Celebrating the Beauty of Communication

This is the blog I wrote for the Indiana Writers’ Consortium blog this week.  It’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately so I’ve decided to share it with you.

Recently, there were two occasions when I was reminded of the beauty of communication. Thanksgiving this year took place at my grandson’s home. It was exceptionally special because it was his son Aiden’s, first. At almost 3 months old, Aiden was at the stage where a baby recognizes that somehow those who comprise his world communicate with sounds. He was beginning to test this out as all babies his age do. His hands waved, his legs kicked, his head bobbed, and his mouth contorted. Finally, he was rewarded with a very quiet and brief, “Ohh”. His smile assured me he was well pleased with his success.

The second occasion, took place at my son-in-law’s parents’ home. His niece was visiting from Texas. Both she and her husband are deaf and have been since birth. Their two adorable children are not hearing impaired. When it was time for them to leave, his niece told her four year old to get ready. Callia, typical for a four year old, did not want to leave. A five-minute negotiation with her mother with verbal pleading accompanied with signing thoroughly entertained me. Her hands moved in rhythm with the nuances of her voice.   Her engaging efforts did not win her argument although I’m sure in the future she will be gaining points in a courtroom.

Both of these observations of connecting people through words brought to my mind the beauty of communicating. Aiden has just begun his excursion into language. He will develop a vocabulary larger than any other in his lifetime in the next two years. Then he’ll go to school where he’ll find a whole new world of linking thoughts through the written word. Callia already has the ability to share ideas not only to the hearing world with her voice but the non-hearing world with her hands. When she begins to write, she will have an exciting new way to persuade others to her point of view.

Thinking about this highlighted an awareness, once again, of how lucky we are to be able to communicate in so many ways. As writers, we have been given the additional joy of sharing our thoughts and feelings with others through the written word. When asked on the Indiana Writers’ Consortium member survey what were my goals in writing, it was easy to answer because of where my thoughts have been. I want my written words to touch the hearts and souls of those who read them. Emily Neville in It’s like this, cat showed young teens that it’s okay as a 14 year-old to cry over a stray cat. Barbara Park in Mick Harte Was Here let her young readers share Phoebe’s tears when her anger over her brother’s death finally allowed her to cry. I want my writing to be able to unite people by evoking universal emotions.

I’m not there yet. Maybe I don’t have that novel or even a short story that does that yet. Where can I start?

It’s the Christmas/ Hanukkah season. This is a time when we decide to contact friends and families with joyous greetings. Now, I’m not too good with this. Long time friends know I function on a 5 year Christmas card cycle. I buy them every year but usually get them out once in a half-decade. I find the nicest cards that have a lovely sentiment but somehow they never seem right for everyone. Maybe there is a problem because at some point we decided to let Hallmark express our feelings about and to people. When did we decide give up our opportunity to write a deeply felt sentiment to a corporation?

Okay, they have lovely pictures and do a nice job of it. But recently, I’ve gone one step lower in missing an opportunity to use the written word to express how much someone means to me by sending a mass or singular Christmas or birthday message on Facebook. Maybe Christmas is the perfect time to write a personal note the will evoke memories or emotions in the reader.

Don’t be mistaken. I’m not talking about those Christmas letters. As a young single mother, I hated those. After reading them, I’d feel like a failure because my children were not in every sport invented, played all instruments in an orchestra, or were ready to win a Rhodes Scholarship. The only feeling those evoked in me was nausea.

I could take a minute to script a brief sentence or two that would warm the heart of the receiver. Maybe on Sandy’s card I could say, “I miss you most this time of year when I remember how we shoveled out a croquet field in four feet of snow.” Or say to my cousin, Mary, “I’m reminded in this season of love how much you mean to me. You held me up when I left my sister’s funeral, standing and talking to me until I could stand on my own.”

Maybe these notes aren’t the novels I want to write that will touch a soul. But it’s a start. It will be enough for me to celebrate the season with the beauty of communication.

 

 

 

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Back Again

I’ve been put to shame.  Last weekend, I had the privilege of judging entries in flash fiction for the the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The program, almost a hundred years in existence, solicits and awards the efforts of young writers and artists in seventh through twelfth grades. Some notables who were recognized throughout the program’s history are:

  • Truman Capote (1932)
  • Andy Warhol (ca. 1945)
  • Sylvia Plath (1947)
  • And even Robert Redford (1954) and Zac Posen (1998)

While a range of student writing abilities were observed, I was blown away by many of the entries. These young people demonstrated an incredible talent for building a compelling story within the constraints of flash fiction. Their skill and creativity assures me a number of them will provide me with reading companions in a not too distant future.

Why am I ashamed? Well, they most certainly devoted a significant amount of time to writing in order to produce the fine work that they did. I do not.

I am reminded everywhere that if I want to write, I have to devote the time to writing. Stephen King’s On Writing bluntly tells me that if I don’t give the time – then don’t write; among many good tips I’m given in my critique groups, from Bob M. among others, I’m nagged about not making the time for writing; and every little webinar or article I read chastises me for my lack of commitment to the time needed to build this craft. I’m amazed at how I can ignore all of that and fall back on my well stocked hoard of excuses.

After all, I have spent most of my adult life making those excuses

1)  When I was raising kids on my own and working full-time: “I want to write but when am I supposed to find the time?”

2)  When my kids were older and I was working full-time: “I write all the time, scenarios for my students’ science investigations, education journal articles,… Just when am I going to get time for creative writing for me?”

3)  My kids are raised, I’m retired working part-time: “I want to write but I have this big house that’s a mess. When am I supposed to have time to write?

Well, let’s see:

1)  Think:

JK Rowling  and  Mary Higgins Clark

2)  Think :

         Ayn Rand – a tour guide and movie extra among other things;

         F. Scott Fitzgerald – wrote slogans for trolley car placards and fixed roofs of train cars 

         J.D. Salinger – failed at being an apprentice in a Polish slaughter house (so he could go into the family business).  He came back to America and worked as an activities director on a Caribbean cruise line.

3)   Really?  Take a look around – I still see a big mess.

Recently, on-line, I read an article by  Joseph Finder*, a prolific writer and author of The Fine Art of Feedback. The title of the article?  Just Write the Damned Book Already.

“Okay, Joseph, I hear ya’,” Judy said hopefully.

(Sorry, Mr. King, about the adverb. But I did say “said” instead of “acquiesced”. Can I get points for that?)

* I enjoyed this article, you may, too. Go to:  
http://www.josephfinder.com/writers/tips/just-write-the-damned-book-already/

All I Want for Christmas

Once again I’m utilizing a blog that I wrote for IWC. When you read this blog you’ll see that I am in a writer’s slump.

Have you seen my muse?  “What,” you may be wondering, “prompts such a question at the beginning of a blog?”   Well, I guess I’m going through a phase of writers’ block.  I’m just not writing.  I’ve made up my mind that I am going to start writing again.  I’ve always been rather bull headed and when I make up my mind to do something, I usually get it done.

Thinking back to all those things I’ve heard writers do to overcome their blocks, I begin my action plan. Even though a fair amount of those pieces of advice often seem to conflict, I will pull out those that will work with what I know about myself. The first things are to write every day, have a designated place to write, have your writing tools ready, and be comfortable.

Monday:  Go to my office, close the door so my dogs won’t disrupt the flow.  Computer ready – check; notepad and pen for jotting thoughts while writing – check; cup of coffee within reach – check.  Now, write!  An hour later my screen remains blank, my note pad is virgin, and I’m playing with the dogs.  Hmmm, well, maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday: Repeat the set up routine, but a wiser me is going to look around the web to see what I may not be doing. I find many sites that let me know about all of the famous writers who faced the same dilemma: Tolstoy, Woolf, Conrad, Hemingway and on and on. Well, bully for them. Obviously they got over it.  Then I land on something I had forgotten about – free writing.  I didn’t do that yesterday.  I’m encouraged because one article inspires me to just start writing on any topic. If it turns out to be just drivel I’m assured, by the article, that something will come out of it.  Another suggests,  “If you can’t think of anything to say, write “blah, blah, blah” over and over.” I know I can do that. I begin. An hour and a half later, my document has one paragraph that basically carps at me for not getting to the file full of papers to be graded.  This enlightened work is followed by three pages filled with various fonts that creatively script “blah, blah, blah”.  My notepad has some interesting doodles and I’ve had way too much coffee.  Okay, Scarlett, think about it tomorrow.

Wednesday: Same scenario with the exception that my ulcers have begged me to swap my coffee for milk. I will write today.  Wrong…

Thursday:  Kathryn sends an email to remind me that I’m responsible for next week’s blog. Great, what will I write about? Well, why don’t I write about not being able to write?  After all misery loves company.  Finishing my initial self-serving paragraph forty-five minutes later, I’m done for today. That’s enough.

Friday: I read what I wrote yesterday. I hate it. Delete. I’m going to take off Saturday and Sunday. This writing everyday takes a lot of energy.

Monday: Must get the blog done. Darn it, I just remember that grades are due tomorrow. Sorry, writing, I have at least twenty hours of paper critiques to deal with today. Catch you tomorrow.

Tuesday: Today writing time will be devoted to the blog. I pull up my file. What? It’s blank? Oh, right, I deleted. Now what. Right after I throw my notepad and pen to the floor and am just about to do the same with the computer, I recall a banquet I went to recently. Kate Collins, a prolific writer of the cozy flower shop mystery books, was the speaker. Her talk was a down to earth, engaging, and motivating call to writers to create the writing magic with their fingers. She told us that sometimes she has writer’s block. Her solution is to go to her office (because block or no block you want to continue to write everyday), relaxes and opens herself up to her Muse.  I also remember a Ray Bradbury quote, “I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.” Okay, Muse, here we go!

Revived, I pick up my note pad and pen, open my laptop, take a sip of coffee (sorry ulcers), lean back in my chair, relax my body, and spread open my arms above my head (Kate did that). Okay, Muse, let’s go…(ten minutes later), Hello?…(five minutes after that)…Hey, Muse! My arms go down. My fingers go to the keyboard. Apparently, my Muse doesn’t want to work on the blog.

That brings us back to the beginning, have you seen my Muse? If so, please keep in mind that all I want for Christmas is … my Muse.

Merry Holiday Writing!

Why Do I Write?

This is a blog that I recently wrote for the Indiana Writers’ Consortium. As I reread it, I thought it would be a good item as my first entry into re-blogging.

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WHY DO I WRITE?

 Another rejection letter followed closely by another notification deadline passing without any “you’ve won” for me.  I was so sure this one would have gotten some recognition.  The story was one when I was finished (rewriting for the twelfth time) that made me think, “This is really good!” These recent submission results lead to a ‘no good writing news’ Thanksgiving for me.

 As I plop down on the couch with my current read, I’m distracted by the question, “Why do I write?   When working full time, I looked forward to a time that could be devoted to writing for me. I engaged in quite a bit of professional writing during my career, a number of co-authored research papers, science education magazine articles, and even a chapter in a book. However, writing creatively was what I wanted to do when I had adequate time to apply to it. In my mind, words would flow freely to create engaging stories that would enchant. It would be easy.

 Oh, yeah, easy.  Even as a hobby writer, I find that rarely do I feel something I’ve written is finished. The re-read/re-write cycle seems to go on endlessly. Since I choose to primarily write for children, the constant pressure to utilize appropriate vocabulary to challenge but not frustrate the target audience becomes very difficult.  Additionally, I constantly struggle with editing, both grammar and content.  My mind works so much more quickly than my fingers.  Regardless of the number of times I re-read, my mind insists on seeing that which it had intended rather than that which appears on the paper. Finally, I’m never quite satisfied with the story line. How can I make it more engaging, exciting, fun? The end project of all of this will be seen only by a few pairs of eyes belonging to my supportive peers in my writing group. So, why do I write for a hobby? Other hobbies require an equivalent amount of “work”.  I knit.  Figuring out patterns or developing patterns of my own challenges me.  The craft requires skill and a significant devotion of time. At least when I finish with those projects I have something that I give away or wear. The artifact will be seen and valued unlike my writings that languish in stored files on my computer. So, again, why do I write?

 I leave my musings to look at the book I’ve chosen to take solace with, I am Malala. This is the story of the young girl who has come to represent plight of young women who are denied an education. The answer to my query begins to unfold. My love of language – reading and writing – was nurtured as a young student. Through the tedious diagramming sentences to the excitement of sharing weekly writing assignments of essays and stories, a love of language grew. The way words could be manipulated to evoke feelings from sorrow to glee was a wonderment. The excitement of explorations of worlds I would never encounter became accessible to me through the words of others. I wasn’t denied an education that allows me to read and write, I was immersed in one. Why I write becomes clear.

 I don’t need to be published or win a contest in order to feel fulfilled from writing.  I write because I want to…and because I can.   Happy Thanksgiving.