Week One of My Not Blogging Anymore

She's getting existential again

I recently decided I needed time and energy to work on my book of stories. So I decided not to blog for a while and posted a call for writers one and all to come be guest bloggers. Of course bloggers know what’s in it for them. But for me, well basically, with guests writing my blog, I could keep it alive while I do what I have to do to get my bloody book published. Selfish? Self-serving? Yes I think so too.

The thing is, it’s not my nature to be so selfishly motivated. In fact it’s a well-documented fact from studies taken at work that I am highly altruistic. Yes, we’ve had consultants in to study each of us, and that’s what I am. Caring, compassionate, ready and willing to help others. But not lately, apparently.

Lately, I’m only thinking about me and my unmet goals. Then today I woke up with a backache, and head full of “what am I doing all this for” angst.  Which if you think about it, is a really good question, which I’ve been asking myself all day.

By “all this” I mean:

  • Creating a website
  • Creating a blog
  • Thinking about my blog
  • Thinking about my book then thinking what to write next for my blog     
  • Thinking about the fact that I’m only writing blog posts
  • Thinking about my book of stories
  • Thinking about my book and how I haven’t done a thing towards getting it published
  • Thinking about the fact that I’m not writing fiction anymore or doing anything to get my book pubished – then sitting down and writing a blog post (instead). Sigh.

Have you ever thought about why you want to publish your blog, novel, play, art piece, book of stories?  For money? Readers? Fame? I don’t know about you, but when I wrote my stories, I didn’t think about who would read them, who would publish or buy them. I just wrote them because they asked to be written.

Isn’t the writing itself the point, the pleasure, the ache, the fulfillment?  Isn’t it a complete thing unto itself? Shouldn’t it be?  Or is this what we’ve been conditioned to think?

Ok, call this my dark side, my down side, or as blogger BitterBen would say, my bitter side. I don’t think so. I think I’m simply having an existential crisis. As in, thinking about ALL the arts, I can’t help but ask myself: why bother?

Sure it’s great to create, but then what? Why look for publishers, art exhibitions, theaters to produce your play?  Who’s reading? Who’s appraising? Who’s watching and what does it matter? Why do artists need others to care when it’s the making of the art that should matter?

So I woke up today thinking these thoughts that were in the back of  my mind all week, then I thought about me thinking these thoughts, and this went on and on throughout the day, until finally, hallelujah! night arrived and I could bury my thoughts in front of the TV.

I’ll snap out of this frame of mind, I’m sure. On the up side, the post by my humorous guest blogger, Pat Childers, was a smashing success. And there’s more coming by Pat, who has graciously agreed to help me. She doesn’t work with me anymore, so she hasn’t gone through the series of studies about our selves (preferred work styles, personality stuff, matches to our jobs, etc), but anyone who knows Pat knows her studies would reveal her to be Witty, Urbane, Humane.

Meanwhile, I continue to debate whether to publish my book or just post my stories on my website in case someone – anyone – wants to read them. Whatever.

So that’s it – week one of my not blogging anymore. Who knows what week two will bring. More angst, or perhaps a simple plague of locusts.

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My Success…What a Mess

I could have been writing

Blogger Fransi Weinstein (Three Hundred Sixty-Five) recently posted: “Yesterday’s Word Press Daily Prompt really caught my eye. The theme? “Success.” “Tell us about a time where everything you’d hoped would happen actually did.” And she did, quite eloquently.

So ok, let me begin by saying I know I’m lucky to have had success in my passion: writing short stories. Let me also say, unlike Fransi, my success has been sketchy, plus I have never made much money at it. In fact, just for fun, let’s do the math:

In-coming:

  • New Millennium Short-Story Story Contest: $1000
  • Illinois Arts Council Fellowship: $5000
  • Illinois Arts Council Grant: $500
  • Some literary mag, don’t remember which: $50 (I’m not counting the copies I received in lieu of payment, the typical literary mag ‘payment’)
  • Part-time teaching adult ed in creative writing: around $300 a semester – yes, 300 – not a typo. (I feel I need to count this, even though I am not a teacher at heart, nor a very good one, but it seemed to be part of my passion while I was doing it.)

Out-going:

  • B.A. (English & Psych) $$$$
  • M.A. (English) $$$$$$$$$$

The total, of course, is a total bust. But who’s counting?

I’m not. Honestly, who regrets getting an education? Especially when loans are finally paid off.  🙂

So, back to the subject at hand: my passion for writing short stories. Long story short, my love of short stories began with J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories. One read, and I was hooked. Then when I was in college and majoring in Psychology, my love of literature drove me to accumulate hours in English. I just needed a few more hours and I’d have a double major.

Ah, but all that extra reading! Did I have energy and time for it? Then one day I discovered they offered a Creative Writing Workshop. Well, ever since I was a kid, stories seemed to pop into my head. I had written some stories, though none of them had really ‘gone’ anywhere. Still, why not? I thought. What did I have to lose but perhaps my pride? One or two semesters of this, and I’d have my double major.

Looking back, I see it was no accident that I ‘happened’ to choose a college that offered a writing course (in those days, college writing courses were few and far between). And there I met an amazing writing instructor, and ended up writing a story that was published in a fine literary magazine before I graduated.

And here’s where the tale twists. This first published story got a lot of praise. Success, right? Follow the momentum, follow the passion, keep on writing, right? Well before you can dedicate yourself to your passion, you have believe in it.

One part of me always knew I was a writer. Another part of me – well how to put it – was scattered. Not focused. Not sure what to do with this first success, which a large part of me did not really believe I could ever duplicate.

So I directed my energy elsewhere: raising my family, making money, etc. Oh sure, every once in a while, I couldn’t stop myself from writing a story. But despite my early success, these efforts rarely came to anything. And I guess I thought of these writing efforts as just a creative outlet, a pipe dream, or simply an anomaly.

So, that’s the short of it. Although I started making up stories from an early age, I allowed a lack of belief in myself to get in my way. In fact, I didn’t really start focusing on my passion until somewhere in my 40’s when, kids grown, husband removed from the scene, I remembered I had one.

But that’s another story…. 🙂

Ready, Set, Go…For the Jugular

Tell us your Secrets

For reasons unknown, I used to teach creative writing. The don’t-think/just-let-it-rip type of teaching, and depending on how willing/able people were to try it, I was mildly successful. I taught this way because it was the only way I knew – or know – how to write. Not suited to everyone, I found out.

But once, a student came back to class and said she let it rip for a half hour straight and apparently, she’d dug deep, pulled out something painful. Her eyes were huge, her voice shaky: “It scared the hell out of me!”

I was young, and as you might have guessed, not a great teacher.  Great teachers clarify, illuminate, impart useful information.  (What made me think I could do this???) So while I felt for her, I had no words to explain it.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I have those words.  I could have told her that yeah, writing can be scary. It can be painful. Because writing is a risky business. Because it’s about letting go and going for the jugular. Because fiction writers have to be prepared to go for their own jugular and dig up their darkest secrets — over and over again.  Agatha Christie put it succinctly: “writing is torture.”

While I’ve never been scared by what I’ve written, I can say, letting the story go where it’s wanted to go, I’ve been surprised by where it’s gone and what it’s revealed.

I’ve read that writer Doris Betts – who writes both novels and short stories – once said that the novel is prose growth, and the short story is prose revelation. This explains a lot to me! It explains why, when my short stories work well, they give me the chills. (I have one particular story that still gives me the chills!)

In any case, if I were ever to go back to teaching (not!), I‘d still use the let-it-rip type of teaching. It’s what I believe in, it’s worked for me and it’s worked for thousands of other writers.

So here’s what I know: I know what works for me, and I know teaching is not for me,  But I very much like certain writing prompts. So how about this one: Write a piece of fiction that reveals something you have never told anyone before.  Don’t think, don’t judge. Just go….

If you get something that scares you – or gives you a little chill – awesome! 

🙂

 

Buck Up and Take It

 

Rejection Sucks          It hurts. I admit it.

Over the years that I’ve been writing and submitting my stories for publication, I’ve received hundreds if not thousands of rejection letters and emails, and I’m still not immune to the sting of rejection.

I have enough rejections to line the walls of my dining room. Stuff like, “not for us,” “thanks for submitting, but we’ve decided….” or the worst one: “not funny and not fair.” Yikes!

It’s hard enough to put yourself and your work ‘out there.’ Still, rejection comes with the territory. And of course, one can always rewrite (or not) and re-submit someplace else, move the story to an archive file, join a writing group, or simply rationalize: They wouldn’t know a good story if it hit them in the arse.

In my heart of hearts, I’ve never quite believed that once your writing has reached a certain level of competence, it’s a matter of taste. Still, this is what other (more accomplished) writers have been telling me.

And then this happened:

My story 13 Rules recently won first prize in the short-short story writing contest run by  New Millennium Writings. At the same time that I submitted 13 Rules to NMW, I submitted it along with two other flash fictions to Fiction Attic Press. (Yes, multiple submissions are ok, particularly if a publication’s guidelines say it is.)

When 13 Rules won, I was so bowled over I forgot to notify Fiction Attic and withdraw it from their consideration. Bet you can guess what happened next….

A few weeks after I won the NMW fiction contest, Fiction Attic emailed me to say it wanted to publish two of the three flash fictions I submitted – and the one they didn’t want was – ta da! – 13 Rules.

Which just goes to show:

1)    One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

2)    After a certain level of competence, it really is just a matter of taste.

Of course all of us who have had our work rejected are in really good company. Here are 30 famous authors whose works were rejected (repeatedly, and sometimes rudely) by publishers

p.s. Coward that I am, I never did tell Fiction Attic the story they rejected just won 1st prize somewhere else.

🙂

Shopping (Tiny Fiction #2)

Shopping, A Microfiction

Shopping

The woman stood in front of her at the checkout counter, needing three receipts for several small items. A few items she paid with food stamps, a few were markdowns from the bargain bin, the last few more markdowns that she paid for with Visa. Loudly, she made much of not having her name spoken aloud by the cashier, a pony-tailed man whom it became apparent she knew. In all, the woman had possibly ten items – this woman in a business suit and smart flats – who needed these three separate receipts and her name not said out loud, as if some one were following her. Or perhaps some one might recognize her, if not by sight, then surely by name.

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Copyright S. J. Powers 2013

Do You Hear Me?

Can your inner child come out; Listen to Your Characters

Famous playwright Harold Pinter once said when he is writing his plays he doesn’t know who is behind the door until it opens.

Pinter lets his characters tell the story. Well I’m certainly no Pinter, but I can say I have experienced the same. It happens when my first draft is going really well, when it flows effortlessly and my characters are talking to me.  I just need to listen.

Will character X leave her husband? How does X talk, act, think?  If I listen to X, she will tell me.

If I listen, my writing feels unforced and carries with it a certain heat and depth of experience that hopefully resonates. When my writing is forced, it’s uninspired, unauthentic, flat.

Perhaps I’m not always in the right frame of mind when I’m writing. Frankly, I don’t always know until it’s too late. All I know is when my writing is flat, it’s as if X has shut the door and gone into hiding.

And, by God, the silence is deafening.

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Who’s Minding Your Wild Mind?

Who's Minding Your Wild Mind

George Takei says: “It is in those moments when our minds are clutter-free that true inspiration awakens.”

True inspiration:  If you create… if you’re an artist, a poet, a photographer, a programmer, a composer, a musician, etc… you know true inspiration is instinctual, intuitive, primeval; it’s what Freud called the unconscious, what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious, and what writers and others call Wild Mind.

I sometimes think of Wild Mind as sort of an un-state of mind. I know I’ve reached this state when my first drafts basically write themselves. And there’s the rub: the story ideas roaming around inside my cluttered conscious mind usually go nowhere.

Good Story Ideas I’ll (probably) never write:

Shaky Road – An unhappy couple take a long road trip.

Idea Guy – Sort of ironic, eh?

Scenes From an Apartment – Can’t remember (:

Below are some of the stories that came from – or at some point were taken over by – my cluttered conscious mind where my idea of the story took the reins, making sure the story followed what I thought/wanted it to be.

I’ve already written and rewritten these stories many times, and they still don’t work.

Stories from Good Ideas That Still Don’t Work:

Madison’s Absence – A man’s out of body experience.

We’re Not Them – A pregnant woman’s paranoia her baby will be born mentally ill.

How She Will Live – A cautious woman who finds herself single and suddenly in lust.

Bottom line, I’ve learned it’s okay to get your conscious mind (where you inner editor lives) involved when you’re critiquing your creation and when you’re re-working it. And let’s face it, we could all use a good editor!

But hard knocks have taught me that your first draft/sketch/form should come from your instinctive, intuitive Wild Mind, the seat of your originality.

Your inner editor might not like it, but your creations definitely will. But enough about me. How do you get to your Wild Mind? Music? A photo? Meditation? Doodling?

What She Knew (Tiny Fiction #1)

               What She Knew  30th Birthday

She had a birthday, became thirty, became morbid and suffering and told her husband she would bear no children, that inherent in birth is the sentence of death, that all childbearing is selfish, an illusion of immortality and how well she knew that she would die soon (what is forty, fifty more years compared to eternity?), that she was powerless, that her only life was moving along a path she could not remember freely choosing, and she would not know all experience, live all the lives, reach all the corners that she might, but if nothing else, she said, she wished better for her unborn offspring than this anguish, this knowledge of nothingness-after-life.

Take an aspirin, he said. Not unkindly.

# Published inWindy City Times Pride Issue (in slightly different form). Copyright S. J. Powers, 2013.

A Steamy, Passionate, Sexy Treatise on What’s in a Name

Is it more than co-incidence that I – a woman named Sue – have so many Sues in my life? To date, I have several close friends and various relatives/acquaintances all named Sue, Susan or Susie.

Others do too I recently found out, such as my co-worker L who has numerous Sues in her life, including her mother. Feeling the need to distinguish her Sues, we only know the woman with whom she shares a ride to work as My Carpool.

So, what’s in a name, I’ve begun to wonder.

Here’s what I’ve found. First, when it comes to writing, quite a lot. To start, the title of your article/story/blog is the hook that lures….

Hook a Book

Keeping readers there is another thing, of course, but for now, you just need to go to Amazon to see that sexy titles sell and sell well.

Words like “passion, romance, steamy, etc.” get noticed and get sales.  Which is fine if you want to write that sort of thing – or can just manage to get some of these words into your title. 🙂

As to all my Sues, I’ve discovered the Kabalarian Philosophy offers some interesting ideas. It’s based on the philosophy that mind and language are intimately linked. They can even tell you what your name means based on this philosophy and certain mathematical principles.

Which is fun, but really doesn’t explain all the Sues in my life or L’s life and maybe your life.

But that’s okay, because I have another theory. It goes like this: Prior to our birth, we each belonged to a specific community of spirits getting ready to be born, and to ensure that we’d recognize each other when we got to Earth….

Ok, what about you? Are you surrounded by/attracted to the same-named people? Many Janes, Bobs, Steves, Judys…?

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You’re Disgusting, Darling, But We Love You

humor; blog; women; creative non-fiction

Do you ever feel fugly?  (f….king + ugly.)

If you do, perhaps it goes like this. You wake up and your lids are puffed out from their sockets  (why? are your eyeballs expanding?); the back of your hair is smashed flat while the front sticks up like Medusa; and alas, despite the rigorous tooth brushing and mouthwash gargling you endured last night, your mouth tastes of the garlic-breath meal you ate last night.

Fugly. How does your husband/wife/partner/children stand you? But somehow they do.

They might show it by being super pleased by your success, or just happy that you aren’t lying on the couch in a fetal position.

When you are in a fetal position, or running low on energy, or just plain broke, they might offer to run an errand for you, loan you their car, give you money, make a joke or find a movie to cheer you up.  (Moonstruck please!)

They may even go so far as to tell you how lovely you are. Ah, what courage! What love!

What a beautiful, little lie meant to cheer you up.

Thank you loved ones! I hope I can return the sentiment soon….

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