Being Naked

If you’re going to write, expose your soul.

I still remember the first time I came across the term ‘write naked’. I was a teenager, so, of course, my brain went right into the gutter. I was shy and a bit terrified of my own body, so I also did a lot of blushing and giggling. You would think, then, that the truth of the phrase would have made me relieved. It did not. If anything, it made me more frightened.

I am from the midwest. We work hard and we don’t complain. We do what we have to and we don’t argue about it or play the victim. We just get it done. We don’t talk about our feelings, for goodness sake. We don’t expose ourselves. Hell, I made an effort to pretend I was so well armored that I’d come out kicking ass. Anytime I failed, especially in high school, it seemed there was always someone who was ready and willing to take advantage of the exposed soft spot (and I had a lot of them, back then). Yet now I was being told to completely open myself up on paper.

The whole idea of opening up to all the things inside scared me silly; the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, laying it out for everyone to examine gave me the shivers. The very thought of pulling out all the pain and letting people see it damn near made me back away from the entire idea of writing. I didn’t and I’m glad that I didn’t. But it was a close call.

Writing naked is one of those things that, once you start doing it, you can’t imagine a time when you didn’t. It isn’t about what you are giving to other people. I have gorilla cases full of notebooks that no-one will ever see, full of everything I felt from the time I was eighteen on. There are some gaps in there, years where I couldn’t quite get myself to write because writing is about truth and, well, I was invested in lying to myself about some pretty big things, so writing became impossible. On the whole, though, the entirety of my being is in those cases and anyone patient enough to read through the notebooks (after they get past my Indiana Jones patented security system) would learn pretty much everything they wanted to know about me.

Naked writing is scary. You have to open up doors you want to keep locked. You have to look through windows you intentionally shuttered so you didn’t have to see the monsters lurking outside. You have to climb up into attics, go down the steps into the basement, and run headlong at the demons you find there, tackle them to the ground, and beat the truth out of them. If you do it right, you come across things you didn’t even know existed within you. Whole worlds can explode and you will learn things that startle, shock, and horrify. You will learn just how much of a stranger you are to yourself and all those pretty lies you tell so that you can get on with being you without having a daily meltdown are stripped away.

Don’t worry. It only hurts for a little bit. Yes, you will discover things about yourself you aren’t proud of. All your weaknesses will be exposed. Lying to yourself will become impossible and you will find yourself faced with the painful truth that you are not perfect after all. Is it worth it? Yes. Definitely. Because you will also find your hidden strengths. At the risk of sounding like a bad self-help book, I can tell you that you will find your truth. If you dig long enough and deep enough, you will find out exactly who you are and the beauty is that, once you know the truth, you can change it if you need to.

Naked writing starts with grabbing hold of something that bites and holding on to it as tight as you can. It doesn’t always hurt, but, if you start with the things you are most afraid of, the things that have porcupine quills and hooked teeth, it gets easier faster. Once the painful things are beaten senseless, you don’t have to be afraid anymore.

I handwrite everything because I feel more of a connection to the words that way and sprint for as long as I can about whatever part of my life I’m examining. This is not structured writing, this is not writing about fiction, this is looking into your own life or the world, finding something that makes you feel, then sitting with it. Handwriting, to me, feels like it creates more of a connection to that. However, I really do handwrite everything, so this medium may work best for me just because I am most comfortable with it. Use whatever suits you best.

Natalie Goldberg says to do these writing practices for ten minutes at a time, but I’ve gone whole days doing ten minute to an hour sprints, each new exploration exposing something else I want to think about on paper. And I have filled notebook after notebook in this manner, ripping myself open and spilling it all out in ink, the good, the bad, the ugly. Why have I been so dedicated to it and how does it pertain to being a better writer? Remember how my ex used to ask me where I got the blue vases? This is where. When you do writing practices like this, you have to have plenty to write about. I start looking at the world more intently and living more fully in it. This practice has made me a better writer, not because it taught me grammar skills or made my handwriting nicer, but because it taught me to let go of rules, be wholly present in everything, and just trust my own self while giving me the chance to find my own way to describe the world. It has developed what everyone calls ‘voice’. Every fiction piece I write echoes the years I’ve spent playing with words, some better than others, and this practice has allowed me to develop the quirks of my writing that make it completely mine.

As humans, we tend to avoid things like naked writing. Don’t poke the bear, don’t get eaten, don’t do anything dangerous, don’t think about the things that hurt you. But, as writers, our job is to shine a light into the dark corners and figure out what is hiding there. You can’t have the courage to do that if you don’t first poke a light around in your own corners. Trust me, once you find the monsters hiding in your head, you’ll never be quite as afraid of the ones you find outside of it. The good news is that it is sort of like lancing an infected boil. Once you start to drain it, you realize you can heal, that you don’t have to keep avoiding those negative thoughts because you are able to steal their thunder and use them in a positive way. In Buddhism, we call this turning poison into medicine. Is it painful? Yes, especially the first time. But do it anyway.

My first writing was done with my best friend, sitting at her kitchen table, drinking her mother’s (amazing) sweet tea by the gallon. I don’t remember exactly what inspired our first writing sessions together, just that it became our normal. It began with poetry, so, naturally, we traded poetry a lot. I grew numb to that terror of someone else reading what I wrote. Then I remember picking up Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down The Bones’ during a bookstore visit. I had an obsession with ghosts and death and anything paranormal, so the title grabbed me. I was hooked from page one, from those first words that drew me in because everything Natalie Goldberg writes is naked. And there, in that book, were those exact words. Write naked. Strive to write from way down deep, where you know exactly what you want to say and don’t be afraid of it.

My best friend and I would sit for hours, reading Natalie’s book out loud to each other, writing page after page, seeking out the dark places. Each time we thought we’d hit bottom, we’d find new depths to explore. We would trade our notebooks, reading what the other wrote and that would inspire new things to write. We had whole conversations that way. That was back when I understood the value of writing vs. speaking, something that I struggle with now. When you speak, no matter how eloquently, the words run out into the air and are quickly lost. Writing keeps them safe. Writing keeps them where you can capture the power and harness everything good about it while forgiving yourself for the bad. A good portion of our discussions were written in paragraphs, almost poetical in their emotion, with barely a single spoken word passing between us. It was a beautiful way to interact with another person; her passion for writing matched my own and sitting there with her, getting right down into the mud of who I was, I felt like I was answering the question of what I was meant for and had pretty damn good company for the ride.

Over time, I’ve gone through periods where this sort of writing has been nearly impossible. Back when I knew my marriage was a sinking ship, I would be lucky to write twenty pages in a year and none of it was good. I shied away from those things that I didn’t want to know about myself, that would have just made me more exposed to the criticisms and constant disapproval of my ex. I shied away from letting myself know that this was a hopeless battle, that we were the Titanic and nobody could close a hole that big. Had I accepted it then, I would have had to leave and I wasn’t done telling myself that loving him was enough. Of course it wasn’t; nothing I ever did was good enough for him and there was no-one there who could tell me I wasn’t worthless because that is the nature of the military; nobody ever gets to know each other all that well before they have to move again. So I ran away from my notebooks, avoided them like they might bite me, told myself I’d write the next day, or the next, and managed, for months at a time, to be okay with that. It didn’t last, though. Always, I seem end up back here, pouring myself out on the page with my ballpoints and my desire to figure out what is really going on and, better yet, find the poetry of my life.

I encourage you to go pick up all of Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing. I encourage you to dive into everything that you are. Be silent, be still, and look deep. All those things you don’t think you can face? They aren’t really that bad. And, even if they are, a festering sore can’t dry out until you cut it open and expose it.

You might ask what the purpose is. How does this make you a better writer? After all, it isn’t like you are writing a memoir, so what good does it do to examine your life, to write poetry, to do these exercises? Because, in connecting with yourself, you are connecting with the divine. You are reaching in and talking about your life, about all the things you know and finding beautiful ways to say them. You are teaching your brain to think in deeper terms. And it will come out in all your writing. You are finding the voice inside you, the one that is always there, because you alone think like you. Writing practice gives you the rock to grab on to when it feels like writer’s block is trying to suck you under and drown you. It isn’t always easy and it sometimes hurts like hell, but practice will always reward you, if you do it enough.

So go on. Go spend ten minutes writing about the dog that died when you were ten, about your grandmother’s habit of shutting you in the closet, about seeing a ghost when you were eight. Write about anything. Write about everything. Find the words that make you fall in love with your whole life. Go find all the blue vases.

The Value Of Silence

Silence is one of the major thresholds of the world. – Anam Cara

I’m a talker. Like, the second I meet you, I’m trying to work my life story into the conversation. I’ll start babbling on about my dogs, horses I’ve ridden, every character I’ve ever imagined. I’m like this unstoppable, babbling machine. I’ll tell you everything you never wanted to know and then some. I’m aware this is a flaw. This wasn’t always true. Had you told me when I was younger that it would ever be an issue – this talking thing – I’d have laughed in your face.

When I was growing up, I hid in the darkest corners. I tried to avoid talking, if at all possible. My single year of Speech for high school English was absolute torture. When I first started writing, I was so quiet that people often forgot I was in the room. When they asked me what I was writing, they were lucky to get a single sentence. I did my talking on paper. I lacked social skills – still do – and I had this desire to listen more than I spoke. Part of that was fear; I was so used to being bullied that I simply assumed there was nothing I could say that was worth anything or that the listener would just start laughing at me. But there was more to it than that. Once I began to write, I was always listening inward, waiting for the words. It was intoxicating; after so long wondering if I had any talent, I’d finally found something I was good at. I had a best friend and this was how we communicated, through our notebooks as we sat writing at her mother’s kitchen table. I can’t really make anyone that isn’t a writer understand what it’s like, to sit down with a pen and just fall into this poetic flow of words that sizzles through your mind like some sort of song, like a fast rap that you have to grab hold of and try to catch as much as possible. The only comparison I can imagine is flying.

Those moments were so wonderful, so perfect that I can still tell you what it was like to sit there, listening to the insects buzzing outside the window, smelling the deep, rich green of summer drifting in through the screens, listening to the scratch of pen on paper and knowing that every single thing about our lives was just fodder for my voice to turn into poetry. Those moments are so clearly etched in the fabric of my being that, if I close my eyes I can be there again and tell you everything about them, right down to the clothes I was wearing. There was this sense of transcendence, as though we were about to be enlightened, and I didn’t care if anything ever changed. In Buddhism, they talk about the eternal now and even though I didn’t have the words for it back then, that is exactly what it was. I was standing right on the edge of enlightenment, so fully present in my own life that those moments still have an impact on me over twenty years later.

Of course, having moments like that, those wild, high hours of pure presence, mean that, when you are struggling, you know you are struggling. Like, really, really know. To the point where it breaks your heart a little because it feels like you’ve been exiled from heaven, somehow, and you aren’t really sure how to get back in. Recently, I’ve been trying to understand why I so often find myself without anything to write about. I’ve begged the universe for signs (and didn’t pay enough attention see them until there was a sense of something very big losing its patience with me). I’ve done sprints and word play. I’ve downloaded plot generators, signed up for classes, denounced waiting for inspiration and motivation in the name of charging on without them, done every writing prompt, and still found that the mysterious connection to the words, that weird and wonderful thing that used to transport me to another, clearer level of being, is missing.

Maybe it is because I don’t have that friend anymore, someone to trade notebooks with, someone I trusted so explicitly that she is still the only person on earth that knows anything about who I really was back then. Maybe it is because I lost the habit of writing about my own life – no-one was around to read it or comment on it, so the conversation became one sided and I lost touch with the desire to explore myself. Does the reason really matter? I didn’t think so. I just wanted it back. So I went on this whole journey trying to understand where I have been going wrong.

Part of my search has involved reading, of course, but I am a reader by nature. Currently, I’m reading four different books at a time and only one of them is allowed to be on writing. I did find it curious when two my most recent books choices in this area suggested not daily writing practice, but sitting in silence and listening inward. But I didn’t quite grasp the importance of this simple act, didn’t quite let myself remember that I’d once been happy to play mute. Then I began a book called Anam Cara – not a writing book – and there, again, a chapter on the importance of silence. And another book on Celtic Shamanism talking about silence. Then yet another book, this one pure fun, in which silence played a major role of inspiration and rebirth. And that’s when I saw the shadow on the ground and realized there was a piano hanging out a fifth story window, just waiting for one little push from the universe – which felt just a little exasperated with me at that point. It’s the sort of realization that makes you shake your head at yourself because the most obvious answer to the issue has been there all along. Which, of course, I knew and very adamantly told myself I did not. All this time, I have been willfully ignoring the one question I should have been asking and kept refusing to answer. Who was I, when this writing thing first grabbed me? What changed?

Back when I began this, I embraced silence. I loved to sit and listen to my own thoughts. Over time, some things changed, partially because of who I became, partially as an attempt to please others – not suggested, fyi – and I forgot how to keep my mouth shut. I forgot to save my words for the page. I was scared to death no-one loved me, so I opened my mouth and tried my best to convince them of my worth by babbling on mindlessly, looking for that thing that would make them smile and say they couldn’t live without me. Yes. Here we are at fear, which is the number one problem I’ve always faced. Only this fear included consistently sabotaging myself for fear that, if I made them wait, they wouldn’t stick around.

Now, I won’t say this is my only problem; I have more issues than Playboy, as we used to say, but this is one of those simple things, one of those fixable things. And it is clear that someone or something was trying to get that through to me; so many things were pointing clearly to my tendency to ramble on, unable to embrace silence the way I once did. Unable to be still. I was so busy babbling, so busy chasing updates on Facebook and trying to find something worth watching on television, so busy trying to bring some external meaning to my life, that there was no stillness left inside or out. My talking issues are very closely linked to a lot of other things, just to be clear. My need to check Facebook (don’t want to be left out), my need to post random, silly things (pay attention to me), my endless talking (will someone just confirm that I still exist and that I matter), all of it is part of the same thing, that fear that nobody would notice if I was gone. So there was only one thing to do about that. Get real quiet and vanish into the wall, if only to remind myself that, once, I’d found comfort in just that.

And there, my dears, is the advice of this post. Be silent. Be still. Stop worrying what Sarah is eating for lunch (or who she is eating it with). Stop telling your stories to people who won’t remember them tomorrow. Spoken words evaporate like a drop of water on Arizona asphalt in the middle of summer. Catch your words before they escape your mouth and channel them down into your hand, instead. Learn to love listening because that is what this job is really all about.

Sit someplace quiet and, for a while, at least, listen to what is going on inside instead of chasing external obsessions. Stop talking. Let yourself be quiet. Inspiration is like a butterfly. It does not choose to land on those who aren’t patient enough to stay still and wait. You can chase the butterfly, but, in doing so, you run the risk of tearing his wings or chasing him away for good. In silence and inward reflection, we meet our true selves and hear the words that really matter to us, the ones we really want and need to write. It is a beautiful and terrifying act of willful denial. To turn off the television. To put down the phone. To just sit with yourself. It is in our nature to shrink from such things. But if you want to write well, the first person you need to know – flaws, desires, and greatest wishes – is yourself. The first voice you need to listen for is the small and quiet one from within and it will only ever whisper. So be silent with me, if only for a few minutes. Sit and listen to what your inner voice is saying. Facebook will be there in ten minutes, tomorrow, next week. But if you deny your inner voice for long enough, it might just vanish forever.

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

Love Your Life

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this: I have nothing to write about. I bet every writer, at some point, has said those words to themselves. I know I have. I have damned myself for being too middle class, too white, too female, too boring. I’ve berated myself for thinking I have anything worth telling anyone and I’ve told myself to just go get a job more suited to the ordinariness of me. And I have also given myself the mental equivalent of a bitch slap and reminded myself that every life is beautiful and every life has stories worth telling.

Here is what I want you to understand. I don’t care if you grew up in a ghetto or on a farm. I don’t care if you are rich, poor, woman, or man, you have stories. And here is why they are worth telling; because you lived them. Each of us has unique lives. Even if we were to walk the exact same road together, none of us would ever see it exactly the same way. Some of us would notice the flowers, some of us would notice the color of the asphalt. Some of us might even think about that dog we had as a child that ran out into a road like this and died. Your life is all about you. It is full of beautiful tragedy and heart-stopping joy. And this tangled web of experiences has come to you for a reason. If you are a writer, you learn to see it all as material. And, sometimes, if you happen to be me, you forget this lesson.

There are days when I’m struggling along, just trying to figure out where the hell this story or that one was going and I think ‘who the hell do I think I’m fooling?’ There are days when I forget to bring my personal sight to my writing and everything starts to fall apart. So take this post as half lesson, half me reminding myself why I do this.

I’ve got a lot of passion. I see beauty in things others find ugly. This is why I began writing in the first place, to show people what I see when I say the cornfields are beautiful. I began so I could make people see the dawn through my eyes and know the pain of loving everything that lives. I began so I could tell stories that feed the soul, above all else. In the last couple of years, I’ve been struggling to come back to this, back to the point where I thirsted for my writing the way a man dying of starvation longs for steak. I began just trying to capture the world around me in all its messy, grimy, perfect beauty. I began because I loved everything around me and I just wanted to convey that into words.

Lately, I’ve returned to some of my old writing books. Natalie Goldberg is always at the top of this list, of course. Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and, a new one (new to me, that is), Brenda Ueland’s ‘If You Want To Write’. It was Brenda that really got me moving again; her insistence that every single person on the planet has a story worth telling just because they are them and nobody else can or ever will be them reminded me. She reminded me of the stories I wanted to tell in the beginning, before this became a job. She reminded me of what it was to write before I worried if the words were right or if anyone would like it. She reminded me of what it was like to pull out the beauty of being me and put it on the page.

So I’m going to share a little of her wisdom with you, a few things that, honestly, I feel we forget right around the time someone suggests that art should be a struggle and that we’ll have to fight for every inch.

This is not a job. If it is a job for you, a chore to be completed, then it is time to take a step back. It is perfectly fine to have ideas about where you want to end up. It is fine to set goals for yourself. But it is not okay to kill your creativity by expecting it to behave itself. Behaving never has and never will work in any form of art. I don’t say this because it is impossible to make money off your writing. I am saying this because you should never hold that expectation. It taints the whole process and lays a shadow over you; when you are worried about what other people will pay for, you aren’t worried about telling the truth.

Which brings us to point two. Writing is about truth. Even fiction writing. Especially fiction writing. Any story that does not contain the shadow of truth will ring flat and dull. We tell stories to teach lessons. Our brains crave it. So, if you don’t know your own truth, then how can you know the truth behind your stories? Recently, I’ve realized that I’m too open to the ideas of others and that I had lost my way a little bit. I used to know what I believed about everything and, suddenly, I was shuffling around wondering what would happen if someone told me I was wrong about something I believed. Spoiler alert: the world would go on turning, the sun would continue rising, and it is unlikely that anyone would die.

And there is point three. Pardon my French, but fuck everyone else’s opinion. Everyone has one and you are entitled to yours. You could say it’s part of the job description. You cannot write if you are scared of what others might think about it. Adopt a pen name if you have to. Move into the basement, lock the door, lie and tell yourself that nobody else will ever get to read it. I don’t care. Just stop letting the judgement of others guide your writing. If you tell the truth, you are going to offend someone. Get over it. I could offend a whole lot of people right now by pointing out that Putin is a child killing tool of evil. Their outrage will not change the fact that it is absolutely true and that our president thinks he is a standup guy. He’s outright said so. Look at that. Pissed off a bunch of people, didn’t I? Yet facts are facts and I am not here to stroke anyone’s ego. DO NOT marry your fear. Others will judge you because that is what humans do. If you lose friends because you voiced truth, then they were not your friends. Stand up for what matters to you and don’t let anyone, even your best friend, tear you down.

A little aside, here. There is a big difference between telling the truth and being malicious. If you are telling a truth that you know will devastate someone emotionally, then I suggest you don’t write it. If Betty Sue’s husband is cheating on her, don’t be a big mouth and write a blog post about it. Go have coffee with Betty Sue and break it to her gently. And keep it off your blog. There is nothing more disgusting than spreading idle gossip – especially about someone else – for your own gratification.

The final point (and what this post is really about): love your life. Look, I’m as guilty as the next person. Sometimes I write characters that are closer to who I wish I was than to who I really am – which is different than building a character that isn’t based on me at all. These heroes are pretty easy to spot. They fulfill every single fantasy, from being the perfect weight to knowing the right answer to every question. They are never wrong, never scared, never lost, and they are goddamned boring. I will spot them the second I start reading through a story and every time I am startled by it; I always think they are pure gold until that readthrough. When I do this, it is part of a pattern. Right about the time one of my characters starts marching around, only one step short of a god in their perfection, I have started feeling trapped. Not trapped in the sense I’m in a rut and need to escape, but trapped in the sense that I’m me, I’m a screwup (I’m not, but that is the first of a negative thought cycle), and I can’t do anything right. This can be the side effect of someone else’s opinion or just me choosing to walk down the road of self-damnation. Either way, poof. Instant superhero so damn straight and good that they ought to come with an obligatory halo.

I wish I could tell you that there is a one-time answer for this. There isn’t. I wish I could tell you that there is a button to push to reset your attitude when this happens. There isn’t. However, there is something you need to remember and I think it will help. Your life is unique. Nobody on earth has the exact same life as you. Nobody on earth thinks exactly like you or dreams like you. All your experiences are there, waiting for you to tap into them and they are fascinating to the rest of the world just because they are yours. Don’t believe me? Go look up personal journals on ebay. There is a huge market for them because humans are nosy. We want to know how other people see and think and live. And this is where I tell you to use that. Nobody wants some super perfect hero. They want relatable flaws. They want a life full of pain, joy, love, and loss. They want to read about someone that could be them and know what it is like to be elsewhere. You have that. So every time you start thinking you have nothing worthwhile, remember. You have your life and we all want to connect to it. If this fails to shake you out of your imposter syndrome, then take my final advice. Just keep on writing; this will pass. All you have to do is keep writing, even when you think it stinks like manure. As Brenda says, ‘you can fix crap.’

Be Not Afraid

The role of the writer is to say what we cannot. -Annis Nin

I’m paraphrasing here. I’m still wrapped up in book drama. But I’m here for a minute on this very short post to just point out a few things.

I am a fiction writer. But I’m not a liar. This means that, sometimes, I’m going to say things you don’t like. You are welcome to disagree. Debate. Bring an intelligent argument. Be prepared to accept that I am not just going to bow down and admit defeat. True warriors do not care about easy opponents. We desire worthy ones.

I will not ever speak a popular oppinion just to make you happy. Not in my books, not in my blog posts, not in a podcast. And, in order to make you understand why, I’m going to tell you something personal.

I don’t like hurting anyone’s feelings. I never have. Causing distress goes against who I am and, due to a few issues growing up, I was also afraid. Afraid of how others might see me.

Becoming a writer has been an uphill struggle. I mean, just imagine how much courage it took for the ‘ugly weird girl’ to publicly release a book that many suggest is based on me. Imagine my fear that my family would read it, hate it, and assume it really was my attempt to attack my tormentors and spread the hurt I still harbored from years of bullying. It absolutely was not a conscious mirror of me. But I was so afraid; look at my main character killing people! My god, they’ll think I’m secretly a serial killer!

Freeing myself from this fear wasn’t easy. It took years. I spent hours talking myself through each book release. I spent even more time talking myself into behaving as though my stories deserved readers, into believing in my own talent enough to respect it. Ultimately, it required that I embrace one side or the other. Either I am a writer and determined to follow truth – even in fiction – and be authentic, or I must drop the whole thing; I’ve never been a halfway type of girl and I don’t want to be afraid of honesty. Nor did I want to be afraid of learning if I had true talent or just a pipe dream.

I say this for the other writers out there. You are going to be afraid. Be honest anyway. You are going to worry what others think. Say it anyway. You are going to be afraid that someone will point at you, laughing, and call you an imposter. Promote your work anyway. I will never tell you to be cruel with your honesty; we have enough bullies in the world, so respect others. Just tell the truth as well as you can. Be gentle with it, if you must. But be honest.

Look, I could stand here and tell you I was a happy teenager. I could tell you my marriage was a good one. I could tell you I’ve never felt let down, betrayed, or devalued. I would be lying. To tell you the truth about those things does not mean I’m dwelling – why would I – and it doesn’t mean I’m trying to use them to elevate myself anywhere. But people will say those things. Just like there are those who desperately need to believe that there is a massive conspiracy to keep us all deaf, dumb, and blind (not sure I completely disagree). By saying I am somehow lying or exploiting something, they are trying to protect themselves. Just understannding that will make you less afraid; if you know someone struck you because you startled them, it becomes easy to forgive them. As a writer, you are allowed to be afraid of telling your truths; it is always frightening to disagree with those you love. Do it anyway. Do it enough and you will stop being afraid.

I will restart the daily riff very soon. I’m going to introduce a new aspect 😉