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Tag: writing

Four Things to Get Started Writing

An alarm began sounding in my late 40s and it wasn’t my biological clock. It also wasn’t a mid-life crisis, although it probably had the makings of one.

The alarm was more of a wakeup call, similar to the one that sounds to announce the start of a new day, this one began chiming in my consciousness, telling me that there was something I needed to commence.

It took some courage to take note, some pushing back on the fear of failure, ignoring the voice that said, “Who are YOU to think you can do this? It’s not time. You’re not ready.”

But it was time. It IS time.

So here I am, with a website that focusing on writing: more specifically, writing in the second half of life, owning the title of writer and encouraging others to do the same in whatever form that title might take. Take a look at my About page to learn more.

I’m excited because I’ve always had this dream, one I didn’t verbalize often, but one that remained since my youth — a dream to be a fiction writer.

But I hadn’t done a single thing to make that happen.

And when that alarm bell began to ring in my late 40s, I asked myself, “What am I waiting for, anyway? My 50s? My 60s? That day when I will have an abundance of free time?

As fate would have it, around the time I started contemplating these things, a friend and former colleague published a fiction novel. I read her book and was proud of her.  She also had a dream to write fiction.

The difference between her and me? She took action. She sat down at her keyboard and got started on her book and she finished it.  (Susan Sagarra, Cracks in the Cobblestone).

The difference between her and me? She took action. She sat down at her keyboard and got started on her book and she finished it.

I went to her book launch party and chatted with several other former colleagues. Guess what?  We all talked about being impressed with our friend. Interestingly, many of us had harbored quiet, private dreams about writing a book, as well.

According to writer Joseph Epstein, about 200 million people aspire to authorship. So my colleagues and I had a lot of company, but Susan actually WROTE her book. What an inspiration!

So, that party not only launched my friend’s book. It launched me out of dreaming mode and into action mode.

Here are the four things I did to get started owning the title of writer and to help me move closer to my dream of becoming a published fiction author.

  • I started journaling.

Writing takes practice. One of the biggest objections I had about establishing a daily writing practice was that I didn’t know what to write about each day. I would sit with a blank cursor or a blank piece o
f paper, and no words would come. So I channeled the inner “middle schooler” and just started  cataloguing what I’d done that day. Really. Boring. Stuff.

But in time, it morphed into more, and sometimes, as I was cataloguing who I’d seen or what errands I ran that day, I’d remember something significant – the way a store clerk treated an elderly patron with kindness or the way the summer heat made me think of my late father. And then I’d be off to the races with more interesting, heart-felt writing. I’ll share more tips on establishing a regular journaling practice in a future post, so be sure to subscribe below. When you subscribe, I’ll send you my free PDF: “Tips on How to Get Started Journaling, Stay Motivated and the Best Journaling App.”

  • I started reading more.

My favorite author is Stephen King. (For real, I’m almost a stalker. I recently drove six hours just to hear him speak. More about that in a future post, too). I listen to his advice like it’s gospel, and in his non-fiction book called “On writing” he says:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” 

This book full of practical advice and encouragement that can make any writer or aspiring writer feel empowered. I cannot recommend it enough. Later this month, I’ll share some of my favorite non-fiction resources on the topic of writing and becoming an author.

The best part of the advice, above, is that it’s a perfect excuse  to curl up with a good book and read. In addition to reading non-fiction to help me with my craft, I also started reading more of the kind of fiction I want to do. No time? I’ve also got some suggestions for that in a future post.

  • I started small.

I want to write a fiction novel. I have a story idea that has been bouncing around in my head for years. But the idea of a whole book seemed too daunting. A short story sounded more doable. I started on my novel,  but I also decided to work on a few short stories as ideas came to me.

I did this for a couple of reasons. I wanted to get feedback on my fiction writing, and there are lots of places to submit short-stories (contests, literary journals, online magazines). Even if that feedback was rejection (and so far it has been, for the most part) I figured that would help me learn.

I also did this because of another quote from my favorite author’s book:

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” — Stephen King, On Writing.

This is not to say that I didn’t get started on my novel. I did. It’s coming along and I’ll share more about it as I go. But I’ve found that I’m learning a lot about writing fiction in crafting short stories. I am applying those lessons to my novel and it’s making my book stronger.

  • I signed up for a class.

This isn’t necessary. In fact, some people avoid “doing” by taking classes. Ever heard of a professional student? I don’t believe that taking a class or a workshop is necessary to get started as a writer. But for me, taking a fiction class at the local community college  and then doing a writer’s workshop were motivating activities that gave me more confidence. I did not, however, wait until I took the class and workshop to start writing.

Most community colleges and continuing education programs  offer classes in writing — fiction and non-fiction. Some even offer a certificate program, which I’ll also write about in a later post.

I’m eight months away from my 50th birthday, and I’m no longer just dreaming about claiming the title of writer and becoming an author. I am a writer because I write every single day. And I will be an author soon enough. My novel is started and I’m making progress. I’ve got a laptop full of completed short-stories that are out for submission, some nearing publication and one that recently was a finalist in the Atlantis Short Story contest.

All of this because I got started.

If you read my About page, you’ll see that I’ve been paid to write my entire adult life. So, you might be thinking that I’ve always been a writer. That’s not true, because it is only in the last few years, as I’ve taken the above steps and started loving writing again, that I have claimed the title of writer. I’m writing with passion, and I’ve never felt more energized or excited.

Callout to Midlifers (not you, never old): If you think you’d like to do the same — own the title of “writer” in your midlife — then stick around, this is the place for you.  I plan to keep sharing my journey and providing content that will help you on your journey, as well.

The Shadow of Fear versus the Light of Courage

My late Grandmother once told me that fear is a sin. I can’t remember the exact circumstances that prompted the conversation, but it had something to do with my children – my fears and worries related to them.

The message sounds harsh, but that wasn’t her intention. Her words were delivered lovingly, without judgment, and her point was that I should trust Jesus more and fear less. I listened, and then continued to be fearful, especially when it came to my kids. But the words stuck with me and through the years, in a quiet moment or sometimes in a moment fraught with fear and worry, I remember them.

Thankfully, I haven’t lived with the kinds of horrific fears others have endured – fear of physical abuse or violence, fear of starvation or homelessness or life-threatening illness. I have been abundantly blessed in the areas of family, health, home, education and opportunity.

But when I am being honest with myself, I realize that fear has been a fairly constant companion in my life.

Sometimes, fear has been like a rude roommate, dampening my joy as I entertain guests or meet new people or embark on new adventures. He whispers words of doubt or criticisms in my ear or shouts insults from the well-worn Lazyboy he occupies inside my brain. I know he’s there and I’m aware of his tactics. Therefore, I’m able to ignore him for the most part, but he still makes an impact.

Sometimes fear disguises himself, arriving in designer cloaks of justifiable worry or good parenting. Like many mothers, my greatest fears involve my children, and most of the time those fears take the form of concern for their health, safety, future and happiness. I worry when my teens drive away from the house. I grow fearful if they are driving in bad weather. I fret over their academics, their success in and out of the classroom, their social lives.

Fear is most effective, however, when he takes the form of my shadow — unnoticed, unacknowledged, seemingly inconsequential. Just like a shadow at high noon, fear is smaller and less effective when there is a great deal of light on the subject at hand. But when I keep things hidden, intentionally or unintentionally, the light grows dimmer like a setting sun and the shadow of fear grows longer and more powerful.

That is when fear can change the course of my life. That is when he can keep me from discovering God’s purpose for me, from enjoying the blessings and gifts God has bestowed upon me. That is when I unknowingly, unwittingly take action based on my fears. And more often than not, because I’m unaware that fear is occupying the driver’s seat, my action is simply NOT TAKING ACTION.

But recently, I’ve started to let more light shine into areas of my life that I’ve historically kept to myself, and that light has decreased the size of my fear shadow. I’ve set out on a new path prompted by a maturing faith in God, age, life experiences and an increasing awareness that my willingness to keep company with fear speaks volumes to my children.

I am pursuing my dream of writing fiction. Although I have always made a living with the written word, I strayed from my profession some in the past few years for various reasons, some of which had to do with fear.

I have returned my focus to making a living as a writer and communicator, but I’m making room for writing that fills me in addition to the writing that pads our checking account.

Interestingly, fear followed me on this new path because I left him a trail of breadcrumbs. Bad habits die hard, and he catches up every once in awhile. When he does, he tells me:

  • “You don’t have time for this” or,
  • “You aren’t creative enough to write fiction” or,
  • “You’re too old to write a novel” or,
  • “You have no idea what you’re doing” or,
  • “The rejection letters will just keep coming” or,
  • “You need to focus on making money and bringing in new clients/projects, not writing stories” or,
  • “You’re being selfish to spend time on this hobby” or,
  • “You are a Mom, not a writer, and your mom work is more important and the two are mutually exclusive,” or
  • the list is exhaustive . . .

A friend recently recommend the book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The book is speaking to me – the book is singing to me. In the first few pages, she writes, “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.”

I would say that it is God, not the universe, that buries those jewels within us, and God that gives us the courage, if we let Him, to go on that hunt.

I’m choosing to let Him. I’m writing, and I’m putting myself out there: on this blog; in the short stories that I keep submitting and that have, thus far, only resulted in rejection letters; and now, in a book manuscript that is starting to take shape.

Gilbert suggests that we are more than the sum of our daily obligations and duties and that we can choose to make something of ourselves with ourselves. And she says that “fear is a desolate bone yard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.” That is not the life or death I want to choose for my dreams.
Dream Hope JoyI’m trying to choose courage, trying to let the light shine on my dreams a bit more – to shorten the length of the shadows that are cast over them and instead let them cast shadows of hope and joy.

Now it’s time for me to get back to work on my manuscript.

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