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Posts tagged ‘books’

what’s it all about?

July 10, 2012


Yet again I’ve found inspiration through WordPress; and yet again I found it at Magnificent Nose, a blog I refer to often.  This time, it was from two different writers, each authoring their own posts:  Angry Writing by Sara Goas and So What by Steven E.A.

Essentially, at least in my opinion, they’re both talking about a couple of key ingredients of successful writing:  Being honest about sharing your feelings and making sure that there’s a point to everything you write — whether it’s a letter, an ad, an article, a website, a screenplay, a joke, an essay, a blog or even a book.  Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.  First person or third.  An interview, a report, a white paper or speech.

Steven’s blog post made me reflect back on all the writing I’ve done — as far back as high school English classes. Writing I’ve done for myself and writing I do for clients.  And here’s what I realized:  For the most part, when it’s been a real struggle … when I’ve thrown out more than I’ve kept, there’s been one reason for it:  There was no point to the story.  As Steven’s professor said to him, I hadn’t found the “so what?”.  The moral of the story.  And when you think about it, it’s perfectly logical.  Without it, what are you writing about in the first place?

In Steven’s case — at least in the example he gave — it was the fact that he and his sister may have been doing stupid things while passing time at the mall, but it was bringing them closer together.  And suddenly, an ordinary moment, in an ordinary day became interesting — and unique.  Worth writing about.  And worth reading.

As I write this post, I am thinking about what the ‘so what’ is:  The aha moment I got from reading Steven’s story — there’s no reason to spend your life searching for something extraordinary to write about — the ordinary becomes extraordinary when there’s an idea behind it.  A reason for it.

Sara’s post, on the other hand, reminded me of an experience I had about a year ago.  I’m writing a book.  So is an acquaintance of mine — and one day, at lunch, she talked about her editor, and how fabulous she is.  Although I didn’t think I was ready for an editor yet, she encouraged me to email this woman and tell her what stage my book was at; and ask her when might be a good time for us to possibly meet.  I did that and she suggested that I send her 20 pages, my chapter-by-chapter outline and the synopsis — which I did.

My book is a story about my mother — and me.  Most of it takes place during a 7-odd year period when her health started to decline (physically, not cognitively) and I had to take more and more care of her.

The editor’s response was one of the most brutal critiques I’ve ever had — and not just because of what she said.  It was the anger with which she had written back to me.  Essentially she told me — accused me — of not being a credible storyteller because I didn’t write about the anger I must have been feeling all the time I’d had to deal with, and take care of, my mother.

I didn’t write about it because I wasn’t angry.

She (the editor) and I exchanged a few emails where I explained how I’d felt; and during this back and forth we had, a couple of very interesting insights emerged:

  1. She hated her mother and was projecting how she’d have felt if she had been me
  2. I did uncover feelings I didn’t know I had toward a cousin who — the day after my mother’s funeral — asked me to go to the hospital where her mother was and advocate for her, like I had done for my mother.  It was insensitive of her to ask me — especially as, for the last 4 years, I’d spent more time in hospitals than anywhere else, including my job.  I was done in — mentally, physically and emotionally.  Her timing was terrible and I was upset.  And, quite frankly, I’d had to figure it out and so would she.

These feelings needed to be expressed in my book even though it made me uncomfortable.  I certainly don’t want bad blood between me and my family, but if this book is going to be truthful — and resonate with people — then I have to find a way to include all the emotional stuff.

I chose not to work with that particular editor — not because she was critical, but because she couldn’t separate her feelings from mine.  I didn’t trust her to edit my book without making it her book.  But she did have a positive effect on my writing and for that I am grateful.  The point she’d made has stuck with me, and last week I had another breakthrough:

All the time my mother’s health was getting worse, making her more frail and more needy I was the one in denial — not her.  She owned it and took control each and every time, making the decisions that were necessary.  I, on the other hand, always asked “Are you sure?”  “I don’t think you really need a walker … or help showering, etc.”  I wasn’t reacting this way because it meant more work for me.  I was reacting because I was not ready to acknowledge that my mother was getting older, sicker, more frail and was, in fact, clinging to life with dental floss.  I was scared.

Never angry.  But scared.  So now I am going back to the beginning of my book.  I have added a new first chapter.  And I am deciding what needs to be changed, what needs to go and what can stay.  A lot of work, to be sure.  But it is necessary and I am thrilled to do it.  This will make for a much better book.  And probably a much better ‘me’ for having examined my feelings.


how a WordPress blogger inspired me …

January 9, 2012


Who’d a thunk it?

Not so long ago I was trolling through WordPress, as I often do, looking for interesting blogs — and found one almost immediately (oh, I know there are tons of them), but this was the first one I got to and I loved it — so I didn’t look for any more that night.  If you’re a writer — or even just love reading interesting, well-written posts — then you should check it out:  Magnificent Nose.  What I find really interesting is the fact that there are several writers who contribute to it.  It’s a neat idea and they’re all great writers.  In fact, I liked it so much, I decided to follow it, and subscribed so I would get email notices every time there’s a new post.

Over the holidays I was notified that Julie Goldberg — had just posted:  “I don’t have time to believe in writer’s block”.  I don’t know a writer who hasn’t, at one time or another, stared at a piece of paper (or a computer screen) hour after hour, day after day, maybe even week after week or month after month — and it just stared back.  So needless to say I was intrigued.  And once I got into her story I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

What Julie was describing was a scenario I am currently living through — or at least was living through until I read her blog post:  A novel she’s been writing for about 20 years.  A project she starts and stops and starts and stops etc. etc. etc.  The good news is, she’s finally making some good progress.  But that’s not why I’m sharing this with you.

I started writing a book almost 4 years ago.  Amazingly, I had about 6 chapters written in 5 months — and I had a full time job at the time.  Got off to a really fabulous start while visiting friends in Bequia, where I wrote 3 chapters in 10 days.  And then I hit a wall.

No, it wasn’t writer’s block.  It took me about a month to figure out that I was avoiding the chapter that came next because it dealt with subject matter I didn’t want to re-live:  The death of my mother.  Once I figured that out I had a decision to make.  Deal with it and write the chapter or abandon the book forever more, because the book would not be the book without that chapter.

By then I had become a freelance writer and a strategic consultant so I was working from home.  The quiet was too much for me so I took my laptop to a neighbourhood Starbucks and wrote it in 3 days.  I sat there for as long as 7 hours a day — and yes, I kept buying. I drowned myself in coffee and tea and water and sustained myself with yoghurt and cheese and crackers and the odd  slice of lemon poppyseed poundcake — so I didn’t have to feel guilty about being there all day.

And that was that.

Several times I tried to get back into it and couldn’t.  I was distracted.  I knew it wasn’t writer’s block — I have been doing all kinds of writing — just not on my book.  The longer I was away from my book, the more pissed off at myself I became.  I love the idea of this book and desperately want to write it; and finish it; and share it.

But I just couldn’t focus on doing it.  At one point I decided to go away for a month — to some remote locale where I’d have no distractions — nothing else to do but write.   Until life took over and I got a new client and was too busy (happily) writing for him to spend any time on myself.

Now, of course, I don’t care.  Because Julie’s blog struck a chord with me — a big chord.  And that very night I, once again, got excited about my book.  In my head I started working out the chapter to come.  I’m trying to write something every day — and so far, I’m succeeding — thanks to Magnificent Nose.

You see — inspiration can come from anywhere — even in your own backyard — which is exactly what WordPress is for those of us who blog here.  Is there a moral to my story?

You bet.  Don’t just come here to write your own blog.  Spend some time reading other blogs.  You’ll meet some great people who have some very interesting stories, many of whom have had or are having similar experiences to your own.

And who knows.  They might even be able to help you sort out a problem or two.  Look what happened to me.