Monday, February 21, 2011

Magical Day - A Writing Prompt

Do you remember a day you felt the magic?  Where everything was perfect or as close to perfect as it gets?

"It was one of those days where everything turned out right.  I felt the sun seep into my skin. I breathed in the dry Arizona air.  I turned the corner and saw her.  She dipped her toe in a "pool" of aquamarine and blue crystal stones  . . . they sparkled against her delicately sculpted foot like light on water.  Her vulnerability and beauty moved me, as much as a work of art, as her serenity, her acceptance . . . her other-worldliness. A bird flew by and landed on a mesquite tree in the sculpture garden. A voice whispered, "This is where you belong. This is what makes Susan happy." 
I  wonder . . . where is she now?  Does she grace a courtyard in Arizona?  Stand inside a mansion in California?  I wonder . . ."

I recently attended an all-day women's conference. The topic was how creativity immediately ignites the self-esteem of  impoverished and downtrodden girls and women.  Whether it was through painting or writing or sculpting a mask - magic happened.  Their depression and oppression lifted.  "There was a spontaneity, a sense of giddiness in the air," one woman recalled after a painting class. 

You don't have to be living in poverty to experience this.  You also don't have to live poverty to know how it feels when others demean you. When they refuse to acknowledge your creativity, your voice, because it threatens them. Women, especially, are often pushed down and judged.

As winter loosens its grip and ice slowly melts, warmer days beckon. With that comes another chapter, and, hopefully, a magical day. A magical day is the writing prompt for the March 12 read-around of the Women's Writing Circle. 

As you start writing, things you might want to consider:
  • Focus on one particular memory. 
  • Expand from there with details.  (Think of circles emanating from a stone tossed into water.)
  • Draw on an image of the day. 
  • Let the memory lead and embrace you. 
  • Believe in your voice. What is a voice? It is speaking from personal experience.  It is you sharing the truth of who you are.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    The Author's Journey

    Today marks seven months since I signed off on the final version of Again in a Heartbeat and sent the file to my publisher.  I remember the trepidation and exhilaration I felt.

    Since then I have had book signings, facilitated workshops, been offered a chance to talk to college students about memoir and, most importantly, met fabulous people.

    The Women's Writing Circle has been fulfilling beyond words.

    None of this would have happened if I hadn't published my book.  So if the next seven months are anything like the first seven, I can say you will feel rewarded for all your hard work.

    Because I went the POD or print-on-demand route, I have a beautiful product AND  I didn't break the bank doing it.  Many people are under the impression it costs thousands of  dollars to self-publish, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  If you take the time to produce good writing, find an editor and illustrator, you can publish for under $700.  This is not as much as you would spend on your child's textbooks for one year in college.  Don't you think you owe yourself that much?  

    The first draft of the cover
    I could order only enough books to SELL.  That way, I did not have a closet or garage full of books.  Through what my publisher calls the "Expanded Distribution Channel," my book is available on Amazon and other online outlets, as well as college and library ordering services . . . all at no additional cost to me.

    While marketing is an ongoing process, not to worry. So much is free, from Facebook and Twitter, that everyone can market at little or no cost.   There are many free how-to guides and blogs on marketing.  Networking through a writing group like the Women's Writing Circle is another way to get the word out.

    The downside - only if you let it get you down - is that it takes time to build the momentum for your book.

    I view this journey as ongoing.  Some people tell you that a book's shelf life is no more than a year, tops.  With POD you are not tied to that timeframe. Simply said - marketing your book is something you can do for as long - or as little - as you like.  Your book is always available for production and purchase, you own the copyright and can go to another publisher, if dissatisfied.  And you can say, "I did it!"

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    Question: Can Our Writing Be Too Dark?

    The Women's Writing Circle met this morning and as always the writing was a revelation.  Two writers tackled our prompt "Mother's Emotional Agenda."  The honesty and self-knowledge displayed in the writing were impressive. 

    For my part, I was unable to complete my own "assignment." Working on an essay about my mother ended up being harder than I anticipated.  I had written about her, but little about me and my feelings. In doing so,  I had violated a cardinal rule -- Don't just stand back and observe.  Put yourself in the writing!  So for me, it's back to the drawing boards on the essay about my mother.

    Interestingly, after one of the readings about a mother's emotional agenda, the question emerged: Can our writing be too dark?

    Can it be too harsh, too negative, not "positive enough" when it comes to someone or some situation?  And if it is, do we run the risk of alienating or making the reader feel "uncomfortable?" 

    Are we uncomfortable in making others uncomfortable?

    I think we grapple with this since most of us wonder what happens the day we show our work to family or a larger audience.   It is always good to get the feedback of other writers on these things.  Can our writing be too "dark"?  Your thoughts, comments?

    All the best,

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    The Trust Factor

    I know you are wondering what will happen when you write your memoir. Who can you trust? What will be said about you?  Are you being "too raw, too outspoken," in your memoir?

    Women have always been concerned about this - and for good reason.  As Joanna Russ writes in her book, How to Suppress Women's Writing, women's memoir has always been denigrated as "confessionals" by "literati" of the male establishment.  Why?  Cultural messages try to obliterate and undermine the female experience.

    Women have been subverted by other women in their quest to tell the truth of their lives.  Our "inferiority" is something they subscribe to. "Critics would have us believe that confessional literature is so personal in its content ... it has no value as literature," Russ writes.

    Women telling the "raw truth" are subjected to the stereotype of the female artist as "personally unlovable..."  It is "precocious" and "unbecoming" to write. Why? We might do it as well - or better - than a man.

    Anais Nin was told by her psychoanalyst, Otto Rank, "When the neurotic woman gets cured, she becomes a woman. When the neurotic man becomes cured, he becomes an artist."

    Anyone who has seen the movie, "Black Swan"  knows this.  Here we find the quintessential woman's story - the quest for perfection in an attempt to please a man and to find meaning as a woman.  But to what gain? Worse, who to trust?  Other women?  No, they are often our competitors.  Men? No, they want us and then discard when they are done, moving on to the younger, more impressionable ingenue.

    We should believe in our artistry and value our stories.  We should stop worrying how we will be perceived and who we need to please and just get on with it. We should trust in and believe in ourselves.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Writing About Loss

    If  the focus of your memoir is loss, you may want to explore how society treats death and dying.  As a friend recently said, "This country cannot deal with death." 

    Others are often uncomfortable with your pain.  They try to convince you there is no point to  "living in the past."  Be happy, they say.  Life is short!

    This is why we write our stories - to give ourselves the gift of expressing our feelings, knowing it is the way to heal.

    You might want to begin writing about loss by trying this:
    • What is my first memory of him/her?
    • I loved him/her because (finish in three sentences).
    • I am most afraid of (finish in three sentences).
    • If I could describe three insights about myself, they are . . .
    When my husband John died, I lost my youth, my dreams of happily-ever-afters -- although I didn't realize at the time what I was mourning. For the next several years, I frantically tried to replace him. I avoided looking at the depth of my loss. Sounds simple, doesn't it?  It took the writing to understand all of that.

    It Takes Time
    DO NOT let people con you into thinking that "moving on" or "closure" is something you should or can do  overnight. Look at the warts as well as the beautiful spots in the relationship. Once you start writing, you are re-energized. You remember the kiss, the romance, the one red rose on the first wedding anniversary. You remember the love. Your story is your legacy.  Treasure your memories.

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    When You Write a Memoir, Be Prepared to Answer Personal Questions

    Last night I had the pleasure of speaking to a class of undergraduates about my career as journalist and my new "career" as memoirist.  These young writers were interested - maybe more - in the memoir than the newsroom. Word of caution:  When you write and publish your memoir, be prepared to answer some very personal questions.  

    A sampling of questions the students asked:  

    Why did you feel you were not a good wife to your husband at the end? How do your sons feel about what you wrote? Why did you write something so personal?  Were you embarrassed as the book was about to be published about going public with something so personal?  What did you learn that surprised you? Have you remarried?

    I should say that these are the same questions I have been asked in radio interviews, as well as by older adults who have read Again in a Heartbeat

    I believe a well-written story from the heart can offer a theme that resonates with others.  Writing is an act of witness. It is saying, "I live. I matter."

    It is this sharing of our journey and our stories that is uniquely human. One of the reasons I started the Women's Writing Circle was that I had benefited from a group of writers. I wanted to offer that same support and setting.  There is a need for community.  Others are longing to write their story.  It is finding the courage and the support to do it.

    When you write your story, believe in it.  Try never to apologize for being "outspoken." Stay true to yourself.

    Was I embarrassed?  No. As a journalist, I was used to having an audience.  This, obviously, is not true for everyone. Before publication, I had vetted the book with an editor, a family therapist and a professional writer. I was attuned to the sensitivity of the subject matter and those who would be reading it, not just my family, but families who have struggled with cancer, grief, widowhood and divorce.  As I told the students, never try to write a book alone.  It is impossible.  Writing is a solitary endeavor, but finishing the book is a collaborative process.

    The surprising part? Thanks to the actual process of writing the book and then hearing the comments from my readers after it was published, I learned more about myself. I was able to come to terms with not being a better wife. I had forgiven myself.