To My Younger Self

In my mind, I see myself as an ten-year old child in her room. She sits on the floor with posters all over her walls, books stuffed into bookshelves, papers and pencils on the floor. She sits in front of a stereo with records stacked in front of it, cassettes in a box, and a radio set to her favorite radio station. I go and sit down in front of her and she looks up at me.

“Who are you?” She asks.

“I’m you. As a grown-up, older than mom and dad are now.”

“Why are you here?”

“Because there are some things I’m going to tell you, things you won’t remember as words, but as feelings.”

Younger me sets aside her paper and pencils and looks right up at me. I can feel how hard that is for her to do, how shy and scared she is. She wants to be brave, but she feels weak and fragile.

“The first thing I’m going to tell you is you’re not weak and fragile. Physically, in about three years, you’re going to find out why you’re awkward and clumsy. The good thing is it’ll get you out of most of the stuff in gym class you already hate.”

Younger me smiles at that but she says nothing so I continue.

“You’ll start writing a lot more in the next few years. You’ll get good at it, in fact it’ll keep you passing classes when you forget to do your homework.”

“Why would I forget to do that?” She asks.

“Because you’d rather write and live in your imaginary world than the real one.”

She nods to that and I continue to the hard part of this story.

“Twenty years from now, your whole world will come crashing down on you. One day all of the decisions that have to be made will be made by you. You’ll be strong, but inside you’ll be terrified that you’re going to shatter into a million pieces. And you’ll be alone through this time. Because no one is going to get close enough to you, and hold you, and tell you everything is going to be alright. Because you know it won’t be. But you’ll survive.”

She feels my remembered pain and anguish from those years and I focus on giving her strength instead. “Like I said, you won’t remember these words, just the feelings. And nine years later, it’ll happen again but this time you’ll be better prepared.”

“But alone?”

I just nod to that.

“Why?” She asks me.

“That’s a question I’m still trying to find an answer to. I’m working on writing a book about it. It’s about you, and me.”

Younger me smiles at this. “Does it have a happy ending?”

“It has a hopeful one. My future is still waiting to happen. And I still have hope that maybe some day someone will come into my life, and be patient with me.”

We look at each other for a moment then she crosses the small space of time between us and I hug her tightly to me. She doesn’t cry and neither do I. I hold her for as long as I can then as I let her go I tell her one last thing:

“In the future, where I’m at now, you’ll have a dog and cat.”

She giggles at that then she fades back into time and I return to my present. I know she won’t remember my words, but she’ll remember the feelings I want her to have the most: wonder, and hope.

Most of all she’ll have hope, like I do now.

A Question Without a Single Answer

Over the last few years, a question has been asked a lot: are people born without empathy and compassion, or are they raised that way?

Science has proven that diagnosed psychopaths and sociopaths have brain abnormalities that show the parts of their brains that govern empathy and compassion are non-functioning (link here). But for those without brain abnormalities, how are they without compassion or empathy?

My answer is I think it’s a personal choice. And I’m going to tell my mother’s story here to explain my answer.

My mother once said if she could summarize her childhood in one sentence it would be this: “God forbid you had an original thought in your head.” Nothing about empathy, compassion, or anything she was really taught to value or believe in other than rote Catholic dogma. She was to obey with total silence and submission the way she was being raised. And she was raised in what I would call a hellish environment- her father was an alcoholic and her mother was an extremely-conservative religious fanatic. My mother once told me one of her earliest memories was being thrown the stairs of the basement when she was four years old by her father in a drunken rage. (I didn’t ask for any more details or other times like that because I didn’t want to hear anymore, and she didn’t say anymore either though I have a feeling there were more stories like that.)

My mother would be the first to admit she was far from perfect. But not because she was humble, but because she had no self-confidence and no real self-esteem. Yet she didn’t raise me that way. She never put me down by telling me I was ugly, stupid, or going to hell just because I was female. In fact, when I was about eight years old we were at my grandmother’s house having lunch when my grandmother started in on me being overweight. For the first time in my life, I saw my mother completely lose her temper. She lit into my grandmother so hard my grandmother sat down and cried as she apologized over and over to me and my mother. I remember my mother saying, “You’re not going to do to my daughter what you did to me.” Because growing up my mother was told she was fat, ugly, and stupid though she wasn’t in any way, shape, or form.

My mother wasn’t very affectionate or very expressive emotionally with words. It was just something I accepted because that’s what I first remember. But I always felt like she believed in me and wanted me to be happy. I hated the fact when I started writing I put a bit of wedge between us because of that (that’s a story for another time). But she never stopped me from writing and though I never really showed her a lot of what I wrote, I wish I had.

I don’t believe my mother was raised to believe in, understand, or have compassion and empathy for herself or for others unless they fit an extremely rigid criteria for acceptance. I think she spent her adult life trying to overcome that and knew it was something she should try to overcome. When she did open up with people, they could be really awesome to her, or they could be total fucking shit-heads, too. Her trust issues and closed-off emotions have mirrored my own life and over the last few years I’ve gained a considerable understanding of her. Her silence has mirrored my own and it comes from similar places.

I believe she chose to do things differently as an adult. To try and overcome the rigid, horribly conservative ideology she was raised with, and to try and be a much-better mother than the one she had. I think she did a damn good job considering how much she had to overcome and deal with. I believe she had to fight a shit-ton of fear and conditioning to do things differently with me. I’m fucked up in a lot of respects but I’ve never dwelled too much on my looks or lost faith in myself. Like my mother, I stayed silent and took a lot of shit because I didn’t want to lose my shit and rage all over people.

So yes, I do believe empathy and compassion can be a choice people make. As to how and why they make that decision, that’s up to each person. But if you believe empathy and compassion are to be severely rationed, or barely felt, or only for those deserving few, may God have mercy on your soul because I sure as hell don’t. Disagreeing with someone over something simple like mayonnaise on a hamburger is one thing, disagreeing with them on something that involves compassion and empathy for someone suffering needlessly… there’s no need to attach love to hate because to me, hate is a lack of empathy and compassion towards suffering.

Though my mother never told me she loved me very often, her other words and actions said it for her. Her love didn’t hurt, her words never hurt, and I still miss her terribly almost eighteen years after her death. And I still love her, admire her, and respect more than anyone I’ve ever known because of the choices she made, and how damn hard she worked to overcome the way she was raised.

Writing Through Indoctrinated Fear

When I first joined my local romance-writers group in 1996, one thing I heard almost from the beginning was not to talk publicly about politics or any other ‘controversial’ (the quotation marks are mine) issues. The well-intentioned reasoning I was given was if you did then readers would turn on you and never buy your books, and in turn publishers wouldn’t publish your books and you would never have a writing career. I see that for what it is now: wrong as fucking hell.

One, no writer will reach, please, or satisfy every single reader on the planet. That’s called reality and there’s nothing wrong with accepting that. But living in fear of readers who won’t get into your work is bullshit and a huge waste of time.

Two, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution hasn’t been repealed yet, you know the one about Freedom of Speech. And yes, this does govern speech you don’t agree with or like. It means everyone has a right to speak, bitch, complain, or even talk out of their asshole if they want to.

Three, this indoctrination into not speaking out against issues like racism, sexism, rising fascism, etc. is not helping the cause of freedom. Silence on these issues aids the oppressors. In the romance-writing world, it kept racism and homophobia in the romance-writing community from being exposed and dealt with for far too many years. It created an incredibly hostile environment against authors of color and LGBTQ authors. Because of that, racism and homophobia are deeply-entrenched not only in the romance-writing community, but in our society as a whole. Silence is a form of fear-mongering and the good-intentioned way it’s presented is that if you stay silent then you won’t be hurt.

Like I’ve said before, I’ve been silent and that didn’t prevent me from being hurt in any way, shape, or form. What it did prevent me from doing was putting up a shield against thoughtless bullshit and casual cruelty, and it prevented me from keeping people from sinking their razor-sharp talons into my heart and soul.

I’m going to say this right here and now: if more people had spoken out over the last twenty-plus years against institutionalized racism and other shit like that, maybe most of the shit that’s happened since 2016 wouldn’t have happened. Maybe reforms and changes would have begun two decades ago and we’d be seeing some results now. Maybe we would respond so much better to crises like pandemics. And maybe so many people wouldn’t have died.

Yes, I know that sounds brutal. And I know some readers here might be thinking how do writers, especially silly little romance-novelists play into this?

Well, us writers, and yes, us silly little romance-novelists have audiences. And yes, we may have pissed off some of those readers if we had spoken out sooner against all the awful shit in this world but it would have been better if it happened back then and not now when we’re not even on the road to making any real changes. We are living not just through a shit-show, but in a dumpster fire. The problem is, the stuff we’re burning in the dumpster isn’t what should be burning. The contents of this dumpster we live in are fear, hatred, deflection, and gaslighting. This is what should have been written about two decades ago when I and many others were told to stay silent.

My fears of being exiled for speaking out are rapidly dying now for I know I’ve been an exile all my life. I’ve never fit in completely anywhere and I don’t know if I ever will find a place where I would fit in. But I’m okay with that. I’ve made it this far and as I write this I hear a thought in my head: you’re so much stronger than you have ever realized and don’t ever forget that.

Strength comes from facing fears and seeing they weren’t the fifty-foot fire-breathing dragons, or the huge smothering blankets of good-intentions you thought they were. In reality, they were nothing but smoke and mirrors. The smoke can be blown away and the mirror can be smashed to pieces.

Writing through this is hard and I’m not going to sugar-coat that in any way. But it’s worth it to me because the truth will set you free. Strength can come from a racing heartbeat and tightened lungs, from shaking jangly nerves, and from unshed tears. I know even as I keep writing in order not to lose my shit that solutions will come to me. They always have no matter how down I get.

 I once saw this saying and I still love it now as I’m learning to live it:

Feel the fear and write anyway.

Reclaiming Happiness for Healing

When the movie ‘Flashdance’ came out in 1983, I along with millions of young girls wanted to be a dancer and have it all. We all had the soundtrack album, the leg warmers, and the ripped sweatshirt. In 1983, I was nine years old and definitely not dancer-material, or physically coordinated at all. And in that year, that was painfully driven home every single day in P.E. (physical education) class when we did our exercises to the song ‘Flashdance (What a Feeling)’ by Irene Cara. By the end of that year of P.E. hell, I learned how to hate that song and for close to thirty-five years, I couldn’t listen to it without those awful memories of being picked last for any team, laughed at when I fell on my ass, and glared at daily by the P.E. teachers I had.

But in 2018, I reclaimed my love for that song.

It started on a Uber ride one morning when I was in very heavy traffic and unable to take my hands off the steering wheel to change the radio station. So I had to listen to the song, and when I did as a forty-four year-old woman, I heard these lines:

All alone I have cried

Silent tears full of pride

In a world made of steel

Made of stone

(Lyrics by Irene Cara and Keith Forsey, Music by Giorgio Mororder)

When I heard those lyrics, I shocked and amazed that I had forgotten them. Then I got back to my place and put the song on my phone and put my headphones on to listen to it again while I made breakfast. But when I heard those lines again, I bawled my brains out over a plate of breakfast tacos. Luckily no one was around to see that and my pets kept their distance from me.

I’m glad I bawled my brains out over those lyrics because after that, I began listening to the song and not thinking about being bullied and teased as a little girl. I began thinking of myself as a woman who had survived all that shit and was on the road to becoming the person I have always wanted to be. And that person is one who can smile and sing along (quite badly, I will admit) to this song and yes, even move around to it. It was like I was telling myself it was okay to cry those tears in silence alone in a shitty world because if you listen to the rest of the song, you’ll understand why this is so liberating.

For many years, I glossed over a lot of those memories of my childhood and adolescence, unwilling and unable to talk about the shittier aspects of it. But because I had stayed silent about those shit-times, I had buried the good times, too. Because despite being bullied and hated as a young child, I had an imagination and through that imagination I had hope. Hope that I could live in a world where maybe I wouldn’t sing and dance, but where I would find my dreams and make them happen. I’m working towards that now and realizing I’m so much stronger than the lies all the shit-bag assholes of this world ever told me.

And being stronger than you think is also a message of the movie ‘Flashdance’ as Alex (played by the awesome Jennifer Beales) learns in the movie, too. That year in that P.E. class took that away from me, too but I’ve gotten that message back. So I want to say here to anyone reading this: you can reclaim the good and learn how to put the bad away in boxes and store them. You’ll never forget those bad memories but when you box them up, you take away their power and you remove their sharp talons from your heart and soul.

I recently found the word for this reclaiming process: healing. Healing is when you find joy and happiness that you’d lost, or had taken from you. Healing is when you find the good behind the bad. Healing is taking a deep breath, wiping away your tears, then smiling and singing along with the old songs that made you want to dance.

I don’t think I can stress the importance of healing now. For me, when this word came to my mind it was like a punch to my stomach. It knocked the wind out of me and pissed me off like pain does. But know this: healing is not rebellious and radical. And if someone sees healing as rebellious and radical, they can take that and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. We all have wounds we need to heal from. It’s not an easy process but one that’s well worth it.

Healing is what gives me the ability to write now and bring three very important projects together. It’s slow-going at times but that’s alright. The shit-heads of this world are wanting to burn it down and not nuke us like they wanted to back in the 80’s so there’s time to write.

Most of all, there is time to heal.

Writing Through Grief

Many years ago, before my mother died, I heard I was too comfortable talking about death.

I wasn’t comfortable at all. I just learned to talk about it because I knew it was going to happen. There was no comfort in talking about it or what would have to be done when it came. In fact, the first time my mother and father sat down with me to talk about their deaths and what would need to be done… I got up and walked out of the room. They never held that against me but for many years, I felt enormous shame and guilt that I had done that. I was maybe twenty-one or twenty-two years old (I’m a bit hazy on the exact time frame), just a scared kid really and they knew that. But I knew I was being asked to put my fears aside and prepare for what was coming and I had to learn how to control my emotions and focus on the tasks at hand.

But there was no comfort in that and hearing that hurt me deeply. I tried to write it off as thoughtless bullshit or casual cruelty. But there is no justification for either one. Whether you’re thrust into the grieving process by sudden death or slowly pulled into it by a long, slow march to death, there is never any comfort in death. Yes, death takes away suffering from the person who died, but it leaves those behind with pain that only eases over time.

In the coming weeks and months, I will be writing about my grief. In October of this year it will be eighteen years since my mother died, and it’s been nine years since my father died. Both died after long and protracted illnesses I was there for every step of the way. Yet I was not given the opportunity to talk about my feelings while they were alive as I felt like people couldn’t handle what I was going through, or didn’t want to deal with me and my feelings. So I boxed those feelings up and put them away. Over the last couple of years, I opened those boxes and went through everything I put into them.

Writing about my grief is my grief-into-purpose moment. So many of us are grieving right now: for our loved ones who’ve gone before us, for those we’re watching on that final journey, for those we know who share our pain, and for a world that is changing, and for the fear and violence in our world now.

I have heard accusations in the past that I was trying to be a martyr for talking about my feelings, or that I was being a martyr for not talking about them at all. It was like if I tried to say something, I was only doing it for martyrdom. But if I said nothing I was also doing that for martyrdom.

I have never, ever, been comfortable with attention on myself. I experienced a lot of humiliation and pain whenever I did seek attention when I was young, so much so that I tried to run and hide and only step onto a stage in my imagination. Again, maybe it was just thoughtless bullshit and casual cruelty but there is no justification for either one. I want to say this to anyone who thinks a quiet person breaks their silence for attention or worse, some sort of martyrdom: no, that’s not what’s it about at all.

I think it’s good to see and hear people talking about grief and loss. It’s good to see it move past funerals and graveside services. It’s good that people are saying I understand your pain because I have felt pain, too. And most of all, I’m glad there is a man who is inspiring people to work for a better world by saying we have to turn grief into purpose (Joe Biden, 2020).

Cruelty to me is an absence of emotion, and not acceptable in any way, shape, or form. I will not absolve it, and my way of forgiveness for it is to describe it like this: forgiveness is when I remove razor-sharp talons from my heart and soul, wash the blood off, clean and stitch my wound close, then put a bandage over it. In time, I will learn to let go of the pain, and to know that I don’t have to let myself be hurt like that again.

Grief is not a razor-sharp talon in my flesh. It’s a shock to the heart, a body-blow that knocks the wind out of you. But you can recover from that, stand up straight, and breathe through the pain. And you learn to breathe again by feeling your emotions, and putting them into words. You don’t really breathe, or live in silence. Grief does not need to be silent, not in your mind, your heart, or your soul. Words and memories will always be there, even if you box them up and put them away.

When you’re ready, you’ll open those boxes and go through everything. And you’ll find the words for your feelings. And you’ll have a shield against cruelty, against those who would harm you for speaking your truth, and your feelings. I choose to write about my grief, and to break my silence over it.

Writing For Therapy, Knowledge, and Healing

Four years ago, I set out to use writing to try and figure out why I thought and felt the way I did. This is what I call writing as therapy because I was working through mental and emotional shit to gain knowledge. I thought therapy and knowledge would be enough until this thought came into my mind: I need to heal.

Following that thought was this one:

Since when did the thought of healing become a radical and rebellious idea?

Right after I typed that out yesterday, I got up and stalked around my room with a serious urge to rant and rage. Why? Because healing meant I would be letting myself feel happy and letting go of pain and misery once and for all. That’s a radical and rebellious idea for me because all my life I have felt like I had no right to be happy, and especially no right to express my feelings of happiness.

Writing on the non-fiction triumvirate as I call it now is not easy at times. But I do gain satisfaction with myself for my writing even though it’s a lot of hard work. And that satisfaction does make me feel happy. It’s not shout-in-the-streets joy but a deep-seated feeling of happiness from doing what I want to do. Yet why does writing the word ‘happy’ itself and thinking about feeling it hurt so much?

The answer to that last question is a long and complicated story with a lot of chapters. But now that I know the end of that story, I can write it. Because to heal is to let go of what’s hurt you and held you back. My fear behind this is that someone won’t like that I’m moving on, feeling the way I do, and most of all, expressing those feelings. My first instinct used to be to retreat, and my newer instinct is to rant and rage on the page here. Now I know I don’t have to retreat, or rant and rage. I just need to write, to heal, and be happy.

But yesterday I also wrote this: I’m not responsible for someone else’s feelings, especially if I’m not doing anything wrong. I will tell myself this now: just because someone has come at me in the past with either raging bullshit or passive-aggressive good-intentions doesn’t mean I have to take that shit any more. Or be scared that I can’t deal with it.

Healing is telling myself I can do something, and that I’m a lot stronger than I have ever realized before in my life. And that writing, Uber driving, sleeping, watching stuff on my laptop, listening to music, or maybe someday having some sort of social life is not out of the realm of possibility for me. That old fears are not my present anymore. I know I can work through the times where I want to rant and rage, or run and hide. Working through those rant-and-rage or run-and-hide moments is what led to this piece now, which I am forever grateful for.

Four years ago, I had no idea what my journey would lead to. But then no one else would have known either. I’m glad I have reached the point I’m at now where I can begin to embrace healing. Healing is not a radical and rebellious idea to me now. It’s not just a need, but something I want to do.

I know we live in some seriously fucked-up times right now. But I also know this: the future isn’t written. We write it in the present. As a writer myself, I write it every time I sit down and put words onto a page. That’s a hard realization because looking at a blank slate and thinking what could go wrong is scary as hell. And it’s not easy to think of what can go right either because of the unknown. Hope to me is accepting that things can work out not just by thinking about it, but by doing something about it.

My ‘doing something about it’ is writing. And publishing here to start with.

And most of all, I want every reader here to know the most important thing I’ve learned over the last four years:

You have every right to your thoughts and feelings no matter what they are, good, bad, ugly, or anything in between. And you have every right to deal with them in whatever way you choose to.

And in my case, that includes writing about them.

So You Want to Be a Writer…

I want to be a writer, but I don’t know how or where to start.

Yes, I’ve seen and heard this said by people for many years. And for anyone who has said that, I may have some answers for you. Though I do want to say right here and now, I didn’t say that at all when I started writing thirty-six years ago. I just picked up a spiral notebook and a pencil and began to write.

How did I know to do that? Simple. I knew what I wanted to write, which back then was poetry that I could turn into song lyrics. Sadly that dream didn’t come to fruition because I couldn’t find an Elton John to my Bernie Taupin. So I moved on and decided I wanted to be novelist then later on through my high school years, a screenwriter. After high school, I kept up with the screenwriting for a couple of years then went back to novel writing. Now I’m working on my novel, three book-length non-fiction projects, short article-essay type pieces like this one, the occasional poem, YouTube video, and short stories.

So now that you have my background let’s get back to the statement that started it all:

I want to be a writer.

Why? And I’m not being mean by asking that. I can understand if you’re not quite able to articulate your answer clearly just yet but you should have some idea as to what inspired you to want to be a writer. Because if it was just a thought out a thin air that sounded good, well you’ve got some work ahead of you here if you want to make that a reality.

I wanted to be a writer because I loved to read and I love words. I also have an overactive imagination and a brain full of thoughts and feeling. I discovered writing was a great way to get all that out of my head like other writers have done since the advent of writing.

But I don’t know how, or where to start.

This is actually doable though to get good at writing will take a lot of work. Some people are naturally gifted verbal storytellers but on paper, or in a digital format like most writers use today, not so much. But in order to know where to start, you do need to know why you want to in the first place. And also, you need to figure out what you want to write. Is it stories? Poems? Essays? You don’t have to stick to one thing and yes, you can do more than one thing at a time though I strongly encourage you to finish something before moving on to the next project. Whatever you decide to write should be something you want to do because if you’re making a conscious choice to write, you’re doing it for yourself first and foremost.

The ‘how’ part is just a lot of work. Basic writing should start with basic grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure, which hopefully you will learn in your basic education in school. You can also find lots of books, articles, and even YouTube videos on the many aspects of writing. But in addition to studying, you’ll have to write. And keep writing, and learn how to edit, revise, rewrite, and keep doing it until you find the flow as I call it. And know there will many times where your words won’t flow out of you. When that happens, you’ll have to figure out a way to work through that.

My advice is don’t write for attention, approval, fame, glory, or to get a date. Trust me, writing doesn’t work like that. Successful writers write because they want to, they believe in what they do and they’re willing to put in the work to get good at it.

Many years ago when I started writing, if I had announced with joyful abandon that I wanted to write people would have said this to me in total seriousness with absolutely no joy: “Great, kid. Now get to work.” Back in those days, if you wanted to be taken seriously you had to put in the work. You had to study, practice, and really keep at it. Today… not so much to my chagrin.

Frankly, I’ve always been puzzled by people who just think they can dash off words and expect instant gratitude and adulation. Legends in their own mind, I guess. But trust me, past a certain point, they won’t have the long and storied careers of best-selling authors. Whether or not I’ll ever hit a best-seller list remains to be seen but it won’t be because I didn’t work my tail off to try and hit it with the best work I can produce.

So you want to be a writer.

Great. Now get to work because in the end, it’s the writing itself that matters most, not the title of ‘writer’, or just wanting to be one.

Motivation Saturday – Writers Write

This two-word phrase came to me as I sat down to write a series of blog entries and got through three of them before a massive sinus attack hit me. But the phrase stayed in my mind and when that happens, I sit down and listen to it and figure out where it came from.

For the longest time, I have felt like when I sit down to write that I should be doing something else. What else should I be doing if it’s not urgent or can wait? That’s a good question and one I think involves the ever-present yet not-quite-real ‘someone’. Yes, the dreaded ‘someone’ who is so persistent in asking stupid questions like:

“Why are you writing? Shouldn’t you be doing something else?”

Now in the past I would have bent my head in shame and said, “Yes, I should be doing something else.” And then I would have found something else to do.

Now I stand tall and proud and say, “No. I am a writer and writers write.”

I know all too well there are a lot of people who call themselves writers yet don’t write, or write near as often as they should. They seem to love the idea of being a writer and being seen as a writer, but they’re not willing to put in the work. The problem with these wannabe’s as I call them is they are really good at projecting their perceived superiority over those of us who write and rewrite and edit until our brains turn to slime and slide out of our ears.

Don’t listen to these wannabe’s. You don’t have to in order to be polite and not hurt their feelings. They didn’t think twice about hurting yours by tearing you down so you don’t owe them anything in return for that. No, this is not being mean. This is about standing up for yourself and your work.

My late father once said to me: “Most people need to be told what to do and when to do it. You’re not one of them.”

You don’t have to be told what to do and when do it if that’s not the situation you’re in. Being a writer means being your own boss so be the boss you’ve always wanted to have. My inner boss would tell me right now to run with this idea and see where it goes. She’d tell me chores can wait (trust me, dust bunnies are the worst squatters around). And if you’ve eaten food, have something to drink, and you’ve been to the bathroom, you can sit down and write.

Writers write so they have words to revise because you can’t revise and edit a blank page. You can’t rewrite something if you haven’t something already. Writing, rewriting, editing, and revising are how word are polished to a shine and crafted to solid precision. But you can’t make something from nothing so you need to get the words down and if you have to, tell yourself no one is perfect. And not being perfect is more than okay. ‘Wannabe’s’ and ‘Someone’s’ will tell you in their own insidious ways that your work will never amount to anything, or that you should know better to begin with, or anything that makes them feel superior.

You don’t write for ‘wannabe’s’ or ‘someone’s’. You write for yourself first and foremost. You don’t write to anyone else’s expectations but your own. You have to take charge of your work and make it your own. Remember when it comes to your writing, you’re the boss of it. You write the words, not them. You edit and revise, not them. And since you’re a boss who does your own work, you can also do your own research and find the answers to your own questions.

Writers write.

If you have to, tell yourself this every time you can. Because if you hear this enough, you’ll start to believe it. And once you believe it, you’ll do it.

HEY, if you like this slogan-mantra-logo and would like a daily reminder of it for yourself or your fellow writers, check out my CafePress store page with a great variety of items. Click Here:  (link opens in a new page)

 

Origin Stories – The De-Inspiration Behind My Novel ‘Not Enough Time’

My novel, ‘Not Enough Time’, a romantic suspense, was de-inspired as I say by the movie ‘Proof of Life’. ‘Proof of Life’ starred Russell Crowe as a former Special Forces soldier turned hostage negotiator who tries to negotiate the release of the husband played by Meg Ryan’s character. Now in real-life, hostage negotiations can take months, if not years. Also, in the movie Crowe and Ryan’s characters don’t get together but there’s an attraction there (in the novelization I read their characters did have a one-night stand but I don’t know if that scene was filmed or not).

I watched the movie with my mother when it came out on home video in 2001 and after the movie was over, my mother asked me what I thought of it. I said to her it wasn’t that bad but it could have been better. I said the story could have been much tighter and more emotionally engaging if Meg Ryan’s character had been the sister of the guy Crowe’s character was trying to rescue instead of his wife. Also, I thought if the kidnappers had a reason for kidnapping other than ransom then a rescue plot could worked so much better.

My mother’s first reaction was: “God I hate watching movies with you sometimes.” Then she said right after that, “But your ideas are so much better.”

I looked up in complete and total shock because I’d never, ever told her any story ideas I had or de-constructed a movie plot like I did and turned it into a story idea. If you read the origin story I did on my writing book, you’ll get a piece of that story. But because of her support and my strong reaction to this movie, an idea was born. The next day I hammered out what would become the first scene in the first attempt at writing this as a novel.

I’ve written several complete drafts of this book and I got two of them rejected outright by two different publishers. It’s gone through at least three title changes that I can remember and my hero Jake went through a name change. But the basic plot elements have remained the same.

Why haven’t I given up on this?

One, every time I’ve told people about this story they’ve reacted well. The rejections were because I didn’t have the skills to develop it like I needed to. I’ve gotten people hooked on the premise and I’ve just been working on the execution ever since.

Two, this story won’t let go of me. I’ve spent a lot of time away from it over the years but sooner or later, I come back to it. Usually it was because I had a new idea for the story and wanted to give it a go.

So if anyone asks me when to give up on a story I will not answer that question. Because if I haven’t given up on this damn story in close to twenty years, then I won’t tell anyone to give up on theirs. What I will say is if you have to, feel free to step back from it and let it simmer on its own for a while. I’ve written a lot of other stuff since then, including a few more novels that haven’t seen the light of day.

At present, I’m four chapters into this with the goal of having a working draft by the end of the year though if I maintain my current pace I could have something finished by Halloween or sooner maybe. I believe I’ve got what it takes to make this damn story work once and for all. And that is because I’ve done the emotional work on myself and in turn, on my characters. Also, I remember what I said all those years ago about keeping the plot tight.

But here’s some tidbits about a few things with this book:

My hero, Jake, got his name from a cat I had. I forgot what Jake’s original name was now but it just wasn’t working for me so one day I looked up from the computer and saw my beloved floof-ball of a cat looking at me. Then I turned back to my computer and made the name change and it’s stuck ever since.

My heroine, Laura, has kept her name and profession but her inner emotional struggles do mirror mine. I won’t say in exactly what ways but I started using her first to work through my emotional baggage long before I started my therapy book ‘Breaking Radio Silence’. The title, ‘Not Enough Time’, came from a song by the Australian band INXS. I was listening to their ‘Greatest Hits’ cd while washing dishes one night and as I listened to the song’s lyrics, I thought it was a perfect fit for the story. Now the title has worked its way into the story itself.

How I Learned to See Myself as a Brand and Own It Like the Boss I Am

In the early 2000’s when the internet and the World Wide Web were coming to life, there was talk about how authors needed to create a ‘brand’ for themselves. In the romance-writing community I was a part of at the time, this was a big topic of discussion and not necessarily in a good way. To say there was considerable pushback against the idea of ‘branding’ was putting it mildly. My smart-ass response was that I wasn’t a can of soup on a grocery-store shelf.

When you put your work out into the world, you are creating a brand whether you like the term ‘brand’ or not. The best thing to do is accept that you are creating a brand and create one that reflects how you really are (because if you create a brand that’s the opposite of who you really are trust me, it won’t end well: see the current news about Ellen DeGeneres).

About a year ago I launched a website and over that website’s short life, I created what I thought was merely a tag line/warning: sarcastic, profane, irreverent, wise-cracking, and somewhat serious. But now I realize I created a brand for myself and the content I produce, and also a warning about what I do, too. I sure as hell didn’t set out to do this but it’s stuck like super-glue, and I like it because it’s truly me.

Now I think the pushback against ‘branding’ today is mostly bullshit about how there are some people who put themselves and their work out into the world just to further their brand and be greedy and uncouth people (like Meghan McCain is fond of saying on ‘The View’ to various guests or in commentary on certain people).

So if anyone pushes back on me and says I’m only saying or doing something to further my brand those idiots are going to get a head-tilt followed by, “And your point is?” Because my point is this, if someone is out and about promoting their work what are they supposed to do? Talk about the weather? If you’re being asked to talk about your work then told that if you do you’re a self-centered ego-centric money-grubby dumb-ass… fuck that shit. Or if you want to be polite you can quote the lovely and talented Arianna Grande and say, “Thank U, Next.”

I will confess here I used to think I couldn’t speak up against being put-down for trying to put my work out into the world. Why? Because I thought that any asshole who ever told me what I was doing was dead-on-arrival and not worth anyone’s time and effort was right. How wrong I was, and how grateful I am to realize that now. Because people who mouth off and shit all over something or someone because they’ve got a case of mental and emotional hemorrhoids isn’t worth thinking about, listening to, or responding to with anything other than as much irreverent sarcasm that ends with a good wise-cracking punchline.

Now a better question to ask here is, can you go in a different direction than you have before, or even go off-brand? Uh, yeah. That’s called ‘life’ and life is constantly changing and pretty fast sometimes, too. Also, sometimes things don’t work as well as they should and if that’s the case, then a change is needed. There’s no need to keep doing something if it isn’t working for you just because some moron thinks you can’t do anything else.

I think what holds people back more than anything is worrying about what ‘someone’ might think. I used to let those ‘someone’s’ run my life more than they ever knew or would have cared to had they known. So a goal in successful branding is this: don’t listen to ‘someone’s’ bullshit that you don’t know what you’re doing, or that you have to stay on-brand no matter what, or that you can’t do anything but the one thing they want you to do. I’m a writer first and foremost, but writing has led me in a lot of different directions and will continue to do so. And whether or not to go in those directions is my decision and my decision alone.

Finally, reaping the rewards of your branding success is not wrong either. Making money is not inherently wrong, especially since the vast majority of people who earn money don’t earn countless billions that they would hoard. The vast majority of people in this world are just trying to survive and they sure as hell don’t need any shit in the process.

So I will embrace my brand of ‘sarcastic, profane, irreverent, wise-cracking, and somewhat serious’ and wherever it takes me. Because in this crazy world more than ever, there is no such thing as a sure thing. Yet despite that I say this in my way of staying on-brand:

Do more. Be more. And if anyone doesn’t like that, tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine. Or to put it bluntly: own your fucking shit.