Enjoyment and Enlightenment

Once upon a time, I had a librarian.  Her name was Mrs. Priester, and she worked at my elementary school.  Kevin was quite fond of her, because she encouraged reading in him and even took it upon herself to find books that she thought he would enjoy.  She didn’t need to do this for me, because the day I met her I told her, in the bragging way of a 5-year-old, that I already knew how to read, thank you very much.  In fact, I even had a library card already.  (I thought I was hot shit.)  What Mrs. Priester did teach me, however, was the difference between fiction and non-fiction.  I don’t know why the concept confused me so much as a small child, but I kept mixing up the terms, until one day she made it very simple: fiction was Fake.  Non-fiction was Not Fake.  It stuck, I understood, and she further explained that the books I wanted to read were not just called “chapter books,” but novels, and that novels were fiction: made-up stories for one’s enjoyment and enlightenment. 

I tell you this so that we are all very clear on what a novel is, and what fiction is.  I want there to be no misunderstanding, because this is the key piece of the thing that is infuriating me right now.

Let me paint for you a word-picture.  I, a writer, who lives in the Western New York region, and writes fiction, awoke Friday morning to learn of a tragedy that befell a fellow author.  Salman Rushdie was attacked with a knife onstage at the Chautauqua Institute while doing an interview.  I quite literally choked on my iced coffee, and my reasons are twofold.  First of all, Chautauqua?! I live in Buffalo and we just had a grand scale community tragedy about 3 months ago, and now we got crazies rushing stages and stabbing authors just an hour away? Not to mention, I can’t tell you how many times I have fantasized of being some famous writer who is invited to speak at Chautauqua-that’s like life-goal stuff.  And now, that place is marred, too…just like the damn grocery store.

Secondly, and more importantly: violence against a wordsmith.  I know of Rushdie, though his book, The Satanic Verses, sits unread on my shelf because I simply haven’t picked it up yet. But I know a little backstory, like the fact that Iran’s Ayatollah issued a fatwa in the 80s against him, which is basically an edict saying an Iranian should kill Rushdie. The man has been living with death threats for years, all because his book supposedly goes against Islam.  I think it’s because, from what I have read online, one character abandons the religion.  But again, I haven’t read it yet.  The point is that it doesn’t matter, because The Satanic Verses is a novel, and therefore, fiction, and fiction equals fake.  It’s not real; it’s just a story-a made-up situation in a guy’s head that he put down on paper and then an entire country took it the wrong way and decided he needed to die. 

How easily that could be any one of us.

I mean, I just finished the first draft of a book that features an exploration of the concept of religion as a shackle that keeps one from living their authentic life.  I do not expect death threats for the thoughts I come up with in my own head, but I’m sure its gonna piss of an evangelical or two.  But as mad as they get, do I deserve to be stabbed in the face for my imagination?  Absolutely not. 

So, when I head about Salman Rushdie, I was crushed.  I tried to explain to Mark why it was bothering me so much, but I couldn’t find the words.  Maybe it’s just that I am so sad that someone was hurt…just for playing pretend. Because that’s all we’re doing, really, when we write fiction: make-believe, in verse.  And I just do not believe anyone should be harmed over such innocent enjoyment.



I decided to do a thing, and that thing is called NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month, which is in November.  This is a big deal for me because, if you were unaware, I have had a novel sitting inside me for a few years that I just haven’t been able to get out, and I am hoping this is the push I need. 

Everyday you go to the site and put in your word count, with the goal of reaching 50,000 words by the end of November.  You cannot start writing until November 1st.  Most people spend the month of October preparing (preptober,) and that is where I am right now.  I have an outline, I have character notes, I have idea lists, I have research topics, I have dialogue snippets…I am over prepared, and yet I feel lost at sea.  I have been plotting this in my head for FIVE YEARS.  I remember the day it came to me.  Robin Williams had just committed suicide and I was heartbroken.  From that grief for a person I did not even know, a seed for a story was planted, and it has grown into a wild underbrush that I find I must tame into landscaped masterpiece. 

I have been looking for all the preptober worksheets and tips I can find.  I have asked my Twitter friends for their input.  I have even delved into building a world for my character that is outside the one I reside in, which is far out of my comfort zone but is allowing me to express myself creatively.  I am doing all the right things. 

I am terrified.

Of what, you ask?  Of writing 1667 words a day, that’s what.  That’s my weekly blog output.  How can I do that much each day and call it good?  But it doesn’t have to be good, I remind myself.  It just has to be words on paper.  I can make it good later.  My fear, however, is that I am too direct.  I do not expound on slight details and I am not verbose with my descriptions.  I am straightforward, and this lowers my word count, and makes me stress about how much I am putting out there.  I have been adding to my idea list regularly so that I always have something to write, even if I have to jump around a little.  Still, it scares me, making me feel like I am not up to the task. 

I think about the deadlines of my youth, when I would scramble to the computer lab after lunch to finish some term paper or essay, and type them off like my fingers were on fire, always on topic, always an accurate word count, always a good grade.  Those were my way of succeeding-pulling off essays on topics I had long thought of but only sat down to write in the 11th hour.  November will be my novel’s 11th hour.

Due to my current lack of employment I have plenty of time during the week to work but I am concerned about the weekends, especially those I spend with my kiddos.  I told K that I would have to write for at least two hours each day, and she vowed to guard my office door so that I would be undisturbed.  I almost cried at this little outpour of support from the youngest of them, and Hubs smiled at me and told me I could do it.  They all tell me I can do it.  My team is 100% behind me and that gives me hope.

Yet, self-doubt is strong when it comes to my writing, and the little voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough come calling with no invitation.  Sane Brigid, the side of my brain that rules us most of the time, tells me that this other Brigid is a loony toon and she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  Sane Brigid shouts her down every time, but that doesn’t mean Crazy Brigid isn’t still there, whispering at night when the words just won’t come. 

I try my best to keep my head up and stay focused on the tasks at hand but sometimes that becomes difficult.  Sometimes I just want to give up and walk away.  I am doing NaNoWriMo so that I can hold myself accountable when that happens, and not give up on my project.  I believe in my story, and I want it told.  I will work my ass off over the next month to make that happen.

So, friend and family and reader, I may be talking about NaNo a lot over the next month.  I may be a little scatterbrained.  I may not get a blog out.  I may not get anything out other than the thing I am forcing myself out of me, this 50,000-word behemoth that I have been carrying around for so long.  Hopefully though, December 1st will roll around and I will be able to say that I did it, that I finally competed the first draft of my first novel, and I will be satisfied. 


In 2008, I joined Twitter.  I was one of those that came to the party fairly early, signing up when only a handful of friends used it and not really understanding the whole thing at first.  Like Facebook, but short?  Ok, I’m all for the spirit of brevity.  I also was able to do fun things like stalk celebrities and follow the news.  For ten years I had this account, and I kept it fairly small.  Then about two weeks ago, I started reading tweets from the writing community on Twitter, which is huge.  Many people were doing what was called a writer’s lift, and those participating seemed to be plugged into this community that I had been watching for a little bit.  I decided to give it a try, and within a week and a half I more than doubled my following.  Mission accomplished!  Wait…

With this came two dudes.  One was nice enough, though he lives across the world and we probably have nothing in common.  He was respectful enough when I told him I was married.  The other, not so much.  He begged me to meet him, promising that he could make all my dreams come true and insisting that he could make me happier than Mark does.  Sir, you don’t know me.  Even if I was single, a handful of tweets cannot possibly tell you who I am as a person.  And if I say I’m happy in my relationship, that should be the cue to step back and away.  Twitter is not a dating service.  You will not find your true love here.

The weirdo is nothing, however, compared to the enormous self-doubt.  I am now followed by published authors, which in theory should be a boost to my self-esteem but in actuality is sort of crippling.  I see these people write 1000s of words a day and talk about their agents and editing and how they’ve completed another novel and I want to throw up.  I look at my novel, which is pitiful in word count and will likely end up either being YA or a novella, and I feel sick to my stomach.  I thought that connecting with other writers would boost me, but I’m finding it makes me self-conscious instead.

When I finish something, I’m positive about it.  I’ve written stories and poems that have been published, and I have always been proud of my finished projects.  It’s the stuff I’m working on that gives me nightmares.  A novel that I am stuck on, trying to write about bargaining as a stage of grief.  It teases me, saying “Hey look!  Look how much you wrote, and look how far you have to go!  YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO GET THERE.”  I might get there, of course, but at the moment I am stuck.  A poetry chapbook, which needs a handful more poems and then will be completed.  That’s probably the easier of the two projects at the moment, but it feels insurmountable at times because I don’t have those few poems yet, and I don’t know when they will come to me.  I never know when it’s going to come to me, and that is what makes this calling so difficult.

I write in my blog every Monday, even if I don’t have much to write about.  It’s the one scheduled thing that I have, and I try to keep up with it as best as I can.  I love the feeling of my fingers flying over the keyboard, trying to keep up with my racing mind.  I wish I could feel this way all the time, just sitting at my desk and pecking out words and stories and tales of my life.  Alas, I suffer from terrible bouts of writer’s block and self-doubt, the latter being my own personal Achilles’.  I don’t doubt much, but I doubt my works in progress until they are complete.  I doubt people want to read my work until I have proof, like publication.  I assume it’s all garbage, no matter how many times I am told otherwise.

So, on one hand, I am glad that I’m getting so many new followers from the writing community, as it kind of gives me inspiration.  If they can do it, you can do it!  But on the other hand, can I?  Or is that just something I tell myself so I don’t completely lose my mind?

K is here, so I’m going to go do the mom thing for a while.  Hopefully later today I can sit down and get some work done, but truthfully, I’m not feeling it today.  I don’t know if it’s my own self-sabotage or writer’s block or just that the sun is out but I’m not inclined to spend the day at my desk, even though I crave that feeling of productivity.  Some days though, it doesn’t come.  And that’s alright.  I’ll just wait until inspiration strikes, then ride that mofo like the last train out of town.

Kill Your Darlings

Once upon a time, I wrote most of a book.  I was fueled by the outrage I felt towards my government’s behavior in the early 2000’s.  I had just come of voting age, 7 months too late to vote for Al Gore and furious that we had a chimpanzee in the White House.  I was naïve and yet to be jaded by the country I had been taught to adore.  I focused my frustrations into a pre-apocalyptic tale of friendship and justice that I never titled but always referred to as The Ten.  It was about a group of freedom fighters running a grassroots organization built to topple a dictatorship.  When Obama was elected in ’08, I fell off writing it, as my frustrations dissipated for a time.  I considered picking it back up when “this fuckin’ guy” was elected,  but it seemed practically prophetic at that point.  I knew what I had to do.  I had to kill it.

It’s ironic that the first time I ever killed a character, I did it in The Ten.  His name was Matthew, christened after a childhood friend that I have long since lost, and I loved him.  He was an army vet who had fled and went into hiding after being ordered to kill innocents in cold blood.  He fell in love with a girl named Juliet, who also dies, but Matthew’s death takes place in the first chapter.  He dies in a field in his best friend Jordan’s arms, risking life and limb to cross the NY-Canada border to bring her blueprints for the fall of the enemy.  He is shot at the border, but limps and drags himself to her camp, to save them all.

I didn’t know I would kill Matthew at first.  I wrote the first chapter long after most of the book, when I realized that starting it with a mysterious bleeding man was better than just “Once upon a time…”  I actually mourned Matthew, as I described the other characters reactions to his passing.

Now, I mourn not only Matthew, but the whole book.  It’s never going to work, and I know that.   I’m ok with that.  I moved onto another book, one that is timeless, and thus can never be ruined by the progress of politics.  Still, I think of that as the first truly substantial thing I worked on.  I write poetry all the time, and I have completed a few plays, but I put more hours in on The Ten than anything else (save maybe my current project, should I finish it.)  I loved The Ten.  I wish I could finish it.  I would love to see how these characters that I crafted so particularly brave a new world.  But I guess I’ll never quite know.

I’m not great at killing my work, but I’ve gotten better over the years.  Recently I was compiling old poems and reworking the ones that didn’t suck, and trust me when I tell you it was a low number.  From the hundreds and hundreds of poems on my hard drive, I like roughly ten of them, and that leads me to do a lot of poetic slaughter.

A month or two ago, I deleted my LiveJournal.  I started writing it in 2001, and kept writing in it until 2014.  It was my first blog.  It was my first foray into the internet, really.  I loved it.  I wrote religiously about my life in it.  I painstakingly copied each entry into a word document, and then I deleted it.

Yes, it’s saved for me and only me, and I have been working my way through it trying to see if there is anything salvageable.   So far I’ve picked out a few rants that are useful for my current project, but that’s about it.  Mostly it’s quotes and quizzes and tales about my adventures with my friends.  It is, however, a snapshot of my 20’s, and for that I am pleased I preserved it.  But it couldn’t live forever.

Like Matthew couldn’t live forever, or his lover Juliet, or a million other characters that will eventually die because we all do.  The beauty is that if you don’t kill them off yourself, they can live forever in someone’s mind.  However, sometimes, you have to say goodbye to something.  You have to end something to start something new.  Matthew died to save his friends.  My LiveJournal died to feed my manuscript.  My poems become mulch to create new ones.  Life goes on, even when you’re destroying everything.

grayscale photo of explosion on the beach
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Short and Sweet

I’m not verbose.

It’s probably my one great tragedy, aside from having a flat singing voice.  I just cannot expound about something, no matter how hard I try.  Eventually it becomes dull and I get bored, as I often got bored as a child reading the classics.  I simply do not need a page and a half description for a ray of sunlight, no matter how beautiful it is.  Also, I simply cannot write a page and a half about a ray of sunlight.

As a person, I am almost never jealous, but two writers I know are really flaring this emotion in me at the moment.  One is doing a thirty-day writing challenge and nailing it.  Another drops 9,000 words a day into her memoir.  Both are, through no fault of their own, killing my soul.

I think this may be why I have always gravitated to poetry.  Most of my poems are less than 50 lines, and I do believe that’s enough space to describe that ray of sunlight perfectly.  Then I think about my past, writing plays.  I did maybe six or seven, and three got produced in some form.  These were decidedly longer pieces, ranging from a short children’s play to a three-act opus for my high school love.  I love writing plays, but I have been out of theater for a while and honestly haven’t had the inspiration to write one.  What I really want, the gold ring of writing, for me, is a novel.

I started four and finished none, because I am not verbose enough.  I get halfway through my tale and realize I don’t have nearly enough for half a book and way too much for half a short story.  My max output is 4000 words in a sitting.  My max sitting for my novel is twice a week.  It’s just not enough.  I need three or four days after just to gather enough details to sit down and pen what I’m trying to say again.  Sometimes I get frustrated because I can see it so clearly in my mind, but on the paper it sounds terrible.  Dialogue is tricky, because I am very good at that bit, but sometimes my writing relies on it too heavily and I have to go back and describe that ray of sunlight and then everything falls apart.

I wish I could sit at the keyboard and pound out pages and pages of words.  Good or bad, it doesn’t really matter because the editing process is a whole other thing.  My blog remains the one place where I do get wordy on occasion.  Here I am updating two days in a row.  Why?  Because I need to increase my output.  I need to keep myself writing even if I can’t sit down and work on my book at the moment.  I’ve got a novel that needs thousands more words, a poem that only needs maybe fifty, and a blog that has no expectations of me save a Monday deadline that I impose on myself.  I’m stuck elsewhere, so I come here.

I am not verbose.  I cannot pen pages about a ray of sunlight.  But I can drop a couple hundred in my blog and feel good about myself.  So here we are.