Imagination, Memory, Reflections, Writing

Childhood of a Fiction Writer

girlpeekIn my earliest memory, I am lying on my stomach in the kitchen looking through the square holes in a grate. I am eighteen months old. My parents and I live in the upstairs apartment of an old house converted into a duplex. Our kitchen lies above the kitchen of the downstairs apartment. Our only heat source is radiant, meaning the heat from downstairs rises into our apartment through open grates in our floor. My mother warns me not to drop anything through the holes, but that was never my intention. The family who lives downstairs is eating dinner, their table is directly below the grate, and I am watching them and listening to their conversation. That’s the extent of that memory, but I now see it as an early indication of my interest in observing people, what they do, what they say, how they act and react.

Yesterday, I followed a link to a video interview with John Irving. In one segment1, he mentioned an early indication he knew he could be a writer: he desired and needed a lot of alone time. Aha!, I thought. Sometimes, when I look back on my childhood, it seems sort of like those Charlie Brown cartoons where adults are unseen, their voices muted. I had parents, two sisters, and a fair amount of friends, but I preferred to spend a lot of time alone with my imagination.

At this point, I can’t say if that choice was strictly my nature or if circumstances enhanced the tendency. Early in my school career, teachers labeled me one of the “smart kids.” That designation sets you apart in ways both good and bad. You may have free time while other students work on a subject that you breezed through. You may also be assigned extra work. In both cases, you’re alone.

childreadingIf you’re a writer, then you are a reader. And I presume, like me, as a child you gobbled up books like candy. I don’t know about you, but reading time was alone time for me. And then, inspired by what I read, I wanted to act out my own stories in the backyard with my baby dolls in my “covered wagon” or behind the living room sofa where I sat up an “apartment” for my Barbies. Alone. Whole conversations carried on in my head.

Of course, I played games with other children, but I preferred make believe to sports or most physical activity. I would try to act out some of my stories with friends, but it was frustrating for us all. I always wanted to be the star and director—“now you say this and then you do that and then I say …” It was just easier to play alone.

sickgirlWhen I got a little older, the ultimate isolator struck—illness. I spent only nine months of my seventh, eighth, and ninth grades actually in school. The rest of that time I was either bedridden, in the hospital, or recovering from surgery. Except for three months with a visiting teacher, I taught myself and took tests by phone. Needless to say, I didn’t fare well in the social skills usually developed during this period of life. But I can remember only a few times feeling lonely. And never was I bored. I had my imagination.

In light of all this, do I mind that writing requires me to spend a lot of time alone? Of course not. I think I was cultivated for this life. Only now, I don’t lay on my stomach peeping at the neighbors. I just close my eyes to watch and listen for the story to unfold.

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1 The whole interview is here: http://bigthink.com/johnirving  If you want to hear just the portion I referenced, click the segment titled: How to Tell if You’re a Writer

Originally published 7 Nov, 2009

Family, Power, Reflections, Writing

Chow Mein for Breakfast

I’m alone—in a quiet house—today, so I ate leftover chow mein for breakfast. That’s the sort of wild and crazy thing I do when left to my own devices. My youngest son, Daniel, is visiting from Nebraska and took some of the family to the Cincinnati Reds game in Oakland today. I stayed home to care for the dogs.

connect_heartNo next novel in production, yet, but I may get my brain in gear to revise a short story today. Otherwise, I’ll probably read the afternoon away. I’ve surprised myself by reading seven novels since I wrapped up An Illusion of Trust. For me, since I started writing seriously, that qualifies as binge-reading.

Maybe soon I’ll be able to shut the doors, insert the earplugs, and binge-write. I’ve been a little nervous that one of my novel ideas hasn’t taken me captive. But now I’m trying not to listen when the dark side whispers, “Does that mean none of your story ideas is worthy?” I’m trying hard not to take my Muse’s silence as a sign that I shouldn’t write at all. I’m trying to keep my distance from that perfection trap.

I wish I could remember where I saw the link to Brené Brown’s TED talk, which I’ve linked to below, but I thank, thank, thank whoever posted that so I could find it—and watch it over and over. I’m learning to have the courage to be vulnerable. I’m learning the difference between shame and guilt. I’m learning to accept my short-comings and still feel worthy. I’m doing this because I want to connect to life wholeheartedly.

More than anything, I seek connection through my writing. But as an author, just as in my real life, I allow my fears to restrain me. I write from my heart, but I don’t write wholeheartedly. I let my perfectionism steal that from me. Maybe when I learn these lessons, I’ll be free to write another novel.

Also read: Knowing that my friend, author Michelle D. Argyle, struggles with some of the same issues, I shared the link with her. Brené’s talk inspired her to blog about The Price of Perfection.

How are you living wholeheartedly?

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Reflections, Writing

In the grand scheme of writing

I can be ridiculously petty, envious, and jealous. That’s something I wish I hadn’t learned about myself in the four years since I started writing for publication. And there’s no logic to these feelings.

Why envy the sales of an author who has fifteen published novels and a well-funded marketing team? And writes in a different genre—a hot one?

Why resent an author for being the darling of certain groups when I don’t even want to join those groups?

What sense does it make to be jealous of a writer who’s had umpteen stories published in literary magazines when I never submit any of mine?

And on and on and on. A waste of energy. A pathetic self-indulgence. A comparison of apples to oranges.

In all of life, a personal sense of success depends on your perspective. Pettiness, envy, jealousy, any negative emotion, keeps you lying in the dirt looking up. All writers publish because they want to share their work with others, and we all hope many others. There’s a larger market for some genres and types of writing than for others—apples and oranges.

One problem today is that authors, even traditionally published ones, are required to be more involved in the marketing side. It’s too easy to start comparing when so many authors are online shouting out sales figures and rankings, and giving advice—You too could be a publishing phenomenon, if you follow these six easy steps! Comparison leads to dissatisfaction. We see ourselves as less successful.

Too often, I let envy and jealousy steal any sense of success from me. My perspective skews. I wrote a book that already hundreds of people have read! How can I keep forgetting that? And I’m not finished writing. Who knows what I might accomplish a year or twenty from now? In the grand scheme of my writing career, I’m just beginning.

How’s the view from your perspective?

Doubt, Dream, Goals, Reflections, Writing

This writer is looking forward

Looking back at my life during the past year, I can see losses and gains, but I can’t yet judge the long-term effects. Every year at this time, psychics make predictions for the coming year. I have no such gift. I can only make resolutions, affirming to myself and all, my intent for the future.

New beginnings are hopeful. This year I’m excited about opportunities to advance in my writing and publishing career. One change I hope to make that will affect not only my writing, but my life in general is obtaining—and maintaining—a balance.

In 2011, I neglected not only the usual housework, but gardening as well. I don’t think my roses will survive another year of the same kind of neglect. In general, I spent too much time in my cave. Since my 2012 plans include publishing one book and writing another, it’s imperative that I improve my time management.

This doesn’t mean I’m creating spreadsheets, but it does mean I’ll be working to conquer my habit of letting doubt (fear) derail my writing. In 2011, I probably wasted a good 30% of my writing time hand-tied by indecision. I vow not to let that happen in this next year. I will boldly write what no woman has written before.

In her recent blog post When You Allow Others to Decide Your Dreams, Michelle Davidson Argyle said:

“Nobody’s goals and rules are ever going to match up to my own on the unique path I’m on. Even if I met all those goals I see floating around online on so many blogs and Facebook statuses and Twitter feeds, I still wouldn’t be happy because I would not have met the deepest desires of my own heart …”

And this:

“I think we authors often forget what we really want. I think we often delude ourselves into thinking we want what everyone else wants, and it’s creating this insane sense of urgency in our heads. We pump out our work faster and harder and less carefully than we would otherwise. We feel pressured, more than anything else, to meet certain criteria, follow the lists and rules and advice others post, and it hurts us deeply when we can’t meet that criteria at breakneck speed. For me, at least, this urgency transformed itself into an energy-sucking, emotionally-draining need.

Until I realized that for me it was an illusion and unnecessary.”

Michelle expressed my dilemma. My lack of self-confidence leads me to compare everything I do to what other writers do, seeking a stamp of approval. At best, that works only temporarily. Sooner or later, doing what others did leads to frustration, doubt, fear because their plan, their path, their dream doesn’t “fit” me.

Let me toast to the New Year. New beginnings. New opportunities. Another chance to get it right.

In 2012, I vow to follow MY dreams. What about you?

Family, Fiction, Life, My Books, Novel, Real Life, Reflections, Writing

Why did I wait so long to get serious about writing?

Emily and Elijah at the zoo

I feel very old this week. Keeping up with small children is not something I do well any longer. Three days in a row this week, I had two of my grandchildren, ages five and seven, in my home. They were both sick with colds and still they wore me out.

I praise all who have care of little ones and still are able to write. If nothing else, the reason I waited so long to get serious about writing is clear to me now. I couldn’t even get my thoughts straightened out in snatches of free time, let alone write anything coherent. And by the time the kiddies were tucked in bed, all I could do was stare into space.

When my own four children were that young, I’m sure I had more physical stamina, yet the mental fatigue was just as bad. I sought refuge in books. I read. And read. And read some more. I took in a lot, and it mixed and fermented and formed into stories in my head, but I didn’t have the energy to write them down.

Let’s call that my writer’s training course. Long, long years of it. There are advantages to that, of course. I had a lot of life experience stacking up too. Intense research, we’ll call that. And to be honest, I’m glad I didn’t write down most of the stories that swirled through my head through those years. It was a time to watch and listen, not speak.

I’m happy to be approaching my career as a writer from a mature perspective. I’ve finally found my voice and have some things to say. Many novel’s worth.

Your turn: How does your age and circumstances affect your writing?


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