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When you come close to selling out, reconsider.

I’m not usually one for New Year’s resolutions, but this year I actually did outline a few goals for myself. Back in January, I decided 2016 was going to be less about pushing my content out to numerous millennial sites, and more about building my personal brand. Less about cranking out "X Reasons to Swipe Right," or "What Your Fav. Type of Pizza Says About You," and more about taking the time to write about and embrace the things I know and love. Less about focusing on making a career out of it all, and more about just doing it and living it—for me.

I go through ebbs and flows of creativity, as I’m positive every artist does. So I’m not too concerned that it’s mid-March and all I’ve really written is a two-page letter to a West Coast cousin, and half a birthday card to an upstate friend.

No. I think it’s exactly what Elizabeth GIlbert has been telling me in her podcast series, “Magic Lessons.” I think it’s a fear thing. For me, I’m afraid I’ve written everything easy. I’m afraid I’ve written and said everything on the surface, everything everyone who knows me even a little, already knows. And now that it’s time to dive deeper, I’m afraid of what certain people will think. I’m not so much afraid of what I have to say and what anyone who reads these hypothetical words will think of me, as a person, because these are my truths. I’m more afraid of who will get distracted and hurt or upset and will take things too personally.  

So I haven’t written anything. But I’m going to.

It’s time to let the fear go and to let the creativity and inspiration take over and be heard. I seem to have taken a hiatus from this blog and took the winter off, but this is me promising you it’s coming back. More regular posts are coming. That book I’ve been telling myself for so long I’d be able to write is also coming. Not in the voice of any millennial website, but in my own authentic words.

"You're the right age, you're in the right city. You brought yourself here, and now it's time to do the next thing." —Elizabeth Gilbert

Growing a Writer's Tree

Wise words from today's Shelf Awareness:

"There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately... no one knows what they are."

--W. Somerset Maugham

Encouraging words? Hardly. But when a good friend and accomplished writer said them to me, her eyes sparkled. It's taken me several books of my own to understand why. How can I possibly make sense of a craft so amorphous and shape-shifting that it seems to have no rules or boundaries?

The solution lies in treating your creation as a living, breathing organism. A tree.

In the soil of your writer's mind, you'll discover what might or might not be a seed. If you plant it with care, it could sink roots and grow into something tall, evocative and beautiful. If that seed is to grow at all, it will need plenty of sunlight, air, and nourishment--that is, the writer's version of those things.

Sunlight, for a writer, comes in the form of observation. Notice the world around you. How do different people speak, with their voices, faces, hands and posture? How do autumn leaves fall to the ground, each with a singular sort of flight? How do different ideas cast light on people's passions, fears, hopes, and dreams? Your characters will stand up, walk off the page and speak to you.

Air is belief. Your voice matters. Believe that you have valuable things to say--and the passion and skill to communicate them.

Nourishment takes the form of discipline. Writing may be the hardest work you'll ever do--and, if you persevere, the most gratifying work you'll ever do. But your seeds won't grow unless you work hard to bring them to life.

Finally, after receiving plenty of sunlight, air and nourishment, your writer's tree will bear fruit that others may enjoy. It will also feel wholly authentic--for at the core, good fiction must be true.

And perhaps, when the wind whistles through its branches, you will hear the full expression of a secret, half-remembered song. --T.A. Barron

 

"Why Do You Write?"

The other day I had to write a little snippet of a bio for a website a few of my pieces are being featured on in May, very exciting, but I struggled with the question: why do you write? That is an excellent question, to which the voice inside my head answered something along the lines of: I don’t write. Not really. What could I possibly ever say that would be worth reading to these complete strangers?

I used to think that authors and poets and writers of all kinds wrote simply because they enjoyed it. And maybe it starts out that way. But it’s so much more than that, isn't it? Writing is not the glamorous profession I always so naively thought it was. I used to envision writers setting up their laptops or moleskins in quaint little coffee shops or libraries, typing away a happy little story while some smooth jazz played overhead. Only recently do I understand how infuriating and consuming it can be. 

Now, I've always written—I have the closet full of journals from the last fifteen years to prove it. And I've always known that I could write (by that I mean I know how to put together a sentence and which punctuation should follow when). I even have the journalism degree that can attest to that one. But there’s a difference between writing something straightforwardly with little or no emotion, and writing something from your soul that you actually believe in and think is worth reading. It’s the latter I've never considered pushing myself to do, at least not publicly. I have some real gems from the tenth grade that are full of “emotion.” Amateur hour back then.

And then I started this blog, and I honestly don’t even really know why. I think the original intent was to just sort of catalogue and keep track of my life in New York, I’m not sure. I do know that I never meant to be as honest as I’m starting to find myself being. This is uncharted territory for me and I’m not sure if I’m completely comfortable with it. But a good friend hit it on the head the other day. She told me that "good writers don't write being afraid of what some people will think; they write what's true. They know that there's a group of people that will love it and relate to it. Good writers are the ones out there who are brave enough to say what everyone else hasn't been able to."

While I love honesty and vulnerability in other people, I've always had a hard time living by that same creed myself, especially when it comes to things I write. I’m usually too concerned with what other people may think, or how what I say or do will affect them. Yet lately…there’s something there, something inside desperately trying to claw its way out, a fire burning deep, a hamster wheel constantly rotating in my mind. Seriously, it will not quit lately. I feel like I opened some kind of floodgate and now words just keep floating around in my head, rearranging themselves seventeen different ways until one sentence finally sticks.

Yet, I still hesitate to call myself a writer—mostly because that's not how I earn a living, it will never be how I earn a living. But also because I've encountered some amazingly great writers in my life and to compare myself, even just by having that same title, would be the greatest form of disrespect to them in my mind. Plus, everyone in New York is a writer. Everyone in New York seems to be a reader also, so that gives me a little more justification in my mind to keep going. But to call myself a writer in New York is to come face to face with that daunting label of "little fish...huge pond." Everyone here is a young lost soul struggling with the same internal questions and trying to find the answers through writing, music, painting, sculpting, acting, etc. We’re all trying to make sense of this world through a story, an essay, a poem.

I never expected anyone to read any of this nonsense to be honest with you. But as it turns out, people actually do. People I haven’t spoken to or seen in years have told me that they look forward to reading my new posts. I've had friends who haven’t picked up a book in a decade tell me that something I've written captured their attention and they found themselves wanting more. Literary journals and blogs have actually started to respond to me and voice their interests. I guess I just never thought anything I wrote/thought would be so universal and have the ability to move people to tears. Count’s up to three for that one. And I think that’s the reason why I write: that universal human connection. Everybody’s got a hungry heart…

I didn't mean to ramble on for so long here. I just wanted to say that I think I’m going to keep pushing this; I’m going to ride this one out for a while. You've been warned.  

Home for the Holidays

I’m going to get real with y’all for a minute here. I’m a huge sucker for quotes, no surprise there I’m sure. I’ve always kept meaningful or inspirational ones in a notebook and used them to sign off a letter to a friend. I’ve even just recently started underlining and highlighting them in books as well. But there’s one in particular that’s been resonating with me for the past 24 hours and I can’t quite remember where it’s from, (book? movie?):

“No one is as mysterious as they think.”

Or is it: “Everyone is a lot less mysterious than they think.”

As I’m typing this I remember—it’s from “Elizabethtown,” my favorite movie of all time. Of course.

Anyway. “Everyone is a lot less mysterious than they think.”It’s so goddamn true. Let me back up.

I moved out of my parents’ house four years ago. First to Oswego, then to Liverpool, and then to Brooklyn. Coming back to Syracuse has never felt nostalgic, even from hundreds of miles away. There’s never been a moment where I’ve felt like I wanted to move back or one that I second guessed my decision to leave. Coming back always felt…off; like I was looking into this world that I was never really a part of, or at least one that I haven’t felt like I’ve fit into for the past few years. Of course I missed my family and friends, but they would always be there to come back and visit and stayed just a phone call away.

Small town conservative living is just not for me. I realized this at a very young age and have since spent the last few years running as fast as I possibly could toward anything that would make me feel comfortable in my own skin, in my own surroundings. And the whole time I thought I was being viewed as this outcast, this crazy young millennial that has no idea what she wants in life. Why can’t she just be like the rest and settle down and use that degree at the dying Post Standard?

You spend your teenage years being angsty as can be, dreaming of nothing more than moving away, “following your dreams,” starting over, completely redefining yourself. But first, you spend your young adult years figuring out exactly what those “dreams” are, and who you were to begin with so you can start to rebuild yourself in this new light you so desperately seem to think you need to be bathed in. You’re going to convince yourself that absolutely no one understands you, that your parents are out to get you, and that your college degree was all for naught.

The truth? All of that is just going to build you into that much of a stronger version of the individual that you were always on the road to becoming. And I know it’s cliché as hell, especially coming from some 24-year-old punk that is so far from having it all together. Or even half of it together for that matter. But sometimes even 24-year-old punks have moments of clarity.

That journalism degree is going to show you just how much you’re NOT interested in hard news, but the creative writing courses you had to take to obtain it will make you that much of a better editor for your friend’s first novel. Two years later you’ll surprise yourself with the number of obscure authors you read and your literary world will begin to open up and take you down paths that feel so natural. These authors won’t be that obscure to the people you start to surround yourself with–they’re reading them too. Your big city life is going to be something your friends and family will love to come down and partake in, in small doses. Your romantic life that was always so taboo will be something that can be brought up (carefully), and the people that matter will realize your new-found happiness and confidence and will be happy for you. While all this is great, you’ll still worry about how different you look in everyone’s eyes back “home.”

Then one Christmas you’re going to come back, and it’s going to slap you in the face just how much you actually are on the right track and how much those around you see exactly who that it is. Your grandmother is going to get you a copy of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and tell you about the time she read it in the fourth grade and just knew it was the perfect gift for you. Your uncle is going to tell you that the cell phone he keeps in the front pocket of his Carhartt overalls shows all the pictures and everything you post from New York City, and that while photography is your brother’s special thing, you want to be a writer –“no, you are a writer”—and that’s what makes you special. “That’s your thing,” he’ll say. Your godfather and you will bond over soccer, he a Sounder’s fan, you more of a Women’s National Team fan, but the bonding is there. He’ll tell you about how he might go to a game in the city and he’ll let you know when so maybe you can go along. You’ll play Scrabble and Jenga at your parent’s kitchen table, talking about how you want more out of life and are thinking of going back to school for a degree in library science while your mother tells you how she knows all about your “little friend” down in Virginia.

At the end of it all, you’ll be writing all of this on your old desktop from high school, with the corresponding era’s iTunes going in the background in the bedroom you thought showed no recollection that you inhabited it for 20 years of your life. But then you’ll take a minute to look around, and you’ll slowly realize: You. Are. Everywhere. The books on the bedside table: Virginia Woolf, Jhumpa Lahiri, Emily Bronte. The Conde Nast Travel magazine on the other side. The essence of the sea in the décor. Candles. Empty wine bottles. Cheesy inspirational quotes: “Dream Big,” “Help Each Other,” and “Know You Are Loved.”

You are exactly where you were meant to be. “Everyone is a lot less mysterious than they think.”