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Tuesday, 07 June 2011

Thoughts on Writing: In Two Parts

By Lyn Burnstine

Part One: The Critic is Not Your Friend

Twice in my writing life, I’ve had a critic perched on my shoulder like an owl, only this owl didn’t say, “Who, who?” It said “Who, me? Naahh!”

When I first tackled the idea of writing an entire book on the Reverend Anita Truman Pickett, I had written several pieces on her: a short paper for the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation and two dramatized worship services for presentation at the UU Congregation of the Catskills in Kingston. But the naysayer on my shoulder insisted I couldn’t write a whole BOOK, for Heaven’s sake. “Who, me?”

Luckily for me, Anita was sitting on my other shoulder, cheerleading and saying “Write my book! Write my book!” It took time, but Anita pushed that sucker right off my other shoulder; the book got written and published and 500 copies got sold before it was discontinued after ten years. So there, Critic!

Lyn Burnstine Book

The second critic came into my life about the same time. While the story is different, the end result was nearly as meaningful, if not more so.

It began with an external critic, my friend Shirley in fact, who said, “What have YOU done in your life that people would want to read about?” She wasn’t trying to be mean; it was a legitimate question at a time when every other book coming onto the market was a (probably ghostwritten) book about a celebrity, some only famous for being celebrities!

It made my well-exercised inner critic have to decide whether to join with the outer critic or to come out fighting. The decision that yes, we all have valuable lives to document and share led to a wonderful writing group of elderly women, the Silver Pens, who have been enjoying writing together for over three years now.

We just lock that old critic outside the library room door every Tuesday morning at 10:30. We know that the life stories we write in there are precious and are appreciated by a wider audience than just our families. We know that to be true because we share them at a literary coffeehouse and in our senior residence’s newsletter.

And Shirley became a fan, a treasured member, and a good writer – perhaps my star pupil.


Part Two: Journal Writing

Can you believe there are people who write nothing but checks and grocery lists? I do believe it, sadly enough. What a deprived life, by my standards.

Yet, I was one of them once, with the exception of a small output of letters, back in the day when we communicated that way.

One author has said, “I don’t know what I’m thinking till I write it down.” I agree with her. Writing helps to crystalize and clarify my thoughts. Sometimes there are thoughts and opinions I wasn’t even aware of till I put pen to paper.

Another author says that beyond writing grocery lists, everything else is written for someone else to read - a message, a communication.

Where then does that put journal writing? Except for a rare few, most journals go unpublished. I’ve said, since beginning to journal write, that my journal is my best friend: the one that never criticizes, chides, refuses to listen, dozes off, or says “You’ve already told me that.”

Neither does it interrupt. I can boast, rave, rage, rant, express self-loathing or self-worship, if I choose.

The epiphany of the journal being my best friend came at the end of a two-day journal writing workshop early in my suddenly-single, alone years and was a tremendously important step for me. It was probably more helpful than therapy to get me through that time of great grief and lightning changes in my life. I have continued on and off for these subsequent 30-plus years.

As I write my deepest feelings in my journals, sometimes I realize that these pages will be torn out and thrown away before I die. My oldest daughter has said, “Don’t throw anything away, Mom – I want to read it all.”

My darling daughter, unless you plan to live to be 125, with excellent eyesight, it ain’t gonna happen. Your grandmother has been dead for 31 years and you still haven’t gone through her stuff!

So I write whatever I need to get out of my head, then go back later and rip out the pages that might be hurtful to my family. I need to remove all references made to my family when I was angry at them. That may take a while. I’d better get cracking!

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Well said and well appreciated, Lyn!

Lyn - Nicely written.

STOP editing NOW! Leave the angry bits where they are. Your readers and victims will love them, and perhaps even laugh a little. - Sandy

Like you I have always enjoyed "writing it down." Actually used it lots of times as therapy, when I find pieces now, I am comforted that I let myself write it down, no matter how sad or confused I was at the moment...lots of times writing it down made me come to grips with "current" events and often work on them with more insight...always wonder if I will leave some of the things..not sure about value to one's nearest and dearest of our turmoils..though I would have loved to know more about my own parents, who lead truly dreary lives & then died much too young for us to have meaningful talks about it...I do enjoy your writing a lot Lyn..You are like the friendly "Bartender" I love to read about in men's novels and often wonder why bartenders don't write and write and write...seems like their quiet listening is some of the best therapy ever for lots of folks...thanks for today's chapters..something more to think about...

Beautifully written and organized.

Thank you all. I appreciate your taking time to respond.

Thanks, Lyn, for reminding me it's about time I did something worth putting down on paper.

How timely for me to read this today. For the last ten days I've been contemplating the cardboard box that holds my journals dating back to 1982, wondering if I should toss it all, edit them with a trash can at my side or send each notebook to a different relative to read while I'm alive just to see their reactions. I'd better think long and hard about that last one! Penny Youngren

Auntann, Cute! Penny, beware!

You inspired me today! Thank you....

Linda, My work here is done! Check in tomorrow (actually today) for more of my musings.

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