Life in a Senior Residence Community is challenging and cherished.

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How It All Started

“What do you mean you just started writing four years ago! You have two books published and you’re eighty-three years old. You must have started writing a long time ago. Come on, don’t try to kid me!”

My friend stood with hands on her hips, challenging me as I poured lemonade. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s go sit on the front porch.”  We settled ourselves, two women in the second half of their lives. “I’ll tell you what happened.” I took a sip. “In 2007, I bought a new stack of file drawers and was sorting out papers. I ran across a box of short stories I’d written over the last twenty years, and, well, you know how this sort of thing works. I sat and read them. Took all afternoon. At the end of the day, I chose about 40 of them and lay them out on the bed in more or less chronological order.”

My friend nodded and rolled her hand to encourage more.

“I decided I’d clean them up a bit, add a few more stories and have them made into a book for my families for Christmas. I asked around and found a publisher, paid them big bucks, and voila, fifty books arrived on this very porch. I gave thirty-five to relatives, kept one for myself, and gave copies to anyone who would contribute $20 to my favorite charity. I kept one for myself and thought that was the end.

“But then a friend said she wanted one to give to her mother to encourage her to write stories. Another friend said, ‘I want to give a copy to each of my children.’ I asked her how many children she had, and when she answered, “Eight,” I decided to have 200 more copies printed. The publisher put TELL ME A STORY on Amazon. From stocking stuffer to Amazon in a single bound.”

That was the beginning. And I’m still at it. It’s too much fun to stop now.

How did YOU start writing?  What was your inspiration?

Where to Start?!

When I have a free hour or so,  I tell myself, “Okay. Let’s sit down to write a few paragraphs.” I sit down. Then I get up to make some tea, or remember that I must make a phone call before doing anything else. I know what I want to write about: this week I focused on the beginning of the 1987 Peace Walk in Russia.  Should I call the first city Leningrad as it was then, or St Petersburg as it is now? Hmmmmm. Take a sip of tea.  Start again, leave a series of dots where the name of the city will be. I’ll look it up later.  Eventually.

Stare off into space.  Keep the fingers moving, I tell myself.  Just get your memories down on the screen.  A few more paragraphs.  Memories of the young Russian musician’s apartment. The laundry strung across the living room. His blind mother waiting serenely to greet us from her deep brown overstuffed chair, her hands folded in her lap.

After half an hour, I give myself permission to read the page – strewn with bright red squiggly lines (whoops – spelling!) and even more ellipses.

I recall something Anne Lamott wrote.  “The only way I can get anything written at all is to write a really, really shitty first draft.  The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.  If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him.  Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those crazy pages that you would never have got to by more rational, grown up means.”

So here I go: writing without looking, the memory in my mind’s eye, and worrying about the edits when I get to them.  Eventually.

What do you do to start writing?

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