by Lillian Csernica on February 4, 2015
I’ve been writing in one form or another for most of my life. I’ve been a professional writer, i.e. I’ve been getting paid to write, for the past twenty-one years. (Yes, that’s right, my career is now legal in all fifty states. :-D) There is a whole lot to learn about writing, and about being a writer. Tonight I want to share with you some personal truths that I’ve distilled out of all the how-to books, the conventions, the writing classes, and the writing itself.
- Good writing hurts. Dorothy Parker once wrote, “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart,” but that’s exactly what we have to do. If it doesn’t make us laugh or cry or get so angry we want to throw things, then how can we expect it to move our readers? Some writers say you have to be willing to write about what scares you, what you can’t bear to think about, what causes you so much pain you spend a lot of your energy avoiding it. Example: I really don’t like to talk about my miscarriage. I lost my first son. I had to bury my baby. Nothing on earth could possibly hurt that badly. I have a story underway that features a woman who ends up in the psych ward by accident. The seventy-two hour hold forces her to get in touch with the recent loss of her first baby. I’ve read parts of the story in my writing class with tears streaming down my face.
- Fortune favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur said it first. I was a screenwriter in Hollywood for a while. How did this happen? I sent a letter to a martial arts star asking where I could get some promo photos of him because I wanted to use his image as the model for the hero in the novel I was writing at that time. Two weeks went by. One afternoon the phone rang. It was him, calling me to talk about more than just some photos. The crux of the conversation was simple: Did I know how to write screenplays? I answered with an honest no, but I also said my best friend knew how and could teach me. The star asked me to come up with some ideas to pitch to him and he’d call me back the next day. My best friend and I came up with one historical and one contemporary premise. When the star called back, I pitched the ideas and he liked what he heard. That led to several meetings, two screenplays, and one offer for one of the screenplays. We didn’t get as far as the green light, but we got a whole lot farther than we might have. All I’d originally wanted was some headshots. I ended up hanging out with movie stars. Not a bad deal, even if it didn’t turn into long-term money.
- I can write anywhere, at any time. This is a skill I’ve had to develop thanks to never knowing when I might end up in the ER because my older son has had a severe seizure. When my younger son comes home from school, I need to be available for homework and conversation and to be the reassuring presence he needs. I’ve written at my son’s bedside in the ER at 4 a.m. I’ve dragged myself through a scene in late morning after a sleepless night thanks to insomnia. I’ve edited manuscripts in the car going to and from doctor appointments. Don’t talk to me about “being in the mood” or “courting the Muse.” I live with clinical depression. I’m NEVER in the mood, and I damn well write anyway.
- We must by any and all means encourage our children to use their imaginations. My son Michael cannot speak. What he can do is paint and play Story Dice and use adaptive communication equipment that helps him talk to his teachers and his classmates. My son John is ASD with speech delay and sensory processing disorder. It’s very difficult at times for him to deal with frustration or anxiety. His imaginary friends, adopted from books and movies, help him cope. His talent for drawing helps him express what he can’t manage to verbalize. For both of my sons, their imaginations are the keys that unlock the cells in which they might otherwise be trapped by their special needs. All children need to develop their imaginations as a crucial tool in the learning process.
What’s so great about imaginative play? In his book Natural Childhood , John Thomson writes: “If the imagination is well nurtured in its first dawning, it can be a sheet anchor throughout life. Imagination in play provides the basis for the child to grow up and eventually to live in the outside world.” The idea here is that if children are given ample time to create and live in the world of the imagination that they are building skills they will need to become flexible, successful adults. Thomson goes on to say “To give full scope to the imagination, the child needs only simple things to play with. She does not need toys that are too ‘perfect’ and her creativity can even be hampered by this type of toy, because there is nothing for her imagination to work on.”
From a series of articles by author and educator Elizabeth Slade
- Tell the stories that only you can tell. When I was 18, I spent two months living in the Netherlands. One weekend I took a bus trip to Paris. There I was, sitting in the shotgun seat next to the bus driver, feeding him orange slices and M&Ms while he told me stories about being a tour guide. I am the only person who can tell this story. When I was 6 years old, I woke up one night and heard this horrible noise like a growl that stopped and started, stopped and started again. I thought it was one of the monsters from “Scooby Doo.” Many years later I realized it was just my father snoring. There are probably children who can tell comparable stories, but only I can tell that one. Only I can describe the few inches of the baby blanket my mother-in-law had been knitting for my baby James. We wrapped him in it when we laid him in his little white coffin. The silver crucifix from that coffin hangs on the wall beside me as I type this. Only I can say these words.
What are your personal truths? About writing or about whatever is most important to you?