Tag Archives: Work

On Inspiration

This is a post in response to Small Assignment 4. Also check out responses from Anecdotaltales and Prajjwal. Thanks for writing and sharing!

A few years ago, I had a supervisor who drove me crazy. The reason for the crazy-making is that I was supposed to get a written review every quarter, but quarter after quarter, I did not get a written review. Then, all of a sudden, I would receive four quarterly reviews on the same day. This was… unhelpful. The excuse that my supervisor gave for the late reviews was that he needed to “be inspired” to write. Let’s be clear. He had to be “inspired” to simply do his job.

Now, years later, I am a writer. I get assignments and deadlines, and I must meet those deadlines or not get paid. When I get to work (often still wearing my pajamas), my first step is staring at a blank screen, or maybe write a little chicken scratch on a notebook or on the back side of an envelope. But at the end of the day, the deadline does not move, and the deadline does not wait for inspiration.

The experience of writing professionally and on deadline has crystallized one thing for me: writing is NOT about inspiration. Writing is about, well, writing. The moments when I feel inspired are wonderful moments, but if I’m honest, I must admit that those moments are rather few and far between. I am always more capable of finding an excuse to not write than I am of finding “inspiration.” In fact, not feeling inspired becomes a wonderfully convenient excuse to avoid writing. It’s right up there with “I have two babies” and “I don’t get any sleep.”

Last week, some old friends came to visit us for a few days, and then we drove out to middle Tennessee a rented a cabin for the weekend. While there, all gathered under one roof, we decided to work on a little group art project, which took the form of a book for each of the three families. Most people drew a little picture or a sketch. The kids who could be trusted to not eat the pens made drawings of their own. Now, I am not an artist. The best I can do on most days is draw a cartoon cow, although I do think I happen to draw a mean cartoon cow. So it was suggested that I write a little something.

Now, we were in a beautiful cabin out in the woods. We were half a mile from a beautiful lake, surrounded by friends and children and a hundred different reasons to feel inspired. But I did not feel inspired. I felt pressured and on the spot and a little weird. I was busy trying to keep my kids from destroying the other kids’ toys, and I really just wanted to pour another glass of wine. But one afternoon, I sat down and wrote a little something to put in the memory book. It was not the best something I’ve ever read; in fact, it was a poem. I am really not a very good poet. But it fit on the small sheet of paper, and it was written.

I believe in inspiration. I do believe that there are times when the Muse whispers in my ear and the words fit together like pieces of a puzzle. But most of the time, writing is just about getting the words down. So let me go and pour myself a glass of wine, (or coffee, as it is not yet noon), and let’s get to work.

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Small Assignment 4: Inspiration

Sitting down to write and staring at a blank screen (or notebook, or whiteboard, or whatever) can be one of the single most paralyzing experiences I have on any given day. In fact, the time when I am most likely to walk away in defeat is in those moments when I am simply terrified that I will not have anything worth writing.

This is when many writers (and creative people, generally) begin to look for inspiration. We wait for the muse to show up and hit us over the head (hopefully with some kind of a Nerf implement).

Once upon a time, when writing was a hobby for me, and not much else, it was easy to walk away due to lack of inspiration. But now, writing is not only a hobby. It is my livelihood. It has become a way of life. Inspiration really can’t keep up with that. So now, I am going to write about inspiration.

The small assignment this week is to write about inspiration. Think about where you find inspiration (if you do, in fact, find inspiration.) Write about a time when you felt particularly inspired. Write an inspirational haiku. Write a short story about a musician seeking inspiration from the Niagara Falls. Whatever. Your inspiration is inspiration. Go! Good scribbling!

As usual, if you choose to write something based on the prompt, write it and post the link in a comment here. Also, please “share” the small assignments with anyone who might be interested in writing them!

 

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Re-Tooling, and an Invitation

After my last post, I decided that maybe it was time to do a little reflecting.  I asked myself, what do I want this blog to be?  And after some serious contemplation, I have come up with one answer.

I want this blog to be practice.

You see, I am a writer.  That is what I do, and I do it professionally.  However, most of the writing that I do is written in a painfully anonymous voice, often in third person passive.  The professional writing that I am doing at this point has not left me with a great deal of opportunities to actually develop my voice and practice the craft.

Normally, the recommendation for people who want to develop their voices and practice the craft of writing is to join a writing group.

There is a problem with this recommendation, however.  I have been unable to find a writing group in Memphis, and I really lack the time to attend a writing group anyway.  Meeting with a group of people requires all kinds of planning and time not to mention childcare, which is expensive.

So, instead of finding a local writing group, I want to establish a virtual writing group, using this blog space.  I’m hoping that some of you out there who stumble across this post will want to participate.

You see, this is the beautiful thing about the internet!  We can be a group, but we do not ever have to schedule a meeting!

Here’s how this will work.  Anne Lammott, who is in many ways, my personal hero, (I steal her voice when I cannot find mine), has some rules of writing, one of which is “Small assignments.”  The point of small assignments is that you do not have to write EVERYTHING when you are trying to write something.  Just, she says, write what will fit in the one-inch picture frame.  So I will set up some small assignments for myself, and if you (yes you, out there) would like to participate, simply write a post on your own blog and link to it in the comments here.  We can all read each others posts and be all link-friendly and encouraging.  For anyone who decides to participate, I’ll add your blog to my blogroll, and if you feel so inspired to do the same, I’m sure you will have my eternal gratitude.

Finally, should you choose to participate in the small assignments and you have a small assignment that you would like to work on, you can feel free to set your own small assignment, and let me know about it!  (You can find my email in my “About” section, or you can just leave a comment.)

So that is how this will work.  I will post the first assignment tomorrow, and we will let this great adventure commence!

(Also, if you read this, and happen to know of someone who might be interested in participating, please “Share” this.  I’d love to have people participating who are writing all kinds of stuff – not just the kind of stuff that I write.  This is about broadening boundaries and horizons together!)

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The Bad Review

The other day, a piece that I wrote (on assignment) for Mother’s Day started making its way around Facebook.  A couple of my friends “shared” the piece, and so some people read it and started commenting.  Most of the comments were generally affirming and nice.  And then… there was the negative review.

A person I do not know read my piece and disagreed whole-heartedly not just with the content but with my writing style.  The comment left on Facebook was not mean, but it was strongly anti-my-writing.  This person called my writing “syrupy” and “sentimental.”

And OH!  It hurts.  For all of the positive affirmation I get for my writing (my MOM said she liked the piece), one negative comment can send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and defensiveness.  It took everything I had in me to not jump onto Facebook and basically say “Well, it was a piece written for MOTHER’S DAY!  OF COURSE it was sentimental!  Plus, that’s what I was PAID to write.  Also, you MISSED THE POINT!  I was trying to get away from the sentimentalizing of motherhood!”  Then I was going to quit writing and go buy a pint of Haggen Daas Coffee Ice Cream. Instead, I logged out of Facebook, turned off the computer, and poured myself a regular cup of coffee.  (Then I decided to blog about it.  So much for letting it go.)

I know that I have a tendency to be saccharine and wordy when I write.  I just don’t like it when someone calls me on it.  The piece in question… it’s a little syrupy.  And pretty sentimental.  It was, after all, written for Mother’s Day.  But it could have been toned down.  I kind of wish I had had the time to tone it down.  But I turned in clean copy on time.  Now it’s out there, and there is at least one person who does not like it.  And that hurts.

I am currently trying to put together a book proposal, and I’m finding it somewhat difficult.  I’m intimidated by the scale of the project, and I’m afraid that someone out there won’t like it.

The truth is, when we put pen to paper and publish something, it belongs to the world and someone out there won’t like it.  But we can’t write so that people will like us.  I can’t write just so that someone will like me.  I have to write for the sake of writing.  Not everything I write will be great.  Hell, most of what I write won’t even be that good.  But it will be written, and I have to think that there is some value in that.

I think I need to grow some thicker skin now.

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Monday Parenting FAIL

Tonight, I sat in the middle of my daughter’s bedroom, absolutely furious, and surrounded by every. single. shirt that child owns.  Maggie sat hunched in the corner, babbling inarticulate sounds of despair, while tears fell down her face – tears that were big enough that I could hear them when they slid off of her chin and onto the floor.

It started at “clean up” time.  Every night the routine is the same.  When we get to the appointed time, Maggie must clean up her toys, her books, her crayons.  She needs to help tidy any of the communal property that she has helped disturb during her play (such as pillows, pulled from the couch to make a bed for her baby dolls).  She gets help and coaching from whichever parent is available, and on Monday nights, that is always me, as David teaches a night class every Monday.

I had already had a long day.  Mondays are long days, generally, but this Monday felt particularly long.  I had a deadline coming up, and so I was trying to finish my work without David or outside childcare to help me corral the kids.  When this happens, I usually set up my computer at the dining room table, which means Maggie is free to play just about anywhere, and I can keep an eye on her.  Beckett, too, can scoot around the room with relative ease, but really can’t get into much trouble re: electrical outlets or breakable things.  I take breaks from my work to read a book or draw with Maggie, nurse Beckett, or get one/both of them some form of sustenance.  It works, but it puts me on edge, because the work basically has to happen in 5-minute intervals.

So we get to the designated clean up time, and I give Maggie the 10-minute warning.  “In ten minutes, it will be time to clean up your toys.”  This warning is met with a simple, yet determined, “No.”  The warning gets repeated at 5 minutes, then 2 minutes, and then, it is time.  “Maggie, take your crayons and put them in the art box.”

“No.”

“Maggie, I will count to five, and if you don’t start putting your crayons away, you will sit in time out.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5.”

“No.”

She sits in time-out happily.  When she’s done, she says “I’m sorry.” And then goes back to coloring, despite my instruction to clean up.  So it’s another time-out.  Then another.  And yet another.  She is sitting happily in time-out as if it doesn’t bother her one bit, and I’m getting more and more aggravated.  At the end of the evening, she had spent a good 45 minutes in time-out, though her time outs are TWO MINUTES long.

I made the decision to skip her bath, because so much time had already been spent between time out and cleaning up, and she was clearly tired.  So I got her dressed, washed her face, brushed her teeth, read her stories and put her to bed.  Then I went to tend to Beckett, who was wailing in the next room.  After about 30 seconds, Maggie started to SCREAM.  I still don’t know exactly what she was screaming for, but it was something about a shirt. I was nursing Beckett, and so there was nothing I could do at the moment.  I sat there, nursing Beckett, willing him to not listen to his sister and just chill out and go to sleep.  When he was done, I went into Maggie’s room.

She had removed her pajamas and was standing there in only a diaper, wailing at the top of her lungs.  I tried to put her shirt back on, but she pushed my hand away.  Then I reached into her closet to get a different shirt, thinking maybe she just wanted something different, but she not only pushed my hand away, but she tried to hit me.  At that point, it was clear that she wanted a specific shirt.

Now, what I should have done at this point is given her a simple choice: this shirt, or no shirt.  Instead, I lost all perspective.  I spent the next 25 minutes offering Maggie every single shirt of hers that exists.  I dumped a laundry basket of clean laundry and a hamper full of dirty laundry in the middle of the floor.  Each shirt offered was summarily rejected, and met with more tears and screaming and “SHIIRRRTT!”

When all of the shirts had been presented and rejected, I yelled.  I let my overly-tired, sobbing, two-year old, daughter have it.  I stormed out of her bedroom, slamming the door in the process.  I left her sobbing while I took off my clothes and turned on the shower.

The sound of the water masked the sound of Maggie’s sobbing, but I knew it was still there.  I felt terrible, like the worst mother on the planet.  I was confident that I had broken my daughter.  But I breathed, listened to the running water, and made a plan.

The water turned off, I could hear Maggie still sobbing and screaming in her room.  I got out, dried myself off, and put on some fresh clothes.  Then I went into her room and quickly put all of the clothes scattered on the floor into a laundry basket.  I offered Maggie her shirt – the original shirt – the one I had put on her two hours earlier.  She put it on, and reached her arms up to me.  I picked her up, told her I was sorry and that I loved her.  She answered with her oft-repeated refrain, “Help, please NOSE?”

So I wiped her nose and dried her tears.  I sang her the song we sing her every night before bed, and I laid her back down.

Now she’s asleep.  She’s quiet.  When the morning comes, there will be no resentment, no grudges.  She’ll probably ask for a banana and cereal the second she gets up, the way she does every morning.  But I’ll remember.  And the next time, I’ll try to be better.

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On Writing

I am not particularly well-suited to being a writer.

That is to say, I have always loved to write, but my personality is not one that would naturally guide me toward choosing writing as a career.  And yet, here I am.

Being a writer means taking chances and going out on a limb.  Publishing words that I have written myself is something akin to what I imagine it would be like to go streaking through Central Park on a particularly sunny and warm Saturday afternoon.  Except that in this analogy, instead of running through a crowd at top speed, I would be strolling slowly, exposed and unrushed, allowing strangers to study and critique and criticize my naked body at their leisure.

When I was in college, I wrote drafts of my papers and sent them to a peer or a professor for editing and comment.  I would feel a tightening knot in the pit of my stomach until I received my draft back.  When I then turned in those papers for a grade, I would feel a tremendous amount of relief, because it was finally – FINALLY – out of my hands.  There could me no more revisions.  The paper was as perfect as it was going to be.

Writing professionally is, of course, not the same thing as writing a paper for a college course.  It is, though, a process of continually offering oneself up for judgement.  When someone reads the words that I have written, s/he is reading a piece of me.

Recently, a project that I was working on got cut short.  It was not a project that I felt particularly passionate about – in fact, it was the writer’s equivalent of a “day job.”  Even so, when I got word that the project was being discontinued, I immediately internalized it.  My writing hadn’t been good enough.  I hadn’t been good enough.

None of this is true.  The discontinuation of the project had – so far as I know – nothing to do with my writing.  It likely had more to do with the marketing strategy, the design, maybe a mistaken target audience.  I was one small part of the project. But, says my inner doubting voice, I was the writer.  When they discontinued the project, it was because people were failing to buy my words.

This blog – this website – is my attempt to be a little more brave. I am a perfectionist in a profession that strikes perfectionists paralyzed.  I’ve started half a dozen other blogs, and each time I wrote maybe one post and then wrote draft after draft that I picked over and revised and never really managed to finish.  The longer those drafts sat there, the more I felt like I needed to make those posts perfect before I turned them over to the internet with all of that public-ness.

I started this blog, really, with one goal in mind.  I want this to be a place where I write and publish something every few days, perfection be damned.  If it has been three days since I published anything, then I need to push the “publish” button on something.  In just about everything I’ve ever read on how to be a writer, the first rule is to just write.  Write something.  Write something that is clumsy and terrible that even you don’t want to read, but write it.  Put pen to paper (or the digital equivalent) and get your words down.

So here I am, writing.  I already have a backlog of drafts of posts that I imagine will go unpublished.  But so far, I have managed to write and publish more on this blog than I ever have before.  These are my words about my life, and I make all of my choices about what I write here.  (A distinct difference from the things I am paid to write. Though they are still my words, someone else has usually chosen the topic, the format, even the word count.)

These are my words.  This is my life.  Maybe I’ll go take that stroll through the park now.

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No Kids Today, huh?

This morning I had a meeting with an editor. We were going to meet at a coffee shop that I frequent with my family (both kids in tow, usually).  So I put on some big-girl pants (read: not yoga pants) and I put on a shirt without any (visible) stains (patterned fabrics help to hide a multitude of infant and toddler related mishaps) and I headed out the door.

When I arrived at the coffee shop, I waved to the manager and then looked around for the woman I was meeting. This was our first meeting in person – not on the phone or through the internet, and so I scanned the room, made eye contact with a woman who looked like she was looking for someone, and went over to introduce myself.

A minute or two after I sat down, a waitress came by with my usual drink order – COD with a side of milk and a glass of water.  She had not taken my order, but she knows what I get every. single. time I go in there.  My table mate looked at me with one eyebrow raised and I shrugged and confessed that I come here a lot, as it is close to my house and I work from home. This place is my home office away from my home office.

As the meeting progressed, the manager stopped my to refill my coffee. As he looked up from my cup and into my face, a look of surprise came into his eyes.  “So, no kids today, huh?”  I smiled and responded that, yes, the kids were at home with my husband so that I could, you know, take this meeting, with this person sitting right here across the table from me.

He left and I offered a bashful smile to the editor sitting opposite me. “We come here a lot,” I said.  “My daughter really likes the muffins.”

The rest of the meeting went well, and we covered everything that needed to be covered.  We shook hands and she asked me where the bathroom was, since she was clearly not a regular at this place and I definitely was.  After I pointed the way, I waved goodbye to the manager and waitress and walked out the door.

Now, let me be clear here.  When I got home I had been gone, without a single child in tow, for 2 hours and 19 minutes.  I had tried to be a real, grown-up, professional person for 2 hours and 19 minutes, and those 2 hours and 19 minutes felt like … a day off.  And even better, when I got home, both of the kids were napping, which meant I could have a real, adult conversation with my husband.  Then I made pizza dough for tonight’s dinner.  Then I sent out a couple of emails.  And then, only after I had what felt like the most productive morning I have had in two years, Beckett woke up.  And then life – the real life of chaos, and getting things done in bits and pieces – started all up again.

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