Tag Archives: writing

E is for Excuses

“Your will has to be stronger than your excuses. Your will has to be stronger than your fear.”
― Bryant McGill, Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life

Excuses, excuses, excuses. Yes, I have plenty of them.

My excuses for not writing are endless. I’m going through a letting go process right now and it hurts like hell. I’ve spent the last several months sorting through years’ worth of stuff (I’m hesitant to say “junk” because not all of it is or was) as I prepared for a garage sale and putting up my house for sale. Talk about stress. I reread old journals, short stories, and love letters I either wrote or received before tossing into the trash. I cried as I uncovered my children’s old toys and baby clothes, pining for the time when they were little and I was young. When I told a friend how I missed the days when my girls were babies she laughed and said, “Hell, I don’t. I’m ready for my kids to graduate from college and start supporting themselves.”

The garage sale is over and the house sold before it ever went on the market. So, what’s my excuse now? I’m packing and preparing for the big move. Even before all this, I had been feeling stuck in a rut, questioning my abilities, my purpose. Now fear and guilt lurk over my shoulder whenever I allow my mind to wander. What if I’m making a mistake moving now? I’ve lived in the same house for 25 years, filled it with love and memories. I’m only blocks away from my aging parents. I can be at their house in less than five minutes if they should need me. My sister resides in the same town so they won’t be alone, but still . . . Three years ago, when my husband and I made the decision to move once he retired, my parents were doing fine. Now their health is declining and I’m filled with guilt. Lyrics pop into my head and haunt me while I sleep: “Should I stay or should I go?”

But now there is no turning back.

With these thoughts swirling around my brain is it any wonder I have trouble concentrating and thinking about what to write? Which leads to my excuses for continuing to smoke.

I’ve quit smoking so many times I’ve lost count. I quit for two years when pregnant with my oldest daughter. Back then, my excuse for starting back was my divorce from her father. The longest I’ve stopped was six years, before and after my pregnancy with my youngest daughter. Why I ever started again is beyond me. I have no good excuse. I quit recently for two months but a mini-breakdown drove me to the store to buy a pack and puff away. My daughters have a saying, “Mom doesn’t quit smoking. She just takes breaks.”

I have excuses for pretty much everything in my life. I guess we all do. At least these excuses led to me writing today.

There is always a perfectly good excuse, always a reason not to. The hardest freedom to win is the freedom from one’s excuses. ~Robert Brault

“The trick is not how much pain you feel-but how much joy you feel. Any idiot can feel pain.
Life is full of excuses to feel pain, excuses not to live, excuses, excuses, excuses.” Erica Jong

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When to Cut and Run

No, my blog isn’t dead. At least, not yet. I haven’t written in quite some time. My excuses are many.

First, it’s the holidays! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all that jazz. I know, I know, I haven’t written since April, I think, so I can’t use the holidays as an excuse. But I do sincerely wish everyone all the best and a happier New Year.

I have been writing, just nothing worth sharing yet. I’ve started on three short stories, none of which have a decent beginning or ending. I used to write short stories all the time, many years ago, but they kept growing longer and longer. That’s why I switched to writing novels. But it seems I need to publish more short stories in order to sell myself as a novelist. Frustrating.

I’m editing my thesis novel Daughter of the Bride (again) and have been for what seems like a very long time. Well, since graduating in June. It would be helpful if I trusted my own instinct, but I don’t. I hired an editor who made many valuable suggestions. I didn’t use all her ideas, but most. So I added and deleted scenes and wound up with over 95,000 words. I asked my writer friend Marla to read it. She had some great advice, too, some of which helped me remove scenes my editor had already advised cutting, but I had stubbornly refused. Now, after struggling with what many writers call “killing my darlings,” I’m deleting more scenes. I’m searching for overused words, too, which is enough to drive anyone crazy.  {Little side note of trivia: the lesser-known Arthur Quiller-Couch coined the term “Murder your darlings” in his 1914 lecture “On Style” (slate.com)}.

The following is a sampling of words and the number of times they appear in my manuscript:

was-733, were-199, when-180, adter-115, once-72, while-102

turned-91, stood-65,went-37, moved-39, seemed-30, appeared-30,

looked-178, glanced-75, stared-58, gazed-29, watched-62, peeked-15,

peered-19, squinted-7,just-81, well-53, oh-46, sighed-39, shrugged-23.

I could go on and on, but I won’t bore you with numbers. But you get the idea. I could go on and on with the word search and count, too, and drive myself insane! Or in my case, further insane. It’s addicting, playing with words, finding ways to replace them with something better. What I want to know is when do you stop the searching and thumbing through the thesaurus? How many times do you have to use a word before it is considered overused?

I’m down to a little over 82,000 words. I wonder. Is it time cut some more or run for the insane asylum? What would you do?

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Graduation Vacation

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My family: Miranda, Dean and Morgan.

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So I finally did it. This June I graduated with my M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. It’s been a dream of mine for over twenty years. Why did it take me so long? Well, while I was raising my children and teaching full-time I never had the money or the time. Tuition isn’t cheap and teaching small children is mentally and physically exhausting.

Going back to school, especially at SNHU, was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. I worked with the most talented writers, my wonderful mentors Jacquelyn Mitchard, Katherine Towler, and Ann Wertz Garvin. There were many more I would have loved to work with if only the program lasted another two years: Wiley Cash, Mitch Wieland, and Craig Childs, just to name a few. I recommend this low residency program to all who are serious about their writing. I had so much fun while honing my skills.

New Hampshire is such a lovely state with some of the nicest people. After graduation, my family and I took a vacation while there. We went to beautiful Portsmouth. Everywhere we looked history was preserved in this pristine seaside town. One of my friends, Sophia Easterly, also a SNHU grad, played our tour guide. I’ll attach some photographs to give you a little taste. We went to Strawberry Banke and back to Star Island for a farewell visit. My husband and daughters wouldn’t mind living in the “Live Free or Die” state if it wasn’t for the harsh winters. We’re from West Texas where it rarely gets below freezing. After we returned from our trip we visited Norman, Oklahoma, where my daughters live. It was lush and green there, too, though hotter than New Hampshire. Once back home we arrived to dry heat of over one hundred degrees. Now we’re looking forward to retirement and moving away from here. I could handle Oklahoma and living closer to my girls.

Now that I’ve graduated and completed my novel, what next? It’s time to find an agent. I have two editors who’ve said they’re interested in my YA novel Daughter of the Bride. With one a smaller publisher, I wouldn’t necessarily need an agent, but my published writer friends have warned it is essential to have an agent to protect my interests. So while I’m waiting for news on possible (nothing is guaranteed) publication, it’s time to seek out that special agent.

In the meantime, I’ll work on a sequel and dream of greener pastures.

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Portsmouth sunset.

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Downtown Portsmouth.

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Sophia and Steve showing us the gardens at Strawberry Banke.

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The Art of Alice Munro’s Fiction

The novel Lives of Girls and Women, though considered more of a series of connected short stories by many, is loosely based on the author Alice Munro’s childhood and adolescence, and chronicles the early life of Del Jordan, the narrator whose first name doesn’t appear until page 49 in chapter two.  Each self-contained chapter reveals a year in the life of this amazingly bright young girl and the eccentric people who inhabit her small town world.  Munro’s writing is full of intricate descriptions of landscapes and people, wonderful and witty one-liners, and complex sentences that reveal the mood of the characters surrounding Del’s ordinary, yet interesting life.

I enjoyed the book so much I found it difficult to narrow down the great quotable material that exists throughout.  Starting with chapter one, “The Flat Roads,” Munro opens with wonderful descriptions of the countryside outside the town of Jubilee, of Uncle Benny, the first of many interesting characters, and gives one of her many clever one-liners.   The first one appears on page one about Uncle Benny.  “He was not our uncle, or anybody’s.”  It made me want to read further to find out who this man was and how he was related to the narrator.  He turns out to be a neighbor who marries a young crazy woman after answering a classified advertisement in the newspaper (Hum, sounds vaguely familiar, like something I’m currently working on).  Then Del shares her opinion of her Uncle Craig, who really is her uncle.  She doesn’t really care what he thinks of her because his “Masculine self-centeredness made him restful to be with” (35).

In chapter four “Age of Faith,” a powerful part of Del’s journey toward womanhood, includes her curiosity about spirituality and religion, a common pursuit for many as they mature.  Or at least, it was for me and my daughters.  After my parents became disillusioned with their church, I started attending church with various friends and explored the many options before deciding I was more spiritual than religious.  I related to the narrator when she said, “I realized that I did not care a great deal . . . about Christ dying for our sins.  I only wanted God.  But if Christ dying for our sins was the avenue to God, I would work on it” (119).  My daughters, too, went through a similar phase, attending church with their friends, searching for answers to such questions Del asked, like “If He made everything the way He wanted it then nothing was to blame for being the way it was, and this more or less threw out, didn’t it, the whole idea of sin?”(121).   My eldest was even talked into being baptized, though later she said she didn’t really understand why.   Del, strong character that she is, wasn’t one to be talked into being baptized or doing anything she didn’t want or understand.  Here’s another great one-liner that came from this chapter: “Seeing somebody have faith, close up, is no easier than seeing someone chop a finger off” (128).

Not only does Munro write great one-liners, but also sentences that contain life’s ambiguities by presenting contradictory statements such as how Del felt as she read magazines similar to today’s “National Enquirer.”  “I was bloated and giddy with revelations of evil, of its versatility and grand invention and horrific playfulness” (8).  And another example is the description of her mother and aunts.  Their differences are highlighted with poetic precision.  “My mother’s disapproval was open and unmistakable, like heavy weather; theirs came like tiny razor cuts, bewilderingly, in the middle of kindness.  They had the Irish gift for rampaging mockery, embroidered with deference” (43).  When her aunts give her Uncle Craig’s manuscripts about the history of Wawanash County (spell-check thought the word “Wawanash” should be “womanish” which I thought funny and appropriate) and their family genealogy, Del feels “remorse, that kind of tender remorse which has on its side a brutal, unblemished satisfaction” (71).

There are great descriptions of the inner-workings of women in this story, especially of her mother. “Sometimes my mother would assemble everybody to look at the sunset, just as if it was something she had arranged to put on” (27).  Her mother’s relationship with her sister-in-laws, Del’s aunts, is even more interesting.  “My mother went along straight lines.  Aunt Elsperth and Auntie Grace wove in and out around her, retreating and disappearing and coming back, slippery and soft-voice and indestructible.  She pushed them out of her way as if they were cobwebs . . .” (42-43).  Chapter three “Princess Ida” is devoted entirely to Del’s mother, who is based on Munro’s mother because she is her “central material in life, and it always comes the most readily” to her (Paris Review, 6).

After reading Lives of Girls and Women, I found myself liking its author Alice Munro, and while reading an interview in the Paris Review, I felt a connection with the writer.  Three words that come to mind when thinking of her are humble, refreshing, and reassuring.  Her interviewers stated that even with her “considerable accomplishments, Munro still speaks of writing with some of the reverence and insecurity one hears in the voices of beginners” (1).  Munro admits to being “the opposite of a writer with a quick gift” though you would never know it by reading her material.  Her process of writing takes time as does mine.  I understand exactly how she feels, and was reassured knowing I’m not alone, when she says she might think she’s done well one day, and then feel depressed and “on edge” the next because she thinks her writing isn’t going well and she’s not sure if she has it in her to complete her work (7-8).  She steers “clear of the literary world” because, as she puts it, she “grew up on a margin,” “out of any mainstream” and she “knew there was something about the great writers” she “felt shut out from” (17-18).  Because she has lived an ordinary domesticated life as a housewife and mother, she was intimidated by literary writers “who understood a lot more . . . about what they were doing.  And talked a lot about it.  And were confident in a way that would be acknowledged to have a more solid basis than” hers, because her “writing wasn’t fancy” (18).  As I’m reading her interview, I’m saying, “Yes, yes, yes, I can relate.” (Even her writing schedule is the same as mine!)  I know exactly what she means, and I would have never thought her this way by reading her novel.  Her lack of confidence ironically gives me more confidence.  If she can do it, maybe I can, too.  And though I may never write as well or accomplish as much as Munro, I certainly plan on reading more of her work.

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Back to School

I haven’t posted a blog in some time—I missed the whole month of May—mainly because I’ve been busy working on my novel and other assignments for school.  But now that I’ve completed my second semester at SNHU I have a little time before the third semester begins.

I came as close to a nervous breakdown as one can without having to be committed to an asylum with my last assignment.  I spent almost three weeks on writing and perfecting three chapters—I’m what some call a diamond polisher—when suddenly my files were corrupted.  I don’t know how or why, but they were erased.  Stupid me, I had not printed the thirty plus pages nor had I saved them on anything other than my flash drive.   These pages were due in a week in a half.  I’ve never missed an assignment.  In fact, I’m usually ahead of schedule, not because I’m a perfectionist, but because I like to get things out of the way.  I don’t like anything hanging over my head.  Well, for two days I cried over my lost chapters.  I felt like everything I touched I screwed up.  When I opened the refrigerator door and a jar of tartar sauce shattered across my kitchen floor, I lost it completely.  After I made it past my crying jag and the swelling in my eyes went down, I started over.  I didn’t think I could rewrite those chapters, especially in a weeks’ time.  I surprised myself, but it was painful.  I did it in three days.  They probably aren’t as good as the original ones, but I’ll never know.  Since then I’ve gotten a back-up system in place and I print everything I write.  I’m not going to worry about saving paper and ink anymore; it’s not worth it.  I have about 75 pages left to go to complete my novel and I’m feeling stuck.  It started out as historical fiction, but since my protagonist is a teenager my mentors, Best-Selling Author Jacquelyn Mitchard and Katie Towler, think it will sell as a Young Adult.  Does that mean I have to cut the sex scenes?  I hope not.

In one week I will be headed to New Hampshire to begin my third semester in the MFA in Creative Writing program.  We spend a few days on campus at SNHU and then the rest on Star Island.  I’m excited and look forward to seeing old friends and classmates.  I’ll try to post some pictures from last summer’s residency.  Wish me luck, because I tried earlier and nothing happened.   I’m still trying to figure out how to work things on Word Press.  A fellow student has promised to give me some pointers when I arrive in Manchester.  I hope the weather is cooler there than it is here—100 +.  In the meantime, I need to brainstorm an ending for my novel.  Hum, should I leave it as a cliff hanger?

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