A Writer’s Choice: My Seven Steps to Saying Goodbye to Something I Love

fwblog_wwcg_ CollageHello writers, this is Adair Heitmann writing to you today. I’ve written many blogs about finding balance in life as a writer. On this note, I’m letting you know I’m continuing to seek mine. I’ve decided to stop both being a regular contributor to the Fairfield Writer’s Blog, and to leading the Wednesday Writing Critique Group at Fairfield Public Library.

I’ve loved writing for this blog. Penning my prose on your behalf for the last seven years has been fulfilling, you’ve let me know it has helped, and we’ve even won an award for it. Thank you for letting me into your writing lives and your social media networks. In my writing critique group it’s been seven glorious years of vigorous writing, support, constructive feedback, improvement, plenty of belly laughs, and gentle tears. There has been a constant Wait List for my group and it’s been filled to capacity with dedicated authors sharing their stories in all genres. It’s been an amazing opportunity and journey with other writers. I will miss you all.

Many writers, like myself, carve writing time out of already full lives. Some writers retreat to their computers while the baby naps or like Toni Morrison, write by hand early in the morning. I usually forge  time before I go to work or on a weekend. When I do make time to write, it’s usually meant I’ve  given up something else, like exercising or filling in my child’s camp medical form.

Now to the theme of today’s blog. Maybe I should title it, “Seven Ways to Leave Your Lover.” My back-story is that our son is a senior in high school. For all you parents out there you’re probably nodding your heads and saying to yourselves, “Oh, now I know why she’s stepping down!” During our son’s next year of looking at colleges and then the applying for college process, I want to create a supportive atmosphere for him. With my full-time day job as a communications director for a nonprofit and my careers as a writer and artist, maintaining that was a challenge. Add to the mix leading an on-going writing critique group, writing for this blog plus a creativity and wellness blog, and volunteering in our hometown, school, and church, I’ve realized I need to stop all volunteer work for the next year, even though I love what I’m doing.

These are the steps I told myself to follow. They worked for me and I hope they inspire you to create balance in your writer’s life as well.
1. Deliberate your decision for a long time.
I considered it while I tracked my life and commitments for one year.
2. Know your unconscious signals.
I was beginning to operate more like a robot and less as an authentic, spirited, creative person. This is my personal signal. Though no one mentioned it, my writing was becoming predictable. My heart wasn’t in it because I had too few hours in the day to do everything I wanted. Like a pinball, I bounced from one responsibility to the next.
3. Be honest about your reasons.
The demands and responsibilities of my job increased last year and haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. With my desire to be fully present and helpful as needed for our son, some thing(s) had to go.
4. Co-create a plan for the future.
My marvelous writing critique group and I co-created an idea to keep the group going without a leader, as a peer-led group, until a new leader is found.
5. Cherish the memories.
I remember everyone who has been members of my group. In my mind’s eye I see where you sat, hear what you wrote, and how you laughed, or tried to hold back tears, or how graciously you accepted criticism. We’ve celebrated the publishing of your books, essays, and we’ve cheered you on after literary submission rejections.
6. Say a clean goodbye.
I’m doing that here, letting you know, and wishing you well. I believe that the energy within which I let something go is the energy that will carry me forward. My fond memories and good vibes will carry me into my next writing adventure.
7. Have patience and allow space for possibilities.
Even though my writing routine will change over the next year, it will allow an open-mindedness for new writing ideas to percolate. I have some long-range writing projects I’d like to ponder.

I’ll add an optional step here, one that I learned only by following 1 – 7:
•    Accept emotions that bubble up after your decision.
Over the weeks since I’ve been in the process of closure and in writing the draft for this blog, sadness has crept in. Grief has surfaced in unexpected ways. During my days,  I’ve had to stop mid-stream, in whatever I was doing, and let my eyes well up and seeping tears fall. The first time this happened at work, I had an answer ready if anyone asked, “I just let go of my writing critique group.” By being gentle with my vulnerable self I made room for my feelings as they passed through.

At the beginning of every new year, for the last seven years, our writing critique group has written our writing goals for the upcoming year. I looked back at my 2015 goals. Gazing at my handwritten notes, I read, “Allow inner space for my next writing juice to come forward.” Hmmmm, that surprised me! I loved the idea of “my next writing juice.” That signifies something new, exhilaration, pep, engagement. Still surprised at the word “juice” I looked closer at my penmanship. Ahhh, I see I actually wrote, “Allow inner space for my next writing voice to come forward.” Ha! I like that too.

Here’s to new writing juice and new writing voices for us all. Until next time, keep on writing.

Advice from Peter Abrahams & Dennis Lehane

If you are lucky, an author appearance at the local public library can resemble a master class for an aspiring writer. The Fairfield Writers’ Blog (FWB) was two times lucky in less than 24 hours not long ago.

Our home base, the Fairfield Public Library, through its “Friends of” support group, hosted a lunch on Tuesday, October 9 with author Spencer Quinn, the pen name used by suspense novelist Peter Abrahams for his Chet and Bernie Mystery Series, in which human shamus Bernie is assisted, Dr. Watson-like, by narrating dog Chet. The fifth and newest title is A Fistful of Collars. The previous evening, the nearby New Canaan Library, in its “Authors On Stage” program, featured Dennis Lehane reading a chapter from his new Prohibition-era gangster novel Live by Night before spending close to an hour answering audience questions, many related to craft.

Abrahams is a writer of bestselling success in many styles. His thrillers include The Fan, made into a 1996 movie starring Robert DeNiro, Wesley Snipes and Ellen Barkin, and End of Story, which Stephen King called a primer on writing disguised as a crime story. For young readers, he wrote the Echo Falls Series of mysteries. The Chet and Bernie books are targeted at adults.

Abrahams has a demanding fan base. He told us of a letter he had received from a schoolkid about one of the Echo Falls titles: “I have to do a report on your book Down the Rabbit Hole. Please tell me the story in your own words.”

At age 7, Abrahams began trying his hand at writing adventure stories. His mother, a writer herself, was his first editor. After reading the opening passage of one piece, she explained why he ought to cut an unnecessary adverb, then imparted a lesson he still follows: the need to find the exact word to use, not a word that is a close second.

Perusing Abrahams’ website before the lunch, the FWB came across more timeless writing wisdom from the author’s mother, summarized as “Enid’s Laws.” Here is the streamlined list; for further explanation, go to the chetthedog website.

1. Organization is everything.
2. Fiction is about reversals.
3. Torment your protagonist.
4. Push everything as far as you can without contriving.
5. Always advance the story.
6. Be original.
7. Be playful. (Abrahams added this later.)

Abrahams revises his books chapter by chapter, printing out a chapter only after revising it. When the warning bell goes off that something isn’t working, he doesn’t let it go for later, he fixes it before printing. Thus, when the whole draft is printed out, essentially the book is done. He allowed as how a lot of writers just want to get the story down, “Get to Z, then rework,” he said. “That’s not my way, but there is no right way.”

During lunch, Abrahams followed up on a comment the FWB related from the author talk night before. “Writers who over-research under-imagine,” he said. “Their stories are often dead on the page. You only need the telling detail.”

Indeed, Lehane had said as much in New Canaan. The chapter he read was set in the mid-1920s at Boston’s Charlestown State Prison, which opened in 1805 and closed in 1955. The site is now occupied by a community college. Lehane did not turn up a lot of information about the penal facility, but it was enough. “Give me the basics and let me run with it,” he said. “How much research do you want to do before you let your imagination rip? My job is to sit in a room, stare at the wall and make stuff up.”

Even if you have never read a Lehane book, you may recognize his work. First came the Patrick Kenzie-Angela Gennaro novels, of which Gone, Baby, Gone was made into a movie. His three favorite books are Mystic River (Sean Penn and Tim Robbins won Oscars for their acting in the Clint Eastwood-directed film), The Given Day and the new one. “All three were the closest to what I had in my head to what I got on the page.” he said. His least favorite to write? Shutter Island, also later a movie, because he “knew 26 major beats of the story” before starting. Usually, he knows only three: “One thing from the beginning, one from the middle and one from the end.”

The protagonist of Live By Night, Joe Coughlin, was a young boy in The Given Day. The two books are part of a trilogy—Lehane is at work on the third—connected by family bloodlines. As any aspiring storyteller should be able to do for his or her own protagonist, Lehane was able to describe in one sentence the arc for Joe in Live By Night: “a character goes up a ladder [to success] and down into a moral abyss.”

At times a slow writer, Lehane found that the new book went fast because of his affinity for his protagonist. The lesson: “When a character speaks to you at high volume, you never turn him off until he stops.”

High volume refers to amount, not decibel level. For a writer, Lehane said, “The last thing to learn and the hardest thing to learn is to whisper. If you shout, the person leans away. If you whisper, the person leans in. It’s seduction.”

For any aspiring novelist, the learning curve is steep. “Here’s the thing I tell students,” Lehane said.  “. . . It takes 10 years to learn how to do this. . . .The first time you write a book, you don’t know what you’re doing. It takes a long time to learn the toolbox.” Eight years after he started, he published his first novel, a result he described as “lucky.”

Lehane offered a quick lesson on starting your story, and a longer one on point of view.

The first: “Don’t start [your story] on Wednesday if Friday is where the action begins.”

The second: “Write a scene from the point of view of the character in that scene who has something to lose.” The point of a scene is whether the character gets what he wants or doesn’t. He cited playwright David Mamet’s theory that, if a character wants so much as a loaf of bread, the audience will follow. So if you write about the beginning of your character’s day, don’t have him waking up, Lehane advised.  “Have him opening his fridge and being out of milk.”

With two young children, these days Lehane only has time to write for four hours in the morning. “That has made me a better writer,” he said. “You give someone all the time in the world and they’ll take all the time in the world. If you compress their time, they’ll use it—if they really want it.” He also advised that writing early or late in the day is the quickest way to connect to the dream world—an alternate universe, the world of your characters.

Lehane was asked whether he thinks about his audience as he writes. “I don’t,” he admitted. “I love you, but I don’t owe you the book that you expect. I owe you everything I’ve got.”

Finally, how does a writer assess how well he or she has written? Lehane said, “At the end of the day, is it honest?”

Class dismissed.—Alex McNab

Humor and Mystery = Fun

It’s my turn for the blog. This is Adair Heitmann writing to you about the Author Talk I recently attended at the Fairfield Public Library. Susan Santangelo, who is the author of the humorous Baby Boomer Mysteries: Retirement Can Be Murder, Moving Can be Murder and Marriage Can Be Murder spoke to a crowd of writers and non-writers alike. The photo I took of her (l) and a happy reader (r) shows the connections this author makes with her fans.

The author’s writing process starts each book with a dead body, but it sometimes takes her six months or more than five chapters later, to figure out who it is. “The characters tell you what they want you to do,” she says. Santangelo added that for a mystery to be good, “it’s very important for it to be logical.”

She wrote book one and was rejected by three major literary agencies. Two agencies told her that they loved the book but there wasn’t a market for it. The third wanted such a major re-write that Santangelo gave it a try for a month then realized as a reader, she wouldn’t read the book the agency wanted her to write. So, she and her husband started their own publishing company on Cape Cod, Baby Boomer Mysteries.

After self-publishing her first book (and including her email address in the back), she heard, via emails from around the world, “You are writing about my life.” This encouraged her to write more books. Santangelo’s writing and public speaking style are like sitting down with her over a cup of coffee in her kitchen. Her quick wit comes across in speaking, and her real life experiences inspire her fictional works.

She noted “inspiration is everywhere, especially among the clothing aisles of stores when women are talking on their cell phones.” This author writes what she knows and her fans gobble it up. She is working on book four, a mystery about a high school reunion. Santangelo ended the lecture by saying, “Once the book hits Kindle, the sales skyrocket.”

Susan Santangelo is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Cape Cod Writers Center, and also reviews mysteries for Suspense magazine. As Santangelo stated in the comment section of this blog last month, she is obsessed with writing murder mysteries. From the look on her fans’ faces, they are thrilled with her obsession too.

Until next time, keep on writing!

Connecting

Hello from Adair Heitmann. Are you finding ways to stay cool and focused this summer?

I’ll continue my ongoing blog about creating a writer’s website later in August, when I’ll post A Writer’s Website: Part Three. For now if you are new to this blog you can find parts one and two on June 3 and July 1, 2011.

For today’s post I’ll share a quote and let you know of some upcoming writing events.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence. ” -Helen Keller

I hope to see you on Tuesday night August 9 at 7pm at Darien Library where I’ll be presenting Create a Writer’s Platform: Why You Need One and How to Build It. The program is part of their Adult Reading You’re Connected series. We will have fun and I’ll share hints and tips on building your writing platform. You will walk away with clarity and useable information.

Then on November 1 and 8, (mark your calendars now!) I’ll be back at the Fairfield Public Library giving a two-part program, Write On! Hands-on Help in Building Your Writer’s Platform at 7pm both nights. Bring paper, pen (or your laptop) and an open mind, the programs will be part lecture, part inspiring writing exercises.

Until next time, stay cool, find new ways to connect with your readers, and keep on writing!

Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Welcome to our First Post for Fairfield Writer

The town of Fairfield, Connecticut has a wealth of interest in writing and the literary arts.  We have three public libraries and two universities. Each institution celebrates writing frequently with their programs for writers and about writers, their curricula, their resources, and their spaces. We also know many published writers live in and/or do business in Fairfield.

We are offering this blog as a way to connect with other writers, and to share information about upcoming literary events, contests, and conferences. Are you considering joining a writers critique group but don’t know where to start? Are you seeking inspiration or need a more rigorous method to write? Do you feel isolated as a writer and need to connect with others?  Do you have a nagging question you would like to pose to other writers? If so, we invite you to join us in this literary endeavor . . .

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 3:25 pm  Comments (2)