So not only did you teach me about writing memoir, you also taught me about reading and thinking about how others write memoir. Thank you so much! Rebecca
Showing posts with label overcoming fear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label overcoming fear. Show all posts

Thursday, January 27, 2022

The biggest reason people don't write?

Feb 2020, my backyard. Has nothing to do with this blog post, but we do expect snow tomorrow.

What keeps people from writing? Fear.

For many, putting our thoughts and words on paper is terrifying. It is like pulling your heart out of your chest, handing it over to someone, and saying, “Do whatever you want with it. Smash it in the ground if you want. Throw it in the trash, chop it into little pieces and throw it away. But I hope you will love it and treat it with tenderness.”

Writing is a personal experience and not everyone can do it. Fear of what others might say about us and our writing is one of the largest challenges we face. We also have doubts about ourselves. I can’t really write. I’m not that good. Who am I to think I can write anything others would want to read?

I am sure that everyone who has written and shared what they wrote, had those self-doubts. We all second-guess ourselves. I know I have, and I still do at times. I have a short story I wrote 25 years ago, printed it out, edited it to death, and only let one person read it. I thought it was pretty good. But the one person who read it, when asked what she thought, said, “It was interesting, but I knew who was going to be the guilty one before you ever got to that last part.”

Why did that bring up all my self-doubts? Why did I put that story away with the promise that one day I would revise it and submit it? As writers we pour our hearts and souls into each poem, short story, non-fiction, or novel, and we never feel quite sure it will be accepted by readers.

Years ago, Kathryn Stripling Byer, the first female poet laureate of North Carolina, who had published many poetry books, won all kinds of awards, told me something I have remembered till this day. “No matter how many books I have published,” she said. “Each new manuscript I send to LSU Press (her press for many years) makes me as nervous as the first one I submitted. There is no guarantee they will like this one. There is no guarantee that it won’t be rejected.”

I was dumbfounded. I thought with her reputation and all the praise and outpouring of respect and love for her, she would be completely confident that anything she submitted would be grabbed up with joy. But, in the long run, no matter how famous, how many laurels one wins, we all still put on our pants one leg at the time the same as everyone else.

The words she confided in me made a huge difference in my thinking about what success is in the writing world. Although that short story I wrote twenty-five years ago has not seen the light of day, I am going to include it in my short story collection that I hope to submit or have published this year. In fact, I am digging back into my early writing and finding poems that I feared were not good enough to submit and including them in my next chapbook.

We must put fear behind us and realize that rejections are not personal indictments against us or our writing.

Editors have many reasons why they choose what they will publish. One of my poems, The Peach, was chosen for a literary journal simply because it brought back a memory to the editor. He said when he read it, he remembered how his mother would whip him with a peach tree switch when he was a little boy. He did not say the poem was good and he did not choose it because of its literary merit. He chose it because it brought back a memory from his childhood.

I learned not to count my rejections. Why should I? I count only the acceptances of my work. We don’t need or want to crow about our latest rejection, do we? But we shout out loud about the latest poem, short story or book acceptance. And we should.

We talked today on Mountain Wordsmiths about how we can promote our work during this pandemic. Book signings are scary for me, although some authors are out there meeting the people face to face. I am delighted that we have Zoom and can meet new people, share our work, and sell our books even though it is much harder to sell a book online.

I think we must stop counting the number of books sold at an event, and look at marketing our name, our faces and personalities online. I am not a huge social media person. I don’t have a smart phone welded to my hand and am annoyed by those who do. But, as a writer in today’s world, you must have a social media identity either on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or others. I use Facebook as my social media outlet. I tried others, but just don’t want to take the time to scroll through them all the time.

Did you know that scrolling is now considered as addictive as smoking once was? Someone dear to me admitted recently that she was afraid she was addicted to scrolling. What is it that hooks folks?

Anyway, if it helps promote your writing, you must take time for social media marketing every day. I post on three blogs and that has built me an audience in three countries – not big, but enough it satisfies me. I adore my blogger friends who always leave comments on my posts. I do the same for them.

The point of it all is we need and want to connect with others. When we share our writing, we feel a need to have someone validate us, read, and give us feedback that will encourage us without putting us down. We need to know where we could improve our work, but we don’t need someone insinuating we have no hope. Encourage and critique with kindness is the best way to help a writer. I know that because my mentor and teachers, Nancy Simpson and Carol Crawford did that for me.

In our discussion today on Zoom, the majority of us agreed that if only one person has benefited from our writing, we are a success. That is why our readers can make us very happy if they email or call as someone did today to tell me how much she has enjoyed Paws, Claws, Hooves, Feathers and Fins; Family Pets and God’s other Creatures. I don’t know if she bought it on Kindle, as a used book at the library, or purchased a brand-new paperback from Tigers in Hayesville, she made my day.


Monday, February 8, 2021

How I created Writers Circle around the Table

Robert Brewer, the senior editor for Writers' Digest, taught this class in my studio

For ten years I opened my door to my writing studio and enjoyed the writing instructors and the writing students who entered. They became friends of mine and came back again and again for classes in my casual and informal setting. What a blessing it was for me after my dear husband passed away in July 2009. 

I was lost at first, wondering what to do with my life now that I was alone and my friend and loved one was no longer there to comfort me, support me and encourage me to follow my dreams.
My poetry book, Now Might as Well Be Then, published by Finishing Line Press in October 2009, should have been a very happy experience for me, but without Barry to share my joy, I felt empty. I don't remember even giving one reading from my book. Nothing mattered as I grieved my loss.

I took a big step for myself a few months after losing my husband. I registered for a week's retreat at Wildacres, north of Asheville, NC, near the town of Little Switzerland. The four-hour drive up to the mountain site where the lodges were located filled me with anxiety. For forty-five years, I never traveled far without Barry driving me. Most people might not relate to my hesitancy to pack up my clothes and head to a place where I knew no one and had no idea what to expect when I arrived. But it was new and scary for me. I was extremely aware of being alone.

The week I lived, wrote, and made friends at Wildacres Retreat, changed me and prepared me to begin a new life. That week, I decided to live and do what I most enjoyed -- take classes with excellent writing instructors and teach beginning writers what I had learned.

With help from good friends, my downstairs area, my daylight basement, became Writers Circle around the Table, my writing studio. I loved that space in my house. It had a private entrance with a deck and the inside had two windows that brought in light. The wall of sliding glass doors created an atmosphere of openness that everyone enjoyed. We had such good times there. The fees for classes were low because I knew most of the writers in the area had only so much to spend on their hobbies.  I was able to bring in teachers for little money because I provided them a place to stay while there. With a private bedroom and spacious bathroom, free wi-fi, and time to work on their own projects, most of them loved coming to my studio.

Some students urged me to teach more classes, and soon I was holding a three-hour class once a week. 
Again, this was successful and enjoyable for me and my students. For ten years I lived alone and looked forward to classes with my students and writing friends. 

Carol Crawford, standing beside the whiteboard, taught these students in my studio.

But my life became stressful with the illness of my older sister, deaths in my family, and the worry about my last living brother and his ill wife. I felt the world was closing in on me. Running the studio began to be overwhelming. The hardest part was the advertising and promotion of classes. My time was spent, not on my poetry or prose writing, but writing promotional articles and emails trying to encourage writers to come to the studio for my classes or the classes of other writing instructors. Collecting fees and keeping up with expenses seemed more trouble than it was worth. My writing suffered and almost became extinct.

I was also trying to keep NCWN-West, the mountain program for writers that had helped me begin publishing my poetry in 1996, viable and intact although we had no leader. I had resigned when Barry was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, but I remained an active member. We found ourselves with no  Program Coordinator, and I did not feel I was ready to take the job again.  

Soon I was grieving again as I lost beloved family members. My sister, June, died and my brother, Hal died while caring for his seriously ill wife. A month later, she passed away as well.

The effort to continue the studio became too much for me. My physical health faltered and going up and down the stairs to the studio grew more and more difficult. With sadness, I stopped using my studio, stopped holding classes there, and no longer taught. 

Today, in spite of some health issues, I feel good and am teaching again. 
I am grateful for Zoom and other online venues that enable me to teach wherever I am - in Roswell with my sister or at home in Hayesville. Today I learned that the North Carolina Writers' Network annual Spring Conference will be online. I can attend from my home and feel connected to writers from far away. I can see familiar faces without having to travel long distances, learn from instructors so I can be a better teacher for my students.

As time goes by, we can adapt to the changes and still live the life we enjoy.
I urge all who read this to find new ways to continue with what you like to do and also find new ventures that are fulfilling even when you can't go out among people. I find it amazing how folks have invented ways to reach out and connect online, to bring people together virtually, to see loved ones and talk with them.

We live in a world today where it seems the Media is doing its best to frighten us out of existence.
I am hopeful and believe that we will live through the pandemic, we will all be vaccinated and one day this virus will be under control. Being fearful makes me sick, depressed, and hopeless, so I am not going to be scared that tomorrow will never come. I will continue to wear masks, to use all the prevention measures I know, to avoid crowds of people, to safe distance myself, and take care of myself and my loved ones even after I have my second vaccination shot.  I have learned what to do this past year and now it is my new normal. 

I hope you, my readers, are doing the same. I want us to all be back here next year feeling good about what we accomplished during these tough times.
What do you think?


Sunday, July 27, 2014

I'm Scared. Aren't we all?

With a new class coming up at TCCC in August, I was reminded of a post by Nancy Purcell, wonderful writer and teacher from Brevard, NC.

We are all afraid of something and many of us live our lives in fear of making mistakes, disappointing others, making a fool of ourselves and looking ridiculous, not having the talent to follow our dreams and so we don't take any risks or try to do what we want. 

Nancy's article is for all of us who halfway live our lives. How many never follow their passions and fulfill their hopes for themselves? Don't let it be you.

Writing class will be held at Tri-County Community College, Murphy, NC 
August 5 - 26, Tuesday afternoons, 6 - 8 p.m.
Contact Lisa now to register.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lighthouses just stand there shining.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
                                   ― Anne Lamott

At times I wonder how I can better use the last part of my life. I believe we should live our lives as a lesson for others. I did not do that for many years even though I was an elementary school teacher and a kindergarten teacher. Although I didn’t recognize it, fear ruled my life until I was in my middle years. 

In high school, I wrote an essay that prompted my English teacher to request a meeting with me after school. I had written about my fear that my mother would die. That fear crashed into my mind so often, even I knew it was irrational. It wasn’t that she was a sickly person. In fact, she was the healthiest of my parents – both mentally and physically. I did not meet with my English teacher. I did not want to discuss it with her.

Because of my low self-esteem in my teens, I feared being without a boyfriend when other girls and my sister always had someone. I went to my first school dance with other girls – not with a boy – and felt humiliated the entire time. Looking back I realize I was overwhelmed by fear of what others might think of me. In fact, that was my greatest fear most of my life. I wanted my family, especially my father, to be proud of me, and I’d not do anything that might bring disgrace on myself or on those I loved. 

Making excellent grades in school brought praise from my mother. I could hardly wait to show her the marks on my papers or the report cards sent home by my teachers. I now know why that made me feel so good. For that short time, my fight or flight mode disintegrated, and the calming parts of my brain worked overtime. Those happy feelings dissipated as soon as Mother sent me to show the results to my father. He barely glanced my way, murmured uh-huh, and returned to his newspaper. I walked away feeling, once again, that I could not do enough to gain his approval.

Probably the reason I loved reading was that during those hours when I lost myself in another’s life or in another place, I had no fear. In a way, it was like meditation. What we need most when we are weighted down with fearful thoughts is distraction. Reading was my distraction. It let my brain rest from my self-imposed stresses.

In my forties, I turned to oil painting after my mother suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that robbed her of her independence. I signed up for lessons with an artist who taught me more than how to use a brush and paint. We became good friends. She saw talent I had not known I had, and built my self-confidence when she invited me to join her in judging a contest at the local Art Museum. 

I loved creating paintings, especially when my family bragged on them. I gave one to my mother and it was hung in a prominent place in the family room where, at every gathering, my brothers and sisters saw it. I donated a painting to our church for a fundraiser and puffed with pride when I was told it sold before any other. I was asked by my sister-in-law to paint something to hang in her house – the house that looked like a picture in Architectural Digest Magazine. 

Fear came roaring in after I said to her, “Yes, I will be happy to paint something for you.”  It had to be large, rectangular, and of a certain size to fit the space where she wanted it to hang. At night I'd lie in bed, unable to sleep, and wondering why on earth I ever said I'd do that. I was not that good. I was such a rank amateur and there was no way I could paint something she would like. Fear of failure kept my fight-or-flight brain chemicals flowing like a raging river. 

Maybe she will forget about it. Maybe she was just being nice and wanted me to think she would like one of my paintings. She couldn’t possibly want something I had done hanging on her wall, along with expensive paintings she had collected for years. Oh, Lord, help me think of some excuse to give her. What can I say that will not hurt her feelings – I mean if she really wants a painting – but please help me get out of this.

I prayed back then about everything. That was before I knew that whatever will be, will be to quote a Doris Day song. 

When my sister-in-law passed away a year ago, her daughter told me she had that painting with my name on it, the one that had hung in her mother's house all these years. 

By the time I was fifty years old, I had experienced what I considered my worst fears and I had lived through them. I considered myself, finally, grown up – an adult at last. Although I had thought myself as mature as I could be, it took losing my mother for me to realize that I had some serious soul-searching to do. My worst fear had come and taken its toll on me. Grief almost crippled me, but I recognized the need for counseling. I was fortunate enough to find a sensitive young man, a psychologist, who recognized in me, many things I had not seen. I am a stronger person today for having sought his help at that time. 

When I suffered the absolutely worst experience of my life, the loss of my husband and my way of life for 45 years, that strength and the way to deal with it, was embedded deeply in my conscious mind. I did not fear that I would never overcome my grief. I knew I had to endure it, take on the pain, not hide from it, and that in time I'd come through it, not the same as I was, but I would make it.
I also knew it was all up to me.

Looking back, now that I know fear is my worst enemy and one that I can conquer by being mindful, living in the moment and being present in my own life, how I wish I could go back and share this with the young woman I was. But I cannot.

I can, however, live my life as a lighthouse for others who need what I can offer, who follow the light, and observe.