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Humbled

The #MeToo campaign has been eye opening for me. I thought myself well aware of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault against women (and men). I was wrong.

As my social media feed continued to be filled with heartbreaking post after post (some with sickening stories, others with no details at all), the weight of it brought me to tears. So many people that I knew (many very well) had been victimized. I felt angry, horrified, disgusted, ashamed. Trying to figure out what to do or say was overwhelming. Any words felt forced, and writing them seemed more like “well at least I’m not THAT guy” than an honest acknowledgment. Even liking the posts seemed an empty gesture, though I did continue doing that throughout the day because it felt necessary.

I promised myself again and again that I would continue to speak out, call attention to actions, teach my children better,  be the sort of human being who joined others in fighting to end abuse.

I still wanted to do more.

Towards the end of the day a good friend of mine made a simple, perfect, and poignant Facebook post. He wrote: I believe you.

Those three words summed up everything I’d been trying to expound on all day (and perhaps most of my adult life). It should be obvious, but somehow it isn’t- Believing  victims of sexual assault is critical.

I wanted to go outside and shout that sentence over and over. I believe you.

I settled for copying my friend and posting those words on Twitter.

And because they are important, I wanted to share them with you all as well.

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IWSG-October 2017

The leaves are changing on the mountains. Temperatures are hovering near perfection. I get to wear sweaters and long sleeve shirts. Autumn is here! Oh, and also, it is the first Wednesday of the month which is when the Insecure Writer’s Support Group gets together for their monthly blog hop. Check us out and sign up HERE 

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From the website:

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

You can also answer the optional question each month.

for October the question is: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

When I first read this, I thought in terms of identity theft. You know, something like I wrote my social security number on page 17, or maybe used my current street address. I can say with surety I’ve never done that.

But slipping personal things about myself, stories, traits, desires and dreams, sure.

When I was in my teens and twenties, the majority of my protagonists were loose representations of myself. I’d write about actual events, slightly tweaked, but anyone who knew me or was there could see through the flimsy disguise.

With practice, I got better and hiding things. Like many writers, I was able to create characters who could do and say things I might never dare try in my actual life. I would write idealized versions of who I’d like to be (and on one creepy occasion, someone I’d never want to be). The fictionalized adventures would be mine, become something like my memories.

If I’m being honest with myself, I think I still do this more than I’d like, but rather than jumble all these things into one character, I spread them out over everyone in the story.  Maybe others are talented enough to write complex and interesting characters based entirely on speculation, void of any connection to themselves or anyone they know. That is beyond my skill.

On another note, I finished the second round of the NYC Midnight flash fiction challenge. Hopefully this story is more well received than my last effort, which honestly wasn’t very good. This time, I wasn’t sleep deprived or unable to focus. Hopefully, I’ll actually score some points and maybe advance to the final two rounds. If not, it was a fun and challenging experience.

My only complaint about the contest is the rigid use of  genre and accompanying expectations. I know it makes judging a bit easier to have set criteria, but it makes the writing feel very controlled. I mentioned my story wasn’t quality work, but one of the critiques was, in romantic comedies, we expect a happier conclusion. In other words, don’t play with the genre. That seems a strange and vapid critique.

What about you clods? Any good words to share?

A Hard Thing

I’m struggling this week with the hectic and frightening mood permeating my country. The dieification of the military, the proliferation of forced patriotism frightens me.
Distractions.

I cannot help but shake my head and wonder what terrible thing lurks around the corner.

I do not believe my government really acts in the best interests of its people, and I do not believe that any of the current conflicts are doing anything to preserve my freedom or protect my rights. 

Governments do not give rights, but they sure know how to suppress them. 

Woke

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.

 

 

Flash Fiction Challenge

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.

 

IWSG-June

“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.

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You can also follow and participate on Facebook and Twitter.

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?

After a Small Detour

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? IMG_8881

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.