Why is Writing Important?

I’ve been asked to give a brief talk to seventh graders about the importance of writing, which has led me to question if writing really is important. Luckily, the ceremony has been postponed for a week, which gives me plenty of time to come up with an appropriate answer.

Only a small percentage of writers have ever made a living at writing (and most of those were people who wrote books on how to make a living at writing), and that percentage seems to be shrinking. More than 80% of books sell fewer than 100 copies. Maybe 50% sell only about ten copies or so. So, why write? The wonder of writing fiction is that a story born in one mind grows to full power in another mind. But what if you don’t have readers, or at least not many? And why take the time to learn the craft since some of the books that do sell are poorly written tripe?

In the end, it’s the writing that counts. The story.

So much of communication for us humans is story telling. A joke is a story. What you tell about your day is a story. Something you post about yourself online is a story. An advertisement is a story — it tells a story of what your life will be like if you buy that product.

But writing isn’t only about story. It’s about us. About life.

Writing is a super power. What we write can change people, events, the world, and even ourselves.

Writing is the primary basis upon which our work is judged—in college, in the work place and in the community.

Writing is magic. At its core, writing is the ability to transform thoughts, ideas, and emotions into to written word, into something tangible.

When we talk of writing, we often mean writing stories, writing to entertain people. This sort of writing truly is magic since the story that is born in one mind grows to full power in another mind.

Writing, whether fiction, nonfiction, blogs, or social updates is about communicating. Writing helps us with communication and thinking skills. If we write well, we communicate well. If we communicate well, we can succeed.

Writing brings worlds to life and recalls them from ages long past.

Writing makes our thoughts, our learning, our memories permanent and visible to others.

Writing can preserve thoughts, emotions and ideas long after the writer has left this earth. Sometimes, other people’s writing is all we have to learn about previous eras.

Writing helps us develop our ideas and allows us to explain those ideas to others and to ourselves. Writing expresses who we are as individuals and as a people. Writing can help us understand our lives.

Writing is good for health. It helps relieve stress, improves our mood, and increases brain function. And since writing helps us understand our life, it improves our mental health and guides us through traumatic times.

Writing is a left-brained structured/regimented activity that can marry with right-brained images/insights/artistry and create something powerful and life-changing

Writing is at the center of everything we do. Language is part of our DNA. It is part of our birthright as human beings. Whenever we write, whatever we write — a story, a diary entry, a post on the internet, an essay, we are engaging in a form of wizardry using letters and words.

***

A special thanks to Rami Ungar and everyone else who contributed to this list.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Giving a Talk to Seventh Graders

If you were giving a talk to seventh graders about writing, what would you focus on?

The historical museum sponsored an essay contest, and tomorrow night is the award ceremony. A woman from the museum will be talking about the historical aspect of the contest, and I have been invited to talk about the writing aspect.

One suggestion was for me to talk the importance of writing, and how it could lead to a writing career, but I so do not want to disillusion the poor kids before they find out that writing is a career for only a select few. For so many of us, writing is important in various ways, and though we would like to make a living at it, writing itself has to be the reward.

Another suggestion was to talk about how the grasp of writing is important in getting a job, but I don’t know if that’s still true. Is it? The world is changing so quickly that much of what used to be considered slang seems to be acceptable (like, duh). Now it’s anyone’s guess as to the place writing will have by the time these kids enter the job market.

If it were a group of adults, I could talk about the importance of writing (journaling) when one is going through a crisis, but I certainly can’t talk about how writing can help one deal with the loss of a spouse, and I certainly won’t give them nightmares by talking about writing in dealing with the possible loss of a parent.

I could talk about the importance of story, but “story” isn’t always about writing — it can be also be visual or spoken. (Or unspoken if one has ESP) Or I could talk about the importance of writing as communication, but again, there are other ways of communicating besides just writing.

The talk doesn’t have to be very long, but it needs to be fun, entertaining, and helpful. And something seventh graders can relate to. Eek. How did I get myself this situation? Oh, right — I agree to do it.

So, any suggestions for what should I say?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Actually

After I made a comment to a friend the other day, she said, as if to herself, “Actually.” Then she smiled, not derisively, but in delight.

“Did I say “actually” too many times?” I asked. “I actually do have a tendency to overuse the word.”

She responded, “No, I like it. It’s not a word you hear that often.”

Well, if you hang around me, you will actually hear “actually” a lot. Since I actually do overuse the word, I actually have to go through my manuscripts try to edit “actually” out of my work. (See List From Hell to see what other words I tend to overuse.)

I’d actually never realized I had an actual problem until I once played back a blog radio show where I’d been interviewed. And there it was . . . actually. Actually, there were a lot of “actually”s. I don’t remember how many times I said “actually” in that half-hour segment, but enough that by the time the program ended, I was actually appalled.

The next time I was on blog radio being interviewed, I was very careful with my “actually”s. For a while, I actually tried to censor my everyday speech, but somewhere along the way I actually forgot, so now I’ve reverted to overusing the word “actually. Actually, now that I think of it, I even forgot to de-actually my last couple of finished manuscripts.

I actually don’t know why I use the word so much. It could be from my need to always set the record straight, but I don’t know for sure, actually.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

I Am an Escribitionist

Escribitionists are those who blog about themselves, their experiences, and their reflections. It sounds like such a bad thing, connoting, as it does, exhibitionism, but it’s simply a way of distinguishing the diary-like bloggers from those who write from a more journalistic point of view.

The danger of being an escribitionist is that it leaves a blogger vulnerable, not just emotionally, but also physically. People have been known to retaliate offline for online disagreements and, more commonly, people with a felonious bent will take advantage of those bragging about being the Bahamas for a week. So not a good idea to advertise when your house will be vacant!

In the beginning, I was very careful not to say anything of a personal nature. I didn’t make my birthday known, where I went to school, where I lived. For a long time, I didn’t post photos of myself, and I protected my gender (some people were shocked when they found out I wasn’t who they thought). I even refrained from offering opinions about anything but writing and books (but even then, I sometimes got an argument from those who misunderstood what I was saying. See: “Ah, the Difference a Comma Makes!”)

I was especially careful during the years of Jeff’s illness, particularly the last few months when he was so bad off, not to write anything about my life. I was trying to establish myself as an author at the time, perhaps with a male pseudonym, and we both agreed a professional demeanor would be best. Besides, I felt it would be a betrayal of him to talk about what we were going through, and he was afraid I would seem pathetic.

After he died, though, all that care we had taken in laying the groundwork for my career as an author no longer mattered. I was in such terrible pain and so bewildered by what I was feeling (I’d never before encountered even a mention of the utter mental, physical, emotional, spiritual agony of profound grief), that my pain burst out of me. First I screamed my pain offline (I was pacing the house one day, feeling as if I needed to scream; when I realized no one could hear me, I just let the pain rip out of me). Then I spewed my pain onto this blog.

That’s when I discovered the adage “we all grieve differently” is wrong. Many people told me that they experienced the same thing that I did. We might show our emotions differently, but the pattern of grief for a spouse, life mate, or soul mate often follows the same timeline.

By the time my pain became manageable, I was in the habit of talking about my life, so I wrote about my experiences taking care of my nonagenarian father and my frustrations with my abusive homeless brother. I wrote about my travels (making sure always to post after the fact so that no one would know where I was at any given moment).

If I made a mistake and gave too much information, it didn’t matter because I was never in one place long enough for my indiscretion to catch up to me. But now that I am in my final home and not going anywhere, I can’t run away from the mistake of giving out too much information, though I fear it’s too late.

I do try to be careful, but any hope of anonymity (at least pertaining to geography) is long gone. Too many online friends have become offline friends. Too many offline friends have become online friends. Anyone who is paying attention can string together the crumbs of my life that I scatter online, and find me if they really wanted to, though why anyone would want to go through all that trouble, I don’t know.

Still, it is a concern. Unfortunately (fortunately?), it’s way to late to change my ways. If we writers are supposed to write about what we know, well, I know writing, grief, and me. Few people like to read posts about writing (they are either writers themselves who know it all already or non-writers who don’t want to know). I’ve said all I can possibly say about grief in my five hundred grief posts (https://bertramsblog.com/archives-grief-posts/) and my two books about grief: Grief: The Great Yearning and Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One.

So that leaves . . . me.

It’s always hard to admit the truth, but there’s no getting around it. For better or for worse, I am an escribitionist.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

The Roaring Twenties Return with . . . Murder!

In just a few weeks, the twenties will come roaring back. (You knew that, right?) To celebrate, the local Art Guild is going to be doing a murder mystery dinner with a nineteen twenties theme. And guess who has been elected to write this mystery?

I knew you’d guess it was me, so there was no reason for the mysteriousness except that I need to start cultivating the habit of finding mystery in small things. Otherwise, how am I going to come up with an appropriate story?

The challenge of the murder scenario I wrote for the museum was to offer clues that prove someone didn’t do the dastardly deed. (It’s easier to offer clues that they did, such as blood on a cuff.) The challenge here is to . . .

Well, to be honest, I don’t know what the challenge will be since I haven’t yet started developing the story. I do know who will be the victim. I know where all this takes place: one night at a speakeasy. I know an Italian dinner will be served. I know there will be a representation of at least some of the iconic elements of that 100-year-old decade besides the speakeasy: jazz, gangsters, flappers. (Am I missing an element? Prohibition, of course, but a speakeasy would include the idea of prohibition since without Prohibition, there’d be no need for a speakeasy.)

The main things I need to figure out are: why would anyone kill the doomed one? How does the setting fit in? How will the story unfold? Why would the killer do it in such a public fashion? (Other than the needs of the story, of course.) How will it be done? A gun would be obvious, and would add the startle factor, especially if it came from outside the room, but poison would make for a more mysterious death — the victim could be acting normally, then slip to the ground midst loud gasps of shock.

There’s no need to worry about alibis since the suspects are all in the speakeasy when the murder happens, so that’s a beginning.

There will be four to six suspects. An appropriate 20s theme or thread that holds the story together. A hook for the murder. A surprise ending. But what any of those things are, I have yet to figure out. Luckily, I have a few weeks until the end of the year. And I just have to come up with the story. I don’t have to write a book (though there is a possibility that eventually a book will work its way out of me).

Necessary characters: A flapper, the boyfriend, a gangster (who could be the boyfriend), a waiter, and . . . .?

Besides the characters themselves, I need reasons why all these folks wanted the victim dead.

Feel free to add your two cents if you wish, or even your twenty cents.

Don’t worry, I’ll keep you informed about my progress whether you want me to or not.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

 

It Is That Season

The VFW sponsors a youth essay contest, and this year I was asked to help judge the local entries. Hearing so much about schools nowadays, and how kids aren’t learning anything, I felt some trepidation, but I was surprised. Each essay in its way was very good. A few seemed age-appropriate, but others seemed adult in both ideas and writing style, which could just have been a matter of number of years of schooling since the entrants ranged from 6th to 8th grade.

Still, I was impressed with the essays. And, I have to confess, I felt a bit impressed with myself that I actually agreed to be a judge. It is so not something I like doing!

But then, I end up doing a lot of things I never thought I would do.

This is the season when all the charitable organizations make a concerted effort to solicit donations. Without a lot of research, it’s hard to know how much of the money you donate actually goes to the people it’s supposed to help, but this year, I don’t have to research. I know.

One of the organizations I joined is the Woman’s Civics Club, which raises funds and then distributes those funds to various local organizations. Often, those funds are solicited directly from the members. (For example, instead of having a bake sale, the Civics Club has a non-bake bake sale. They found that considering the cost of the goods, the time to make them, the effort to sell, it’s simply easier just to donate the amount of money the baked goods would have brought in.) With the treasurer’s report that is read at every meeting, I know exactly where the money goes. Same with the art guild.

I’m sure that the international charity organizations do good, and that not all the money goes to the CEOs and exorbitant operating costs as is sometimes bruited about, but it’s so much nicer to worry only about the local community. A community I am part of.

Does it seem as strange to you as it does to me, that I am part of a community? That I participate? That I even judged kids’ essays?

But maybe it’s not strange. Maybe it is that season — that season of my life.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Friends Reading Friend’s Books

I visited with a friend this afternoon — I wanted to show her some ornaments I’d bought from another friend, to see if she wanted me to order any for her — and I was amused to see my book on her coffee table. The book is certainly in good company! And it sure tickled me to know she’d been reading it.

It really has been nice, having people I know read my books. Luckily, so far, they’ve liked what they read.

Luckily, too (for you anyway), I have nothing else to say on the matter, so you can spend your time doing something more interesting than reading blogs on the internet. Like reading one of my books, perhaps?

Here is the link for Daughter Am I: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002ZVOH2Y/

And here is the link for my author page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Pat-Bertram/e/B002BLUHUY/

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

The Opposite of Peace

A blog blast for peace almost by definition demands thoughts of the opposite state (violence and fears) because if peace were the norm, we wouldn’t need to talk about peace — it would be taken for granted. But peace is not necessarily the norm, except among you and me and the rest of us peaceable folk. In fact, violence, way more than peace, is an acceptable part of the culture: witness all the violent movies, TV shows, video games.

Sheri Parks, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, says that many teens today have had years of exposure to violent video games and media images, which studies show desensitizes them to violence. Not surprising. Many of today’s — and yesterday’s — video games were developed by the military because studies had shown that repeated images of violence and death inured people to killing. In World War II, as many as 85% of soldiers fired over enemies’ heads or did not fire at all. After World War II, there was a concerted effort by the military to overcome this natural reluctance to kill, and apparently they succeeded, because during close combat in Vietnam, only about 5% of soldiers failed to aim to kill. These same desensitizing “games” were later released as toys for children.

Findings such as these about desensitization — whether new or old — scare the heck out of me. Author Lee Child says that we don’t write what we know, we write what we fear. Perhaps this is true. My books are filled with fears — fear of being at the mercy of mindless governments and corrupt corporations, fear of deadly and unstoppable diseases, fear of the loss of self, fear that our memories lie. Since all of these fears can be lumped into one group — fear of powerlessness — I wonder if all fears came down to that same thing. Mine do, anyway.

This theme of powerlessness is most prevalent in my novel More Deaths Than One (in fact, I came across the information about desensitization while researching the military, soldiers, and killing for that particular novel) though it shows up in milder forms in all of my novels. Conspiracy? Perhaps. Truth? Probably. Fear? Definitely.

Through stories, you learn how to deal with your fears, especially if you are the one writing the story. If you novelize a fear of being eaten alive by monsters from outer space, then the terrestrial ones eating you alive don’t seem so monstrous. If you watch a movie about aliens taking over your body, then the terrestrial one taking over your mind might not seem quite so alien.

You don’t think you are being eaten alive or that your mind is being taken over? Well, you are and it is — it’s called aging. Little by little, the you that you know is being supplanted by a creature you could never fathom being. Some people turn into querulous beings totally unrecognizable from the derring-dos of their youthful selves. Some turn into their mothers. Some . . . Well, I’ve scared you enough.

I researched phobias to see what sort of things other people are afraid of, and now I’m in danger of becoming a phobiaphobe. Although I am sympathetic to anyone caught in the horror of a phobia, I do enjoy the names. Names such as levophobia, kainophobia, lachanophobia, mageirocophobia, melophobia, nomatophobia, nyctohylophobia, paraskavedekatriaphobia. Great names for dreadful conditions.

In the end, except when it comes to writing with its necessity for conflict, it seems as if peace is a much easier way to live than the alternatives of fear and violence that permeate our culture. So here’s to next years Blog Blast for Peace!

***

Okay, I’ll let you off the hook so you don’t turn into a Sesquipedalophobe (someone who fears long words). Here’s what the above-mentioned words mean:

  • Levophobia — Fear of things to the left side of the body
  • Kainophobia — Fear of anything new
  • Lachanophobia — Fear of vegetables
  • Mageirocophobia — Fear of cooking
  • Melophobia — Fear of music
  • Nomatophobia — Fear of names
  • Nyctohylophobia —- Fear of dark wooded areas
  • Paraskavedekatriaphobia — Fear of Friday the 13th
  • Phobiaphobe — Fear of fear
  • Triskaidekaphobia — Fear of the number thirteen

The one fear I hope no one ever gets is patbertramophobia. So not good for me as a writer!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

A Long Slow Conversation

For the most part, despite writers’ groups and online discussions, writing is a solitary occupation. You spend years writing a book, months rewriting it, and perhaps a year or two editing it. (Unless you are participating in National Novel Writing Month as hundreds of thousands are doing this November, then you spend . . . gasp! . . . a whole month writing your book!)

During the time you are writing, you have only your vision to sustain you. You wonder if anyone will ever buy the book. You wonder if anyone will like it. You don’t need acclaim, because writing is an end in itself. Still, readers connect the circle between you and the culmination of your vision, and in an odd sort of way, they finish the book. They take your vision and make it their own.

Many writers don’t consider readers during the writing process. They write solely for themselves and are proud of that fact, but what they don’t realize is how often their story fails to reach beyond the confines of the cover to allow the reader to participate in the story.

I write for myself in that I can only write what I can write. Even though I know the kinds of books that sell in great numbers, I’ve never been able to make that leap. My mind simply rebels — it wants to write what it wants and when it wants. Currently, my mind doesn’t seem to want to write any story; it simply wants to steep in the story I am presently living: new house owner. One day, though, a new story will pop up that I want to write. (I’m already trying to figure out who in my new town will be the victim of my next “Nightmare” story, the sequel to Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare.)

Although I can only write what my mind will allow, I still take potential readers into consideration. I wonder what readers will think. Will they understand my references? Will they find the humor? Is my writing clear enough? I like thinking that perhaps someday a reader will share this as yet unwritten product of my mind.

Malcolm R. Campbell, author of Conjure Woman’s Cat, wrote: “Whether it’s a book, poem, post, review, article or news story, I always hope somebody will say something. One never knows. It’s a slow conversation, so much time having gone by between the moment when something was written and the moment when somebody tells you they found it.”

Such a wonderful description of writing/reading — a slow conversation. I know I’ve read many books where I felt the author and I were having a conversation, silent though it may be. I read and I think about what I read.

It’s quite a heady realization that now I am a writer with readers of my own. I hope they enjoy our long, slow conversation.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

 

Four Days Until the Blog Blast For Peace!

 

If words are powerful, then this matters.

 

On November 4th, people all over the world will blog for peace. Blog4Peace was created and founded by Mimi Lenox, who believes that because words are powerful, blogging for peace is important.

Mimi began blogging for peace in November, 2006. Thirteen years and thousands of peace bloggers later she — and all those she inspired — are still blogging for peace. On every continent. In 214 countries and territories. In war-torn countries and peaceful villages. Whole families. Babies in utero (yes, really!) Teenagers. Senior citizens. Veterans of war. Poets and singers. Teachers. Classrooms. Authors and artists. Doctors. Lawyers. Cats (many, many cat bloggers). Dogs. Gerbils. Birds. Goats and Bunnies. Scientists. Designers. Researchers. Stay-at-home-parents. Kids. Baby Boomers. From the Netherlands to Kansas. And everywhere in between.

I joined the peace bloggers in 2012. And I still blog for peace. 

This year’s theme is “Change your climate,” and that is a theme I can adopt. Although I do not believe in the possibility of world peace (because war and stressful times are never our personal choice but are fostered by others or foisted on us by circumstances) I do believe in personal peace, in finding peace within ourselves — in changing our inner climate — no matter what happens to provoke us into chaos.

And yes, words are powerful. And yes, this matters.

I hope you will join Mimi and me this year.

How To Blog For Peace:

  1. Choose a graphic from the peace globe gallery http://peaceglobegallery.blogspot.com/p/get-your-own-peace-globe.html or from the photos on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/BlogBlastForPeace#!/BlogBlastForPeace/app_153284594738391 Right click and Save. Decorate it and sign it, or leave as is.
  2. Send the finished globe to mimi@mimilenox.com and TAG Mimi Lenox on Facebook. Your contribution will be added to this gallery.
  3. Post it anywhere online November 4 and title your post Dona Nobis Pacem (Latin for Grant us Peace)

Sounds cool, doesn’t it? See you on November 4!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.