Safeguarding my children’s stories

Joy, Lovely Joy

Before they came into this world I had plot lines and narratives scaffolding in my mind, outlines and blueprints of their stories sketched in pencil. But like any story that’s given room to grow and roam and veer off the plotted points from A to B to C, they began to wander into their own exposition, their own conflict and rising action, and it’s only now that I’m beginning to fold my own plans and tuck them away. It’s only now that I’m truly seeing them as protagonists in their own stories. Stories that aren’t mine to tell.

Joy, Lovely Joy

And so here I am wondering where this leaves the state of this blog, which was founded as a way to preserve moments of their childhood. A blog that was founded alongside an industry that capitalizes off of stories that expose our children no matter how well intended, so lately I’ve been asking: Where do I draw the line? What is considered “over sharing” in a medium where such a definition is nearly impossible to define? And if I continue down this road will my children come to identify themselves by their online presence? Am I still trying to lay a framework from those blueprints even as I stuff them away?

Joy, Lovely Joy

I’ve been silent for a while because I’m not sure where this leaves me, mired in motherhood and feeling drawn to write about it, to process it, to share it, yet an overwhelming desire to protect them and safeguard their stories has kept me from doing so as of late. I have no doubt that I’ll continue to write about motherhood–it’s my greatest source of joy, frustration, and doubt–but I don’t want to unintentionally force identities on my children or publicly speculate about who they are becoming. This discovery should be theirs.

Joy, Lovely Joy

I’m still trying to figure out a way to navigate this terrain of writing about motherhood on a more macro level. With that said, I will continue to take photos (though I’m becoming ever more wary of featuring their faces online) because I know that someday they’ll be grateful for these snapshots of their childhoods.

P.S. You can find me on Instagram here.

Joy, Lovely Joy

What is voice?

finding your voiceAh, voice. As writers, we hear about it a lot. Lately, I’ve seen discussion of it crop up on social media, and I’ve been scribbling a lot of notes about voice in the margins of the manuscripts I’ve been editing.

We’ve all heard the advice: Write what you want to read. And this, I think, has just as much to do with voice as is does plot. A lot of finding your voice has to do with telling the story you want to tell in such a way that only you could tell it. Your voice is the particular tone, style, technique, and word choices you use to tell your story, but it’s also the unique perspective, personality, and flavor that only you can bring to it. How you approach the world, how you interpret your surroundings, and how you filter it all onto the page is your voice.

You’re totally clear on what voice is now, right?

This is why we can procrastinate and resist writing. This is why we’d sometimes rather comb the cat or clean toilets than park our bums and just write. Because if you start to think about voice, or more precisely, if you start to wonder what voice is and how does one find such a thing and what if you don’t have one, not much writing will get done because panic will open the door for that inner critic, and the inner critic will win.

First of all, you have a voice. You do. But we always talk about finding that voice. Here’s a trick: go back and read old writings, whether they be journal entries, blog posts, whatever, but read them chronologically. Start with the oldest piece of writing and work your way to the present. I bet you’ll see a thread of recognition in each one, and I bet that thread gets more vibrant the closer you get to your most current writings. That thread of recognition? Those telltale signs that some bit of writing is yours and yours alone? That’s your voice. And it’s not your voice because it’s brilliant or quirky or offbeat or astoundingly new, though it may be. It’s your voice because, even when taken out of context, it’s your style — your particular makeup of word choice, flow, rhythm, cadence, personality, and perspective.

A good voice is original and credible. A good voice has the ability to remain consistent even as the plot shifts. A good voice carries the reader through to the end of the piece, essay, novel, etc. but doesn’t overshadow the story.

So here’s how to succeed in finding your voice: don’t overthink it. This is why freewriting can be so powerful. Get out of your own way, write a lot, and most likely your voice will find you. Be mindful of the narrative techniques you tend to gravitate toward (metaphors, hyperbole, foreshadowing, backstory, etc.) but don’t obsess over them*, and try not to veer wildly off course. (i.e. Sophie Kinsella said that she once tried to write a thriller wherein she had written a cast of really nice people who suddenly started killing each other.)

*In the process of finding and cultivating your voice through journal entries, first drafts of novels, picture books, essays, etc. it’s fine to fall back on devices like metaphors and backstory, etc., but once you move on to subsequent drafts you’ll need to take a critical eye to the piece and try to recognize when something is overplayed.

Discovering our voice means we have to write the story we want to read in the most authentic way we can, which is the only way it’s going to be a success. Scratch that. It’s the only way we’ll write to the end.

If you’re interested in learning more about the editing services I provide, click here. I’d love the opportunity to work on a project with you. 

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

Growing Together (and seven impossible things before breakfast)

Was it really September since I’ve been here last?

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

My first impossible thing of the day is that I’m here in this space writing words.

My second impossible thing of the day is that I’m over at Raising Humans with a guest post this morning for her “Growing Together” series. Can I gush about Tricia for a moment? Something I didn’t realize when I first started blogging is that I would make connections. Genuine, authentic connections with other mothers and writers. The kind of connections that blossom into friendship, and you wish you could call them up to meet for a cup of coffee but you live in different parts of the country (or world) so instead you find yourself thinking of them sometimes within the folds of your days. You remember their words because they’re just like reflections of your life, your struggles and joys in parenting, your growth as a mother, a woman, a human. Tricia is one of these bloggers for me, and if you don’t already follow her I suggest you remedy that a.s.a.p.

I’m looking forward to sharing this story today. Now, off to believe five more impossible things this morning.

A writer’s process

I was tagged months ago in the Writer’s Process Blog Tour Project by Tiffany Clark Harrison, a writer I admire but whose web page seems to be defunct, and Sylvie Morgan Brown. Sylvie is an ex-colleague-turned-friend through this online writing world, and I adore the way she writes, especially when she writes about food. She’s one of those rare breeds who can spin the task of cooking into a savory story of texture, aroma, ambiance, and history. By the time you’ve finished reading one of her posts, you can’t help but feel nourished.

I am forever interested in the writing process. Reading about the ways other writers approach the blank page is like glimpsing a secret of the writer’s heart, and I would love to get a peek into the process by two writers who I’ve had the great fortune of discovering through this blogging world: Dina L. Relles and Wendy Bradford. Dina and Wendy, if you haven’t already participated in this tour, I would love to read your responses to the below questions.

What am I working on?

I wrote my first book on the blank pages of one of those white hardback books you get in school (do they still do that?). I must have been in first or second grade. I don’t remember what it was about, really. I only remember drawing and coloring dozens of bears on the pages because I had decided I was quite good at drawing bears. Whether or not the bears had anything to do with the story I couldn’t tell you, though I’m inclined to think not. I thought this book was an opus, the next great American novel (had I known such a thing existed at the time), no matter that it was not actually a novel, not really a story at all probably, the story arc more of a flat line, the climax nonexistent.

I was always writing and scribbling on anything I could find. My head has always been cluttered with stories, my ears attuned to the lilt and cadence of words, my mind working to structure sentences the way one configures a jigsaw puzzle. I have always loved the way ink glides across paper. I love the way pages can speak, how characters can become as real as your closest friend, and the way that sometimes after you’ve finished a book you realize you’ve found an answer to something you didn’t even know you had been asking. There are the books that leave you asking more questions, asking you to think a little more, dig a little deeper than what’s comfortable or safe, and those are good too. And then there are the ones that stick long after “the end”, the ones you return to time and again to read cover to cover or to search for a specific passage or just to feel the familiar weight in your hands.

My parents had an old roll top desk in the living room of my childhood home, and at some point I walked into the room to find its contents spilled onto the floor, piles of paper and full-to-bursting file folders sprinkling the carpet so that I could scarcely walk without feeling the crush of paper beneath my feet. I sat in the middle of the room and began to pick through the papers. They were stories and poems, all of them written by my mother. This connection between my penchant for stringing words across paper and the realization that my mother did the same planted the seed that writing was an actual thing to do. That authors aren’t, in fact, magical beings granted with the gift of impeccable storytelling. They don’t cast spells in their attics and emerge at daybreak with a tome inked between hardback covers. They are just people. Mothers, even. It would be years before any of her work was published, and years after that until I would learn that she did this by sneaking down to our unfinished basement late at night — gloves on her hands if it was winter — to toil away on her typewriter for hours. With two kids and a business to help run (my father’s), writing during waking hours was a joke, so she sacrificed sleep.

This is what I’m working on. Intentional writing takes sacrifice.

More to the point, I’m working on a variety of children’s book manuscripts (picture book through YA) and finally dipping my toes into submitting parenting/motherhood essays to various publications.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure that it does. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, but only in the last five years or so have I been deliberate in studying the craft of the novel and the art of picture book writing. I’ve learned to read and think and see like a writer, and once that happens, once your senses are attuned to the tempo and pulse of everything around you, it’s difficult to turn that off. The person can no longer be separated from the writer. I used to laugh at my mom who would, in the middle of a conversation, grab a napkin or post-it or scrap of paper and start scribbling words or an idea, but now I do the same thing. It’s this heightened sense of awareness that leads me to believe I’m finally ready to focus on my writing in a consistent, purposeful, and honest way, and I can only hope that this will show through in my writing.

Why do I write what I do?

I focus on writing for children because I love children’s literature. I love the art form of the picture book, the fun, quirky characters in chapter books and middle grade novels, and the coming of age stories in young adult novels. When author John Green was asked why he writes for young adults, he said something along the lines of, “Because I think they’re more interesting than adults.” Young adults are in the business of discovering who they are and who they hope to become and why they’re even here in this life walking the path they’re walking. And they’re mostly getting it wrong. Their lives, by nature, are wrought with tension and texture and drama, and I think we can all still access that time of life. Great YA novels are able to pinpoint the passage from child to adult to a painful, telling, scrupulous, and candid degree, exposing those things about ourselves that have long been buried or lain dormant and revealing truths that perhaps we had forgotten.

Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” And this speaks profoundly to why I write about parenting and motherhood. I’m stumbling through the dark without a map for guidance, as we all are, and writing about my experiences as a mother and my relationship with my children is my way of processing this magnificent, turbulent, frustrating, taxing, enchanting,  pinch-me journey.

How does your writing process work?

This question is funny to me because it implies function with result, and most of the time I feel like I am floundering through something until it somehow, someway begins to take some kind of shape. I’m only just realizing and getting comfortable with the fact that this is the way I write. Organically. My ideas usually begin with a bit of dialogue or a splice of a scene. Sometimes a word, sometimes an image. I’m not an outliner, though I’ve tried to be one. I’ve taken classes and read books and articles on outlining, but it just doesn’t work for me.

I’m working on a little bit of everything, and that seems to be a problem. I have so many ideas and started drafts for both fictional works as well as blog posts and essays that when I have the time to sit down and focus on writing I don’t know where to start. I freeze. Or I try to do a little with this, a little with that, and before I know it two hours have passed and I’ve written an inch in five documents when probably could have written a mile had I focused on just one. Clearly, my writing process is a work in progress, but as long as I keep showing up I think I’ll find my way.

writing process

What no non-writer can ever understand is that a writer is working even when she’s staring at the sky.