Write What You Know


Write what you know. 

Sounds easy, right? Right up until you sit down and open up an empty Word file. Probably a couple hours later, you have twenty open tabs and several pages of notes and still a blank Word file. Or maybe, if you’re lucky, you have a page of something, but are unsure how to continue. Trust me, you’re not alone in this scenario. We’ve all been there.

So where does the “write what you know” fit in?

There was a time, about 7 years ago, when I was considering graduate school for writing (whooooole ‘nother topic for a later date…). For each college application it was required to submit 2-3 writing samples of varying lengths. Sure, no problem. Well, one. All my ideas and stories were dark and weird. I went back and looked at all my writings up to this point and all of them were dark.  ALL of them. I couldn’t even write a happy ending, much less a semi-happy story. Next great American novel? It sure as heck wasn’t gonna be from this girl.

Spoiler: I didn’t pursue grad school.

Looking deeper, I began to see a recurring theme: There was always a young female character with the same personality traits and tragic history in every single story. Those personality traits? Mine. Tragic history? Mine. (More or less) Circumstances and consequences? Yup, mine, too.

I had been subconsciously writing myself into every story. I tried to stop it, but you know what? It didn’t work. The stories sucked; the characters were wooden. I had a stack of unfinished, uninspired junk. I was horrified and frustrated. Was I being a narcissist writing myself into everything? Would I ever be able to write something that was even remotely upbeat? I kept trying and my frustration kept growing. Finally, I just gave up.

My writing started to suck when I stopped purposely stopped injecting myself into it. I wasn’t writing what I know. And what I know is me. I know my pain, sorrow, anger, depression, frustration, failing at perfection, my perceived failure of acceptance. I know my history, my family and friends, my cirucmstances and environment. Every writer, every person, has their own story to tell based on what they know. And that’s why we have so many books, often on similar subjects and themes, from so many voices. Each one is unique because each one is writing what they know. 

This is what write what you know means–at least to me. And I think that’s a great thing. Not only does it allow us to dig and know ourselves better, but each voice gives us a new perspective to contemplate, discuss and learn from. I no longer force myself to write against what comes naturally. My stories are still dark, torturous and emotional, but now I don’t try to hide it. I accept it as I accept myself because it’s what I know.




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I will not be the placeholder girl.

Neither the one to hold the place of the one you lost,

Nor the one before the love of your life.

I am a woman of my own sense and feelings,

With my own life,

Who deserves to be recognized as such,

And treated with care.

It is a fragile place for a woman like me,

Who has been that girl before,

Time and time and time again.

No longer.

No longer will I sit and wait for you to realize what you had.

Or listen to your excuses,

And wait for your calls.

I will not hold the place you do not deserve.

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Dear Death

Dear Death,

You and I don’t get along
And I’ll tell you why.
I understand you have a job to do,
But you take those I love
Way too soon.
Time now spent reminiscing and weeping
Instead of laughter and fun.
I don’t see your reason
For the choices of those you take.
To me, you’re one mean reaper
And you’re to blame for my hardened heart.
Why are you so heartless?
Why are you so cruel?
He meant everything to me,
Was a shining light in a world of surrounding darkness.
Why must you take those we love
Before we realize what they are worth?
Before they’ve had a chance to live,
To experience, and to grow.
No, you and I will never get along.

Dear Little One,

I understand your pain and anger towards me,
I will even take the blame.
But know the choice of who I take,
At what time
Is not decided by me.
I am only a mere servant
To He who watches over all.
Each decision pains Him greatly;
I have seen,
But a lesson he means to teach:
Waste not time on trivial things.
Take every moment you can spare
To be with those you love,
For life is short and life is precious.
The bonds of friendship are worth more than possessions
And will last long after your loved ones are gone.
Oh! How I despise to create your grief,
But this is a burden I must carry.
May you see His lesson and take heed.
When the time comes, after the tears,
You will have more memories than regrets.

But understand I do this not for special glee
As you said its my job.
Let me tell you a little secret
The Almighty created me
Out of soot and ash
To carry out this gruesome task
Of tearing out people’s hearts in pain
As I take their loved ones.

I cannot stop the task which was given to me,
But you can change the way things mean to you.

The Universe created me.

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She died from hate
and for love.

She died from oppression
and for freedom.

She died from fear
and for strength.

She died from war
and for peace.

She died for….LIFE.

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Split Personality


No, I’m not talking multiple personalities here. I don’t need to be committed. Or evaluated. I think. Wow. Barely a sentence into this blog post and I’m already derailed…

But let’s face it: We’re multi-faceted humans. Which facet we show depends on our situation or social standing. Whether it’s private or public. Personal or professional. Unless we’re one of those lucky, superhumans who have all the self-esteem and not a care in the world–I personally think those beings are a myth…but, um, back to topic…

In our society, we are exposed to images and stories of success, happiness, money, and all the other things that are happy and shiny. Many times, in between the pretty pictures and success stories we hear about struggle and pain, but those are only blips and bumps that are easily glossed over and quickly forgotten. Happy, shiny people is what our society projects and all of us strive to do this. We put on our public face. Sure, we’re allowed our off days where we’re rude or sad or withdrawn, but in the end, most of our Instagram photos and Facebook statuses show the rosy, carefree, cheerful side of ourselves. No one wants to be the Debbie Downer or the Eeyore of the group. Because those people aren’t fun to be around. We shun people that are consistently that way because it’s how our society has been built. But, dammit, life does not make it easy to be shiny every day.

Robin Williams comes to mind right now. He was pure joy. I remember I would “Nanu Nanu” around the house hours after the newest Mork and Mindy episode. Drove my parents crazy. Aside from his darker films, I can’t remember an interview where he wasn’t doing something to get laughs. He brought joy and laughter to millions for decades. When the news broke that he had committed suicide the world saw this whole other person that he hid until the cameras turned off. Who knew he had so much pain within him? There was a whole different side or personality to him that the world knew nothing about. The thing about having this dichotomy within yourself is that it’s not sustainable. When I think about his later, darker roles, I wonder if he finally realized the toll he was putting on himself and took those roles as an outlet for his private pain.

When I first took my writing seriously, I wanted to write happy things. I was in good place, emotionally and mentally and was excited about writing. But I quickly realized that happy stories were not something I was destined to write. Patterns began to emerge with every story I wrote. Characters were emotionally and mentally tortured, situations were unique and dark. The more I tried to make things rosy, the darker they turned. Then, the light bulb came on. You see, about 10 years prior to the start of my writing journey, I lost my father, very unexpectedly. It devastated me. But I swore that when I recovered from the emotional trauma I would do everything I had planned to do before he died and I would be fine. Life would go on. And it did. I did most of what I had planned and I thought I was happy for awhile. Turns out, I wasn’t. I just put on my public face and buried the private one. I took the pain and the all the things that I should have embraced and shoved it into a dark mental closet. I did what society expected of me.

I see now, through my writing, that this dark, hidden side of me will not stay quiet and is trying to manifest itself through my writing. At first, I was scared of it. What did this say about me? What would people think? It took years to realize that the answer to those questions is: It doesn’t matter. This other personality is telling me that I have never “recovered” from my emotional trauma, but that I shouldn’t lock it away. I must embrace it and give it the voice it needs. Part of healing this split within me is to write and be proud of whatever comes out. Because that’s how we grow. How we connect with others. How we become whole.


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Food for the Soul-Volunteering

Today I did something I hadn’t done in quite a while. I volunteered. The last one I did was a river/park cleanup which was mostly yanking out invasive plants that had started to take over the area. It was fun, but also tiring work. Before that, I had helped people recover from the Nashville Flood of 2010. THAT one was heart-breaking. Which is probably why, when I moved back to CA, I volunteered for nature-related opportunities.

What I did today was part of the National Education Association’s Read Across America event: http://www.nea.org/grants/886.htm. It’s a one day event, that’s actually tomorrow, March 2nd (bonus points to you if you know what special day it falls on), but some schools make it a week-long event. The company I work for decided to participate in our local elementary school’s event by having us come by and read a couple Dr. Suess books to 1st grade students.

Now, if you know me, you’ll know, speaking in front of people is just not my thing. Individuals, fine. Very small groups, fine. But more than 5 people with all eyes on me? Yeeeeeahhh, I’ll pass. But this? This was books, specifically Dr. Suess books and kids! I have a special love for Dr. Suess as my dad read his books to me every night and because of that I started reading with my dad at the tender age of 3. They were the first books I remember and it not only created a special bond between me and my dad, it also created a love of books that is just as strong today as it was back then. So naturally, before the “you-hate-public-speaking” voice had a chance, I signed the volunteer sheet and I’m so glad I did.

The kids in Mrs. Greene’s 1st grade class were so excited when I walked in. I’ll admit I was a little unsure of myself and of what to do when I first walked in, but the teacher was warm and welcoming as were the kids. I sat down in front of the class who were already seated on the floor and brought out two books: Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I asked them which of them they wanted me to read first. Majority of hands chose Green Eggs and Ham. I asked them if they liked eating Green Eggs and Ham and to my surprise, many had tried it (the food-dyed stuff) and did really like it!

Before I began reading, Mrs. Greene told me the rules about how students had to be quiet while reading, but could ask questions or comment once I finished reading a page. Fair enough. There was only one of those instances, as the kids were just so into the books, which really made my heart swell. One child raised her hand to tell me that another kid was holding a creepy stick and for a moment, I was confused. “Are you scared,” I asked. The kids laughed and told me that’s not what the creepy stick was for. I’m still not sure what the creepy stick was for, but that’s okay.

Normally, when I speak, I do it fast. I found out today that when I was reading out loud, I was reading slowly and with enthusiasm. I’ll tell you, that’s never happened before and I found myself enjoying this whole experience. The kids loved it and were thrilled that I was leaving the books along with crayons and Dr. Suess coloring pages. Even though the whole thing lasted maybe twenty minutes, it made me very happy to see the kids really getting into the stories. I mean, who doesn’t love Dr. Suess?

I loved every minute I had with these kids and I hope I’ll have another chance to go back for another event soon. Speaking and reading to kids isn’t so bad, but now, more than ever, I’m motivated to write. It got me out of my own head and set the wheels spinning again. Who knew reading to kids would push me to get back on the writing wagon?

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