Guest Blog by Joan Heartwell

The Story Is True But It’s Not Really Me
By Joan Heartwell

I went to an energy healer once about twenty years ago because someone had wronged me, and I could not seem to lift myself above my anger. I thought I would get to tell the healer all the gruesome details about what happened, but she didn’t want to hear them. She said, “That’s your story; it’s not you. I’ll be healing you. If you want to change your story, you’ll have to do that yourself.” I didn’t say so, but I was thinking, What do you mean, that’s not me? Of course it’s me! I had to live through it, and now I own it! It’s mine! But in truth, I knew what she meant. She was referring to the me that I glimpse occasionally when I’m meditating, the me that is part of the one that is all of us. Instead of listening to my rant regarding the me that is two parts flesh and three parts ego, she had me turn in circles, so she could scope out my aura from all angles. Then, she had me lie on the healing table. (When I got up an hour later, my anger was gone! But that’s another story.)

Her remarks about stories not really belonging to us, I’m certain, were not meant to suggest that stories don’t have a place in our lives. Stories are crucial to living. My life has been all stories, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I discovered the thrill of making up stories when I was six or seven, though I didn’t bother writing them down back then. I had paper dolls, and since I liked to draw, I could make more paper dolls when I needed a larger community to work out a more complex theme. My paper dolls lived in shoe boxes outfitted with toasters and lamps cut out from my mother’s Green Stamp catalogs. Their stories were like soap operas, with them falling in love, falling out of love, celebrating surprises, despairing over snubs … nothing out of the ordinary.

When I got a little older (ten, eleven, twelve) I stopped using paper dolls to work out stories. Mostly, I would do fiction in my head at night as I lay in bed. I hated going to sleep back then; I didn’t see the point. So, I put my time to good use. Back in the paper doll days I had to be an omniscient narrator, because I couldn’t very well be a paper doll. But once I got to doing the stories in my head, I could be one of the characters. In my preteen stories, I was a beautiful mermaid, swimming in a lagoon awaiting the arrival of Peter Pan; I was a beautiful Native American princess protected by handsome philosophical men on horses; I was a high wire/trapeze artist working in a circus, swinging with other nimble persons. I would stay on a detail until I could see it, forcing my imagination to concentrate, concentrate until I could see the bad guys coming up over the hill with their rifles or feel the cold metal of the trapeze bar in my white-knuckled grip. If I focused enough setting the scene, it might still exist the next night, and I could just walk on in with the other characters and start where we left off. But, sometimes details slipped away and had to be reconstructed. And there were times when I simply fell asleep before I could get to the most important part of the story, the scene all the details were meant to support in the first place.

It worked out well that I liked to make up stories because I spent a lot of time alone. My only sibling (until my sister came along when I was ten) was my brother, and he was “retarded,” as we said back then. I loved him dearly, but I couldn’t play with him because he didn’t always “know how to play nice.” I was younger and smaller, and I had to protect myself. I had friends, but my mother was strict and I didn’t get to see them as much as I would have liked. Nor did we have money to send me to dance classes or piano lessons. So I became creative. Maybe I would have been creative anyway. I don’t know. I drew; I played guitar; I made up songs; I put on plays. When I was with my friends, we played kick-ball, stick-ball, hide-and-go-seek, hula hoops, tag, jump rope, and pick-up-sticks. When I was alone, I lived in my head.

By the time I was a teen I saw the value of putting my stories on paper. I spent so much time at night going over and over what someone said to me that day and what I said back—or, more often, failed to say back—that there was not enough time anymore to make up stories in bed. By then, I was writing poetry, mostly about boys I liked and boys who were breaking my heart. But there were a few more interesting themes now and then too. I remember writing one long poem about my mother and all the sacrifices she had to make to take such good care of my brother. Over the years, when I would get so angry at her, the lines to that poem would come back to me and help me to remember a time when I saw her in a different way. Working with pen and paper turned out to be much more fun than I could have imagined at an earlier age. I did not mind rewriting and polishing. And if I could bring a story better to life by embellishing the truth just a bit, so be it. The story was the thing.

When I was in my early twenties, I decided I would make my living as a novelist. I started out writing short stories, and a few got published, but it took until I was in my thirties for me to write my first publishable novel. By then, I had figured out that only a small percentage of fiction writers actually make a living writing novels, and it was unlikely that I was going to be one of them. So while I went on writing fiction for the pleasure of it, I also continued to seek out jobs where I would be called on to write at least some of the time…copy in an ad agency, newsletters and press releases for a PR agency, resumes for a job coaching outfit, etc. Once, when I was approaching forty, a man asked me to ghostwrite his true story of being misidentified, imprisoned and tortured in a foreign country. That was when I learned that I loved ghostwriting, and I have ghostwritten several other books since. 

I have had four novels published over the years, a memoir, and I have a fifth novel coming out later this year. And I have just finished novel number six. I’ve gotten some advances and even won a few awards, but if you put all the money I’ve made with my own writing projects together, there wouldn’t be enough to buy a new used car. The money I’ve made working as a pen for hire, however, has enabled me to pay a lifetime’s worth of bills and put two children through college.

What I love about writing is the process. It doesn’t matter so much whether it is my own story or your story being created. The blank sheet of paper (well, the blank Word doc) represents pure potential. It makes me want to dig in and get started. I’m sure it’s the same feeling dancers get when they walk into a huge mirrored space with a hardwood floor. 

Memoir writing is especially interesting because as you write you get to acknowledge the mistakes you made in your life and forgive yourself, and you also get to celebrate the things you got right. And once the memoir is done, somehow you understand that it is just another story, and you can let it go. My memoir is about things that happened to me, even things that shaped me, but those things are not who I am at the core. That is the lesson I’ve learned over the years.

The other day I hooked up with Betty, a woman I had not seen or talked to since high school and had not hung out with since we were sixteen. She was coming into town to see some family, and I picked her up at the airport. We had lunch before her family came to get her. Back when we were kids she was a beautiful, popular cheerleader who exuded poise and confidence socially and academically; I always assumed she had to come from a perfect family. How did I know how a perfect family behaved? We all did, because we all watched “The Donna Reed Show,” “Father’s Knows Best,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” and “Leave it to Beaver.” Shows like that, about loving families that worked out ideal solutions without ever raising their voices, were a stark contrast to what went on in my house.

Same for my Betty, it turned out. We weren’t even out of the airport before she told me that her mother had been an alcoholic and her father had been having an affair the whole time she lived at home. She hardly ever saw him. She had basically raised herself. She did a damn good job too.

Hers was a story she never would have shared when we were kids. You didn’t tell people stuff like that back then for fear that it might put them off. There was shame inherent in not having a perfect family, so you kept to yourself. Whatever happened behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors. If you were a survivor like Betty was, like I was, once you came out of the house you went beaming into the street to find your friends and have as much fun as was possible before you had to go back in again.

I told Betty the short version of my story too. By the time we got to the restaurant, we were on to other things. Your story, my story, in the end it’s all the same. Throw them all in a pot and mix them around and pull out a new one. It still won’t be you. But sharing stories, telling them and listening to them over the course of a lifetime, is a satisfying endeavor that leads ultimately to some kind of understanding about human nature, which leads to other good things. I’m glad to have lived my life in stories—even if they aren’t really mine.

Being True To Yourself

Being introverted can mean that we are badgered by many negative feelings and emotions. Most social situations make us feel very uncomfortable and sometimes even fearful. This is because we are so afraid of criticism and to be humiliated in front of others. But this need not be the case. You could change your mind-set from always expecting the worse, to simply lightening up and accepting what is.

Introverted writers all have to create a safe haven for ourselves. But before we can create this safe haven, we have to get to know ourselves and what paralyzes us completely. Here are a few things to consider when creating your safe haven:

• If public speaking is really painful for you, skip it and self-promote via Skype. You could also self-promote online and present online workshops.

• If traditional publishing scares you with all its querying and intense competitiveness, then self-publish. There are so many online opportunities to self-publish that there is no excuse not to look for that option if you are really paralyzed by the thought of sending out manuscripts.

• If meeting people in person scares you, meet them online on Facebook and Twitter. These are all possibilities and you can ensure that you still meet people and sometimes even the right people to be the best writer that you can be.

However, introverts have to remember one thing: sometimes we have to challenge ourselves and do something outside of our comfort zone to grow as writers and individuals. Introverts are especially prone to doing things that don’t scare them because they want to maintain control. But this only makes us stagnant and we won’t evolve and grow.

So, once in a while, introverted writes should do something that will be a bit uncomfortable but so that we will grow over time. If we always do the same things over and over again, we will probably not grow and we will not only remain the same but we will constrict. So, we try not to do that. Instead, we should try to challenge ourselves once in a while, and do something different.

Try it!

Irene S. Roth

How to Overcome Shyness as a Writer

If you are a shy writer, this is not necessarily a death sentence. It doesn’t mean that you always have to stay shy and introverted. However, it does mean that you will have to do things differently if you are to excel as a writer and to be the best and most productive that you can be.

Here are a few ways to overcome shyness:

1. Start slow

Don’t think that you will overcome your shyness in a day or a week. Instead, plan to do a few things differently for the next few months that will stretch you and help you become less shy. You may want to:

• Apply for a contest;
• Send out a query a month;
• Join a critique group that you could meet on a weekly or monthly basis in person;
• Talk to other writers (in person);
• Resist sitting in your office and writing alone all the time—go to a café or library instead;
• Tell people who you are a writer, and celebrate your career.

2. Don’t expect immediate results

It took you a lifetime to become the shy person that you are. So, don’t expect that you will get over it just like that. It will take time, and you will slide backwards a lot. But if you do even a few things differently, you will feel much more confident and less shy as time goes on.

3. Talk to other shy writers

Most writers are shy and introverted. Shy writers are drawn to writing. But the successful writers—ones that are productive AND published have found ways to send out their manuscripts and to work through their shyness instead of being paralyzed by it. They have discovered ways to overcome their shyness by actually doing some of the thing that they need to in order to be published authors.

4. Realize that you’re not alone

Since many writers are shy, it is easy to meet shy writers. Just go to a writer’s conference. You will be able to chat with other published writers authors AND you will be able to find out how they actually got over some of their shyness and began thriving in their writing career. This can be very powerful and inspiring.

By taking these steps, you will be overcoming your shyness as a writer, one day and one small step at a time. In no time, you will be feeling much more self-confident and less shy.

If you are a shy writer, you should read this very important book by C. Hope Clark

Try it!

Irene S. Roth
Author, Freelance Writer

Meet Anita Banks!

Meet Anita Banks!  Thank you for being here on my Blog today Anita!  It is GREAT to get to know you more.

82e0133dbacf648a16283ce85bd3836c1. Tell us a few things about yourself.
Hi, I am a wife, mother of three and grandmother of four, so far. I work full time at a church as the Business Administrator. I am a new author! That is so fun to say. I am looking forward to retirement so I can devote more time to writing.

2. Who is your favorite author?
Easy, Jane Austen. I have read her books over and over. They are my personal escape. But I enjoy reading children’s books because they are fun.

3. What are your hobbies?
I like to crochet and scrapbook, and have done that for several years. But I took up running a couple of years ago, for general health, and fell in love with it. I started with a training group to run a 5k. This year I have so far run several 5k’s, 10k’s and two half marathons.

4. What inspired you to want to write Tanner Builds a Block Tower?
The inspiration for this book was my grandson, Tanner. On a visit to see him when he was about three years old, he loved to play with his building blocks and build towers, over and over. He was fascinated with this repetitive play. We also went on numerous walks, he loved to explore the outdoors, and still does. So it seemed a natural fit to combine the two activities.

5. Was this a difficult book to write?
I’m not sure difficult would be the right word. I had the idea when I signed up for a workshop, Walking on a Rainbow, a fiction Picture Book Workshop, with Mayra Calvani. The workshop was wonderful with the instruction and inspiration.

51UMnaXQB-L._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-41,22_AA300_SH20_OU15_6. Can you summarize the book for us?
Tanner Builds a Block Tower is about a little boy who is determined to build a tower with his blocks. But on the way to his destination he gets distracted by different animals and insects. He also loses some of his blocks. So he has to find them to finish what he started. Determination and perseverance is the theme.

7. What are your future writing projects?
I have two picture books that I am shopping and I am currently trying to write a chapter book.

8. How do you divide your writing day? Are you a full time writer?
I hope to someday be a full time writer. But my job requires me to work nine hour days, so I am a part time writer for sure, very sporadic with my writing time.

9. Any tips for aspiring writers?
I can’t say enough about workshops, all the ones that I have taken I am glad I did. I am a workshop junkie! I have taken several on different parts of writing, such as plotting or character. Each instructor gave you a different perspective, and that has helped me tremendously. Read what you want to write and study the books.

10. Could you share your website with our readers?
Thank you so much, my website is very new and a work in progress, but would love for you to visit and let me know what you think.

http://www.anitabanks.com/

Thank you for being here on my blog today!  It was GREAT to get to know you more!

A Guest Blog by Joan Heartwell

The Story Is True But It’s Not Really Me
By Joan Heartwell

I went to an energy healer once about twenty years ago because someone had wronged me, and I could not seem to lift myself above my anger. I thought I would get to tell the healer all the gruesome details about what happened, but she didn’t want to hear them. She said, “That’s your story; it’s not you. I’ll be healing you. If you want to change your story, you’ll have to do that yourself.” I didn’t say so, but I was thinking, What do you mean, that’s not me? Of course it’s me! I had to live through it, and now I own it! It’s mine! But in truth, I knew what she meant. She was referring to the me that I glimpse occasionally when I’m meditating, the me that is part of the one that is all of us. Instead of listening to my rant regarding the me that is two parts flesh and three parts ego, she had me turn in circles, so she could scope out my aura from all angles. Then, she had me lie on the healing table. (When I got up an hour later, my anger was gone! But that’s another story.)

Her remarks about stories not really belonging to us, I’m certain, were not meant to suggest that stories don’t have a place in our lives. Stories are crucial to living. My life has been all stories, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I discovered the thrill of making up stories when I was six or seven, though I didn’t bother writing them down back then. I had paper dolls, and since I liked to draw, I could make more paper dolls when I needed a larger community to work out a more complex theme. My paper dolls lived in shoe boxes outfitted with toasters and lamps cut out from my mother’s Green Stamp catalogs. Their stories were like soap operas, with them falling in love, falling out of love, celebrating surprises, despairing over snubs … nothing out of the ordinary.

When I got a little older (ten, eleven, twelve) I stopped using paper dolls to work out stories. Mostly, I would do fiction in my head at night as I lay in bed. I hated going to sleep back then; I didn’t see the point. So, I put my time to good use. Back in the paper doll days I had to be an omniscient narrator, because I couldn’t very well be a paper doll. But once I got to doing the stories in my head, I could be one of the characters. In my preteen stories, I was a beautiful mermaid, swimming in a lagoon awaiting the arrival of Peter Pan; I was a beautiful Native American princess protected by handsome philosophical men on horses; I was a high wire/trapeze artist working in a circus, swinging with other nimble persons. I would stay on a detail until I could see it, forcing my imagination to concentrate, concentrate until I could see the bad guys coming up over the hill with their rifles or feel the cold metal of the trapeze bar in my white-knuckled grip. If I focused enough setting the scene, it might still exist the next night, and I could just walk on in with the other characters and start where we left off. But, sometimes details slipped away and had to be reconstructed. And there were times when I simply fell asleep before I could get to the most important part of the story, the scene all the details were meant to support in the first place.

It worked out well that I liked to make up stories because I spent a lot of time alone. My only sibling (until my sister came along when I was ten) was my brother, and he was “retarded,” as we said back then. I loved him dearly, but I couldn’t play with him because he didn’t always “know how to play nice.” I was younger and smaller, and I had to protect myself. I had friends, but my mother was strict and I didn’t get to see them as much as I would have liked. Nor did we have money to send me to dance classes or piano lessons. So I became creative. Maybe I would have been creative anyway. I don’t know. I drew; I played guitar; I made up songs; I put on plays. When I was with my friends, we played kick-ball, stick-ball, hide-and-go-seek, hula hoops, tag, jump rope, and pick-up-sticks. When I was alone, I lived in my head.

By the time I was a teen I saw the value of putting my stories on paper. I spent so much time at night going over and over what someone said to me that day and what I said back—or, more often, failed to say back—that there was not enough time anymore to make up stories in bed. By then, I was writing poetry, mostly about boys I liked and boys who were breaking my heart. But there were a few more interesting themes now and then too. I remember writing one long poem about my mother and all the sacrifices she had to make to take such good care of my brother. Over the years, when I would get so angry at her, the lines to that poem would come back to me and help me to remember a time when I saw her in a different way. Working with pen and paper turned out to be much more fun than I could have imagined at an earlier age. I did not mind rewriting and polishing. And if I could bring a story better to life by embellishing the truth just a bit, so be it. The story was the thing.

When I was in my early twenties, I decided I would make my living as a novelist. I started out writing short stories, and a few got published, but it took until I was in my thirties for me to write my first publishable novel. By then, I had figured out that only a small percentage of fiction writers actually make a living writing novels, and it was unlikely that I was going to be one of them. So while I went on writing fiction for the pleasure of it, I also continued to seek out jobs where I would be called on to write at least some of the time…copy in an ad agency, newsletters and press releases for a PR agency, resumes for a job coaching outfit, etc. Once, when I was approaching forty, a man asked me to ghostwrite his true story of being misidentified, imprisoned and tortured in a foreign country. That was when I learned that I loved ghostwriting, and I have ghostwritten several other books since. 

I have had four novels published over the years, a memoir, and I have a fifth novel coming out later this year. And I have just finished novel number six. I’ve gotten some advances and even won a few awards, but if you put all the money I’ve made with my own writing projects together, there wouldn’t be enough to buy a new used car. The money I’ve made working as a pen for hire, however, has enabled me to pay a lifetime’s worth of bills and put two children through college.

What I love about writing is the process. It doesn’t matter so much whether it is my own story or your story being created. The blank sheet of paper (well, the blank Word doc) represents pure potential. It makes me want to dig in and get started. I’m sure it’s the same feeling dancers get when they walk into a huge mirrored space with a hardwood floor. 

Memoir writing is especially interesting because as you write you get to acknowledge the mistakes you made in your life and forgive yourself, and you also get to celebrate the things you got right. And once the memoir is done, somehow you understand that it is just another story, and you can let it go. My memoir is about things that happened to me, even things that shaped me, but those things are not who I am at the core. That is the lesson I’ve learned over the years.

The other day I hooked up with Betty, a woman I had not seen or talked to since high school and had not hung out with since we were sixteen. She was coming into town to see some family, and I picked her up at the airport. We had lunch before her family came to get her. Back when we were kids she was a beautiful, popular cheerleader who exuded poise and confidence socially and academically; I always assumed she had to come from a perfect family. How did I know how a perfect family behaved? We all did, because we all watched “The Donna Reed Show,” “Father’s Knows Best,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” and “Leave it to Beaver.” Shows like that, about loving families that worked out ideal solutions without ever raising their voices, were a stark contrast to what went on in my house.

Same for my Betty, it turned out. We weren’t even out of the airport before she told me that her mother had been an alcoholic and her father had been having an affair the whole time she lived at home. She hardly ever saw him. She had basically raised herself. She did a damn good job too.

Hers was a story she never would have shared when we were kids. You didn’t tell people stuff like that back then for fear that it might put them off. There was shame inherent in not having a perfect family, so you kept to yourself. Whatever happened behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors. If you were a survivor like Betty was, like I was, once you came out of the house you went beaming into the street to find your friends and have as much fun as was possible before you had to go back in again.

I told Betty the short version of my story too. By the time we got to the restaurant, we were on to other things. Your story, my story, in the end it’s all the same. Throw them all in a pot and mix them around and pull out a new one. It still won’t be you. But sharing stories, telling them and listening to them over the course of a lifetime, is a satisfying endeavor that leads ultimately to some kind of understanding about human nature, which leads to other good things. I’m glad to have lived my life in stories—even if they aren’t really mine.

The Importance of Believing in Yourself

Following-through and being diligent can help a writer be a lot more in control of their writing career and projects. Are you plagued by fears when you write? Are you always wondering whether you are working on the right project or performing at your optimal level? Do you always second-guess yourself to the point where you stop to write and answer email or do anything but write?

If you answered any of these questions in the affirmative, you are probably a fearful writer. I believe that writers who are fearful lack self-confidence, and when they build up their self-confidence, they will be much more fearless. It is hard to be productive and enjoy writing when you are constantly harassed by negative thoughts and feelings about your ability. What you need is to become tranquil and peaceful in order to do your best writing. And you can do this with a bit of practice and a change of mindset.

One of the best ways to assuage your fears as a writer is to not let them overwhelm you during your scheduled writing time. Yes, I know this is easier said than done, but here are a few relatively easy things that you can do to change your mindset.

• Know which project you want to work on before you sit down to write. This way you won’t have to keep guessing what you have to do. Try to complete all of your goals for the day as you scheduled them. This will give you the self-confidence that you need to develop self-confidence.

• Have a long-range plan and vision for your writing career. After a few of the writers in my local critique group reflected on their vision and wrote it down they have had very few fears since when they sit down to write. Sometimes knowing where you are going in your writing career and having goals, both short and long-term, can make such a huge difference for your self-confidence as a writer.

• Make your office space very welcoming and comfortable. Remove all distractions, such as phones and cell phones as well as the internet if possible. If your computer is connected to the internet, turn it off until after you have done your writing!

• When you come into your office to write, take a moment to connect with your center by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. This will center you and allow you to do your best writing. In addition, you will feel a lot more fearless.

By taking these steps, you can become a much more fearless and self-confident writer. And once you become a more self-confident writer, you will be very productive and happy. And you will also look forward to your writing time. All you need is a change of mindset from passive to proactive.

Following-through is making sure that you believe in yourself. And believing in yourself can be made quite easy. All of you have to do is take the steps that I have outlined above.

Irene S. Roth