Achieving Brilliance with One Simple Word

Writing for Fluent Magazine has allowed me the privilege of meeting some pretty exceptional artists. Their stories, like their disciplines, vary, but one thread binds them. They all WORK. That’s it, the dirty 4-letter word that separates the wannabes from The Masters. W-O-R-K. Every day. Passionately. Without distraction. Without fail.

Shepherdstown artist Michael Davis drove this great truth home: you don’t pick up a brush and paint a masterpiece the next day. Or the next week, or the next year. It takes YEARS of training, years of practice, and yes, even years of failings.

“Everybody wants it to be a very fun, creative process,” Davis said, “but a lot of it is just sitting down and working when you don’t want to work. People that make it are the ones who do that. People that don’t are the ones that only work when they feel like working.”

There are people who like to paint and there are painters.

There are people who like to write and there are writers.

Fill in the blanks: dance, swim, sculpt, figure skate, sew, run a 5K, lose 15 pounds…. There is a point of separation between the casual and the committed. The amateur and the pro. The successful ones, the masters in their field, are the ones who realize that whatever the dream, whatever the passion, it’s not going to come easily.

Of course, talent helps. But talent is only part of the equation. Einstein (and a thousand others) said it, but in the quick-fix, instant-gratification times we live in many people still ignore it.

“Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work.”

Yep.

But here’s the thing: if it is truly your passion, your calling, it is not going to feel like work. It is going to be FUN. It’s going to excite you, inspire you, make you ignore the housework and television, make you send your children away, text excuses to your friends. That’s when you know you’re doing what you’re meant to do.

Even when it gets hard, when you think it’s not worth it, when you’d rather play Spider Solitaire, DON’T GIVE UP.

And trust me, you will find your reward in the work.

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The Shared Lunacy of Writing

The cold depths of winter? Rain-soaked days of summer? On social media these extreme weather days elicit nothing but frowny faces and gloom. Facebook complaints rise tenfold. Whiners rejoice.

For writers, these days are gold.

At least for me they are. I can huddle inside with no guilt, without sun deprivation, cozy with my laptop and the myriad of characters holed up in my brain. “At last,” they say, “we have you all to ourselves.”

They can direct me, persuade me, do things I never before conceived they would do. They tell me about their pasts, share their secrets. They twist plots. Sometimes, they even kill each other off.

Of course, if I give these characters too much time, they can become the Company That Won’t Leave. They get too comfortable, come out of their world and nose around in mine. This past winter one of them followed me every time I got distracted and clicked over to Facebook.

“You’re wasting time,” he would warn. (Or she—I can’t tell.)

“You don’t NEED to watch ANOTHER cat video!”

“Who cares which Friends character you are?”

“The clock is ticking, sweetheart. The kids will be up soon.”

“GET OUT OF THIS TIME-SUCKING PLACE AND COME BACK TO US!”

But then something—someone, actually—caught his attention: Ginny Fite, a woman I had only met in person once, but who lived in my neighborhood and was a Facebook friend. Did I mention she is an author? Every time a post of hers appeared on my feed, the voice perked up.

“Ginny Fite? You should talk to her.”

“Hmm…maybe you should have her over for coffee.”

“She’s a writer. You can discuss writerly things.”

“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, TALK TO THIS WOMAN!”

So, I did. On a snowy February day I had Ginny over for coffee. We did discuss writerly things. Turned out she’s just as smart, witty and interesting as her Facebook posts led me to believe. And she’s a WRITER. We share the same disease.

On her way out that day, Ginny stopped and turned to me.

“Are you in a writer’s group?” she asked.

My heart skipped. “No.”

“I have to clear it with the other writers first—we like to keep the group small—but maybe you can join us…”

That little voice gloated. “I told you so.”

The rest, I’m optimistically saying, is history. Once a week for the past five months, I’ve met with Ginny, Katherine, Tara, and Karen. Through winter’s slow thaw, the bright green spring, and now this wet, wet summer. Every week we sit, take turns reading aloud, critique, and most importantly, support. This group has taken away some of the loneliness of writing. They offer what no queried agent ever has: actual constructive feedback. I feel like I’ve met kindred spirits. We understand each other—the insecurities, the inexplicable compulsion to write and face rejection, the dogged search for one perfect word—in ways only fellow writers could. It’s almost as if in another life we were inmates in the same asylum. The best part of all: they’re making me a better writer.

My husband eloquently put it in football terms: “You got the ball to the ten yard line…they’re helping you get it in the end zone.”

In June this group of women (with a couple more who are on hiatus) held a joint book signing. The event garnered some press in our local media, including this article in the Frederick News-Post. The article perfectly defines the work we do and the benefits of belonging to the group. I am so proud to be the “she” in the last paragraph.

In addition to the inspiration, discipline (once a week means a deadline—not much time to waste on Facebook), the camaraderie and friendships, one other great thing came from listening to that voice in my head. One day Ginny asked if I would be interested in writing for Fluent Magazine, a gorgeous online magazine “covering the arts and culture in West Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and neighboring regions.” Long story short, this happened:

My first article for Fluent appears in their Summer 2015 issue! (See page 10)

The moral of the story? Trust your instincts. Listen (discriminately) to the voices in your head. I did, and wonderful things have been happening ever since.

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Resolutions? What New Year’s Resolutions?

Sunday, February 01, 2015

January, or as I call it, Resolution Month, is over.

What resolutions have you stuck to? Which ones have not been so easy?

Congrats on what you’ve stuck to! An entire month is quite an accomplishment. And about those things where you’ve caved? Don’t sweat it. It’s a new month, a new day, a new chance to try again.

As for myself…

The no gluten, no dairy, no sugar resolution was a breeze the week I had the flu. After that, well, I gave it a serious go until the Parenthood finale did me in. I had to seriously eat some emotions away.

The blog more resolution? It’s February 1 and this is my first blog of the year. That’s all I have to say about that.

Read more? Check

Write more? Check (just not blogs)

Tweet more? Check

Less television? Check—although, Downton Abbey AND The Walking Dead will be on next Sunday. If zombies attacked Downton my dilemma would be solved.

There are a couple of things that were not on my resolution list that I’m happy to report on:

First, I’ve been doing more yoga. It’s helping my back and my stress levels. You should try it. Really.

Second, I’ve joined a book club at the yoga studio. The book is Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton. I saw the title and immediately thought: I want to be warrior! I NEED to be a warrior. You see, the flu, my aching back, and a month-and-a-half-long battle to fix the internet issues on my laptop have left me feeling rather helpless in 2015. Not to mention the fact that I handed off my manuscript—my baby—to a beta reader. As a writer, there is nothing like waiting to hear back from a beta reader to make you feel helpless, insecure, and generally bat-shit crazy.

But you can’t keep a good warrior down. I just keep reminding myself of one notable accomplishment I had in 2014: I wrote a book.

The Wexbury Trilogy, Book 2, draft one.

I repeat: I WROTE A BOOK

I AM a warrior.

Of course, finishing the first draft of a novel is like finishing the first leg of a triathlon. Celebrate, re-hydrate, and go go go! There is much work to be done. And I can’t wait to do it. As Glennon says:

“Reading is my inhale and writing is my exhale. If I am not reading and writing regularly, I begin to suffocate.”

So I’m not the only one! Yeah!

It’s February 1. Push the reset button everyone. Try, try again. Don’t give up on what you want to accomplish this year. I didn’t in 2014 and guess what? I wrote a freakin’ book!

If I can do it, so can you.

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Is This Why Writers Drink?

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Yes, here I am, slinking back to WordPress after five months. Yes, five months. Trust me, not one of those 153 days passed without the sound of that agent’s voice in my head:

“Don’t blog if it’s a chore, like washing the car. The worst thing is for an agent to look at your blog and see that it hasn’t been updated in three weeks.”

I’m not quite sure how three weeks turned into twenty-two weeks. I think someone has been tinkering with time. They’ve made the hands on the clock jump and skip ahead. Or maybe the world is just spinning faster. I’m certain of this because just about five months ago my 14-year-old daughter dropped this on me as we were exiting the car:

“Mom, you know I only have four years left in this house?”

Then she strolled into the house, leaving me motionless, one leg in the car, one leg out. A little tremor moved through me. Shock. Terror. Melancholy. A maelstrom of emotions— the most powerful of which was helplessness. I can’t add more hours to the day. I can’t slow time. I can’t prevent the days from slipping away, one by one, until the day my daughter is standing in front of me with her bags packed for college, the world waiting to take her away from me. I can’t. I can’t.

So what do I do?

Juggle.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the last five months, the last 14 years. It’s not just me—it’s what all moms do. We juggle. We try to find the right balance, the right speed, the aerodynamics to “continuously toss into the air and catch (a number of objects) so as to keep at least one in the air while handling the others, typically for the entertainment of others.“

"Juggle". Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Juggle.gif#mediaviewer/File:Juggle.gif

“…for the entertainment of others.” Hm…. Interesting. True.

Writer moms juggle, too. (And writer dads ♥) We try to toss one more object into the mix—one that brings us joy, enriches our souls, repairs our psyches in ways that non-writers can never understand.

It’s not as if I haven’t been writing during these last few months. In fact, I’ve been writing my ass off. (I think, actually, that writers write their asses on, as I’ve gained about five more pounds in the last few months.) I’ve somehow managed to:

• Finish another draft of A Future Sky based on beta readers’ feedback.

• Craft an outline for Book 2. (really need a title….)

• Start writing the first draft of Book 2. (42K words and counting)

• Finish a draft of In Silent Company based on meetings with a local historian and former grief counselor. (Who, by the way, cried after the last line of the book. Not because he was glad it was over, but because he was so moved by it. A writer’s dream come true: to make a grown man cry.)

• Teach myself InDesign and lay out the entire Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal. Not too shabby for an old chick like me.

Yep. All of that in five months. Along with cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, chauffeuring, can’t forget my part-time job, and of course, spending time with my family. So, the one ball that got dropped, the one object that I couldn’t keep into the mix was this blog.

I came close many times. There were moments of inspiration, signs from the universe—I should blog about this!—but something else always had to be caught first. Like when I wanted to blog, but my daughters wanted to power watch a few episodes of Friday Night Lights. The words echoed: “Mom, you know I only have four years left in this house?”

So I chose to spend time with my daughters, bonding, laughing, spilling tears together for the poor souls of Dillon, Texas. Another week passed by without a blog, but at least I took comfort in the fact that my daughters had the words and wisdom of Tami Taylor to get them through high school, and the character of Matt Saracen to give them a standard when it comes to dating boys. (NOT Tim Riggins, even though I LOVE him.)

It seems though, that every moment, every achievement, comes with a varying degree of guilt. I’m watching TV with my daughters when I should be blogging. I’m exercising when I should be writing. I’m writing when I should be exercising. Those weeds need pulled…that laundry needs folded…I should really make dinner tonight…. I’m working on book 2 when I should be finishing book 1. I should be querying agents, I should be finding more Twitter followers, I should be TWEETING, I should be figuring out how to find blog readers. (Is anyone out there reading this???) I should be BUILDING MY PLATFORM. On and on and on, until some days I get so overwhelmed, so frustrated, that I just pour myself a drink and do nothing.

Reading back, it sounds like a lack of focus. And a lot of excuses. Perhaps. Or perhaps when so much of your life is spent “for the entertainment of others” it’s hard to focus on what needs to be done for yourself.

Until I can figure all of this out, my “platform” is going to be right here, in this comfy stuffed chair, with my laptop, one cat at my feet, another walking across the keyboard (;lklbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb), writing every chance I get. It is, after all, what brings me joy. Enriches my soul. Repairs my psyche.

How do you do it, writer moms and dads? Please share. I’m sort of new to this game and love to hear how other people make it work.

(“Juggle”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Juggle.gif#mediaviewer/File:Juggle.gif)

 

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In the Beginning

This story has apparently been floating in cyberspace for years, but just came to me via a bishop who read it (off his iPad) during a sermon. It’s about food choices, but could be about all of life’s choices. And it reminds us that God never gives up on us—no matter how idiotic we humans can be. We should never give up on ourselves, either. Because sooner or later we’ll get it right. Right?

(I found this version on the Advantage Diets website.)

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

Then using God’s great gifts, Satan created Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and Krispy Crème Donuts. And Satan said, “You want chocolate with that?” And Man said, “Yes!” and Woman said, “and as long as you’re at it, add some sprinkles.” And they gained 10 pounds. And Satan smiled.

And God created the healthful yogurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair. And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat, and sugar from the cane and combined them. And Woman went from size 6 to size 14.

So God said, “Try my fresh green salad.” And Satan presented Thousand-Island Dressing, buttery croutons and garlic toast on the side.

And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.
God then said, “I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them.” And Satan brought forth deep fried fish and chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man gained more weight and his cholesterol went through the roof.

God then created a light, fluffy white cake, and named it “Angel Food Cake,” and said, “It is good.” Satan then created chocolate cake and named it “Devil’s Food.”

God then brought forth running shoes so that His children might lose those extra pounds. And Satan gave cable TV with a remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels. And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering blue light and gained pounds.

Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fried them. And Man gained pounds.

God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite. And Satan created McDonald’s and its 99-cent double cheeseburger. Then said, “You want fries with that?” And Man replied, “Yes! And super size them!”

And Satan said, “It is good.” And Man went into cardiac arrest. God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery. Then Satan created HMOs.

Here’s a version tailored to a few of my writing choices:

In the beginning, God gave Writer a computer with word processing software to making typing, revising and editing easier. Then Satan added Spider Solitaire and Free Cell and said, “Go ahead, take a break. Until you win.”

God then created the internet, so Writer could do research right there at their computer. Then Satan smiled and gave Writer YouTube, and endless hours of cute kitten videos.

God next gave Writer Thesaurus.com, and said, “Now you can find the perfect words and turn your blah manuscript into a colorful masterpiece.” Then Satan drummed his fingers and created Facebook and Twitter, and made them just one time-wasting click away from Thesaurus.com.

So God brought forth an office with doors and a beautiful writing desk and said, “Go forth in your private space, with no distractions, and create beautiful prose.” And Satan grinned and said, “Here’s a nice, comfy sofa to go with it. And a good book. Lie down for a while.”

Then God created the laptop so Writer could be mobile and find different spaces to create that beautiful prose. And Satan smiled and gave Writer Netflix and nine seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. And it was so bad, but Satan included McDreamy and McSteamy and said, “One more episode won’t kill you.”

Okay, so one more episode turned into a full-blown binge watch. But God never gives up on me. So I’m not giving up on myself.

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