Three Writing Lessons from Life
I’m in the midst of promoting one book and writing another, but, as is the way with life, other projects and adventures get in the way. And yet, they all lead back to writing, somehow.
Take our grand-dog, for example. I’m not a dog person; I am most definitely a cat lady. But the more time I spend babysitting Peanut, who’s a puggle (pug and beagle mix — who looks like a boxer!), the more dog-person-y I become. I take him for walks, I chat with him, I use a special “Peanut voice” when in conversation with him, I make sure he has water and a snuggly place to sleep, and so on.
I think I’m “not a dog-person” but, according to my Facebook friends, I am. I’m doggier by the day.
When I was writing Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop, I was pretty sure I was writing a chick-lit romance. Sex and the City! Hot sweet love! I like romance, but not so much on reading mysteries and suspense. I like a good love story. Who doesn’t?
But when the publisher set the BISAC codes for the book, I found that I had written a mystery-suspense-thriller.
I don’t read mysteries. I don’t write them. I don’t even like them. Except sometimes (Dick Francis horse racing thrillers). I filled in my love story with the adventures of a young reporter. That part kind of took over, until the romance was just about ten percent of the total story. The publisher said it no longer counted as a romance.
So apparently I wrote a thriller. And apparently I like dogs. One dog. Just this one. There’s a surprise.
In another example, we bought a crack house last summer. Not that we wanted a crack house, but it was a troublesome entity in the neighborhood, and out of frustration over tenants who trashed the place, we offered to buy it from the landlord, and, to our shock, he agreed. We suddenly found ourselves with another fixer-upper (koff, gasp, wheeze). We have been working our way through permit-red tape all through fall and have been having a survey done of the property.
We just found out a few days ago that the house is actually partially built on the neighbor’s land. Since 1940, that is (koff, gasp, wheeze). We kind of eminent domained, unintentionally. Once again, we thought we had one thing, and we ended up with another. We had plans. Big plans. And the map has changed. If that doesn’t sound like your latest writing project, then you must have a better plan than I do.
I’ve got a third example, and it isn’t pretty. I’ve been watching the events of Ferguson and New York, and everywhere else where there is police brutality, gun violence, and racism. A lot of arguments have played out in the streets, on Facebook, in the news, between friends and among family members. I’ve blocked people and rebutted trolls, tried reason and logic, written passionate replies and stood my ground. And I fear this is not going to end soon, though perhaps it will end well.
I am trying to have faith about progress of the human race.
Where this leads me is to truth. Truth can be ugly, but it’s better to see it than to hide it. It’s better to speak it than to lie.
Ernest Hemingway said of his work that as long as he could write one true thing every day, he felt that he was progressing. I am well aware of my privilege and intend to make use of whatever bully pulpit comes of it. It is my intention to write truly. The mot juste. The truth about whatever story or lesson comes my way.
Follow these examples in your writing:
- Dig deeper and find out who you really are.
- Let go of the road map and deal with what is.
- Look at — and tell — the truth, however painful.
And let that be a lesson to you.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.