Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving for Writers

It's almost Thanksgiving, so of course that means it's time for an obligatory Thanksgiving post. I neglected to do this last year, but in my defense, it was my first Thanksgiving as a blogger and I couldn't tell a turkey from a sparrow if you roasted it in my face (pardon the terrible turkey metaphor, but it's another obligatory part of a Thanksgiving post.) It was also Thanksgivukkah, a wholly invented holiday during which American Jewish families were obliged to spend twice as long over dinner and eat twice as much as usual, all while playing dreidel, counting their blessings, and lighting candles, in order to satisfy the requirements of both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, so I was far too busy making room in my stomach for mashed potatoes and potato latkes to write my obligatory Thanksgiving post last year.

As a result, I now have to write a post that's twice as good as usual, to make up for it. But don't worry, I won't make it twice as long, because as we all know, I have brevity problems, and we'd still be here next Thanksgiving if I did. 

I decided that this obligatory post should be about writing, because the title says it should be. Also, I've been far too serious and sentimental in my recent posts, and it's time to get really serious and write about serious writer things. Without further adieu, I present the list of Writerly Things For Which I Am Grateful:
  1. Fun with Grammar: I'm a writer, so I get to be pretentious about grammar, and say things like "the list of writerly things for which I am grateful" instead of "a list of writerly things I'm grateful for," even though the latter choice sounds better and is less awkward, and might actually be more correct.
  2. Fun with Language: Similar to #1, being a writer entitles me to pontificate at length whilst utilizing a magnificent and multifarious montage of words, and to indulge in the pleasure of the occasional alliterative diversion. Of course, I might sound like a jerk doing it, but that doesn't make it any less fun. 
  3. Confidence: Writers work with supreme confidence; it's one of the pleasures of the job. I've never met a writer who suffers from a lack of confidence. That's why we all take part in the Secure Writer's Support Group once a month, to remind each other to be humble. 
  4. Sarcasm and Satire: I also get to use tools like irony, humor, sarcasm, and satire in my writing, and say the opposite of what I actually mean. This tool also works quite well in real life. 
  5. Reading Is My Job: This might be the biggest perk of being a writer, and one that, #4 aside, I am profoundly grateful for (for which I am profoundly grateful?): I have to read. No, really. Check any blog or book that gives writing advice, talk to any agent or editor, and they will all say the same thing: you have to read if you want to write. Since I was the child who had to be forced to put her book down and play outside, this requirement isn't exactly a burden.
I could go on, but I did promise to let you go before Christmas, so I'll leave my list with just one more writerly item I'm grateful for: you. Thank you for stopping by, giving my blog some of your time, leaving a thought or an idea or even just a wave, and making me part of your life. I appreciate it!!

What's on your gratitude list this year?  Leave a couple of items in the comments!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Don't Fish, So...

...I thought I'd hang up my sign and go writing instead.

Photo courtesy of

Yep, it's one of those "life is interfering with my life, and I need to buckle down and get something done" sort of weeks. If I don't visit you this week, I will next week, I promise.. 

See you next week!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New Life In The Concrete Jungle

Well my friends, I'm happy to say that I went to New York again this past weekend, and I did in fact avoid doing a swan dive across the pavement this time. I was happier about that than is probably normal. (But then I've never claimed to be normal.)

I was visiting the New Messiah, of course, but unlike the last time, I had no half-baked, hair-brained writing ideas to discuss with her. I'm too busy drowning in research and non-fiction submissions to brainstorm any new ideas or force my poor friend to soothe my insecurities. No, I was there purely for a visit, and a celebration.

You see, the New Messiah is pregnant. I know people get pregnant and have babies all the time, but she is my dearest friend, my "favorito" (another old nickname, always pronounced with a fake Italian accent and great gusto), and I have been jumping out of my skin to hug her and admire her growing belly and just celebrate with her since I found out, over six weeks ago. Any new life is a cause for celebration, but when people you dearly love create that new life, and nurture it and nourish it and create space for it to grow, it takes on a bright, vibrant, astonishing meaning.

At my core, I've always been in awe of pregnancy, but that awe fades so easily in the course of daily life. Awe is an overwhelming emotion, a giant, breathless, expansive thing, too big for the needs and pressures of the everyday. Pregnancy is miraculous, but it's too hard to focus on the miracle. It's much easier to grow accustomed to the idea and forget the awe, especially in my day job. I see prenatal clients all the time. I deal with the aches and pains: the sore lower back and the stiff calf muscles; the frustrating symptoms of sciatic nerve compression; the exhaustion and sleeplessness and worry. I treat the symptoms and try to soothe the client, and in the process I forget the fundamental miracle of it all.

And that's what we all do with awe, by necessity. We forget it; we move past it; we let it go, and go about our lives until something grabs us by the shoulders and whispers, urgently, Look. And then we do look, and we stand back and our jaws drop and our lungs expand with wonder. That's what happened this weekend.

I looked at the New Messiah, at the beautiful swell of her stomach ("do you think I just look ambiguously fat?" she asked, eyeing herself in the mirror) and felt overcome by awe. "You're building a life," I said, "Right now, right here, your body is making a new life."

Isn't that ridiculously beautiful? Women's bodies can make new life, without any conscious thought, without any directive: the cells double and quadruple, multiplying themselves into a dizzying array of bone and muscle and skin, stomach and heart and liver. Without any intervention on our parts, our bodies can build new human beings.

I salute you, pregnant ladies. I raise my glass of wine (I did all of the drinking this weekend; the New Messiah opted for almond milk and water) and I let the awe come pouring in, and it's as dazzling and broad as the sun. It's that beautiful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Insecure Writers: Savage Courage

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! The IWSG is an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Happy Wednesday, IWSG-ers! I'm continuing my recent IWSG trend of NOT writing about my own insecurities, but instead trying to offer some help, advice, inspiration, or wisdom. I'm not often always successful, but I am trying!

I've been thinking a lot about courage these days. It takes courage to live true to who you are, and to work from that place of truth - and if you're a writer, to write from that place. All the time. Every day. Even when the muse doesn't show up, or when the muse does a runner and it seems as if life is hanging all of its troubles on you, and the very weight of those troubles is enough to bring you to your knees. Still, you have to find a way to live and work and write from that place of truth. You have to dig deeply inside of yourself, to the darkest and heaviest places that have both buried and birthed your strength, and dredge up the courage to keep going. It can be a savage sort of courage, fueled by anger and frustration; or a tired sort, quiet and calm and lined with steel.

I've been reading quite a lot of creative non-fiction these days, and to me, one writer stands out as exemplifying this courage, both savage and quiet: Cheryl Strayed. My first exposure to her was this essay in The Sun Magazine, and I was floored by the sheer naked honesty of that piece. It's turbo-courage.

I was so affected by that piece that I kept reading her work. As I mentioned last month, I read Wild, and then I read Tiny Beautiful Things, and it's from the second that I'm going to draw today's inspiration. The book is a collection drawn from the Rumpus's Dear Sugar advice column, in the years when Strayed wrote as anonymously as Sugar, and both letters and responses feel more like beautifully crafted personal essays than advice columns.

The first thought for today is from a letter about envy. How can we not feel jealousy when others are succeeding, garnering book deals and awards and acclaim, and we are not? Strayed writes:
"I know it’s not easy being an artist. I know the gulf between creation and commerce is so tremendously wide that it’s sometimes impossible not to feel annihilated by it. A lot of artists give up because it’s just too damn hard to go on making art in a culture that by and large does not support its artists. But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They've taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too."
The second thought is taken from a response to letter written by a despairing young writer, who worries that she "writes like a girl" and that she'll never have any success. Strayed's response is to not write like a girl, but to write like a motherf----r. To dig up that courage and get down to work and just work. It's the thought I'll leave you with for today, but I do highly recommend you read the whole thing:
"We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude” is to produce. You have limitations. You are in some ways inept. This is true of every writer...You will feel insecure and jealous. How much power you give those feelings is entirely up to you."
Good luck, IWSG-ers! I believe in you.

When do you find yourself unable to write, and how do you write your way out of it? Where do you draw courage from? Who are you reading who's inspiring you these days?