Why Do You Write What You Write?

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I completed a twelve week writing course recently to help me clean up my manuscript’s plot and what-not.  The last session was on living a writer’s life: basically setting up a routine, making time to improve your craft, journaling, etc. Our assignment was to tell why we are writing the story we are and what makes us qualified to do so…Easy, right?  Wrong.

My major professional flaw is an inability–or at least a strong resistance–to claim to be, or think I am, innately qualified to do anything.  So I get the same gut twisting sensations saying I am qualified to write a particular novel–better yet to write at all–that I did when I first stepped into the rickety airplane I planned to throw myself out of a few moments later.  I had a parachute to soften my landing and I’d taken the required class, but was I really qualified to jump out of that airplane?  Probably not.  But I did it anyway, and although fear told me I shouldn’t complete this assignment I did it anyway.

No one will ever believe you are qualified to do something if you don’t believe it yourself.  

What I submitted to the instructor:

I hate to start with the cliché I had a dream, but I will anyway because that’s really how this book began—unless you count my Happy Potter induced childhood love affair with all things paranormal.

I’ve always loved writing.  It was my outlet during my parents’ divorce and subsequent custody battle.  It was a way to rationalize through difficult decisions.  It was how I persuaded my mom to buy me my first cell phone, my first computer, my first car, and my first trip overseas.  It helped me earn my 4.0 GPA in college.  It’s how I worked through questions of faith, a form of prayer and meditation.  Writing has always been a part of my life in some form or fashion, just not always with the intent of sharing with others.

My thoughts about writing began to change once I had a child.  I had always been afraid what people would think if they knew I wrote, what they would say.  I tell my son daily to pray, be himself, and always be brave.  It didn’t take me long to realize I wasn’t practicing what I preached.

The first book I started made it six chapters before I lost motivation; I let someone’s comments influence me.  I stopped writing for a while, but then I had this vivid dream about a girl watching her home engulfed in flames and no one could stop it but her.  Her tears were my tears and her pain was my pain.  Figuratively speaking, I had been that girl once upon a time.  I woke up and started writing what I remembered, and the story progressed from there.

A common theme in everything I write, every song I choose when choreographing for my dance students, and every piece of advice I give to my son: accept who you are and what gifts God gave you.  You have to love the person God made you to be and be brave, especially when you don’t want to be.  Fear overwhelms us, it paralyzes us, and sometimes we need some external force to push up toward facing and overcoming those fears.

I think that’s what makes me uniquely qualified to write this story.  I have been this character—minus the awesome paranormal abilities—feeling friendless, struggling with family secrets, and not fitting in.  I learned that most of that isolation was created from within myself.  I had to overcome me.  I love these characters, cried when they cried, laughed when they laughed, and my bravery grew just as theirs did.  Acceptance is something we all crave as humans and something we all fear won’t be given.  We spend so much time worrying about what others will think of us; we base our worth on their opinions.  This book is about realizing it’s okay to be odd, different, and unique.  It’s those things that make us special.  You should embrace that thing about yourself that makes you different, because it is what makes you you.

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Characterization Exercise Numero Dos

Characterization & voice are the themes of this week’s lesson in the creative writing course I’m taking.  We were given three exercises to help us work on creating characters and developing their voice.  This particular creative writing exercise was actually paired with the one I wrote in this blog post.  For some reason this felt much more challenging for me to write.

The prompt (not verbatim) said to sit quietly and relax, imagine it’s been a long, busy, lonely day and you are thinking about calling up someone or going out for some human interaction when you answer the door to find the person you most want to spend time with.  This person has a secret or details about their life that they desperately need to tell someone.  Who is there?  What do they want to tell you?

I’m not sure how I feel about the outcome–I’m not sure that my intent/focus/voice was clear, but here is what I came up with:

My head is heavy as I sink into the worn green cushion of his Lay-Z Boy chair.  Headaches typically occur with too much stimulation: too much noise, too many people around.  Not today.  Today’s headache is brought to me by the unrelenting thoughts in my head.  Too much time alone equals no distractions from thinking and my mind gains too much ground.

Sometimes I think staying home was a mistake.  When your only company is incapable of talking, the quiet gets to be too much.

It would be a good idea to get out of the house more, but is it really worth all the hassle of getting prepped?  Probably not.

Maybe I should just call someone.

I push back against the creaky chair, letting the leg rest raise to cup my calves, and close my drooping eyes in the twilight tinted room.

I should just call him.

Danny is down for the night, chores are caught up, and my reports are all submitted.  I have the time to call, but I’m not sure I have the energy.  No, that’s not a good excuse.  I need to contact him.  We don’t get many opportunities to talk anymore.

I kick the well-loved chair parts back into place and trudge back into the kitchen.  I think that’s where I left the phone, either there or the laundry room.

My search of the kitchen is fruitless.  I stop short of the laundry room when I think I hear a knocking.  I’m frozen, not even daring to let a breath escape.  Surely the baby isn’t awake already.

I turn to go check on him; the phone will have to wait until tomorrow.

I hear the rapping again and it’s too uniform to be the frantic kick of a little one.  It must be someone at the door, but at this hour?

I grab my phone off the washing machine before  heading to the front of the house, just in case an emergency call is warranted.

I flick the light switch and watch our porch illuminate through the fogged glass door of the entryway.  It’s clear enough to see colors and shapes, but nothing more.  Navy pants and matching jacket.  I think it’s the shape of a man.  What’s that in his hand?  A hat?

My phone clatters to the cold stone floor and my eyes brim with tears.  I’ve seen that uniform before at a girlfriend’s front door and I can’t make myself answer.

I can’t hear that he’s never coming home.

I have to call him.  He has to answer.

I grip my phone with jittery fingers and fumble around the screen until I get his number pulled up.  I turn my back to the door and push send.  If I don’t see the silhouette in my door, then it’s not real.

The phone rings and Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up plays, I hear it.  I hear it?

The smile on my face is as unstoppable as it is unbelievable.

He knocks again and I fling the door open, leaving a dent in our wall.  Who cares?  My man is here, in front of me, in the flesh.

“Macy,” he murmurs my name with such love, but his features are detached.  This incongruent combination wipes my smile away to be replaced by confusion.

His hair is longer than last time, a few days growth on his usually clean-shaven head.  His strong jaw is clinched so tight I can see the muscle twitch in his jaw.  His deep-set blue eyes are darker than I remember.  His uniform fits as perfectly as I remember.

He’s standing so formally, one arm behind his back, the other grasping his hat.  He doesn’t attempt to hug me.  Should I? 

What am I thinking?  Of course I should.  I’ve waited months for this moment and expected to be forced to wait several more.

“Joseph,” I breathe through a tentative smile and step onto the porch, my arms outstretched toward him.  He flinches and steps away.

“Joseph?”  What—?”

“Macy, wait.  Don’t you want to know why I’m home?”

I think about it before answering, “Not really.  Does it matter?  You’re home; that’s all I need to know.”

He sheds his own tears as he responds, “I’m home six months early and we haven’t talked in weeks.  You aren’t the least bit curious why?”

Now I’m scared, but I don’t want him to see.  Not yet.

“You were on a mission; we couldn’t talk.  I assume your deployment was cut short.  That’s good, right?”

Of course it’s good. He’s home.

I step forward again and grip his sleeves before he can retreat further.  He clenches his eyes shut and sucks in a ragged breath.  I don’t understand the problem until I register the loose fabric hanging in my right hand.  The reason he did not reach for me, did not embrace me.

He’s crying in earnest now and he’s half-heartedly fighting out of my grip, which only makes me tighten my grip.

“Baby,” I whisper.  It’s all I can say.

“Don’t,” he commands, his voice hard.  The tears are gone.  “I don’t need your pity, Macy.”

Pity?  He must have forgotten everything about me during his absence and I ask as much.

“Pity?  Have you ever known me to pity you?  Pity is for enablers and quitters.”

“What about cripples?  What about the screwed up people of this world?  What about me?”  He’s shouting and I don’t know if he realizes it.

“What about you?  You’re here, standing in front of me.  In control of your faculties and talking to me.  What is so wrong with you that deserves to be pitied?  Nothing, because nothing about you is helpless.”

“No, but everything about me is useless,” he implores me to understand.

“No, baby.  Everything about you is home.  You’re home,” I remind him and I’m finally able to wrap my arms around him again. Finally able to talk to him again. Finally able to see him again.

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Soldiers leave home and return, often changed mentally and physically, and there is no way for us to truly understand what that means.  There are, however, numerous groups out there founded to raise awareness and provide aide for the struggles these soldiers and their families face during times of active duty, as well as once they return home.  Listed here are a few links to some such organizations:

Wounded Warrior

Stop Soldier Suicide

Off The Base (This blog has a list of twelve organizations working to raise PTSD awareness.)

Charities Supporting Soldiers and their Families (This page has a list of Wounded Warrior & Family Support resources.)