Tag Archives: Linda Cassidy

Passing It On: Prolific Times Three

There’s no better way to finish off the weekend and start a new week than with an award.

Mary Campbell shared her Happiness 101 award with me a few days ago. Today, Linda Cassidy Lewis honors me with the title of Prolific Blogger (you can read about the award itself, here).

More than a testament of my writing, both these awards are evidence of the strong connections we find with other writers, whether online or in person. Mary’s award gave me an introspective opportunity to ask myself what it means to be really happy. Linda’s award offers me a chance to ponder the word Prolific.

I’m a big fan of the thesaurus. Some writers refuse to use it, but I love it. I’m a visual person. When I see one word in isolation, it sometimes appears flat to me. But, when I read through the word’s synonyms, the word takes shape in a more meaningful way for me.

Prolific: fruitful, generative, innovative, plenteous.

The maker of the award ask that recipients pass it on to seven other bloggers. Seven is a big number. Three is more magical for me. I hope Advance Booking will keep me on the list of winners even as I side-step that rule. At any rate, here are three bloggers I love who deserve the title of Prolific:

  1. My friend Sarah, Ms. Celiac in the City, is a wealth of information about gluten-free living. I can manage gluten, but I have to consider a nut-free, egg-free diet for one of my kids. Sarah and I talk food quandaries as often as we can, and she provides resources to other sites with food allergies at the forefront.
  2. Dot Hearn, whom I mentioned in my last post, is a writer out west. Though we’ve never met in person, I love having her as a friend and writing colleague. She keeps her website rolling with writing prompts and news about literary and arts events all around town. I wish I lived in Oregon or – at the least – had a large disposable income within reach, so I could fly out there whenever I darn well pleased.
  3. E. Victoria Flynn is a fellow SheWrites author and a Mother Writer. She recently began a weekly post on What to Read This Weekend where she highlights an interesting or inspiring blog. And, she created a great logo for every Mother Writer out there.

Like I plan to do, you can buy a t-shirt, a messenger bag, maybe even a magnet. My dream would be to buy a book of temporary tattoos, so I could slap the logo onto my bicep for some added sass.

***

Thank you, Linda, for acknowledging my blog. It’s an honor to display the badge. I only wish I had the kind of writing space in the picture…minus the dog. I’m terribly allergic. I doubt I’d get much writing done with a furry friend stirring up dander just below my feet.

Still…the coffee, the printer overflowing with finished works, and the light bulb going on daily with amazing and creative ideas…dreamy.

If I Get Lost, the Story Falls Flat

There’s been a lot of talk online* recently about craft and voice and when to know if your work is publishable or best kept in a drawer.

Linda Cassidy Lewis posted about the fact that everyone can write a story, but a writer hopes to craft one.

Jennifer Stanley and Donald Maass posted separately on voice. If you stay true to your voice, the work, according to Maass, will read “authentic and passionate.” The story, Stanley believes, will “outshine” all the others.

Rachelle Gardner said that rejection after rejection may imply a writer needs more than just good grammar skills. That writer should sign up for a class on the craft of writing with a good teacher who isn’t afraid to say, “This doesn’t work. At all.”

I wrote a story a while back that was a good story. I remember sitting in a diner watching a scene unfold across the restaurant in a way that I thought, “somebody should write about that. That’s crazy!” So I did. I made up a story that paralleled the scene I witnessed, but I didn’t tell the story well. I wrote it with a particular literary magazine in mind. And, I wrote it in a way I imagined a particular famous author would write it. My voice was lost, along with the passion. The story read flat, no matter how hard I infused it with vivid details or realistic dialogue.

I know better now, but I still have much to learn. I do recognize when a story is becoming my own – when it’s a story that I enjoy reading myself. That sounds narcissistic, but when I read my own story and think, well, I might pick it up, but I hope they will pick it up, then I need to go back, rework it, and find the place where I got lost.

There’s still no guarantee my well-crafted story will get published. But, I can lean on the belief that if it’s authentic to me, it will at least stand out next to another writer’s tale.

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* If you’re on Twitter, consider following Debbie Ridpath Ohi @inkyelbows. She rolls out tweet after tweet of great links, resources, and retweets.

How Do You Measure Success?

Today’s word of the day, from Wordsmith.org, reminds me of the strong community of writers and artists I’ve discovered (online and off):
esprit de corps: noun. A spirit of solidarity; a sense of pride, devotion, and honor among the members of a group.

It’s been just under a year and a half since I decided to take my writing seriously. I began my journey with a simple credo: one little step at a time. But, it didn’t take long to imagine time was my enemy. Back in August, I blogged about reigning in my panic that success must happen soon, or else…or else I’ll panic. Recently, the shared experiences of two writers and one artist led me back to that moment in August, and I heard again the quiet suggestion to relax and breathe.

The other day, I read Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Writer’s Guide to Twitter. I’m new at tweeting – my stomach is still doing flip-flops over the whole idea – so I studied Debbie’s guide, her clear-cut do’s and don’t’s for Twittering. I zoomed in on her advice not to obsess about the number of people who follow me on Twitter.

Of course, I thought, I can’t obsess about followers; my account is brand spanking new!
(my Twitter handle is bbetty, in case you’re wondering, but I’m not obsessing [nervous laughter]).

Then I considered the number of times I check my WordPress stats in a day. Maybe I don’t need to tell you how often I check them. Maybe you’re a status-hound too.

Anyway, Debbie Ohi’s point struck home for me: it isn’t about the number of people who read my words, but about the quality of those readers. And, even if my blog stats seem low, I’ve met and connected with some great writers since I started Writing Under Pressure.

Later in the same day, I heard a quote from the documentary movie about Bob Dylan, “No Direction Home.” The man who spoke the proverb was a painter, though I can’t remember his name. I focused on the words, which were even more important for me than the person who said them. Talking about the early 1960’s, he said:

Back then, artistic success was not dollar-driven.

No one expected to make millions; they just wanted to create.

Any amount of pay for my writing would revive my wallet and lift my spirits, but I’m not hoping to match my meager retirement fund with monies earned from my stories. With the publishing industry in flux, it’s hard to know what to expect or hope for as an emerging writer. Still, while my eyes don’t reflect dollar signs, they do shine for that small “c” encased in a circle. Too often, I am print-driven. Anxious that my time as a writer is limited, I imagine my words in print are the only signs of success.

Finally, I read Linda Cassidy’s post, Wrapping Up November, where she writes about finding an early draft of her novel and recognizing all the progress she’s made since that draft. And, all three moments fell together in my repeat epiphany.

I haven’t published a portfolio’s worth of short stories. My novel is in the first trimester. But, I recognize that in the time I’ve spent honing my craft, to the best of my abilities, I have come a long way. Thank you, Linda, for that reminder.

Writing is a craft, like any other craft. Rushing through the learning process yields a product with little substance, or at least a funny shape. When I first learned to crochet, I made two frightening articles: a long purple scarf and an afghan. The scarf would have fit well in a Dr. Seuss story with its variegated purple colors and edges like waves (I couldn’t keep count of my stitches). The afghan was an even better example of rushing errors. Initially, my stitches were tight and taut and forced. Towards the end, I relaxed. And, so did the afghan. I finished the last row, wove in all the ends of yarn, and spread my mini-opus out onto the living room floor to reveal a perfectly shaped trapezoid.

Slow down. Artistic success doesn’t have to be dollar-driven or print-driven or stats-driven. Make note of progress as success, even if it is small.

From Fifth Grade to NaNoWriMo

The first book I ever wrote was during my fifth grade year in Mrs. Young’s homeroom class. She asked us to write a How-To book and to consider ourselves author and artist.

I didn’t think I knew how to do anything well. I played softball every summer, but I did cartwheels in the outfield during most games. I made one attempt at soccer then quit when the ball hit me in the face. I was a skinny, asthmatic kid with low self-confidence and little willingness to take risks. Still, I liked Mrs. Young and I was a dedicated student. I sat on the assignment and observed my fellow fifth graders for a few days. A popular phrase flew around the halls of elementary school that week and sparked an idea for a story: gag me with a spoon!

I remember my excitement as the idea formed in my budding writer’s mind. My heart raced. I ran around the house with wide eyes and hair on end searching for any and all loose sheets of construction paper and a few crayons. The assignment was due the next day; time was my enemy. I sat down at the kitchen table and feverishly scratched out a first (and last) draft.

My idea was solid. Using my author’s creative license, I tweaked the phrase a bit and titled my book How to Gag Yourself with a Spatula. I dressed a quirky Mr. Duck in a black bow tie and gave him prestigious role of the main character.  Mr. Duck’s words flowed onto the paper with ease. He explained the equipment needed, the risks involved, and finally the crucial steps towards the climax of a spatula induced gag.

I finished the book with a bold “THE END” and shook my papers straight. I stapled them together and slid them carefully in my folder. The next day at school, I held a finished book in my hands and waited, for my turn, to read my story aloud. The book was a big hit. Mrs. Young leaned her head back and laughed. I stood at the front of the classroom enveloped in a cloud of joy, elation, success!

That experience, at ten years old, of leaning over sheets of construction paper and scattered crayons with wild eyes and quick hands, reminds me of my last few days of NaNoWriMo. Last week, the words poured out slow and rough. With my idea only partially formed, the main character walked around the story like a cardboard cut out. I closed the file and flipped through other writer’s blogs, where I found solace and inspiration.

Yesterday, Linda Cassidy and Natalie Whipple wrote out exactly what I’d been thinking all afternoon. Recently, Ann M. Lynn’s post reminded me that even though NaNoWriMo is mostly about word count, it’s also about the story. Even in a writng frenzy, authors must avoid developing bad writing habits. And, the last several posts on Cathryn Grant’s blog told of another strategy: balance NaNoWriMo with other ongoing projects.

I took an afternoon and handwrote some thoughts about my main character. I jotted down a few prospective scenes. I let go of my obsession with word count. I picked two short stories to rewrite and refine during NaNoWriMo breaks.

This week, I have a clear idea of the story I want to write. My main character is taking shape slowly. She’s filling out like the inflatable pool I struggled to blow up last summer for the kids. I’ve expelled a lot of hot air, fought off an asthma attack, readjusted my focus. Now, the plastic is finally lifting off the ground. Last night, I closed the file at a little over 19,000 words.