Blog, Writing Blog

You Cannot Applaud Your Own Story: And Other Rules I Ignore

I recently started publishing on Medium. I’m not sure why, I still don’t really know what I’m doing but I figured, hey, the more places I have my writing, the better. Right? So, it’s there if you want to check it out.

Poking around in my first post, I noticed a clapping button and when I hovered over it, it gave me a message, “You Cannot Applaud Your Own Story.” My first thought?

Eff that.

You can’t tell me what to do.

Which led me down a rabbit hole of a bunch of other things people tell writers they should and shouldn’t do. And ya know what? We probably became writers because we don’t really like doing things the “normal” way.

So, here’s some writing advice that I do not like.

Don’t open with.

A dream sequence…someone driving..someone doing this or that or the other thing.

I think that’s bad advice. My advice? if you’re going to do it, do it well. Do it differently. Do it in a way that will make people say, whoa. Some of these things are cheesy and cliche but only if you do it the same way everyone has always done it. So do them, but do them your way.

thatsright.gif

Write What You Know

I HATE this rule. Absolutely hate it. If it pops into my head while I am writing, I literally freeze up with self-doubt.

If you really think about it, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know a whole lot. And if I let myself realize this, I just can’t write. So, I have to forget it.

Now, maybe what I hate is that this rule implies, “Write ONLY what you know.” Because I obviously do write what I know. But I also write about things I don’t know because if I only stuck to what I know, I would run out of stuff to write pretty quickly.

This is what Google is for. And Wikipedia. And research. If you want to write about something you don’t know much about, write about it AND research it.

Don’t Edit While You Write

This one is tricky. Since I work best under a tight deadline, sometimes I HAVE to edit while I write. I don’t have time to go back later and polish something. If, like me, this is how you work best, just do it. Ignore the haters. Read the last sentence you wrote and change that pesky work before you move on. Reread your last paragraph before you move to the next.

But here’s the thing; I still do shitty first drafts, I just do them FAST. If editing while you write is going to keep you from getting anything done, don’t do it. But for me, this is not a hard and fast rule.

guidelines.gif

 

Write every day

I do not write every day. But I do give myself goals. Right now I am trying to write a story a week. This does not mean that I sit down and work on this story every day. It might mean that on Monday I brainstorm an idea. On Wednesday I jot down notes and on Sunday I feverishly write the whole thing in order to meet the deadline (when is how I do my best writing).

Writing during the week is hard for me. But, I can sit down in my PJs on Saturday or in a coffee shop on Sunday and crank out some words. And it works for me. You do what works for you.

You Cannot Applaud Your Own Story

And, finally…thanks, Medium. While this isn’t really advice I’ve received, that little error message really triggered me.

You cannot applaud your own story.

Bull. Shit.

Writers are notoriously self-conscious and we typically hate our work even when we have people telling us they love it. This sucks because, according to the Dalai Lama, “90% of negative energy is mental.” So, I say we try something different.

Applaud your own story. Be your biggest fan. Love your work. Love your shitty first drafts for the same reason you love your children…because eventually, they will be functioning people that can wipe their own butts. Eventually, your shitty work will be better work. So love it now. Nurture it. Help it grow. Share its milestones. Cheer every time you finish you something. Applaud your own goddamn story.

applause

What writing rules do you choose to ignore?

 

Blog, Writing Blog

Get That Song Out Of Your Head

So, last weekend we went to see the new Mary Poppins movie. This movie is delightful, Emily Blunt is delightful and the music is delightful (go see if you get a chance).

But, I’ll tell you what’s not delightful. The fact that, since going to see it, the boyfriend’s kiddo plays the soundtrack, or sings that soundtrack, pretty much every chance she gets. Particularly the song, The Cover is Not The Book.

Now, I like this song, I really do. But, what started out as a lovely little diddy has now turned into the earworm from hell. It’s in my head all. the. time. And when it’s not, she turns it on and it wriggles its way back in.  

While many of you parents may not be surprised by this (Frozen, anyone?) I am new to this parenting/step-parenting thing and have not yet experienced the mania for a certain song.

So, in order to counteract this and get the song out of my head (before I started to hate it) I needed to take action.

I decided to put another song in.

Any other song. Any other catchy, obnoxious song. The Gaston song from Beauty and the Beast made its way in.  We’re Off To See The Wizard made an appearance.

And, it worked. When the original earworm would start to sneak back in, I would just repeat, “Because, because, because, because, becaauuuuse…because of the wonderful things he does.”

After the success of this method, I wondered…could this work in other areas of life?

If you don’t like the current song going through your head…change it.

If you’re not succeeding at your current focus, change your focus.

If you’ve been repeating, “I’m going to write a book, I’m going to write a book,” and you’re not writing a book, quit beating yourself up. Change your goal. Try, “I’m going to write a chapter.” Or, “I’m going to write 500 words.” And repeat that over and over until it’s true.

Or, shift your focus completely.

Writing goals have always been front and center for me. My head is constantly full of pesky earworms like:

“Write every day.”

“If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.”

Or other not-always-helpful-idioms. It can get exhausting.

This year, I’ve shifted my focus a bit to my physical health. I’ve been spending time doing yoga, reading about it, going to the gym more, and trying to meditate. And ya know what? I started writing more.

Taking my focus off the song that was always in my head (the pressure to write all the time) and replacing it with a new song (go to yoga once a week, read a yoga book) made it easier to enjoy the original song again.

So, if you’ve got the same thing going through your head over and over, try changing the tune.

“I’ve already failed at my New Year’s Resolutions,” could be, “Today is another chance to set new goals.”

“I can’t find time to write every day…” could be, “Ten minutes is enough to get a few hundred words in!”

Don’t let a song stuck on repeat exhaust you. Get that song out of your head and pick a new tune.

mp

 

*I do not own the image associated with this post:

Creator:Photo Credit: Jay Maidment
Credit:Jay Maidment
Copyright:© 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved..
Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Week 2

This week, I tried to be cute. I don’t really do cute in my writing. I hated it the whole time I was writing it but, when it was finished, I hated it less.

But, whether I hate it or love, I finished it. Here is week 2 of my Weekly Writing Challenge.

“The walls in here are so bright.”

“No, I’m sorry I don’t have a light! I didn’t know you smoked.”

“Smoke? No, they’re too pink for that. More like a coral.”

I moaned under my breath from my spot at the bar, the uncomfortable exchange easier for me to hear than the people actually having it.

“Move on,” I mumbled around the edge my martini glass. “Just forget the walls.”

Catching on to their predicament, she could see, from the mirror behind the bar, the man shift his seat closer to his date.

“Is that better?” he asked.

“Better than what?”

“Never mind,” he laughed. “How do you like your wine?”

I cringed inwardly and willed the conversation to go another direction. Don’t talk about going to the bathroom, don’t talk about going to the…

“Oh, it’s lovely. I just have to drink it slowly or I’ll be going to the bathroom all night.”

I sighed but he laughed a big booming laugh.

“I know what you mean. One can of beer means all night in the can for me!”

Ok, that was clever, I thought but I heard a groan next to me. I looked over but the man next to me was staring down into his beer.

I tuned back into their conversation in time to hear her say, “Well, that’s all well and good, but with my hip it takes me just as long to get to the bathroom as it does to actually go.”

“Oh, come on…” this time I said it out loud but luckily not loud enough for the geriatric daters.

“Next he’s gonna start talking about his medications.”

I jumped at the voice next to me but over my shoulder heard, “I believe it. I don’t know which pill does what, I just know I haven’t peed right since the 90’s.”

I heard a groan and looked over as the mystery man took a long pull of his beer.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” I asked, confused that another human would have has much interest in this train wreck of a date as I did.

“Doubt it,” he said, “But I’m guessing you know the saucy minx at the table behind us.”

“I…”

“I’m Nathan. That’s my Grandpa Gabe.”

“Oh,” I said, “I’m Amy. That’s my Grandma Rose.”

He nodded as though it were completely normal to follow your Grandparent on a date and eavesdrop on their conversation.

“So, what do you think? A shot every time they mention medication, aching joints, or technology they can’t work?”

I laughed, “That seems dangerous.”

“But fun,” he said motioning to the bartender, “A round of shots, please…” From behind us, Grandma Rose’s voice carried across the restaurant, “I swear I haven’t been able to turn my TV off for a week!”

“Better keep em coming!”

A few rounds later, after they’d touched on Facebook, trying to ask Alexa questions and discussing the weather’s impact on each limb multiple times, we were leaned in with our heads together, waiting for the next topic, when the couple decided it was time for a bathroom break.

“Oh thank goodness,” I sighed, “I need a break and this will take at least 15 minutes.”

Nathan laughed and ordered us a couple of waters.

“So,” he said sliding mine toward me, “What prompts a woman your age to stalk her Grandmother’s date instead of pursuing her own?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

He shrugged, “You could, and the answer is simple, I love my Grandpa Gabe and he’s been pretty lonely since Gram died and I knew if I didn’t do something he’d sit in his big house, in front of his old TV watching M.A.S.H reruns, and yelling at Alexa until it was time to join Gram.”

I nodded, “Similar story.”

He continued, “So, I pulled up that Silver Years dating thing, he saw a picture of your Grandma, grumbled that she had a nice smile, and I set the connection in motion. But now I’m guessing that when I sent that winky face it was not Rose that sent back the blushing face.”

I held up my hands innocently, “Hey, she did actually blush when I said someone winked at her.”

He laughed, a booming laugh like his Grandpa’s. It made me smile.

“I’ve been living with Grandma since my divorce and it’s been a saving grace for both of us but, someday, I’m going to want to move out and move on and I couldn’t stand the thought of her watching ER and Call the Midwife by herself. But I also couldn’t stand the thought of her getting out there for the first time all alone. It’s silly I guess…”

He lifted his water glass toward me, “Not silly at all.”

I lifted my water and we clinked.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Grandma Rose shuffling back to the table with Gabe not far behind her. I nudged Nathan and we shifted toward each other, leaning backward to listen. Immediately, I could sense a shift in the mood at the table. I snuck a glance behind me and I saw Grandma sigh as she settled into her seat looking around the room as though she were looking back through time.

“Oh, this place…” she said.

“Oh god,” I whispered, sensing the change of tone in her voice. I Iooked up and the panic in Nathan’s eyes mirrored mine.

“Dead spouses?” he asked.

“Dead spouses.”

He shook his head and took a drink of his beer.

I tried not to listen but after a minute, I heard my name. “It’s been so nice having her there but I know she can’t stay forever. It’s just been lovely not to be so lonely.”

I snuck a glance behind me and saw Gabe nod knowingly and then lean over the table.

“You don’t have to be lonely.” He placed a hand over hers.

I turned away and sighed, trying to hide the tears lining my eyes.

“Is this what we have to look forward to if we’re still dating in our eighties?” I asked softly.

“Well, I guess we better make sure that doesn’t happen.”

He placed his hand over mine.

 

Creative Writing, Flash Fiction, Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Week 1

To start the new year, I joined a group that is challenging writers to write 1 story a week for 1 year. Since I am looking to get enough stories for a new collection, this seemed perfect. The group was started by a friend of mine so I knew it would be supportive and encouraging. He offered to give a prompt each week to get the juices flowing and the stories could be as short as a few hundred words. I was all in. This week, I completed my first story. The prompt was:

THE VESSEL
Write about a ship or other vehicle that can take you somewhere different from where you are now.

I didn’t take this prompt super literal, actually not literal at all, but it did fire up my brain. Here is my first story of the Weekly Writing Challenge. Enjoy!

The crowd buzzed with anticipation and he could see them whispering to each other from his spot just off stage. They sipped their drinks and pondered the abilities of the next unknown performer, ready to judge, to cheer or to boo. He’d never performed here and crowds at local pubs weren’t always friendly to new acts.

This was his chance. His first real gig. He couldn’t screw it up but he couldn’t get himself to step out on that stage. His hands shook and his grip around the neck of his guitar was precarious as his palms glistened with sweat. He couldn’t play like this. He took a deep breath and turned his back on the stage, on the judging crowd.

“You gotta get up there, man.”

It was the booker who’d found him playing in his local theater group. The booker who didn’t want to take a chance on such a young kid but who knew talent when he saw it. “Don’t fuck this up for me….or for you.”

He nodded. He knew he would have to get up there eventually. This was what he wanted, all he’d ever wanted. His fingers were itching to pick the strings of his guitar but the insecurity that had plagued him all his life was pushing his heart into his throat and he wasn’t sure he could sing around it.

“You just gotta get out of your head a minute. Try this.” The booker held out a glass filled with two finger lengths of amber-liquid. At sixteen, he’d drank, but mostly just beer. He wrinkled his nose at the smell and looked around guiltily. But nobody at a club like this cared about an underage performer taking a shot before his set. He took the glass from the man’s hand and it almost slid past the sweat coating his hand. He tossed it down his throat without thinking and suddenly, he was gone. As his stomach and throat burned, his brain was no longer in the club. He was in the music. He wasn’t in his shaking, sweating body, he was already with the crowd, already one with them and one with the music and he wanted to play and never stop. He nodded at the booker. “Keep em coming.”

 

“You can’t raise a family with a music career.”

“You’re probably not good enough to get a real job anyway.”

“Are you going to let your wife support you forever?”

“It’s weakness is all it is. You could quit if you really wanted to.”

“You’re just not strong, never have been. Always been a bit of a sissy.”

Even here, on the the front porch of the old farmhouse filled with the echoes of a lifetime of his father’s disapproving baritone, he could still feel the heat of those insults on his back. Each visit home was the same. The old man twitched his white moustache at his grandkids, the closest to a smile he ever got, and then immediately turned to him, the son that had always loved music and acting more than farm life and hard work that led to blistered hands.

Every time he came home, it was the same sad story again and again; disapproving dad, overly-sensitive, adult son who still took every aspersion to heart. Today, he’d promised his wife he wouldn’t try to escape. He promised he would try to stay and not turn to old habits to survive the constant reminders that his life hadn’t turned out how either he or his parents had wanted it to. For the kids, she’d said, just stay for the kids.

But as much as he loved his kids, his dad was right, he was weak. Maybe he had always been a bit of a sissy. He was a musician after all, with callouses on his thumb from guitar strings instead of hay bales. Reaching into the front pocket of his jacket, his hands were already shaking at the thought of the liquid burning down his throat, his body craving it even more than his mind. He knew his kids needed him. He knew he’d promised his wife. But he also knew that he couldn’t be here, in this moment, another second longer. He took a drink from the small bottle of brown amnesia and began to float away.

 

His fingers danced across the edges of his guitar strings as the final note of his song was met with applause and cries of requests. The crowd was demanding tonight, high-energy, hopped up on artificial stimulants.

“Itsy Bitsy Spider!”

“The Wheels on the Bus!”

He sighed.

This wasn’t supposed to be his life. The sugar from the cake was kicking in and the kids, his daughter in the front row, were demanding, hyperactive, shrill and louder than most of the crowds he’d played for in bars.

He’d had a record label once. He’d played with Elvis’s band. Now he couldn’t hold down a real job so he stayed home with the kids while his wife supported their family, and, despite her best intentions, his habit. The only time he picked up his guitar now was to sing his kids to sleep or during one of their birthday parties.

By the time he was ready to play the next song, they’d already moved on to something else and he took advantage of their distraction to step away. The party was in the yard so the house was empty. There, under the couch, was the half-empty bottle of whiskey he’d abandoned the last time he’d promised his wife he’d get sober. And he had gotten sober. This time for a whole six months. But this, this was more than he could take. He didn’t have a license anymore, he hadn’t left the house in months except for meetings his wife drove him to, hadn’t written a song, hadn’t had a new gig…he had no means of escaping the suburban hell his life had become, except for what was in this bottle. He fell back onto the couch and took a drink.

She sat in the front row of the church, his sweet, smooth voice filling the room, and her heart and she smiled despite herself. His voice could always make her smile–at least when it was crisp and sharp, and not slurred. This wasn’t the venue he’d imagined when he started his career, she was sure. It wasn’t the venue any of them imagined for him. But his audience didn’t move an inch as they listened. They didn’t whisper, they didn’t shift in their seats, they didn’t even breathe. They let his voice fill their souls, but he wasn’t there to see it. He’d tried so hard for so long to find where he fit in, to capture a feeling of contentment, using the bottle to try and escape his life…and now, he finally had. She played with the diamonds on her grandmother’s bracelet as the last chords of the song, his song, faded from the church and the friends and family that had watched him try to escape a life he just couldn’t settle into helped carry him out of it for the last time.

 

Blog, Writing Blog

We Hope For Better Things the Perfect Book for a New Year

We Hope For Better Things by Erin Bartles was the perfect book to finish on the first day of a new year. A book about learning from the past to create new beginnings, it leaves you with feelings of hope, renewal, and an appreciation for those that came before you.

One of the first things I thought to say about this beautiful book was that it helped me rediscover my love of reading. A true page-turner, this was the first book in a long time that helped me recapture that feeling of needing to get to the next page, pushing it past my bedtime just to read another line and thinking about the stories and characters until I could again get back to the book. We all know how easily life gets in the way of reading. But true book lovers also know, and relish, that feeling of being so immersed in a book that you can’t wait to pick it up again. It’s been a little while since I felt that with a book. This book helped me recapture it.

Told from the point of view of three different women living in three different generations, each story is captivating and unique and immerses the reader in the lives of the storyteller. In a lot of books with more than one point of view, there’s typically one that holds the reader’s attention more than others, one that causes you to rush through the others so you can get back to the more interesting storyline. Not so in We Hope For Better Things. Each story, a journalist in modern-day Detroit, a farmer’s wife during the Civil War, and an upper-class white woman in the tumultuous 1960’s Detroit, has its own unique pull. When one chapter ends, you are sad to leave that time period only briefly before you are pulled into the next.

The stories that it highlights are important stories, stories that many, even those of us that live near Detroit, do not know, understand, or appreciate. I’ve always heard about the Detroit Riots, but that’s it….just heard about them. I was distanced enough from them in geography and time that they were never more than a historical event in the not-so-distant past. This book gave them life. It gave them faces. While fictional, it helped bring them to life for a new generation.

Beautifully written, the stories told in We Hope For Better Things, will stay with you long after you put the book down. I am happy to go into 2019 with the ghosts of these characters dancing my head. The front of the book contains a quote comparing this story to To Kill a Mockingbird and– much like Scout, Atticus, Jem, and Boo– Mary, Nora, and Elizabeth will now follow me wherever I go, reminding me that no matter the time period, there are always those that imagine that things can be better.

Flash Fiction

Coming Soon…Snackable Fiction

Think you don’t have time to read? Think again.

My super short fiction builds words, characters, and tells entire stories…in the time it takes to…

  • Wait in the car line
  • Wait for the dentist
  • Wait in line at the grocery store
  • Let your kids nap
  • Ride the bus
  • Go to the bathroom (Oh, c’mon, you know you get on your phone in the bathroom…

In 2019, look for blogs, videos, and more about Snackabour Fiction! And, of course, more stories this fit the mold!

More information coming soon…

Blog

Is Life Just a Series of Changes?

For me, the last five years have been a constant swirl of changes…jobs, relationships, new apartments, new cities, back to old cities, endings, beginnings, second chances….it’s exciting and, frankly, a little exhausting.

I’ve been known to say, in the midst of all these changes, that I’d be happy when things just settled down a little. When I was in the same place for more than a year, heck, even the same city, I could feel calm. When I wasn’t switching jobs (I guess it’s a millennial thing?) or healthcare or getting used to new situations, I’d feel at peace. But, I’ve been saying that for going on 5 or so years (I don’t even know anymore…time is irrelevant). And, as I step into something new once again, I step out of a year filled with moves, ending, beginnings, and second chances and face another year of intense changes.

jim

Faced with this reality, I have to ask…is this just life?

Do we ever really settle into life? And do we really want to?

I often hear friends or family say, “When things slow down we’ll…” or “When things are less hectic,” or “when I’m settled…”

But I’m starting to wonder, are things EVER less hectic?

It makes sense that I would crave stability. I lived in the same house for 13 years, attended school within 1 mile of that house and lived in the same town until I was 18. My brother and I thrived on tradition because, due to certain unstable characteristics of our home life, anything that was the same from one day to the next brought us comfort. So, it makes sense that when I am feeling burnt out or pulled in all directions I find myself wishing for the stability of a long-lived in home, familiar faces, and welcoming neighbors. But, the truth is, even when I had these things again in my late twenties, I wasn’t at peace.

I SAY I crave a life without constant change, but do I really?

If you think about it, there’s no growth without change….if things are constantly the same, you’re constantly the same. I am definitely not the same person I was before all this change kicked off and I sure as shit like this person a lot better. I know a whole lot more about myself including how strong I can be when I need to, what I want and don’t want in a relationship, what I’m willing to sacrifice and what I’m NOT.

“There’s no growth without change…”

Without all the changes of the last few years, I wouldn’t know any of that, and I would probably be very unhappy. Or, if not unhappy, definitely not satisfied. If all the tiny details of the road behind me hadn’t landed where they had, if any detail had been different, I might not be where I am. And while where I am isn’t perfect, I am happy with it. And because I’ve faced so many changes, I know I can face more.

I mean, even Disney addresses the need for change through Belle in Beauty and the Beast:

“There goes the baker with his tray like always,

the same old bread and rolls to sell…

Every morning just the same, 

since the morning that we came,

to this poor provincial town…”

belle

(Fun fact: I didn’t have the look up the lyrics for that…some things DON’T change…)

She’s bored with her life and hungry for change, even if it means living in an old castle with a grumpy beast.

So, it seems, despite my hopes for settling and calmness and stability, life is only going to keep changing and maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s all life really is, one change after another to help mold us, change us, and turn us into the people we want to be.

2019 is going to be a crazy year, people. And I can’t wait.