Let it all go then write it all down

I’ll admit it. The title caught my eye. In the right context, all three are fun. But what author Adair Lara is talking about in “Naked, Drunk, and Writing” is letting go of your inhibitions and getting your story on paper.

I picked it up and read the back cover with the questions she’ll help readers answer and was hooked:

How do I know where to start my piece and where to end it? (Exactly!)
How do I make myself write when I’m too scared or lazy or busy? (Definitely need help here.)
What makes a good pitch letter, and how do I get mine noticed?
I’m ready to publish – now where do I find an agent?
If I show my manuscript to my mother, will I ever be invited to a family gathering again? (Sorry, Mom!)

Lara, a former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, MFA teacher, and an Associated Press Best Columnist in California, divides the book into five sections: writing down your story, personal essays, techniques, memoirs, and getting published. Each section is broken into easily digestible pieces, such as outlining the essay, using images to provide details, being careful with tone, and how to handle rejection and acceptance.

The author gets to the heart by asking you to dig deep and be honest. Give the reader specific details, put them in the scene, add emotion but leave out the sentimentality. Make them hear the waves lapping at the jagged rocks, make them feel the heat of your skin reddened by the sweltering afternoon sun.

Additionally, Lara offers writing exercises and prompts within each section. For example, when discussing how to find your voice, she suggests “pretending to admire something to reveal its flaws.”

Another bit of advice: “Part of finding your voice is knowing whom you’re talking to,” she says. Lara tells the story of author Jane Jacobs, who would share her ideas with a Celtic novelist, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin. The imagined conversations often led to new ways of looking at ordinary objects, Jacobs said.

The most helpful part of the book for me has been how to find an angle. Many stories live in my head, but I have trouble figuring out why and how I should tell them. What’s the point in talking about burning old love letters? Lara’s techniques have enabled me to get to the meat of piece and end up with something that, although personal to me, still touches someone else.

“Naked, Drunk, and Writing” has won a place on my writing shelf … next to Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones,” and Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want to Write.”

This piece originally appeared on the now-defunct BookendBabes website.

 

Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”

Before A Moveable Feast, I had never read an Ernest Hemingway book. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Interspersed throughout his stories about his time in Paris in the 1920s, Hemingway describes his writing process (“I always worked until I had something done” ) and how he coped when the words would not come (“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know”).

He talks about his friendships with Gertrude Stein (she was “always right”), Ezra Pound (“the most generous writer I have ever known”) and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Though he seemed somewhat of a chauvinist (“There is not much future in men being friends with great women …”), a surprising part was his writing of fatherly duties such as boiling nipples and mixing formula for his son Bumby’s bottles and taking Bumby with him while he wrote in cafes.

However, the fatherly duties didn’t include hiring a sitter. He and first wife Hadley often left Bumby alone at home in his crib, watched over by only the family cat. “F. Puss was the baby-sitter,” Hemingway explained.

If you’re interested in Hemingway, “A Moveable Feast” is a good first look. It offers insight into how he wrote and how his personal life influenced his works.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Wonders and Marvels in return for a review.

My writing goals

The following questions come from author and writing teacher Christina Katz:

On a scale of one to ten, how’s your self-respect? Can you say no? Do you say yes to yield to social pressure and supposed-to’s and then suffer for it? Are you catering to too many other people’s needs but burning out in the process? Do you listen to and trust your instincts about what is and isn’t the best way to proceed?

My self-respect is about a 9 – hey, no one’s perfect, right? Over the past year, I’ve learned to say no when a writing project doesn’t fit my goals or when the topic doesn’t interest me. If a subject doesn’t appeal to me, it’s hard to make it interesting for others. And isn’t it a bit dishonest? “Hey, I couldn’t care less about doomaflotchies, but I sure wish you’d read my story about them.”

Also, I got in over my head a couple of times last year, taking on too many assignments and had to back out of projects. I hated doing that, but I would’ve hated even more turning in something that wasn’t up to par. Now, I’ve learned how much I can handle without spreading myself too thin or losing my sanity or self-respect.

And when it comes to getting paid for my work, I’m not afraid to ask for more. The worst a client can do is say no, but many times they’ll say yes. For instance, yesterday, after agreeing to write a piece on short notice, I asked my editor if she could bump up my per-word rate. She thanked me for my work and doubled my rate for this article and future ones.

Another editor agreed to boost my pay for an assignment after I pointed out that a lot of information was available on my topic and would need to be distilled. A couple of national sources and two or three local sources and I’m good to go.

It pays to ask for what you’re worth.

Photo by sushivina on Flickr’s Creative Commons

15 minutes of fame … sort of

My story on hosting a playdate with a friend with special needs is in this month’s Parenting (School Years).
And my piece on cochlear implants and sports is in the July/August issue of Volta Voices, which should be arriving in my mailbox any day now. I also just got another assignment from VV for its back-to-school issue.

Another national magazine, this one published by a major medical association, is considering a pitch for its fall issue, too. Crossing my fingers that it comes through.

My freelance work is cruising along, and I am grinning and grateful!

It’s My Life

From world of silence to high-tech hearing
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
By Tiffani Hill-Patterson
The Huntsville Times

Complete silence. Can you imagine? Turn off the television. You probably can still hear the refrigerator hum in the kitchen.

Insert earplugs. You can still hear your own breathing.

But for 12,000 children born deaf each year in the United States, there are no lullabies, no birds singing, no comfort from mommy’s voice.

Just silence.

Silence was the world of our daughter, Riley, until she was nearly 2 years old.

We had suspected something for a couple of months, but we preferred to embrace denial.

How could anything be wrong with our sweet baby? Family and friends said there was no way she could be deaf. She turned her head toward us, she responded appropriately, and she babbled.

She was so good at feeling vibrations and reading our faces that she had all of us fooled.

May 7, 2003, changed our lives.

Grief, guilt and anger

“She’s never heard your voices. She doesn’t even know her name.”

The audiologist’s words knocked the wind out of us. We were devastated and in shock. Even though we had concerns, we weren’t ready for the diagnosis. Our perfect little girl was deaf – severe to profound hearing loss.

Our hearts were crushed. It was like the child we thought was ours didn’t exist.

Grief hit us hard. All the songs we had sung, all the “I love yous” we had whispered – she had heard none of them. That was the hardest thing to take. Did she even know we loved her?

Then came the guilt. How could we not know that our child was deaf? We knew people wondered that about us, and some even said it out loud. We just didn’t know. How could this have happened? No one in our family was deaf. Was it something I had done while I was pregnant? Had we done something wrong after she was born? Why had we waited so long?

The anger was next. Why had the nurses dismissed the second failed hearing test so easily? Why hadn’t her pediatrician noticed anything? C’mon! A little help here, please?

Finally acceptance came. We channeled our guilt and anger into providing Riley whatever she needed to hear and communicate. We set up appointments with a geneticist, an Auditory-Verbal speech therapist, an Early Intervention specialist, our insurance representative and an ENT surgeon. The time for tears was over. We looked ahead to Riley’s future with our chins up and shoulders squared.

Cochlear miracle
Two weeks after her diagnosis, Riley was fitted with high-powered digital hearing aids, and she started A-V therapy, which teaches children to listen and talk.

We also met with a geneticist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who told us after testing that Riley’s hearing loss was caused by the Connexin 26 gene. Both my husband and I carry mutations of the recessive gene. Finding out the cause was a relief, and knowing it wasn’t our fault freed us from a lot of our guilt.

After seeing that the hearing aids were not powerful enough, we began the process of getting a cochlear implant. On Sept. 16, 2003, Dr. Audie Woolley at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham did the surgery. On Oct. 9, 2003, our little girl heard our voices for the first time.

I wish you could see the video: She turned bright red, looked around, found us and started clapping and laughing. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed.

Five years later, Riley has two cochlear implants and is about to finish kindergarten. She understands almost everything, and her language skills are catching up with normal-hearing peers. She plays soccer and softball, loves playing with other kids and loves to read.

Our daughter is a normal 6-year-old – she just has some colorful ear accessories.

Tiffani Hill-Patterson is a Times copy editor. Reach her at tiffani.patterson@ htimes.com.

© 2008 The Huntsville Times
© 2008 al.com All Rights Reserved.

Feels Good

From my editor at a regional magazine: “You are definitely one of our valued writers. I like your work and will send you assignments as I have them. Thanks!”

Yippee! An ego-booster just when I needed it. And another pitch accepted, due Aug. 31, so I better get crackin’.

I’m also starting a new class, Pitching Practice, with Writer Mama Christina Katz tomorrow. We’ll write six queries in six weeks, and I’m aiming to get six sales out of it. Aim high, right? Also, check out her Back-to-School Daily Giveaway, lots of goodies for writers.

OK, I interrupt this blog to get back to my “regularly scheduled” job.

Later …