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Muddling Through Mud

I’ve been working on the same book idea for 4 years now. Some days I’m in love with it. Some days I’m hovering over the delete key. At some point, I’d like to be done. But the more I delve into it, the less likely that seems.

Every new person that reads my work points out, in varying degrees, problems. This is normal. Writing is about drafts, drafts, and more drafts. Intellectually I understand that. But it’s exhausting and disheartening to get crisp white papers back full of blood. Every time. No matter how many good things they say, it’s the bad ones I remember. It’s the bad ones I have to try to fix. And so many times, I have no idea how.

Day after day I pour my soul into my story. And lately, I feel like all I’m making is mud. farmto table (2)

This is not a post written to gain sympathy. I simply want to be honest. And this is where I am in my current MFA journey, one packet in and very discouraged. I’m tired, my heart hurts, and when my heart hurts, I write. Thus this self-indulgent, depressing post. 😉

I don’t have any real solutions to add. There’s not going to be a big hopeful but and the end of this. I will, however, offer a small one: even on my worst days, I can’t imagine stopping. Trying to stuff my dreams and my stories back in would be like trying to put a full Kleenex box back together after my two-year-old has ripped out all the tissues and scattered them all over the house.

So I guess I keep going. Maybe the mud will clear. Maybe the blood will dwindle. Maybe I’ll make it; maybe I won’t.

All I know, is there’s no way in hell I’m getting all those damn tissues back in that box.

 

Writing Prompt

I’ve been having a wonderful, overwhelming time so far at my MFA residency. Today, true to my word, at least for now, I wanted to share a little snippet of an event with you.

I attended a lecture from a graduating student about incorporating trauma into your writing. At the end she gave us a prompt and asked us to write about a difficult event from our past: what was important, what you remember, what you don’t.

We were short on time, we only had five minutes, but it was an interesting exercise. This is what I wrote:

What matters is this.

My grandma forgot who I was.

I was in 7th, maybe 8th grade.

We were watching TV, I don’t remember what.

My grandma was in a chair.

I was on the floor, pulling on the long carpet strands.

She called me a beautiful girl.

Asked who I was.

I couldn’t answer.

Someone did, my dad or my grandpa.

There was a nightmare.

She thew snakes.

My grandma forgot who I was.

My mother promised me she wouldn’t.

Mom’s Going Back to School

Approximately two hours ago I (ok my husband) loaded up the car with probably more stuff than I needed. It was pouring rain as I pulled down the driveway. A spider man helmet got stuck underneath the car and I had to get out, turning my curled hair into a frizzy mess, while my husband pushed the car backwards to free it. My two oldest sons raced me to the corner. I let them win, then I waved goodbye.

And now I’m here, at the Lied Lodge in Nebraska City. My luggage is unpacked. (ish- stop judging) My residency package is picked up. All that is left is to wait for the first meeting, and wondering what I’ve gotten myself into and if I’m going to make it out.IMG_20180713_151458

I was talking to one of my aunts a couple days ago. She commented that motherhood hasn’t changed who I am. At first, I didn’t agree. There are oceans, mountains, planets between the person I was six and a half years ago and the person I am now. Most days, I feel like an exhausted wisp of my former self. “Yeah, I used to be smart,” is a common retort of mine. But as I reflected longer, I realized, though I have changed, it’s not in the negative, and all-consuming way it sometimes feels.

Motherhood has made me, more me, which I believe was exactly her point. It’s forced me to be more honest about myself. It’s shed light on anxiety issues I’d previously been able to hide with careful planning. It’s forced me make more specific, more confident requests:

“Yes, I am sure I want you to pick up those toys, even if you are going to play with them sometime in the next 10 years.”

It’s made me focus on what’s actually important.

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And now reader, if you’re wondering what any of this has to do with me beginning my master’s program, here it is:

Old me, the one with brain power, and free time, secretly wanted to be a writer. A real one with a book, or several, on the shelf and another formulating on her computer. But old me would not have signed up for this program and pushed to make this dream into a goal.

So, although three children ago might have been an easier time to decide to enroll full-time in graduate school and be away from home for 10 days a semester, although I might have felt more quick witted and less frazzled, although my biggest hesitations now center around my children and how they will cope, I know it is because of them, not in spite of them that I’m here.

No, I don’t have hours a day to stare blankly into the heart of my computer and come up with a masterpiece. No, I haven’t suddenly turned into an extrovert who loves meeting new people. Of course I’m going to miss my family like crazy.

But I wrangle three small humans, bent on mutual destruction, on a daily basis now. So yes I’ve changed. And Yes I’m the same.

And yes, I can do this.IMG_20180713_165755

I’m planning to document my creative writing MFA (Masters of Fine Art) adventure here on this blog and to be faithful about writing regular posts about my experiences and progress. So, if you’re a mom on a mission, an aspiring author, or you’re my relative and feel obligated, make sure you check back! And, to make it easier, if you follow the blog you’ll get an update when I publish something new.

Thanks for visiting!!!

Storytellers: Expanding Minds and Hearts

“Expand your mind by reading non-fiction books.”

This is advice I’ve heard several times from a popular radio personality. Sounds great, except he goes on to qualify it by insisting fiction book-reading isn’t edifying. It’s “only for fun.”

Yes, fiction books can be fun. (And he and I both agree there’s nothing wrong with that) But they can also be devastating.

And a great fiction or narrative nonfiction book ALWAYS expands my mind.

Good stories, well told. They influence decisions and view points without effort. Without being didactic. And a story doesn’t have to be “real” to be true. Eleanor Estes’s, The Hundred Dresses, Margery William’s The Velveteen Rabbit, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. These stories shaped the lens through which I view the world.book-1760998_1920

Yes, you should stay well-informed. You should know what’s going on in your world. Facts are important. But facts tend to fray if they’re not sewn together by a story.

“Top Ten Ways To…” and “self-help” books have value (though in the interest of transparency, I’m usually not drawn to them). But if a reader is really looking to expand their mind, they should reach for a story.book-2624494_1920

Tips are forgotten. Facts misplaced. Names spend a lifetime wondering around on the tips of our tongues. But stories, stories are remembered.

I am not a prolific author. I am not a world-renown anything. But I’m still betting on my side. Because I work for stories.

And stories shape souls.

Writing Conference: A Family affair by Tacheny Perry

Writing Conference: A Family Affair

A couple weeks ago I attended the Nebraska Writers Guild conference with my dad and sister. It was the first non-pregnancy/birth related overnight away from my oldest children. And so, naturally I was both excited and nervous.

I made an itinerary, promised a special prize for good bedtime behavior, and then I got on a plane and prayed everything would be fine. Those worries however, I’m going to save for a moms blog.

This post is about the writing.

Writing Conference: A Family Affair by Tacheny Perry
My baby and my sitter!

Friday evening, with baby and built in babysitter (aka grandma) in tow, we headed to the conference center to enjoy reading from other Nebraska Writers Guild members and share some of our own. I was actually called second and was able to share one of my favorite moms blog posts: Boy: Why I Cried when I Found out I was have my Third. It was a lot of fun to hear all the different voices and genres, and though we had to leave before my dad could share, I had a wonderful time.

Saturday morning opened with a talk by Sabrina Sumsion about press releases, which I found informative but difficult to write on the spot. (No one’s allowed to read my worksheet 😉 ) Then we were treated to some very interesting stories by retired journalist George Ayoub. He also had some wonderful quotes. Some of my favorites were:

“Don’t be a writer; be writing.” – Faulkner

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.” – Tom Stoppard

My pitch session came during the last (and my favorite) talk of the day. Before you get excited, I wasn’t successful, not in the “Yes, I’m going to sign you today!” way. However, I felt much better about it than I did about my first in-person pitch. For one thing, this time I actually sounded like I was familiar with my book. The agent asked several clarifying questions and I was able to give coherent answers to almost all of them. AND when it was over I got to rejoin a talk about creating compelling characters.

Danny Manus, the final speaker, works in Hollywood, mainly on scripts. But he had some wonderful ideas and specific tools to help any character, whether on screen or in print. I loved that he had exercises and questions I walked out excited to apply to my projects. His presentation was a condensed section of a 4-week webinar series. (Writer buddies, if you’re interested in checking it out here’s a link)

A couple of my favorite character exercises:

  • come up with 5 core traits/adjectives for protagonist and antagonist
    • for each, write 3 ways you bring them out in the story
  • What are 5 things that brought your character to page 1
  • Create 3 ‘deal breakers’ for you protagonist; make him/her break one
Writing Conference: A Family Affair by Tacheny Perry
Right around here I got this picture…thanks mom ;-/

I loved learning new tools for my craft. I loved meeting new people with whom I share a dream. But mostly, I loved being able to go to a conference with my family. More than any book, or lesson, or experience, my family, their writing legacy, has influenced my writing. My dad, my mom, and my grandpa were my first readers, critique partners, and champions.

During his opening remarks, the Nebraska Writers Guild president mentioned our family and the fact that I was a third-generation member. My father took me to my first guild conference and his father took him.

“How cool is that?” he asked.

Pretty damn cool.

 

They're not my Excuse from Tacheny Perry

They’re not my Excuse, They’re my Reason

People often assume it’s my children’s fault when my writing is going slowly. And it’s true. Being the mom of three boys is exhausting.

They're not my Excuse from Tacheny PerryIn high school and college there were times I thought I had no free time. But I didn’t know the meaning of busy until I became a mom. Until my idea of a break became being able to pee with the door closed.

So yes, they keep me busy. But they’re not my excuse, they’re my reason.

Every day they challenge me. They ask for more and more, and miraculously I find it. I wrestle three children into the car and drive across town. I bounce a baby, while listening to a rambling, nonsensical toddler story, nodding at all the right parts, and trying not to unwittingly promise him ice cream. Sometimes I lose it, but most of the time I don’t.

They're not my Excuse from Tacheny PerryThey count on me. They believe in me. So I am strong.

 

That momma bear instinct is real, And fierce. It grows out of a love that shouldn’t be possible and bleeds into everything.

They're not my Excuse from Tacheny PerrySo this is an ode to my children: they may not give me hours to write, but they help me find the strength to share what I have to say. They inspire me with stories. And force me to let rejection go. (Who has time to dwell when someone is biting someone else?)

I was a writer before I was a mom. But when I become an author, it will be because of my children.

So here’s to my reason.

Here’s to my boys.They're not my Excuse from Tacheny Perry

Rediscovering the Rush

I called my dad a couple days ago to ask him a serious question. You see, I’ve been starting savings-box-161876_1280to save money so I can go to the SCBWI conference in July. And the more money I put aside, the more guilty I became.

While writing the first draft of my first manuscript, I was impressively consistent. I had a toddler and an infant, but still I managed my goal of 700 words (I know Jack London said 1,000, but I figured 2 kids bought me at least a 300 word leeway). Sometimes the thought that my previous experience consisted of papers and short stories of no more than 10-15 pages became daunting, but the ever climbing word count was reassuring and I pushed on.

book-145399_1280As a newbie, I ran into other stumbling blocks as well. I remember the first time I had a critique partner read my work, say she thought it had tons of promise, and then hand me back a manuscript brimming with red marks. (…but I thought you said you liked it…? 😦 ) Still, there were more ups than downs. I discovered I enjoyed parts of the writing process I didn’t think I would (like editing, who knew?!) And I saw my accomplishments pile up: a completed first, second, 20th draft.

I started a blog (this one 😉 ), signed up to be a contributor and then editor for Albuquerque City Moms Blog, made plans to go back to school for my MFA once my children got a little older. I was confident I’d found the career I wanted to pursue the rest of my life.

And then I got pregnant, which for me meant hyperemesis gravidarum (or as I like to call it – the puke until you feel like you’re going to die disease). Writing stopped, but I told myself it was only temporary. In fact, I believe my last post said something to that affect. But even after I could move and eat without vomiting, even after our third son came and my energy level went up (slightly), even after he began to form a bit of a nap routine, I didn’t write. Not consistently anyway.

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Now, of course, I could come at you with all sorts of excuses. Legitimate ones even. I’ve got three boys 5 and under who, despite some progress, have yet to manage coordinating their schedules. I’ve got a baby who wakes me up several times a night. I’ve got family who is about 900 miles too far away to babysit or lend a hand. But none of those are the real reason I stopped writing.

I stopped because I got scared.

Which brings us back to the phone conversation with my dad.

My sister, who is amazing and extremely talented, has recently received both her desired chemistry internship and a journalism scholarship. I am super proud of her! Hearing about her exciting news brought me back to my college days. It’s not been that many years, but I feel like a completely different person. Back then, I thought I had everything figured out too. However, though I still enjoy music, I have absolutely no desire to utilize my music education degree anymore. (my kiddos are enough, I can’t handle being in charge of molding someone else’s too)

I have one manuscript, sure, but the second one has been at a stand-still for almost a year now. So I wondered: was writing my music ed degree all over again? And more importantly, am I good at it? Enough to make it my vocation?questions-1922476_1920

This is what I asked my dad. I wasn’t looking for false flattery or a boost for my ego. I was looking for honesty. And though he is my dad (and therefore bias), he’s also one of the best writers I know. So when I asked for the truth, I knew I would get it.

There is no twist to this part of the story. He did, in fact, as I’m sure you all suspected, tell me I was a very talented writer. And though he admitted this didn’t guarantee me a career, he assured me it wasn’t a waste of my time/money to try.

It was a nice conversation. But it’s not what inspired me to write this post, though it did motivate me towards what did.

The phone call ended with us deciding to exchange writing by the following week. So Saturday, though I still wasn’t convinced I had what it took, I sent my husband to the park with our children and I dutifully sat down to write.

A few hundred words in I found myself thinking, “God, I love this.”woman-1245817_1920

The rush. The high you get while creating a story. There’s nothing like it.

It’d been so long since I’d forced myself to sit down for any length of time and just write. I’d forgotten that feeling. I’d let doubt take its place.

But when I write, when I let it take over, the doubt dissolves.

So even if I never get published. Even if I’m not really any good. I’ll keep writing. Because I’ve rediscovered the rush.

And there’s no way letting that go.