Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Friday, March 21, 2014

One Stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour: Where There Be Dragons

Many thanks to Sioux of Sioux’s Page for including me in The Writing Process blog tour! It was begun by Margo Dill, who passed it to the incredible Donna Volkenannt, who formerly took first place in the global humor category of the world famous Erma Bombeck Writing Competition and who this year won honorable mention in the global human interest category of that same contest. Sioux summed her up so well that I can’t add a thing except to say that everything Donna does and is has a kind of grace to it.

Donna then passed it to Sioux, who is a fierce spirit who can do pretty much anything (and then act later like it was nothing at all). Her wit is of course sharply, impishly wicked-clever, but it’s tempered by such generosity, kindness, and modesty that both she and her art are hewn into legend itself. As if that weren’t enough, she is a 2014 winner of the Saint Louis production of the national Listen to Your Mother event and will perform May 10 (YES, she performs, too) at the St. Luke’s Institute for Health Education at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

So here were the Writing Process blog tour questions:

What am I working on?

A young adult novel. Also some other stuff, such as possible submissions to various upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not going to answer this question exactly the way it was intended. Instead, I’ll say that my last creative nonfiction piece differed in that it turned out not to be the piece I wanted it to be. Sad, but true. I don’t think bad early drafts necessarily make us bad writers. I think not knowing they are bad does. That’s why I think a lot of writers perpetually do battle with both sides of that most fearsome of two-headed dragons: self-assurance vs. self-doubt. We’re led to believe that self-assurance is everything, but it can only get us so far. If it takes over too much, we’re liable to write stuff that isn’t our best. But when the latter rears its ugly head, the piece is in danger of never getting written in the first place. Odd that it doesn’t matter if someone accepts the piece or not—somewhere deep down we have to know it’s the best we could do, and it’s only when I’ve reached that point that I feel like I’ve slain the dragon. The greatest weapon in this battle is objectivity, which is why an honest critique group helps so enormously. Sometimes there’s only so much they can do, however, so some pieces are better left to sit a while. The aforementioned piece turned out not to be appropriate for the publication I had in mind, for example, so I may put it away to marinate. Sioux is so generous of spirit that she says things fall out of me. They don’t. They do often fall out of an old file where they’ve been marinating—and sometimes pickling—for a long time. The irony! Sometimes if I can forget the piece enough, I can later read it from the most objective place possible.

Why do I write what I do?

I try to capture a message that’s important to me, and I try to capture it in a way that I hope will somehow resonate with others. I think people who are interested in any kind of art in the first place have a need to make sense of the world. 

How does your writing process work?

Usually I have an idea of both the beginning and end before I ever get started, and writing is the process of making the journey. Being able to make the journey at a time when I can lose myself in it to the point that it feels like it takes over and writes itself is, of course, the eternal goal. And the confoundingly tricky part for me.

Time to pass this illustrious award to:

Lynn Obermoeller of Present Letters. 
Lynn is one of those other people who can do just about anything and make it look effortless. She is also incredibly gracious. She is a deeply conscious and fearless soul who never hides behind pretense. (Why do I keep envisioning knight imagery?) She is disarmingly honest, and it’s that very quality that makes her characters complex, fascinating and delightfully vivid. She is also a whiz at plotting.

Lisa Ricard Claro of Writing in the Buff. 
I’ve never met Lisa in person, but her blog and writing are first rate. She blends wisdom and warmth with incredible grace. Her clever wit is legendary. She does a wonderful job of walking the line between being approachable and being the soul of professionalism. I can’t wait to read her upcoming book.

Thank you again, Sioux!

If you are not discouraged about your writing on a regular basis, you may not be trying hard enough.  Any challenging pursuit will encounter frequent patches of frustration.  Writing is nothing if not challenging. ~Maxwell Perkins, editor

And, in honor of World Down Syndrome Day, here is a conversation I overhead at Target between a young male employee with Down Syndrome who puts carts away and his male boss:

Employee (after the boss said he was going home soon): Don’t forget to hug me before you go!

Boss: Well come here and let’s hug you right now, then! 


  1. Tammy--Good grief. I got educated and learned some things--your post was so illuminating and introspective.

    So, there's pickling going on in your anal sphincter? Interesting...

  2. No, the pickling goes on in my intestines. As you should know from critique group when everyone's reading quietly....

  3. Well, you picked two good 'uns in Lynn and Lisa. Good stuff.
    And I love love love the conversation overheard at Target. We have a new Target store in Medicine Hat, and I haven't checked it out yet (although it's been months and months) so now I'm going to go there this weekend with a whole new positive attitude about the place.

  4. Thanks, Kay. When the young man first asked for his hug, I held my breath. And when his boss answered...I smiled the rest of the day. It made me like Target better, too.

  5. Yes! When it writes itself! Like a penned-up pooch pulling you along by the leash the minute he gets paroled for a walk. Much better than trying to drag a balky mule by a halter rope.

    Pickled or marinated, in places I'm not sure I want to think about...your final product is always a treat.

    1. From what I've read, Val, it sounds like you know that pooch pretty well. I, on the other hand, often battle that darned mule. Love the metaphor!

  6. Even this conversation is eloquent, your writing amazing, and your word choices and phrases make me want to try harder. Here's to one of the best writers I know. You continue to surprise me.

    1. And you continue to amaze me that a writer as prolific and talented as you can also be so generous. Thank you, Linda!

  7. Tammy, I so agree with Linda. Your writing IS amazing -- your lovely voice comes through with every word. I also agree with you about the two-headed dragon -- we've talked about it a lot -- and the slaying of the self-doubt one is a constant struggle. But I do believe that both self-assurance and self-doubt are necessary to a fully polished and professional whole, not only with a specific piece of writing, but in one's writing career in general. Thanks so much for your always wise reflections! And the story about Target is precious -- love it!

    1. Theresa, it was a conversation with you about self-doubt that got me thinking about what we have to go through to get writing out there. For me it's an ongoing battle, but I am always encouraged to hear that talented writers like you go through it as well. Thank you for stopping by!

  8. Thanks for being so candid. You're 100% right about the two-headed dragon. I struggle more with self-doubt than self-assurance most of the time, but a lot of inspiration comes from reading posts like this one. You touched on a number of things with which I really relate . . . like the marinating and, as mentioned, the dragon. I enjoy reading what you write in general---I think mostly because I'm never sure whether you're going to crack me up or make me cry. Either way, I'm always entertained and generally learn something worthwhile.

    Great story about Target.

    Oh, and thanks for the kind words Tammy---you've been overly generous and given me an awful lot to live up to!

    1. I'm moved (and more than a little relieved) to hear you go through some of that as well. Thank you so much for the kind comments!

  9. You're incredibly kind and your writing always makes my jaw drop. How am I to blog a post that compares to this? Egads woman! I will eventually get around to this, I promise. You had some really eye-opening things to say here! Love it as always.


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