Turning Negatives into Positives

Here we are, most of us filled with hope and possibilities at the start of a brand new year. The best way to start anything new (or old) is with enthusiasm and energy. A bright attitude always helps. But sometimes, things happen to drag us down. I’m a little late in writing this post because the area that I live in was beset with terrible disasters with terrible results. How can we keep up our hopes when things unravel around us? It’s a challenge writing my lightweight mysteries when my mind is troubled. How to overcome one’s circumstances when they’re not so pleasant?

I looked for role models. Examples of exemplary behavior and actions. Things to uplift my thoughts and mind. I thought of other writers. And one jumped out at me. A young one, whose short life impacted so many. Her inspirational writings shared hopes and dreams, memorialized in a little red and white checkered diary given to her as a gift on her thirteenth birthday by her parents.

Anne Frank spent much of her life hiding during Nazi Germany. She wrote while living in an environment where hopes and dreams had no right to exist. But her writings were mostly positive. Take a look at these quotes:

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

These pearls of wisdom come to us from a youngster living in one of the most terrible times in history. Yet she was basically telling us to always look up. To seek out the positive. Can there be more inspiration than that?

So the next time you feel yourself sinking, think of these words from Anne Frank:

“Cheer up, keep your spirits high, things are bound to get better!”

Cleaning up for the Holidays

Recently, I slipped on gloves and a home-spun hazmat suit to clean out my storage shed. It was jammed with cardboard boxes that were crammed with stuff and spiders and tiny bugs who’d planted “Home Sweet Home” signs in every corner. I’m too embarrassed to show you an actual photo, but here’s a facsimile: My purpose was to find the angel that belonged on top of the Christmas tree. I didn’t find the angel, but I found so much more.

Each box held junk…and treasures. Stories woven by my children. Tokens from family trips. Letters from friends and family. Autographs from favorite stars. But what I found especially intriguing was a box marked, “Lida’s Writing Stuff.” I lifted the lid and looked inside. I rediscovered magazines and newspapers I’d set aside. I was clueless why I’d saved some. An old Readers’ Digest? Why? Others contained an essay or article I’d written. I’d also found loose pages and barely filled notebooks. False starts and feeble attempts at writing something. Anything. I’d yearned to write for so long. Only it didn’t always make sense to me.

I tossed some of the writings aside. But I also discovered other pages filled with words and sentences that were okay. I’d hoped they showed a wee bit of promise.

I didn’t know it at the time, but those notes were my writing practice. My learning experience. I’d written words and sentences, studied them, and then studied the words and sentences of authors I’d admired. This constant note-taking and reviewing helped me to try and understand what worked and what didn’t. It instilled a glimmer of confidence or maybe a small belief in some ability to string words together to form living sentences and, eventually, a novel.

In life we come across junk and treasures. Situations we’d like to forget immediately, and others we cherish. These others are what propel us forward, keep us going. So how about, this holiday season, we only hold on to our treasures and discard the rest? Those boxes filled with wonderful artifacts, recollections, and in the case of writers, notes and stories containing seeds of hope. When we lighten our loads, it frees us to pursue the more important things in life. By the way, I finally found the angel I was seeking.

Writing: No How

One of the biggest hurdles to writing, for this author, is asking myself questions that begin with the word, “how”? How am I going to start this? How am I going to finish it? How am I going to figure out what happens next? How am I going to write anything at all?

Recently, I wrote my very first short story. But I almost didn’t because I kept asking myself how?

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of how is: in what way or manner; for what reason, with what meaning. With that definition in mind, “how” equates to a stumbling block.

We don’t want stumbling blocks in our lives, if we can help it. Especially not the kind we create ourselves. Stumbling over our own two feet or hands or even mentally is no fun. Neither is getting stuck on how to do something. We need to look around for stepping stones instead of stumbling blocks. For instance, rather than asking, “How am I going to do write anything?”, ask, “where can I look for ideas on what to write?”

I was clueless as to the topic to write about in my short story. But I did know where my setting would be: Boston. So I scanned Boston news headlines seeking breadcrumbs that would lead to a solid story idea. It worked. I discovered that Boston police headquarters has a diverse group of officers and a talented pool of cadets. That’s all I needed to create the characters to populate my story. Then I read about drug busts. Hmmm. I’d never written about drugs, so I decided now was the time. Once again, instead of asking “how” anything, I pushed on and read more news headlines. They were stepping stones that led to another idea. Soon I had the seeds of a story circling around in my head. I sat down and glued myself in the chair behind my laptop. Every time the word, “how” popped into my head, I shoved it away. After a lot of shoving and pushing aside, I’d written nearly 5000 words. All because I’d gone on a “how” fast. It felt wonderful!