Thursday, April 29, 2010

One Step At A Time

I was thinking today about how boring it might be for you to read day after day about the struggles and triumphs I am going through to reach my goal, my dream.

But I want you to know that just having this outlet every day is so powerful for me.  Writing is such an incredibly lonely and personal pursuit.  It's one with little tangible rewards.  There are no instinct gratifications (which I'm a huge addict of, one of the reasons I've always struggled with having a healthy relationship with food) or positive reinforcements in this kind of job.

That's one of the reasons I gave up trying last year before I even really started.  One story published, a few tries in other outlets and I gave up.  It was too hard.  It chances of any reward were low and even when on the off chance I got the rewards, I found the financial payback pitiful in light of the money I could make as a lawyer doing a small fraction of the writing work and effort.

But now, somehow, things are different.  I've come back to it with a different mind set.  And I'm more determined than I've ever been.  That's doesn't mean, however, that it's easier.

It's still incredibly hard.  You have to motivate yourself every day.  There is no external schedule, pressure, timeline, guidance, structure.  All the things that make regular jobs doable for a lot of people.

To be self disciplined, every day, is a mountain that seems too insurmountable to climb.  But I'm trying to  just take one step forward at a time.  Some days, the steps are so small that I'm not sure if they really even matter.  But I take them anyway.  A page here, a paragraph there, a thought written down, a idea formed.  That's all I have right now.

So I'm keeping this going.  And every single step I'm going to share on this blog because it really helps me sort it out in my head.

Thanks for sharing this time with me.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You Need A Lead In

I'm so excited this morning!

I had a break through.  I big giant breakthrough.  I've been struggling with how to tell these stories.   For the sake of just doing it, I've been writing the stories down as they come to me but they seemed to just float in the air without a tether to anything.  How do I make these stories relevant to my bigger life story or to my identity.  How do I make anyone care about reading the story when they don't know why I'm writing them or what their individual themes are.

Well, last night as I was reading Writing About Your Life, by William Zinsser, it hit me.  I need a lead in paragraph that is separate from but related to something in the story that talks about why I'm telling the story, why it's important to me and gives a hint of it's conclusion.

I got up this morning and the lead ins to my essays became somewhat apparent to me.  And it felt like a light bulb turning on.  I woke up my husband (poor husband) and told him the lead in to one of my favorite stories and after a few initial grumbles (which I forgave because of his sleepy state) he actually thought the lead in was really good.

Figuring this out and making it work for at least one story gives me hope.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Year Goes By In A Flash!

Let me ask you question.  Would you work on a project for an entire year knowing that the chances that the project has a successful result is less than 1%?

That's what I have decided.  That I'm going to work for a year on something that realistically has a very small chance of being published or even being read by more than a handful of people.

And also, while doing it, I have people close to me saying that no one will want to read about the life of a regular person unless it's something "interesting" that is written in extraordinarily beautiful way implying that I don't really have anything too unusual or interesting to say (even if I can write beautifully which is certainly not the case right now even though I'm working on it).

It's not that I don't have supportive family and friends.  I think they say the same thing anyone in the publishing industry would say.  The chances are very very small that I will succeed.  Period.

I've been thinking a lot about this.  The hard work that I'll have to put in (and some money to pay for the workshops, books, and supplies) knowing that it is likely to result in nothing more than a year long writing exercise and a story for my children.

Having digested this I'm still determined to do it and this is why.

1. A year is not that much time.  What other great achievement am I going to accomplish in a year that I'm putting aside to do this?  I'm writing and reading during my spare time and once the kids both are in school in September, I will have more dedicated time to do this.

2. Everyone has an interesting story.  I think the challenge is digging down and telling the truth about the human elements that make us who we are:  fear, insecurity, sorrow, the desperate need to belong, love, joy, passion, happiness.

3. I want to write well.  I want to see myself creating a beautiful product that I'm proud of.  I want to share my story with the hope of not only being understood but also maybe connecting with others that have felt the same way I have throughout my life.

4. And the money I'll be spending...well, that will have to be an investment in just trying something big.

How do you like that?  Giving myself a pep talk....

Monday, April 26, 2010

Training For The Marathon

Have you ever sat down and written for three or four hours straight? 

I haven't.  I mean, besides college or law school when I was writing a paper or studying for an exam.  Even in all these years working as an attorney, I'm not sure if I ever actually wrote something nonstop for that long.  Usually, there are breaks between the writing where you talk to people, you check e-mails, you research stuff, you go back and read or edit what you have written already.  For me, especially for the legal work, the reading and editing of material was much more time consuming that the writing of it.

I have a feeling that it's the same with being a writer.  That re-writing and crafting is probably the more time consuming part.  But you have to actually write a lot first to have enough material that you can go back and piece together for a real story that flows and reads nicely. 

And to have that, I'm going to have to get used to writing at least a few hours every day.  The author that recently got back to me with advice said that she writes anywhere form 3 to 6 hours EVERY DAY!

Oh my God!  That's a lot of writing.  I've been thinking about it a lot and I realized that the most I've done in terms of creative non-fiction writing is maybe an hour or so at a time.  The rest of the time I was thinking about it and then going back and re-reading and editing the short pieces that I'd written.

It's like running I guess.  The more you train, the longer you can go.  You can't just start off running 20 mile race if you haven't even ran a single mile in years. 

I'm starting the training today.  I'm going to see how long I can just write the stories that I intend to share.

Wish me luck. 

P.S. If you hadn't guessed it, this post is me procrastinating after my first 20 minutes of writing.  :)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reaching Out For Advice

Yesterday, I reached out to an established writer that I barely know for some advice.  She was the editor of the compilation book in which my short personal essay was published last year.

I was a little nervous about it but thought since she was also once a lawyer and has small kids she could relate to my situation.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear back from her so quickly with some helpful suggestions.

My first question was about who should read my material and give me feedback.  A few friends have offered to read my work as I go along and give me feedback.  Also, my husband is a great writer and I wanted to use him too.  She said that I shouldn't do either of these and that instead I should find a writer or teacher to do professional editing.  I think this might be the best thing.  I was hesitant getting my friends involved because of the mixing-friends-and-business issues.  Also, my poor husband is so busy and I don't think I want to have the little time we have with each other be filled up with writing critiques.

The second thing she said that I found interesting was that most of writing is re-writing.  I'd heard that before but it really resonated with me this time.  I've been writing a little more each day but I've still been too hesitant to just write because my thoughts are not complete and my sentences not right.  I need to just get the stories and thoughts on paper and go from there.

The last thing she said was surprising.  She said that when I was ready, she could help me find an agent. Wow.  That's pretty generous considering I don't know her from Adam.

Each day I move a little closer to making it happen!  :)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dark Places

Writing about my dark times and my family's personal dark times is going to be HARD.

But for some reason, I think it will be doable.

We all have them.  Even the people that act like or tell you that they don't have them.

I'm thinking it will help me work some stuff out too.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Good morning!" She said while walking in the door.

I had a little bit of a panic moment last night when I realized that I don't really know how to write good dialogue.  One year of posts and I think I included dialogue only a hand full of times.

How the hell am I going to write an entire memoir when I don't know how to write dialogue?  Suddenly, a year seems like a very short time to learn everything I need and write something worthwhile.

Then I slowly talked myself off the edge and went on-line and read a couple of articles about how to write dialogue (surprise, surprise, almost all of the articles said listen to dialogue in the real world then practice writing it down and reading it out loud).

This is going to be real work!

Any tips you have on this?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bird By Bird

I'm so happy that I have this medium to share my thoughts and communicate with you.  It's already been so helpful in terms of encouragement and more importantly great advice.  A lot of you have told me to just write.  This is probably the best advice, or reminder, any writer could get.  And I'm taking it to heart.

The other thing I'm doing is reading a lot.  Yesterday, I mentioned a writing book that I was reading.  In response, Sherilee, my dear blog friend that I hope to meet in real life one day soon, suggested the book Bird by Bird.  

Her suggestion was more significant than she could have imagined.  Many years ago, a friend gave me the book because she had heard me talking about my writing dreams.  At the time, that's all they were.  Dreams.  I used to talk about it once in a while more like a distant fantasy than anything I expected to actually happen.  When she gave it to me I tried reading it but after a few pages I put it down.  I didn't really connect to what the writer was saying in the book.  I never picked it up again thinking that it wasn't that good.

Well, last night, because of Sherilee's suggestion, I decided to give it another try.  I started reading and couldn't stop.  What she said not only made perfect sense to me but was a good guide in terms of the steps I need to take today and every day going forward if I want to complete my challenge.  

The difference between all those years ago and today is that I'm so much more ready to receive her message.  I credit a great deal of that to this blog.  When I started this blog some friends didn't understand why I was "wasting" time writing on a blog.  But the one year I spent writing every day (and the very small publishing triumph which came out of the blog) gave me what I needed to start on this journey: the practice of writing on a regular basis, the courage to try and express thoughts on paper quickly without fear of mistakes or criticism, and the knowledge that something wonderful can come out of that writing.

That was a very long way of saying thank you for sticking with me on my blog and giving me feedback.  It means a lot.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Writers Writing About Writing

The thing about writing books are that they're written well.  :)

Not a surprise there but I think it's funny nonetheless.

I'm now reading The Elements of Story by Francis Flaherty, an editor at The New York Times.

Not a hundred percent relevant to my work but great tips on story telling.

Monday, April 19, 2010

To Capitalize Or Not?

Before I can write a book, I need to figure out how to actually write.

I'm reading a few great memoirs including Angela's Ashes and I just realized after several decades of writing that I'm not fully utilizing (and to be honest, did not really know all the ways) to correctly use a colon. 

One of the things that suprised me is that you can start the connecting sentence after the colon with a lower case letter.  I thought you always had to capitalize that first letter after the colon.  But reading these great writers and doing some research I realize now that my understanding was incorrect.  Although some writing manuals say that you should always capitalize the connecting sentence, there are equally legitimate other authorities that say you don't have to do it (unless it is a quotation or more than one sentence).

So there you have it, I'm still learning how to write sentences. 
Boy, this is going to be a long journey!  :)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Considerations of Cultural Identity

Some interesting developments on the subject matter of my book.  I saw an old friend recently that was taken aback by the fact that I was going to write about struggles with my culture or heritage.  Her fear was that because I come from a country that already has some negative stereotypes in the American media then anything disparaging I say about that country or culture will be blown out of proportion and used to further the negative misunderstandings of that country.

I have to say that she said it in a way that I found hurtful and patronizing but she did bring up something that I will have to think about very carefully.  When writing about anything like cultural identity, even if it is strictly ones own views of that identity, one needs to be careful not to generalize the entire culture or country.

My story is simply that, it is my story.  And I will work to make sure that whatever conclusions I reach about my culture will be based on only what I have seen and not a total evaluation of the past or the current  people of that culture.

Talking to her, or rather debating her, for the last few days has brought to light the fact that revealing myself in a memoir will have a marked impact on the relationships I have in my life.  Some good and some not so good.  But I'm ready for that.  I think you reach a place in your life where you are ready to show your authentic self to the world and inevitably some will like that self and some will not.  And that's OK.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ready to Learn

I'm so excited.  I had a great talk with my mom and she was so supportive of my book project.  This was the first time that I felt like she really understood what I was trying to do and saw my vision for the book. I read her the summary of what the book would be about and she thought it was great.

You know how sometimes you want to do something but the timing just doesn't seem right for one reason or another.  It could be because you're just not ready or the circumstances around you are not aligned for the thing you want to happen.

Well, I've wanted to write a book for many years but I've never felt like the elements in my life were right for it and looking back, I was not ready either.  I needed time to explore different things and to learn about both the writing process and my own capabilities.

Now that I'm ready and other elements seem to also be falling into place.  I'm ready to ask the right questions about how to do this and I have a better picture of the areas that I need to research and improve to put out a good story.  I'm so excited about this process.

Does that make any sense?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blog Past, Present and Future

After my one year blog challenge, I struggled with what I would do with this blog.

As most of you know, I started this blog as a challenge to myself to write everyday for an entire year.  I started June 2008 and for one year I wrote something every single day, rain or shine, sick or healthy, at home or far away.  I did that challenge for a few reasons; to see how it would feel to write continuously, to see if the process would help me improve my writing and eventually lead me to a new writing career and to create something that would memorialize my thoughts and life.  The challenge was successful in that it accomplished a few of these things.  I ended up writing much more than I would have without the challenge (every single day for an entire year was much harder than I had ever anticipated) and I created a book for my family that memorialized one year of my life and provided a good picture of who I am and how I see the world.  I'm so grateful that I was able to give this gift to myself and my family.  What it didn't do, however, was convince me that I was destined for a writing career.

After this goal ended, I wondered what my challenge would be for the next year (June 2009-2010).  I tried a few things (knitting, painting, and my latest one...entertainment blogger!) but didn't stick to any of them and as the challenge vacuum grew so did my work responsibilities.  So instead of creating a new goal, I concentrated more on my legal work and discipline for the next year.  The decision was not a conscious one but I'm glad it turned out this way.  I was able to improve my legal skills and learn a lot about what it takes and means to be a sole practitioner.  But as the work volume, complexity and scope increased I started to question whether the work was what I ultimately wanted to do at this time in my life.  After some consideration, I decided that the time away from my young children should be time I spend doing something I truly love so I a few weeks ago I quit my stay-at-home legal practice completely.

It was a very hard decision for several reasons, the people I was working with had become like family to me over the last nine years and letting go of that relationship meant not only letting go of some of those close ties but also of the opportunity I had been given by them to continue my legal career on a very flexible schedule and on my terms.  I will forever be grateful to them for that.

Now that another year is upon me, I've decided to commit to a new challenge.  I'm going to write again.  And this time I will do it authentically and about something that is both extremely meaningful but also very difficult to write about and that is my long struggle and eventual peace with my culture and identity.

Just like the first challenge that I professed on this blog almost two years ago, I thought it would be fitting to share my next year challenge here.  I will write my story and make every attempt possible to publish it by June 2011, the same month that I turn 40.

I plan on continuing to blog periodically mostly because of the wonderful friendships that I've gained through this medium and also because I love being part of this supportive and caring community.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Handsome Men's Club

This is so funny.  Kimmel is just great!

Happy Weekend.    :)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Containers Galore

I have such a hard time throwing away boxes and containers, especially if they're cute in any way.  Although that is not a prerequisite.  I currently have four medium sized moving boxes in my office that I just can't get rid of because the boys used them one day for playing robot men and now every time I see them I think what if they want to play with them again and I've thoughtlessly thrown them away!!

And then there are the dozen or so plastic, paper, metal or wooden boxes that I have acquired.  They are old food containers (mostly cute cookie or sweets) or gift containers that I can't stand to let go of.  What if I can reuse them somehow?

And then there are the bags...OH THE BAGS!  I will keep practically any bag that enters my house.  What's more useful than a bag?  And they come in all varieties, plastic, paper, cotton, big, small, medium, from stores, from friends, free gifts, left doesn't matter how it ends up in my hands, once it's here it sets up its home and never leaves!

But I've been thinking these days, maybe I should clean house and let go of some of that stuff.  What do you think?