Writing Through Life
Earlier this week, as I was setting out to walk a friend’s dogs, something small and dark fluttered past me at eye level. Though it didn’t move like one, closer inspection proved it to be some kind of dragonfly. Instead of narrow, translucent wings that move almost too fast for sight, this insect had broad, smoky wings that swept through the air like the oars of a rowboat, dip and pull and rest.
The dark wings contrasted sharply with the sun-bleached pavement as the delicate creature flew in poetic circles into the space above the road. Entranced, I watched as the looping flightpath reached the yellow line, and then held my breath as the wind resistance of a passing car buffeted the tiny aeronaut, sending it spinning for several terrifying heartbeats. It had only just righted itself when a second vehicle pushed past, and another wall of air pummeled the dragonfly with such force that it was driven suddenly to the ground. The tires of the third car just missed crushing the insect, and the vortex of air beneath the under carriage sent the now limp body tumbling awkwardly across the unkind asphalt.
The dogs strained on their leashes to be off, but I couldn’t bear to leave the once airborne soul stranded, just waiting for the impact of the next car. I hauled my canine charges towards the opposite side of the street, pausing to pluck the fallen traveler from the road. As I laid the iridescent body reverently in the leaves at the base of a tree, I realized that I’d been touched by its unintentionally intrepid persistence in part because I saw something of my writing life reflected in its valiant efforts.
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Life is busy for each of us. We have jobs and families, friends and social obligations, housekeeping, meal making, and laundry folding. Making time to pursue creative work is a challenge. Sometimes it seems like life is intentionally trying to run us down. We’re like that tiny dragonfly trying to cross the road, but being blocked again and again by overwhelming circumstances beyond our control. It can feel as if the Universe is conspiring against you.
I promise that it isn’t.
Like the cars that forced the dragonfly out of the air, life is completely unaware. Your life isn’t out to get you, or your writing, any more than those cars were out to get that dragonfly. What happened was simply a matter of two opposing forces colliding. There was no malice, no intent at all.
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The difference between the unfortunate dragonfly and a writer is that, as a writer, you can weave difficult times into your work; as part of your journey, they become part of your story. Our darkest hours can be the catalyst that enables us to capture our deepest truths. Grief, despair, and exhaustion can serve us by peeling away the layers, leaving us raw and capable of ferocity in our writing. Like the heroes and heroines of our stories, we reach the all-is-lost moment, and find that we still have something more to give.
And this journey into and out of darkness happens over and over again. This is life. The tragedies can be minor, annoyances even, and still provide us with grist for the writing mill. The untimely death of a dragonfly is a small thing, yet in the hands of a writer, it can become so much more.
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The point is not to let difficult times keep you from writing. Let them fuel you. Let them push you to the edges where things get really interesting. And let the writing that comes ground and comfort you.
When I stop writing I feel hollow. I feel unmoored and aimless. I lose my perspective, and my interest in the world fades. It is as if I am a ghost, wandering aimlessly through the world, unable to speak. Words are my lifeline, connecting me to the world, nourishing me. They are a safe haven and a reality check. They bring the world and my life into focus, helping me untangle thoughts and dreams and ideas.
In her touching piece On the Page as Your Mirror, author Dani Shapiro wrote, “Everything I know about life, I know from the page. Everything I know about myself — about love, maturity, grief, joy, loss, redemption — I have learned by sitting alone in a room (or on a plane) sorting it out.”
And in her piece, Just. Keep. Writing, author Victoria (V.E.) Schwab wrote, “So when everything is going well, and when everything is falling apart, you have to keep writing. It is your tether in the storm, and your grounding when you might otherwise float away. It’s easy to lose focus, to get caught up in the successes and failures, but you must. keep. writing.”
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I did not return to the place where I left the dragonfly at the base of the tree. I like to think that perhaps it was only stunned, and eventually came to and continued in its scalloped dance across the greener landscape, leaving the cruel motorway behind.
What I’m Writing: Itsy-Bitsy Stories
The weeks are flying by, and so are the assignments in the flash fiction course I’m taking via Grub Street’s online classroom. The prompt I chose to tackle last week was writing 25-word “hint” stories. I’ve always loved miniatures, and you can’t get much smaller than that with a story.
Probably the most widely known “tiny” story is Hemingway’s 6-word masterpiece, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Here are a few other examples that were shared in class:
The Widow’s First Year
“I kept myself alive.”
-by Joyce Carol Oates
At the party, he tells her he’s a painter, meaning of houses. She misunderstands, assumes he’s an artist. Harmless, he thinks.
-by Don Lee
They buried him deep. Again.
-by Joe R. Lansdale
And here are my first draft attempts at this teeny-tiny story type:
’Til Death Do Us Part
Entering my marriage took only blind faith and the idealism of the young. Leaving it took a steady hand and a .22 gauge shotgun.
Home on the Range
She chose the mustangs. Life was hard, but they loved her more honestly than Frank ever had. He gave her predictability. They gave her purpose.
Tiger, Tiger In the Night
The cub was fit for a princess, she said. I’ll feed him Gongura mutton and curried chicken. But, grown, the tiger had more royal tastes.
How about you? Care to share a 25-word story in the comments? Come on. I know you want to!
What I’m [Not] Reading & Where I’m Stashing It
These past couple of weeks have been so full of life and deadlines, that my only reading time has been during stolen moments over hurriedly eaten meals and while waiting in the pick-up line at my daughter’s school. (I almost rear-ended the mom in front of me last Thursday because I had my book propped up on the steering wheel and wasn’t paying close enough attention to the stop and go of the line.)
Even my work-related online reading (which I usually do after bedtime stories while my daughter is drifting off to sleep) has taken a hit because end-of-school activities have been keeping my girl up past her usual bedtime, causing us to forego the stories in favor of a little extra sleep. Because I haven’t had time to read all the various posts and articles in my Feedly queue, I’ve had to save some for later using a great little app called Pocket:
Sorry the video is a little hokey, but the app is really quite helpful and user-friendly. I love that you can categorize and tag things so it’s easier to find them later. I also use Evernote, but I tend to use that for longer term storage, while Pocket is the place where I keep things that I want to reference in the near future.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- Easier, Better Writing: Harnessing Inspiration and Motivation by @aliventures
- Bookindy Allows Users To Browse Amazon, Buy Indie by @maddiecrum (UK only right now)
- How to Make Custom Images for Your Blog Posts Without Hiring a Designer by @neilpatel
- The Power of Full Engagement — Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key via @farnamstreet
- Breaking the Boundaries Between Fantasy and Literary Fiction with @neilhimself and @theburiedgiant
- Writing Fast, Building An Audience & Facebook Advertising For Authors W/Mark Dawson by @thecreativepenn with @pbackwriter
- Email Newsletters for Authors: Get Started Guide by @JaneFriedman
- Andrew’s 9 Rules for Being On-line by Live to Write – Write to Live friend, Andrew Reynolds 🙂
- The Winning Formula of Transparency + Relatability by @mattchevy
- Create Things No One Else Will Ever See by @AllisonStadd
- How to Find the Right Critique Group or Partner for You by @InkedVoices
- 5 Books That Will Improve Your Writing by @GregoryCiotti
- ‘Future Library’ Reminds Us How Connected Books And The Environment Really Are by @ClaireEFallon
- Business and Marketing for Artists and Creative Workers, Part 2 by @soniasimone [podcast]
- Building a Framework by @judithaross
- Finding Your Mythic Theme by @bruceholsinger via @writerunboxed
Hmmm … seems I read plenty this week after all. Perhaps an intervention is in order.
Finally, a quote for the week:
Here’s to putting your whole life into your writing – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful – so that your writing is as full and fully realized as your life.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.