Writers are a supportive bunch.

I’ve been told this; hell, I’ve even experienced it volunteering at Writespace. I’ve gone into workshops and had to share my writing, thinking Dear God, please don’t let them laugh me out of the room, and received nothing but supportive feedback and constructive criticism. That’s not to say there aren’t some people out there who take pleasure in knocking other writers down, there are. But on the whole, writers really are good at encouraging one another.

Last quarter I took on a research project exploring Flash Fiction—a genre I had very little background in. I’d recently attended panels on the subject at Writefest, and had just received notice that my first flash submission had been accepted for publication, so the subject was fresh on my mind.

I started scouring the internet: journal databases, library databases, and literary journal archives for research on my chosen topic. I signed up for a flash fiction workshop—even spoke to the instructor a little about my project at the end of the class. She gave me her card, offered to answer any questions I had, and said she would love to read the article when I finished. Wow, I thought, that was really awesome of her! (Unfortunately, I ran out of time and never got to ask her any questions for my paper, but I plan to let her read my finished project and if she’s willing, I’d still love to pick her brain about her experience with flash fiction.)

Another confession: I’m obsessive, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I have this annoying habit of trying to do everything by myself, so asking for help isn’t exactly easy for me.

I reached a point in my research where I was just STUCK. I had a general idea of where I wanted to go with the project, but couldn’t get it focused. I shocked myself when I reached out to a writer friend who I knew had experience with flash fiction. I just wanted her opinion on the project and her general thoughts on my thesis, but she went above and beyond. She gave me detailed feedback AND sent me specific links of journals and names of leading authors in the genre. I don’t know if she realizes how incredibly encouraging that was…

Then, halfway through the quarter I surprised myself again when I told my instructor that I thought I should interview some authors. She thought it was a great idea, so I looked at some of the flash stories I’d read recently and some that had been recommended to me by other writers. I read additional writing by the authors of these flash pieces and selected four authors that I thought would have informative, varied insights into the world of flash. I didn’t expect anyone to agree to an interview—people have busy lives and I wasn’t even sure if I would get responses, but all four writers accepted my interview request and all four were generous in their responses. One of the writers, Anne Goodwin, even asked me if I would like to write a post on flash fiction for her blog. She has a great blog and I was honored.

I don’t know if any experience to date has shown me the beauty of belonging to this world. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s competitive. Yes, you might think everyone is judging you all the time. But the truth is, all writers are experiencing (or have experienced) the stressful parts of being a writer. That’s why we have to support and lift each other up. I’m thankful for meeting beautiful writers who do just that!

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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.