“Real” Writers Write Anyway. Or Do They?

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This past July was the first time I haven’t met my Camp NaNo goal. What’s Camp NaNo you ask? Read about it here and perhaps you might decide to partake in April of 2020. 🙂

One week into the month and I suspected I might have a difficult time meeting my goal. Two weeks into the month and I knew I wouldn’t reach my goal. Between a family vacation, a heart procedure that required a hospital stay, the devastating deaths of two friends, and the emotional turmoil that accompanied these events, writing just wasn’t “there.” The fire went out.

While it was a difficult pill to swallow (I hate to “fail” when I’ve set my mind to doing something), by the end of the month I’d come to accept it. Rather peacefully, truth be told. But it didn’t happen until I began to believe that I hadn’t “failed.” I’d simply taken a much-needed time-out.

The difficulty I had in accepting it to begin with is something almost every writer likely deals with–others’ expectations of what it means to be a writer.

“Real” writers, I told myself, write no matter what. I’ve read in numerous articles that real writers don’t only write when they “feel” like it. They write no matter what. They sit their butt in the chair and write, by golly.

No. Matter. What.

So I asked myself–if I’m not a “real” writer, what does that make me? A fraud? A wanna-be? And if that’s the case, why bother?

The conclusion I came to after mulling this over, agonizing over the years I’ve likely been nothing but a fraud or a wanna-be, adding to the emotional turmoil I was already going through, is this:

No one–NO ONE–no matter how successful they might be, gets to determine who is a “real” writer. I’ve authored and published six books. I get to call myself a “real” writer if that’s what I believe I am. Even those who haven’t published anything at all, no one gets to decide if you are a “real” writer but you. Only you.

The fact that I needed a time-out (actually, that time-out is still ongoing), doesn’t make me less of a “real” writer, it makes me a smart writer. I can’t imagine never writing again. Never setting pen to the page–or fingers to the keyboard–and telling a story. Now that thought is enough to send me into a panic. Writing and creating brings me joy, peace, and a sense of purpose. It’s writing and creating that makes me feel alive.

But sometimes, we need to take a break from even the good things. We need to tend to what is right in front of us. Only you know what’s best for you and what your needs are. And if a time-out is one of those things, do it.

You’ll still be a “real” writer. Or photographer, painter, gardener, blogger, dancer…you get the picture.

This “real” writer is going to continue taking the time I need to heal and get back to the writing routine when the time is right for me. And I’ll be all the better for it.

Time for some feedback. Have you heard/read any “advice” that keeps you from feeling like you’re something less than what you are? Something that’s made you question your authenticity?

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

Making a Difference to Just One

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A while back a friend talked to me about her desire to make a difference in the lives of others by getting her “story” out there. That story consists of almost being murdered by her ex-husband. No one–as in not one–not even the doctors, expected her to survive. But survive she did! She’s truly a miracle. In fact she didn’t only survive, she’s by far one of the most positive, smiling, happy, and grateful people I know. Those who know her are blessed indeed.

During this talk we had, she was somewhat discouraged. She wanted to help so many and felt like she was reaching no one. Writing a book was at the top of her list, but anyone who is an author knows writing a book and getting it out there takes a long time. Because of her generous heart and caring spirit, she wanted to help people now. What she didn’t realize, and what I pointed out to her, is that she was helping people–every single day, and that each one she touches, is so important. She’s a first responder victim’s advocate, offering on-the-scene support to victims of crime. She’s won awards for all that she’s accomplished and does because of what she’s been through, using her experience for good. She speaks to groups of people, letting them know that nothing is too big to be overcome. She motivates, inspires, and brings joy.

Every. Single. Day.

Each of us that had a role in the prosecution of her case has been forever touched by her.

Fast forward nine months:

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I got a message from her the other day that said “Oh my God, you’re Alexandra Benn!” She proceeded to tell me that her therapist lent her two books, one of which was my book that I wrote under a pseudonym, Finding Peace Through Gratitude: The Secret to Healing from Trauma and Finding Joy in Every MomentShe went on to tell me what a difference the book has made in her life and that she didn’t know it was me until she saw my picture on the back. I’d even seen a photo she posted on social media of her chair at the pool with a bottle of water and a copy of the book.

Imagine my joy. I was moved to tears. The advice I’d given her months before came back full circle. And her voicing the difference my book made to her, made a difference to me.

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows I participate in Camp NaNoWriMo every April and July. This particular July, however, I’ve been preoccupied with life–vacation to Minnesota visiting family, chaos relating to my husband’s job, and surgery last week on my heart. Progress on my Camp NaNo project just wasn’t happening. But knowing my words made such an impact on this woman, one person, was all it took to get me back to it with gusto. Will I make my Camp NaNo goal? I don’t know. But I do know that knowing my words make a difference, that they bring me such joy to write–well, my friends, that’s all that matters. That I made a difference to one. Because that one is a woman who is beyond amazing.

And now I’m back off to Camp to keep on keepin’ on, despite reaching my goal or not. Whatever I write is that much more that I didn’t have at the end of June.

I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.
-Mother Teresa

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
-Mother Teresa

Camp NaNo Success!

 Camp NaNo was a success in so many ways!
  • I got a huge sense of accomplishment by completing my hourly goal.
  • Enjoyed “campfire talk” with my cabinmates.
  • Met some new amazingly kind, fun, fellow writers.
  • Established a solid writing practice.
  • Discovered that no matter how busy I am (April was one of my busiest months ever), I can always find time to write–even if it’s only 15 minutes to check in with my project.
If any of you want to join the virtual camping experience in July, all you have to do is go to the Camp NaNoWriMo site, set up your project, and let me know so I can send you an invite to our cabin.

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.  ― Virginia Woolf

 

This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be. ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (This book, BTW, is one of the greatest writing books ever written.)

 

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The Thrill of the Climb

Today I’m posting some quotes that have made a huge impact on me and that go hand in hand with reaching the finish line of Camp NaNo (which was yesterday). Yes, I made my goal! It was a little “iffy” at times, but I did it. There’s nothing as exhilarating as reaching the summit! 🙂 TS EliotMark TwainThe Climb

Now it’s time to keep the discipline that I developed during Camp and head over to my WIP (work in progress) and git ‘er done. Book two in the two-book Whispering Pines duology, Abby’s Retribution, will be available later this year.

My advice for now is:

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Seize the Day.

And Happy May Day!

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.
― Eleanor Roosevelt

Change Begins with One

 

 

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April is an exceptionally busy month in the world of criminal law. Not only does it hold National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, but it’s also Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month. So for those of us who work in the criminal law arena, by the end of April, we’re all pretty much running on fumes. There’s not another month quite so exhausting, nor quite so satisfying and fulfilling. In fact, during that month, as difficult as it is, I’m pretty darn proud to be doing the work that I do.

The criminal justice system is called the criminal justice system for a reason–it’s justice for the criminal. When society thinks of the victim, it’s frequently not in a good way. Victim blaming and shaming has gotten out of control. When we’re silently thinking that the victim should have done something differently, was wearing the wrong thing, shouldn’t have been drinking–well, you get the picture–it’s blaming the victim.

The following two examples, while you may think to be a little silly, demonstrate how victim blaming happens:

Example #1: You’re house is burglarized and destroyed, your personal items trashed. Your door was unlocked and you have a nice welcome mat on your front porch. The police are called out to your house, but they respond with, “But your door was unlocked and you had a welcome mat outside your door. You invited this.”

Example #2: You’re in a diner having coffee with a friend and engaged in good conversation. The waitress asks if you would like more coffee. You tell her, yes, you would like more. You proceed to engage in conversation with her while she pours the coffee until it’s overflowing, dumping scalding hot coffee all over your lap. You jump up and complain, but the manager says, “I’m sorry, but you weren’t clear enough on when you wanted her to stop.”

Blaming the victim for what s/he was wearing, doing, saying, or NOT wearing, doing,  saying, takes the fault away from the perpetrator and places the blame on the victim.

Example #2 is not so far-fetched. Say a man or woman (yes, men can be sexually assaulted, too) gets carried away in the heat of the moment and their potentially willing partner changed his/her mind “mid-stream” and says, “NO, STOP”, whether verbally or non-verbally. Aggressors on many occasions have said it was too late–they couldn’t stop. Hmmm…If the pair are teenagers and the victim’s parents walk through the door, I bet the perpetrator would be able to stop in a hurry! Or if the victim’s six-foot-seven football star husband comes home unexpected, I bet activity would stop immediately and one of the two would make a beeline out the nearest window!

Denim Day (which is today) is a campaign that began after an Italian Supreme Court ruling overturned a rape conviction when the justices decided that since the victim’s jeans were tight she had to have helped the rapist remove them, implying consent. The next day Italian Parliament women went to work wearing jeans in support of the victim. Our office gives us the option to wear jeans every year on Denim Day. You can bet I have–and will continue to–wear mine loud and proud.

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From one who has been a victim of sexual assault and who works with victims of crime, I believe we can change the way society sees the big picture and to put the responsibility on the perpetrator instead of the blame on the victim. I truly believe we can! And as victims survivors of crime, we can rise above what has happened. Tragedy doesn’t have to beat us down or define us, but instead we can use it to shape and change the world in which we live. As a society, let’s change how we view crime and stop victim blaming. Change begins with just one. Won’t you be that one?

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. –Edward Everett Hale

And now I’m back off to Camp for the final burst of energy, finishing off Camp NaNo strong. See you on the other side.

Off to Camp

 

Book in a Day

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Last week was perhaps one of the busiest weeks I’ve had in a long time, in large part due to Crime Victims’ Rights week (more on that next week), causing me to fall a bit behind on my Camp NaNo hourly goal. Nothing I can’t make up, though. And Saturday’s all-day event made it worth it.

Book in a Day, put on by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, was an all-day event in beautiful Golden, CO. Although, to tell the truth, I didn’t get to see beautiful Golden because I was in a conference room all day with nary a window.

But, again, it was worth it.

The event began with Stuart Horwitz, founder of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors, and Anita Mumm, teaching a class based on Stuart’s latest book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts. Given how informational and motivational the class was, I would strongly recommend the book.

Following that was lunch with fellow creatives. And there’s nothing that gets a room more fully charged with inspiration than writers brainstorming, sharing information, and networking–with FOOD! 🙂

Tummies and brains fed, we moved into simultaneous afternoon sessions, one on Indie Publishing and one on the path to Traditional Publishing. While I’m an indie author with seven published books, I attended the latter. I really enjoy being an independent author and it was my choice to do so (in fact, I didn’t even consider traditional publishing for a very long time), but with a new series brewing in my head, I’m considering shopping around for an agent. Considering. I’m still undecided. The class was taught by Angie Hodapp of Nelson Literary Agency. Now, let me say that I’ve attended several of Angie’s classes and have never been disappointed. The woman is a genius and knows how to deliver a message. In fact, when I attend the Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference in May, you can bet I’ll be attending her classes there as well.

The last session? Marketing. I tend to shudder when I say that word. Simply because if there’s one weakness I have in the writing life, it’s marketing.  The session, however, was a treat! Successful, talented, and kind-hearted indie authors (Bernadette Marie, Lisa Manifold, Corinne O’Flynn, Nathan Lowell) and, again, the wonderful Angie Hodapp, shared in an entertaining, informative, attention-keeping manner the ins and outs of what has and has not worked for them. Social Media appears to be the most agreed upon success.

To make it easy to find them, I’ve included the links to their websites. It’s well worth your time to check them out.

 

And now…I’m back off to Camp to begin week three of revising book two, Abby’s Retribution, in my Whispering Pines series. The lanterns are lit, the bonfires are burning, and the campfire conversation is flowing. I think it’s time to break out the s’mores!

 

Setting Goals

Camp NaNoWriMo began April 1st and I’m off and running. One of the best parts is the virtual cabins. We have 11 people in our cabin and the support, comradarie, and inspiration we get from each other is priceless. And, pardon me if it sounds like I’m bragging, but we do have the best cabin ever. 🙂

One of the things that has come up in conversation with my cabinmates is setting goals and it got me thinking.

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Camp NaNo comes around twice a year and NaNoWriMo every November. I set goals for these months and more often than not meet them if for no other reason than I won’t allow myself not to. So why, oh why, do I struggle to meet writing goals the rest of the months? Granted, it’s not that I’m unproductive in my writing life. I have seven published books and belong to a few writer’s groups. But I could be so much more productive if I set goals and was determined to meet them as I am during the NaNo months.

I’ve determined that as much of a blessing as electronics are, they’re equally a curse. It’s all too easy to hide behind a screen, whether it’s the computer or television screen, to “recover” from a long, hard day. Or to be mindlessly entertained. And to drag oneself away once settled in? Forget it. It has a vice-like grip.

All this from just the first week of Camp and there are still three more weeks to go! Having virtual cabinmates and chatting around a virtual campfire have proven to be most beneficial. 🙂

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Some of my cabinmates have blogs that I’ll list here in case you want to visit them. You won’t be sorry.

https://kitdunsmore.com/

https://rachelcarrera.wordpress.com/

What about you–do you set goals, writing or otherwise? Are you more likely to meet them or not? If you do set goals, what goals do you have? I’d love to hear and will be checking in between writing sprints.

Time to head back to Camp so I can meet my goal. Happy Reading, Happy Writing.

Off to Camp