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Finding your Muse (repost)

I’ve been pretty busy this week. Lots of reading and working on my new website–but more on that later. I wanted to repost one of my favorite posts from a series I did based on Stephen King’s novel, Duma Key. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it.


Excerpt from Duma Key by Stephen King:

How to Draw a Picture (Part 5)

Don’t be afraid to experiment; find your muse and let her lead you. As her talent grew stronger, Elizabeth’s muse became Noveen, the marvelous talking doll. Or so she thought. And by the time she discovered here mistake — by the time Noveen’s voice changed — it was too late. But at first it must have been wonderful. Finding one’s muse always is.

Must your muse be a person? Well, it certainly can be, but it doesn’t have to be.

Your muse can be the questions you need answered or pain you want to make sense of. It can be the parts of your life you’ve just glanced over but never really delved into. Your children’s future can be your muse; your own peace of mind.

In short, your muse is what inspires you to create when you’re not feeling particularly creative; to work when you’d rather sleep, to promote yourself when you’d rather just find a quiet place to hide away from the world.

So, what drives me to create? Different things in different circumstances. But if I’m being honest (and I usually am), what drives me is the something my dad told me over and over as a child. Before I get into this, I need to tell you that my dad and I have a very good relationship now, and I don’t hold any ill will towards him. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. But I digress…

His philosophy was anything worth doing is worth doing well. Which I believe is a true and noble directive. His paraphrasing of that expression is what has caused me to struggle with overcoming some obstacles, the biggest of which was self doubt. I still struggle with that. I think we all do to a certain extent. So, what were my dad’s exact words? These:

“If you going to do something half-ass, don’t do it at all!”

Adults often make the mistake of assuming children think the way they do. When I heard that statement, my first thought was, “Okay. I won’t do it at all.” So things that were difficult for me I simply avoided. I convinced myself that I wasn’t really good at anything. But God knew better. I suppose I’m a bit of a later bloomer. I didn’t really know what I was good at creatively until my thirties. I spent a whole lot of years simply existing, not living. But somewhere along the line a passion for art in many forms was ignited. It’s scary, and difficult at times, but living is so much more fulfilling than existing, don’t you think?

So…find your muse yet?

The thing about writing


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Writer. Me? Hmm…not so sure about that. More like someone who pushes ideas out of her head. Sometimes they land on paper or onto a computer screen,

other times in a brain storming session.

(This waffle pic ended up on the front of a worship CD.)

Then again, these ideas might find themselves on a canvas…

or a wall…

a piece of furniture…


or even a plastic container…

Then there are times when ideas get a bit scrambled on the way out and result in the removal of a windowsill or three by means of a powerful reciprocal saw. But I digress…

The thing about writing—good writing—is it has to be honest. You can’t hide behind technical brilliance or clever sentence structure. These things help convey a better story, but they don’t make the story. You do. Being honest with yourself can be scary. Being honest with yourself with the world reading along can be downright terrifying.

Your story doesn’t have to be factually accurate. Some of the most honest writing is the truth wrapped carefully within a fictional tale. But it shines through in the very best writing.

So today, I want to recognize all of you brave souls whose truth shines through your words—in your poetry, your short stories, your candid observations and even your sarcasm and parody.

Thank you. Reading your truths gives me courage to share my own.

Reading Backwards


I’ve spent the better part of the past two days going through, line by line, the final page proofs of a novel which will be released later this year.

All told, I have read this book ten times. The first time I read it as it was being sent to me in parts – chapter by chapter – from a then un-agented writer with dreams of publication. What a difference a year makes.

I’ve lost count of how many edits it’s been through, but the stack of paper sitting in front of me represents countless hours of hard work and attention to detail.

When I received an email from the author asking if I would help with the final proofreading, I was a bit surprised this would be necessary. As I’ve said, I have read and re-read this book several times, and I’m not the only one. People who actually know what they’re doing – people like published authors, agents and professional editors have read through it as well.

But this was it. The last chance to catch any errors before it goes to press. So, I tried a novel approach (pun intended). I read the book backwards.

It was near perfect. A few very minor typos somehow missed in all the previous readings. I think reading it backwards forced me to read the words rather than the story.

Because when a wonderful story is written, we tend to get caught up in it. We see what we want to see. We’re mesmerized and taken away from the day to day. That’s what a good story should do. Reading it backwards forced me to take a more critical eye to the details, the imperfections I missed while I was following the story.

But it also did something else. It made me see the beauty of the small moments, which when strung together by the pen of a great storyteller combine to make the whole of the book more meaningful and compelling.

Such is life.

Each day we have the opportunity to turn the page. We can look back, recognize the flaws and try to correct them, Remembering our lives are made up of small moments, of different chapters. We can learn to live in the moments as the story unfolds. It’s best not to skip ahead or attempt to find out what lies ahead.

Because our stories are still being written. And the Master Storyteller has already assured me of my Happily Ever After.

***

Speaking of writers, Part Two of Billy Coffey’s interview by Linda Yezak will be posted on Author Culture today. Y’all should check it out.

The Honest Stain of Truth (by Amy Sorrells)


Last month I introduced you to Amy Sorrells. If you missed that post, you can find it here. In case any of you are still wondering, “What’s so special about Amy Sorrells?”, I invite you to read the following post from her and see for yourselves:

Professor Moore* looked like Jabba the Hut, jowls of flesh hanging over the collar of his shirt. He watched, smirking, as other co-eds and I jockeyed for seats around the long conference table, Professor’s preferred room arrangement for this, our first college creative writing class.

Until I met Professor, I could always count on my writing pleasing teachers and professors. But assignment after assignment came back with haphazard red-pen scratches. I imagined Professor held my paper for a brief moment before tossing aside.

Professor enjoyed two things: making students cry and picking favorites. I landed in the first group, and was left out of the second like a scrawny girl in a middle school dodge ball game during gym class.

The class favorites wrote about sex, of course, and they wrote about it often. Though I lamented my mediocre scores, I refused to write about something so sacred just for him.

One fateful morning, my alarm clock malfunctioned and I was late for Professor’s class. When I arrived, he stopped class and laid into me with a barrage of insults. On and on he spat about how lazy, irresponsible and stupid I was, daring to enter his class late. Too hurt to hold back tears but to proud to leave, I stayed for the whole class.

My notebook was a soggy mess.

That day, I resolved to please Professor–if not shock the hell out of him–with my writing.

And I did.

I wrote a short story full of violence and deceit, sex and betrayal, blood and fine champagne.

The story disgusted me.

Professor loved it.

I hated Professor for a long time after that.

Years later, I realized my sordid short story paralleled scars of abuse from my childhood. The rage I felt toward Professor was a pivotal breakthrough from flowery, Pollyannic prose, and the beginning of my journey of writing hard, writing real and learning to write well.

I can’t say I agree with Professors tactics.

But I might understand, now, what he was trying to do.

See, good writing involves daring to go to deep and frightening places. Like John Coffey–the man who breathed light and life into dead things in The Green Mile–hearts come alive when we breathe into still and long-forgotten places.

Words become life when writers allow the pen to pull them places no one else wants to go.

Like leper colonies, places in the soul exist where fear hangs like shadows, veiling what we don’t understand and shielding us from disease and pain. And yet, the only way to be real and alive is to allow the pen to touch diseased and painful places.

It is the unsought job of the writer to burst through the gates of leper colonies . . . to run to those who are bandaged and losing limbs . . . to embrace those who smell like rotting flesh . . . and to caress touch-starved hearts until they stop trembling and maybe, just maybe, believe in life again.

Good writers learn to distinguish the honest stain of truth from pencil scratches on paper.

Good writers learn the events in life which enslave us are the ones which set us free.

Good writers endure hours–even days–of depression that come when the pen finds fragile, tender places.

Good writers touch ugly, diseased places, in order to touch ugly, diseased places of others.

Good writers allow the pen to pull them.

To set even one person free.

*This name has been changed for obvious reasons, although I do believe this professor is dead, and has been for quite some time.

***

To read more from Amy you can visit her website: Amy K. Sorrells

on twitter: @amysorrells

and Facebook: Amy K. Sorrells

The Honest Stain of Truth (by Amy Sorrells)


Last month I introduced you to Amy Sorrells. If you missed that post, you can find it here. In case any of you are still wondering, “What’s so special about Amy Sorrells?”, I invite you to read the following post from her and see for yourselves:

Professor Moore* looked like Jabba the Hut, jowls of flesh hanging over the collar of his shirt. He watched, smirking, as other co-eds and I jockeyed for seats around the long conference table, Professor’s preferred room arrangement for this, our first college creative writing class.

Until I met Professor, I could always count on my writing pleasing teachers and professors. But assignment after assignment came back with haphazard red-pen scratches. I imagined Professor held my paper for a brief moment before tossing aside.

Professor enjoyed two things: making students cry and picking favorites. I landed in the first group, and was left out of the second like a scrawny girl in a middle school dodge ball game during gym class.

The class favorites wrote about sex, of course, and they wrote about it often. Though I lamented my mediocre scores, I refused to write about something so sacred just for him.

One fateful morning, my alarm clock malfunctioned and I was late for Professor’s class. When I arrived, he stopped class and laid into me with a barrage of insults. On and on he spat about how lazy, irresponsible and stupid I was, daring to enter his class late. Too hurt to hold back tears but to proud to leave, I stayed for the whole class.

My notebook was a soggy mess.

That day, I resolved to please Professor–if not shock the hell out of him–with my writing.

And I did.

I wrote a short story full of violence and deceit, sex and betrayal, blood and fine champagne.

The story disgusted me.

Professor loved it.

I hated Professor for a long time after that.

Years later, I realized my sordid short story paralleled scars of abuse from my childhood. The rage I felt toward Professor was a pivotal breakthrough from flowery, Pollyannic prose, and the beginning of my journey of writing hard, writing real and learning to write well.

I can’t say I agree with Professors tactics.

But I might understand, now, what he was trying to do.

See, good writing involves daring to go to deep and frightening places. Like John Coffey–the man who breathed light and life into dead things in The Green Mile–hearts come alive when we breathe into still and long-forgotten places.

Words become life when writers allow the pen to pull them places no one else wants to go.

Like leper colonies, places in the soul exist where fear hangs like shadows, veiling what we don’t understand and shielding us from disease and pain. And yet, the only way to be real and alive is to allow the pen to touch diseased and painful places.

It is the unsought job of the writer to burst through the gates of leper colonies . . . to run to those who are bandaged and losing limbs . . . to embrace those who smell like rotting flesh . . . and to caress touch-starved hearts until they stop trembling and maybe, just maybe, believe in life again.

Good writers learn to distinguish the honest stain of truth from pencil scratches on paper.

Good writers learn the events in life which enslave us are the ones which set us free.

Good writers endure hours–even days–of depression that come when the pen finds fragile, tender places.

Good writers touch ugly, diseased places, in order to touch ugly, diseased places of others.

Good writers allow the pen to pull them.

To set even one person free.

*This name has been changed for obvious reasons, although I do believe this professor is dead, and has been for quite some time.

***

To read more from Amy you can visit her website: Amy K. Sorrells

on twitter: @amysorrells

and Facebook: Amy K. Sorrells

Good Writing – A Writer’s Toolbox


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You might be asking yourself what business I have writing a post about how to write well. That is a valid question to which I have no satisfactory answer except this: I love the craft of writing and I think I recognize good writing, even great writing when I read it. I also think I have the ability to recognize potentially good writing. So here we are… (If you think those are flimsy qualifications please feel free to stop reading now.)

One of the fringe benefits of being Billy Coffey’s website administrator is that I get to read his stories before everyone else does. Last month, Billy wrote a post called Finding Success about Malcom Gladwell’s book The Outliers. Before his final draft was posted, I recall a rather long email exchange with Billy in which we were on opposite sides of the “Is it fair?” debate.

Billy’s contention was that everyone should get an equal opportunity to be successful; that luck and circumstances should not be factors. I countered with the argument that very few people are simply lucky. Behind every overnight success story you will find talent, time, hard work, determination and sweat equity. He still doesn’t think it’s fair, which is ironic because he is no stranger to any of the qualities it takes to make your own breaks. (He had also never heard of the term “sweat equity”, but I digress…) Many people will read his writing and remark, “God has blessed him with a very special gift.” And while I’ll be the first person to agree, I also know it’s not enough. Billy has done his homework. He pays attention and he possesses the basic tools which are required for good writing. His writer’s tool box is well equipped.

Excerpt from On Writing by Stephen King:
“I am a approaching the heart of this book with two theses, both simple. The first is that good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) and then filling the third level of your toolbox with the right instruments. The second is that while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

I believe there are very few great writers, but there are many good and potentially good ones. If you consider yourself to be in the aforementioned group, how well is your toolbox stocked? Do you have a mastery of the essentials? Writing rules, as with many rules, can be broken. But you must know the rules first.


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If you don’t already have the following books in your writer’s toolbox, I would highly recommend them:

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White
On Writing by Stephen King
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

There are a few good books about the craft of writing. (There are also many not-so good books about writing.) I’ll share some of those with you in subsequent posts. In the meantime, I wanted to share another excerpt from Mr. King. (In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan.):

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind or heart. You can come to the act with your fist clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

Wash the car, maybe.

Another Allegory (by Jeff Holton)


I love the blog carnival. It introduces me to the writing of so many great folks here on the internets that I might have otherwise missed. I suppose this bi-monthly extravaganza has become Bridget Chumbley and Peter Pollock’s bloggy equivalent of Kevin Bacon. That’s how I first came across Jeff Holton…

Jeff Holton is an instructional designer in the San Francisco Bay Area. He works full time, teaches high school Sunday School, lives with his wife and two young children, and still somehow manages to find time to blog at Big Planet. Small World. Once publicly maligned by the religion editor of Newsweek, he still nonetheless spends far too much time identifying other people’s typos. He has never climbed Mt. Everest, and most likely never will. And he’s okay with that.

Jeff sent me a story that he wrote way back on November 30, 1993. An oldie, but a goody!


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A friend of Sigmund Freud once asked the psychoanalytical theorist if his almost constantly present cigar was a phallic symbol that somehow connected with a repressed oral fixation. Siggy responded, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Keep that in mind.

The lake shimmered seductively in the high summer sun.

He sat on the dock with his legs dangling over the side, his toes just dipping into the water below. He wiggled his feet a little, causing tiny ripples to emanate from the center of the disturbance. She sat next to him.

“My feet won’t reach,” she said, as she turned to him with a smile. “My legs are too short.”

He quickly turned to her and exclaimed, “Good!”

“Good?” She looked puzzled. “Why good?”

“Think about it,” he began. “What is this?”

She adopted a tone of voice that was slightly condescending as she stated the obvious. “It’s two people sitting on a dock just off the shore of a lake in the summertime.”

“No, no, no. I don’t mean that. I mean much more generally, what is this?” he asked again.

“Um…it’s a story?” she answered, seeking approval.

“Exactly. And what kind of story?”

“Um…fiction.” She thought for a moment and then added, “You know, you’re really ruining the suspension of disbelief by having the characters admit that they’re not real.”

“Just hang in there for a few minutes. You’ll get the point,” he said.

“How do you know?” she asked.

He responded with a wink, “I asked the author.”

“Anyway, getting back to my question,” she remembered, as the stream of consciousness returned to its origin, “why good?”

“Oh, yeah. Well, in fiction, what does water represent?”

“You’re sick!”

“Just answer the question, for the sake of the readers.”

“Alright,” she took a deep breath, not wanting to say this. “It represents repressed sexuality. It has Freudian overtones.”

“Precisely. So you see, you’re not supposed to be able to touch the water. Women in fiction represent purity and innocence.”

“Oh, and I suppose you’re playing the part of the typical macho male jerk?!”

“Not exactly, I–“

She shot to her feet, stood up, and exclaimed, “Alright Mr. Know- It-All! Let’s see how you respond to this!” Throwing aside all moral symbolism, she dove headfirst into the lake, and as she surfaced, reminded him that she didn’t know how to swim. “It’s freezing in here, and I’m going to drown,” she said calmly, “but realize that if you jump in to save me, the implications will be easily spotted by the educated reader.”

He looked up and down the length of the dock for any sort of life preserver, but there was none to be found. This was going to have to be an unprotected rescue. (Apparently, they often are when they are done in the heat of passion.) Being the archetypical hero, he bravely shook free of all convictions which hindered his necessary and heroic actions, and dove in headfirst in a magnificently graceful arc to save the young lady.

Later, as they lay on their backs on the dock drying off in the slowly sinking summer sun, she said, “I can’t believe you did that. I can’t believe you dove in headfirst and sacrificed all your morality and purity in such a foolish motion. Do you realize that the reader will never again be able to respect you as the protagonist of this story?”

“Honey?” he said, with a tone of voice that showed he was obviously quite annoyed with her.

“Yes, dear?” she said, bracing herself for an argument.

“Sometimes a lake is just a lake.”

***

To read more from Jeff Holton, visit him at Big Planet, Small World and follow him on the twitter at @JeffHolton.

There’s somone I’d like you to meet…


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I have often heard the prompting from the Holy Spirit described as “the small, still voice within.” And while I have no doubt this is the case for countless people, that small, still voice within me has too often been drowned out by a brain that is typically going in at least ten different directions. Fast.

So when I do hear that voice, I listen carefully. Ten months ago, after reading a post (and leaving a snarky yet adorable comment) on a little blog called “What I Learned Today”, that voice was clear and persistent. He said, “Offer to help this writer. His words will encourage others and will draw them to Me.” And that’s what I did. It’s what I continue to do.

I have used this blog to share stories, random silliness and the occasional rant, but one of my favorite things about HLAC is that it affords me the opportunity to share space with other voices – better voices – many of them accomplished or aspiring authors.

I have “met” some great people through this blog; cultivated wonderful, real friendships and have been blessed to read the words of some amazing writers. I have done my best to be an encourager (albeit a sarcastic one) to those whose paths I’ve crossed. I’m fairly certain this is part of what I’m supposed to be doing here. (Or so the small, still voice keeps telling me.)

But until a few weeks ago, I haven’t heard that persistent, clear voice quite so loudly. So when I did, I paid attention. Again. This time He said, “Her story needs to be told. It’s important, and I want you to help make sure that happens. Help her, too.”

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m paying attention and I’m being obedient.

For those of you who are not yet familiar with Amy Sorrells, it is my pleasure to introduce you to her.

She’s an absolute doll, and an incredibly gifted writer to boot. And no, Amy, I’m not just saying that because I have an affinity for hillbillies. Although, I gotta say, it doesn’t hurt!

Amy got “The Call” recently from literary agent Rachelle Gardner (Who just happens to be Billy Coffey’s agent. Which is awesome because now I can bug her even more.) and is currently working on her first “non-fiction narrative” which is not at all boring even though “non-fiction narrative” sounds kinda boring to me…But it’s not. Because I read the proposal and it’s excellent.

You will be hearing much more from Amy Sorrells in the near future. In the meantime, you can follow her story at

her website: Amy K. Sorrells

on twitter: @amysorrells

and Facebook: Amy K. Sorrells

Now go say “Hi” for me, will you?

More Blogging about Writing


In case you missed it, I wrote my first and only guest post for What I Learned Today last week, On Writing and Blogging. Over the past seven months or so, I’ve learned much about the business of writing. Fascinating stuff.

More fascinating still is the craft of writing. I’ve never doubted that it is an art form, I just never understood the importance of the rules. Rules that are allowed to be broken, but only if you know what they are in the first place. Clearly, I break the rules without even knowing it. Sometimes I stumble upon writing a decent story, but I think it is exceedingly rare to find a writer with any staying power who is just winging it.

One of the cardinal rules of writing is that a writer must read. Even reading bad writing has its merits, because it reminds us of what not to do. Ah, but good writing? Good writing inspires us and nourishes our souls. It challenges us to be better writers. Or at the very least, a more appreciative audience.

If you are an aspiring writer (and seriously – who isn’t these days?) I would highly recommend On Writing by Stephen King. It is the best book about the craft of writing I’ve ever read. (Note: It is also the only book about the craft of writing I’ve ever read.) This is my blog, and I want to sound as if I know what I’m talking about. Please play along.

The best part of this book? It’s just plain honest. A trait I subscribe to all great writing. Here’s a brief excerpt:

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind or heart. You can come to the act with your fist clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

Wash the car, maybe.

Which only reiterates the point of my guest post for Billy Coffey. I am a blogger who writes. Some day I may venture out into deeper waters, but for now I think I’ll just keep to the shallow end with only the occasional swim out to the deep. Stay tuned.

Blogger/Writer or Writer/Blogger?

“Talent is a wonderful thing, but it won’t carry a quitter. And there always comes a time–if the work is sincere, if it comes from that magic place where thought, memory, and emotion all merge–when you will want to quit, when you will think that if you put your pencil down your eye will dull, your memory will lapse, and the pain will end.” – Stephen King, Duma Key

Question: Are you a writer who blogs or a blogger who writes?

I invite you to follow me over to What I Learned Today and join in the conversation.

What? Why would Billy Coffey ask me to write a post on his blog? Who says he did?

Having admin rights has its privileges! Mwh, ha ha!

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