29
Mar 17

The 40 Reasons “Why Do You Write?” Challenge

Have you heard of the 40 Reasons “Why Do You Write?” Challenge? Bryan Hutchinson over at Positive Writer posted about it on Sunday. Because I’m super defiant and love a good challenge, I thought I’d take a whack at it. Plus, I really wanted to take stock of why I write.

Why I Write

Without further ado, here are the 40 reasons why I write.

40 Reasons Why I Write (Thanks, @ADDerWORLD!) Click To Tweet
  1. I’ve always had a knack for it.
  2. Teachers and family encouraged me to keep it up.
  3. I communicate better in writing than I do in speaking.
  4. I daydream too much not to write it down.
  5. Writing is how I clear my head.
  6. I love the feel of a pen in my hand.
  7. I love the feel of a keyboard under my fingers even more.
  8. I want to feel in control of language, even though I also believe it’s the number one deterrent to communication.
  9. Someone has to fill up all the notebooks stores sell. May as well be me.
  10. I have a desire to be viewed as an intellectual, and writing scratches that itch.
  11. I like to express emotions in terms of the synesthesia they inspire.
  12. I love proving to money-hungry jerks with logical careers that writing is a thing you can earn money for.
  13. I enjoy breaking all the rules your English teacher taught you.
  14. I can’t just turn off my brain after the workday is over unless I write.
  15. I think writing is a gift from the Universe, so I have to share it.
  16. Without writing, I literally have no idea what my hobbies would be.
  17. I write because if I don’t, I get super depressed.
  18. Writing is like a puzzle I want to solve. I set out to make a paragraph, and I have to figure out where the pieces fit.
  19. I believe I’m smarter than 95% of the population, and writing reaffirms this. (NO APOLOGIES.)
  20. I write because I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write.
  21. Sometimes inspiration bashes me over the head like an avalanche, and I have to.
  22. Even if a piece I’ve written gets rejected, I don’t feel like I want to quit. Writing is the only thing I never want to quit.
  23. Writing is my calling. It’s my higher purpose. It’s why I’m on this planet.
  24. Because people automatically think I’m interesting when I tell them I’m a writer. #sovain
  25. I write because I empathize with a lot of people, and I want to give voice to the feelings this empathy brings me.
  26. I write because I can understand the motives of a person within knowing them for an hour. (Thanks, mean girls from my childhood. Your guileless transparency was a great primer.)
  27. I like sharing ideas with a broad range of people.
  28. I read Ramona Quimby, Age 8 in the second grade and decided I was going to be a writer. (Thanks, Beverly Cleary!)
  29. I write because it’s often like picking off a scab and digging around in the pus to find what’s causing the problem.
  30. I have stylistic intentions for my commas, and believe parentheses are like hugging your words.
  31. Writing lets me take stock of moments and record them.
  32. I want closure for so many things, and writing is the only way to get closure in a lot of situations.
  33. Because I want my thoughts to resonate with someone.
  34. I write to share my experiences with others.
  35. Because I literally have no idea what people do with their time if they’re not writing.
  36. I write because some day I want novel writing to be my day job.
  37. I write because you can’t name another Persian Mexican Native American writer that’s your favorite.
  38. Because writing is fun when I’m manic.
  39. Because writing is life-saving when I’m down.
  40. And finally, because 200 years from now, people will know my name. It’s all about the infamy.
200 years from now, people will know my name. #amwriting Click To Tweet
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28
Mar 17

Five Things I Learned from My First Writer’s Retreat

I’ve written a little bit about my stay at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow, but today I want to talk about the five things I learned from my first writer’s retreat.

My First Writer's Retreat

I had fantasized about attending a writer’s retreat for many years before I was able to attend one, and it was definitely a life-changing experience. I’m convinced that it’s something I should be doing once a year. In fact, I may roll my yearly writer’s conference budget into a yearly writer’s retreat budget. No offense to conferences, it’s just I think I’d like the open time to write more than I’d like to attend sessions on writing.

In order to make future writer retreats easier on myself (as well as to make it easier on any of my readers who may attend one) I’m recapping the five things I learned from my first writer’s retreat.

Five Things I Learned from My First Writer's Retreat #amwriting Click To Tweet

001: Bring a night light.

Anyone else a super weird wiener kid incapable of turning their brain off at night? No? Just me? Okay. Here’s the thing. In a past incarnation of this ol’ blog, I wrote about how I’m afraid of the dark. And it’s not really the dark that’s the problem, but it’s this writer imagination of mine. I can easily think of all the things that might be lurking in the dark. In fact, I can list roughly a BAJILLION things that might want to end my life, and only like 3 of them would be real. This is always exacerbated by spending a lot of time writing. When your brain is in overdrive from writing ghost stories all day, it’s really hard to shut it off just because you should be asleep.

The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow gives every writer their own bedroom, bathroom, and writing area. So, even though you’re in the same house as other people, you’re relatively secluded. And the darkness in Eureka Springs is just a little darker than it is in Norman, so naturally I left a bathroom light on every night I was there. Next time I’ll bring a night light.

002: Don’t be too hard on yourself.

If you haven’t read the “As I Write This” post, click on over. It’s a good primer on the writerly psychomachia that plagues me in every waking hour of my life. I struggle with impostor syndrome, feeling like everything I write is garbage, and worrying that I won’t ever do anything that’s good enough. And you know when my brain decided would be the best time to wrestle with all these things?

IN THE MIDDLE OF MY FIRST WRITER’S RETREAT.

(And also like every day.)

But take it from me. It’s going to be hard to not feel like you’re squandering your time and energy while you’re there. Because uninterrupted time is so hard to come by, I felt that I should be spending my days at the retreat working on the Next Great American Novel. And if I’m being honest, the majority of my thoughts aren’t Next Great American Novel so much as Spooky Ghost Story with Historical Flashbacks.

Don’t waste time worrying that you’re wasting time with the words that are coming out. Instead, just breathe that fresh Ozark air and get to typin’.

(Note: You will only find Ozark air in the Ozarks. If you attend a different retreat, then you should breathe that air.)

003: Healthy food is fuel.

I was ready to consume nothing but junk the whole time I was in Eureka Springs. I have some very unhealthy writing habits that were encouraged by a certain instructor. He was very fond of telling us about the amount of candy he would consume while in the process of writing, and I definitely picked up that habit. (For example, when I was writing my comprehensive exam essay for library school, I bought potato chips, cupcakes, soda, and frozen pizza to fuel my paper writing. I passed, but the whole next week I felt like I was going to die.)

While eating bad food during marathon writing sessions is a bad habit I’m definitely trying to break, it was relatively easy to eat well at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. Jana, the cook, made some of the best food I’d had in a while. Here butternut squash and caramelized onion galette was amazing, and I absolutely loved the yellow dhal soup. Then, our dinner at Ermilio’s, while not the healthiest meal in the world, was definitely more balanced and nourishing than what I would normally consume while in writer mode.

(Also, lest you think that I’m not still a human garbage disposal, know that I had Diet Coke, Peanut Butter M&Ms, and Starburst Jelly Beans every single day I was there. I just didn’t eat them as a meal. So, see? I’m basically a health food guru as a result of my first writer’s retreat.)

004: Fresh air and conversation is necessary.

Like I mentioned, I have a tendency to get all up in my head with negativity. But the best way to combat that has always been to step away. Luckily Mari Farthing likes to go for walks too. So on both Friday and Saturday we set aside time to explore part of downtown Eureka Springs. We definitely got lost on Friday just because we are flatlanders and the loopy curves of Eureka Springs streets as they go around hills is definitely not something we’re used to navigating. They didn’t have to send out a search party, but it came close.

Another way we stepped away from writing was in the evenings. Each night we had a full-on slumber party-style gab session, complete with wine furnished by Bethany Stephens, and the best gossip that the five of us could manage. We stayed up so late just chatting about life and work and everything else. It was amazing. In fact, that conversation has led to SEVERAL blog posts that will be coming down the pike in the near future.

005: Headspace is key.

This ties back into not being too hard on yourself, but know that your headspace is everything. I mean, just generally in life this is true, but it’s doubly true at a writing retreat. I struggle with an anxious mind. At any given moment, I’m thinking of all the other things I should be doing instead. It’s hard for me to turn off the to do list mentality, and I know I need to live in the moment more. And that was the sort of headspace I needed to be in before I started writing. I finally got there by Saturday, but since my stay was super short, I wish I would’ve gotten there sooner so I could get more done during my first writer’s retreat.

If you’re like me, then I recommend turning your retreat into a vacation/retreat. To do this, take a day or two to head to the place where you’ll be for your retreat. Then, set aside the first day as a vacation do. Get a massage, go to a nice restaurant, and definitely relax. Slow your body and brain down so that the next day you’re ready to bleed it all out on the page. It may feel like a wasted day, but getting your head right is going to be the best thing you can do for your writing.

Getting your head right is going to be the best thing you can do for your writing. Click To Tweet

Well there you have it — the Five things I learned from my first writer’s retreat. Have you ever been to a writing retreat? Do you have any expert advice for other writers? DO YOU WANT TO PLAN FUTURE A TRIP TO THE WRITER’S COLONY AT DAIRY HOLLOW WITH ME?!

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23
Mar 17

Marathon Mindset: Embracing Life’s Slow Burn

Recently I caught myself getting really mad about how long things take. Generally, I’m a pretty patient person. Even though I would like instant validation, I don’t expect it. And that’s because there’s a long road ahead of me. I embrace the time it takes for things to happen because that’s the marathon mindset.

Embracing the Marathon Mindset

I’ve written about the yoga approach to life before, and the marathon mindset is similar. Only with the marathon mindset, you gotta be cool with how long life takes.

Almost daily I hear someone complaining about how people have no attention span these days. They’re used to the immediacy of information accessed from a pocket-sized computer that we call a phone. And maybe that’s true.

But I don’t think it is for everyone. I think most people know that life’s a slow burn.

Sure, I want what I want when I want it. But I’m an adult. I know that I can’t just take a vacation in the middle of the week. I can’t go out to dinner every single night. I can’t stay up late reading just because the book is good. I can’t keep clicking on the next episode just because Netflix has the whole series available.

I mean, I could definitely do all these things. But there are consequences.

It’s kind of like with running a marathon. You can’t blow all your energy by hardcore sprinting the first few miles. Your pace has to be even and measured. You have to strategize. You have to think about how you’ll not only approach the beginning of the race, but the middle and end too. And should you choose to start the race at a dead sprint, there will probably be consequences. That is, unless you’re a super human who can sprint 26.2 miles.

(Side note: I’ve only ever run a half marathon, and I’ve openly and loudly stated on multiple occasions that it was the worst day of my life. This is a metaphor, though. And metaphors mean that I don’t actually have to run.)

I'm embracing the marathon mindset in all aspects of my life. Click To Tweet

So, rather than feeling impatience take over, I’m embracing the marathon mindset in all aspects of my life. Here’s what that looks like:

The Marathon Mindset at Work

In my career, it’s easy to be impatient. I want recognition and validation immediately. I want to move ahead and make a spot for myself, and I want to do it faster than anyone else. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s not about how fast others run the marathon, because if you try to keep pace with others, you’re going to burn out.

Instead, I focus on doing the best I can at work, and trust that I will be recognized when it’s time. Just like when you get the medal when you cross the finish line, I’ll eventually get recognition for the hard work I put in.

The Marathon Mindset at Home

Have you ever tried to remodel a home? Because holy hell. Living in a house with a person you love while trying to be a normal human being and simultaneously remodeling said house is like running a marathon on an obstacle course that some jerk set on fire. Everything is a hazard.

But by embracing the marathon mindset, I can be patient with home renovations. I know that they take time and money, and they’ll be done when they can be done. Similarly, I like to take the long way round when it comes to chores — doing a little bit at a time. It can be easy to get bent out of shape if your living situation isn’t ideal, but be real. When has your living situation ever been ideal?

The Marathon Mindset with Your Side Hustle

This is definitely the hardest for me. I feel like I’ve been writing my whole life, and it’s easy to feel like a failure when you don’t feel success and recognition immediately. But that’s the thing with writing. It’s naturally a slow burn anyway, because who the hell writes a novel in a day? No one.

Embracing the marathon mindset as a writer means that I have to not only acknowledge that writing is going to take hella long, but that achieving any amount of success from it will take even more time.

What does the marathon mindset look like to you? Click To Tweet

So there you have it. That’s how I embrace the marathon mindset in my everyday life. What about you? What does the marathon mindset look like to you?

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21
Mar 17

The Pedestal in His Workshop

The Pedestal in His Workshop

This past weekend, I began writing about my experience with a specific writing instructor. After reading Bonnie Nadzam’s “Experts in the Field” essay in Tin House on Saturday, I’ve chosen to publish this. After reading Bonnie’s essay, I can’t help but feel like I had a really good experience, even though it was terrible. Our experiences aren’t the same, but neither of our experiences are unique. For further reading that explains just how prevalent this sort of thing is in the writing world, check out this piece on Literary Hub.

Ten years ago when I didn’t have the words for what was going on, I took a writing class with a local author. In fact, I took several. It was during the year between undergrad and grad school, and I wanted to stay sharp and relevant and if I’m being really honest, I wanted the praise that comes from a teacher.

I needed someone to tell me I was special because that year I spent waiting tables at a professional wrestling-themed barbecue restaurant in the parking lot of a Walmart made me feel really worthless.

(I’ve always been susceptible to the bigger and better, especially when I was younger. And when I couldn’t attain it, I crumbled a lot inside.)

So, on my first day of class, I showed up early. I didn’t know anyone, but I didn’t care. This was a class. This was where I excelled. This was what I was meant to do.

I had read one of the instructor’s books, and thought it was decent enough. It wasn’t a life changing read, but not many books are.

The class was an interesting mix. There were young and old, new and seasoned writers, published and unpublished.

Among the mix of people was my friend, Katie. That’s how we met. Even though I look back on this class with a mix of rage and regret, I’m glad I met Katie. She was a bright spot in a dark place.

Though this was my first time to take the class, it wasn’t the first time for a lot of the students. Many of them were long-time disciples, flocking like moths to a flame of this teacher. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would take the same class several times then. I mean, I was waiting tables and dead broke all the time. I couldn’t fathom paying for this $190 6-week class more than once.

As class began, it felt manic and frenetic. The energy felt good. That’s mostly how writing workshops have always felt to me, like the first time you try speed.

In the first session, we outlined a novel together. He’d call out for suggestions of protagonists and antagonists, for conflicts, for setting. We’d shout back as he wrote the different elements on a large easel-sized Post-It pad. Once we’d complete one element, he’d stick it to the wall and start over with another sheet on the big pad.

By the end of class, we had a novel. Sure, it wasn’t good. But most books aren’t. And that was how he convinced all of us that it was super easy to write a novel. After all, it’s just a game of filling in the blanks, right?

Then, for the rest of the class sessions, different people would bring their novel outlines and we would all critique each other’s. It went well. I excelled, in a way. Insofar as excelling is receiving praise.

I took many classes from this instructor that year. There were different class options that he taught, always a different component of the writing process, but taught in his signature madcap style. Katie was always there, and it was nice to have a friend who was into the same thing I was into, because up until that point, I had literally never had that.

Even now, I can count on one hand the number of friends I have who are into the same things as I am.

As I got to know that instructor better, and as Katie and I got to know each other more, a weird dynamic emerged. We were under a figurative microscope. Anything we did — writing, clothing choices, vending machine drinks — were under scrutiny. The instructor picked at us constantly. Sure, he did it in fun, or at least that’s what his tone said. The older, unkempt men in the class picked up the game quick. They would make similar comments, or let us know that they’d love to take care of us, if only we’d marry them.

The younger men in the class followed suit.

The Pedestal in His Workshop Click To Tweet

It’s also worth noting here there were a fair amount of women in the class that were older than me and Katie. It would be hard to be younger than us, as we were the 21-year-olds in an adult education courses. And those women, while they weren’t outwardly cold to us, it was obvious that they were tired of us. Like they thought we were asking for the attention.

At the time, I didn’t realize what was happening. I had never been in a class like this. I had never interacted with older men, except for maybe my dad and his friends. And they didn’t act like this.

I found myself behaving in odd ways in that class. I would specifically wear boring sweaters and jeans — anything to make it harder for that instructor to call me out. And when he did call me out for any number of things, I found myself answering untruthfully, just because I wanted to placate him. I wanted to tell him something that would please him. I needed that validation that I was attending those closes to get. So he’d ask me pointed questions, trying to trap me, to make me look like an idiot, trying to have that little moment where he could point out to the whole class how stupid 21-year-old women were so we could all laugh together, and I’d say anything to get him to just fuck off.

(I didn’t realize that was what I was doing, though. And I didn’t realize that I was doing that until I ran into that teacher a writer’s conference a few years ago. He started in on me as soon as he said hello, and I found myself saying bullshit to get him to go away.)

I can’t speak for Katie. I don’t know if that’s how she felt. But it’s how I felt.

And I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I was trying to play the game I played in classes. Say the right thing, receive validation. I was grasping at straws every time I attended that class.

I feel it’s important here to note that I don’t, nor have I ever specifically sought validation from older men. In fact, I have spent a lot of my life trying to piss them off. This was different though. He was a teacher. That’s who I wanted validation from.

It’s only now, with that 10 years of hindsight that I realize we were placed on a pedestal in that workshop. We were there for the entertainment and delight of a group of old degenerates. These were men, who over the course of several classes, would open up about their distain for their wives or for women in general. They would eloquently express how terrible women were, but they would gladly take up with us in a heartbeat.

And they felt they were allowed to do this because the classroom environment enabled it.

Only I couldn’t see it then. In fact, I joined a writer’s group with a few of those men, and met with them for years after the classes had ended. I think I was still young enough to seek that validation. Even though the teacher wasn’t there anymore, those old men had become his proxies. And I just wanted to hear them tell me I was a good writer.

But what I got was more picking.

While I’m not happy that was my experience, I’m happy to have processed it all, to understand what was happening. It has, perhaps irrevocably, changed my writing process. There’s always a sneering middle-aged man in the back of my head. He picks at words and story ideas. He reminds me that since what I’m writing about is something he hasn’t experienced, it’s somehow invalid.

And then I remind myself that this middle-aged man in the back of my head is just as disgusting as the men in those classes. All ear hair and paunch. Body odor and artificially inflated ego.

For a long time I thought my teaching style was forged by my love of writing. I thought if I just conveyed to my students that if you did the research or knew what you wanted to say, then it became easy to say it.

And while maybe that’s true, it’s not where my teaching style comes from at all. I am a product of that classroom, of those bad experiences from that teacher.

In my classroom, everyone has space to say what they want to say. Click To Tweet

In my classroom, everyone has space to say what they want to say. And no one will ever play those stupid mind games with my students on my watch.

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18
Mar 17

As I Write This

As I write this, I’m sitting in  my writing nook at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. I’m staring out the window and hearing cars squeal their tires as they try to get through the intersection of Spring and Polk. I’m grateful to be here.

As I Write This

As I write this, I think there are a million other things I should be writing. There are always a million other things on the to do list. Why would I prioritize a blog post over short stories and a novel?

As I write this, I’m thinking about all the ideas I’ve had before. I’m thinking about whether or not I have any ideas worth hashing out. I’m wondering if I’ve left so much on the back burner in the past that it just kind of dried up and dissipated. I’m wondering if I can even tackle the stories I’ve been meaning to write for all these years.

As I write this, I’m remembering all the prolific writers I’ve met along the way. I’m constantly surrounded by people who bash out words left and right, regardless of whether or not they’re good. Hell, I know people who have built lucrative careers on bad writing. But that bad writing never seems to hold them back. Why do I let it bother me?

As I write this, I’m wondering where the hell is my damn trophy. My generation supposedly got shit tons of them for showing up. I don’t own any though. In fact, I would argue that instead I was probably given more negative reinforcement — constantly reminded of how mediocre I truly am. That’s why I’m practically crippled here at the Writer’s Colony because I know every last word I type is garbage.

As I write this, someone else picks up another copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.

(I’m not shaming anyone. Live your life. Read what you want. But I am saying that people will buy shit, and I am basically paralyzed here while trying to craft a damn paragraph about a 5-year-old wanting Chinese food for her birthday.)

As I write this, I remember what a unique position I’m in. I don’t know how I got here. I grew up the same as all my high school classmates, but they’re all different. Or I’m different. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say special. Just different. I couldn’t give a shit about granite countertops or spring trends or tropical vacations. I just want to write a damn book, and the older I get the less magic there is left in my keyboard.

As I write this, I can feel the crisp, Ozark air. It’s different than what I breathe in Oklahoma. I don’t know why or what it is. Maybe it’s all the hills. Or the way the air has to snake around the curves of the hills and the twisting pathways.

As I write this, I’m remembering that Hemingway quote about writing “one true thing” and it makes so much sense right now that it hurts. And I’m also disgusted with myself for identifying with Hemingway, of all the literary misogynists.

As I write this, I’m curious. I’m dodging self-defeating thoughts and crippling doubt. I get through a sentence, and remind myself that I’m not that kind of writer. I remind myself of the writer I want to be. I stall. Does this sentence work? Does this whole story work? What am I doing, other than wasting everyone’s time?

As I write this, I’m breathing quietly. I’m clearing my head and shutting down the thoughts that do me no good. I’m alive. I’m capable. I’m here. And I’m going to use my time wisely instead of wrestling with the demons of my own making.

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