Are You Being True to Your Writing?

As a writer, this is perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT question you need to ask yourself.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, “The Novel Dilemma: Story No Longer Relevant … Now What?” Many of you commented with empathetic remarks or great advice (thank you!). And now, I’m happy to report that I found the answer to my own question.

I am re-working my original plot line, but keeping the same two characters. I arrived, however, at this final conclusion by asking myself the question:

Be YourselfAm I being true to my writing?

Really, the props in this epiphany go to my boyfriend, Oscar—who, over chicken wings at Native New Yorker one night, said to me (as I complained how I can’t write anything great), “You’re stuck on your book, because you’re not being true to your writing.”

Whoa.

Just think about that for a moment—being true to your writing. What does that mean? Oscar spelled it out for me, plain and simple: “Shari, you’re trying to write about a girl who grew up without a father. But you never lost your father. So you can’t really understand what your character is going through.”

BINGO.

He then went on. “But you know what it feels like to be Jewish and in a relationship with someone who harbors anti-Semitic feelings.”

Are you seeing where I’m going with this yet?

It suddenly dawned on me that I was trying to be TOO CREATIVE with my writing. I was trying to write about things that I thought were exotic or conflicted, but that I didn’t really understand. I was trying to be J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald … all at the same time.

But I just had to be Shari Lopatin. And write about what Shari knows … with some exaggeration.

Suddenly, the book won’t stop flowing from my fingertips. I wrote 10 pages in two days. And I’m going like a train on fire. In addition, those who have read my first few (new) chapters said the story is MUCH more intriguing, now. Who would’ve thought?

Have you been feeling stuck in your writing?

Maybe you should do as I did. Take a hard look at your plot lines, and your themes. Are you being true to yourself, to what you know, and what you understand?

High School Poetry … and Stuff

After three years of living in my house, I’m finally clearing out the stacks of boxes in my extra bedroom.

I know … tell me about it.

Shari's High School PoetryBut whilst rummaging through old envelopes filled with random cards, scribbles and photos, I found some old high school poetry. And it really made me kinda sad. Because I realized just how creative my writing was, back then. And how much more I need to work at it now.

My boyfriend says “don’t be sad.” Because back then, my mind had the luxury of letting itself run wild. Nonetheless, blogs and social media didn’t exist when I was in high school. So I decided to give High School Shari a special treat, and publish some of her poetry, here. Please be aware that I cannot edit my blog’s theme to correctly portray stanzas, but you’ll get the gist:

The Other Side

Dwelling in the psyche of my mind,

Swimming in the heart of my soul,

Confusion overtakes to make me blind.

I cannot find

The cure to my soul,

Never so bold,

To find its way to the other side.

Drowning in the depth of despair,

Choking from the grip of fate,

My being, overtaken by its fear,

It would not hear

My cry of hate;

For Heaven’s sake!

Dear God, where is the other side?

Lost in a maze of pure anxiety,

Falling through the hole of naked deceit,

I desperately search for true prosperity;

Instead find impurity.

And so I flee,

For I cannot see

The Truth in myself,

Leading toward the other side.

A Random Paragraph, Untitled

You can’t say you understand. How could you possibly know … know what it’s like, to stand up on that stage, you … alone—and pour your heart out to an auditorium of people that you’ve transformed, all with motion and music and passion. It’s like, it’s like my heart is part of the beat of the music, and it’s not inside me, but outside me, encompassing me, pulling me with it. And when you’re done, and the lights fade, the audience cheers. No, they don’t cheer; they stand, and scream, and clap, and whistle … all for you, only you, no one else BUT you. It’s your time, your true time. How could you possibly understand that, unless you’ve lived it, lived with it for thirteen-and-a-half years, then not had it anymore?

Sometimes, we don’t realize how much we love something, until we no longer have it. Sometimes, we don’t know how much passion we felt for something, ’till it’s gone. So how—how can you understand it, unless you’ve had it?

Deliverance

Black and blue,

He sits upon

Steps anew,

Shattered dreams,

Hopes withheld,

His time is due.

Lost black eyes,

Dead stars within,

Watch the sky,

Search for worth,

Pray to find

The loveless lie.

Tender hands,

Their touch is numb,

Forever damned

By such hate,

Slaps and kicks,

For help he ran.

But now he sits,

His soul deprived,

He knows of hits,

That loveless lie.

“Come forward son,”

A voice consoles.

“Your father’s gone,

Come meet Don,

And he will take you home.”

(© All works copyrighted by Shari Lopatin. All rights reserved.)

The Novel Dilemma: Story No Longer Relevant … Now What?

Snoopy writingWhat happens if you discover your novel-in-progress is no longer relevant? Do you let it go and start a new project, or re-work your story and characters?

I ask because I’VE hit such a dilemma, and I’m turning to you for answers. I may be an experienced article-writer, journalist, and copywriter … but the world of novels is new to me.

Here’s the Deal

I began writing my work-in-progress about two years ago. It initially began as a way to vent certain life frustrations. I never took it seriously, because my “serious writing” was devoted to my journalism.

Yet, a year into sporadically writing this book, I began looking at my creative writing differently. I began getting SERIOUS. I stopped reading just for fun, and found myself re-reading certain classics and breaking them down, like my old high school days of AP English. I started this blog (Rogue Writer), and began reading other blogs of published authors willing to share a tip or two.

That’s when I realized just how much I still had to learn … at least when it came to creative writing.

Now, I’m Stuck

I’m stuck because, after two years of self-improvement and hardcore fictional short story writing, I realized my novel is no longer relevant. I can now stare at my work with a critical eye, and I realized it may not measure up. However, I’ve grown so close to my characters (I know that sounds kinda schizophrenic, but I’m sure you can relate), that I couldn’t imagine letting them go.

Their needs, their hopes are just too dang important.

Plus, what about all that time I’d dedicated to writing the current chapters? To brooding over the ins-and-outs of the characters’ quirks? The daydreaming of my novel becoming the next THE HELP or HUNGER GAMES, minus the trilogy?

I’ve Contemplated …

  • Re-working the central story; this would entail re-writing many of the chapters, and possibly taking out certain conflicts that were vital to the original story.
  • Shelving it and starting a new project (although, I’m not sure what that would be). Maybe later, I could return to this book after reaching success with another project.

Those are really the only two solutions I could muster.

What Would YOU Do?

Since many of you are serious writers (some published), maybe you could offer some advice. What would you do in my situation? Or perhaps … have you already dealt with this novel dilemma?

Here’s to All the Outcasts!

All the “weirdos,” all the “stupids,” all the “oddballs.” I’m proud to walk among you, because my uniqueness is what makes my writing stand out.

Were you ever bullied as a kid? Forced to give up your milk money? Endured long hours of whispers or sly smirks, followed by giggles behind your back?

Continue reading Here’s to All the Outcasts!

Just F-ing Write, Already!

This is what my boyfriend recently yelled at me. And ever since, I’ve screamed those same words over and over into my head.

To force myself to stop obsessing over everyone else who’s been (super) successful, and why I’m not there yet.

We’re writers, right? So for the love of GOD—just do some dang writing already! And stop worrying about “making it.”

Success Obsessions Gone Wild

You know those cool, collected writers with 500,000 Twitter followers? Who’ve been published in The New Yorker and the Boston Review, all while running a blog that everyone drools over (didn’t you read Entertainment Weekly’s review on it last week)? They always seem to sport those geeky/chic wired glasses with a quirky beret.

Yea, I want to be that writer.

And since I’m not, I’ve spent time reading their success stories. And then I analyze: When did they start their blog? How did they word their entries? Who are their connections? How long did it take them? The list goes on and on, my friends …

But in the midst of this obsessing, I’m missing one key component. I’m not writing.

Just F-ing Do it, Man!

Perhaps understanding how the “big ones” made it can help the rest of us begging to just lick the bone. However, trying to craft our success strategy around their journey is only to our detriment.

As my boyfriend pointed out, I’m wasting all my energy on analyzing and planning. Meanwhile, I have no finished products to promote to an agent or editor, since I’m not writing.

Over the past week, I’ve finally forced myself to stop reading what everyone else is doing, and just start doing sh!t myself. And you know what? Stuff’s gettin’ done … finally.

Do you ever struggle with this curse of success obsession? If so, how do you overcome and just get back to your own writing again?

Weight Watchers for Your Writing? Oh Yes …

For the first time in my life, I’m struggling with a weight problem. Not a bad one, but it’s enough.

I don’t mean to get all mushy on you; trust me, there’s a writing lesson here.

First of all, I’m sorry I missed a blog post last week. I suffered an Internet outage, and then life got crazy. Which leads me back to this whole weight thing. I was prepping for the big day this past Tuesday:

My first Weight Watchers meeting.

A Different Perspective

I’m going to take a risk and open up–just a little. I can trust you, right? Here’s the thing about me: I was always “that skinny girl.” I grew up dancing 15 hours a week: ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap, modern. I taught dance through college and ate whatever I wanted. And I never wore jeans larger than a size 4.

(Sigh)

That lasted until about age 25. I then found myself wearing a size 6. And last year a size 8. I’m not one of those tall, model-like girls either. I’m 5’3.

My point is, I always saw the world one way. I had a six-pack at age 5 (I kid you not. I have photos for proof), and ever since, I could wear cute clothes. I could model bikinis. And if I wanted, I could have picked on the girls struggling with their weight. I didn’t, I’m not like that. 

But I also never considered their world. Until now.

Are You Pushing Past Your Comfort Zone?

I attended a Weight Watchers meeting on Tuesday, excited to change my life. With about five women and one man. All were supportive, all wanted to lose weight.

And all were empathetic to my plight.

Although I never judged women for struggling with weight before, I never considered how walking in their shoes affected so much. Your self-esteem. Your clothing selection. Your energy. Your avoidance of little things like photos or reunions. But also the magic that happens when other women, friends and family rally around you.

And as a writer, how could I EVER have written a story about a girl struggling with weight?

Because I never pushed myself to see things from another perspective, I limited my creativity as a writer. I never avoided seeing things through these other eyes on purpose. Rather, it just never occurred to me.

I Challenge You …

Stop and think for a moment. I mean, really think.

What perspective have you either refused to consider, or accidentally overlooked? What pair of shoes have you never walked in? And how can you force yourself to understand that outlook?

Here are some aspects to consider:

  • A recovering drug addict
  • A woman in an abusive marriage (who refuses to leave)
  • An undocumented immigrant
  • A blind man or woman
  • A corporate lawyer
  • A trust fund baby
  • A high school or college dropout

Should you interview those living that life? Should you spend a week with them? How can you push yourself past your comfort zone?

Maybe it’s time to try Weight Watchers for your writing. And set yourself free.

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Inspire Yourself with these 6 Themes

I’ve been on a creative binge lately. And for the New Year, I want to help inspire you, too!

I’ve been reading books and writing stories about some of the deepest, most profound themes I know.

You know, those deep, dark ideas that give a story its umph. That inspire us to reconsider our own lives. I’m not an English scholar, I’m just a journalist who also writes creatively … and who lives for stories.

To read them. To write them. To share them.

Huntington Beach, Copyright 2011 Shari LopatinSo I can’t tell you exactly why these themes resonate better than others. And of course, I can only speak for myself. However, I’ve noticed, some themes inspire us more than others.

And these are them:

1. Family

As a human race, perhaps one of our strongest Hierarchy of Needs, is the need to belong. The need for family. Think Fiddler on the Roof, or Sound of Music. Family doesn’t have to encompass a Brady Bunch story. The complicated love between rival brothers can tear at your heart more than a summer romance. Or, think of an orphan who’s sought a sense of family throughout her life, only to find rejection time and time again.

2. War

If you haven’t already, go see War Horse. War is such a great setting and theme for any story, because it offers the opportunity for many smaller, underlying themes. A husband and wife can reunite after years apart, thinking the other was dead. A sworn enemy can suddenly become a best friend. What does war make us realize about ourselves, as a society, and as individuals?

3. Guilt, and Redemption

Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, tells us that in every story, something or someone must die, or be saved. The theme of guilt and redemption can take us, literally, to that place. What deed in someone’s past could drive that person into utter self-destruction … and what power or action could literally free them, from their own cage? If you’ve ever read The Kite Runner, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

4. Wanting What You Can’t Have

A blind man who longs to see. A woman in love with a married man. A father who would give his life to hold his son, one final time. When we hear stories of others longing for what can never be theirs, we empathize. Our hearts literally ache for this character, as if we’d experienced his or her pain ourselves (and often times, we have).

5. A Forced Life Change

I saw the previews to a movie called The Vow, based on true events. A married couple of five years are in a car accident and both fall into a coma. The wife awakens with no memory. Her husband is a stranger. However, his love for her drives him to try and recreate their relationship, with the hopes his wife will fall in love with him again. Imagine if tomorrow, something dramatic happened to you, or someone you love. Suddenly, you lose your legs, or your child goes blind. How would you, and your loved ones, cope?

6. Identity and Heritage

I once heard a true story about a Mexican-American woman who grew up poor and ashamed of her heritage. When invited to speak at a prestigious event, her mother sewed a traditional Mexican dress for her daughter. The young woman refused it, and instead bought her own. She later married, and refused to teach her children Spanish. Years later, after her mother died, she found the old dress in her mother’s attic, boxed away. This time, she broke down crying. Denial—or even hatred—of one’s self-identity can drive destruction of epic proportions.

Me, in college

WHAT ABOUT YOU? What themes do you find inspiring, lasting? What can you never read enough of, or write too much of?

Miracle off 28th Ave. on Tuesday Afternoon

Happy New Year! And I’m taking a break … LOL!

Instead, please enjoy this short blog post I wrote a year ago. About a beautiful experience I had, and I’d like to share with you. Let the music begin …

A Miracle off 28th Ave. on Tuesday Afternoon

Posted on December 28, 2010, by Shari Lopatin

It started with a simple routine walk during my lunch break.

Through the same neighborhood and past the same ordinary houses occupied by the same aging couples. Wearing the same workout clothes, and pounding the pavement with the same 2-year-old tennis shoes.

I continued walking down my routine path this Tuesday afternoon, feeling the steady pace of my feet below, when I heard it. Like an angel singing to me from another dimension, it sliced through the deafening silence of the neighborhood.

Music. Pure, dramatic piano notes dancing in the gentle breeze. Climbing up my spine and into my ears, filling me with an electric energy I hadn’t felt in years.

I stopped in my tracks–searching to my left, to my right. From where did this heavenly melody arise? I knew this tune, one of the first I’d learned as a little girl: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music.

I suddenly realized this was no recording. It was live, and the individual playing was no amateur. Here I was, my work’s I.D. hanging from my neck, toes peeking through tips of old sneakers wearing away, standing in the middle of a retired neighborhood, and enjoying a live piano concert with the sun beating on my face.

My senses led me to the cozy, one-story house across the street from where I stood. With their windows open, oblivious to my undivided admiration, a shadowed face played for me.

Man or woman, boy or girl, I did not know. But their passion sang to my passion, their beauty filled my soul, and I drifted away as their music mounted higher into the crisp autumn air. I used to fall asleep this way, drifting to the sounds of hypnotic notes as my father played into the night.

That’s when I realized a miracle took place off 28th Ave. this Tuesday afternoon. I’d broken free. Away from Corporate America. Away from the cubicles, the computer screens and the repetition.

And I flew.

What Are You Willing to Sacrifice to Write?

I first met Lynette Benton on Twitter, and soon discovered what a great writing instructor she makes! That’s why I invited Lynette to write a guest post for Rogue Writer. Today she asks, what would YOU be willing to sacrifice to write? Read (and see) Lynette’s hilarious answer below …

What Are You Willing to Sacrifice to Write?

BY: LYNETTE BENTON

I left my full time job, partly so I’d have time to write.

I only attend every third or fourth birthday, graduation, baby shower, wedding, anniversary, and random celebration hosted by my husband’s huge family. (They’re very forgiving; or they just want me to finish this darn memoir they keep hearing about.)

I descended from my husband’s and my lofty culinary standards by occasionally substituting garlic powder for the freshly peeled deal.

I arranged to teach all my writing classes on only two days a week.

For the 25 years I’ve been with my husband, I’ve let him indulge his passions for vacuuming, doing laundry, and grocery shopping.

But, still, I felt too busy to make as much progress on my memoir rewrites as I wanted to. I had to get drastic.

Years ago …

… a friend with the kind of hair women swoon over, became a White House fellow. He told me that to succeed in this enviable new position, he was making some major changes. Then he waltzed into my apartment with his big, shiny curls cut short and slicked down.

“I’m wearing it like this for the duration,” he said.

Lynette before cutting her hair
Lynette before cutting her hair

Well, my hair is nice, but quite difficult to manage. So one day last spring, I had four inches trimmed from my footlong mane. Nice. But it still took a ton of time to wash, comb, and arrange.

At my wits’ end, I announced to my husband, “It’s either the memoir or the hair. One’s got to go.”

I crept into a hair salon where no one knew me, so they wouldn’t tell me my hair was too pretty to chop off. “Cut it down to an inch all over,” I ordered.

Even after three months of short, short hair, I still don’t look like myself to myself. But my memoir rewrite is moving along at a steady clip now.

 

You don’t need to be as drastic … 

Lynette after cutting her hair
Lynette after cutting her hair

… as I was to free up time and energy to write. Because that’s what we’re talking about here, isn’t it? It’s not just time that we writers need; we need energy—creative energy, physical energy. (Only non-writers think it doesn’t require a lot of energy to write for four or six hours a day.) So here are some actions you can take to give yourself more time (and energy) to write:

  • Marry someone with a small, unsocial family.
  • Slash your online memberships in half. Social media is great for writers. It’s critical for platform building, and it’s nice to connect with other writers and the rest of humanity after a day of writing in solitude. But, if you belong to 50 LinkedIn groups, as I did, you know it’s impossible to keep up with all of them. Cut your list to 25—as I did. Then see what other online communities you just don’t need to receive any more emails from.
  • One day a week, don’t venture farther than your porch, or if you don’t have one, your windows. Getting dressed and commuting anywhere use up time and energy.
  • Forget about nail polish, unless you’ve been invited to the White House or Buckingham Palace. (This one was really hard for me!)
  • Don’t iron anything. In fact, wear a uniform. I’m sure Steve Jobs’ success can be attributed partly to the fact that he never had to worry about what to wear.
  • My friend Lesley says to wear paper cuffs you can write on while waiting in the grocery store checkout line, if you’re not concerned about looking a little insane.
  • My husband wants me to add that it’s not necessary to change your clothes every day. But you might not want to try that at home.

**********************************

Lynette Benton’s articles and essays have appeared in newspapers, Skirt, More Magazine online, and numerous other publications. She teaches and edits creative and business writing in the Greater Boston Area. Her memoir, My Mother’s Money, is in the revision stages. Visit Lynette’s blog, Tools & Tactics for Creative Writers. Contact her at relief11@comcast.net, or on Twitter at @LynetteBenton.