“January, the month of new beginnings and cherished memories, beckons.” Sarah Ban Breathnach
I won’t bore you with a list of writing do’s and don’ts to start the new year. We know the rules. Write each day. Use adverbs sparingly. Never use a verb other than “said” in dialogue. As I recently heard at the South Carolina Writers’ Association’s October conference in Pawleys Island, “Said is not dead.” And while you’re at it, watch those exclamation points!
As we ease into 2019, I want to share a few things I’ve learned from my local chapter (Camden) and through my association with the South Carolina Writers’ Association.
At a chapter meeting, a writer shared some information about a book titled Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks. Since the member’s comments were directed at the piece I had submitted for critique, I listened carefully and knew this information was something I could use and pass on to others. The major takeaway was to take note of moments each day and record them later. A moment can be developed into a story, or several could be fleshed out into something larger. Just write the moments, making sure they’re your moments, and see if you notice a theme or lesson emerging.
Writer, teacher, and speaker, Dicks found himself concentrating on the BIG moments of his life like getting robbed at gunpoint or having a near death experience, but he soon realized that he needed new material. He also recognized most people can’t identify with getting robbed, but everyone has small moments that end up being meaningful in some way. Some sights, experiences, and encounters can speak to all.
December is often a busy month of gatherings and goings-on that can provide many memorable moments, and I was semi-faithful in recording several. Even on days when I felt my candle burning on both ends, I managed to scribble down a little something. Here are a few December moments, both ordinary and extraordinary.
Sandwiched between the giving and receiving, the getting and spending, my mother-in-law had a heart attack. Three subsequent moments float through my consciousness as I write this post:
- An odd, empty feeling when explaining my husband’s absence at a yearly gathering the evening she was admitted to Providence Hospital
- The surreal experience of listening to Handel’s Messiaha few days later and seeing a cousin in the choir, healthy and sharing a Christmas message while a few blocks away….
- Playing Apples to Apples and sipping hot cider at a holly-jolly housewarming on the evening of her discharge.
Lesson: Robert Frost was right. Even in the midst of sadness, distress, and uncertainty, life goes on.
Then there was the chilly overcast afternoon that I retreated to the bedroom to concentrate on final grades, a tedious, time-consuming process requiring quiet. Propped up against the headboard with the laptop on a pillow, I soon got into a flow state. Movement at the window beside the dresser broke my focus, and I looked up to see two brown protuberances—ears belonging to a doe a few feet away. Spellbound, I watched as another head came into view. Picking up my iPhone, I tiptoed (not sure why) down the hall to the foyer. I crept slowly toward the paned door and snapped several photographs of the two beautiful deer. One stared my way unflinchingly, and soon both of them walked away, prancing as if they had springs in their legs.
Lesson: “All creatures great and small, …the Lord God made them all.” Mrs. Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander
One evening at a Christmas get-together, I complimented a friend on her beautiful soft green shawl, and she said, “It’s yours, Girlfriend.”
“No, no, no,” I said. “I’m just saying it’s pretty, not that I want it.”
Undeterred, two hours later, she put it across my shoulders, and someone snapped our photograph.
Lesson: While it might be more blessed to give than to receive, generosity can be contagious, and everyone present that evening went away feeling a little more good will towards humanity.
From our local chapter and SCWA, I now know that learning never stops. Even the most accomplished writers in the state organization continue to hone the craft. We need each other. It’s that simple. And speaking of others, don’t compare yourself to them but rather to the writer you were yesterday. Oh, and get a notebook or two or a dozen. You’re going to need them to record those everyday moments.
It’s 2019. What are some moments you can mine for meaning…and share on the page?