageInspiration is an elusive and mysterious fellow. I imagine him to live in the tree tops where he can observe the comings and goings of mundane routine from a safe distance. (He doesn’t do too well with monotony.) At times he might find a person of interest and decide to perch himself on his or her shoulder, and linger there awhile to the very delight of said person. Other times he might remain far and aloof, on a hiatus of sorts because apparently Inspiration too needs time to rejuvenate.

That said, I don’t trust Inspiration much. I adore his company and would never ever turn him away (obviously), but I have learned to not rely on him, to not wait for him to do my work. Inspiration will always be nearby somewhere, camouflaged in the tree tops, playing outside your window, or anywhere around you really if you would only quiet your mind and pay attention. But he’s fickle. He does not like to make himself readily available. He’s shy, has his insecurities like any artist, and thus seems to reveal himself only when he’s got his best suit on. Which is why, when he does finally arrive — it’s amazing! But frankly, I don’t have time for that.

And so I discovered my sturdy friend, Habit.

Now let me tell you. Habit will get you where you need to go. He will bee-line through any mess and screech to a stop right at your feet just to pick you up. Habit, in short, makes things happen, gets things done. Inspiration lounges, kicks his feet up, stays awhile only when it pleases him. Habit moves, demands attention, calls you to action.

So much for productivity, Inspiration may mumble, a cigarette hanging from the side of his lip as he watches us from a cloud. Habit on the other hand is a bull: fierce and proud and utterly dependable, once you learn how to harness him, of course. You must earn Habit’s trust before he will work with you.

I wasted spent a good many years waiting around on whimsical Inspiration. Declaring that I cannot be creative until I’m in his magical company. But I finally realized, thanks to a professor in one of my writing workshops, that I had it all wrong…

The art of living artfully is a matter of choice, a matter of prioritizing. Not a matter of waiting for the right idea and the perfect moment. We must set up the stage for the right idea and the perfect moment. We must plow through hideous drafts and forgive ourselves instead of punish ourselves when a piece we’re working on refuses to take the shape we want it to.

Inspiration may give us vision, but Habit is what helps us bring that vision to life.

We need Inspiration. His purpose is entwined with ours. And in time, he will come. He always does. Sometimes quietly, sometimes with a bang. He may visit us in our dreams or at the doctor’s office. He lives in a single moment; he’s as essential as a match. But ultimately, forging a strong partnership with Habit is how we can set ourselves up for success.

Habit will keep us moving through the streams of our imaginations even when those streams seem low and almost dry. Habit will keep us disciplined and determined and hopeful. Inspiration is a wonderful visitor. We must cultivate patience and keep an open window in our minds so that we’re always ready to welcome him into our creative process.

Inspiration without Habit often leads to unfinished projects and half-baked ideas. But Habit nurtures Inspiration. Habit keeps the artist going. Habit is the difference between a passive artist and an active one.

why i write

1747_65579737872_6615_nbecause writing is

revolutionary;

because i dream in

words;

because i cannot stand to think

that i will not be

heard;

because i like the black

of ink;

because it hurts to not;

because i fear that if i don’t

my heart will surely

rot;

because it slices

cuts

and burns;

because i cannot sleep;

because the earth

echoes

the sea;

because the

leaves

in

fall

will

weep.

Why I write fiction

“Fiction is the art form of human yearning.”- Robert Olen Butler, American author

It wasn’t until I came across the above quote that I realized, yes — that is why I love to read and write fiction. I want to explore the human condition. The yearnings that pull at the human heart. Some yearnings are live wires, bursting, causing trouble or inspiring great change; others are dormant, not yet realized.

At the core of every beating heart is a raw desire, a painful need, a helplessness, a joy, a hope, a love, a passion, a fear, a secret. I’m fascinated by these complexities that make up who we are as human beings. By the eccentricities of our human nature, by the good and evil that battles in our hearts, by the intricate relationships we forge and release in our lives. By the choices we make. By how those choices follow us.

Why do we do the things that we do? What does it mean to be good? What does it mean to be evil? What does it mean to be human? Is there hope for us?

We all have unique stories and truths that shape our lives. Fiction is a reflection of those stories and truths. Sometimes the reflection is bright, sometimes it’s dark, but fiction — good fiction — is always true in that it always seeks to express or reveal what is true. That is why we connect with characters, why they become real to us — because in the characters, in their flaws, strengths, and motivations, we recognize a piece of ourselves or a piece of someone we know.

When I write fiction I get to analyze the various depths of human emotions. I get to be, feel, see anything I choose… I get to dive into the wondrous world of the everyday, seek beauty in the most unlikely of places, find the amazing in the mundane. Writing fiction allows me to step outside of myself, and it helps me find some understanding in a world that is becoming increasingly fearful, cynical, and unfeeling.

When I write fiction I discover. I practice reflection. You must look inwards as much as outwards when writing. You must trust your instincts and draw from what you don’t know as much as from what you do. You must question. You must observe. You must be sincere. I write fiction because I want to explore and bridge perspectives. I want to feel the other side of things. I want to play with the “what ifs”. I want to let others know, as many books have let me know time and time again:

You are not alone in this beautiful mess called the human experience. You are not alone. I too have braved this battle and felt this feeling and found this joy in the nothing.