Musings of A Struggling Writer

I wrote this piece back in June of 2017 as I was struggling to finish I Wanna See Laney’s House, my debut publication as a solo author.

I confess that I am a struggling writer. I often struggle with my writing because I have so much to say but need to organize and structure my thoughts in order to say exactly what I really mean. Other times I
struggle because I have an idea in the recesses of my mind but I struggle to find the right words to communicate or express it. Still other times I can write an entire chapter or a poem in my head while taking a shower.

Creative writing sometimes needs a catalyst. You feel something inside; you can’t quite make it out but you know it’s there. I am struggling right now with writing a book, a spiritual memoir, to be exact. It’s a book that has been inside of me for years, wrapped up in childhood trauma, guilt and fear, a progressively changing identity, deepening spirituality and a hotbed of emotions. I realized there was something there after making a monumental decision to leave corporate America. Towards the end of
2012, I found myself in a difficult situation with a new manager who had a very different value system than my own. It happened at a time when I was already at a crossroads in my life.

I was at the right age with enough years of service under my belt to seriously consider early retirement. I was also yearning for independence and a real shot at building my own business. As a matter of fact, I had a vision one day while leaving work; a vision of stepping off of a cliff and just
soaring in the air, not falling but soaring. Shortly thereafter, I had an incredibly distasteful conversation with my manager.

When it was all said and done, when the steam stopped coming out of my ears, I knew it was time to move on. I gave myself a few days to mull it over then penned a rather lovely resignation letter—no struggle with that piece of writing. Suffice it to say, as of February 1, 2013, I no longer had a 9-5 job. Breathe.

Several months after my resignation, something unexpected happened. I had met a woman on Facebook who was hosting conference calls about mothers living their dreams and aspirations while being mothers, wives, caregivers, etc. She had gone through some dramatic life experiences that left her broken until she realized that she still had dreams and aspirations she wanted to achieve. She was also the compiler for an anthology of 30 writers, all women, and she invited me to be a contributing author.

I had always been pretty good at writing in general and had suspected for years that there was a book inside of me—though by no means did I actually consider myself a writer. After hearing the concept for the book, in the midst of pure uncertainty and bonafide fear, I said yes.

The book, Motherhood Dreams and Success: You can Have It All, originally published in 2014, turned out to be a gem, a collection of 30 incredible stories; stories of heartbreak, struggle, and pain juxtaposed with victories, triumphs and breakthroughs. Two things came out of that experience; first, it was an honor to be counted amongst the fellow authors; and, second, that 1500-word chapter was the creative catalyst I needed to begin the journey towards a solo book project, the spiritual memoir I mentioned earlier.

I started writing the memoir in 2015. I developed a rough draft for the first chapter, then stopped dead in my tracks. I struggled. I simply couldn’t go any further. Then I attended a one-night women’s revival at my church. At the end of the service we were like a river, all standing around the altar and praying, like women do. It was one of those serious, God-is-in-the house moments, where all these women were praying and crying together.

Right in the midst of that day-of-Pentecost moment, God spoke directly into my spirit, informing me that the reason I was unable to write is that I was simply not digging deep enough. He reminded me that it’s the depth of the journey that matters and if I do not dig through all the layers of trauma and emotion, I will never be able to write the truly authentic story that is in my
head. So I started digging, peeling stuff away to reveal the real story that is my life.

Though the struggle continues, my goal is to have the manuscript completed by June of this year. I am learning some very valuable lessons as I write. Hopefully these lessons learned will help other struggling writers out there. Happy struggling…I mean writing!

  1. As a writer, it is often a struggle to get the raw data out of your head. (My friend Lynn told me that.)
  2. Embrace the struggle, envisioning the life and the structure of your story as you write.
  3. The pool of human creativity never runs out, the more you create the more you have to create. (Maya Angelou taught me that.)
  4. Life is a never ending story and we are each a book in God’s eternal library.
  5. Writing is a function of your identity—know that only you are you and you must understand who you are to tell a truly reflective story.
  6. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper when you write; that’s where the golden nuggets lie.
  7. If writing is your gift, then you are a writer 24/7.

Voices of the 21st Century

I am excited to be a part of yet another book anthology, Voices of the 21st Century, a publication from Women Speakers Association. My chapter of the book, Pangs of Guilt, tells of decision I made that taught me two significant life lessons. First, it is important to recognize that deeply rooted negative emotions often drive decision-making. Second, sometimes God will answer your prayer not to bless you but to teach you.

I am premiere member of Women Speakers Association leading the way for women to take the driver’s seat in creating what is to come. We are clear that this is a birthing process; a collaborative, co-creative experience that is being defined moment by moment by our members. We are committed to you being a part of our evolution.

Responding to what you want, rather than deciding for you, is what we stand for. We invite you to contribute your feelings, feedback and ideas, and to participate in this pivotal, generative conversation; to express yourself authentically and powerfully; to be bold and take a stand; and to give voice to your truest heart’s desires.

To participate in this dialogue and be a part of our community, we invite you to become a WSA member today.

NYC Book Expo 2019: Day 3

I Wanna See Laney’s House
Booth #504 Xulon Press

One thing I regret about my attendance at the NYC Book Expo is that I did not attend the Children’s Book & Author Breakfast Sponsored by Candlewick Press on Day 3. I am a total novice and next year will read the entire agenda from cover-to-cover to catch all the Author Breakfast events.

The one I missed was co-hosted by sisters Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush, daughters of former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush. They previously co-authored a collection of personal stories, Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life. Later the year they will release an early readers’ picture book, Sisters First, celebrating the bond between sisters.

I also missed Lupita Nyong’o discussing her debut children’s book, Sulwe, about girl in Kenya who feels self-conscious about her dark skin until she embarks on an adventure leading to self-love and acceptance; Tomi Adeyemi, talking about the second title in her Legacy of Orïsha trilogy, Children of Virtue and Vengeance; Eoin Colfer, author of the beloved Artemis Fowl series, discussing his upcoming spin-off novel, The Fowl Twins: and Da Chen, previewing his upcoming work, Girl Under a Red Moon, the story of his older sister and their childhood growing up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. (I got to hear Da Chen speak in a later panel discussion I did attend.)

“The Children’s Book & Author Breakfast draws a huge audience of book lovers looking to discover breakout talent in the world of children’s and young adult literature and we are excited to welcome this year’s outstanding panelists,” said Jennifer Martin, Event Director of BookExpo. “With an array of unique perspectives and works across multiple genres, this year’s speakers are sure to offer a morning of exciting and meaningful conversation, as all of their works examine a variety of traditionally underserved populations.”

Other Day 3 Events I Attended:
Panel Discussion – Year of the Woman in Books in 2018, 2019 and Beyond: The Success and Influence of Books of, for and by Women. The panel featured Erika Swyler, author of Light for Other Stars and The Book of Speculation; Hannah Oliver Depp, career bookseller and founding member of Indies Forward and the American Bookselling Association Committee on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, as well a NAIBA regional board member; Glory Edim, author of the Well-Read Black Girl and founder of the Well-Read Black Girl Book Club; Hillary Kelly, book critic Vulture and New York Magazine; Michelle Fillgate, author of What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About; and Susannah Greenberg, President of Susannah Greenberg Public Relations, a book publicity firm.

Panel Discussion – Giving a Voice to the Voiceless. Panelists discussed their newest books that give voice to groups not traditionally heard. Panelists included Jerry Pinkney, author and illustrator whose accolades include the Caldott Medal and vice Coretta Scott King Awards, among many others; Miranda Spigener-Sapon, award-winning writer whose first scripted television series will appear on Amazon Prime later this year; Sharon Robinson, author of several works of fiction and nonfiction and educational consultant for Major League Baseball, and founder of a character education curriculum, Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life; and Stephana Colbert, writer and attorney whose publications include Ordinary Extraordinary African American Women: The Elders, the first in a four-book series.

Key Takeaway: This world of book authorship is still so new to me. I have to keep my eyes and ears open to learning as much as I can, not just from other authors but also publishers, booksellers and librarians. Turns out the booksellers and librarians are the gatekeepers to the literary world. Their primary job is to keep the gates open. Booksellers and librarians were well represented at the Book Expo. Happy to say that I met a few!

NYC Book Expo 2019: Day 2

I Wanna See Laney’s House
Booth #504 Xulon Press

I started off the day by attending the Adult Book and Author Breakfast which featured a panel of authors with Rachel Maddow as the moderator. The author panel included an eclectic group —Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Outliers), Karin Slaughter (The Last Widow), Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Water Dancer), and Marjorie Liu (Monstress). Panelists spoke of their personal experience and evolution as an author of adult books.

Rachel Maddow, author of Drift, discussed her upcoming book, Drift.
Malcolm Gladwell, discussed his latest book, Talking to Strangers, which examines how good we are at making sense of strangers.
Karin Slaughter, crime writer and founder of the Save the Libraries project, discussed the next thriller in her Will Trent series, releasing this August, The Last Widow.
Ta-Nehisi Coates previewed his first novel, The Water Dancer, a work of magic and adventure that follows a journey into the war on slavery. Coates is also the author of Between the World and MeWe Were Eight Years in Power and The Beautiful Struggle.
Marjorie Liu unpacked her comic series Monstress co-created with Sana Takeda. Liu is the first woman to win an Eisner Award in the Best Writer category.

Each year, our Adult Book & Author Breakfast invites attendees to hear from an eclectic mix of storytellers who are each greatly impacting the industry,” said Jennifer Martin, Event Director, BookExpo. “One of our most popular events of the show, the Breakfast offers an unparalleled opportunity to hear from some of the most prominent authors in publishing today.”

Key Takeaway: As an author don’t compare yourself to others. Use your unique gifts and perspective on life to create the story that lies within, based on your experiences, your calling and your inner drive, creativity and imagination. If writing is your real thing, there’s room for you in the publishing world.

Read Excerpts

My Inner Life
I draw you into my journey from the dynamics of an inner life strife with conflict and turmoil to the dynamics of an inner life of peace and contentment with myself and with God. Sometimes the words roar across the page like the sound of a mighty river; other times they flow like the sound of a babbling brook. Sometimes the words flow forward in time and sometimes backward. Hoping my words will touch your heart, I leave you with these words from a person who has influenced my life from afar, the late and great Maya Angelou: “The idea is to write so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”

Scary Tenant
“One night, when she turned the key in the lock and opened the door, there he was, lying right across the stairs, blocking her ascension. He was drunk, speaking inaudibly, and most peculiarly, there was a shiny penny sticking out of one ear. She stopped breathing, stood motionless, and initially could not speak, her heart racing in her chest. She did not want to go past him alone in that hallway and she couldn’t leave because it was late and she needed to be in the house. So the words starting in her mind, finally reached her mouth and she screamed out, “Mommy, Mommy”, so her mother would know she was at the bottom of the stairs. Her mother opened the apartment door and came out into the hallway to see what was going on. Seeing Scary Tenant lying on the stairs, her mom told her to hurry and get up the stairs. As she bolted up the stairs, she prayed again—Please do not let him touch me.

Mr. Pie Man
And, of course, there was Mr. Pie Man. Mr. Pie Man, deemed the Oldest Man in Homestead, owned a small store right on Dixon Street. Mr Pie Man just may have been the one to teach sailors how to cuss because it didn’t matter if he was talking to an adult or a kid, they would eventually get cussed out. He was also known for having an uncanny ability to throw bricks around the corner—though admittedly, Nita never actually saw this feat. Mr. Pie Man was also an avid baseball fan, often talking about the days of the Homestead Grays and the Negro Baseball League whenever the kids gathered on his stoop. He once said he knew Nita’s grandfather, who played a stint with the Homestead Grays. Another time he swore he struck out Satchel Paige.  That was the especially nice side of Mr. Pieman, when he talked about things back in his day.” 

Being pregnant with an active baby proved to be a huge challenge—not to mention an out-of-nowhere bout with labyrinthitis, that hit like a ton of bricks at about six months. The primary symptom is extreme vertigo. It came on in the middle of the night with an urge to go to the bathroom. When she sat up in the bed, the entire room was violently spinning , like when Scotty climbed the bell tower in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Standing was nearly impossible.She made her way into the bathroom by crawling along the floor with her eyes closed, so she, at least, did not have to see the room spinning.She got one of her aunts on the phone and ended up in an ambulance headed to Magee Hospital.

Letter to My Father
When I got connected to Nanny and met her for the first time at the Greyhound bus station in Philadelphia, the first words she spoke to me seeped deeply into my soul and took root: You look just like your father. Getting to know Nanny and listening to her tell stories about you enabled me to get to know you, at least vicariously. It was then I learned that your nickname was Butch. I suppose I’ll never fully understand why you never contacted me, even before you left for good or after you knew I lived near Nanny. (I always knew when you were at that hotel.) But it’s okay; it was a long time ago, and I’m sure you had your reasons. An equally long time ago I wondered if there would come a day when I would forget all about you; that day never came. 

NYC Book Expo 2019: Day 1

I Wanna See Laney’s House
Booth #504 Xulon Press

I spent the day at the NYC Book Expo and all I can say is, “Wow…what an incredible experience!” Standing in the main hall after getting my badge, I was zapped with visualizations of creativity in the form of the written word. Authors from Lupita Nyong’o to Stephen King or from Gary Chapman to little old me, each telling a story, fiction or nonfiction, reality or daydream, as uniquely talented human beings. I started off by visiting Xulon Press Booth #504 where my book, I Wanna See Laney’s House, was featured. It was exhilarating to know that my book was among the abundance of creations at the expo.

My first author visit was talk with George Takei. I have been an avid Star Trek fan since its inception, so meeting “Mr. Sulu” was very cool. George is now an author and an activist. He was introducing his graphic memoir, They Call Us Enemy, which tells the story of haunting childhood memories of experiencing internment in a Japanese concentration camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

Through the eyes of his childhood self, George recounts the experiences and forces that ultimately shaped his own life, the Japanese community in America, and America itself. It is a compelling tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love. I enjoyed listening to him speak and was moved by the authentic tone of his story. I walked away with an excerpt from the graphic memoir which I passed along to my grandson.

Next was a panel discussion on the power of diversity. The diversity panelists included Skyler Whitehead, writer, photographer, content producer, and artist from Atlanta, GA; Celai West, co-author of The Parent’s Guide to Kids Runway and The Parent’s Guide to Kids Runway… for Brown Girls; Tiffany Jackman, storyteller, film maker, adjunct professor, and film teacher for inner-city youth; author and business educator, Reginald Meadows; makeup artist, Daurisa Tessier; and Dr Sheila Williams, an expert in her field, with a MA in Mental Health Counseling and a PhD in Leadership and Education. 

The discussion was moderated by Arkeah Jacobs, an alumna of Albany State University, who brings a broad background of knowledge and experience in establishing, leading, and maintaining organizations. Key takeaway: Black Authors Matter and we must take our place in telling the true story of diversity in America.

Other Day 1 events I attended:
The Power of Story: Diverse Books for All Readers featuring Daniel Jose Older as moderator, Da Chen, Sharon Robinson (daughter of Jackie Robinson), and Tim Tingle, Choctaw author, speaker and storyteller.

Key Takeaway: We are the story of American history. Each of us has something locked inside to contribute to the unrevision of American history. We are also the story of human history. The ability to express creativity through writing and storytelling is an amazing feat, a testimony to the uniqueness that lies within every human being who chooses creativity as their real thing. I found myself consumed by the power of story and walked away from Day 1 believing there is more inside of me to come.

God’s Eternal Story

Every person’s story is a microcosmic enactment of God’s eternal story, a portrayal of His relationship with humanity. Written with a cathartic tone, this sibling story reveals an adventurous testimony of the presence of God over the entire course off a lifetime. It is a testimony of developing faith and struggle for identity, personal acceptance, and self-liberation.

Xulon Press | Amazon | Barnes and Noble 
Google Books | Apple Books

Have you considered writing your story? If yes, what is holding you back from getting it done? The written word is a testimony to the human experience in a given period of time. Each of our lives represents a single chapter with many verses and multiple storylines, filled with old testaments and new. It will be difficult, no doubt, first to get started and then to finish. Just know that your story is a growth journey, either fruitful and purposeful or stunted and stuck. Either way it deserves to be told.

I took the steps to begin writing my story back in 2015. I had participated in a collaborative project shortly after leaving my corporate career behind. That particular book, Motherhood, Dreams and Success, was my first venture into the world of self-publishing.

This book, I Wanna See Laney’s House, is a personal triumph. The structure of the book was crafted post-it-note by post-it-note on my bedroom wall. I had to dig deep to overcome inner obstacles. I had periods when I simply could not write, the words refusing to flow, my mind refusing to process difficult emotions.

Finally at the end of 2018, three years from the very first set of post-it-notes, I submitted the manuscript. Wow, how good that felt! After the editing process, it felt even better when I got the email saying the book was ready to go to print. I hope you read and enjoy my chapter of God’s eternal story. I encourage you to write your own.

Xulon Press | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Google Books | Apple Books

My Story

My writing reflects a belief in the power of stories as a means of self-discovery, teaching and learning, and self-liberation. Each person’s life is an extraordinary collection of stories with the potential to have an empowering impact on others. You can teach, learn, love, motivate, encourage, and inspire, just by sharing your story. —Anita D Russell

Online Book Release Party April 4