Developing the Inner Witness

Here is sure evidence that I am a born writer: By high school, I couldn’t walk down the hallway or open my locker without a little story-teller voice whispering in my ear, “With stealthy steps, Elizabeth paced the institutional hall, fluorescent lights buzzing overhead, until she stopped, suddenly, at a combination lock.” My every lived moment was instantly narrated. Call it a self-consciousness, psychosis, or literary genius, regardless, I had an instinctive, even impulsive need to relate events which was only released by writing.

Over the years my inner narrator has served me well, mostly because I’ve learned to work with her. She’s the story-teller in me as well as the essayist, the self that happily hops on a train of thought and rides it across the page. As a teacher, I’m particularly good at facilitating the development of my students’ reflective voices. “What’s your story?” is a great question to begin with, but it must be followed by “What do you make of your story?” before creation really begins. What do you think—and feel and wonder and deeply know—about your experience? (more…)

Boiled Down to a Drop

She didn’t read books so she didn’t know
that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop.
                                                    –Zora Neale Hurston

Since my mother died over a year ago I’ve worn her jade ring as a reminder that she’s still here. My mother loved beautiful objects and somehow these objects, her jewelry and the quilt she made me and the African violets she grew and even her dime-store spiral notebooks, continue to hold that love.

As do I. Sometimes I feel more my mother than myself—her loud hiccups, her bad gynecological genes, her late night worries and self-pitying whine, and her fondness for home, for a lingering, elegant meal, for libraries, for generous giving. Her goodnight kisses, her pride at my work, her inexhaustible love. These were in me before she died I know them more poignantly now.

None of us, it turns out, are separate, siloed identities. We’re all mash-ups of each other. (more…)

The Journal: The Writer’s Compost

The journal is a writer’s compost bin. It’s tucked out back, behind the fence or along the alley where the smell won’t waft into the kitchen and the fruit flies won’t irritate the gardeners. You add to it daily, or at least whenever you’ve got a heaping bucket of scraps (read: baggage) to unload.

Compost works best if you add equal amounts of “green” (grass, veggie bits) and “brown” (leaves). An occasional sprinkle of ash helps. Regular water and air speed up the decomposition, so it’s good to give it a stir. Likewise with the journal, which can be a dumping ground—and worthwhile as such—but with a smallest amount of intention grows fertile. How? (more…)

Six Ways Blogging Helps You Be A Better Writer—And Person

deskwdaffodilsTwenty-two years ago I started writing a monthly column for my church newsletter. I appreciated the immediate feedback. If a member of my congregation disagreed with something I’d written, I’d hear about it on Sunday. Usually I received a lot of encouragement.

As people outside church expressed interest, I sold subscriptions to the column for $12 a year, printed out copies, and put them in the mail. Eventually the internet arrived, and the blogging phenomenon; I posted my “column” for years before I deigned to call it a “blog.” Nine years ago I added a second monthly entry on writing. A tally of my slow and steady posts is around 370—a figure that stuns me today. Here are some thoughts on the hidden value of all that writing: (more…)

Goodness Gracious

img_0571I can’t tell you how many times writers hand me a stack of pages and ask, “Is it any good?”

I’ve stopped answering this question. Sure, some writing is better than others. Sure, I have strong opinions about what makes a good story. But I’ve become increasingly wary of writers’ need to ask this question and my ability to answer it.

When a work-in-progress is deemed “good” by a reader, what purpose does this serve? All artists—all humans—want and need external affirmation; to continue hard work, we need our efforts affirmed and the essence of our endeavors recognized. (more…)