I've done a lot of soul-searching in the last few months...brief hiatuses from social media, countless books read, and a great deal of quiet reflection. I'm having a bit of an identity crisis, as many people tend to do once they start approaching the age of 30 (or 40, 50, 60...).
I'm a writer. My blog, resume, and LinkedIn page say so. But what does that actually mean? Does it mean I'm required to keep up this blog? Does it mean that I'm supposed to be laboring to write the Next Great American Novel? Does it mean that I should care about any of this?
My research, which is not backed by any scientific or professional resources, tells me no.
My life is mine to design. Every aspect of it, including my activities and how I fill my very precious time, are totally up to me. There are no rules here, and certainly no one is enforcing them if there are.
Therefore, how I define myself is up to me too.
I've taken a few months off because, quite frankly, I was trying to decide if this was still worth it. Did I really need to be a writer outside of my full-time editing job? So I spent three months without writing to see if my soul still craved it the way it used to.
And after the first month, I realized that I need writing.
Like many introverts, I am buried in my head most of the time. I have thoughts and ideas that I don't know how to express unless it's through writing. During this time of quiet, it felt as if something was hiding inside of me that didn't know how to express itself. I shushed it and asked it for patience—maybe in a while I would let it come out. When the desire returned.
Today it did. I woke up, ready to resume my new Saturday routine of reading a book, drinking coffee, and watching questionable Food Network chefs on TV. But something pulled me to the computer and opened up a blank Word document, and then the words fell out. I looked and saw my heart on the keyboard, bleeding and pumping.
So yes, I'm a writer. I'm a writer in the respect that I will always need writing like a human needs air to breathe, or a bird needs wind to soar. I'm a writer because, without it, I'm left gasping for words in the corner, waiting for someone to pull them out of me.
Today on the blog, I'm introducing a new type of reading material for you—flash fiction! Flash fiction is an extremely brief story form, usually between 300–700 words. It's an incredibly succinct way to tell a story, and an even better story creation exercise for writers. I'll be featuring my original flash fiction works on this blog every once in a while; I hope you enjoy today's selection.
You’d think that, after being dead so long, Gerard would have just left him alone.
Francis sat in the basement, hiding behind boxes of musty books. He thought that, if he sat down there long enough, perhaps Gerard would lose interest and go away.
“He always was a stubborn thing,” he thought coldly.
Upstairs, items shifted as the dead man bumbled upstairs. Francis heard the shatter of his decorative plates falling to the floor—crashing, one after the other.
How Gerard resumed animation baffled him. Once the dead were dead, they ought to stay that way.
Gerard’s rotting feet shuffled across the boards of the kitchen floor, inching closer to the cellar entrance. Francis thought he heard Gerard call out, but the voice was too muddled by his molding throat.
“The least he could do is speak clearly,” Francis said to no one in particular. The books looked at him silently.
Their relationship had not always been so contentious, back when they were both living. In fact, they’d been best friends growing up—playing together after the school bells chimed, spending weekends chasing stray dogs around Gerard’s family farm. They seemed inseparable.
Francis smiled warmly for a moment, and then frowned when Gerard’s green fingers appeared beneath the cellar door.
“Honestly, Gerard, can’t we discuss this like adults? Once you’ve calmed down, I think you’ll realize how silly you’re being,” Francis called out.
But Gerard didn’t consider this. For Gerard was dead and without a functional brain. The worms had gone after that first.
Francis rolled his eyes toward the ceiling and crawled to the farthest corner of the room. He supposed that, even without a soul, Gerard had every right to be upset.
Not even a week after his dear friend’s death, Francis awoke in the bed of the dearly departed’s wife.
“Gerard, I didn’t want poor Elise to be left alone once you had…well, once you had gone,” the shaken man explained, “It wasn’t right, leaving her in that drafty house. Someone had to look after her. So, you see, I think we can agree that this is quite a misunderstanding.” Stuttering, Francis looked toward the cellar door, where moments before, the Corpse tried to pry it open with disintegrating fingers.
The air shifted, moving dust particles along with it.
Francis heard nothing. The hearts of dead men no longer beat.
“Gerard. Come out and talk like a man—enough of this foolishness!”
The dead man looked around the room with one good eye, and upon seeing his traitorous friend skulking in the corner, descended upon him.
Francis closed his eyes, prayed to God, pleading to be saved, but when he opened his eyes again, all he saw was Gerard—poor, dead Gerard—sitting on the floor with him. He sighed, looked at his former friend, and rummaged around until he found a bottle of whiskey.
“Well, if we must be in this pickle together, the least we can do is have a drink—right, old sport?”
And the two ghosts drank in silence, letting their hatred fester unspoken between them.
Hell is full of words left unsaid.
Hey, you. It’s a Saturday morning, and I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee, my pup snuggled on my lap. And as I often do when surrounded by Cosmo cuddles, quiet, and warm beverages, I’m thinking.
I’m thinking about the novel I should write, all the research I need to do for it, the book of poetry I need to keep working on, and the list goes on and on. There are so many boxes to check off in my “Writer’s To-Do List.”
Whatever it takes to accomplish that dream, right?
But before my coffee grows cold, here’s my main thought of the day for you to consider:
We all have goals and dreams in this life—aspirations and passions that keep us chugging along when the minutiae of it all threatens to drag us down.
Not only that, this world is trying so hard to make you fail. It doesn’t matter if you’re a singer, writer, artist—there are so many people out there, doing the same thing you do, probably just as well, and they’re all trying just as hard to achieve success. Plus, on top of working to meet your goal and rise to the top of the crowd, we have families, work responsibilities, and the hard work of simply staying alive on a day-to-day basis.
How do we rise to the top of a sea that never settles, constantly threatening to toss us overboard?
It’s simple--believe in yourself. It’s half the battle.
C.S. Lewis once said, “We are what we believe we are.”
We can’t control the actions of everyone else trying to be better than you, nor can we control the context in which you’re attempting to thrive—life has its own agenda. But you can control your own circumstances and attitudes.
If you want to be a writer, you need to say you’re a writer. Dream about it, declare it, write constantly, and wear that title on your sleeve. You want to be a great parent? Do you what you need to do to live up to your own guidance of that. This works in literally every situation. If you believe you’re amazing, then you’re just one step closer to actually being there.
But don’t doubt yourself, don’t knock yourself down, don’t believe you’re capable of anything short of greatness.
The rest of the world will do enough of that for you.
If you believe in yourself and the quality of your work, everything else comes more easily.
It’s a hard battle, full of obstacles and doubt, but it’s necessary to realize the best version of you possible.
For what it’s worth, I believe in you, too. Now go out there and make something beautiful.
Halloween is by far my favorite holiday. I love the fantasy, horror movies, and tales that set your nerves on edge—the whole thing.
In honor of Halloween's impending arrival, I'm changing things up with today's poem—it's a little creepier and has a few more cobwebs hanging from the rafters. Stay spooky, friends!
Off in the distance, it becomes
shadow on the bright prairie.
The figure, sensuous and
slinky, crawls through the ochre grass.
An icy chill passes over me,
consuming my optimism and
silencing my protests.
The creature opens his jaws
swallows me whole.
He licks his blackened lips
and silently floats away,
leaving behind only
fading warmth and
A thought, a
slowly evanescing in the
Friends, I'd like to extend my apologies for my absence. I wish I could say I've been doing something worthwhile with the two weeks I've been gone (saving the world, feeding the poor, cleaning up the world's oceans---you get the drift), but the real story is less exciting. Work has been busy, life has been hustling, yadda yadda yadda. The wheel never stops turning.
I've been having fun recently going through my old poems and seeing how my writing style has changed over the years. Some pieces I completely cringe at, trying to hide from the obvious Ginsberg style transcribed into my own words. Others, in my humble opinion, have fewer wrinkles from their years shoved in the drawer.
That is to say, I have a present for you. To make up for my extended time away, I'll be posting several of these throwback poems over the next few days, just so you can get a taste of who the former Victoria Harris (then with a different name) really was. Or is. Either way.
Let's begin, shall we? The first selection is a piece circa 2011 (originally titled "I am everything," but let's be honest, that's a crap title, so I've scrapped it). The scene? Our young author is a new, shiny college graduate. She's starting a corporate job and is squeezing herself into a pencil skirt for the first time in years. After a serious of terrible relationships, she's trying to enjoy life on her own in downtown Minneapolis. And it happens to rain a lot.
(Also, she apparently has a problem with capitalizing the letter "i")
when i woke today
i felt like rain
the closing of my eyelids
keeping rhythm with
the drops inside my head
my feet upon the sidewalk
melting into puddles in which
others will step
i blew in the breeze,
lashing upon the faces
wetting their hair
soaking through clothes
and becoming one
i collected in a basin
near the hall, my
throughout the room
today when i woke
i felt like rain,
and i covered all
Hi, friends. It’s been a while.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed (at least those of you still out there), it’s been almost a month since I posted anything. Yes, I'm still alive. No, I'm not in trouble. I’ve been enjoying a break from creativity.
This seems counterintuitive, especially how I’ve preached the benefits of daily writing and constantly pushing yourself. But let’s be honest—life gets in the way sometimes. I would love to say that I’m a virtual fountain of ideas, ready to strike whenever an idea pops into my head.
Were that the case, I’d have written (and sold) SO many books by now. Man, think of all the money! Although I’d love to live in this rich fantasy world where all my student loans are paid off, I’m driven around by a driver daily, and I have one of these in my dining room, the truth is that I’m just another person.
I’m a human being with a full-time job, a husband, a dog always wanting snuggles, and a mind that gets weary. Surely you know the feeling.
So what does any of this have to do with today’s Truth of Writing lesson?
The lesson here is incredibly simple--recognize when you aren’t coming up with anything worthwhile and give yourself some time to breathe.
About a month ago, I struggled to come up with new topics for the blog. All of my poetic impulses started to dim. Posting a new entry, which usually brings me so much joy, started to feel like another thing I had to check off my list.
My creative wells ran dry, and I knew the only way to refill them was to step away.
The greatest gift you can give to yourself is an understanding of your limitations.
It’s no use beating yourself up if writer’s block knocks at your door; it happens to everyone. But if the usual methods of daily writing, creative writing prompts, and reading don’t do anything to reignite the spark, it’s time to take a break.
In my three-ish weeks off, I read some fantastic books (including this one). I spent time trying to figure out what Future Me looks like and what I want to do with my days (update: still unresolved). I traveled to one of my favorite places on earth and dined with people I love.
You can impose so many rules on yourself and try so hard, but if it’s not working, try a reset.
So here I am, nearly a month later, not any wiser, but ready to bring you fresh content and things to read. Let’s start again.
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.” – Anne Lamott
A moment of honesty here, friends: I had no desire to write this blog post last night. I heard the call of my bed, so sweet and wonderful after a long day. I saw the housework piling up around me. I was buried under the weight of all the things I should have done instead of this.
And yet, I wrote it—with heavy eyelids and messy house, I walked to my keyboard once again.
I know in the long run, this is just a blog; it isn’t a matter of life and death if I don’t finish this post. But as much as I hope you’re all waiting for my next entry with bated breath, my perseverance isn’t for you.
It’s for me.
You see, one of the greatest Truths of Writing, and one I need to remind myself of often, is the importance of developing a consistent writing habit.
As my sage author on habits and happiness, Gretchen Rubin, once said:
“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”
The regular act of writing, even just a few sentences, is so incredibly important for advancing the technical abilities and creative thinking of writers. It prevents your brain getting rusty. It challenges you to think of new topics and ways to craft stories.
I’ve found that in months where I consistently scribble down a few things every day, I have a much easier time of accomplishing my writing goals.
But besides the benefits of greasing those creative cogs and keeping you motivated, writing frequently is beneficial for my mental health and anxiety.
I know they’re just words. But if you fall into any of the following categories, I’m willing to bet that someone else’s written words have affected your life--
If you’re here, you know what I mean.
Writing is tremendously cathartic. When I have a rough day and need a stress reliever, I turn to my pen and paper. When I’m crushed under the enormity of the thoughts bouncing around my head, stringing words together helps calm down the buzzing. When I need to work out my life, writing is always there to give me a hug and say, “It’s okay. Let’s figure this out together.”
Writing is my crutch when I’ve sprained my soul and my cheerleader when I’m down.
What we as writers do may not be important to everyone, but it is to us. All I can do is shout into the void and hope that someone is listening.
I’ve learned along the way that, if your blog sucks, people won’t want to read it.
Unfortunately, this is true for all types of writing. You can have all the motivation, inspiration, and great ideas in the world, but if you don’t structure your piece in a way that entrances your audience right away, good luck getting them to finish it.
Sure, you’ll want to write short stories/books/poems with your audience in mind. But what about cover letters? Blog posts? Resumes?
How do we write and make sure readers aren’t bored by the second line?
1. Make your opening line pack a punch.
If your piece doesn’t grab your reader right away, you might as well as goodbye to them now. Think about writing a cover letter—how many applications are actually original and non-formulaic? Start out with a quote or a fact that you find interesting and relates to the position at hand. Deviate from the norm and you’re sure to find your submission closer to the top of the pile.
For creative writing, craft an opening line that is a statement. Usually something short and sweet, instead of some lengthy description, is the way to go. If you hook them in right away, your chances of success are much higher.
2. Edit out the boring details.
I’ve discussed the importance of editing before, but here it is again: make sure you edit any extras that don’t advance your plot/letter/etc. You can talk at length about the brilliant color of your main character’s tulips, but if it doesn’t help your story (or exist as symbolism you’ve crafted), then all you’ll do is bore your audience. Edit, edit, edit.
3. Consider your audience—think like a reader.
Put yourself in the audience’s shoes when writing. If you’re applying for a job as an animal handler in the circus, but your résumé only discusses your circus experience as a ride operator, you might want to reframe how your résumé is written.
Similarly, if you’re writing a creative piece that’s supposed to appeal to the Stephen King horror crowd, maybe leave out the flowery descriptions of your character’s love life. Get to the good stuff.
4. Write in your own voice.
Hemingway once said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”
By all means, write your grand Elizabethan epic in a British accent. But if you haven’t immersed yourself in the culture, the history, and the experience of that time frame, you might end up looking like a fraud. Write what is true to you, in your own voice, and your piece will feel more authentic.
5. Make the ending worthwhile.
Echoing the sentiments of item #1, make the ending worth reading. If you’ve done your job correctly, your readers will be sad that your piece is almost over. Make them hurt even more with a devastatingly crafted ending line.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of this, but by following the five tips above, I’ve found great success in attracting and securing readers, and hopefully provoking some thought along the way. And that, my friends, is what matters to a writer.
Writer, editor, and storyteller living in the Twin Cities.