Writing with joy

When I saw that Canadian author Louise Penny, author of the Three Pines mystery series, would be in North Carolina to kick off her book tour, I knew that I would go, no matter what. I immediately signed up for tickets, thinking the venue would be crowded. (It was.)

I, along with some friends who are also big fans, drove the two-and-a-half hours to Fearrington Village, where Penny was to speak. The  event was held in a building aptly called The Barn which can hold 500 people. We went in early to get good seats. So did 500 other people.

The wait was worth it. Penny is delightfully candid, humorous, and forthcoming. But there was one thing she said that drove everything else from my mind.

She had suffered from writer’s block after the publication of her first book. She eventually sought help from a therapist who told her she should not worry about editors, publishers, reviews, her family, or anything else, but write simply for the joy of writing.

Louise Penny

I haven’t got writer’s block — or do I? I dutifully put words on the page, but all the time I am thinking, why bother?

I haven’t got a nibble on the book that precedes the one I am writing. If it doesn’t get  published, the sequel is useless.

I could self-publish, which I have done, but I am of two minds about this. If it isn’t good enough for an agent to jump on, maybe it isn’t good enough to self-publish.

Then I read about authors who only self-publish and are doing very well, thank you.

So I got to thinking about why I am writing in the first place. To be rich and famous? Maybe, when I was younger, but it doesn’t appeal to me now. I have a good life and I’m content.

I have fans, and I cherish them. But I’m not writing just for them, either.

I think back to my first books, and how much fun it was to create my stories. Of course it was validation to get a contract from a publisher, or a good review from a reader. But the real joy was in the writing.

I need to get back to that and finish my book because it brings me joy to see it grow and develop. And yes, I want to share it once it is finished, not for praise or money, but because a story isn’t really complete until it is read. So I will look at other options for publication while knowing that this isn’t the reason for writing, but the final step on the creative journey.

So now that Louise Penny has, by a few words, changed my entire outlook, I say thank you. Thank you for seeing clearly what I failed to see: that you aren’t going to want to write if your writing fails to bring you joy.

 

 

 

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My Secret Garden

Lawn maintenance has become a problem as I get older. I have not yet finished raking the winter accumulation of pine straw, pine cones, sweet gum balls,  and fallen twigs and branches from the periphery of the back yard. One reason is that I have been gone a lot this spring, and the other is that every time I think I have some part of it cleaned up, a heavy rain or wind gusts bring more debris down and I have to do it all over again.

One day I decided that I needed something less labor intensive. I decided to take out some of the ancient bushes along the front of the house that seem to need trimming about every other week. This wasn’t something I could do  by myself, so I called on Number Three Son to come up with his chainsaw.

Three of the five bushes gave up easily, but  remaining two had apparently petrified into stone. The chainsaw motor burned out before the job could be done. leaving two unsightly stumps.

“Never mind,” I said. We replaced the two shrubs that flanked the steps to the den with cypress that won’t need to be trimmed. Then, in the space between the ramp and the house where the other three were, I sprayed weedkiller. A week later, I raked  out the dead weeds and laid crushed brick. My palette was ready

I drilled a hole in the smaller stump to hold my bottle tree, and then cut the bottom off a planter and fitted it around the bigger stump. I filled it with some white pebbles Jim had bought years ago for an  ill-fated rock garden in the back yard (ill-fated because I had to  lug a watering can down there to keep the plants happy and I kept forgetting or going away for a week, and the plants always died).

Then I put in some yard art. Some I already had out back and moved to the front, and some I bought on a whim. I may add more, but I have to be aware of the hose because I do have some  live plants in the little patch between the brick and the steps. I have plans for this later, like moving the lily bulbs to the back because they are too tall. Which they weren’t when that bush was behind them. Such is perspective. I call new area my secret garden because it can’t be seen from the road. Only someone coming up the walk can see it.

But right now, a certain amount of work has been eliminated, leaving me time to concentrate on other things. I am looking forward to a picnic with my writers’ club friends today, and then on Tuesday, a trip to Fearrington Village in Pittsboro to hear Louise Penny talk about her newest book in the Three Pines series.

All much more fun than raking and mowing.

 

Reading, Writing and … Arithmetic?

All morning I have been going over figures, adding and subtracting, and being surprised when they all balanced at the end of the column.

No, not my checkbook, but the accounts of our writers’ club, for which I, in a mad moment, took responsibility for when the former treasurer resigned. We have two, a savings account and a checking account. Savings is easy: I just add in the few cents interest earned each month and it is done.

Checking is harder in that I am prone to make deposits and forget what they were for … dues, book sales, donations? Ditto with checks. Luckily for me our bank sends a copy of each cancelled check with the monthly statement or I’d be really lost.

It isn’t that difficult if you keep up with it. Alas, I sat down to do a report for an upcoming meeting and realized I hadn’t done one for almost a year! I had made a monthly report highlighting any notable expenses, but as for a typed-up, official report — nada.Image result for adding machine clipart

When I finally got all the figures neatly typed up and exported to a .pdf that I put on our website, I vowed never to let it slide so far again. But I probably will, simply because I hate figures. So why do I do it? Because year after year, when we hold elections, I beg someone else to take over the job. And no one does. I realize that if I were to be hit by a bus tomorrow, someone would have to take over, but knowing my fellow club members no one will be over-the-moon happy about it. I expect plenty of grumbling.

Until that day comes, I will do it not because I like being a martyr, but because I know if a club is to survive, every member has to do his or her part. Even writers clubs, where you would think all we do is sit around and listen to each other read at Open Mic or hold critique sessions. Our club does a little more than this. In the past we have written and presented an outdoor drama, held a two-state-wide writers conference, and hosted story-telling events and workshops on writing. To do all these things, money has to flow in and out.

And someone has to keep track of it.

So I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining why I haven’t written a word on my WIP today.

We writers just love excuses!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I get sucked into things

So I was at my monthly book club meeting and some of the members began talking about how there had been no local celebrations of Black History month.  One member had decided to plan an event and asked if me and another member if we wanted to be on the planning committee because she wanted it be be all-inclusive. We said yes because, hey, she’d said the magic word.

So she told us that one of the features of the program would be a “wax museum” where people will dress up as historical figures and pose. When someone touches their hand they will explain who they were and their role in history. Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln came quickly to mind.

“You need someone to represent the Underground Railroad,” I ventured.

“Oh, yes, can you find us a character?”

One of the two book clubs I belong to. This was our Christmas meeting: good food, good discussion, good friends! That is me in the back row (standing) second from left.

I allowed that I could and set about researching. I discovered Elizabeth Buffum Chace who, with her husband, operated a station in Fall River, Massachusetts. What caught my fancy was that she gave each slave heading for Canada an envelope addressed to her. When she received it back, post marked Toronto, she knew the person had made it safely to freedom.

I brought this information to the meeting and discovered that I was supposed to impersonate Mrs. Chace!

“No, no,” I protested. “I was just to do the research.”

Silence. Then a disappointed scratch of the pen over my name on the roster.

“So who can we find to play her?”

More silence.

“I’ll do it,” I heard myself say in a meek voice. I am no actress, although I love theater. I”m more likely to be painting scenery or helping with makeup, or doing publicity. But I figured I could write my few lines on the back of an envelope (which would do as a prop) if I got stage fright.

So for the past week I have been trying to put together a costume. Not the easiest thing to do in a small town. I’m hoping the local theater group can help us out. Some years ago I sewed many a costume for an outdoor drama our writer’s club produced, but where they are now, I haven’t a clue.

So, from agreeing to be on a planning committee to actively participating is a slippery slope paved with good intentions.

Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, writing, and weaving

My presentation went well last week. There was good attendance, although a few members were out sick. I tried to stay on course, pretty much laying it all out there and letting people take what was relevant to them (mentally, not physically).

There were some questions and I answered them to the best of my ability. My message was “There ain’t no shortcut to publishing” which sounds  good except one member got picked up by a university press without even querying. He was recommended, so there you are. Submitted, and wham! a published book. Followed by book #2 and if it weren’t for Florence and her shennanagins, book # 3 would be out about now.

So there are exceptions. I even named one: Diana Gabaldon, who was picked up after querying a half-finished novel one time. Which became a huge hit on Starz. Please don’t ask who she is. If you don’t know, you have been living in a cave.

This weekend was a little different. I signed up for another pine-needle basket weaving class. It was another beginner’s class, and I learned some things I didn’t know or hadn’t fully grasped the first time. I really went to have the instructor show me how to add embellishments such as beads or buttons. Success! She made it look so easy.

The first class I took had two participants, including me. This one had eight. It was a lot of fun. Most of us knew each other, so conversation flew from current books being read to politics (quickly shelved as we were all getting depressed), near-drowning experiences (how that came up I don’t know), and how women used to have to make about everything they used from clothing to candles to baskets. I hated when it came time to break up.

I have a busy week coming up three church meetings and one book club meeting. We are reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. Meanwhile, I checked out every Louise Penny novel in the library that I hadn’t yet read. I realized I had read a couple, but re-read them anyway. So glad she is writing another Gamache story.

I know–I need to find time for writing my own novel somewhere in there.  I am on chapter four! So it’s coming along. I have it plotted out in my head, but darn, it is taking a lot of research. So most of my time is spent writing a sentence and then thinking, “I need to look that up.”  I’m thinking I need to have some information of 18th newspapers and printing. And publishing.

Why didn’t I start a nice contemporary where I already know how things work? Or at least have an approximate idea.

Sometimes writers are masochists, just sayin’.

 

 

 

Memoir continued

Last week I attended a day-long workshop on writing the memoir.  Our teacher was fantastic, to say the least: Joseph Bathanti, Writer-in-Residence at Appalachian State University. Bathanti hails from Pittsburgh, which is near where I spent many years of my life before I, like him, found  my way to North Carolina. I won’t list all his honors and publications, but rest assured, the man knows his subject, loves writing, and enjoys imparting what he knows. I’m now reading Bathanti’s memoir, “Half of What I Say is Meaningless.”

Why do we write memoirs? Many of us want to or plan to, attested by the number of people who signed up for the workshop. Some have stories they need to share because of the lessons they learned and want to pass on. Some use memoir as a sort of catharsis. Me, I just want my grandkids to know how different life was when I was growing up.

Jack is more interested in getting a treat than hearing me talk about my writing.

One thing that kept me from starting, as I mentioned before, was revealing family secrets. Bathanti assured us that we didn’t need to tell everything, but if it is hurtful or painful, we can leave it out. “If you leave things out, you’re not lying,” he said.

That reminded me of another workshop leader who told our class, “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.” She was talking about fiction, but memoir writing is essentially creative non-fiction. It is subjective, and you can insert your opinion about events which you can’t do in journalism or non-fiction.

There are two things about the workshop that I’d like to point out. One is that as writers, we need to keep learning. Even if I never write a memoir, I took away a valuable tool that I can use in my fiction, which is to dig deep into my subconscious and bring up the emotion I need to make a scene live. The other is more prosaic: We are never too old to learn. I learn something new every day. Never mind that most of it I learn from watching Jeopardy!

And, I just thought of a third thing. Do we need to start with “I was born…” and end with some earthshaking conclusion about What It All Meant?

Bathanti’s book is a series of essays. I had already started writing a few essays on different themes, such as comparing play when I was a kid and what my grandkids do for fun. So now assured that I’m on the right track, I can continue.

Have  you ever considered writing a memoir? If so, what has kept you from starting? Or are you working on one now? I’d love to know how it’s going and what format you are writing it in — straight narrative, essays, humor, confession …?

Me, I’ll stick to short essays and hope it all comes together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A dash of stress

No, I am not doing NaNoWriMo. It’s an attractive bandwagon, but I’m not jumping aboard.

I have my hands full enough as it is without adding more stress to my life. I lived with stress for years and the result was a tumor the size of a golf ball in my right boob. Don’t want to go there again. Ever since my Year with Chemo I have avoided stress like … well, like I should be avoiding poison ivy.

Not that stress can be shrugged off like an unwanted invitation. “No thank you; thanks anyway.” We need a little bit in our lives or we wouldn’t get up in the morning. In my case, I have to feed the cats. The minute I stir, they are on the bed with plaintive nudges and soft meows. “We’re starving! We haven’t eaten in hours and hours!” In full disclosure, this is more their stress than mine unless I really need another hour or two of sleep. In that case, I can own it.

So I get up, pad to the kitchen, turn on the light, and see … three bowls half full of food.

Just not fresh, poured-from-the-container-right-now food.

Jack enjoys a stress-free snooze

This week, I had a little angst-filled moment of stress when I realized my book club meets Tuesday and I had yet to read the book. Too late to order a paperback so I resorted to the e-version and then wondered if it would show up on my device. This has happened, causing a lot of calling and not complaining so much as whining, “Where is my fully-paid-for-book?”

Now, those of you contending with jobs and children under 18 — no, I take that last back. I have no children under 18, heck, I have no children under 40, and they still cause me stress. Sometimes it is good stress and sometimes it is the tearing-your-hair-out kind. I think there is no turning your back on child-related stress. My mom in her 90s worried about me. My kids worry about their kids. I worry about my grandkids. Nope, that stress is here to stay.

Everyone has stress. School, bills, illness, you name it. Some of us can handle it, some can’t, some ignore it and some (think sky divers or cave explorers) go looking for it. Some people need a certain amount of adrenaline just to survive. Some would like to be wrapped in a soft quilt and sung to sleep.

The key is balance. Too much can kill you. Too little, and life isn’t worth living.

I recently answered a request to speak about my new book (see last post) at the local library. I’m already stressing. What will I say? What will I wear? (This is a real thing.) Suppose no one buys a copy after I’ve ordered a crate from the publisher? (This has happened.)

But in the midst of my agonizing, I realize being asked to speak is a good thing and even if I don’t sell a single copy, people will have heard about it and maybe will buy it later. Or not.

That’s something I have learned not to stress about. I write because I love creating stories and I love it when people buy my books and read them and I really love it when they bother to write a favorable review.

Today’s lesson is that we can’t really live a stress-free life. If we did, we’d be pampered, indoor cats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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