I thought it might be time to add another post about my writing process. Not that anybody’s asked for it, but I think it’s interesting to know how other writers go about putting their stories down on paper. So, I figured someone else might be, too.
First things first: At this point I am totally hung up on short story writing. I like a story I can get down on paper (I write my first drafts in a handy-dandy composition book) in just one sitting; two if it’s on the longish side. I don’t have a great attention span, either, so short stories suit me that way, too. Mostly, though, I’m gonna blame it on my main characters. They never seem to need more than a couple of thousand words to tell their tales.
Which is probably the main point of this post in the first place. When I write a story, the days or hours before I sit down to it always go something like this: I’ll think of a really good opening line for a story. Maybe I’m in bed about to fall asleep, or in the shower, rinsing my hair. Once I read a non-fiction story and was so struck by an observation in it I immediately knew I had to use that line.
Having that opening line is crucial, for me, because it’s how I find my characters for the story. Who would say something like that? Why? Who would she say it to – another person, or maybe to herself?
Sometimes I have a vague idea of how the story will go, but usually not. Most days, I sit down and start writing and the character tells me what to write next. Not in a I hear voices in my head sort of way, though. The story just comes out of my pen.
My most recent story, about a fourteen year-old drug addict, happened this way. I knew she was a cocky kid named Darla when I sat down to write her story, but that’s about it. Turns out she has a big purple birthmark on the right side of her face and found herself in a rehab group for adults. Who knew?
Darla did. I learned it yesterday, and now you know it, too.
My question, at this point is: Are you interested in reading the story? I don’t like to technically publish my stories here because if I’m able to publish them anywhere for pay, it needs to be previously unpublished. However, if you’re interested in reading Darla’s story, leave a comment below. You’ll have to sign in with an email address, but then I can send you a link 🙂 Sweet!
Don’t get me wrong. I love to write, LOVE IT, but eventually I’d LOVE IT even better if I could make a living from it. While I’m working on that part, I sure would like your support and to start to grow a following. I’m not looking to get famous, really. I don’t think I’d like it, honestly. But a hardcore group of people who like reading my stuff as much as I like writing it? That would be awesome!
I had all the rest of the lessons about myself written and ready to roll onto this page, but sadly my laptop crashed on me. So, I suppose, my last life lesson to learn, before I turn 50, is that I am flexible.
I can be ready for anything at any time. That’s not to say I’ll like whatever I have to face. I should have washed my mouth out with soap, the words that flew outta there when I realized my laptop was gone with all its files.
No, I didn’t back up my files. Yes, it’s all my fault. Yes, I’m incredibly angry with myself, but no there’s nothing I can do to bring them back. Will I spend my time dwelling on it? No. That’s not productive and it would certainly do nothing for my state of mind. So, flexible.
I am rewriting my script. I am skirting around the corner that wasn’t there yesterday. I can’t say if I was born this way or learned to be flexible because life gave it to me to learn. Either way, it doesn’t make sense to me to roll around in self-pity, ever. I’d much rather pick myself up, dust off the last remnants of sadness/anger/frustration and move the hell on.
I find it interesting that in the English language we don’t have masculine or feminine words, like other languages do; French and Spanish come immediately to mind. Yet we assign, as a culture, masculine and feminine traits to words. Powerhouse, for example.
As Americans, we attribute maleness to any word related to power. We see it as manly to be powerful. Even 45+ years after Gloria Steinem first took to New York Magazine to chronicle and highlight the growing Women’s Liberation Movement, power is still, in a subconscious and deeply ingrained way, a man’s game. That fact is unfortunate for so many reasons, but let me dive into just this one.
I am, at my very depth, thoughtful. I put more time and effort into consideration of my daily words and actions than some people put into doing their yearly taxes, which is to say, a lot. I am a ruminator, a cow chewing her cud. I think things through thoroughly and honestly and wholeheartedly, so much so that my decision-making is usually a tediously slow process. The upside is that once I’ve made a decision I stand very firmly on it. You could say I’m stubborn, and you would be right, but my stubbornness comes from a position of power. My powerhouse is thoughtfulness.
Another definition of powerhouse is a generating station. In common terms this means the generation of electricity, but I’m going to expand that and say it should mean to generate and distribute whatever individual, unique powers we have. And by power I mean our innate intention, our most powerful and resilient and individually characteristic human quality. Your power is likely how you are described by the people who know you best. Most people have more than one, for sure, but some, like Mother Theresa have one that seems to fill their entire soul.
Here’s why I like this word, powerhouse: it’s a “place” where power is both created and distributed. You make your power and you also send it out into the world. I can’t think of any better way to live, creating and giving away the deepest and most valuable part of who we are. It’s enriching for us, as individuals: When we’re focusing attention on our deepest and most authentic selves we can’t help but grow deeply satisfying lives. But there’s a community component here, too: We’re all a single piece of a giant, Earth-sized puzzle. And if you’re not filling your spot, who is?
We’re all born with certain strengths, certain powers. I am convinced that we are meant to use our powers to support and grow our community, our world really, into its best version, while we grow ourselves. It’s not such a leap to suppose that if we’re all busy growing these rich inner lives that the community would also be gaining the benefit of that wealth, too, is it? And if for no other reason than that, we should take back our power, in aid of our communities. But isn’t it an even better idea to take it back for ourselves?
So tell me, what’s your powerhouse?
I had an epiphany today and made a significant decision in the course of my life because of it. In a nutshell, I was questioning whether there is a difference between spending time and spending attention in life. Confused? No worries, it took me a while to wade through my own thoughts. If I try to clear it up for you, maybe it’ll help me further clarify my own thinking and ingrain the idea more fully in my psyche or soul or whatever that part is that gives us life and consciousness.
Here’s my the train of thought: time is a mathematical construct that humans have superimposed over life to help give it form. For all its helpfulness, the concept of time is artificial and it has an inherently external quality. It exists outside of us.
Attention, on the other hand, is internal. There’s a direct link between me and my attention that I can’t make between me and time. Time is not under my control. Time can’t change me. My attention is, and can. It’s my choice whether my attention, or what I focus it on, will contribute to how I desire to live and who I want to become. Or not.
What it boils down to is I’m adjusting my internal vocabulary, self-talk if you like, so that how I live becomes an internal prompt to constantly become who I intend to be. Here’s an example. What if I’m scheduled to have dinner with someone I would prefer to avoid? It doesn’t really matter why, but let me go ahead and give you a backstory. This person used to be my boss and I left the company because she was claiming my work as her own. She happens to be a friend of a friend and now we’re all scheduled to have dinner together to celebrate our mutual friend’s engagement. (This is a totally fictitious scenario, by the way.)
It makes sense, though, that I would prefer not to have social contact with this person, right? If I focus on spending my time with her, over which I have no control, I automatically feel negative about the whole affair. However, if I decide to spend my attention that automatically prompts me to choose how to focus it. Time is not mine to manipulate, whereas my attention is. So, since I want my attention to grow me in the direction of the person I intend to become, I am more likely to choose a positive way to spend it. Perhaps this person is a dog lover. Well, hey, so am I! Maybe she likes the same NPR program that I do. Nice! I will choose to focus on like qualities and the parts of this person that I can appreciate.
We all have good and bad qualities and by focusing on the good I’ve given myself the chance to connect with someone I otherwise would not have bothered with. Why is that important? Connecting with people and appreciating their goodness is a part of me that I want to encourage in myself. There’s so much negative discourse in the world and cutting ourselves off from others because of a single trait, or even a few, we don’t like does nothing to reverse the negativity. We are all more similar than we are different. If we begin to focus on our similarities I believe we can eliminate some bits of the ugly global tensions that seem to multiply daily.
Food for thought: “Pay attention” is a great little phrase, isn’t it? What it says is that our attention is so valuable it costs us dearly to use.
How about we get a little more existential, just for a moment? All that I have, at the most basic level, is my life. If I weren’t here to experience it, none of the material things, the shirt on my back, the phone beside me, the coffee table I’m resting my feet on, none of it would exist, not for me anyway. It doesn’t matter except that I am here. So why concern myself more with the “things” that make up my life instead of my life, itself? Which leads me to another existential conundrum: how to define the meaning of life. If what we focus our attention on and target it at becomes the person we are, then, in essence our attention is ourselves.
Who am I? That’s the mystery of life that is continuously answered in bits and pieces as each moment passes into the next. If every moment builds me into the person I am, and I am always becoming a slightly new person, then it is important that I spend my attention, use my attention, focus my attention in ways that nourish the woman I desire to become. As long as I use that idea to guide what I do with each moment, how can I possibly reach my last moment on earth and not be satisfied with the life I lived?
So how should I choose to spend my attention? That’s the challenge, isn’t it? A broad and somewhat esoteric answer to that question might be, choose to spend it in ways that help you become the person you are meant to be. I can appreciate that, but it’s not directly instructive. I’d like something more concrete.
What about this? I choose to spend my attention challenging myself. That’s better, but still it’s only a pla and I’m looking for a plan. Here’s something: the things that interest me: nature, geology, relationships, photography, writing, hiking, family… those are already a part of who I am. If I choose to spend my attention on those things then I am choosing to become more and more of the person I want to become. Which doesn’t mean I’m leaving no room for growth. Just because all of those things interest me today isn’t to say that I won’t become interested in say contortionism some day and decide to spend some attention on body mechanics and flexibility.
The point is, only I can be me. Only I can choose who I become. If I don’t spend my life in pursuit of that becoming, then my greatest fear, the potential that I will live an unimportant life, may well come true. I refuse to let that happen. So I will spend my days spending my attention. Will I do anything groundbreaking? There’s always that possibility, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that I am interested in who I am and what every day of my life brings. I can’t think of any more satisfying way to live all of my days until the last.
And maybe it’s just me, but maybe I’ve been running around wasting my time when if I’d only chosen to pay attention before now maybe I would already have become the person I now endeavor to be and that person would already have set her sights even higher. But it’s really never too late , and I’m perfectly happy to start right now.