The Perils of Being a Writer and Other Favorites

This month marks WordSisters’ three-year anniversary. To celebrate, we’re sharing a selection of blogs—our favorites and yours.

crazyquiltWe hope our new readers will enjoy getting to know us better. If you’ve been reading WordSisters from the beginning, we hope you’ll enjoy rediscovering some of our perspectives on parenting, families and relationships, working women, and the writing life.

On Losing My Ambition (Open Letter to 35-Year-Old Hiring Managers) 

My friend C. mentioned that after years of freelance writing, she was interviewing to be a marketing communications manager—a position she’s eminently qualified for. During the preliminary phone interview, the interviewer expressed concern that C. wouldn’t be satisfied with being a mid-level manager. We both burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. More

The Perils of Being a Writer

“I knew it,” she says. “I knew it! I knew you were going to say it one day!” She jumps up and runs out of the room.

“What!” I say, alarmed.

I look down at the writing on my laptop and immediately know what happened. There in black and white it says Antonio and Crystel aren’t my children….More

It’s a Good Day When I Kick Somebody in the Head

I started Tae Kwon Do, at Kor Am Tae Kwon Do School when I was 50 years old. Yes, it was an age thing, time to do something new, challenge myself, and show the world that I’m really not all that old. More

Competing with Friends for Writing Awards

Earlier this month, I applied for an Emerging Writer’s Grant and a Loft Creative Prose Mentorship, knowing full well that I’m competing with my good friends for these honors. I really want to win. So do the women in my creative nonfiction writers group. More

Your Moms Can Get Married Now

I imagine someone at school saying that to Antonio and Crystel and them responding, “Huh?” As far as they are concerned, we are already married, and Crystel, much to her chagrin, wasn’t a part of the wedding that we had before she and Antonio came home from Guatemala. She can hardly believe that we had a life before them. More

God Bless Middle-Aged Daughters

As I walk into the skilled nursing center where Mom is rehabilitating, I see other women like myself and think, “God bless middle-aged daughters.” We’re the sensible, competent women who make it all happen. More

When we launched this blog, we envisioned making new friends and sharing our perspectives. But the reality of our weekly conversations with you has exceeded our expectations. Thank you for reading WordSisters and sharing your thoughts!

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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.

Writing Retreat Report: 3 Benefits You Won’t Get at Home

Last weekend, the writers’ group I’m a part of experimented with a do-it-yourself writers’ retreat. We all thought it was a success and even discovered an unexpected benefit.

1. Accomplishment

No surprise. This is one of the main reasons you go on a writers’ retreat. There’s nothing else you’re supposed to be doing. No job, errands, household chores, or running kids around. Just write, think, or daydream—whatever feeds the muse.

I wrote two essays and a new query letter in this room with a view

I wrote two essays and a new query letter in this room with a view

Each of us accomplished more than we normally would. Several of us drafted essays. Others focused on planning—reviewing what they already had written and seeing the possibilities for new work. Some concentrated on researching possible publications and sending queries. Everyone felt the time away helped their writing and creative process.

2. Inspiration

Getting away from your usual surroundings, even for a few days, is very freeing. When you leave the To Do lists behind, you mind clears and there’s room for big ideas. Inspiration bubbles to the surface more readily.Grounds

3. Affirmation

Writers could probably get a lot accomplished and maybe even be inspired if they rented a cabin or house-sat for a vacationing friend. But by staying at a bonafide writers’ retreat, you get more. Hundreds of other writers or artists sat where you sat and considered their creative work important enough to invest in.

The retreat center itself is dedicated to fostering your work. At the Anderson House, the setting includes floor to ceiling bookcases filled with literature instead of the ripped up mystery stories like you’d find at a rental cabin. Each bedroom has a journal full of entries by previous writers and artists who are wishing you well. You feel you’re part of a larger tradition.

ParkingIf the retreat center thinks I’m an artist, I must be!

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?

“I’m Not Afraid”

Cheryl Strayed at Concordia College

Cheryl Strayed at Concordia College

Saying “I’m not afraid” over and over got Cheryl Strayed from the Mohave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State – over an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I tried it myself this week–the mantra, not the hike–and it worked. I got through another moment. Cheryl Strayed had many moments on the trail with dangerous animals, a snowstorm, and misery.

Monday, October 20th, I was with over 2,000 people listening to Cheryl as she spoke from the lectern at Concordia College.

She dropped bits of wisdom throughout the night.

“Don’t make fear my God.”

Her book reading was different from all others that I’ve attended in that she never read a word from Wild. She talked to us. We could have been gathered around a very large coffee table.

I had her book, Wild, for as long as it took her to do the hike – a summer–before I read a word. I was resistant because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I thought the praise for her writing might be because she was a local girl done good, and if I picked up the book the story would fall apart in my hands.

Enough people recommended Wild that I finally opened to the first page. Whoa.

I looked around the gymnasium at Concordia. A couple thousand people, including me, could relate to her story. How did she do that?

“It’s the only book that spoke to me,” said my friend sitting next to me. Her husband passed away eight months ago. “People know that I like to read. I got a lot of books, but this was the only one….”

“How can I bear the unbearable?”

October 22, 2014 091Cheryl called her hike a universal journey. A journey of finding who we are and then coming to peace with that. “Grief is love,” she added.

Therein lay my answer. Universal truths. Truths that apply to all people.

“Love is the nutrient that we need.”

“Alone with something I couldn’t lift but I had to lift it.”

December 5, Wild will be coming out in movie theatres.

Cheryl invited me to the after-party. She invited all of us. How did she make me feel included in her trajectory?

Her author page on Facebook has 105,627 likes. She’s been accessible, not losing herself in her climb.

In my research of her many interviews and talks around the country she didn’t lose herself in the publishing process or the making of a movie.

“In a heroic battle to make my way back to myself.”

During the evening Cheryl spoke about refusing to allow herself, her writing, or her story to be pigeonholed. Wild isn’t just for women. 50 percent of her correspondence is from men.

She left me with a ‘how to’ for when my book sells: Go in expecting respect and politely inform others. An artist shouldn’t defend his or her work.

Her book is powerful but she is even more powerful.

“I’m not afraid,” I can imagine her … me … and all of us … continuing to say on our own personal hike.