Why I Write

I’m bad at taking vitamins, keeping track of my glasses, and returning library books on time. My cats probably wish I would change the litter box more often. If it weren’t for my husband waking up thirty minutes early each morning and doing all the hard work—making the kids’ lunches, being my alarm clock, turning on the coffee maker—I’d be a deadbeat mom. A morning person I am not, especially since chronic headaches invaded my life three years ago.

But I’m pretty good at writing. Sometimes. I try to do it every day, although I’ve reached the stage where I now think everything I wrote two years ago is crap. I believe this is progress.

What I’m really not good at? Putting myself out there.

Whether it’s posting regular blog entries (Me? have anything to say that people would want to read?), or submitting my short stories (Is it good enough? Is it worth sending if they’ll just reject it anyway?), I fall short of the last essential stage required to BE A WRITER:

Letting my work be read.

I mean, I’m really not writing just for me. I say that, to justify the hundred thousand words I’ve written in the past year. I say that to my disability company, because truthfully, I’m not fit for gainful employment (and certainly not capable of performing the duties of a pediatric anesthesiologist sixty hours a week—yikes). Staring at a screen for more than a couple hours quite predictably gives me a headache, which I wake up with every day to begin with. So why do I write?

Writing is its own kind of therapy. It keeps me from going crazy. It is a substitute for the intense mental hoops I used to jump through, juggling the anesthetic management of up to fourteen children a day, supervising residents, conducting trials, taking classes, and writing research papers. I never wanted to leave my career at the age of 38. I dearly miss my job. Writing gives me something to do each day. So would yoga.

Don’t get me wrong—I like yoga. But even in the middle of the one class I’ve found that’s mellow enough for me to get through, I’ll find myself zoning out, revising my latest story in my head. (Especially during the ten minutes of sitting and breathing. I know it’s meditative. It’s probably great for my headaches. But it’s boring.)

But secretly, I love an audience. Even as an anesthesiologist, once I had that patient in my clutches, helpless, vulnerable, strapped to the bed, I used those precious minutes before the drugs kicked in to tell jokes. Yes, yes, it established rapport, alleviated anxiety, and put my patient in a beneficial state—beneficial for me. People tend to wake up in the same mood in which they fall asleep. It also was my only chance to perform, since I had neither the time, nerve, nor repertoire for stand-up comedy. In my heart, I want to make people laugh and cry and scream out loud. Maybe even in the same story—I aim high.

Without that outlet, I write. Today, I want to be a better writer than I was yesterday. Tomorrow, I admit it, I want that story to be read.

The only way to do that is to write as if no one is watching, knowing the whole time you’re performing on stage. I did it at the beginning of every case, in front of impatient surgeons, skeptical scrub nurses, and parents who didn’t appreciate my sense of humor. (A sample: “What do you call cheese that’s not yours? Nacho cheese!” It’s all in the delivery.) But if I could make that kid smile as the anesthetic took hold, it was all worth it–even if I had thirty seconds to get the airway in as soon as the little tyke stopped breathing. If I could tell jokes under that kind of pressure, you and I can submit our work. When that story gets out there, it won’t matter how many rejections it gathered along the way. In fact, the more you have, the more you can brag.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t think about what your mother or your English teacher would think. They probably won’t read it, unless you send them a copy. And God forbid, do not even consider the fact that your children have Internet access and know how to perform a Google search.


On Encouragement

Fine Feathers is a blog about “An aspiring writer’s journey.” This writer’s journey began with an unexpected illness—chronic migraines—and the loss of a medical career.

It has included a mostly silent battle with daily headaches, which has engendered great sympathy for the plight of other patients dealing with the frustrations of medical care.

It has included the joy of rediscovering writing, publishing short stories, completing a novel, and working with a professional editor to make her novel the best it can be.

It has included the challenges of raising two young children, who depend on her to be whole and well and undistracted, fully present in the moment, despite the draw of her writing and the pressing needs of her illness.

It could not have happened without the support and encouragement of a lot of people. This WordPress community, her family, her friends, and her writers’ group. Everyone who has offered feedback on her writing, “liked” a post, followed this blog, read her words…you are what has MADE HER A WRITER. You are what has let this writer follow her heart, and live her dream.

Some professional writers say it’s so tough to be a writer, you should do nothing but discourage young writers…if they’re meant to succeed, they will. They have to know how hard it’s going to be.

But this writer is a believer in encouragement. Not praise, which researchers have shown lowers self-esteem if given indiscriminately, but pure, simple encouragement. Which anyone deserves, at any step of their journey:

You can do it.

One more step.

You are not alone.

Every writer’s journey begins with a word. Getting that word out requires a leap of faith. Is it the right word? You have to BELIEVE it is. Will anyone read it? You have to have the confidence to proceed, whether or not that word sees the light of day.

Write shitty first drafts—Anne Lamott

Have the courage to write badly. —Joshua Wolf Shenk

Encouragement carries no judgment, doesn’t have to be earned. It focuses on the effort, the enjoyment of the process.

Tell the stories only you can tell—Neil Gaiman

I believe in encouragement, because I know I thrive on it. I wouldn’t be here without it. Fine Feathers will always be a place to share the things that inspire and encourage me, that help me get through the hard parts in life, in parenting, in my writing journey.

When this writer encounters blocks in her journey, she’ll face them with grit, and carry on.

And make a note.

An honest reply

I’ve seen the Liebster Award on other blogs I’ve admired, and thought, “That’s kind of cool. But it looks like kind of a gimmick.” And then there’d be the usual twinge of it’s not like I’d ever get an award grumble grumble sour grapes.

Then JF Owen nominated me for one, in his post “I’m Surrounded by Talented People.”:

Fine Feathers – Heather writes a blog about balancing life, writing and being a parent.  Her blog is interesting, witty and honest.  I enjoy reading her viewpoint on life.

He went on to give the best explanation about the Liebster–actually, the only–I’ve ever seen.

The Liebster was originally intended to allow bloggers an avenue to highlight new and interesting blogs.  Along the way, the Leibster and other similar awards have developed a “chain letter” type reputation.  There’s no doubt that accepting and participating in the process is a time consuming effort and many, if not most, nominees elect to pass on the opportunity.  I get that and I want to make sure that none of the good folks I mention feel any obligation to take on a job that they really don’t want to tackle.

To JF, I can honestly say: I’m honored. To be included in this thoughtful and thorough nomination was more than I expected, and now that you have access to my full interior monologue, more than you might think I deserve.

But as you yourself said, I’m nothing if not honest.

I’m going to take JF’s approach to responding. Partly because I think the award deserves a thoughtful reply, and I like the snack break in the middle. Partly because I spent 8 hours today sleeping off a migraine, so this is the best I could do. This constitutes my announcing the award, posting the logo, thanking my nominator (thank you, JF!) and my deeply honest replies to to his 11 probing questions.

Next week, look for my nominees, who will hopefully be as pleasantly surprised as I was!

1.    If you could live anywhere on earth (and take whomever you wanted along), where would it be and why?

JF, this is a loaded question. My husband reads this blog. Occasionally my mother does. And you’ve accused me of being honest.

But honestly? I’d live right here, in Durham, North Carolina, conveniently located near my friends and family. We have four seasons, but very little snow. This year it never even hit a hundred degrees. We have mountains over here, and the beach over there, all within a couple hours drive. We have hundreds of restaurants, a thriving local food movement, and are the Tastiest Town in the South!

And I’d make my parents move down here 🙂

2.    What is your best childhood memory?
Curled up in my father’s leather armchair, swallowed by a book. Any book–I often brought several, and passed hours this way. I could shut the whole world out. (Ask my mother.)

3.    What’s your pet peeve?
The word “peeve”. And “irk”.”Irk” and “peeve” irk me. If I indulge my many peeves too much, my natural peevishness ascends, and people stop telling me how cheerful I am.

4.    Who is your favorite author?
Neil Gaiman, because he writes brilliantly for both children and adults whether he’s being funny or serious and almost always makes brings tears to my eyes, either way. Robert Heinlein, because his books made me want to be a better person and the world a better place. Jim Butcher, because while writing the coolest urban wizard series in the world also published an equally amazing fantasy epic without missing a beat. Scott Westerfield because he creates worlds and characters as easily as other people create outfits. Or at least, he makes it look that way. And I can’t even create cool outfits.

5.    If you had to live in an era other than the current one, which would you choose?
Easy. Steampunk. I may struggle with today’s fashions, but I look good in leather, lace, and buckles.

6.    What is your favorite line from a movie and why?

Scarlett O’Hara, last line of Gone With the Wind: “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Why? Because tomorrow, she was going to get Rhett back. You just knew it.

I would have looked good in a hoop skirt, too.

7.    For your vacation, would you prefer a cabana at the beach or a cabin in the mountains?
Mountains. Plus raging river and kayak. Those were the days…

8.    What is the biggest obstacle you have faced in your life?
Obstacles imply immovable objects. So I almost said “Not getting into medical school the first time,” but the immovable object in that scenario was ME. I was too stubborn to give up, and all the angst, heartbreak, and stress was self-induced. Trying again was humiliating and hard, at the time. But it was a choice, at least, and it paid off eventually. I made it through all my training and worked as an anesthesiologist for five years.

Over two years ago, I developed a headache that never went away. I fought it (and it was a battle) by going through invasive medical tests that led to more headaches. I fought those by getting treatments that either failed, or caused headaches of their own.

Or, in the end, it turned out…I just had a bad headache that wouldn’t go away. Thus the chronic migraine diagnosis I now have, which took me about three months to accept.

Obstacles don’t go away. They can’t be abandoned, negotiated with, or bashed through.

Somehow, this one turned me from a doctor into a writer.

9.    What will be the title of the story of your life?
Headaches and Hoop Skirts. Starring Vivien Leigh.

10.    What’s the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
Yak ear soup, in Western China. It was on a medical mission. I thought it was just a really tough, chewy noodle.

11.    What’s the number one thing on your bucket list?
I’m doing it. Writing was my first love, and always something I said I’d do “someday.”

There is no someday. Despite the headaches, I feel extremely blessed. (The problem with growing up in the church of science fiction is, I have no idea by “what”…or what sacrifice they’ll demand, someday. But you know what? For this job, I’ll pay it.)