Perspectives: Sophisticated Memoirs for an Unsophisticated World: A Let’s Write! Anthology 

anthology cover as photoPerspectives: Sophisticated Memoirs for an Unsophisticated World: A Let’s Write! Anthology is an intriguing collection of memoirs written by some Let’s Write! class members. The 83-page eBook is only 99 cents and worth every penny. (And the paperback is still a bargain at $3.60.)

After crying and laughing along with these authors, you will come away better for having been let in to the privacy of their life perspectives.

Here’s a small idea of what to expect in this collection of stories:

~ “An Unexpected Career: The Right Place at the Right Time” by Roy Teixeira

          The teenaged boy who landed the job of a lifetime without knowing it.

 

~ “Finding Belief: How Cancer Cured My Life” by Julee Sherman

          The woman who hears that dreaded word “cancer” and must face her fears in silence.

 

~ “All in Our Family: One Wife’s Nightmare” by Susan James

          The young wife and mother who finds out something terrible about her husband.

 

~ “Reflections of Our Childhood through My Brother’s Eyes: An Okie’s Memoir” by Pat Vegsund  

          A story filled with tears, laughter, and lots of heart about one Oklahoman family “movin’ on up”.

 

~ “Children of Sicilian Immigrants: A Love Story” by Libby Maggio

          True love from childhood to the separations and trials of War World II.  

 

~ “Kiss Your Ashes Goodbye! A One-Way Boat Trip” by Joann Bostow

          Can you talk about cremation with a sense of humor? Read this and see.

 

My only apology is that these sometimes fun, other times sad, always interesting stories are not longer! But stay tuned for these authors to be publishing books and/or blogs of their own in the not-too-distant future.

A quick and interesting read. Makes a good traveling book.
Perspectives: Sophisticated Memoirs for an Unsophisticated World: A Let’s Write! Anthology

 

 

Get Over Yourself (Please): Letter from a Writing Teacher

Dear Class,

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.

It’s That One.

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.

Parents, Let Your Children Go!

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.

So There You Have 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:

Dear Writers,

  • Get out of your writing’s way!
  • Stop placating your egos (fears) and feelings.
  • Go ahead and cry if you have to.
  • Stop trying to own the story/poem/essay/memoir; stop trying to keep it locked away, in a drawer, digital file, or inside yourself—What are you afraid of?
  • Realize the writing has a life of its own.
  • It doesn’t belong to you.
  • Its life is not your life.
  • Let it live its own life.
  • Let it go free.
  • Don’t be a helicopter parent to your writing.
  • It will do just fine out there.
  • Trust God.
  • He’s the one who gave you the gift in the first place, for the purpose of your giving it away.
  • Give your gift away.

Thank you for listening. Warm wishes for your writing life ahead.

Your caring teacher,

Valerie Serrano

Everyone has a story. (link to My Spirals)

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.

~ Val

“You’ll Get An F.”

“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).

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

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.

Getting Warmer

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.

Just a Little Bit Closer

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”.

V Is for Vortex

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.

In Summary

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.

Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It…

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.

The Enemy: Generalization

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.

One More Thing

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.

Blueprint for Memoir or Fiction (and even some Poetry)

  1. What was the status quo?
  2. What happened to change, or destroy that?
  3. How did your main character (you, in a memoir) attempt to resolve it?
  4. How did his or her trials turn out?
  5. What do you hope the reader will walk away with?

In a book-length work, the same blueprint should also be the backbone of each chapter, which begins with a new status quo, a new problem for the character (you in a memoir) to get through, and a new ending—a cliffhanger to take the reader to the next chapter.

Even some poetry can fit into this blueprint.

Don’t see it as a template or outline, because it’s not.  But if you can’t answer the above questions, either before or after you’ve written the piece, something’s missing.  (Unless it’s “stream of consciousness”, which is just journal writing and not what I’m addressing here).

Beginning, middle, and end.  It’s the first lesson in the most basic writing class.  Even the story of how your day went today would be told as beginning, middle, and how it all ended. Hopefully, with your having gifted the world with one of your stories!

Perfectionism Can Kill…A Blogger

Blogging is to writing as digital photography is to a Brownie camera.  One fast, the other slow(er).   With blogging there’s a great deficit of time in which to ponder the better way to say a thing, much less the best way.  Blogging is the fast(er) way to write many things.

Perfectionism we already know can be a killer, and is.  To start blogging I had to (and still have to daily—I’m working on it) put aside my Perfectionism; otherwise there was no way it could happen.  And being an editor, I can be annoying, including to myself, doing things like editing birthday cards (“Shouldn’t birthday be capitalized?”).  Even my lists of things to do are not safe—vacuum, dust…should it be and/or dust?

So when it comes to writing blogs which by definition should be posted in a timely manner on a regular basis, I freeze.  I can’t possibly write something perfect so fast or so regularly! (should that be and/or regularly?)  Yes, Hemingway said, “The only real writing is rewriting.”  Bless his heart.  I use that particular quote of his in almost every one of my writing classes and my students hate me for it.  But I suppose anything can be overdone. 

(I hope there won’t be any typos in this post).  Any writing teacher or editor knows the fear of typos in everyday correspondence, whether email, text, or social media, especially with students or clients (Should that be and/or clients? Or students/clients.)

Then there’s consistency.  Should I do one or two spaces after each period or question mark?  And whichever I chose, have I done the same for the duration of the article?  Does anybody care?  And isn’t that the real question?  (I went with two spaces.  I hope to be consistent throughout this post.) 

Now, I admit I abhor sloppy work, whether it’s my own or someone else’s.  And everybody knows there’s too much of that around.  In these days of knocking out a few paragraphs and sending it out into the ether without looking back, there can be frightening results which make us would-be-bloggers-if-we-weren’t-perfectionists glad we’re not out there in the arena.

Now, I have relaxed my attitude about it a bit, and my standards.  For example, I don’t ignore everything a blogger (or anyone else) writes because he or she wrote “their tired” anymore.  And no longer will I jump away from a post until I come across at least, say, five or so misspelled words.  But I do maintain some limits.

My greatest fear though, as a perfectionist, even as I write this, is that after I finish this post and proofread it several times, I’ll still miss something that will be caught by someone out there who will say, “See!  Hypocrite!  Your just as sloppy as we are!”  (yes, that typo is intentional, before you get ready to leave me a mean comment).

I remember a student in one of my classes actually squealed and jumped with joy when she apparently caught me in a mistake.  Did I ever say I was perfect?  Feel sorry for editors.  And isn’t that the whole kick of Perfectionism?  I mean, isn’t the meaning of Perfectionism that perfectionists know they’re not perfect (of course, nobody is), but they keep trying to be.  And when it keeps becoming evident that they’re not perfect, and can’t be, they want to quit, or they skip the want-to part, and just quit.  Or worse, they never start.

Of course, Perfectionism can kill all writing, not just blog writing, and all writers, not just bloggers.  And for that reason it’s important to face the beast and scare it off by continuing to write and blog till the cows come home.  We have to learn to appreciate the value and beauty of a rough draft, knowing it won’t stay rough and shouldn’t (most of the time, unless you’re one of those who does polished work the first time around—or one of those who thinks he or she does polished work the first time around.  I’ve known a few of the latter, none of the former).

So here I sit, facing off the beast of Perfectionism and writing anyway, daring to make a fool of myself in the public arena, telling myself it’s more important to write and possibly benefit even one individual out there than it is to stay safe while I cower in the shadow of possible ridicule.

So I blog on, hopeful that all you perfectionists out there don’t proofread this post.  And I haven’t even gotten to Content! (should I have capitalized that?)  

2 Quotes, Stephen King

“To write is human, to edit is divine.”

 “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” 
― both quotes from
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

 I agree wholeheartedly that when you’re in your first rough draft, keep the door closed, i.e., don’t let others see it until it’s had time to “cook” on the page.

 But after that first draft, it’s time to get tough-skinned and be willing to allow another trusted writer or editor to go over your writing and help you tighten it, with a keen eye for what to keep in and what to throw out.  This is what separates amateurs from seasoned writers.

 Remember, every story you’ve ever read since you were six years old had the input of an editor intermingled with the author’s words throughout.

 Writing is Rewriting.  Hemingway was write … I mean, right.