Up to My Knees in the Writing Waters

So many little bits and pieces of my journey into writing to write about today. There have been a few brief stops and side trips in my adventures as a reader/writer/lover-of-words over the past few months. In early December, I went to a one-day intensive workshop in Essay and Opinion writing at Gotham Writers in NYC. Great fun, very inspiring and I had my first experiences with writing to a prompt.

Writing to a prompt could take an entire blog post here. What amazed me, though, was how just a small handful of words could get my brain going on something that I hadn’t realized was in it. For example, the warm up prompt for the day was “I Am From” and I wrote this:

I am from a New York-centric world. I am not from New Jersey, even though I’ve lived there for nearly 25 years. It’s a distinction I make; mentally, emotionally and in conversation.

I am from a family that plays with words and ideas, a family that thinks. Some would say that we overthink.

These are qualities that have led me on the journey that has led me to this place. A writing workshop, in midtown Manhattan, where I hope, for the first time in my life, to focus my means of communicating. To focus my expression. And to take it into the bigger world.

I am from a privileged upbringing, but not as privileged as many of my peers. An interesting perspective, as it made me an observer of my own life. And I am from a therapists’ office, re-imagining myself until I created who I wanted to be.

I am not from the mainstream. My entertainment, my artistic expressions, my aesthetic, my way of seeing connections in seemingly unconnected ideas and events don’t take a typical or predictable path.

I am from my daughter. Becoming her mother crystalized so many of my qualities, and, it made me think more carefully about every decision, every action, every interaction I have. It provided a lens and a filter at the same time. A lense to focus my actions and a filter to screen out the noise of competing priorities and needs: of my husband, my work, my larger family and friends.

I am from a place of curiosity and fear, both in equal parts. I have to look at new ideas, new experiences, even when they frighten me. But, too often, I let the fear dictate my engagement with other people, with new adventures.

Using the phrase “I am from” in a way that is informative, not just about my history and geography challenges my status quo of what that phrase means.

I am from a world I want to find. A world where ideas, thinking and words come together and become magical connections.

Then, with the help of a writer friend, I edited, and it turned into this:

I am from a New York-centric world. I am not from New Jersey, even though I’ve lived there for nearly 25 years. It’s a distinction I make often; mentally, emotionally and in conversation.

I am from a family that plays with words and ideas, a family that thinks. Some would say that we overthink.

These are qualities that have led me on the journey that has led me to this place: a writing workshop, in midtown Manhattan. Starting my discovery of how to focus my expressions. And start to learn how to take them into the larger world. I’m not sure why I’m doing this, but I need to. Every fiber of me is pulling me toward something I can’t see yet—a place where I can make words and ideas create magic.

I am from a privileged upbringing, but not as privileged as many of my peers. Being a have-not in a community of “haves” made me an outsider. An observer. But compared to so many in the world, I had and have so much. It makes a brew of guilt and gratitude that can be paralyzing. I am from a therapists’ office, re-imagining myself until I created who I wanted to be.

I am not from the mainstream. My entertainment, my artistic expressions, my aesthetic, my way of seeing connections in seemingly unconnected ideas and events don’t take a typical or predictable path.

I am from my daughter. She gave birth to the woman I am, as much as I gave birth to her entire being. Definitely not a mainstream way of looking at motherhood. But it’s true. I would not be the woman I am today were it not for her existence and her own kind of wisdom. She taught me that love and anger are compatible. She taught me about real, palpable fear. She taught me about the peaceful center that I have, that I discovered in the wee hours of the morning, nursing her back to sleep, and falling asleep myself with baby-smells in my nose. She is a lens that focuses my actions. She’s a filter to screen out the noise of competing priorities and needs: of my husband, my work, my larger family and friends.

I am from a place of curiosity and fear, both in equal parts. I have to look at new ideas, new experiences, even when they frighten me. But, too often, I let the fear dictate my engagement with other people, with new adventures. I shy back from those engagements before I really start.

Using the phrase “I am from” in a way that is informative, not just about my history and geography challenges my status quo of what that phrase means.

I am from a world I want to find. A world where ideas, thinking and words come together and become magic.

I was astonished that this came out. And further astonished that I could, with a little feedback and some tweaking, turn it into something I would be willing to share with whomever in the world reads this blog.

But I needed to go further. What happened on December 31, 2014 took me to the next step. On New Year’s Eve, 2014, my husband, daughter and I were rummaging around our family room and unearthed an old champagne bottle that he and I had bought over 20 years ago at an antique shop. While we’ve had the ensuing conversation (“What do you think happened? Why wasn’t it ever opened? Well, I guess WWII got in the way, it’s a 1937 vintage after all”) quite a few times over the years, the conversation did something different to me this time. It prompted me to write a story.

By New Year’s Day 2015, I had around 2500 words and a story was taking shape. And then, I checked my email. For the first time in my life, I had gotten an email soliciting “Short, Short Stories” of 1500 words or less, from Writers’ Digest. Due date: January 16, 2015. And I knew, deep in my bones, that my story was going to be my first ever submission to a contest. Two weeks would give me time to rework the rough spots, polish the almost-there spots and send it in. Not that I’d ever hear anything, but I’d send it in.

Then, a week into the new year, I attended a sample class at Gotham Writers for Creative Writing 101. I’d been given a gift certificate to Gotham Writers for Christmas. I’m not sure my husband and daughter knew how meaningful it would be when they bought it for me. But to me, it symbolizes their support and encouragement for my exploration of writing. At the sample class, the teacher provided a prompt and again something miraculous happened in my brain and something really good came out onto the paper. Good enough that the teacher and several students commented on its quality. And good enough that I am now certain I will take that class in the spring session so I can get regular exercise of my “writing muscles”.

During the two weeks between January 1st and 15th, I was fiddling with, and editing, and re-working, my story. I asked a number (4) people for critique and comments. And I learned when and how it made sense for me to listen to their critique and comments, and when and how I needed to listen to my own. Then, on January 15, 2015, I made my first ever submission to a writing contest. The story, A Champagne Bottle, is a 1500 word snapshot into some of the story of a 1937 bottle of Piper Heidseick champagne, discovered unopened in an antique shop in the early 1990s. Yeah, there’s a little similarity to my own story, but that’s where the similarity to my personal prompt ends. Because the couple that finds the bottle isn’t me and my husband. That was kind of tough for me to wrap my head around. As was the idea that the bottle that prompted my short-short didn’t have to be exactly as we’d found it. At any rate, as a result of writing this short-short, I’ve learned several important things:

1. I can write fiction, even if it’s short.

2. A story might start from a place in reality for me, but it doesn’t have to stay there.

3. There’s more to my story than what I submitted. Maybe it’s a true short story. Maybe a novella. And (hushed voice) maybe it’s a whole novel.

If there’s anything to hear from Writer’s Digest, it will be via email no later than February 27, 2015. I don’t think I’ll get an email, but the thought crosses my mind that it sure would be cool if I did!

How did your journey into writing start (if it ever did)? And if you’re not a writer, how did your love of reading come to be?

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12 Comments

Filed under Occasional Deep Thoughts

12 responses to “Up to My Knees in the Writing Waters

  1. Crossing everything for you on the 27th, Wendy! Sounds like an amazing story, I’d love to read it sometime. x

  2. I loved to read your prompt response again. It is so powerful. I can’t wait to see what comes next, and I REALLY hope you get that email.

    • Thank you so much, Jennifer! I’m not going to get my hopes up, but wow…it sure would be amazing to get it. I need to go back to the story (it’s been two weeks now) and start expanding it. Little bits and pieces keep popping into my head, and I jot notes, but I think it’s time to start working again.

  3. Rita Jones

    Thoughtful reader / writer. Please dont stop. I would Love to read about the bottle. This is so exciting for me to see you write. You got this, and if you dont hear any thing in Feb. Please dont stop, but i cant imagine you not hearing from writers digest. This Blog was my favorite, it was like some one introduced me to you afresh.

    • Rita, thank you so much! I do plan to keep working on my piece about the bottle. It just hums around my head at odd times now, so I know there is more story to write. Your encouragement means a lot to me. Is there a reading recommendation you’d like to make?

  4. I love that you showed your ‘before’ prompt writing, which sounded great, and then the edited version. Shows just how much editing helps even great writing. Eager to read the champagne bottle story when it is published, as I know it will be. Break a leg! Or a pen!

    • Barbara, that was such an amazing experience to me. I have written and edited (ad nauseum) business writing in the context of my job for many years. Going through that process with my personal writing was harder, because i was emotionally invested in it. What part of writing do you find difficult or challenging?

  5. Pingback: The art of blossoming | Transcending

  6. Pingback: I Liebster you all, too! | A Thoughtful Reader

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