I’m a Poet, I Just Know It

See what I did there? Last year, there was a call for poetry from a small press in Kansas City, called Flying Ketchup Press. They wanted poems from people who call Kansas City, or Kansas or Missouri home. They wanted to share the sense of this amazing place with others, while promoting the voices of those who grew up on those streets. I saw it while perusing Submitabble one day, bookmarked it, then moved on. I have always wanted to have a poem published, I thought it would be so cool to be able to say, “Oh yeah, I wrote that poem!” Haha. I’ve secretly always wished I’d been born a poet, and not a foul-mouthed, wanna-be. But here we are.

I couldn’t sleep for at least a week. I tossed and turned at night, thinking about my home. Thinking about Kansas and Missouri. The time I’ve spent there (30 years) and all that it taught me. Being Midwestern comes with many fun little quirks, sure we say “ope” everyday, and sure we have a penchant for apologizing all the time, and drowning all our food in ranch dressing, but why? And how? Who came before us and made us this way? I started to wonder day in and day out about the place I call home. Then one day I was inspired to dig deeper into Kansas history, so I did. I meshed it with a little of my own Kansas history and the poem, “Kansas” was born.

What happened was I got an acceptance letter, with a note from the editor, a true Kansas City girl, who explained that they were happy to include my poem in their anthology, and that my poem was the favorite of all those submitted. I was shocked. Honestly. I was so shocked I didn’t know how to respond, so I just sent a thank you, not really believing it would ever happen. Geez, I have great self-esteem.

Then, well, it happened. The poetry book, titled: Blue City Poets, was officially published on September 10th of this year. Which happened to be my 38th birthday. Which happened to be the day I decided that my 38th year would be the best yet. And so far, so good.

Anyway, I appreciate you all reading my musings, my dumb political rants, and my stories of everyday struggles on everything from mental illness, to parenting, to my dumb-ass dog. And especially for following me along this journey of writing that I struggle with everyday. It’s good to feel like you’re not the only one doing something. Having struggles. Getting rejected. The whole shebang.

So how can you read my poem? Great question! You can purchase the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Blue-City-Poets-Kansas/dp/197015196X/ref=mp_s_a_1_11?keywords=blue+city+poets%3A+kansas+city&qid=1570333582&sr=8-11&fbclid=IwAR3nuvgwRu1QoYXKBOJNbixFyI7Xwq-11h-FrKFjzZ__8MUxtaxoxD0URSo

The paperback is $12.99 and the Kindle version is $4.99. It’s part of Prime too!

So here is a giant virtual hug to all of you who tirelessly support me. By reading my blog, liking my stupid posts, and telling me to keep going, to stay positive, and that I am good at what I do. I hope to one day believe you.

M.

Tender Wings of Desire

I’ve been reading a collection of essays titled “Growing Up Poor.” I’ve been reading this book because one, I grew up poor and figured I could relate to some of the essays. Two, I am currently working on an essay about what it is like to grow up poor, and one should read what one writes. And three, the cover was so enticing that I had to buy it. Yes. I judge books by their covers. Le sigh. We all do. Am I talking about just books here? Yes. But also no. We do judge actual books by their covers because for the most part it’s easy to do. Some authors lay it all out there on the cover. Romance novels are my favorite. Not to read, just to look at the covers. Here, let’s look at a few together, shall we?

Boats, and horses, and hairy chests, oh my! That last one is not real, but man oh man do I wish. Colonel Sanders, a drumstick, and a pretty lady, that’s a love triangle I can get behind. And the other ones, well you know the whole plot before you even open the book: Intimate moments in a horse barn, with a hairy-chested dude who you should not want to have intimate moments with because he is:

A. A servant on your father’s farm

B. Your dead husband’s best friend

C. The stranger you met in the Motel 6 hot tub

I used to read romance novels. I did. When I was a teenager I got way into them, like Tina from Bob’s Burgers and Jimmy Pesto’s butt into them. Hormones. Gross. I read mostly V.C. Andrews. You know who I’m talking about, that Flowers in the Attic shit. Your mom thought it was no big deal because it’s most likely just a suspense novel. I mean it’s about kids locked in an attic, what could be romantic about that. #Incest

I’m a little more mature in my reading choices now, though I still judge books by their covers. A brightly colored cover can grab my attention from across a bookstore faster than the Dollanganger brother and sister can make a baby. I’m drawn to bright covers with geometric colors, just as much as the sad ones with a dark hues and an old dog sitting under a willow tree. I guess it’s not so much what the cover says about the book, as much as it is about what the cover says to me. Here are a couple of my current favorite covers (I have not read all of these books quite yet, but the covers make me want to):

I guess maybe I don’t have a book cover “type,” but I certainly let the covers guide me. I have read three books just this year based solely off their covers, and I enjoyed every one of them. But maybe I was destined to? Anywhere, these are the three:

And countless more pretty-covered books are waiting on my bookshelf to be read. That’s it then. I judge books by their covers, and I am okay with that.

M.

My Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my six acceptance letters into publications and my 24 rejections. Ouch. I know, I know. Keep on keeping on. Stay positive. Don’t worry about the number of rejections, that can get up into the thousands! But every time I get a rejection, I sort of feel myself curl up a little bit. I want to stay in bed, quit sending things out. I know I am doing things wrong. I know I am. I’m not sure how to navigate this terrain, so I am learning as I go. I don’t know quite yet where my writing falls. Which publications I should be sending work to. I’m afraid to go to bat with the “big boys” as it were, so if I’m being honest with myself, I’m choosing small publications where I might have a better shot. Then I have those days where I feel like I am selling myself, and my work, short. Then I get another rejection from a “small guy” and I’m like, no you’re where you need to be. Maybe you shouldn’t even be sending out. Maybe you suck and everyone is just placating you, you pile of dog crap! I’m a nightmare. I have never been a salesperson. Especially when it comes to myself. Anyway, boohoo, Missy. Okay, we are done with that now. But if you do have advice, lay it on me. I’m always looking for that.

What I really want to do is share some of my work with you today, for those of you who have never read my “real stuff” before. So I was just gonna put some links down here for you to try out if you are interested. The first link is a creative non-fiction piece I wrote as part of my grad school thesis and it means the most to me. You can read it here: http://mudseasonreview.com/author/melissa-goodnight/ This is where it was originally published. There is also an interview with me on this link, about why I write what I do. I had a great experience with Mud Season Review. Kinda sad it was my first publication because now I know how wonderful and easy the editors can make the process. People aren’t always so nice.

Then there is flash fiction. I love writing flash fiction! I love the small slices of life you can see in them. I only have two of those published, a third is set to come out with Lunch Ticket soon, but for now you can read them at these links. This first one is the first piece of FF I ever wrote: https://deadmule.com/melissa-goodnight-the-line-fiction-may-2019/

And this next one is my favorite: http://www.jennymag.org/fall-18-issue/the-center-wont-hold

Anyway, thanks for reading my work, even if you just check in here occasionally. I see you, and I appreciate you.

M.

PS… I have a poem coming out in the fall in an anthology of Kansas City poets! I will let you guys know when it releases.

Vulnerable Schmulnerable

Vulnerable. Ick. I don’t even like to type the word. Vulnerable. It sounds vulgar. Vulnerable. My trusty Pocket Oxford says the word means: “That may be wounded (lit. or fig.); exposed to damage by weapon, criticism, etc.” Vulnerable. Bad. Vulnerable. Weak. Vulnerable. How not to be. This word has been kicking around my noggin all weekend. Mainly because I started a Brene Brown book. And listen, if you haven’t read Brene Brown, well, I won’t tell you to read her. Or watch her Ted Talk or her Netflix special. But you know, if you are so inclined, I promise you won’t be disappointed. She’s a research professor at the University of Houston. She’s spent years researching shame and (gulp) vulnerability. She has a fun Texas drawl, and she doesn’t think prayer and cussing are mutually exclusive, so you know, she might not be your cup ‘o’ tea, but she is my kinda gal.

Anyway, Brene Brown has been teaching me about vulnerability. And when she first started explaining the concept, she said things like “exposed” and “easily wounded”. And immediately I thought to myself, “You’re not a vulnerable person, Missy. No worries. You have your ducks in a row.” Because who would want to be vulnerable? Weren’t we supposed to be strong and brave at all times. Especially now, in this dumpster fire of a world we live in? So I decided, nah, I’m not vulnerable. But then I kept going back to what I said, sorta like how my dog keeps sniffing his own butt, even when it appears to be fairly clean. I know my butt is clean. I am 100% sure of it. Right?

I couldn’t figure out why I felt like I was lying to myself. Brene was all, “Missy, girl, it’s okay to be vulnerable.” And I was all, “That’s bullshit, Brene! You’re bullshit, Brene! Just another whack-job, wanna-be-self-help-guru, and I’m not gonna listen to you!” Then I turned off the television and continued to eat my Cheetos, and tell myself I am strong, and I am brave, and I am not vulnerable. Then I woke up in the middle of the night with the butt itchies and realized, holy hell, I’m like, super vulnerable.

Let me try to explain. I’m a writer. No need to apologize, I did it to myself. I write mainly creative non-fiction. That’s my bread and butter. I love to explore my own life, my own stories, my past, my present, my future, and share it with whomever will read or listen. Full stop. That’s vulnerability, right? I mean, every day, just sitting at my desk, writing my random-ass thoughts out for the blog-sphere is pretty vulnerable. Especially in the age of social media, anonymous chatting and commenting, and the intense showmanship and competition that comes with all of this.

Then there are the friendships I’ve had over the years. I am a pretty open and honest person. I’ve come to learn over the last year or two that not everyone appreciates that about me. But what Brene helped me realize is that my friends do appreciate when I am honest with them. They also appreciate when I tell a funny story, or allow them to see me make an ass of myself, but they don’t appreciate my vulnerability because vulnerabilty scares the shit out of people. They don’t know how to be vulnerable, or to act around someone who is. And I get that, I really do. It’s tough to be vulnerable. We’ve been trained our whole lives not to be.

So what does this all mean? Look it, I don’t know. Brene seems to act like she knows, but I don’t think she does either. What I do know is that I am taking this new bit of information I have realized about myself (with help from Brene) and I’m moving forward in my life with a few new rules.

Rule #1: If someone is not ready to be vulnerable, or to watch me be vulnerable, then I am walking away. There are so many other people out there who can handle me, and my butt, and all that comes with it.

Rule #2: I’m going to try not to worry about the critics. There are a million people out there who will criticize me at the drop of a hat. Most of them are too afraid to be doing what I am doing. Most of them want to step out of their comfort zone, they want to make a change in their life, but they are too afraid. It’s easier to sit back and watch other people fail (and Brene says I will fail, a lot) then to find their own courage. Courage to quit their job and follow their true passion, relying on their partner, giving up control. Courage to take that step to put their lives out into the world. Courage to be open and honest with their loved ones. These people make up a million excuses why they can’t do it, and I try to rationalize that when they criticize me. But I can’t do that anymore. If you can’t stick your butt in the fire, you have no right to tell me about my butt, even when it’s in flames.

Rule #3: The people who do care should be depended on more often. The ones that have been cheering me on, those are the people who matter. Those are the people to listen to when criticism needs to come my way. They do it from a love-centered place. They do it because sometimes I need to be slapped. Sometimes I say and do crazy things, and they need to tell me because they care about me. And I’ll listen. I may be mad when they are saying it, but I’ll listen.

So, I guess, uhhh, wish me luck? And maybe watch some Brene Brown? And maybe try to decide if you are vulnerable? And if you are not being vulnerable, then ask your self why not? Wouldn’t it be worth a shot?

M.


Going Home Again

Home has always been a tough word for me. Home means sad, tragic at the worst times, ambivalent at the best. I don’t come from a place that is totally electric, or unusual, or even beautiful. I’m not from NYC, or Las Vegas, or one of those small southern towns with quaint shops around a city square, and rampant white supremacy. I am from the midwest. From Kansas. From Leavenworth. Perhaps you have heard of it? Maybe in an old John Wayne western, or a documentary on the military, or a book about famous serial killers? Perhaps you just know it sounds familiar, but you can’t quite place it? Yeah, that’s it. That’s Leavenworth, Kansas.

I left Leavenworth 15 years ago this August. It wasn’t the first time I left, but it was the only time I ever left and thought, yep, I’m never moving back there again. And this year was the first time in those 15 years that I contemplated moving back there again. I’m not sure what it was, the draw to go back home. But it was there, on my mind, when my husband and I were going through possible relocations with his company. Kansas City popped up on the list. Bonner Springs to be exact. Bonner Springs is in Leavenworth County. It is about 20 minutes from the high school we graduated from. Twenty minutes from my mom, and my sisters, and my best friend. And we thought about it. Like really thought about it. Then ultimately we decided against going home again. For good. For now.

But as I type this I am gearing up for a trip home tomorrow. I am gearing up in the physical sense. Washing a last-minute load of laundry. Making sure I have an appropriate outfit for a graduation. Gathering Jackson’s toys. Packing healthy road trip snacks. I’m also gearing up for a trip home mentally. It has been over a year since I have been home. Last year we decided to take other trips. We visited New York City, and Tucson, Arizona, and Chicago, rather than spending time at home. And while those are all lovely places, home still called.

It used to be that when I went back home, I wanted to leave as soon as I got there. I was immediately transported back to that feeling I had in high school. That feeling of being stuck. Of suffocating. Walking the tree-lined streets of downtown made me tense up. Seeing the same old buildings I had grown up with, the familiar people. Unchanging, other than the wrinkling faces and graying hair. After a weekend of being home, I would squeeze my husband’s hand and say, “It’s time to go.” I’m preparing for that feeling again, even though the last time I went home that didn’t happen. In fact, I wanted to stay longer. To enjoy the people and places more. I was surprised and I didn’t take notice of how or why it had changed. And I still don’t know. And I don’t know if this time will be the same, or if I will want to run away after 48 hours. But I’m prepping myself for both.

I don’t know what to do with these feelings about home. How sometimes I want to never look back, and sometimes that is all I want to do. Leavenworth is always there with me. Right on the fringe of my memories. It touches all that I do today, and most of what I write. And well, I should be grateful. Maybe this is me, becoming grateful.

M.


April

If you’ve been around long enough you know that Edna St. Vincent Millay is my homegirl. She’s no Joan Didion, but that’s a different genre. Edna, like Momma Joan, has been around since high school. We first met in a drama class my sophomore year. We had to recite a poem in front of the whole class, and well, I thumbed my finger through a poetry book and found the shortest one I could: My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — it gives a lovely light! I was such a wanker. But Edna didn’t mind. She didn’t mind when that poor, underpaid adjunct at KU made me “explore the rich tapestry of the sonnet,” or when my evil grad school professor said, “close reading”. Every time I found my way back to Edna, and every time she welcomed me with open arms. In short, she’s my ride-or-die. Which makes each season of life a bit different because, well, Edna was a bit different. Here’s the one that has been sloshing around the old noggin for the last few weeks:

Feel free to do you own close reading of this one. Or just read it over and over again, listening to the lullaby of the words. Appreciate the rhythm, the feeling. Or you know, shake your head and say, “Oh Edna…”

I’m not sure about April anymore either, you guys. I’m not sure about the rebirth of spring, or the way that we pin so much hope on a fresh start, but I did find out that one of my own poems will be in a book of poetry this year, and I am excited and so very surprised. I’ve grown a lot from the last April to this one. A lot. Maybe this time of year will grow on me now too.

Go forth in flowers and poetry today, y’all.

M.

Free Tote

This morning I’m obsessed with finding a bag. Not just any bag, a brown khaki tote. It was a free tote. The kind you get when you order a magazine subscription because you think your life has finally reached the point that you can lazily read a magazine on your front porch, while you sip your Saturday coffee, rocking back and forth to the lull of the birds in the magnolias. You think you’ve reached a point in your life that you’ll promptly read each issue, delivered every week, by a friendly mail carrier whose suspicion of your growing magazine consumption comes in pitiful glances, as he taps on your glass door and waves the next issue into your box. It’s a pity you’ve steadily learned to tolerate.

I am looking for a tote that came free with a magazine subscription. The kind of subscription you order because you think your life has come to a point that you will be able to read each issue promptly. That the issues won’t start to stack, in tedious, yellowing piles, at the corner of your bedside table. You think you’ve finally reached a point in your life that you will not, at three a.m., grope for the cup of water on your bedside table, and knock the tedious stack of yellowing, unread issues off your bedside table. You think you are so much in control of your life, that you won’t curse at the dropped issues, or at the missing cup of water, or at the person groping in the dark. You think you are so in control of your life, that you won’t feverishly toss and turn for the rest of the night, wondering why the hell you kept a tedious stack of unread, yellowing issues of a magazine on your bedside table. Was it all for the free tote?

This morning I am looking for a free tote that came with a magazine subscription. But it’s not actually the tote that I need. It’s the notebook inside the tote. I had it at the hotel we lived in for a few days at the end of last month. We lived at a hotel for a few days at the end of last month, because we were moving. We were moving from a city that I love dearly, to one the I dread with a maturing certainty more and more each day. We were moving and the boxes had been stacked around our small house. And the truck had been ordered. And the bedside table had been turned upside down. And the magazines stacks had been recycled. And the water cups had been packed. And like you do, when all of your belongings are packed away in boxes and all your magazines recycled, we moved into a hotel for a few days.

It’s not even the notebook inside the free tote that I need. It’s the hastily hand-written quote inside of the notebook that I’m after. It’s my own writing. Half cursive, half capitals. Halfway through the notebook. It’s written past pages of to-do lists, bad middle-of-the-night-ideas, and important phone numbers I forgot to remember. It’s the sort of notebook people like us keep. The sort of people who think we’re so in control of our lives that we order magazine subscriptions, and keep notebooks filled with dots rather than lines. Notebooks filled with middle-of-the-night ideas and phone numbers and to-do lists. Notebooks with doodles and desires. Notebooks with words we can’t quite grasp and thoughts we have to think on for a little while longer. Notebooks with dots rather than lines.

There, inside the notebook, is a quote I jotted down, in somewhat of a fever, at a writing thing I went to a few weeks back. I don’t remember the quote in its entirety. I don’t remember what the teacher said the quote was about, or who the quote was from, or if the quote is even the quote I’m loosely remembering right now. But I do remember the feeling of urgency to get the quote into my dotted notebook. I remember the desire to lock the quote up inside. The weight of that moment pressing down on me. Wanting, needing, to know more about it. I remember thinking this quote could give me some direction. This quote had the power to save me in some way. That one day I would need a quote to save me. That one day soon, I would need saving.

My Writing Life

Well, stick my head in an oven and call me Sylvia, I’m feeling a little crazy today, y’all. I’ve been consumed lately with what I want out of my writing life. It is a difficult question to unpack because writing is my life, and I write about my life, and I write to share my life with others because I think it is important to do, but also I don’t really like to talk to people, or be the center of attention, because it makes me nervous, and when I am nervous I say whacked out things (see above) out of shear anxiety, mixed with a bit of delusion, and just a pinch of the carbon monoxide blues. But then I want to write so that people can see that it is a good thing to share about your life, even in the middle of a manic depressive episode, because maybe they will do it, and it will help them? And then I think is that the answer? Do I write to help other people look at their own lives and think they have stories worth telling and sharing, and is this all just a cathartic cycle that I want to let others know about?

I don’t fucking know. I mean surely, if I can share my stories (and trust me, they really aren’t that good) and people want to read them, then anyone can write, right? Then I think no, because not everyone is as transparent as me, or as sad as me, or as weird as me. And mainly, they just don’t have the time or the proper training, let’s call it, so they might need help. Then I spiral out of control, get into my car, drive to Food Lion and buy only one thing: A box of Oreos. Then I go home, put my pajamas on, crawl into bed, and eat said box of Oreos, while I binge-watch something on Netflix starring Toni Colette. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit.

Okay, whew. Don’t come over to check on me today, y’all. I’m really fine. No ovens are on. It’s just that I get consumed by thoughts about whether or not what I choose to do with my time, my blog, my words, my stories, is actually doing anything at all. And if it even matters whether or not it is. Why does it need to have a deeper meaning or purpose? Why can’t I just do it because it makes me happy and not worry about not contributing to society or community or making money or getting better at connecting with people? See, it’s a slippery slope. I’m gonna go get some Oreos.

Thanks for reading. Or not.

M.

Pulling Out My Hair

All morning I have been putting my hands on my keyboard in an attempt to will myself to write something, but nothing comes out. This has been happening for about two weeks. I don’t mean with this silly, little blog. I have a million topics for this place. Climbing out of this blue spot I have been in. My recent gastro-intestinal upset. Our house-hunting trip to Atlanta. Jackson’s ongoing obsession with Harry Potter. Those are all easy topics for me to slap down here for our mutual reading pleasure. What I’m having a really hard time with is writing other things. Things I need to be writing. Short stories, and flash fiction, and creative non-fiction. Things that I write to send out for consideration. Things that, you know, a writer should care about.

A couple of weeks ago I started an essay about mental health. It’s morphed into more of a lyric essay. I talk about my penchant for weeding, then I talk about the unnerving condition I was diagnosed with shortly after the loss of my daughter. It’s called trichotillomania, which is a really long, crazy-sounding word that means at times of high stress I pull my hair out. Literally. I subconsciously run my fingers through my hair, often times when I am asleep, and I pull strands of hair out. I do it over and over again, in the same spot, until finally I have a little bald patch on my scalp and I have to part my hair to cover it. It sorta sucks. But also, I guess it sort of helps too.

It doesn’t always happen when I am asleep. Sometimes I am fully-awake, but I am distracted. When I first noticed it I was sitting on the couch with my husband. We were watching tv, toddler Jackson was asleep, and I was actually engrossed in whatever was happening in that episode of, probably, The Office. Before I knew what was happening I had taken my pony tail out and began running my fingers through my hair. At some point my husband looked over at me and asked what was wrong. I told him nothing was wrong. Because nothing was wrong. Weirdo. Then after the episode he looked at the spot next to me and asked again what was wrong. I looked over too, and there was a massive pile of my hair sitting next to me. We didn’t really know what to say. Over the next few weeks it got worse. I was waking up in the middle of the night to clumps of hair all around me, and my hand resting on my head. It was exhausting. So I finally asked the doctor and she explained this all to me. I felt relieved, but you know, not really.

So here I am, reliving all of this to write it out on the page, in hopes that I will actually finish this essay, submit it to a publication, they won’t think I’m too weird, and they will publish it, so that maybe, maybe, someone who pulls their hair out realizes, perhaps for the first time, that it is a mental health problem. Realizes they are not alone. Realizes they need to seek help. But until then, I am stuck, you see. Stuck. Unable to think. Unable to write. Unable to help. Stuck with idle hands, wanting to pull out my hair.

M.

I Shouldn’t Give Writing Advice

People routinely ask me to help them write. Which is really, really kind and humbling, but also kinda dumb. You guys, I have no idea what I am doing here, or there, or over there. There are so many better ways for you to learn how to write, or start the process. Like a quick Google search of: Help me write, might bring up more concrete advice. Because honestly, I can’t tell you anything that hasn’t already been said by a thousand other writers. I can’t really tell you where to start, or how to start, or which genre you should be looking into. And I certainly can’t tell you what to do with your writing life. Because y’all, I have no actual idea what the hell I am doing with my life and I routinely rely on fellow writers, mentors, and friends to tell me what to do. And normally they say, “Have you tried wine?” I have great people.

In all seriousness, writing can be fun, and helpful, and sometimes cathartic. But writing is also tough, and rigorous, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. A lot of times it doesn’t happen. But sometimes, sometimes when it does, it’s like magic.

In fact, I used to think that there was some sort of mystic connection between the paper and the pen. Like some other-worldly thing was helping me, letting the words flow, I was just the vessel (… that must follow where it goes, trying to learn from what’s behind you, and never knowing what’s in store, makes each day a constant battle, just to stay between the shores…) Sorry for the Garth tangent. This was especially true when I would feel like I didn’t do all that much. I would sit down one morning, with my cup of coffee and my laptop, usually the day before whatever I was writing was due, and I’d pour my heart into a short story, or a personal essay, send it over to my workshop, or a writing instructor, and they would swoon. Like, how is that even possible without some divine assistance?

That was all way before grad school. Way back in my 20s when I thought that all the good things happening in my life, were somehow bestowed upon me. My kid is super smart? Just good genetics. My dog is the coolest ever? All dogs are cool. Then one day in the middle of grad school (where coincidently I learned more about myself than anything else, French philosopher Derrida included) it hit me, I was actually doing all these things. I was actually putting the work in. I was actually responsible for the trajectory of my life, and my writing, I just wasn’t giving myself credit for it.

That’s a really long, humblebrag way to say, you have the ability to write your story, just as easily as you have the ability to live your story, and if you really want to do it, you are probably doing it right now, without even realizing it. You probably lay in bed at night and laugh about this thing that happened to you in college, and you think, I should write that down. You probably think back on your life and try to remember when something happened, and what it was, and what you felt like when it happened, and how it changed you in some way. Maybe you do this on your own accord because you are an arduous thinker, or maybe your therapist gave it to you as homework, either way, you are trying to create a timeline of life, to tell a linear story, and maybe you aren’t writing it down, but when you get it all worked out, you might. And when you do, it might feel like it isn’t that hard. It might feel like the words are just flowing out of you, and trust me, that is a great feeling! It is also not a common one.

Having said all that, let me share some of the bits of wisdom I have stumbled upon in my life, from writers, teachers, books, and friends that might help you pick up the pen to tell your story.

  1. Read. I know this sounds like a duh, but you’d be amazed at how easy it is not to read these days. I think most of us would rather veg out to Netflix on a rainy day, then pick up a book, but honestly, really, if you want to write, you have to read. (Bonus: Blogs count! And so do audiobooks, which is like reading, but not. What doesn’t count is Facebook statuses, anything by Fox News, and the TV guide. Do they still make those?) I myself go in book-reading stages. I will read, read, read, for three months straight, maybe nine books or so, then I won’t for a couple of months (usually because I am stressed out about something and I can’t get my brain to concentrate on the words). But even in those stressful times, I still read, just smaller pieces. I read poetry. I read flash fiction/non-fiction, lyric essays, blogs, magazines, newspapers, and literary journals/reviews. I listen to NPR or a fun podcast. I still try to see and hear the stories out there, because they are so very important.
  2. Leave your house. What? Missy, come one man. That is asking too much. I promise, I know. I get it. Geez, some days I get it more than others. But, leaving your house is SO important. Especially if you are like me and really could spend all day, every day in your own little world, at your desk, or your kitchen table, or your backyard bumbling around. You can’t. You have to go out of your little life. You have to see other people live. I’m to the point where every, single time I leave my house, whether to take Jackson to the library, or grocery shop, or grab a cup of coffee with a friend, I see something that sparks my interest. I might overhear a conversation and think, Oh, that’s a great first line to a short story. I might see a security guard picking up a piece of trash and wonder what he is thinking. Now maybe your brain doesn’t exactly work like mine, I might over-think sometimes, or be more sensitive to this sort of thing, but ultimately it is very helpful at getting the writing juices to stir. Just the other day a firetruck whizzed by me on the street while I was walking Duke, and I realized that I didn’t flinch like I normally do. Which made me remember the reason I used to be afraid of firetrucks (from the night my grandfather died) and I immediately went home and wrote about my grandfather, because that one firetruck brought up all the memories. It can happen just like that, in an instant, but you won’t know if you are always in your safe, quiet space, where nothing much happens.
  3. Seek out like-minded people. This one is Tough with a capital T. Well, maybe it is. Actually, it might not be that tough for you, but it has proven to be very tough for me. After my undergrad I never wrote. I forgot even what I was suppose to do, how to write, the whole thing. I wasn’t in any sort of writing group. I hadn’t made any friends who were out there doing it. That is when I started my first blog to combat that feeling, but with a toddler on my hands, my writing took a backseat. Then over time I started working in Tech writing, where I wanted to bang my head against the wall (it is just too structured for me) and then the move to NC, it took five years before I was like, oh yeah, I was a writer one time. Man, how I wish I could have those years back! In grad school I spent half the time studying a different concentration, Linguistics (what the hell was I thinking?) so honestly I felt like I missed out there too. You have to be proactive though. That I have realized. You have to, again, create your own opportunity. And keep trying. I gave up. Don’t give up! Don’t do as I did, do as I say, damn it! Look for writing groups, clubs, meetings, readings. And go to them! I do not. Ahem, you should. Start slowly by joining online groups if you need to, I did not, you should. Then you can begin to go and meet IRL. I did not, you should. See a trend here? See why you shouldn’t ask me for advice…
  4. Write. I feel like this is a duh, but the number one thing people tell me right after they say that they want to write is that they don’t know where to start. Then I say, it doesn’t matter. Cause it doesn’t matter. Just start writing. Remember that funny college story? Write it down. Remember that security guard at the library? Tell his story, or the one that you fabricated in your head. If you need something more concrete you can start a journal or a blog. Journaling is cool because you can write whatever you want and you won’t run the risk of having an ex-partner or an ex-boss stumble across it at 2 a.m. on a Friday night when they searched your name and the word diarrhea together. A blog, I’m learning, is a real shit-kicker, because it is this sort of public, sort of private space, where you feel brazen enough to write about your explosive diarrhea, then a week later you see an acquaintance at Harris Teeter, and you have coffee in your cart, and they are all, Hey, remember how coffee gives you the poops! Haha! And then you’re all, Oh yeah, thanks Karen, I had forgotten about that… So, there’s that.

So there you are, some tips from me to you. Let me just remind you, that I should not be giving any advice about writing. I am not an expert. Then again, Dave, the guy down at Verizon isn’t a chili cook-off expert, but I did add the extra tamales, and it made a world of difference. So…

Go write something.

M.