Thank you for the last ten weeks. You have all worked hard writing and rewriting and editing your own work and your fellow writers’ works, all the while growing in knowledge and experience, which was evidenced in your writing, which has been better and better every week.
I look forward to publishing our Let’s Write! class anthology, our collection of this class’s unique and original memoirs of which I am very proud.
Since I’ve already extensively shared with you my gratitude and appreciation for your patience with me for the duration of our longer-than-usual class due to my inopportune accident, let me jump right in here with what’s rambling through my mind.
Sometimes I think people take themselves a little too seriously (or a lot). “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (from the Holy Bible, Galatians 4:16)
Yes. If you want to clear a room or empty your life, tell the truth. And you could say this is the story of my life, both personal and professional. People say, “Val, you’re so real,” but then when I am “real” (in other words, honest), they hate me for it and call me names and run away.
But here’s the thing of which I’m really guilty. I’m going to really clear the room, now, maybe empty myself of all students/clients, present and prospective, “because I tell you the truth.” Here goes: It’s not my clients/students for whom I work (they just pay the bill), it’s their writing.
My concern is not for the poet, it’s for her poetry and its effect on those for whom it’s meant. And therein lies the problem. God gives us a gift with which He expects to use us to reach others, whether that gift be music, public speaking, sewing, writing, carpentry, or any other number of specialties.
So when all the while, a writer is concerned more about him- or herself than the writing, all I’m thinking about is will anyone ever read this out there somewhere? Paperback? eBook? blog post? Will any of those ever happen so the memoirs, stories, essays, poetry so full of wisdom and experience ever be allowed to live? I try.
Writers Who Got Over Themselves for the Sake of the Writing:
I practically begged student Gayle Peebles to write a book because the potential from an essay she’d tentatively started in class was overwhelming. She fortunately took the bait, and I got to help her give life to the story wanting to be told and appreciated by all who read it. The result, Best Friends Worlds Apart is a real classic book, receiving high accolades from the judges at Writers Digest in 2017 when Gayle entered it in an eBook contest, and enjoyed by many here in the United States and in Russia.
I cajoled Lily Allyson Liu, a lovely Taiwanese-American lady who was afraid her English wasn’t good enough (It was, with a bit of editing.) into writing her memoir about falling in love with a man involved at the time in a regrettable gay relationship. The result, a touching little 60-page paperback and eBook Lily called A Rhythmic and Melodious Friendship: A Memoir because one thing they had in common was a strong love and knowledge of classical music. It was a true story being written even as it was being lived by her (and him).
It wasn’t easy, but I coerced Shirley Ann Moore into writing the family story of her mother, a Wiyot Indian, after she had submitted a three-page essay about herself growing up with her mom. Then I convinced Shirley into including a brief history of the Wiyot tribe, complete with a map of the tribe’s home of northern California. Shirley named the memoir A Lick and A Promise: Remembering Mom, Descendant of a Wiyot Tribe. The title came from Shirley’s mom’s favorite line about how she’d clean the kitchen when in a hurry, with “a lick and a promise”. Shirley included a family recipe at the end of each chapter of her book, a delightful aspect readers appreciated.
Like Gayle, Shirley, after the classes ended, began to come weekly to my studio for private sessions with me. Also like Gayle, Shirley would bring family photographs she’d collected which we painstakingly labeled and scanned into my computer to be part of the history her characters were unraveling for her, little by little, in the book Shirley never believed could happen.
Shirley’s favorite line was, “Do you really think I have a book here?” (Gayle had asked the same question early on.) “Of course, you do,” I’d say. “How can you not see it?” I’m truly shocked and often frustrated when students seem blind and deaf to their own stories trying to be told.
Alix had already written about three hundred poems and had posted them online to a poetry website when he saw a Let’s Write! ad in a local paper. He asked if I could help him put his poems together into a book, editing if and when necessary. It took time collecting, reading, and editing, and it’s a book of which I’m very proud and honored to have been a part of getting into publication. Alix called the collection Transcendental Highway after the title of one of the poems contained therein. As we put it together, we would both cry as we read through some of the 150 poems he’d chosen to include in this volume. Then he cried when the book was finished and the published paperback (with a beautiful photo of his son on the cover) was in his hand.
These are everyday people who show up in my classes and private sessions and are open to their own writing (and my suggestions), and with some egging on and a lot of encouragement, come to realize their story has to be shared, has to see light, and that it is very doable. The stories want to be told. These authors come to realize they don’t own their words. They have to be put together and allowed to express the life they already have, for the sake of others.
Will it be a best seller read by millions? Probably not, but then it’s well known that many best sellers are such because their rich authors purchase copies of their own books in the thousands and millions thereby pushing their book into best-seller status based on the number of books sold. There are all kinds of tricks in this trade.
But that’s not the point. Maybe ten people will read the story, poem, essay. Maybe fifty, maybe a hundred. But it’s just that one in whom I’m interested. It’s that one who is really touched by what they read, what you wrote, that story that brought them to tears or made them laugh out loud. It’s for that one potential reader that the writing had to see daylight. It’s what writing is for, to be read, the way art has to be seen.
Dear Writer, Let your children (writings) go free so they can be read by others. If not a book, learn how to do a blog. Sometimes you will get feedback of readers’ appreciation of your writing. But lots of time you won’t, but that doesn’t mean somebody didn’t read it and it was just what he or she needed just when it showed up.
Don’t be a helicopter parent. Like our real children, we don’t own our works of art or creations of craft; we just bring them into the world. As they mature and become complete (ready for publication) we can’t hold on to them but must send them out into the world so to affect those they touch. That’s what writing is for.
I always pray that those who’ve been given a gift by God, will not only use it, but let others benefit by it as well. The writer’s gift of writing is what I work for. The writer is just the venue (and the one paying the bill). The writer is the vehicle through which the writing (story, memoir, poem—in other words, the message) is passed on to those who read it. That’s why writers need to put their fragile egos aside so others can read what God has given them to say, to write.
And if I can help you write, edit, publish it, I’m thrilled and honored. That’s what I do. I help give life to stories that need to be shared. We do it together. And how delighted I am when one of you decides it’s worth the work, and you’re all in, for working on your writing so it can be at its best (the way we clean and dress up our children before we present them to others), with the goal of letting them go out into the world to be appreciated for their gifts by others.
As I’ve said, but can’t say enough, it’s frustrating when people of true talent lock away their art and craft (manuscripts, artwork, whatever they create) and stubbornly fight this kind of encouragement, even seem to resent it.
Here’s the point: I’m delighted with students invested in their writing wholeheartedly (like the no-fear, non-ego writers listed above did) because that makes my job of helping clients bring their writing to professional publication standard so much easier and more enjoyable. It can get old to constantly try to convince writers their stories, memoirs, essays, poems are worth publishing, whether as a book or blog posts (or both) when I know from years of professional experience and education that it’s true.
When writers don’t want to do the work and prefer, instead, to argue in defense of their egos (fears) constantly (though they don’t seem to realize that that’s what they’re doing), these fears and unteachable egos get in the way. Then I get the extra job of wasting time and energy (and Writer’s money) placating Writer, so Writing can continue in its best direction in order to come alive on the page. Therefore, the essence of my message to you today, Dear Writer, is as follows:
Thank you for listening. Warm wishes for your writing life ahead.
Your caring teacher,
Seven years passed. Teresa had recently turned thirty-five. Frances and Linda were both in high school and still supposedly “best friends”. Michael had graduated and still worked at Grenelli Collision, and, strangely, Linda had become Michael’s girlfriend while he was still in high school.
Eventually, as I’d gotten older—and stronger in Alison’s friendship, though I’d never told Alison of the so-called “doctor” visits—I gained the ability to tell Teresa No more! Whatever illness I’m supposed to have I’ll live with. I may have even had the courage, at some point, to tell Teresa I was going to ask the school nurse about the treatments. I was surprised but thankful when the “doctors” miraculously stopped coming to the apartment.
I hated sixth grade, and all the other grades, as much as I had hated Sister Razor Blade’s kindergarten class, except for Alison (who now went by Al), of course. And it got worse when Al zoomed past me in school. Her father Andy had made her take a test which proved her to be a genius, though she didn’t like that label. She preferred the word advanced. The schools called her gifted. Andy had hired a slue of private tutors for her. It was some new thing they were doing with what they called whiz kids, and Al graduated high school while I still fought the battle that was grammar school. I had always known Al was smart but never realized it was that serious. When she told me she couldn’t go to school with me anymore, school became a real hell.
It was a cold Saturday afternoon in March as I sat alone on my bed, with Teresa passed out on her bed in her room. Nobody else was home. I dug in between the mattress and box spring for the black and white composition book I used for a diary. Sitting cross-legged on the bed, I opened my diary and reached over for my new Bic ballpoint pen in the nightstand drawer. Today’s my birthday, I wrote. I’m twelve. I know Michael’s the only one who will remember. I love him so much. I hope we can always live together, far away from Teresa and The Thing. We would never have to be separated. Ever.
I stopped writing. Someone was in the room. I looked up. Frances. She stood there, watching me, then, in a fast moment that moved in slow motion, she pounced on me and snatched my diary right out of my hands.
“What are you doing?” I yelled. “Give me that!” But she was already gone. “Give it back to me!” I yelled and ran after her. She raced toward the bathroom. I darted across the living room and jumped on her from behind. She pushed me hard, and I fell back against the living room wall. She ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. I heard the lock catch. I threw myself at the door and pounded my fists on it. I pulled on the doorknob, shaking the wooden door on its hinges.
“Open the door!” I screamed over and over. “Open it! I hate you!”
A few minutes later, the latch clicked, the doorknob turned, and the door flew open with a force that sent me back against the wall. Before I could move, Frances pushed past me, through the kitchen, and out the apartment door, laughing her high-pitched cackle and yelling, “Linda’s gonna love this!”
Linda? What is she doing? I clung to the wall, frozen. There was no way to stop her. She was fat, but fast, and she already had too much of a head start. She was going to show my diary to Linda. I slid down the wall onto the floor.
Just then, Teresa’s bedroom door opened. I pulled myself up, still leaning. Teresa appeared, in a bright pink bathrobe with a cigarette hanging from one side of her mouth. Her voice scraped my entire body like fingernails on a blackboard.
“What’s going on out here?” she said, squinting through the smoke. “What’s all the lousy noise about?”
I kept my eyes on the open bathroom door.
“What are you doing? What’s the matter with you?”
“Leave me alone,” I said. “Please go back to bed.”
“Don’t tell me to go back to bed! Don’t you ever tell me what to do! You hear me?”
“Yes, I hear you.” I’ve heard you from the day I was born, I thought but didn’t say. I kept staring into the bathroom until she gave up and disappeared back into her cave, then I slid down to the living room floor again and stayed there a long time, until I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I jumped back up. Frances was back already?
“Hey, Shorty. How ya doin’?” Michael, in his work clothes, Yankees cap, the faint scent of his English Leather cologne still with him since he’d gone to work that morning, and, of course, the ever-present cigarette between his fingers.
“What are you doing? You okay?” He sounded like his usual cheerful self, except for the pulsating veins on either side of his forehead, usually a sign of trouble.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said.
“You sure, Goofy? You look kinda funny.”
I didn’t want to know what he meant by that. “No, I’m fine,” I said. “Um, did you see Frances outside?”
“No, thank God. Why?” He bounced over to the couch and sat down. By now, Teresa had reappeared and was staring at Michael with her usual begrudging look. He ignored her.
“Um, she just left here a little while ago,” I told him. “I thought maybe you saw her.” I stayed propped up against the wall, trying not to slide down again.
“Nope,” he said. “Why? Does it matter?” Even though he was sitting, he kept moving as if restless.
“No, it doesn’t matter,” I said. I realized Michael would have been driving up the block with Frances running in the opposite direction. The wind outside blew right through the walls and into my bones. I didn’t know if I had stopped hugging myself, or rocking or shaking. No wonder Michael had said I looked funny.
“Oh, here,” he said, and jumped back up and into the kitchen. Teresa took the opportunity to steal his place on the couch. He returned to the living room with a package about two feet long and wrapped in red paper.
“Here’s your birthday present.” He poked my stomach with it, though his smile turned down when he glanced over at Teresa.
“Here,” he said. “Take it, will ya? You want your birthday present, don’t you, ya little goofball?” He smiled again.
“Yeah, I want it,” I said. Boy, did I want it. But the image of Frances and Linda shuffling through the pages of my diary flashed inside my head, and turned around in my stomach.
“Aren’t you going to open it, Shorty?” he asked. “You don’t look too excited.”
“Oh, I’m excited. I’m very excited.” I knew my smile was crooked because I could feel my face all twisted up. I tore open the thick red paper and stared at the cardboard box for a minute, confused. Then through the cellophane I saw what it was—a fishing pole, in two pieces in the box, and just like Michael’s but brand new with a shiny, dark green chrome reel. I wished we could run right then with it to Hamilton Beach.
“You like it?” he asked with a big smile. He put out his cigarette in Teresa’s ashtray and took out another one from the crumpled Camels pack in his shirt pocket and lit it.
I nodded. I wanted to say thank you, but couldn’t make any sounds.
“Hey, kid, what’s wrong? Are you crying? Don’t you like it?”
“I love it,” I blubbered out. “It’s the best fishing pole in the world.” I sounded as if I had just turned two, not twelve.
END OF EXCERPT 10 FROM CH. 4, The Archangel of Hamilton Beach
Let’s Write! Announcement of New Writing Studio
625 Cherry Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(between Mendocino Ave. and Humboldt)
Hi! This is to let you know that Let’s Write! Creative Writing Services is opening a new studio inside a little house-turned-office-building on Cherry Street.
There’s even a comfy-cozy waiting room and 2 friendly receptionists! :- )
My first day will be Dec 10, 2018.
So if you’re working on a writing project, or want to, now’s the time to take the plunge and give your writing the attention it deserves!
For now, I’m offering 1-hour private sessions, but later may also introduce small groups. (My next general class will start March 2019 at the Finley Community Center.)
I’m also now offering basic blog setup and instruction for those of you who want to write online for others to read without having to publish a book.
EASY TO FIND ME:
The address is well marked at 625 Cherry Street between Mendocino Ave. and Humboldt, in Santa Rosa.
If you see “Hubbs Law”, you’re in the right place. (I’ll soon get a sign that meets the permit requirements for the Historic District)
Parking is behind the building to your left as you come in the driveway (not to the right, please), with 2 disabled spots, if you have a placard.
If there’s no space available in the back, please park on the street (two-hour parking) and enjoy a lovely, short walk up historic Cherry Street. :- )
Write me at email@example.com with your writing plans and ideas.
Or comment here and I’ll respond promptly.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Be well and Let’s Write! :- )
Everyone has a story. A deceptively simple title, but don’t let that fool you. Utsav Raj of My Spirals, has written a short-short story which I read to my creative writing class as an excellent example of the use of fine, original detail which brings our writing to life on the page (or screen).
With phrases like “he decided to use photo frames to hold musical notes” Utsav keeps us paying attention because we can’t help it. The language is simple, yet when put together in sentences and paragraphs it paints pictures which tell a story much broader than can be contained within it.
Please read not only this post of Utsav Raj’s but the rest of his writings on his blog My Spirals, such as A Letter to Music. His voice is unique yet we understand him perfectly. Utsav’s writings are beautiful examples of how Specific expresses Universal.
Please read this wonderful and timely post Why Not? by the writer of The Godly Chic Diaries about “Why Not” do what we want to do, even when we didn’t know we wanted to do it until someone suggested it?
My friends often joke that spending time with me is dangerous — because I will make you want to start something. Sometimes that something wasn’t even something you wanted until you begin to believe in yourself
And that last part is key: “until you begin to believe in yourself”.
Reading The Godly Chic’s article Why Not? “iterated” (her word :- ) for me what I try almost daily to convince writing students of, but she says it much more eloquently.
Thank you, Godly Chic, for your article and for your website overall. (I highly recommend reading all Godly Chic’s articles and following her blog for more).
“What?” I said out loud to nobody, then laughed. “An F? Moi? Can’t be. She must have me mixed up with one of her students who can’t write.”
“I’m your straight-A, remember?” I said to the email, which I had finally received (years ago) from my undergraduate writing teacher on my essay proposal. (We had to send in a proposal of the topic about which we intended to write, before starting our term paper for the class.)
For the perfectionist that I have been since kindergarten, to be threatened with an F was a blow to the chest that took my breath away. She must have made a mistake (though I took an F years later in graduate school for refusing to edit pornography…but that’s another story).
I sat down, ready to write the teacher back and complain that she had the wrong student, but then took a moment to read further into her email, and that’s when I saw the reason for her indictment.
Her reason for giving a straight-A writing student an F for a term-paper topic was explainable in one word. You might say she gave me the F for Focus (or the lack thereof).
What was the topic I proposed that she said would bring me an F? Introversion—being an introvert in an extraverted world. She said it was too broad.
She said if I were planning a book-length work on the topic, it might have been acceptable because each chapter could address a different aspect of the issue, but for an article it was much too broad.
So after hours of deliberation I came up with a subject more specific: Being an introvert in the typically extravert world of the workplace. I sent it back to her, confident, even smug, satisfied that I’d given her what she wanted, and ready to start on my term paper – until I received her prompt reply: “You’ll still get an F.”
“What? Are you kidding me!” I yelled at the computer. As I read through her email I saw that word again: “Focus. Bring it down to something much more specific,” she wrote. “A specific problem with at least one specific solution.”
I had thought being an introvert in an extraverted world was specific. In my mind, I was zooming in on introverts versus the rest of the world of categories out there into which you can slip almost all the people you encounter, such as being short in a world of tall people, being blond, being overweight, being a vegetarian among carnivores (or vice versa). The list is endless.
So I wrote down my key word: Introverts. Okay, so what’s their problem? Being one myself, I had no shortage of a list of problems, such as: malls, busy restaurants or other public places; parties; networking events; the workplace!
And that’s where I landed. For me, the workplace has always been an office of one type or another or a classroom, with coworkers, office politics, fellow teachers and admin with whom to mix in the break and conference rooms, whether one wanted to or not.
But the more I looked at it, the more I saw that others will have workplaces such as various outdoor settings, factories, and so many other different kinds of backdrops. Widening my thinking and realizing this fact showed me why “introverts in the workplace” was still too general.
After going over the initial research I had done for my introvert proposal, and writing different versions of topics in order to find one that clicked, the title at which I arrived and that she accepted as being focused enough was “How Introverts Can Survive and Thrive in the Office”.
When I think about it now, I view it as an upside-down triangle, an inverted vortex or V, to represent the situation.
At the top of the vortex is the topic at its most general, introversion versus extraversion.
At the bottom is the specific application on which I finally landed, the introvert surviving and thriving the extravert office.
In the middle somewhere is the introvert in the more generalized “workplace”, and so many other aspects of introversion.
1. Introvert versus extravert world: Too broad.
2. Introvert in workplace: Still too broad.
3. How an introvert not only gets by, but thrives, in what is considered to be a hostile environment to most introverts—the office, with all its implications: Specific.
Other similar approaches might have been: How an introvert spouse survives and thrives an extravert husband or wife, or the best ways to nurture your introverted child in an extraverted school environment.
There are many possibilities along the spectrum, but the narrow point of focus at the bottom of the vortex is the goal. However it gets narrowed on the way down, in the end it reaches as fine an application as possible.
It should be obvious that this idea of focus and the inverted vortex is not just for college papers or grades. This should guide all writers whenever we sit down to approach any given topic.
Beware generalization in all its manifestations in writing—not just regarding subject but with every word you commit to paper or screen, within any sentence, paragraph, chapter, book—generalization is always a danger by which to be enticed. I say enticed, because to generalize is to take the easy route.
I will say, I do disagree with my undergrad writing instructor back then on her comment that my general topic might have been okay for a book-length work, though she could have been saying that to lessen the blow of pointing out my bad choice for the proposal. But, depending on the kind of book a writer was proposing, I’d normally tell a student the same thing she told me: Book-length or not, it’s too broad.
In case you were wondering, I wrote the paper using citations from articles and books on the subject, and she must have been happy with my approach and conclusions, because when it was all over, I got an A on the finished paper. (I also learned a few things from my research, being an introvert myself.)
And I thanked the nice lady for her guidance and warnings, instead of just letting me go ahead with my too-general topic and getting the F, breaking my (almost) perfect record.