Monthly Archives: October 2014


“To choose life, means to give birth every day.” (Matthew Fox)

To give birth, to bring forth, to give breath and life…

Creative birthing, like birthing a child, is not easy or quick or pain-free.

Writing projects often require months, even years of gestation. We carry the idea in our minds, jot phrases in our journal, add note cards to our pile, and stuff paragraphs and sentences into our SOME DAY file.

Perhaps we’ve tried to give the work voice, but the words weren’t right, the sentences didn’t behave, or the story line was wrong or confused. Maybe we weren’t willing to labor hard enough and long enough, even though a spark of life was waiting to be nurtured. Perhaps we were overwhelmed by the enormity of what we hoped to accomplish.

“I can’t write this today,” you say to yourself. “I just can’t write it! But someday I will. Someday…”

If someone had told you how challenging it is to nurture a child to adulthood, had they told you the unvarnished truth, would you have had a child?

Writing is like that.  If someone told you everything it takes to write a book — the challenge of characters and plot, the hours and days and years crafting your story alone, rewrites piled upon rewrites, the path to publication — would you have started your book?

But the gestation has begun: you have the ideas, ideas waiting for form and structure, ideas waiting for you to give them life, a story waiting to be told by you.

Like parenthood, we’re in for the long haul.  Babies seem easy compared to teenage complexity.  But we grew into that time; we learned on the road.

So start small, with easy steps:  put your notes on the table, organize the notes in major piles like beginning, middle, and end, make a bare-bones outline of how you think the story will go. (Beware: organizing can become a distraction in itself, keeping us from the business of writing.)

Then put words on your paper: write an opening line, describe a setting, flesh out a character, write one scene, write a bit of dialogue.

Write new words consistently.  Every bit matters.  One hundred words a day is a 500 word essay or a short, short story each week. Five hundred words most days is a manuscript exceeding 150,000 words by year’s end.

Birthing is a process — day by day, word by word, sentence by sentence — and it’s those  daily words that will become your story or book.

Show up.  Do the work.

Until next Tuesday…



The Fabrication of Memory

In my years of memoir writing, the biggest challenge is the remembering.  Of course some things are very clear in my memory — at least my version of the events.  But there are often huge gaps between happenings. A few conversations are lodged in my memory banks, others are missing.

I have a big picture perspective of my personal journey during my memoir’s two decades:  I know where I started and I know where I ended up.  The in-between years are scattered with significant events, but much of the mundane has been forgotten — and it’s the mundane that glues the rest together: the habits, the meals, the clothes, the music, the road trips, the relatives, the laughter.  But mundane does not a story make.

Memoir also has to be more than a travelogue:  we did this, and then we did that, and after that we did this other thing.  That, too, is not story.

Early on I brainstormed on dining table-sized paper, uncensored jotting of memory scraps, connecting what I could, while capturing the events that punctuated my young adult life. So many questions came as I scribbled my moments. Where were the crossroads, what were the choices, whose voices played in my head, what was the origin of attitudes, where did the fears come from, why did I do what I did? This seemingly random collection of words and phrases on paper represented twenty years of my life.

Beneath the pen scratchings I glimpsed the possibility of intertwining patterns and themes and ideas that impacted my life.

Then I began to write.  I chose the big events first — the ones I could recount in vivid detail.  Later I put them in order, stringing them together, filling in the gaps with small details like knots between beads. I wrote as closely as I could to the realities, using my bits of random memories of moments and people and situations to close the gaps.

Now there is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  An inciting incident that changed my world is placed appropriately.  Sometimes I dig deep; sometimes I skim over things that don’t move the story along.

Most of my story is solid memory; some of it is fabricated from my experiences during those years. I’ve written my truth, my perspective.  Others in my family would tell it differently.

That’s how it is with everyone.  We each have our own truth of the times we shared.

Until next Tuesday…


A list of overwhelming

“I’ve had it!”

“Enough already!”

“Life has gotten way too crazy!”

I’ve been saying these words lately — not to others but to myself.  Perhaps you know these words.

Words uttered when we are overwhelmed, when we fall victim to a family full of activities, never-ending demands for our time, unrelenting expectations at work, and a culture that assesses our worth by the fullness of our schedule.

The problem continues even in retirement — a time we envision as freedom from demands, a time to do what we want, a time of accountability only to ourselves.

I have since learned retirement is no different than pre-retirement life — in fact the demands and opportunities increase because we “live a life of leisure”.

So why am I feeling overwhelmed at this moment? Actually, it’s been going on for several weeks now. I routinely say “no” to all kinds of good activities in an effort to protect myself and my time, but still the schedule is too full.

The problem: I am over-engaged in things I love and have thoughtfully chosen.

  • music theory class: three mornings a week, plus study and assignments
  • piano lesson every two weeks: two hours of daily practice
  • book group: one “must read” every month
  • blog posting: three hours per week
  • collaboration with my writing partner: 6 hours every two weeks

My pondering time is gone, that time when my creativity begins to churn and bubble, searching for expression.  My time to read the books I choose is gone, that time of soaking in another person’s story.

My breathing space has been squeezed out by too many good choices; I’m desperate for air.

So, I’m paring back to the things that give me life:  writing and piano time.  I’m transferring the other things to my “nice but not necessary” list. They’ve become detractors, like busy work that keeps us occupied — and keeps me from pondering.

Very soon my list will only have three things:

  • piano
  • writing:  memoir, blog, and collaboration
  • reading

What about you?

          What keeps you from your life-giving times?

          What choices can you make — for breath and for life?

Until next Tuesday…






Rip it up a bit

Colum McCann had my attention when he said,  “Rip it up a bit…scuff up your work, make mistakes, don’t be nice…open the curtains, get under the skin, rip the skin up a little bit.”  Then he said, “There is a distinct lack of bravery in relation to what writing can do.” He was talking about teaching students to write.

Tough, tough words. I’ve been pondering them for several days.

For my own writing, his words mean:

  • I must dig past the moment’s surface, down to the core, the unexposed, beyond what the eye sees.
  • I need to be braver in my writing, more raw, more honest.
  • I don’t need to prettify what isn’t pretty.
  • I need to ignore the fears and ideas, rules and voices that hold me back.

What about you and your creative endeavors?  How deep do you dig?  How brave are you?  What ideas and rules and inner voices keep you from soulful expression?

Throw caution to the wind. Be real. Be honest. Be truth. Be brave.

                   As if no one is looking or listening or judging.


Until next Tuesday…