Lucky 7 — Celebrating the WordSisters’ 7th Anniversary

In 2012, when Elizabeth and I launched WordSisters, we weren’t sure where this adventure would take us or if we could keep up the discipline (and pleasure) of blogging regularly. But here we are—still blogging!

Through the years, more sisters in writing joined us: Cynthia, Brenda, Jill, and Jean. We’ve made friends and added followers from all over the U.S. and the world.

I believe one of our strengths is the variety of voices, styles, and subject matter each of us brings. In that spirit, here is a selection of popular posts:

On Losing My Ambition (Open Letter to 35-Year-Old Hiring Managers) I made choices that supported the life I wanted; my decisions did not advance a traditional career path.

Until It Becomes Personal  Until it becomes personal it is somewhere else, someplace else, somebody’s else’ kid.

I’m (Not) Sorry I have set a big goal for myself: to stop saying “I’m sorry.”

Time Runs Out We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months when he had shared with us that he experienced a couple of mysterious health incidents.

No Merit Badge for This “What would you do if there was a fight in the food court?”

God Bless Middle-aged Daughters We’re the sensible, competent women who make it all happen.

Opposing Thumbs As I sat in Miss Bloom’s typing class, I never thought that one day I’d be typing primarily with my thumbs.

Comfortable on Any Turf In memory of Lisa, whose writing group—Ellen, Elizabeth, Rose, Jill, Brenda, and I—were WordSisters well before Ellen and Elizabeth began this blog.

Thank you for being our readers over the years. You’re the reason we’re here.

 

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A Fool’s Errand or a Worthy Risk?

I just submitted my memoir manuscript to a publisher. I sweated over every word of the query. I drafted the synopsis and revised it and revised it again so the narrator’s growth was woven into the plot. I fussed over the manuscript sample to make sure it was tight and engaging.

I believe in my book. If I didn’t think it was worthy, I wouldn’t have spent more than 10 years on it.

But as I read and reread my handiwork, doubt crept in. I thought, “Am I wasting my time? Will this book even appeal to the publisher?” I sent it off anyhow.

Next, I polished and fussed with my entry for a writing contest.

Once again, I was assailed by the same suspicion that this is a fool’s errand. I’ve entered that contest half a dozen times and haven’t won yet. Will this year be any different?

Some stubborn, optimistic part of me persists.

While working on these submissions, I countered my doubts with platitudes like, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t try.”

Then I questioned the platitudes. It’s ingrained in the American psyche to believe that you’ll succeed if you try hard enough. That isn’t always true. Sometimes you fail anyhow. Then you have to live with the failure and wonder if it’s your fault because you didn’t try hard enough. Huh?!? What maddening logic.

Americans also love noble failure and tell ourselves, “At least you tried.” That is comforting. Like many Americans, I do believe that it’s better to risk failure than to attempt nothing. Risk is scary, but safety is stifling.

Finally, I come back to Margaret Atwood’s sensible advice: “Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”

I’m going to stop whining. As for the entries? Stay tuned.

Dealing with a Dry Spell: Perspective for Writers

Often my writing struggles concern wanting more time to write. Lately, I’ve had enough time, but I’m writing less—the words aren’t flowing. I’m still writing, but much less enthusiastic about what I’m coming up with. I’ve learned some ways to cope with a writing dry spell.

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1. Don’t freak out. “Dry spell.” “Writer’s block.” “Just feeling off your game.” Whatever you call it, it’s like insomnia. The more you fret, “OMG! I have to get up in an hour-and-a-half. I’ve GOT to get more sleep!” the less likely you are to fall asleep. Similarly, if you tell yourself, “I’ve been sitting here 45 minutes and everything I’m writing sounds stupid. Why do I even bother?” you’re guaranteed to shut down your creative energy.

2. Trust yourself. I know. I know. Easy for me to say. But after 25+ years writing advertising and marketing, I’ve learned that the words and ideas will come back.

Countless times, I had two hours to come with an ad concept. The graphic designer and I tossed out ideas, drew, played with words that had a ring to them, and described possible visuals. At first, most of what we brainstormed was weak, clichéd, off the topic, or all three.

We could have let ourselves panic, but we pushed away that feeling and kept going. Part way through the process, something shifted and the better ideas began to flow. I learned to get comfortable with spinning my wheels mentally. Sooner or later, my brain would engage and we’d have several viable concepts.

As long as I trusted myself to think up something, I would. Writing essays, blogs, and memoir take deeper thinking and more sustained effort—they’re harder—but the approach is the same. Trust yourself.

3. You can’t stop being a writer, so you might as well keep going. Haven’t you sworn off being a writer at least once? Haven’t you told yourself, “I don’t have any talent. No one is going to be interested in what I’m writing. I should quit fooling myself. Etc. Etc.”?

How’d that work out for you? You must still think of yourself as a writer or you wouldn’t be reading this! Whether you like it or not, your writer’s sensibility continues to notice and mentally record the funny conversations you overhear at the coffee shop. The writer in you searches for the right words to describe the colors of grasses in autumn or the texture of a beat-up sofa—even if you’re just relaying a funny story to friends. You might not be writing much right this minute, but you’re still hardwired to be a writer.

Since you can’t eradicate writing from your life, keep writing. Although there are different theories about this, I personally think it’s better to keep writing regularly, even if you only write a little bit, because it keeps you limber.

But be gentle with yourself. Don’t expect as much. For example, set a goal of doing 20 minutes per session. Let the measure of success be that you did it, not that the writing was great. Perfection is not required.

4. Trick yourself into continuing. Quite often, I’m not excited about what I’m writing, so I’m not eager to start work. Or I have no idea what to write, but I still have a blog due. Both situations lead to creative procrastination. I may feel a sudden urgent need to answer emails, switch loads of laundry, or even pay bills (and I hate to pay bills). However, I’ve promised myself I’d sit at my computer and try to write, so after a few distractions, I settle down and try again.

Occasionally, rereading what I wrote last time pulls me in. I start to see things I want to add or change. Other times I fuss with making minor edits or researching some factoids. While I occupy the front of my mind with busywork, the back of my mind begins framing new sentences. Then all I need is the good sense to stop editing and start writing down the new words forming in my head.

Another trick is to work with a writing prompts. Poets & Writers is a good resource for prompts. Evocative photos can also help you access the creative part of your brain that’s being so elusive.

Most of all, trust yourself. The words will come.

What helps you when you’re in a dry spell?

Why I Listen To Books On Tape

mojave_crossing_9780553276800Almost all of my reading takes place in the car. So much so that in the evening if I have any free time I wonder what to do because I don’t have a book on the end table calling to me.

In the car, I have a horse neighing for my attention. Tell Sackett is running from gunshots.

Louis L’Amour’s, Mojave Crossing, is a William Tell Sackett book. Sometimes I just need a good Western to take my mind off things. It’s also a way to look forward to Monday’s and the 45 minute drive to work. Listening to the narrator I find myself wanting to twist, turn and yell, “No, don’t go there, Tell.” But, of course he does.

As a writer, I find value in listening to books on tape the same is if I was reading the paperback. Louis L’Amour’s description of the landscape, the people, the saloon, is a ‘how to’ lesson for me. She had the clearest, creamiest skin you ever did see and a mouth that fairly prickled the hair on the back of your neck. I also listen for how he places summary with action.

He’s found the formula to give me just enough summary so I don’t get bored and then he slingshots me back to the present.

Often, I click Stop while listening to a book on tape and ask myself, Ok, how did he or she just do that? Or, what is making me want to continue listening to this book?

It will take me a few miles to ponder these questions. I am at work in no time at all.

Sometimes, I will hit on a series of books and I can follow the writer’s growth. Tamarack County was one such book by William Kent Krueger. I had listened to a number of his earlier books and there were some where I skipped to the last CD to hear the ending. With Tamarack County it was interesting from the first CD to the end. I tried skipping and had to rewind.

I was eager to listen to his latest book Ordinary Grace. After finishing Mojave Crossing I slid in the Krueger CD. I fell off my horse. It took me a bit to get used to the change of pace – from constant danger – to a walk on a railroad trestle.

Besides listening to westerns and mysteries, I like to skip around to memoir, literary fiction, and self help books. One thing that is good to know, I can always come back to a Louis L’Amour western and find a Sackett lying still on the wet ground, shaking with chill, knowing he has to get warm or die.

I encourage you to try books on tape. I’ve listed below links to information on what others consider good books.

http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/top-10-best-fantasy-audiobooks/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/juliafurlan/books-make-everything-better

http://pjhoover.blogspot.com/2009/08/ear-or-eye-what-makes-for-good-audio.html

http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/the-best-narrated-audio-books-167299

http://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/audiobook

http://airshipdaily.com/blog/the-10-greatest-audiobook-narrators-insomniac-guide

 

Writing Memoir Is Risky Business

Last fall I finished revising my memoir manuscript, BRAVADO AND A SKETCHY VISION LED ME HERE, and I shared it with several friends and family members before I started seeking a publisher. All of them were familiar with the basic premise of the book: it’s a coming-of-age-in-the-workplace story that takes place in 1979-1980. As a young woman, I was unsure about how to apply my feminist principles to my own life—What did I believe? How far was I prepared to go in pursuit of a career? How much did having a relationship and a family matter to me? If I wanted all three, how would that really work day-to-day?

Sharing the manuscript is scary. I’m exposing my personal life. To judgment – (Your life is boring. Your experiences don’t matter.) To criticism – (The writing is amateurish. The book is poorly written.)

Writing about my own life means I’m also writing about friends and family in my life. Real risky business. They didn’t ask to be in my book or become part of my creative project. They may resent the intrusion. Hate how I’ve characterized them. Even if I don’t intend to, my words can hurt people.

There’s a risk that my family won’t like what I’ve written. A risk that goes beyond embarrassment or irritation about the portrayals. More like – “I don’t care for memoirs—all that emotional stuff. I’d rather read a spy novel.” OK, I can handle that. Tastes vary. Vampire novels may be great stories, but they don’t appeal to me.

But if someone dear to me said, “I’m worried that although I love you, I might not like your writing,” that would be hard. I’d have difficulty separating my relationship from my craft, which is my passion and my life’s work.

I’m exposing my innermost thoughts. Often they’re innermost for a reason—sometimes because they’re painful. Embarrassing. Unworthy. Or stupid. As a writer, I’ve learned that the painful and embarrassing moments are most worth exploring—they’re most likely to yield the material that others really connect with.

The story I’m telling is only as good as my craft. As a memoirist, I use my writerly skills to shape the stories I tell. I decide which incidents, feelings and insights will create a story arc and which are extraneous details and better omitted. I use my powers of description, write dialog, and mine my memory for details. I’ve learned to check facts instead of trusting my memory (The lecture happened in February, not November as I recalled) so I can present a scene as accurately as possible. My skills or shortcomings as a writer determine the value placed on my memoir.

Why take that risk? Some memoirists write in hopes that they can teach others. That’s not what motivates me. Instead, I hope others will recognize something about themselves – “That frustrates me, too.” They’ll enjoy a moment of reminiscence – “OMG, that happened to me!” Or they’ll realize that they’re not the only one – “Wow, I’ve thought that, too.”

Despite the inherent risks, I examine certain periods of my life to find and share meaning. My experiences are worth writing about, not because they’re mine, but because they’re human and other people will see themselves in some of the central truths of my life, even if the particulars differ. For example, other working women have worried about pay and workplace politics. Today, some young women still wonder about how to balance a relationship with a career, just as I did. Other middle-aged women are looking back and considering their legacy.

If you write memoir—what makes it worth the risk?

If you read memoirs—why do they appeal to you?