Clothing vs word editing: How brave are you?

"You really want me to get rid of most of these?

“You really want me to get rid of most of these?”

"Some of those are brand new!"

“Some of those are brand new!”

It looks like we had a break-in at our house, doesn’t it?

We didn’t.

I snapped these photos after my hired image consultant put my entire wardrobe through an official “closet audit.”

A few weeks ago I wrote a business article about a local personal image consultant, Dulcet Style.

Intrigued with the image make-over process, I decided to give it a try and signed on for colors, style and silhouette analysis. The closet audit was the next piece of that process once we’d established my basic fashion roots according to how I prefer to dress, what my body shape and style is, and what colors appear to work best with my skin and hair coloration.

Color-wise, I am an autumn. Didn’t surprise me a bit. That is how I saw things for me.

The good news is that, instinctively, I’ve been making pretty good choices about me, myself and I for a long time. Mostly.

I had an article to write the afternoon she came, so I gave her free range in my bedroom to go through everything.

I could have stood by and watched her work, but with a deadline approaching, I decided it was more efficient if she did what she does, and I did what I needed to do. We agreed to meet up after she’d finished her sorting and analysis.

The psychology of the responses to all of this from friends and family have been as interesting a study as was the whole process itself. Many were defensive on my behalf over some of the things suggested to me by this consultant. They needn’t have been; this lady doesn’t make a living by insulting people, and she and I had a good time together throughout this process.

When you go through such a process you are willing to become vulnerable. As a writer I face that every time I submit a story or an article, and by now it doesn’t scare me nearly to the degree it did in the beginning.

The agreement stood between us, however. We’d do  the closet audit, but I would have final say on what did—or did not—get chucked into the donation bins. As it should be. These are my personal clothes, after all, and I am the one who would pay for their replacements.

I left her in my bedroom and I returned to my computer to finish the article.

Two and a half hours later you see in these pictures what I saw when I returned to my bedroom. My closet was substantially barer than a couple hours earlier. While she explained to me which pile was for this reason, or that reason, and why she made her decisions and choices, I listened.

There was probably 20% of my original wardrobe left hanging in there, and I did like the things she decided should stay, but it took my breath away for a moment. And I admit—as I glanced through some of the piles I noted things that I knew I would not be leaving in said “discard” piles, but would be hanging back up in my closet.

"Where have all my clothes gone?!"

“Where have all my clothes gone?!”

My article that was due could only be 800 words. I’d talked to three sources for my information before writing. 800 words isn’t much time. When I’d finished my initial draft, I had nearly 1300 words. No way could I turn that many words in, so I did my own word-wardrobe culling process.

I read and re-read, cut and pasted, moved this here, that there, took things out completely and put them into a CUTS zone at the end of the document—in case I changed my mind later—and trimmed the article down to under 800 words.

When I had it sitting on the page like I thought it should be, I handed my husband a red pen and a print out and asked him to give it a read through, marking anything that seemed out of whack.

An editor—like an image consultant—is a big help in seeing what might be wrong right before our eyes, but that we cannot see because our eyes were part of the creation process.

People told me I was brave to let a virtual stranger go through all my clothes. They said they’d never do that, but what I took away from the wardrobe revision was a sense of relief, and I honestly hadn’t expected it to feel as cleansing as it does. The consultant told me I would feel that way when it was done, and she was right.

I liked the idea of a cleaner, more efficient closet. I liked the idea that the jacket I hadn’t worn in 10 years was going to be out of my way. And that sweater I bought 5 years ago?–and now realize was a spontaneous purchase for some reason I cannot even recall, well . . . life is going to go on just fine once it goes to Goodwill.

It was so okay to be vulnerable that day.

That closet process is exactly like a writer’s words in their early drafts. That time comes that we have to send some of our words on their way. It’s because there’s no room for them in a piece, or they provide a redundancy that makes a piece sluggish, or they aren’t the right fit for what we are trying to accomplish.

At first it feels like we’ve wasted our effort to write them, but we’ve had the time with them; the writing practice. They did serve their purpose.

I’d typed in an additional 600 nicely written words for my business article, arranging my interview resources’ quotes ever so neatly about the article. But on two and three reads through it after the consultant departed, and my eyes having been away from them for a while, it didn’t take long to see what had to go.

I cut, rearranged and finished the piece and sent it on its way.

The next day I took a fresh look at all those piles and stacks you see in these pictures. At the end of my session my husband and I lugged 63 pieces of clothing to Goodwill and a ton of old belts, long ago too small, too worn, too outdated. I figured it was about a 60/40 split. Sixty-three pieces went out, and that last 40 she thought I should let go of, stayed.

Welcome to the world of editing. This is how it has to be with your words. If we open our minds and our ears, we know instinctively that we really don’t want to keep every single one.

It’s a good thing to learn that we can let go. We are so much better off for it.

Words, or clothing--it's all about compromise. Meet my new closet today!

Words, or clothing–it’s all about compromise. Meet my new closet today!

“Sure sign of spiritual growth: You want more freedom—and less stuff”  – Lisa Villa Prosen 

The time has come the Walrus said . . . to speak of many things . . .

You're showing to the rest of the world, whether you know it or not.

You’re showing to the rest of the world, whether you know it or not.

Writing, I think, is not apart from living.

Writing is a kind of double living. 

The writer experiences everything twice.

Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.    – Catherine Drinker Bowen

The 2014 Life Journaling Class I began in early January has concluded–and damn–it felt good to participate.

I achieved my goal: To return to that deep state of unrestrained, concentrated paper-talk that I’d been missing.

All of the different prompts that session leader Susannah Conway offered to us 5 days out of every 7 fascinated me, even though I did not do them all, nor did I do them in order. The choice was always ours, as it should be.

Many were incredibly imaginative, and some downright dangerous and way too exposing, but staying parked in the SAFE ZONE is no place for serious writing.

I must admit to this one here and now: as it’s been one of the coldest, snowiest and toughest winters we’ve had in Iowa in several years, I could not get enthused about trying the one exercise of laying buck naked, spread-eagled across my bed, contemplating the various parts of my body and then writing about said personal revelations. It’s hard to think straight when your nibs are freezing and begging for a blanket.

Please don’t be offended, Susannah. I did understand the purpose of that one, but dang, woman–it was simply too cold for compliance! (Maybe next summer when the cat is busy watching birds out the window and the hubby has gone out for a solo Harley ride or something . . . we’ll see–)

She offered us one final list of prompts to carry forward as we move away from the group, and there are both gut-wrenching, difficult suggestions as well as light-hearted, fun directions to go. I am grateful for such a list.

It contains 50 solid, honest questions and prompts, and they offer vast amounts of fodder not only for personal journaling work, but for creative essays and stories–fiction and non-fiction alike as far as I’m concerned.

As I read through them a lot of thoughts began coagulating for me:

Have a conversation with your 90-year old self.

Write a letter of appreciation to someone who annoys you. (Oh, hell no! . . . but a good writing exercise if ever there was one . . .)

What turns me on? (Is this something you want your kids to read after you’re co-habitating with the earthworms? I wonder how many people would have the guts to write this down in a notebook and not destroy it.)

The secret I could never tell anyone. 

Write a letter to your first love.

The things I’ll never do again are . . . (oy.)

If I dared to say what I really think . . .

I chose the following from her list to close this post out for today:

10 memories I’d like to revisit – 

  1. Sitting on that old wood bench in Montgomery, Iowa on a July night watching the free outdoor movie with my family. There were stars overhead, crickets chirping in the grass, my folks–lighthearted and relaxed. There, of course, is ice cream before we drive home.
  2. The night I was married. I believe I forgot to tell my folks thank you for my wedding. Damn. All family and friends that we cared about were present. That doesn’t happen very often.
  3. Shopping in Wright’s Five and Dime with my kid sister. I want to walk down each aisle and remember all those fun things we used to wish we could buy. And I want to stand over that penny candy counter one more time.
  4. I want to pause inside the big doorway to my dad’s welding shop and watch him repair those colorful farm implements again, and then I want to drive home to supper with him. Our family of 6 always sat at the table and ate meals together. I remember the pecking order; it wasn’t always peaceful, but so what.
  5. Saturday nights in July and going uptown to take in all the happenings, and eating cheeseburgers at the Sunnyside Café with Mom—and one of those thick REAL chocolate malts.
  6. Christmas Eve 1960. Christmas was always good for me.
  7. The winter of 1962. Snow days—lots of them that winter. My sister and I baking and sledding and feeling warm inside our house—and sleeping late in the mornings. “No school again today!” I can hear my dad saying it.
  8. The summer of 1969 at Pike’s Point. Warm breezes blowing across Lake Okoboji and going steady. The life of a pampered teenager and loving it all.
  9. Girls’ week in August at my mother’s house. The four of us. Fresh peaches and cream for breakfast. Shopping and ordering pizza and watching rented videos. Nothing but play time. A week’s worth of harmony.
  10. Drinking Constant Comment tea with Mom in her living room until the wee hours of the morning, and catching up on everything and anything, and laughing until we dang near wet ourselves sometimes!

So . . . for those of you who think you’re  too smart, too busy, too talented, too sophisticated to spend any time with yourself, a pen and a lined notebook, I dare you to give it a try.

I don’t believe any one person couldn’t find something of merit in a little time spent examining where they’re standing now, where they’ve been—or what they think might be waiting down the road for them.

No one is that well put together. No one.

“I see you!”

What are you seeing?








What do you think you see in this wintry window?

The other night I watched David Feherty interview former President Bill Clinton on the Golf Channel. They obviously talked a bit about golf, but Feherty’s interviews are so interesting because he covers a broader spectrum of topics with his guests.

One topic they covered was the work funded by the Clinton Foundation, which is working to bring humanitarian aid and economical education/training to areas such as Haiti and parts of Africa.

Mr. Clinton noted that while in Africa his hosts took him up into the mountains, and the roads along the way were dangerously narrow and treacherous at times.

When another traveler approached them his hosts would call out to them, sawabona, which means, I see you.

Instead of the customary greetings we here in America use, such as hello or hi–it was simply I see you.

The response came back, ngikhona, which means, “I am here.” It is more involved than that, however. It tells the other person that you feel you have been seen and understood and that your personal dignity has been recognized.

That’s a rather neat trick, don’t you think?

I had to read more about this, of course. The members of these African tribes go about their day with this personal validation from all they encounter. Everybody is being seen by everyone they meet.

That must feel good.

Back to the interview. Mr. Clinton said he wondered how often during the course of our day, our lives, do we fail to see others because we either don’t want to, i.e., the panhandlers on the sidewalks, the homeless sleeping on park benches, or someone we don’t want in our social group because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc, or because we are so wrapped up in our immediate lives, we can’t be bothered to look another human in the eye and acknowledge them in one tiny moment.

It is a point well taken, and not a comfortable one to pose to ourselves.

I’ve come to realize that journaling is like that. It is seeing yourself on the page. And it doesn’t necessarily go to rampant neediness, although we all have a level of that, but I believe it points us to greater aspirations and deeper self-realization.

Before I finally decided to vacate the standard business world and turn to writing, I felt like I’d become invisible; not only out there among that every day, supposedly normal business world, but definitely to myself. It was not a good feeling. The fact is, I learned that women who approach that 50-something mark, one day find themselves not quite as highly valued in the American workforce. I can’t speak for other countries; no experience. Sorry.

I’m glad to say I finally figured my way out–the hard way. If you aren’t living your days doing the thing that matters most to you, you are going to get soooo lost to yourself.

Sooooo . . . . my online journaling class/exercise I signed on for these 6 weeks turned a wee bit a’challengin’ this week. I confess I am behind on some of the prompts due to other required writing I had to finish for a deadline, but I kept up with what the group was called to attempt.

I realized that journaling is greeting yourself on the page. And I’m not a newbie to this pen and paper act, but after listening to the Clinton interview it dawned on me that frequent journal writing provides a chance for me to say, I see me today.

What the hell–answer yourself back while you’re at it. It’s nobody’s business but yours.

And as one of my journal mates commented: “I feel calmer when I’ve finished.”

That is not a bad way to start—or finish—a day.

I’ll close with this:

If I handed you a sheet of paper and told you to make a list of 100 things you like about yourself, could you do it?

“J” is for Journal; “T” is for Thawing


“Out of clutter, find simplicity.”

-Albert Einstein

In last week’s blog post I told you about the 6-week long journaling class I’m taking with writer Susannah Conway, and I promised I’d offer up “bits and bobs,” as Susannah puts it, of the experience.

Six years ago, a writing friend introduced me to the trendy idea of choosing a theme word for each New Year, as it related to our writing life/goals.

My log list reads thus:

2008 – persevere

2009 – believe

2010 – continue

2011 – expand

2012 – push

2013 – (no word chosen)

2014 – reassess

That blank in 2013 is probably the reason I signed on to do this life journal class. I can’t tell you why I didn’t choose a word last year, and frankly, it wasn’t until I started writing in my classy new journal for this session that it occurred to me. Life turned bizarrely hectic, messy and sad in 2013. That I didn’t have presence of mind to choose my word is proof.

Susannah provides us with many prompts and suggestions each day from which to work in our journals. Journaling longhand is not a new concept for me, as I have a number of them in process on my shelves. But the idea of working in a cyberspace classroom with 79 other women from around the world in a common vein added the touch of discipline and connectivity I realized went missing last year. That came out in my writing this past week.

It’s startling what your mind and hands lay down on the paper while you look on, and honest journaling will take over like that when you finally cut yourself loose.

Little wonder then that my gut chose the word reassess, because clearly there was a need. (I still can’t believe that I didn’t at least try for a word in January 2013. Ah, well.)

You see the colorful, but messy array in the picture? That’s my creative notebook journal in process. That is the second part of this winter adventure. Others are calling their notebooks their creative dream journals.

I have a pretty good handle on what my dreams are. It’s these blasted U-turns and detours life keeps handing me and mine that need sorting through.

My 3-ring journal will be titled, Life View, and it will contain pictures of family and friends, pets, beautiful party tables, skies (I love sky pictures), food (of course!), ticket stubs, handwritten notes and cards from friends, journal fragments, and various other bits of my writings; even some of my poems. Elizabeth Bishop I am not, but, hey—this is my journal after all.

I’m not real artsy-fartsy when it comes to the paper crafts/ scrapbooking concept, and I was not even going to try this 3-D part of the course, because after all—I am a writer. I was planning to dive back in with one ink pen in hand, and two more in my back pocket and give it everything I had. But Providence evidently thought it would be good for me.

Allow me to report to you: I think Providence was right, and I think I’m in love.

The play time with my 3-ring binder and all those doodads, stickers, fancy scissors, multicolored card stocks, and the drawing up of page layouts all while looking at pictures of my family, my friends, all those fun times we’ve had already . . . I mean, come on! It’s positively engrossing. Not to mention, cheering.

Observing where you’ve come from goes a long ways in helping you reassess where you go from here.

And then there was this revelation: the other night, as I wrote and played, it occurred to me that my head, heart and soul were thawing out.

Whether we freeze up to protect ourselves from the hard times, or to make ourselves be strong role models for the sake of those around us could be a topic for debate.

All that I can tell you today is that it feels good to have the ice breaking away, and I owe this to a new journal, a group of honest, like-minded women on the other side of the pond, and a whole lot of brightly colored clutter scattered all over my dining room table.

I know there are people who think they don’t need to do any of this self-examining journaling crappola, but people, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

You may never be the same.

Einstein nailed it. Out of my clutter, I am finding simplicity, and from there I will be able to reassess.

Talk to you next week–

The Life Around Pie.


I am a pie snob, and I admit this with pride.

We had 14 people coming to our house for the annual Groff 4th of July party this past Saturday night and I woke up that morning with a wretched sore throat that was doing its best to spread its wickedness throughout my body.

I had 3 pies to create because homemade pie at our annual function is now a time-honored tradition. It didn’t matter that I was feeling poorly, those pies needed to come together.

Some people believe pie simply comes from the freezer section of their grocery store.

Some people have never made a real pie, and could give a fig whether or not they ever do, but . . .

I’m willing to bet something of value that a respectable majority of the masses adore a really good piece of homemade pie—which, to my means and methods—means the pie crust has to be a lard-based crust. (Groan if you want, but on this I am immovable.)

I was fortunate to watch and learn from the real experts: my mother, my paternal grandmother and a couple of aunts in busy ordinary family kitchens. It had nothing to do with expensive granite counter tops, or designer light fixtures—or even degrees from prestigious culinary schools with familiar-sounding acronyms.

These women learned their pie tricks out of necessity for feeding families and large work crews.

Back to my sore throat and not feeling in the most “pie-baking” mood Saturday morning.

Because I was feeling awful, I worked slower than I normally do.

I took my time with the process. I rinsed and peeled, and washed and diced and sliced and grated and measured. With the fillings mixed up and waiting in their bowls, I turned my attention to rolling out the bottom crusts, and it hit me.

You are in this moment only. Feels good, doesn’t it? 

You are not rushing; thinking about what you’ll do after this. 

You don’t do this nearly enough, but you need to.

I took my time rolling out each crust—testing it for uniform thickness, adjusting it a bit here and there, then ever so gently arranging it in its pie plate before repeating that process two more times.

Stirring and scraping the fillings: fresh blueberry with lemon zest, rhubarb (from my garden) mixed with market strawberries spiked up a bit with freshly grated orange zest and just a touch of fresh ground nutmeg–for the second pie, and of course, apple pie for the third. I like to add fresh lemon zest to my apple pies as well because freshly zested citrus makes anything rock to the next level up.

I dabbed on the butter pieces—real butter, of course—and then rolled out the decorative top crusts, once again laying them in place, taking care not to stretch or tear, trimming excess dough, tucking and rolling the edges, before giving them finger-formed edges.




There really is nothing better than working with your hands.

Perhaps you won’t believe me, but I swear my throat wasn’t hurting nearly as badly once those pies went into the oven to bake, and I realized I’d enjoyed my creative time at that dusty flour counter to its maximum potential.




It takes practice at being in the moment, and I have been painfully negligent as of late in my practice of that art.

There are always deadlines to meet, the next interview to locate and set up, the myriad of things that always need doing around the house, the yard, volunteer duties, and so forth. It becomes too easy to live to rush toward that next task or duty or promise—or “always wanted to try that . . .”, and before I know it—I’m not even trying to stand in the moment and enjoy where I am. This simply is not good.

A friend recently asked me some pointers about starting her novel.

I told her to make sure she had a ball writing her first draft, because it may just be the most fun she’ll have with it.

Practicing what we preach can be such hard work, don’t you agree?

IMG_5422 trimmed up


Just for grins—here’s my family’s lard pie crust recipe. Just in case you want to try your hand at one.☺

Grandma Z’s Pie Crust

3 cups white flour

1-1/3 cup of lard

3/4 tsp salt

Mix flour and salt together, cutting in the cold lard with pastry cutter until crumbly, then add the following combined mixture:

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp cider vinegar

5 TBLS ice cold water

Mix, by hand, until smooth, shape into a disk before wrapping and chilling in refrigerator for several hours.

A few pointers:

  • Be sure the lard is cold.
  • I always use a  pastry cutter to work the lard into the dry ingredients.
  • Be sure the   and water mixture, as well, is very cold. (I ice a glass of water  first, then measure out my 5 TBLS of water and add the vinegar.)
  • Do  not overwork the dry ingredients/lard mixture. Just get them worked into a small crumb mixture and then add the wet ingredients.

The Weekly Special: A plate of Inviolability.


How good are you at being inviolable?

I received this small bit in an email from another writing friend this morning:

“Virtually the only way to free ourselves up for effective, dedicated writing is to block out the time and make it inviolable.  The most productive (and prolific) writers churn out several thousand words in three hours each day.”

I’ve read Stephen King’s Memoir on Writing. In there he revealed that he writes for 3 hours every morning—and then he’s done for the day. Just in case you were wondering.

Somewhere in my stack of clippings I read a piece of advice that speaks to our taking a check-in with ourselves by 2:30 every afternoon.

The writer suggested that we do this to determine if we are using our work day hours to our best advantage.

We are to ask ourselves: Am I accomplishing what I wanted to today? And if our answer is ‘no,’—well then—we still have enough time left in the work day to change our course and make something happen. Something that we will be happy with as we close our eyes at bedtime at the end of that day.

Ann Patchett was in Cedar Rapids a couple nights ago and gave a most rousing and entertaining talk on the writing process and being recognized as a writer (even by fathers who still don’t realize writing IS a REAL job).

In pre-talk publicity in an article in the local newspaper she was quoted thus:

“I know a lot of what my next novel is about, but I hate starting. I’m at the point when I’m ready to start and I wake up every morning and think of something else I can do, like cleaning out my sock drawer. I get down to doing every last thing that could be done and then finally when there’s nothing else to do, I start writing.”

I would like to say a special thanks to Ms Patchett for admitting to being human—and reminding me that I am, too. Having said that—the lady has finished and published, oh, say—at least 6 books by now. She obviously gets those ol’ sock drawers done and then slides into the chair to work.

Further suggestions for the daily work-pulse check come from an article written by Jocelyn Glei, “How to Set Smart Daily Goals.”

She suggests we ask ourselves three questions:

Am I intentional?

We should be aligning our actions with what matters to us. Do everything with a purpose. If our action isn’t serving a purpose, we ought to stop wasting our energy.

What am I doing?

Am I spending too much time on unimportant tasks? Do I want to keep frittering away my time like this?

Have I scheduled uninterrupted time today? (I believe this goes back to that inviolable word.)

Will I set time aside to “be still?” I agree with her that it’s more important than the general public wants to accept. Quiet time is the foundation for bringing order into our lives. Taking time to reflect, journal, meditate, strategize, imagine, and so forth will help us work more effectively.

I’ve been trying to find a new work approach lately. I’ve gone a bit helter-skelter this whole past year and it’s been niggling at me waaaay too much which only causes anxiety, so I’ve been trying to develop a solution.

Two questions I pose to myself these mornings are:

  • What do I want to accomplish today?
  • How realistic are they for this day?


Admittedly, I have not conquered my time use issues, but I feel I am at least asking myself the right questions.

We had a guest speaker in church this past Sunday. His topic was “Focus.” He quoted an equation taken from the 1997 book: The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to The Mental Side of Peak Performance, by W. Timothy Gallwey.

The equation looks like this:  P = p – i

Translation: Performance = potential – interference.

No Time For Writing Grinches.

Holiday planning and writing. There’s room for it all.

“If I were you, I’d just screw the writing and focus on those grandkids,” a long-time acquaintance said to me, handing back the pictures of my two adorable grandkids that I was showing her at a pre-holiday party we were attending. 

I literally let it go in one ear and out the other, but in my gut I knew I had just been given my next blog subject. 

This woman had also just asked about and listened to the progress on my novel while I shared with her how my recent submission package was sitting on an editor’s desk, and I hadn’t heard a thing back yet, and this is how it goes in publishing today . . . it’s not quick and easy . . . and yadayadayada. 

Even in light of such a rash statement as the one she made to me, I remain grateful when people at parties ask me about the writing progress. Doesn’t bother me a bit, and I use these opportunities to share with them the realities of the industry, and most of them are usually stunned into silence to hear of the difficulty in navigating the world of words. 

This acquaintance is not a mean-spirited person, and I do not believe she was trying to sabotage my writing work life/efforts and dreams. She was, however, approaching it from her perspective—not mine. She clearly doesn’t understand how it works, and that’s okay.

Evidently, it is supposed to be something that you toy with until something else, something better–like grandchildren—come along. I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d make such a statement to, say—a lawyer or an interior designer—or a doctor. 

You will never read a written word from this woman because she doesn’t get it. 

It isn’t either/or—it is work it in—amongst it all—squeeze it in . . .  in the car on the way to lunch out with your husband, draft in the airport on a yellow lined tablet, outline something sitting on a plane, stay up extra late at night to be sure you meet the deadline, jot down those thoughts that come to you while having a cup of tea at the coffee shop. Sit down to the laptop while that pan of cookies bake. 

When I was still working in the cubicle-world, I was drafting on a poem—a poem that came to me while I drove home on a lovely, smooth new roadway close to our house. Ribbon-smooth, it was, and the sky that September evening was like sparkling liquid gold, and the words were just begging to go down on paper. I kept the draft of that poem on the island next to our cook top—and every now and then while I was browning hamburger or making soup, I’d glance down and read through the poem . . . nah, that’s not quite right—move that word down here—get rid of that word—maybe move that whole phrase up a ways . . . 

You get the idea? 

I did that for a year. I eventually finished that short poem and entered it in two contests over time. It placed in both contests. And I still managed to finish cooking a whole lot of suppers throughout that year, and get into work in the mornings while editing a poem a little at a time. 

And now I have these two exceptional grandkids, and I don’t miss an opportunity to be with them and hold them—and I won’t. 

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I love to cook for people—especially my family. We don’t run out to the closest buffet. That is fine if you like that. I don’t happen to want to do it that way. And the kids and the grandkids will be here. 

Today I did some cooking/prep for the big day coming up. I ran out to shop a bit for some items, and now I’m seated with the laptop writing a blog post—and then I’ll go back to doing more cooking/prep once I get this posted out to the cyber-space. And probably tonight I’ll return to the laptop and draft—something. 

I think my acquaintance is missing out on something more, but that’s for her to sort out—or not. There is no either/or. 

As for myself, I want the writing, the grandchildren, the holidays, the lunches out with my hubby and friends, the freelance work—and eventually a place in the sun for the novel. 

When I hold a Christmas tea here in our home in a few weeks, there will be magazines sitting out on the coffee table; magazines that make it into thousands of homes each month–and they will contain stories written by me. 

“Screw the writing?” 

I think not, my dear old acquaintance.

How about you? 

How will you combat your “screw-the writing” Grinches?

How do nostalgia phobes write?

You never know what waits for you inside. 



How can you find what’s inside if you don’t open the door?

There’s a quote that looks something like this: “Nostalgia is the death of hope.” 

Credit for this curmudgeonly view belongs to Manchester England mosaic artist Mark Kennedy. 

My limited research on this artist suggests he is most gifted, talented and widely appreciated, and I admit I’m not going to spend a lot of time researching his philosophy on the process of creating [great] art. I’ve seen this quote appear around the cyber waves and in printed form a number of times, and it’s been bugging me for a while. 

We have to be careful about how much weight we put onto quotes, as they are basically taken out of context. Unless we hear or read the entirety of their initial introduction into the world, we will not really know the full or true intent of their creator. 

However, having said that, and despite my very limited exposure to Mr. Kennedy I am inclined to say . . . hogwash! 

When I dig into writing a new piece about childhood events, holidays and other nostalgic stuff long since under the bridge, I will make inquiry of my siblings, husband, children, or whoever is appropriate for the non-fiction essay period I am addressing with queries about what is hiding in their memory banks of that specific time. What do they remember about that time that . . . Or–did your family ever . . . ? Or– what was your strongest/saddest/most prominent remembrance of . . . blah, blah, blah. 

Indeed, the piece is to come from my own impressions and memories—good as well as bad—but I find that their perspective often times opens up, or broadens my own mining process. Part of the fun of this is that I am often surprised at how different their take on a particular moment was, as compared to what I was expecting from them, or hoping (?) for. 

I’m working on a Christmas submission this week, and I have to say—I enjoy digging back in the ol’ mental mothballs. I know there are people who want none of this activity, but for me, honestly—I couldn’t write very well if I wasn’t willing to dig into the old, deeply personal—and yeah—often times sad thoughts that do present themselves once the proverbial Memory Hatch flings open. 

A life coach friend of mine helped me understand the importance of developing a process for handling this excavation, as I call it. 

She told me it was fine to enter the memory caves of the past, pick up the good—as well as the bad, if I want to–and examine it—as long as I remember to make good on the critical second part of this process. 

‘Remember to step back out,’ she told me, ‘take what you need, but know that you will close the door behind you.’ 

Depending on just what type of memory you go digging for, I fully realize this process can be scary, because if you dig something up that you weren’t expecting, it now stands before you, and you have to do something with it. And maybe you’re not ready. Maybe you haven’t figured out how to deal with it just yet. This can be a dangerous thing. 

Then, too, consider the depth that such a dangerous venture can, and will, add to your writing—your more honest writing, I might add. The real stuff. The stuff people can relate to—that they remember enjoying, suffering, enduring—surviving. And then we have that thing between reader and writer called  . . . (drum roll) connection. 

So—I’m sorry Mr. Kennedy, but I disagree with you.

Nostalgia, that wanting to experience again that thing from the past, taste that candy you used to eat, stand inside the house you were 7 years old in, remember the Christmas it didn’t snow, or dig through the boxes of your deceased father won’t kill hope, to my way of thinking. 

I believe it’ll bring out our most personal angles.

It might make us cry really hard for a couple of hours. We might have to work hard to step away from those days gone by, but we’ll be considerably more honest writers when it’s finished. 

This serves the non-fiction writer as well as the fiction writer.

Who wants to read fiction characters with no dimension, and how can a writer bring dimension to that paper character if he can’t face the dimension within himself? 

My Andy Warhol Approach to . . . editing.


I enjoy documentaries about famous dead people. 

In a PBS-aired documentary about Andy Warhol, the narrator shared a story about Warhol coaching one of his protégés on the subject of self-judging one’s work. 

The advice he gave the younger artist was profound, and it surprised me that such an unconventional individual as Warhol was—could–or would offer something so “fatherly” sounding. 

This isn’t verbatim, but in essence, Warhol told his protégé: “Just do the work, and do a lot of it. It won’t be up to you to decide if your work is any good. That is for somebody else to decide.” 

It’s a fairly liberating notion. 

While art and beauty are in the eye of the beholder and visual artists have a different method of attack they work from as compared to what a writer does, I believe  we writers need to take Warhol’s advice one step further. 

I mean, if an artist doesn’t quite get the hue of the western sky right, the average person may dismiss it to style or artist’s choice, but let a reader pick up a book or a story and find uneven sentences, misspelled words, missing punctuation, and we can have our work tossed in the trash and labeled amateurish by prospective editors, literary agents and publishers. 

For sure, we writers should do a lot of writing. A lot. It’s good practice. And, yes, we should not get caught up in that “is-my-stuff-good-enough?” self-destruct mechanism, but we have another level to add to our work that the visual artists do not. 

We have three serious editing phases to go through before our works sprout wings and leave home. 

Do you know the three basic components of a solid edit? 

The mechanical edit. 

  • Is your capitalization consistent throughout your piece?
  • How about your hyphenation?
  • Are your verbs and subjects in agreement?
  • Are your beginning and ending quotation marks and parentheses clear and appropriate?
  • Do you get carried away with ellipsis (like I do)?
  • Are your numbers represented as figures or written out? (Do you know the difference?)
  • How’s your paragraph length looking in the overall document? Do you have a two-page paragraph where the reader’s eye never gets a break?
  • How about your spelling? Spell-check does not sitteth at the right hand of God the Father. I can’t imagine it ever will from what I’ve observed.

The substantive edit.

This type of edit is helpful in the rewriting and reorganization process of your project.

  • Can you stand far enough away from your work to recognize a better, maybe more effective or alternative way to present your subject or story?
  • Have you stayed in the voice/tone of the overall piece, or did you switch gears halfway through the novel—at the risk of losing your reader?
  • Will you catch your mixed metaphors?
  • Will you recognize misplaced modifiers?
  • How about remote antecedents? (You know what these are?)

The copyediting edit.

  • Is the overall formatting presentation and appearance of your writing project neat and easy on the eyes?
  • Have you been consistent in the spacing between sentences and narrative pauses? Transitional paragraphs?
  • Have you checked for proper and clean pagination throughout?
  • Have you allowed widows and orphans to exist in your document?

Qualified and merciless editing won’t kill us, and our project will be visually and grammatically beautiful. 

Now, if they don’t like us—well, meh. Then you’ll need to remember Mr. Warhol’s words.


We simply have to try on a lot of words to see what we like. – R’becca G.

Don’t be selfish with yellow tomatoes, sweat or stories.

Do you remember who introduced you to your first yellow tomato? (I do!)

But of course you are wondering: What’s so special about a yellow tomato? 

Nothing, really, except all the good stuff that came rolling forward in the gray cells called memory as I watched it grow from infancy to full-term before I leaned down to pick it one sweltering 90-degree morning last week. 

We’re in the midst of a major heat wave in the Midwest this summer—not unlike many parts of the U.S. and I had the good fortune to pluck that juicy little ‘mater from the vine and then run back inside to our nice air-conditioned house. 

But that’s not how it was when I was a child. These hot spells are nothing new to Iowa, but the roiling hot summers of my childhood were so different from what I experience today.

My folks raised a huge garden every summer, and several different varieties of apple trees and one Italian plum tree lined the north side of said garden.  

Whereas I only planted 3 tomato plants and 1 green pepper plant in amongst my flower gardens this season, my folks would plant multiple rows of green beans, onions, beets, cabbage, corn—and megatons of lovely, vine-ripened, smooth-skinned, red-orange tomatoes, which my mother canned—in 90++ degree heat waves like we are currently enduring. 

Canning consists of the picking, washing, scalding, peeling and stuffing of vegetables/fruits into boiling hot sterilized quart-sized canning jars, affixed with hot sterilized lids and rings which she then lowered into a pressure-canner made of heavy grade metal, adjusting its huge, rubber sealed lid and bringing the pressure up to so many prescribed pounds on the burner of our stove for so many minutes to seal the rubber-edged lids. Pressure canners can be damn dangerous if instructions aren’t followed to the “T”. 

Once the pressure canner had done its work and the lid safely loosened,  the jars were removed and placed on the terry-cloth-lined kitchen counters with tongs and allowed to sit and cool overnight. 

My mother would count the “pops” that signaled that the lids had finished sealing as they cooled. All those jars were then carted to the fruit cellar – a dark small cave in our basement that was lined with wooden shelves on which to store the preserved goodies for winter cooking needs. 

And she did this without benefit of an air-conditioned kitchen, and she did it every summer that I lived at home. And I swear to you, the casseroles and the pots of chili she made from those canned tomatoes tasted better than anything that came out of a Del Monte or Hunt’s aluminum can from the grocery store. 

So—what’s the big deal about all of this, you want to know. 

It’s about the tales and experiences that the tomato brought back for me.  

We never did have air-conditioning in my childhood house. 

We didn’t own window fans until my sister and I were in high school. We’d lay in our beds on those beastly hot nights, after having taken a bath (no showers) in our one bathroom, 3-bedroom home for our family of six, and the beads of sweat ran down our temples and along the backs of our necks dampening our sheets and pillowcases–making the bath seem pointless–as we tried to get comfortable so we could get to sleep. 

Late into the night we might wake up and pull the top sheet up over ourselves—the one that smelled like sunshine because it had been flung over a clothesline to dry earlier in the week after Mom washed our bedding.  

Why, you ask me, are you yammering on and on like some nostalgia-sick sentimentalist? 

Some time back I tried to organize a personal stories writing group within a local collection of people who I’ve known for some time. I approached several of them to kinda’ test the waters; some nodded politely and listened, but one person in particular looked at me and said: “What would I possibly write about? I don’t have any stories about my life!”

 Hmmm . . . let’s see: this person was at least 80 years old, had been married a couple of times, had raised a good number of children – and yet: ‘didn’t have any stories . . .’ 

Ho-ly maird. 

I secretly prayed to the Great Ones Above to strike me down immediately with their Euthanasia Wand should I ever grow that dull or unaware of the value within my life. 

The atom-splitters among us are NOT the only ones who have a story to share! 

M-a-y-b-e your kids would like to know a few specifics of your earlier life. (‘Why did you try to run away from home?’)

M-a-y-b-e your siblings would yet like to understand how you felt about what went on in the growing up years at home. Maybe said siblings were feeling the same way, and might appreciate the opening to share something as well? (‘I never knew Mom wished she could have gone to college instead of getting married.’) 

M-a-y-b-e it isn’t all just about us. 

Can’t figure out where to start, you say? 

Then start with “firsts”—like this yellow tomato. It is the ‘first’ of this season and it opened a floodgate for me . . . just by showing up. 

Don’t be selfish with your little personal stories or memories. If you don’t let at least some of them out of your head, they will disappear into your bone dust one day. 

If you’ve been living on this earth for any amount of time, you already have a ton of firsts from which to begin sharing something of yourself with your children, your siblings, your friends–or the rest of us–who haven’t met you. Yet.


NOTE:  THE SMELL OF THE SOIL: Writing Your Stories, a recently published collection of short personal stories by author Dale Kueter offers enjoyable examples and ideas for personal story telling.