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

Here & Now (a rambling post on the topic of presence)

here and now

Mia missed the bus the other morning because she was being a bit dramatic about which shoes to wear, so I might have slightly overreacted by not-so-subtly huffing and puffing as we clambered into the car and drove to school. She was teary because she knew I was upset. And honestly, the problem wasn’t that I had to drive her to school. I love the quiet few minutes in the car with her.

The problem was that I had a deadline that afternoon, and due to a tag-team nap boycott the day before and a certain boy who refused to sleep the previous night, causing me to sleep through my alarm the next morning, I was no closer to meeting that deadline than I was 24 hours prior. This was just the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back.

The problem, clearly, was me.

Cars snaked around the parking lot as we pulled in and fell in line. I reached back, ready to apologize for my behavior, and she grabbed my hand. “I don’t want to go to school,” she said. “I already miss you.”

I put the car in park (the line wasn’t moving) and turned to look at her. We counted the days until summer break, and I told her that she’d be sick of me soon enough. But she shook just her head. I squeezed her hand and she squeezed back. I apologized and she said, “It’s okay, Mommy. Sometimes I get grumpy too.” It was a good moment. One that I was fully immersed in and one that I likely won’t forget soon.

And then the line started moving and Mia began recounting her beanie boo collection and my eyes kind of glazed over as my mind drifted…to the project I needed to conquer by day’s end…to a character who’s imploring me to write her story. My mind was no longer in the car with my daughter who was happily yapping away in the backseat.

Should we strive for authentic presence during the big moments of life? Of course. The magic-in-the-mundane moments? You betcha. The moments when our children need/want/beg for our attention? Absolutely. The moments that zip and sing and soar whether we catch them or not? Only if we’re quick and nimble enough. And that’s part of the trouble with being present in parenthood – these moments are so swift, traveling as they do at the speed of life.

here and now

Observing a caterpillar

I think, for me, I have had this false notion that if I can just be here and now and in the thick of it without distraction; if I can just pay attention and honor these moments fully, then I will somehow have the power to slow time. I’m beginning to learn that this simply just isn’t possible. Likewise, I used to misinterpret presence for happiness and joyfulness, subscribing to this misaligned belief that if we aren’t seeking joy in the mundane then we’re failing at being fully immersed in the moment. But sometimes life (and parenthood) is just mundane. There isn’t a lot of joy to be found in sitting in rush hour traffic as your gas meter hovers just barely over empty, or in realizing that your toddler unfastened his pull-up and dumped its contents onto the floor of your closet. Or meeting a deadline on very little sleep as you navigate the schedules and personalities/needs/wants of three little lives.

I recently read a post by Aidan at Ivy League Insecurities in which she presented 13 Ways to be (More) Here & (More) Happy. Aidan (along with Lindsey from A Design so Vast) has embarked upon a year of exploring what it means to be present in life, and has been generous enough to bring her readers along, so far offering up seemingly universal themes and discoveries. Number 2 in Aidan’s post, “Forgive Yourself for Not Being Perfectly There” struck a chord with me as I often perceive myself as failing more than succeeding in terms of relinquishing my conscious mind to the here and now. Aidan wrote:

I recently went on a wonderful field trip with Middle Girl and her class to the Brooklyn Bridge. The weather was perfect and we had such a good time and I loved being with my girl and her friends and her teachers and fellow parents. BUT. I went in and out of being really quite present. There were powerful moments when I looked around me and felt her hand in my hand and the bridge under my feet. But then there were lost moments when I was on my phone or wondering if I will ever finish my novel. This is life. And this is huge. We must forgive ourselves for not being 100% tuned to each moment. We are busy creatures with full plates and we must work with reality. I strongly believe that if we are so hard on ourselves for being present at every moment, we will have difficulty being present in any moment.

But maybe the “lost” moments of which Aidan speaks (and which I’m sure we’ve all felt) aren’t lost at all. Sure, there are times when we can (and should) put the phone down and look our children in the eyes and get on the floor to play with them and engage in conversation when conversation presents itself. There are times when we need to put the car in park and turn to our children and offer an apology. But on the other hand, maybe some moments are meant for surrendering to our thoughts. Maybe some moments are the equivalent of white noise, in which case checking our phones (or pondering a work in progress) is perfectly permissible. Maybe our lives are better enriched by honoring these moments too.

I think the trick is in determining which area of our life has the right to claim ownership of the greatest portion of each moment – a feat, I realize, that’s sometimes best accomplished in hindsight.

My favorite line(s) of Aidan’s post is this:

Life is tricky, but there are gorgeous moments where we feel happy. We must not ignore these moments because they have the power to sustain us through less gorgeous times.

Swoon.

Happy Friday, friends. (It’s good to be back.)

 

8 blogs that rock (and why)

Blogs that Rock

*This post was originally published in March of 2013. The original post gets quite a bit of traffic so I decided to update it now, in February, 2015, to reflect some of the blogs that I currently read regularly.

This post is in response to a homework assignment for Holly Becker’s e-course titled Blog Boss. The objective is to feature 8 blogs that rock, two of which need to be fellow classmates’ blogs. I follow so many blogs (and rarely keep up with them on a daily basis), so this task seemed monumental at first. While there are plenty of blogs I check in on from time to time for their eye candy or crafty inspiration or practical purposes (for example, the more technical aspects of photography and writing), I decided, finally, to focus on the ones that speak to me. The ones that pull me in through writing or photography (or both), usually both reflective of kids and family and lifestyle and having it all and balancing it all and what does it all mean…you get the idea. These are the ones that tug at the heartstrings, magnify the little moments, find joy in the mundane and have something to say.

It was still really difficult and time-consuming to narrow the list down to just 8, but I made myself do it so that I could hone in on why these blogs speak to me and hopefully learn a little about myself as a blogger along the way. So, without further ado, I give you my top 8. Enjoy!

1. Girls Gone Child.

GGC was the very first blog I ever started following. I stumbled upon it shortly after Mia was born and I was instantly hooked. Her writing, her photos, her ability to capture the small moments in motherhood that add up to the savory memories of childhood are just beyond. She has a gift, this one. She also lays it all out there for her readers, she engages with them and truly wants to connect with them. Nothing is off limits, which keeps things fresh and interesting. Oh, and she has twins who are just a few months younger than mine, so obviously I stalk her I’ve developed an even greater connection to her.

2. Enjoying the Small Things

I came across this blog not too long ago, and the very first post I read was this one. Read it. Try not to cry. Then delve into this blog and find the joy she captures through words and pictures. This blog is full of so much…grace. I can’t help but be inspired.

3. A Design So Vast

What I love about Lindsey is that she’s completely honed in on that enigmatic thing called voice. If ever her name wasn’t attached to a piece of writing, I’m certain I could identify it as hers nonetheless. She also has the ability to tap into reservoirs of hearts and minds of mothers and women that make one think, “Yes, I hadn’t realized that I was feeling this way…or I could relate to this…or this was on my mind…or I needed to read this today.” She and her writing are such gifts, and I’m so grateful I found her in this wide and surprising ether.

4. Petunia Face

Again, the writing. The writing gets me every time. Susannah has a daughter who’s a year older than Mia and I’ve been reading her blog almost as long as I’ve been reading Girl’s Gone Child. She has the ability to connect through writing in a way that few do — a way that makes you think, “Yes, that. Exactly that.”

*Since I originally posted this, Susannah lost her mother to cancer, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and just recently traveled to Tel Aviv to undergo an aggressive treatment consisting of removing all stem cells and then replacing them and then suffering through chemo to hopefully eradicate said MS. Hop on over and you can read her day-by-day experience with this. In my opinion, I’m not sure anyone could have handled this with as much grace and humor as she. Not long ago, someone stumbled upon this post and remarked that they find Susannah to be narcissistic and then posted the definition of a narcissist. That’s it. Once sentence and a definition. I’m not sure if the included definition was intended for me or Susannah but I would like to thank that person because I’m sure we’re both much clearer now on the meaning of narcissism. And I’m going to add: We are all, just by being human, a little bit narcissistic, don’t you think?

5. Commonplace

Dina is whip smart and a truly gifted writer. She’s someone whose words I look forward to reading whenever her name pops up because I know no matter what topic of motherhood she’s exploring, I will always nod my head along with her words. She’s also just signed on as the blog editor for Literary Mama, and I’m really looking forward to seeing her influence and contributions there.

6. A Cup of Jo

Because everyone’s doing it. No, really, I love this lifestyle blog. Because Joanna was once an editor, her blog is very editorial, which always makes for a fun read, but it’s personal and conversational as well. Since becoming a mom, she also covers some parenting issues and insights. I loved her series that profiled moms who are trying to find the work/life balance. This series featured work-at-home moms (and included some of my other fave blogs that I’m not listing here because ahh! only 8) and this one features moms who work mostly outside the home.

7. Bluebirdsunshine

I found this blog through the Blog Boss course. She’s and Aussie-turned-Brit, and I love her photos of her little ones and her posts that are like little vignettes of daily life as a mom. Just someone I naturally relate to and a space that makes me want to revisit time and again.

8. Raising Humans

Tricia is one of the warmest people/mothers/writers I’ve had the privilege of getting to “know” in this vast WWW. Her posts are full of grace and familiarity, and as effective as sitting down over a cup of coffee with a great friend, even if the topic is something as controversial as vaccines. (I’m scratching my head over that last sentence. Vaccines a controversy? Sadly, it has come to that.) Anyway, her writing is beautiful and always leaves me with something to ponder as I go about my day.

BONUS: Ivy League Insecurities

This list felt incomplete without adding Aidan’s blog. She’s an effortless writer, totally fun, and always gets her readers thinking by posing great questions on life, self-discovery, and just existing (and growing) as humans/mothers/friends/writers/women/creatives. In a word, she is inspiring.