the kinetic pen

wired by words


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Why I Write

I’m honored to have been invited by author Julie Scipioni to take part in this blog hop, in which I write about why I write.

I wake at 5:15 a.m. to record the words in my head, when it’s dark and quiet and they get strung more easily than when the sun appears and the traffic starts. This is when I focus heaviest on the creative writing I do outside my work as a freelance journalist. (Although my dream is to make part of my living as an essayist.)

When I worked full time at a newspaper, the last thing I wanted to do when off the clock was write. Now self-employed, there is no clock, really. I conduct interviews throughout the day, some evenings and weekends, and with a much more fluid schedule that I control (hello, short break to watch “Orange is the New Black”) I find myself writing at all hours, even if what I produce is just a paragraph.

Writing excites me, and has since penning “Santa Claus and the Magic Pencils” (changed not much later to “Santa Claus and the Magic Gifts”) in the first grade. It was my first – and if memory serves correctly, my last – complete work of fiction, given that nonfiction comes more naturally. Maybe that’s why I became a reporter…

In any case, among other reasons:

I write to express what otherwise tumbles out of my mouth in too many words that obscure what I’m really trying to say – or too few words that don’t fully articulate the weight of my thoughts.

I write to unearth what has been buried.

I write so that my head doesn’t feel too full and my body doesn’t feel too anxious.

I write to keep myself open and honest.

I write, as the cliche goes, because I have to. I feel a biological pull to the keyboard or notebook (or napkin or utility bill, depending on where I am) to jot down a scene or theme I’m often convinced deserves more attention.

From Maya Angelou: “We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans – because we can…because we have the impulse to explain who we are.”

Why do you write?

_______________________

Now for some introductions. Here are the next three women on this blog hop:

Sarah Brentyn is a geek, a mum, and a Lifestyle writer who loves good books and good wine. Also, chocolate. She’s passionate about nonprofits and has written newsletters and web content for numerous organizations. She has also taught her own writing workshops at girls’ group homes. She is a contributing writer for her local paper where she shares columns about life, kids, and whatever floats her boat. She enjoys writing fiction like those people who enjoy singing in the shower. She blogs at http://rantsaboutparenting.blogspot.com/

From riding horses to writing stories, Charli Mills is a buckaroo writer. Following a career in freelancing, marketing and communications, she’s followed the sunset west to write fiction. She wrangles a weekly flash fiction challenge at carrotranch.com and blogs the storyboard of life at http://elmirapond.blogspot.com. Her first novel is under deadline.

Miranda Wilcox is founder and president of Thrive Potential. Combining her passions for personal development and female empowerment, she works as an individual coach and group facilitator for women and teens. Dedicated to growing clarity, confidence, and success in emerging and established women leaders, she shares thoughts and resources for thriving on her blog at http://thrivepotential.com/blog/


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Exercising Your Writing Muscles

After a short break from my morning yoga routine, I decided yesterday it was time to get back on the mat (nearly) every day. I set up my laptop and began going through one of the online yoga programs I’ve bookmarked over the years, one of my favorites that only a few weeks ago I was moving through without trouble. The one that sneaks in an extra push-up during three vinyasa flows.

Guess what happened?

Hate to admit it, but I only got through the first one. Despite the fact that I could glide effortlessly through the routine before Thanksgiving (hmm, is there a connection here to the holidays?), my arm muscles let me down.

Isn’t this what happens our writing muscles? If we don’t exercise them often enough, they get weak. Sore. Smaller.

I think this is why I have so many writing projects going at the same time. For work, I have long magazine articles and short newspaper columns. For pleasure, I have long writing days dedicated to my book and short bursts that produce essays and gratitude lists. It doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I write.

I love this quote from Julia Cameron: “It’s a luxury to be in the mood to write.”

The same goes for working out, I suppose.

 

 


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How Do You Deal with the Yin & Yang of Creative Fulfillment?

I’m a freelance journalist. Sometimes I write stories that come with praise; sometimes I write stories that need enough editing to interfere with the next day’s schedule.

 And sometimes I’m so busy I wind up having my late-afternoon snack as my dinner. Like today (freshly baked apples with cinnamon and sugar – yum!), when I’m smack in the middle of a massively heavy workload. Eighteen deadlines in 28 days.

I’m in the library at church while my daughter is at youth group downstairs. (The library rocks, by the way. I love to flip through books by C.S. Lewis and Anne Lamott, and periodicals with cover stories titled: “The Word-Soaked World: Troubling the Lexicon of Art and Faith.”)

I brought my laptop because I should be writing a magazine piece about a woman who wants to develop a sustainable, agriculture-style residential community for adults with special needs. But with all these deadlines – some of which have been able to be met earlier than expected, thank goodness, because the extra time allowed me to recover from a source who stood me up yesterday – I started second-guessing the quality of the work I’ve been turning in. The doubts emerged even though an editor, after reading one of my assignments earlier today, concluded her email with: “Many thanks, as always, for your good work!” And then a Twitterfriend, after reading my latest blog entry a few hours ago, wrote: “LOVE reading this post…slowed me down just to read it…the words breathe with the images…lovely.” 

How can a writer not be on the top of the world with such validation?

I’ll tell you. After two weeks, I still haven’t heard from an editor who assigned me a story for a new publication he’s helping to launch, and my stomach is in knots. This is a guy I’ve worked with on other projects for more than 15 years, so he knows my work well, but he’d been clear that this assignment would be different. It required a significant number of technical interviews and an authoratative-yet-smooth voice. If I was a good fit, he’d use me again and up my pay. I wanted to nail it. But without feedback, despite two e-mails asking for some, the only thing I can possibly deduce is that my article really, really sucks. 

I decide to call from the library. I’ve tried twice already today but with no luck. This time, my editor answers on the third ring.

 “Hi. I won’t keep you,” I say. “I just wanted to know if you were going to be able to use my story.”

He says of course. He says I was right on the mark, and that my next assignment (hello, raise!) will be coming in early January.

“Well, thanks for telling me!” I blurt out with a mixture of relief and jest.

I hang up and laugh at myself for getting all worked up, for having that tension jeopardize my confidence in what I’m doing. Now I don’t feel like working. I feel like writing instead about how circular self-awareness can be: We know we’re talented, yet we re-read what we write and wonder why those words ever sounded good together; we realize people appreciate our storytelling, then mistrust the revelations we have about where our plot points should be.

 It’s the yin and yang of creative fulfillment, I guess.

How do you experience and deal with the ride? 


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Death, Bhutan, and Beginning It

I found out today that one of my piano students died.

She was in her late eighties and practiced an hour every day, even when she was sick. Well, not cancer sick. Once she got that, she had to stay on the couch, mostly. She knew something was wrong when she started having trouble breathing at the keyboard. Tests showed the cancer was everywhere.

When I got the news, I’d been waffling with my husband about whether to go to Bhutan next year. It’s a recent dilemma: For months we’ve been planning a trip to Italy next summer with our 8-year-old daughter to celebrate his 50th birthday. As a two-time cancer survivor, Patrick figured he deserved a ‘destination bash’ (my words), and I was totally on board. We even already paid for an apartment rental in Vernazza.

But last weekend, we learned that the outdoor adventure company we went to Kilimanjaro with in 2008 (and that my husband went to base camp Everest with in 2010) was leading a trip to Bhutan, and that the guide is going to be Rick, one of the most awesome people on the planet. (“These are very spiritual places,” he has said about the trips he plans, “and when you stand in them, if you’re open to it, you experience life on a different plane.” You see?)

I’ve been collecting articles about Bhutan for years, since finding out about its commitment to Gross National Happiness. I’ve always called it my ‘reach trip’ because of the cost, but the chance to go with Rick (who plans to retire in a few years) to this place of serene beauty and contemplation, seems too good to pass up. But what about the cost? What about the potential altitude sickness? I was collapsing on summit day in Tanzania, after all.

When I questioned whether I was being selfish (ah, first-world problems…), my friend Sue, who comes to my house once a week so we can work on our separate books together, said without hesitation, “Is it selfish to want to live, and experience new things, and grow? And you write about journeys. It’s a natural extension of the work you’re already doing.”

The moment I learned that Doris had died, I felt drawn even more to Bhutan. Yes, it’s a scary proposition. I’d wind up in debt, I could feel nauseous, I’d miss my daughter terribly. But something’s telling me it’s the right thing to do – and the right time to do it.

As I was starting to make our lunch, Sue walked in the kitchen with her computer and recited the famous Goethe quote: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.” I turned around and pointed to the refrigerator, to a card that has the exact same quote on the cover that I’d given Patrick before we climbed Kilimanjaro.

There’s that serendipity I so love…

What dream do you plan to begin?


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Who Comes First: Writer or Reader?

Something happened on the way to my daughter’s school the other day that made me think about the way we write.

A quick flashback for context: The night before, we were sitting at the dinner table when, out of the blue, Annalie asked if we can bring in a cookie cake to class the next morning to celebrate her 8th birthday. It was after 7 p.m., mind you. I’ll spare you the details, but in the end, after a discussion about sufficient lead times, we were able to secure miniature chocolate and vanilla cupcakes from the grocery store – not an ideal choice for my daughter, who swore that everyone in her class was EXPECTING a cookie cake because that’s what they said they WANTED. (I’ll also spare you the details about our subsequent discussion on child refugees in Syria…)

So we’re walking up to the class line the next morning when a boy spots her carrying her plastic bag of treats. “What did you bring?” he asks excitedly. “Cupcakes,” my daughter answers. The boy throws his hands in the air and looks up at the sky, a gesture I take to be pure glee. Annalie, on the other hand, reads it an entirely different way – that the boy is highly disappointed – and is mortified.

“See?” she says, whipping around, her forehead wrinkled. “I told you they wouldn’t like these.”

It’s not the time or place for yet another discussion, so I simply give her a kiss, tell her to have a good day, and turn toward the car before she can see my tears. I feel parental guilt on one hand for letting down my daughter and frustration on the other that she feels such pressure to please others.

 I’m not sure this is a direct analogy, but isn’t this the way it is with our writing? Even when we know we have a good story to share, we feel like we’re not good enough. Sometimes we find ourselves revising our words so much to please readers that we can’t even recreate the original draft.

Why do we put readers who don’t even exist yet before ourselves, the people charged through passion and purpose to put out the message we feel compelled to share?

I’ll be meditating on this for a while, and would love to hear your thoughts.