Write Like Nobody is Reading

I spent last week in a bubble. A beautiful, word bubble filled with writers and wordsmiths and the people who publish them.

Well, maybe it wasn’t so much a happy bubble as it was a vacuum, a wordy place from which no air could escape.

I guess it was a little bit of both.

AWP Conference KMLast week I attended the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference and bookfair (a place from which you cannot escape without being forced to take a tote bag). The AWP conference brings together more than 12,000 writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers from all across North America who sit inside an otherwise bland convention center and marinate in each other’s words for four days. There are readings, lectures, panels, Q&A sessions, hook-ups (both literary and some slightly more personal in nature), drinking (and the apparently necessary “meetings” for those who drink too much), and a whole lot of “what genre are you?” chats. (Note: it’s best not to say you are a blogger, for bloggers seem to represent all that is unholy in writing. Just offering a bit of fair warning.)

And then there is the bookfair! Think State Fair hawking but with poetry journals.

Some people LOVE the bookfair—HEY, FREE STUFF—but I found it overwhelmingly repetitive.  One booth was very much like the next. And their market seemed limited to the people in the room—MFA students and writers. No best sellers here. Just finely crafted poems and stories—some of the best writing I have seen. Beautiful and moving, but not really the kind of stuff that will pay the bills.

But that is really the point, isn’t it? Writing for dollars doesn’t always produce the words we need to read. The general public doesn’t want to read the poetry, the prose, the essays, the angst, the words that reflect back at us all the things we are trying to ignore and avoid in our everyday lives.

Outside of those convention walls Twilight, Divergent, and Fifty Shades of Grey mock what was going on inside. And inside the walls the contempt for commercially successful books was palpable. It’s not that there is anything wrong with commercial success, but in this particular company of writers, success is measured in blood, sweat, tears, and how often you’re published in a literary journal. THAT you wrote it outweighs the importance of how many people read it. In other words, write like nobody is reading and you’ll probably find peace as a writer (and with writers).

(Being the cynic that I am, I’m convinced there was not one writer at AWP who would turn their back on a big money deal. Even a writer’s soul has a price.)

All things being equal, I was probably out of my element most of the time at AWP, but I was not out of my head and I came out the other side with some new writing words to live by:

  1. Do not be afraid of “cliché” or “trite” for they are just starting points.
  2. Since, statistically, no one is reading your words you may as well take risks.
  3. Online writing doesn’t (or doesn’t have to) last to be valid and legitimate.
  4. Think of social media as a gentle matchmaking/community building tool, NOT a megaphone.
  5. Trust that “funny feeling” in your gut that tells you the writing isn’t authentic.
  6. Write by the moral code YOU define for yourself: “I was there. This is what I know.” But remember to respect the reader. One lie and the trust is gone.
  7. Two truths can coexist when each character is given the time to share their perspectives.
  8. Do not fear the BIG MESSY DRAFT for without it you have nothing to revise and edit.
  9. Kill the words—even the ones you love—if they don’t serve the work.
  10. Write like nobody is reading!

Now go write the words!

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My Son Brought Home a Condom

condoms

My teenage son and I have an after-school ritual where he tells me about his day. It’s nothing dramatic or complicated or all that different from what happens in many homes, maybe even homes like yours. Sometimes the chats are absolutely boring–one day can be very much like the next for a teen–but the chats connect us.

A few weeks ago my son rattled off the day’s events:

“…math was easy, I’m not convinced Shakespeare was all that great, I had lunch in the park, I need new shoes, I have to write an essay tonight, I got this condom today, I have to study for an econ test…”

Did you catch that? He said ‘I got THIS condom today’. And he waved THAT condom in the air when he said ‘I got this condom today’ and he returned THAT condom to his pocket before moving on the mundane details of his Economics class.

And you know what I did?

Nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing.

I tried to convince him that Shakespeare is actually worth studying and I told him we’d buy new shoes on Saturday and I asked him where he got the condom because I’m curious that way.

And because we’ve never made sex a taboo subject in our home he explained it all to me over an after-school snack of chips and salsa.

It turns out he and his friends were hanging at their after-school coffee shop (he’s a city kid) when one of the girls pulled out a bunch of condoms.

But she wasn’t just going to hand them out. Nope. You had to earn the condom.

Intriguing, if not slightly unsettling, if you don’t know the rest of the story.

This young woman came ready to teach. She, along with her parents, had been volunteering at a local Planned Parenthood clinic. She had no doubt witnessed the other side of unprotected sex, STDs, teen pregnancy, and more. She was invested in passing along what she had learned.

In what must have been an interesting conversation to witness, this young woman and this group of strong, independent, and empowered teens talked about safer sex, birth control options, and proper condom use (there was even an inanimate object available for practice).

Someone, somewhere, might find this situation shocking, disgusting even. Someone, somewhere, may question whether or not a group of teenagers are going to get the details right. Someone, somewhere, may even be questioning the morality of the impromptu after-school special.

But to that I say to the someones, somewhere, that you are missing the point, if not completely living in a bubble of naïveté. These kids were and are phenomenal.

These kids are living in the present. These kids are aware of their surroundings. These kids appreciate that a conversation about sex isn’t necessarily an invitation to have sex.

I’ll take a pat on the back for playing my part in that evolution of thought.

Parents who do not shy away from conversations about sex help create a generation of young people who understand that sexual responsibility is shared. Parents who do not use fear as a tactic and parents who keep the communication door wide open will be able to correct any misinformation their kids may receive about sex, sexuality, and biology (and you can paint those conversations with the morality code of your choice.)

That HAS to be better than silence and avoidance.

These kids in the coffee shop are to be commended. They  possess a respect for their bodies that is beyond what we could have hoped for. They are not paralyzed by fear or ignorance. They are comfortable with who they are and are ready to have a clear and open dialogue about sex and sexuality.  These “kids” do not see blurred lines when it comes to consent—no always means no. These emerging adults grasp the reality that a YES requires accountability and may have consequences.

Yes, my son brought home a condom. And I couldn’t be prouder—proud that he was comfortable talking to me about it and prouder yet that he and his friends are actively invested in their own futures and that they want those futures to be happy, healthy, and met on their own terms.

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I Am Awake

I am awakeIt’s March 1st. It’s 22 degrees outside. The birds are not singing. It is, decidedly, NOT spring.  But as far as I am concerned it’s the beginning of a new year.

Back in January when everyone was resolving to lose weight, write more, be  a better friend, suck less, I was curling up on the sofa with a good book and a cat and whole lot of peanut M&Ms. The curtains were drawn to trap in whatever heat remained.

Wake me when it’s warm.

I wasn’t suffering in the dark. I was regenerating. Percolating in thought. Wrapping myself in a blanket of memories and words.

And, let’s be honest, I was binge watching a ton of television.

It was an awesome winter.

But being a creature of habits (good and bad) and being a slave to biological impulses, the brighter days have gotten me off the sofa. Despite the lingering cold, the curtains have been pulled open to let the sun shine in.

I am awake.

I’m not sure I’d feel the same renewal of spirit if I lived in a place with a more subtle seasonal shift—I never felt it as a kid growing up in the deep south—but I feel it every year living where I do now.

March 1st is my New Year’s Day. I am rested and renewed.

And I have things to do.

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