The Space Between Stories


Reprinted from Linda Wisniewski’s blog, February 24, 2018

I’ve heard that writers write to make sense of the world. That’s certainly been true for me. And yet, the world seems to have become even less understandable over my lifetime. Aren’t we supposed to become wiser with age? What is the reason for the interpersonal division in our country? We seem to be on ever more opposing wavelengths. We can’t even talk to people we disagree with without insulting them, in person or online, so we mostly just give up.

Author and speaker Charles Eisenstein says our world looks so crazy because we are in “the space between stories.” The old story said our society was sound, our ecology was fine and our economy was just. But that old story is falling apart, and many of us are afraid. We want to go back , when life was safe, stable. As progressive as we like to think we are, a friend and I recently shared a longing for the “old days” when folks aspired to work in a shoe store or deliver milk on a truck. It feels as if the world is falling apart around us. We feel alienated, unsure of our place. We are in what Eisenstein calls “a period of true unknowing.”

We are between stories.

Who knows what the next story will be? I am hoping for one called “We Are All In This Together.”

Many of us have rejected the old duality of this or that, one or the other, Republican or Democrat, us or them, liberal or conservative, male or female, East or West, cat people or dog people….okay, just kidding. But really, haven’t you noticed the breakdown of the old story? The old roles bind us no more. Women are now empowered in fiction and movies, men in the programs we watch are stay at home dads with real feelings, and even gender can be fluid. Voters give up, feeling alienated from our leaders. Young people are calling BS. We’re all restless, looking for a new story to explain our place in the world.

“We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for,” said the poet June Jordan, the author Alice Walker, and the lyrics of a song by Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Looking for signs of the new story gives me comfort. Maybe this is the time I was meant to be alive. What about you? Have you ever felt “in the space between stories?” Why not take some time to write about it, right now?


Linda Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, where she writes for two local newspapers. Her work has been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Sun, Massage, gravel, the Christian Science Monitor, The Quilter and many other places both print and online. Linda volunteers as a docent at the Pearl Buck Historic House and teaches memoir workshops at their Writing Center. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published in 2008 by Pearlsong Press. For more information, see her website.

A Few Reasons Why Writing Just 20 Minutes a Day is Good For You

  1. You will have a chronicle of your daily life, if that’s what you choose to write on. Just a sliver of your life, to be sure, but one that later you will enjoy looking back on.
  2. You will find after a few days that all that difficulty getting words on the page is getting easier, and after a week or so, you’ll be writing as if that sludgy feeling that once plagued you never even existed. In other words, your writing will have greater fluidity.
  3. You will find yourself less perfectionistic about your writing, which is a key to creativity. You have plenty of time to go back and “fix” anything that’s not as you like it, but when you only have 20 minutes to write, you are outrunning that nasty critic that often holds you hostage with ugly words like, “What makes you think YOU have anything to say?” The ability to hold that critic at bay will increase with practice. That’s a good thing.
  4. You will find yourself more observant about the world around you. When you know that you have to come up with something to write every day, then you actually start looking around for something to write about. I often take photos in anticipation of my 20 minutes of writing so I have something to refer to when it’s time.
  5. You will have the chance to write about things that are important to you but that you never actually say to anyone. For example, I wrote about my wedding ring for 20 minutes one day and my grandmother’s rocking chair in another 20-minute session. I was happy to have a place to articulate how I feel about these things, just for my own enjoyment and satisfaction.
  6. You will feel a sense of relief that you’re actually writing if this is something that’s important to you to do. No more beating yourself up with thoughts such as, “I want to write, but just can’t find the time.” When you commit to just 20 minutes a day, you can actually find the time even if it’s in two 10 minute sessions or even four 5 minute sessions.
  7. You will find yourself breathing deeper, feeling more relaxed and having a sense of accomplishment just from taking the time to slow down and put words down on the page. This can also be thought of as meditation time when you refocus your priorities and simply allow yourself to pour out your thoughts on the page. This alone would be worth the effort since there is a multitude of research showing the benefits of slowing down and doing something that is calming in your day.
  8. You will feel that your life has more balance. By taking that 20 minutes, you are whittling a bit of time out of your day that is solely for you. This goes hand in hand with the meditative quality of this practice. You will soon find that you feel better about life in general and your life in particular.

This list is a reminder to you (and myself) why writing 20 minutes a day is much bigger than simply putting words on a page. It is about claiming a bit of your day just for yourself and thinking of this as a meditation practice as much as a writing process. Then your critic really has nowhere to go with complaints. After all, you can simply say, “This is just me noticing more closely what’s happening in the world around me and inside my head. No room for a critic here. I am just musing.”


Visit Len Leatherwood’s blog.

Checking Our Biases

The name of this blog, “Telling Herstories,” reflects the mission of the organization it represents, Story Circle Network, to nature and support women’s voices and stories. I thought of that mission recently as I followed an email discussion among a group of women writers.

The thread involved a mystery writer who had taken over her father’s famous series after his death. She picked up the thread of his characters and stories, but wrote the new books under her own name and with her own twist. Her tales shifted the point of view of the series by taking a woman who had been a minor–and somewhat cliched character, as one commenter pointed out–and had given this character a starring role. Adding a woman’s voice and perspective changed the voice, tone, and focus of the stories.

Some of the commentators on the list didn’t like those changes. Others chimed in to say they knew mystery writers who had commented negatively about the new additions to the series and thus, they didn’t intend to read them. Still others pointed out negative reviews on Amazon. Several said they had sampled the daughter’s books and been disappointed about the amount of Native American culture in the stories, versus in the father’s books.

As I followed the discussion, I grew uncomfortable. Not simply because the author in question is a friend, though she is; because I felt like a group of women who are writing “herstories” were not reading herstories. By which I mean, I felt as if they were judging this woman’s work against her father’s, instead of reading it with fresh eyes for what this author, an award-winning writer herself, brought to the series.

I thought for a while–I am a slow thinker! And then I wrote a careful comment giving some background on the daughter’s choice to take on her dad’s series, and how hard it had been for her to make that decision given her particular situation. Then I got to the point that I felt was really important:

“I think part of why some people don’t like the books is simply because they are written from a woman’s point of view, not a man’s. We’re used to the way men write, and we sometimes have a hard time shifting to women’s more intimate, “quieter” way of telling stories. Not that these particular stories are quiet; they open with a bang, and move quickly. But they’re different from the father’s.

“Seems to me that [the daughter’s] portrayal of Native American culture and place is just as strong, but it’s the domestic side of that culture, which is subtler, less flashy–more human in some ways, and more focused on family and healing relationships the on the public ceremonies.

“I think the ‘color and flavor’ that [one commenter] mentions missing is just that [the father] was writing about the male side of that culture, and [the daughter] is writing about the more female side of that culture. It’s interesting to think about how habituated we get to one way of telling a story and how hard it may be to change our perspective.”

One of the things I value about this group is that its members think, and consider. Their responses reflected that, including this one:

“The daughter brings new perspective and more dimensionality to the characters. Men are from action-adventure; women are from motivation and psychology, to paraphrase a famous book title, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” That one gave me a chuckle.

And this one from another: “I agree that we do get habituated to how an author tells his or her story, especially if a reader has followed a series. I think that is definitely the case for me with this particular series.”

Another commenter added this thoughtful twist: “You could be right about it being the change in perspective on Native American culture being what I’m picking up. . . . I’ve decided I’m going to keep reading her, not only because I found her books enjoyable, but because as someone pointed out, her perspective shift, while feeling less “authentic” to me (and isn’t that embarrassing–that I, who have known exactly one Southwest Native American, would set myself up as an authority on whether or not a book based in the culture sounds authentic), might be equally valid.”

Another commenter checked the negative reviews on Amazon and quoted this one that inadvertently makes the point about our gender bias relating to how a story “should be” told: “I couldn’t get used to seeing the story unfold through [the new female lead’s] eyes versus that of the main male police characters. But of course [the daughter] is a woman so I will just have to accept it.” Yup. You will….

We ARE women, and we do write from our own perspective–that’s a gift, not a fault. We’re not simply trying imitate men’s ways of writing and telling stories; we’re telling our own, in our own ways. It hurts my heart when we fall into the trap of criticizing another woman for finding her own voice and her own perspective. Seems to me that if we’re going to write herstories, then we also want to be informed readers of herstories, to check our biases, and be supportive of other women’s work.

Perhaps you’ve guessed who the discussion was about, but in case you haven’t and you are curious, we were talking about Anne Hillerman’s books, Spider Woman’s Daughter, Rock With Wings, Song of the Lion, and Cave of Bones. They follow up on her father, Tony’s, famous Chee and Leaphorn series, set mostly on the Navajo Reservation of northern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. Anne’s latest, Cave of Bones, debuted at Number 7 on the New York Times bestseller list, so I’d say she’s onto her own successful series!


Susan J. Tweit • plant biologist and award-winning author, speaker, teacher
Read her work at http://susanjtweit.com
Winner of the Colorado Book Award, the EDDIE, and the Colorado Author’s League Award (five times!)
Fellow, Women’s International Study Center, Santa Fe
Writing Resident, Carpenter Ranch, and Mesa Refuge
TEDx speaker, and past chair of the National Writing Panel for YoungArts

“What we do best comes not from our heads but our hearts, from an ineffable impulse that resists logic and definitions and calculation: love. Love is what connects us to the rest of the living world, the divine urging from within that guides our best steps in the dance of life.” –Susan J. Tweit, from The San Luis Valley

A Little Chat With the Masters at the Tate Modern

In this post, writing coach/teacher Len Leatherwood reflects on some artful lessons she’s learned from masters of their craft.

On our vacation, Ray and I spent the afternoon at the Tate Modern in London.

I go into an art museum with an inquiring mind. I am there to experience the art, but also to learn what I can read about the artist and his/her techniques, point-of-view, historical perspective, etc. Some museums are better at providing this information than others; the Tate Modern is excellent regarding this educational aspect. For example, I wandered into a room where the focus was on the studio of the artist and here are a few examples of what I saw and learned:

Why is this important, you may ask? Because not only do I see an everyday scene from 1915, but I also learn that Bonnard valued painting intimate parts of his life. As a writer, this helps me to see the benefit in writing about the little things in my life, which reflect what is important to me.

Here is another:

Here is Picasso’s studio in 1955. I learned that Picasso created twelve different paintings of this studio over the time he lived there, helping me to see that you can use the same subject matter over and over and view it each time from a different perspective. As a writer, it’s easy to dismiss the idea of repeating a story or a memory because you’ve “already told that one.” Picasso’s repetition of the same material helps me to see that I can learn from looking at a story or memoir piece from different angles to expose other layers of truth.

Here’s one more:

Matisse did this same bronze four times over his lifetime, reflecting his different perspective as he aged. This helps me to understand the value of exploring different parts of my life at different times in my life. What I created at twenty may look very different from what I may create in my sixties. No better, no worse. There is freedom in that realization for me. Sometimes I think, “There’s no reason to rehash that,” which may be true in some cases when the subject feels resolved. However, there are other topics where venturing back down that path may indeed bring fruitful results since time and experience may offer an awareness I previously could not have attained.

These art museum forays are a way for me to commune not just with the art, but also with the artists. To learn from his/her process and to open my heart and mind to guidance that comes from their wisdom. I left the Tate Modern feeling more heartened about my writing than I have felt in a long time. As if I had been given a pep talk by the likes of Bonnard, Picasso and Matisse, only to mention a few.

I am now back in LA and ready to go to work on my writing.


Visit Len Leatherwood’s blog.

Another Pitch About Journaling

One of my friends who is still working full time shared with me her desire to do something besides work – something creative. I suggested classes at our El Camino Community College and the South Bay Adult School, maybe in jewelry making or to learn a new language. But she said she’d like to get into writing. I asked her if she journaled. With that she pushed herself away from the table and leaned against the back of her chair, as if she were physically moving away from that subject. After a long pause, she told me she couldn’t write down anything private for fear of it getting into the wrong hands.

Of course, that’s a common fear among those of us who journal, but it hasn’t stopped me. When I first started journaling regularly back in 1993, I wrote in notebooks—the finer the better. I especially loved the ones I bought in France and later found at Banner Stationer’s in El Segundo, CA. The pages are very thick and slick and don’t show through to the backside when written on in ink. Also, the covers are in beautiful jewel-tones. I always felt as if I were writing in a very special place when I wrote in those notebooks.

However, a few years ago—after being so careful to clutch my notebooks close to my chest any time I was out and about—I left one in the seat pocket on the flight home. I went to the airline’s lost and found, but alas, I didn’t get the notebook back. Luckily, it was a fairly new notebook, so I didn’t lose too much. And as a result of that loss, I use my notebooks for workshop notes and write my journal entries on my computer.

Of course, that doesn’t guarantee privacy, either. I managed to have a laptop ripped off at another airport a while ago with all my stuff, including my journal entries, on it. However, when I first started journaling on my computer, I created a separate, password-protected folder for my journal documents. I picked a password that was meaningful only to me, and I know for sure that the only way I’ll ever forget it is if I lose all my marbles—probably not very likely.

I told my friend that story as I tried to convince her to start her journal writing. (By now she was leaning toward me.) “Start writing about fifteen minutes a day,” I said, and she seemed interested. I’ve been journaling the first thing every morning for over twenty-five years and have never felt violated. Also, I’ve found it to be a good way to kick-start any kind of writing piece. My memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, began with journal entries.


Madeline Sharples
madelinesharples.com

The Gift of Writing Regularly

Never Too LateLately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of writing. Thinking is great. Doing is better. To encourage you to keep writing, I’d like to share a few excerpts from an interview Carol Smallwood did with me about my new book, Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62. The title says it all, but the memoir says it in so much more detail.

When I started making notes for the book, while Richard and I were dating, I was filled with “what ifs.”

 

  1. What if this wasn’t the real deal?
  2. What if I lost my identity and my money—not that I had an overwhelming amount.
  3. What if I couldn’t live with 62-years of being alone?

I journaled about these questions and much more. Writing gave me perspective and insight. We got married on February 17, 2012.

Once the book came out, it was time for interviews. Carol Smallwood, a prolific librarian, asked some great questions, and I was happy to answer them. I loved it when she asked, “From working closely with writers, what advice would you give someone struggling with getting started as a writer?

So here are A Dozen Flexible Rules for Struggling Writers:

  1. Write daily. Start by writing for 10-20 minutes.
  2. Give yourself permission to get lost in your writing
  3. Write about whatever you want, and if one day you want to write a list, start there.
  4. Go wherever the writing takes you. No one ever has to read it but you.
  5. When you are done, reread what you’ve written and underline 2-3 places that have energy for you.
  6. Pick one the next day that you really like and start there.
  7. Or write another list.
  8. Or write about whatever is on your mind.
  9. Can’t write? Read a story.
  10. Look at how professionals put a story together.
  11. Go back to your journal and say what you liked about the story.
  12. Let the writing go wherever it wants before repeating Steps 5 & 6.

Start anywhere! Writing daily matters. Your techniques will improve. So will the speed at which you get ideas.

I’ve been writing Monday through Friday for the last 6 weeks or so. Theoretically, I write first thing in the morning—but I usually do some stretches, feed Eddie McPuppers, and pour a cup of coffee before I start. Usually, I write for 10 minutes, but I often go longer. Then polish for another 15-20. I started doing this to help me get back on track after publishing Never Too Late. I don’t consider myself a struggling writer, but this helps so much that I recommend it anytime anyone gets in a slump.

NOTE: If you defy rules:

  1. Quitting is not an option.
  2. Doodling is not an option.
  3. Checking the Internet or my e-mail is not an option.

If I could get going a little earlier, I’d start looking at the flash fiction, flash memoir, and potential for longer stories in this eclectic collection I’m building. You have to have the material before you can start shaping it, and I feel more and more ready to shape and sculpt my stories every day.

As a woman I heard speak recently said, “Write, revise, send, and repeat.” I think I’ve got the first two down. It’s time to start practicing send and repeat, and see where those steps take me.

If you’d like to read Carol’s interview with me and learn more about Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62, go to www.writeradvice.com.


Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com. Her memoir, Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 was released in December. She’s written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers and Talent, which was short-listed for a Literary Lightbox Award, won a bronze medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and was a finalist for a Sarton Women’s Book Award.

Goodwin’s work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers, Hip Mama, Dramatics Magazine, Inspire Me Today, The Sun, Good Housekeeping.com, Purple Clover.com and many other places. She is a reviewer and teacher at Story Circle Network, and she is an editor, writer and manuscript coach at Writer Advice.

Your Best Writing Year Yet! – Getting Started and Staying Motivated 1 – Part 3

THIS IS THE THIRD of a series on achieving your writing and productivity goals. In Part 2, you created an action plan for your Big Rock goal. (If you haven’t been following along, we suggest you start with Part 1 and read forward.)


Today, I want to talk about how to get started and stay motivated.

Getting Started
For most people, once you’ve defined your first step, getting started is the easy part. That is, if you’ve broken your first step down into small enough tasks to feel easy. And that’s the key — not only to getting started but to staying started — each task should take so little effort and time that it’s a no-brainer to get it done.

Let me say that again, in a slightly different way — each task should feel so easy that it would be silly NOT to do it.

Let me give you an example of what easy looks like.

Let’s say that your goal is to write the first draft of your memoir, and your first step is to write an outline. Well, I don’t know about you, but writing an outline for an entire book seems pretty daunting to me. I might be inclined to put that off until I have “enough time” or “enough energy” to focus on it. And if you’ve never written an outline for a book — or even if you have, but this is a different kind of book — you might feel lost about how to get started and flounder around a little.

The answer to that floundering feeling is to break your steps down into minuscule, ridiculously easy tasks.

Break your steps down into minuscule, ridiculously easy tasks. CLICK TO TWEET
Here’s what’s not daunting to me as a first action: brainstorm scene ideas for 10 minutes.

My reaction to that task is, “I can do that. I can set a timer on my watch for 10 minutes and simply brainstorm.” Done!

Then what? Repeat that step, once each day, until I run out of ideas.

Then what? Task #2: Put the chapter titles in the order I think they should go. If that feels scary or like too much all at once, I can work on it for a specific amount of time and repeat until done, just like the first task.

Do you see how this works?

Staying Motivated
Okay, now that you’ve gotten started, you feel good. Anything seems possible, and then life happens. You get a flat tire, or unexpected guests show up during your writing time, or your kids get sick, throwing you completely off your planned schedule.

Interruptions and challenges are going to happen. The important part is to keep your goals in sight and not to let temporary obstructions get you down.

Achieving your goals is like a marathon, not a sprint. And just like running a marathon, it takes determination and a certain amount of grit to keep going, no matter what.

Keeping Your Goals in Sight – the Daily Review
The best way I know of keeping my goals front and center is to review them each morning. It takes less than five minutes. Here’s the process I recommend:

Read each goal and check off any tasks you accomplished the day before (if you haven’t checked them off already). Checking off tasks as you complete them will give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Read the reasons you wrote down for achieving that goal. This step is important, because when challenges occur, reminding yourself WHY you wanted to do this in the first place will keep you going.
Decide on your next best step and write it down. Remember to make it easy and doable.
Schedule the time for that task into your day.
The truth is that life will do its best to get in your way, and if you don’t keep your goals front and center — every day — it’s far too easy to forget about them or to keep shoving them down the list of priorities.

What other ways can you keep your goals in sight and stay motivated?


Amber Starfire offers coaching, classes, and books about writing at writingthroughlife.com