Tag Archives: write

Wordkeepers: An Ode to my Writing Group

“If a story is in you, it has got to come out.”
– William Faulkner

artscenterTake a trip with me. Come along as we make our way to a tiny stone building that sits on a street corner in a small town in the mountains. In this tiny building, there lies one little room. At first glance, there is nothing special about this room—nothing magical. A few pictures on the wall, a podium, some fold-out chairs. A few windows that allow the last slants of evening light to dance across the hardwood floor.

People begin to arrive and fill the chairs—a wide variety of ages and genders. (There are probably even bigger varieties in religion, profession, and political standings, but you do not know this, nor do you care.) You hear the shuffling of papers, the scraping of one of the chair’s legs across the floor as its occupant tries in vain to find a comfortable position. You hear a nervous cough or two. More paper shuffling.

Now, the silence will be broken as the first makes her way to the podium.

A throat clears. A nervous voice rings out. “I wrote this piece when I…”

Ah. This is where the magic begins.

You are in the storytellers’ room, my friend. The first storyteller has begun her journey and soon the others will follow suit, including you.

Welcome to the group.

This is where we meet to shed the life outside these stone walls and dive headfirst into the world within. This is where the stories are set free. All are true, even the fiction ones, for they come from within the mind and heart of the writer, and what could be more real than that?

Join us. Experience a new consciousness. That thing that has been sleeping inside you will gradually open one lazy, hesitant eye and take a quick peek. Once it sees that it is safe to awaken, both eyes will snap open and, with a yawn that stems from far too much time spent in hibernation, the sleeping creature will come to life.
Prepare yourself. For once it’s alive, there will be no stopping it. You will no longer remember the life you lived before this being inside of you was allowed to roam free. It will rule you. You will be at its mercy. You will not be able to rest until you obey its command to release your stories into the world. At first, it will scare you. But soon, you come to realize that it is not there to harm you, it is there to save you.

You are free. You are free from the chains of self-doubt that kept you prisoner. You are free from the fear of criticism and critique.

You are free from the fear of succeeding.

You walked into this room not knowing what might lie within. Now you walk away knowing that you will never be the same. You are one of us.

You are a storyteller.

Welcome home.

***

 “Writing is an extreme privilege, but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.”
– Amy Tan

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Writing

“I must write it all out, at any cost.  Writing is thinking.  It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.”
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Ok, I better stick to this thankful list kick while I’m still in the mood.

This blog is dedicated to writing.

Oh my gosh, am I thankful for writing.  Not only my own, but others’ as well.  I can’t even begin to explain what therapy exists for me in picking up a book to read or picking up a pen to write.  writingblogOh, who am I kidding – no one uses pens anymore.  Maybe I should say grabbing a keyboard and hearing the clicks.  Yeah, that sounds a bit more truthful.  Some of my earliest memories involved hiding out in my room and writing.  Either in a journal, or in a trapper keeper (remember those! Gosh, I’m old…) where I would stash all my poetry.  Unfortunately in all my many moves growing up as an Army brat, that Trapper Keeper got misplaced.  It’s crazy to think of all the hundreds of 12-year-old girl poems that are floating around out there somewhere.  I’m sure they were masterful works of art, mind you.  I mean, New Kids on the Block was a pretty deep subject, ya know.  Duh!

And not only would I retreat to my room to write, but I would also read.  I couldn’t read enough.  You would never see me without a book in my hand (and I’m proud to say, that hasn’t changed much).  Escaping my world and delving into someone else’s was better than any therapy that money could buy.  My therapy would cost me about $5 a session (if it was a paperback, a little more for a hard cover).  Hey, and the session was totally free if I rented my therapist from the local library.  And what brilliant, effective therapy it was.  And still is.

My now-famous friend Zoe (from my previous blogs) sent me a quote one day that made her think of me.  It goes like this:

“Writers are like other people, except for at least one important difference. Other people have daily thoughts and feelings, notice this sky or that smell, but they don’t do much about it. All those thoughts, feelings, sensations, and opinions pass through them like the air they breathe. Not writers. Writers react.”
– Ralph Fletcher

That is it exactly.  I always felt like I was a little weird.  A little different than others because of the fact that I felt things so deeply.  Nothing was insignificant in my life – everything had some kind of deeper meaning.  And eventually, as I grew older, I finally figured out what to do about that.  Put it on paper.  I think that’s what writing is all about.  Those feelings and emotions that well up inside of you need somewhere to go.  It happens to all of us, and we all find ways to deal with it.  Some with writing.  Some with exercise.  Some with music.  Some with art.  Theatre.  Dance.  The list goes on and on.  And then, sadly, there are those who haven’t found a way to express all that is inside of them.  So they suppress instead of express.  Drugs.  Alcohol.  Promiscuity.  Etc.

Oh, I don’t know – maybe I’m full of crap.  But I kinda don’t think so.  I think we all have the same feelings and emotions inside of us at any given time.  What differentiates us from each other, is what we decide to do with them.

time concept, selective focus point, special toned photo f/xSo, will my writing matter someday?  Oh, I don’t know.  I’d like to think so.  So far, this year alone, I have managed to win a writing contest (what I said must have mattered to some judge somewhere); get published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book (a book that is intended to out to millions of readers with positive messages about how to live life to the fullest); and have a small quote published in Guideposts magazine (again, a “pick-me-up” type of publication).  This first year of going public with my writing has given me a pretty good boost.  Maybe it’s beginners’ luck, or maybe it’s the start to something big.  Who knows?  Either way, I know that writing saves me.  I don’t mean that in some drama queen “I’d die without it” kind of way.  I mean it just like I said.  It saves me.  It saves my sanity.  It saves me from feeling like I’m all alone (thanks to you readers who continue to comment telling me how much something I’ve said makes you think of you or your current situation).  And most importantly, it saves me from holding all of these jumbled thoughts and words inside of me.  Thank God I’ve found a way to get it all out there.

So, thank you, Writing.  You are on my thankful list.  Thank you for the gift you’ve given to me, and to others, to somehow change the world.  Even if that world may just be our own.

***

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”
– Gloria Steinem

Chicken Soup

I have been kind of keeping something a secret.

Oh, I don’t know why really.  I guess at first I wasn’t sure whether I should say something when I wasn’t 100% positive that it was going to be true (I’m still not sure really, but I’ll explain that soon enough).  Then, I was a little embarrassed to say something about it.  Not sure why that is either really.  I guess I just didn’t want to put the cart before the horse or whatever.  And then, finally, I was afraid to say something in fear of…well, I don’t know…jinxing it maybe?

But, alas, as my ever-helpful boyfriend said to me about my fear of the jinx (while quoting the great philosopher, Andy Griffith):

There’s no such thing, Barney.”

(Full of wisdom, that one is.)

Ok.  So, jinx be darned, I’m ready to spill my guts.

See this?

chickensoup

This is the cover of a new Chicken Soup for the Soul book that is being released on December 24.  And guess what?

There’s a very strong chance that one of my stories will be in it.

EEEEEEK!

Ok, let me back up a little and explain.

About four months ago, after starting my blog and getting some pretty positive feedback from people, I decided to try on a little confidence and see how it fit.  I started submitting some of my works.  Mostly, I entered a few little contests here and there (one of which I won!), but then I started looking into submitting works for publishing.  I stumbled across a webpage that listed various publishers and Chicken Soup for the Soul was on the list.  When I saw it, it was like a light bulb went off in my mind.

That’s it!

I had always had trouble deciding how to describe my writing.  My grandmother, who is not techno savvy AT ALL and has thus, of course, never seen my blog (and probably has never even heard of the word ‘blog’), would ask me “Well, Melissa, what is it that you write?”  I was stumped.  I had no idea how to answer that. The things I write certainly don’t fall into the “novel” category (I can barely hold a thought long enough to make a complete sentence, much less maintain a thought for the entire process of writing a NOVEL!  Sheesh!);  they aren’t short stories really (they aren’t long enough for that, and they’re not fiction); they’re not “essays” exactly, but that was what came to closest to describing them I supposed.  But I still couldn’t quite explain to her (or to anyone) what they were exactly.

And then I saw the request for submissions to Chicken Soup and realized that those were exactly what I write.  Just like what the Chicken Soup books are filled to the brim with, I write short little nonfiction personal accounts from my own life that I hope will somehow make a difference to someone else.  As my friend Chris Hansen once said in a Facebook status, “We are more alike than it seems.”  He followed it up with the following quote :

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”
– Thích Nhất Hạnh

That was my goal.  I wanted many people from many walks of life – no matter their age, religion, social status, whatever – to look at the stories coming from this one little person floating out here on the planet along with them and think, “Hey! That sounds like me!” 

So, I decided to take a chance.  I sent in a submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul. 

Now, I know a lot of my blog readers are “closet writers” –  I know this because you tell me so with your “I wish I had the courage to do what you do” emails – so I’m going to describe a little bit about the process. (And for those of you who are not writers, I’ll try to keep it short so I don’t bore you to tears.  Or, if you want, you can skip this part.  You’re not going to hurt my feelings, I promise.)

First, I perused the Chicken Soup for the Soul webpage and found the “submit your story” link in a column on the left (which I’ll post at the bottom of this blog for you closet writers I referred to earlier…you know you wanna!).  When you click here, it will give you a list of some possible upcoming book topics.  You then submit your story based on one of these topics.  The story has to be nonfiction – it has to be something that happened to you or someone you know – and can’t be made up.  You actually have to sign a release form later swearing to the truth of what is contained in the story.  The submission is entirely electronic – you just copy and paste the story on to their site and fill in some info about yourself – and Voilà!  You’re done.  It’s that simple.  (And it’s free!)  And then what happens next?

You wait.

If your story isn’t chosen, you just don’t hear anything at all.  I’ve read that they can get thousands of entries on each individual topic. (Holy cow!)  And I’ve also read that it can sometimes take up to FOUR YEARS to hear back from them even if your story is chosen, depending upon when the production date is scheduled for that particular book.  So, if your story is chosen among the entries, you get an email from them letting you know.  (And that email gives you a small little heart attack and makes you cry…or so I’ve heard…) Then, you go on to provide them a small bio about yourself and sign release and waiver forms with regard to your material being printed in the book.

This is the step that I’m at now.  I have just sent in all of my legal forms and wrote a short bio about who I am (50 words or less – that was hard!) to be printed in the book if my story makes the final cut.  According to the assistant publisher (who I’ve spoken with by phone and email a few times at this point), the “vast majority” (her words) of the stories that have made it this far will be printed in the book.  However, if you’re familiar with the Chicken Soup books, you know that each book is divided into different sub-topics.  She explained that sometimes one sub-topic will be “too full” so to speak, and they may have to leave some stories out to keep it balanced.

So…it’s not 100% for sure that I’m in just yet – but I sure am starting to get my hopes up!  Keep your fingers crossed for me!  (And toes and eyes and whatever else you got…)

When (if?) I’m chosen to appear in the book, the next step will be that I will receive a printed copy of my story to proofread and edit if necessary.  Once the editing process is complete, and the book is bound, I will receive ten copies to keep, which I will receive prior to its release date of December 24.  One month after publishing, I’ll receive $200 payment for my story.

Wow.

I mean, the money is cool and all, but at this point – who the heck cares!?  I’m soooo close to having my work published in a national best-selling book.  Oh. My. Gosh.  As my daughter said when she heard the news, “I don’t understand why they pay you.  Shouldn’t you be paying them?” 

Yeah.  Exactly.

So, for the next few months, I am probably going to be a nervous wreck.  This could be such a huge deal for me.  This is big, folks.

But you know what?  I think that even if I am one of the unlucky few that have made it this far and yet don’t quite make it into the book in the end – I think it’s still pretty big, regardless.  Out of hundreds, maybe thousands, of submissions, my story was chosen.  Wow.  I’m honored, humbled, and blown away that this is happening to me.  And I have each and every one of you who are reading this right now to thank.  Because of you taking the time to read this blog and giving me your positive feedback over the months that I’ve been baring my soul for all the world to see, I have gained confidence.  I have started to believe that I’m actually a writer.  And because of that belief – I have taken a chance.  And it may possibly have paid off.

Big time.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming along with me on this crazy ride.  I’ll keep you posted!

***

“If you wish to be a writer, write.”
– Epictetus

Links:

Link to submit to Chicken Soup: http://www.chickensoup.com/form.asp?cid=possible_books

Link to read more about the Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game book and/or to pre-order a copy on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1611599296/102-7001014-7473727?ie=UTF8&tag=chisouforthes-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=1611599296

The Kiss

“Love is when you like someone so much that when you look at them, you just want to kiss their face.”
Riley, age 12

kiss

My boyfriend’s son and I were having a conversation a while back (we do that a lot actually – there’s just something about that kid…) and the topic of “love” came up.  I can’t really remember the details of what was said, but I remember asking him what his definition was, and his answer was what I quoted above.  You just want to kiss their face.  I jotted it down (that’s what we writers do) and knew that I wanted to use it one day, but just wasn’t sure how.  I mean, it wasn’t exactly “deep” or “meaningful” or anything – but there was just something about it that struck a chord in me and I didn’t really know why.

Until now.

I think I may have just figured it out.

In the past few weeks, I have seen two of my friends go through heartbreaks.  And in both of these circumstances, the men that were supposed to have loved them, have hurt them.  Deeply.  As I have listened to their stories (feeling my own heart break right along with them), I have come to realize something.  Something that humbles and moves me with a feeling that it is hard to even put into words.

I will truly never know what that feels like, ever again.

I mean, I’m the chick that blogs about hurt and pain all the time.  About rising from your circumstances and about forgiveness and about moving on, and blah, blah, blah. But as I have listened to what has happened to them at the hands of the men they loved, I know, deep in my heart, that I will never be using that kind of pain as my motivation for future writings.  Why is that?  Because I know, without a doubt, that Richard will never hurt me like they’ve been hurt.

I know what you’re thinking...yeah, right.  We ALL think that about the person we love, and then we find out something later on that shatters our illusions.  Everyone is going to hurt you, no one is perfect.  Get your head out of the clouds, stupid blogger girl.  

Ok, I get that.  Richard and I are going to hurt each other at times, there’s no doubt about that.  I hear what you’re saying.  But here’s the difference.

Richard would never intentionally hurt me.  Nor I him.

That’s the difference.

Let me explain. Any problems that he and I have had over the time we have been together (and there have been plenty) all seem to have this underlying theme to them.  If we took each and every one of our disagreements and misunderstandings and dissected and examined them, you would see that at the heart of each and every single one lies one common denominator: trying not to hurt one another.  In trying not to hurt one another, we have made some stupid mistakes.  We have withheld information, withheld communication, withheld necessary information at times – all just to try to avoid hurting the other.  And then, when this information is unearthed, it causes a problem.  Now, I’m not saying that this is exactly healthy, per se.  We need to work on that, I know.  Hey, we’re just as screwed up as the rest of the couples out there in the world are, I know this.  I’m not trying to say we’re not.  We don’t know what the heck we’re doing either.  But the major difference that exists here is this.  We never ever try to hurt one another.  You know?

And that is what I’ve seen my friends going through.

With both words and actions, these men have shown their women things that have crushed them.  Sure, the men think they have excuses for what they’ve done (don’t we all?), but the cold, hard fact is this – they have done something on purpose that they knew, without a doubt, would break another person’s heart.  And that really, really, sucks.

Which brings me back to where I started this blog.  12-year-old Riley’s quote.

“Love is when you like someone so much that when you look at them, you just want to kiss their face.”

Look at the relationship that you’re in.  Right now – take stock and look around.  Assess your partnership.  Get rid of all the stupid little details that don’t matter at all – throw out the things that just annoy you about him/her, or vice versa.  Throw out anything that has happened in their past before you ever came along.  Throw out any of the daily minutiae of money issues, work stresses, kid struggles…forget all of that for just a minute.  Just look at your partner with the simplicity of that 12-year-old and ask yourself this.

When I look at him/her, do I just want to kiss their face?

And maybe more importantly, do I think that when they look at me, they want to do the same?

There’s something so tender and gentle about kissing someone’s face.  It’s not like a full-fledged kiss on the lips.  For one, you don’t really get anything in return – the kiss is just for them.  It’s not selfish, it’s not passionate, it’s not greedy.  It’s just a simple show of love towards the person that has captured your heart. Whether it be a kiss on the cheek or a kiss on the forehead, either way it’s a kiss that is full of giving, not receiving.  And I think that’s so important to pay attention to.

Ask yourself if you are giving this kind of selfless love to the person in your life.  And then, if you’re in the circumstances that my sweet, heartbroken friends are in, ask yourself this same question as the recipient.  Are you receiving this kind of love?

Are you?

Turns out, this 12-year-old may have known what he was talking about.  Love is selfless.  It’s tender and gentle and would never ever hurt you on purpose.  Love is a gift.

Real love is a kiss on the face.

Do you have it?   Don’t settle for anything else until you do.  Trust me on this one.

***

“A man’s kiss is his signature.” 
– Mae West