My New Narrative by Danielle Baldwin

A group holding their hands in solidarity in the center of a circle“Hi, I’m Danielle. I work in new business and strategy,” I would say, balancing my tiny spear of Swedish meatballs in one hand while I extended the other at a networking event. The person I was introducing myself to would nod, acknowledging my role, recognizing the large company I worked for. We’d sip cheap red wine and talk about our industry. I felt confident in my place in the world and in my “story” as a corporate executive.

I never introduced myself as a writer. It was a subplot to the “story of Danielle,” written into casual conversations about hobbies, somewhere between “brussels sprouts connoisseur” and “die-hard dog person.”

Two weeks ago, I attended a small business expo. This was my first time introducing myself as a writer in a professional setting. I felt shaky, worried that as I uttered the words, someone might laugh. They might tilt their head, the way my dog Nala does when she hears a sound she doesn’t recognize. Would people recognize me as a writer when it was hard enough for me to recognize myself?

Fear pushed aside, I pulled my shoulders back and for several hours of networking, introduced myself as a writer. Generally speaking, I heard these three responses over the course of the event:

  1. “Ohhhhh, that’s interesting,” they’d say, eyes sweeping the horizon for an escape route, looking as though they’d just swallowed a live chicken. As we continued our conversation in halting phrases, one of their body parts would begin to bounce or twitch. They’d see “someone they know” at the farthest corner of the room, and were gone so fast I was surprised they didn’t leave smoke trails.
  2. “That’s so cool, I write, too! I’ve got a great idea for a book, it’s about this guy who’s a sloth keeper on a frozen planet…(fast forward several minutes) do you do any ghostwriting?” Their eyes bright and I’d smile, mentally taking inventory of my own partially edited manuscript, all my unwritten blogs posts, the deadline for an article, which I was now counting down in hours instead of days. Our conversation would pitter-patter back and forth, until they realized I was not going to write their book for them, and then they were off to refill their drink.
  3. “Interesting. What kind of writing do you do and what are you currently working on?” A book person, I’d think to myself, thank you, Jesus. I’d list the different types of freelance projects I have in the works and mention I’m in the process of editing my manuscript.

“What type of manuscript? Fiction?” they’d ask.

“No, memoir actually,” I’d say.

Here is where the conversation would hit a pivotal moment and I’d watch them curiously, knowing our casual chatter would abruptly end or shift to a deeper level of dialogue.

If it started with an awkward silence, then I knew the rest of the conversation was going to flop around like a dying fish on a dock. They would avoid asking me questions about my project or joke about how I’m neither old enough nor have the life experience to write a memoir. I’d laugh and ask them a question about their line of work, watching the worry lines between their eyebrows soften, and knew the conversation was not veering anywhere near writing again—not memoir, not freelance, not writing of any kind.

Those who were brave maintained eye contact and asked about the subject matter of my memoir. When I’d tell them it is a story about motherhood and my journey through the fertility process while losing my mom to cancer, I’d carefully watch their face, high-fiving them in my mind for hanging on for the ride. To the man (or woman), they’d smile, and I’d let out the breath I was holding in. Then we’d talk about the challenge they’d had having kids or about how hard it is when your parents are aging, or about writing, or something else entirely. These were the folks who asked me for my business card and gave me theirs in return.

This was a chance for me to learn how to tell my new narrative. Without fear. Without judgment. And while it may take me some time to get used to it, I like this new story, and I’m excited to tell it.

 

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Writing Full Time—Living the Dream? By Danielle Baldwin, the Newest Feisty Writer

A Smith-Corona typewriter

When I was six, I spent every Sunday morning sitting at the kitchen table with my mom. She would hover over the New York Times crossword puzzle, pencil poised as the smoke from her Kent Kings pulled lazily into the air. Some days I’d help, pushing my cereal bowl to the side to man the thesaurus and dictionary to help her look up words. Other mornings, I would pound away on her portable blue Smith Corona typewriter, crafting a story about flying giraffes or kung fu fighting squirrels.  I knew from those early years, swimming around in the words, splashing them onto the page, that I wanted to be a writer.

It was a dream I pursued through high school and college, one fiction or poetry workshop after the next. But when graduation came, so did a flood of fear; that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t make a living doing what I loved. So instead of pursuing a career in writing, I got a “real job.”

I never left writing completely. I would steal loving glances at it on weekends, working on my manuscript, a short story, or even flash fiction. We’d meet in coffee shops, lock ourselves away in my home office. I’d attend writing retreats and conferences so we could spend more time together. I dreamed of being a writer full time.

So, at the end of last year, when my boss told me that my position was being eliminated, I was more ecstatic than sad. I could spend every waking moment working on my manuscript. This was my chance to become the writer that I’d always wanted to be!

The first few days after the holidays as a “full-time writer” went well. I was focused, energetic and eager to get to the page every morning. But as the days passed, my resolve wavered. Some days I would sit down at my desk, and it was just like days of old—I felt inspired, creative, the words flowed. Other days, I felt like taking a jackhammer to my keyboard.

While I made progress on the manuscript, I was surprised at how hard it was to stay focused.  I found every excuse I could not to sit down and write—laundry or dishes, an errand to be run, a phone call to make. One day, my procrastination efforts were so extreme that I chose to steam clean my furniture instead of sitting down at my computer.  Before losing my job, I could always fall back on a long list of excuses as to why the writing “couldn’t” get done, most of which involved a lack of time or brain capacity to do it. But now? There were no more excuses, and yet, there were some days that I had nothing on the page.

I learned some valuable lessons. Creative work, or really any type of work that happens outside of a traditional corporate environment feels different. The pace of my days changed from having every minute accounted for in meetings or deadlines to relatively open and unscheduled. To feel like I was still accomplishing something, it was important for me to build in some structure: writing dates with friends, accountability partners to keep me on track, and joining a professionally led read and critique group where I have pages due every other week.

I learned to have more patience with myself. There are times to work through your writing, to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on your keyboard, and there are times to step away. I had to listen to my inner writing guide and learn which was which—to balance my need for a break, knowing I would come back with fresh eyes, with the guilt of walking away from my project.

And this new life still has stress, but it’s a different type of stress that comes from starting a new type of career, building a business around writing, and failing at things so that I can learn and grow. It has taken more time to adjust than I had thought and I still have my days of fear and doubt, just as I did when I was twenty-two, but overall as I sit at the kitchen table every morning with my laptop and my coffee, I’m incredibly grateful.

The Author, a lovely brunette, smiling

After spending twenty years in the corporate world, Danielle is transitioning into a more creative life, which alternately exhilarates and terrifies her. She spends her days working within the San Diego writing community and is honored to be the president of the San Diego Memoir Writers Association. Danielle received her B.A. in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University and is currently working on her revisions to her memoir and blogging at her site at daniellebbaldwin.

PHOTO CREDIT: https://pixabay.com and Danielle Baldwin

Procrasti-baking and the Art of Focused Writing — By Vincentia Schroeter, Guest Blogger for The Feisty Writer

Sign that reads Procrasti-bakingI turn on my computer and tell myself to start writing at 2 pm. The clock says 1:51 pm. OOH, I have nine whole minutes to myself. I am chief editor of an international journal and my task today is to view two new papers. I have a wave of fear and dread, worrying that these new papers (one from Argentina and one from French-Canada) may require endless hours of painstakingly detailed and ant-like grammar fixes to be smoothly readable by an English-speaking audience.

I am one of those grammar girls who actually like to don the ant cape and examine every blade of grass, but it takes a while to get into the groove each time. So, for my nine minutes, I go to the kitchen and decide to bake banana bread, which ends up taking more than nine minutes, of course.

I have a note on my refrigerator that says “procrasti-baking.” It means baking as a way to procrastinate. I enjoyed making my bread, putting it in the oven for an hour and then getting back to writing.

In the spirit of true confessions, I have other delay tactics, and you probably do too. I check my phone way more than I need to and end up either dealing with some side issue, getting news updates, or looking at something entertaining. And then there are external distractions, like other people and their needs. One I recall with some guilt is writing an article on the importance of staying in tune with your baby, while my baby was in a carrier at my feet and began to cry. “Just let me finish this one paragraph,” I was thinking!

Tips for staying focused on writing:

  1. Turn off your phone
  2. Set a timer, 10 minutes if you really feel resistant, and those ten can expand once you get started.
  3. Set up and start: “A job half started is half done” (as my mother used to say)
  4. Work in a quiet environment, like the library. (Libraries do not have kitchens to procrasti-bake banana bread).
  5. Write about or express your resistance aloud.
  6. Join a writing support group or get coached by Marni Freedman, as she will fill you with confidence and keep you on track!

I have to go now. The timer went off, and I smell my banana bread with toasted almonds on top. At least this avoidance tactic has an upside: yummy food.

The author (a blond woman) with her banana bread

Vincentia Schroeter writes a weekly blog on communication tips at  vincentiaschroeterphd.com. Her upcoming book: Breaking Through: Communication Tools for Being Heard and Getting What You Want, is based on up-to-date neuroscience and modern-body psychotherapy. She was a practicing psychotherapist for 40 years.

Photo Credit: Vincentia Schroeter

A Puzzling Note on Revising — By Nancy Villalobos, Guest Blogger for The Feisty Writer

a bunch of puzzle piecesJamie and Pablo are bent low over a round table in my Transitional Kindergarten class. The pieces of a complicated cardboard puzzle are spread all over the table. They’ve finished the border (because that is my Number One Rule for puzzles) and have progressed to most of the center and large chunks of the corners. Only a few spaces remain in the sky. Working quietly, the boys check their pieces for shape and color, rotating them in the air, trying to find a matching empty space inside the border.

But then the boys come upon a tricky one. They take turns pushing and pounding until the recalcitrant bit has been mashed into a spot. Their quick satisfied grins dissolve into confused and disappointed frowns as they stare at the result.

Straightening up and getting a longer view, they expel a simultaneous sigh. With the perspective of distance, they see how their triumphantly hammered-in piece does not really fit the picture. The color and the shape are close, but not quite. There’s a better place, one where that piece will fit perfectly, exactly completing the scene. With determined fingers, they pry it out and look again at the panorama on the table.

“This piece was in the box, right?”

“So it belongs somewhere in this puzzle.”

“Let’s put it over here, so we don’t lose it, and keep working.”

“Okay.” There is a pause. “Why is it so hard?”

Other children come around and offer to help. A group forms, and the children work together. The puzzle advances. With a glance at the clock (the classroom deadline enforcer), I come over and guide them to finish before the bell rings.

Jamie and Pablo are five-year-olds and not (yet) writers, but if you are a writer in the throes of revising a completed manuscript, you can feel their pain. Likewise, you can appreciate the advice and encouragement of fellow scribblers and the firm guiding hand of a writing coach.

I’ve been doing this revising for a while now. Thank goodness for my writing groups. Thank goodness for Marni Freedman, my guru

It’s still not clear to me the difference between ‘rewriting’ and ‘revising,’ but at this point, it’s all the same ball of wax for me. I take the chapters from the latest draft and consider every scene, every point of the narrative arc, each word of dialogue. And often I see where I have hammered something into the wrong place. It’s the right color, just the wrong shape. Like Jamie and Pablo, I pry it out and put it aside until my search for the perfect spot is rewarded.

But sometimes, unlike the boys, I lose pieces—whole chapters and long paragraphs. That’s when I look under the box, sift through collections of nearly discarded hard copies, rifle the dusty filing cabinets of my mind. And sometimes, I find a treasure there—a missing piece the exact shape and color of the hole in my manuscript. Then the puzzle of my writing begins to fall into place. Enough of my discouragement evaporates that I can sit down again and pound out that latest revision, because now I can see clearly where it’s going, and I think maybe I can do this, after all.

In the classroom, I always knew I could learn as much from the children as I could teach them. I just didn’t expect such a valuable lesson in revising, perspective, and perseverance to come from two five-year-olds who don’t know how to read.

 

Headshot of author

ABOUT NANCY: When not revising her memoir, sending out query letters, and building her blog queue, Nancy loves being on Nana duty with Lucas, her newest grandson, attending Cavalier King Charles Spaniel meet-ups with her Tri-color Coco, or traveling with family and friends. Her writing has been featured in the Memoir Writers Showcase. Her memoir, Peru, My Other Country, chronicles her twenty years there as an American married to a Peruvian in the midst of revolution, earthquakes, and her husband’s untimely death, until an extortion call during the Shining Path terrorist movement forced her to choose where her loyalties lay: in her adopted country or in the land of her birth.

 

Puzzle Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Jackhammer — By Michelle Saint Germain, Guest Blogger for The Feisty Writer

a man jackhammering concreteI walked across the cul-de-sac to the single story house across from us.  I stepped past the demolished driveway, over the walkway reduced to rubble, and up to the front door.  I rang the bell, twice.  I wasn’t sure if the occupants would hear it over the noise of the jackhammers.

A good-looking guy in his late 20s answered the door.  As he stepped out of the house down to the dirt where the stoop had been, he introduced himself.

“Hi, I’m Mitch.”

Someone shouted from inside, “Honey, close the door!”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, pulling the front door shut behind him.

“Hi, I’m Michelle,” I said.

“Rachel?” he asked, over the noise from the construction.

“Michelle,” I said louder.

“Okay, gotcha.”

“When will this construction be over do you think?”

Mitch hesitated.  “I’m not sure.”

“I’m asking because,” and here I take a breath, “I’m a writer.  This jackhammering has been going on for at least a week.  Over there on the second floor,” I waved in the direction of my house, “is my office.  I can’t open the windows, and even with the windows shut the noise is deafening.”

“Well, it’s the best way to excavate all this,” Matt said as he swept his hand across the front of his large, pie-shaped lot.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if I knew when it would stop,” I said.  “In fact, it did seem to have stopped for a day or two, but then it started up again.”

“Oh, at first we just planned to do the walkway and the front step, but then we added the driveway.  Then we decided to put in new landscaping, and that meant a new sprinkler system, too.  Anyhow, what do you want them to do, use shovels?”

“Couldn’t you get one of those little Bobcat excavation things, whatchamacallits, backhoes?”

“I don’t know; I’d have to ask the foreman.”  Mitch frowned.

“Can’t you at least let me know, is it going to be another day, another week, or what?”

“Do you think we like this?” Mitch said, changing to a more aggressive response.

Don’t tell me how bad you have it, I thought.

“We have a three-week old baby.”

Poor timing.

“Well, if you could just let me know when you think this crew will be finished, I’d appreciate it,” I replied.

Mitch looked left and right, as if he didn’t want to be overheard giving away state secrets.  “Don’t quote me on this, but we’re hoping to pour concrete next Friday.”

Today was Saturday.  At least another four days of teeth-rattling noise.

“Ok, thanks,” I said, turning to go.

“Bye,” Mitch said as he went inside.

As I walked back to my house, I realized that for the first time I had uttered those words:  I am a writer.  I picked up my step, noticing the bright blue sky, and wished I could whistle.

photo of the authorAbout Michelle: After a 35-year career in university teaching, I decided to try my hand at creative non-fiction. It’s been a tough switch but after three years I feel I’m making good progress.  My other activities include riding my bicycle about 50 miles a week; working out in the gym, swimming, and yoga; and taking my new puppy, Kiah, on long walks.  I working on a memoir about overcoming a lifetime of depression and I’ve taken up meditation to help me sort things out.  At age 69, I look forward to the years I have left to be filled with peace and harmony.

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/construction-jackhammer-equipment-679973/