Writer dare or truth

TRUTH

I have the pleasure of teaching a creative writing class at my school, and every day I’m thankful, so thankful, I get to follow my passion, my creativity. Sometimes, like tonight, I deliberately do the same assignment I give my students.

We’re working out of Julia Cameron’s book The Right to Write. During one of her Initiation Exercises, she asks the readers to complete the following sentence ten times.

A writer is _______.

Cameron then asks the reader to follow up with an explanation, a positive spin to what some writers could have initially considered to be a negative.

For example, one person might say, “A writer is broke.” An optimistic outlook would point out that the writer spends her money on conference fees and ink cartridges so that there’s no money left over for those delectable, calorie-laden pastries, available wherever $5 cups of coffee are sold, pastries like scones and cupcakes and pumpkin bread and donuts that add to the waistline and deplete the wallet.

I’m taking the challenge, but with a twist. I’m calling it Truth or Dare, the (unpublished, totally unknown) Writer Truth or Dare, only backwards.

A writer dares to be adventurous.

THE TRUTH: The unpublished, totally unknown, downright desperate writer’s idea of adventure is going to a workshop by herself for the first time. She walks into a large convention room for the opening mixer and picks up a fancy dessert and drink and sits down at a table with a group of people who have been congregating at this particular conference for the last decade. These people are so excited to see one another again that they don’t notice the outsider, that is, until she gets up to leave. Then the other people at the table assume she is part of the help, and they hand her their dirty dishes.

A writer dares to write 1,500 words a day, no excuses.

THE TRUTH: The unpublished, totally unknown, downright desperate writer writes 1,500 words a day…and then erases them one by one even though she has been taught to write first, edit later. It’s not easy being a perfectionist. Has anybody other than God ever gotten it right the first time?

A writer dares to take on every interview, every guest blog, every question to promote her book.

THE TRUTH: The unpublished, totally unknown, downright desperate writer sits down with her favorite group of busybodies and prepares to answer their questions and to listen to their free advice:

“Your Johnny told my Johnny that he had to eat another supper out of a fast food bag last night. In my house, we consider missing a deadline if we’re all not sitting down at the dinner table at five. Just what do you consider a priority at your house? Maybe you should put away your little hobby for a little while and focus on what really matters.”

(Never mind that she has worked all day at a full time job, delivered all the children to their dance lessons, football practices, and scout meetings on time, and saved up enough extra cash to treat the kids once a month to their favorite happy meal so she can finish another chapter.)

A writer dares to write every opportunity she gets.

THE TRUTH: The unpublished, totally unknown, downright desperate writer will wash the dishes, wash the laundry, wash the car, and wash the dog before she writes one word because she is afraid that one word will be the wrong word. She will also sweep, dust, and mop. And, yes, she will do windows if it means she can procrastinate twenty more minutes.

A writer dares to flaunt her glamorous writing lifestyle, which may or may not include sharing a cup of coffee with Jan Karon, Karen Kingsbury, or Kaye Dacus.

THE TRUTH: The unpublished, totally unknown, downright desperate writer dares to flaunt even the most pathetic detail of her “glamorous” writing lifestyle, especially after she has attended a big writer’s conference:

“I just made my first elevator pitch!”

“No, it wasn’t with an agent…it was with Terri Blackstock’s housekeeper.”

“What? How do I know that was her housekeeper? I was watching her room to see if I could catch a glimpse of Terri Blackstock.”

“No, I do not consider that stalking. I call it research and investigation. Anyway, I think the housekeeper liked it. She smiled a lot…before she ran out the door.”

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Why There’s No V-Day Post

LOVE BLOG

I have ten reasons why I cannot post a Valentine’s Blog today.

1. I had planned to ask Cupid to guest blog, but he was busy.

2. I’ve been writing songs lately. But you’d think people would have had enough of silly love songs.

3. At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet. See #2. This blog is all about the prose, baby.

4. Pearl Bailey says what the world needs is more love and less paper work. Does that also include electronic paper like the Kindle or the laptop?

5. Anais Nin says the role of a writer is not to say what we all can say,  but what we are unable to say.

6.

(Talk to Anais Nin about #6.)

7. Saul Bellow said, “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” I should have gotten out of bed.

8. The road to hell is paved with adverbs, so sayeth Stephen King. That’s not really a reason, but I think Stephen King is pretty funny.

9. Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment, so sayeth Robert Benchley.

10. According to an old Arabian proverb, a promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain. I have a deadline hanging over my head, a story to write. My editor deserves a downpour.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

My uncle was a horse

BB

I have one major rule I follow when I write:  Do no harm. It’s the first rule I teach my journalism students. As easy as it seems to keep, we all break it, though rarely intentionally. Words are powerful. Occasionally they get away from us.

So in keeping with my primary DO NO HARM rule, I hesitate to print this blog. But it’s a story that has stuck with me for decades. It deserves to be told, and I certainly mean no harm.

My earliest influence on me as a writer may have been my great uncle, Charlie Pat, a WW2 veteran. I was much too young to understand the complexities of my uncle’s condition. All I knew is that something happened to him in the war. I was told he was hit my shrapnel and suffered brain trauma. He was never the same.

Of course, I never knew him to be any other way.

My Uncle Charlie Pat thought he was Black Beauty.

Yes, I’m talking about the horse in Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel. I don’t remember how old I was at the time. I just remember I was horse crazy, and Black Beauty was my favorite book.

Back in the old days, we didn’t have Mindcraft or other computer programs to enhance our creativity. We had to rely on household ordinary stuff. My favorite “toy” was a black broom, the closest thing I had to a stick horse. And I rode it nonstop at my grandmother’s house, where, as you might guess, my Uncle Charlie Pat lived for a while.

I don’t think my parents or my aunts and uncles realized Charlie Pat thought he was a horse, but I did. I was too young to roll my eyes or criticize. I just sat down in the chair next to him in my grandparent’s itty bitty den, and I listened to all the stories he told of what it was like to be Black Beauty.

I never laughed. I had read the story at least a dozen times, and I knew every detail by heart. So did Charlie Pat. And when he told me the story, he told it in first person, just like the book. I sat enthralled. I knew my uncle wasn’t really a horse, but I bought into his reality, and I listened intently as he retold each chapter.

I always thanked him for sharing with me, and he smiled. There’s nothing more wonderful for an artist than to have an appreciative audience.

As odd as it may sound, Charlie Pat may have been the first person to inspire me to write. Although he didn’t write Black Beauty, his convincing personal narratives held me spellbound. He was able to quote every page verbatim.

As I grew older, I started to write. I became the characters in my stories. Today they’re bound in a three-prong folder, sitting on a bookshelf in my son’s room. He doesn’t even know they’re there. Maybe his children will find them someday and be inspired by their crazy grandmother who thought at age nine that she could be a writer, somewhat similar to my great uncle, thinking he was a horse.

If you think about it, all of us are quirky in our own way, and that’s what makes us so beautiful. We are works of art, but some of us are an acquired taste.

I was always perceived as that shy kid in class who never talked. I hated that stereotype. I’m not really shy. I just don’t talk much. In my decades here on earth I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve really opened up to.

But there’s a reason for that, I think. God gave me the gift of listening. God gave me acute hearing and sensitive (in)sight. I can see what others cannot. He also gave me the gift of storytelling.

I guess I am the only person in my family to interview a living, breathing Black Beauty proxy.

As I said, I was a major fan of Anna Sewell. Charlie Pat brought the book to life for me. And while his reality had been suspended long before I was born, I learned how to suspend my reality and to enjoy living in the moment whenever I took the time to be still and to listen to him. Charlie Pat pulled me into the story. For a short time in the den of my grandparents’ house, I talked to Black Beauty.

And I think that’s one reason I have been compelled to write ever since. Books let us live a thousand lives. Charlie Pat, for some reason, spent the last years of his life living as a horse.

Go ahead. Laugh. Life is funny. And frustrating. And tragic. But I’ll take funny over the other options any day.

What unusual occurrences in your life sparked your desire to write?