Why Writers Need to be Listeners

In this world there are talkers and there are listeners. A writer is both. Many may not agree with me, but here are my thoughts on this.

A few months back, a friend and I spent the afternoon together. About half-way into our visit she said, “I’m doing all the talking.” And it was true, I suppose. But seriously, I didn’t mind. I was simply enjoying listening to what she had to say. It had been awhile since we’d last talked. I knew what was going on in my life. I wanted to hear about hers.

What my friend didn’t know is that all writers talk and most times we’re the centre of the conversation, and…. monopolize? Oh yeah, we monopolize alright since there’s usually no one else around, we, and our characters, are the centre of our attention.

Writers do a good deal of talking in their heads. We talk to our characters and sometimes we talk to ourselves. We also do our talking on the page. We talk and we talk and we talk, talk, talk, talk. We say the same things over again but in a different way, and then the next day we start all over again—same conversation since we didn’t get it right the day before! So while the words may not come out so others can hear us, you can be sure we writers talk. My friend had nothing to apologize for. Sometimes with all the “talking” I do in the run of a day it’s simply nice to let someone else take over for awhile.

So with all the talking that takes place in a writer’s life I firmly believe that writers also need to be listeners. We need to fine-tune our hearing so that we can allow the story to come through to us from that place where stories reside before the writer breathes life into them. We have to be conscious of the wants and needs of the characters we write about. We need to listen to what they have to say even when they say things that are not to our liking. We need to listen to the hearts of our characters and find out what makes them tick. What are their likes and dislikes? Their biggest fear? We need to be their best friend or, in some cases, their worst enemy, and we do that by listening. An author who is a good listener learns to respect their characters and give them the freedom to tell their story in their own words, and in their own time.

So to my friend who thought she was being selfish and dominating the conversation all I can say is that sometimes there’s a time to talk and sometimes there’s a time to listen. Hopefully, we tap into that balance somewhere along the way. A writer is both talker and listener. We’ve mastered both of these arts and if we haven’t yet mastered them we’re constantly working to achieve it.

I’m taking a bit of a break from blogging until the New Year. My life will be much less complicated then. I’m looking forward to catching up on my blog reading and I’d like to check out some new blogs from the followers I picked up this past while.. Have a wonderful Holiday and I hope to see you in 2015!
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On Being “Common”

The other day I referred to someone as being “common.” Okay, so that kind of sounds like a bad thing–to be common, I mean. But it’s not and I’ll tell you why.

In my little corner of the world we use the word “common” to describe someone who is down to earth, certainty not pretentious, someone who is just “everyday,” someone you can be yourself around, no matter who you are. No need to put on heirs when you’re around someone who is just plain old “common.” A “common” person has the ability to put others at ease no matter what the circumstance. I have some people like that in my life, and I think it’s a trul wonderful thing.

Sometimes people can feel a little awkward when they find out I’m a published author. I’ll admit that people have been nervous around me in the past, at least until they get to know me. That’s when they find out I’m just an ordinary person (no bells or whistles, no fancy clothes or jewelery) and, well, writing is just something I love to do. I don’t know why. I guess we all have to have something we’re passionate about and why we feel drawn to one thing over another will likely remain a mystery. Some things just are they way they are, no sense trying to analyze them to pieces. Acceptance is a wonderful peace-maker.

As a writer, I like to write about about ordinary people, those unsung people who perhaps never have their stories told, but nonetheless deserve to have them told. We’ve all heard the adage that everyone has a story. Most people seem to believe that about other people’s stories and not their own, as if their story isn’t one worthy of being told.

But we are all important, (and we all have a story, every one of us) yet unimportant at the same time. By that I mean, that not one of us is any more important than the other. What we do for a living isn’t who we are, but simply what we do. Perhaps that’s something we should keep in mind when we’re meeting someone whose work, or life we admire, someone we might even think of as being more important in the world. Deep down we’re all the same—common. What makes us different are our life experiences, and isn’t that absolutely wonderful? To be different, I mean, to be able to share with one another the things that makes us truly unique in the world.

And since words can have a different meaning for all of us, I’m a wee but curious. What are you’re thoughts on being common? In your world is it something good or bad or in between?

Some Days I Just Want to Quit

Some days I want to know what it would feel like to abandon the page for more than a day, a week, or a month, or a year. I want to know if the longing to produce words would consume me or if I’d move onward without ever looking back. Would I choose a different way of expressing myself or would the need to express myself dissolve into the Universe never to be thought of again. Would anyone look back one day and say, “Hmm, Laura Best,  she used to be a writer, didn’t she? I wonder whatever happened to her?” Would it matter if they didn’t?

Some days I want to just quit and spend my time not thinking of that next sentence or the story that’s waiting to be written— perhaps the story that will never be written— because I’ve run out of time.

Some days I want to know what it feels like to not think about my books and whether or not anyone is reading or even caring about my work because in all honesty I know most of them don’t.

Some days I want to go in a totally different direction and forget the fact that I’m a writer. I want to play with my grandchildren, see the world through their eyes with only acceptance and love. I want to feel that love, be that love, unconditionally.

Some days I don’t want to face the fact that my writing is mediocre and not even second, or third, or fourth best. I want to throw away the numbers and simply see my writing as a gift, something to be shared with no strings attached to anyone. Sales figures won’t matter.

Some days I want to know what it would feel like to wake without that first thought being a new character, a new plot line, a new word that titillates the tongue when spoken. I want to drift off into dreamland without a story churning in my mind and just sleep. I wouldn’t be faced with the burden of getting the story right and the knowledge that no one else could tell my story. If someone else could take that same story, and mold it in their hands, would anyone even notice the difference? Of course they wouldn’t.

Some days I just want to quit, sit on that pity pot and show the world that I’m ready to give up. But the Universe doesn’t feel pity. I’ve known that since I was a child, and ended up picking myself up again and again because I finally realized that no one else would do it for me.

Some days I don’t want to be a writer at all. I just want to quit. Who cares? What difference does it make?

The answer to that is simple. It wouldn’t make any difference if I quit writing. The world would continue to spin. People would live and die. Day and night would come and go. Because you can’t miss what you’ve never known and there would be no one to grieve those unwritten stories. BUT ME.

Some days I just want to quit writing. But something won’t let me.

I won’t let me.

Tomorrow I will write. Again.

 

I’m Keeping it to Myself

Pray for me people, quite possibly I’ve angered the Facebook Gods. I know, I know, this is serious business. I mean Facebook, right?

Secret messages have been turning up in my inbox— friends who have updated their status, uploaded photos, invited me to “like” pages. It’s a conspiracy of sorts, a cleverly devised plan to lure me back. I’ve been ignoring them all, closing my eyes and shutting it all out. Delete…delete…delete… I’ve been sending these Facebook messages into oblivion.

These days, I’m taking a bit of a Facation— a little break from Facebook if you will— because I sometimes find it a bit intruding. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook (kind of) and keeping up with my family and friends, but it’s far too easy to pop on for what you think will be a few minutes but ends up being much more. When that nosy factor kicks in I sometimes can’t help myself!

I was going to mention in a status update my intention to take a bit of a break but kept putting it off. I thought I’d let others know that I’d probably still update my author page but  they shouldn’t use Facebook as a way to contact me if something needed a timely reply. I thought it would be the polite thing to do, but I didn’t get around to it and so I didn’t start my intended break. Hey, I can procrastinate with the best of them!  But sometimes procrastination gives us time to reflect, a time to rethink our intentions. And low and behold, a few days ago someone’s status update had to do with this very same subject. Cool, right? Hmmm, maybe not.

To paraphrase the status it was something along this line: If you’re going to take a break from Facebook just do it. Don’t bother announcing it because no one really cares.

Oops! For a second I thought they had read my mind! But no, it was just my social media insecurities getting the best of me. Needless to say I didn’t bother to mention my intended break. Yet I couldn’t help wondering if people really do feel this way or if this was just one person’s opinion. I have often read status updates, especially from other authors, letting us know they were taking a break but I didn’t find it upsetting in the least. I actually thought it was a smart idea, not only the break but letting others know.

One of my beefs about Facebook lately, has been the sponsored ads that keep coming up into my news feed from people and companies I’ve never heard of.  Also the fact that some people really show a lack of caring. I don’t particularly like to read negative status updates. But they’re there. Disgruntled people with gripes galore. While I do understand that people are sometimes frustrated by life, and the behaviour of others, I don’t feel as though Facebook is the right forum to discuss that frustration. However, it’s their prerogative. Luckily, I have no one on my friends list who are downright belligerent. I might be forced to eliminate them from my list if that were the case. And no one likes to be eliminated. Anyway, I’m planning to make myself scarce from FB for the next little while, not being dramatic or anything, but I’d really like to spend more time blogging. Oh yeah, and writing. I am a writer, right? Two books and about forty + short stories says I am so who am I to argue? At least not today. Maybe I’ll keep that argument for another day!

Do you take breaks from social media from time to time? Do you agree with my FB friend that you should keep your intended break to yourself and simply disappear? Do you think it’s a matter of courtesy to let your friends and followers know that you’re not simply ignoring them?

The Reader Behind That Review You Hated

My last post was about the author behind the book you hated, but in order to make this issue a bit balanced, I decided to write a post about the reviewer. When a bad review comes along, authors probably don’t stop to think about the person who actually took the time to put that review out there and what their purpose was in writing a bad review.

Right now, I’ll tell you that I don’t rate or review books and I’m sure some of you may think I have no business writing a post about the reviewer. Luckily, this is my blog so what I say goes!

Sometimes, I’m completely confused about some of the reviews I’ve read online, especially those reviews for some of the books I absolutely loved. Is that the same book I read? Nope…couldn’t possible be. But it is!  People see things in totally different ways. Just as all writers bring something different to the page so do all readers.

A friend of mine told me she had a difficult time with my last book because she grew up in a home where alcohol was a really big issue and, like the protagonist, Cammie, she didn’t know who her father was. I totally understood why she might find, “Flying with a Broken Wing” a difficult read. Cammie’s aunt Millie is a bootlegger, after all, but I never would have thought of this book as being “difficult” for anyone to read. Many people have found it funny, in fact.  Still, her comment opened my eyes a little bit to the experience that each reader brings to a book. There could be many reasons why someone disliked a book or even wrote a bad review that might not have a thing to do with the story or the writing itself. Perhaps there was something in the book that reminded them of a bad experience they had or one of the characters reminded them of someone who made their lives miserable and they just couldn’t get past that.

We can’t know what all makes up that reader’s life experience, who they are and where they’ve been. Did they grow up in a loving household? Maybe they’re unwell or feeling unloved or lonely. There are so many factors that could go into this. Perhaps the only way they have of expressing their negative feelings is to lash out in words. Perhaps again, they feel an obligation to warn other readers that they’re about to waste their valuable time reading that 500 page book that they determined was gibberish.

One thing I have come to understand about this world I live in and my experience in it, my opinion, and my expression of that opinion, is only important to me (and perhaps the sacred few who value what that opinion might be.) I have lived long enough to know that, while opinions are sometimes important, many times they really are not. What I like or what I don’t like makes absolutely no difference in the big scheme of things. We won’t all like the same book, any more than we’ll all like the same clothes or food or cars or people. Thank goodness!

I’m all for responsible reviews where a reviewer is able to give their opinion about a book, maybe even point out some obvious flaws if they feel so inclined, hopefully in a constructive way. It’s important. Diversity makes this world a better place to live.

Any writer will agree that expressing yourself through words is important. We were born to communicate, but communicating in a responsible way only makes you look classy and maybe earns you some respect along the way if you care about those things. Truthfully, those things aren’t important to everyone. I know that.

I love what author Sue Harrison had to say about my last post. If a novel is too horrible, I simply don’t review it. Why break somebody’s heart because of my (perhaps erroneous) opinion!?!”   Smart lady!

Have you ever given consideration to the reader behind the review? Has your own life experiences ever influenced your reading experience when it came to a certain book? Have you ever wondered about the reader behind that bad review?

Author Unknown

Have you ever wondered who Anonymous is? Now, I’m speaking about Anonymous in the literary sense. You know, those  people who penned the perfect poem, the absolute sublime quote that gets to the heart of our very existence. The internet is filled with these lyrical expressions that all go under the name of Anonymous or Unknown, or Author Unknown. But that is impossible of course. Someone somewhere knows, or knew, who that unknown scribe was, the scribe themselves if no one else. Words do not miraculously appear into the world all on their own. There has to be someone behind them.

A bit of poking around and I quickly discovered mountains of anonymous quotes. Here are a few that I kind of like. Seriously, the list could go on forever.

“Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.” 

 “Everything has been figured out, except how to live.” 

 “Life is not what you live but what you love” 

 “A wise man can see more from the bottom of a well than a fool can from a mountain 

 “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” 

I’m sure there are instances where the writer didn’t start out as “Anonymous” but somewhere along the way someone used their quote without remembering who the author was and, presto, they suddenly became “Anonymous.” But for the most part I think of these anonymous writers as people who perhaps wanted to draw more attention to their words of wisdom then themselves.

I do think there is something to be said about the anonymous writer, who can set their inner most thoughts down without fear or judgment of those around them. Writing is one of those professions that really puts the writer out there under public scrutiny. You only need look at some of the book reviews on Goodreads to know what I’m talking about. I’ve read some pretty despairing comments about some of my best beloved authors and books that I absolutely loved.

Expressing oneself though the written word is a little tricky by times— words of course being as powerful as they are whether spoken, written or thought. It is our way of communicating, of showing others another way of viewing the world. While some try to force their idea onto others, many people use words as a vehicle to put their ideas, believes, values, and thoughts about life into the world, and hopefully, others will appreciate what the author has to say. Some writers do this by creating people, places and events, and if we take time to examine the words within those stories we’ll often find some hidden treasure. Other writers don’t shy away from what it is they wish to express. They can get down to the real nitty-gritty of what’s on their minds. And thank goodness for that since not everyone is interested in treasure-hunting nor do they have the tools to unlock those buried nuggets. Some of us simply read for the love of a good story, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I have wondered from time to time what words would surface in my writing if I were anonymous. I do think that it would make a difference in the stories, or even blog posts, that I might produce. I’m sure there are times when many writers pull back, even a little, for fear of what others might think or wonder about them. I’ve had people say, “I don’t know what thoughts go through your head” or that my thoughts even scare them. Honestly, I think we all have our share of scary thoughts that go no farther than our own minds. Writers put these thoughts on paper for everyone to see, and that’s where the difference comes in.

Anonymous brings freedom with it, the shedding off of people’s judgment of our words and perhaps we’d be more willing to share the thoughts of “Anonymous”, hand down those precious words though the ages than, say, some writer with the last name “Best.” That’s just an example, I’m not insinuating that my words are profound or at all inspiring, but you know what I mean.

Have you ever given thought to the “Anonymous” writer? If you were “Anonymous” do you think it would change the way you express yourself in the world?

Dear Life—It’s Family Literacy day

Today is Family Literacy Day in Canada.   This year, ABC Life Literacy Canada   is encouraging families to take time each day to have “15 Minutes of Fun”.   “Time spent following a new recipe, playing a game, or reading a story together can focus on learning in a fun way. These teachable moments at home help children learn listening skills and language skills, and develop their imaginations and creativity — and are also opportunities for adults to practice their skills to keep them sharp.”  Now that doesn’t sound too hard.  It actually sounds like a lot of fun!  If you’d like to find out more click on the Family Literacy Day link above.

13530981Today, I started reading Dear Life by Alice Munro. It was a Christmas gift from my mum. I received two books for Christmas this year and have already  read the first one. I sometimes forget that once upon a time I wrote fiction for adults, so receiving these books  was a good reminder for me.

In the beginning, I started out by writing short stories, something that I absolutely loved. Along the way, my writing seemed to fit a younger audience (although there are some adults who would disagree with that statement as they seem to enjoy my stories.) But I’m not ready to turn my back on my adult fiction writing. The truth is, I hate categorizing my writing. I know, that’s a bit impractical. I much prefer thinking of myself as a writer of stories. Sometimes those stories will have kids as  a main character, and sometimes they won’t. *sigh*

But writers aren’t just writers, we’re also readers. ( That’s why things like Family Literacy day make us almost giddy. ) Most of us tend to read in the genre we write and, if we don’t, we should. I can’t stress how important that is. I’ve had people ask me how I have time to read so much, but the truth is writers have to make the time.  You can’t have one without the other. I promise. My time reading is not wasted. :)

I’ve made a commitment, to myself, to read more adult fiction in 2014 as I seem to have been focusing on books for young people. Truthfully, I like both. But at the moment it’s important for me to balance my reading a bit better than I have in the past.

In celebration of Family Literacy Day  I hope you’ll find that “15 Minutes of Fun” with your family. Remember, it’s not just for one day.

I’m open to suggestions for great reads in 2014. Let me know what you’re reading. You are reading something, right? I mean, it is Family Literacy Day.

The Two Most Powerful Words in the World

As a writer I contemplate, not only sentences and paragraphs, but individual words. I love words, all kinds of words. Not just your run-of-the-mill words, but words that have some oomph behind them, words that resonate in the thoughts and hearts of many, words that possess the power to shape our lives.

Shape our lives.” How can an itty-bitty word do all that, you might ask? I do think it’s possible, but only if you’re willing to open your mind to the possibility.

I’m not sure what the most important word in the English language is, or even if one words stands above the rest, but here are my thoughts. We could probably debate this if we wanted, but without any concrete way to prove it, it would simply be a waste of time. Undeniably is the fact that certain words have the power to evoke emotions within us. They can inspire us to do good things for ourselves and for others. They can get us up out of that chair and send us off into the world ready to participate and make a difference instead of letting life happen without us lifting a baby finger in the process. Here are some words that are all inspiring for me. You might have  your own words that hold some special meaning, but for me here are some of the biggies. In no particular order.

As you read each one take a moment to contemplate what that word means to you. Is it just a word or is there a feeling that accompanies it?

Dream

Wish

Hope

Peace

Faith

Magic

Love

While I find the above words to be SO inspiring, I started wondering the other day if I had to choose two words that totally draw me in and keeping me reaching forward in life, what would they be? What words stop me short, when I see them written out, and totally inspire me to try harder. I knew what they were without putting too much thought into it because these two words have been following me around most of my life, even when I wasn’t aware of their existence. And hey, it’s not just because I’m a writer that I can say this. They are both just truly wonderful words.

So what do I think are the two most important words in the English language?

…. Imagine

…..Believe

 

 I’d love to know, what words inspire you?

Not Such A Big Mystery, This Writing Thing of Mine

You seem like such a happy, giggly person, why are there sad undertones in your writing? That question came to me in an email earlier this week. I was impressed that this person did see the “sad undertones” in my writing, and thought it was a good question.

There is no real mystery surrounding any of this, no hidden secret I’m keeping from the rest of the world. I am a happy person. I can state that with all honesty, knowing that happiness isn’t something that comes to us from the outside. It comes from a choice we make on the inside.  This doesn’t mean I don’t know what sadness is or even understand it for that matter. I’ve lost people I’m close to, I’ve known disappointment. People have not lived up to my expectations. I don’t always get what I’d like. But I’m happy. Being happy doesn’t mean I don’t have crappy days (or weeks) or have tough, heart-wrenching decisions to make. The thing is, when I do, others rarely see it so they mistakenly believe it doesn’t exist for me, that I’m somehow immune.

None of us are immune.

No one leads a “perfect” life, even those people whose lives look perfect from the outside. If we all had perfect lives we wouldn’t be here, to learn, and share, accept, create, love.

So why does my writing have “sad undertones?”

A writer sees the world through a writer’s eye. And each writer has a different view of the world. I connect to my writing on an emotional level. It’s always been something I’ve understood very easily. It’s not difficult for me to put myself in someone else’s shoes. When I write a book, I understand the emotions my characters feel. A writer has to, even when we might not agree with their actions. A writer needs eyes in the back of their heads. We need to be observant of the world around us. We need to leave our judgments behind and let our characters be who they are, flaws and all. Because we are all flawed in our own way, whether we choose to believe it or not.

After reading an excerpt at the book launch, a friend came up to me and said, “I hate Aunt Millie already.” I agreed with her that Aunt Millie is a hard nut. But I like the character of Aunt Millie. I don’t hate her at all. She’s outspoken, and harsh, colourful in a way that makes her interesting to me. And she cares about Cammie in a way only Aunt Millie can. I promise you. Then again, I’m also privy to information about her that others aren’t. Because no matter what we see on the exterior of the people, characters in our lives, there is so much more to them than what they show the rest of the world. This is the case with Aunt Millie. She has her soft spot, but no one sees it. She can’t let that vulnerability show. She’s a bootlegger for goodness sake. She needs the world to see her as tough.

It helps to see both sides of the coin. One thing that sticks out in my childhood is something my father often said, “There are two sides to every story.” Some people argue that there are three, “your side,” “my side” and the “right side.” But life isn’t all that cut and dry. “Your side” and “my side” can both be right— right for us, that is. There really  is no third side. We all interpret life in our own way. We all see things through a different lens. We all react with different emotions. There’s a tendency in life to label things as right or wrong. But there isn’t always a right and wrong to life. Sometimes it just is, simple as that. A writer accepts their characters for who they are even when their actions aren’t the ones we might personally choose, yet we need to give them space to be who they are. Kind of like raising kids some might say.

Why are there sad undertones in my writing when the outside world sees a “happy giggly” person? The answer is quite simple. Life is sometimes sad, but rather than express that sadness to the world, I express it through the page. Writers don’t produce stories because we want to, but because we need to. We need to put the sadness and horror of this world in their rightful place to have them make sense when we all know that life doesn’t always make sense. It just is. But we all express our emotions in different ways; a writer does it with pen and paper. There’s no deep mystery, no big secret.

It just is.

We are all here to create and express life in our own unique way. We can thank God for that. Writing just happens to be mine. While it might sometimes reflect the happy side of life, it won’t always.

If you’re a writer what are your thoughts on this? Do you believe a writer brings their emotions to the page? If you’re not a writer, what form of art do you use to express yourself?

Why Do You Write?

The question as to why I write comes up from time to time in conversation. People want to know why? Why writing?

For me, it’s not an easy question to answer. It’s kind of like asking why someone prefers the colour blue over green or why they play a musical instrument or sing. No one seems to know. It’s just something that is, something that stems from inside us, makes us who we are.

Words fascinated me early on, even before I knew they fascinated me. I’ve always had this feeling that I had something to say. Mind you, I didn’t know anyone would ever read what I had to say.

Last weekend I had the chance to hear Wayne Dyer speak. I was in awe to learn how many millions of copies of his books are circulating around the world. It sure put the few thousand copies that my book sold to shame. But I wasn’t really comparing my writing to Wayne’s, nor was there even a slight twinge of jealousy. I went away wondering what it would be like to have my words touch the lives of so many people around the world. Yet, this man was as humble as you and I.

As a beginning writer, I used to wonder when or if I’d ever be good enough to have my work published. Back then publications felt like a pipe dream. Was I wasting my time and effort. Why was I even writing, subjecting myself to rejection after rejection?

For me, it wasn’t simply enough to write, I wanted my words to be read by others. That meant I had to grit my teeth, swallow my appointment,  keep my head up, my brain focused, and write on, many, many occasions.  Even when I felt like quitting.

Thank goodness the world is filled with many more doers than quitters. Imagine what would have happened if many of our great writers (who also faced their share of rejections BTW) would have given up because they weren’t up to the challenge.

This business of writing and published is filled with hurt feelings. If someone tells you they’ve never, ever felt hurt when their work was turned down, take what they say with a grain of salt. They’re obviously out of touch with their feelings. No one likes rejection. It stings. Mind you, over the years, I developed a somewhat thick skin. I was able to look past the rejections  on many occasions and keep sending my work out again and again. But every now and then a certain rejection would get to me and I’d be pulled down into the pit of despair. Yep, I got down, but more importantly, I didn’t allow myself to stay down. I became my own cheerleader. I had to if I wanted to become published. The truth is, all the good words from others won’t keep us going if we don’t believe it ourselves.

Have a great weekend, and for my Canadian readers Happy Canada Day!

 

I’ll leave you with a photo that I tried posting on Facebook, but my dial-up connection just wasn’t co-operating. It was one of several I took at the Cunard Centre the day Wayne Dyer was there.

Not so easy to get a clear photo of Wayne Dyer when he was in Halifax. Too many heads in the way and he moved around a lot on stage. He spoke for nearly three hours (not bad for a man who turned 73) and the audience hung on every word. This photo is sort of the best of the worst.

DSC03802

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