Nothing Ever Happens Around Here

When I first moved from an urban area to the wilds of Randolph County, what I believed was the middle of nowhere, I admit to being a little concerned. Would I make new friends? What about my favorite chain restaurants, not to mention the malls? What about the silence? The scenery? What if the all the green fields just blended together into monotony? And most importantly, what would I write about? What if nothing ever happens around here?

Six years later, I can truly say that none of my worst fears came to pass. I’ve made plenty of friends, many of whom are farmers, and I’ve learned just what these fields can do. One of my friends even raises donkeys, and recently I held my first 5-day old donkey jack! I also keep in touch with cherished friends from far away as New York City through Zoom and other platforms.

Meet Baby Copper–just 5 days old and 25 pounds!

It is not quiet in the country. Oh no. The birdsong here is deafening, from the wood thrush to the pileated woodpecker soaring overhead with his eerie primeval cry. We’re close to the local airport, so there’s always a new whir circling overhead. A special thanks to Mom, who introduced us to the terrific flightradar24 app, so now we know that the Boeing overhead came from Atlanta and is on its way to Liege, Belgium! So much for being in the middle of nowhere. My pilot grandfather would definitely approve.

Meet Max, my new work-out routine!

Boredom remains the least of my worries. In fact, I was more bored in the city! We’ve had at least one fugitive in the woods, two rattlesnakes (this year alone), a stranded racoon, and just recently, a stray Siberian Husky pup came our way.

I don’t miss the malls at all, which is a good thing since the pandemic seriously altered the world of shopping. And nobody here cares about fashion anyway — it’s more about comfort! As for the fancy restaurants, I’d rather live three miles from from my beloved niece, who sends me a text such as “Hey, can I come over and make pumpkin cheesecake cookies with you?”

Cooking is just one of the things I’ve found to write about, and there’s been so many more, from sewing and building to gardening and butterflies. In fact, if there were any more going on around here, I wouldn’t have time to sleep!

For the next few months, I’ll be concentrating on my memoir, a project that I hope will blend together many of my experiences through the years. So for this reason, I hope it slows down here just a little bit.

Of Momentum and Hope

It would be so easy to say that the life of a writer is made up of many ups and downs. Such as finishing a challenging piece of writing, seeing it rejected, possibly many times, before—if we’re lucky—having it accepted or winning a prize. But the truth is there are so many other little things in between.

Suppose, in the case of a good writing friend, you meet a huge deadline you set for yourself. Or maybe a famous writer that you just followed on Twitter follows you back! And then there’s the moment you finally settle on the perfect word for what you’re trying to say. “For your born writer,” says Catherine Drinker Bowen, “nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”

Small victories are important but so are the small roadblocks. Suppose you can’t find a book that you just know is in your library, but you stumble on another one you know you need to read. Then there’s having an essay you worked on for months get rejected. It’s crushing at first, but if it compels you to work a little harder on a troublesome paragraph, that decline can turn into a boon.

All of these little steps –good, bad, or serendipitous—are part of the same thing: momentum. And this is the life force of a writer. Momentum is also the energy of being alive. It starts with the decision to get out of bed in the morning. To keep that date with your writing desk. To go on a walk with your husband to see the blooms on the quince tree. And then finding a bird’s nest lodged in the branches.

Momentum is much more than forward movement. It is hope. And this is something we can all use a little more of right now.

What is Success for a Writer?

Last night I watched a movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I couldn’t help but mourn this incredible actor yet again. He had the uncanny ability to breathe life into the smallest of roles as if by magic. The reality, however, is that Hoffman worked very, very hard.

Because actors are artists, too, we writers can learn from our thespian friends. Even though Hoffman died so tragically and far too young, I am forever grateful for his shrewd words. “Success isn’t what makes you happy. It really isn’t. Success is doing what makes you happy and doing good work and hopefully having a fruitful life. If I’ve felt like I’ve done good work, that makes me happy.”

The beloved poet Maya Angelou had similar thoughts. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

Let these wise words guide you in your work. While it’s wonderful to be published and even win a prize in a contest, these are ephemeral moments at best. A life devoted to words offers many smaller and more enduring rewards. Such as nudging an exciting new word into your writing vocabulary. Getting over that pesky little hump in your current project. Savoring the words of another writer, you know what I mean, the book waiting for you on your nightstand.

Yesterday a fellow writer, much more talented than me, followed me back on Twitter. Bliss indeed. That didn’t just make my day, it made my year. And 2022 is still young….

The list goes on and on. So let me ask you, writer friends. What made you happy today?

Celebrate the Twelve Days of Editing

Writers, what does your true love say to you?

First Day: Alone in your cozy writing nook, a partridge in a pear tree, you love every word of your new essay. It’s just perfect. Then you realize you’re 500 words over the limit for the contest you want to enter. Yikes!

Second Day: Like those two turtle doves, your initial love for your essay has migrated to sub-Saharan Africa for the winter, maybe forever. You hate your essay now. As you read over it, you realize it’s not very good at all. Is there anything worth keeping?

Third Day: Absolument! Your three French hens remind you of the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Give yourself a break. Besides, there’s no time to start anything new.

Fourth Day: Or is there? The four “calling birds” in your backyard clamor for a new tune. Start over, the blackbirds sing. Start over! Start over! START OVER!

Fifth Day. You have no energy to begin something new. Your five golden rings may be just brass, but your essay is the best you’ve got, so you decide to polish it up the best you can.

Sixth Day. Okay, so you won’t actually cut anything. You’ll just trim the hedge a teeny bit, taking care not to disturb the six Canada geese-a-laying. You gently prune a few words here and a few words there. But is it enough?

Seventh Day. It is not. However, you refuse to cut the most precious part of your essay. Even if they say that all writers eventually “murder their swans.” Well, that’s for other people to do. Their swans are not as precious as your swans.

Eighth Day. Your cereal milk has soured, and doubt sets in. Wallow in your pity for a while and then get back to the barn with the other maids. You’ve got serious work to do.

Ninth Day. Cutting is actually easier than you thought. The delete key clicks like Ginger Rogers’ heels, and your heart dances with delight. You don’t miss those swans at all.

Tenth Day. Your essay isn’t the same. Now you fear it’s terrible. Ten lords leap in and take it away. You’re happy to see it go.

Eleventh Day. The pipers bring your essay back, and they’re not playing a dirge. When you read your essay again with fresh eyes, you realize it may be better. Leaner, more concise, and more compelling. Hurray!

Twelfth Day. Take a deep breath and submit your revised essay. The world may not love it, but who cares? You do. In your mind, it’s just perfect. And in the end, that’s all that matters. After all, new ideas drum on and on…..

Wishing you the happiest of holidays and a very productive New Year of writing! As you look ahead to 2022, consider joining me on Tuesday, January 11 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. via Zoom for How to Move from the Slush Pile to the Rush Pile. In this special class hosted by Charlotte Lit, we’ll cover the art behind successful submissions and how to move from the “slush” pile to the pile editors rush to accept. We’ll discuss how to find the best fit for your writing, tips on putting your best foot forward, and a little secret to boost the number of marketable pieces in your portfolio. We’ll also talk about the nuts and bolts of submission: cover letters, biographies, tracking and more, such as how to stay motivated as you cast those precious pearls out into the world.

Cost: $45 Charlotte Lit members, $55 non-members. Register here online.

Learn How to Move from the “Slush” Pile to the “Rush” Pile on February 23!

Technology makes submitting for publication easier than ever. At the same time, as more and more writers offer their work, competition for space has never been fiercer. But take heart. In this class, we’ll cover the art behind successful submissions and how to move from the “slush” pile to the pile editors rush to accept. We’ll discuss how to find the best fit for your writing, tips on putting your best foot forward, and a little secret to boost the number of marketable pieces in your portfolio. We’ll also discuss the nuts and bolts of submission: cover letters, biographies, tracking and more, such as how to stay motivated as you cast those precious pearls out into the world.

Interested? Join me on Tuesday, February 23 from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. for a special online 90-minute Zoom workshop hosted by our friends at Charlotte Lit.

Cost: $30 members ($25 early bird rate); $35 non-members

For more and to register, click here.

Try Out the “Definition” Essay!

For the past few weeks, I’ve had the great honor of helping the son of a dear friend learn about writing essays. The term “essay” actually comes from the French verb “essayer” which means “to try.” And this is the art and the magic of the essay. It’s a sublime model for not just learning how to write but how to think. When we embark on an essay, it is a true adventure. An adventure into “trying out” how we think about the world, life in general, but primarily ourselves.

This exercise has been an adventure for me, too. I’m learning as much as my young friend! We’ve worked our way through more than 10 classic types, such as the “Description” and “Narration” essays (where my friend truly excels), along with “Compare and Contrast,” “Argument and Persuasion,” and “Cause and Effect” essays.

One of our last forms will be the “Definition” essay, which has always intrigued me. Definition essays can delve into the tangible meaning and etymology of concrete terms, such as the words “raspberry” or “house.” What it means, where it came from, where it appears in literature, and its role in your life, etc. But Definition essays can also explore abstract concepts, such as “love,” “courage,” and “enmity.” The latter was the subject of a brilliant essay, “On Enmity” by Mary Gordon, which I recently discovered in the Best American Essays of 2014. You can read an excerpt from Salmagundi Magazine here.

Short definition essays are the hallmark of The Suns “Readers Write,” which is my very favorite section of the magazine, what I always read first. Every month, The Sun provides a term, sometimes concrete (like “Weekends” or “Accidents”) and sometimes abstract (such as “Kindness” or “Fear”) and invites readers to share their own interpretations (nonfiction only). In June Readers Write, they very kindly published my own micro-essay and experience with “Fear.” My piece is about halfway down the column, included with other very unique and highly personal explorations of the word “Fear.”

The great news is that contributors to “Readers Write” receive a year’s subscription to The Sun perfectly free, a pearl of immeasurable value. If you’re interested in reading more and submitting, there’s a wealth of stimulating and evocative themes coming up: “Distance” (July 1 deadline); Consequences (August 1); and “Mail” (Sept. 1).  For more, see https://www.thesunmagazine.org/submit#readers-write

Essay writing isn’t just for young people or college students. At any age, writing essays is one of the best things we can do to cope with today’s complications and challenges. Writing gives us the means to sort out our feelings and “try” to understand ourselves. And it’s okay not to have the answers. In fact, when it comes to writing, especially when you’re starting out, it’s always better not to have the answers.

“I believe in not quite knowing. A writer needs to be doubtful, questioning,” wrote one of my most favorite writers, William Trevor. “I write out of curiosity and bewilderment.”

Happy Bewilderment!

Welcome to the 12 Stages of Editing

pencil-1891732_1920Love. You love every word of your new essay. It’s just perfect. Only a fool wouldn’t fall in love with it. Then you realize you’re 1,500 words over the limit for the contest you want to enter.

Hate. You hate your essay now. As you read over it, seeking places to cut, you realize it’s not very good at all. Is there anything worth keeping?

Accept. It’s what you’ve got, and there’s no time to write anything new. Or is there?

Start. Watch the cat scramble up the bank and into the woods. She is on the prowl this morning, looking for adventure. Maybe you should start something new.

Accept. Realize you have no energy to start anew. Go back and re-read your essay. It’s the best you’ve got, so work with it.

Prune. You won’t actually cut anything. You’ll just trim, as gently as you prune a bonsai tree. A few words here and a few words there.

Resolve. You will NOT cut the most precious part of the essay. Yes, even if they say that all writers eventually “murder their darlings.” Well, that’s for other people to do. Their darlings are not as precious as your darlings.

Doubt. Or are they?

Cut. Not just prune. You have no choice. Realize that you have to slay those darlings in cold blood. And you better do it right now before you change your mind. Leave that “undo” key alone!

Hate. Your essay isn’t the same at all. It’s terrible. So you put it away. You can’t bear to read it again without those darlings.

Accept. A few days later, bring back your essay, newly shorn of the darlings. Read it again. Realize, gulp, that it may actually be better without the darlings. Leaner, concise, and to the point. What were you thinking?

Love. The world may not love it, but you do. And that’s all that matters. Lick your paws and move on. New ideas are just around the corner….

 

 

 

 

 

Write What Should Not Be Forgotten…

expoThe words of the great Chilean writer Isabel Allende served as our theme last night at the first-ever Creative Writing Expo at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. And it was indeed a night to remember!

Even with chilly temperatures and icy rain, nearly 30 brave souls gathered for a mini-class on flash essays. I didn’t have a chance to talk personally with every student, but I spoke with many who actually penned something last night worthy of publication and more, even the makings of a memoir. In fact, at least three students brought something with them! Incredible. I never fail to be delighted and astounded by the courage of writers to find the words to tell their stories.

After the class, our champion, CCCC Associate Dean Felicia Crittenden, took center stage to recognize our additional instructors, including Tom Dow, Judith Stanton, June Guralnick, Dolly Sickles, Mary Barnard, and Steve Underwood, all of whom are also offering classes in Spring 2020. And then we were delighted to hear Kim Overcash, CCCC English Instructor and member of the Committee for the Creative Writing Program unveil a scholarship program, which will allow eligible students to attend a class for free once each semester!

cake

Door prizes followed, and then we spent another half hour enjoying fellowship and this luscious cake baked and decorated by Cakes by Elizabeth.

But it doesn’t stop here! If you caught the fever for creative writing, I do hope you’ll register for a Spring 2020 class AND join us on December 5 for the winter open mic night on Thursday, December 5, 2019 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.  The readings will be held at The Joyful Jewel in lovely downtown Pittsboro, NC. Light refreshments will be served!

See you soon!

 

Wobbling the World at Charlotte Lit

charlotte litIf you felt the world wobble on Saturday, October 12, you may have felt the reverberation of laughter, tears, even the tiny buzz of collective endorphins circling the table at the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts, Inc. (or Charlotte Lit).

This was the third time I’ve had the pleasure of leading a workshop on flash essays, (previously at Central Carolina Community College and the Joyful Jewel, both in Pittsboro) and Saturday brought a special delight. The cheerful space at Charlotte Lit (a former school), the hospitality of our hosts, and the enthusiasm of the writers who attended brought a vibrant energy that continues to inspire me in my own work.

But it doesn’t end there! On January 4, 2020, the momentum continues, as we explore the submission of our writing (whether essays, poetry, or fiction) to contests and publications. There are still a few spaces left, so I hope you join us and learn more about how to Share Your Writing With the World.

Nothing makes me happier than being around other writers and encouraging them to find their voices. I’m currently polishing up a busy spring schedule of other events, so please continue to visit my Events page for the very latest.

And I’ll share a secret. Shhh….on March 7, I’m doing a brand new workshop at Central Carolina Community College on the most radical technique I’ve ever shared. (Hint: Ever wanted to write a complete short story in just one day?) You might just feel an earthquake with this one.

 

A Day of True Stories at Central Carolina Community College!

There were startup-594090__480giggles. There were sighs. And there were some tears. But overall, Conference Room 103G in Building 42 at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro quaked with joy yesterday. With 11 students, we were almost at full capacity, which says a lot for the power of creative writing.

 

“Who else do you know,” I asked the students, “who would rather be here than outside on a gorgeous day like today?”

To their credit, those 11 brave souls chose to spend six hours writing, reading, and writing again. Writing from real life takes a special kind of courage, and it’s more than a little cathartic.

We wrote of our upbringing, our love stories, our dearest memories and our scariest moments. We even confessed our most embarrassing episodes. Whatever we wrote, we wrote from the heart. Every single word was true. And we did it all in miniature. In most cases, less than 500 words!

Flash essays are suddenly wildly popular, especially on the heels of the surge in flash fiction. But the truth is that little essays have always been in style. Remember those little gems in Reader’s Digest? Life in These United States….All in Day’s Work, etc? Most major publications now want your littlest stories too, from The New York Times to national magazines like Psychology Today to state magazines such as Carolina Country. In fact, the list of markets (including contests) was so vast it took up two whole pages in our handouts!

Want more flash essays? If so, consider joining me for an abbreviated version of this same workshop in Charlotte on Saturday, October 12 at the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts. There’s just one seat left in that class, so don’t delay! We’ll share writing tips and prompts, and I guarantee that you will end up with more than one draft of a saleable essay.

Also, as you polish your stories, look ahead to January 4, 2020, when we’ll hold a special workshop for all writers on Submissions and Contests, also at the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts. Join us, make some new friends, and prepare to share your writing with the world.

Register for The Fabulous World of Flash Essays on October 12.

Register for Submissions and Contests on January 4.

And top secret! Stay tuned for a special  workshop next spring. I’m very excited because it’s an entirely new topic for me, and we’re taking a very unconventional approach. 🙂

I hope to see you soon. Until I do, keep writing and delighting!