Finding Your Voice in a World of #MeToo

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me and my girl one fall day

The other day, my *almost* sixteen-year-old daughter read to me out loud her response to one of the questions on an assignment in her advanced English class. The question was:

“Who or what has had the biggest impact on the development of your voice?”

Me [best attempt at no expression]: “Ooh!!! ¬†Good question.”

Me [inside]: ME!! PLEASE SAY ME!! But it might not be me. Shit, I don’t have a poker face, Christy, get it together here!! If it’s not you, you don’t want to make her feel bad. Whatever she says is fine, whoever it is. OH PLEASE LET IT BE ME!!

Spoiler alert: It was me. ūüôā !!!

I want to share this with you because as a writer, a mom and a human being trying to do Continue reading “Finding Your Voice in a World of #MeToo”

Why I Write: Find or Reignite Your Creative Fire

creativityThis is for anyone who creates, used to create, wants to be more creative, or wants to start creating something new or different. We all create things. Some of us make art, new recipes, or clothing. Some of us build businesses. Raise children. Creativity takes many forms. But life and time takes its toll. Our creative pursuits often fall to the wayside or we get burnt out, especially if we have to be creative for a living.

I once worked with a group of senior citizens in an assisted living center as a volunteer to help them write their stories. In the first session, there was a lot of silence until one¬†woman finally said, the only thing I’ve ever written is a grocery list! The others laughed. I said – that counts! Because it does. (And yes, we got to their¬†stories.) The ways we share our words and stories may have changed with social media. But any effort to capture our ideas, thoughts, plans and vision matter. That’s why we should do everything we can to make time to create and stay fired up about our creative passions.

One way to do this is Continue reading “Why I Write: Find or Reignite Your Creative Fire”

feeling lost? think back to when you were 9

When I was nine years old, I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up. After exploring options like veterinarian, teacher and librarian, I finally settled on one thought: I want to write things that make people think.

Flash forward…a lot of years. I am now helping really smart people build compelling stories about very complex products. A big part of my job involves being a good listener. I listen to engineers talk about the fantastic, creative products they have dreamt up, designed and built, then created with the help of a team of other really smart people. I extract what I know will make a great story and help them build it with the tools and techniques I have honed through…a lot of years of studying the works of great writers and building stories for many companies.

There is nothing more satisfying to me than helping someone tell their story – whether it is a biography, a product messaging platform focused on the customer’s needs, or a white paper on the benefits of 40G or Class 4 antennas. Recently, I helped a team hone the strategic message for a new product launch. The product is cool, innovative and complex. At the end of a two-day messaging session with a team of eight, the leader of the team delivered a pitch based on the foundation we had just built that was clear, concise, and truly compelling. It truly confirmed that I am doing exactly what I set out to do: write things that make people think.

Continue reading “feeling lost? think back to when you were 9”

Writing process: How to get unstuck and have spanking clean toilets too

I have a book manuscript that I’ve dabbled with on and off since 2005.¬†I recently cleared out my creative space and once again opened up the box with everything related to this project: a¬†folder bulging¬†with first drafts and revised drafts, research books, notes, email print-outs, three or four different outlines, story ideas, suggestions, schedules.

So many false starts, hopes, plans, dreams. All incomplete. Where to begin??? Like so many times before, I slapped the lid back on the box and shoved it back in its corner under my desk, out of sight but never out of mind.  My sense of failure was palpable.

Why¬†can’t I finish this damn thing? Was it time to give it up? Had the moment to tell this story passed? I¬†continued to berate¬†myself as I threw in another load of laundry then headed upstairs to make dinner and clean the bathrooms, which is way more fun than feeling like a failure. I might not be able to finish this story, but by golly, my toilets will sparkle and I’ll make the best damn Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff ever!

The thing is, every¬†time I return to this project, I get stuck right here. It didn’t help that I had some chapters in one computer file, others on a USB stick, still more on a disk, and multiple print-outs of copies and versions of drafts. I am organized in every aspect of my life, what the hell happened here?¬†How would I know what was what? Where to start?

And then, shortly after the family was full of stroganoff, the toilets were sparkling, kids were in bed, and I was just about to overindulge in chocolate, I had an epiphany:

I could start over.

I sat up straight on the couch and put my chocolate down. Who said I have to try to put the pieces together from the way I saw this story five years ago?¬†I¬†always knew what the problem was:¬†my story needed¬†a skeleton¬†to hang on, but every time I went back to¬†the pieces,¬†I¬†was forcing¬†the pieces to fit a structure that wasn’t working.¬†Isn’t that the¬†definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result every time?

Yep, I’ve been driving myself crazy.¬†But just like that,¬†I gave myself permission to try a new structure. It seemed so simple, but I guess I had been so focused on making the square peg fit the round hole, I didn’t think to look for a new peg.

So, I’m starting fresh. I’m actually pretty excited about it, because I feel like I have a new skeleton that can work. I will pull details and scenes from¬†the 200+ pages I’ve already written when and where it makes sense.¬†That might sound depressing to some who aren’t used to the writing process, but sometimes you have to write a lot to find out what you have to say and the best way to say it.

If you’re stuck, consider clearing out your creative work space to make room¬†for new ideas. Spend time in your creative space. Look at your old drafts. Don’t force¬† yourself to solve any problems. Try not to berate yourself. Read. Think. Ponder. Simmer. Just show up every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes,¬†and see what happens.

As for my book, I don’t know if this new insight will solve everything. I hope I will¬†finish this damn thing once and for all. Mostly, I feel pretty good. I’m trying. I’m writing again.

How to use friends and family in your fiction without pissing them off

One of the most frequently asked questions students ask in my fiction writing classes is, “How do I write about my life–my friends and family–without pissing them off?” Let’s be honest, the usual fiction disclaimer, All characters are a figment of the author’s imagination, any resemblance to real people living or dead is blah blah blah, just doesn’t cut it.

Everything is food for our fiction, including people we know. The good news is, much of real life is fairly boring; fiction spices it up. So here are 6 things you must do if you want to use people around you for, ahem, inspiration:

1. Ditch the guilt. You have to be willing to take risks on the page. Guilt will hold you back and stop you from digging into the deep stuff where the real stories are. Let it go.

2. Change names and details. The sooner you change Aunt Mabel the crazy quilter into Joey the crazy biscuit maker, you free yourself–and your character–to be who he/she really is. If you’re writing about a friend who picks their teeth with a toothpick when nervous, think of another odd habit that “your character” has. That’s our job, to make shit up, so be creative.

3. Change your mind. Stop thinking of the friend or family member and start thinking of the character with a life, feelings, hang-ups, shortcomings and bad habits of his or her own. When you are fully immersed in your characters, they will become more real to you than the people who sparked your idea for them in the first place.

4. Air out the story. Choose a few select¬†folks to read a draft as soon as possible–preferably¬†not the people you are writing about. If you can read it aloud in front of an audience, even better.You’ll know you have some rewriting to do and where.

5. Don’t remove; rewrite. Writers reflect what they see, but that doesn’t mean we have to expose the people we care about to humiliation or shame. Only you can decide if a line has been crossed. Before you delete, rewrite. That’s what revision is for–shaping raw emotions like humiliation and shame into good fiction.

6. Check your motives. Are you writing for yourself or for your audience? Are you writing to hurt someone else or to work through your own hurt? Words are powerful. Use them wisely.

Now, quit worrying and start writing!