So many people walk around this earth with no idea
how to communicate their gifts to the world.
But you, dear writer, have already found your language.
Now it’s simply time to trust YOUR voice.
With love and total belief in you,
For me, fall ushers in a mourning period. Although I welcome its drier air and kaleidoscope of color, its football season and Minnesota State Fair, loss lingers beneath the breathless bustle of a new school year. Loss of daylight and summer warmth. Loss of long walks with my sister and family time at the lake.
I grieve writing losses, too. Loss of (mostly) undivided attention, absent my full-time teaching job’s preoccupations with lesson plans and committee reports, student struggles and institutional politics. Loss of mental energy to revise a book without brain-draining essays to grade. Loss of early-morning quiet when my mind is fresh and ready to fire. Loss of time due to commuting in traffic and raking leaves.
After half a lifetime as a student and almost 20 years teaching, I’m getting better at managing fall’s losses, but there is a point each year—usually two weeks after school begins—where I sink into a mini-depression before I rebound. In the two-plus years I’ve spent writing and revising my first book, I’ve discovered my mini-depression carries with it resentment that I have to keep in check.
To prevent my negative emotions from leaking out in classrooms and meeting halls, I have begun treating the new school year like the New Year’s holiday. I have developed a New School Year tradition that consists of three parts: assess, acknowledge, select.
The advantages of New School Year Resolutions over their January counterpart include:
Here’s how I implement my tradition:
Teachers hear a lot about assessment every fall. We assess our teaching, students’ learning, the institution’s development, and yes, we even assess our assessment. Assessment is on already on my mind, so I turn that focus to reflecting on and assessing my writing year:
As a Type-A personality, I can get hyper-focused on achieving goals and checking them off lists. Once something is off my list, it’s off my mind, so I forget to savor successes and recognize progress, especially if that progress isn’t attached to a tangible result. To foster health and happiness, I’ve built into my tradition a step for acknowledging and celebrating growth.
Sometimes acknowledgment means sharing a publication on social media—something I used to avoid because it felt like “bragging.” Other times, I reward myself: a visit with my sister, an extra hour of reading, a new helmet for horseback riding lessons.
Reality rarely allows enough time and energy to pursue every goal I can dream up, so from among those goals, I select resolutions that will become my year’s focus. Then I follow nature’s lead by asking:
My answers include short- and long-term resolutions, and they vary widely, from submitting monthly blog posts to The Feisty Writer to finally finishing and sending my book to literary agents. But the best thing about fall resolutions is that, unlike New Year’s resolutions, they don’t come with a built-in expectation to share and then forget them.
For too long, I relied on a lot of stick and very little carrot to keep myself moving forward as a writer. Riding horses has made concrete for me how ineffective that approach can be. Therefore, I’m trading both carrot and stick for an ongoing process of reflection and renewal.
Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com
A few weeks ago, I was part of a multi-author book launch. We launched ten books in one single event. Yeah.
You may have seen the celebratory pictures on Facebook. You know, the ones with people toasting large glasses of wine, the happy authors signing their books, or posing with the completed book with friends and family.
It all looks so shiny.
I hate that shit.
Was the night wonderful? Yes.
The part I don’t like is what’s missing from the celebratory pictures. For example:
And, oh yeah, the ever-present fear that creeps up and asks:
And to top it all off, I was plagued with a severe fear of running out of cheese.
This is what I want to talk about today. The pictures that are never taken. The unseen clutching panic. The fear of exposure. The cheese-worry.
As a writing coach, I am privy to the behind-the-scenes experience. I see what the authors go through. I see all the baby steps the author must take to move themselves through their emotional tornadoes. And as an author myself, I am all too familiar with the ups and downs of making it to publication.
Don’t get me wrong. The launch was one of the best nights of my life. People came, they ate cheese, they drank wine. They purchased books. They listened to readings. They bonded as a tribe. My dreams for the night came true.
Yet the next day, I was talking to a writer who was complimenting me on the event. I said, “Hey, that could be you next year.” She responded, “Well, stuff like that is easy for you, but I can’t do that.”
It made me think. My new book is called, Permission to Roar. My mission is helping women to reach deep down to find their voices and boldly own their passion and express it to the world.
But part of owning and expressing your voice, part of the author’s experience itself, is learning how to dance with your fear, without letting it stop you from dancing all together. Because taking creative risks is not easy. Stretching your skin, moving into realms you have never moved in, can be downright terrifying.
I’m telling you this not to scare you, but to empower you so that when you come face to face with feelings of terror, when your inner critic whispers things like Who are you to dream so big? Or, You can’t pull this off, you will know that that is not the end of your experience.
Feelings of terror, panic, fear, wild vulnerability, and worrying about cheese, are all moments along the path.
My suggestion to you is this.
When the fear threatens to engulf you, keep walking. Even though your legs feel wobbly, keep walking. Talk about the fear with your writing tribe and keep walking. Gather your strength when you are ready and keep walking.
And one day, you will find yourself walking into your own book launch celebration. And someone will snap a picture of you toasting with a glass of wine and think, how does she do that? It must be so easy for her.
But how did she do it?
She kept walking. One baby step at a time.
(Oh, and we did run out of cheese. And I just ordered another one so all was well in the world.)
Photos curtsey of Marni Freedman
I’m a feisty writer who spent over ten years working on my first novel. After being an inner city educator for twenty years, I turned to writing. I thought I’d create children’s books or a memoir about my classroom experiences, but that’s not what happened at all. I had no idea I had begun to create a dual timeline trilogy!
The books are about Anne, a San Francisco artist, who discovers vintage clothes and imagines through art making the lives and experiences of young women from past eras who originally wore the clothing pieces. Through many years, coaching from wonderful editors, and grit I’ve finally learned how to weave a novel. And who knew my main theme would be about women searching to find their place in the world?
Through attending Judy Reeves weekly Brown Bag, drop-in writing group, I learned how to write intuitively, and my feisty characters began to appear out of nowhere. Sylvia, an early 1960s young heiress, led me down paths where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. And the kernels of The Black Velvet Coat were born. Learning the craft, I spent years writing the first draft. I took it through two read and critique groups. And then hired a line editor to clean it up so I would feel comfortable enough to share it for professional feedback.
Marni Freedman read the manuscript and told me it was good and coached me that it could be so much better. For instance, she said Anne shouldn’t be a waitress to make ends meet, because that had been done before, and also that I was too nice to my characters. It was hard for me to hear. Marni was right though—I do love my characters, and I did make things easy for them. So I returned to the drawing board.
I thought about my early trips to San Francisco and considered what would be the most demeaning, difficult job Anne could have. I remembered driving up and down those hills in a stick shift and how hard it was to find a parking place. So Anne became a parking valet for a large hotel on Union Square. I brainstormed all the plot point problems that can arise for a thirty-year-old single woman trying to make it as an artist and wove those into the story too.
Sylvia, my 1960s character, falls for a scoundrel, does the unimaginable, and escapes to Northern Arizona. She experiences guilt, fear, a flash flood, howling coyotes, etc., but other characters kept saving her right away. On the next draft, I ramped up the peril to make the reader want to keep reading and had Sylvia work through many of the obstacles by herself.
As The Black Velvet Coat was at a final editor, Clair, a 1929 New York debutant, arrived on my pages. She pushes past the constraints of her controlling father to become a flapper but when the stock market crashes she becomes entwined in the world of burlesque. After I was almost finished with Clair’s story, Anne appeared on my pages and told me she wanted to be in this book too. I thought Anne’s story had ended at the conclusion of The Black Velvet Coat but it had shifted again and she had to figure out her life all over again. From the get-go, I focused on obstacles to throw in Clair and Anne’s paths.
In the third novel that I’m working on now, The Green Lace Corset, I’m instinctively writing in obstacles for Anne and my Midwestern, 1865, Sally Sue who is kidnapped on a train and taken to the Wild West. Both of these women are trying to find their true life’s’ purposes and the meaning of love. Haven’t all of our lives been like that? With stick-to-it-iveness, we find the strength to keep catapulting over our challenges to discover our true purpose in life. I know I have.
Jill G. Hall is the author of dual timeline historical novels The Black Velvet Coat, an International Book Award Finalist and the recently released, The Silver Shoes. The Green Lace Corset, the third book of her trilogy, is scheduled for a Fall 2020 release also by She Writes Press. Her poems have appeared in a variety of publications, including A Year in Ink, The Avocet, and Wild Women, Wild Voices. On her blog, Crealivity, she shares personal musings about the art of practicing a creative lifestyle. She is a seasoned presenter at seminars, readings, and community events. In addition to writing, Hall practices yoga, makes mosaics and collages, tap dances, and enjoys spending time in nature. Learn more at jillghall.com.
Photos Courtesy of Jill G. Hall
Editing a novel is a thick fucking task, there are no buts about it. Anyone who says it’s easy is an asshole and/or a liar. If you’re working on your first draft, here are the stages you’ll go through, complete with tears, laughter, madness, and despair. THE FIVE STAGES OF EDITING A NOVEL 1. Euphoria […]Continue...
Have you heard the voices? The voices of self-hate in the head I mean. The ones that judge and analyze, compare and shame. The ones that tell stories of great woe. The ones that cause suffering. When they arise, I despair. I want there to be a formula that I can turn to in times […]Continue...
I’m triggered, and I have good reason to be: the state of our world. Need I say more? My curled, stiff trigger fingers can’t type, and even if they could, my words are frozen in my brain by my powerlessness. By the fear of what could become of us and the wheels of darkness that […]Continue...
In the world of authors, no other subject is more mysterious, nebulous, and insane than self-publishing. It’s so nuts, there are a host of gurus out there with courses you can take (for only $59!) which will unfold the mysteries so you can claim the bag o’cash awaiting you on the other side. Well, I […]Continue...
Meditating pisses me off. Mostly because I feel like I’m failing every time I go to quiet my endlessly active monkey brain. However, I know that getting quiet and accessing that meditative state is one of the most fruitful and rewarding experiences we writers can have. The other day, while wandering through the Huffington Post, […]Continue...
When I was a child, the greatest accolade my mother could give someone was to say they were “feisty.” Of all other qualities, feistiness was most revered. Those who others might describe as difficult, she termed “feisty,” an admirable quality that might allow one to forgive the snarky manner in which they expressed an action […]Continue...
When struggling with a first draft, rewrite, edit, or final polish, do you ever ask yourself, why do I write? Why must I put myself through this excruciating exercise that I don’t have the time or energy for? I do. Sometimes writing feels Sisyphean, the interminable project-boulder keeps rolling back, nearly squishing me, and the […]Continue...
We all know that nobody gets to where they are alone. There are a number of unsung heroes along the way that have given us a leg up so we can be who we are. In that spirit, it’s only appropriate that we help others on their way up. How to Pay It Forward Here […]Continue...
When we were brainstorming ideas for themes for this year’s San Diego Memoir Showcase, one theme kept circling back: Things We Don’t Talk About. People loved the idea, except for one cranky writer who came up to me and asked, “I don’t get it, why in the world would we want to write about things […]Continue...
A while back an email came across my desk that transformed my day. It was Marni Freedman’s San Diego Writers Newsletter and it invited her readers to reflect on writing for joy. Just seeing the words “Writing for Joy (Just Joy)” made me smile. I read her post and remembered past years when the greatest […]Continue...
There was a pivotal moment in my writing life when suddenly I gained confidence in my words. I went from having one I-don’t-know-maybe-this-is-kind-of-a-good idea to having constant oh-my-gosh-I-think-this-is-the-next-great idea(s). It’s like uncovering buried treasure; most of it is gold coins that are exciting yet equal in merit, and a few of them are shiny, precious […]Continue...
Finishing up a first draft? Here’s how to prep yourself for your emotional responses. You would think that completing a first draft of your book or play or screenplay would make you feel giddy. And it might. And it should. I mean, you have likely been working on this project for months or years. You […]Continue...
In the library the other day, I came across a copy of Michael Wolff’s tell-all book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House and, even though I’ve been pressed for time to read lately, I decided to check it out. The book turns out to be a great dish on the chaotic and cringe-worthy […]Continue...
Writing is a solitary pursuit much of the time. While this keeps me pretty happy most of the time (not having to depend on anyone, being alone with my thoughts, having no one to answer to), sometimes it can be a real drag. Sometimes I need to reach out and ask for help, which can […]Continue...
Welcome to a new, regular column here on Feisty. Let’s dive right in. So, why are the books on my floor, you might wonder, and not on the bookshelf? Because I have run out of bookshelf space. I have found that the ones I am truly loving and chewing on and underlining like mad are […]Continue...
You already know the single most important question to ask about your protagonist: What does he/she want? With that alone, you can make it pretty far into your story. But then something happens. You realize you still don’t know your protagonist. Maybe you have some backstory worked out, you know her education level, even her […]Continue...
Most of us find it difficult to find and maintain balance between all the different parts of our lives. I often feel like one of those people spinning plates on every body part, including my nose and forehead. But really, finding the happy place in between everything (along with bourbon on ice) is the best […]Continue...
Six years ago, I lost my job right around the same time I became an empty nester. Adrift without direction and needing inspiration, I decided to sign up for the TedX San Diego conference. I was surprised to learn there was an application form to be turned in before being accepted as a participant. Among […]Continue...
You’ve got a story. Your protagonist wants something, and somebody else intends to stop them. Whether your protagonist succeeds or fails, there will be consequences: something is at stake. Sometimes this means the world ends if they fail, or sometimes what’s at stake is a deeply personal gain or loss. Right now, though, I want to […]Continue...
As 2017 drew to a close, the Internet lit up with posts boasting how many books people had read in the year. Some were photos of meticulously written lists, others just a blanket statement: “I read sixty-six books!” That was the one that got me: sixty-six books—in one year. Were these children’s books? I wondered. […]Continue...