Tag Archives: writer’s life

My Life with Max Wiener Man

Last Saturday, my dog, Max Wiener, hurt himself. I didn’t see him fall, but he started acting standoffish and was yelping sometimes when he walked or you picked him up.

It was obvious he was in pain and something was wrong. Dachshunds are more prone to back injuries, so that was my first thought.

I’ve had Max since he was one year old. He is a little over eight years old now. We have known each other for a long time.

I know that he barks too much because he is trying to be protective, and because he thinks he is incredibly tough. I also know he once jumped because he was startled by an empty bag of chips blowing by. So the emphasis is on HE THINKS he is the toughest dog around. I know he loves to go on walks. I also know that when I first got him, he wasn’t used to a leash. He chewed through three leashes, before  a chain leash was acquired. I know he hates the snow and the cold. I have to shovel him a path in the backyard, so he can go outside in the winter. I know he loves to cuddle and take naps. His favorite spot is lying on my legs, when I have my feet propped up on the ottoman. Preferably with a blanket and the heater blowing on him. I know he loves to burrows under the covers in my bed. I know he loves to dig (inherent to the breed). He dug through two sets of sheets when I first had him. I know he loves to “bury” bones all over the house. He once buried a bone (very cleverly) underneath my arm.

Max knows me too. He knows his handsome face will get him out of almost any trouble. He knows when I use my super serious voice he better actually stop doing whatever he was doing. He knows I like to sleep in on the weekends and usually even lets me. He know when I am in the kitchen and I say, “Oh shit!”  that I have dropped something on the floor. He knows when I am really sad because he jumps all over me and licks my face until I start laughing.

After his behavior continued to be off, I decided to put him in my bed and went back outside. When I came back to check on him, I found him lying on the marble floor in the basement. The last scene from Marley & Me flashed in my mind. What was wrong with him?

I called my parents, who thought I should call the emergency vet. They recommended I bring him in. I put his sweater on and wrapped him in a blanket (thinking the last time he was in the car he was shivering). Even though it was probably 40 or 50 degrees out last Saturday; I just wasn’t thinking clearly.

We drove to the Emergency Vet and waited. If any of you have ever been to an emergency vet, you know what a sad place it is. I heard one woman bring in her dog with seizures. She started crying after they took the dog from her. My heart just broke for her.

After the vet came in, he checked Max out, and noticed he wasn’t responding normally with his feet and was in pain when he walked. He wasn’t sure if it was his back, but he gave me some pain medication to see if it helped.

We passed out about 4:00 am on Sunday morning. We spent most of Sunday in bed. Him because he was still in pain, and me because I was too scared to leave him for very long. The medication did seem to help with the pain, but he still wasn’t moving around and was refusing to drink water.

Monday morning I called our regular vet, and we made an appointment for later that afternoon. 3:45 finally arrived, and I was barely holding it together. I think the women behind the front desk noticed because she put us in a room right away.

Max was shaking at this point. I started crying. All the worst things I was trying not to think crashed down on me. I was convinced that my furry best friend was not going home with me.

The vet came in. I had almost stopped crying.

“Did something else happen?” he asked.

“No. I’m just really worried about him,” I said.

I told the vet he still wasn’t drinking any water, and I wasn’t sure what had happened. He watched him walk around and saw that Max was taking short steps. He checked his response on his feet, and then before he checked his back said, “He might cry out in pain.”

I nodded my head.

The vet started to feel down his back and hit a spot that made Max yelp. “That’s it,” he said.

We had an answer. Max had hurt one of the discs in between his vertebrae. From Pet MD, “Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a condition where the cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column either bulge or burst (herniate) into the spinal cord space. These discs then press on the nerves running through the spinal cord causing pain, nerve damage, and even paralysis.”

The vet gave him some fluids and put him on a muscle relaxer and an anti-inflammatory. I was relieved. We went home.

But apparently with a slipped or herniated disc, there is not a quick cure. Some people recommend restricted activity (kenneling) for up to eight weeks. Max has never responded well to kenneling.

So Max is on bed rest for at least a week, and the vet didn’t recommend we travel. Our Iowa trip to visit my parents, Bridget and Crysta has been cancelled.

Watching your loyal companion for seven plus years cry out in pain when he tries to walk is incredibly hard. It has been a rough few days for the both of us.

I just want him to feel better. I want to take him on more walks. I want to watch him chase more squirrels. I want him to bury more bones. I just want him to be around for a long time.

Last week, some of you may have noticed I didn’t post a blog. Before anything happened with Max, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed. Work, school, writing, getting/fixing things for the shop, working on another design/copywriting project and then trying to have a social life too, of course. I know posting a blog a week was on my list of goals, but honestly, it is beginning to wear me out.

So I guess I am calling uncle on the blog. I may resurrect it later, but for the time being, I want to focus on getting things ready for the shop, and when Max is feeling better, I want to take him on more walks.

It’s all about priorities. And that little handsome ball of fur is near the top of my list.

This week’s video is “Andrew in Drag” by The Magnetic Fields. It is the only song I could think of that references a wiener dog. If drag queens aren’t your thing though, it probably isn’t the video for you. But I think it’s pretty great.

 

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I Wrote a Story + Editors Liked It = Story Published

So. It. Happened. One of my stories was accepted for publication. You can read my flash fiction story “Everything They Said About You” at The Electronic Encyclopedia of Experimental Literature. Here it is: https://theeeel.com/everything-they-said-about-you-pamela-dewey/.

Queue corks popping, dancing in the streets, general debauchery, etc.

When I received the email stating the story was accepted, I read it a least ten times before I thought, yes, I’m pretty sure that is what it says.

It’s not that I don’t think I can write. I know I can write. It’s just when you hear “No” so many times, doubt creeps in.

So this week, here is a video essay following the range of my emotions.

First stage: Disbelief, minor terror. Song, “Pedestrian at Best” by Courtney Barnett.

After I read the words enough times to believe my story was accepted, the joy hit. Now for real, queue the popping of corks, or at least the dancing to Michael Jackson.

Second Stage: Joy. Song, “Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson. This song always stretches a smile across my face.

Then I waited for the story to appear. The editors gave me a time frame, but I wasn’t sure of the exact day. I was enjoying a glorious Sunday, and I made a joke that I hadn’t checked the site in a couple days. I clicked, and my story had magically appeared.

Third Stage: Joy, disbelief, minor terror. Song, “Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce. I think this song/video fits exceptionally well with my story, and those emotions as well.  Hope you like my story. I can’t wait to share more!

 

 

 

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How to Edit like a Serial Killer

I like words. I like phrases that catch on my tongue. I like sentences that stop me, spin me sideways, and knock me on my ass.

I write. It makes sense.

However, I don’t think writing needs to be complicated. I mean, writing is inevitably complicated, but reading doesn’t have to be.

I’m not trying to say we should all read every Twilight book (though I have), or burn every copy of War and Peace (also a good read).

I like a doorstop of a novel just as much as the next girl. I just don’t think everyday writing should fall into the doorstop category.

People incapable of communicating clearly frustrate me. Why is it so hard to say what you mean?

Unless you’re writing the next David Foster Wallace novel or an article for a medical journal, your writing should be simple and easy to understand. Jargon should be avoided. Points should be made quickly.

There is a whole genre of books dedicated to the art of writing clearly. Hello Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. If you’ve taken a writing class in college, there is a good chance you read this book. And if you’re a writer, you probably own this book.

Perhaps one of the most well-known rules is, “Omit needless words.” Solid advice. By omitting extra words, the writing is simpler and clearer. In the back of my head, I always hear one of my journalism professors, Judy Polumbaum, saying this.

The semester I was in her class, I sharpened my editing skills considerably. I also learned to cut the word “that” mercilessly. Here’s the rule: If you remove “that” from your sentence and it still makes sense, you don’t need “that.”

When I proofread writing, I am like a serial killer with “that,” and Judy is still behind my shoulder, raising the hatchet.

Thanks Judy.

I understand not everyone went to journalism school and learned from a Judy. It still doesn’t excuse some of the bad communication I see on a daily basis. I’m talking about people that send you long-winded emails without stating what they need from you. Or people that call you on the phone to clarify things, and then inevitably, just dance around what they want to say.

Or a bank employee who delays processing a loan, and when you ask if she needs more documents, she just ignores the question. Then five days later when you call, why yes, she does need those documents.

Sounds frustrating right?

My point is, we could all try a little harder. About to send an email? Read it through once. When I do, I inevitably find a word forgotten, or a sentence that needs clarification. Or maybe just maybe, making a phone call might be a better way to communicate. (I can hear my Millennial friends cringing as I say this. But let’s be real, sometimes it helps.)

Working on a paper or a presentation? Try printing it off, and proofreading the paper copy. It is astonishing how many more things you catch when you aren’t reading something on a screen. Or try reading it aloud. When you read something to yourself, it is easier to find words you left out or phrases that sound awkward.

I have written my share of unclear prose. But each day, I set out to do better. I think about Judy, and then we drop the hatchet, sentence after sentence.

This week’s video is “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads. It’s a great song. I hope it inspires you to take a hatchet to your prose.

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How to Destroy the Fear That Forms You

I wouldn’t say I suffer from anxiety, not like a lot of people suffer from anxiety. But I have had three full-fledged panic attacks.

One of attacks occurred while I was driving, which was a terrifying experience.

I have never been particularly fond of driving. While I lived in New York, I didn’t have a car. I never drove.

A few years ago, I was going through a stressful time in my life, and I was rear-ended driving back from Des Moines, IA. In my brother’s car. Which was totaled.

I shook most of the way home.

Physically, I was fine, but my fear of driving really took root then.

A few months later, I was driving down the same stretch of road. I was following a semi, and something blew out of the window.

It was just a small thing really, probably not anything that would’ve caused an accident. But I was already on edge.

I started breathing heavily and sweating. I heard a rushing sound in my ears.

I managed to drive to the next exit and pull over. I was shaking. I tried to take deep breaths. I sat there until I calmed down.

I found out later the sound was blood rushing to my head because I was having a fight-or-flight response. My body was gearing up for a confrontation.

My driving nervousness has improved, though I still am not fond of making that drive down 35W. I much prefer driving in stop-and-go traffic around the cities. Strange, I know.

My fear manifests itself in other ways. I am afraid of rejection. I am afraid of failure. I am afraid of disappointing my family. I am afraid of disappointing myself, of wasting my life away.

The thing about fear or anxiety is that if you let it, it controls you. It stops you from doing things you want to do.

My fear of failure and rejection prevented me from submitting stories for publication.

My fear of disappointing my family prevented me from writing about certain things.

And these fears did control me. These doubts prevented me from working toward becoming a writer.

I can’t point to one clear moment when I decided to let go. And let’s be honest, I still have these fears, but these fears no longer control me.

There is no way my mom is going to love everything I write. I can live with that.

Part of being a writer is facing rejection. Not everything I write is going to be good or worthy of being published.

I have just decided that not trying to get my work published is far worse than trying and failing. I know if I never submit my work, it will never be published. And that is the one kind of failure I am no longer willing to accept.

This week’s video is “Rather Be Here” from my friend James’ former musical incarnation, Frightened Cellar. It is off the album Destroy The Fear That Forms You, which inspired my headline. I have included the lyrics below because maybe his words will resonate with you, like his words did for me.

“Rather Be Here”

It’s not time you’ve wasted
I’m sure you’ve come fairly far
From complaining about the past and spending all day in the bar
You might have been a punch card
It’s something they’d have been proud of
Don’t let your doubts stain everything you stand for

When the past is the past and the song comes undone
I’ll still be here waiting for you to grow up
When you start looking forward and seeing your worth
I’ll be right here waiting for you to come back to earth

So get out of that painting and don’t be so sad
Sure you took things for granted and often looked back
Just keep moving forward you might be a star
Or love yourself someday, that’d be the best fate by far

When the past is the past and the song comes undone
I’ll still be here waiting for you to grow up
When you start looking forward and seeing your worth
I’ll be right here waiting for you to come back to earth

When the days are growing tired and nothing seems right
When hope’s a distant memory and you can’t leave the night
Just keep moving forward it’s the only way you can go
You’ll have your time yet, this life is your show

When the past is the past and the song comes undone
I’ll still be here waiting for you to grow up
When you start looking forward and seeing your worth
I’ll be right here waiting for you to come back to earth
I’ll be right here waiting for you to come back to earth

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Writing starts with an idea. Simple enough. Until you’re on deadline, cursor blinking faster than you can form a sentence, heart thumping in your chest, doubts erasing all thoughts of your writing ability.

What is the story about? Who are the characters? What is climax? How will it end?

To begin a story, you just need a place to start. You don’t need to have all the minutiae mapped out. You certainly don’t need to know how it’s going to end.

I sometimes do, but more often, I have no idea. A story starts to unfold in my head from a snippet of conversation or an interesting thing I have seen or experienced. It is a beautiful song. It is a funny thing my friend said. It is the crush of heartbreak.

I love people watching. It’s fascinating to see people interact and listen to what they say.

You should avoid getting caught eavesdropping, but believe me, everybody listens to other people’s conversations. Whether they want to or not. (I’m looking at you, lady cursing her boyfriend out on her cellphone.)

Most writers eavesdrop. I have a friend who takes notes when he overhears anything interesting. He adds it to a list of potential dialogue on his phone.

“I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ is always the key question.”
–Stephen King from http://stephenking.com/faq.html#t1

A good piece of dialogue gets you only so far. You must take your inspiration and build a story around it.

Ask “What if?” Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Write about the thing you’ve always wanted to write about, but been too scared to. Shock people. Shock yourself.

Then remember to build your story arc. A beginning, middle, and some sort of end.

It doesn’t matter how short or long your story is; you just need to make your reader feel something. You need a climax to your story, a point of conflict that makes your reader want to turn the page.

The end doesn’t have to be tidy. No need for happily ever after. Or even an after.

One of Ernest Hemingway’s most famous stories is six words long.
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

This story is neither tidy nor happily ever after. But it manages to stir the reader’s emotions in just six words.

So, where do you get your ideas?

This week’s video is an acoustic version of “What Have I Done?” by Cursive. It’s a darker take on the writing process, but a beautiful song. The lead singer of Cursive, Tim Kasher, is a great writer.

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Suffering Doesn’t Equal Great Art

I fell in love with writing in the third grade. My teacher assigned us to finish a story- I think it was about camping- and I wrote page after page.

I was hooked.

When was in grade school, I liked to write longer stories. Around the time I was in junior high, my angst kicked in, and I was all about poetry. In high school, I started writing for the school newspaper. As an English and journalism major in college, I wrote poetry, memoir, essays, as well as articles for the university newspaper. After college, I was writing mostly poetry again.

Poetry gives you more freedom to play with language. It feels looser and more lyrical. Emotions are pulsing under the surface, barely concealed beneath the lines of prose.

Poetry also helped me deal with the things I couldn’t always articulate. It was a way for me get the angst out.

But if I wasn’t sad or upset by something, I didn’t write. I just didn’t feel as inspired.

It is a recurring theme amongst artists, writers, and musicians. To make art, one must suffer. There is the archetype of the penniless writer slaving behind a typewriter in a hovel. Or like Van Gogh, painters should be so mad with their talent that they cut off their left ear and present it to a lover.

To be great, artists must be miserable and bring themselves to the brink of insanity. And for years, I bought into this idea. And I’m not the only one.

Musician Amanda Palmer recently wrote an article “No, I Am Not Crowdfunding This Baby (an open letter to a worried fan).” The article was in response to a fan that worried Palmer was using crowdfunding to pay for the birth of her baby (don’t even get me started on this), as well as worrying having a baby was going to force Palmer to lose her artistic edge.

The idea of suffering for art is so prevalent a self-proclaimed fan of Palmer’s seems to begrudge her the ability to birth a child. It. Will. Make. Her. Too. Happy.

But Palmer no longer buys into this idea.

“I have come to believe we don’t have to suffer to make art. But- still, to this day- I’ve had a hard time shaking the belief that suffering and isolation are critically important ingredients to art-making.” –Amanda Palmer, full article available at: https://medium.com/@amandapalmer/no-i-am-not-crowdfunding-this-baby-an-open-letter-to-a-worried-fan-9ca75cb0f938

It is hard idea to shake. I have had a hell of a time shaking it.

But there is a difference between working hard and suffering. An artist needs to be willing to push themself. And to be successful, there is a certain level of sacrifice required. You must be willing to sacrifice time certainly, but I would argue sanity and happiness are not necessary sacrifices.

I don’t have to write only sad stories. Sadness and anger will always be sources of inspiration. A bad date is a goldmine of material for stories, believe me. But I can live a happy life and still find inspiration. I have learned to appreciate the beauty in this world, and I would much rather surround myself with that.

One of the joys of being a writer is letting your imagination unfurl and reaching into the recesses of your mind. It is possible to invent entire worlds and languages. Look at J.R.R. Tolkien. Not all stories come from directly from a writer’s experience.

It is why I sit down day after day and put my hand to keys, the thought that today is the day I’m going to get it right. Today is the day I’m going to crack open my skull and pull out the bloody meat of my best story. And if I don’t, there are always new things to be inspired by tomorrow, whether these things are beauty, sadness, injustice, or some combination of it all.

This week’s video is “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse. Winehouse was a wickedly talented musician, and she left us too soon. I wish she had suffered less for her art.

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How to De-stress and Live a Perfectly, Imperfect Life

“Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.”

-John Bender from The Breakfast Club

I flicked on the light in the dining room and caught a glimpse of something on the table.

“Oh shit.”

There was a small puddle forming on the dining room table. I looked up and saw the ceiling around the chandelier was dripping.

My stomach dropped. I grabbed a towel to mop the table and headed up to the attic.

A steady downpour started maybe an hour before, and that rain was now coming through roof. The rain had soaked the attic floor, and then leaked through the dining room ceiling to puddle on my table.

I ran downstairs and grabbed a soup pot, two large buckets, and more towels. I wiped up as much water as I could, and then placed the containers under the leaks.

A few phone calls, texts, and Google searches later, two roofing companies were supposed to call me back.

The first company, rated highly through the Better Business Bureau, still hasn’t called me back. The other company, a friend of a friend, called me back quickly and showed up about a half hour later.

The rain stopped, and the ceiling was no longer leaking, but the attic was still wet. The contractor friend inspected the attic, and then we looked at the roof from the outside.

“I can patch the holes, but you need a new roof.”

My stomach finished its plummet to my feet. He talked about numbers and structural integrity. The $$$ were adding up quick. The curse words were filling my head.

He left, promising to come back the next day and patch the roof when it dried out.

***

When I was house hunting, I loved checking out all the houses for sale. It was so interesting to see how people decorated, and what clever ideas they used to make their homes beautiful. Or sometimes, seeing the corners they cut and the ugly little secrets hidden behind the next door. That part was fascinating too.

And I judged these people and their homes. How could they live with leaving a paint smudge on the ceiling? What about that door with the huge scratches on it? Why hadn’t they fixed it?

When you’re house hunting, it’s good to keep your eye out for poorly executed renovations or a house where basic upkeep is neglected. These things tell you the house wasn’t well maintained, or that the remodeler did a bad job. And you don’t want to buy those houses.

But when I bought my house, I wanted it to look PERFECT. Or at least as perfect as I could afford. We painted almost every room in the house. We painted the kitchen cabinets. We bought a new couch. I created a gallery wall. I would say we replaced all the light fixtures, but all but two were stripped from the house. I didn’t even need an excuse to buy new light fixtures. (Because I would have wanted new lighting, no doubt.)

When we were done, the house looked pretty darn good. Visitors seemed impressed. I was satisfied, momentarily.

But the list of things to replace was ever growing in my head. I hated the kitchen tile. I requested a catalogue for beautiful, black and white tile made in California. Wouldn’t it be great if the kitchen was open to the dining room? I found a Groupon from an architecture company that drew up floor plans for a dream kitchen.

And then, I was getting divorced. My focus was making it to the next day and keeping the house. It had become MY HOUSE. All other plans were on hold.

The divorce was finalized. I refinanced the house and placed it in my name. I was relieved.

Suddenly those important remodeling plans seemed unimportant and frankly, unaffordable.

***

I stared at the door for a minute after he left. A new roof?

I was trying not to panic. I’ve been a serious worrier for most of my life. The what ifs and universe questions have kept me up more nights than I’d like to admit. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned worrying endlessly about something doesn’t resolve anything. It just makes you feel worse.

There are some things that are worth getting worried and stressed about. But the best thing to do is just give yourself a minute (or twenty) to panic. Let that, “Oh-shit-I’m-never-going-to-solve-this-problem” feeling wash over you. Get it out of your system. Then take a deep breath and start making plans. Call a friend or a family member. Google how to fix your unfixable problem. Try to take that first step. I also make a lot of lists. There is an amazing sense of accomplishment when you cross something off a list.

“Control” by Poe is a song I listen to whenever I need to a confidence boost. It is my “It’s time to kick ass” song.

You better believe I had Wini and Keith (my parents) on the horn pretty quickly after I discovered my leaky roof. And just talking to them and knowing I am not alone made me feel infinitely calmer. Good folks, my parents.

Worrying about having a perfect house is ridiculous. I see that now.

I will never have a perfect life. Or say the perfect thing. Or date the perfect guy. Or wear the perfect jeans. (J Brand is close though.)

Owning a house has taught me there is no perfect over and over and over again. The blue tape will sometimes leak, and your paint line will bleed white onto black. The weeds will threaten to overtake your beautifully, landscaped yard. Your almost, brand new water heater will form puddles on the floor.

And sometimes the sky above you will burst all over your dining room table. Stop. Breathe. That’s just life. The world is filled with imperfection. Then mop it up, try to smile, and realize, well, at least you have a good reason to be late to work.

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7 Things You Need to Know About Music Festivals that I learned at Bon Iver’s Eaux Claire Fest

Last weekend, I attended the inaugural Eaux Claire Fest in Eau Claire, WI. (We are all just assuming at this point there will be another one.) The festival was the brainchild of Bon Iver front man Justin Vernon and co-curator Aaron Dessner of The National.

They planned a music festival with various genres of music, as well as art and video installations. They wanted to feature a variety of independent creators. And it was a success.

Art installation near the entrance. Photo by Steph Williams

Art installation near the entrance. Photo by Steph Williams

THERE WAS SO MUCH GOOD MUSIC. Really, I can’t state this enough. I saw The Lone Bellow, Low, Sturgill Simpson, The National, Spoon, Doomtree, Tallest Man on Earth, Policia, Indigo Girls, Sufjan Stevens, and Bon Iver. And I could’ve seen more. I ended up missing Lizzo, who always puts on an amazing show. But I’ve seen her before, and I will see her again.

The National at Eaux Claire Fest. Photo by Steph Williams.

The National at Eaux Claire Fest. Photo by Steph Williams

Doomtree at Eaux Claire Fest. Photo by Steph Williams

Doomtree at Eaux Claire Fest. Photo by Steph Williams

I’ve attended a fair amount of music festivals, and I’ve gone camping many times. This was my first time combining the two experiences, and I have to say, I was nervous. Here are the things I learned.

  1. Keep hydrated. And I mean water, not beer. This seems like a duh, but believe me, when that much amazing music is going on, it is easy to forget. Also if you are constantly sweating, like I was, you are going to need a lot of water. And beer doesn’t count. I mean drink beer, yes, but you are going to need water too. This is part of the reason I missed Lizzo. I was dehydrated and exhausted about halfway through The National. I had to sit Lizzo out.
  1. Bring snacks. Trail mix, beef jerky, whatever. Food for your gulliver. I didn’t bring food on Friday because there was supposed to be a plethora of food trucks. Well, there wasn’t that many. By the time I was ready to eat, so was everyone else. The lines were long. So I waited. Not the best idea. When I went back, the lines were shorter, but places were out of food. I ended up with a popsicle. Not exactly what I had in mind.
  1. Sunscreen like a boss. Thirty-three years of being an extremely pale lady prepared me for this. Apply sunscreen frequently because you are going to be out in the sun pretty much all the time. Nothing is worse than a horrible sunburn on your second day of an outdoor music festival.
  1. Wear lightweight clothing and comfortable shoes. You are going to be in the sun, so there is no getting around sweating. Try to get as much airflow to your body as you can with lightweight, breathable clothing. At the Eaux Claire Fest, we were out in an open field, but there were patches of concrete in front of the stages. Concrete is hard to stand on for any length of time, so by the end of the first day, my dogs were barking. The second day, I wore shoes with better arch support, and I sat down more.
  1. Get a good tent, or have a backup plan if it rains. I have a pretty cheap tent. The night before I left, my brother told me you can coat the walls of your tent with silicon to help rainproof it. I did not run out and buy silicon. I maybe should have. Friday night, we woke up to a torrential downpour. The tent was leaking. If it rained, I had planned to sleep in the back of my car. My seats fold down, and you can lie pretty comfortably in the back. Well, I could anyway. Steph’s legs were a little too long to be totally comfortable. So yeah, maybe think about spending a little more money on a tent.
  1. Embrace the filth that is part of the festival experience. You are going to get dirty. There will be mud. There will be sweating. You will most likely be covered in sweat and mud. So will everyone else. Don’t let it ruin your fun.
  1. See as many bands as you can, but remember to take breaks too. The second day of the festival we didn’t head in until the early evening because there weren’t any bands that we just had to see. I was also tired from the day before and waking up in the middle of the night. We actually had a great time just chilling with some new friends at the campsite that day. And I had much more energy to see Sufjan and Bon Iver that night. It was my first time seeing both bands, and I was not disappointed. For me, Sufjan was the highlight of the show.
Ashley, Nick, Me, and Steph. Photo by Steph Williams

Ashley, Nick, Me, and Steph. Photo by Steph Williams

This week’s video is a live performance of “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens. This is the song he closed with, and it is one of my favorites.

 

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“Don’t Call Yourself a Writer” and Other Advice from Copyblogger CEO Brian Clark

Last week, we had Brian Clark as a guest speaker in my copywriting class. He is kinda a big deal.

Brian Clark is the founder and CEO of Copyblogger.com. He is incredibly influential in the copywriting world.

I was excited and nervous.

Excited because I’ve decided I want to be a copywriter. Hearing Clark speak would surely be an inspiring experience.

Nervous because I am a shy girl. I’m much braver than I used to be, and I think part of that comes with age. But famous people particularly make me nervous.

Diane Sawyer came into Saks Fifth Avenue when I was working there, and I was so awestruck I didn’t offer to find her a salesperson. I just told her I wasn’t one and ran away. She is quite beautiful in person.

My professor asked Clark a series of questions and then opened up the floor to the class. I typed a question into the chat window, hoping he or my professor would see it. (My class is online, so we meet up via a website using Adobe Presenter.)

But they didn’t.

So I raised my virtual hand. (We have icons we can click to raise our hands.) My professor called on me.

Through my microphone, I asked, “What is your advice for someone who is just getting their start as a copywriter?” Or how can you, Brian Clark, help a newbie like me be as kickass as you?

He said he had a few pieces of advice he always gave, not that anyone ever listened. I’m listening, I thought.

“Specialize.”

Pick an industry you like working in, and then focus on getting copywriting jobs in that industry. The more you write about something, the more practiced you become at creating the right tone for the audience. You will become an expert at writing about country music or computers or home furnishings.

I was in. I mean, how fun would it be to just write copy about bands all day?

“Don’t call yourself a writer.”

This one caught me off guard. I wrote it down in my notes as, “Don’t call yourself a writer?!” As someone who has wanted to be a writer her whole life, this was hard to hear.

His reasoning was many businesses don’t respect writers. These employers think anyone can write. (I mean think about it. With the internet, suddenly everyone is a writer these days.)

Clark said these people want someone who can provide a solution to their marketing problem, or “a solution-provider.” So be an amazing writer that can fix any and all content problems, but don’t call yourself a writer.

He made a good point, but I wasn’t sure I totally agreed.

For a long time, I was afraid to call myself a writer because it isn’t my full time job. Now that I’ve moved beyond that, I like calling myself a writer. I wasn’t sure I was I ready to let it go.

I’d been toying with the idea of changing my tagline on my website. “Princess imperfect writer ninja” isn’t working anymore. But after listening to Clark’s advice, I was worried I might have to eliminate the writer part.

I came up with a list of new tagline ideas. But all the taglines used the word writer.

So I went back to the source. Clark has an article on Copyblogger.com that suggests maybe there is some wiggle room. In, “What to Do when You Absolutely, Positively Must Know if Your Content Will Rock,” Clark suggests the only way to know if you have a great idea is to publish it, and let the audience decide.

He writes, “Nobody knows anything … except the audience.”

And then he states, “Consider feedback and apply fundamentals, but ultimately realize that your boss, your spouse, your colleagues, and your high school friends don’t know anything. That also applies to me and everyone else who gives you advice.”

So Clark realizes there is a limit to what advice can teach you, even his advice on the subject of copywriting.

Whew.

So I sent three of the best taglines to a writer friend, and he picked his favorite. See below.

Copywriter/blogger/editor/flash fiction enthusiast. I wear a lot of hats, but prefer shoes. If you want short, snappy copy, I’m your gal.

But get rid of the slashes, he said. Ok.

So I came up with this.

Copywriter, editor, and flash fiction enthusiast. I wear a lot of hats, but prefer shoes. If you want short, snappy copy, I’m your gal.

Much better, he said.

Then I kept playing around with it. Maybe the below version is better? It’s more concise. But I do love referencing my shoe passion too…

Copywriter, editor, and flash fiction enthusiast. If you want short, snappy copy, I’m your gal.

So audience, let me know what you think. Because you’re the only ones that really know anything.

This week’s song is “Mineshaft” by Dessa. She raps, “The list of things I used to be is longer than the list of things I am…I’m not a writer. I just drink a lot about it.” It’s not quite what Clark said, but it is a pretty good line…

 

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How to Become a Writer in Just 33 Years!

“First, try something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably.” -Lorrie Moore in “How To Become A Writer”

The first time I read these words I was working on my English and journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

Yes. That writing school. No. I wasn’t in the Writer’s Workshop.

And yes. I do think Hannah Horvath was insane for dropping out of the program. As another friend who is getting his MFA said, “You don’t just get into program and drop out. You just don’t.”

And yet, I’ve had many Hannah moments. If you write for a living or you want to write for a living, you’ve had these moments too. Self-doubt is perhaps one of the most inescapable parts of being a writer, or really being any type of artist.

Reading Moore’s work blew my mind. I imagined her poring over a story for hours, tucking and then re-tucking her hair behind her ears as she perfected her sentence structure. It all seemed so romantic.

But me, I was trying to be practical. I knew you can’t just graduate with an English degree, start writing a book, and then become the next J.K. Rowling.

I double-majored in English and journalism, and I worked for the school newspaper, The Daily Iowan. As it turns out, I don’t like working for a newspaper. So much for practicality.

So I did what Moore and many other writers before me did. I worked other jobs. I worked as a visual manager. Then I moved to NYC and started working as visual merchandiser and eventually a visual stylist. I created beautiful displays at an overpriced department store in Midtown.

All the while, I tried to get my foot in the door at a publishing house. And I continued to write. Mostly poetry at the time. I had plenty of angst about dating in NYC and being a twenty-something, much like Hannah Horvath. Minus of course, the money and good connections Hannah has.

I never got that publishing job.

By 2008, I was sick of the city. I fled back to the Midwest and moved to Minneapolis. I looked for writing jobs as the recession worsened. I started temping at an appraisal management company in the accounting department.

I was still writing, but not as much. I wasn’t reading as much either. I was distracted. There were too many things to do. There were too many people to please.

Then in 2012, I got divorced. My old life was suddenly gone. I was crushed.

A friend recommended I read Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds. I did. I also read When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams.

“And it is here, I must have fallen in love with water, recognizing its power and sublimity, where I learned to trust that what I love can kill me, knock me down, and threaten to drown me with its unexpected wave. If so, then it was here where I came to know I can survive what hurts. I believed in my capacity to stand back up and run into the waves again and again, no matter the risk.” –Terry Tempest Williams

These words were a salve to my broken heart. I wasn’t alone. Other writers suffered through heartbreak like this. From their suffering, they created stunningly, beautiful poetry and prose.

I began to write more. I took a flash fiction class at The Loft Literary Center. It was my introduction to flash fiction, a genre that limits stories to under a thousand words. Basically, a very short story. I loved the challenges and opportunities of the genre.

Flash fiction became my medium. I was writing more and ready to start looking for a new job. I found an online degree program through the University of Iowa. It wasn’t an MFA, but a Master of Arts in Strategic Communication. The degree was basically business writing that focuses on emerging channels and mediums, like social media.

I took the GRE and was accepted into the program. I started submitting stories. I started getting rejections.

I took a poetry class at The Loft Literary Center. I wrote more stories. I wrote more poems. I continued to get rejections. I met new writer friends online and IRL. We exchanged writing. They gave me their notes, and I gave them mine.

“Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that a fifteen you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire…Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back up at you with a face as blank as a donut: ‘How about emptying the dishwasher?’ Look away…This is required pain and suffering. This is only for starters.” -“How To Become A Writer”

My friend Rob has published a few of his stories. My friend Jeni is writing her second novel. I just read her first chapter. It’s good.

There is no easy or direct path to becoming a writer. I know many other writers try to be something, anything else. I certainly did.

There is also no magic potion to take, which poof, makes you a writer. I wish there was. There is only the doing.

I read often, which is necessary. Reading inspires you and helps you figure out what kind of a writer you want to be.

From there, you just need to sit down and do it. You need to write. Then write more. And then keep writing.

It’s ok if it takes you 33 or 45 or 70 years to get there. As long as you put in the work, the required pain and suffering.

This week’s video is “Avant Gardener” by Courtney Barnett. She’s a great writer, and some lines in this song really resonate with me.

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