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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Words Have an Afterlife

I got up the nerve while drying my hands.

We were in the public restroom at the beach, this woman at the sink with the tattoo on her foot and me. She had two lines of cursive writing on the top of her right foot, and I wanted to know what it said. She was washing her hands when the automatic dryer stopped blowing.

“Excuse me, do you mind telling me what your foot says?”

The woman turned off the faucet and looked down. She smiled. “It’s from my dad,” she said. “I lost him five years ago.” She told me the ink was in his handwriting, that she’d lifted the words from a letter he’d once written her:

“I miss you a great deal. Love ya, Dad.”

I never got a tattoo. In college I toyed with the idea of getting ivy draped around an ankle, and I’m extraordinarily relieved I never got around to it because I later hated the idea. That’s why I haven’t come up with any other potential options; I figure the inspiration won’t last a lifetime.

But I have respect for people who want meaningful tattoos, and this one gave me goosebumps in a flash, on every limb. What a beautiful way for her to remember her dad, to read that he misses her and loves her – in his own script.

Have you come across words that took on more power or a new meaning after a loved one’s passing?


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A Flash Fiction First

I have a swelling folder of information on places to submit my writing, and this morning I gave myself a challenge – to not only start helping that folder slim down, but to dedicate today’s creative writing time to a style outside my usual wheelhouse.

Flash fiction.

I’d found this prompt in a Twitter post from @Charli_Mills: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story influenced by a musical score. Where do you drift, hearing the notes? How does it fire you up to grab the story and hurl it into existence? Or is it gentle, and leading you into lyrical pastures of green?

After getting comfy in my favorite chair, I wrote this entry:

Flight by Robin L. Flanigan

Terra presses the wet cloth to her skin, the color of spoiled milk, and closes her eyes, thinking about what it would be like to leave, to sweep herself off the porch and up the hill toward the clouds. Her mother did it. Her grandmother didn’t and look where that got her. She carefully doubles the washcloth and drapes it over the edge of the tub. She couldn’t care less if he will miss her. She can picture only the weightlessness, the smooth waves of her limbs as she dances through the hemlocks on her way to the next.
Written to Anand (Bliss) by Snatum Kaur

It was fun. I feel like I exercised my brain in a new way, I look forward to participating in more of these, and I feel good that I’m doing more than just stockpiling submission ideas.

If you’ve written outside of your go-to style lately, how did it go?


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Dealing With Rejection

Yesterday my manuscript received its first rejection. I found out moments after being fitted for a helmet for a horseback trail ride with my eight-year-old daughter. I’d pulled my iPhone from my pocket to make sure the camera was ready to go, and decided to check my email given that I’d followed up with the agent a few hours earlier.

I read his words – that I’m a “terrific writer” but the story sounded a bit too familiar and he wasn’t convinced he could get a major publisher on board, that he hoped other agents would feel differently, and that he wished me the very best of luck – and had to accept he wasn’t going to be the agent to represent me.

An agent I desperately wanted to represent me.

The wacky part is that I was okay. Even after five years of working on this manuscript, and after all the serendipitous moments that led up to and continued through the writing, I had come to a place where I have to believe that publication will happen, and will happen in a glorious way I simply can’t visualize yet.

I’m not sure whether I’ve got it all together or am delusional. As my mom says, “Time will tell.” But I do know that I couldn’t have been in a better place to receive the disappointing news. My horse’s name was Carl, and for an hour holding his reins through leafy parkland and overgrown fields filled with wildflowers, I concentrated on the sounds around us: the creak of my saddle, the croak of the frogs, the swish of horse tails. I stared at my daughter’s back in front of me. I closed my eyes and meditated (only for a few moments at a time; I was nearly ejected within the first ten minutes of the ride when Carl tripped and hadn’t been the steadiest in my seat since).

Beauty in it all.

I feel blessed to have a manuscript I believe in, that my beta readers believe in. Time to move forward on this project and start the next one.

I do wonder why I’m not allowing myself a pity party. Maybe because that would put my focus on the rejection and not on what needs to happen next to get this thing published. Who knows? Maybe I’ll feel differently at a highly inopportune time and fall to pieces while pumping gas or on my way to interview a client.

For now, I continue to see that there’s more to finding the right fit for my manuscript – to life, in fact – than we’re often able to predict. This morning, for instance, another happy accident. In the few moments I had to glance at Twitter, I clicked on only one link, which led to a blog by London author Jessica Thompson. Her perspective lost after learning some major retailers wouldn’t be stocking her third novel because sales of her second weren’t as good as her first, she found comfort in words from her dad, which I’m sharing here because they’re poignant and altogether true:

“I’m an old man now, but every night I sit in my garden and think, another day, how nice. Another day with my family in my life, and my dog, and that’s really how you have to start seeing things Jess…Readjust your viewpoint on the world, you’ve not failed. Life is a relay race, and every step ahead leads you on to the next level. Nothing is wasted, and everything you do that takes you forward is positive. So what, you’ll probably never be famous, and so what, you’ll probably never be a millionaire, but you’ve done so incredibly well, no one can take that away from you, and the fact that you are a wonderful writer.”

This is what we writers need to trust: that we have succeeded because we are doing what we love to do. Because of this project I have developed close friendships, experimented with a more creative writing style, and received validation from a professional I greatly respect.

How can I be sad about that?

If you’re up for sharing your rejection story (and aftermath), I’m all ears. What we have in common makes us stronger…


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When a 104-year-old Doesn’t Want to be Interviewed…

It’s not every day you get the chance to interview a 104-year-old woman. So when that chance came to me yesterday, I brought along my 8-year-old daughter. After passing on what I knew – that this woman was feisty and none too thrilled about being asked a bunch of questions – she looked at me and said, “I’m scared.”

The story was this: Two women in Upstate New York had started a crowdfunding campaign to help Nona Schurman, a former professional modern dancer, remain independent in her own apartment. She has no immediate family, lives almost exclusively on Social Security, and uses her savings to pay for part-time, in-home aid workers who help with personal care, shopping, cooking and cleaning. By the end of 2014 her savings account will be depleted and she’ll be forced to enter a nursing home.

I learned about the campaign through an email blast, pitched it to my local newspaper, and showed up yesterday to find out more about this woman who canoed well into her eighties and is writing a book on choreography.

Though her tone was gruff, she welcomed us into her home and showed us our seats, explaining that the top snap on her housecoat never wants to stay closed. Then I took a notebook and pen out of my purse.

“I don’t understand what you want,” she said. “You’re a reporter?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s disappointing. Go ahead.”

I turned to my daughter and let out a surprised chuckle. I began to talk to Nona about her situation, but she interrupted me to argue that she was not in danger of losing her apartment, that the management said she could live rent-free for as long as she wanted, and that people should get the story straight. I wasn’t going to tell her she’s confused and wrong. Immediately I dropped the notebook and pen back into my purse and apologized for any inconvenience. I’d heard that it had taken a lot for her to agree to a story about her in the first place, that she was a proud woman who didn’t want to accept help from strangers, and it certainly didn’t feel like my place to push the issue. Over her stream of objections, I stood up, motioned for my daughter to follow, and apologized for any misunderstanding. That’s what she needed to hear.

Then her voice changed.

“Will you do this snap for me?”

Her face had softened, too, and as she stood there, bent over her walker, looking at me hopefully, my heart ached. Here was this woman who wanted nothing more than to be in control of her life, yet she needed someone – anyone – to help her get dressed. When she shut the door, I said, “I need a hug.”

I called my editor and told her the story was a bust. But I still feel a need to share it, so here it is, as well as a link for more information:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-dancer-s-dignity-at-104-support-for-nona-schurman

I’d love to hear what you think.

 

 

 

 


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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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What Would a List About Yourself Say?

It’s almost a new year, and I’m not much for creating resolutions, so I’m going to look backward instead.

2013 has been so sweet to me, both personally and professionally. The even sweeter thing is that writing is prominent in both categories. That got me thinking about how much of my identity is wrapped up in this craft I get to call a business. As a consummate list maker, I started one to see how I identify with myself as a journalist and creative writer, but it quickly evolved into a much more expansive list (in theme, anyway), one that I’ve decided to share in case it serves as inspiration for your own list.

Lists are key in life, you know. They help you do what you want to do. We all forget sometimes, after all, and even when we don’t forget but we WANT to forget, the list is right there, reminding us of what we in fact really DO want to do. Make sense?

With a list like the one below, there are no specific goals attached, although they do tend to pop up afterward, if you’re really craving something to focus on in 2014. The stream-of-consciousness approach to making one of these babies winds up bringing to the forefront areas in which you rock, and areas that need improvement. 

So, here we go. 

I…

love the way words make music

record way too many details

feel energy coming out of my fingers when I type

get excited by fine-point pens and high-quality paper

laugh easily

pick things up when I drop them

sometimes say things people don’t want to hear

dream about a house on the beach

should recite my mantra more often (“Know what you want. Work hard to get it. Accept what comes next.”)

am blessed to have more opportunities than I can handle

just finished 18 deadlines in 28 days

am a mother who needs to learn not to take scrappy, age-appropriate behavior so personally

find joy in putting things in their proper places

feel compelled to smell the pages of old books

look tirelessly for a way to make something work when it feels right

Off the bat, from what I just recorded, I’d say I could choose my words more carefully when I speak, take deeper breaths when I want to become defensive, and continue clarifying my vision for the types of writing projects I want to pursue.

And now that it’s gone from my head to the page, I can’t forget.

Do you make lists? Are you up for writing a quick one to see what comes up?