What Does Writing Mean to You?

It was suggested to me recently that I give up writing for awhile.

My mouth fell open and my eyes widened. “Give up writing?”

I was in shock. I jumped to defense, ready to tackle, grab the ball and run for the 50 yard line.

What would I do with all the voices in my head? All the characters who wrangle for a voice, the scenes that require breath to be brought to life? These are real things in writer’s heads. People, places, stories. Non-writers don’t readily understand that.

(I wonder what it’s like to live in a non-writer’s head? What goes on in there if there are no stories? Is there math? *Shudder).

Who in their write/right mind would “give up” their passion, their purpose.

She asked, “What does writing mean to you?”

I realize my defense is not really an answer. What does writing mean to me? I know what is used to mean – it was a survival mechanism. But it was more than that too.

I’m still working on it by the way – a current, present answer to what writing means to me. I just know I can’t not write.

Share with me please – what does writing mean to you?

I Love this “Weird” Review!

Gosh, it’s hard to get people to review a book. I get so many nice emails and notes, yet the same people have not written reviews.

This review, however, is hilarious!

After reading Harvey Levin Can’t Die, Alex K wrote:

Thank you, Alex K. I can agree, on some level, some of my stories are strange. It’s the way my mind works – just a little different than your average person. That’s probably why I’m a writer.

Harvey Levin Can’t Die tells the story of a how a slight change can affect society. Could we live without reality tv? What better time to read this story, when reality seems so harsh!

The Beauty of Forward Motion

At the beginning of the semester, there’s an effervescence in the air on campus. The air around us is charged with positive energy. Thousands of students are buzzing with dreams and goals. They are brimming with the excitement of forward motion, their brains producing dopamine, which seems to affect everyone around them.

The excitement of learning, of trying new things, of working toward something new is like a drug, makes one giddy.

Excitement is lost in routine. Some people go on about their lives, thinking they’ve done everything they need to do and they’ve reached a place of comfort. And they get lazy in that comfort, forget to be open to new adventures.

I asked someone recently about Geocaching. I think of it as finding a treasure, accomplishing mini goals; my brain already releasing happiness hormones in response to the thoughts of the challenge overcome!

His response: It sounds childish.

Yes. Maybe. And isn’t that exciting? The very beauty of youth is excitement at every new adventure, big or small! It’s an energy wrapped up in an overflow of snapping and bubbling. And it’s engaging and enigmatic!

Forward momentum – new challenges – it is what keeps us young.

Einstein was said to have been working on a new theory even on his deathbed. After he passed, his brain showed a lack of plaque. Plaque the normal brain develops with aging.

Writers are all about the new and exciting. The next scene, the next chapter, the next story!

Have fun, engage that childlike excitement, set new goals and accomplish them or fail them – it doesn’t matter – just as long as you keep moving forward!

A fondness for 4am

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The world is different at night. Those early morning hours before the sun rises, it seems no one is awake, no one is moving around ready for the world.

Even if you live in a big city. Maybe you hear some far off traffic. A train somewhere in the distance. Still it seems the world is your private microcosm.

There’s not much one can do at 4am. There are no appointments to keep. No errands to run. No one to call. Polite society (and even maybe not so polite society) are, too, in their own little secular places.

It’s quiet, mostly. It’s serene. The crickets are quieting. The birds are stretching.

All there is to do is reflect, to write, to enjoy the chill in the pre-dawn air, and the peace that has not yet been disturbed.

It’s a special time for us, artists, writers, thinkers to belong. We are separate but together.

I’ll (not) see you there.

Success Stories

I didn’t grow up with a lot of positive role models. There were not many (if any) people in our neighborhood who were looked up to as success stories.

I can see my neighbors, even now, from the concrete steps of our four unit blond brick building on S*** Avenue in Collinwood. Across the street, Francis. She had Lucille Ball red hair and sat on her porch from 9am to 9pm, beer in hand. Next door, a single mother who worked at a bar and brought work home with her – in all sorts of ways. Next to her, a retired old man who sat across from Francis with his own beer in hand. His wife, Goldie, was a sweet woman whose toes twisted around one another, feet mangled, she said from twenty years of high heeled waitressing. On the other side, a retired railroad worker, no patio, so he sat in his kitchen hand wrapped around a cold beer.

There were bars on every corner. T & M’s could be seen from the porch. Strangers and neighbors stumbling out with the music pouring onto the street.

The teenagers went to high school, married the boyfriends who beat them, and set up house on the next block. A few got away, I’m sure. But I can list many more who died young or ended up in prison. My teenage crushes are dead now. One was shot in the head, the other crushed under the wheels of a truck. I never got into drugs, thought those who smoked and drank acted silly, stupidly, dangerously. Girlfriends recall tales of waking up half naked, uncertain if anything happened. That wasn’t the memory – or lack of memory – I wanted.

Mostly, I felt limited. I felt outcast. I didn’t seem to belong with any particular crowd or group or gang. I wanted something more, something different, and I didn’t know where to turn. Getting out and getting away seemed the only answer for me. I didn’t know what might meet me beyond the borders of the familiar, but there was no safety and no options in the familiar.

Someone once said – it was very brave of you to travel across country on your own and start over alone. I hadn’t considered it was “brave.” I’d believed it was my only choice, my only chance. She offered, the world is a dangerous place for a young woman to do such a thing. Sometimes home is a dangerous place. Limiting yourself is dangerous. Not fulfilling your potential is dangerous. Living a life in which you’re completely unhappy is dangerous. Sometimes, saving yourself, however scary the unknown is, is your only choice.

 

What Your Character Reads

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You’ll remember reading some great stories in which the character is reading or recommended a book to read to another.

Authors do not peel off the list carelessly, especially if it’s a single book, author, or scene. These are chosen carefully to reveal something specific about the character, to complicate the story, or to foreshadow what is to come.

There are numerous books which mention other books or authors; however, I’ll example Charity, a short story by Charles Baxter.

In one scene a drug dealer has Othello open to Act 3. It’s unclear if the dealer is actually reading – he’s sitting in a dimly lit bar, running his finger down the page; however, the main character offers, “the handkerchief. And Iago” to identify the scene and illuminate the foreshadowing.

The story of Othello, and more specifically the scene, involves Iago as the master of a manipulation using the handkerchief as evidence of a betrayal.

This is not by some accident that Baxter chose the story and the scene. He didn’t grab at something out of the blue because he needed the dealer to be reading at a bar. He chose to use a scene from another classic text to complicate and foreshadow what is to come. However, the question becomes how does it layer the story of Charity?

I won’t tell you, but I highly recommend reading the story.

In one story, I had a character reading a book by Betty White. The book is fictional, but I wanted the character to be seeking an idea of normalcy as far from herself as I could get.

Presently, I’m working on a novel. One of the characters is rather shallow and cares about the appearance of things more than anything else. Another character is describing the home and I needed a coffee table book to reflect the first. I felt he would choose a book which matched the decor, but also shows him as worldly. I chose National Geographic’s Stunning Photography. He’s never even cracked the spine, he just wanted something beautiful to match the blue of his curtains and make him look good to his guests. I may change it, but right now I think it works.

Give thought to the choices in your work, even if it’s a book sitting on a table, passing from one character or another, or in a window. It’ll layer your work, giving more depth to your characters and the story.

 

Does pain inspire creativity?

When I was young, I knew many people attempting to inspire creativity by causing themselves pain. They used drugs, alcohol, fought, caused drama, got in to trouble and they’d say – this is what it takes to create good writing, music, art.

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The tortured artist effect – it takes agony to create good work.

I recall one writer who drank and cheated and lied and ended up homeless, rejected, lost. He said – it makes for good stories.

I decided, quite young, that life was painful enough than to dive in head first to any more misery.

But then as I lay in bed a few nights ago with the pain of the last few months growing, the losses, the fears, the absence of loved ones, and others looking for a scapegoat for their own pain, I succumbed to a wave of agony.

The way I have handled anything challenging in my life is to write it out. So – I wrote.

Does that mean, then, that torment is good for writing?

I do write almost every day, pain or no  pain.

Maybe it’s not about torture inspiring art; however, my pain came out in poetry, which I rarely write on a regular basis.

Creatives, writers, artists, musicians write as a way to work out the agony and perhaps it just seems that pain inspires art.

Others come to the mistaken belief that they need to place themselves in harms’ way in order to create.

The guy I mentioned earlier – who caused himself and others a lot of pain – never did become the writer he wanted/thought he wanted to be. I think he fell into far too much misery to pull himself out. It stunted his talent and desire.

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The Crier – by the way – is about people who go to extremes to avoid pain.

Maximum Flow

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Photo by Ian Turnell on Pexels.comlow

I had a professor who hated the word “flow.” We were not allowed to say it in class and when someone new to this prof or class would say it, we would all turn to the instructor as she launched into a near spasm of “O”ing her lips, rolling her eyes, and throwing her head back in dramatic fashion.

Sometimes she wouldn’t verbalize to the newbie, so they would glance around wondering if she needed a medic, then someone would lean over and explain to the student, “we don’t use that word.”

BUT WHY NOT?

Well, I don’t know what her issues were; she had A LOT of them.

As I launched into my own new flow of the week, I thought there is no better word for it.

A river flows, it twists and bends and moves around boulders, tree trunks, rolls over rocks or sticks and, when it hits a new blockage, it flows around or under or over. That’s what writing feels like when it’s going well. You’re in a rhythm and you’re moving and it feels like nothing can stop you!

I feel like when you’re in the flow – other ideas come; you’re all juiced up, moving at maximum speed, and it paves way for and welcomes fresh and new streams of thought.

It’s important not to lose that feeling. Write until you can write no more and then you can’t wait to come back to it. And the sooner you jump right in again, the sooner the flow resumes.

When you stop, the longer you stop for, you risk becoming stagnant. Just like a river. It takes more effort to get restarted, to push away the junk that has gathered and blocked the movement.

 

Resolve, Rambling Roads, and Roses

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It’s past midnight. I’m up late. I’ve spent the last however many hours writing after a particularly good day.

Why was it good? I’m not sure. I didn’t watch the news. The sun was out. My roses are blooming. I helped someone – at least I hope I did.

I read something about women and impact. [I know this seems like it’s rambling, but it’s going somewhere – don’t all rambling roads lead someplace interesting?]

Today was a mix of everything. My past, my future, my desire to make a difference, and my predilection to learn new things and gain a great understanding of myself and the world around me.

I had a hard childhood. But it made me strong in order to confront the things I’ve had to face, the things I may still encounter. I have purpose. Those two things go together – challenges construct strength which in turn creates a compelling purpose in life.

That strength has left me at a disadvantage in a single way – I don’t know how to ask for help. And sometimes I come off as someone who has it all under control in an off putting way.

People like to see others fail because we all do at one point or another and that misstep humanizes us. Weakness makes us human. So if we don’t reveal weakness, we lose credibility, authenticity.

However, where I grew up, if you showed weakness, you were bully bait.

So I have a hard time reaching out. I admire people who are strong, but can still ask for assistance. I’m still working on that balance.

It is my purpose to help others. To make an impact. The only way I’ve ever known how to do that was through writing.

So, I’m up late writing. Trying to make an impact.

Sometimes rambling roads fold over on themselves, touch and twist away, then even end where they began. It was a good day. And I am thankful for all that has passed.