Intense Experiences Color Your World and Your Writing

October 15, 2019

Last month, I unexpectedly found myself caring for two older relatives during — what I had no idea would be — the end of their lives. Throughout an intense 6-week timespan, I became a primary care giver and dealt with doctors and nurses. Following the sudden death of one relative, I made funeral arrangements. Then, I dealt with different doctors and nurses at a hospital, a nursing home and finally hospice for the other relative. The second death was somewhat expected, after which I interacted with a different funeral home. It wasn’t the decision making that was hard, it was the reality of dealing with life and death. The 2 deaths were just 15 days apart. This was one of the hardest and most intense experiences of my life.

Dealing with life and death has changed me. 

 

I’m sad and will be for some time to come. I also feel honored and blessed to have done the very best I could, with God’s help and guidance. Some days I can’t believe how much changed during that short time period. Although I’m relieved the intensity has ended, everyday things now seem trivial. How do you go from doing something so important to working a regular job, cooking dinner, folding clothes? From past experience with the death of loved ones, I know these feelings will fade in time.

As I contemplated what to blog about, my planned posts on genre or story form just didn’t cut it.

My experience is hardly unique. People deal with death all the time. I have always had great respect for medical professionals, in particular the care givers and hospice workers. What was so heart-wrenching for me is a true calling for those in the field. I thank God for those people.

It’s said that we reveal parts of ourselves in our writing and I’m no different. I’m a pantser by industry standards, an intuitive writer to the rest of my friends. I go with the flow, let my intuition direct the story line. My recent experience has colored my world and will color my writing. It has touched me in ways I can see and in other ways I may never recognize. I do know one thing. It has changed me and eventually will show up in my writing. Maybe in a hospital scene or an emotional scene with a character dying. Probably in an unexpected form.

My life experiences direct my writing.

 

My fiction includes material drawn from my dating life in my teens and 20s, from social interactions that took place years ago and I didn’t even know I remembered until I wrote them into a character’s life. Material comes from workplace people and happenings, from vacations, from my life. Sometimes, I’m surprised when these memories surface in my writing; sometimes I’m not. I never plan these scenes; they simply bubble up at the right time.

Here’s to my relatives who are now hanging out in heaven. I salute you. I miss you. I’ll be seeing you again soon, in the pages of my fiction.

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In Medias Res

October 1, 2019

I wrote my first novel in chronological order and it spanned 25 years. At my first writing conference, we were given a list of the top ten mistakes new writers make. Guess what was number one? Writing in chronological order!

In Medias Res is Latin for “in the middle”. This is where the good stories begin — where there’s movement, an action, an active decision to do something. Then, the background is dribbled in as the story continues. The initial action is the hook that makes us want to read more.

Writing in

chronological order

is one of the mistakes

new writers make.

 

Stories that begin at the very beginning, providing all the background for something that will happen later, are boring. Case in point: Michelle Obama’s 2018 book.

This is not a political post. Michelle Obama impressed me from the moment she hit the national stage. I think she’s articulate, smart, and a good role model. I was excited to pick up “Becoming”. I knew it would be good.

Unfortunately, she started at the very beginning. It’s a memoir, you might be thinking, of course it starts at the beginning. And it got great reviews. Either all those reviewers read a different book or, more likely, they were reviewing Michelle Obama, not the book.

Becoming

 

The preface isn’t bad. Obama writes briefly about her childhood aspirations and her adult accomplishments. It’s somewhat compelling. Then you begin Chapter 1. Blah. She describes her childhood in detail, and talks a lot about her great aunt’s piano. She goes on and on and on about the family’s apartment and the neighborhood and the piano, the piano, the piano, with no real action, no excitement, no foreshadowing. I slogged through 30 or 40 pages, then I skipped ahead to where she met Barack. That was interesting.

The chronology continued. I didn’t finish the book. I was disappointed.

A couple weeks later, I picked up James Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership”. I had no expectations of this book, and I wasn’t a fan of his. The book is good.

A Higher Loyalty

 

The intro begins with Comey riding to a congressional hearing, where he is very direct about what is happening. (Action.) The intro ends with a question – “How on earth did I end up here?” (The hook.) Chapter 1 begins with Comey’s time as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York City and interactions with the American Mafia. (Action.) He describes a mobster testimony, and notes how this reinforced his career choice. He then describes a harrowing incident from when he was 16 years old and the life lessons it taught him, which led him to pursue a career in law enforcement. (Background with action.)

The next chapter begins with him going to work for Rudy Giuliani. As Comey details his progressing career, he puts in lessons he learned growing up that shaped him for the jobs he had and the decisions he needed to make. (Action followed by background.)

I found Comey’s book quite compelling. I couldn’t put it down. That’s because he started and continued applying the practice of “In Medias Res”. He seamlessly transitions from action to background, and back to action and current events, then background… The story is tightly weaved.

I’ve become much better at starting my stories with a hook, with questions to compel the reader to keep reading. However, I struggle with how soon to put in background. I don’t want to bore my readers. The ability to methodically knit in background that led to the incident or action of the hook is a necessary skill for a good book.

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Inspire Me!

September 17, 2019

I got into sports at a young age, and my mother gave me three small posters that I framed and hung on my bedroom walls.

3-inspirational-posters.jpg

“You must believe to achieve.” 

“The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.” 

“I can let things happen or I can make them happen.”

quote notes

 

Those posters now hang in my home office, along with hundreds of inspirational quotes I have collected over the years. Since quotes abound online, I’m only including one here. I found it on Twitter; it’s by Jennifer Lee:

 

follow that dream

Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire. Don’t get influenced by what people tell you should be your dream.

 

 

Here are my three favorite motivational movies. I’d love to hear about movies that motivate you.

Akeelah and the Bee – Little Akeelah Anderson competes in the National Spelling Bee.

The Pursuit of Happyness (yes, that’s how the movie title is spelled) — Will Smith is great as a homeless Chris Gardner pursuing career options.

Rudy – Daniel Ruettiger is determined to play football at Notre Dame.

 My friends also provide inspiration, especially when I’m feeling discouraged. The beauty of nature always lifts me up, whether it’s flowers, trees, mountains, lakes or oceans. Finally, and foremost, my faith is the most important aspect of my life – it brings love and acceptance and encouragement and so much more.

I’ll end this post with a poem you may have seen before. Enjoy.

OUR DEEPEST FEAR

by Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

Where do you find inspiration?

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Here It Is! I Found It! In the Candlelight.

September 3, 2019

I shuffled through the bedroom to the adjoining bathroom wondering why it was so light in the room. Squinting at the bedside clock, my eyes opened wide. The digital clock was blank. I looked around the room suspiciously, wondering if one of my cats had somehow pulled the plug.

Shaking my head, I continued to the bathroom and flipped on the light switch. Nothing happened. I groaned, completed my morning routine and ventured into the kitchen where my boyfriend was reading the paper.

His head appeared over the newspaper. “Power went out an hour ago.”

Glancing at the clock, I understood why it was so much lighter in the bedroom. I grunted, got out a bowl with oatmeal and opened the microwave door. “Oh. Duh. Let’s go out for breakfast.”

“OK, the power will probably be on by the time we get back. It never goes off long here.”

candle2

He was wrong.

That evening, as he found our flashlights and battery-powered radio, I lit candles throughout the main floor rooms. The candles imbued a dreamy ambiance. The only problem was that I kept tripping over our black cat.

“This is great.” I plumped up the cushions on the living room and settled in with a thick book. “How often do you get to read with no other demands?”

He raised his eyebrows. “You’re not going to write?”

“Nah. Still not in the mood. I’m only about half recharged from our train trip.” (My earlier post – Big Sky, Blank Paper – explains how I had run out of creative energy, was unable to write, and needed to recharge.)

The next evening, I got home from work to find the power still out. We went through the same routine as the previous evening, except I was all read out.

“Why are you pacing?” my boyfriend asked.

I shrugged. “Dunno. Restless.”

I looked around the quiet, peaceful room with its multiple candles flickering from the slight breeze wafting in through the open windows, and I was compelled to sit down and write. My calico cat curled up next to me and I breathed in the scent of the rose candles on the mantle. With my writing pad on my lap and my favorite gel pen in hand, I wrote. I was calm. I was thoughtful. The words flowed.

candle1

The third evening, I again lit my candles and settled down for an evening of writing. And then we heard a click.

The lights and fans turned on. Through the open windows, we heard the neighbors cheering and we joined in with delight. Relief mingled with disappointment. Writing would not be on the agenda that evening.

The fridge and freezer needed to be cleaned out, laptops and phones charged, candles and flashlights put away… writing would have to wait for the following day.

As I threw away spoiled food, gratitude welled up. Losing electricity had prompted a personal recharge (and an appreciation for all the things electricity provides). I had found my way back to my happy writing place.

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What is My Main Character Doing Now?

August 20, 2019

I’m a pantser when I write; I’m a plotter in most other aspects of my life.

When I wrote the previous sentence, I believed it; however, by the time I finished writing this post, I realized it’s not true, so I left it and added this sentence. Just like a pantser.

People in the writing industry know the terms “pantser” and “plotter”. Early in my fiction writing, I went to a writing conference session led by Dr. Stanley D. Williams. According to his web site, he’s an international award-winning video producer, filmmaker and show creator.

Although Williams is a movie guy, his expertise translates easily into book writing – it’s all about the story, after all. During his presentation, he mentioned pantsers and plotters. My writer friend and I immediately said to each other in unison: “What did he say?”.

In my own words:

scribbled notes

“Pantsers” begin writing with only a few ideas of what will happen in the story They may have a main character and conflict and determine the rest, or they may just sit down and write, see what character is formed, what conflict develops. This is the way I write.

“Plotters” outline the entire book from start to finish. They know all the characters, all the conflicts, in what order these conflicts will occur, who will do what to whom, and how the book will be resolved.

writing outline

There are variations within each. Most people are somewhere in the middle but lean toward one or the other.

A thousand years ago when I had to write papers in college, all the professors insisted we turn in an outline first. They didn’t care (or didn’t believe me) when I told them I didn’t use outlines. I wrote all my papers well ahead of the due dates so I could then write the outline from the paper. I guess all my professors were plotters.

I don’t like word counts – I often say “it’ll be as long or as short as it needs to be” although when I’m writing a novel, I do keep an eye on word count so I know when to put in conflicts or resolve them. I’m guessing that plotters know the exact page on which they introduce or resolve a conflict. I have no idea how to do that. Plotters probably can’t conceive of how I write either.

According to Williams, there are drawbacks to each approach. Again, in my own words:

A pantser may have to rewrite if the story goes somewhere unexpected. They may have to change or add characters, add foreshadowing, change some plot lines. I once had a character change from a bad guy to a good guy halfway through so I had to change all the bad guy foreshadowing early in the manuscript.

I’m often surprised by what the people in

my stories do.

A plotter may be so bored by writing what they already know is going to happen that it can be difficult to see the writing all the way through. Also, if they want to change something, then they have to change the whole outline.

So, how do these terms translate into other areas of my life? Ten minutes ago, when I started writing this, I would have said I’m a plotter. But I’m not. I do a general plan but leave some things open. Exactly like I write.

When I vacation, I book the flight and hotels and a few activities. I leave plenty of time open for the unexpected. I once took a train across country at the last minute – one of my best trips ever.

My work is strategic planning, marketing and outreach. I begin with a definite plan and, even though I have years of experience determining what motivates people to buy or give or come back, you can never say for sure what people will do. So, I allow time and room to adapt the original plan after it’s launched.

As for relationships in my life, well, um, you can’t plan those, can you? Lol.

When people are involved, you can’t plan in detail. At least I can’t. Just like in real life, I’m often surprised by what the people in my stories do. This can be good or bad, but it’s most always fun – at least in stories.

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Photos by Fabian Grohs, Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

 


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