Tag Archive | writing

This story of our lives: fact? fiction? fantasy?

A little shadow box that I created

A little shadow box that I created

A couple of years ago I wrote a novel…..then I put it away. I thought about it often, but wasn’t sure how to go forward. A year passed and my doubts about it increased. One day it seemed like I had an answer: Ask someone to read it. Not for editing purposes; spelling or grammar (I knew that it needed a ton of work) but for the story. I wanted to know if it was compelling ….or not. I had a feeling that the right person/people would present themselves and I’d know it. What I didn’t know was that this person wouldn’t show up for another year.

We’d run into each other at a party, the subject of writing came up, and I talked to him about my book. When he said that he’d be happy to take a look at it, I knew to say yes. I sent him the first 30 pages, and he asked for more. Then a week passed. Then 10 days. After a couple of weeks I ran into him at another party, but he didn’t mention my writing.

I had a sinking feeling and thought,  “He doesn’t like it and doesn’t know how to tell me. I’ve put him in such an awkward position.” As I drove home my next thoughts were, “Well, at least I know. I’m still happy that I wrote it. It was important for me to do.”

And it was important, even if it was never read by another person, I was so grateful that I had done it. I loved Maggie, the heroine of the story, felt like she was a part of me, and even though I could see her imperfections, doubts, troubles, and mistakes, thinking about her gave me courage.

A couple of days later this email came from my friend, “I’m on page 100 of your book, and I’m hooked!”

I stared in disbelief at his words. That was August 8th of this year.

Then something truly amazing started to happen; I began to notice that similar events (to the ones happening with Maggie) were occurring in my life. This past Tuesday, October 29th, I was given a gift. Although I can’t speak about it specifically, it is a significant item; very beautiful, valuable and old. It took me completely by surprise. As I was running on Thursday morning, I was hit by a revelation, “Maggie (the heroine of my book) was given this exact gift at the end of the story.” The person who gave me the gift knew nothing about Maggie or my writing.

The book I’ve written is about our ability to change our own lives. It is about the realization that the courses of our lives are not fixed things; destined to be lived out as limited, pre-determined, unhappy, scripts. Some people would call what I’ve written a fantasy, since elements of it have the fantastic, the magical, the wonderous, and the impossible, woven throughout. Yet the events in my life, two years after writing this book, have a stunning parallel to the main character’s journey.

I wrote a book about the magic of life and it is teaching me about the magic of life; that it is never too late to begin again, and that nothing is impossible.

“Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life.” Robert Louis Stevenson


The enlargement of the soul

My brother took this photo of me in The Paris Market and Brocante in Savannah ..a delightful spot where we stopped for coffee (and you can tell that I loved this seat!)

My brother took this photo of me in The Paris Market and Brocante in Savannah ..a delightful spot where we stopped for coffee (and you can tell that I loved this seat!)

Last summer, I decided to write a novel. Through the encouragement of a friend, and the feeling of challenge that this idea brought on, I completed a rough draft by early September. But almost as soon as I finished, looking back over the 300+ pages of misspelled words, awkward sentences, bad grammar, and all, overwhelmed me and I put it away. I kept saying things (to myself) like, “I need a month to just not think about it. After the holidays I’ll pick it up again. On my trip to Florida, I’ll work on it everyday….” but I didn’t. The time away from it wasn’t really a big concern, but the idea that what I’d written was not very good, uninspired, and uninteresting, was beginning to take over.

During this period, another friend had recommended the book, If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. On the back of the book it says, “Carl Sandburg called this book, ‘The best book ever written about how to write.’ I bought the book at her recommendation, but didn’t open it until yesterday.

When I did, I felt like I’d found a friend...I love this book!! It is honest and funny and encouraging, not only for writers, but for living. The author talks about having fun, being light, and letting this energy flow into us and through us.  There is also something about the fact that she was born in 1891 and still wrote with such abandon that delights me. On page 7 she says (about criticism),

“You have noticed how teachers, critics, parents and other know-it-alls, when they see you have written something, become at once long-nosed and finicking and go through it gingerly sniffing out the flaws. AHA! a misspelled word! as though Shakespeare could spell! As though spelling, grammar and what you learn in a book about rhetoric has anything to do with  freedom and the imagination!…the only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny;  whose attitude is: ‘Tell me more. Tell me all you can….”

As I read her words, I realized that my timing had been perfect. I had been the know-it-all, tiny-minded, tight-lipped critic of my own work and had lost any sense of joy and adventure that had been there originally when I thought about writing a novel. Reading this wonderful book yesterday, I wanted to cry with joy. I was back on track with fun and adventure as my guides; the only things that really mattered for this project in the first place.

“...you are all original and talented and need to let it out of yourselves: that is to say, you have the creative impulse. ..Now this creative power I think is the Holy Ghost. My theology may not be very accurate but that is how I think of it. I know that William Blake called this creative power the Imagination and he said it was God. He, if anyone, ought to know, for he was one of the greatest poets who ever lived.

Now Blake thought that this creative power should be kep alive in all people for all of their lives. And so do I. Why? because it is life Itself. It is the Spirit. In fact it is the only important thing about us. The rest of us is legs and stomach, materialistic cravings and fears…..

It is our nasty twentieth century materialism that makes us feel: what is the use of writing, painting, etc, unless one has an audience or gets cash for it? Socrates and the men of the Renaissance did so much because the rewards were intrinsic, i.e., the enlargement of the soul.”  from,  If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland (published in 1938).

My goal: To be helpful…and to have a good time while I’m at it!

Ben: the epitome of focus…waiting by the door

Earlier this summer, I wrote about a project that I was working on, and after a number of comments by people on the blog, I realized that I had created a sense of suspense that I never intended, and truthfully, I was surprised and somewhat delighted at the level of interest….so here is the whole story.

Several months ago, I wrote about the 3-Day Novel Contest*, and how I thought I might give it a try (it is held over Labor Day weekend) so I decided to sign up. Right after I paid my entry fee, I had lunch with friends and their encouragement (not so much for the contest, but for me writing) pushed me to the thought,

“If I am willing to put myself through 3 full days of writing to crank out a very rough draft novel, why not see if I can write a novel in 3 months?”  I started writing that day….and just kept going.

Almost every day that I wrote, a voice in my head would say either, “You aren’t doing this right.” or “You don’t know what you are doing.” In the beginning, I feared this doubt would shut me down, and then something within me turned around and I started saying to “the voice”, “You are right. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m going to do it anyway and I am going to have a good time!”, then I’d put a big smile on my face (even when, and especially when, I didn’t feel like it) and ask Spirit to help me stay true to my intention: that this writing be helpful to someone, and I kept writing. Every time a negative thought, “This is no good”, “Other people have written the same story”, “What if it is a disaster?” came up, I’d bring myself back again and again to my basic intention, which also became my “goal” to keep focused on.

I didn’t make chapter breaks or spelling corrections. I began with an idea and let it unfold. I knew that if I started doing any revisions, I’d get stuck in details and might not finish. On August 8th, while I was running, the ending came to me in a flash. I turned around, ran home and wrote. By the end of the day, I had finished 245 pages of a first draft novel, and the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment was palpable.

I don’t know where I’ll go with it from here. It needs A LOT of work; re-writing, editing, chapters and adventures that I haven’t even imagined, are ahead of me, I am sure, but that’s OK…. I think this is what life is about and I intend to enjoy it all.

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal“. Henry Ford

*www.3daynovel.com (if you are interested in the 3 Day Novel Contest for yourself, the details are in the link)

Emphasizing the good and the hopeful

Many years ago, I made  the embarrassing and shocking discovery that someone very close to me had been reading my journals. I discovered this when I heard her, belive it or not, laughing about my spelling with a friend (which certainly was/is laughable at times, but that wasn’t the point!). In a fury, I burned all of my journals; years of thoughts, musings, experiences, and observations that I thought might someday end up in a book, were gone in one fell swoop. About 5 years after this incident, I found one journal (that somehow escaped my book-burning frenzy). I had always felt some regret, about getting rid of all of that personal history, and now one piece remained.

As I opened the journal and started to read, I was shocked by what I had written; pages of grievances, anger and frustration pouring out on the pages, judgements of friends, family, society, women’s place in it…..the writing was explosive and raw as I was at the time. There were also good entries, hopeful stories, some fun adventures but mostly not. I closed the journal, waked to the trash can in the kitchen, and threw it out.

Those pages were written back in the days when I thought that all negative thoughts must be “vented” and talked about….ad nauseam. There was a big push for this in therapy, (1970’s?) I seem to recall. It was believed that if you could “get it all out”, you could get rid of it (write, yell, confront people, label your parents, ex’s, as “toxic”, etc.). But that never worked. I didn’t understand (nor did the therapists that I saw), that like energy attracts like energy….negative, harsh, critical thoughts and actions just “invite” more of the same and that putting them down in writing, magnifies the energy even more. As Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”

I was suddenly so grateful for those little “journal thieves”, so grateful that this stuff didn’t end up in a book. It might have been interesting reading, but so what? I was searching for solutions at that time, but had not found many. The writing was not hopeful, uplifting or inspiring.  And the two girls that had “insulted me, and invaded my privacy” all those years ago, turned out to be messengers from God, angels in disguise, keeping me from doing more harm to myself (and others) when I didn’t know better….I only feel gratitude for them now and for this universe that is always conspiring to bless us, help us to grow and expand into a better, fuller and richer life, when we are ready.


I had forgotten about this incident until the other day when a friend sent me a link to a wonderful interview with the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Mary Oliver, (by Maria Shriver). Maria was asking Mary about her work, the fact that she had touched so many people. Mary said,

“Well, we went through a whole period of confessional poets. And I think a lot of people—certainly Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton—got therapy mixed up with the work they were doing, and that’s a shame. I may be wrong, but it seems like they felt they could heal themselves through writing, and it didn’t work. I don’t usually mess around with what makes me unhappy when I’m writing. I want to write poems that will comfort, maybe amuse, enliven other people. I don’t mean that the world is all great and wonderful. But I’m careful to—I try to keep the emphasis on the good and the hopeful”.

The link to the full interview is below.

Read more: http://www.oprah.com/entertainment/Maria-Shriver-Interviews-Poet-Mary-Oliver/3#ixzz1ZwCzmERU