Tag Archives: writers

Not Writing Because I am a Writer: Self-Doubt as Self Story

Why, you may ask, have I not been writing posts for this blog as frequently as I once did?

When I started this blog in 2014, I wrote one post a week. Every Thursday; very disciplined.  Then once every two weeks. Now it has slipped further. My friend Caroline asked me why I am writing less often.

Because I am now a fully accredited writer, I told her. A writer who is enrolled in a Master’s degree program in Writing at a highly regarded university. And the more I write, the more I doubt myself. 

Which I think is something many women have long excelled at. Self-doubt.

I don’t think it I am alone in specializing in self-doubt.

I wrote once about visiting a law school professor during his (always “his” back then) office hours to question my grade on a final exam. I thought it was too high! Can you imagine, I suggested he’d made a mistake in giving me an “A” because I didn’t think I deserved it. The professor politely confirmed that his grade was correct and shooed me out of his office.

Some of us never learn. We think every good “grade” in whatever field we are in must be a mistake on the part of the grade-giver.

That close cousin of self-doubt, self-comparison, has also been visiting me lately. You may share the same unwelcome cousin, those thoughts that compel us to compare ourselves to others.

Though you haven’t asked, I will tell you that I have been getting (unexpectedly IMHO) excellent grades in the writing course I am taking this semester. In “Contemporary American Writers” we read both fiction and non-fiction written by a diverse group of American (duh) writers and then write Critical Response papers analyzing their work from the perspective of a writing craft technique such as character development, point of view or structure.

True Confession:  I had to google the term “Critical Response.”  It did not help when our young adult son told me that he learned how to write a Critical Response when he was in middle school. When I was in middle school, it was then called “junior high” which tells you (a) how long ago it was that I was in junior high and (b) that I never learned to write a Critical Response paper.

But I do now!  I received a very good grade on the first one I wrote. And an even better one on the second.

Does this mean I am a good writer? Or simply a person who is good at following the professors’s directions? Both? Neither? Or someone perennially plagued with self-doubt.

The doubt factor has even crept into my reading for pleasure. I am a rabid reader. The kind of person known to read the back of Kleenex boxes when nothing else is available and is desperate for the printed word.

In the greatest of ironies, now that I am learning to read like a writer, I am enjoying it less! I read a few paragraphs in a much-anticipated novel or a favorite mystery and then start to think:

  • wait, isn’t this too much back story?
  • shouldn’t there be a scene here instead of summary?
  • did the author just make a mistake in her point of view?

Sometimes I want to go back to my old self who was not consciously aware of the distinctions between “alliteration,” “anaphora” and “assonance.”

Perhaps I have also mislaid my writer’s “voice.”

At a meeting of my amazing DC women’s writers group earlier this week, my writer pals unanimously concluded that while my writing has improved (they credit the classes I’ve been taking),  I seem to have lost some of my writer’s voice.

I’m not as snarky, not as sarcastic, not as candid, not as clever. Not as much me. Perhaps because every time I sit down to write I am too damn careful to use every bit of writerly craft I’ve been learning correctly.

Too much focus on craft = loss of authentic voice?

The supportive women in my group reassured me that I will – someday – recover my original voice. That once I get beyond this “wow, look what I learned today” phase of my writing career (which is, by the way, annoying the heck out of my husband), that the craft part will come more naturally and the authentic me part of it will return.

Will I also outgrow the “self-doubt” part as well? Or will I always be that person double-checking the transcript to see if my grade is correct?

I vote for the latter. Self-doubt is not easily outgrown. Look at this way: like many women, I will always –  effortlessly – get an “A” in self-doubt.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Blogging, Books, Communications, Education, Female Friends, Law School, Reading, Second Careers, Women, Writing

2016: Your Year in Review

 

 

2016 review banner - text in vintage letterpress wood type block with a cup of coffee

If you are on Facebook, you recently received your unrequested, but they sent it anyway, FB-produced personalized “Year in Review. I watched my short video. Cute enough.

But, even though FB earnestly prompted me to do so, I resisted the urge to share my “Year in Review” for friends and family to watch on my FB page.

(And if you are not on FB, you are not alone. My husband, JP, has a FB page, but rarely checks it.  A very smart and technically-able man, as I’ve said in this blog before, he finds FB incomprehensible. “I just don’t get it.” he will say. What’s a page? What’s a news feed?  And most important – What if I don’t want to “friend” someone in return? Sadly, JP is far too kind not to “friend” someone back, even if that person is someone who he never talked to, but who may have had a locker near his in high school. That’s what happens when you are my husband, the still-popular-to-this-day president of his senior class. So not my problem.)

Which is one of the reasons why I did not share my “Year in Review” on my FB page.

One thing I’ve learned this year – in my own self-produced, virtual “Year in Review”  – is that no one is as interested in you as you are.

(grammatical correctness? Unsure. But feel free not to scold me. My 93-year-old Dad has that role covered.)

But you take my point. You care more about your quotidian details than your friends or family do.

For example: One day you leave the house thinking your hair looks hideous. No one cares. Next day you leave the house wearing extremely old yoga pants. And you’ve never taken a yoga class. No one notices. Once this fall I dressed very quickly and wore a casual shirt inside-out. (it happens.) Then someone did notice. A very nice younger woman sweetly and non-judgmentally pointed it out to me in a supermarket aisle as I was selecting among the apples. I slinked back to my car, slid down in the seat, reversed my shirt and went back inside to finish my food shop. Life went on.

So on the point of your own “Year in Review”, the only person who really cares how your year went is you. Your husband/spouse/partner/child/best friend – trust me – they really don’t want the details.

And you may not remember the details.

More and more as I get older, I find the details, not only mine, but those of others slipping away. Like when a good friend who lives on another coast calls to update you on a significant event in her life and you listen to her very closely, but you cannot for the life of you remember anything about her significant event.  Was it her brother-in-law who suddenly got very ill a few weeks ago  – or her sister-in-law? Once the conversation has begun, it’s too embarrassing to ask your friend for a refresher. So you listen harder and hope that you will pick up the thread as she continues to talk. Thankfully, she seems not to notice. She probably experiences the same problem.

My self-produced “Year in Review?” I was hoping you would ask. One way to measure it is by the number of times I had to visit a hospital in 2016. Three times total. 2x for sad reasons. 1x for a very happy reason (our second grandchild is now nearly ten months old.)

I think the ratio of 2 sad-purpose visits to 1 happy-purpose hospital visit reasons per year is probably about right for someone who is nearly – not quite but counting the months – inching up to Medicare.

More of my 2016 numbers:

  • One brave new venture (applied to, accepted by a grad school M.A. in Writing program. love going to class, doing the homework and learning to write fiction.)
  • Two grandchildren thriving.
  • Three vacations taken.
  • Four times we thought about selling our old house – and didn’t.
  • Five weddings of the adult children of friends.

You, too, can personalize and self-produce your own ” Year in Review.” But my advice is not to dwell too much on 2016.  Look ahead to 2017 – because 2017 promises to be a rather eventful year for everyone. Politically, if not personally.

What was that famous quote from the wonderful old movie “All About Eve” – ironically starring the aging Bette Davis as an aging actress dealing with the take-over efforts of her younger, competitive actress rival?

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Bumpy 2017, here we come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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December 12, 2016 · 8:59 pm

New Beginnings and Better Endings

rosh-hashanah-food-apples-and-honey6

 

You don’t have to be Jewish to love the tradition of dipping apple slices into honey.  This Sunday night we celebrated the start of the Jewish New Year – a/k/a Rosh Hashanah (rosh = head; ha = the, shanah = year. thus endeth my Hebrew lesson.)

The custom of dipping apples into honey is to express our hopes for a healthy, sweet and fruitful new year. Since I’m way too old to be the fruitful in the biblical sense, I will settle for a sweet and healthy new year instead.

Unfortunately, the new year in my family has gotten off to a rocky start. My friend Liz reassures me that if your year starts off poorly, it can only get better. I am relying on her prognostication abilities.

Let me also take retract what I just said about not expecting this to be a fruitful year. Not in the sense of producing human offspring (now that would be a miracle) – but in the sense of producing another kind of product. You see, this fall I returned to school. Not just “taking a class” but I made the leap to  formally enroll – with the photo student I.D. to prove it – in a university graduate school program to “pursue” (such a lofty word) a M.A. in Writing.

I am thrilled to be back in school.

If only there had been a high-paying career called “student” where I could have earned a salary to go to class, do homework diligently and study hard for exams, I would have done that instead of becoming a lawyer. Studying is something I find fun. Learning is even better. And wow, am I learning.

The class I am taking is called “Techniques of Fiction”. What, I can hear you say, there are techniques involved in the writing of fiction? Yes there are. Moving right along in the syllabus from character, setting/place, plot and structure to scene v.s summary, point of view, voice, dialogue and description – and I am loving every classroom minute of it.

The great irony is that while I am taking a course in the writing of fiction, my real life seems to be blurring a bit into the territory of fiction. Or what I wish was fiction (e.g. events that really did not happen to me.)

My fabulous (she really is) professor told us that it is acceptable to steal from your real life to write fiction.

That seems like cheating to me. Although right now it seems appealing to base a short story or novel on deeply upsetting real life events where you get to change the way the characters behave, modify the plot and write a totally different ending. That would be a form of therapy, I guess.

But I don’t view writing fiction as therapy. I am taking this Fiction course in order to learn a craft, to become very good at it and to produce work that other people will want to read because it is well-written, not because it is an endless, Nancy-filled, woe-is-me-story.

We all have our problems, don’t we?

If you had looked at me last Saturday night when my husband and I attended the wedding of the daughter of a close friend, when we were dancing to every song the d.j. played, raising our hands in the air to the music and pretending we knew the words, you would likely have never guessed we were going through such rocky stuff in our non-dancing lives. The photos taken will no doubt prove I had a big smile on my face.

And I bet others on the wedding dance floor who were also smiling were doing so despite whatever personal difficulties they are enduring.

So here’s to a sweet, fruitful and healthy new year for all – whatever you celebrate – and also to the reading and writing of fiction.

Now back to my homework.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Family, Female Friends, friendship, Holidays, Jewish, Mental Health, Midlife, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Writing

Put 16 Women in One Room for Four Days…

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When was the last time you got to do something you LOVE for an extended period of time?  Just for you. Totally indulgent. No outside responsibilities. No interference.  Single focus.

Luckily, I had that chance last week. I participated (with a great deal of advance trepidation) in my first-ever Writers Retreat. Held at a woodsy conference center next to a summer camp about two hours from DC, it featured:

  • 16 Women
  • 11 Hours of Writing Per Day
  • Four Days
  • Three Teachers
  • One Conference Room

Sound like fun yet?

Factor in:

  • No TV (missed my favorite detective shows)
  • No Laptops (required to write by hand in old-fashioned black and white composition notebooks)
  • No Good Food (with apologies to the conference center, but the fare was, trying to be polite here, mediocre at best.)
  • No Husband or Dog to sleep with at night (how would I manage without them?)

Not only did I survive, but I thrived. I filled an entire notebook with pages of hand-written memoir, fiction and poems.

O.K., no agents have popped up sending me urgent “must publish you now; please contact us immediately” text messages. But for the first time – ever, I think – I was in a situation where all I had to do was write –  and the hours sped by.

Totally a new thing for me to be doing what I love in a concentrated fashion minus the daily pull of Twitter (my admitted addiction), Breaking News (addiction #2) or the six-days-a-week excitement of waiting for the mail to arrive.

I returned from the retreat on Wednesday evening, aglow with my creative efforts, wanting to immediately share what I had written with my husband. He listened to one short poem, patted me on the shoulder and asked “What should we have for dinner?” Back to reality.

Part of that reality will be trying to replicate the setting of the retreat to motivate me to write more often and in a more disciplined fashion. Interruptions tend to find me. Why not empty the dishwasher, I might tell myself, instead of starting on a new writing project?

Another thing I will miss from the retreat is having collegial listeners. Listeners who actually hear what you are reading aloud (unlike my husband who – love him dearly – is a semi-attentive listener, at best.)

The collegiality of a writing group is something I did not expect when I signed up for my first, post-law-firm-life writing class in 2014.

Unlike college or grad school, where you write an essay or term paper and submit it to the teacher for review and grading, in a writing workshop you have to (well, I suppose you don’t “have to”) share what you’ve written with all of your classmates too. Prepare to be asked to read your work aloud to a roomful of listeners. Speak up, bare your soul, take the comments bravely. Everyone is supportive of you and you of them. There is zero competition. ( Wholly unlike law school, I have to say.)

A retreat amps up the writing class setting to a new level. An intimacy evolves when you sit around the same table for four days.  There you are pouring out your guts on paper and then you have to share your writing with people you have just met. You have no idea how they will receive your words. Or what they will think of you for having written them.

It isn’t a process for those prone to jealousy. Maybe the other women at the retreat didn’t feel the latter sentiment, but I did. Some of the women in that conference room are actual PUBLISHED writers. They write beautifully. They can create fully developed fictional characters out of thin air. How did they come up with that imagery in response to a prompt where we were given 20 minutes to write?

I nodded my head in admiration. I was not shy about giving praise to my “fellow” writers. They said some nice things about what I wrote and also offered constructive (thankfully) criticism.

I did not walk away (nor did I expect to) with 15 new best friends. Some of these women I will never see again. Some I may see (If I am invited; fingers crossed) to participate in next summer’s retreat. Perhaps a few of them I will see before then.

Going to this kind of retreat may not be your idea of a good time. I wasn’t sure it was mine before I went. I was describing it last night to my book club friends gathered in my living room and several of them stared at me as if I had taken a swift leap from reality.

Which I had. Which is the whole point of a retreat. Which is why you can’t replicate the setting at home. Won’t stop me from writing, though. Won’t keep me from having to empty the dishwasher either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Club, College, Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Husbands, Reading, Talking, Women, Writing

Make New Friends, But Keep The Old: Silver and Gold

Silver and Gold

 

“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.”

That bit of childhood wisdom has stuck with me. I’m such a literalist that I spent years wondering – which was which? are the new friends the “silver” and the old ones the “gold?” or is it vice-versa?  Who knows? The older I get, the more I value both kinds of friends.

Let’s call new friends the “silver” ones –  like my writer’s group.

I met these five women in 2014 at a class we took together. Different ages, varying backgrounds, but connective tissue among us in our similar approaches to life. Laugh at the funny parts, laugh harder at the tragic parts. Growing older with our imperfect husbands and trying to stay connected to our teen and adult children who make us wonder or worry, sometimes simultaneously.

Through the essays and stories we’ve written and shared with each other every month when we get together, we’ve learned about each others’ pasts – to a point. These women, wonderful as they are, didn’t know me when I was an uncoordinated eight year old with a fondness for meteorology and the nickname of  “nimbus” (SEE: clouds). Nor had they met me as a young married women going through rocky times when my mom died, or as a working mom who once forgot to pick up a child after a late day school activity.  As I did not know them through their passages of life.

Friendships are different when you bond together as fully grown adults.

I recently shared with my writer friends a short story I wrote about an episode in my working mom/lawyer life of which I am not particularly proud. I called it “fiction” but it was – pretty obviously –  based on a personal experience. It was painful to write – and even more painful to hear their responses.

One of them said: “I admire your story because it shows you have layers to your personality that I didn’t know you had.”

She didn’t know that? Do I come across as a superficial person? That was my first thought.  Sure I tell jokes and laugh a lot and try not to take myself seriously. That’s the glossy part you see on top when you first meet me. I’m not like that all the way through. Underneath is the part this new “silver” friend doesn’t know (yet?) about me. That I have inner layers. Layers that get peeled off in years of friendship that we haven’t yet had.

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend in the “gold” category.

Caroline is a person I met in a birth education class while pregnant with our first children, born three days apart. Turned out we had graduated from the same all-women’s college, then gone to the same international relations graduate school, where we had met our respective husbands – who also bonded during our shared birth education class by paying as little attention as possible to the instructor’s exhortations to have us take cleansing breaths in unison.

Caroline knows my “layers” and I know hers. Not all of them. But enough so that she understands why I had such a hard time yesterday at lunch talking about getting our house ready to put up for sale. How unsettling it is. How I don’t do transitions well. Living in one house for 33 years is a pretty good indicator of being someone who does not handle change well.

With “gold” friends, you don’t need to explain yourself. They know all your foibles, all your less than desirable attributes and they’ve decided they can deal with them. Maybe not admire your flaws, but accept them.

With my newer “silver” friends, we are still getting to know each other. It’s more challenging when we are in our 50’s and ’60’s to open ourselves up to someone new. What if they don’t like what they see, as we peel the layers back on our personalities? We don’t have a shared history of friendship to fall back on. They could decide I’m not as fun as I seemed to be when they first met me – that I have quirks they can’t accept. What then?

It’s worth the risk. Treasuring the “gold” ones while hoping that my “silver” friends become “gold”.

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Female Friends, friendship, Midlife, Moms, Women, Working Moms, Writing

Finding Your Own Lane in “Semi-Retirement”

stratton mtn

On a family trip one summer to Vermont we stopped at a familiar ski area to ride its’ alpine slide.

For the uninitiated, an alpine slide starts at the top of a non-snow-covered mountain where you sit on a sled, with a control stick between your knees, and guide your own ride along the twists and turns of a trail down the hill to the bottom.

The best part about this summer slide at Bromley Mountain is that it’s a triple track – described as “North America’s first triple-tracked” alpine slide, 2/3 of a mile long.

Triple Track means (duh) that each rider has three tracks to chose from. As I remember they were labeled – Fast, Medium and Slow – or maybe the three tracks had more clever names like #1 -“Speed For Teens”, #2 – “Active Dads” and #3 – “Moms Who Are Very Cautious.”

Whatever their designations were, I chose – no surprise here  – the latter, the slowest but steady track, kind of my life mantra, expressed on the side of a mountain. My husband and teenage son picked the faster paths, then whizzed down the mountain on their own sleds.

They were waiting for me when I arrived, five minutes later, having applied my own s-l-o-w sled’s brake multiple times as I approached every sharp turn and fast straightaway.

That triple alpine track was made for me – I like to be in charge of my own ride. I love the opportunity to choose my lane. If only life was like that alpine track.

Lately I have been veering from lane to lane.

One day I am happily zooming around with multiple plans and projects, volunteering, lunching with friends, going to meetings. The next I am contentedly at home by myself – along with our trusty terrier at my side – thinking that nothing is better than being able to sit alone in a comfortable chair (I know, don’t sit too long! bad for your health. I get it) – and write.

I did not choose to retire from my law firm at age 60 – that was an unexpected decision made for me by the cardiac authorities.  All of the articles on what to do to plan for retirement were suddenly irrelevant. I was plopped into it whether I liked it or not.

Three years have passed since then and I am still finding my way in what I call “semi-retirement.” Every day I either do too much – or I do too little.  Finding the right balance, the right lane has been tricky.

I would love nothing more than to sit at a desk all day and write. I’ve written a few short stories featuring (what else) witty and worried women in law firm settings.  Do I turn one of my favorite of these short stories into the first chapter of a novel? Or do I keep writing stories until I come up with a collection of them? Haven’t I set aside my childhood dream of becoming a published author for too long?

How ambitious those plans sound. And how self-indulgent. I now have the choice to spend hours doing what I love – while my husband is very much not-retired – (he likes his job, but loving it? you’d have to ask him.)

I  feel responsible to be productive. So some of what I write is non-fiction and earns a (tiny) fee, and I talk and write about young adult mental health and get paid for that too – and next fall, if it happens and I hope it will, I may get to teach a class about the state of mental health on college campuses.

Do these small paying “gigs” add up to giving me the right to stay in the slow lane with my writing projects?

Will the guilt I feel when I sit down to write ever subside?

I think about this as I veer from “semi-retirement” lane to lane and then back again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Books, Communications, Empty Nest, Husbands, Law firm life, Lawyers, Marriage, Men vs Women, Moms, Reading, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Women in the Workplace, Women's Health, Working Moms, Working Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

Guilty Pleasures of the Non-Edible Sort: Books, TV and Becoming a Writer

shakespearebooks

I am NOT going to discuss the many guilty pleasures we enjoy in the food world (fyi, crispy tortilla chips and home-made guacamole tops my list. )

No, I want to talk about a bit about those guilty pleasures we have of the non-edible variety.

Guilty pleasures that we devour by reading or viewing. Those little pleasures that we try to keep secret from our friends (and spouses) for fear they will think less of us. How can we be perceived as the thoughtful, literate and intelligent beings we know we are if we occasionally indulge in reality TV ( GUILTY)?

My mystified husband when he comes upon me watching DVR-recorded reality TV asks:

Why do you like to watch those dumb house buying/selling shows so much?”

I hit the “pause” button and/or change the channel but I don’t answer him.

They are such different fare than my usual diet of news/talk shows or British detectives on PBS. But I find real-estate-related reality TV fascinating. And many people (excluding my husband) do too, I’m sure.

For who doesn’t like to peer into a wealthy person’s over-the-top master bedroom? Or laugh at the frequent complaints of a prospective buyer that an L.A. swimming pool is just too small? Or wonder why so many Americans never understand why all European apartments don’t come with granite counter-tops and giant refrigerators?

Why does a “guilty pleasure” make us feel so guilty anyway?

My in-the-know daughter reassures me that these days it is acceptable to have cultural tastes that are both “high” and “low.” So I am in the norm (normcore?) by liking to watch TV at both levels.

But this high/low concept may not apply equally well to my tastes in books.

I am an avid (rabid, really) but picky reader. I have no problem putting a book down very quickly if it is not well-written. Its’ characters must be well-developed, the sense of place strong and the story arc clearly organized to hold my attention.

I’m a fan of the classics, love Jane Austen and Edith Wharton. And I pounce on any new books by contemporary female authors such as Julia Alvarez, Jhumpa Lahiri and Ann Patchett, beautiful writers all.

But I do steer away from the impenetrable books that sometimes top best seller lists and garner much reviewer praise. Sometimes I think book reviewers assume that the more difficult the book, the better.

When I read a book that is both well-written and enjoyable, I wonder – Has that become a guilty pleasure too?

Perhaps I am a tad over-sensitive because I have been trying to fashion a second career as a writer. I take classes, read books on the craft of writing and write every day. I continue to write non-fiction essays and articles about young adult mental health and parenting.

But what’s new this fall are my experiments with fiction. What we called “creative writing” in the old days. Writing a series of short-stories. Creating an outline for a possible novel.

The fabulously supportive women in my writer’s group cheer me on. Yesterday they told me I have “found my voice.” Which is great…

BUT. There is always a but. They describe my fiction writing voice as accessible and friendly. But not literary like my favorite authors. My descriptions are not lush, my prose is not lofty. Sigh.

I expect that when (“when” and not “if”) I publish my first short story or book, a reviewer will place me in the genre of “relatable” fiction –  as in “chick lit” for older women who are no longer chicks and perhaps never were chicks.

Yes, if I am lucky, my writing may fall into the category of being someone else’s guilty pleasure. Just like guacamole and chips or (at least some) reality TV. Ms. Faulkner I shall not be – but likely not Ms. Fluff either.

So please – feel free to indulge in whatever your own reading or viewing pleasures may be, and let’s lose the guilt, shall we?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I ha developing a voice, relatable, not impenetrable. the more you don’t understand something doesn’t mean the better it is.

 

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Book Club, Books, Communications, Female Friends, Reading, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health