Category: Musings

The Year in Review

I can’t believe 2017 is over.

Another year has slipped by.

On this last day of the year, I completed my fourth online writing course, The Craft of Style. I enjoyed not only the instruction, but the feedback on my stories from other students taking the courses.  If you’re a writer, you know how vulnerable story writing is. You can’t help but take criticism personally because your stories come from you, they are you.  But my skin is hardening (in a good way) and I am learning to receive constructive criticism and use it to make my writing better.

I’ve seen my writing stretch and grow so much with these courses.  The capstone course begins in March.  That class is several months long, as opposed to only one month, and the assignment is to write an entire short story.  Though I have been writing short stories all year, I am interested to learn more about the craft of writing a short story and getting feedback from my writing peers.

This was a good year for me.  I dusted off my goal of being a writer, this time for good.  I wrote over forty short stories this year and sent them out to be published. I haven’t been successful yet, but I know it’s coming.

I completed the 12 Short Stories Challenge over at 12shortstories.com.  I got a lot of great feedback from other writers and having a deadline each month helped keep me focused on writing every day.

In case you haven’t been following my blog, this challenge included getting a writing prompt each month with a specified word count.  You had one month to write your story.  On a specified date, you posted your story and other writers gave you feedback on it.  You, in turn, also gave feed back to other writers.

I got a lot of varied feedback on my stories.  I even wrote one on taking a knee, which had the most heated feedback of all.  But the fact that the feedback was so emotional means I did my job.

To really keep myself focused, I decided to make my own writing space in the living room. I found a Queen Anne writing desk on Craigslist and knew that I had to have it.  Something about it spoke to me. The woman that sold it to me was not only a Black woman like myself, but she is a published author.  That wasn’t a coincidence.  She told me that it was her mother’s desk and that it had good energy.  When I left, she told me to make her proud.  I plan to do just that.  This is my beauty shortly after I brought her home.  It’s much more…lived in….now.  Let’s just say it’s neat, but looks like a true writer’s desk complete with papers and lots of books everywhere.  But it’s my most happy place in the home.

 

That t-shirt there on the desk was my next accomplishment for 2017.  After a five year hiatus, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) again.  I finished a really cool novel about the ghost of an enslaved woman who haunts a farm house.  I won’t tell you much more because that is the book I am about to begin editing.  I plan on it being my first published book.  But, I digress.

NaNoWriMo is done during the month of November.  The challenge is to write 50,000 words in one month.  That’s 1,667 words every day, no excuses.  I had already been working on the concept of the novel I wanted to write, so NaNoWriMo was the perfect way to flesh it out into an actual completed first draft.  There’s a whole post about me finishing the challenge here.  But here’s a photo of me on the last day of November, with my NaNoWriMo winner’s shirt on.

Another goal I completed was this website.  I am a writer and will be a very successful published author with a huge, devoted following of readers.  What better way to hold myself accountable to that goal than an author website?

I’ve even posted some of the short stories I’ve written here.  For 2018, I will be writing a short story and posting it each Monday.  I already have some story concepts written out.  I think they will make for some every entertaining reading.  Get ready to meet Penelope Nithercott of Ottertail Falls.  That’s all I have to say about that. 🙂

You may know that I’m a voracious reader.  This year I read 75 books.  I’m pretty proud of that. This was the first year I actually kept track of how many I’ve read.  I never saw the point before because I am always reading.  But it was cool to set a goal and see if I could meet it.  I said I was going to read 70 books this year and exceeded that goal by five! I set my goal for 2018 to 85.  Yay, me!!!

So, it’s been a really productive year.  I haven’t been published yet, other than here on my own site, but I know without a doubt that’s happening in 2018.

I’m excited about what’s on the horizon for me.  Come and visit me here often! Enjoy the journey with me. Leave me comments, too! I’d love to know who’s out there keeping me company.  A writer’s life can be a little solitary sometimes.

Well, here’s to a prosperous 2018 filled with miracles, opportunities, and blessings big and bigger!

Until I write again!

 

 

 

She Cast Her Cares Upon the Sea

That is me at a beach in Rhode Island.  I was watching the sun set and visualizing the life I am creating for myself as a writer.  It was such an empowering moment for me.  Whenever I get discouraged or tired, I look at this picture and remember what the woman in it was thinking.

So, today I finished my second assignment of my fourth class in my writing cluster.  This class focuses on writing style.  The assignment was to write a 600-word short story with a beginning, middle, and end, focusing on nouns and verbs.  Basically, making every word count and evoke imagery and illicit an emotional response.  Below is my creation.

***

Little fires spread through her shoulders, an outward symptom of her inner turmoil. Thoughts of worry have gone from the quiet whisper of a small voice of doubt to the rowdy jeers of utter hopelessness. Nagging ruminations of failure scurry ruthlessly and without permission through the folded corridors of her brain, smearing her mind with their creativity-stifling venom.

When these stubborn, tiny villains of despair refused to be lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of her positive thoughts, she got in her car and zoomed to the ocean. She is not content to sit in her car. Dire situations of the mind call for up close and personal contact with the majestic powers of lapping waves.

She stomps down to the beach and with a dogged determination to quiet her mind, she plops down on the sand just beyond the reach of the sweeping waves. She leans back on her hands and lets the coarseness of the sand scratch through her fingers. She pulls the salty smell of the ocean in through her nose and traps it in her lungs, holding it hostage there until her lungs fight back and push the air back out through her mouth. Over and over she pulls the ocean’s air inside her body to let its powers ooze like a soothing balm over the places that need healing.

Her tear-filled eyes set their gaze on the sun as it slides down from the sky and perches for a fleeting moment on the horizon, casting a shimmering yellow brick road onto the water revealing the path to a land of hope just beyond the sun’s gleaming yellow orb. And the tiny fires that tensed her muscles are extinguished one by one and allow her shoulders to release their hunch. The tranquility of the waves making their swoosh, swish, swoosh sounds beckon the tears gathered in her eyes to make their final ascent down her face.  They accept the invitation as if they hope to become one with the ocean, be a part of something grand and beautiful and larger than themselves.

Her body is now under the spell of the ocean and the sunset beyond it. All thoughts of hopelessness are silent now and she is mesmerized by the sunset, gazing hypnotically into it as if it’s a crystal ball holding visions of the life she visualizes for herself within its magical sphere. With the last fleeting moments of daylight upon her, she nudges a pen and small notebook from her back pocket, and with great purpose she begins to scribble words onto the pages, hoping to get them all onto the paper before the day’s dusk dissolves into the blackness of the night. There was a haze of doubt that settled on her brain like low lying clouds hovering over a mountain’s peak. But as her hand moves from left to right across the page like the carriage of a typewriter, the haze dissipates and her thoughts become vivid and crisp. She dumps all her cares onto page after page, her fingers cramping as they try to keep pace with the flood of words pulsing from her brain down through her arm and into her hand. Then her hand halts.

Her soul is exhausted but also rejuvenated and empty. She rips the small pages from her notebook and presses them together. She tears them in half. Then, as the final glints of the sun melt into the horizon she slides the pieces of paper into the lapping waves and gives the ocean permission to dissolve them into nothingness.

***

I hope you enjoyed that piece.  I can see where my writing muscles are stretching and getting stronger.  I will be applying everything I’ve learned so far to my novel that I finished during NaNoWriMo.

In January, I will begin my personal edits of my novel.  Once I’ve touched it up the way I want it, I will find a professional editor to go through it to get it polished and ready to submit to publishing houses.

I’m also working on the outline and character sketches for my next novel.  Slow and steady wins the race, dear friends.

Until I write again….

 

 

 

A Fall Haiku

I love fall.  The colors actually take my breath away.  I was driving home and saw this tree standing out among a sea of green. I pulled over and took a picture and as I walked back to my car I wrote a haiku in my mind.

Sap returns to roots
Making leaves die in color
Beauty in the change

Don’t you just love fall?

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

There is a smell that signals the arrival of fall and I anxiously await its arrival every year.

Pumpkin spice.

It has magical powers that make me feel like getting cozy in front of a roaring fireplace with a good book or a knitting project.

My first whiff of this nostalgia comes when I go into the craft store in September for some yarn for myself or sketch books for my daughter.  As soon as the doors slide open the smell swarms around me and grabs me by my nose and leads me right to the basket where the scented sachets are tossed artfully into a basket in the fall display. “It’s fall!” they say and since they’re only a dollar piece I throw three or four of them in my little red shopping basket.

At home, I put one at my desk, another on my nightstand, and another in the living room near my rocking chair. I save the fourth for emergencies. As I go about my daily routines, I catch whiffs of my little sachet friends.  I breathe in deep.  Ahh, aroma therapy at its best.

Pumpkin spice.  The perfect blend of cinnamon and Allspice with tiny undercurrents of nutmeg. It evokes images of families gathered around tables for Thanksgiving dinners; of trees displaying the warm, inviting colors of fall; of pumpkin patches and hayrides and faces painted for Halloween; of warm apple cider and sweet potato pie; of cozy knit hats and scarves.

Sometimes I smother my face in the sachet and take a deep breath in and I feel my soul exhale. I breathe in again and meditate on the things I want in life and envision myself already having them because the pumpkin spice makes me content and when I’m content I’m more confident.

I take long walks with the sachet in my hand and I watch fall paint its feelings on trees and bushes and fall flowers and I am grateful for life and the simple pleasures it sprinkles all around me. I feel as if I could grow wings and glide carefree on the invisible thermals that carry me left and right and down and back up again while I yell “woooohooooo!” as if I’m on my favorite roller coaster racing up and down and sideways and around and around. Nothing bad can touch me, no worries can weigh me down.

Yes, pumpkin spice is joie de vivre in a bag.

 

And So It Begins…..

Today is November 1st.  It’s not just a new month or the day after Halloween, it’s the first day of National Novel Writing Month, or as it is more affectionately known by writers, NaNoWriMo.

I participated five years ago and a novel came from it, but it wasn’t the best work I’ve done and so it remains buried.  But this year I am excited about the novel I am writing because it’s just a really neat idea.

So, I wanted to share some thoughts with my fellow writers who may be struggling with the thought of getting through an entire month of writing.  I am reading a wonderful book by Wayne Dyer.  In it he suggests that the reason we have failed at things that we have tried to accomplish before is not because “it wasn’t meant to be” or because “things just didn’t work out” but because we lacked one thing: being willing.  

He goes on to say that when we have a dream or a goal in our mind it’s already here in the now.  We just have to go about doing the steps to bring the thing to pass.  But we have to be willing to do whatever it takes, no matter what that means.  He also said that if we find ourselves hesitant to be willing to do whatever it takes, then we should reexamine that particular goal or dream because that hesitancy is your spirit self telling you that this isn’t the right path for you.

Wow.

That was such a moment of clarity for me.  Here’s another one.  He said there is no failure only results.  When you set out to do something you get a result and you keep working at what it is that you want until you get the result you want.

So I was kicking myself for failing at other things when really two things were happening: I wasn’t failing, I was getting results, just not the one I wanted; and I wasn’t completely willing to put myself out there because it wasn’t really my path.

With writing, I had put myself out there, but then I let the rejections I received (a result) keep me from working until I got the result I wanted (publication).

Here’s another gem I read in a book called Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.  She said to look at myself as two individuals.  There is the pragmatic, logical person.  This person handles the rejection letters, the editor’s notes, the critiques from those we let read our work.  In effect, this person handles the “business” side of writing and creates a productive environment for the writing to take place.

Then there’s the creative person.  This is the person who lives in your mind and gives you the ideas.  This person has all the awe and wonder of a tiny child who sees everything in the world as new and fantastic.  This person is rather whimsical and doesn’t like to be given a routine by which to share his/her ideas, but when given a set time every day in which to write, will come around and eventually learn to give of him/herself freely.

The book goes on to say that the trick to being a successful writer is to build a wall behind which the creative person can grow at his/her own pace.  The pragmatic person deals with the day-to-day of the world and responds to it, while the creative person is allowed to stand behind the wall and look out on the world and observe it freely and use what it sees to create stories.

Another wow.

These two pieces of advice have really changed the way I not only approach my writing career but how I handle the hurdles that pop up from day to day.

So…am I overwhelmed by the thought of 50,000 words in 30 days? Not at all.  Why? Because my goal is to become a published author — a national best-selling published author — and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

I’m not in over my head, I’m out of my comfort zone.  And that’s where the good stuff happens. 

So you may not be a writer like me but I’m sure you have a dream or a goal.  So I’m sharing this with you hoping that you will see your goal from a different perspective.  Speak kindly to yourself. Forgive your past failures. And remember there is no failure only results and you need only keep persevering until you get the results you want.

 

 

 

 

 

I am….

I write every day without fail.

I also argue with myself about writing.

I am a writer.

I’m not a writer.

I have what it takes.

My writing sucks.

I compare myself to published authors. I sigh. I get discouraged. I wake up in the morning hopeful. Some days end in triumph. Other days end in abject failure. I wonder if it is too late. I’ve given up on so many things but writing is my one constant through it all.

If I fail at this, what’s next? Have I no gift to contribute to the world? I didn’t choose to be a writer. It chose me. I have to be successful at this. There is no other choice. This is the gift bestowed upon me. I will use it. It will make room for me here. I will show the world my soul. I will not be ashamed.

I AM a writer.

I bleed words.

 

Why I Write…

Photo purchased from vectortoons.com

I am a child of the 1970s who grew up in a blue collar section of a New Jersey suburb.

I clearly recall the first time I realized that the world saw me as different, as less than, because of the color of my skin.

I remember how that one comment snatched me viciously out of my childhood bubble. I remember questioning my worth, even though my parents told me over and over again that nothing anyone says changes my worth, unless I let it.

I didn’t know how to process this. I had so many emotions. So I sat down and wrote as fast as my little eight-year-old hands would let me. I remember how my rage poured out onto the page. I threw the paper aside and cried and then I went outside to play.

A few days later I happened to read what I wrote and I couldn’t believe those words came from me. That’s when I realized that there is this well of love and wisdom and acceptance deep inside me that knows exactly what to say to when I am hurting or sad or just can’t seem to make sense of what is going on, but I can only hear what it wants to tell me when I write.

So, I write to share my well with the world and that’s all there is to it.

 

The Flavor of Fall

There’s something inspiring about the arrival of fall. There’s irony in the beauty of it all. The trees push out fall foliage filled with vibrant yellows, burnt oranges, blazing reds, and warm browns as they bid us adieu until spring. You can hear the scraping of fallen leaves as the wind pushes them along the sidewalk.

Acorns fall and hit roofs of garages tink plink plunk. Fireplaces burning arrest your senses and spark the desire to curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of coffee.

Wardrobes shift from bright neon colors and pastels that beckon you to beaches to warm inviting colors that call to the comfort of indoors. Flowers are fading and grass growth grinds to a halt signaling the hibernation season for the much-used lawnmower.

Squirrels scamper to and fro storing nuts for the winter. Food seeds sown have produced their last crops. The final curtain call for warm weather has come and gone. Halloween treats — but never tricks — stand at the ready to give sugar highs to all who adorn themselves in creepy and cute costumes.

Fall wreaths hang on doors and cornucopias sit centered on fireplace mantles and dining room tables. Plans for the holidays are on the horizon as television stations fill the airwaves with commercials that tell us Christmas is just around the corner making children all too eager to begin the constant count down of the days left until Santa shooshes down chimneys with sacks full of surprises.

Pies of pumpkin and sweet potato appear on store shelves. Nutmeg and cinnamon spices stand at the ready. Turkeys take their places in the meat aisles awaiting selection by mothers who complain of all they have to do but who secretly love all the hustle and bustle that this time of year brings.

Ah, yes, fall. And it all begins with the turning of the leaves.

Under the Influence

As a writer I’m always in tune to what is going on around me.  That can be a good thing and a bad thing.  Right now, it’s a bad thing.  The racial climate of this country is the worst it’s ever been, and its forcing its way into my writing uninvited.

I don’t like that.

I just wrote three short stories and two of them had race as the issue.  I had to let the stories go where they needed because as writers we have to remain true to ourselves.

But….

When I envision my success as a writer, I don’t see myself as a writer who is popular only in Black circles.  I see myself as a writer who is as widely read as Stephen King or Jane Austen.  I see my books filed alphabetically on the shelves, and not limited to the “African American Authors” section in libraries and bookstores.

Does that mean I’m not proud to be black?

Absolutely not. 

But it does mean that I want my talent to stand on its own.  I don’t write well “for a black girl,” I write well. Period.

Yet the thought still crosses my mind of where my book will land when it is finally published: alphabetized on the shelves along side all other writers or placed into the African American Authors section in libraries and bookstores.

You may be wondering what’s wrong with being in the African American Authors section?  Well, nothing, in theory.  I mean it certainly cuts down on the search when I am looking for a book written by someone who’s black.  But I guess I’m just bothered by the hint of segregation it provides.  Or maybe I feel like a person who isn’t black may make judgments about the book before they even open it.

I want someone to pick up my book and read the story and be so moved by it that they don’t want it to end.  I want my skin color not to matter.  So I guess that’s why I’m angry that race keeps rearing its ugly head in my stories.  I just want to write good stories.  And if they happen to have race in them, I want it to be because I CHOOSE it, not because my heart is so overwhelmed by the utter lack of disrespect for black people that I can’t help but use my writing as a platform to bring attention to it.

And there is another huge issue.  Am I to be yet another black writer to use my gift to champion the plight of black people?  Is it a betrayal to my race if I don’t? Hell, I feel like a hypocrite even writing this post because I use #blackauthorsrock and #readsoullit as hashtags when I am posting my current read on Instagram (if the book happens to be by a black author).   Am I sticking black authors in the “African American Authors” sections in the proverbial sense when I do that? 

I really wish I could sit down with other black authors and have this discussion.

So…this is where my head is today.

Write On!

That scene is from my all-time favorite movie You’ve Got Mail.

And this is just what I feel like right now.

I’ve been writing a short story every week and sending it out to be considered for publication.  Between that, the creative writing class I’m taking, and the novel I am also working on, my brain just hit maximum stuck mode.

The words just. won’t. come.

I need a break but my Google calendar is the devil on my shoulder reminding me of the weekly goal I set for myself.

“It’s Friday,” she says in her obnoxiously female voice.

“I know that,” I say, “but I’ve been working so hard. Can’t I have an extension just this once?”

This is her reply:

And so I sit here with Nadia, Ella, and Sarek (my characters) staring at me like

waiting for me to write out what happens next in their lives.  But they’ll just have to stare. And I’m looking back at them like:

And I’ve decided I won’t be intimidated by my calendar or my characters who all seem to have bad attitudes today.  And I have no room for that kind of negativity in my life.

I’m going to go read.

Or maybe watch You’ve Got Mail for the millionth time.

So there.

Until I write again….