Category Archives: Reflections on Writing

Things you may not know about the World War II era.

Summoning Your Muse

Over the years, I have come to realize that there are two kinds of writer’s block. The first kind can cripple writers and prevent them from ever writing again. The second kind is what I usually grapple with. It’s wanting to write, thinking I should be writing, feeling guilty because I’m not writing, and being unable to settle my mind enough to write. Eventually, though, I do end up writing something.

I believe both of these issues blossom from the same soil. The issue begins when we, as writers, believe we are actually doing the writing. We forget about the magnificent creative force that exists in the universe that is always creating nonstop without any assistance from us. We forget that our job is to tap into that creative force and begin to transcribe its ideas. It needs us. It has no other way to manifest its energy except through our creative efforts (and, of course, those of Mother Nature.)

Some call this force their muse. This is an ancient word dating back to the fourteenth century. It is thought of as a goddess or creative power that inspires artists. Mythology credits  Zeus and Mnemosyne for birthing nine daughters, each one presiding over a specific art form and providing creative power to the artisans therein. She becomes their muse.

Call it what you may, this creative force is available to everyone and needs only an opening in the mind to do its work. That opening, I believe, exists in the subconscious mind. My job is to open myself to the suggestions and ideas that exist in this subconscious, creative arena. The question then is how to accomplish this feat.

The ways in which this is done are as varied as the seven billion people that inhabit this planet. I walk or clean my house or futz around in my garden. Others may run or hike or daydream. It doesn’t matter how the creative energy is accessed. It only matters that one makes the effort to open oneself to its possibilities.

There is one exercise I would encourage everyone to try. Meditation is a powerful way to open the creative channel. When we meditate we let go of our ego, our preconceived ideas and thoughts and we simply stay quiet and receptive to the moment. I very seldom have inspired thoughts during meditation but what I do have is a few moments of rest from the monkey-mind chatter that goes on in my brain. That quiet time alone provides an opening for subconscious ideas to surface. If I follow meditation with journaling, the ideas begin to flow and I know the muse is with me. Then my only job is to listen with an open mind and transcribe.

I would suggest that every writer, and anyone who feels creatively blocked, give up the idea that you are the one doing the creative work and open your mind (and your heart) to the idea that you are a part of a universal creative force. Meditate on that and watch the magic begin.


Using Profanity in Writing

My Take on the Use of Profanity in Writing

I was raised in a very small conservative community. Swearing was looked down upon, especially if the profanity involved the use of the words “God” or “Jesus.” Although I left that small town fifty years ago, I still cringed at the thought of using cuss words when it came to writing My Darling Dorothy.

Dialogue, in order to be believable has to match the character. In My Darling Dorothy, Jack was a young man with a tenth grade education from a small country school. His vocabulary was quite limited because of his lack of education but also because of his environment. No one that he came into contact with on a daily basis had an expansive vocabulary. When armed only with a limited vocabulary and in need of expressing one’s emotions, profanity fills the bill quite nicely, and Jack used it, maybe not extensively, but frequently.

The other issue I faced was a desire to be true to the character upon which Jack was based; my father. While it was not acceptable to swear in my hometown, my father swore like a sailor. How could I write believable dialogue about this man and his friends without the use of profanity? The question arose as to whether I should whitewash my father’s personality or let it shine through in all its cussin’ glory.

When I imagined deleting all the profanity in the novel, I had a sudden flashback to my father’s funeral. It took place in a church in the little town where he and my mother lived for fifty years. I requested that “Tennessee Waltz” be played as part of the music at the funeral, but my request was denied. Secular music had no place in the church according to the young minister in charge of the service. I gave in without so much as a whimper. The service took place, whitewashed in my estimation and focused more on who my father was not as opposed to who he really was. I have always regretted that decision.

Now, fourteen years later, here I was, about to whitewash my father again.  This time, however, I refused. I made a commitment to remain true to his character, flaws and all. He may have been crass at times and he was certainly not an eloquent speaker, but he was my father; a man who worked sixteen hour days, six days a week, plus five hours on Sunday, to keep his family fed, clothed and housed. He came home exhausted and yet still found the energy to get down on the floor and play “horsey” with his children. There is honor in that, honor that demands respect.

There isn’t an inordinate amount of profanity in My Darling Dorothy, to be sure, and I would encourage all writers to think carefully about how profanity is used in their writing.  If every other word is the infamous “F—-”  word, perhaps it should be toned down. Perhaps, but it is entirely dependent upon the character and what the character would say and do in any given situation. What matters most is whether you are creating an authentic, believable character and if that includes the use of profanity, so be it.

Curiosity, Research, and Imagination

There is a pattern that took shape as I wrote “My Darling Dorothy.” Curiosity about the details mentioned in a letter led to research to learn more about those details. The research led to imagining how those details played out from both Jack’s and Dorothy’s perspectives. The actual words then flowed onto the page (more or less), depending upon how vivid a picture had been painted in my imagination. A perfect example of this process is illustrated in the following sequence of events.

As I mentioned in my post about VE day, the letters my father wrote to my mother began to change after May 7th, 1945. They were all about how soon he might be able to make it home. Here is what he wrote,

“Sweating this point system out is as bad as sweating out an artillery barrage, almost. Ha.I have 84 points. That isn’t enough to get me home very fast. Of course I’ll make it in time I guess, but god only knows how long a time that will be.  Honey, we should have a couple of kids. Then I’d have it made, even one would help.”

Points? Having kids? What in the world is he talking about? This kindled my curiosity and required some research which, as always, started with picking my husband’s brain. He is an historian. He told me there was a point system that was used to decide who got to come home first. Through further research I learned that the system was called the Advance Service Rating Score. After studying the system, I quickly understood the importance of having a child!  Here is a quote from Wikipedia that explains the point system:

“An enlisted man needed a score of 85pts to be considered for the demobilization. The            scores were determined as follows for each:[1]

  1.  Month in service = 1 pt
  2. Month in service overseas = 1 pt
  3. Combat award (including medal and battle stars) = 5 pts
  4. Dependent child under 18 = 12 pts

Time of service was calculated from September 16, 1940. [2] The four criteria were the only ones from which points were calculated. No points were issued for age, marriage or dependents over the age of 18. Battles and awards were also only accepted from a predetermined list.”

This information prompted me to begin to calculate my father’s score. Once I calculated his score, I began imagining Dorothy’s thoughts and concerns about the system and how soon her husband would be able to come home. I also began to wonder how my father handled the stress of not knowing how soon he would make it back to Nebraska. Chapters 54 and 55 of “My Darling Dorothy” are the culmination of this process.

“Curiosity, research and imagination”; the perfect triumvirate for writing historical fiction.