I attended high school at the end of the 1980’s and my school wasn’t the most racially diverse. Most of the students were suburban white kids, pretty sheltered. Still, I don’t remember race being an issue (though it is very possible I just didn’t see it). I naively believed that the racism which plagued America for hundreds of years had (for the most part) been overcome, and that my generation had grown beyond that sort of idiocy.
By the time I was in college, I was not quite so unobservant. But even then, it was clear to the majority of us that anyone acting overtly racist was an asshole. We dismissed their behavior, their rhetoric for what it was- Unintelligent garbage. Absolute crap.
I really believed America was growing up, putting aside old prejudices, becoming a more welcoming, open minded place.
I continued to believe it, even after the abhorrent behavior I witnessed from those who did not like having a black president. It was easy to do. Things seemed better. Social progress seemed to be unstoppable.
Maybe it moved too fast. Small minds weren’t ready.
And I had misjudged the pulse of the country completely.
In the last year to year and half, the voice I’d thought reduced to a dying whisper has become a very loud shout. Scared white people are running about screaming the sky is falling, their culture (whatever that means) is under assault, and they have to stand up, reclaim their country from everyone who suddenly won’t stay in their *proper* places.
The violence this past weekend is likely only the beginning of a nasty string of events.
Emotions are running dangerously high.
This isn’t just a conflict of ideas (one does not attend a debate armed, in full riot gear, ready to club the opposition), but a war against an ideology of oppression and hate. One that has already shown us what atrocities it is capable of committing, and one that cannot be given another chance.
As if having a 12 week old, teething, biting, super curious, super sweet, quite devious puppy taking up most my time wasn’t hard enough, I decided it would also be super smart to enter a flash fiction contest run by NYC Midnight.
Writers are put into groups, given a genre, location, and item, all of which must be written into a story of no more than 1000 words. Oh, and that story must be completed and submitted 48 hours after receiving the assignment. Super easy, right? Even under normal circumstances, I’d struggle with something so structured. Add to that some severe sleep deprivation and I was in for a rough weekend.
Still, I was excited to get the email, find out what sort of story I was going to be writing. At 10:59 PM Friday night, my path was revealed-Romantic comedy, a tropical island, a brick.
What? People actually write romantic comedy flash fiction? Visions of Love Actually and a half dozen Adam Sandler, Drew Berrymore movies instantly came to my head. This genre was definitely not in my wheelhouse or toolbox. I would rather have had romance, a soviet era gulag, a french fry.
My first attempt on Saturday Morning was a disaster. I had a couple, a clever way for them to meet, but that moment itself took 400 words. Scratch that. Delete. Try again.
A second idea had more promise, but also took up too many valuable words without getting me anything resembling a story.
Then the tiredness took over. I couldn’t concentrate, spell, type, do much of anything but stare at the screen. Also, the puppy needed attention, and the puppy comes first right now.
A few hours later, I tried again, this time with some more success. I had several awkward encounters, silly moments, and the outline of a story. An ending still eluded. I had Sheryl read what I’d written so far and while she liked it, she agreed it wasn’t quite right.
Sunday could not have been a more awful day. I didn’t rest well, and a very intense wave of puppy depression hit me early that morning. I felt overwhelmed and hopeless. Writing was impossible. The contest was out of my mind completely.
I did some heavy soul searching that day, spent a lot of time talking with my amazing wife. I am so grateful for her advice, patience, love. She is my best friend and perfect companion.
With less than 3 hours until I had to submit the story, I had no draft, no ending, and very few ideas, but I was determined. I sat at the computer and hammered out three very sloppy endings, picking one to flush out and use. I read through, edited, read through again, edited, then asked Sheryl for her opinion.
“It’s okay, but the ending lacks pop. It’s too sweet. Something needs to happen that puts them at odds again.”
I was crushed, out of ideas, ready for defeat.
“Something like…” and she said it. The exact ending. And I loved it. With forty minutes to go, I rewrote the ending, not worrying about word count. When it was finished, I was at 1020 words, but the ending was just what this brief romantic comedy needed.
I spent the remaining time cutting words (easier than I thought) until I was at 997. One more read and edit, just to make sure, and it was time to submit. My first romantic comedy was complete. I’m not sure it will get me enough points to move out of the second round (two rounds are guaranteed each writer), but that is fine with me.
I’ll keep you posted.
Wish me good sleeps. I still need them.
And dogs are awesome.
“The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day.” Members post about their writing lives, their successes and failures, goals, achievements, and offer support and advice to others in the group. It is a time to lay our insecurities bare, because all writers are insecure writers at heart.
If you aren’t already a member, check us out and join up HERE.
The optional question for this month’s blog post is- Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?
I’ve said I quit many times before, mostly when I was younger and more prone to extreme emotional responses to writing difficulty. I’ve torn poems and stories from notebooks, ripped them to shreds because someone I respected didn’t like them, the people the writing was about made me feel unimportant somehow, or I was having a bad stretch and was sure all my writing was crap.
These fits rarely lasted more than a day or two.
I can only recall one instance where I actually quit writing for any extended period of time. I’d just graduated from the University of Utah with a (super useful) degree in English. Applications for graduate school had been submitted (to MFA programs), and I was supremely confident that very soon I would be sorting through multiple acceptance offers. In fact, I can’t think of a time I had been more sure of my writing ability, more certain that success was waiting for me to grab it.
One by one, each of the schools to which I’d applied sent rejections. Each was painful to receive, but the letter from the University of Utah delivered a crushing blow. The application deadline was July 15th, and my rejection was dated June 25th. Yeah, rejected before all applicants were considered. Ouch.
Convinced I was the worst writer of all time, I completely abandoned the craft
I spent the next two years without composing a single poem or short story. I did a masterful job of deceiving myself that I didn’t miss it, but that sort of dishonesty is hard to maintain.
Poetry brought me back. I’d joined an online community for a band I really liked, and many of the others participants were creative types. They shared snippets of stories, lines of poetry, other art, some of it quite good, and somewhere inside of me, I felt a compulsion to participate.
Completing five or ten line poems took hours at first. I questioned every word, every phrase and image, often deleting everything and starting over. It was difficult for sure, but I think I need writing to be very hard for a while. I had to earn back the skills I’d selfishly cast away in a fit of self pity.
Writing fiction again took me another four years. It wasn’t until I was well into earning a Masters degree in Library Science that I could no longer ignore the need to tell prose stories again (poems are stories, right?). There wasn’t single catalyst or event to get the ball rolling. Multiple factors came into play, but at my core, I’ve always felt compelled to write fiction most, and finally that voice refused to remain silent.
What about you? Have you ever quit writing? Why did you stop, and what brought you back?
I think I’m ready to get back to writing. The unintentional, but apparently needed break from writing has gone on long enough. I’ve tried to pinpoint the day when the hiatus began, when I last wrote something other than this blog, or a few lines here and there while editing drafts, but as this notion of not writing for a bit was not something I consciously determined, I’m coming up empty.
All my good habits are broken, which means I need to rebuild them. In the past, writing Daily Paragraphs has worked. I give myself a bit of structure- I am only allowed to write three paragraphs (if the writing wants more, I copy and paste into a fresh document, continue). I don’t allow myself to edit at all, or place any restriction on what I can write about. It worked really well in the past. I hope it works again.
I am also hopeful other writers have ideas, things they have used (or still use) to practice, create good habits. I am open to almost any suggestion. Got one for me?
And because we all like images, here is one from Monday night, after a fine and fabulous thunderstorm blew on through the Salt Lake Valley.
Yesterday, I was fortunate to enjoy having breakfast with a very good friend. She doesn’t like eggs, but I am willing to look past that. I don’t see her as often as I’d like, which is mostly my fault. I need to do better. We worked at the library together. We did good things. I love the library. I love librarians. They are among the best people.
I also made plans to meet up with another library friend in the early afternoon. We both share a love for a certain band. They performed in Salt Lake this past weekend. I got to attend. He didn’t. His young son, also loves this band. I had acquired a clever poster of the band members, and thought his son would enjoy it. It gave me a good reason to get out of the house, go to the main library, which is a place that still means the world to me.
I worked at the Salt Lake City Public Library for a decade. It was a career I sort of stumbled into, not realizing how much I’d love it, or how deeply the philosophies of librarianship would penetrate my personal, emotional, intellectual life. I made the best of friends, shared hours of conversations and debates with like minded individuals. The best part was the reference work. Finding the correct information from the best possible resources, seeing someone light up with excitement, was very rewarding. It was important work, it had infinite integrity. I like to think I made a difference in a small way in people’s lives.
I miss it more than I’d like to admit.
The first Wednesday of each month, the members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group gather together to discuss our fears, successes, failures, hopes and goals. We are a fun gaggle of goons and you should totally consider joining us. Sign up HERE. We also have a nifty Facebook group that could use your contributions. Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG
Last year, I was five posts into the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. I had taken on the month long challenge with no real theme, and was flying by the seat of my pants each day, hoping an idea worth writing (or reading) about would magically appear out of the void. Some days were better than others.
I had two goals- 1. Meet new blogging friends. 2. Find a renewed passion for writing this blog. Success on both fronts.
As I will be in Mexico all next week (and was far too lazy to pre-write blog entries), I am not participating in the challenge this year (and it looks like many of my blogging friends have decided not to participate as well). I have been pondering the difficulties I had last year, which have continued into this year, in solidifying a theme for this crazy blog. Over the past few months, I’ve found myself writing more about, well writing, and the sorts of things that inspire me (family, memory, art). The blog readership hasn’t improved at that much, but my excitement about writing each Wednesday has.
Finally, almost by accident, I may have found what I want this space to be- A representation of the things and people that populate my writing world.
With the emergence of a more concrete theme, I came to another conclusion. I am done posting flash fiction or poetry here. Sharing it rarely felt successful, and I’m questioning my motivation for doing so in the first place.
Asking for a beta reader from time to time is still on the table, and I am always willing and wanting to share the fiction and poetry I write. I hope those of you who visit for IWSG will come back other Wednesdays and share your thoughts and ideas, suggestions on what is being discussed. You’re all such swell folk, and I’d love to get to know you better.
Questions- Is this *theme* a good direction for me to take with Residuals? Is wanting a theme even a good idea? What keeps you coming back to a blog?
I have some of the worst handwriting in the history of handwriting. It is a family curse. All my siblings (and my father. My mother writes beautifully) create equally atrocious letters. If word processing had never been invented, if I were forced to write everything by hand, it is highly likely I would not be a writer.
Elementary schools used to (maybe they still do) include handwriting in their grading system. My first D’s were earned in handwriting. I remember the teacher’s comment- “Sloppy work. If Ryan were to practice, take his time, his handwriting would improve.” Sorry, Mrs Lindsay, some of us are deficient in our fine motor skills (I’m not allowed near scissors), and all the slowness and patience in the world isn’t going to make things any better.
Still, there is something very appealing to me about handwritten texts (letters, poems, stories). I enjoy going through the stacks of letters sent to me by family and friends over the years, not only to relive old memories, re-discover forgotten moments, but to revel in the intimate connection something handwritten provides. Each smudged letter, crossed out word, is a connection to the moment of composition, a closeness to the expression of thought.
At various points in my life, I’ve kept handwritten journals. Some of these are day to day, what did I do, sorts of writings, while others are sketches- of emotions I’m dealing with, people I’ve encountered or characters I’ve created. I like the difficulty of handwriting, the struggle I have to write legibly. It focuses my efforts, narrows my scope. Sometimes, I don’t bother and just fly through a page, laughing at myself as the ends of words blur into unintelligible squiggles; sentences and paragraphs that barely qualify.
I’ve just spend the last two days reading a journal I wrote when I was between the ages of 19 and 21. Terrible spelling. Every event described was either the most important or most mundane of my existence. Certain phrases repeated themselves on almost every page. As I read, each entry made me guffaw at my strangeness, cringe at my hyperbole. Today, I plan to read a journal from my early years at the community college. I expect to have a similar response.
Every time I go through one of these readings, I am ready to commit myself to writing more often. I’ve managed a page a month for the last two years, but I want more. So much of life gets lost over time, altered or forgotten, and while a handwritten (or typed) account of an event is not free of bias or distortion, it is an honest attempt at telling.
Do any of you keep journals? If so, are they something typed, stored in a file, or are they written out longhand? Is your handwriting like mine?