Good luck with the second sentence

xR86IWe’re reaching the end of November now, so you NaNo writers are long past the second sentence- but we all know that feeling, whether it’s the second sentence of a project or the second sentence that just won’t come after an hour of staring at a stubbornly blank page.

I keep reminding myself that it’s worthwhile to tackle Hour One. You all know Hour One: Time spent typing things like She That day The tall Suddenly, or breaking for an essential snack; Surfing the web ostensibly to look up a synonym for “manner”  or attempting to find pictures to inspire that scene where your characters get into their big fight and push their waiter into a lake, and then spending a quarter-hour scrolling down Pinterest… It’s like the hero of a story fighting the Big Bad: Your brain somehow rebels against the very act of writing, and suddenly 101 tasks become vital to the well-being of the world. Anything besides writing is a good idea. You forget that you’re sitting down in front of a blank page because you love writing, because the truth of your world is built in towers of stories and bricks of words, because if you don’t write your fingers will lose their purpose and your heartbeat will become erratic, because you have a story to tell— or more accurately, a story is being told through you, and sometimes you don’t know why or how (but then sometimes you do).

So as Hour One recedes and Hour Two approaches, you slide into the Writing Zone, slowly, without even realizing it. Your characters walk and curse and laugh, and they are more real to you than the hairy man sipping coffee at the table next to you. The swirl and rush of words that square dance on the page pulls you under, until you are fully submerged in your writing. And that’s why you write.


Nods to you novel-writers

Happy NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) to all you busy writers!


I won’t be doing Nano myself this year, as I’ve got to focus on my screenplay and passing classes my last year of undergrad, but I want to extend a big high five to all you writers who are up to the challenge this November.


I got to about 33,000 words last year, which I felt was good for my first time. I’ve heard some criticisms of Nano as a writing process, but on the whole, I think it’s a wonderful tool for writers. For most people, sure, writing as much as you can in as short a time as possible probably won’t produce the best quality of writing, but Nano isn’t about instantly producing a polished product.


Writing for Nano last year provided me with discipline. It gave me a reason to sit down and write each day, and it motivated me to write further in a story than I ever have before. Most importantly, it got me thinking as a writer: cultivating daily writing habits, leaving editing for another stage, and taking my writing seriously (meaning making time for my writing). It also provided me with a wonderful community of other writers. beruthlesswritingdayz

Getting into a writing routine has proved invaluable for writing my screenplay. Leaving my room to write, carving out writing time every day (or at least several days per week), setting writing goals (sometimes pages, sometimes, scenes, sometimes plot of character developments), taking time (but not too much) to plot and make outlines, and working with a writing partner (making writing dates, encouraging each other, and holding one another accountable for our writing goals): All these are habits I began learning last Nano, and which help me progress in my writing.


This November, even though I’m not participating in Nano, I plan to use the frenetic atmosphere my (Nano) writer friends will provide, and the suggested daily word count, as inspiration for finishing draft one of That Screenplay I’m Writing.

Best of luck to you NaNoWriMoers and other writers! May your pens never run dry and your keyboards never stick.

Writing is hard.

Writing is hard.

*Looking for writing tips? Here’s some advice from the master: Neil Gaiman

A short story

I Am the Arrow. In my Creative Writing class last fall, the prompt was to write a short story inspired by any Sylvia Plath poem. I sifted through a half-dozen Plath poems and extracted lines that called to me until they formed the shape of a story. The italicized lines are all taken from poems of Plath’s from her last book of poetry, Ariel. The story is my own.

I Am the Arrow

An excerpt of this story was published in Ariston this spring. No reproductions or excerpts without author’s permission.

2014, a year to be brave

A new year, a new word. Every year, I choose a specific virtue or value to work on. It’s usually something I feel I have been lacking in my life; in past years I have decided to focus on patience, courage, strength, and perseverance, among others.

Every year, I focus on my word and make a deliberate effort to bring it into my daily life. I push myself to work on it and practice it until it becomes a part of me. Most importantly, I pray over it, and ask God for grace, especially with help on my word (virtue/value) of the year.

psalm 73Those prayers are what give me the strength to keep working on that word, and by the end of the year, I look back and find that I really grew in that part of my life.

The word for 2014 is brave.

Hermione Granger had it right in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Hermione Granger had it right in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The dictionary definition of bravery is having courage. There are so many places in my life where I want to be brave this year.

I want to be brave in my writing; to be brave enough to sit down and write, then to edit, and finally to submit my work for publishing. Humans are supposed to be made up of 55-75% water, but when I sit and stare at a page of my own words and think of letting others read it, I feel like I’m made up of 60% insecurity.

courage doesn't always roar

I want to be brave in having my say and letting my voice be heard in a group. I communicate best on paper or in small groups; put me in a crowd and I lose my tongue. But how can I stand up for others if I can’t stand up for my own opinions? Dumbledore said it best: “There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.


And most exciting of all, I need to practice bravery because I am spending this semester abroad. I leave tomorrow for Wales, UK, my first time out of the country. I will need to cultivate bravery as I meet new people, leave my old boring routine (I do love routine) in the (American) dust, and scamper around the UK doing scary things like navigating London with friend (who shares my directional challenge) and clambering up ropes courses. 

(You can follow my Wales blog here if you’re interested. I should have something up by the end of January.)

"Belle's bravery" By Bloodonthemoon5 on DeviantArt (I don't know anything about this quote, but it's great!)

“Belle’s bravery” By Bloodonthemoon5 on DeviantArt (I don’t know anything about this quote, but it’s great!)

Bravery is about pushing past fear and doing something worthwhile, something good, despite being frightened or unsure. To me, bravery has nothing to do with a lack of fear, and everything to do with overcoming a fear.


When I look back on 2014, I want to see a year of bravery.

What about you? Do you have a word for 2014?

The Silence {Writing and Self-Doubt}

“The Silence”


Tell me a piece of your history
that you’re proud to call your own
Speak in words you picked up
as you walked through life alone.
We used to swim in your stories
and be pulled down by their tide,
choking on the words
and drowning with no air inside.
Now you’ve hit a wall and it’s not your fault
my dear, my dear, my dear.
Now you’ve hit a wall and you’ve hit it hard,
my dear, my dear, oh dear.
It is not enough to be dumbstruck;
(Can you fill the silence?)
you must have the words in that head of yours.
And oh, oh, can you feel the silence?
I can’t take it anymore,
’cause it is not enough to be dumbstruck.
(Can you fill the silence?)
Tell me a piece of your history
that you’ve never said out loud.
Pull the rug beneath my feet
and shake me to the ground.
Wrap me around your fingers,
break the silence open wide,
and before it seeps into my ears,
it fills me up from the inside.

The creative writing class I am taking is forcing me to examine the habits and quirks of myself as a writer. For the first time, I am really taking my writing seriously, and writing or thinking of writing consumes me. One of my first assignments* in class was an exercise in self-doubt: Let your inner critic with its insistently negative voice have its say by writing out all your flaws, fears, insecurities; all the reasons you can’t be a writer. Then answer that voice by explaining why you write, what you want to write about, and how amazingly creative you are, and let your positive voice take over. Describe the desire to write that fuels your efforts. This exercise was a wonderful way to confront my doubts and affirm why I write.

As I wrote, the above song came on (by Bastille, one of my current obsessions) and the lyrics seemed as though they were written especially for me. This is the beauty of good art: it speaks to us, never mind what the artist’s original intent was. I don’t know what inspired “The Silence”, but to me it is about the journey of writing. The song reminds me of the stories I used to tell, and encourages me to write more, because “it is not enough to be dumbstruck”– brilliant story ideas mean little if I don’t write them down.

I want to be a writer. I hope to someday be a writer. I want to write. I talk and talk about writing more than I actually sit down and write. I talk about the shimmering, wonderful plots I am developing in my head and I live in a created world for days and weeks at a time, but rarely does that world make it onto paper. I daydream but I do not act. I want to write books someday, someday, but today and all the days that have come before I have been unable to finish a story. I get smug sometimes, pleased with a fancy turn of phrase that ends up being hollow nonsense. I write in my journal every day, but many days my journal entries read more like a diary than the clever observations of an aspiring writer. Aspiring writer—that just means that I have been too lazy to write thus far. I don’t practice writing enough!

I do what I know I should not: I compare myself to others, and I realize that I should have been writing more all along and that I should be writing more right now. I hold myself back; there are things I am afraid to write. I am too self-conscious. I write with a gang of cynics, prudes and naysayers lurking over my shoulder. Only once have I really managed to make a character come to life for me. I cannot determine what of mine is actually good writing and what is not. My writing is not poetic or metaphorical; it is prosaic as a kitchen table. I just sit down and write without technique or mapping. I do not want to share my writing with others most of the time because I cannot distinguish my writing from myself.

I feel like I have no time to write, but procrastination and distraction are probably closer to the truth. I use far too many words to describe things and I tell more than show. I am a good reader and editor, and I fall headlong into the worlds of other authors, but I don’t see how I could possibly do the same in my writing. I lack the discipline to keep on writing. If I don’t write now, will I ever be able to? There’s so much knowledge and life experience that I am lacking; how can I make my characters and their worlds authentic? I’ve never written a plot twist. I let fear and self-doubt barricade me so that I cannot reach the pen or keyboard.

But when the words fall over me like rain and I climb over that barricade and cling to my pen or keyboard like a life raft, I write without pause, without care, almost without thought. I write because the words follow me around until I pin them down on the page. I write because of the feeling of words flying out underneath my fingers in a steady stream, clicking into place and building something new. I write for that moment that comes after minutes or hours of staring at the floor, when a sentence unfolds like the life of a plant sped up bizarrely through time capsule photography, and the words fit just right. Sometimes I come up with an idea that begs to be written down; I compose a paragraph in my head and when I write it down, it looks nothing like I planned. That used to frustrate me, but now it delights me. I have learned to let the words flow and override my best intentions, and the result is often better than my original idea.

I love living in the world of my mind’s eye for days at a time, based on some inspiration; a book or song, a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, or a conversation. I take meandering walks along the river; when I return, I have words to put to paper. I write to make room for the little snippets of everyday life that call out to me: oddly named street signs, a mysterious bend in a creek, some family drama, the shimmering path made by the moon rising over the water. Writing calms me and exorcises my demons better even than reading does. I am learning to put my fears into my writing and banish them that way.

I was right about one thing in my self-doubt mode: I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I am a creative person, but my creativity comes out in different ways than in other people. I have a strong voice in my writing; when I write, it sounds more like me than my other forms of self-expression, and more like me than anyone else. It is awe-inspiring to realize that, as Pablo Picasso said, anything I can imagine is real; I can call up any scenario that I have the courage to write. I did, after all, earn entry into an honors society for my writing, and reading a selection out loud to an audience was an empowering experience.

I do write every day, and that is its own reward.

I am a strong written communicator. I always trust that I can make my point in the written word, whereas I often struggle to communicate the soul of my ideas in speech. I rely on writing to reveal what I hold inside. All my life, I have lived wrapped inside my favorite books, and all my life, I have dreamed of being the one to tug on the imaginations and emotions of readers, and that is why I write.

When I am writing, I never want to be anywhere else. Writing is a part of me and that alone is enough to make me a writer.

*Check out The Poet’s Companion (Addonizio, Laux) for the self-doubt assignment and more.

On Writing, and Fear

I think a major part of writing is writing out our fears, insecurities, inadequacies and disappointments. We all do this natural form of therapy: artists pour their torment and their loss into drawings and paintings and sculptures, musicians exorcise their demons in musical notes and complicated melodies, athletes grind up their anxieties in physical challenge and sweat, and writers call forth the agony of insistent, living thoughts, bringing them closer, embracing the guilt and doubt and uncertainty, and locking them onto pages, word by word, imprisoning the words in paper in the hopes that the haunting will cease. The true beauty of art is in the sharing. Writing out my fears, putting words to the terrifyingly abstract void, I confront the quiet dread of my heart and bravely walk through to the other side. In art, the audience shares the fear, and the banishment of that fear, in songs and paintings, and, just maybe, in the words I dare to put to paper.

I woke one morning this summer with the soggy remnants of a blessedly forgotten dream fixed in my mind in the disturbing image of a white cooler full of grayish water and dismembered, floating white dolls’ heads and arms. That’s it: just the heads and arms (and staring eyes). I was filled with the compulsion to write a horror story to go with the image, anything to get it to leave me alone, like an image I saw online of a woman’s dark silhouette behind foggy, shabby glass, hand outstretched against the misty glass pleadingly. I’ll write anything, just leave me alone. Embrace your fears. I had a dream of clinging to the sketchy, spindly bamboo structure, miles above the sea and town, terrified of moving, of staying, and most of all of going down. Trapped. Not courageous, not mighty or noble or anything but fear and goosebumps. Isn’t that the way of it, in the end? We dream and dream of fighting dragons, but when our fears face us at last they are not dragons and we are not knights. But this life is no dark tunnel, no shattered glass. There is always hope where there is love, and one day you turn around and realize you are not alone. You had help fighting your battles all along, and maybe you didn’t need to fight after all. Maybe all you had to do was grasp the offered hand (I will give you strength) and give a small, brave nod in the direction of your fears and keep walking. Keep walking. Because the thing is, we always forget when we read daring adventures and watch heroes dashing across our screens, we are watching the legend, not living the journey. The journey is uncomfortable and scary, with unexpected moments of light and beauty, and the true heroes are just ordinary people who refuse to give up. True heroes aren’t fearless; they have the wisdom to be afraid, the courage to go forward anyway, and the support (my friend, I am here) to see it through.

So when my life overwhelms and my spirit lags, and I am sitting on my own at the bottom of a dull gray well that probably dried up around the time the men lined the muddy, mustard gas-filled trenches, and when I am wondering what more there is for me to do, I pick up the only tools available to me and begin to construct a spiral of stone steps made entirely out of words. You see me typing at the keyboard but do you know I am building to the clouds? When I am done I will mount these steps and reach out my trembling fingers, straining for a touch of the stars. Will they be as cold as they look or will they burn as hot as science tells me? I cannot grasp that the stars are anything more than tiny, glittering dreams, steadfastly refusing to go out. When clouds come out I know the stars are there just beyond my sight, and when the sun is shining I do not think of the stars, but only tilt my face toward the gentle caress of the sun’s warmth. (And when the rain pours out steadily and without an end in sight, I dash across to the nearest dry place like the rest of them, disgruntled by my saturated shoes, but somewhere inside me I know the water is washing out the dusty corners of my soul and making me someone new in the beautiful slow way of a plant growing when watered.)