Friday, September 22, 2017

Stones On A Lake

Stones On A Lake

Try a writing exercise today with this photo prompt. Stones on a Lake is the title. I thought it an intriguing scene for the first day of fall in the northern hemisphere.

Ask yourself many questions before you begin. How did those stones get there? Who is going to walk across them? Is someone going to run across them? Who is waiting in the woods for them? Who is chasing them? Who is with them? What is their objective? And any other questions that come to mind.

Then begin writing and see where you go. Make it as simple or complex as you like. Pay attention to sensory details, a sense of place, descriptive phrases, showing instead of telling, and the glorious color.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Writing Your Trauma Without Too Much Drama--Part 3

Ronda Miller

Part 3 is the conclusion of my interview with Ronda Miller. 

Question 8:  Do you have any other thoughts about this kind of writing that we haven't covered?

Ronda:  I've learned a lot about my strengths, and that of other survivors, from telling my story and hearing theirs. Sharing helps us find ways to heal that we may not think of on our own.

People also ask questions which may lead to an entirely different process. We can get stuck with an idea, or opinion, about why an event occurred, or how we should respond to a traumatic event, then we find out there are a multitude of human condtions and reactions to them other than our own. It can be most enlightening.

I've been greatly rewarded, while sharing my story, to have someone thank me because they think it is an important topic of discussion or they experienced a similar trauma.

It can be important and helpful to ask permission of the family of a deceased loved one if you're writing about them. I have found it's also good to give yourself permission to write about a trauma.

 One of my sayings is: I don't write poetry, it 'rights' me.

Question 9:  You will be teaching a workshop on this subject in October. Where and When?

Ronda:  I'll be presenting this topic Sunday morning, October 15th at the State Kansas Authors Club Convention in Coffeyville, KS. The workshop is for the general public as well as writers of all ages and genres. 

Thank you, Ronda for some very interesting and pertinent information on writing about traumas in our life. If any reader has a question for Ronda, put it in the Comments section and I will forward it to her.

Here is a sample of the kind of writing Ronda has discussed with us. I can attest that she is a fine poet, who has two books of her poetry published. MoonStain and WaterSigns  She is working on a memoir titled Gun Memories Of A Stone-Eyed Cold Girl. 


Barn doors pushed shut
an indication something worth
investigating was within. It took
all my strength to open, slide
to close again. New birth
in pungent urgency led
me to the still born calf
quite warm. I nestled
in the hay beside it, placed
my arms around its neck.

I knew what death was, heard
whispers of my mother's
not long before. I could hear
the mother cow's loud bawling
from outside the back barn door.

I felt the spirit of the calf lift,
swirl around me, disappear. It
grew cold. I felt damp fear.
I sat in the caliginous stall
until my sister came, took
my hand, ran with me past
my grandmother's moonlit
garden of hollyhocks,
strawberries, rhubarb and iris,
past the spot where a rattlesnake
soaked up water from
a sprinkler one August day,
past the rotted elm
where fire ants swarmed
in balls before they
tumbled to the ground.

We opened the rusted
screen door and
tiptoed to bed,
where I lay crying,
because it felt so wondrous,
because it felt so good,
until the moonstain
no longer spread
across the floor.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Writing Your Trauma Without Too Much Drama--Part 2

Ronda Miller

Part 2 of my interview with Ronda Miller:

Question 5:  What benefits have you received writing about difficult times?

Ronda:  I've found that in some cases my perceptions, or story, changes over time. I've written and rewritten my mom's suicide in many poems (The Milky Way Woman, Mama Slam, What My Mother Didn't Teach Me I Learned From The Prairie, and Moonstain). I've written about the experience from the perspective of a 3 year old child, a child of 7, a teen, and as a mother with children of my own. It has been interesting to see the difference in my emotions and my understanding of what transpired.

Question 6:  Can keeping a journal be part of writing about trauma?

Ronda:  Yes. Trauma often presents itself in our dreams, awake and asleep. We don't often recognize a pattern unless it is recorded. I may ask myself aren't you dreaming that same dream often? Then I might second guess that I have. A journal helps me verify and if the dream repeats.

The actual process of writing something down  with pen/pencil and paper actually changes our brain waves. It also puts abstract thoughts into concrete form. They are tangible instead of floating in the subconscious or dream state. It's fascinating to see, over time, that we can and do make sense of what transpired, thereby learning a great deal about ourselves.

A great technique is to write the traumatic event from another viewpoint or medium, prose instead of poetry, or vice versa. I've written some traumas using second or third person narrative. Sometimes, it isn't as painful. Whatever the individual prefers. And if fiction is easier, do it that way. I've no doubt that many fine novelists or poets are writing from the emotion, if not the actual memory, of the event.

Question 7:  What can sharing our human experience do for us?

Ronda:  It allows us to be human! Sharing our life experiences gives others permission to share their own. I am a believer that none of us are so different or unique that we can not on some level understand what another human has experienced.

It has been pointed out to me that the exception may be if the person is mentally ill such as a sociopath.

Tomorrow Part 3 will be posted along with an example of a poem written by Ronda Miller.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Writing Your Trauma Without Too Much Drama--Part 1

Ronda Miller

Many, perhaps most of us, have experienced some type of trauma in our lifetime. Perhaps several times. Writing about what happened can be one of the steps to healing and learning to deal with what occurred. I'm very pleased to post an interview with Ronda Miller, Lifetime Coach and Poet, who lives in Lawrence, KS. Her answers should be of help to anyone who would like to write about a trauma, as well as of interest to other writers and readers. 

This is the first of three posts addressing the topic:

Question 1:  You have lived through multiple traumas, so you address this subject with first-hand knowledge. What prompted you to write about it?

Ronda:  I seem to have been writing about my personal traumas since my earliest days of writing in one form or another. I wrote a short story called "Gun Memories" in a Creative Writing class at KU decades ago. It was about a man I knew who sold me a gun just like the .22 pistol he owned. He eventually kidnapped a young woman, held her hostage for days and repeatedly raped her. He then killed himself. The story I wrote was based on that. I also wrote a short story about my father's homicide about that same time.

It was only 11 years ago that I started writing about my mother's suicide which occurred when I was three. That's when I began writing poetry and I found it unsettling that the poetry presented itself so forcefully. I didn't seem to have a lot of say in it; the poetry wrote itself.

Writing has been a great release for my personal experiences. When I wasn't emotionally ready to discuss what happened, I incorporated the incidents into my short stories. I think I hoped classmates and professors who read them would think it all pure fiction.

Question 2:  Where did you find the inspiration to write about difficult times in your life?

Ronda:  The short answer is 'from others.'

There is that inner voice of the creative spirit, where we try to make sense of horrific incidents, that begs to be released. For some it can become a destructive force. For others, it becomes a an expression of creativity in the form of poetry, dance, athletics, song, visual arts etc. For another, it might be cooking or nurturing.

I do know that going to other peoples' art presentations, whatever form that takes, gives me permission on a very deep level to talk about my experiences. It's great to be in the safety net of the humanities.

Question 3:  Do you think that writing about traumas in life can be a step in the healing process?

Ronda:  I know for myself it has been. I've seen what writing can and has done for fellow artists repeatedly. Trauma wants a voice. It generally finds it one way or another.

Children are given tools in which to act their trauma out through, crayons, paints, dolls etc. Adults need them, too. When we aren't given means to express what happened, emotions build like a pressure cooker. The explosion can be directed outward, but it's often directed internally, too. This can lead to self-harm like cutting, stealing, promiscuous behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, certainly suicide.

Question 4:  What guidelines would you give a person who wants to write about a trauma in their life?

Ronda:  I think it's helpful to make a list.of personal traumas--we all have several. Choose one of the lesser ones first. A trauma can be a move, a job loss, divorce, death, abuse, illness, an attack.

It's important not to judge our own trauma. Write it like you're telling a trusted stranger your story. A friend or family member may already know the story and have their own view of it. It's usually easier to be honest with a stranger. You don't have to worry about their emotions or perhaps their denial of the incident.

Don't judge yourself. Your feelings are real even though they may not have been validated in the past. Writing helps validate them.

Some traumatic experiences are scary to write alone, which is one reason I offer group writing classes.

Go to a safe place like a library or coffee shop, your home office or deck, wherever you won't feel afraid or overwhelmed with emotion. Start small. If you write one sentence the first time, that's a fantastic start. Don't force it. Let it tell you when it wants to be written. Honor how long it may take to put into words. This is not a race.

Come back tomorrow for more about this timely topic.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

One Thing Writers Fear

I have been reading William Kenower's book Fearless Writing that came highly recommended by a fellow writer. I think the one thing that stood out for me more than any other is the author's premise that the greatest fear of writers is what other people think of what I write is more important than what I think of what I write. 

How many of us fall into that trap of writing only what we think our readers want? Probably a good number. We watch the trends and, if horror is the hottest thing on the market, we try to write a horror story. Or, if chick lit is flying off the shelves, we decide to try our hand at it even if we've never attempted to write for that audience before. It might sell, we think, and we're here to sell what we write.

Yes and no to that last statement. Of course, we all would like to be published, to slip that check into our pocket and rush off to the bank to deposit or cash it. We also need to write what pleases us, what makes us feel good when we finish the piece. 

One of our human traits is to want to please others and another is to be accepted by others, as well. Our innermost mind might think that we need to write what pleases others so they will like us and keep reading what we write and we'll keep writing what they want whether it pleases us or not. 

My thought on this is that we must produce a piece of writing that pleases us. If we are happy about all those words that have tumbled forth, then I think that is going to transfer to the readers. We need to remember that it may not be the writing itself a reader doesn't care for. Subject matter enters in, too. We should have learned long, long ago that there is no way to please everyone all the time. If the writer is satisfied, I think the reader will sense it. 

Have you ever finished a first draft, read it over and thought This is pure drivel! and filed it away as quickly as possible? It's in your files, you skim across the title now and then and hurry right past it. No way do you want to get the darned thing out and work on it. As an exercise this week, how about pulling one from the many languishing in your files and rework it in a way that pleases you, the writer, and nobody else. 

The writing that pleases you the most is almost always going to be something that you wrote from the heart. Passion for our subject comes through your words to the reader. 

Work towards believing that what you think of your writing is more important than what your readers think of it. You'll probably become a better writer and please your readers, too.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Writers Spend Time Alone

When I'd been writing for a relatively short time, one of my close friends said "But you can't be a writer. That's a lonely kind of thing to do. You're much too social for that."

She was right and she was wrong. I truly am a very social person. In the first half of my lifetime, I didn't like being alone. I wanted people around me. When my husband wanted to move out to a rural area, I literally shuddered. I told him I could not live without people nearby. Most likely, part of the reason was that I was raised in a family of six in a small apartment on the top floor of a very big building. I was never alone in the apartment nor when running up and down the stairs as I came and went. Someone was always outside. I had been conditioned to be around other people. It was all I knew.

I did come to savor my weekly walks to the public library all alone as a pre-teen and teen-ager. Down the next block, past the Garfield Conservatory where jungle plants thrived in a humid atmosphere, on past the park and across the railroad tracks. From there, I zipped along a cinder path that ran behind the elevated train platform. I used that time for thinking about a lot of what seemed important things at the time.

In my late forties, I started to enjoy time spent alone when my husband was at work and the children at school or moved away. I found solitude to be desirable for the first time in my life.

Once I began to write, I actually craved time alone when I could be creative without interruptions. 
I must admit that after a certain amount of time all by myself, I did feel the need of other people. Easy enough to remedy by calling a friend to come over for coffee or go out to lunch. I learned to balance my 'with people' and 'alone' times. 

I will agree with today's quote. Some of us do have to learn to be alone and to like it. It's then that we find that freedom and empowerment and realize that we do appreciate our own company. 

How about you? How much alone time do you like? Lots or just a small bit? 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Writers--Keep Your Eyes Open

I critiqued a business article last night for one of my writing group members. She talked about overlooking the obvious things right before our very eyes. 

It occurred to me that when we write our first drafts, we inevitably do exactly that. We could look through those big binoculars the guy above has and still not see the little things that another reader/critiquer finds. Immediately! 

That old cliche about not seeing the forest for the trees might apply here. The overall picture of the story we wrote might be hidden because of a list of small errors. Like what? It could be any one of these: 
  • lack of clarity (writer knows exactly but reader cannot see it from the writing)
  • too wordy
  • sentences too long
  • unnecessary words (this one's a biggie)
  • cliches
  • use of same tense consistently
  • overuse of adjectives and/or adverbs
  • passive verbs'
  • repetition of words close together
  • lack of sensory detail
  • poor dialogue
When I critique someone's story, many of the points above stand out like a neon light. When I proofread my own work I skim right on by many of those blips from the list. Why?

Perhaps we are too invested in the story itself to be conscious of all those little things that make a good story a great story. 

One way to help yourself be aware of your own errors is to finish that first draft, then put it in a file and forget it for several days--even a week or two. I promise that you will see it from a new perspective. Some, but not all, of those minor problems will wave a flag in your face and you can fix them before submitting to either a writing group or an editor. 

Editors often say "Send us your best work." That would mean a piece of writing that has been edited and revised by you and, hopefully, at least one other reader. When I sub a story to my writing group, I am delighted if several people choose to critique it. What one misses, another sees. And, if all who critique mark the same spot, then I know that is a place to rework. 

You may not need those big binoculars but do read your work with eyes wide open.