Category: writing (page 1 of 10)

Legend

 

This is the legend of the poet whose pen’s ink ran dry when he attempted to write the truth.

He spent years writing and performing amusing tales and poems and songs, bringing laughter to the lives of people near and far. He kept the tales and poems and songs written in a large leather-covered book, fastened with a strap.

But the tales and poems and songs that lived in his heart were less amusing. There he held the tales of heartbreak, redemption, loss and pain. Sometimes, of an evening, he could sing one of those hidden songs, and the audience who remained to hear would cry hot tears. They would reach out and touch his hands, silently thanking him for understanding the hidden parts of their own hearts.

But when he opened his leather-covered book and attempted to ink the words of those songs inside, his pen’s ink ran dry, leaving no mark but an invisible path in the parchment.

The poet continued to open his mouth and amuse audiences near and far with his tales, and he rejoiced in the laughter that surrounded his performances. But through the joy, an ember of pain burned. The poet wanted, desired, needed to share his other tales, his other poems and songs. And in the crowds of eager, happy listeners, he could see the pain-filled eyes of those who needed to hear the other kind, to read them, to keep them. To reference the true tales and to feel they were not alone.

When the happy crowds wandered away to grin and laugh their way to their beds, the others stepped in from the edges of the circle, closer to the poet. Closer to his laugh-crinkled eyes that now relaxed and shone with another emotion. And now, the poet opened his heart. He poured out tales and poems and songs of the other kind. And his remaining audience nodded their heads, reached out to comfort the strangers among them, grasped hands in solidarity. And after, the poet walked away relieved, the ember of pain still glowing, but surrounded now by peace. And the people, the people nodded and smiled and bowed him on his way, through their tears.

Again and again, he tried to write the deeper tales of his heart. Again and again his pen’s ink ran dry. He scratched the poems into the pages of his book, but no ink flowed from his pen and no marks would rest on the page. He beat his fists against the traitorous pages of his leather-covered book. He snapped his pens into pieces. He flung inkwells until they bled black puddles on the floor.

And then he sat. He sat and gripped his hair in his fingers, pressing the heels of his hands into his aching eyes. He moaned out the words of a heartbreak tale. He sang a song of darkness and redemption. He spoke a poem of loss and pain. With every word, he felt the thump of his heart echo the truth. His heart that held such vast wells of laughter and sadness.

For a time, he sat that way, clutching his hair and feeling his heart send his lifeblood through his body.

The poet picked up an unbroken pen. He opened his leather-covered book to a fresh page. And he scratched out the words that lived in his beating heart. He saw no marks on the page, but he continued to write, the words pouring from his mind and heart through the fragile pen until he saw it. The stain began to flow, a pigment not black but red and rich and alive, beating onto the pages of his book, inking his precious and needful words into the parchment forever. Words that he knew for him must be shared, and for others, must be read.

 

Found

I was looking for a thing in my “writerly things” file. I came across a pile of essays. Here’s one from what must be 8 years ago. There are more. I may unearth another soon.

___

When my kids were small, hours were eternal. And there were so many of them in a day. It was impossible to find an activity that could adequately fill one without driving me to lunacy or complete physical exhaustion.

Years passed, full of those ceaseless, relentless hours.

What happened, then? When did the space-time continuum shift? Why is it that now, hours are scarce, precious, and all too short? Time, that monster that used to hover over me, huffing out the moments like hot breath, has disappeared, been replaced by a frantically-ticking clock, spinning seconds into hours, into weeks and years.

These days, it’s my most important work to wrangle that clock into submission and slow down one hour a day. Keep my finger on the second hand so it won’t get out of control and run away with my family’s moments.

A few minutes of that hour happen in the morning, when groggy, bed-head kids and half-primped teens and at least one sweaty, post-work-out parent (the other parent may have abandoned the work out ritual, again) meet at the kitchen table for scripture study. It’s one time in a day that I’m grateful that school is in session. The forced schedule kick-starts our morning motivation. Even through the yawning, the paper-scorching morning breath, and the zoning out, the words get spoken aloud. And we pray together, and I pray in my heart. I pray for the sinking in. I pray for the application. I pray they’ll remember the sweet moments here, not the other kind.

The rest of the wrangled minutes come at the other end of the day. Back around the table, in what have become “our spots,” we gather for dinner. It’s my one consistent offering. We don’t do fancy. We don’t even always do tasty. I’m no Julia Child. I can’t even spell “gourmet” without looking it up. My kids didn’t know meat came on bones until I accidentally introduced them to KFC. Now they think of The Colonel as a kindly uncle who stops by once a year to clog our arteries.

Dinner is simple around here. I don’t mean easy – give me credit, please. I mean unadorned. And while I try to feed these people healthy meals full of green and growing things, that’s not even the most important part for me. The nourishing I aim for is the other kind. These minutes, the ones carved out of every evening, stolen from work schedules and rehearsals and practices and play time, these minutes hold the moments.

At the table, between passing the white salad dressing to that kid and the pink salad dressing to this kid, we hear the stories that make up the missing hours of the days. We hear the giddy stories about the boy who almost said the most charming thing. We hear the angsty stories about the friend who is, if not actively in trouble, heading that way. We hear the hilarious stories that don’t translate to any place but that table. Sorry. You had to be there. We hear the frustrating, the exciting, the proud-making stories. We hear and we tell the stories of the other parts of our lives.

And in sharing the stories, we recapture a few of those spinning moments. Every day, a few minutes at a time.

 

I though I knew what Busy was

Once upon a time I was a high school student with a full load of challenging classes and a job and family responsibilities and I thought I was busy.

Once upon a time I was a college student with a full load of challenging classes and a job and no social life to speak of and plenty of food to cook and I thought I was busy.

Once upon a time I was a young mom with four little kids running in at least seventeen directions and I thought I was busy.

Once upon a time I was serving in a Relief Society presidency/Young Women presidency/Primary presidency in my church along with all the wonderful family things, and I thought I was busy.

Then I got a full time teaching job. And kept most of my other things. And I was pretty busy, and I learned how to be okay with sandwiches or pancakes for dinner (because, after all, sandwiches might be my love language, and pancakes are undoubtedly Kid 3’s) and a clean-ish home, and significantly less awesomeness in pretty much every aspect of my life: I still do all the things, I just don’t do any of them very well.

I miss naps. Wait. How did I take naps back in the day if I were so busy?

I miss small kids on my lap for story time. Wait. I had time to read books out loud back then when I was so busy?

I miss making bread. (Blessing: our congregation meets at 1:00 on Sundays now. Huzzah! Bread last Sunday! Cinnamon rolls the week before!)

I miss writing whenever I feel like it. Instead of its being a casual fling, I have to make time for the writing. We have to make a date with a beginning and ending minute. I have to get SERIOUS about this. And do you know what? I think it’s making me like it more. I have more respect for this thing that requires careful planning. And I have to think that’s a good development. It requires me to be grown up about it. As if, perhaps, this were a job. Which – well, they’re paying me, right?

I am in a place of perspective today that allows me to recognize the probability that I don’t know what busy is. And that it’s likely to arrive someday on my doorstep. And I want to be able to embrace it – that thing that life may bring me – wholeheartedly and generously. And I want to keep pressing forward with the other important things. And to do them better, more graciously, more gratefully.

Eavesdropping — A Dialog-Writing Exercise

So yesterday in my Novel Writing class, I sent the kids into the commons for the last 20  minutes of class, which happens to correspond with the lunch they don’t have. The commons was full of teenage humans. I instructed mine to sit down somewhere and start eavesdropping. They were to write down random lines of dialog that they heard people say. They turned in their 5 favorite lines. I laughed a lot. Their overheard lines were weird. Funny. Awesome.

Today I had them pick their favorite one or two and put them up on the board. I had made columns for them to place the lines in, and after they’d all put up their best lines, I revealed the  topics heading each column. So now there are 5 or more lines of dialog – totally unrelated – under each of the following topics: Song Lyrics, Polygraph Machine, Job Interview, Explain Earth to the Aliens, Break-up, Babysitter Report, Newspaper Interview, and Love Letter. Now they’re furiously writing scenes that use at least one of the lines in whatever category it fell. I love watching them grin while they’re working.

Here are some of the overheard lines:

“It’s more than just a hat.”
“I’ve been drinking your blood and tears.”
“No. He doesn’t want them on because of his bug bites.”
“She’s literally like the spawn of Satan.”
“Babe. He doesn’t like the shirt.”
“Do you want your socks on?”
“I’m the whitest white girl here.”
“I seriously almost hit someone in the parking lot.”
“There was a guy who shipped two whales to Utah and kept them.”
“It’s free real estate.”
“Don’t write that down.”
“There’s a drink called the Hissy Fit?”
“Get out a marker and write YES on the goldfish.”
“He underwent intensive psychotherapy.”
“Something magical is about to happen.”
“Just buy a hose, you freak!”
“My mom was like, ‘Did you put on makeup? You know there’s guy makeup, right?'”

Clever little eavesdroppers. I can’t wait to see what they’ve made from their spoils.

Revitalized

I went to the world’s best [*] writing conference this weekend. There were many, many reasons to be joyful.

  1. I got to be with writer friends. Some of these are my most precious people I see only once a year. Some of these are my very favorite people that I get to see now and then. Some are new friends who make room for me in their hearts. Some are people I get to hang out with in other venues on some kind of regular basis. Some of them I run into at the movies or in Costco. Some of them do author visits at my school, or at my kids’ schools. Some of them are FAMOUS. All of them are kind, wonderful, gracious.
  2. My family is totally capable of living without me for DAYS at a time. They thrive without me. This is not an excuse for me to run away. It’s just a thrill that they all like each other and know how to wash their own shorts.
  3. I wasn’t in charge of anything. I didn’t teach a class. I didn’t emcee. I did have one tiny responsibility – I got to be in charge of the Teen Meet-Up, where I got to meet the (wait for it) teens who came to the conference and chat with them and listen to them talk about their writing… and introduce them to James Dashner, who was a total gentleman with them, making them all feel important as he talked to them about being a star (and called each of them by name).
  4. So much writing advice. I went to amazing classes where I heard talented, award-winning authors talk about character development, plot structure, story arcs, priorities, marketing, business, motivation, and determination. I listened to agents talk about what makes a story sing. I heard Brandon Sanderson read to us some original fiction… from his 8-year-old. It was about pill-bugs, and there was a twisty ending.
  5. I got re-energized. Re-excited. Re-vitalized to do this writing thing. I got inspired to go to work. I got eager to write beside my students — and (gasp) in front of them. I got ideas to finish my revision – and to start it in the right place. I had thoughts about genre. Genres. I had confidence, and wow — that’s worth the price of admission any day.

 

[*] ldstorymakersconference.com – this is the place. (Or will be, when it shows stuff for next year’s conference. Be patient. We just finished.)

Making the Time

I’ve been learning. Studying about creativity at the feet of those who make it their mission to permit the rest of us to drink at the wells of creation. It’s a seriously joyful experience. (Want to try it? Watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s remarkable TED talk, here. Listen to her “Big Magic” podcast. Immerse yourself in all that is Brene Brown.)

Here’s a thing that struck me this week. And I’m paraphrasing – so these are not original thoughts, but they are my words: That painting that astounds me went onto the canvas one brushstroke after another. The book I love was written one hour at a time. The song I can’t get out of my head was composed over a series of stolen hours.

I have hours. Maybe not more than one in a row that I can dedicate to creative pursuits, but one hour at a time, I can write a novel. And I have. And I am. The words don’t pour out of me resulting in a workable draft in a week or two (but hey, if that works for you WAY TO GO). The words trickle. They pile up slowly. But the point is, they do pile up. Day after day, when I give myself permission to sit at my tiny desk and put down three hundred or five hundred or a thousand words, the story grows.

And when I give myself that permission, I find myself unbound from guilt or regret that seems to hound me when I ignore my creative self in favor of more focus on work or cleaner bathrooms. I’m a cooking pot sitting on three stones over the fire – if I remove one of my stones (family or work or creativity) my pot will tumble into the fire, douse the flame, and ruin dinner.

I am learning balance and I really like it.

SummerTime

It all begins now. It’s summer. School has ended once again. I got to give my “What every boy needs to know about being a man” speech. It wasn’t that kind of speech at all; I just love to appropriate great lines from “Secondhand Lions” whenever the opportunity presents itself.

(The speech wasn’t deep. Basically, I told them there were two things I could share with them that would make them happier, and that I understood if they didn’t believe me, or if they just didn’t want to buy it from my word, but here the things are: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Also, the decisions you make that come from a place of kindness will not be decisions you regret. You may be sad, be hurt, be heartbroken, even, but you won’t regret.)

And now, summer. I’m going to read 2 books a week. Maybe more. I’m going to get my yard in shape (just a little), and find the sun (it was a very wet spring, and I’ve not seen the sun on my skin yet). I’m going to write. To edit. To walk lots and lots of steps. To plan classes. To play with my kids.

I hope you are having all the happy things this summer, too.

What They Say about Writing (and How They’re Probably Right)

Hey, writer people: If you want to write, you write, they say. Do it every day, they say. And you can’t want to write, they say, based on your craven need for external validation. The writing, they say, has to be its own reward. I think this is true of every writing class I’ve ever given or taken. We beat this particular horse to a pulp. But still, we the writers want more and more and more. We want not only a publishing contract, but one with a marketing guarantee, a summer launch tour, endcaps in bookstores, and a promised Zillion Dollar Income. We want to hear our names on NPR and see our titles on the NYT Bestseller Lists. More and more and more.

I just wanted to come over today and tell you that I’m finally, fully there – in the place of writing for the sake of writing. For the joy of the words filling up the pages. For the internal validation that I can, in fact, do what I say I’m going to do. I’ve said out loud that it doesn’t matter if I never publish another thing. I’ve said it, but I’ve been lying. I cared a lot about publishing other things. And today, at least, I’ve come to realize that THEY are probably right. The writing I’ve been doing may not be great. It may not even be good. It may not ever lead to a complete, beautiful, funny, interesting story. But guys. It’s happening. It’s consistent. It’s Fun Again. And the fun is worthwhile, even if that’s all it ever is.