Archives for January 2015

Talk with Ann & Charity, “On Being a Writer,” part 4

Last interview! Thank you, Ann and Charity, for answering my questions, and most especially for writing the book.

If you, dear readers, have an opportunity to participate in a workshop with Charity and Ann, either in person or online, do yourself a favor and sign up. Your writing life will thank you.

Megan: Charity, what do you read/listen to/watch/play to refuel?

Charity: I like to look at art. I do like to paint or draw or cut or paste or do something artistic or creative. I’m learning to let that be what it is and not worry about actually making anything. I don’t need to be creating anymore to refuel.

I do love to read. Reading has gotten a little tedious at times because I’ve put some pressure on reading, and my reading time is much less than before I got married. The best strategy for me in the past was to read no more than one fiction book and one nonfiction at a time.

Megan: Ann?

Ann: It’s been an intense few months, so there’s been not much time to play. I was on the elliptical the last couple of days. That is different than sitting at my desk, so I’m gonna call this ‘play.’ If I start thinking that way, I don’t view it as work. That was refueling. We’ve got a layer of snow, but in other times of year, I’d want to go for a walk or, when I’m more in shape, for a jog.

I am trying to integrate more music. I’ve been sticking with music without words, so I’m experimenting with that.

And then I came across some art postcards, and I got a stand from [a friend]. I popped the postcard into the stand on my desk, so I’m trying to stimulate the library of my mind with some creative input, whether its auditory or visual while I’m stuck in my home. It’s refueling my writing.

Also reading something that inspires me, either by giving me new thoughts to think or a style that delights. Sometimes that means reading outside the genres I write. Even though it’s still in the world of words, it’s kind of like including visual arts and music in my days to refuel mentally and even emotionally. When I read great writing, it inspires me to work harder at my own work.

Megan: Do either of you have a writing dream?

Charity: What’s funny about that question is that my writing dreams have changed. That’s part of what I wanted to communicate in this book is that if I’d held onto my writing dream of the past, I’d never be able to have a writing life. My writing dream — I actually have a couple of smaller writing dreams, not the sort of giant dreams. That’s the way I dream now; I dream in smaller bits.

Here’s my writing dream: that I’d increasingly have time to spend and dedication to complete longer writing projects. I don’t simply mean writing books anymore. In the past I would’ve said my dream was to be a full-time book writer, but no longer — not that I don’t want to write more books. The world is changing! There’s a lot of ways to write. I am very interested in what comes out of writing longer work that doesn’t come out shorter work.

Ann: I wonder if I’ll wake up in 10 years and wish that I had expressed a very clear plan.

So much of my writing life has been serendipitous. It hasn’t been that I’ve had a dream or a goal, but I see other people longing for their own opportunity. I’ve been at this long enough that I have some connections and some knowledge that I can use to support other people. It’s drawn from my personality, life experience, skills and contacts. I’ve put together this writing coach thing and the personality part of me that loves to encourage people and problem-solve and see them achieve their dreams. That may be more my dream than achieving my own dreams.

I kind of imagine I could write more books, and maybe I will, but at this very moment, it’s too hard for me to think too far into the future. Despite the fact that we have a chapter called ‘Plan,’ and the fact that I would like to plan, I have to hold any goals or dreams loosely right now. I’m not sure what the timing of my goals or dreams will be right now. I think other than my podcast, I can’t think beyond this month and this day. What do I need to do for my clients? For my publishers? What are the small things I’m doing in my own writing? What’s the next action?

I like knowing myself better. When I first started, I tried everything, not knowing what was a good fit for me. I’ve had enough successes and failures. I can do X, but not very well. Or I can do Y, but I don’t want to do Y. I don’t have to stay in my sweet spot. I can branch out. That’s part of experimenting and play. There’s something to be said for that.

I want to be always stretching and growing — maybe that’s my dream, as a writer and a writing coach. That may mean writing things that I can’t even think about right now because I don’t know what that would be.

Talk with Charity Singleton Craig, “On Being a Writer,” part 3

Today’s interview focuses on Charity Singleton Craig. Note: The day after I spoke with Charity, she started her own YouTube series, ‘Five Authors On Being a Writer.’ So, dear writers, always leave some time to fact check before you publish because there’s no other way to know what you should’ve asked, if you’d only known. 

Megan: In November 15 workshop in Round Rock, Texas, in the section on ‘Priorities of the Writing Life,’ you talked about how we need to find ‘expansion joints,’ ways to expand and/or contract under pressure and leave room for writing. How do you do that?

Charity: That’s part of my new method for organizing my day. I have a little magnetic board and these little strips of paper that represent the kinds of things I want to do during the day — ongoing clients — but I also put in things like admin, communications. I seriously hope I don’t take an hour to do that every day, but I mark out an hour to do that every day. That becomes an expansion joint because maybe I get started 15 minutes late, or I have an unexpected phone call.

Today, I was on a project and had to work an extra half an hour, so that’s an expansion joint. I plan an hour for lunch. If I don’t take that long, it’s an expansion joint. I have a list. If [my time] is free, I work on that stuff.

I’m trying to do better about giving myself extra time for deadlines. Last year I missed a lot of deadlines, but I didn’t leave enough time. I didn’t give myself room for error. Giving yourself room for creative mishaps, like I forget that I’m gonna get tired creatively, so I need to give myself room that I don’t have to be producing all the time. I’m trying to figure that out in my schedule, too. A really good rhythm.

That and can I switch gears creatively every hour? I don’t know if that’s realistic. I agree that I can’t wait for the Muse or whatever, but giving myself space to not be at my best. And maybe the expansion joint is I add in another day of rewriting so I have time to tidy up things that didn’t work.

Megan: I just discovered your YouTube videos with Ann, ‘On Being a Writer (for groups).’  How did you decide on the 3-minute format, one she asks you, then vice versa.

Charity: We were talking with someone who was planning to use our book in his writing group and he’s out of state. He invited us to his writing group, and we joked ‘We should come!’ and then we decided, ‘What if we did videos?’

We decided to keep them short because we had writers groups in mind when we first did them, although anyone could use them. If this is going to be in a writing group, we had in mind that they’d already have read the chapter and they were ready to discuss. When we’re in a group, people learn a little bit from us and a lot from each other, so we didn’t want to take too much time.

We also didn’t want to rewrite another book. If it was an hour video on the exact same topic, we would basically have been rewriting the book, and we wanted the book to stand. We thought asking each other questions might be a good model.

Megan: You told me that writing a book about the writing life is a little like writing a book about parenting or marriage — there are so many ways to be a good writer or a good mom or a good wife.

Charity: Even though I am seeing how different it is, I’ve had people say how much they agree. But maybe the differences are in emphasis.

Like for instance, you [Megan] aren’t sending out a lot of work, but that might be more important in my [Charity’s] writing life right now. There are variations on those themes.

Since the book’s come out, I’ve gotten a lot of requests from newer writers or people who want to be writers who don’t know where to go or how to move ahead. That seems to be very common among writers who are newer at this. I think that the kinds of conversations I have are typically people who tell me the ways in which something in the book connected with their lives.

Megan: I’m thinking about when you posted #ShowUsYourSpace on Facebook, and you got all kinds of photos that corresponded to each person’s writing personality.

Charity: #ShowUsYourSpace definitely revealed a lot. It was interesting how elaborate some of the writing spaces were. I had a wonderful office when I lived by myself, and I would end up writing on the couch a lot. Now I have a very hard time doing that. If I wrote the book at a different time, the chapters might have been very different. Now I’m very tied to my space. I tried working at Panera but I didn’t like it because I’ve gotten used to working at home by myself.

Megan: What is your favorite kind of writing to do?

Charity: Essays. It means so many different things to different people. I often tell people I write personal essays, but I usually write essays from my own perspective, so I don’t hesitate to include myself in the essay, but I enjoy the weaving process of taking lots of different cultural artifacts and snippets of real life and reflections after the fact and weaving them into something new. I do write some truly personal, first-person story-type things, but my favorite is the longer-form [essay], drawing in outside stuff and that kind of thing.

Talk with Ann Kroeker, “On Being a Writer,” part 2

Today’s post focuses on Ann Kroeker.

Megan: You’ve been thinking about doing a podcast for awhile. How did you decide on a the format?

Ann: That was a spontaneous decision. I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it. I’d been thinking about it for years. I’d been intimidated by the equipment, afraid it was going to take a lot of investment. I wanted to conquer something that was a low risk. I’m so glad that I did.

[I decided] to focus on one little thing that might encourage a writer.

It became a creative outlet. Once I figured out the basics of how I wanted to try it, it became another creative mode of expression, another media. I like learning a new thing, and it didn’t take too long. I figured some things out. I needed to have something not related to this caregiving episode, something that was all my own.

Megan: Is that why you limited your podcasts to 3 minutes?

Ann: I think it reflects my own time restraints. I figured if I break it into one idea, I could express it in 3-4 minutes. I try to keep it no more than 5 [minutes]. So, reflecting on my amount of time, that’s how I’m approaching [these podcasts], something that encourages me in my writing life. It’s my gift to the listener. Twenty minutes, 45 minutes seems impossibly long.

I’m having fun. I’m getting enough feedback to know that people are enjoying it. I can stay creative and compose ideas without having to develop it to a full blog post or article, so I feel like I’m still growing in my writing life.

Megan: You also edit, and you’re a writing coach. Talk about switching between those three — especially in the same day.

Ann: I have to do it all the time: from writing to editing to writing coach, which can involve both [writing and editing]. When I’m interacting with a client and then switching to editing, it’s very similar. In either situation, I’m working with a writer’s words. Then [in writing], it’s me. It’s my words to my audience. If it’s a longer project, it helps me if I have a longer chunk of time to focus and get a good solid draft down.

That’s why a lot of things have been a little bit on hold because I haven’t had those larger chunks of time until the last month or so. I’m starting to see glimmers of hope that I can dip back into my writing life with more sustained focus. I’m starting to see some potential there for a new rhythm that allows for longer time periods. I’m trying to discover a balance for what works.

I love my work with my clients — I can’t tell you! It’s such a joy, even in the caregiving era that I’m in now. The clients give me such delight that I can invest in them during this time of caring for someone who’s aging. It’s awesome. (I hate that word, but it’s true.) Together we can solve a problem, come up with a plan. I can look at their work and give them valuable help and feedback that helps them go on with confidence or overcome a hurdle. That has been a great way to feel like I’m continuing to sustain my overall writing life. It’s still going strong!

Megan: So, how do you decide how to use a given chunk of time?

Ann: I’ve had to figure out ways to look at the chunk of time that looks like I’ve got available to me and decide which kind of project to undertake based on urgency (deadline, scheduled appointment), importance, personal project. It requires a lot of planning in an unpredictable life. I need to be flexible. My pink backpack has helped because I might have a chunk of time and suddenly be able to work for half an hour.

Megan: What is your favorite kind of writing to do?

Ann: Right now, I think emails! I love email because I can practice writing techniques. I can experiment. I can do it one-on-one. I know your [Megan’s] sense of humor, so I can aim for that and see how that goes with my audience of one. I love to do that as a practice round and extrapolate into some other project that’s going to affect a larger audience. I think that’s the personal side of me. When I was writing a magazine article for a broad audience, say, mid-30s to retirement age, I didn’t relax as much.

The next level up from that would be a blog post. I really like blogging. It still feels personal and personable, and I can still be playful. That’s why I miss it right now. It’s my own person magazine, and I can try things.

I have enjoyed writing books. I don’t write amazing books, but I like exploring a topic a little more deeply. I like gathering research and processing that and expressing that in a way that’s helpful. I like helping people.

Tomorrow, Charity!

Talk with Ann & Charity, “On Being a Writer,” part 1

On January 16, I spoke with Ann and Charity separately on the phone. Some of the questions were the same, and some were different. I’ve combined them here and will post sections of the interviews for the rest of the month (actually, through Friday).

Today’s questions are about writing groups and how writing changes when your life changes.

Megan: In the Acknowledgements, you say, ‘Also, our heartfelt gratitude to the 12 participants who signed up for The Writing Life workshop and taught us so much about the role of friendship in the writing life.’ Can you elaborate?

Ann: The advantage of a workshop is you get input not just from Charity and me but the input and interaction from other people, all at different places in their writing life — an advanced novelist with a new poet. We tried to model an uplifting, encouraging kind of tone, but that was their natural mode. They were really investing in each other, week after week, day after day.

There was a blossoming of friendships that continued long after the workshop ended. It was seeing the power of friendship within the world of people’s writing life. It’s not just the tasks. It’s not just the projects. It’s not just the doing. It’s the interdependence that can take your writing life to a new level. We saw a synergy happen, where writing lives expanded because of the surge of support from multiple people: ‘I’m behind you!’ and, ‘You can do this!’ and, ‘Yes, you have the skill!’ and, ‘Look how good you are at this!’ It was all written, too, in that space. Things are being written down so you can go back and reread it.

We had very different types of writers — people who viewed themselves strictly as bloggers or strictly as poets, and they encouraged each other outside of their genre. We [tend to] kind of think we should have a poetry writing group, that would be great, but it was intriguing to me that we could get together people from a wide range of types of writing.

When I’m trying to arrange my writing life, it doesn’t matter whether I’m a blogger or a poet or a columnist at a magazine. It’s what does my schedule look like? What does my space look like?

Charity: Particularly in the workshop, we were able to see — first it was an observation — that the women who were there, some of them had been friends before, and some of them were new. And we saw that around this idea of writing, that the women were very open to inviting new people in. Writing became an inclusionary activity rather than something that excluded people. That was one thing.

Also the way they would encourage — that’s an overused word — the way they would support each other’s difficulties in the writing life. They’d offer suggestions, they’d share their own stories. And then they would, in turn, share resources, offer to help each other.

Friendships that form in the writing life are like friendships that form elsewhere, but to see that writing could draw people together. What happened is Ann and I didn’t remain workshop leaders, but the way we were able to interact with the women extended beyond the professional, mentoring relationship. We were able to speak into each other’s lives.

Also, with friendships, there is the great potential for competition and jealously and one-upsmanship, so I think we were aware of that, and we acknowledged that. It wasn’t so superficial that we didn’t acknowledge the full range of joys and difficulties that come with friendship. As part of the workshop, we brought it up. The writing life inherently possesses those elements of friendship, and maybe because we were so intentional, we fostered that [friendship].

Megan: Ann, at the November 15 workshop I attended in Round Rock, Texas, you talked about writing within the realities of life. That’s something we don’t talk about enough. What adjustments have you made recently? I know you have an aging parent.

Ann: When my kids were little, I knew a little more what to expect out of my days. It kept evolving, but I could modify my writing routine — it was pretty much squeeze it in. It was more or less predictable.

The curveball of my aging parent came from a sudden and acute event, so it suddenly threw us. It wasn’t this slow evolution. It was this sudden change that involved many, many different things, from paperwork to being on hand to interacting with medical staff to making long-range plans. So I had to very suddenly adapt my writing life while having teen kids at home and college kids to attend to.

The best solution I have is one I used extensively when my kids were younger — to create a portable office. I make sure I have what I need in my pink backpack. (I have a pink backpack. It happens to be pink. I just happened upon a pink backpack at a good price.) Into it goes the laptop and charger and phone and charger. The phone has a hotspot so I can get internet. [The backpack] has paper, pens, Sharpies, all kinds of typical office stuff, and that has allowed me to, if I get a sudden call to a hospital or need to quickly go to a doctor’s appointment, and I find myself with hours of sitting, it allows me to continue my work.

I did have to slow down on things like blogging. I have not actually re-upped that.

I also often, during early stages of [this] event, I had a lot of drive time. I would use my phone to record ideas, whether with a voice recorder or text with a voice transcription tool. I had some kind of note-taking system that was mobile. (I was driving down country roads without much traffic.)

Megan: Charity, how has your writing schedule changed since 1) getting married and suddenly becoming a stepmom, 2) freelancing full time?

Charity: Just marriage, I actually never worked full time while married. A week or two later [after we got married], I worked part time — 30-some hours — but those other hours were the hours I wrote. I haven’t figured out yet how I’d do something full time, have a family and write. I don’t know how I would do that. I don’t write when [my husband] and the boys are here, for the most part.

As a freelancer, I do all kinds of writing and editing, so most of my days are spent — 10 hours a day a lot of the time — is spent writing and editing or doing the work that supports writing and editing. It’s easy for me to spend lots and lots of time in the life of words.

However, I don’t just get to sit around and write whatever I want. I don’t know that I could do that 10 hours a day. That would be creatively exhausting. I do corporate writing. I edit books. I design and edit newsletters for clients. I do educational-type writing. I do some copyediting. Even though I’m doing it all day long, I have to fight for the time to do my own work.

The way I’ve had to adjust that is to get clear on what I want to accomplish in my personal writing, which sometimes mean saying no to work that would pay more. Thankfully, I have enough paid work that I don’t have to have full-time paid work to help our family. It’s more like 15-18 hours a week. I don’t know why I didn’t do this years ago. That’s the big surprise is even as a freelancer and full time, most of the time I don’t have to take on work that I hate.

I still have to fight my schedule to take on my own creative projects. I play around with it all the time. The things that compete against it aren’t really my clients; the things that compete against my writing time are promotion of other writing things and the admin stuff involved in being a freelancer — lots of emailing and invoicing and tax stuff and all that. On some level, I knew there would be paperwork involved, but it can be overwhelming sometimes. I’m really good at spreadsheets. I don’t know how people do it if you don’t have some level of proficiency with those skills.

Tomorrow, just Ann.

Kroeker & Craig’s “On Being a Writer,” Final Words

I skipped this page the first time through. Don’t do that! It’s good!

You can find us at our laptops or:

annkroeker.com

charitysingletoncraig.com

I would love, love, love to cross Ann or Charity’s path at a Starbucks and write together, sit laptop to laptop, drink something warm. When I do a long writing haul at Starbucks, which I don’t do often because I need to drive at least 30 miles to reach one, I get a venti cup of tea. Then another. If I’m just there because I’m sleepy and have miles to go before I sleep, then I get coffee without anything sweet.

We believe you’ll experience a richer life because you’re writing, and you’ll produce richer writing because you’re living well. It’s hard to have one without the other.

Am I living well? It’s the question that haunts me from the book.

Sometimes I feel my life is as small as Emily Dickinson’s, except that instead of writing from my room, I’m writing from my back porch. And I am not writing poetry like Emily Dickinson. By no means!

I found out today that three friends of mine—one writer, two fitness instructors—are traveling to Cambodia together in March. They’ll be working with woman who have come out of the sex trade, teaching them employable skills, doing some mind-body-spirit stuff. It sounds amazing. The best way I can live well is to participate in their “fun-raisers.” Which do sound fun.

But I’m needed here. With my laptop and my spiral and my pencil and an entire cabinet of tea and hard work and 12 simple habits for a writing life that lasts.

Again and again, your time will come.

 

P.S. There are five appendixes with lots of practical tools at the end of the book. I didn’t read that section the first time through, either.

Kroeker & Craig’s “On Being a Writer,” chapter 12

Chapter 12: Limit

I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last for a lifetime.

Thank you, Ray Bradbury, but I prefer a muse who woos. Currently, no one can pull words out of me like George Strait, real low in the background so that I can hardly tell he’s singing my favorite sad song, “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.”

I liked this chapter a lot, too. This is a chapter you have to earn. You have to get busy enough to be able to limit.

Don’t be just writers. Don’t be just writers. Don’t be just writers.

I am just a writer.

(OK, I’m also an editor.)

I am probably guilty of taking on too little rather than too much. Some of that is my personality. Some is because there has not been much emotional space or even actual time to consider a hobby. So the fact that I have attended my writers group sporadically and gone out to lunch with friends monthly and attended/volunteered at multiple productions at the Fredericksburg Theater Company and taken up yoga and made friends at boot camp and attended Baylor football games? Not bad. It approaches a life.

5. The things we love or long for often guide us to new and important paths, even in our writing. Is there a difference between a distraction and a beautiful new key? How can we know?

This is the last question in the last chapter. How can we know? We know when we know. I’ve learned to trust my distractions, put them on and take them out to dinner and a movie, so to speak. If that goes well, we go out again. If I want a third date, it’s usually a new key.

Keys do wear out or we get new doors. That’s OK, too.

Kroeker & Craig’s “On Being a Writer,” chapter 11

Chapter 11: Rest

The writing life is rewarding. Anne Lamott calls it a “gift” to find a place in the writing world. …

Sometimes the gift looks like rest.

This was my favorite chapter.

As I write today I am exhausted. It is 8:30 a.m., and I’m ready for a nap. After writing with no breaks for 10 months, with various significant personal crises along the way, I took one week off for vacation, lost the following week for an especially tragic family funeral, then wrote feverishly—20,000 words in three weeks for the December issue of the magazine.

My job keeps the writing pace pretty steady, with only short breaks. I’ve kept a blog schedule that does the same. Mostly, that’s kept me sane the last seven years. But it’s January, and I’m tired. In late November/early December, we had three major crises. Two of those became less crisis-y, and we had a restful, quiet Christmas—our first in a long time.

I remember a particular day a couple of years ago, one of my worst ever. I called my bosses to let them know what was going on so that they’d make sure someone double-checked my editing. (It’s a good thing because I misspelled Montessori.) They said they understood, but also told me I had to make the deadline that day because of the publishing schedule. I promised I would, and I did. The next day was worse.

That’s what the last few years have been like. Bad day, work anyway, try to sleep, wake up, walk the dogs, make tea, write. In between there have been gifts from wonderful people, like on the worse day after the bad day, my bosses called to check up on me. Moments like that have sustained me. Sometimes you can’t check out. Sometimes people depend on you.

I’d love to have Ann’s week on the UP that she describes, complete with lots of sitting. I need a release from not just months but years of strain. I need the inspiration that comes from “not writing.” I need “lavish periods away from writing.” I have absolutely no idea how to do that.

Then again, if I had it, I’d probably write about not writing.

Kroeker & Craig’s “On Being a Writer,” chapter 10

Chapter 10: Plan

I’d only seen tumbleweeds in movies and cartoons. This was my first glimpse of the real thing, and realizing that is movement depended on violent, threatening gusts, I decided to stop comparing myself to a tumbleweed.

Ann should talk to Dena Dyer, who grew up in the Texas Panhandle. Dena knows that a tumbleweed isn’t something you want to emulate.

But sometimes you do anyway.

Tumbleweeds

By the time you see one, you

should’ve sought shelter

already. I am so tired of tumble-

weeds. Need that wind

to blow itself out, head south

for the coast.

Leave me be. Sick of tumpling.

 

(A note: I’m not saying this is a great poem. It’s just a poem I wrote after reading the chapter.)

 

Then Charity quotes the great Annie Dillard with one of the best writing quotes of all time, the “spend it all” quote. I’ve quoted it on my blog before. Charity also quotes L.L. Barkat:

There is no hurry. The things we cannot write about today , we will surely find we can write about tomorrow. We should not worry about the process, but simply trust it and move on.

I’m not much of a planner when it comes to writing, so I’m going to trust L.L. and not worry too much about the process. This morning in my freewriting time, I wrote about how grief literally chills you. I trust that’s what I needed to write about. Tomorrow? The forecast says it will be clearing up and 20 degrees warmer. Who knows what words will come out of me when I get some sun.

 

 

Want to set a spell.

Sit still.

Can’t think for the gusts.

Kroeker & Craig’s “On Being a Writer,” chapter 9

Chapter 9: Engage

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.

That quote of E.B. White’s is at the end of “Charlotte’s Web.” It’s one of my favorites. In honor of that, I now have a new stuffed animal, who accompanies me in my writing.

IMG_0823

Of course, I named her Charlotte.

(Hope I didn’t scare anyone out there who is not a spider fan.)

I used to engage a lot more. I have a wonderful, supportive writers group that I haven’t attended much lately because I went through a prolonged busy season and then changed my workout routine, and all of a sudden I wasn’t going anymore. It’s a shame, too. I always get something out other people’s sharing, even when I don’t bring anything.

The same goes with online. I used to be much better about reading friends’ blogs and the posts from different online venues that I enjoy. Now I’ll sometimes go days without reading anything.

Going to Ann & Charity’s workshop in November was something new for me and something I enjoyed. Last year I also attended a two-day workshop, but only because I was presenting poetry. I did meet some neat people, though, and it inspired a couple of things—a chapter, a poem, a column.

I think I’m in a different season than I used to be. I haven’t figured out how this one works yet.

Kroeker & Craig’s “On Being a Writer,” chapter 8

Chapter 8: Discover

In young adulthood, married with kids, I maintained this practice of writing both privately and publicly, preserving parts of my identity, keeping them from being swallowed into the chaos of young children.

I want to write about important things, or about seemingly insignificant things in important ways.

For me, these two quotes (the first from Ann, the second from Charity) are related. I preserve parts of my identity apart from my writing. To do that, my strategy has been to write about seemingly insignificant things in important ways.

There are things I’m not ready to share. Honestly, I don’t know if I ever will be. But here’s a little secret:  I write about those things all the time, just in other, insignificant ways—when I write about my dogs, that maple tree that died in the drought, these comforting gray days.

It’s like Oscar Wilde said, “We should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”

It’s the trivial things of life that add up to meaning. When a friend of mine was a missionary in China and we couldn’t write openly about what they were doing, it really wasn’t a problem. We emailed about the things we had always talked about–husbands, kids, books, fashion. And when my mom was dying, we didn’t talk about the big stuff (not much). We talked about family gossip and books and movies and, “Isn’t that lady’s shawl lovely?” And then my mom would strike up a conversation and get the woman’s life story.

Here’s a secret: If you want to know the things that I don’t want to share, it’s usually in my poetry. For example, my poem “God’s Country” was started after my cousin Ashley’s death, four miles north of Happy, Texas.  On the drive home, through towns few Texans know, like Bronte, I thought of Utopia, a little further south. So I used the names of the towns—Happy and Utopia—as stand-ins for the things they evoke: happiness, paradise. I could write about grief while writing about the glorious sunrise at mile marker 95, where we pulled off, and my brother put up a cross. A lot of that didn’t make it’s way into the poem, but for me, it’s all still there.

The poet Robert Frost did that much better than I. His poems float lightly upon an ocean of sadness. All he asks you to do is look at the wooden boat and the sky, consider where that empty bottle came from.