Tag Archives: Journal

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #14


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During all of my adult life, until her death five years ago, my Mom sent me a twenty-five dollar check for my birthday. Always with a card, sometimes with a note to get myself “something special.” I always tried to keep it out of the general fund, and get myself a meaningful gift with it. Still, around the time of my birthday, with my mother in mind, I pick out something special, “from Mom.” This year, I have a brand new source for writing ideas.

The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron is actually a compilation of three of his books, none of which I was familiar with before. From his introduction:

Writing is an act of hope. It is a means of carving order from chaos, of challenging one’s own beliefs and assumptions, of facing the world with eyes and heart wide open. Through writing, we declare a personal identity amid faceless anonymity. We find purpose and beauty and meaning even when the rational mind argues that none of these exist.

The book includes more than eight hundred writing prompts, all within lessons and discussion about particular aspects of writing, from forming the habit to developing characters and editing. I’m pleased to see that I have already worked through many of the ideas about delving into my personal history. I’m also happy to see that the author devotes one category to “Joy and Gratitude;” Those are things important to my mother, and ideas I’m working on in all areas of my life right now.

Write about a time when your creativity flowed…Try to describe the feeling. Describe, too, the circumstances…try to get to know your creative self a bit better.

My husband used to fall asleep right in the middle of an argument. It was the stress that caused it; sleep was his escape. You can only imagine the frustration it caused, and how he was made to regret not being able to keep his eyes open. Still, he didn’t seem able to change.

My escape – and often my salvation – is my creativity. When I am embarrassed or humiliated…when I am sad…when I see no way out of or around a bad situation, that is the rope that I cling to. I may go to the studio to immerse myself in paints and papers until all outside grievances are diminished. Or, I will write it out.

When I’m emotional – sad or frustrated, hurt or mad – the words flow. Old journals carry page after page of my righteous indignation at some affront; words and pictures outline every heartbreak. When I – in the middle of getting a divorce, my life upside-down already – received foreclosure papers for my little piece of property, I quickly whipped out a twenty-five page reply. When I was passed over for a raise at work, the first draft I wrote was eight pages of anger and recrimination that may have cost me my job if I had sent it without a drastic edit.

A few years ago, an unfortunate encounter at work resulted in a tearful middle-of-the-night writing spree that I published as a blog. It was widely read, and I received tremendous support and sympathy from all corners of the globe. However, it was also hurtful. I outlined the thoughtless behavior without mercy. Because I alone held the pen, there was no other viewpoint, no defense. Writing should never – at least not in the context that I do it – be used as a weapon. I’m more careful now.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing that my most creative outbursts are driven by life-shattering events, but there it is.


Who Am I?


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What’s the big deal, anyway, about the writing prompts that makes me want to run? Just so I don’t keep you wondering, day #7 looks like this:

Today’s Journal Prompts

I’ve been quietly courageous…

I see quiet courage in action…

I’ve learned about trying again tomorrow…

Courage is whispering to me right now…


How does your struggle to be seen show up? How does it impact your creative work?

No big deal, really…a little goofy with the “courage is whispering to me…” but not too weird. Yet I want to give smart-ass, snarky, one-word responses to each suggestion. I have nothing to hide, but it feels like a stretch to make these ideas fit around my experiences. I get aggravated just thinking about it. Time to move on. At least until my attitude improves!

I pulled a book off the shelf: What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. I bought it several years ago, with the intention of working my way through it, chapter by chapter. I did one blog about the first chapter, First Lines, then closed it, put it back on the shelf and never looked at it again until today.

I don’t remember being resentful or mad about it, like I’ve become over the 30-day Creative Fire journal. I just quit. There is a strong possibility that I am just a quitter when it comes to goals I set for myself. I could make quite a list of examples, if I’m ever called upon to do it!

Anyway, paging through the writing exercises in this book, I came across several that grabbed my attention. They don’t seem to have an answer in mind, but rather just suggest a topic, very open-ended, and say “write for twenty minutes on it” or “fill one page.” It seems like a pretty good book: I might give it a try.

What I Do


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Day two of my thirty day writing challenge.

I’m in that obsessive state of mind.

I couldn’t fall asleep last night for the excitement! I retrieved my journal from its low shelf to check the blog ideas I had listed there. I found my good, smooth-writing ink pen to make lists of new ideas. I pulled out one book after another.

I read about twenty pages into The Writer’s Devotional by Amy Peters, which is designed for reading one inspirational page per day.  “Each day of the week highlights a different aspect of a writer’s life…” Mondays are ‘Writers on Writing,” and that is the inspiration for this post today.

I finished another chapter of Mary Karr’s new book, The Art of Memoir. Her The Liar’s Club was one of my favorites, and started me on a whole tangent of memoir reading. It promises to be a wonderful, insightful book, but I didn’t feel like I could learn all she has to offer before today’s post.

Next, Theodore Roethke, On Poetry and Craft. He’s a favorite of mine, and the book is heavily marked with my underlines and exclamation points…but I deemed it too much to absorb in one night, and returned it to the shelf.

Finally, Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. A thin volume that I picked up in a bookstore several months ago, I hadn’t done more than glance at it until last night. Well, it’s simply brilliant!

“When you and I set out to create anything – art, commerce, science, love – or to advance in the direction of a higher, nobler version of ourselves, we uncork from the universe, ineluctably, an equal and opposite reaction.

That reaction is Resistance. Resistance is an active, intelligent, protean, malign force – tireless, relentless, and inextinguishable – whose sole object is to stop us from becoming our best selves and from achieving our higher goals.”

The book is made up of short chapters composed of paragraphs with startling titles like “The Crazier the Better,” “Suspend All Self-Judgment”  and “Welcome to Hell.” He spends an awful lot of time talking about resistance, and how it attacks. The first way? Making it seem necessary to research rather than just get to work.

Exactly what I was doing!

In fact, one of the things I always do.

None of these patterns are new to me.

First, I obsess.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a new art project, a diet, an exercise program, or this blogging commitment…obsession is first.

You’ll here me say things like:

“Oh, yeah, I started a new series of paintings…no big deal.”

“…just thought I’d try to lose a few pounds is all.”

“Just trying to move a little more.”

“Yes, I’m writing every day in November. A lot of people do it.”

But what’s going on in my mind is more like:


And that’s when resistance sets in.

That’s when research begins. When hours investigating how it’s been done before, by others, or how others think it should be done, take the place of doing. When long lists of possibilities, “pros and cons” and things I’ll do when I am successful at whatever the undertaking is…actually undermine the possibility of success.

That’s how I roll.

Don’t worry, I’ll get over it.

In my sixty-three years, I’ve learned to ride this wild horse of my life. I recognize the highs and lows, the craziness and the obsessions. I push through it.

I just keep going.




“Are you mad?”, my husband would ask, after some infraction.

“I’m not MAD,” was my usual reply, “I am HURT!”

“Oooooh, Mommy’s REALLY mad,” he’d wink toward our daughters, who were too young to understand, “she used the ‘H’ word!”

It’s true, hurt feelings are the worst.

It’s not that I don’t get angry.

I get angry about war, drunk drivers and world hunger. It doesn’t feel personal, though.

Hurt feelings are personal, caused by unfair or unjust treatment, or by unkind actions or comments.

It always feels – to me – that if I were a better person, I would not be subjected to poor treatment. That doesn’t make sense, I know, but that’s what it feels like. All childish feelings of inadequacy come to the fore. Tears follow; then defensiveness; then anger.

Then (my husband of thirty years ago would tell you), “Watch out!”

What follows then is a rant.

I was raised in a household where “speaking up” and “talking back” were strongly discouraged. As a fairly shy person, I’ve never been particularly good at it anyway. I can’t think of the right thing to say or the right way to say it. I can’t speak out without crying, which doesn’t give the correct message. The hurt feelings will not go away without getting it out. Fortunately – or unfortunately, as the case may be – I’ve always been pretty good at writing.

As a child, with sibling rivalry running amok in our family, I’d write long diatribes about the unfairness. I’d imagine running away from home…or maybe even dying…leaving nothing but the pages. Reading them, my parents would realize how unjust they had been. “She was our best child!”, they would mourn, “Why didn’t we realize it in time?”

As a teenager, every single bit of distress was put on paper, usually in the form of extremely bad poetry.

I started keeping a journal as a young adult. It was used as my sounding board, whenever my husband wasn’t listening.

Most of the time, I was smart enough to keep my writings to myself. The act of getting it all out was usually enough to dispel the feelings of hurt, frustration and anger, and I could move on.

There are exceptions.

Once, when I felt my mother had unfairly criticized my parenting, I wrote her a lengthy letter saying, basically, “you have no room to talk,” and outlining the reasons why. The next time I saw Mom, she patted my arm and generously said, “Let’s just let it go for now. We’ll talk more about it when your kids are older.” Well, of course, by the time my kids were older, I realized my pompous attitude was based on simple ignorance. I wanted to do nothing but whimper an apology for ever trying to tell this woman – who somehow managed to raise nine healthy children and keep her sanity – what she might’ve done wrong!

When I was in the process of getting divorced and was unable to keep up the payments on my land here on Beaver Island, I was served with foreclosure papers. I countered with a twenty-six page tirade to the man who held the land contract about his shoddy plumbing, poor book-keeping and inability to get me a working well. He called me right up when he received it. “Christ, Cindy, you sent me a whole book!” he said, “I could send it off to the lawyer, but even though she’s my daughter, she’s still gonna charge by the hour to read it…”

Last weekend, when an unfortunate encounter at work left me feeling sad and frustrated, I wrote it out.


On my blog.

Without a single thought besides venting my hurt feelings.

Of course, I assumed it would be read…by the forty-seven people that subscribe to my blog, up to a half-dozen family members that look in on occasion, and four or five Beaver Islanders that read what I write.

I watch the statistics. On the day I publish, I get my peak readership with about 25 hits. Over the next few days, a few others check in, less and less each day until I publish the next post; then it jumps up again. A nice little wave.

This particular post evidently struck a chord with many people. It was shared and copied and re-printed. It was read by people from a dozen countries on five continents. It may have been read by every single person living on Beaver Island! My statistics chart changed from measuring by tens, to measuring by hundreds of hits. I heard from former in-laws and old friends, from servers and chefs and restaurant owners, and from people in other areas of the service industry. Many told of similar encounters that left them feeling bitter. I was shocked at how many people jumped to my defense. I was amazed and overwhelmed at the understanding, the sympathy and the support.

Usually when I go on a rant about my own hurt feelings, I’m thinking primarily about myself. That was the case in this instance, as well.

I didn’t think about every Beaver Islander reading it, and drawing conclusions about who I was referring to. I certainly never considered repercussions for him, or the fact that I might hurt his feelings.

I should have.

I bear no animosity toward “Harry”. I was “over it” the moment I hit “publish”. I have since received an apology from him. I countered with my own explanation and apology, for any discomfort I caused him. I hope we can all move on, perhaps all with a bit more awareness and consideration.

The next time I go on a rant, I think I’m going to tackle World Peace!