It seems like my husband, Barry, just started attending Spalding MFA’s Creative Writing Program, but this July, he graduated in Kyoto, Japan. That means there are two — yes, two — Spalding grads in the house!
What an honor and privilege to be there to cheer on all of his hard work, hear him do his graduation reading, see him receive his well-earned hood. Barry, I’m so proud of you. Much love!
A highlight of every Spalding trip is spending time with writing friends, old ones and new. (Please, no comments about my hair. Let’s all agree that it does not travel well and leave it at that.)
I’m passionate about architecture, and Japan’s was refreshingly different from that of most countries we’ve visited. We were staying about ten minutes from Toji Temple, so we took an early stroll one morning to view both the temple and its extensive grounds.
The group took a day trip to Hiroshima. It was, as you can imagine, a sobering experience. We heard a survivor talk and we visited the various monuments and museum.
There were more casual gatherings, like the night a group of us went out to karaoke. We gathered in a room, maybe a dozen of us, at a long table. Passing down drinks and mics, we ended up singing most of the songs together. Lady Gaga songs were a favorite, as well as songs by the Beatles. Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of the evening, but it was so much fun!
Here are miscellaneous shots of our hotel. I spent time writing in the lounge pictured. The hotel had kimonos and Samurai outfits for us to try on, so of course we did.
If I’m not mistaken, I’m the student/alum who has been on the most trips with Spalding. I was on the program’s second trip abroad, and have been on every trip since as a student or an alum. While Barry and I are welcome to go on any future trips we want, it will likely be a few years before we go again. (Which isn’t as sad as it sounds, because there are plenty of places in the U.S. we want to visit.)
I’ll close with random photos from the trip and try not to cry when I imagine not getting together with our Spalding family abroad soon. I’m sure we will go to homecoming in Louisville, though, most years. At Spalding, you’re always family.
As far as I know, there is no idea store. At least not as such.
Some freelance writers find that their biggest obstacle is coming up with ideas. My mother has an inquisitive mind. She’s curious about everything, and she passed that gene onto me, I guess. I come up with too many ideas some days. (Not all of them are good, but still.)
Because of my nature, when I go for a mammogram and someone gives me a rose, I thank them first and then ask why I’ve been given such a sweet gift.
From that recent question came an article I wrote that is just out over at Radiology Today. While I don’t always share everything I write so as not to overwhelm, here’s the story, if you’d like to take a look.
Writing this was engrossing, involving discussions with caring health professionals and a patient or two. And the editor was a dream to work with.
Ideas can come from anywhere. They can come from annoyances, from curiosity, from passions, from wondering, from lack of knowledge, from observation…there are endless sources of questions/ideas.
Pretend you’re a two-year-old and keep asking, “Why?” If you do, you’re halfway there. Of course ideas have to be refined and angled. That’s a whole course in itself!
Oh, and what did I mean by there isn’t an idea store “as such?” If you read publications and websites and identify a gap, well, that’s your signal to ask if they would like to have that gap filled. It’s called sending a pitch or a query. What they typically publish tells you more than anything what they’d like to see more of, or what they need that they don’t yet know they need. Sometimes you’ll get an enthusiastic response. Sometime you’ll hear nothing. Keep pitching.
Sure, there’s a world more to be said about this topic, but this will get you started. Happy idea hunting. Don’t forget to bring along paper and pen, or your phone if you prefer to record ideas.
Writers, where do you get your ideas? What inspires you? Readers, do you have a list of topics you wish writers would write about?
Yesterday I ordered my new business cards! The special offer was for 500 cards, and right now I can’t imagine ever handing out so many, but hey, you never know. Lately I’ve had people asking me about my services, and while my website is handy, it’s nice to have a piece of actual paper with my contact information on it to hand out.
As I scrolled through the color choices and debated fonts, it occurred to me how vision clarifying it was to fit my writing services on one card. Okay, so they didn’t all fit, but the important ones did.
I found myself pondering how to explain why what I do is so important to both me and to my clients on a tiny, 3.5 by 2 inches card! What I came up with had me teary-eyed. That’s when I realized that I’m part writing coach, part freelance writer, part novelist, and all parts cheerleader. Please don’t criticize my math here. I’m making a point. 🙂
While there’s nothing like putting your own hands to the keyboard and creating, the next best thing to me is helping someone else do the same. I’ve been a teacher. I’ve taught classes and workshops on writing. I’ve sat side-by-side with clients and talked through their work. And I love it all. Writing out this card reminded me of how much I enjoy waving pompoms! Isn’t that what we all need, someone to believe in us, someone to hold our hands when we’re scared to write, someone to tell us when we’ve left the path and help us nonjudgmentally back on?
So here’s what I came up with for my business card:
(Forgive the blurry image, but I had to take a screenshot. The real cards won’t be in for a couple of weeks yet. I’ll add a new photo then.)
I wrote on the card, “Everyone has a story. I’ll help you tell yours.” And at the bottom of the card I added, “Because stories live on.”
This is not where I go off on one of my frequent tangents on writing a legacy. It is where I acknowledge that humans are unique creatures every one, to be redundant for emphasis. We all have a story, and there’s nothing better than helping someone tell theirs.
Fiction and nonfiction are included in storytelling. The best truth comes from fiction, but nonfiction can wring your emotions like little else. (As a fiction writer, I’m wanting to qualify like crazy here. Both forms can do everything. It depends on your goal.) When it comes to my clients, I have both kinds, and I see similar reactions when they finally say what it is they wanted to say, fiction or no. There’s a release, a relief. There’s pride and hope for publication, often. And often there’s another idea following closely behind.
This lesson I learned from creating a business card could apply to most everything. If you’ve lost your way, try putting what gives you the most joy on a business card as a miniature mission statement. Find someone who will relentlessly cheer you on toward your goal. (For writing, that would be me. My husband and I also provide a “writer’s nag” service to remind you of your goals and to ask if you’ve achieved them for those of you who might find that helpful…contact us at email@example.com or go to writingallthethings.com/nag. )
And if you’ve got a burning story idea, a tiny spark, or you just want to write your memoir for your family, let’s chat. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
After nearly a year of plotting, planning, and tweaking, Barry and I are happy to announce the launch of our website, Writing All the Things!
You can explore our (evolving) website at writingallthethings.com. There you’ll find a slowly unfurling study on writing and reading literary fiction, a bit about us and the writing services we provide, and more content to come.
Our aim is to make reading and writing literary fiction less mysterious and reveal how enjoyable it can be. We want literary fiction to be more accessible to those who are intimidated by it, and more fun for those who already love it. While there’s certainly a writing focus to our study and analysis, there’s definitely a reading component as well.
We have other fun side projects for the website planned, too.
Please follow our blog and us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook (see our website for links). And share with your friends and writing pals!
Let us know (over there, or here) what topics you’d like us to take on, what aspects of literary fiction you’d most like us to delve into.
Let’s start Writing All the Things! (www.writingallthethings.com)
Someone PLEASE tell me to get back to writing. Our house will never be the same! Out have gone books and more books, clothing by the bagful, and oh so much more.
I even tackled the dreaded long, narrow closet in my writing room. Again. Every couple of years I attempt to make it behave but it ends up raspberrying at me. Not this time! Since I’ve been organizing the whole house, I decided to give that closet another whirl. This time I saw the solution in my mind’s eye: crisp, white bankers boxes.
When we moved to Nashville oh so long ago I bought carloads of bankers boxes. They’re perfect for moving all of your stuff and things. They’re uniform and they have separate lids for easy access. The other day I realized if I was ever going to tame our paper monster I needed to find some, stat.
Furthermore, I needed to categorize the papers better AND be willing to release more of them from my life if I was to ever be victorious.
So early yesterday morning I sat in my writing room and began assembling bankers boxes. I pulled every ugly cardboard box out of the closet, every crate, and started sorting.
Mind you, I’d been through these papers a few times. This time I decided to use the “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I didn’t have this?” advice I’d read recently.
I thought I would get rid of every printed draft of the novels I’ve written. I have clean e-copies of them, so I figured I didn’t need them. I unexpectedly decided I needed to keep those marked up manuscripts, so I did. It felt right.
Going through my old journals I realized what a different person I am today and how I am also the same. More on that another time.
Formerly treasured school essays complete with comments, writing with lovely comments from mentors, got pitched.
Some of the purge was practical: most of the comments on my schoolwork were made on stories that have either already been published or have been changed so much that the suggestions no longer apply.
A few of the papers I wanted to keep, but I let them go when I realized this: I was holding too tightly to the good regard, the confidence given to me by my mentors. I’m a bona fide writer now, hell, I’m a teacher of writing. Holding onto those comments for as long as I did helped me see that others believed in me when I didn’t. I will forever be grateful for that. I have been privileged to work with some fantastic mentors who have undeniably helped shape my work. But I can’t see myself as the writer I AM until I let go of that one-down position. And it’s time.
That said, it doesn’t mean I didn’t flinch when I tossed all of those blue essay books, those stacks of marked papers into the trash bag. Doesn’t mean I didn’t ask myself if I was being hasty. Doesn’t mean I didn’t grit my teeth as I hurried the bag out to the trash can.
Ironically, the dude driving the recycle truck knocked the wheels right off our trash can this week. I’m not sure how, but I see a connection.
By the way, the closet looks just as I hoped it would. I think I’ve done it this time. Forgot to take a pic, though. Sorry.
In the same vein (and possibly this is redundant rather than reinforcing), I sorted through our writing instruction (or craft, for the uninitiated,) books. Those have always been the hardest for me to let go of, but I discovered that I was ready to release many of those now as well. Some were outdated. Some were ponderous and tedious. Some were written by Dead White Guys FOR Dead White Guys. Some were yellowed, and I really don’t enjoy reading yellowed books.
But again the biggest revelation in reviewing our craft book collection was that I thought some of the content was either too commercial or too simplistic, that I knew some of it was just plain bad advice. I no longer need “1+1=writing” books. I took a box of over 20 (!!) craft books to the Goodwill Bin. (I wouldn’t throw those away, of course).
And for those of you who know I’m married to a writer, of course I asked him if he wanted them before I hauled them off.
Never fear: we still have three well-stocked shelves of writing books. I know I still have things to learn. The difference is I also know what I don’t need to learn.
I’ve also tackled renovating the rusty locker I picked up during Spring Clean Up. This is now residing in my writing room with cute baskets in it to hold my blank journals and writing supplies. As I told a young woman recently, “I’m not afraid of color.” Obvious, isn’t it? I heart this fresh color.
While I’m blissfully happy to be wrangling the house into order, I’m ready to return to writing beyond freelancing. Fiction keeps calling, and I’m about to, I need to, answer.
Exciting news! My personal essay “Uno, Popcorn, and Laughter” has been chosen for the Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude collection. I’m honored, especially as it features my hubby and my beloved kids. (Maybe I should make them sign the books too??!)
Who knew when we went through such tough times that our story would help others? I always believed there must be a reason for the difficulties, and the book’s subtitle says it all: “Being thankful can change your life.” I agree!
As always, I can’t give too much away about the story until it’s released this August. I can say that it features a treasured family pastime. (Clearly playing Uno is one of those. Oh, and feasting on popcorn. Then there’s laughter.)
Barry says these stories are my sneaky way of writing my memoirs. I don’t know about that, but I do know I am incredibly honored to be a part of this series. It gives me the chance to take a look back at events that might have been stressful at the time, but that on reflection helped strengthen our family.
While I am in no hurry to have grandchildren, if we are ever blessed with any I would love to play Uno and eat popcorn with them. And laugh. There will always be laughter.
We all complain that we don’t have enough time to write. I get it. (My apologies to our dearly beloved, departed Prince for ripping off his song lyric for my title, but he’s understandably on my mind. RIP.)
I worked with a trainer for a short time at the gym Barry and I recently joined. She loved having me do planks on a bosu (half a ball on a platform, if you’re not familiar. This:)
I don’t mind admitting that my core strength is not what it could be. She’d time me on that silly, wobbly thing and say, “Only 10 seconds left. You can do anything for 10 seconds.” That got me to thinking about time and our perception of it.
A while back I was honored to visit my former workplace and teach a writing lesson. It was awesome seeing former students, meeting new ones. One of the assignments I gave them was to write for five minutes. Now some of these students freeze up if you ask them to write an essay. They are terrified to put pen to paper, yet some of them wrote a couple of sentences. Some of them wrote nearly a page. In five minutes! Was it polished writing? Of course not. I don’t care who’s writing, rough drafts are always that. There were gems in their sentences, though, to be mined later. I was impressed with what they accomplished and I hope they were too.
It took me less than 10 seconds to type this sentence. I timed myself. And that was with going back and fixing a typo. What if you typed ten-second sentences every time you got a chance? How much of a story would you have by the end of a day? (So I realize how difficult it is to pull yourself in and out of the flow, but it would be a fun experiment. Better yet if you can hook those short stints onto one another and give yourself five, maybe 10 minutes even.)
Back to that bosu: when you’re holding yourself in position and everything in you wants to drop, just give up, but there’s someone standing over you, believing in you, telling you that you can do it but can you really you think and then she says you’re halfway there and you can’t believe it’s only been five seconds and whoever said life was short must be insane because this sure isn’t and your abs burn and your arms say that they’re giving you all they’ve got, Captain, but is it enough and then she says it’s time but then maybe you go an extra second just to prove that you can. Whew. Yeah, I’m not at all convinced of the brevity of 10 seconds after all. (We call that stream of consciousness in writing, that big, self indulgent gush without air, by the way. Yes, it’s just as much fun to write as it seems. Not as much fun to read unless you’re me. I like the stuff when other people write it.)
Ten seconds is longer than you think. Five minutes? An eternity. So take those bits of time. Pull out your list of ideas and get started on just one. Maybe you’ll start stealing time from things that used to matter that don’t now. You know your time wasters better than I. Just never underestimate the value of 10 seconds. Hey, maybe we should all plank for 10. On second thought, I have some writing to do.
Seriously, though, consider sharing one of your ten-second sentences with us. It doesn’t even have to be polished.
Yesterday at the gym I was talking with a trainer who said he’d gained 30 pounds by “dirty bulking.” My face must have told him I had no idea what he meant. In case you’re in the same boat, evidently it’s a method where hard gainers put on weight by eating junk food, massive amounts of it. “Oh, you mean what I do every day,” I said. Which isn’t entirely true, but it isn’t entirely false either. Depends on the day.
I recently dirty bulked my WIP. Yup. I’ve been changing directions/characters/locations in my novel, and I needed to print a copy because I revise best when I can see it in front of me and can mark it up, circle things, underline.
Because my MS was only at 185 pages or so and I wanted it to be a nice round 200 pages before I printed it, I dirty bulked. My writing version of eating donuts and ice cream, though, is “navel gazing” and philosophizing. (Navel gazing is just what it sounds like — you’re writing stuff that probably does not at all advance the plot. Likely no one else cares about it. Not an iota.) I was actually proud of some of it when I first wrote it. It flowed. It was “thinky.” I explored the meanings of words that are important to me such as loyalty and feminism.
So, junk writing done, I hit print and out of the printer flowed warm pages covered in ink. Happily I sat down, pen in hand, a chunk of the MS on my handy dandy book stand that my dear Barry bought me for Christmas last year. How excited I was to move things around, make big changes. Discover just how genius my new path was. That’s when the dirty bulk showed itself to be made of junk food. (Cue the “wunh wunh” music.)
Suffice it to say I have only put in the changes for 150 of those pages into my MS and I have already had to lose 15 pages. Fifteen bloated, useless (to the novel) pages marked out. Gone. Junk.
Do I regret my self-indulgent dirty bulk? Not entirely; I saved some of it. Some of it was just for me in real life. Some of it was to know more about my characters and their struggles and their beliefs, which are sometimes in conflict with mine. I make them argue their side so I can understand them, even if I don’t agree. Sometimes I have to write characters I don’t like or identify with. (Mini-lecture: I refuse to say “with whom I identify.” Because I’m under 50 and because that flawed “rule” has been shown to be ridiculous and it is one with which I won’t put up — please tell me you get the joke.) I do respect my characters and their right to be who they are.
It will be interesting to see how much of this last 50 pages I lose. I enjoy purging my closets and cabinets, and it’s the same with words so it’s not as if I’ll mourn what I get rid of. I don’t think every sentence I write is priceless. When my agent asked me to prune my last MS, I was happy to do so, and she was pleased with the results so it’s a skill worth having. Still, maybe next time I’ll think twice before imposing an arbitrary page count on myself to spare myself the rapid slash of my inky sword across miles of words. (If you guessed that I would have cut the last half of that sentence if I read it anywhere else, you’re right. But I’m feeling playful so it stands.)
Whether you dirty bulk with words or junk food, there’s no judgment here. Let me know how it goes. On second thought, since I’m trying to stay away from donuts, maybe save the food porn and just let me know if you dirty bulk your story.
I’m pleased to announce that Chicken Soupfor the Soul has chosen one of my essays, “Wake-Up Call” for their newest collection, Dreams and Premonitions. The book will be released on September 22, 2015 and is available for preorder now over at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Since my name is Drema, (pronounced “Dream uh”) you might not be surprised to learn that I often have vivid dreams. My essay in the book centers around a bad dream I had at a time when I was taking my husband for granted and my response. I don’t want to spoil it, so that’s enough for now. But whether you choose to buy the book or not I hope you’ll never take a loved one for granted, and I hope I will remember that every day as well.
I enjoy writing for Chicken Soup. As a matter of fact, just this weekend I bought a copy of a Chicken Soup book I have a story in at a garage sale. The woman behind the sale table, a mother of one, said that her son bought her the book to console her when he left for college. I whipped out my license, showed her my name and opened the book to page 97. We were both delighted to share a moment and reminisce about the newly emptied nest.
Living in a small town means sometimes people come up to me and say they saw my name in print somewhere, and I love it. Once I was at the bank and a teller said “I know who you are. What’s it like to write?” I had never met her before, but suddenly we had a common reference point. As a matter of fact, she had me at an advantage, because she knew more about me than I did her.
But I don’t just do it for how good it feels to be recognized for your writing. (I’m not going to lie, it feels great, of course.) I do it because Chicken Soup only publishes feel-good, it-will-be-alright pieces, and though there is much at odds in this world, I choose to believe there is much that is going just fine.
One night I was at a concert with my husband and one of his fans came up to say hello to him. When he introduced me he said that I am a writer, and that I’ve written for ChickenSoup. “I’ve read your work,” she said, tears in her eyes. “You’ve saved my life!”
While I think she probably meant the books as a series and not my own humble contribution, this reflects perfectly why I sometimes choose to share those most vulnerable, scary things. I want to share my story to help others, not to shame or put anyone down (except myself when I deserve it) but to shine a light on the human condition and how we can, mistakes and all, make it through it together. Through communicating privately, honestly, and open mindedly, there’s not much we can’t sort out. Chicken Soup reminds us of that in every edition. Bless them.
Saturday Barry and I spent a luxurious two hours eating breakfast…unheard of for us! We drank two pots of tea, sitting and chatting, and finally we decided it was time to get on with our day.
A wonderful benefit to me of Barry becoming a Spalding MFA in Writing student is that he has writing deadlines. Which, of course, encourages me to write when he is writing.
Better yet, I have discovered a writing method called “Quick Write” that I will write a post about later. We have been indulging in them, and we had promised ourselves one this weekend. But.
But, when Barry asked if I was ready to write on Saturday, I said no. Yes, his face looks just the way yours does if you know how much I love to write. We were both afraid we were coming down with colds, and I just didn’t feel well all the way around. Writing was not appealing just then.
Also, the night before we had begun watching a documentary on Vermeer. Those of you who know that one of my life’s goals is to see all of Vermeer’s work will not be surprised that I really wanted to finish watching the documentary that I had fallen asleep trying to watch the night before.
Before we turned the program back on, I asked my dear husband if he minded if I applied my hair treatment so I could let it work its magic while we relaxed. Of course we became so fascinated by the video that my hair “marinated” for probably an hour longer than it was meant to! It took two days to get my hair normal again. Thankfully I am not a priss about my hair. 🙂
Watching the Vermeer segment meant we rolled into the next one (hence the prolonged hair marinating), which featured the work not of the artist I am writing my novel about, but that of one of his influences. We were only a few minutes in when my eyes widened. Though I had known of the connection between the painters, it wasn’t until I saw the highlighted painting that I realized my painter HAD to have seen that painting.
In fact, I have been writing extensively about a painting that I now know I haven’t been seeing correctly at all because I didn’t know this new-to-me painting.
NOW I was ready, to write, or so I thought. While Barry did a Spalding assignment to free himself for a Quick Write, I wrote a brief outline of what the painting meant to me, what it meant to the artist’s work, and how I could prove it, if I could.
I should have been ready to write at that point, right? Except I wasn’t. This is where you have to dig down and ask yourself if you really shouldn’t be writing, or if you should press on.
When Barry set the timer I put my fingers to the keys and tried to write. About five minutes in I was fiddling with my phone, trying to pull up a photo of the painting. “Research,” I mumbled while he valiantly wrote on.
I wrote one scene, and then I felt as if I had finished what I had to say. I consulted my outline. I wrote a bit more. It was an effort. But finally, I realized that even though I wasn’t feeling it, what I was writing was important. It expressed some things about the artist that I hadn’t been able to articulate in the over two years I have been writing this novel.
I still wrote slowly, leisurely, compared to my usually feverish style.
The result wasn’t brilliant; it wasn’t polished, but when Barry called “Time,” I wasn’t totally embarrassed.
Honoring my process, allowing myself NOT to write when I didn’t want to, and yet pressing through when I really felt I should, opened a new door in my novel. I can’t wait to see where this goes.
As I always say, creative writing is not widget making. There are not definite steps to take to get out what you want to say. Please, honor your process. Whatever it is.
Care to share what your creative process is? I’d love to hear about it!