Questions for Writers

Last week Kristen at Little Lodestar unintentionally set off a firestorm with her post, Nine Things I Wonder About Other Writers. She asked readers to answer these questions in the comments section on her blog, but many found the answers to warrant a post of their own. Nina Badzin, Lindsey Mead, Andrea Jarrell, and Justine Uhlenbrock are a few that I know of and whose answers I loved reading. I’m endlessly fascinated by the writer’s process, and any peek into the way others approach it is often eye opening for me.

Below are my answers to Kristen’s questions, and I would love to hear yours, whether in the comments here or on Kristen’s original post or on a post of your own.

1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet?

I don’t usually share my works in progress with my husband. Certainly not blog posts. If I’m working on fiction or nonfiction, I’ll sometimes ask for his opinion or perspective, but this is usually to help with a sticky plot point or help me understand something like a scientific theory or historical event with more clarity. (Most of my freelance writing is for educational publishers.)

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback for it?

Like Lindsey, my feelings about this are complicated. I’m thrilled when someone in my personal life reads my stuff, but I certainly don’t expect them to do it regularly. Having said that, my mother, a children’s author, reads almost everything I write. She reads all my blog posts, and she’s often my beta reader for other writing projects. I know of a handful of friends and family who read pretty consistently. They might not always comment, but knowing they’re taking the time to read anything I’ve written means so much to me.

3. What do you do with pieces that continually get rejected — post to your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let go?

I haven’t started submitting pieces to other sites yet but it’s something I’m thinking about doing in the New Year, so I can’t answer for personal essays or blog posts. I do have a few fiction pieces that have been rejected. Some I gave up on and some I’m still fiddling with because I still believe in them and something about them keeps pulling me back. I think that’s the thing for me. If it still lights a fire in me, I know I’m not ready to let it go.

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

For me, this would pertain to the educational writing I do, and I would have to say that it just depends. If the editor is open to revisions, or seems excited by the idea but it just isn’t working as is, I almost always try to “get it right”. If it’s flat-out rejected, sometimes I let it go if it’s an idea specifically for that editor/project, but sometimes I find through the process that I fall in love with a character’s voice or the idea in general, and I’m almost happy that it’s been rejected because I can keep these pieces for my own and try to develop them into a picture book, chapter book, or middle grade novel.

5. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

Everything. I read almost anything I can get my hands on. Sometimes the reading takes over and before I know it, I’ve spent two hours reading blog posts and articles and dipping into books on my shelves when I should have been writing and/or working. For blog writing, I think I get the bulk of my ideas from other blogs. Something I read will spark a thought or a memory and I’ll go from there.

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

Again, I have to say almost everything. Along with the inspiration I find through other writers, it’s about remaining open and present in my daily life. Aidan Donnelly Rowley posted a photo to Instagram the other day that I think captures this sentiment perfectly. She was looking up at a lit Christmas tree in a corner window from her vantage point on the sidewalk and remarked that for just a moment she paused and wondered about the life that resides inside. That’s it in a nutshell — wondering, asking “what if”, allowing your mind and imagination to wander.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

This is a great question, and I’m afraid I might fail at answering it. There are so many bloggers out there whose words inspire me more than a lot of bestselling authors, but I’m going to say my mother. My mother is a brilliant writer and poet.

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I don’t know about “must have”, but I love Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist” and Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”. I haven’t yet read “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” by Mason Currey, but I’ve heard it’s a good one. I also enjoyed a little known book called “Writing Begins with the Breath” by Laraine Herring. And I think Stephen King’s “On Writing” has been mentioned, but that is also a great read.

the writing life

Surely the stars are sketching a plan

I caught myself in a moment last night.

I failed.

I failed today, and I failed yesterday, and I will undoubtedly fail tomorrow.

I could write a list of all the ways in which I failed myself and those who depend on me to make this phone call…pay this bill…Watch me, Mommy! Are you watching?…this cheese, not that cheese…one likes oranges, the other strawberries, or is it blueberries?…One more book?…meet this real deadline and this arbitrary deadline…spend time with meplay with mewatch a movie with mehold melay with merub my backfollow me around so I know where you are in case I need you.

I fail on a regular basis, and on a regular basis I focus on all the ways in which I failed instead of celebrating little successes.

Last week was a week full of failures, full of power struggles and battles of wills and mighty tantrums of three year olds, and kids who push boundaries, which is what they’re SUPPOSED to do….And I was going to segue here into some of those beautiful moments of motherhood and womanhood and life splintered among the gritty/mundane/tireless everyday, but the truth is I’m struggling to see those moments lately. No, that isn’t right. I’m struggling to feel them.

Here’s the truth. “Because it’s Christmas, and at Christmas you tell the truth.” And at Christmas this truth is more garish and gloating, it seems, than at any other time of year.

I’m stuck. We’re stuck. We’re failing, and our failing is breaking me. Because as much as we work it’s still not enough. And it sucks. Wholly, firmly, unbelievably sucks. I try to tell myself that it’s only money and it’s only a phase and surely the stars are sketching a plan, but we’re expending all our energy, all our everything just to stay afloat, and it’s all stifling and suffocating and sometimes I snap because they’re fighting and I just need them to stop. Just stop. Stohhhhhp!

Today I am tapped out. I surrender. But I can’t surrender because I have three little people who need me and even with their whining and asking and pulling and crying and taking and arguing, they’re my world. They’re the shoreline to which I’m tethered, the driftwood that keeps me above surface. And today I need to work because I have a deadline to meet. I have to meet the deadline because we need the money. The money is already gone. Why do I not see this on blogs? On Instagram? On Facebook? Why is this subject so fucking taboo? Is anyone else drowning out there? Hello?

Yesterday I wrapped presents that I bought for a family who has less than we do. I gave up my time–the only time I had to work–to do this because I’m realigning my perspective to one of giving in the midst of needing. Because I have this theory that by giving of ourselves we can find peace amongst worry. Because when we give, we open ourselves up, and when we open ourselves up we can sit more peacefully among the questions and the vast grey space.

So I failed, and I will fail again. I’m failing as I type this. Always failing. But here’s my little success: I’m here. And I’m working my ass off and I’m opening myself up and I’m not going anywhere.

Today I will shove my worn-thin heart back into the drawer and I will rally because there are these three people who know nothing of worry and mess and mending pieces and carrying on, not now anyway. Someday, yes, but not today. Today the world is magic — tinsel strung on trees and paint splattered across paper and marshmallows in hot chocolate kind of magic. And so it will be for me if I will it so.

Here’s another little success: I won’t delete this post. I know I will want to, but I won’t because maybe someone needs to read it as much as I needed to write it.

So at the risk of feeling exposed and deleting this entire blog and disappearing from the WWW forever and ever, I’m hitting publish. The only thing I ask is that if it helped you in any way, whether minute or grand, please let me know. Please let me hear you.

Minted: a holiday card review

Every year I tell myself I’m going to slow down during the holiday season, and every year I feel like I fail. I actually love the hustle and bustle of this season, but I know that these years of gingerbread making with more icing on faces and fingers than on cookies, of the wonder of twinkling lights and hushed wishes of Christmas surprises and one ear tipped to the distant ring of a sleigh pulled by reindeer will someday be just memories of Christmases past. I put a lot of pressure on myself to wring every drop of magic from this season and then soak it all up. Every. Single. Second. And I never, ever, succeed.

So this year I’m looking for ways to streamline all those “chores” of the season in order to focus more on the magic of icing-tipped fingers and hot chocolate sipped fireside and after-bedtime drives to marvel at all those twinkling lights, which is why I was thrilled when Minted contacted me to check out their goods and share my thoughts. It was fate, really, because I already had some of Minted’s promotional mail pinned to my bulletin board to help remind me to order holiday cards:

Minted review

The foil pressed detail got me. You can’t tell in this pic but it’s shiny like tinsel.

I think, in my experience, most major card & stationery sites are comparable in terms of ease of use, and while Minted’s designs jumped out among the plethora of similar marketing I’ve received in my mailbox, it was the belief behind the company that made me want to support them.

“We believe that great design lives and thrives in the hands of independent artists that people do not have access to through traditional retailers. Minted uses technology to allow consumers to discover great creative talent, making Minted a place where artists can learn, gain exposure, and build their businesses.”

A business that supports indie artists? I’m in.

I haven’t decided on which photos to use for our cards yet, but I played around on the site using photos from my camera roll, quickly designing different cards and saving them to my profile. One thing I love about the site is that I can upload a photo and have it instantly displayed on every card on the grid so my options are all right in front of me.

Minted review

This definitely makes choosing a design much easier.

Minted review

Minted review

Every Minted card order includes thick stock paper, free recipient address printing for holiday cards, and a free personalized digital proof of your card within one business day of your order. Plus, if you order today you get 15% off + free shipping on all holiday cards, so scoot.

I have to point out that Minted has more than just cards. Take a peek at their art prints (love!), business cards, wedding invitations, journals, etc. They even have fabric by the yard. I’ve been searching for the perfect fabric for a bench in a reading nook I’m creating for the kids, but I want something a little quirky and modern that will work with both boys and girls and grow with them. The selection on Minted fits the bill perfectly.

Happy shopping!

*Disclosure: I received a merchandise credit for writing this review of Minted’s website. All thoughts, opinions, photos, and grammatical errors are solely mine.

Slice of Life

I brought her animal crackers wrapped in a paper napkin. She wanted the lights off, the door open. Mary Poppins was on the Kindle, Zach’s headphones on her ears, a cup of water on the bedside table next to her. She was propped in bed with multiple pillows, snuggled under blankets as the first snow of the season fell outside her window. As I walked out of the room, words that had resonated with me earlier came back into focus: “I can’t protect you from the world, but I can make sure that home is your safe place.”

Late Friday night I returned home from dinner with girlfriends to find Wyatt still awake. I scooped him up and he flung his arms around my neck. “I was sad,” he said. As I carried him up the stairs and back to bed, this quote rattled around in my tired brain: “Millions and millions of years would still not give me half enough time to describe that tiny instant of all eternity when you put your arms around me and I put my arms around you.” –Jacques Prevert

Mia was upset when I wasn’t chosen to chaperone her class on a field trip earlier in the fall. As I was tucking her in to bed, her voice caught in her throat when she said, “I’m going to miss you tomorrow.” When I pointed out that her best friend’s mother was going to be on the field trip, I said, “That’s like the next best thing.” She said, “But you’re my first best thing.” And I was once again reminded of the sweet spot we’re currently inhabiting.

During Luke’s preschool parent-teacher conference, I glanced down at the notes his teacher had written as we were talking and saw this: “Wonderfully sweet disposition. Loving and kind.” I knew this, of course, but sometimes when you’re steeped in the everyday routine with twins — maybe especially same-sex twins — their individual lines blur. But this boy. He is sunshine and shadow; a buoyant bubble that trails my most mundane days. I’ve always thought of him as our bonus baby, the one who came along for the ride, and I often think of the line from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible: “But the last one: the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after – oh, that’s love by a different name.”

There is no structured essay here, no profound lesson, no parallels to be drawn, no moral to the story–only these slices of life that I want to hold onto. And maybe, just maybe, this will be enough to get me writing here again.