Rediscovering the Writer Inside, A Guest Post

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A few weeks ago, I asked my friend Rachel if she would write a guest post for my blog this summer. Rachel is one of a select few writer friends I know in the “real” world as well as in the online world, and I really treasure her for that connection we have with words. Like a lot of us writer-mama’s, Rachel’s love of the written word has taken a back seat to school and family and working and all the stuff that goes into ordinary life.

But in 2010 something happened in Rachel’s life that helped her not only  re-discover the writer inside, but embrace it. Here, I’ll let her tell you in her own beautiful words…

I wrote my first book when I was 5. It was called “R is for Rachel.” I became a writer in that moment, but I ran from my writerhood my whole life, without even realizing it.

I never considered being a writer as a child even though I was always writing journals, plays, and short stories. I first wanted to be a programmer, because my dad was. In junior high, I briefly considered becoming a journalist, but I was bitten by the performing bug.

I have always been a singer, but when I was accepted to a performing arts program in high school, I was convinced that Broadway was my destiny. I still kept journals and would often write short stories in them. In college, as a freshman theater major, I documented meeting my first boyfriend in a short story. I even illustrated it!

Theater wasn’t for me. I transferred and changed my major to psychology. There, my writing ability was finally recognized; my philosophy professor asked me to be his writing fellow. I immersed myself in the required Comp class—we met and shared our writing as we sat and drank coffee and tea. I felt so creative, so intellectual. My professor wrote on one of my papers: “I could get this published for you.”

That should have been the moment, right? The moment I figured it all out.

But it wasn’t.

A year later, my Social Psych professor raved about my term paper—not just the content, the writing. Finally, the light bulb went off, and I changed my major to English. I should be a writer. I mostly wrote for classes, which was a LOT. I wrote a little on my own, and had a poem published in the literary journal.

Since graduating, I’ve been an editor and a business analyst. I wrote for the job, but would rarely write for myself, largely because I didn’t think I was a “real” writer. But something happened that transformed me into a writer. My third son, Colin, was born on October 20, 2009.

We knew at 20 weeks of pregnancy that Colin had multiple Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs) and that he would face surgery very soon after he was born. He looked completely perfect at birth, but we knew there was a tiny, broken heart beating in that little chest. When he was nine days old he was taken from me in pre-op after a prayer with the chaplain in the hopes that surgery would go very well and that he would be on the road to recovery right away. But that’s not what happened.

He barely made it out of surgery. He had to be put on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) because when he was removed from bypass, his heart was beating at 250 beats per minute. ECMO would do his heart’s work for him and allow it to rest and recover. Then he went septic and nearly died, again. Then he seemed to rally. He needed a few more procedures and the hope was that all would be well. But it wasn’t. He fought, valiantly, for 109 days. On February 7, 2010, he died.

He had been in distress all day with increased respiration, blood pressure and heart rate. None of the usual tricks were working. There was nothing left to do surgically. He already had a brand new chest tube in from a few days earlier. We decided that we had to stop all measures and let him go. When his heart stopped within seconds of removing him from the ventilator, we knew that it had been the right decision to make.

It was the single worst day of my life.

But it was also the day that the writer in me, who had been lying dormant for so long, was reborn. I started to journal, to write song lyrics and poems, just to get it all out of me. I wanted to tell his story, our story, so badly. I started a blog  and posted my first entry on April 23, 2010. I wrote a few entries, and then set it aside. I continued to write, just not for other people.

Then, suddenly, opportunity knocked. I had been talking about starting to write again and had just completed a creative non-fiction class. Creative juices were flowing and I was ready to do it for real. An online friend from the CHD world mentioned to me that she knew someone who was starting an online magazine for parents who had experienced child loss, infertility, or some combination thereof (more common than you would ever imagine). So, I reached out, with a lump in my throat, and I offered up my services as a guest poster. She responded by asking me to be a monthly contributor! I now write two articles per month for Still Standing. I have written more blog posts in two months than I did in the two years prior. I have been asked to guest post on two blogs (including this one!) and I am so full of ideas that I am finding my current job frustrating because I wish I could just quit and write full time. My goal is to fully tell the story of our family’s journey with and without Colin.

It took me about 30 years to get here.

To become a writer.

I often wonder: if Colin hadn’t been born or if he had lived instead of died, would find myself where I am today? I can’t be sure. But I’m going to give him all the credit.

Thanks, Colin, for making your mama a writer.

 

Rachel Kain is a writer, musician and yoga teacher who makes ends meet as an IT business analyst. She’s also a wife and mother. Words are her passion and she is grateful to be able to write about the grief journey for Still Standing Magazine (http://stillstandingmag.com). You can find her blog, Writers Write, at http://bewriting.wordpress.com. She blogs about whatever comes to mind. As a lifelong writer who is finally sharing her work with the world, she is searching for her voice, join her as she finds it.

Day 6: Steal

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Good artists copy. Great artists steal. ~Picasso

 

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not happy with that word.

Steal.

Probably it’s my years of parochial school training (Keep your eyes on your own papers, boys and girls!) but the thought of stealing from other writers or artists sets my teeth on edge.

I understand the concept, and I participate in it all the time. Whenever I read one of my favorite authors, my fingers start itching to pick up a pen and write. When I hear beautiful music, I want to run to the piano and play. Cruising the internet sets my brain aflutter with ideas for blog posts and essays and who knows what all.

I call that inspiration, not stealing.

Semantics.

But we writers are all about the words, aren’t we?

And I just don’t like that one.

 

Day 3: Initiate

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Declaration. I am a writer.
Belief. I know I can do this.

But do what exactly?

How fine it is to make the outer declaration and hold fast to that inner faith. But without the initiative to take concrete action, declaration and belief aren’t even worth a cup of coffee.

And we all know how much writers need their coffee.

This third of the 15 Habits of Great Writers is the bugler’s reveille. Pick the thing you most want to write and start writing it. Even if it’s scary, even if you have no idea where to begin.

Begin you must, and that is what Great Writers do every day.

In addition to being a writer, I’m also a musician. I’m a pianist, and I’ve worked as an accompanist for some wonderful school choirs, as well as churches and community groups. I’m also a handbell player, and have played with a professional group. You’d think I’d be satisfied with my proficiency in these instruments.

But no. The musical thing I really wish I could do is sing.

As an accompanist, I work with singers all the time. I’m in the background, and part of me likes that just fine. The spotlight isn’t on me. I’m a support person at heart, and I’m usually content to bask in reflected glory.

Deep down, though, I hunger to be the star, the one who can open their mouth and release melody into the air.

Writing is no different. I’m pretty comfortable in my niches – blogging, book reviewing, technical writing.

But oh how I crave to write a novel.

To create an entire world spun from the web of my imagination.

That would take a major initiative on my part.

I don’t know if I’m “great” enough for that just yet.

New Habits

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I know it’s Monday.

But grab your pencil and notebook anyway  – there’s still time to join Jeff Goins free blog series, Mastering the Habits of Great Writers. The series starts tomorrow and will feature one habit of great writers every day, along with a daily challenge to help us become great writers too.

I’ll be participating with posts here at Write on Wednesday.

Hope you’ll join in.

 

Putting It Out There

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But I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people that publication is not all that it is cracked up to me. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward. ~Ann Lamott in Bird by Bird

People write for all different reasons, and lately I’ve been struggling a little bit to determine my own. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs about writing, people who’ve managed to parlay their blog writing into successful businesses, people who have published successful eBooks based on their blogs, people who teach writing. People who spend a lot of time promoting their work on all sorts of social media sites.

Honestly, it’s made me feel a bit like a slacker. Like maybe I’m being lazy, just sitting here contentedly writing my little blogs every week.

Like I’m missing the boat.

So when I’m feeling confused about my personal writing experience I turn to some of my favorite “teachers.”

Like Ann Lamott. She says that sometime when we think we need the tea ceremony for the caffeine, all we need is the tea ceremony.

Do I need caffeine? Do I need to put myself out there for the big payoff? Or do I just need to write – about life in general and my own in particular, about the books I love and hope you’ll love too, about this writing life that I try (on my best days) to live?

I suspect I’m more of a ceremonial person than a caffeine oriented person.

Not that I don’t want to work at writing, to get better at it- because I do.

Not that I don’t want other people to read my writing – because I do.

But writing is a very personal means of expression for me and being able to set my thoughts and ideas on paper is hugely rewarding. I don’t need to worry about blog stats or Facebook “likes.” I don’t have to “follow” a zillion people on Twitter.

All I have to do is write. That’s the payoff.

And it’s fine for me.

How about you? Do you go for the caffeine in your writing life, or are you happy with the ceremony?

You Can’t Stop the Beat

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Like the dizzying revolutions of a child’s spinning top, my brain is awhirl with ideas – things I want to write about, subjects that beg to be parlayed into words, researched, dissected literally and emotionally, and splayed out upon the page. Layered on top of these myriad of ideas come the notion about larger projects – books of essays, novels, a memoir – exploding in my brain with the exciting sparkle of fireworks.

So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t I be down-on-my-knees grateful for all these ideas?

I should, because I’ve been on the flip side of this situation, when nary a thoughtful word could be wrenched from the dark recesses of my brain.  But I feel slightly ill equipped to handle this torrent of inspiration. Where do I start? When do I leave off working on one thing and start on another? Where do I even keep track of all these ideas that keep popping into my head?

I know there are writers out there who can simultaneously manage multiple writing projects. I’m just not sure I have the wherewithal to be one of them.

How about you? Do you multi-task your writing projects?  Any advice on how to manage?

 

 

Guest Blogging at The Write One

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Sometimes writers look all over for inspiration.  But you really need look no further than your own passions and interests, where a wealth of inspiration lies in wait.

Read more in my guest post at The Write One Blog today.

 

Recipe Book

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When you bake a cake you have ingredients: sugar, flour, butter, baking soda, eggs, milk.  You put them in a bowl and mix them up.  But this does not make a cake.  This makes goop. Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg

In the small notebook I carry around, I often scribble down ideas for personal essays or blog posts, perhaps a word or phrase, maybe a reference to a magazine or newspaper article.  Sometimes in the local cafe or coffee shop,  another patron sparks my interest – perhaps their appearance, or their manner intrigues me, and so I make note of that, thinking they might appear in a story or poem sometime down the road ( when I have time to “really write”).

This collection of ideas and thoughts become like a recipe book for my writing.  Combined with structure and grammar, they are the ingredients for the stories I’d like to tell. But putting them all together into an edible product is not as simple as methodically placing them onto the page.  They need what a cook might call a binding agent, something that links them together –  the focal point of what you’re trying to say.

Your writing recipe also requires flavor, something to spice up the goop of ingredients you’ve stirred up.  Spice comes from the details – saying your father liked cars is bland and ordinary.  Saying that he spent every Sunday afternoon washing and waxing his powder blue ’57 Chevy, rubbing it tenderly with soft, worn out cotton t-shirts, creates a much tastier sentence.

Look through your writers notebook (of course you have one by now, right?) and make a list of all the ingredients you’ve jotted down.  Is there anything that binds them together, a common thread which you might use to link some of these ideas into a coherent piece of writing?  Are there ways you can add more details to spice up your ideas?

Subject Matter

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Sometimes we sit down to write and can’t think of anything to write about. Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg

It’s true, isn’t it? Sometimes ideas for writing flow fast and furious.  Have you noticed this often happens when you’re in the midst of something entirely unrelated to writing – like mopping the floor, walking the dog, taking a shower?  Times when it’s hard to get your hands on a pencil and paper to jot those ideas down.  Finally, having stolen those precious few minutes we talked about last week, you sit down before the blank screen and nothing comes to mind.

Nada.

Keep a list of writing ideas and prompts in the back of your notebook or on a separate document in the writing folder on your computer.  These can be ideas you’ve come up with on your own during those times when the muse is working overtime, or prompts from favorite writing books or websites.  Don’t spend too much time reading the list – just pick an idea and start writing for 10 minutes.  You’ll be surprised what happens.

Here’s a list to get you started, courtesy of one of my favorite writing books, Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg:

  1. Begin with “I remember.”  Make a list of small memories, or fall into one large memory.  Don’t be concerned with whether the memory that first occurs to you happened 10 minutes or 10 years ago.  Delve into it and see what develops;
  2. Describe your morning routine in as much detail as possible.  Make the reader feel as if they’ve been there with you;
  3. Visualize a place you really love and write about it so the reader will understand why you love it;
  4. Write about learning to do something you thought you’d never master but did;
  5. Open a book of poetry, pick a line, write it down, and then continue writing, in prose or poetry;
  6. Write about leaving – leaving home, leaving a relationship, leaving the coffee shop yesterday morning.

 

Research Material

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Research is formalized curiosity.  It is poking and prying with a purpose.  ~Zora Neale Hurston

I’ve been reading a mystery series based on a character named Maisie Dobbs, a young woman investigator/psychologist who practices in London during the years just after World War I.  The author, Jacqueline Winspear, developed an interest in this era after hearing about her grandfather’s experiences in that war, and how he was affected by shell shock.  The novels are extremely well researched, and each one illuminates many interesting aspects of society and culture during this particular time in history.

Writing – even fiction writing – often involves research.  If you have a particular interest in a subject  or historical era,  you’ll need research to help you create an accurate portrayal in your story or essay.  Sometimes the research itself will give you ideas for writing.   As you read through newspapers and magazines, see if something sparks your interest, or plants the seed of an idea or character.

Research is not just for term papers.  It can provide fresh material for all kinds of writing

 

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