Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?
You may think you have nothing to say but, did you ever consider the sheer miracle of your birth, your existence, your identity? Contemplate for a moment — when a specific sperm penetrated a specific egg you were conceived and began to grow. If for some reason your parents had not had intimate relations at that fateful moment you would not exist.
Now take it back a generation — if one of your grandmothers had had a headache and said “not tonight dear”, either your father or your mother would not have been conceived and would not exist. If one or the other of your parents had not been conceived you would not exist either. This thread of conception goes all the way back to the beginning of time and if it had been broken at any point along the way you would not be. Talk about unique.
I have two dogs who are about as different as possible. One is a beautiful specimen, a Russian blue bull terrier, 50 pounds, with nicely defined muscles. She is a princess and knows that she is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. She poses a lot and allows her admirers to enjoy the view when she is around. My other dog is full sized, 45 pounds, with practically no legs at all, they are so short. She is a clown, a cross between a lab and corgi, with floppy ears and a tail. She looks like she should have a round red rubber nose and oversized shoes on her feet. If my dogs could write, their stories would be interesting each in its own way.
Whether you are a beautiful princess, a clown, or a mere human being you are the result of a million years of selective or chance breading, have a unique story to tell, and an obligation to tell it. It is one of a kind never to be duplicated.
Dixie Thomas Reale
How can I overcome writer’s block?
When I stare at my computer screen and no thoughts come to mind I look for excuses to do other things. The refrigerator needs cleaning, the rugs need vacuuming, the tarnished silver suddenly needs polishing even though I do not plan to use it anytime soon. These excuses work for awhile but basically I hate housework and feel guilty when my computer is idle.
Yet the committee that lives in my brain picks apart every thought that crosses my mind as stupid, ridiculous, trite or “It’s been done before.” My wastebasket overflows with discarded false starts and no new stories or essays present themselves. I have a big dose of writer’s block but what should I do?
It happens to every writer at one time or another, and each deals with the dry spell differently. Sometimes I succumb and stare off into space for long stretches of time. Other times I force myself to write through the block and type whatever comes to mind no matter how disjointed, ridiculous or fragmentary it may seem. I might explore the voices of the committee — play word games with their objections, or name their personalities. If I take their criticism to the extreme the objections will eventually have no more emotional punch.
My old standby — a CD of classical music — preferably Mozart, a fire in the fire place, and Emily Dickinson usually puts me into a reverie where images float through my mind and coalesce into usable ideas before very long. If that doesn’t work a leisurely walk in the snow, rain, sunshine or breezy afternoon could jog my creative juices. It might take a change of scenery — a visit to some awe inspiring place: the overlook at the Perrine Bridge, the viewing area beside the Bruneau Canyon, Shoshone Falls, or the Stanley Basin. A drive in the country, mountains, a visit to a ghost town. Where is your favorite gazing spot? Your favorite exploring place? Your favorite get-away?
There are many books available with writing prompts or sparks — exercises guaranteed to budge even the most stubborn case of writers block into action. One of my favorites is THE VIRGINIA WOOLF WRITER’S WORKSHOP.
Another trick I often use when I get stuck is to take a short piece by one of the old masters and write a story doing exactly what he/she did only set in my own town, current day and use my own characters. Usually before I am finished with the first page I have shed the writing blues and am off on another venture. Try it. It is amazing how well that trick works.
Dixie Thomas Reale
Posted in Archives, Blogroll, How to, Question of the Month, Writing
Tagged criticism, critique groups, How to, inspiration, Question of the Month, writer's block, Writing
GOOD CRITICISM VERSES BAD — How can you tell the difference?
Like most writers I welcome constructive criticism designed to improve my writing and make my stories come alive. I belong to a critique group that has helped my writing enormously. However, I frankly resent snide comments offered by jealous people who wish they’d written the story but didn’t and comfort themselves by tearing it apart.
How can we writers tell the difference? And how should we handle unwelcome hurtful comments so they do not make us feel bad? First accept that there are people who wish you well and others who want to hurt you. Then ask yourself, did you request the advice or is it uninvited? Is the person offering the criticism another writer or a want-to-be writer? What is the intention of the person offering the advice? If the advice is useful, use it. If it is just mean-spirited nastiness take a lesson from my daughter Egypt.
She is a professional dancer, standup comedian, actress and film maker who has lived and performed in both New York and Los Angeles. Egypt was home for a visit several years ago when the Alvin Ailey Dancers were performing at the local college. She’d studied dance with Alvin Ailey in New York and wanted to go to the ballet and say “hello” to some of her old friends. She dressed appropriately for a night at the ballet. She is very photogenic and looked beautiful in fancy hairdo, black dress, heels and shawl.
During intermission a young woman, wearing worn sweat shirt, pants and old sneakers sauntered up, bumped into her with her shoulder and taunted, “You’re kinda overdressed aren’t you, Honey?”
Egypt fixed the woman with a cold, haughty and distasteful stare as if she had just stepped in something disgusting and said. “You have no idea who you are talking to, Do you?”
The woman’s posture sagged instantly and crumbled in upon itself. She was visibly ashamed of herself and mumbled, “No.” She slunk off to a corner where I am sure she felt bad for the rest of the evening.
“Wow. How did you do that?” I asked. “If somebody had said that to me I would have been embarrassed and felt awkward all night thinking maybe I was overdressed.”
“Well she doesn’t know who she is talking to. For all she knows I could be a member of the dance troupe. She has no business talking to someone she doesn’t know like that. She’s the one who should feel bad for being rude, not me. I’ll bet she never does that again,” my daughter said.
I agree — that woman will think twice before she approaches another stranger with an unsolicited comment founded in jealousy.
So how do we as writers recognize comments motivated by jealousy and ignore them or turn them back on the person with the bad intentions so that he or she thinks twice before acting ignorant to someone else? I’ve always found that if an unsolicited comment pushes an emotional button, makes me feel small, hurts my feelings or seems to put me down it probably is motivated by less than good intentions. Although I am not always successful I try to ignore the mean comments because above all a writer has to believe in his/her own writing and constant suppressive criticism can wear away at one’s self esteem and the writing suffers.
Dixie Thomas Reale