“That Doesn’t Make Sense” – The story of my childhood writing

As a child, I would sit down to our Compaq computer after chores and bang out stories until it was time for dinner. Over dinner, someone would ask me what I had been writing, and I would plunge into detail: The story, the world, the character’s backstory, the reasons for the antagonist’s behavior and his/her backstory. My time was limited, but I could and wanted to discuss this for hours. After a few minutes, perhaps as long as ten, my mother would get this look of absolutely no interest and say, “That doesn’t make sense.”

A few times I tried to explain myself, but the conversation turned to the next boy scout outing or my brothers’ mutual dismissal of their homework or grades. The rest of dinner I would sit with the knowledge that my story didn’t make sense, which I thought was a forgiveable fault, but also saddened by the fact that no one wanted to help me fix it.

At first I thought I was simply being less-than-elegant in my pitch of the story. I knew it sounded nothing like the summary of the back of books, and would continue on with my tale after homework, but I was less enthusiastic and as I wrote I heard their comments in my head. Usually I abandoned the story, but I can’t fairly say if this was because of nagging doubts or due to my hyperactive imagination and slow finger-pecking.

Still, as the years passed I learned how to alter my pitch some. I would say, “It’s about a girl in (a certain situation) who has to choose (between some unsavory choices) but it isn’t as easy as choosing, there are consequences.” There would be some lukewarm interest at this point, but more likely scepticism. “Why is she in that situation? Why are those the choices?” And then I would explain, since the situation always arose from the role of women in the story world. Once or twice I got the conversation to last twenty or thirty minutes before my mom would say, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

I went through a frustrated period, where I was angry that my written skill far exceeded my verbal skills since I was both an introvert and a non-confrontationalist. This knowledge made me print out the story and take it to my mother, to ask that she read it. It was my way of asking, Does it make sense on the page? She didn’t read it, and my brothers weren’t interested in proofreading for me, not that I thought them credible to do it—though my elder brother revolutionized my typing by introducing me to the magical “Tab” key so I didn’t have to count the number of times to hit the space bar before every paragraph.

Often I would rather read books than eat, too, and I’d do my best to re-write the stories in the books by my own hand. “Sam, the Horse” was written in this way when I was eight. It was a whomping 20 pages long and the teacher’s aide even bound it for me and sent it to a competition, which I won, and I got to go on a special field trip which was basically a mini writer’s retreat with workshops and a guest author speaking. She said she earned $1,000 a year on her one book, to which my mother commented that wasn’t very much. Later I found out that a low yearly salary was $20,000 so I naturally thought that if I wrote 20 books each earning $1000 a year, I could at least get by with life.

But there was one crucial problem: That doesn’t make any sense.

In order to really understand the impact of this statement, I must explain the broader use of the phrase in our household. It was used to comment on the news: “Why would someone bomb a car? It doesn’t make any sense.” It was used in the movies: “Wait, why would he do that? It doesn’t make any sense.” It was used when us kids were being stupid: “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would you touch the electric fence with your palm? Use the back of your hand so you jerk away, not grab it when your muscles tighten.”

At the age of nine, my father walked me out to the cow pasture and told me to pick a heifer. “And next year, she’ll have a calf. You can sell it if it’s a bull, or keep the calf if it’s a heifer. Then she’ll have a calf in two years, and you’ll have two calves a year.” And we counted how many animals I would have by the time I graduated high school in ten years. “And you can pay for college. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”

At first, the cattle didn’t cut in too much to my time. One heifer in a herd of twenty is pretty easy to take care of, but my responsibilities grew exponentially as I aged. Between my initial contest winning and when I went to college, I had exactly three major events in writing: A weeklong writing summer camp with my aunt while I was a child where they published one of my stories in the camp anthology, and the two times I was one of ten or fewer students in the state of Idaho to score a perfect 5 on the statewide essay writing assessment for grades 6 and 8. I don’t know if I was the only person to do this or not; it was all anonymous.

I never gave up on writing during this time, but not once did I submit anything for publication. I didn’t understand what the ‘how to publish your novel’ books were saying, and my parents were far less than helpful in this regard. Soon I was out of time for such things, and anyway, I didn’t know if my stories made sense. Being an author sure didn’t.

My whole life I’ve been trying to make sense of writing. When I was depressed after miscarriage and completely lost the ability to write, I lost myself.  My own husband has said that writing is such a part of me that I’m lacking when I can’t do it. None of it makes sense. Why I have to do it, why I am obsessed with it, why nothing else in the world is something I would rather do for my day job. I’ve been trying to make sense of my stories, and more than that, I’ve been trying to make sure my stories make sense to my reader.

The other night I was with my writing club. They asked me what I’d been up to, and I realized that I had two tales sitting in a ‘Beta Reader’ folder which had not been sent out to anyone, at all. I was still trying to make sure they were good before I sent them out.

This morning I realized this was because I wanted to ensure that they made sense. This morning I realized that at some point in my adolescence, my parents asked how writing was going, and I would say “good” and leave it at that. Today I realized that I need to learn to put “that doesn’t make sense” behind me.

But it is such a hard lesson to leave behind.




9 Ways I am Improving My Blog

9 Ways I'm Improving my Blog

My blog doesn’t suck, but shall we say there is room for improvement? I’m talking about a lower-than-desired traffic flow, some confusion about how to find other related posts, and just a little something missing to make it engaging. So I’ve been doing some research and the advice offered was a little too authoritative and generic to really apply to my site. To employ all that advice would be essentially to bulldoze a cute corner boutique and turn it into Wal-Mart or maybe a H&M. It would strip out the heart of what this is about–a journey.

And I was really wondering how I could breathe some fresh life into this place, until I started to look at my bookmark folders. Then things started to fall into place. Before I make a decision, I pour a lot of research into that topic, and I compile lists and websites where before there was no easy-to-find-list. Why haven’t I shared this with my other sojourners?

So after rehashing and a week’s worth of thinking, I have decided I am going to change these things:

1. Make my titles more exciting.

This is an easy yet hard talent to learn. I am not saying to be dishonest in the title, merely to shine them up to be more like candy. Often all we read is the title of a post before we decide if we want to read it. How many sites have I been on (ahem, Buzzfeed) where the content itself isn’t all that brilliant, but the titles keep hooking me in. It’s like some poor-quality addiction or something.

2. Write more engaging first paragraphs.

Still working on that one. That’s alright. There is a lot of advice for those, and like I said, it’s all an art form, really. Just google search it, and you’ll have fifty articles in your palm in a fraction of a second.

3. Play with a variety of post types.

The same old thing all the time gets monotonous, to say the least. While I think you, the reader, would have more tolerance for a series of lists, me as the writer, well…I would go a little bonkers first and just might sit here glaring at my computer for hours instead of writing another list.
4. Be more generous in my links.

I’ve always thought of myself as quick to share a good thing, but it’s about time I start to share all those preciously-hoarded stacks of bookmarks–in a way which makes sense.
5. Organize my material kinder for my reader.

This seems like a no-brainer. Because it is. But how do you take all that glorious content, past and future, and put it in a way which is meaningful to your reader–and to yourself, should you ever wish to refer to it again? I’ll let you know when I’ve figured that one out.
6. Add an author’s pic and tagline.

In my WordPress theme, I accomplished this by using the “Picture” widget and adding my tagline in as the “caption”. Simple enough. Except I hate how I photograph. In real life, I think I’m rather pretty. Put me in front of a camera, and I’m like….ahem, let’s use a baby photo, shall we?
7. Add links to my other profiles.

This blog is the first place readers will come, and readers prefer different social media platforms. One reader usually won’t keep up to snuff on Twitter, Facebook, G+, Diospora, and whatever else is out there. But Reader Sally will love Facebook, and while Geek Brother loves G+. This is the best place to list all your accounts, even if you only update them to say “my new book is out”.
8. “My Books” page.

I’ve seen many variations on this, and decided that there needs to be a landing zone for your readers to be able to see and go to their favorite book-reading site. Not everyone has a Kindle or uses Amazon, yet most places link there. For the layout, I decided I enjoyed the usability of BookBub best. It has a thumbnail, a blurb, and a list of places to find your book.

I accomplished the look by doing a two-column page and doing links. You’ll have to consult Google and play with a few tutorials to find the best way to do this. It took me a few tries to attain the desired look.

9. A website which allows for these changes.

Not all sites are built the same. Two-column pages won’t look good on every site. Others look fine with three or four columns. For my re-vamp, I needed a place for Categories, my “Picture” widget, pages, and something that gave me eye candy. I chose a design which met the technical needs and laid everything out. Then I went hunting for visual appeal and picked the one that made the most sense.

Bonus Point:

10. A subscription service.

I am looking into mail subscription providers. It needs to be free and easy to use. I’m currently thinking MailChimp because I’ve seen it used so often and it’s free up till 20,000+ subscribers. If I get that many, I’d be more than happy to cough up some dough for a paid service.

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You will see these changes taking effect–some of them already have. What do you guys think? Anything you’ve wanted to change up in your own site?

Your Dearest Nicolette