The Work of Writing

Kate Chase by Brady-Handy

Kate Chase by Brady-Handy

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.” ~ Dale Carnegie

“Creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity. Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.” ~ John Updike

So, how does a writer get ideas? Last week I told about how I got my idea for my soon to be published novel, The Space Between Time after a weekend with my mom and dad. When I began writing, the storyline that was most vivid to me was the father-daughter relationship in the past. I wanted to link Morgan to someone in the present but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Then I had to set the story aside. When I picked the book up again years later, I was still baffled about how to link Morgan to someone from the present time period. By then, though, I was able to trust that one day the answer would come so I continued to flesh out Morgan’s story.

Perhaps I should write here that I did not create a plot outline before I began writing. I just sat down and let the ideas flow until they stopped and then I’d go do something else while the story simmered on the back burner of my mind. It often happens that the best ideas come to me in that netherworld between sleeping and waking. But there came a point when I was was stuck. I knew the story needed something, but I didn’t know what. Though I was frustrated, I trusted that if I was patient the answer would come and it did some weeks later at a writer’s group meeting.

A local writer came to speak to our group. He asked each of us to tell what we were working on. When my turn came, he commented that it might be nice to have a character in the present somehow linked to the storyline in the past. Of course, I told him that had been my original idea but that I had not been able to figure out how to do it. That storyline wasn’t alive for me yet. But it occurred to me that I was stalled on Morgan’s story because I needed that other timeline. So on the drive home I let my mind wander about how to use a character in the present to finish my book. Miracles do happen because on the drive home the idea came. The woman in the present would find her three-times great-grandmother’s journals, and that’s how Jenna was born.

Though I was jazzed about writing Jenna’s story, it was the most difficult. Many of the things that happen to her are altered versions of events in my own life. I didn’t want to go back to those dark emotions much less put them down on paper. So in the first drafts, I glossed over the pain Jenna feels. I tried to rush her to healing before she was ready. And that’s why I had to be open to allowing people to critique my work. It’s scary. I often felt angry, or stupid and ripped apart after hearing my friends comments. For a short time I wondered if I should continue working on the book at all.

But through that process I learned that I had to be careful who I trusted with my manuscript. There are people who will rip you and your work apart just because they like to see you squirm, or they’re jealous, or they wish their work was as good. I encountered a person like that. However, I was fortunate to find one writer friend who was compassionate, yet firm. She encouraged me to keep writing and told me that the story was worthwhile. Yet she pushed me to let my characters get beat up by events and go to dark places so that in the end what they learned would mean more to the reader. As hard as it was to hear some of her comments, I knew she was on my side and after each read through, I felt energized to get busy on the next draft.

In the end The Space Between Time has become a story of two women, linked by blood but separated by time, who experience life shattering events. They must find ways to rebuild their lives. When Jenna finds the journals, she enters Morgan’s consciousness and through their link they help each other heal and discover who they really are. They each find their true life’s purpose.

More on the story in a later post.

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Thanks for reading. Welcome to my new followers.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

My Writing Life

Dad and me on Easter Sunday

Dad and me on Easter Sunday

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ~ Ray Bradbury

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ~ Virginia Woolf

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ~ Anais Nin

“An artist’s job is to make us feel less alone.” ~ Viola Davis

“I always wrote. I wrote from when I was 12. That was therapeutic for me in those days. I wrote things to get them out of feeling them, and onto paper. So writing in a way saved me, kept me company.” ~ Carrie Fisher

As you might surmise from the various quotes above, I’m having difficulty pinning down what I want to express about my writing life. It’s a most profound privilege to wake up every morning and try to grasp those wispy thoughts and feelings that are demanding to be expressed. But they’re capricious; they like to be chased. They run and hide until I catch their shirt tails and drag them out into the open.

I’ve always had lots to say, even though most of my life I kept my thoughts and feelings to myself. During one very short period in my life, I ventured to share what I had been feeling on an empathetic level, but that hadn’t gone so well, so I retreated and kept quiet. But I met people who told me I had a facility for writing, and what they said planted seeds. It took them a long time to grow, but finally one day I gained enough self-confidence to allow myself to begin to express what had been dammed up for so long.

In almost any story no matter how it’s told, there is always an inciting incident that begins the main character’s journey. My inciting incident was a visit to my parents in 1998 or 1999. My father had been living with heart disease for many years and something about his manner, or the way he talked that weekend, gave me the clue that he was on the downward path toward his eventual death. I was stunned. My dad was my mentor. What would I do without him? It was then the beginnings of The Space Between Time, came flitting through my consciousness. I began work on the book the day after our return home. All I had at that time was Morgan’s story, though her name was Anna in those early drafts.

I was a substitute teacher at the time, and shortly after I began working on the book, I was given first one, then two more long term substitute teaching assignments. Those led me to get my Master’s degree in Education and becoming a full-time teacher. If you’re a teacher you know that there is little time for anything other than your job. But the way I felt about my relationship with my father and the story I wanted to tell about the close relationship between Morgan and her father never left me. In fact I thought a great deal about those two characters. It was as if the story was simmering on the back burner of my mind.

Skip ahead ten years. My father had died in 2004. I missed him terribly, but his influence and love for me continued to guide me. A lot had happened by then. I was forced out of my position teaching drama in one school district and began teaching English in another. In some ways my life had been shattered. In others I was discovering talents I had not known I possessed. Then one day I knew that what others had told me was true. I could be a good writer, and I had lots I wanted to say.

I didn’t go back to my novel when I first began writing full-time. But when I did, it felt right. Every morning I was excited to get to work. I won’t lie and say that it has been easy. There were stretches of weeks when I had no idea how to get from point A to point B in my story, or when I fought writing the raw emotions that the characters were experiencing. I wanted my main characters to learn their lessons without going through the pain and suffering I had gone through because I didn’t want to drag myself through the muck again.

Thank heaven for good friends who kept pushing me to “beat up” my characters. Finally my resistance crumbled, and I made the connection between the satisfaction we feel at the end of a good story, and the main characters overcoming frightening and/or tragic obstacles to win or grow. We can’t skip to the end and be healed in life or in literature. I’ve started work on a sequel novel and a fantasy story and this time I’ll be looking for the best trials and tribulations to get the characters to their eventual transformations.

Next week, I’ll give you a little glimpse into the story of Jenna and her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan and how I came up with the idea to intertwine the two timelines.

If you would like to join my mailing list and get updates on the publication of my books, and new installments to my video series, “Loving Literature”, here is the link.

Welcome to my new followers and thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Living Out Loud

meryl_streep_at_the_2014_sag_awards_12024455556_cropped“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just a place and time that the tide will turn.” ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe

“Do not consider painful what is good for you.” ~ Euripides

“If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.” ~ Emile Zola

I don’t watch award shows even though I think honoring great work in the arts is fitting. I don’t like the hype of most of those events. But when I woke up to a string of posts about Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes, I found the video and listened to what she had to say. One thing she said was, “An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like.” And Viola Davis said when she introduced Meryl for her Cecil B. DeMille award, “An artists job is to make us feel less alone.” That’s why I’m an artist, to help myself and others feel less alone. And to try to understand people who are not like me.

I loved Meryl Streep’s speech. All of it, but I’m not going to comment today about our next President or his actions. I’m not a political pundit and I’ve already written in past posts about how I feel about his behavior and the result of it.

Today and for the next few entries, I’m going to write about what it has meant to be to be an actor, director, writer, and teacher of the arts.

But let me back up a bit. I have a writer friend I met though social media. Her name is Julie Christine Johnson author of, In Another Life. On January first her blog post was titled, “A Word of Resolution for 2017.” Each year she picks a word to focus on for the year. I’m not big on making resolutions. I have life goals, but those are on going and don’t end when the calendar says the year is over. Anyway, I liked Julie’s idea of having a word to focus on for 2017 and I chose the word wholehearted. I borrowed the word from Brené Brown who says that living a wholehearted life, is to be vulnerable and open hearted no matter what happens to us. It means to embrace life and to live it out loud.

I have not been a person who has lived life out loud. For most of my life, I kept many thoughts to my self. I had lots of thoughts about what was happening in our society, in church, at school, or in our personal family life. But I didn’t want to make waves or stir up controversy. I was quiet until I became involved in theatre. Then slowly, through the years I have opened up and begun to say all those things I’d been thinking. Now I’m becoming more brave and writing my true thoughts. This year I’m committing myself to becoming even more wholehearted in my writing.

When I first began writing, an instructor told me my work was guarded. It’s been difficult to write exactly what I’m thinking and feeling. I’m still not very good at being completely honest about my opinion. I learned from my father that it’s almost impossible to change someone’s mind once it’s made up. And I’ve found that to be mostly true. Often I have wished I were more like my sister, Celeste. She never holds back her opinion. We think alike, but I’m the quiet one; she’s not. Yet, as a teacher, I learned to express my opinion by posing questions to my students. I think they found this technique to be less threatening, yet opened their minds to new possibilities.

I will break my promise not to say anything about our incoming President. Maya Angelou used to say, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Donald Trump has shown us who he is. He’s not a nice person, nor is he going to be a good leader. He doesn’t care about us or the problems we face. He only cares about how he can leverage his position to get more for himself. But he has done us the great service of opening up societal wounds that have not ever healed. We now have this fantastic opportunity to examine our wounds and mistakes, and expose them to the light so they can finally be resolved.

So to follow my intention to become more wholehearted, I’m going to follow something else Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” I may not be able to change the people who are bullies, or who want to spread hatred, but I’ll never know if I don’t listen to their concerns and point out how much they are hurting others. Oprah Winfrey said that one of the greatest lessons she learned while doing her television show all those years was that people just want to be heard. They want to feel like they matter.

That’s why I was drawn to the arts. When we are exposed to art, they show us the light and the darkness inside people. Through stories we have an opportunity to get new perspectives and learn something vital about others from vastly different cultures and backgrounds than our own. I want to listen and observe so I can “see” and “hear” people who don’t think exactly the way I do and then incorporate what I’ve learned into my stories.

That’s why I think the arts are vitally important. They help us walk around in another person’s life for a while. What can be more life changing than that?

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Just Keep Swimming

Blue Tang (Dory) Fish

Blue Tang (Dory) Fish

“If you go to a tree with an ax and take five whacks at the tree every day, it doesn’t matter if it’s an oak or a redwood; eventually the tree has to fall down.” ~ Jack Canfield

“Just as your car turns more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance.” ~ Brian Tracy

A few days ago we watched Woman in Gold with Barry’s parents. It’s a movie I’ve wanted to see for quite some time. It’s based on the true story of Maria Altmann and her battle to recover five extremely valuable paintings by Gustav Klimt that had belonged to her family. The most famous of the paintings is of Maria’s Aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer, also known as The Woman in Gold. The paintings, now considered Austrian national treasures, were confiscated at the beginning of WW II by the Nazis just after they peacefully annexed Austria. Maria witnesses the degradation of her fellow Jews until finally, it’s her family’s turn. The Gustapo comes. She, her new husband, and parents are under house arrest in an apartment stripped of all valuables including the paintings.

I won’t tell all the details of the story. It’s enough to say that what struck me about the movie was the amount of effort and years it took for Maria and her young lawyer to win their case and get the paintings back from the Austrian Government. It’s a David and Goliath story in which Maria and her lawyer, Randol Schoenberg took one step, then the next for nearly ten years not knowing if they would win or lose. In fact, no one thought they would win the case. Even Maria wanted to give up at times but Randy wouldn’t let go. In the end she won a huge victory for herself, her family, and for other Jews as well.

We each have those things that we want to accomplish. They are probably not as large a task as fighting an entire government to reclaim our stollen possessions, but that doesn’t mean they are not important. At times they seem too big to accomplish, but like any large task, it’s important to keep plugging away to finish the job.

I’ve been actively working on my first novel for about seven years. It’s nearing completion and I’m so delighted that I just kept working on it each day. Even though I still need to finish the polishing, I feel a deep sense of accomplishment which motivates me to continue on with new writing projects.

I’m also determined to apply the “just keep swimming” principle to other things in my daily life. There are so many people who need help, so many situations that need to be addressed. I feel overwhelmed at times to know where to put my efforts. Yet, I remember that it’s better to choose one or two areas where I can make my contribution rather than running around accomplishing nothing. Others have talents to meet the challenges that I can’t solve and I’ll trust that progress will be made.

I hope you find reasons to keep plugging away at your dreams, and find cheerleaders to help you keep swimming in 2017.

Welcome to my new followers. Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

If you would like to receive email updates about my video series, “Loving Literature” or the launch date for my novel, The Space Between Time, you can sign up here.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden @ 2017