Monday, October 14, 2019

5 Simple—and Not So Simple—Ways to Improve Writing

As a journalist, creative writer and editor who has run a writing group for a decade, I’m often asked for writing strategies. How can I make my writing clearer? What can I do better? I’m suggesting five simple—and not so simple—ways to improve writing.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to say what you think. In her groundbreaking, The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron suggests that a daily writing practice—what she calls “morning pages”— helps a writer break through. There are “official feelings”—what you're willing to say in public—and “real” feelings—removing artifice and contrivance. If a writer says, she’s feeling “okay”, consider what that means. Get specific. Honesty and authenticity require courage and risk-taking, but the payoff is huge.

2. Eliminate Unnecessary Words. Pesky adverbs. “Dutifully watched” when “watched” is enough. Adverbs and other filler words are every new writer’s downfall. Actually, I thought, when I thought suffices. If there is one extra word that keeps a sentence from standing without it, delete. This doesn’t mean there aren’t times and places for beautiful, sensory-laden descriptions.

3. Don’t write in a vacuum. Find a writing group, a critique group, a writing partner. Never underestimate the value of feedback. Feedback is a tool for learning. Just this weekend, I shared a piece I wrote in Women’s Writing Circle. The input invited me to rethink the structure of several sentences and rewarded me with reader reaction to my narrative. I felt inspired to keep working at my craft.

Two strategies not easily accomplished.

4. What is the objective of my story? We can all tell a good story, but the reason we tell a story is to inspire, inform and engage. Why this story—not another? Too often, writers dance around the issue. They’ll say, I think this is going to be a piece on caregiving, when what they’re trying to write is the mother/daughter relationship ... the husband/ wife relationship. Unless you’re writing a “how to” piece, good writing focuses on human interaction, on relationships, on strong portraits. Insight into your goal for writing the story in the first place invites precision.

5. Reflection. Without reflection, the reader is left wandering. Whether it is the memoirist or the protagonist in a novel—reflection is analytical. It requires an understanding of human psychology and motivation. Paint clear portraits. Backstory, inner monologue and sharp, realistic dialogue are tools in reflective writing. Don't assume readers are mind readers. Give them something to work with. Who is this character—his age, his background, his trauma, his turning point? Delete the superfluous and get to the meat of your story and the heart of your character.

These are my strategies. There are many others. Can you offer a writing strategy that works for you?

Monday, September 30, 2019

Poverty In the Third World―A Writer's Travel Journal

The warm night breeze whips swirls of soot and sand around my feet, my face, into my nostrils. It’s Tuesday night in Cairo―a city of ten million―a cacophony of humanity.

Our little band of travelers is making the journey by foot to the restaurant recommended by our travel guide. We sidestep trash, push our way past jostling human beings. An eerie prayer to Allah echoes from mosque minarets―almost, but not quite―drowning out the ceaseless honking of car horns. We keep walking when we stumble across a body.

She is no more than five or six. She sleeps on the filthy concrete steps leading up to the next level of sidewalk, her head cradled in her arms. I hear a collective gasp from me and the others. Our tour guide quietly speaks to her in Arabic, gently shaking her by the shoulder, but the girl’s slumber is deep and she doesn’t open her eyes. Finally, after sharper words, sharper prods, she opens sleepy eyes. Packages of tissues rest near her and she tells our tour guide she has been trying to sell them, before falling asleep. Her family has put their daughter on the street to make money from tourists, the main source of income here.

I feel the dread that this child is ripe for something horrible―human trafficking.This is the face of poverty in a Third World Country. The desperation that leads to the exploitation of children. If this doesn't change you, nothing will.

Our guide seems satisfied with what the little girl says and tells us to move on. When we question her, she says the girl’s family lives nearby and she knows how to get home. Meanwhile, the crowds walk up and down the steps, no one giving the child notice.

We make our way to the restaurant, sup on a feast of hummus and baba ghanoush, the traditional mashed eggplant dip, salads and roasted chicken and beef. It is more than I can eat. Our guide, a small overweight woman, asks for a doggie bag for her leftovers.

After dinner, we begin the walk back to the hotel, the teeming parade of humanity seems to have intensified, not lessened. The warm breezes offer respite from the 100-degree heat of the day which bakes the city under a merciless sun and cloudless blue sky.

As we retrace our way back to the hotel, we walk down the steps to the lower level of sidewalk. The little girl is still there―sleeping on the steps. Our guide leans down, shakes her awake once again, speaks in Arabic. The words are magic because she sits up, rubs her eyes and offers a wan smile as our guide opens her doggie bag and takes out the plastic container holding the leftover chunks of beef from dinner. The little girl dips her fingers into the gravy and ravenously eats a cube of meat. We leave her there on the steps eating her dinner. Seared indelibly on my mind is a child alone at night. Why them? Why not me, or my children? Existential questions under a dirty night sky, six thousand miles from home.

After Cairo, we take an overnight train to Aswan. The emaciated horses, whipped to trot even faster, carry their precious cargo of tourists, past temples and monuments built to the gods and the ruling class, their faces frozen in death, symbolized by arms crossed over chests. Our tour company has refused to use their services because of the treatment of those animals in blistering heat under inhumane conditions. Like the little girl’s face, the clip-clops of  horses making their endless circular forays around temples and sphinxes, will haunt me, like the sound of a caisson pulled in a funeral march.

After returning from Egypt, I rush around like a madwoman tending to bills, grocery shopping, hosting a visiting author at the Women’s Writing Circle. The next day the exhaustion catches up to me, the heat from Egypt, the 12-hour plane ride home which felt as if I were sitting in a refrigerator the entire time. I come down with a fever, lie in bed and see the little girl…her small brown face, hair sticking up in unruly tufts, the greedy little fingers swiping the gravy. I hear the clip-clops.

After I am well again, I go to church. The lesson is from Luke―Lazarus and the rich man clad in fine, purple linen. Lazarus is so poor he begs for table scraps, his only friends the dogs who lick his sores, but the rich man scorns him, ignores him. Lazarus dies and is held in the lap of Abraham. The rich man dies and forever burns in Hades. There is justice here but if I move beyond the fact that it was written as a polemic against the ruling class over two thousand years ago, I see it as a parable that asks me to consider my priorities. Are they tilted with the mundane, the material, the things of the ego and this world? How can I make a difference? Is it too late? What is my passion? How can I help? The answers elude me―for now. As I write this, I know that despite the desperation, the depravity, the poverty I have witnessed firsthand, I have been on a learning journey, one which as a writer, I can share with you, my readers. For this, I am grateful.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Pharaohs and Gods: A Writer Travels to Ancient Egypt

The heat is overwhelming. Dry heat. Desert heat. You round a bend in the dusty, bleached-white path. A turquoise oasis under blistering sun beckons—Lake Nasser. To the left on the bank above the lake, it must be a mirage...until you realize this is Abu Simbel—the temple of Ramesses II. Hands on knees, the pharaoh's impenetrable gaze is eternally fixed on the lake and the Nile River, his curled beard symbolic that he has passed from this world onto the next.

Pharaohs and gods. Ancient Egyptian temples and tombs hold unimaginable treasures preserved by the dry heat, the sand, the stone. Incense, myrrh, weapons, silver and gold, offered to the cults of the gods. Walls are inscribed with hieroglyphics, paintings of human-headed snakes and helmeted warriors marching in step. Isis, holding an ankh—the key of life—Osiris, the god of the underworld in profile, Hathour, the goddess who took the form of a woman with cow’s head, two horns and solar disc. A strange, majestic tomb built in the desert over three thousand years ago, Abu Simbel is one man’s quest for immortality. His desperate hope never to be forgotten.

Maybe this is why I travel. Not just to learn about other cultures, but accept, embrace, how my own life fits into this inglorious story of existence, of history through the ages. Maybe it is to feel at one with the human experience, to move on to the final chapter. Pharaoh or plebeian, slave or master, I suppose we’re all seeking something beyond ourselves, some meaning under the sun and the moon and the stars.

The ancient Egyptians brought these massive concrete edifices by wooden boat; they carved thrones and statues into sandstone hillsides, an impossibility that some joke must have been the work of aliens. Or maybe God, for how else could something this magnificent exist? A realist knows that slaves performed the backbreaking work, but what—who—made it happen?

Preparation for the afterlife meant removing the stomach, the liver, the intestines and the brain, which wasn’t considered as important as the heart. They kept the heart, wrapped it with amulets and placed it back in the body before the corpse was mummified. Hearts were necessary in the afterlife. Brains, not so much.

A few days later, I visit the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, once known as Thebes. In 1922 Englishman Howard Carter unearthed the world’s great treasure—the tomb of King Tut. I enter Tut’s tomb. There lies the nineteen or twenty-year-old whose cause of death spawned numerous theories from malaria to a chariot accident—his mummified corpse covered in white; shriveled brown toes and face revealed. The young boy king is surrounded by stories, told in engravings and in hieroglyphics on the walls, the ceilings...stories that reflect the life he lived, the search for the meaning of the journey. I feel this way about stories, too. My books are my little legacy, my own simple stab at immortality. I write, therefore I am.

One traveler angles to get a close-up shot with her cellphone of Tut’s face. He’s dead, so what’s the point? There is no beauty in death on display. Only a sort of morbid fascination. This was once a living, breathing person. We see the body, but what of the spirit? Where does it go?

Monuments built to narcissistic grandiosity. To questions impossible to answer. Whatever. I am lucky to have traveled here before I die. To write this. To ponder my own life, my own story, to think about where I go from here, but mostly to be in the moment—in the presence of something strange, something great under a scorching September sun.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Writing and Publishing a Book Along the Author's Way

Finishing a book, or at least finishing it before turning it over to an editor, is always a relief. Writing is an act of faith. You come up with a concept, rewrite, redraft, fine tune and somewhere along the way themes emerge and inspiration takes on a life of its own.

This past week, I finished A Woman Alone: Lessons from the Writing Life. It comes as the final chapter, so to speak, in this  writer’s journey. The journey began in 2010 with the publication of Again in a Heartbeat and then two years later with Morning at Wellington Square. While this is a memoir, I also like to think of it as a "how-to" manual. Moving forward, taking risks, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary and creating meaning as a woman, confronting aging in the final act of her life, that's what this book is about. What are lessons learned? Will this resonate with others who have sought a way to quiet the mind and emerge from the busyness to appreciate and understand what truly matters?

Even as I write this on a sun-filled August morning, I realize that thanks to the Women’s Writing Circle to whom the book is dedicated, the journey basically wrote itself. Since I began the Circle in November, 2009, the last ten years have been something of a totally unexpected gift―an encore career of creativity and community―of stories and inspiration―of the journey of the feminine.

Now comes the hard part―as if writing weren’t hard enough. Seeking a publisher, a "home" for A Woman Alone. In the “old days”―a mere nine years ago―I stumbled across CreateSpace, Amazon’s publishing arm, almost by accident, and found in it the resources to design a cover, receive professional formatting and eventually place my own publishing imprint―Writing Circle Press―on my trade paperbacks and ebooks. I knew I would self-publish because I relish the creative control the process offers. I have taught workshops on traditional and self-publishing. I know many swear by the former, but I am of the latter mindset. I set the price for my books, have the final say over editing and design.

I was an outlier in the days before the fever of self-publishing as an entrepreneurial endeavor took the book world by storm, creating many spin-offs, including partnership or hybrid publishing. I was on my own. I'd been through the proverbial mill...the competition of writing, the barracuda that drives a work, not on its creative or ethical merit, but its potential sales. Self-publishing offered the ultimate freedom. So I'm sticking with the self-publishing game.

CreateSpace is no more so I research options ... one that doesn’t break the bank. (Yes, I have heard of people spending thousands and thousands, upwards of $20,000 to publish a book.) As I began my research this summer, I was intrigued by the myriad publishing packages offered, from simply having the book formatted and designed, to paying a company for a developmental editor and a copy edit... marketing strategies and materials. And what about royalties?  If I sold an ebook for $4.99, I received 70 percent of that … not bad considering that as an independent author sales will be limited, but over time each sale adds up to a nice little sum. Purchasing my trade paperbacks was economical and I could mark them up at a rather nice profit at my signings, at workshops and community events and in the Circle.


So the journey continues, the research, the business savvy, but as always I come back to why all of this matters to me―and, hopefully, to my readers who have stayed with me over the years on this blog and in my memoirs and novel. As I write in A Woman Alone:

Who is the woman alone? What makes her find within herself the strength to carry on when so many have left or died? How many times can she—can I—reinvent myself? Where will it lead? Does metamorphosis have no end date? Now there are so many of us, alone and in our sixties and seventies and beyond, it is a road heavily traveled. There’s a wildness to this, an excitement in this sea change of women alone, all us thinking that depending on anyone other than ourselves would be backtracking....

 I know this—happiness, if there is such a thing—revolves around finding your passion and creating a meaningful life. All the rest falls into place.

Can you share your publishing journey?  What went into your decision? Your comments are welcome.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Marian Beaman on Memoir and Writing About Family

In March, 2016, I had the pleasure of meeting Marian Beaman on a writing retreat in Chincoteague, Virginia. We immediately hit it off, so I was thrilled when some time later Marian contacted me and asked if I would provide a developmental edit for her memoir, a coming of age story of growing up Mennonite. As I began reading, I felt transported by her beautiful, lyrical descriptions of a bygone time and place. Pennsylvania Mennonite country is not far from where I grew up and my grandparents, largely of German descent, appreciated country life, cold cuts for Sunday supper, the value of attending church. Even now, when I drive through Lancaster County, where Marian's story is set, I feel a certain kinship with the landscape and its way of life. Marian wrote of her family with respect and humor, but also with an eye toward how they had molded her character and forged her determination to become her own woman. Out of this came Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl, available to the reading public on Sept. 14.

Marian will be guest author on Sept. 21 at our Women's Writing Circle where she will join us in read around, and give a presentation on her new book and her journey as a writer. A book signing follows. Please welcome Marian to the Circle.

Picture a Scene

I grew up Mennonite in the 1950s in a rural area near Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, halfway between Lancaster and Harrisburg, the capital. My parents, sisters, brother, and I lived in a white, green-shuttered house along the street at the top of a hill; my Grandma Longenecker and Aunt Ruthie lived a half mile away at the bottom of the hill in a Victorian house surrounded by an acre of woods. I volleyed between two houses, one close to the village of Rheems, where I went to school. Each of my family homes provided me with two ways of living to choose from.Bossler Mennonite Church was at the center of our social life as this collage of my family reveals.

My Cast of Characters

Mother Ruth was a traditional Mennonite homemaker. My grandmother Fannie, a fancy woman, became plain after she married my grandfather Henry. They were round in some ways, including the girth that amply filled their aprons. They both taught me the home arts, my mother showing me how to make a caped dress and skirts for school; my grandmother, how to make potpie, sauerkraut, and knot a comfort to warm the needy.

My Aunt Ruthie, who lived with my Grandma, could fit the title “feminist” because of her unconventional Mennonite life. I describe her in my memoir: “Aunt Ruthie had a heart-shaped hairline and hazel eyes. Two thin lines formed lips that did not suggest laxness. As sharp and as versatile as a Swiss army knife, she sported a watch with a crocodile-skin strap around her wrist.” She never married, and the few men she did date never came up to her standards. The only Longenecker woman with a drivers’ license, a master’s degree, and a movie camera, she had an impressive resumé: principal of Rheems Elementary School, tax collector for West Donegal Township, bookkeeper for the church and my dad’s business, and “mother” to many Vietnamese refugees in her own home.

Ruthie “the Cheater,” my teacher for the first four grades, tipped the scales in my favor on two occasions: She improved my artwork, so I’d win a prize at the Elizabethtown Art Show. Later, she gave me an edge during the weekly spelling bee, pointing to the word reconciliation (on the sly) in the dictionary. I was her favorite niece.

Memoir: Not a Walk through a Mennonite Meadow

My father, my most complex character, required me to dig deep to examine motivations for his behavior and my reaction to his treatment. I had an adversarial relationship with my father. I was his foe. He beat me and locked me in the cellar as punishment for being mouthy. As memoirist, I knew I had to tell the truth for my story to be authentic. Nevertheless, I went through phases as I struggled to describe my relationship with my him: I moved from resisting the revelation of family secrets to full disclosure:

1. I’ll leave out the bad parts. Many readers like a “clean” read, no bad language, abuse, or torrid sex scenes.

2. “But your story won’t be authentic,” an inner voice chided.

3. I read other memoirs as I wrote my own; I noticed that other writers didn’t have to go on a rant to tell their stories, even the ugly parts.

4. As time progressed, I summoned the courage to reveal secrets. Fortunately, a fellow blogger and memoirist invited me to a retreat in her vacation home in Virginia. I wrote a draft of the most emotionally wrenching chapter in the presence of five other sympathetic writers who cheered me on.

5. Later, one editor observed, “Your dad wasn’t all bad. Show some happy times with him.” To balance the harsh tone, I inserted some pleasant memories.

6. Thus, my story now illustrates a dawning awareness: What could have been a terrible rant about being physically abused turned into an acceptance of the past and recognition of my father’s limitations. Then came forgiveness, and appreciation for his gifts to me: a curious mind, love for music, and interest in politics and family history.

Two chapters about the abuse appear in my book, “The Whipping,” and “Dungeon in Hell.” But then I added some detail to show my father as three-dimensional, a round character.

I ended the chapter entitled “The Whipping” with this:

“I would love to have memories of his holding me on his lap, wrapping his arms around me, and telling me he loved me, no matter what I had done. Flashes of pleasant times do remain, though. Daddy took walks on Sunday afternoon, often in the meadow along Foreman Road, close to our home. A few times, I went with him, pausing as he sprawled out on the glossy grass, staring at the sky, sometimes falling asleep. Then I observed tufts of wild red clover interspersed between the blades and a butterfly dipping down for nectar. Once he took me deep-sea fishing with men and women from the church. We had a huge haul of bass, and he brought home his share, scales shed and ready for the pan.”

Then I wrote this ending to the chapter entitled "Music Tames my Dad":

“My love of music, a gift from my father, certainly has not canceled out the lasting effects of his abuse or erased it from my memory. With the passage of time, I have moved from the disgust I felt as a girl eventually toward tolerance and now a measure of understanding of my father and his appreciation of music. Recalling my dad’s love for music taps on my heart and mind like a tuning fork. Thus, melodies in both major and minor keys have become a tool for expressing my own emotions — and a direct link to the softer side of my dad and to my heavenly Father.”

How do you show the lighter side of a dark character?


Marian Longenecker Beaman is a former professor at Florida State College in Jacksonville, Florida. Her memoir, Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl, records the charms and challenges of Mennonite girlhood in mid-twentieth century Pennsylvania. The writer’s formative years coincided with the decade before which the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church experienced major change, especially regarding dress code for women.

Such is the backdrop for the story of one Mennonite girl who benefited from a sheltered life with boundaries, but who bucked church tradition along with coming to terms with an adversarial relationship with her father. She shares her story to preserve these memories, the bitter with the sweet, and to leave a legacy for future generations.

One of Marian’s stories, “Gutsy in Ukraine,” was published in My Gutsy Story Anthology by Sonia Marsh, September 2014. Another story, "Making Love Edible", appeared in the Food and Faith issue of The Mennonite, September 2016. The Jacksonville Arts and Antiques magazine published a personal profile in the December 2018 issue. Her memoir will be featured in the National Association of Memoir Writers’ Virtual Book Club, 2020.

The author writes weekly on her Plain and Fancy blog: She lives with her artist husband, Cliff, in Jacksonville, Florida, where her children and grandchildren also reside.

Find Marian here:

Monday, August 12, 2019

Finding Community in Blogging

Whether blogging for fun or business, becoming an authority in your field, or educating others, one thing is clear...blogging is a way to find community.

Ever since I opened my Blogger account a decade ago to begin introducing the public to my memoir-in-progress, Again in a Heartbeat, I have loved blogging. A social medium, blogging has led to innumerable connections and meeting new people, some of whom are now friends and fellow authors I admire and whose blogs I look forward to reading.

Creating a popular blog was the subject of our August Women’s Writing Circle workshop
. The enthusiasm and interest in blogging―our conference room was packed―attests to a medium that allows the writer to reach an audience of her choosing, her own "container", so to speak, of creativity and purpose. This is publishing at its most enjoyable and attainable. You don’t have to be a polished writer, nor do you need to invest a lot of money, if your budget is tight. All that is required...a passion for your subject.

Once you start blogging, you draw others with like interests, passions and goals. The key is to create a compelling blog that your audience looks forward to reading.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years.

Make sure that your blog’s title speaks to the audience you hope to reach. I chose Women’s Writing Circle with the subhead―a place to share our stories. This fit nicely into my memoir journey, but also my interest in creative writing and publishing and offering a group empowering woman to find voice through writing.

Learn how to write a compelling headline that is eye-catching and goes to the heart of the body of your blog post. For example: On Writing Book Discussion Questions , one of my most popular posts over the years, educates and informs on that topic.

After you’ve selected your headline, go right into the body of your post with a compelling first paragraph. The first paragraph draws the reader into the topic and makes them want to keep reading.

Other things I’ve learned:

  • Keep your audience in mind.
  • Incorporate relevant links into your post.
  • Add labels that enhance SEO or search engine optimization. For example, writing in community is a label I often use, as well as Women's Writing Circle. It has paid off. Anyone who types in women’s writing circle on Google will first be directed to my site. 
  • Use attractive photographs that enhance the subject of your blog post. 

At the workshop, we talked about Blogger vs. WordPress. Reams have been written on these two platforms, the pros and cons of each, but in a nutshell: Blogger is a cheap platform with an intuitive, user-friendly design and your content is owned by Google; WordPress is more expensive and as one writer said, a bit of a “time suck” and labor intensive, while offering numerous plugins and other bells and whistles and you own the content.

During our workshop, which included writing our own blogs, I was impressed with the various projects and ideas our writers brought to the morning session: blogs on practical advice; marketing artwork; exploring the journey of doing things alone...a blog that allows students to find their voice through writing.

Writing our own blog posts

Clare Novak explaining how WordPress works
For me, blogging has been a gift. I've met new people with like-minded interests. It offers me the platform and incentive to blog a book by memorializing blog posts―those memoir moments and life story vignettes and lessons about the craft of writing―I am incorporating into A Woman Alone: Lessons from the Writing Life.

Blogging has assisted me in the craft of writing by forcing a deadline every Monday morning, although sometimes I don’t make it. But that’s okay. Blogging should be fun and not a drag, while keeping in mind that it requires an investment in time. I love the medium and the reach it gives my work, the community surrounding it, the commenters who take the time to stop by and offer insights, whether here or on Facebook. The guest bloggers who share their books and their stories. As one woman who came to our workshop said, “It is very stimulating for me to have community around developing my voice, setting the goal of publishing.”

Do you have a blog? Are you thinking of starting one? What do you enjoy about blogging? What are the challenges? Feel free to link to your blog in our comment section.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Aging and Exploration Along the Writer's Way

This has been a week of swimming, reading a light, entertaining novel, and helping another writer craft a narrative arc for her memoir. Working with a new writer and listening intently to her story, I help her focus on that all-important question―What is my story about?  A question both complex and interesting, she says. Ever since I asked her to sum up her story in two or three sentences, she has not stopped grappling with it, thinking about it, she tells me.

As we age and journey through the many phases of our life, the question―What is my story about?―becomes no less interesting, no less complex, no less necessary to ponder.

As we slow down, contemplate and reflect, writing allows us the opportunity to sort through the turmoil of events and people in our lives. It offers “agency” or action to make the unbearable, bearable—healthy changes that include relaxation and reflection. As we write, journal, share our stories, we view ourselves with more compassion or empathy—and this is probably more important—view others that way.

Working creatively with another writer was a welcome respite from Wednesday when I watched the Mueller hearing. I managed to get through most of it, although as it dragged on, I dreaded how a seventy-four-year-old man, a decorated Marine and Vietnam War hero, could be put through his paces like that and ultimately deemed a doddering old fool by the media and much of the Republican Party. 

The doddering and old was bad enough. Worse, watching Robert Mueller testify, it seemed that integrity and honor have long been swept into the dustbin of our country's consciousness. A person, no matter how old, who asks that a question be repeated or reframed so he can give a cogent, honest and accurate answer should be respected―not ridiculed. But we live in a country salivating for showmanship, not substance. Of fake news, not truth. We live in a country where growing old is toxic. Several major newspapers and news outlets used that hearing to write about age…about those hard of hearing, those who are “tired” and need to go away, quietly and gracefully. 

Aging is a theme in my new memoir, A Woman Alone, and integral to my own question: What is my story about?

An excerpt:

Everywhere I turn, some nameless hand is pushing the panic button—the ubiquitous warning to seniors—watch out! Scam artists are everywhere! I recoil at the articles detailing in excruciating detail how grandparents are being defrauded…appalled at the television ads hawking “find a place for Mom,” as if being older means you’re an invalid and your kids have to stow you away in a retirement home where playing bingo is a useful pastime. I cringe from unrelenting pharmaceutical marketing—living with diabetes, chronic migraines, COPD, chemo treatment. Ask your doctor to write a prescription! Try Trulicity!

Here's an upbeat way to think about growing old, I tell myself. With an eye toward exploration, aging is "gold" for the writer.  It offers the gift of travel, another theme in my new memoir. When I worked as a reporter and had two sons to raise, I never had the time or the funds to travel.  So...What is my story about? It is about exploration―inward and outward.

Taking a walk with Lily and going for a swim can rehydrate, wash away the weariness. I am also reading. Books are a great diversion and now it is Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood which explores the feminine psyche. Set in Northumberland, England, the story reminds me that I was lucky enough to be there last summer, so close to the Scottish border, where I wandered crumbling castles and moors covered in purple and pink foxglove. 

No matter how young or old, finish your memoir or novel, I think on this morning. Find the answer to those burning questions which you long to answer. We have written here on Women’s Writing Circle how to achieve that; drafting timelines, mastering takeaways, excavating those caves we fear to enter which hold the treasures we seek.

The hours fly by as I write this on a sunburst July morning. How lucky I am—how lucky we are as writers, no matter our age—to explore along the writer's way.