Category Archives: Letters

Dear End Goal,

Dear End Goal,

You are  publication, ultimately, but also just desire to have finished the work.

At a recent writer’s group meeting a friend proposed that one of our greatest crutches as writer’s might be impatience. The hallelujahs started in my head at the suggestion. The mouse maze of my own impatience had been really effing things up for me lately.

It doesn’t help that we live in a fast-paced world where not even children are content to spend hours aimlessly wandering their neighborhoods in pursuit of whatever daydreams emerge. Boredom, a place where any end goal seems dangerously out of reach is a necessary step on the path to creation.

What’s the maximum number of drafts you’re willing to write? How long can you sit staring at a blank page before you say fuck-it and go on with the rest of your day? How many different publications are you willing to get rejections from before you stop trying? Are you contemplating self-publishing?

In part, we want to publish so we can finally be done, when we should really want to publish because we’ve walked away from the work, come back to it and felt even after that distance that yes what we’ve written is good and ought to go out into the world.

What I’m trying lately is to work on projects at different levels. Now, I have a story I’m just about ready to send out, a novel I’m reading after putting away for a while and gathering feedback on, and a new draft of a new novel I’m meandering through. The novel I am reading and gathering feedback on I will start editing in the fall.

End-goal, when it comes to writing fiction you need to be flexible and rooted more in the work itself than any outcome in regard to publication, which requires infinite reserves of patience. end goal

 

 

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Dear Ladies,

Your awesomeness inspires me! Your perseverance in the face of struggle keeps me humble and faithful.

All the dreams I’ve ever had began with those first friends, those girlfriends–at that time in life when all that matters are girlfriends and when dreams and imagination rule. Before boys and other such betrayals.

I am older, more practical. My imagination’s been shrunk by knowledge. I have to work a lot harder these days to follow my heart. But, ladies, it’s still you I can count on for encouragement in that!

Need I explain how this helps me when it comes to the writing of fiction? 😉

 

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letter in the mail

Dear Letter In The Mail,

Dear Letter In The Mail,

I look for you every day, though at times you have stayed away for years. I have put bundles at a time of my own letters in the mail in hopes of your reply, a sort of message in a bottle.

I dig for stationery remnants in thrift stores and tuck them inside my iris-adorned letter box. I have some with a pink tea rose design and some with sea turtles wearing sunglasses. The best letters I have ever gotten, I save in that same box in case of emergency.

Always, it seems, I have been a sucker for a hand-written note, even when the notes were as simple as “What are you doing after school today?” written with hearts over the “i”s and passed during Mr. H’s lectures on the War for Independence.

Letter in the mail, you remind me of why I write anything at all, even so called fiction.

I will never forget the day. It was March. Gray-covered. Rain fell in that weak-persistent way that salt and pepper race on a tuned-out television. Before that day, I’d never considered the term panic attack. Now, if I hear the words from across a crowded bar, they sober me.

Nothing big happened to trigger the attack. Staring out the kitchen window, a sink of dishes half done.

I had been looking forward to an evening of solitude so I could write. But my mind just went wild with imagination and I thought I would surely die.

So certain was I of my own death–probably by heart attack–that my hand shook as I wrote, “Dear Grandmother I Never Knew”, then kept writing more and more words.

Nothing less than a miracle, then, that by the time I closed the letter “You Loving Granddaughter, Liz” my heart drum had returned to that steady, familiar knowing.

Letter in the mail, you remind me.

 

Love,

Liz

 

 

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Dear Procrastination

Dear Procrastination,

Let’s get real. Writing is hard.

I’ve never done anything harder. Or more rewarding. But it’s the hard part that makes me turn to you, old pal. If there was one thing I wanted to do today, it was work on editing my novel. Here it is 9:12 PM: I’ve cooked two meals, shopped with my baby sis, played around with my new Zune, and baked vanilla cupcakes.

Procrastination,

The only guard against falling into your endless cycle of putting off what is challenging but ultimately necessary is persistence and optimism (in the case of writing, necessary in an existential rather than a practical sense).

The advice that we must give ourselves permission to write our worst and not sweat that one bit resounds without contention throughout arguments and musings on the art of writing. Why?

We must give ourselves permission to write our worst because the practice of writing is far more important to becoming a writer than any single sentence any writer will ever produce. Writing and editing require focus and stamina. Focus and stamina are strengthened by practice.

Writing daily. Writing through false starts, blocked narratives, and scenes that aren’t fully realized. That is how a writer conquers you, you tic!

And optimism?

The only guarantee for practicing over and over day after day is that in the end you will have written something. You’ve got to believe that even if that’s all that comes of your dedication and training, you will still be satisfied with your life’s work.

So, procrastination, you caught me today. The sun has set and to stay up much longer would be borrowing from tomorrow. But, I did manage to write this letter and now that I’ve come to a close, I see I have time for at least a few more sentences… *opens novel draft*

 

Beating you sentence by sentence,

 

Liz

 

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solitude

Dear Solitude,

Dear Solitude,

You are sometimes hard to come by anymore in my beautiful, busy, love-drenched life, but without you, shadows pool in my eyes and I struggle to see or feel clear.

A young woman, I took you in excess, as I tended toward excess in things that felt good. Hours spent writing, listening to music, watching insights form on the ceiling like clouds in the sky, coming into focus, then shifting. I took you on long walks across two towns. I found a more disciplined you in yoga.

You are why I walk to runs and meetings even in the pouring rain. You are why, though I’m not a morning person, I love the quiet hours when the whole house still sleeps. You are why I run distance, trying to shed all the mind phantoms that keep me from just being you.

Though you are sometimes mistaken for loneliness, you have nothing to do with that particular sadness. You aren’t sadness or joy, though you can be filled by either one.

The people I love best are good company in solitude. These people I can sit next to on a lawn chair reading a book without a word passing between us for the whole of an afternoon. I can write when they are in the room.

As for writing, without you the valve shuts,  creating a pressure strong enough to signal all the wrong neural networks.

 

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imagination tree

Dear Imagination Tree,

Dear Imagination Tree,

Half way into a ten mile run, half way up a doozy of a hill, you shifted my perspective the instant my brain received the sight of you. Trudging up that hill, by breath, by cadence, by will, I felt your influence before I understood its meaning.

You are like the sight of a rainbow caused by sunlight through a window prism, like stumbling upon a hopscotch board with time and inclination to spare, like the urge to turn a cartwheel just to make sure I still can. I saw you and longed to play under your branches, to let imagination trump sensibility, to pause mid-hill to play.

Imagination Tree, you remind me to:

skip rocks

splash in puddles

smile when I run

and, most of all,

to write what pleases me.

 

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Dear Paper and Pen,

Dear Pen and Paper,

I bought a manual typewriter from a junk shop downtown Aberdeen and typed my first short story on it. I was eighteen. I didn’t own a computer until college. My son was just learning to walk and he spoke only in the roundest sounds and brightest gestures. Before then, I composed in notebooks. I never went anywhere without a notebook in my hand or backpack. I often had several notebooks going a once.

Finding time to write then felt the most impossible it ever has, enrolled in eighteen credits as I was, tied as I was to my first responsibility–parenthood.

In ten years, I composed fifteen or so short stories on the computer and filled twice as many –more–notebooks with a disorganized collection of journal entries, quotes pulled from other writers, poems, and story ideas. On my computer now, I have hundreds of poems, more than fifty short stories, and four full-length novels in various stages of development. But, pen and paper, I always start with you. When I’m stuck, I fall back on your forgiving blank page, nothing like the cold white of the computer screen, cursor flashing.

Pen and paper, with you, I can write anywhere and recline while I write, and there is something about the hand’s grip, the way ink loops and scratches across the page with my whim or intent, something about the way I can scrawl out lines or words and draw arrows to move pieces of prose around on the page.

Pen and paper, I prefer you for starting anything and when I’m stuck. You are my choice for letters and love notes. Among all the remedies prescribed for writing emergencies–the software, the apps, the social networks–you emerge as that simple solution people sometimes talk about.

Love,

 

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Dear Adulthood,

Dear Adulthood,

 

Why did I not hold you off a while longer?

I used to skip classes to spend hours penning ideas into notebooks–black coffee, toasted bagel to fuel my inspiration. I would stare out windows, at lovers walking down the street, and at old ladies on their raincoats on the transit bus that I took home for one shiny quarter. I would write and listen to music and daydream for hours.

“What will you do?” They asked.

“I’ll write,” I answered.

“What if your writing isn’t any good?” They replied.

“I’ll write better,” I stood my ground.

“Will you go to college?” They added.

“Why?” I asked.

Impassioned, impertinent, rebellious, alone against the world: Ah, that was me!

Eight years college. Twelve years high school teacher. Fourteen years wife. I learned to sacrifice writing for dollars and gold stars.

What if I let the house go? What if I stopped putting things back in their place? Started coming to work unprepared?

What if I got fired? If all I had to do was pen these lines?

I tell myself–being adult as I am–I don’t deserve to write at all until I’ve done my duty.

What you “do” if the first thing we ask a person we’ve just met.

I’m a teacher.

I’m a mother.

More meekly, I’m a writer.

When I tell people that they want to know if I’ve been published and whether I’ve written any books.

Adulthood,

These responsibilities are endless.

What if I refused? Made unreasonable demands? Used my charm to get my way?

Would you tell me to be more mature?

What if I stopped cooking dinner? What if I really wrote every day? Really put in the time and let the muse take me even if it meant I wasn’t pulling my weight, wasn’t being my best in every way? Meant I missed appointments and forgot to pay my bills?

What if I lost track of time?

Adulthood,

You tell me I must care, I must serve. I must work hard even if the reward is merely the satisfaction of having done my best work. I should put others before myself. I should volunteer more. Exercise more. Keep my house cleaner. Be a better parent. Stay in touch with old friends and make new ones if I can. Organize all the clutter. Be generous to my lover. Have a solution for every problem.

You make it so hard to write, sometimes.

 

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cracked egg

Dear Premature Feedback,

crackedeggDear Premature Feedback,

I knew the story wasn’t finished. It stank, in fact, in at least five places. The bones were there, but not the flesh. The ending dropped like an egg onto the kitchen floor when I read it aloud.

It was cruel the way I asked for you and then picked apart how my lover gave you exactly as I asked. It must be his fault, I thought, for not saying you clear enough, for padding you with “I like” on all sides.

I ask for you because I want someone else to tell me what only I can tell myself: the work you are doing is good–press on.

 

Ignoring you,

Me

 

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Dear Petunia,

Dear Petunia,

I call you Petunia, though you are just an aspect of me. I call you this because the name reminds me of a girl from elementary school who never once talked to me without that look on her face–eyes narrowed, nose wrinkled in disgust. She was a pretty-faced girl who could be nice, but for some reason didn’t like me.

Petunia, you are just like that girl. No matter what I do, you are there ready to jab your stick pin in my balloon, push me in the lunch line. You tell me that if I think that just because I want to be a writer my writing deserves to be read by anyone else at all, I am delusional, at best a fool playing an elaborate game of pretend.

You tell me to work hard and keep my nose to the ground. You wonder why I waste my time solving problems that involve placing words in order on a page. If I like stories so much, you tell me, I should just read more. There are already more worthy stories out there than I could read in two life times, at least.

You add, in that snotty way you have, that I’m not very good at it anyway. Sure, I’ve struck creative gold a few times, but to a certain extent writing is like sex. If you do it often enough, you’re bound to create something better than yourself.

You don’t like the way I dress or laugh, and you certainly don’t like the way my conflicts aren’t resolved and my scenes too thinly sketched. If you can get my attention, you tell me all this in a steady stream, barely pausing for breath so that my pen stops mid-sentence and I exhale an exasperated sigh, then check my email or do the dishes because who the hell am I kidding anyway?

Petunia, I know this letter won’t bring an end to our relationship. You are an inextricable part of me, and in my optimism, I like to think, a strangely necessary part that keeps me working at becoming a better writer.

Petunia, there is something I want you to know. The most alive I ever feel comes always after writing something I believe is pretty good or maybe even better. That feeling comes from a desire to create far more powerful than your desire to destroy.

I’ve got you where I want you,

Liz

 

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