Everyone Wants a Piece of You – Including Us Writers

We live, if we ever let ourselves to really live, to hope, to fear, to elegies of beauty and pain, terror and hate.

A woman on the street, a tourist, shepherding her family past the t-shirt shops and towards the ice cream shop said in a loud enough voice for everyone around to hear. “You can’t be too careful in this world. Everyone wants a piece of you.”

Maybe.

Or do we all want a piece of everyone?

I live in farmhouse in the middle of town across the back dirt lot of our local YMCA and in between a house under construction for about ten years and another that seems to be part of a magical landscape, blending in with boulders and spruce and grass. It’s a good place to hermit without seeming like a hermit because this world doesn’t want hermits, does it? It wants people to explode onto scenes, to reach tall and high like seedlings in the summer garden, hoping to capture the sun.

People tend to think of that want—the discovery, the authenticity, the soul-brightness—as something to hermit away from and we tend to shy down our true selves to fit in.

When the woman on the street wrapped an arm around one of her sons, he had the face of adolescent horror, eyes wide and moving back and forth to see if anyone had heard, still hoping that his connection with his mother wasn’t quite so obvious, maybe? He ducked under her arm.

I have no idea if that’s what he was thinking or if that was what his mother was thinking. But he ducked under arm and without a beat, she grabbed the hand of the other child and tugged him forward. His stride quickened, little legs trying to keep up.

The boy’s glance hit mine. I smiled. He didn’t smile back. I wanted to tell him that he was safe from me, that I didn’t want a piece of him, but here I am now, days later, writing about him, which makes me wonder, maybe I do?

Why do we notice the things we notice? Why can I remember the brown, horrified eyes of that boy?

Another kid was sitting on a bench near us with his parents watching it all. His parents were on their phones. He just sat there doing nothing for at least twenty minutes, but when he saw that other kid, he smiled like a tiny bit of encouragement and this time, that original boy smiled back.

Van Gogh allegedly once said, “I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.

Sometimes that love blossoms from a smile, a recognition, a seeing, a noticing.

Artists, writers, lovers want pieces of understanding and from that understanding (or even from the lack of it) love comes.

Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”

How beautiful is it that writers and artists and people allow their souls to crawl out from hiding, to sprawl and lift images on canvasses and pages and in offerings of expression and sympathy as they give the world a piece of them freely. That’s a big kind of love and a big kind of trust. And it happens over and over again.

NEW BOOK ALERT!

What would you do to make a difference?

After his best friend Norah was almost abducted, Cole Nicholaus has spent most of his childhood homeschooled, lonely and pining for Norah to move from best friend to girl friend status. When birds follow him around or he levitates the dishes, he thinks nothing of it—until a reporter appears and pushes him into making a choice: stay safe at home or help save a kidnapped kid.

Cole and Norah quickly end up trying to not just save a kid, but an entire town from a curse that has devastating roots and implications for how exactly Cole came to be the saint that he is.

Can Cole stop evil from hurting him and Norah again? And maybe even get together? Only the saints know.

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the NEED seriesSaint is a book about dealing with the consequences that make us who we are and being brave enough to admit who we love and what we need.

BUY NOW! 🙂 I made a smiley face there so you don’t feel like I’m too desperate.

The cover. Creepy, right?

You can read an excerpt right here.

Cheating On Yourself

I was once on a panel at a writing convention in Oklahoma and made fast enemies with the agent (now an editor) on the panel.

Why?

Because I disagreed.

I’m a pretty mellow human most of the time, but if you say something that I think might not allow people to ascend, to be themselves, or something full of hate? I’m terrible at being silent about that.

I mean, I’m not cable-news tv forceful, but I speak my mind.

What had the agent said?

It wasn’t anything scandalous, honestly.

She just said, “You should only write in your genre. No author is successful if they write in multiple genres. You can’t jump genres.”

And I objected and listed authors who did write successfully in multiple genres. M.T. Anderson. Anne Rice. Elizabeth Gilbert. At that moment, I had just jumped from literary young adult to genre young adult with a book that made me an international bestseller.

She wasn’t cool about me disagreeing.

I disagreed anyway. The reason that I did that is yes, it’s easier to brand and market your art or your writing and generally make more money if you only write one thing. But it’s also limiting.

If you are a person who writes erotic werewolf novels who wants to write a picture book about happy hamsters? You should do it.

Limiting our selves and our art to one specific genre or story or way of being? One specific process? One specific type of heroine or character or fight scene?

We don’t have to do that. We can cheat on our norms and even on our own (and our readers/reviewers) expectations if we want to do that.

Trying new things, cheating on your writing, your art? It can transform you. It can expand you. It can make you bigger and better and stronger and more powerful even if it’s a fail, even if nobody likes it or reads it, but you.

When we push beyond the boxes and labels that surround us (whether we give it to ourselves or others give it to us), we become interesting.

Interesting is so much more fun than dull.

Interesting is being alive, being quirky, being an explorer, being curious, being a doer.

And sometimes being interesting means being on a panel and disagreeing with a hot-shot agent and having her glare at you.

No. I’ll never work with that editor because of that interaction. Do I care? Nope. Because that editor is safe. That editor isn’t interesting. And that editor would hold me back even though people think she’s a genius. She probably is. She’s just not my kind of genius.

We all have people like her in our lives, people who keep us from being brave, trying new things. You don’t have to be a writer to know this.

However, we also do it to ourselves. We hold ourselves back. We are afraid to try. We follow other people’s paths and edicts and hope that we will be successful like them instead of forging our own way.

Here’s the thing: You will fail sometimes.

You will get rejected or hurt and it will suck. But it is worth it. Because failing means that you took a damn chance on something, on yourself, on another person. Failing means that you were brave and that you are growing and that you are exploring and it means that you’re interesting.

The interesting people are the innovators. The interesting people who go after their dreams and desires? They change the world. They move the world. They inspire the world.

So go out there. Cheat on yourself. Move on. Do you art in different ways. Do your work in different ways. Do your life in different ways. Try all the things. Be interesting. You’ve got this.


NEW BOOK ALERT!

What would you do to make a difference?

After his best friend Norah was almost abducted, Cole Nicholaus has spent most of his childhood homeschooled, lonely and pining for Norah to move from best friend to girl friend status. When birds follow him around or he levitates the dishes, he thinks nothing of it—until a reporter appears and pushes him into making a choice: stay safe at home or help save a kidnapped kid.

Cole and Norah quickly end up trying to not just save a kid, but an entire town from a curse that has devastating roots and implications for how exactly Cole came to be the saint that he is.

Can Cole stop evil from hurting him and Norah again? And maybe even get together? Only the saints know.

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the NEED seriesSaint is a book about dealing with the consequences that make us who we are and being brave enough to admit who we love and what we need.

BUY NOW! 🙂 I made a smiley face there so you don’t feel like I’m too desperate.

The cover. Creepy, right?

You can read an excerpt right here.

The Magic of Numbers – How Novelists and Writers Can Use Them For Impact

I know! I know! We’re writers not accountants or mathematicians, but there is a great lovely magic to using numbers in our sentences and paragraphs.

What a lot of people don’t know about my writing life is that I started out intensely focused on newspaper stories and poetry.

What the what?

Yep. It’s true. I was actually a sports reporter and a poet for awhile. And it’s weird, but also lucky, because it allowed me to get some training that not all novelists get. And this post calls back to that training.

Here’s the thing: Numbers, repetition, lack of repetition? They all have their place in our writing arsenal. We can use them to make impact.

Poets repeat elements purposefully and us writers can use that tool in our own writing, too.

What exactly am I talking about?

I’m talking about the elements of a sentence and how we can vary them or not to stress things or to make them lyrical.

A lot of us writers have favorite kinds of sentences. We might be fans of simplicity or of multiple clauses. We might be all about starting every sentence with “he” or be addicted to beginning with a subordinate clause. You’ll write a paragraph like this:

He walked outside. He went up to a tree. He hugged the tree. The tree didn’t hug him back.

Or . . .

As he walked outside, he went up to a tree and hugged it. While he hugged the tree, a bird fluttered by and chirruped.

We get in these ruts of style and structure and we are lulling the reader a bit, right? It gets boring.

No writer wants to be boring!

Now, I want you to imagine that you are a writer supervillain and your job is to manipulate your reader into feeling what you want them to feel. You’ve taken away their agency and through the sheer power of your storytelling tool box, you are making them cry and worry and imagine and feel.

But to manipulate our sweet readers to the best of our abilities, we have to be able to access all our tools and this is one of them.

One – The Simple Sentence.

This is the kind of sentence that tells us one thing. It’s probably an important thing.

Jesus wept.

Hug me.

The boy was dumb.

Trust them.

These are the sentences where we don’t give the reader any room to doubt. They are simple. They are declarations. There is nothing fancy going on.

Two – Things Get Deeper

When we add another element, the reader suddenly has a slightly different feeling about the sentence and the character. Traits are thrown out there. Do those traits make sense together? Are they odd together? There is power in both of those decisions.

Jesus wept and snored.

Hug me and the manatee

The boy was dumb and enthusiastic.

Trust them and the dogs.

Things are different now, aren’t they?

Here’s a great example.

“The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow.” – Claudia Rankine, Citizen

When we put two things together, life and story aren’t quite so simple anymore. We’re making the reader think.

Three – Making Magic

In the Western writing world, the power of three is a thing in both narrative structure and paragraph/sentence structure. Editors look for it in picture books where the main character has to try three times before succeeding in their goals.

The most common type of book structure thanks to Aristotle? Beginning. Middle. End. Three acts.

Even Christianity gets in on it with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—the holy trinity, right?

Jesus wept and snored and wept.

Jesus wept and snored and washed his feet.

Hug me and the manatees and rejoice.

The boy was dumb and enthusiastic and dead.

Trust them and the dogs and maybe not the gerbils.

With three we have that resonating power, but we also have the chance for humor and a twist. Things aren’t so simple any more, not so declarative. But they feel done—complete—resonating.

It’s also kind of fun to look at it without the AND in there connecting things.

Jesus wept, snored, and wept.

Jesus wept, snored, and washed his feet.

Hug me, the manatees,  rejoice.

The boy was dumb, enthusiastic, and dead.

Trust them, the dogs, and maybe not the gerbils.

It’s interesting how much difference a tiny AND can make, isn’t it?

Here’s an excerpt that shows the power of three followed by the power of two.

“I wonder if I would tell him what I became, what I made of myself, what I made of myself despite him. I wonder if he would care, if it would matter.” – Roxane Gay, Hunger

So good, right?

Four And Up

The simplicity of one? Gone.

The duality and occasional divisiveness of two? Gone.

The magical completeness of three? Gone.

We are into the land of over four. And four and more? That’s a lyrical place.

Jesus wept, snored, and wept, smiling.

Jesus wept, snored, and washed his feet without water.

Hug me, the manatees, and rejoice and sigh.

The boy was dumb, enthusiastic, dead, and full of yearnings. 

Trust them, the dogs, and maybe not the gerbils and maybe not the crickets either since they never stopped running in circles (gerbils) and running their mouths (crickets).

Okay, maybe my super villain writing examples weren’t so lyrical, but here are some better examples. Look at what Jacqueline Woodson does here:

“Our words had become a song we seemed to sing over and over again. When I grow up. When we go home. When we go outside. When we. When we. When we.” – Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn

One of the most famous practitioners of this is Tim O’Brien.

They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.” – Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Roy Peter Clark talks about this concept a lot, but he also makes a lovely primer that really shows what each element can do.

“Use one for power.

Use two for comparison, contrast.

Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness.

Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, expand.”

Yes, Carrie, that’s all well and good, you’re probably thinking, but how do I apply this to MY story.

Well, you can apply it to make special moments snazzier or more powerful.

When you go over a scene, look for places where you want to be powerful. Use the one. Look for places where you want a litany, create that O’Brien list. Think about how your dastardly writer supervillain self wants to make the reader feel. Where would it help the reader to add on things/images/examples? Where would it help the reader to subtract those same things?

It really is a skill that I’m positive you can do and use to make your writing even more brilliant than it already is.

BE A PART OF OUR MISSION!

Hey! We’re all about inspiring each other to be weird, to be ourselves and to be brave and we’re starting to collect stories about each other’s bravery. Those brave moments can be HUGE or small, but we want you to share them with us so we can share them with the world. You can be anonymous if you aren’t brave enough to use your name. It’s totally chill.

Want to be part of the team? Send us a quick (or long) email and we’ll read it here and on our YouTube channel.

LET’S HANG OUT!

HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?

MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?

JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK AND FIND OUT HOW WE CAN INTERACT MORE.


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast and our new LOVING THE STRANGE podcast.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. 


Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

Thanks so much for being one of the 261,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

One of our newest LOVING THE STRANGE podcasts is about the strange and adorably weird things people say?

And one of our newest DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE episode is about fear setting and how being swallowed by a whale is bad ass.


And Carrie has a new book out! Yay!

You can order now! It’s an adult mystery/thriller that takes place in Bar Harbor, Maine. Read an excerpt here!

best thrillers The People Who Kill
The people who kill

It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.

And that one is called  THOSE WHO SURVIVED, which is the first book in the the DUDE GOODFEATHER series.  I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it!

The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones

TO TELL US YOUR BRAVE STORY JUST EMAIL BELOW.

Knowing When To Be A Writer Show-OFF

I ended up talking to some of my writers about this, this past weekend, so I thought I’d share it with everyone. It’s pretty fun stuff and a helpful thing to know.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it,” said novelist Elmore Leonard.

Sometimes writers fall in love with words, and that seems like a lovely thing, right? Words are writers’ commodity. Writers are word merchants. They deal in words, flinging around and ordering about on the page in the hopes of creating an army of sentences that become a story.

But sometimes writers (like everyone else) show off.

And that showing off makes readers go, “Blech.”

Readers who go ‘blech’ are readers who probably aren’t going to keep reading. No writer wants that because then their words and stories don’t have a chance to motivate or distract or move the reader. Plus, crap reviews.

In his book, Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark writes:

“Most writers have at least two modes. One says, “Pay no attention the writer behind the curtain. Look only at the world.” The other says, without inhibition, “Watch me dance. Aren’t I clever fellow?”

He likens these to understatement (the first mode) and overstatement or hyperbole (the second mode).

You don’t want your readers to be noticing all your writing adroitness and flourishes and showing off.

You also don’t want to be so underwhelming during really important moments that the reader shrugs and says, “Should I care that the universe imploded and Lassie died?”

Clark creates a little rule that he says works for him.

“The more serious or dramatic the subject, the more the writer backs off, creating the effect that the story tells itself. The more playful or inconsequential the topic, the more the writer can show off. Back off or show off.”

Here are a couple of examples where I’m writing about the same thing.

So, I was at the Boston Marathon today to take pictures of my friend, Lori, running and then crossing the finish line. Before the marathon I had lunch with my daughter Em. She was nervous.

“I have a bad feeling,” she said. “You need to be careful.”

“You have no faith in me. I am a perfectly capable person.”

“I just am worried.”

“I will be fine,” I told her. I insisted it, actually.

But I did several things that I don’t normally do. I didn’t take the T. I chose to walk from Cambridge to mile 25.5 or so of the race route. I figured out the T route and everything, but I just didn’t want to go on it. Walking was healthier, I figured. I was going to watch a marathon.

Pretty understated, right?

Here’s me writing that flamboyantly.

It is the kind of day where people blossom into heroes in Boston and become a part of a legend, a story bigger than themselves, the day of the marathon, a day of heaving chests, heartbreak hills, strangers cheering them on for just moving forward, step by step, mile by mile, until the make it (or don’t) to the finish line. My friend Lori was one of those people—the hopefuls, the push-your-way-through-its, the runners.

While she was on mile eighteen or so, my daughter and I were having lunch in Cambridge before I’d leave her to the doldrums of college and head out to the race route, somewhere around mile 25.5.

Before I left, my daughter hugged me. She smelled of hummus and coconut shampoo, her windblown hair flinging itself into my cheek as she said, “I have a bad feeling.”

You see the difference, right?

How do you work on this in your own writing?

Look at other people’s writing. Newspapers are great examples of this. What stories are on page one because of how they are written versus how newsy they actually are.

Take one of your own scenes and rewrite it like it’s spare bones. Then rewrite it like you’re trying for a very flowery Pulitzer.

Read humor. Great humorists have really mastered the difference between hyperbole and understatement and use it so well.

I took this when I was running this week. It’s so beautiful here.

BE A PART OF OUR MISSION!

Hey! We’re all about inspiring each other to be weird, to be ourselves and to be brave and we’re starting to collect stories about each other’s bravery. Those brave moments can be HUGE or small, but we want you to share them with us so we can share them with the world. You can be anonymous if you aren’t brave enough to use your name. It’s totally chill.

Want to be part of the team? Send us a quick (or long) email and we’ll read it here and on our YouTube channel.

LET’S HANG OUT!

HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?

MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?

JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK AND FIND OUT HOW WE CAN INTERACT MORE.


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast and our new LOVING THE STRANGE podcast.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. 


Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

Thanks so much for being one of the 261,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

One of our newest LOVING THE STRANGE podcasts is about the strange and adorably weird things people say?

And one of our newest DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE episode is about fear setting and how being swallowed by a whale is bad ass.


And Carrie has a new book out! Yay!

You can order now! It’s an adult mystery/thriller that takes place in Bar Harbor, Maine. Read an excerpt here!

best thrillers The People Who Kill
The people who kill

It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.

And that one is called  THOSE WHO SURVIVED, which is the first book in the the DUDE GOODFEATHER series.  I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it!

The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones

TO TELL US YOUR BRAVE STORY JUST EMAIL BELOW.

Three Super Common Writing Mistakes Explained

If someone writes its for it’s or lay for lie? It doesn’t mean they deserve to die or get your hairy eyeball of judgement. It just means they made a mistake. It’s part of being human. And it’s okay.

All you all,

I am the WORST copyeditor for my own work. I’ll admit it and that’s because as a writer, I’m too close to it to pick out my errors, right?

That’s why it’s good to have other people read your stories before you put them out there.

Every day or everyday

What the what, right? There’s a difference?

Yes, yes, there is.

Everyday when it’s all one word is an adjective. That means it’s describing something that happens all the time.

Dreaming about manatees is an everyday occurrence for Carrie.

Every day when it’s two separate words is an adverbial phrase. Doesn’t that sound fancy and terrifying? Adverbial phrase.

It just means “each day.”

Every day Carrie dreams about manatees.

The magic apostrophe

I talk about apostrophes a lot and that’s because a lot of us just haven’t gotten the memo yet. That’s okay! Don’t be hard on yourself. Here’s the memo again.

Apostrophes have two main jobs.

Job #1 is to show that something is possessing something else. No! Not in an exorcism kind of way, but an ownership kind of way.

The manatee’s flipper was so cute.

The manatee owns that flipper. It possesses it.

Job #2 is to show there’s some letters missing because we have smooshed or contracted two words together.

So, ‘It is’ becomes it’s. The apostrophe is replacing the I in ‘is.’

Or ‘they are’ becomes they’re. The apostrophe is replacing the A in ‘are.’

A lot of us write a word and maybe that word ends in an s. We go, “AH! It ends in an s. There should be an apostrophe in there, right? I shall put one in.”

Right: Apostrophes are cute little buggers and it’s hard to resist them.

Wrong: Apostrophe’s are cute little buggers and it’s hard to resist them.

Lose it or Loose it?

These words are evil little buttfaces. It’s that double ‘o’ versus single ‘o’ that gets our brains all hooked up. Choose or chose has this issue too.

Why are those o’s so confusing? I don’t know, but I do know that when I was little, I loved to put pupils inside them and make a smiley face.

LOOSE means not tight. It rhymes with booze!

LOSE means you have lost something. You poor honey.

CHOOSE means you have to make a choice. It’s the present. It’s happening now. It also rhymes with booze!

CHOSE means you already made that choice. Are you regretting it?

Spoiler Alert: Don’t be a douchebag about other people’s grammar mistakes.

Here’s the thing: We are all human. We all make mistakes. It is not the end of the world and other humans (the good ones) shouldn’t be trolls about it. No offense to trolls. But we all have to be a little less harsh, a little less judgmental and a lot more understanding and forgiving.

If someone writes its for it’s or lay for lie? It doesn’t mean they deserve to die or get your hairy eyeball of judgement. It just means they made a mistake. It’s part of being human. And it’s okay.

BE A PART OF OUR MISSION!

Hey! We’re all about inspiring each other to be weird, to be ourselves and to be brave and we’re starting to collect stories about each other’s bravery. Those brave moments can be HUGE or small, but we want you to share them with us so we can share them with the world. You can be anonymous if you aren’t brave enough to use your name. It’s totally chill.

Want to be part of the team? Send us a quick (or long) email and we’ll read it here and on our YouTube channel.

LET’S HANG OUT!

HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?

MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?

JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK AND FIND OUT HOW WE CAN INTERACT MORE.


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast and our new LOVING THE STRANGE podcast.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. 


Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

Thanks so much for being one of the 261,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

One of our newest LOVING THE STRANGE podcasts is about the strange and adorably weird things people say?

And one of our newest DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE episode is about fear setting and how being swallowed by a whale is bad ass.


And Carrie has a new book out! Yay!

You can order now! It’s an adult mystery/thriller that takes place in Bar Harbor, Maine. Read an excerpt here!

best thrillers The People Who Kill
The people who kill

It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.

And that one is called  THOSE WHO SURVIVED, which is the first book in the the DUDE GOODFEATHER series.  I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it!

The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones

TO TELL US YOUR BRAVE STORY JUST EMAIL BELOW.

Continue reading “Three Super Common Writing Mistakes Explained”

Sometimes it’s okay to not fit in: Writing in the liminal spaces

While I was doing my five-minute break from work today, I pulled up YouTube and saw a video about feeling like you don’t belong by Marianne Cantwell

And it was all about her book, which came from her experience.

But her talk was about how some of us aren’t terribly good at fitting in and that’s okay.

As a writer, I’ve felt this.

And as a person, I’ve felt this.

I almost quit my MFA during the first residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts because I felt so much like I didn’t fit in. I’m pretty sure I actually said, “I just don’t belong here. I need to quit.”

One of the teachers there at the time, the lovely and kind and brilliant Lisa Jahn Clough talked me down. And I stayed. And I learned a lot. I never fit in and that was okay because the people there were cool like Lisa, who told me she often felt like she didn’t fit in either. They were chill with me being me.

But that wasn’t the only place where I felt like I didn’t belong.

plot pacing and proms writing tips

I never fit in with my family, too quirky, too weird, and though I’m quite pale my skin was far too dark. DNA explained that away eventually.

My sibling would say to me, “You’re so weird.”

My mom would say, “You’re just a bit special.”

My sibling would say, “Who dressed you?”

Or “Are those Snoopy shoes? What the hell?”

It wasn’t easy. I usually tried to hide by sitting on the floor at all family gatherings, hoping not to be noticed because to be noticed? It was to be hurt.

I didn’t fit in at college even though it was a great college.

I wanted to study political science and theater and psychology and it all felt too—confining.  My friends told me I was anti-intellectual because I worried about class issues. Nobody else worried about class issues except for this one Marxist guy from England that eventually fled from the FBI.

Everyone else seemed to want to procreate all the time and I didn’t really think about sex, worry about sex, be motivated by sex. I wanted to write poems, figure things out, write stories and plays and understand Derrida and Kant. I wanted to be Derrida and Kant, honestly.

I worked as a security dispatcher because I had to work as part of work-study. I interned at the district attorney’s office while other people spent their summers interning at family law firms and sailing and leading cool Outward Bound trips. I hung out in court rooms with cops and lawyers and alleged criminals.

Still didn’t fit in.

And as a grown-up, I didn’t fit in during my first career as a reporter. I wrote too fast. I cared too much. Same thing as a city councilor.

People said, “Carrie’s nice and smart. But she has pigtails.”

Spoiler alert: They were braids.

They’d say, “She just doesn’t seem tough enough to be a politician. She cares so much. Too much.”

And as an author? I don’t fit in all that well very easily. I’ve gotten to hang out with people who are considered “great,” Printz Award winners, super bestsellers, those whose books become Netflix and tv shows, and also those who are just quietly brilliant and awesome. But never ever have I been part of a clique.

Still no fit.

And I kind of thought I’d fit there. But instead, like always, I have random good friends who fit in their own cliques and I love all of them.

I joined Rotary International because it’s all about service above self and helping others. Still nope. I truly didn’t fit in there at all though I loved SO MANY Rotarians and had so many wonderful experiences talking to massive conventions.and helping others. But did I fit in? I didn’t even own a business suit. So no.

The video reminded me of a few things and we talk about some of them during our live podcast of Loving the Strange:

  1. You can shift careers and professional tracks if it doesn’t suit you and it gets to be too much. You don’t have to stay.
  2. Sometimes if you are okay with persisting in a career where you don’t fit in, you can create great things there.
  3. You can create things all on your own—your own path, careers and ways of living that might not be the ones society thinks are ‘successful’ or where you should fit.

How Does That Relate To Writing?

In the Ploughshares’ blog, the brilliant Yasmin Adele Majeed writes

“Writing is a liminal act, one that comes from a place between the writer and the world, the writer and the page. In this way it is mediated by death, desire, and dreams, those other “in between” spaces we move in and out of in this life.” 

In her own blog, Jeannette de Beauvoir writes:

“Liminality is the borderline area, the frontier, the place that, as a Lewis Carroll character might say, is neither here nor there. Rites of passage move people through liminal moments. Borders move people through liminal places.

“That liminality is on my mind because I’ve recently been having trouble sleeping, and so I’ve been hyper-aware of that almost-but-not-quite asleep moment during which (as in all liminal spaces) magic quite clearly occurs.

“For me, magic always has to do with writing. I am a writer not just in the sense that writing is what I do, but also in that it’s my most authentic and innate self.”

Writers and artists are specialists in the in-between spaces, but they aren’t the only ones who are. There are masses of us out there, searching, discovering, not quite fitting in, making our own spaces, claiming our own spaces.

We all are capable of stripping through the layers of society and self and getting to the essence of who we are, who the characters in our stories and our lives are.

As E.E. Cummings said, “The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned in order to know himself.”

Writers do that with characters, building them piece by piece on the page, and when we do that, we reveal what it is we believe about people, about character, about cause and effect, society and connections.

But we can also do that with our own selves, right?

We can look and see where our identities stem from, our choices, and we can stitch together the narrative that suits our lives and who we want to be. Sometimes that’s lonely because it’s not always the ways we’re taught to think.

And just that phrase – taught to think – shows how terribly important it is to pursue an understanding of the different layers of your identity, to understand who you are at your deepest core without society or even your family or friends telling you who you ought to be or who you are expected to be.

In a speech back in 2010 at the Edinburgh Book Festival, author Jeanette Winston said,

“Art is such a relief to us because, actually, it’s the real world — it’s the reality that we understand on a deeper level.… Life has an inside as well as an outside, and at the present, the outside of life is very well catered for, and the inside of life not at all…. We can go back to books or pictures or music, film, theater, and we can find there both some release and some relief for our inner life, the place where we actually live, the place where we spend so much time.”

And that’s what it’s really all about, striping away, expanding, creating, living, finding relief, finding our own story and reality even as we create inner lives for others and ourselves.

I hope you find your space. I hope I find mine, too. We’ve got this, right?

There’s No Power In Being a Negative Nelly. Rock Your Expectations and Goals

When we want things that we don’t expect to get, it makes us feel pretty bad inside and it also keeps us from having positive progress towards our goals.

What happens when we make our expectations negative? Usually it isn’t good stuff. For me it often starts a big downward spiral. But people (like me) keep doing it all the time.

I’ll never find love.

I’ll never get published.

I’ll never make a difference.

Those expectations and fears can be come prophesy because they take up so much space in your brain that you can’t break free from them to create good outcomes.

So what do you do to break free from negative expectations?

When you find that negative expectation taking hold of you, you can ask yourself, “What would I rather have happen?”

It seems like a simple step. It is. Here, let me repeat it and make it a header just to be cool.

Ask yourself, “What would I rather have happen?”

Got it?

Now you have to do that next step—you have to take the steps to make that positive result happen. You can focus completely on what might go wrong, but all that time you spend thinking about what might go wrong is time where you don’t get to think about where you can make it go right.

Yes. It’s simple.

But it’s true.

“The only place where your dream becomes impossible is in your own thinking.”

Robert Schuller

We waste a lot of time thinking and expecting only about what might go wrong, and that gives up all our manpower and energy and intellect away from dreaming and acting on the good, positive, awesome possibilities of our wants.

This example might help explain it.

I have a client that I worked with. He’s an older gentleman living in another country and getting a bit worries about his wonderful books, which he had previously self-published. He wanted me to read two of them and just tell him if they were any good. Not edit them. Not give an editorial assessment letter. And he wanted me to charge him $35 an hour to read the stories.

“It’s a great deal,” he basically said. “You love reading. You’re being paid to read.”

And I do. I do love reading. And I love stories. But what the problem was here is that he wanted me to take six hours for each book and pay me $35 an hour. There are limited hours in my day (like everyone else’s) and I tend to get paid between $75 and $100 an hour.

So I had to choose between helping this man out and taking a loss of $240 (at least). Or the loss of six hours I could spend writing my own books, painting, cleaning the house, being with my family. Because I’m not monetarily motivated, I did it. But he didn’t understand that choice.

We have to choose what to do with our time.

Do we want to spend it helping people out? Do we want to spend it thinking negative things about ourselves? Do we want to maximize it? Do we want to minimize it?

We only have so many hours in a day. We can spend that time focusing on negative expectations and our fears or we can spend it focusing on our wants and positive expectations. The choice and power is ours.

“All stress begins with a negative thought. One thought that went unchecked, and then more thoughts came and more, until stress manifested. The effect is stress, but the cause was negative thinking, and it all began with one little negative thought.

No matter what you might have manifested, you can change it ….with one small positive thought and then another.”

~ Rhonda Byrne

Changing your expectations makes your life better. There are actually studies about this. Your brain leads your way. Make it lead the way to somewhere good. Those negative expectations limit you and your future. But those positive expectations? That’s where the power is.

Your power.


BE A PART OF OUR MISSION!

Hey! We’re all about inspiring each other to be weird, to be ourselves and to be brave and we’re starting to collect stories about each other’s bravery. Those brave moments can be HUGE or small, but we want you to share them with us so we can share them with the world. You can be anonymous if you aren’t brave enough to use your name. It’s totally chill.

Want to be part of the team? Send us a quick (or long) email and we’ll read it here and on our YouTube channel.

LET’S HANG OUT!

HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?

MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?

JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK AND FIND OUT HOW WE CAN INTERACT MORE.


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast and our new LOVING THE STRANGE podcast.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. 


Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

Thanks so much for being one of the 261,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

One of our newest LOVING THE STRANGE podcasts is about the strange and adorably weird things people say?

And one of our newest DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE episode is about fear setting and how being swallowed by a whale is bad ass.


And Carrie has a new book out! Yay!

You can order now! It’s an adult mystery/thriller that takes place in Bar Harbor, Maine. Read an excerpt here!

best thrillers The People Who Kill
The people who kill

It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.

And that one is called  THOSE WHO SURVIVED, which is the first book in the the DUDE GOODFEATHER series.  I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it!

The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones

TO TELL US YOUR BRAVE STORY JUST EMAIL BELOW.

Why You Have To Make Time To Write And How

There’s a lot of writing advice out there and some of it is amazing and some of it is bad, but the one piece that I’d like every single one of my writers to remember is this:

If you want to be a writer, you have to actually write.

You have to put pen to the page.

You have to put fingertips to the keyboard.

You have to put voice to the voicerecorder.

Joe Frassler has a great blog post on lithub that feeds towards his book where he talked to 150 authors about writing. And the very first tip/advice he has is this.

It starts with a simple fact: If you’re not making the time to write, no other advice can help you. Which is probably why so many of the writers I talk to seem preoccupied with time-management. “You probably have time to be a halfway decent parent and one other thing,” David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, told me. That can mean mustering the grit to let other responsibilities languish. As he put it in short: “Neglect everything else.”

Many authors need to put blinders on, finding ways to simplify their experience and reduce the number of potential distractions. That might mean consistently keeping a single two-hour window sacred, as Victor Lavalle does, morning time he safeguards against the demands of parenting and full-time teaching. For others, it means finding ways to ward off digital derailment. Mitchell does this by setting his homepage as the most boring thing he can think of: the Apple website.

Ultimately, the literary exercise is about finding ways to defend something fragile—the quiet mood in which the imagination flourishes. As Jonathan Franzen put it: “I need to make sure I still have a private self. Because the private self is where my writing comes from.”

Frassler “I Talked to 150 Writers and Here’s the Best Advice They Had”

You don’t say you’re a doctor if you don’t practice medicine (or did at one point). The same thing goes for a lawyer or a guitarist.

For most of us, skill takes practice. Practice means that you have to devote a block of your time to doing the thing that you love. That might be writing. It might be art. It might be hiking. It might be baking.

And that means choice.

You have to actively choose to spend time writing or cooking or being a manatee groomer. Whatever it is, you have to choose to spend your time doing that rather than something else.

I often tell people that who they are and who their character is in their story isn’t defined by internal thought really. It’s defined by choices and action.

If you want to be a writer, you have to choose to write.

You have to make that choice over and over again. And you might have to neglect other things like David Mitchell said. That doesn’t mean that by neglecting other things you get to be a butt face, but it does mean that you have to make that choice.

HOW DO YOU MAKE TIME TO WRITE?

  1. Allow yourself to write sucky first drafts. Don’t let your desire to be perfect keep you from writing your story. People ask me all the time how I can write so quickly. It’s because I don’t have writing filters. At all. I know that I’ll have tons of errors in my first draft. I even share first drafts on my Patreon so people can see that.
  2. Look for blocks of time that you can write. You only have ten minutes? That’s okay! You can get a lot done in ten minutes. I used to write in the car when I was waiting to pick my daughter up from school or gymnastics or soccer or rehearsal. I got a lot done that way.
  3. Try not to distract yourself with email, texts, Twitter, TikTok. Set aside time for that too.
  4. Look at the very beginning and very end of your day. Can you get up a half hour earlier or go to sleep a half hour later? Or how about lunch? Can you take 15 minutes then?
  5. Don’t blow it off. When I start running again (every time), I get performance anxiety and try to think of ways to not run. Then I miss a day. When I miss a day, it’s so much harder to run that next day. Writing is like that too. We can get out of the habit so quickly, but if we truly want to be a writer (or a runner), we have to face that page or road and go all Nike ad and “just do it.”
  6. Do other things more quickly. This is honestly my biggest tip. I wrote my first book (thirteenth published) when I was a newspaper editor, coach, shuttling my super overachieving daughter everywhere. It was because I did everything else as quickly as I could. Washing dishes. Making dinner. Cleaning. Writing news stories. Taking photos. Uploading things. It was all about making the time to write that story. It all adds up. You can do this.

BE A PART OF OUR MISSION!

Hey! We’re all about inspiring each other to be weird, to be ourselves and to be brave and we’re starting to collect stories about each other’s bravery. Those brave moments can be HUGE or small, but we want you to share them with us so we can share them with the world. You can be anonymous if you aren’t brave enough to use your name. It’s totally chill.

Want to be part of the team? Send us a quick (or long) email and we’ll read it here and on our YouTube channel.

LET’S HANG OUT!

HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?

MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?

JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK AND FIND OUT HOW WE CAN INTERACT MORE.


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast and our new LOVING THE STRANGE podcast.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. 


Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

Thanks so much for being one of the 261,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

One of our newest LOVING THE STRANGE podcasts is about the strange and adorably weird things people say?

And one of our newest DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE episode is about fear setting and how being swallowed by a whale is bad ass.


And Carrie has a new book out! Yay!

You can order now! It’s an adult mystery/thriller that takes place in Bar Harbor, Maine. Read an excerpt here!

best thrillers The People Who Kill
The people who kill

It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.

And that one is called  THOSE WHO SURVIVED, which is the first book in the the DUDE GOODFEATHER series.  I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it!

The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones

TO TELL US YOUR BRAVE STORY JUST EMAIL BELOW.

Diaries be Damned. There’s No One Way To Be a Writer

I don’t do diaries or journals and this gives me a lot of strange looks from people who DO do diaries or journals.

They usually gasp. “But you’re a writer!”

I am.

I am a writer.

I am a person that has to write just like I have to exercise and be outside. I am a miserable, horrible beast if I don’t get to do those two things for at least a half hour a day.

But you don’t have to fit into other people’s ideas of ‘what a writer is’ or labels in order to be a writer.

Almost all my teachers told me to write in a diary. All the good kids in grade school, the Kathy Albertsons (I love her) of the world, had these beautiful diaries where they’d write about their day and their feelings in perfect looping handwriting.

I was no Kathy Albertson, but I wanted to be.

So, I tried to write in my diary. There’d be two entries for a year.

My sibling looked at it, scoffed and said, “Carrie, you have no follow-through.”

Spoiler: I have a lot of follow-through. I just didn’t like writing in a diary about the most boring subject in the world–me.

This is the kind of quality entries, I had. Obviously, meant to be both an artist and author, right?

When I was little, I hated writing in my diary because I was positive that my life wasn’t interesting the way books were interesting. Plus, it took so long to write those words on the page and I was impatient for adventure. I wanted to be a spy, find Big Foot, save the world from bad guys and apparently constantly take the Lord’s name in vain and go straight to hell.

I also had big plans that never made it into my diary.

One teacher told me, “All writers write diaries, journals of their feelings. If you want to be a writer, you must journal!”

And I said, “Guess, I’m not a writer then.”

Spoiler #2: I’m a writer.

Spoiler #3 : I still don’t journal unless you count blog posts.

I ended up volunteering for so many groups once I was in middle school and through to adulthood. They were mostly social justice groups, human rights groups, politicians. I still didn’t write a diary more than twice a year. I joined a singing group and got paid. I canvassed neighborhoods by myself before high school. I did things and lived. Still, none of it got put in my diary.

As a reporter, I wrote columns that ended up being about the things I saw in my community. I’ve often been an accidental witness. I loved writing columns actually. They were probably my favorite things to write (other than features) in the newspaper world.

I still, however, didn’t write a diary.

And now, when I see the world that can be so angry, so full of hate and hurt, I still don’t write a diary even though I’m absolutely wowed by other people’s journals.

But even though I don’t write a diary or a journal, I write. I write novels. I write editorial assessments, poems, podcast, blog posts.

And that’s the thing.

There’s no one way to be a writer. There’s no one way to be a human.

And once we start putting those constraints on others and especially on ourselves, we lose our way and what was once a joy? It becomes a struggle. When we try to be someone wonderful–say Kathy Albertson–then we lose the person we are.

If you can and it works for you, try to write for a tiny amount of time every day if you want to be a writer. Make it a practice.

Write about yourself if you want, manatees falling in love with hamsters in the Joshua Tree park, vampires who are not apocalyptic. Write whatever you feel or want to. Poems. Journals. Parables. Jokes. Books. Write for the practice and write for the joy. Write because you don’t understand things. Write because you do. Write because you’re powerful. Write because you’re powerless. Write for control. Write for a lack of control. But write. Write if it’s what you want to do.

And if you hate writing every day? That’s okay, too. Remember. There is no one way to be anything but especially there is no one way to write, to art, to human, to sing, to shine.

And if you’re having troubles with writing, check out below.

Ask Yourself:

What makes you stop writing?

Why do you sometimes think you aren’t a writer?

What keeps you from writing?

What stops the words from flowing?

Sometimes just these questions can open up layers of your soul. Give them a try, okay?

Continue reading “Diaries be Damned. There’s No One Way To Be a Writer”

The Best Kind of People (especially writers) Notice Things

There is a fantastic blog post on Tim Ferriss’s blog about the work and thoughts of professor/writer Sam Apple. I have a link at the end of this post because you should probably read it in its entirety if the act of noticing as a writer resonates with you. Or maybe even if it doesn’t

When I mentor people and edit them, I often tell them to go specific in their details (but don’t overload those details), and in order to go specific, you have to become adept at noticing things.

Apple speaks of what it means to ‘notice as a writer.’

I like to define it as “the combination of close observation and insightfulness.” 

Sam Apple

He then explains ‘close observation.’

Close observation is easy enough to grasp. Let’s take an example: As I’m typing this sentence, I might look down and notice my hands moving over my keyboard. That’s “noticing” in the ordinary sense of the word—what you might think of as “first-order noticing.” To notice my typing hands in the way of a writer, I have to be far more specific. I might notice the rhythmic rise and fall of my knuckles or how the tendons on the back of my hand bulge and twitch with each keystroke. I might notice how some keys are almost silent while others respond to my fingertips with a pronounced—and somehow satisfying—clack.

Sam Apple

So, then we have that second aspect — insight.

Great writing typically involves more than description or a simple narration of events. Writing is also a search for meaning. Sometimes an observation or image speaks for itself. But often writers need to be able to say something about what they’ve noticed. 

Sam Apple

And that’s where I think being a great writer and a great human overlap. If we can notice the worlds and details, the feeling and aspects of other people, animals, landscapes big and small? And then if we took that extra step to let insight bubble and sprout from what we’ve noticed?

How big a deal would that be?

How deep? How growing?

Apple teaches a class on noticing at John Hopkins and in the blog writes:

For my class, I ask students to keep a “noticing journal” throughout the semester. Sometimes I ask them to notice objects or actions, as in the typing examples above. Other times, we apply the same observational and imaginative powers to our own lives and emotions. When we turn to the noticing of others, it can lead to remarkably empathetic writing. It is hard to truly hate people if you’ve spent enough time observing them and wondering about them. The celebrated fiction writer George Saunders captures this notion perfectly in this essay on “what writers really do when they write.”

Sam Apple

You don’t need to be a writer to train your noticing skills or your empathy, but both writers and those of us who don’t write, can really learn from this.

We can learn from noticing, observing and wondering. And maybe that’s one of those steps we can take to make ourselves better people and this a better world?

RESOURCES

https://sam-apple.squarespace.com/

Continue reading “The Best Kind of People (especially writers) Notice Things”