Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Wanna Be Bill Maher

Okay.  I wanna be Bill Maher.  Maher, who this week was criticized for calling  women "twats", "bimbos" and other unmentionables, hid behind his mantra . . ."But I am a comedian.  This is what the community accepts."

Okay.  If this is what a comedian does, give me a break.  Could a woman call a man similar sexist names and get away with it without being vilified as a "ballbuster" or other "b" or "c" words?

So this week - the last of Women's History Month, I think about how "far" and how less than far we have gone as women.  C'mon women.  What say you?

Now  . . . what does this rant about Bill Maher have to do with women and writing, which is the purpose of this blog?  I think it gets back to the mantra . . .  let it all hang out.  Do what you have to do, but be true, be honest and don't let your "femininity" get in the way.  Because no matter what you do, you will always be labeled by the Bill Mahers of the world as a bimbo, a twat or whatever . . . that said, go for it!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Metaphor - A Writing Prompt

The power of metaphor cannot be overstated.  Metaphor is soulful work for the "truth" of the image you select represents something you experienced, not just as a writer, but as a human being. For that reason the image possesses a universal quality, like Emily Dickinson's bird in her famous poem, "Hope".

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Aristotle described metaphor as: "The act of giving a thing a name that belongs to something else." Using metaphor is the writing prompt for our April 16 read-around of the Women's Writing Circle. I would suggest you use metaphor to describe universal concepts: for example, love, desire, jealousy, hope, grief, depression, sickness, betrayal.

One of the great challenges as writers is offering the reader charged and transcendent images.  In my memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, I used forsythia as metaphor for the fleeting nature of love.  John had planted those bushes, yet how could they bloom so brightly when he was gone?  Like love, the forsythia flowers burst into a wall of sunshine, only to quickly wilt and fade. . . gone in a heartbeat. 

Memoirs focus on our most intimate and significant moments and experiences. They are neither random nor lacking in purpose. Memoirs are integral to our spiritual journey of self-understanding, healing and wisdom. We must be attentive to the images, which should carefully be chosen to reflect the larger theme of our story.

Metaphor is tough, but it is the resonating ingredient in our story's recipe.

As always, if you prefer to bring something else to the Circle, please do that.  It costs $5 to participate in the read-around. See you April 16 at Wellington Square.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Third Person Narrative

Crocuses spring up.
When first person narrative becomes too painful, what to do? The answer may lie in third person. At the last read-around, we spoke of discomfort when sharing disquieting portraits of people we love.

When I read the piece at the Women's Writing Circle about my mother, I felt insecurities . . . was I being disloyal? Would I be judged for exposing my mother?

"I tried hard to please her.  It was a losing proposition.  It always had been.  Now the older I got, the more I realized there was no point in taking it personally when nothing I did was right.  She found fault, not just with me, but with everyone and everything.  Like her parents and sister, Mother was a hoarder -  although not of magazines, newspapers, dishware and empty shoeboxes.  Mother hoarded those invisible possessions that  choke the soul.  She hoarded all the slights, the petty insults, all the injustices of life and took it out on those she loved."

Here's the passage in third person.

"She tried hard to please her mother.  It was a losing proposition.  It always had been.  Now the older she got, the more she realized there was no point in taking it personally when nothing she did was right.  Her mother found fault, not just with her, but with everyone and everything." 

Using third person may explain why this is the most popular form of narrative. It offers distance and flexibility, using he and she, they and it, but never I.

Now this  passage of autobiographical writing from Ernest Hemingway about the love he had for his longtime companion, a cat named Boise.

“That night, when he had sat in the big chair reading with Boise at his side in the chair, he had thought that he did not know what he would do if Boise should be killed. He thought, from his actions and desperation, that the cat felt the same way about the man.” 

In first person, we are both narrator and a character in the story.  This lends itself  to greater consciousness and reflection than other narrative modes.  As a character in our own story, we make judgments, explore biases and opinions. This can feel risky.

If it frees your creativity to step back and tell the story from the distance of "she" instead of "I," try it. The story could blossom like crocuses pushing up against the dead leaves of winter.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Setting Our Intentions As Writers

Establishing that we love to write, indeed, that we need to write is often the easy part. The  harder part  - mastering the craft and becoming better writers.

It  was apparent at today's Circle that one of the most useful and valuable tools in developing our own writing expertise is critiquing the work of others.  

Listening and then offering comments on the flaws, as well as the beautiful descriptions, metaphors and messages, translates well when we sit down to write. Feedback is a two-way street. 

So it was at the Circle. We talked about writing techniques, how to show not tell, adding the smell of the coffee, the sound of the horses' hooves, inserting ourselves more into the work, clarifying that if we let our fears and inner critic hold sway, we become paralyzed. 

We understand, too, that while writing is a craft, its power often leads us. As one woman said, "I didn't chose to write.  It is therapy for me."  Yet another observed: "I want to use humor in my writing, but the crap keeps getting in the way."  And this, "The poem just came to me.  I wrote it in 30 minutes."

It seemed we set our intentions to be the best writers we can, maybe more than we have at any other read-around since I started the Women's Writing Circle in November 2009.  Understanding there is goodwill, support and intelligent, non-judgmental critique coming our way, we can move egos aside and absorb constructive criticism.

Hearing your virtues as a writer -  as a wordsmith - voiced by others is panacea for anyone suffering writer's block.

This was the largest read-around yet with 10 writers attending the Circle.  With spring comes rebirth and renewed energy. The result: a diversity of genres, projects and voices lending to a lively discussion of writing techniques.  

It was also difficult to finish within the two and a half hours we allot to the Circle.  I have considered holding the Circle twice a month, either at the same venue or a different location, probably in Phoenixville.  Stay tuned!  For sure, our next read-around is April 16 at Wellington Square Bookshop.  We will meet the third Saturday, instead of our usual second Saturday due to the Women's Writing Circle retreat weekend April 8 - 10 at Pendle Hill in Wallingford.

Thank you to my Sisters in the Writing Circle.  Keep writing . . . keep writing . . . keep writing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Keep Writing, Keep Writing . . . .

Along America's Highway, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
The hard work of writing is no more gratifying than when you look out on a roomful of people as I did yesterday. Folks wanting to write, whether it be for family or by taking the work public, filled the community room at the local library on a rainy afternoon.

As I spoke about my journey as a writer, I loved watching eyes light up with the realization that "Yes!" this is something I, too, can do.   

"How do I learn to write?"  - is a  question I heard yesterday.

Everything in life is a choice. If you want it bad enough, you will practice, master the skill.  Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.

Techniques describing and detailing the craft of writing abound on the Internet as do classes at the community college or community night school.  If you have the resources, treat yourself  to an MFA program.  Join a writing circle, critique your work with friends, hire an editor, traipse off to a writing retreat . . . but in the end,  it  comes down to the mantra . . . keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.  It doesn't matter where you do it, or how you do it, just do it.

After all, is there any other choice if at heart you are a writer?

Almost Paradise is a place tucked away in the heart of Amish country in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  It is part of, yet separate, from the world. I go there to get away.  I go there to be alone. It is like writing.  I always return to this little slice of paradise.

Join us at 9 a.m. this Saturday, March 12 for our monthly read-around of the Women's Writing Circle at Wellington Square Bookshop in the Eagleview Town Center, Exton, PA.  This is a free event.   More information about the read-around is offered on this website.  Hope to see you there.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Ever-Not-So-Humble Gods

The women at my first writing retreat.

In the 19th century homebound women came together in reading and sewing circles.  These informal gatherings provided an intellectual forum to discuss social issues of the day.  Now women are coming together in ever-increasing numbers in writing circles like the Women's Writing Circle.  They are learning that finding voice is synonymous with being empowered, which in turn opens the door to a cogent exploration and explanation of past and present and paves the way for a healthy and meaningful future.

The history of women's circles has revolved around one constant - an inherent desire by women to connect and find intimacy and the intellectual satisfaction often lacking in their personal lives.  It is by cultivating the mind and the heart that the possibility of fulfillment presents itself.  As we come together and write our scripts, we move beyond the narrow confines and roles others would assign us.

Lately, there has been a renewed effort to denigrate memoir and women's writing.  Yes, the gods are paying us back for having the audacity - the temerity - to write our stories! The "gods" being the ever-not-so-humble male editors at the New York Times, one of whom recently created a bit of a firestorm by labeling memoirs "me" stories with little or no saving grace.  Of course, this editor assumed what he wrote was worth reading and publishing.  But I digress . . .

Since the personal writing movement is largely powered by women, this criticism of  memoir as trite "confessionals"  feels both familiar and inevitable.  Indeed, this is the same old story but with a 21st century spin.  Please shut up, they write in the first paragraph of their tirade. The ease of publishing has made it possible to circumvent the powers-that-be and so the dander is up and the gloves are off.

But have no fear.  Writing as a way to heal, to better understand ourselves, and offer a legacy to future generations is unstoppable.  Good thing, too, since there are so many stories that need to be told.  It would be a crying shame to shame us out of writing stories with the power of voice and conviction; ergo, stories rippling with self-awareness, healthy narcissism and a potent message that resonates with others.

It would be wrong to discourage a woman from delving deeply into the process that makes one a writer, whether she starts as a young girl, a woman in middle age or an older woman.  Our already fragile sense of confidence about our writing and our voices can be shattered by critics  . . . if we let them. Don't.