Tag Archives: writing

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.

 

 

 

 

9 Comments

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Comments

December 12, 2016 · 8:59 pm

Boomer Learning From Millennials: Lessons From a Fiction Writing Class

Head Library - flat concept vector illustration

do know who Beyoncé is; I want to state that from the outset. I may not be familiar with all of her songs or videos – but yes, I know what she looks like and that she is a famous singer/songwriter.

What I did not know was that a recent politically themed skit I saw on TV ( a funny, IMO, take on Mr. Tangerine Man) on “Saturday Night Live” was meant to be a parody of her Lemonade video.

Missing out on current cultural references? Yup, it happens often as we get older. But so – thankfully – does an appreciation for the different perspectives that come from being able to study with people of different ages.

There are eleven students in the “Techniques of Writing Fiction” class I am taking this fall at JHU. Perhaps half are under the age 35. The very nice young man who sits to my left in class listened to me patiently the other night as I fumbled to describe the SNL skit. He turned to me and said, “Oh, you mean the skit that was the parody of the Lemonade video?”

I laughed, pretending that I had known all along about Beyoncé and the video reference. I’d like the younger students in my class to think I am culturally au courant but I’m sure they recognize that I am not.

But I do enjoy being around the 20 and 30-somethings because of the perspectives they have. Not only their outlooks on life, but how through the lens of their experiences and age (or lack thereof?), they offer up unexpected interpretations of the stories we read for our class homework.

Last week one of the assigned readings was the classic “But the One on the Right” by Dorothy Parker, a short story published in The New Yorker in 1929 (and no, I was not alive in 1929.)

It’s an interior monologue of a woman of a certain age who is purposefully seated by her hostess at a formal dinner party with the intent to entertain the known-to-be boring man to her left.  “We can stick him next to Mrs. Parker – she talks enough for two.”

The dull dinner companion likes to discuss each course of food as it is served. Yes, they both like soup. The fish course is fine too. He and Mrs. Parker disagree on the potatoes, but return again to a shared admiration of cucumbers. All the while Mrs. Parker is gulping down wine and wondering how more enjoyable the evening might be if she only she could talk instead with the seemingly more attractive man seated on her other side, who ignores her throughout the multi-course meal.

I won’t ruin the end of the story for you; it is well-worth reading.

I laughed aloud at the Dorothy Parker story, enchanted by her writing. The droll inner thoughts of a sophisticated older woman who implies she’d rather be happily cleaning her bureau drawers at home than be forced to be out in polite but terribly dull company. It rang true to me, having been at many parties stuck with an uninspiring conversational companion. Or two.

One of my younger classmates did not find the story the least bit humorous. To my surprise, she saw the narrator as a lonely and sad older woman.

Another homework assignment was to read a more contemporary, prize-winning writer, an Egyptian-born, Sudanese author named Leila Aboulela, who writes about identity, migration and Islamic spirituality. In her story titled “The Museum,” a young Muslim woman from a well-born but now struggling family in Khartoum comes to very cold Northern Scotland to study statistics in an unexpectedly rigorous graduate school program. Anxious about doing well in her studies, she falls under the unwilling spell of a smart but unpolished Scottish fellow grad student who is attracted by her exotic background.

Again, I won’t ruin the story for you; it also is beautifully written.

I was captivated by Ms. Aboulela’s main character, Shadia. Her straddling of two cultures reminded me of my own days in a small, 100 person graduate student program, half of us, like me, from the U.S. and half of us from other countries. I probably was not as culturally sensitive as I might have been to my own foreign student classmates back in the 1970’s.  Maybe filtered through those memories is why I found Shadia such a sympathetic character.

A younger student in our class totally disagreed with me. She thought Shadia came across as arrogant and selfish.

Is it odd that I find these classroom discussions so exhilarating?

We read the same words, the same stories, the same fiction, yet each of us interprets meaning so differently. In my suburban home-town book club, we also read and share thoughts about what we read, but we are a group of similar-aged women of similar backgrounds. Our discussions are, dare I say it, not quite as exhilarating.

Kudos really to the younger students in my fiction grad school class who are opening my eyes to what I am reading, who force me to pay attention, to acknowledge that what I perhaps think is the correct understanding of a story may not be the only way of understanding it. Diversity, differences, making me think about what I am reading – and what I am hearing from others. A good lesson to apply to the rest of life. Perspectives should always enlarge, not narrow, as we get older. I may even get to like Beyoncé yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Book Club, Books, Communications, Education, Reading, Women, Writing

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.

 

 

 

 

 

15 Comments

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…

 FullSizeRender (19)

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Comments

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”.

 

 

 

8 Comments

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

Top Five Reasons I Dislike Being a Grandmother

social media and tablet 3dCaught your attention with that headline? Did it grab your interest and make you want to read on? Good! – That was my goal.

Because I plan to tell the students in the Blogging 101 workshop I am leading that writing posts styled as “Lists” or offering “Controversial Opinions” promise to “drive huge traffic” to your blog.

I learned that critical nugget of social media wisdom while researching How to Grow Your Blog Audience – one of the workshop’s topics.

I won’t share with the class, however, that I hate being told what to write to gain the most readers.  Lists? Not my thing. Controversial Opinions? Fine, but only if that is what flows naturally.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading about the craft of writing. I accept (constructive) writing criticism gladly. But advice about content marketing such as:  “Top 10 Tips for Search Engine Optimization” and “Six Proven Ways to Attract Readers To Your Blog”. Titles like that make me gag.

Content does rule. It must be excellent. Better yet, compelling. And as I said in last week’s workshop, your writing voice should sound like your speaking voice. Relatable. Authentic. The Real You.

Tomorrow – assuming the snow plows locate our post-blizzard neighborhood – I will suggest to the students that they certainly can write lists if they are motivated to do so. But if their writing is beach sand dry, no one will read past list item #1. Offer a controversial opinion, yup, you will draw attention – but you may not like the attention you get – particularly if your opinion is irrational or irrelevant.

But – perhaps the social media experts DO know best?

So I will try a little experiment here in this post. Our two-year-old grandson recently stayed with us for several brief nights and very long days. Thus, I fully qualify as an expert, if not on social media, then on grandmother-hood.

I hereby test the social media waters to see if they will shower me with attention based upon the following:

 

Top Five Reasons I Dislike Being a Grandmother”

 

1. Stepping on stray Legos. In bare feet. As painful as it was in my Young Mom days.

 2. Listening to Raffi. “Baby Beluga” may be a fine song the first 5o times you hear it. Less so on number 51 and beyond.
3. Diapers.  Now made with splashier designs and fancier tape mechanisms, but their content remains odiferous. Why hasn’t some brilliant millennial entrepreneur created a scent-absorbing diaper?
4.Being Asked to Spend $$$ to stock up on Organic Everything.  Organic milk, o.k. maybe that makes sense but organic macaroni and cheese, really?
5. Having to tiptoe quietly, please, around our own house lest we wake the Visiting Napping Toddler. He sets all of the rules even though he is the youngest. Is that fair?

 

There, I did it, you read it here first. In a single post I offer both a Top Five List and a Controversial Opinion. That should drive the search engines wild! My blog traffic will likely go through the roof. People from all over the country will be tweeting asking me to visit their city to teach a blogging course. Soon I will be earning zillions with My Top Ten Tips On How To Grow Your Blog Audience.

Or else I will go back to writing exactly what I want to write. I think I will tell my students in Blogging 101 to do just that.

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under 1st Grandchild, Adult Kids, Baby Boomers, Blogging, Communications, daughters, Empty Nest, Parenting, Second Careers, Social Media, Women, Writing