Sunday, November 13, 2005

A Heaping Helping of Creativity, Please

I teach a seminar on “Write What You Know,” to writers most of whom are just getting themselves into the writing life and trying to decide what they want to write. One of the homework assignments I give is to try to get them into the habit of journaling. I not only give the assignment, but I try to get them to see why journaling is such an important aspect of life for every writer.
When I began taking writing courses such as the one I teach some 15 or so years ago, I lost count on how many of those teachers told me how important it was to journal. The only problem was, they did not teach me why.
For budding writers, journaling helps solidify two ideas: the first being that a person wants to write everyday and the second being that they can write everyday, and for those of us who make our living at writing, we know that writing everyday is necessary in order to become better writers.
I always advise my students to try free-flow journaling. Free flow is allowing one’s mind to guide the pen or fingers on the keys to write whatever comes to mind, uncensored and unedited for a specified length of time, usually no more than 5-10 minutes.
Besides developing the habit of writing, journaling also helps us come up with story ideas and even write stories that may, someday, be of interest to the generations that follow. Journaling can lead to writing stories of particular family memories that would be of interest to our children. It can also lead to writing of feelings and memories of current importance, such as the events surrounding 9-11, Hurricane Katrina or the current political climate. In an age when emails have almost totally replaced letter writing, 100 years from now, our journals may be the only pieces of history written by ordinary citizens that students and historians can use to gage what our lives were like.
This weekend, after my class had re-assembled for the last of two meetings, one of the class members said that she actually gleaned three story ideas from her week of journaling, and she learned the reasons why journaling is so important, particularly to writers. She also reminded me of something as well: while we writers who write for pay are always on deadline and therefore, must always treat words at a premium, free flow journaling allows us to release our creativity and write, once again, without inhibition.
On this gloriously beautiful Sunday morning, I am going to dust off my journal, turn on the timer, and for just a few minutes write whatever I want.

Monday, November 07, 2005

It Wasn't My Party, But I Cried Anyway

To sum the book launch party up for "No Immediate Threat: The story of an American Veteran" in one word, it was simply amazing. For those of you who have never been at the Writer's Place, it is an 1880's era house that from the outside looks like a castle. It is ran by a non-profit organization here to support local literary arts. The venue was perfect. It is so warm and inviting, that the approximately 80 guests who attended felt immediately at home.

As it is for most parties I've hosted, the night was very busy for me, almost a blur, I didn't get to visit with anyone for a long period as I was (thankfully) busy signing books. My oldest sister, Linda and Stacy, a good friend of mine since we were 12 and who was the maid of honor at my wedding, came up from Charlotte, NC and were helping me with the bookkeeping while my poor husband and sister in law were busy keeping the food and drink tables full for our guests. Another long time friend of mine, Priscilla, who initially hired me for my first full time job during a summer I was on break from college, brought a dozen red roses, which added the final touch of elegance to my table and the room.

It had been an emotion packed couple of days for me trying to get ready for the party and I could already start to feel the tears coming on before the program and I asked Maril Crabtree, who wrote one of the back cover testimonial covers to cover for me if I could not do my portion of the reading. When I got up to the podium, it hit me that it was the people who could be there that made it such a special night. My husband and mother were there as were so many of my local friends and family. Besides Stacy, we had friends and family travel from Florida (Kirk), South Dakota (Taryn, Keith and Janet), Minnesota (Mavis and Wayne) and Colorado (Rick) to be with us. One surprise email I received last week was from a screenwriter who is a member with me in professional writers organization. He apologized for not being able to "fly in" for the party, but he asked for a book so he could start pitching it to producers!

When I opened the book to read what had always been a happy memory with my brother from my childhood, I could not do it. Maril did a wonderful job of covering for me and after I regained my composure, I was able to go on introducing the rest of the evenings' speakers, which included Peter Zevenbergen, a mental health specialist and Vietnam vet, who wrote my foreword; Dale Irwin, a good friend of my brother, Rick Baker, another Vietnam vet who wrote the other back cover testimonial and Bob Waechter, director of the Kansas City Vet Center and director of Stand Down, to which some of the proceeds were donated.

As she was getting ready to leave, another friend of mine came up and said, "Do you realize how big your book is going to be?" Whether the book makes it big or not, I think she too was struck by the enormity of the evening and I've already accomplished what I have set out to do - Steve's story and that of thousands of other veterans is not dying and people are becoming more aware.

Thank you all for being there in spirit with me on Steve's amazing night because it was not about me or the book, it was about Steve and every other veteran who has served this country.

The book has also received its first review at eKC Online by Meredith Hines-Dochterman. I couldn't have summed up the book any better if I had done it myself. Please go read the review in its entirety at: