…AND OTHER ROADBLOCKS IN WRITING!

Tag Archives: persistence

What? Am I on the wrong blog? I thought this was a writer’s site.

 Wait! Wait, no, it’s really me. Hang in there. Let me explain. I happened across an article on www.dumblittleman.com that lit up the cartoon light bulb over my head. I’d recommend them for great articles and tips for all areas of your life. I’ve been following them for years, back when it was called Life Hack.

The article I read was called “8 Bad Food Habits That are Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Goals.” Not that I needed that particular information, mind you, I was just browsing the site (and if you believe that, there’s a cliché in Brooklyn that I could sell you really cheap.)

What this article did was remind me that there are little bad habits that sabotage writers, too. For example, being personally aware of one bad habit, I was moved to write a poem ala the kids’ book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Here’s part of it:

IF YOU CLEAN A WRITER’S COFFEEPOT     by Virginia Nygard

If you clean a writer’s coffeepot…

he’ll want you to make a pot of coffee.

If you make a pot of coffee and hand him a cupful…

he’ll want a cookie, too.

If you mix up cookie batter quick…

he’ll fill up his cup, and wait for warm cookies.

While there, he’ll see the coffee jar’s low…

and grind fragrant beans to fill it up.

He’ll put the coffee jar away…

and notice the cupboard door is loose.

He’ll find his tools, fix the door, and then…

eye the shabby, faded walls.

You know where this is going, right? Straight to serious procrastination bordering on avoidance, yes? And that’s what eats away at your writing time.

Then, there’s the food-inspired question, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer? Yup, one bite at a time. Or, as a writer, one step at a time. Don’t start picking out the publishing house for which you want to be the next star if you haven’t started with Step One. Examine what makes you want to write. What makes you think writing is a good fit for you? Have you kept a journal? Had a pen pal? Have you read a variety of genres? Do you have a burning desire to share your story? Are you willing to learn? Do you want fame and fortune?

If the last is your driving goal, let me share what my high school guidance counselor said to me, “If you’re looking to make a bundle of money by going into teaching for a career, you’ll be going into the wrong profession.” She was right, but it was what I was called to do. And that warning can apply to writing, too. In my view, what society exalts is not always honorable, moral, or of lasting value. Consider what society exalts if you want big bucks. Just don’t sell your soul to get it.

Follow your desire to write with Step Two. What’s your support system? Have you looked into classes online or at your local community college? Joined a local writers’ group? Found a non-profit writers’ association in your state? There are groups online that offer writing contests or critique. Be aware of membership fees and check their credentials before jumping in.

When I was about three years old, I was eager to learn and do as much as I could, as fast as I could. And that applied to climbing stairs, too. Holding my mother’s hand on the way up to bed, I remember trying to take two-or maybe it was three-steps at a time. From below I heard my father’s voice, “One at a time. One at a time.” So we moved slowly up the stairs with me chanting for each step, “‘One at a time,’ Da-da says…‘One at a time,’ Da-da says…”

So how do we go about making The New York Times Best Sellers list?

Right. Da-da would be proud of you!

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When I was a kid in Bridgeport, Connecticut, my dad and I were Brooklyn Dodger fans to the core. We bucked the tide of Yankee fans riding along with the winners. In retrospect, I wondered if their choice of hero worship reflected a need in themselves to bask in the glow of winners: The team I align myself with is a winner, ergo, I am a winner.

Well, what did that say about my dad, my mom, and me? Were we losers because our beloved Dodgers hadn’t won a series in our lifetimes?

Slap my face for even thinking that. After their mother died, my dad and his two brothers moved from orphanage to orphanage wherever Grandpa’s work on government ships took him. What they learned was Family First, self-sufficiency, and holding out against the odds. Tenacity.

My mom and her two sisters, the youngest of ten surviving children, left school at age sixteen to join the work force, as had their brothers before them. Savings accumulated by my maternal grandfather, a feed-and-grain businessman, dwindled, requiring every able hand to take on work to keep the family together. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence.

In 1955, I was in the driveway waiting for my dad to come home from work. We spied each other, and the hullabaloo began. Me, shouting at the top of my lungs, wearing my Dodgers’ cap, waving my Dodger pennants, and my dad endlessly honking the horn and shouting back. The Boys of Summer had finally won the World Series! Tenacity. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence. It all paid off.

After my beloved Dodgers dodged Brooklyn for less-green pastures in L.A., I lost interest. They abandoned their loyal fans and their heritage as trolley dodgers for monetary gain. From then on, I watched sports in general degrade into huge money-making machines with little loyalty to their family of fans

When I heard that Chicago-Cleveland Series tickets this year went for as high as $1,500 plus, I was struck by how pervasive GREED is in our society. It pollutes everything from sports, TV, movies, theater, politics, and some unscrupulous sects of religion. Money is god in our culture.

Still, I had no hesitation in rooting for the Chicago Cubs. No World Series win in 108 years? Bring it on! That’s my kind of team! Down three-to-one in the series and they WIN the @#$%& thing! Woo-hoo! My kind of guys! Tenacity, self-sacrifice, cooperation, persistence.

“Okay,” you ask, “so what has all this got to do with writing?”

Duh! Really? Do I have to spell it out for you? Stop reading this, START WRITING and DON’T GIVE UP!

 


…which won’t mean much unless you read the previous post. See? You never know when I’m going to spring a pop quiz. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

If you sneaked back just now to catch up, you’re probably wondering (or not, that’s OK) what I did while I was recuperating. How’s eleven poems toward my next collection grab you? It’s easy when you’ve wrapped them around a great character. She keeps yakking in my ear, chattering about her life experiences and what life lessons she’s learned.

But, I also went back and finished up a short story I started a long time ago, lost focus, and filed it. It’s a fairly light piece called OFF DAY OFF, and it seemed appropriate to share it with you, considering how my summer vacation went. So, here y’go:

OFF DAY OFF    by Virginia Nygard

Friday. My day off. In a manner of speaking.

The wheels began spinning. Groceries. Cleaners. Bank—check on second mortgage. Ask Miss Debbie at Toe-To-Toe if she could use some clerical help toward Dinah’s tap and ballet lessons. Ask Mrs. Grundlee if she’ll trade piano lessons for Chaz for my computer skills. I hate to cut back even more on the kids’ activities while Tom’s job hunting. Speaking of which, check Employment Opportunities ads for computer savvy help wanted. Then battle the college kids for what’s available. Remember to hunt for Dinah’s missing pink dinosaur T-shirt. Don’t forget to make Tom’s favorite meatloaf with hot peppers. Remind mothers to provide goodies for the third grade party on Monday…

Wait a minute, Twyla. You’re a hamster spinning on the wheel of infinity. I didn’t see one word in that list about something for you on your day off!

Me? I don’t remember me being on my list of priorities.

Bingo. My point exactly. Have you ever considered taking a day for yourself?

A Me-Day? Did I ever have one before Tom whisked me away from Off-Broadway to suburbia?

No, but suburban life is just as grueling. Will the world come to an end if you take a day off from endless days that are devoted to everyone else?

Gee, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to start the day down at Delray Dolly’s Donuts & More for a change. Breakfast somebody else makes, serves, and then cleans up? Read the newspaper front to back? I’ll do it!

Then what?

Don’t rush me. I’ll think of something.

 

Fresh donuts. Coffee. Bacon. They all waved a welcome under my nose as I pushed open the door to Dolly’s place. I sat at a table by the window where a few scraggly hibiscus plants failed to obscure the parking lot or the traffic inching along Federal Highway. Still, the view beat that of my laundry room—cubicle, actually—and dirty laundry growing up from the root. At the counter, Dolly did a wide-eyed double take, grabbed a menu and sauntered in my direction.

“Are you lost, lady?” she asked with a rumbling laugh that shook her like a mild earthquake. “The counter’s over there,” she said with a sweep of her arm.

I grinned. “No, Dolly. Hard to believe I’m not grabbing and running off with something as usual?”

“Got that right!”

“Well, I decided there are days for everything under the sun except a ME Day. I proclaim today to be the first official ME Day. Furthermore, every woman on the planet may proclaim the ME Day of her choice.”

She glared at me over her chartreuse-colored glasses, knitting her eyebrows into a single black rope. “Twyla, the only ME day I’m gonna get is when I retire, sell this place, or die—whichever comes first. And between you and me, it’ll probably the last one.” She gestured to my menu. “What can I get ya’?”

“How about the two-egg special and coffee?”

“Scrambled?”

“Eggs, yes, Coffee, no. I like it neat.”

She shook her head. “If this is what taking a day off does to ya’, do me a favor and take it somewhere else. Your toast?”

“You’re toast,” I growled like a mobster. “Was my joke that bad?”

With a pregnant pause and a drop-dead glare over the glasses she said, “Go ahead, make my day.”

I grinned. “English muffin, forked open, not sliced. I want all the nooks and crannies. Make it lightly toasted, dripping with butter and cinnamon sugar.”

She gave me one of her faux grimaces. “I ain’t saying nothin’ more to you,” she said, dipping her head conspiratorially and grumbling, “except arsenic and cinnamon looks a lot like cinnamon sugar, ya’ know.”

Dismissing Dolly with a wave, I plugged in my earphones, tuned my iPod to easy listening music, and shook open my newspaper. Skipped over the obits. My name wasn’t there. Skipped sports, too. Motherhood, Wifehood, and Househood was enough of a workout. I also skipped the theater section. My name would never be there. I whisked away a wisp of regret with a feather duster of gratitude for everything I was blessed with. I plucked out the comics and smiled. They always started my day with a chuckle.

In moments, despite the earphones, searing screams at the counter drew my attention from the window beside me as it exploded, sending shards of glass flying. My left arm snapped beneath half the table as it splintered from its base. Darkness descended like a curtain at the end of Act One.

(End Scene One)

Now that’s what is known in the writing business as a hook. It’s the way you want to end a chapter so readers keep reading…whether they want to or not. As someone who read my first novel, Déjà Vu Dream, said, “You stinker! I couldn’t get to sleep until I finished the book!” Nicest compliment I’ve ever had.

Another tip: Never throw away a story you can’t finish. File it. Come back later. Months or years later. Life experiences may help you refocus.

See you in September? Twyla awaits your sympathetic ear!

 

 


RPLA 2014 FINALIST CERT & AWARDAt our Treasure Coast Writer’s Group a few weeks ago, Brenda Welliver wrote a delightful piece on how she and her friend deal with mishaps, fumbles, and minor misfortunes. One will call the other to say, “Well, Murphy’s been here again!” and proceed to detail and laugh about surviving those annoying events.

Brenda, dear, I completely understood it then, and again, because Mr. Murphy’s been following me around for days. The first brush with the imp came when I grabbed a quick BLT before a recent speaking event. The thick, applewood-smoked bacon sandwich was a work of art, but it was NOT love at first bite. I knew the crunch was more than bacon. More accurately, my tongue felt it was more than bacon.

The dentist later confirmed that I had cracked a piece of bridgework and that an extraction and new bridge would be in my future, and though it was hanging on precariously, a fix could wait until I returned from the Thirteenth Annual Florida Writers Association’s Conference in Lake Mary. So, cutting every morsel into one-half inch pieces, I managed to eat without incident. “Leave well enough alone,” my Grandma always said. Unfortunately, my tongue forgot this bit of folk wisdom, incessantly probed the area until—out popped the broken bridge. So, yes, I spent the entire conference looking like a loser in a redneck barroom brawl, but everyone was most sympathetic and understanding.

Happily, attending the conference was worth keeping my mouth shut—a near impossibility—and giving what appeared to be disinterested, lukewarm smiles without showing teeth I didn’t have. I’m honored to report that of the two poems I entered in the Royal Palm Literary Awards competition, one was a finalist, and the other received an award.

The moral of the story? Whenever a critique group, an editor, a beta reader, an agent, or your best friend pulls a Murphy on you, roll with the punches, pick up your teeth and your pen, and keep on writing! You’ll have learned something about yourself—and your writing. And the rewards will prove worth it.
RPLA 2014-C5-GRPLA 2014-GP-1