Sunday, January 31, 2010

Prayers of the Downtrodden

My husband and I drove downtown today. We went to the hospital to visit a friend. A devastating car accident placed him there about a year ago. He hit a tree head on and never went into shock. He felt his legs shatter and his hip break. He was conscious when the helicopter came to pull him out. Then he lost consciousness for weeks. Against all odds he is still living. His body now full of metal, infection and surgical scars.
As I walked through the lobby and rode the elevator with my husband I became aware of the sterile air, and the force of fear I always face when entering a hospital. The dread is so palpable I don’t even try to notice the details or describe what I find so repulsive. I simply want to be out as quickly as possible.
Our friend feels the same way. He aches for freedom. He has no flowers, no view of the wider world, only a scratchy TV. Gratitude and anger fight within him when he speaks about his situation.
This afternoon, he expressed his longing to get out of bed without help. To drive to a donut shop and get out of the car himself, walk up to the cashier and order an iced coffee and a coffee roll. To him, that will be the ultimate victory. And to me, it is an expected part of my day or week. I walk through life with no wonder, no appreciation for the gift I have been given.
As we continued to talk, he woefully mused that every turn has been a conglomeration of misery and miracles. He noted that his story truly would be one worth reading. He noted that the polarity of the Psalms have been his comfort whether agonizing over his plight or appreciative that he survived. He loves the authenticity of emotion.
And I was struck by the fact that all of our stories are worth reading-that our authentic emotions are valid and valuable. And yet we don’t share them. There are stories that need to be told. Do we have the courage to tell them?

*I plan on exploring the theme of authenticity and emotion for a few weeks. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Monday, January 25, 2010


I thought for a very, very long time that I could control when things happened. I understood the concept of causation and simply imagined myself to be the only catalyst needed to start my plans in motion. I didn’t fail because it never crossed my mind as a possibility.
I cruised along under this determined and diligent narcissism until I was about 14 when I entered the Reader’s Digest writing contest. It was a humor contest, asking for amusing stories from reader’s daily lives.
Even at that age, I knew that humor was one of the most challenging endeavors for a writer. But, I was determined and that meant I must succeed. Fortunately, I did have plenty of fodder for the funny piece. I chose to write about a recent baking fiasco, when I attempted to bake “No Fail Fudge.” (I’m sure that you can already foresee the irony of the piece.)
I had the kitchen to myself and I was eager to begin my culinary career. I got the recipe for No Fail Fudge from the back of a fluff jar. Looking back, this should have been the first clue that I was not on the path to sweet success. Fluff is certainly not the foremost ingredient of sublime pastries.
The real problems began when I tried to substitute ingredients. The recipe called for evaporated milk. I had never even heard of evaporated milk. Using the power of deduction I figured that the liquid has been evaporated out of the milk making it pretty much the same thing as powered milk.
It is not at all the same thing. A truth which I came to realize minutes later when faced with a burnt pan, a kitchen full of smoke and a full blown failure.
Sadly, not only my fudge was a failure but also my attempt in narrating it humorously. I was hit with my first rejection letter.
Since then I have written several more dismal pieces of writing. My frustration came in the fact that the harder I tried to make something good and worthwhile the worse it turned out.
Success does not submit to our time table.
I often wonder when I will believe that I am a writer? Perhaps when I surrender my futile attempts to bridle success. Perhaps when I stop trying so hard and start enjoying the journey.

Monday, January 18, 2010


What in the world am I doing?
I was reminded this weekend that there are no ordinary days*. Today is priceless. We know on some level that money can't buy time and yet we act like we can-as if today was an asset to be spent as we please. How foolish.
There is no sensical way to run cost analysis on creation. I remind myself of this when I start to fall for the toxic lie that writing is not a worthwhile use of my time. This sort of doubt only breeds paralysis.
It is especially hard to move and write in the face of tragedies like the one which has just devastated Haiti. I sit scared and wordless when I consider it.
But the healing, growth and creativity that writing fosters should not be ignored in times like these. It is an honor to have the rough hewn tools of words to carve out the wonder of the world we live in. There is so much worth writing about. We need only remember that our words are invaluable. They can bring life or death. We can silence them or allow them to acknowledge and validate the realities of this crazy life we live.
So, I ask myself: What am I doing today? Am I writing in the face of my fears and doubts? Am I creating something? Am I reaching beyond myself to write about what matters in this life?
*The video at this site played a big part in my reflections:

Sunday, January 10, 2010


As promised I am getting back to the basics by asking the 5 Ws Who, What, When, Where and Why? Today, I tackle...
I started out asking the question Who? in a very pragmatic way. I realized that I needed to figure out: Who will be interested in reading (or even better-buying) my writing? I know absolutely nothing about the business end of anything, especially not writing. I never knew (and perhaps still don’t) the difference between an agent, an editor and a publisher. I have always been fuzzy on copyright laws and intellectual property. That whole mess seemed quite overwhelming and I closed my eyes to it, hoping that someday I’d be magically discovered as a writing prodigy and simply fall into a book contract.
I realize now that this was lazy, timid and foolish. Marketing does not necessarily sully the art of writing. Business can sharpen and hone writing. It can be a way to polish a diamond in the rough. Writing for myself is certainly where it starts but it does not have to be where it ends. There may be others who care about what I do and what a challenge to find them and to show them my work! (for a wonderful blog on this, see Rachelle Gardner’s Rants and Ramblings
There are other, perhaps deeper, Who questions to be answered as well. For example: Who are my characters? and Who am I as a writer?
It took me two or three months to really develop my characters and I find every time I write they are still developing. It was very helpful to me to try and visualize my characters and get to know them. I spent hours jotting down notes about their appearance, their motivation, their preferences, their fears, their mannerisms, their social status, their personal problems, even their vocal quality. At times it felt like a waste to wade so deeply into aspects of their lives which may only make a camio appearance in my work. Still, I kept at it and learned some valuable lessons. Now, I often return to these notes when I feel I am getting off track.
Unavoidably, I began to ask myself these same questions and I came to a fascinating conclusion. An author knows a character better than the character knows itself. And in life, the Creator knows me much better than I know myself. It seems odd that I could possibly still be learning about myself, but I change and develop like any good character. My likes and dislikes shift with time and my appearance morphs as well. I could never have seen who I am today and I cannot predict how that will change tomorrow. But through it all, I want to be integrated, to have all the pieces of my life woven together until I am a women of true integrity.

What are your Who questions and how do you answer them?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Back to the Basics

My husband made a keen observation during our last discussion about writing. “Haven’t you got a bit off track?” he asked me. I knew immediately what he meant. I had noticed it myself but was hoping I could “get away with it."
I set up Penned but not Published in order to be more serious about writing, in order to devote more time to writing. I wanted to post my progress weekly and thus be held accountable as a writer.
Wonderful things have come about since I started blogging:
1.I have found deep and lasting encouragement from other writers.
2. I have discovered words of great wisdom in many blogs I now follow.
And perhaps most important of all..
3. I have developed as a writer. I have gained confidence and insight. My writing voice has become clearer and stronger. I write far more since starting this blog than I ever did before.
However, amidst all of these positives there lies hidden a negative.
The problem is that I have also used blogging to procrastinate. I have spent untold hours reading other blogs and surfing around the worldwide web. Many weeks, I have posted about writing on my blog but have not really written all week. This feels hypocritical. Too much time passes without any progress on my screenplay, stories or poems.
There is no easy way to remedy this. I cannot pull time or motivation out of thin air. But as I contemplated the problem, I came up with a fairly straightforward solution. I would use the methods I teach my students. I would ask myself questions. The basics: Who, What, When, Where and Why:
Who would be interested in publishing my work?
What am I most eager to complete and have published?
When could I reasonable complete my WIP?
Where do I see myself a year from now?
Why do I want to be published? (because being published doesn’t make you a “real” writer.)
So, I have devoted some time to seriously considering these questions. I have set aside my next 3 or 4 posts to answering these questions.
I would love to hear your answers as well. They might be simple questions but the answers can be quite profound. Please share what you have gained from blogging, distractions you have had to overcome or any questions that have guided your work.