Tag Archives: writing

Yes, I’m alive and I have news!

16 Nov

Ever since stopping my weekly posting, I have been pathetic about keeping up with my blog. As you all have seen! But there are a few reasons for that. One is that I was writing a book. Then I stopped writing that book and began writing a different one – the one which I’d been avoiding for a long time.

Now that book is almost finished and I’m ready to begin shopping it around. In light of that, I have begun a new blog which explains about the book and, by default, explains why I’ve been neglecting this one!

So long story short, here’s the link and please check it out!

https://thedisheveledtheologian.wordpress.com

In the mean time, here’s something else to look into if you’re feeling like treating yourself to some beautiful music. My cousin has a new CD out!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYrXmPqmjOU

Here’s a wonderful review of the CD!

http://www.mainlypiano.com/2015_Reviews/Patton-Between_Shadow_%26_Light.html

And here’s a link to find out more!

www.neilpatton.net

I hope you look into (and subscribe to!) the new blog – I’m very excited about this! When I started blogging in 2011, this is where I was headed and now I’m getting close!

Thanks, all!
Gretchen

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Canning My Own Tomatoes…Again

29 Aug

Full disclosure: I wrote (and posted) this two years ago…but thought of it last night and felt called to re-post since many of you didn’t see it back then! This is tomato season – and I’ll blog more about that on Tuesday – but for now, enjoy this “throwback” post. It’s one of my favorites.

This is how I can tomatoes: with words. In past years I have canned them with jars. Lovely, shining, wide-mouth Mason jars, topped with golden rings and flowery caps. I have waited in nervous expectation for them to seal, for them to justify my time and energy and sweat. And, almost always, I have been rewarded with a “ping” of success. Ah, sweet music to a canner’s ears.

But not anymore. Well, maybe someday again, but not for now. Nor, I’m sure, for a long time to come. Canning is a HUGE job. No, it’s not difficult, per say, but it’s messy, hot, and sticky…times a thousand. Every surface of my kitchen would need wiping down after I canned tomatoes. And I needed a shower. Badly. Yes, it’s rewarding. Yes, I loved having MY tomatoes on the shelf all winter long, lending the taste of summer to my spaghetti sauce. I LOVED that. But not enough to do it anymore.

Who knew such beauty could come from a lowly whiskey barrel?

For one thing, I’d have to have a garden. Or at least a whole lot more tomatoes than I have now in my four whiskey-barrels. And to have a garden I’d need a fence. And to have a fence I’d need time and energy and commitment to this lifestyle called gardening in order to justify the expense of the fence and the fertilizer (perhaps Rita over at SoSheMarriedAFarmer could give me some cow poop for free?). But most of all, the sheer loss of writing time while out weeding, watering and harvesting keeps my fingernails clean and my thumb less than green. Yes, I have a lot of excuses.

But seriously, writing – and figuring out this writing life – is captivating/controlling/fulfilling me right now. I cannot do everything…and so gardening is out. If only we had more TIME. Time to clean, play, parent, garden, write, sleep, eat, work, drive, can, read, volunteer, befriend a lonely orphan…the list goes on. Canning is definitely out.

How is it that some people seem to have time to do all of that and then some? I am not one of those people. There are too many books calling to be read. Too many sentences begging to be edited. Too many blogs to check out. This is my life right now, and I’m okay with that.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked canning. Other than the mess. I liked feeling a communion with my mother, my Scottish grandmother. I liked feeling like I was contributing. Liked feeling like a homemaker, a provider. Like I was Ma Ingalls. After all, Walnut Grove is only a couple of hours from here; maybe there’s something in the air in these parts, some tomato-laden scent that calls a person with the voice of those pioneer women, enticing them jar-wards. Just call me Caroline.


Yeah, dream on, Self. I never was more than a one-hit wonder in the canning world. I never canned anything other than tomatoes – oh, and a few kinds of jam, come to think of it. I did write a poem about canned beans once. It was the only poem I wrote that my college poetry professor ever liked. I got into his class because he thought I was related to someone…only I wasn’t. There aren’t a lot of poets out there with the last name of “Wendt” and it turns out that Ingrid Wendt was a known Eugene-area poet of the time. All these English profs and secretaries in the department kept asking me if she was my mother – it was very confusing at first – but turned out to be to my benefit, so thanks, Ingrid, if you ever read this!

Anyway, I’ll see if I can find that poem just for giggles. I know I still have it somewhere in the depths of my box of college memorabilia. I wrote it during Music Appreciation class one afternoon – shhh – don’t tell my kids I wasn’t paying attention to the teacher.

So, yes, sadly, (but to the joy of anti-botulism fans everywhere) the only beans I ever canned were in my poem. And the only tomatoes these days are in words, too. The jam is long gone, the jars mostly broken. But the words remain. Perhaps that’s the best kind of canning, after all.

At least for me.

I’m Done

12 Mar

So the story goes that J.K.Rowling, when she finished writing her seventh and last Harry Potter novel at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, wrote on the base of a bust of Hermes, “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.”

I have no statues or heads of statues nearby, nor do I have sufficient clout to assume that anyone would even want me to write on their statue should there be any around, so I am choosing, instead, to write to you, my blogland friends:

I, Gretchen O’Donnell, have finished editing my children’s novel, tentatively titled, “The Children of Eel Pond Island” on this day, March 12, 2013, in BenLees Café, in Worthington, Minnesota, at 2:00 in the afternoon.

I am full of caffeine.

I am heady with joy.

I am scared to death.

I am done.

That’s What Friends Are For

26 Feb

I mentioned last week that I’m writing several articles for my local newspaper. It’s going well so far and I’m having fun! I am certain that I’ll have all sorts of epiphanies to share with you about the whole process when I’m done.

In light of my creative juices being entirely taken up by journalism right now, I have asked my blogging friend Audrey if she was willing for me to re-blog one of her lovely posts and she was! I have mentioned Audrey and her blog, “Minnesota Prairie Roots” before, though it’s been awhile. Audrey is one of those amazing people who is able to blog daily. I can barely make my once-a-week deadline!

Audrey (r) and me, in her lovely backyard last summer.

Audrey (r) and me, in her lovely backyard last summer.


Audrey writes about life in Minnesota. Every post includes relevant and often very lovely photographs. She writes about daily life, about heart-warming people, about thought-provoking issues. She writes about quirky restaurants or stores she comes across, local places of interest, Minnesota authors, Minnesota news, Minnesota life. But don’t count her out just because she’s not writing about YOUR state or country, because everything Audrey writes is, at heart, about humanity. About things people will find interesting, humorous, and important.

I met Audrey “virtually” a year ago last fall, and since then she has become a lovely and knowledgable companion in my writing journey. She and her husband even welcomed me and my family into their own home last June and served us a delicious meal. Boo, our six year old, calls Audrey, “the lady with the great backyard.”

I call her my friend.

I picked a post of Audrey’s from last November. It’s about a museum in northern Minnesota…but, mostly, it’s about one man and his amazing dream…

So…please click on my next post and find her fantastic story!

Thanks!

Gretchen

The Thing Which Scares Me the Most

4 Sep

Now that I’ve survived the trauma of Boo heading off to kindergarten, my daily focus has changed a wee bit. Now, rather than answering questions and playing Candyland, I can spend my time doing what I have wanted, all my life, to do.

I can write.

I have this amazing thing: TIME.

I can taste it. I can touch it. Like a gift-wrapped, tangible presence: TIME.

And, of course, I face the huge question of how best to spend it.

This means I can choose to drive into town, and, if I do, I can stop frequently along the 20-minute drive to take photographs, I can stop for minutes on end to capture the Blue Herons that fish along the shallow lakes and no one will fuss that they’re hungry, tired, or bored.

This also means that I can sit around in my pajamas all day and no one will ever know. Except perhaps the UPS man, but he usually comes to our house in the late afternoon so I should be safe as I’ll have to get dressed by then to uphold the ruse that I’ve been productive all day.

It means I can brew a pot of coffee and carry it out to the deck where I can read in the sunshine without being interrupted and interrupted and interrupted, forced to read the same sentence three times in as many minutes.

I means I can go grocery shopping without a helper. Or get my haircut without having to buy the bottle of shampoo that accidentally got knocked off the shelf and burst open. Or go to the gynecologist without lining up a sitter because there are some things that a five year old just doesn’t need to know about yet.

It means I can sit at my desk and write, write, write, write, write, write, write. I can edit and revise and think. I can stand on my head, if I like, trying to think of the perfect way to kill off a character, and no one will look at me funny, or demand that I explain myself or ask me sweetly to help her stand on her head, too.

No one will ask me this because no one will be around.

For seven hours a day, it will be quiet.

Completely silent.

I feel old.

I feel a little bit lonely.

I feel finicky, like a cat that can’t make up its mind what it really wants out of life.

I am overwhelmed by the largeness of the silence.

And I am amazed.

Amazed that, after almost 13 years of having children at home, they’re finally all in school.

Amazed that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had 7 hours to myself, at home, uninterrupted, and now suddenly I have years and years of this ahead.

I feel grateful for this.

I feel empty because of this.

I feel afraid due to this.

Yes, afraid. Afraid that, now that I have time, I’ll finish up my manuscript and no one will want to buy it. Afraid that all these years I’ve looked forward to this moment, this chance to perfect this book, I’ll botch it. I’ll just be one of those people who tried to get a book published.

And failed.

Yes, I am afraid. Because this is what I have wanted all my life and what if I can’t do it?

I find things to keep me busy: church stuff, volunteering around town, washing the dishes. Things that keep me too busy to write. Too busy to face the ultimate question of whether or not I can achieve this elusive goal.

These things become excuses.

Perhaps even this blog becomes a time-filler to keep me away from what I need to do…
…but I am frightened of.

They say that fear of failure is one of the top fears of everyone in the world.

They also say that failure to try is failure in itself.

I am not afraid to die, I am not afraid to speak in public – two of the other major fears people face. But yes…I am afraid of failing in this dream.

The thing is, so much of it depends not just on me, but on others.

And maybe they won’t think I’m a genius.

Ha.

But yes, I will try. I will proceed. I will finish.

Because to not to would be to have failed for certain for sure.

(Yes, I meant that sentence to be badly written. It’s reflective of my state of mind.)

Who knew that sending Boo off to kindergarten would provoke such a reaction in her mama?!

I did not cry when they drove away to school, everyone waving, Boo giggling with joy.

The tears came later. Now I’m left with a book-sized lump in my throat that is causing me cardiac distress.

I’ll let you know if it ever goes away.

The Gooble-Gooble Monster

27 Sep

Moonrise.

Today’s post has two parts to it. Part one: the happy part. Part two: the defiant part. I would have posted the happy part alone, but it was kinda short. And as for the defiant part, well, it seemed like it needed a little leavening.

So…PART ONE: the beginning of the dream.

When I was small, I wrote a book. It was called, “The Gooble-Gooble Monster” and it was about a scary-looking monster who was actually kind. (Original, I know.) He came across a little girl and she was frightened by his scary face, but then she got to know him and realized he was actually friendly. The end.

I told my sister the story and she helped me make it into a book. She wrote it out for me and I drew the pictures. It was the size of an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper, cut into four. We taped it together. All seven pages. Then we showed it to Mom and she, of course, admired it with all appropriate motherly love.

For a long time it hung around on my dresser. I would look at it occasionally, admiringly, appraisingly. Then, one day, it was gone. I looked in my garbage. Had it fallen in? I looked under my dresser. Under my bed. Nada. I looked for it for months.

For about 25 years I wondered what had happened to it.

Signs of the season.


Then, one day, Mom sent me some stuff. Stuff she’d kept for years in a file marked, appropriately, “Gretchen”. And there it was. The Gooble-Gooble Monster in all its glory. I cried, I was so amazed.

Was it the work of art I had remembered? Yes, it was. It was imperfect perfection, just what a child’s homemade book should be, and it proved something to me: this dream I have, of writing, isn’t new to me. It’s older than my ability to write.

Sunrise.

PART TWO: fulfilling the dream.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about…writing! It’s amazing to me what a L-O-N-G process this all is. Writing/editing/publishing is an exercise in patience, and this is only just the beginning. Things are moving along…and at a good pace…just don’t be saving your pennies quite yet or expect to pre-order my book on Amazon in the near future! One step at a time…and some of the steps are rather lengthy. BUT…progress is being made and I’m hoping to approach my first-choice agent quite soon. Hopefully I’ll have some fun stuff to report in the next month or two!

Fall has its advantages.


People ask me, from time to time, if I’ve found a publisher yet. Someone the other day, when I said something about my book, did the ultimate dreaded thing: he said, “Oh, you wrote a book? What’s it called?” And I said, “I’m not certain of the final title yet.” And he said, “Oh. So it’s not published,” and then turned away with a look on his face that said, “Yeah, whatever. You can’t call yourself a writer. You’re not one. You’re just a wanna-be. You’re just like so many other people out there in the world who ‘wrote a book’…and it’s never going to see the light of day because no one thinks it’s good enough to publish. Go back to your dusting, little housewife.”

Yes, perhaps I’m reading into his response. But truly, that’s what his look and his real words said…just in the expanded form! I was saddened by his response, and I wanted to say, “Hey! I haven’t even gotten to the point of ASKING a publisher yet! Give me a break here! I only just finished editing!” But he turned away, talking to someone else, and I didn’t get to explain. I didn’t get to defend. Somehow, later on, to return to the conversation seemed desperate and unnecessary. And really, I don’t care what that person thinks of me, anyway! I know what I’ve done, and I’m good with that.

One of Katie's favorite creaturess.


What have I done? I’ve written a manuscript for a book that I hope will be published. I’ve taken 3.5 years of my life and WRITTEN A BOOK! I’ve taken my heart, my imagination, my brains, my memory, my dreams, and written a book. I AM a writer! I’m not a wanna-be. I WRITE. That makes me a writer. I’m even thinking about getting business cards! Whoo hoo!

GRETCHEN O’DONNELL. WRITER.

It’s just that the process is taking forever.

So, for those of you who have been wondering…for those of you who woke up today, knowing that it’s a Tuesday, and excitedly anticipating reading about my most recent epiphanies…now you know what’s going on. I’m waiting. I’m learning patience, because this is only the beginning. There’s a heck of a lot of waiting yet to come.

So my epiphany for the week is this: while I wait, I move ahead. Perhaps a sequel? Perhaps something totally new? Perhaps I smile to myself at the nay-sayers. The eye-rollers. The deniers.

I am a writer because I write.

So there.

I even have a taped-together decade-old book, written by me, to prove it.

Perhaps, like the Gooble-Gooble monster, this process will turn out to be a friendly one.

Sometimes the Pen – or the Keyboard – Has a Mind of its Own

23 Aug

The things that really matter.

I live out in the country, on ten acres of trees and grass and stream, surrounded on all four sides by farmland. Don’t get me wrong: we are not farmers. We are not even “gentleman farmers”. We have no horses fertilizing my future garden patch. No chickens wander around looking picturesque in the front yard. No cow provides our morning milk. No cats purr at our ankles. No dogs annoy the mail lady. Not even a goldfish graces our counter top.

We do have many visiting wild animals. Foxes. Woodchucks. Feral cats. Skunks. Deer. Racoons. Opossums. Beavers. Muskrats. Coyotes, occasionally. Cougars, supposedly (though we’ve never seen one), frogs and toads and birds of many a varied feather.

Reflection.


This makes me, I suppose, an imposter. I really don’t belong here, growing up as I did in a different state, a milder climate, a separate frame of mind. In the Pacific Northwest, people are radicaller than they are here. (Yes, I know that’s not a word. I’m using it anyway.) Here almost everyone goes to church. At least at Christmas and Easter. They mostly grew up here, are raising their children here, will be buried here in the prairie cemetery on the edge of town where an old cannon raises its shiny nose to the sky. And that’s okay.

Another little bit of summer.


But it sometimes makes for a little discontinuity with this former globe-trotter. I said something to our son the other day that began with the words, “When I was in Russia…” and he said, “I sometimes forget that you were there, Mom.” And I said, in a whisper of realization, “So do I.”

And that, too, is okay. I mean, I want to live in the present, to enjoy and thrive in the here-and-now, rather than pine away for what was. And, truly, I tend to be a home-body anyway. I’m content to linger over breakfast with a good book. To put off the grocery shopping until the milk turns sour. I say “no” when I feel I can, to “opportunities” for involvement. (There are still plenty of things I can’t say “no” to!) I hate when night after night brings obligations, meetings, and trips into town.

Perhaps this makes me an imposter as well. I live in a world where how busy you are proves your worth. Or, at least, it feels that way. One thing I witnessed many times while doing Beauty and the Beast was the backstage hustle and bustle of the players. Often I’d see fellow-performers RUN from place to place – whether they needed to run or not. They’d run from one side of the stage to the other, only to stand there, out of breath, waiting their turn to enter from the wings. Sometimes, of course, we had to run. Sometimes we’d push each other out of the way in our hurry, our need, tripping over cords and props in our rush. But often, the running and busy-ness struck me as a need to look important. “If I run from here to there then everyone will see how vital I am to this production.” I too, fell into this trap…until I realized how silly it was.

I don’t mean to disparage anyone…it’s just that it struck me as so interesting. So like real life. We tend to think that if we’re busy, we’re vital. We’re needed. It’s all part and parcel of finding our value in the stuff we do…rather than in WHO we are.

I’d prefer to find my value in the way I think. The way I behave towards a stranger. The way I like to wave to a slow-moving tractor on my dirt road. It doesn’t matter how much I do, or where I’ve traveled. What matters is valuing people the way God wants me to value them. Being kind to my children. Spending time with my family. Being calm enough that I can smile as I face my to-do list…instead of weeping with the overwhelming urgency of it all.

This isn’t what I meant to write about. I meant to write of farming, of summer, of crop-dusters zooming over my house like gigantic dragon flies and sending us running outside in gales of laughter, grabbing the camera, waving like mad. I guess that will have to wait until next time. Sometimes the pen – or the keyboard – has a mind of its own.

And that’s okay.

There is beauty to be found on the prairie.


It’s also okay that I fail at practicing what I preach each and every day. I mean, it’s not OKAY…but it’s reality. I guess what matters is that, hopefully, I am improving.

Seize the day, my friends. Enjoy the moment. Live in light of eternity. Stop and smell the pungent tomatoes. Summer is almost over.

And that, too, must be okay.

The Most Surreal Moment of my Life

2 Aug

I adore beaches. This is Eastsound Bay...

My sister has brought me to see the new library. I am in the town where I grew up, Eastsound, Orcas Island, Washington. The old library, where I knew every nook and cranny, where I came for story time, for puppet shows, for the Library Fair, is closed; has become a real estate office, or insurance, or some other such place where the stories they weave are more fiction than fact but no one ever admits it.

We walk into the new building and it smells of paint and printing, and, inexplicably in this modern time, paste. (Perhaps that’s all just in my mind.) It holds the old books, housed on new, honey-colored shelves, but not the old feelings. Nor do I find the marble statue of David, complete with fig leaves. I never looked at that thing without blushing.

I wonder, is new always better than old? Is large always better than small? Well, in the case of books, more is better than less, this I must admit. But it feels, somehow, wrong. As if I don’t belong here. As if I am a tourist. I remember, suddenly, the bumper sticker, popular in this tourist town when I was a child, “I’m not a tourist, I live here.” I was never quite sure why a person would want to advertise this. Now I understand better. To live here is to belong. Sadly, I no longer do.

Quintessential Orcas Island beach scene: sea weed and starfish and jagged rocks!

I wander around, admiring the lay-out, the picture windows, the local author’s section. “Will I ever be shelved there?” I wonder, I long. I see the children’s section and am drawn to the books I love best. I see the bean-bag chairs, the colorful painted walls, the smiling stuffed Madelines, Pooh Bears, and chubby ducks, packaged together with their corresponding books, hanging on convenient racks.

I run my hand along a shelf, randomly grab a volume – with a title I do not recognize – and heft it in my hand. Clearly, this book was carted over from the former building. No brilliant illustration graces its linen cover, no plastic dust jacket is folded and taped with precise and crinkly splendor, to protect it from greasy fingers, little brothers. I open the book, compelled.

There, in affirmation of its age, is a cream-colored pocket, complete with card, proving its pre-computer derivation. I pull out the card, intrigued by this reminder of what libraries used to be: written proof of a person’s interests. It has not been checked out very often; only half a dozen names grace its lines. The most recent date is some 10 years previous, the oldest more like 20. I glance at the names, some penciled in childish printing, some in a mother’s neater cursive. Suddenly, my heart skips a beat as my eyes take in the second name on the list, just one certain scribbled name: Gretchen Wendt.

Here, I, on the road to independence, was allowed to sign my name, was allowed to leave my mark, the proof of my existence. Frozen in a moment of time that I have long since forgotten, this card holds a story. Now I have found it, here, where I have never before been…and yet, somehow, I have.

Perhaps I’m not a tourist after all.

I'm the smallest one...probably not too long before writing my name on a certain library card...

(Those of you who know me may be wondering…no…I’m not on Orcas right now! I’ve tried several times in the past to write about this incident – which took place probably 15 years ago – but have never been satisfied with what I wrote. Today, writing it in the present tense, it finally came. I guess it took an epiphany…)

Finicky? Me?

12 Jul

This has nothing to do with anything...other than I love it! This was taken in my parent's garden a year or so ago...I don't even know what flowers they are. Any ideas?

I am like a cat who fusses to be let out…then, after five seconds, fusses to be let back in. I am not proud of this fact about myself, but I’m afraid it’s true. At least where writing is concerned. I like the idea of writing at home as opposed to spending coffee money at a cafe…but when given the opportunity, I fuss to be let back in.

Right now I am alone at home. The house is quiet. I can actually hear the fan, the birds out the window, the wind in the trees. I am breathing air untainted by shrieks or arguments or Super Mario Brothers.

I am alone. And I am a little bit lonely.

I wrote last week about the writing process being a solo, and it definitely is. But this quiet-at-home weirdness is why I don’t like to write at home. Home isn’t SUPPOSED to be quiet. I have grown used, over almost 12 years of kids in the house, to tuning out noise. Home is supposed to have laughter, radios and sibling rivalry (well, I could do with a little less of that, thank you very much). It’s freakish when it’s so silent. Not even the washing machine is running. I feel like I’m in a time-out.

When I write at the café in town, I am alone…in the middle of a crowd. I am never lonely. It is never too quiet. I need background noise. I need something to tune out. And, living in a small town, I always see people I know, which I love. I enjoy saying “hi”, exchanging a few pleasantries, then going back to my work. I’m an introverted extrovert. Cafés work for me.

The trouble with tuning out noise at home is that the noise asks questions. (That sounds philosophical…but it wasn’t really meant to be…just representative!) The noise fights with its siblings and has to be reprimanded. The noise interrupts constantly and telling the noise to watch TV isn’t really a valid response.

Yes, at home, even when alone, I am distracted. The laundry. The dishes. A shower. The mail. Facebook. The mess. The couch. The book I’m reading. At a café I don’t need to worry about a thing except what words to type next. I smile occasionally. I pour myself coffee (that I didn’t have to be distracted in order to make). I sit in my corner and spread out my notes and I immerse myself in this alternate reality that I am creating. Occasionally, I question their choice of music.

But right now I’m at home, where the coffee is cheaper, albeit worse; my hair is messy, and nobody cares; and my computer battery won’t die on me because I forgot to bring my chord. (Yes, I speak from experience.) I guess, after all, there really is no place like home.

“Ok,” I tell myself. “Just enjoy. Use your time wisely. Be thankful for this moment with which Colin has gifted you. Keep your mind off the couch and the cozy, inviting thing that is naptime. FOCUS!”

“Ooooo…,” say the voices in my head. “Just look at those crazy birds, fighting over the grape jelly. Remember the time a pig wandered across the front lawn – right there – and into the corn field? And the time a pheasant flew into the living room window, breaking the double-paned glass the week before Thanksgiving and how you threw couch pillows at him to get him out of the house…and he survived? Ha ha! That was funny. You were alone then, too. Well, Lucy was here, but she was napping…” (Oh, a nap sounds good!) No! Focus! Lucy napping = writing time. Quiet time. More precious than gold. An empty house also = writing time…

WRITE, YOU FOOL!

Well, what do you know? I guess I have been writing…albeit in a stream-of-consciousness manner. I like to write like that…the way I talk. Yes, conversations with me tend to wander. Wander…wonder…I wonder what’s for dinner? Shoot. I’m the one who has to decide these things. (That still sometimes takes me by surprise, even after 15 years of marriage.) I wonder when they’ll be home? Oh. There’s the garage door opening.

Shoot. Sure is loud in here. How can a girl write?

PS – This may be a star magnolia! That’s our best guess so far!

Writing is Not a Group Effort

5 Jul

I spy...5 Baltimore Orioles! This is my view from my computer. Makes for some inspired writing!

I got a book in the mail today. The Forest for the Trees, by Betsy Lerner. Its subtitle is “an editor’s advice to writers” (Riverhead books, New York, revised 2010). I’ve been waiting with slightly worried breath for the mail-lady (the best and nicest mail person I’ve ever met) to drive dustily down our dirt road and deliver this nugget of wisdom to me. Today she came through…even sooner than Amazon.com said she would.

 
I opened the box. I took out the book, feeling slightly nauseous. I sat down with the book on the couch, legs curled up, coffee at hand. Now allow me to explain something here. I don’t enjoy reading non-fiction books. I don’t curl up and devour them the way I do fiction. Typically, I avoid non-fiction like the plague…which happens to be a huge topic of the most recent non-fiction tome I checked out of the library (677 pages, including index). I’ve skimmed 37 pages…not sure I can take any more. (Yes, I was trying to broaden my horizons. Trouble is, my horizons have a way of tunneling my vision until all I can see is the new Alexander McCall Smith novel on the end-table, tantalizing me with its Scottish dry wit.) I find the middle ages – and its plagues, excesses, and sins – to be a fascinating topic. I often do enjoy history…but I just can’t sit down and read it. It’s not cozy reading. And, to me, that’s what reading is all about.

 
Reading non-fiction makes me feel like I’m back in school. Yes, I liked school. I even voluntarily went back for more of it after the mandatory 12 years. 4 years of college PLUS 3 years of grad school. I’VE HAD ENOUGH TEXT BOOKS TO LAST ME THE REST OF MY LIFE, and that’s what non-fiction feels like to me: an assigned book which I have to write a report on, and nothing else is as good at stealing your book-reading joy than having to write a report on it. Yes, I enjoyed the topics of my degrees. No, I’ll never get my PhD. Enough already.

 
SO…imagine my amazement at finding that this book I bought as a type of research towards selling my book (hence my nausea at opening the box) is actually proving to be FUN to read! I’ve been researching how to write a query letter/book proposal, should I get an agent or not, which publisher should I begin with, etc….this is not exactly titillating reading. Not for me, anyway. Colin, my husband – he’s a researcher. He enjoys this stuff. I ask him, “What’s the population of such and such?” and, rather than giving me an off-hand guess, he finds out…right then. (Ah, the power of the internet.) Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy research from time to time. HOWEVER…the definition of hell in my book (figuratively speaking!!! Ha!)…or, at least one of the definitions in the book of Gretchen, would be to be stuck in front of a pile of dry research material at 3:00 in the afternoon with no coffee.

 
So, anyway, this new book…I’m only on page 37 and I have already had all sorts of, well, epiphanies! Here’s one of the most profound, to date (I may write on more in the future!): writing is lonely work…but it is done with the ultimate intent of sharing. (Note, I am not quoting her directly as I’m not entirely clear on the legality of doing so. I hope my summary is clear!) My first thought upon reading this concept: YES! I write in isolation, things that I hope to share with the masses. Writing is NOT a group effort (I HATED group projects in college!) – I mean, people can collaborate…but the actual writing of a thing comes from ONE head at a time. It’s a lonely event. It’s a solo.

 
AND YET…the whole point of writing anything down is for it to then be read by someone else…for it to COMMUNICATE ideas with people other than the writer. For it to be read and enjoyed/debated/appreciated. I do concede that there are types of writing that are private. These are written to clarify something to yourself/to exorcise ideas/to journal one’s private thoughts – though doesn’t any journal-keeper find themselves wondering at some point, “What will someone think if they ever read this?” But, these private diaries aside, we write for others. At least, people in my “profession” do. (I’m trying to think of myself as a professional…it’s a bit of a stretch, I know, but it all begins with attitude, yes?!)
We sit and write in secret…but with the purpose of later sharing those ideas together. In other words, leave me alone while I’m writing!!!! BUT PLEASE, pay a lot of attention to me once my book comes out.

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