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.

If you’d like to join my mailing list to get updates about this and subsequent books, you can join here.

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

Write What You Know.

Getting a hug from Dad
Getting a hug from Dad

“People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to.” ~ George Allen, Sr.

“Self-knowledge is essential not only to writing, but to doing almost anything really well. It allows you to work through from a deep place – from the deep, dark corners of your subconscious mind.” ~ Meg Rosoff

“Every writing teacher gives the subliminal message, every time they teach: ‘Your life counts for something.’ In no other subject that I know of is that message given.” ~ Roger Rosenblatt

The last time I had my writer friends read through the latest revisions to my manuscript, one of them said she thought the men were too soft. “That’s okay if you want this story to be used for a Hallmark movie but I think the men need to be rougher.” I was taken aback by that. I said, “Well, I’m writing what I know. My father was soft, my husband, brothers-in-law, father-in-law, uncles, are all like the characters in my book. I guess I don’t know how to write any other way.”

Since my conversation with my friend, I’ve been thinking a great deal about whether or not I should take her advice. I considered it for a while because some of the movies on Hallmark are sappy and the characters rather one dimensional. I considered making the change, but, I can’t. There are a few men in my book who are not kind. They are reflections of people I have known who treated me badly. But the rest are like the men at church when I was growing up, or the men in my family. Maybe my book is more positive and Jenna and Morgan are surrounded by lots of loving people, but to me that’s normal and I have to write what I know.

Still, my friend’s comment nagged at me, and made me doubt what I had written. “Maybe it’s not true to most people’s lives,” I thought. Maybe it is sappy, like some of those Hallmark movies and shows, but I’m writing what I know.

I have to admit, I’m growing tired of the on slot of dark books, movies and television shows. It’s almost like perpetual Halloween with all the vampires, zombies, and shows about ad men treating their coworkers badly, or brewing up crystal meth to make money to leave their family after they die. Yuck. I don’t want to watch those shows. At least, I don’t want a steady diet of them, and if I don’t, maybe I’m not alone in feeling that way. I may be wrong but it seems harder to find positive stories, with loving characters that are genuine and touching in an unsappy kind of way. When I read a book, watch a movie or TV show, I want to feel good at the end, and like I learned something.

Last week I was looking for a novel to read. I have several on my Amazon wish list but I didn’t want to spend the money now, so I went to the long lists of books I have on my iBooks and Kindle apps. I found, Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts. I saw the movie several years ago and I remember how it touched me. It’s a quiet story about a seventeen year old girl who is pregnant, and on a road trip with her boyfriend from Tennessee to California. When she asks him to stop so she can go to the restroom for the umpteenth time, he leaves her in a Walmart in a small town in Oklahoma. Abandoned with no money, she lives in the Walmart until the night her baby is born. Along her journey she finds a number of loving people who take her in as if she were family, and she learns a great deal about herself along the way. It’s one of those stories where the struggles are mostly internal. There are no vampires, zombies, werewolves, or angry aliens to defeat. Okay, full disclosure, sometimes I like those kinds of stories too. But not a steady diet of them.

I finished Where the Heart Is this morning. The end was so touching that I cried. The book is beautifully written, and as I read the last page, I felt like there is hope for the human race after all, that no matter how bad your life is, you can find love and forgiveness. That’s the kind of book I want to write even if it’s not popular. I want my readers to cry at the end, or feel the joy my characters find. I want them to feel like the human race, despite our struggles, is headed in a positive direction. I don’t know how to write anything else and that is, I can finally say honestly, okay with me.

If you like quiet more positive reading or viewing fare, here are some suggestions. In books: Winter Solstice, by Rosamond Pilcher. I’ve read a couple of her books now and they are thought provoking and positive. Any thing by Madeleine L’Engle, but my favorite is the series beginning with A Wrinkle in Time. They are categorized as Young Adult fiction but I found that the young people at the center of the books must deal with adult problems.

A couple of movies I’ve seen recently that I thought about long after the last frame went black are: The Age of Adaline and Brooklyn. In both, there is a woman protagonist, which I loved. The women in each of these movies have inner conflicts to work out which is what the story revolves around. I found both deeply satisfying.

There are many others, of course, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, or almost any movie written by women (or Joss Whedon). Then there are the classic movies like Random Harvest, Now Voyager, To Kill A Mockingbird (both the book and the movie), PinkyPeople Will Talk, and, of course, I Remember Mama about a writer who learns to write what she knows. You don’t want to get me started on classic movies. I could write a book about what I’ve learned watching them. Maybe someday I will.

I guess I’m on a mission to change the world through entertainment and through my own writing. I hope you won’t settle for watching only blockbuster movies or reading only the latest best sellers. While those may be fantastic, there are so many exceptional authors and movie makers doing extraordinary work. And if we celebrate their work, then maybe these quieter, deeply human stories will get more recognition.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. I just saw a trailer for a new Amazon series, Good Girls Revolt. It’s based on real events at a news magazine in the late 1960’s during the Woman’s Movement. This looks a lot more interesting than Mad Men. (I’ve never seen Mad Men. It may be really good, but it seemed to me that men behaving badly is what that story is about and I’m looking for some quite different.) I think I’ll check out this new series and see if it fits what I’m looking for.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016