2021 May Blog Post
Five writing tips
I just made a fried egg with the edges slightly crispy. (can you see that slightly overcooked bit on the sides?) I cooked them in ghee, which is butter without the milk solids in it. I’m using that because I love my husband and want to keep him around a bit longer!
Eggs are my staple food, meaning eggs are my go to food whenever I can’t think of what to cook. Or eat.
If I boil an egg it’s most likely to meet its end in an egg salad. Egg salad in my world has diced celery, dill pickle relish (not sweet) and plenty of creamy mayonnaise. Depending upon what’s in my fridge that day or the color of shirt I’m wearing, it might also have capers and a bit of minced purple onion.
Other eggs I remember (this is like a dating history) are the pickled ones from my childhood. After Easter my mother would peel all the eggs that weren’t smashed from our vigorous Easter egg hunts and put them in a large jar with vinegar water, whole peppercorns and sliced onions. To be sure, many of the eggs had streaks of pink, blue and green down the sides that had bled through a small crack into the white when we dyed them, but after two weeks, they were ready for eating.
For years (mostly in my 20’s and 30’s) I ate eggs scrambled with plenty of butter, salt and pepper. I like my scrambled eggs the way I like my grits—simple. Or as my father used to say, “Just a-drippin’ in butter!” (He was from Mississippi).
But these days in the morning my eggs usually end up on my plate poached medium (yolks creamy) over avocado toast.
Mmm-mmm, good egg.
Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it and for those of you who don’t, I recommend celebrating spring by eating a magnificently simple egg.
Photo credits: Fried: Emanuel Ekstrom, Easter: Christopher Paul High, scrambled: Ben Hershey and poached: David B. Townsend all featured on Unsplash.com
This is my new pup, Quimby. Harriet Quimby Holden. HQH.
She is named after the first licensed female pilot in the United States. A fearless and courageous woman who dared to fly those unsafe planes in the very early years. They wore aviator goggles. Our Quimby has a black mask that reminded me of the aviator goggles so since I was reading a book called Fly Girls by Keith O'Brien who doesn't feature Harriet Quimby but I read about several of the women and came across the name. It was the only name my husband (Guru) and I could agree on. So. Quimby.
Unlike her namesake, our Quimby is not fearless. She is very fearful, just like her adoptive mother. She cringes at loud noises, races to stand behind our wood pile when the blue jays caw, and pees and whimpers when a friendly dog walks up to her. She's skittish. She's a watcher, a studier. Before she goes outside, she sits on the threshold and studies the back garden. Is she looking for an owl or hawk? Perhaps a fox? I don't know but she waits and watches before going out in the back yard, every single time I open the back door. I live in a residential area, not in the wild.
I don't know what made her fearful--probably genetics since we got her at 10 weeks. I only know that she is and we are dealing with it. We are slowly making progress.
I understand fear. I have anxiety. I am slowly making progress too. It is not easy. I have much sympathy when our Quimby jumps into my arms or barks and then pees in submission. I get it. I feel like peeing in submission sometimes too! The dog trainers I am working with are having me take Quimby to a busy outdoor shopping center and sit on a bench and let her watch. She watches from under the bench, cowering. So we do that for a couple of hours every week. I think it's helping. She's getting better. She sat beside the park bench the other day. She's also had some set backs.
I think I can learn from our Quimby. We aren't fearless but we are daring greatly, just by sitting beside a park bench, just by sitting down at my computer and writing. I think maybe the original Harriet Quimby might understand the fear and the courage.
So this may be the theme for this year. Be true. Be true to yourself and honor your commitments. Honoring what you told yourself you want to accomplish. For me, I'm filled with excuses and exercise those excuses regularly. It's not that I don't want the result, I fear the result.
I've recently reread a book by Brené Brown called Daring Greatly. She addresses being vulnerable. Brené advocates that being vulnerable actually leads you to a more authentic life and more productivity. So. I'm trying that out. If I can get to a place of vulnerability within myself, maybe I can show up that way for the people I care about.
I'd like to write without fear. The fear comes not from writing but from writing what is authentic. If I write worrying about what my sister would think or my daughter-in-law might imagine, I am not writing my truth. If I am worrying about publishing after the book is written, am I writing for them or my truth? Many successful authors say they write to please their fans. Is this a good thing?
Today's writing means you either become an Indie author which basically means publishing on Amazon or you find an agent who wants to take you on. Nobody seems to be able to call themselves a writer without being published.
I've written and published nonfiction articles, a romance and written technical documents. Since 2013 I've written five books which are sitting around in various stages of editing. One is really a first draft and the other four are just sitting there because I won't send them out.
Fear. Yes, fear of rejection but I also don't want to send them out because I don't think the work is finished or at least I'm not satisfied with the work.
Does being unpublished mean you aren't a writer? I don't believe so. I believe you become a writer when you are doing what you believe you are born to do, when you are fulfilling your purpose, when you are writing what you believe you need to write.
When I was young I wrote so that people would look up to me because I didn't know who I was. I needed affirmation. As I've grown older I've come to see that as a dead end, even if you are wildly successful commercially as a writer. I am a writer because that is my identity, that is who I am. I will not retire from being a writer and more than I will retire from being a mother.
So I'm going to move forward and not worry about agents or publishing in my vulnerable-me mode. I am a writer and I write what I must write, what it is my purpose to write without regard to an audience. If I want to publish something, I will pursue that separately from my writing.
Here is a portion of the speech called Citizenship in a Republic that Theodore Roosevelt made at the Sorbonne, Paris, in 1910 that embodies this ideal:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
So I want to be in the arena. I don't want to give up without having tried to write the best books I can. Publishing should be incidental to writing or at least a by-product. If you are writing in order to--you will not be in the arena.
Dare greatly my friends!
(Marc Kleen photo from Unsplash.com)
I’m actually writing this post in the depth of March, pretending to you and to myself that it won’t matter that I missed the self-imposed deadline on January 1, 2021.
January. The month of new beginnings, fresh starts and hope. Is there hope after missing a deadline so completely that it’s not really missed but obliterated? I don’t know. I do know I feel defeated by my fears and inability to get things done on a deadline, in a measured pace. I chafe at deadlines unless I am well ahead of them. Once I fail to meet the mark I flounder.
So this is me owning up to my mistakes. Uncharacteristically. I usually gloss over mistakes and pretend it doesn’t matter. I read a Jack LaLayne article once where he confessed to his wife he didn’t want to exercise that particular day. His wife said, skip it today. No one will know. Jack said, but I’ll know.
I know. Years ago my son’s wrestling coach said when you cheat, you cheat yourself. True dat.
Happy Birthday to Jane Austen, born 245 years ago today in Hampshire, England.
This morning started out rather slowly as I woke up late and had to cut my routine short. This always throws me off. I need to write but I keep getting distracted. When this happens I usually have to clean off my desk to get settled. It's got too many papers/notes/PILES all over the place.
It is at least motivating to remember that Jane Austen wrote at a very small table with many interruptions by family, servants and visitors. And yet she did complete six novels before her early death when she was 41 years old in 1817. Four of her novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815) were published before she died. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published posthumously in 1817.
My Guru (husband) always reminds me that you can accomplish much more in the last half of your life than you did in the first half. So get busy!! Jane wrote for probably twenty years or so. She wrote six books in that time and she had a very unsettled life during at least eight of the years with frequent moving about. And yet, she wrote.
(3 minute read)
Moby Dick and the Whale Tale
Herman Melville wrote an American classic, Moby Dick, as we all know. Contrary to popular belief, Melville was successful early in his career with two early novels (they were bestsellers in England and America largely because they were quite sensational personal accounts of his capture by cannibals on Marquesas Islands after he and a fellow seaman had deserted their ship) but his popularity steadily declined thereafter. Melville only made $10,000 over his lifetime from his writing (about $250,000 today).
He floundered. In 1849 Redburn was published. His biographer Robertson-Lorant believed Redburn was written for popular appeal: "Melville modeled each episode almost systematically on every genre that was popular with some group of antebellum readers," mixing "the picaresque novel, the travelogue, the nautical adventure, the sentimental novel, the sensational French romance, the gothic thriller, temperance tracts, urban reform literature, and the English pastoral". What this tells me is that Melville was frustrated with his lack of success and was trying to write for commercial success. He wasn’t being true to himself.
In 1851, Melville published Moby Dick (The Whale) but over his entire life the book only sold 3000 copies. Melville had high expectations for Moby Dick but critics for the greater part ignored the allegorical novel.
When Melville died on September 28, 1891 all of his books had been out of print for fifteen years. He’d taken a position as a customs inspector (dock worker) to support his family where he worked for twenty years. Melville continued to write. He wrote novels, poetry and novellas but without producing the desired dream of literary fame. He was certainly considered a financial failure as a writer.
It wasn’t until the 1920’s that critics began elevating Moby Dick as great American Literature, now a staple in American high school reading repertoire.
I recently spoke with a writer friend and she was lamenting that her book she had poured her heart and soul into wasn’t selling. Should she have targeted the book to a particular audience or in short, made the book more marketable? I can’t answer that question but I do know the only thing each writer brings to the table is their own truth, their own voice and you must honor that voice.
Lord of the Flies by William Goldman was rejected twenty times, Carrie by Stephen King was rejected thirty times, William Saroyan collected seven thousand rejection slips before his first short story was published and the list can go on and on. You won’t have that problem today because writers will self-publish and meet with the lack of sales my writer friend mentioned above did. They don’t have a gatekeeper stopping them from publishing.
I’m going to assume you are monstrously talented like Stephen King. So what’s the difference between you and Stephen King? Stephen King was lucky, it’s true. Does this make Stephen King more important than you? Does this mean he’s a better writer than you are? Maybe. It means he’s richer but I’ll also bet Stephen King is still humble about his writing. To be a good writer, to be a great writer you must stay humble. Humility allows you to listen and it is in listening that you learn about people, their motivations and you can more easily slip inside a character’s skin.
If you are a humble writer, massively talented and are very lucky, you still might not have success as a writer. Very few people are successful. There are millions of people who want to help you achieve success as writer if you will just sign up for their $49.95 writing course that teaches you how to be a NY Times best selling author. Really?
So why are you writing? Why do you keep writing? You write because you write. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. If you are writing to impress your mother or prove your high school English teacher wrong, do yourself a favor and stop writing. You will not be happy as a writer even if you do manage to find modest success because it will never be enough. Let’s say you sold one thousand copies of your three-dollar book. You can do the math.
In 1991 I went to an award presentation speech that Eudora Welty accepted for her writing. I cannot remember the question the audience member asked, but I remember her answer. Eudora Welty, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction said, “I’ve never been able to afford to just write. I always had to earn my living.”
You aren’t writing for money or fame, you are writing because that is what you do. You write.
(2 minute read)
This morning after our usual Sunday routine, I decided we’d gotten in a rut. A routine routine.
Are you in a rut? What do you think the difference between habit and rut is?
Habit has the sound of discipline while rut has the sound of being stuck. The dictionary defines habit as a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. Given that definition of habit I don’t believe exercise is ever a habit for me.
Rut is defined as a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change. My ruts are where the problem comes in for me, especially with social media.
Did you ever play fruit basket turn over? No? Well here’s how it goes (don’t worry this is all connected—you’ll see). If there are eight people at a party you have eight chairs or seats available. Then your grandmother (or whoever) says, “Justin trade places with Sally.” They do so. “Now Sally trade places with Dan.” They do so. “Now…fruit basket turn over,” and she removes a chair and all chaos breaks loose. You had to change seats and make certain you weren’t sitting in the one you were in before. One person was always left standing without a seat (usually me since I was the youngest). It was very heart thumping and fun.
You had to change seats. Sometimes we get into ruts that aren’t helpful to our goals. I suppose I would define a rut not so much a bad habit but a habit that is no longer producing the results you originally intended. In that regard, a habit can become a rut. Let’s say your husband buys you a dozen red roses and a box of dark chocolates for your anniversary. The first few years you think it’s sweet. In ten more years you might decide he has no imagination or thoughtfulness. In another thirty years you might learn to appreciate his consistency. So you’d go from habit to rut back to habit.
Life is a series of habits. Habits are the small things. It’s the small things make life enjoyable; walking with your single neighbor at five in the morning because being single can be lonely, opening the car door for your wife, bringing coffee to your husband each morning, calling your grown daughter every Monday, getting up at four in the morning to write before heading off to work.
Are you in a rut or do you have habits that create the life you want?
Sometimes when it’s still dark, I unwrap from my cocoon of covers and creep downstairs to write in the dark. Mind you, it’s at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, not 1:30. I absolutely refuse to get out of bed any earlier than 3:30. But writing in the dark affords focus when I can’t seem to find it anywhere else. I don’t turn on any lights.
When it’s dark I can’t see this:
I only see this:
That's a blurry photo of my computer screen! If you are struggling with distractions from your writing, sometimes I think it helps to clean your immediate area and face the wall. That way you don't see everything in the house that's needs to be cleaned, washed, mailed, weeded (if you happen to look out the window) or filed. It's just you and the computer screen and a wall. Happy writing!
Two minute read.
I don’t know who first said, “You can’t edit a blank page” because it’s been attributed to more people than I care to count but that’s probably because we like the truth of the statement. We like that it gives us room.
What’s more intimidating than a blank page? A blank page you’ve been staring at for fifteen minutes. I’ve been there. I took all the advice others gave to me and wrote garbage on the paper but I knew it was just garbage. I understood that you can’t edit a blank page but I felt like I was boxing in a straightjacket. I couldn’t get out of the blank page.
In my humble opinion it is usually psychological (I am not a doctor and am not advising you to do anything. I also don’t play a doctor on TV.). It’s fair to say that if you are struggling to write, you are trying to write for the wrong reasons.
As a writer you have to give up the idea of writing a NY Times Bestselling book that is turned into a movie so that you can make a million dollars and be wildly famous and happy. You must write to write as I call it. If that’s sounds kind of Zen and nebulous…it probably is. But you might find that your writer’s block is a matter of “I want to write so that I can show my dad that I am worth something.” You are writing in order to prove something or some variation of that theme. At the end of the day, you must write because that is how you must express yourself. Creation is always about your vision and bringing that vision or idea to fruition.
Writing to write means writing your very best that day, which may be terrible. Writing to write might mean writing a letter, a blog post, a condolence letter to a friend. It might mean writing down the next three index cards to plot your next book. On a good day, it might mean writing fifteen pages in a fever of production and you already know how you’re going to write tomorrow’s scene. One day is not better than the next because to have that fifteen-page day, you also have those one-paragraph days. They were both your best effort.
You need to find out what’s blocking your writing. I was in a writing class once and we traded writing assignments. I was reading my fellow student’s chapter. She wrote “I’ll write more about Charlie’s business empire here,” and then she moved on with her story. That little trick was an epiphany for me. I can’t write that right now but I’ll fill it in later and carry on with the rest of my story while I’m flowing here. She didn’t let herself be stopped with getting the job done. I’ve adopted her technique many times and have found it helpful. Once the structure is there you can go back and fill in the details.
I’m not saying to give yourself an easy out. You have to write something every day and having a goal of writing ‘x’ many pages a day is great and worked for me for years. Until it didn’t.
I was very anxious and frustrated for years and felt pressure to write a great book and people kept asking me how’s the book coming and I finally said I don’t know if I’ll ever publish this book (or in my case these books). I’m writing to create and I’m having fun. That’s when I began feeling free to write from my heart. I quit worrying about what other people would think about me.
I hope you will too.