Back to the beginning

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I have to read three different books about writing techniques for my Intro to Creative Writing class and I admit, it’s a lot to process. There are so many elements I just don’t think about anymore and others that are second nature.

More than once I’ve read about the importance of just writing without thinking. That seems a foreign concept to me because I’m always thinking and if I’m not thinking, how can I write?

A few nights ago I discovered the solution to my creative writing issues. I needed to go back to the beginning. I needed to write like I did when I first started at the age of 12. I needed to write in cursive in college ruled spiral notebooks!

To that end, I grabbed my newest spiral notebook, picked up my favorite type of pen and started writing. I haven’t written more than my signature in cursive in at least a decade so it took me a while to remember how some of the letters went. Much to my delight, I eventually remembered them all and by the end of the page, my hand was killing me!

I wrote about what I was doing, ie sitting on the couch, tired of winter, and relearning how to write in cursive. It wasn’t anything deep and certainly not a story, but it was a very freeing experience! When I type on my computer, I’m constantly stopping and rereading what I wrote or self-editing as I go, but I don’t do that when writing in cursive. Whatever comes out of my brain goes onto the paper in ink permanence. There’s no save button to hit, no delete key, no backspace, and no wavy little lines telling me I’ve misspelled something. I just let the words flow onto the page in my nearly illegible left handed cursive and when I’m done, I turn the page and move on.

Eventually I’ll go back and reread what I wrote, but for now I’m just writing to remove all the walls that have built up over the last several years. I’m writing to prove to myself that I CAN write without thinking and that if I just let go of all the restrictions I’ve put on myself over the years, I’ll rediscover my talent as a creative writer. All of my fantasy writing began in spiral notebooks and progressed to typing so now it’s time for me to go back to that basic beginning. As my father used to say, you have to crawl before you can walk. For me, I have to scribble before I can fly.

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Rainbows and tamales

During the recent holiday season, I had a craving for Italian rainbow cookies. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t find them in any stores. Rather than go online and order something pre-made, I decided I’d make the cookies myself. I’d never made rainbow cookies before and creating them takes more steps than normal cookies, but the effort was well worth the rewards! I modified the recipe slightly to make them a bit healthier without sacrificing flavor and the results were delicious. They didn’t look perfect, but they tasted right and I’m sure I’ll perfect them over time. I ended up with enough cookies to last me for months and there’s still a batch frozen in the freezer.

Italian rainbow cookies

The rainbow cookies were the first new baking technique I’ve used in quite some time, but that showed me that I can do anything I put my mind to. I applied that concept again this past weekend to satisfy my craving for tamales. I had a tamale appetizer at The Cheesecake Factory over the holidays and it was so yummy I almost licked the plate! I’ve never had tamales before but I was instantly addicted and wanted more. There aren’t any restaurants close to me that have tamales (I checked) so I decided I needed to make my own.

I found several recipes online, but finally settled on one by Marcela Valladolid from The Food Network because it didn’t involve making any meat filling like the others did. I bought all the ingredients (I used cooked frozen corn because it’s not sweetcorn season) I could find at the local grocery store and bought corn husks and a bamboo steamer from Amazon. The recipe says to stand them up in a boiler pot but  I figured my luck they’d fall over and turn into soup so that’s why I opted for a bamboo steamer I could lay them down in. Two packages of frozen corn equaled 6 cups of corn and for the last cup, I cooked up some Iroquois Hulled White Corn from the Ganondagan State Historic Site. The combination of sweetcorn and hulled white corn was divine and I admit that I licked the mixer beaters.

tamale dough with Iroquois white corn

Blended up sweet corn with white corn ready to be blended in

Once the dough was mixed up, I wrapped it in the 10 corn husks I’d been soaking in water. There was enough dough to make at least 20 more tamales but I didn’t want to conquer such a huge batch all at once. Of the 10 I made Friday night, I ate 5 and it was difficult not to eat every last one!

tamales in bamboo steamer

My tamales cooking away in the bamboo steamer

I made a second batch yesterday afternoon and I still have enough filling for one more batch. Now that I’ve made tamales once, I have all sorts of ideas for recipe modifications and I’m sure by the end of winter, I’ll be a tamale making pro!

corn tamale in corn husk

One of the tamales I cooked Sunday afternoon. Yum!

2014 in review for JulieAnn’s Voice via WordPress’s annual report

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,000 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Balancing the writer within

left handed writer

Life is about balance. Family and work, work and play, play and productivity. It’s not always easy keeping everything in balance, but I do the best I can. However, I’ve come to realize that my balance between creative writing and structured writing is rather off.

I employ my abilities as a creative writer every day in my work. I don’t use it to the same degree as when I wrote fantasy, but it is my creativity that gives my writing character, uniqueness, and personality. I always try to approach my work assignments from various angles and gather enough information to write from an angle no one has used before. This is vital for making blog posts, landing pages, and product descriptions stand out in such a saturated business. I don’t think I’d be nearly as good at my freelance writing work if not for my background as a fantasy fiction writer.

Nonetheless, that fantasy fiction writer has become lost as I pursue a successful writing career. Rather ironic considering that I expected my successful writing career to come from publishing my novels. Further proof that life is about balance and life is also about change. Being able to adapt to and utilize that change is one of my strengths and I’ve learned to always stay on my toes.

Last week I started my latest term at SNHU online with Intro to Creative Writing. I’d been looking forward to the class since I started at SNHU last August and I felt it would be a welcome change after getting the two required Composition classes out of the way. Much to my surprise, I was better at the composition classes than I’d expected and though I found the structured format of essays a challenge at first, I quickly realized that it fit right in with my job as a freelance writer. I honestly believe that my skills as a freelance writer have greatly improved thanks to those first two classes and I have great hope that the Intro to Creative Writing class will help me rediscover the more creative and “freer” side of my writing.

There are three required books for my current class and they all focus on learning to become a creative writer and/or building on the creative writing skills a person already possesses. Out of curiosity, I flipped through the books and what I saw about poetry, short stories, and other expressive writing mediums filled me with self-doubt.

Thankfully, when I opened the book entitled “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within” by Natalie Goldberg, it flipped to the spot where the publisher’s catalogue card had been randomly stuck. It was right on the section called “Go Further” and from the first few lines, I found great motivation. It reads, “Push yourself beyond when you think you are done with what you have to say. Go a little further. Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning.”

Those words hold true for so much more than writing! There have been so many times in my life when I almost thought I was done, when I couldn’t go any further, when I didn’t think I could handle one more awful thing the world threw at me. Yet I kept going. A little further turned into a lot further and that turned into continuing on the journey of life and discovering the amazing things that were waiting around the corner, once hidden from my view. I never would have experienced so many wondrous things if I’d given up when things became challenging.

I won’t give up now either. I will discover the keys to balancing the writer within and I will learn how my freelance writer self and my fantasy writer self can coexist within the indomitable creature that is me.

winter sky

Winds of change

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Blue sky this afternoon

This morning when I took Jazzmin out it was 51 and sunny. I enjoyed the “mild” temperatures as much as I could because I knew the forecast called for drastic cold the rest of the week.

We’ve lucked out up here so far this winter with only one storm that dropped a large quantity of snow. The snow has been melting in mild temperatures pretty regularly, but I fear that’s at an end. Oh well, only another 5-6 months until warm temperatures arrive…

As I figured Mama Nature was giving me one last chance to “batten down the hatches,” I decided it was time to finally put plastic over some windows. My house was built in the 70’s and a lot of the windows are old, wooden, and leak rather badly. To try and keep the cold winds from blowing through my house, I put plastic up over the bedroom windows so we don’t freeze at night when we’re sleeping. It does help quite a bit in the frozen tundra where I live.

I completed that task rather quickly this morning because I’ve done it the past three winters and have it down to a science. On the upside, I never have to worry about stale air in my home as fresh air is always circulating through various gaps around windows and doors.

The temperature as I write this is 30 degrees but feels like 21 thanks to wind gusts at 40 mph. The high tomorrow is 17 with a low of 7. They might as well just say that it will be so cold it hurts to breathe, but I suppose that wouldn’t be proper meteorological terms.

Eventually the winds of change will bring warmth back, so for now I’ll just hunker down and ride out the rest of winter. Good thing I have lots of blankets and kittens that love to snuggle! 🙂

A mixed bag

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Tonight's mixed bag of pasta

Today was a mixed bag of weather that ranged from flurries to freezing rain and now gale force winds. The wind is bringing 50’s tomorrow followed by teens on Monday and that’s just how the weather this winter has been going.

To compliment the peculiar weather, tonight’s dinner featured a mixed bag of pasta to go with our sauce and meatballs. I had three boxes of pasta with only a bit left in the bottom of each so I decided to cook them all together. They all taste the same even though they’re different shapes and it created a unique looking pasta meal.

The howling wind beating against the house and rattling the windows is going to make sleep difficult for me tonight but I doubt it will bother the girls because they’re such heavy sleepers. I never actually sleep straight through the night anyway so my body is accustomed to being awake at odd times. Quite often when I go back to sleep I have more interesting dreams and that’s a mixed bag of the unexpected that I’m just fine with. 🙂

Opening a very dusty door

door in stone wall

Image courtesy of Panoramio.com

Though my next term at SNHU online doesn’t officially start until Monday, the blackboard for the class has been open for a while. I chose not to look at it before today because I wanted to enjoy my break from schoolwork. My next course is Intro to Creative Writing and after taking two Composition classes back to back, I figured I’d really enjoy doing some creative writing. While I’m sure I will actually enjoy creative writing, I admit that it’s a door to an area of my writing that I haven’t opened in a very long time.

I do peak in that creative writing “room” every now and then when I try to write in Unbroken Flames, but the last time I cracked open that rusty, dusty door, the hinges squeaked horribly and I quickly closed it again when I realized I don’t even remember what tense I used to write in! I got a few sentences of writing done and tried to read back through it only to discover that I kept switching tenses. Maybe I’ve always done that and only now realize it after taking composition classes. Whatever the case, I was dismayed to see just how much of my creative writing abilities I’ve lost.

The first module in Intro to Creative Writing deals with writing poetry that focuses on imagery. Admittedly, I’ve never considered poetry my strong point and when it comes to imagery, I do too much or too little. Regardless, I’m certain that this course is exactly what I need right now, as I hope to get back into writing Unbroken Flames and maybe even finish it this year! I have so many stories that I’ve only shared with a handful of people and I’d love if more people read my fiction works and enjoyed them. I may be 37, but most days I still feel like that 12-year-old girl who started scribbling about magic and adventure in college-ruled spiral notebooks just to get the overflowing ideas out of my head! If all goes well, that overflow of ideas will return and help me break down the dusty door to the creative writing room within me.