Tag Archives: reflections on writing

Luck for All & All for Luck

Luck (from Dictionary.com): good fortune, advantage or success, considered as the result of chance.

Luck is something people wish each other all the time. The problem is, traditional notions of luck may lead to negativity due to the element of chance. In March of 2018, Scientific American published this interesting article by Scott Barry Kaufman about how luck may be a bigger factor in life than we often realize. Kaufman lists findings related to the achievement of success, like country of residence or how a name looks or sounds.

While these elements may be part of the equation, I believe redefining luck may also lead to success in life…and in the art of writing.

L = Love

Everyone experiences love. We may not all feel the emotion the same way. Yet each of us loves someone: a parent, friend, significant other, our even ourselves. We may love our work, a hobby, the earth, or life in general.  As the song goes: It’s written on the wind, it’s everywhere I go. (from Love is All Around).

Some writers love what they do so much they don’t care if their work is popular; the act of creation is reward enough. Others love the idea of achieving best seller status without putting in the work necessary to make the dream a reality and become disillusioned when they don’t achieve their greatest desire. The former writer will most often be happier than the latter because of the element of love.

U = Understanding

Galileo said: All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. Understanding comes with familiarity. We can all learn a lesson by watching how children often repeat an experience over and over until they’ve mastered the task. People who are serious about learning something are willing to put in the work necessary to achieve a comfortable level of understanding. Even in maturity, adults can continue to learn and grow.

Understanding how to write well is difficult. As mentioned above, many wanna-be writers don’t have the drive to put in the time necessary to master the art. Loving what they do enough to achieve understanding is an important factor in achieving success.

C = Compassion

Most of us feel sympathy toward someone who’s facing a situation we’ve experienced for ourselves. While we can’t always ease pain, we may try to do something for them because someone helped, or didn’t help, us in our time of need. To quote the Dalai Lama, If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. 

While we don’t all experience life in the same way, I believe creating characters to whom readers can show compassion helps to enhance the reading experience. This is a great way to expand horizons in the hope that those readers may show more compassion to people they’re dealing with out in the world.

K = Kindness

A simple smile, a compliment, or even holding open a door can be a kindness. Being nice to someone doesn’t have to take much time or effort. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted (Aesop).

While equating writing with kindness may be a stretch, think about how often reading a book can make a bad day more bearable for a reader. Entertaining and inspiring authors provide a kindness. Popular authors like JK Rowling are often kind to their fans in more personal ways, too.

Looking at luck in this new way can be transformational.

Thinking of luck as a way of being loving, understanding, compassionate, and kind instead of just as an indicator of random chance can improve life in unimaginable ways. We all need more of this in our lives. Learning more about the ‘other’ who we may distrust is a good way of finding common ground and understanding. Showing kindness during disagreements helps diffuse tension. Being compassionate to someone else can ease our own pain.

And the world can never have too much love.

For those of us who write, following these principles will add depth to our work. Having our characters show some or all of these traits helps our readers relate to them. And using the components of ‘luck’ may just inspire us to write that best-seller.

Luck for all and all for luck!

Why Write? A Tale of Procrastination and Progress.

Why write?

Or, more specifically, why do I want to write?

I’ve asked myself this question a lot. Over the past few years, I’ve been trapped in a cycle of self-doubt. Disgust washes over me whenever I re-read any writing I’ve managed during that time. This has led me to a series of activities that I convinced myself were writing related: reading, watching AuthorTube videos, plotting, planning, daydreaming. You know…all the basics of procrastination.

Anything but writing. Even though I have an awesome work space (see below), complete with a sign warning away people who dare try to distract me – which honestly isn’t too hard to do!

why writeThe good news.

Watching YouTube videos (#authortube) helped me realize all writers suffer from self-doubt. I need to stop being so hard on myself. No first draft will ever match the masterpiece I imagine. Work needs to be done to hone the raw material into something worthy of publication. This is one reason to write: the challenge of turning a stone into a sparkling gem. And this is an enjoyable challenge. I just need to remember that the first things to flow from fingers to keyboard to screen aren’t the ones that may one day go out into the world. There’s no need to feel disgusted by a first draft. My new #authortube friends have been a great help in teaching me this important lesson, and for that I’m very grateful. This, in turn, helped me to answer the “why write” question.

Why else would I write?

As a child, I walked to school alone most every day. This gave me a lot of quiet time to create stories in my head. These tales were most often built upon a favorite TVshow and character. The habit of rewriting and expanding upon television programs carried over into adulthood, when I started typing some of these thoughts in manuscript form. In other words, I began creating fan fiction because I like to answer the eternal “what if” question. If a show didn’t quite end the way I liked, I could create an alternate version, which has become a very popular pastime for a lot of people. Chances are that you, dear reader, have done the same thing at one time or another.

Fun, isn’t it?

The problem.

I’ve come to realize one of the reasons I’ve had trouble writing is I’m now creating original fiction instead of building upon already-established characters. My new friends aren’t as fully-formed as the ones I once wrote about. So I’m having more trouble picturing how their stories might play out. This isn’t a bad thing, really. Bringing unknown characters to life can be quite a challenge (there’s that word again). With these new people, new situations, and sometimes even new worlds, I have the opportunity to share the stories important to me. This can be powerful and heady stuff when done right…or write, as the case may be.

Why write?

The short answer for me seems to be that I like a challenge. Of course, this challenge can also be so daunting as to lead to an extended period of writers’ block. The reason I want to write is also the reason I fear writing. Am I up to the challenge of creating something others might want to read?

That’s not the question I should have been asking myself. What I should ask is whether or not there’s a story I want to tell. Do I want to challenge myself to create characters and worlds I find entertaining? If so, that’s answer enough for the question. No one else need ever care about these stories, though some part of me will always hope others might also enjoy them.

What about you?

Why write? What inspires and motivates you?

If you’re having trouble with your own writing, think about those questions. Use some of your procrastination time to consider why writing is important to you. Check out the #authortube channel on YouTube. If you’re interested, try out some of my favorites: Kristen Martin, Vivian Reis, Kim Chance, Su Scribes, Joanne Mallory, and Jenna Moreci. These are only a few of the people I follow, and chances are you may find others that I haven’t yet discovered.

Most important of all…

Image result for writing quotes

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys

Nancy Drew Mysteries
One of my favorites.

A librarian first introduced me to the Nancy Drew mysteries back when I was in elementary school in the 1970s. Once I’d caught up to that series, I started in on the Hardy Boys. This was in the days when the books were released as hardcovers and the stories continued to be set in the 1950s and 1960s so they were full of women wearing awesome dresses and getting their hair done, the men sometimes wearing suits and ties, and them all driving around in what I imagined to be cool classic cars.

Nancy Drew, an eighteen-year-old from River Heights, lived with her father Carson and their housekeeper Hannah Gruen. Nancy’s mother died when she was a young child and she’d grown up with her lawyer father and the motherly Hannah. I loved the fact that Nancy was able to go out and solve mysteries with her best friends, tomboy George Fayne and the more ladylike Bess Marvin, as well as her long-time boyfriend Ned NIckerson. Though I always felt I resembled Bess in stature (she’s often described as being a bit overweight), I loved that my hair color seemed to be close to Nancy’s, which is called ‘Titian’ (or strawberry blonde) in the books. The Nancy Drew series gave me my first glimpse into a world where kids weren’t always hanging around with their parents; the characters were young adults able to go out into the world on their own to explore and experience exciting adventures, which I wanted to do in the worst way. As I entered my pre-teen and early teen years, I also enjoyed the romantic element of Nancy and Ned as a couple and dreamed of finding my own version of Ned someday. The books also introduced me to an expanded vocabulary, such as the word ‘stentorian’ (uncommonly loud) from The Phantom of Pine Hill. 

Another favorite of mine.
Another favorite of mine.

The Hardy Boys, who lived in Bayport with their father Fenton, their mother Laura (who I don’t remember), and their Aunt Gertrude also went out in the world and got into trouble without much in the way of adult supervision. Like Nancy Drew, they often got in over their heads while trying to solve mysteries, and were sometimes in life-threatening situations. I was less interested in the romantic exploits of the brothers than I’d been with Nancy and Ned and tended to be jealous of any female who showed an interest in younger brother, Joe, a fact which carried over when I started watching the television version in the 1970s and developed a huge crush on Shaun Cassidy.

Both series of books were well-written and I always looked forward to either checking out or buying the most recent release. The stories held my attention and I got into trouble on many an occasion for reading past my bedtime and being too tired at school the following day. I admired authors Keene and Dixon and had a secret desire to write both experience and write about exciting adventures the way they did.

I admired the authors until the day I learned they were nothing more than a couple pseudonyms assigned to ghostwriters hired by the Stratemeyer Syndicate (which is a post for another time). Upon first learning this news, I felt a strong disappointment in both the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys Mysteries, but I got over that when I revisited the books as an adult. When I went back and re-read them again, I found my nostalgia for what those books had meant to me cancelled out the sense of betrayal I’d felt at learning the truth about the authors. From Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys I learned the importance of the cliffhanger chapter ending and how I couldn’t put the book down until I’d learned what happened next. I also learned not to be afraid to use words that might be unfamiliar to some readers because that can help expand someone’s language by making them curious enough to look up the term. Most of all, I learned to love reading the continued adventures of a beloved and familiar character. All these things are important to the creation of a story that will be so loved by fans that they will be re-read over and over and over again.

 

Work in Progress

Deep in the throes of a new manuscript, book two of my first paranormal romance series,  I’m pondering my writing process. My work in progress is in the very rough stages and the path from the opening sentence to the conclusion is still vague. In past projects, I tended to sit down and write from beginning to end without worrying too much about the details of the story until the editing phase. Now, though, my overarching story goes beyond the confines of a single book so I’m trying to determine how much detail to put into each individual piece of the larger whole. This is a new and exciting experience for me…which is also somewhat terrifying because I’ve never traveled this route before.

The same might be said about my life as a whole. As a child I had ideas about what I’d do as a grown up; first I wanted to be a nun, then a teacher, then I went through the “I just want to be rich and famous” phase, before I finally gave in to my family’s wishes and said I’d go to college to become a lawyer. After my first semester, I got married and moved 1500 miles from my parents, grandparents, and the idea of going to law school. Becoming pregnant during my second semester of college postponed the continuance of my education. Five years and three kids later, as a stay-at-home mother, I needed something to maintain my peace of mind so I turned to writing and struggled to get something published the ‘traditional’ way for the next twelve years. As my kids grew older and more independent, I ended up out in the regular working world again, my writing falling by the wayside due to time limitations. And another ten years passed.

The kids are all out of the house now and I’ve settled into a profession I had never envisioned for myself as a child: state government archivist. How I ended up in my current job is another post in itself, but I can say I love the work and I’ve settled in for the long run. As empty-nesters, hubby and I are also thinking of when we can retire (probably in another ten years or so) and we’re building the foundation of our retirement careers as authors.

Looking back at the twists and turns that brought me to this place in my own life, I realize that the characters in my work in progress are going to face the same unexpected events in their stories that I have in my own. No matter how I plan to tell the tale, something will occur to me later that I can’t imagine now, taking the story off in exciting new directions. The series itself is a surprise combination of three different story ideas I’ve had over the years that just seemed to fit together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

Feeling nervous about the the path this book series will take is as understandable as being anxious about what might next happen in my own story. Whatever is hidden around the next curve is sure to be as unexpected and exciting as all the other surprises I encountered on the way here. I look forward to finding out what comes next.

Climb Every Mountain

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Fuji
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Fuji

Back in August of 1991, I joined thousands of people to make the overnight climb to the summit of Mt. Fuji (12,389 feet) to witness the sunrise. Our family was living in Japan at the time because JT Hume was stationed with the United States Air Force just outside Tokyo. We took advantage of the opportunity by attending traditional cultural events, sightseeing, and taking our young kids to Tokyo Disneyland several times. As a result, we have wonderful memories of the three years we spent enjoying the Land of the Rising Sun.

The climb up Mt. Fuji is one of my clearest memories of living in Japan. JT made the ascent  the summer before I did and his guidance helped me to have an easier time than he had. In the months prior to that August day, I trained with daily workouts where I walked the neighborhoods of our base housing complex and then climbed eleven flights of stairs in the tower apartments numerous times. When the day came where I finally boarded the  tour bus to the mountain with the rest of our group, I felt as ready as I’d ever be to start my adventure.

The bus dropped us off at the Kawaguchiko 5th Station, about halfway up the Yoshida trail, is at an altitude of about 7500 feet so we only had another 4,844 feet to climb from the time we left the 5th Station at about 9pm until sunrise the next morning. This would be easy.

Boy, was I wrong!

Mt. Fuji is an active volcano that last erupted in the 1700s so the soil is dark, rich, and strewn with boulders and tiny rocks. The Yoshida Trail is the most popular of the climbing routes and thousands of other people were walking along the narrow winding pathways or climbing over rocky spots where I sometimes found myself on my hands and knees. Most of us carried a souvenir climbing stick and the sound of the attached good luck bells mingled with the voices of many climbers chanting “Domo arrigato gozaimashita” (thank you very much) with each step.

Darkness overcame us not too long after we left the 5th Station that evening and soon I found myself alone. All my training hadn’t prepared me for the steepness and rockiness of the trail and I felt like the rest of the climbers must have been part mountain goat in order to move as quickly as they did.

Small stations are positioned at various points along the trail to the summit and my most immediate goal was to just reach the next one. The warmth, light, and companionship in the crowded huts helped ease the fear and loneliness I felt during the long, dark, and lonely spaces in between them. At each stop, I had my walking stick branded, and the scent of the burning wood is one of the things I remember most about that long night.

As the sky lightened with the coming dawn, I hadn’t yet reached the summit, but found myself partway along the highest part of the trail before reaching the top. At this point, the path winds along the iconic cone-shaped portion of the mountain so often covered in snow in the photographs I’d seen; the trail only about four feet wide with a steep drop off to one side and the side of the mountain on the other. The wind came up as the sun rose higher and I found myself looking out over a sea of clouds. None of the mountains nearby are close to the height of Mt. Fuji and were hidden from view so that I felt I might be climbing to the heavens. I clung to the side of the mountain as I continued my ascent for fear of plunging to the unseen ground so far below.

I hadn’t yet reached the worst part of the climb, though. That came when I neared the summit and found myself facing a set of rocky stairs built into the mountainside. My only consolation at this point was that I’d almost reached the top – and that I now had a rope to help me pull myself upward now that my legs were shaking with fatigue.

The rising sun soon chased away the chill of the long hours of the night and I pushed up the sleeves of my windbreaker as I warmed up, a mistake which caused me a blistering sunburn so bad I ended up going to the ER later (and left a mark on my arm I can still see to this day).

In all honesty, I can’t say that I stood on the highest point of Mt. Fuji before I started my descent – that spot was within my view, but I couldn’t bring myself to make the final climb to the little weather station. I reached high enough to visit the Station at the top of the mountain and get my brand burned into my stick, looked down into the caldera, then headed for the Subashiri Trail that would take me back to the waiting bus. The trip up the mountain had taken me about twelve hours, whereas the trail down took three or four, and I spent most of that time surfing the loose reddish soil on my backside while using my walking stick as a rudder.

I reached the blissful air conditioned bus in plenty of time, despite my fear I’d miss it due to the time I’d taken to get up the mountain, and I settled in to relax my aching muscles during the journey to our home base where JT and the kids were waiting for me.

The reason I bring up my experience right now is that I’ve been feeling that writing is very much like my climb up Mt. Fuji all those years ago. Despite all the time I spent preparing to be a self-published author, despite knowing that many others are doing the same thing, the reality of my experience is much different than my expectations. I feel I’m again alone in the darkness at the back of the pack, struggling to reach the next Station, while everyone else is scrambling happily along to reach the summit in time for sunrise – something I didn’t quite achieve, though I got very close. My consolation is that I did get a beautiful view of the rising sun from my place near the top after enjoying the beautiful star-studded skies of the long night before. Even if I never reach what I might consider to be the “pinnacle” of a successful writing career, I have to remember I can enjoy the beautiful view along the way without worrying too much about missing the bus home.