research: asking questions

As a developing writer, I’m becoming more acutely aware of the importance of accuracy. I’m always bumping into Stuff I Don’t Know.

It’s frustrating. I don’t feel capable of writing about a subject if I haven’t thoroughly researched it. It’s not enough for me to have a vague idea about a topic.

An impression of something, or a hunch about it, is all that is needed to spark my interest. But it’s not enough for me to feel confident to write at this point. Instead, I view it more as a research opportunity.

I have to be careful because I can get quite sidetracked with this. It’s half the fun for me.

Often it all begins with a question. Like: Why is God associated with fire? There are so many scriptural references to fire. My own intellectual speculation tells me that fire is energy. Energy is never destroyed. My mind wanders. I know that fire is mentioned at the birth of the church in reference to the Holy Spirit. I’m sure there’s more to this. There’s the burning bush and Moses. God is described as a consuming fire. What does that mean? Fire also provides light, and  warmth. Are these not essential to life? And there are references to God using fire  (metaphorically) as as a means of refining us.

This is just an example. Writing, it seems, is really a balance of curiosity and wonder (questions); research (answers); rules (skill); reading; and practice.

a {writing} place of my own

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Having a comfortable place to write is important to me. It should, ideally, have everything I need. It should be inviting, clean, and pleasing to the senses.

Maybe that seems like too much to ask. Maybe I should learn to write in crowds, or at a restaurant, or on the beach. But I know I can’t. It’s a feature of my INFJ personality (extroverted sensing), and it’s also because I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP).

If I’m surrounded by mess, or the temperature is too high or low; if the wind is blowing my hair across my face; if there are too many ants crawling on the picnic table; if there is a strong smell of smoke or perfume or garbage; if I’m hungry or thirsty and I’m far from refreshment; if television is playing in the background, or loud conversations, or music is part of the environment; if there are any conditions that might affect me negatively, it is nearly impossible for me to focus.

Today’s prompt suggested that I try writing from a different location. But I don’t have one right now. That happens to be one of the more annoying aspects of my current circumstances.

I write from a couch, which also happens to be my bed. And sometimes I write at work, when I have the opportunity.

I enjoy nature. But a cold front has just moved into central Florida, and I’m not eager to go anywhere outside.

I don’t even have a clean table to work on. It’s not my house, and I’m not up to cleaning it right now.

I need a place of my own. I’m working on it. But I’ve been displaced for the past year due to a recent divorce.

I’ve never had a place of my own to write. I don’t know what that feels like. I’ve never been supported in my goal to write.

my secret ingredient to writing

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I am told that I make good pancakes.

Even if I weren’t told this, I would know it. Because I taste them, and they taste good, and I have good taste.

They’re the perfect color. Golden yellow with light brown edges. Crisp on the outside, but fluffy and soft on the inside.

I am patient. I wait until the just-right amount of bubbles appear on the surface of the round puddle of mix. A puddle that is not too thick, and not too thin. I resist the urge to peek, and I stand guard as they cook. When the bubbly surface begins to look dry-ish, I know it’s time to flip them. Timing is everything. You cannot flip them a second too soon, because you must only do it once. Anything more and the texture is lost.

They look good. But the taste is what really sets them apart. Sweet, but not too sweet. Delicate, not doughy.

I have a secret.

The secret ingredient is buttermilk, and it makes all the difference.

Writing isn’t much different than making good pancakes.

It starts with good taste. You don’t need anyone to tell you your writing is good except you, though it is encouraging when they do, and it helps.

You need patience. A sense of when a piece of writing is finished, not over or underdone.

But most of all you need a secret ingredient. Persistence. You have to show up and write consistently enough to grow, and produce work of quality.

memoir of a {failed?} memoirist

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Please don’t ask me about my past. Don’t say, “Remember the time we…” or “Tell me about when you…”.

The past, for me, is a wasteland of vague impressions, abstractions and perceptions. Memories are not movies playing out in my mind. They aren’t clear and vivid photo-quality images.

I’m good at remembering odd, insignificant details, like the fact that I decided to name my fat, orange goldfish Garfield, and his skinny, gray swimming partner Simon. I remember how I thought it was clever to reference the famous Sunday comics cat, and also indirectly suggest a sixties folk-pop duo. And yes, Garfield is close enough to Garfunkel to make this witty in my mind. I remember how they died. Simon went first. It was a nameless, tumor-causing fish disease. I remember how glad I was that Garfield outlived him by several years, even though he eventually succumbed to the mysterious belly up-disease.

Looking at photos is helpful. So is listening to stories that friends and relatives tell. But I can’t seem to shake the discomfort of realizing that vast chunks of my life exist somewhere in a black, inaccessible void. This is what scares me. It makes me feel sad and wholly inadequate.

It’s not that I don’t remember any of it. It’s that I remember it differently than others, and selectively. My memories are often random and always subjective. I’ve come to accept this as a by-product of my natural cognitive functioning.

For day three of my 21 Day Writing Challenge I have decided to consider the past. I’m drawn to memoir and I’m not sure why.

So far I’ve managed to successfully capture two personally memorable moments in the form of memoir. Was this a stroke of luck? An un-reproducible, isolated phenomenon? Am I doomed to fail at memoir writing?

I have a few more where those came from, so I’m going to tentatively suspend all self-deprecation from this point forward.

Maybe there’s a reason I like memoir so much. Maybe I like the idea of struggling with the elusive past, fishing something out of the depths of time, and re-working it into a meaningful story.

how to grow as a writer {a 21 day challenge}

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I want to grow as a writer. My plan is to show up here every day and write something.

Poetry. Dreams. Memories. Observations. Thoughts. Feelings. Whatever.

I’m told that I need the practice. And that something magical happens when you just write. So I’ve decided to take on a daily writing challenge. I’m going to write here every day. I’ll be using some preset prompts, but the topic may vary. Or not.

After 21 days of writing like this I’m going to look back at what I’ve written. I’ll see what themes emerge. I’ll find my voice. Writing every day will be a habit, and I’ll train my brain to think like a writer. That’s the idea.

Here’s what I know about writing:

There’s a voice in my head. It’s the voice of every book I’ve ever read. When I arrange words, and read them out loud in my head, the voice tells me if they sound right. If they flow. If they sound like the books.

Neat. Polished. Nothing messy. No sordid details. Clean, clever and cold. Censored and sifted. Careful. This is how I write.

Maybe I’m reading the wrong books.

This is day two. Read day one’s post here.

free books

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It’s more difficult than it looks putting word after word on a page. Words that make sense.

Words are free.

Just like the books you find now and then on an ugly metal shelf by the exit doors of the library.

You could be sleeping on a couch and cashing out your retirement fund twenty years too soon. You could be surrounded by bags of those free books, writing free words.

And at first you never stop asking if it makes sense.

But then, one day, when you’re reading your books, and writing your words, you too start feeling free.

And maybe someday someone will pick your words right off of a drab gray shelf.

Because they’re free.