The Story of Your Life

Photo by Maria Diaz

I believe we are open books, living stories. I believe that there is a book (the book of life) with our story and name in it, and we are free to fulfill that story or not (free will). Sometimes, it feels as if we are on track, everything goes so well and things flow accordingly. At other times, it feels as if every step we take is met by a struggle, a stumble, or a road block. Sometimes, it may feel as if one cannot move at all. Life block, I call it, similar to writer’s block.

The flow of life may not be smooth at times, but it is always constant. From the minute we open our eyes in the morning (or at night) we are making choices/decisions. From what to wear, eat for breakfast, or even if we will get up at all, get to work … to more complicated choices such as career, marriage, and many other issues. Every time we take a step forward (or backward) by deciding, whichever that might be, we are writing the story of our lives. However, it is not only about “me” because those choices/decisions cross over to other people’s lives. I may think that I am living “my life” but my story is intertwined with the story of others. It is happening right now, as I write this post. Someone out there will read it eventually, and will think about these words – our stories have crossed. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31 Could not have said it better.

As writers, we love to make up stories; its is the air we breathe. However, the most important story we’ll ever write is our own.

To Know, and Know Well

“Write what you know.” I’ve heard this advice many times, and have to admit that I did not realize the depth of it until the other day when I was thinking about the past decade, when a lot of changes took place in my life. Previously, I thought that it referred to field of study, work, expertise, and current/past endeavors, the intellectual and methodology areas, for most part. Rarely did I think of all the emotional impact that living brings to writing. Aside from memoirs, DIY/expert books, educational, and self-help books, where the emotional and factual views are strong, other genres seemed to me a bit more “creative and imaginative” as well as less constrained and more freely approachable.

As writers, many of us are observers and draw much inspiration from our environment and practically anything that crosses our path. However, we tend to forget where we have been in life, emotionally, and tend to dismiss our feelings in those life situations as past. This information is permanently attached/stored in us, and ready to be used as inspiration on our next novel. It will serve us when describing a situation , a similar place, a character that is feeling something we already experienced.
Yes, we have all experienced life in different ways, at many levels. Have you ever been wronged in some way, betrayed, tricked, taken for granted? Ever suffered the loss of a loved one? Have you ever been through so much that it hurts to remember? Have you been so happy, in love, elated, and/or experienced the most sublime of moments in your life? Have life been good to you? Then you can describe with vivid intent how your characters feel in similar situations, making them as human and real as you can. You are writing what you know, and know well. The rest is up to your creativity, passion, and imagination. For writing what you know goes beyond expertise, it transcend your intellectual knowledge of the physical, it duels in you, forever.

A book can be inspirational, educational, entertaining, instructional, helpful, and so many other things, but it can also be a healing tool for the reader as well as it’s author.

In Retrospect

I have done a bit of soul searching. In retrospect, a lot has happened in the past 7 years, including my decision to publish independently. Time goes by quickly. There are so many things I’ve learned that to sum it all in one post is not easy, but what I can do is write about a few things I learned in the process, and how important these became in my decision to continue on this path.

I have narrowed it to four points that represent the most challenging elements during that time.

Timing – I had to learn to recognize my own timing and honor it. This was not easy for me. As a person who likes clarity, does not tolerate drama too well, and likes things straight and to the point, I have to say that timing translated into being patient with myself, allowing the time I needed to learn much of the craft and some of the technology attached to it, as well as weed out information while learning to recognize the pertinent information and disregard the rest. Impatience and rush/speed did not have a place in this process, as it was one of discovery and education. The bulk of it happened in the first two years, and it was frustrating at times. I needed to know many things about the writing process but also discover what was right for me, my working style, my pace, my ethics, and what I wanted from it all. And as we all know, the learning process never ends, but I could figure out where I was headed as far as publishing venues and method. Independent publishing was the right venue for me, as far as fitting my personality, work ethic, and writing goals. For me, timing was one of the most important elements during this process.

Commitment – Once I had an idea of the process, had gone through much of the raw learning steps, and mentally dealt with the immensity of the amoutnt of information that was being put out there by other indie writers (which was all over the place and in a broad spectrum), I was able to make a commitment to myself with some clarity as far as what I wanted. During this time I found it very challenging to not fall prey of the publishing frenzy that everyone seemed to have at one point – to publish volume at a fast pace, inundating Amazon and other venues with electronic books. I had to shake off the feelings of “being behind” and replace them with my own sense of what felt right for me, and at what pace. Once I understood what I wanted out of it, and made a long term commitment that had no monetary value attached to it, it became easier to deal with those feelings of “being behind.” The commitment did not come right away but as a result of going through the timing and education process.

The Others – Not minding the Others. The Others refers to what other people thought about my decision to write and publish independently. From views that were as narrow as the eye of a needle to more aceptable views and opinions, many times not solicited, I had to learn that all of it was inconsequential for me. Questionable motives, hurtful comments, and very ortodox views about the craft, had to mean absolutely nothing to me as far as entertaining them in my mind. The Others had no say as far as I was concerned. Learning to deal with the negative during this process determined the next element – Trust.

Trust – Trust is an ongoing issue when it comes to my writing. Not only do I have to trust my internal process and the pen, but also, the inner me has to let the writer out. If you tend to be demanding of yourself, and a bit hard on yourself as well, like I am many times, then trust doesn’t come easy. If by nature you are a trusting person, I think it will flow a bit easier, but if you are not, trusting may present a challenge when it comes to writing, as well as any other endeavor. Trusting the process, trusting yourself, and trusting God, comes all wrapped in a package that you unwrap many times, over and over. I view trust as the most challenging element on this journey, mostly because it determined if I was to take the plunge or not. Trust also refers to keep the commitment when results do not match expectation, and goes hand in hand with faith. Faith is defined as confident belief, trust, conviction, loyalty, allegiance, and also, as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

Trust is an ongoing element. In retrospect, in the past years these elements have been present in my life and most influential as far as my writing journey. As far as summing it all up to this point, I identify those elements as the most important ones in my experience so far. I hope that if you are starting on your journey as a writer, this post offers a bit of help or at least some clarity. Of course, each journey is unique.

When Reality Does Not Match Idyllic Expectations

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Crow on a foggy morning Photo by M.A.D.

The shiny crow

One nature’s note

The lovely sound

Of Autumn’s song.

 

We start to dream when we are children. We imagine fantastic worlds, magical places, dream  of toys, and in general, anything seems possible and attainable. As we grow up, we learn that things are not always as we imagined or hoped. We learn disappointment when we don’t get the toy we expected, or pain and sadness when a beloved pet dies. Other children learn these lessons on a more somber note, the death of a parent or friend, hunger, or abuse. Every person experiences life in a different way at a different level. However, we manage to keep on dreaming throughout adulthood, and many, up to the time of death.

We have idyllic expectations in life, and many times we are lucky enough to live many of those dreams. Sometimes what we have imagined, what we have carefully crafted in our minds, does not match the accomplished/realized dream. It is a total let down, another disappointment in life, and almost as if we never learned those childhood lessons. It is the theme of many stories. Writers experience disappointment when books do not sell as well as expected or hoped. In anything in life there are ups and downs, and those are necessary for growth, to take us to the next level through a natural flow. It is called living.

When I moved from New Jersey to Virginia (USA), I moved from the city to the country. I had idyllic expectations of what country living would be like, romanticized ideas as well – green pastures, grazing cows, rolling hills, fresh air, cozy winters … I can go on and on. Little did I know that the first year I would encounter a cloud of migrating lady bugs look-alike japanese beetles in our area, landing everywhere and looking for shelter before winter. These would arrive in waves throughout the day for weeks. At the same time, a large amount of alien bugs (alien to me that is) known as stink bugs was trying to do the same, look for shelter before winter. Autumn, my favorite time of the year had turned into a nightmare. I was not used to these insects nor was I used to these clouds in number, or any other type, as I had lived pretty much insect free for most of my life, being bugged by an ocassional spider or a lonely wasp. Mosquitoes were my only nuisance as I lived near the water. I was afraid to go outside during the “arrivals” and soon I learned to time their peak hours. Luckily their presence lasted less than a month, that is, until next season. Winter became my favorite time of the year. Cold weather meant no bugs. Spring became a bug fest as well, and for the first time I realized that there were so many, oh so many, insects I had never seen. Never did I experience so many types of wasps flying at once. Soon my closest neighbors became used to my screaming fits, and the occasional sight of a mad woman running through the field being followed by a giant wasp.

The idyllic expectations about country living gave way to reality. I told my friend that living in the country seemed to be more work than living in the city. Awareness became important as well. The other day I was heading out the back door to pick up my mail, and as I stepped down only two steps, a leaping deer crossed in front of me followed by another one, a very close call. Farm dogs were running after them, and being terrified, they were flying for their lives. I was so lucky; one more step and there would have been an unfortunate encounter with nature. I have seen the damage deer can cause to cars. On another occasion what I thought was a piece of black rubber left behind was a black snake.

The point to all this rambling is that at one point, when reality does not match idyllic expectations, we get to decide how we are going to set our focus, and that will determine the degree of “happiness or disappointment” as well as our next step in life. Do we focus on the less  than perfect image or do we start seeing the rest of the picture? So many other beautiful and interesting things can be found in it. I am starting to enjoy Autumn once more. Every day I see something different, from colorful and weird mushrooms to even four-leaf clovers. I have found four so far.

I always try to relate every blog post to the topic of writing. Maybe books are not selling as expected, and you are thinking about quitting writing, even when you love it so much. You are a story-teller and writing is like the air you breathe. Maybe you can adjust your focus away from profitability or recognition, and see the beauty in finding words to tell a story that has been sleeping in your imagination. The story that will be shared with the world, whether it makes you money or not. After all, if you love telling stories so much, and these stories have become alive inside the pages of a book, it only takes one reader to make them real. The purpose has been met. When reality does not match idyllic expectations move your eyes away and place them back on another spot.

 

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Who doesn’t like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? I love them. I have them for lunch many times. Something quick, easy, and filling. Some people like to cut out the bread corners. I cut out the side corners but like the top corner; it is like a door to delight. Sometimes, I eat the end corner; sometimes I do not. Why am I writing about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cutting the corners?

Sometimes, people like to cut corners. They like the quick and easy route. I have found that some people would like to cut corners when it comes to writing or publishing a book. They want to cut corners to enjoy the filling right away. I understand the excitement of publishing your first book; it is like nothing else. People who want to cut corners and jump right away are just excited enough. Sometimes, people expect to know in only one conversation everything that it took me years to learn. If I say something along the lines of “educate yourself on as much as you can about the writing process and publishing business,” it might be misinterpreted as an unwillingness to pass on the information. On the contrary, the intention is of meaning well enough to care. It took me years of research and study on my own to learn as much as I could on the topic before attempting to self publish. I had to make sure that I understood the current trends, technology, as well as to what type of publishing suited my personality, work ethic, and style. I only sent out one query, and as soon as I sent it I knew that I didn’t really wanted to pursue traditional publishing. It was then, after learning some more, that I decided to publish my first novel independently.

It is to the aspiring writer best interest to learn much about the craft, to know herself/himself well enough to know how to choose the best writing path. Industry, genre, writing methods, technology, trends, websites, publishing industry methods … all plays a role in the deciding factor. Many times, writing is approached with money signs in mind – “How much money will I make, and how quickly?” Again, cutting corners. No one can guarantee that you will make money writing. Some writers do well soon enough, while others do not do as well or it takes more than 10 years of hard work to see any financial pay off.

The internet opened a new world as far as writing is concerned. It opened the flood gates and brought opportunity to those who were not able to afford the steep price of self publishing back then. It has allowed me to publish my novels, and accomplish my dream of writing. For that I am grateful. However, when I entered into this beautiful and exciting world I did it with knowledge and sure of what my next step would be, as far as publishing my work. People assume that x amount of books published equals money. That is not necessarily true. They might even change tunes (even with you) when they realize that the bulk of the peanut butter and jelly is at the center of the sandwich. Cutting corners might get one quicker to the center but something will be missing – the knowledge to get there, and keep on going.

I treat writing like any other course of study and post education. Whether you do it on your own or by pursuing a degree from college as many others have done, the important factor is that you obtain the knowledge you need to pursue your writing career clearly. Knowledge is to your advantage always. If in it for the long run, the more prepared you are the better.

The Power of Words

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.

Many of us have heard this old adage, most likely during childhood, and meaning mostly that words cannot cause physical pain. When I was a kid, it seemed true enough. As I grew older and matured, I disagreed.

Words are powerful; powerful enough to unleash a river of emotions. The right words at the right time may elevate one’s spirit. The same goes for the wrong word at the worst possible time; it can drown your soul. Repeat unkind words to a child and his/her personality will be affected in a negative way.

Words can bring joy, comfort, hope, and even peace. Negative words can hurt, destroy, and even drive a person to take their life (as in bullying). Words can kill. Words remain in memory and travel to someone’s heart and soul. Words are driven by intention, the intention of the speaker or the writer. The writer utilizes words to craft a story that paints a picture in the mind of the reader. The writer creates worlds/universes, and evokes emotions/feelings.

The power of words transcends time. The words of great writers remain, whether written or in the mind of the people. We quote the great writers and speakers of centuries ago. Words become alive the moment they are heard or read. Words are full of intention but their power is unleashed by the mind of the recipient.

More Than One Hat

Fiction writers wear many hats. We wear a costume everyday. When we create a story, we create worlds, and people in those worlds, characters to whom we give life through challenges and the emotions we try to convey through them. Sometimes, readers might mistake a character for its writer or believe that the writer shares its attributes. Although I believe that there is a bit of the writer in between the lines, fictional characters are fiction. We rely on our mind, imagination, observation, and life experience to give life to our characters, but many times, we rely on research, on learning a particular subject to present a character and a story in a better light. Depending on our writing style, we might become poets, song writers, prophets, and even preachers. I have done a little bit of those jobs when writing my books. I’ve written a poem, a prophecy, and pages of an imaginary book, as I did in The Book of Sharon and in Sunrise Souls, books two and three of The Dinorah Chronicles trilogy. I’ve written riddles on Moonlit Valley, and a song in Sunrise Souls. On my work in progress – The Five-dollar Miracle, I had to write an entire sermon.

My point is, we sometimes have to become our characters and see the world through their eyes for a little while, to be able to write the story. Sometimes, the writing feels effortless, and at other times, it is more challenging, but always with levels of engagement. We are separate from our characters but we step inside their world, their minds, and their feelings/emotions to be able to convey a story to the readers as best as we can. In that regard, we wear many hats. We become the heroine, the villain, the priest, the prophet, and even an inanimate object, such as a book of prophecies and teachings.

I write stories, I create worlds, I give life to characters and become one with them, and then, disengage. I put on a costume everyday. I write fiction and love it.

 

 

Inevitable

How did you fall into writing? The inevitable question. I’ve been asked the question many times. Other times, followed by, “I never knew you were into that?”

How do you answer it? I fell into a pile of books while going downstairs half asleep. No seriously, have you thought of the moment when you became interested in writing? Not when you felt “a writer,” because that moment might never come. The usual answer people give is, “I’ve written since I can remember.”  If I go back in time, I can see a child who read everything she got her hands on, a child who amassed a large quantity of pens and pencils, a child who thought that a typewriter was the greatest invention on the planet, and also loved the scent of new notebooks and old books (I still do). I also see a child who followed members of the family, while holding a notebook and pen, and wrote in it everything they did. I see a child who kept diaries, and then, burned them. How many stories do I have from my early years, my teenage years, and the years until I decided to become a writer? None. Not even one. Why? For some inexplicable reason, I had a habit; I burned everything I wrote or broke it into tiny pieces. I never kept one story. It puzzles me today. Although I had the desire to become a writer, I never pursued it. I went into many different careers, pretty much anything that I fancied at the time, but always kept that secret desire well-kept inside me. I had an image of writers that didn’t fit who I thought I was. I saw writers as old people with money. Where did that image came from? I don’t know.

Well, to answer the question – How did I fall into writing? When I resigned from my last job, I felt a strong urge to write, and I did. Almost as a long-lost calling, too loud to keep ignoring. At that same job, in one of our meetings my former boss asked an exercise question to start the meeting. It was, “If you were not here, what would you rather be doing; what is your ideal job?” Each one of us was urged to answer, and we did. Some of us answered honestly, including her, who’d rather be a detective. I answered, “I see myself writing at a cottage near the sea.” Of course, I got the weird looks, but not from her. She said, “I can see you doing exactly that.” Going back to that memory, I think that was the moment when I fell into writing.

Five Annoying Questions For Indie Writers and Possible Answers

If you are an independent writer, it is likely that you have been asked one or more of these annoying questions, and usually by people who have not read any of your books. These are questions that are “meant to happen” at one point or another, so might as well have some fun answering them.

Question: Why do you write?

Answer: Why do you breathe?

Question: Are you really published? I mean not self-published.

Answer: Do you own the company you work for?

Question: Do you make any money doing that?

Answer: How much money do you make at your job?

Question: What is your real job?

Answer: What is your life purpose?

Question: Is it true that self-publishing killed literature?

Answer: Is it dead? Oh, my sincere condolences.

 

It is probable that you have been asked at least one of the questions above mentioned. Instead of becoming annoyed, have fun answering them. I invite you to share some of your own.

 

What I’m Reading Now

1999 – Jeff Herman – You can make it big writing books

That is the book I’m reading now. I bought it many years ago, and never got into it. I bought it when my thoughts were around the idea of publishing a book going the traditional route. Although it is an older book, and I am not interested in pursuing traditional publishing, I find it is a good read and interesting. If you are considering traditional publishing this book gives you a glimpse of the work, publishing experiences of many top writers in the industry. If you are contemplating a writing career or are interested in learning more about the traditional publishing experience from many traditionally published authors, this book is good for that. It is brief and set up as a series of short pieces of advice from 60 bestselling authors who have been in the industry for years. They talk about their writing experience, beginnings, as well as offering advice to the reader.

Most likely, by now there are more/better books on traditional publishing but I had that one sitting on the shelf for a while, and decided to give it a try. So far, I am enjoying it. I have a goal of reading everything in my bookshelves that still calls on my curiosity. I have gotten rid of everything else that does not. I will continue to share any other interesting books that I get to read.