Friday, January 15, 2010

Be Yourself

"Joy in the act of creating ... When was the last time you enjoyed the writing process?" Ariel Lawhon
"Lap up masterful writing. Savor it. Celebrate it. But do not compare your writing to anyone else's." Patti Hill
Good insight from Ariel and Patti this week. If you haven't yet read their posts, I hope you will.
To answer Ariel's question, the last time I enjoyed the writing process was ... well, the last time I wrote. But here's the thing. It's been a while. Typically, I love slipping into my fictional world, getting to know my characters -- and often being surprised by them. I love the unfolding of their stories, many of the intricate details unknown even to me until I stumble upon them. I truly love the process.
But having put my writing aside for the sake of the long holiday season, I'm finding it difficult to get back into the process. My characters knock at the door, telling me all sorts of things about themselves, and wait for me to pick up the thread and get back to weaving. But I look at the loose ends and think, WHAT am I supposed to DO with them? Yeah, there are a lot of morals to this story, like Don't put the writing aside, whatever you do! But that doesn't help me now.
I mean to get back to it, I really do. Right after I clean the toilet and fold the towels.
And when I do, I plan to BE MYSELF. I don't plan to copy all those other excellent writers I so want to emulate. The Joy Jordan Lakes, the Elizabeth Bergs, the five fabulous women I blog with. No, I plan to be me. I pledge to be me. If I only knew who that was exactly.
Years ago I had a Sandi Patty album -- yes album. As I said, it was years ago. There was some humorous dialogue on this live album that comes to mind from time to time. Patti's post jarred it to the surface again. Sandi talks about trying to find who she was as a young singer. In the 10th grade she had a big identity crisis, and was very impressionable. There were a lot of great singers she admired, but she was drawn in particular to Karen Carpenter. She said, "I not only wanted to sing like Karen Carpenter ... I wanted to BE Karen Carpenter." Then she goes on to sing a portion of "Jesus Loves Me," Karen Carpenter style. "I was so immature as a sophomore," she continues. "I realize all of this now because I was such a mature senior in high school, and I realized it was so silly and so ridiculous and so immature of me to want to be Karen Carpenter ... because NOW I wanted to be Barbra Streisand." And again she sings a portion of "Jesus Loves Me," ala the funny girl.
In the 10th grade I wanted to be Janis Ian, Rembrandt, and Jose Feliciano, in that order. Today I want to be ... I guess more secure in what I do. I want to feel that I've arrived, but I've no clue what that means. I want to write the stories the Lord has planted in my heart, and do it in such a way that they touch other hearts. There's nothing easy about the process, about discovering your voice as a writer, about knowing just how to tell the story that lives in your soul. But "easy" isn't a condition of what we do. Birthing is hard work. It takes the most private parts of you and exposes them to the world.
But where would we be if Tolkien had ignored the little hobbit in his heart? If Harper Lee hadn't given voice to Scout? If Dickens had never picked up a pen? It makes me sad to even consider it. Many people want to have written. Relatively few want to write. Whose voice may you be silencing with your reticence? What tale may go untold for fear of failure? With the gift of another new year let's pledge to be true to our call, giving birth to the stories only we can tell. Let's be content with the peculiar style that is ours, ever striving to improve our craft, but not held back because we aren't someone else. So thank you, Patti and Ariel. Your words were the swift kick this writer needed. Look at me, I'm weaving again.
What about you? What story are you NOT telling? What sidetracks you from your writing -- and what gets you back on track? And tell us, who did you want to be in the 10th grade?


Bonnie Grove said...

You wanted to be Janis Ian, Rembrandt, and Jose Feliciano in tenth grade? You were WAY more mature than I was. I just wanted to be Indiana Jones' girlfriend.

Oh...and I wanted to have an English accent. Can't remember why.

I've been quiet on the blog this week, but I have been reading and soaking in the inspiration and joyfulness. It's been balm to my editing soul (I'm at the tail end of editing my next novel).

Thanks, Sharon for such an honest post about the struggle, joy, and journey of becoming who you are as a writer. It truly is a journey - and I think the idea of "having arrived" is mythology. Our task as writers will always be to write about the trip, not about the destination.

(Never did get to be Indiana Jones' girlfriend.... rats)

Anukatri said...

I found your blog by accident, and am very happy about my discovery!

When I was on the 9th grade, equivalent to the American 10th, I really truly wanted to be a copy of a female lawyer in the TV program LA Law. Shoulder pads and all. More imaginative creatures were part of my life earlier and later :)

From snowy Finland with admiration, Anu

PatriciaW said...

I actually remember that Sandi Patty album. Wow....

Blocking out the voices--of writers I'd love to emulate--is difficult. If find that my writing tends to take on characteristics of what I'm reading, if I like what I'm reading. So I've become more selective about what I read while writing.

In 10th grade, I wanted to be Hilary Clinton sans the cheating husband.

Anonymous said...

I'm delighted you found us! We're so happy to hear from you. I'm looking out my window on a sunny California day, cool, but lovely. I can't imagine a winter in Finland. But may I say, I've always wanted to come to your part of the world. And now, here we are, connected. Please come back and visit us. There are 8 of us who blog here regularly. I know you'll love the other women.


Patti Hill said...

Let me just say that Sharon's honesty permeates her fiction as well, and that's what makes it so powerful.

In the 10th grade, not to be mistaken for the Jurassic Era, I sang Carole King songs constantly. "I felt the earth move under my feet..." If only I'd gotten the hang of tuning my guitar...who knows?

Bonnie, I dreamed of being Indiana Jones' mother!

Kathleen Popa said...

Patti, wasn't Indiana Jones' mother dead???

Sharon, funny you should mention Janis Ian. My youngest asked this week for a list of favorite nostalgic songs - something to do with my upcoming 25th anniversary, perhaps.

So last night, in my listing, I included Jesse by Janis Ian. I've been humming that song for decades.

In tenth grade I had no idea who Hillary Clinton was! I was embroidering rainbows on my overalls and sewing heart-shaped patches on my blue jeans. I wanted to be John Denver's girlfriend. (This is embarrassing.)

I also wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be brilliant at it.

I also wanted to be a brilliant career-woman, a Martha-esque homemaker, a clothing designer and seamstress, an herb-farmer... and on and on. That's where those decades have brought some much-needed wisdom. I've slowly figured out I can't be brilliant at everything, and how much time its cost me, and how much tension its caused, to try to be anything else but the person I actually am.

Welcome, welcome welcome, Anu!

Patricia, you young thing. Please use your decades wisely, and be our dear Patricia.

Now I think I'll get to work.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Wow. I keep coming back to this post. Thank you, Sharon!

For the longest time, I wanted to write like Karen Kingsbury. I even wrote a novel in a similiar voice and gave it to a friend. You know what she said? She loved the story, but she lost me. She wanted to hear my voice, not someone else's. So I went back to discover my voice. Turns out it very different from KK!

Thank you for bringing us back to what really matters, Susan.

Bonnie Grove said...

Anukatri: Welcome! Really happy you stumbled over!

Patricia: I'm hugely picky about what I read while I'm wiring. I don't read long fiction then because I get so lost in the book that my poor little brain can't focus on my own story. I read like a fish (is that a saying? That makes no sense, but it does....) and when I'm writing I stick to non-fiction and short fiction.

Oo...I'm reading a very cool non-fiction. Cool for C.S. Lewis nerds like me. It's called Out of My Bone - the letters of Joy Davidson (famously married to C.S. Lewis). It's not a biography, it's the complete collection of her surviving letters (most of them to her ex-husband).

Kristen: I'm glad you were able to find your own voice. Thank heavens for smart friends, eh??
Writing wise, I wished I was Barbara Kingsolver and/or Susan Isaacs when I was younger.

Anonymous said...

Sharon...I have a confession to make. I've never read any of your books. Which one would you suggest I start with?
As to your not writing...I always enjoy what you write on here so it would be a crime for you not to get back into writing again! If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the writing of that next book needs to start with a single word...You can do this! You have all these amazing women to help you every step of the way!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm definitely going to start getting more sleep. Of course I've read your books! I've read two of them! I don't know who I was thinking've GOT to start writing again! You know how much your books have meant to me! Get that first word on "paper" and get going!

Anonymous said...

Thank you ladies for this wonderful blog. You can't begin to know how it has touched my heart.

Blessings, Patsy

Nicole said...

I'm seriously curious how Bonnie can read anything (other than the directions) while she's "wiring". :0)

You know, in grade school I wanted to be anyone else so I imitated whoever seemed to have it "goin' on". By 10th grade I so wanted to be me: unique, different, an actress at heart (translate: drama queen).

I accomplished the drama queen thing in spades, but my writing is me. Thoroughly. My voice, my rebellion to "the rules". Totally me. Similarities in approaches to some but not intentionally, just like-spirited.

Write, Sharon. Easy for me to say. I've got two novels going. Solidly "in the box" (baseball slang, not topic or rule-wise). But I have to post comments. Write my blog. Drink my coke. Go do errands.

I'll pray for you to continue if you'll pray for me to do the same. Actually, I'm going to pray for you regardless. You're far too valuable to sit on the bench.

Good post. Sorry for rambling.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I know it's late to chime in here, but I wanted to be Mrs. Muir when I was 10th grade. I must have been a hopeless romantic to fall in love with a dead sea captain.

I remember Sandi Patty performing that at our church at the start of her career. She had concerts lined up at churches and youth conventions then. Very impressive character range. She had the talent to sing any of those styles but we're fortunate that she found her own. I guess that's what we do as writers, too, and I agree with Bonnie that it can be hard to stay true to our own voice when we're reading other authors' works.

Anonymous said...

I always love it when I pull bonehead moves like quote a famous philosopher: "If I only had a brain!"

Bonnie Grove said...




Unknown said...

PULLLEASE write, Sharon. You are an incredibly insightful writer. And I'd say that even if I didn't already love you dearly.

Carla Gade said...

Inspiring post, Sharon!
In 10th grade I wanted to be an architect. But I always have been a writer since the first time I put crayon to hand!