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“Writing is like hunting. There are brutally cold afternoons with nothing in sight, only the wind and your breaking heart. Then the moment you bag something big… you think, This one is a keeper. This is a trophy brought back from the future realm, the kingdom of perpetual glistening night where we know ourselves absolutely. This one goes on the wall.”
– Kate Braverman, American novelist, short story writer
I’ve seen and read plenty of writing amateurs. So have you. Any yahoo who can hold a pen or sidle up to a keyboard and bang out a “story” – no matter how tired, painful, incoherent or purple prosed – may consider themselves a “writer.” God bless ‘em. Most of these folks haven’t the foggiest. They think wowing an occasional audience with a few lines, short stories or even the penning pages of their next novel makes them a “writer.”
Solitude and Single-Mindedness
Writing is hard work. Think hauling a 40,000-lb. logging truck with your teeth. Scaling Mount Everest. Or childbirth. Laboring to bring forth a full-formed, intelligible plot, believable, three-dimensional characters and engaging dialogue – as opposed to the trite, hackney sort – is a creative endeavor unlike any other. Because of the amount of blood, sweat, tears and patience required to do write well, few undertake it for the long run. Add this to the fact that writing is a solo act by definition and requires solitude, single-mindedness, and devotion on the order of all the tea in China, and you’ll understand why some view Real Writers as neurotic geniuses. So, how do you tell the difference between say, an amateur “writer” and a pro? (Whole books have been devoted to answering this question. I’m not going to reproduce the entire discussion here. This is a “Cliff’s notes” version.) A few tell-tale signs that differentiate Writer Wannabees from the Real Deal may include:
- Real writers write. This may seem self-evident, but you might be surprised at the number of “writers” who don’t actually write anything. They may talk about writing, read about writing, plan on writing, but they never seem to sit down and actually write. Real writers do. Constantly.
- Real writers understand that writing isn’t about fame, fortune or even “I have something to say,” but mindset.
- Do you see writing as a past-time, frivolity, luxury, or hobby, or as your real job – (paid, unpaid, full or part-time, self-supporting or still working at selling your first piece)?
- Most real writers are keen observers of the human condition. They notice things most others don’t. Are you always on the lookout for your next idea, springboard, platform, inspiration or epiphany?
- Writers see events, people, conversations, conflict, or drama as opportunities to “connect the dots”- usually in places and settings where others may see thin air. Or less. Do you?
Outside of Mozart, how many ‘creative geniuses’ can you name who can crank out a perfect magnum opus on the first try? Real writers may spend hours, days, or longer searching for just the right verb, phrase, or context. They’re not satisfied with “close” or the first notion that pops into their head, whether it works or not. Real writers know that Rewrite is imperative, not optional – and they’re willing to pay their dues. Real writers actively pursue opportunities to improve, learn and grow as people and as craftsmen. Do you?
Real writers have stamina. They know that momentary inspiration does not necessarily a writer make. Obviously, a poem or short story doesn’t require the amount of time a 300 or 400 page novel does. But all writing takes time and effort. For example, a novel takes a lot of preparation: character development, setting, dialogue, conflict, showing instead of telling, choosing a POV, etc. Each writer moves at their own pace, depending on many external and internal factors. It took Natalie Babbitt ten years to write Tuck Everlasting, a 140 paged book. J.K. Rowling spent 3 years on her 800 paged book.
Your Own Voice
It may or may not take you this long to find your own voice. The point is, don’t try to sound like someone else. Develop your own unique style and writing “persona.” Be patient with yourself while you’re in the process. Also keep in mind that:
- Real writers always have their writing ‘antenna” up. Do you seek opportunities to “chime in” every day, every where you go? Are you on the look out for new ideas and fresh material?
- When you’re out on the trail, mid-sentence, at the theater, mall, restaurant, playground, office or work site – are you chomping at the bit to get to the nearest recording device and capture that epiphany in print so you can continue later?
- Finally, and most importantly, do you see writing something you do, or as who you are?
More next time. Stay tuned.
I shot out of bed like a jack-in-the-box. The jangling phone jolted me out of a deep sleep like a jackhammer biting a sidewalk. It was 6:36 a.m. on March 11.
“Just let the answering machine get it,” husband Chris mumbled. Something told me otherwise. I stumbled out of bed and grabbed the receiver with thoughts of throttling whoever was on the other end.
“Mom?” I recognized son Sam’s voice. “Mom!” he hollered again. “Um… uh… what’s up, Sam?”
Get outta the house, now!
“You gotta get outta the house, now!” Sam spent the night at a friend’s house and was phoning to tell us that a tsunami was imminent due to a huge earthquake in Japan.
I was wide awake in a heartbeat. “What are you talking about?”
I vaguely recalled Chris mentioning something about a major earthquake in Japan as he crept into bed the night before, but didn’t give it much thought. Then I remembered. We live on the coast of Washington State, a short walk from the water. Blue and white “Tsunami Evacuation Route” signs pepper the highways like chiles in salsa. Like most people, I never paid them much attention. Until March 11.
The first wave
“The first wave is supposed to hit just after 7:00 a.m.” Sam said. He and I conferred on a future meeting site and hung up. The entire conversation lasted less than a minute. I jostled Chris awake, ran upstairs to wake up sons Josiah (11) and Nathan (17), and flew into the kitchen. We had less than 20 minutes to get out.
Whether the tsunami alert was “for real” or not wasn’t open to debate. If it wasn’t and we evacuated, then it was “no harm, no foul” and little more than a delayed start to the school day. But if it was and we ignored it? We live just a few miles off the infamous Cascadia Subduction Zone. We weren’t going to risk it.
“Shall we take one car or two?” I queried Chris.
“Better take both.”
Dancing Through Your Head
“Why?” I was thinking about gas prices. Funny the things the dance through your head under pressure. “Because if a tsunami does hit, we’ll lose one.” Chris said. “Besides, we need both cars so you can take the dog.”
Oh, yeah. The dog.
Chris tuned in the local news as he threw on his clothes. We sped around the house, assembling “essentials.” But what’s “essential” in an emergency?
What should I take?
“Mom, what should I take?” Josiah appeared in the kitchen looking pale. My mind raced: What do you take – and for how long? A day or two? A week? A month? Deep breaths. Calm down. Think. Pray.
Light and fast headed the list. I directed the boys to quickly pack a couple changes of clothes and any valuables they could fit in their pockets. Josiah brought his sleeping bag. “Don’t bother with suitcases” I said, tossing plastic grocery bags. “Use these. And make sure you grab a jacket with a hood” I added as rain lanced leaden skies.
Besides toiletries, I threw together a couple T-shirts, a sweatshirt, and jeans. I also tossed soap, shampoo, toothpaste and brush in one bag and a washcloth and towels and the dog’s leash and bowl in another. Canned goods. A twelve-pack of toilet paper. Josiah’s pocketknife and compass. Paper plates and plastic utensils. (We forgot the hand sanitizer, prescription meds and can opener.) Nathan dashed to the basement for bottled water, extra blankets, the cooler, First Aid gear and our “emergency kit” which we put together when we lived in southern California, the land of earthquakes. The four of us and the dog were packed and out the door in 15 minutes.
Careening in a crunch
Curious the things that careen through one’s mind in a crunch. What should we bring? What to leave behind? Items that were too heavy or too big to bring were no-brainers. But what about family photos? The hundreds of books in our personal library? My mom’s silver service? The emerald earrings Chris gave me for our twenty-fifth anniversary? Sam’s baseball trophies? Nathan’s cross-country award? Shall I call my step-mom and sister in San Diego? Do we turn off the breaker box? Shut off the main gas valve?
One thing we hadn’t counted on as we charged out of town was that the gates to the local cemetery, the highest site in town, might be locked. They were. Plan B? Backtrack and hightail it inland to the local gun club, where we are members. It’s several miles inland at a slight elevation. The clubhouse itself abuts a hefty hill. No water is available, but it offers a sturdy roof, a wood-burning stove and enough firewood to last for weeks. Chris unlocked the gate. Our breath exhaled in frosty plumes as we entered the clubhouse and unloaded “breakfast:” hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks and chocolate chip cookies.
I wondered what the people of Japan might eat next, and when. What “essentials” did they pack? What or whom was left behind?
Chris got a fire going and we huddled around the wood stove as the dog flopped on the floor at our feet. We monitored the local news by radio and then phoned the Emergency Management people who indicated an “all clear.”
As it turned out, our tsunami sprint was much ado about nothing. We returned home about 90 minutes after our mad dash out, feeling a bit sheepish. Most of our neighbors never even budged. “Consider this a practice run,” Chris chirped as we unloaded and went inside to brush our teeth.
What can’t be replaced
Viewing tsunami footage later, we tried to wrap our heads around the devastation. And couldn’t. We also decided that when it comes to tsunami alerts, discretion is the better part of valor, and some things matter more than others. At crunch time we grabbed each other, the dog, favorite books, hastily packed bags, food and water. I also snatched our wedding album, the kids’ baby books and photos of the grandparents. Some things can’t be replaced.
“Everywhere I have sought rest and not found it, except sitting in a corner by myself with a book”
– Thomas a Kempis
Most people think “writer” is a noun and “writing” is a verb. Not quite. Writing is a talent, a skill. Writing well is a gift. But it’s also a calling, every bit as much of a calling as is the “call” to be a pastor, missionary, doctor, lawyer, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. What kind of “calling” is writing – and how do you know if you have it? Let’s start with some of the differences between “Writer Wannabees” and “Real Writers.”
It’s not unusual for Writer Wannabees to fancy themselves the Real Deal. Lord love ‘em, these are the folks who dabble in, play at, or “write” bi-annually, “whether they need to or not.” Their version of “writer” is anyone who can bang out a few semi-coherent sentences or pages to wow the fam or undiscriminating friends and associates. Some think their attempt at cranking out the next great American novel earns them the appellation. Or their degree in English. Or landing a book contract. Or getting published.
I beg to differ.
Call me old-fashioned, but my version of Real Writer – as opposed to hobbyists or the occasional, haphazard Writer Wannabee – doesn’t have so much to do with talent as it does inspiration, motivation, and attitude.
More later, so stay tuned.
“I’m not Italian, but my Uncle Joe Olivieri was – and how” says award-winning author Kristine Lowder, of her late uncle’s memoirs, That’s Amore! Life With an Italian Father, Mother, and Uncles. Says Lowder, who edited and published the Olivieri manuscript in collaboration with family, “That’s Amore! is the story of an ‘ordinary’ Italian family in an extraordinary era, told by an extraordinary man.”
Brimming with historical anecdotes and tongue-in-cheek mischief, Life With sweeps the dust off a bygone era with accounts of Ellis Island immigration, grape buying excursions, an old-fashioned Italian wedding, an exploding back porch, mora games, skate keys, godparents and work at the “Dodgemaina” auto plant in Detroit, Michigan. Told in Joe Olivieri’s own words, “Life With” includes a delightful “you are there” stroll down his beloved Belvidere Street and a “meet and greet” with the neighbors – “one of whom was my Dad” – says editor Kristine Lowder, the author’s niece. Features more than a dozen recipes from the family kitchen.
That’s Amore! Life With an Italian Father, Mother and Uncles opens in Abruzzi, Italy in 1890 and reveals a rare and winsome look at a close-knit family through World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Depression, meat rationing and World War II, the turbulent sixties and beyond. This candid, snug memoir features a unique blend of humor and pathos flavored with warmth, kindness and a generous dose of familial love. Lowder adds, “Editing Joe Olivieri’s manuscript and preparing it for publication was a joy, as was my uncle. After reading his exuberant, engaging memoir, I’m putting in for honorary paisanship!”
That’s Amore! Life With an Italian Father, Mother and Uncles is available in both paperback and as a digital download from Amazon.com.
About Kristine Lowder
An independent writing professional and creative consultant, Kristine Lowder is a multi-published author specializing in creative non-fiction, inspirational fiction and humor. Her byline has appeared in hundreds of publications as well as several anthologies including Whispers of Inspiration, Our Fathers Who Art in Heaven, and A Pixel-Perfect Christmas. She’s authored 12 books to date and is a frequent contributor to numerous ezines and publications including Mutuality, A Long Story Short, FaithtoWrite, Heartwarmers and JournEzine.