The Lost Art of Writing a Love Letter

A Notebook with roses sprinkled around it, perfect for a love letterI want to talk about the lost art of writing a love letter—not only the kind we might write to our beloved partner, but also the type we might write to our mother, our friend, our dying neighbor, or our own self.

These days we are trained to write either methodically and intentionally through structured essays designed to educate or inform (like this one) or informally through sound-bites or emojis—pithy one to ten-word phrases that we use liberally on social media or through texting. (You go girl! J) Also, popular these days, is a hybrid, the how-to or list essay: “Ten best hikes in San Diego” or “How to start a blog in 2019.”

Each of these is valuable. We need cogent well-ordered arguments to help us share new ideas. We also like simple sound-bite words of encouragement, especially when we are facing a big challenge.  And who isn’t drawn to a simplified list of the top ways to do something or the best places to go written by someone who has been there and done that before?

But, I want to talk about another method—one that has gotten a little lost in the hustle and bustle of life these days—one that is less “ordered thinking,” less “pithy response” and more unstructured flow.

This kind of writing comes from a different source.  It comes from slowing down and tuning in to our still center—from feeling our emotional connection to an issue, to a person, to our own self.  It comes from a place of vulnerability and flow.  Love letters escape the boundaries of the thinking mind, avoid the academic culture of structure and the word-limit boundaries of social media to meander through heartfelt territory fearlessly.

Writing a love letter is as much for the writer as it is for the reader. When we allow words from the heart to flow, we escape the inner critic who constantly compares and judges our writing.  We let go of perfection to write from the heart. A love letter is more than just stream of consciousness writing in our journal, though. A love letter has an intended recipient with whom we hope to communicate and connect.

All of this became apparent to me last Fall. I sat down to write one day and realized that I didn’t need to instruct or educate. I didn’t need to quip. I needed to tune in to a deeper place—to be awash with emotion without being swept away. I needed my words to both honor and connect and to serve as the long embrace that I could not give physically. In short, I needed to write two very different love letters:  one to my mother and the other to a neighbor.

My mother lives in another state and has had an increasingly difficult year taking on more and more responsibilities in caring for my mentally ailing father.  Also, she was facing the milestone of turning 80. I wanted to show her I saw how difficult this past year was, that I was proud of her, and that she still seemed so young and lively.

To my mother, a woman who lived in occupied Holland during World War II, who grew up to be passionate about reading survival stories, I wrote a letter that talked about her love of survival stories as a metaphor for her current difficulties.  Her mainsail husband was torn, and the ship of their life together was foundering.  She faced an endless sea with no guarantee they would find a safe shore together. She now relied on strict anti-Alzheimer’s protocols and supplements the way a lost sailor used bare hook lines-hoping for a nibble of hope. Her doldrum days were similarly marked by fatigue and despair. Like that lost sailor appreciating the company of dolphins, she too often managed to find something precious to focus on—a new recipe, a cup of tea, a simple walk. I told her in my love letter what I saw: that the stories of survival she so loved were a pure reflection of her own heart. She harbored little self-pity and instead drew from a feisty reservoir of inner strength and a deep conviction that could and would help her manage whatever was placed before her. She was not only a survivor but a lover of life, and I wanted her to know that I saw that in her. It was the most important thing I wrote last year.

Giving this letter to her that expressed my love and gratitude while acknowledging her difficult journey, also fulfilled me. I felt like I had shown up for her birthday, notwithstanding the distance.  Words bridged the gap. Later, she told me receiving the letter meant everything to her and was a turning point in being my dad’s caregiver.  She relaxed.  She was in the middle of a survival story, and she was doing a helluva job.

My neighbor was facing her own life passages.  Her husband had died earlier in the year.  Shortly after, she embarked on round-the-world travels, then arrived back home to our neighborhood feeling a little unwell to learn she had inoperable Stage IV pancreatic cancer with only months to live.

In the case of my neighbor, I felt helpless. Imminent death is hard—not something we, as a culture, are comfortable with.  I didn’t know what to do or say—even casseroles were not an option.  I ran headlong into not being able to “fix” this problem.  In facing these truths, I got to see that connecting and communicating with someone during difficult times must not require me to fix the problem.  Instead, it invited me to radically accept what was in front of me while staying kind, curious, open and loving. It required me to do my best to connect anyway. To simply try.

To my neighbor—a woman I did not know well—I sat down one day and gave all my attention to the space she had carved in my heart. I wrote to her about meeting her at yoga and what a deep comfort it was to know that a like-minded soul lived just across the street. I wrote that I appreciated her enthusiastic and engaged approach to life and loved the connection she had with the community and her extended family.  I thanked her for the time she went with our daughter to a Zen, Buddha and the Brain class, even though she was a Christian and the class was far away. I told her I saw her as someone who fit everywhere and made bridges as she went. I mailed it, even though she lived across the street, because her family had indicated she was not accepting visitors, and I appreciated they needed uninterrupted time with her. I wrote it by hand, and in writing it, I felt intimate and connected with her.

To write these letters, I needed to draw from a different writing strength. My usual methods of communicating through structured essay or three-word lines of encouragement were inadequate. I needed to sit quietly, to let the words find me, to allow my writing to flow uninhibited and unstructured—awash in love, while mired in uncertainty.  These important moments were asking me—a writer—to write not about them so much as from them—to wade deep in acceptance of the profound difficulties that life sometimes offers.

Life is full and often sweet, but also precarious and fragile.  At any given moment it might be happy or sad, messy or clean, perfect or imperfect.  As writers we might not be sure how to capture it all—Novel? Memoir?  Non-fiction?

My advice: Practice by writing a love letter and let the word tears flow.

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/3397135/

A Story of Heroes

Book cover for Disturbed in Their NestsI just read a new book that touched my heart, and I’d like to recommend it to you. Disturbed in Their Nests: A Journey From Sudan’s Dinkaland to San Diego’s City Heights by Alphonsion Deng and Judy A. Bernstein (Black Stone Publishing, 2018) is an important and amazing story.

Alphonsion—who goes by the name Alepho—was one of over 3000 Sudan Lost Boys who came to the United States in 2001. Along with thousands of other children, he had literally walked across the African continent. He couldn’t go back home to Sudan because a vicious ethnic war still raged there. Alepho considered himself lucky when he and his brother and cousin were chosen to go to San Diego. They had no idea where San Diego was or what life would be like for them. But anything would be better than life in the refugee camp in Kenya where conditions were worse than harsh with barely enough food to survive.

Judy Bernstein was a writer and homemaker, volunteering with the International Rescue Committee in San Diego. When she was asked to help three young refugees, she thought her task would be to give them a tour of the city—take them to McDonald’s, Sea World and maybe the zoo. She had no idea that for the next twenty years, her life would be tied to theirs, and she would be immersed in helping these young refugees.

Disturbed in Their Nests is, in part, a story about the confrontation between different cultures. Beautifully written in two voices—Alepho’s and Judy’s—the story unfolds from their different perspectives—and their different misunderstandings of the other’s culture. Alepho and his friends had nearly starved on their trek across Africa. But in San Diego, no one had told them what to do with sticks of spaghetti. How were they supposed to eat something like that?

Disturbed in Their Nests is a double adventure story. With flashbacks to their time in Africa, Alepho tells a harrowing tale of their walk and precarious survival. But their adventure in San Diego, with Judy’s mentoring, hard work, and diligent efforts, is also a story of survival—negotiating a new culture, living in a cheap apartment in a dangerous neighborhood, and seeking real jobs for their livelihood.

This book is a follow-up to their award-winning and best-selling earlier book, They Poured Fire On Us: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan. Alepho and Judy have given workshops all over the country to educate Americans about the tragedy and travesty of the Sudan war. Their new book is another important contribution to the literature on refugees. Alepho Deng and Judy Bernstein are true heroes.

At a time when America is cruelly turning its back on refugees, their story shows poignantly why that policy is so very wrong.

A photo of author, Lucy Rose Fischer

 

Lucy Rose Fischer is an author and artist living in Minnesota.  Her most recent book is a whimsical picture book, I’m New at Being Old, which received a Midwest Book Award and an Independent Publishers Gold Award.

Alephonsion Deng is a featured speaker at the San Diego Writers Festival on Saturday, April 13, 2019. For the Festival event schedule, register here.

 

Photos Courtesy of Lucy Rose Fischer

Happy Anniversary to The Feisty Writer

The Feisty Writer logo and the words Feisty Turns TwoIt is the two-year anniversary of The Feisty Writer. Yay, us! I’m prone to forgetting anniversaries (ask my husband, he will sigh and nod), but I will forever remember this one because we launched our wonderful site the day after election day, 2016. Did you just hear a balloon pop and deflate? Yeah, so did we.

Had we known or even hazarded a long-shot guess on the election outcome or the resulting ripple felt across the world, we would have chosen another day to magically appear on the interwebs, but alas, our wordy spacecraft lifted off as scheduled. As our planet stood in shock and disbelief, we scraped our jaws off the ground and stammered, Yay us, I think?

We had less conviction in our commencement celebration than we have today, two years in.

Today, we celebrate our Feisty-versary wholeheartedly, in large part due to what we have witnessed in these past two years. Suffice it to say, our world has changed and continues to change rapidly. Some of this is disheartening and terrifying and feels surreal and unnecessary and why, why, why? Much of what we’ve seen here at The Feisty Writer is good though, great even. But before I go into that, let me remind you of this.

Who We Are

Writers are keen observers; this is why we are the storytellers of our tribes. Without trying, we absorb our surroundings like human-shaped heart sponges. We may sometimes wish we absorbed less as we watch events unfold and notice the reactions that follow suit. As we imagine the causes and effects. As we play out how things could have unfolded differently. As we search for answers and solutions and apply our words and our creativity to make sense of the unfathomable. But no. We were built to mop up life, and writing is how we wring ourselves dry, or at least less wet, again.

Writers are also sensitive. We feel more deeply than the average bear. Being sensitive is not always fun, but imagine if we, our world’s chroniclers, shrugged off our emotions. What if we didn’t care? What if every story could end in some rendition of this: ”Then she yawned and walked away because it wasn’t a big deal. She posted #whatev on Instagram and forgot about the whole mess ten seconds later. THE END.” We care because we have to. As writers, it’s our job to be both keen and sensitive.

What We’ve Seen

Here are a few of the amazing things I have witnessed as a Feisty Writer in the past two years:

  1. We build Community. Writers need community, now more than ever, and we have a vibrant one. Maybe because the world has become less predictable, in the past two years we have shown up more than ever before. Whether it’s for book launches, movie premieres, workshops, classes, stage readings or showcases, our community of writers comes together, supports each other, participates and perseveres. We make time for each other. We create opportunities for others to thrive because we recognize there is enough room for all of us to succeed. We show up.
  2. Our talent grows. Because we show up, the talent in our community continues to strengthen. When we surround ourselves with greatness and become a part of something bigger than ourselves, magical things happen. We perform at higher levels. We exceed expectations.
  3. We embrace a challenge. This is what makes us Feisty Writers. Our world is a tough place to survive and thrive right now, but we persevere. We embrace difficult topics. We unveil our most vulnerable truths through our stories. We still fear the rejection that is part of being a published author. We fear it, yet we submit anyway. We find ways to make ourselves heard.

What Comes Next

Thank you for being a part of The Feisty Writer. We are here for you, and we want to hear from you. Please follow these guidelines and submit your posts to us. Also, save this date: April 13, 2019. This is the date of our first annual San Diego Writers Festival, held in partnership with the San Diego Central Library. This will be where we will finally meet to celebrate every corner of our feisty and fabulous writing community. Yay, us!

 

Photo Courtesy of Marni Freedman

Words and Phrases I Have Learned

Cricket on a leafDrowning in a Sea of Despair vs. Refusing to Drown in a Sea of Despair

These phrases loom in my thoughts as news of yet another outrageous development in Washington threatens the hard-won rights and freedoms I consider fundamental to life in a democratic country. My country, this one that I left and returned to, twice, because there is no other place on earth I want to live, seems to be under siege from within. The deep physical response of my body shocks me. What can I do to pull myself out of this Miasma of Misery?

I can write, of course. But I know that if I give myself free rein, I will only circle more rapidly down the Drain of Despair. I decided to find an apolitical topic that is at least mildly amusing, perhaps one I’ve discussed recently that made me laugh at myself. Like this one:

Crickets

The other day, while chatting in the car with my daughter Daniela about a recent medical appointment, I mentioned I hadn’t heard back from my doctor at Scripps.

“Crickets?” she said.

Why was she changing the subject? “Where?” I asked.  “On your patio?”

I knew she had a phobia of roaches infesting her downtown patio, but this was the first I’d heard about crickets. Personally, I’ve always liked crickets because I think the Chinese consider them lucky. They keep them in little bamboo cages where their perky chirping enlivens the home.

At the wheel, Daniela was shaking with laughter.

“Why are you laughing? What’s so funny about crickets?”

After my daughter caught her breath, she explained. “It’s the buzzword for when there is no answer to your question, no response. All you hear is the sound of crickets.”

Oh. Eye roll. Who knew? But people do because the very next day I heard it used on a talk show. Now that I am in the know, I’m sure I’ll hear it again soon.

I’m just waiting for a chance to use it.

Squirrel

A week after the crickets incident, I visited the same daughter and her one-year-old son Lucas. My youngest grandson tottered over to the couch where I sat and handed me a toy. A drop of saliva glistened on his protruding lower lip, his limpid eyes focused squarely on mine.

“Thank you, Lucas,” I said. Daniela explained the drool.

“He has a lower tooth coming in. I can see the little bud on his gum.”

I leaned forward and wiped away the droplet while trying to sneak a peek inside his mouth. In typical toddler style, he clamped it shut and pushed his face closer to mine, reaching for my glasses. I pulled away and laughed. “Nope, not the glasses.”

Deterred, he lost interest and darted away.

“Squirrel,” commented his mother with a chuckle.

I looked around the living room for a rogue rodent. All was quiet on the patio behind the screen door. No live squirrel. No stuffed squirrel among the toys in the play yard. No dead squirrel anywhere. Lucas was pulling apart a Lego construction that had not been a squirrel.

“Squirrel?” I wanted to know. “Where?”

And then she was laughing at me again, just like that other day in the car. Gasping for air, she explained:

“It just means his attention span is like a dog that sees a squirrel. Everybody says that.”

“Like crickets?” I asked.

“Yes. Like crickets.”

So, crickets and squirrels: who knew?

G.O.A.T.

In keeping with my renewed desire to stay current with the latest language developments regarding non-human references, I have come upon another one. It happened during the only sporting tournament I ever follow, the World Cup. I became a soccer fan during the twenty years I lived in Peru, where el futból is the only game in town.

Two weeks after the squirrel incident, I switched off the Peru/Australia match, sorting through my mixed emotions about Peru making two goals in this game against nil by the Aussies, but still going home empty-handed, and turned to the news.

In general World Cup coverage, CBS news showed a grinning and mostly clean-shaven Cristiano Ronaldo fingering a tuft of hair on his chin. His chiseled cheekbones and delicate mouth were turned at an angle to the camera; the Russian sun shone on the smooth, tanned skin of his face and neck, blessedly unmarred by tattoo ink, his haircut conservative and neat. Long, lean legs, flat abdomen, sculpted arms, a wicked gleam in his eyes….Full disclosure: In my opinion, this sexy Portuguese player is a perfect male physical specimen, on and off the pitch. Just saying.

With an impish grin, Ronaldo continued messing around with his new goatee for the camera, when the commentator’s words finally penetrated my brain. Something about GOAT as the reason for the goatee.

What? I considered his name: Cristiano means Christian—no goat reference there. Ronaldo is just a sir-name, as far as I know, and not the name of any famous goats, if, indeed, there are some.

As the reporting continued, a somber portrait filled the screen. In a beautiful ad for Adidas, an impeccably groomed Lionel Messi sat, regal and impassive, against a dark background, his burnished hair and short auburn beard neatly trimmed. In front of him loomed the head of a glowing russet-colored goat with delicately curled horns, steady gaze, and a full, flowing beard. And, wow, the beards matched! Same color!

Had Adidas started a hair-coloring line? Is that goat a species endemic to Argentina and the name of a new shoe design in honor of the country’s most famous player?

Not exactly. It soon became clear that I was way off base. Again.

G.O.A.T. stands for Greatest Of All Time in the sports world and is used in lots of sports, not just this one. Messi and Ronaldo are currently the top contenders for this title in soccer.

I’ve added it to my list.

I feel better now. Crickets, squirrels, and goats have given me a reason to laugh at myself this month. I’ll need to dig deeper for the Fourth of July.

a photo of guest blogger Nancy VillalobosNancy has been a member of the San Diego writing community for the past seventeen years, taking multiple courses at UCSD Extension as well as attending Marni Freedman’s Thursday Read and Critique group in Encinitas. She lives in Carlsbad with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Coco. An excerpt from her memoir will be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman, 2018.

 

Photo Credit: Nancy Villalobos and pixabay.com/796465

If Meditating Pisses You Off, Try Connecting

meditating, a flower floating in a pondMeditating 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, I came upon this quote:

“Mindfulness meditation is a great technique to help improve creativity. It … reduces the reactivity of the reptilian brain, increases resilience, stimulates the neocortex, as well as improves emotional intelligence. All these assist in getting ideas flowing directly to your best creative thinking brain: the neocortex.”—Bianca Rothschild, Huffington Post

Let me be clear: I have deep respect for successful meditators. I aspire to be one of those awesome people who can sit on a cushion with legs crossed, palms up and go deep for twenty minutes or more a day. But somehow when I’m on my second inhale of breathing deeply my cat always seems to puke or a pipe burst.

Why Is It Essential to Connect to That Meditative State?

Artists and writers have long attributed their creative inspiration from being able to access this state. Many look to it as a form of otherworldly guide. Some call it the hypnagogic state, which is the realm between sleep and wakefulness, where both the theta and the alpha waves are present. (Hypnagogia comes from the Greek words for “sleep” and “guide”). During this state, it seems that the brain is more open to finding unique connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. Many studies have shown a strong link between the waking-dream state and improved problem solving and increased creativity.

The Beatles shared that many melodies from their songs, including ‘Yesterday,’ came to them in that state or in their dreams. Mary Shelly described the story Frankenstein as having come to her in a waking dream. The Disney Company adopted meditation in the workplace early on. After employees meditated, they noticed a marked increase in creativity. The painter, Salvador Dali, described that his surreal paintings came directly from his dreams. Dali called this state “the slumber with a key.”

Finding a Way to Connect

So, suffice it to say that getting quiet and accessing this realm is chock full of good stuff for artists and writers. But what if you are like me, and sitting down to mediate only pisses you off? How do you connect, download and access that state of infinite possibilities?

For me, I noticed that at certain times in my daily routine, a steady flow of ideas would show up. As I investigated further, I realized that the ideas would most often flow while gardening, taking a long walk, or making a slow-cook soup.

What was happening?

In time, I found that when I was going about the more calming activities of my daily life, I had unconsciously taken the pressure off. A level of peace was traveling through my motions. I was garden-meditating. I was cooking-meditating.

I was connecting.

If traditional meditation feels just a little beyond your reach right now, don’t give up on accessing that magical realm.

A Path to Connecting:

  • Pick an activity that you find calming. See if you can perform it just a little slower than usual. Allow moments of complete stillness within that activity.
  • While you are performing that calming task, ask to connect. Ask for the information you are seeking to be downloaded.
  • Allow the information to drop in. No matter how kooky or wild the information might seem. Just take pen to paper and allow it into your consciousness.

Other ideas:

  • Stay a little longer in bed. Juice that time between sleep and wakefulness. (Permission to sleep late.)
  • Check in with the sky. Cloud watch or star gaze. (Permission to look like an idiot on the street.)
  • Connect your body to nature with ongoing nature dates. Stick your feet in the sand, get wet in the ocean or hold gardening soil. (Permission to hug a tree.)

Connecting, going within, meditating, accessing the hypnagogic state—call your practice whatever you want, but do it regularly. For me, calling it connecting took the pressure off. It also allowed me to understand that I didn’t have to perform some magical ritual to experience that that rich realm of creativity. That realm was never very far.

If you want to try gaining some juicy tidbits from the slumber with the key:

Slow down, pay attention and ask the stars. And keep your notebook handy.

 

Photo by J A N U P R A S A D on Unsplash

Read and Critique

emoji scale from angry to happyReading my work aloud, followed by a peppering of critiques, sounded like a college hazing to me. Minus the alcohol. However, I had agreed with my writing coach, published author and ridiculously talented playwright (her most recent work—A Jewish Joke—is moving east, Off Broadway), that my work was ripe for fresh ears. Her group convenes at a California seaside cottage belonging to a creative artist named Barbara.

A First Impression

On that first day—my blind date with this scholarly firing squad—I cradled the introduction of my non-fiction self-help book under my arm as I opened the gate to Barbara’s property. Her garden telegraphed Henri Rousseau—towering birds of paradise, pebbled paths, a lush green backdrop.

I opened the cottage door to a cozy living room. Women of all ages greeted me with smiles and welcoming noises. Their chorus of “Hi, come on in!” did nothing to calm my nerves. These writers looked harmless, but I feared the worst. After all, my flimsy introduction made no sense. My writing lacked clarity, relevance, and imagery. The perfect expression of my work had eluded me despite my years of on-again, off-again attempts.

Thanks to the heavy lifting of my writing coach and my years of indentured servitude to my own determination, I held the semblance of a rough draft. Despite my misgivings, in the recesses of my soul, I held onto the faint hope that my writing was pretty darned good. That I was “almost finished.” I imagined the group’s hints about grammar or sequence. But the realistic part of me suspected that I had “miles to go before I would sleep.”

As we mingled, I wandered through Barbara’s home. I admired the colorful mugs on her kitchen counter, the tangerines, and almonds offered as snacks, the bold oil paintings on her dining room walls.

Shaking the hands of my fellow creatives, I warmed to the idea that reading might be fun.

Then we convened. Our leader, my beloved writing coach, began with her hilarious and warm introduction. Personal stories were shared, reports on projects bandied about. Then the invitation, would I like to read? I cleared my throat, and read in my best professional voice.

Having conducted workshops for my counselor peers, having taught for decades, having counseled belligerent parents whose violence required a police presence, NONE of these experiences prepared me for the sharing of my written words. Feeling equal parts faint and nauseated, I read my introduction to the listening audience.

Later That Night

Arriving home after that first dive, I told my husband, “Maybe I’m not ready for this read and critique challenge.” He asked me to elaborate.

“They’re all very encouraging. Lots of ‘this process will help people’ and ‘your message is good,’ but I could feel my words dying as they left my mouth. Each sentence felt like torture. I HATED my own work.”

I explained that the group did offer editing nuggets: structural advice, conceptual criticism, grammar tips. But all this help would force  me back to the page in a way that made my head spin. I had SO hoped to be nearing the finish line. Instead, I was just hearing a starting gun.

Of course, other members had arrived with their hot-off-the-press prose. I’d acted as a beta-reader for one of the authors. The sharing of her hilarious romp through China had us hooting with laughter. Pitch perfect comedy. Her work is destined for the big screen.

Then the amazing memoirists—their ability to lift their personal plights to compelling narrative—brilliance. And a travel writer who had us salivating for our next adventure. Every single writer at the top of her game. Oh, and the witty journalist whose intelligence shines through her every muscular sentence. Not fair!

One of our authors is a playwright. Our collective jaws dropped when she re-enacted one woman’s experience of the Nuremberg trials, props and flawless German accent included. Dazzling talent, destined for greatness.

I reminded myself that I was not competing. It was an honor to be among these creative creatures.

I cried on my husband’s shoulder for a few more moments, but then I HAD to make an attempt. Bitten by the bug of creative compulsion, I locked myself in the study. I cut, tore and soldered words onto the page. Every day for a week, I entered
that study with grim determination. Then a return performance.

Nevertheless, I Persisted

Back to the garden of verses, my revised introduction in my sweaty hands. I began. My words flowed easily. The body and fender work had paid off. They laughed; they applauded; I blushed.

Now, months later, I still feel a frisson of excitement each time I open the gate to Barbara’s garden. I live for Thursday mornings.

I can hardly wait for the unfolding of each writer’s next chapter. And, of course, for their responses to whatever I managed to whittle into a block of writing for my next reading.

 

Phyllis Olins headshotPhyllis Olins holds a master’s degree in counseling and has trained extensively

in conflict mediation. She has had over 20 years of experience in applying conflict-mediation

strategies to dilemmas in all walks of life.

 

Phyllis’ book, The Conflict Crunch, will be released in the spring of 2019.

 

Why Write?

a man on a mountaini holding his arm up while the sun is settingWhen 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 moment I’m confirmed un-dead commands me in a Simon Cowell voice to DO IT BETTER.

How easily I forget the joy writing brings, the satisfaction, the peace. Which is why, during times like these, I must remind myself to ask this ever-important follow-up question: why did I start writing? This teases out the truth—it untangles the act of writing from the web of “things that make me busy” and reclaims its position at the forefront of “things that make me sane,” also known as, “self-care.”

Five Reasons We Write

If you, too, ask yourself why you started writing, I bet you’ll come back to one of these five reasons:

  • To make sense of something. Writing is one of the few ways to work out the tests we face and the choices we make, hopefully landing us on the positives in a sea of negatives.
  • To heal. Some of us heal by sharing our burden in hopes that people facing similar battles will feel less alone. We yearn to provide a balm for the next person in this struggle, in hopes their pain can be mitigated. In this way, writing is generous. And generosity heals both the writer and the reader.
  • To share a unique perspective. Maybe you saw a side of something that no one else had the opportunity to see. And maybe it bugs you that people are drawing conclusions without having the full story. This type of writing, though it may feel like a duty, also provides healing.
  • To provide a legacy. I wish my grandparents had written their stories; I’m so curious about their lives. I for one want to leave at least part of my history behind, from my perspective, for future curious progeny.
  • Because you don’t have a choice. Your story communicates to you in clear ways that it must be told, and you are the teller. Physical symptoms make it impossible not to write and tell you with certainty—your calling is not optional.

These reasons are distinct but also connected by their healing power, whether it be the healing of ourselves, our loved ones, our community, or humanity. And the best side-effect of the reasons our craft has hold of us—they force us to honor ourselves. Writing is our form of self-care, how we keep ourselves sane and show ourselves love. And when we do this, when we grant stories life, we also bestow an immense favor upon our world. We show, by example, that self-love comes first and then, with the energy that writing our truth breathes into us, our words have the opportunity to create change, soothe, heal, and share our love for humanity.

 

 Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

5 Ways Authors Can Pay It Forward

a person pulling another person up a mountainWe 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 are five mostly easy ways to pay it forward to other authors:

  1. Be a beta reader. Every author needs beta readers to help them identify the trouble spots in their manuscript at some point in their writing process. And you can help by reading their work and giving honest, true blue feedback. Not the “It was interesting” kind of bullshit, but the real stuff—you have a plot hole that needs patching, your stakes need to be higher, or “I was confused by that road trip.” Help fellow authors on their way to finishing. Bonus: You may also get to read an awesome story.
  2. Buy a copy of a finished book. Let’s face it: we writers buy a metric ton of books all the time. Why not spend $15 on someone you want to help? Heck, even just $5 for a Kindle version helps. And sometimes it’s not about the money their book brings in, but the warm fuzzy feeling that someone cares enough to buy their book is enough to keep them going on those tough days when writing feels impossible. Help someone keep writing.
  3. Write a review. For all that is good in the world, please write a damn review. Yes, it matters. It matters for every other person who lands on that book’s page with their finger hovering over the mouse key to take them to the next thing. Your review could be the difference between someone buying the book or buying socks instead. So it’s a win-win. The author sells a book, and you help someone make the right choice.
  4. Recommend the book. Did you just finish the most amazing book about a mystical book wizard living in Denver? And you happen to know someone who lives in Denver and loves wizards? Tell them! Books don’t recommend themselves. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising, so use it! It’s free for you to recommend a book that you loved, so why wouldn’t you? The bonus is that you’ll look like a smarty pants in the process, so by all means, push those glasses up the bridge of your nose and own it, brainiac.
  5. Teach someone. Yes, it’s labor intensive. Teaching any sort of class, whether it’s at the community center or a university, is hard work. It takes commitment, preparation, and know-how. But guess what? You already have the know-how, because you already fucking wrote something! And trust me, there are scores of writers out there dying to know how they can write better and finish what they’re working on. Sometimes, those classes are the difference between forging ahead and giving up. And YOU could be the person that helps them over those rough spots! While this is the most demanding way to pay it forward, it’s also the most rewarding and memorable. Plus, you can help multiple people at once, so now you’ve really paid it forward and deserve extra writer kudos.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/1807524/

Three Reasons to Write About Things We Don’t Talk About

The logo for the San Diego Memoir ShowcaseWhen 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 we don’t talk about?”

The question made me think. I didn’t have an answer at that moment, so I let it percolate until I realized that for me, there are three reasons:

 

  1. It feels like setting a big bag of rocks down that you have been unknowingly lugging around for years.

    I have to admit; I am sort of addicted to the feeling now. I love to “let go” of rocks before they pile up and become too heavy. One writer described her experience to me a few weeks ago as a weight off her chest—as if she could more fully take an in breath, and more fully exhale—for no other reason than she put down in words what she thought she would never share.

  1. The fear of people knowing your deep, dark secret—of judging you, and blaming you—it all sort of dissipates.

    The truth is, yeah, others may know, and so what?  We all have stuff we think no one will understand. Either they will or they won’t, but by facing the faceless monster, you are taking away the monster’s power. It’s empowering as you realize you don’t need to run anymore, you can stand in the light of your truth.

  1. You are speaking for those who feel they have no voice. 

    I can’t tell you how many times when a writer has taken a risk and shared his or her truth that someone comes up to them and thanks them. I hear sentiments like, “Thank you for putting my experience into words,” or “I had something just like that happen to me—I thought it was just me,” or “I feel less alone after hearing what you wrote.”

These moments are such full circle moments—we hide because we think we are the only ones with that kind of pain, then we share it—to realize just how many have experienced a similar kind of pain. By sharing what we are most afraid to share, we create community, spark healing in others while we heal ourselves.

For submission guidelines, click here. I if you have any questions, please contact me at Marnifreedman18@gmail.com. Please put Memoir Showcase 2018 in the subject line. I can’t wait to hear your stories about writing what you thought you could not.

Photo Courtesy of San Diego Memoir Showcase

Harnessing the Power of Six-Word Memoirs

a lit fire in a fireplace with hearthSix 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 the thought provoking questions was a requirement to write a six-word memoir. We would use these six-word memoirs as talking points with other participants. That gave me pause. It had been years since I had written and shared my writing with others. Could I even write a six-word memoir?

It turned out to be a powerful exercise, requiring me to discern what had been the most important and interesting theme or themes in my life thus far and pointing to what I knew best.  

After much debate, I settled on this:  Smoking-gun girl cooks from the hearth.

I hoped to stimulate conversation:  Why Smoking-gun girl? What’s important about cooking? Why the word “hearth?”

I had a reputation for being a “finder,” earning me the nickname, “Smoking-gun girl,” and I liked this about myself.  I was inherently tenacious and knew whether I was seeking a critical piece of evidence, the perfect family vacation, or enlightenment, I was going to keep at it, paying attention to patterns and ferreting out the keystone.  

I had also developed a passion for cooking—not gourmet cooking, mind you, but something closer to peasant cooking.  I made endless variations of stone soup and relished the sensual art of hand chopping ingredients and melding them together. To me the hearth was symbolic of gathering together and nourishing each other with good food and good stories.

This six-word memoir pleased me and, in fact, helped me shape the next phase of my life.  Most importantly, it got me writing again. At that TedX conference, as I was sharing my six-word memoir with others, my adrift and unfocused self suddenly saw a simple next step: I would start a cooking and storytelling blog. I wanted to use my favorite recipes as a springboard from which to tell stories.  My blog would be my cyber hearth.  

I revisit the idea of the six-word memoir from time to time. I still find it to be a powerful focusing exercise for my writing. A few years ago I was a “Zen Tantrika Witch Casting Writing Spells.” These days I am more of a “Devoted Rock-climbing Dakini Cooking Up Stories.”  

I hope you’ll track me down and ask me about it.  And if you do, I’m going to return the favor and ask you:  What is your six-word memoir?  Please, do tell!

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/1896745/