Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Daddy’s Girl

Good evening, Dear Friends, and welcome to another Insecure Writers Support Group Wednesday!

February 2 question – Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn’t around anymore? Anyone you miss?

If you’ve ever submitted a short story or poem to a literary magazine, you’re familiar with writing a short, 3- to 5-sentence third-person biography about yourself. Nothing too detailed. Just a few fun facts about yourself—your interests, your hobbies, what inspired you to write, a list of previous publications (but not too many; we don’t like a brag). If your work is accepted, this biography will appear alongside it in the published issue of the magazine.

Over the years, I’ve spent time perfecting my bio, revising it as I discovered my voice and my creative niche. The final product sums up my life, my style, and my influence quite nicely:

Nortina Simmons has been writing since the age of three, inspired by her songwriting, guitar-playing father. Her stories and poems never quite fell into the category of ‘love.’ Love in the real world has restrictions, is wrapped in pain. Through her writing, she explores the characteristics of love the hopeless romantics remain ignorant to. Every ‘love story’ has a curse within. Nortina has stories and poems published in Agave Magazine, FishFood Magazine, Ceases, Cows, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, fēlan, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, and Minerva Rising.

As the bio says, my biggest inspiration was my dad. He died of lung cancer when I was 18, but his influence lives on in my writing. My dad was a triple-threat artist. He was a painter, a songwriter, and a musician. My earliest writing memory was writing a ballad called “Oh, Desire” and singing it for him as he played his guitar and my little brother smacked his tambourine in the background. I still faintly remember the lyrics.

Oh, desire for my heart forever.
Will you love me if we're not together?
Do you want to have dinner at a table to love each other?
Do you want to have dinner at a table for two?

At one point we recorded it on cassette, which may still be somewhere in my childhood bedroom. I found it once, several years ago, and listened to it repeatedly—immersing myself in the memory, rewinding the clock—until the cassette player chewed the tape (did I just reveal my age?). The next time I go home, I may look for it again.

In addition to writing music together, we also wrote stories. Often times I would do the writing, and he would do the illustrations. Memorable titles include “The Junkyard Kids” and “Children’s Island.” There was even an intergalactic space odyssey, but I think that was more his idea than mine.

Some of my fondest childhood memories were of us creating together. I owe so much of the writer I am today to him. Unfortunately, our real-life story didn’t have a happy ending. Life happened, and he moved across country with a new wife and family when I was barely a teenager. His diagnosis came a few years later. I saw him just once after that, and the next month he was gone. But those few nostalgic days we spent together, when we were reminiscing, and writing, and singing, and playing music, I will cherish forever.

After all these years, I still miss our collaborations. Even though he’s not here anymore, I read those lyrics from our song, specifically the first two lines, “Oh, desire for my heart forever./Will you love me if we’re not together?” and imagine younger me saw a glimpse of a future when I would have to write without him and thought to remind me, his love and support is always here, in my heart.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Quiet that Inner Critic

Good morning, Dear Friends, and welcome to another Insecure Writers Support Group Wednesday!

January 5 question: What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Were you able to overcome it?

Well, this is somewhat of a difficult question to answer, because at times, I don’t feel my “writing career” has started. Sure, I have a few short stories and poems published in literary magazines, and of course I have multiple books’ worth of content on this blog.

But when I think “career,” the first thing that comes to mind is making money, and although the time and effort I put into the maintenance of this blog, from the posts I publish to the look and feel of the page layout, often feels like a second job, currently, the only check I’m getting is from the 9-to-5.

One thing I do regret—as I believe it has, in a way, derailed my progress to publishing that first book and, as a result, stalled my writing career—is being too critical of my work.

You know how the saying goes: You are your biggest critic. Well, as a perfectionist, I’m ten times worse.

I have left so many stories unfinished because I feared the first drafts sounded too elementary, or the plots I’d outlined too unoriginal.

I write, and rewrite, then rewrite the rewrite, then delete everything and start over. (Prime example: there are currently three versions of Love Poetry on my computer hard drive as we speak.)

I’m constantly ripping through the thesaurus because I don’t feel my vocabulary is diverse enough.

I second guess whether I’m showing rather than telling.

I worry about my pacing in some scenes. Is it okay that I have a page that’s 90% dialogue?

I question if I’ve provided enough details in the narration for the reader to visualize the story:

  • How many ways can you say it’s dark outside?
  • Does every detail in the room need to be meticulously sketched out to set the scene? I mean, I’m not a screenwriter here.
  • Can I just say, “She got in her car”? Do I have to write every step? She grabbed her purse, walked out of the front door, descended the porch steps, walked (is there another word for “walked?”) across the yard to the driveway, and got in her car.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that you don’t need a million pretty words to be a great writer. I’ve read books like that, and they were BORING! You also don’t have to be the next great American novelist to produce stories that people will still love and enjoy and want more of. That’s the one downside of taking those university literary courses. They assign you the wordy stuff, the dated stuff. Although classics, not many in today’s Internet age (the era of instant gratification) have the attention span to read them. Well, let me speak for myself, I don’t have the attention span to read them. Not anymore. So why am I trying to write like them?

Writing the drabble, the 100-word story, has helped me to eliminate those inessential words and descriptions that, although great for atmosphere, don’t necessarily move the plot along, so that all I’m left with is a story. Because that’s why we read, right? We want a good story.

On New Year’s Eve, I embarked on an ambitious challenge to write a marathon of Twilight Zone-inspired stories every hour, midnight to midnight. While I wrote some stories that were pure gems (I smile and get giddy every time I read them), there were others that I wasn’t 100% satisfied with. But I had one particular fan (okay, it was my mom) buttering me up the entire time, encouraging me to keep going, saying that she was enjoying the stories more than the actual marathon on TV. It was a great feeling, and I definitely want more of that.

So my goal for this year is to not be so critical. Don’t worry so much about the details. Perfectionism is an enemy of success, and do you really want to deprive your biggest fan?

Hi, mom! 🙂

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Writing Stress

Good evening, Dear Friends, and welcome to another Insecure Writers Support Group Wednesday!

I’ve been away for a while, for reasons I kind of half explained in a previous post. But I’m back now, and hopefully to stay, and this month’s IWSG question seems perfect for my return.

December 1 question: In your writing, what stresses you the most? What delights you?

So what stresses me the most? Easy. Sharing my writing with other people. Now, I know what you’re going to say. “But Nortina, you’re a blogger. It kind of comes with the territory.” I know. When it comes to sharing with total strangers, I have no problem, because if they don’t like it, they can just leave, and if they drop a nasty comment, I can just block them. It’s the people I know who give me pause.

Maybe I just have a very judgy circle of family and friends. They love to define my character by the things I write. As if everything I publish is somehow an autobiography because I prefer to write in first person. Although I do draw inspiration from real-life experiences, everything should be presumed fiction unless stated otherwise.

There have been times (and when I say “times,” I’m referring to a very specific incident) when I’ve written about, or in the voice of, some very morally questionable characters and have gotten panned for it. As if these were my actual thoughts and opinions and not a commentary on the state of society right now. In the age of quick conclusions, out-of-context screen shots and quotes, and cancel culture, fear of misinterpretation (whether intentional or unintentional) forced me to take the posts in question down.

Slapping a disclaimer at the top of such controversial posts for those people who can’t seem to tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction is always an option. But here’s the thing. I HATE having to explain myself. If common sense doesn’t tell you that this is just a story, and I have no immediate plans to go off and commit accessory to murder after the fact for a boyfriend, then I can’t help you, friend.

So I just don’t share.

I do have a Facebook page, where I post all my latest writings (though in a recent insecure writer meltdown I cleared it out and started over because I didn’t like how it looked *sigh*). But my personal Facebook feed? Full of memes.

The last time I shared with people outside the blogging word, my mom’s coworker politely asked her, “What’s wrong with your daughter?” after reading a poem inspired by Fransico Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son. She called it deeply disturbing. Um, have you seen the painting? It’s meant to be deeply disturbing.

Available in US public domain

I also have uber-religious family members who aren’t too keen on me writing about sex all the time. To which I respond, have you actually read the Bible? I mean, one story that always tickles me is that of Judah’s son, who died on the spot for pulling out. Then Judah’s daughter-in-law dressed as a prostitute, slept with him, and got pregnant. And you wanna know who came out of that seemly dysfunctional family line? Jesus. So if God can use that and so many countless other “bad” things for good, why can’t my sex scenes serve a specific purpose in my writing.

Okay, maybe I’m grasping at straws here, but it’s not like I’m out here writing porn. And I have toned down some details as my writing has evolved, preferring to leave some things up to the reader’s imagination. Plus, there’s only so many words you can use to describe the actual act before it starts to sound nonsensical.

But I digress. I’ll end this post by saying I do understand that my writing only gets noticed when I share it with others, good or bad. And I’m often delighted when people tell me how much they love my writing and wish I’d share more. So I will try to get out of my own head and give you guys the benefit of the doubt.

Insecure writer signing off.

Lovely Curses Podcast? Yeh or Nay

I’ve been brainstorming ideas for podcasts, now that I know I can turn my blog into one. Not that I really have to. I enjoy writing. That’s what I’m good at. When I talk for too long, my voice beings to crack, my heart starts to race, I feel out of breath. Truly it is an exercise.

However, that’s usually when I’m on a high-pressure Zoom call. But podcasting? Podcasting could be fun. But what should I podcast? Well, I have some thoughts…

Photo by George Milton on Pexels.com

Poems

Obviously the first thing that came to mind was to share my poems in audio form. I love spoken word, and though my poems are more so meant for the page that to be performed, standing on stage on open mic night before an audience of fellow poetry lovers in a dimly lit jazz club as I recite my latest journalings in verse to the smooth soundtrack of the bass playing in the background has always been a secret fantasy of mine. Without the visuals, a podcast is essentially the same thing, right?

Serial Stories

Turning serial stories into a podcast makes the most sense. They’re already broken into episodes! Plus, the length could work for a podcast. While a drabble (100-word story) a day also sounds like a great series for a podcast, each episode would probably only last about a minute. Would something so short even have an audience? I should really look into that. What’s a good podcast length? Does it even matter as long as you have dedicated listeners who keep coming back? But in this fast-paced world where the average attention span is that of a toddler, and reading a print book seems archaic to the uncultured, I figured a podcast could bring new life to some of my older stories that are on the lengthier side. What do you think, would you like to hear 26 Husbands, 26 Unusual Deaths? When you really think about it, this would be its original format, given that Grandma recounted it in one sitting to her visitors at the nursing home.

Morning Inspiration

Recently I started giving myself (and you guys) daily inspiration posts to write. Because after 2 years of being away, a constant dose of self-motivation is the medicine I hope will cure my chronic writer’s block. And sure, there are plenty of daily writing prompts out there, and mine isn’t that much different, but maybe the word prompt, the photo (if viewing on the blog), and perhaps even my voice could inspire you and get those creative juices flowing early in the morning, or afternoon, depending on your time zone or whenever you’re reading/listening.

Everything

Of course, there’s always the option to publish everything this blog posts as a podcast episode. Keep it as a widget in the side bar to always play when you come to visit. That way you can follow the blog without ever having to read it, which could be your preference with how precious time is and how quickly our schedules fill up. And let’s face it, we’ve all become quite skilled in the art of multitasking.

Something Completely Different

There are times when I want to write about topics that aren’t always within the scope of this blog, and I struggle to find the right niche for these. Sometimes they sit infinitely in drafts, never to be published. Other times I create another blogging space for them, like my blog Tina Reviews It All. But I’m not a consistent reviewer. I only post about works that really speak to me, things that I enjoyed (or hated) so much that I felt passionate enough to write a lengthy blog post about it. Unfortunately, those are few and far between. The podcast will likely be the same. With my publication frequency, you’ll have just enough time to forget about it before I post again!

Any Suggestions?

As you can see, I have a lot of ideas. But little direction on where to take them or discipline to recognize when I may be overexerting myself, which is why I have so many projects I’ve started but never finished. I do feel like a podcast is an excellent way to expand the blog to a wider audience. But I also want to do something I can be consistent with, without feeling pressure to always come up with content, especially when I’m not really feeling it. More importantly, I don’t want to get so caught up in trying new things that I split my focus or lose sight of why I originally created this blog. To share my creative pursuits with you, specifically writing fiction and poetry, and eventually bringing that together in a published book. As long as podcasting doesn’t get in the way of that, sure I can try it. What do you think?