Let No Man Define You

Reposted because it is worth remembering. Go do you, my lovlies, and don’t you ever let someone else trample your dreams.

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Okay, look. I’m not doing a class on how to be a writer – as established at the beginning of this blog – and this has nothing at all to do with this month’s forest theme. But, sometimes, certain people need to hear the truth. Namely, people who want to write, and the people who declare they can’t. Screw them, btw.

I don’t care if it’s your mom, your dad, your sister, your lover, or your reflection. If they are telling you that being a writer is for other people, people who are magically special, somehow, they are wrong. W.R.O.N.G. You want the horrible – and beautiful – truth? There is only one criteria for being a writer. You write. Like WOW, right? No, we aren’t special just because we write. But that’s the beautiful thing. We are ordinary. We live next door, on the bottom floor, in ordinary houses, and under the stairs… wait… sorry, that last one is stalker, not writer. Our abilities are quiet and not very remarkable to watch. But we have this determination to capture the world by placing words in a particular order. Writers aren’t special in the way of being better than anyone. Just in the way they relate to words. Accountants like numbers. Computer programmers can understand the language of computers. And writers tell stories. It is beautiful and it is work. If writers were, somehow, different from everyone else on earth, then how could they ever write about ordinary people? And who wants to read something they can’t see themselves in?

Someone tonight tried to hint that I’m going around trying to impress people by pretending to be a writer. Which shows exactly how little they know about me. My single biggest talent is having an intense imagination. Think Walter Mitty level intense. It is, in almost every other area of my life, a burden and a disability. Because connecting fully with reality is hard for me and I’m extremely distracted on my best days. In school this translated to abysmal grades. I suffer from insomnia because my head refuses to turn off. During conversations, I sometimes go bye bye and that means people think I don’t care what they have to say. Of course, it’s just that brain of mine getting away from me. But my writing allows me to use that annoying quirk.

What I’m saying here is that 1, a flaw is just something you haven’t figured out how to use to your advantage and 2, you want to write? WRITE. We need more books; the movie reboots are getting really old. And I need more stories to read. But, when someone looks down their nose at you and suggests that writing isn’t *real* work, ask them to sit down and write you a short story. One that’s good. Hell. One that just makes sense. Yeah. That makes them give the haughty ‘I could if I wanted’. And maybe they could. But they are too busy trampling all over you, spending their time trying hard to kick the legs out from under your chair and never asking themselves why they feel like they need to. So, there’s that. I don’t lift anything. I don’t break a sweat every day. I’m not saving the world. I am using what the universe gave me to give other people something that might make them smile. Or cry. Or check under the bed at night. And you know what? I am darn happy with that. Is it easy? Not always. It’s work. But it is work I love. As far as I’m concerned, if the definition of work means everyone has to hate their job and always be struggling just to make themselves do it in the name of money, count me out. I’d rather live under a bridge and pan handle on the street than spend eight hours a day and 60 years doing something that murders my soul in the name of gaining whatever pale, pathetic sliver of respect this would earn me from people who would then proceed to jump on all my other faults – and there are plenty. I’m not a fairy princess. Duh. But I’m good with that; I’m a collector of weird and a lover of words. That is so much better in my book. Life is too short for you to go around hating it. Too. God. Damned. Short.

So. You want to write? Go write. And, whenever someone tells you that it isn’t work and you aren’t smart/special enough, remember. Screw them. Define who you are and what you’re capable of and remember that bitter, angry people only want one thing. Company at their table of misery. Live to inspire. Live to lift other ordinary people into their happy place. Because running around telling people they are not good enough is a sad, unhealthy way to spend your life. Poison the well and you will only have poison to drink. Fill it with goodness and watch yourself thrive.

Tomorrow I’ll be bringing you part one of a short fantasy novella that is set in a very special forest AND an introduction to my favorite place on earth. Allerton Park. If you love forests, don’t miss it 😁😁😁 peace out!!!

The Idle Writer

I think the best piece of writing advice – besides embracing my own life – that I ever got was to be idle. Now, this is something I used to do naturally, back when I first started writing. I would pause before putting pen to paper, staring off into space, listening to myself and the world around me. This was not daydreaming – something I use far too often to escape. No, this was a sort of preparation. I would sink into my life, plucking at the strings and seeing what came up. Without fail, a beautiful first line or idea would swim up out of the murk and, once I put it to paper, I would keep going for hours, riffing off those first words in whatever rhythm they created when they came.

Sometimes it would take ten minutes for that line to come, sometimes an hour. It didn’t matter. I never strained toward it, just listened and waited. I didn’t try to force it; I knew it was there. I didn’t try to guess and jump in faster; I had faith that it would be worth waiting for.

As I grew older and started thinking of my writing as a career, things changed. I began to struggle with it, fighting for every line. I often would groan and moan about not getting my word count for the day. Ever notice yourself doing that because it seems like other writers expect it and you don’t want them to feel bad? Yeah. Quit that. I would guilt trip myself and try to force myself to write and the more I did that, the less I wrote. Lately, I’ve been trying to get back to that initial passion. I mean, back then, it was all so easy. I was hungry for the words. I didn’t care where they took me as long as they showed up. I had discovered that sentences had vibration and putting them together so that they rang out a certain way was my obsession. I filled whole notebooks with words, at least one a month. Once, I filled an entire Mead composition notebook in a single night. Yes. Two hundred pages, back to front, in my small ass writing, done in less than twenty-four hours. Did it matter if the writing was good or not? No. It was, but I didn’t care. Did it matter if I’d rewritten the same thing a thousand times? Nope. It wasn’t about the content, then. It was about the feeling the writing gave me and creating something beautiful. I didn’t worry about right or wrong. I didn’t think about what other people thought. I honestly could have cared less; I was drunk on creation. I was oblivious to how I got into ‘the zone’ because I pretty much never left it. My entire life was lived just for the sake of writing about it.

I look back at that time and I feel a sort of wistful longing. At some point, this became a job, it became something I am supposed to do, rather than something I want to do. I cannot really describe that loss as anything other than losing a lover; this person you know from the tips of your toes to the top of your head is suddenly a stranger, someone you see in the hallway, someone you talk to, but neither of you feels any connection anymore. When I lost my desire for writing, that is what if felt like. Not even like they were gone, but like they were still there without being there, like some couples who fall out of love but keep clinging to each other for lack of another plan.

So the question became, what was I to do? Run away? Find something else that woke me up inside and set me on fire? I tried lots of things. Rock climbing. Studying trees. Hiking. Traveling. Running. But everything had lost its flavor. Ever notice that there are things in your life that bring all the other things into focus? That was writing for me. It didn’t just give me life when I was writing. It was the reason I became present in the world and lived. I was constantly watching and listening, perfectly aware and fully in the present moment because it was all food for my writing and writing was life. I don’t remember when I stopped doing that. Certainly, it wasn’t a conscious decision to become absent. It just happened. I stopped trying to hear everything. I stopped thinking about how to describe the color of a flower or what the air smelled like next to a river. I was walking and talking and breathing, but I was numb inside.

So, the thing about going off to find yourself is that you have to take the good and the bad together. The good is that I still love writing. I still wish for it the way someone who climbs cliffs must wish for each ascent. It isn’t something you do for anyone else when it is your passion. You do it for you. That is the good; this is how I feel writing should be and this is what I want to recapture. The bad side, though, was that I’d gotten to a point where writing was my job. The stories I needed to write, the books I promised, the characters and plots all designed to be perfectly good, but failing to excite me, for some reason, all of this was for ‘the job’ side. I started thinking ‘when was the last time I just wrote to write’ and I had to face up to some pretty embarrassing truths.

I had stopped writing for me. I was just trying to finish the job, trying to get each story ready for reading and so busy worrying about the mechanics of making it ready for the public that I’d lost touch with the side of me that actually enjoyed writing. I was idle no longer, caught up on a clock that says ‘do your work or starve’. So I did the only thing that could create the space I needed to rework my thoughts. I got a different job.

I know, it sounds counter intuitive. How can taking on another job make more time for being a writer. Well, it can’t. But here is what it can do. It can pay my bills. It can make it possible to go to workshops and conventions. It can pay for classes. And, most importantly, it takes all those mundane worries about money and puts them to rest. So that, when I sit down and stare off into space, I can let the words come at their own pace and there is no pressure or stress. I know, I know. If you want to succeed, you have to make success your only option. But that only works if you aren’t actually chasing your dream. I’m not using this new job as an excuse not to write. I’m using it to give my writing room to grow. One day, I will live on my writing alone. But, until I find a way to separate my midwestern work ethic (push hard, push until it breaks, work to succeed) from the act of writing (open the window and sit quietly until something bubbles up), this is how it has to be. I am working so that I can become the idle writer again. And, well, when it comes to living so you can write, a job is a good way to get o

The Daily Riff 5/4/18

I’m doing something a bit different for this today; this poem is my favorite of Maya Angelou’s, so I’m giving you my favorite chunk for the Riff!

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

-Maya Angelou, Still I Rise