Meal Planning for Low-Income Families

When I started MIM about a year and a half ago, I really wanted to write articles about frugal living that were realistic and practical for low-income individuals and families. I really missed the mark.

Why? Well, because I wasn’t food insecure. I wasn’t getting 50% of my food from food banks or pantries. I wasn’t living in a food desert or a homeless shelter.

Instead, I wrote articles about grocery delivery and online coupon clipping with the assumption that people living in poverty, living in the projects, living in shelters, could realistically afford the grocery delivery fee or even had access to the internet, or a computer, or a printer, or the literacy to do such a task.

Life has been funny to me, I’ve experienced several different kinds of poor, all of which is very different.

There is a difference between having a choice to spend $22 dollars a week on groceries, and not having a choice to spend $22 dollars a week on groceries. So, today, I write this article for a different demographic.

In the past, I’ve written specifically with urban living in mind, with New York City being its focal point. So, I will continue to gear my posts, at least minimally, to locals.

When it comes to meal planning, there are many variables to consider including, of course, access and affordability. For example, a low-income family living in New York City can buy a carton of eggs, quite easily, for $1, while that is certainly not the case elsewhere. So, although I’ve religiously recommended the consumption of eggs, I do realize that it is not a viable option for everyone.

What is a viable option for everyone? A lot of the time, it is the pantry goods, including canned goods. Why? Because they’re affordable everywhere and everyone has access to them.

No matter where you are, here is a list of easily obtainable food products that are universally affordable.

Breakfast

  1. Pancake mix
    1. Pancake mix can be extremely affordable if you don’t care for name brands. Generic brands of pancake mix, including those you can find at Dollar Tree, for example, might not be your Aunt Jemima, but they’re equally filling.
  2. Oatmeal
    1. Again, same concept. Oats are extremely cheap, even more so if you’re willing to ditch Quaker. To maintain some of the nutritional value, don’t buy Quick or Instant oats – stick to Old Fashion.
  3. Corn Flakes
    1. I’m convinced the government is stockpiling cornflakes because there is always a $1.79  gigantic off-brand box of this stuff on sale.

 

Lunch / Dinner

  1. Bread
    1. Buy the store-brand stuff. Wheat if you can manage it.
  2. Bologna
    1. You can fry it, you can eat it cold, it’s the cheapest deli meat.
  3. Canned tuna
    1. If you have an Aldi near you, GO THERE. It’s 69 cents.
  4. Canned beans AND dry beans.
    1. Canned beans spiced up to your liking paired with rice will fill you up.
    2. Buy dry beans, soak them overnight, and cook them in bulk.
    3. A bag of beans will often cost you about the same as 1-2 cans, but it produces 5x the amount.
  5. Rice
    1. Long grain, or whatever it cheapest near you.
  6. Canned pasta sauce
    1. It’s not as tasty as your Ragu, but it’s ⅓ of the price. You can season it up and add ground meat and anything else you has lying around.
  7. Hot dogs
    1. Keep in mind that although hot dogs are often eaten on bread, they also make great fillers.
    2. Buy in bulk, if possible.
    3. Buy a generic 10-pack.
    4. Drop them in your chili, pasta sauce or box mac n cheese.
    5. Fry in a pan with potatoes and cabbage.
  8. Instant ramen
    1. Buy them by the case, it’s cheaper.
    2. You can toss Spam, Vienna sausage, eggs –  just about anything to bulk it up.
  9. Cream of ___ soup (preferably mushroom)  
    1. With ground beef, frozen veg of choice, and pasta or egg noodles.
  10. OFF-BRAND ONLY canned meals and soups
    1. Go to Aldi or Dollar Tree. You’ll get the same product for $1 and it’ll taste exactly the same.

 

This list is definitely work-in-progress, and something I’d like to build over time. Feel free to add to it!

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Miscarriage Manifesto

** Trigger warning **

This post includes pregnancy loss, miscarriage, infant loss, stillbirth, and death – which may be triggering to those who have experienced these tragedies in the past. Please do not continue reading if that is the case for you.

Pregnancy loss is perhaps one of the most taboo, not-talked-about topics in women’s health, and because of this, there is such a small, nearly non-existent online community for this special kind of grief. There are no support groups in your community, and no one to talk to. I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could help open up the dialogue between other women? If I could create this safe space for women to speak about their experiences? Truth be told, I have never gone about doing something like this for my blog, however, lately, I have felt compelled to speak out and share my story.

Over the past few years, I’ve experienced 2 late-term pregnancy losses. After the first loss, I did not announce my second pregnancy. I would hesitate to share a pregnancy publicly again. Have you ever tried to grieve publicly? It’s crippling. What should be a happy experience becomes a very stressful one after the event of a miscarriage. It feels as though the most exciting and joyous milestone in my life has been taken from me. Now, reproductive health has become one of my biggest ongoing stressors and has caused unspeakable grief, emotional turmoil, and numerous doctor visits.

My first miscarriage required a dilatation and curettage operation which is similar to what occurs for an abortion. The second time, labor began on its own, and I delivered the baby. In both instances, a complete autopsy could not be done because it was not covered by my insurance. However, ongoing tests have been conducted, during and after both losses. Although numerous X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, and tissue samplings have been produced, the answers are still not clear. Poor fetal growth was a primary cause in both cases, and there is a possible link to a blood-clotting disorder that is known to cause recurrent miscarriages.

Additionally, there are gaps in my medical history simply because I had not gone to the doctor very often in the last 6-7 years, and I had not seen an OBGYN until I was in my mid-20’s. For a short while, I also did not have insurance. Sometimes, I couldn’t afford the co-pay or simply couldn’t justify spending the money to go to the doctor when I was sick or not getting my period.

I think the biggest challenge of all is self-blame, and self-blame is a dangerous road to travel, especially alone. Before my first pregnancy, I had lost some weight after a huge lifestyle overhaul. I felt fantastic. I started doing yoga, eating carrots, and ovulating like a beast. I did everything right. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t even take Tylenol. Yet, I had become the biggest failure, because my body refused to do what it was literally designed to do. Billions of years of evolution, and every supplement under the sun, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t grow a human.

If you have experienced pregnancy or infant loss, feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments.

Below is a poem a wrote some odd months ago titled Miscarriage Manifesto

The greatest pain of all is having your heart. beat. ripped away.

Pale and blue. Purple eyelids and fingertips. Peaceful, perfect, a piece of art you were.

It was Spring time and I was prepared to welcome new life. But, instead, a great darkness came — and it stole every flicker of light. From the pits of my chest to my womb, I was overcome by this darkness.

As you left, all of me followed.

Pregnancy loss has been the greatest loss of my life. Stillbirth has been the most difficult hello and goodbye.

Pregnancy and childbirth should be, and is, one of the most earth-shattering experiences in a woman’s life. You are, indeed, growing life! There is nothing more divine.

My first pregnancy was nothing short of magical. I was in awe of every adjustment my body made to make way for new life. My body morphed and for the first time, my standards of beauty morphed. Strength was beauty. Spirit was beauty. Womanhood was beauty. Now, I held a new found appreciation for what the female anatomy can endure, and will endure, to birth a new generation each and every day. It is nothing short of miraculous, indeed, yet, clearly not perfect, but perfect in its own way. A sprinkle of luck. A dab of chance. And, here. we. are.

It was a celestial journey to motherhood – one in which I did not reach my destination. One in which, even today, with modern medicine and medical teams, one in four do not reach their destination.

We are here, one in four, suffering from our loss — with our hearts torn from us and our wombs prematurely vacant. We live with a deep longing for our child that was not born or left too soon. We live with our failure to do what is the most natural; which is to do what billions of years of evolution have taught our bodies to do. And, we could not do it. We failed. 

My chest becomes heavy and my breathing quickened as a passerby to Children’s Place. I purposely avoid the toy section. And, as much as try to force against it, I can’t avoid the reaction to pain – a squinted eye. Is it obvious I am childless?

After you left, I spent several months avoiding your photographs. I shoved every newborn outfit and diaper box under the bed. I refused to touch or use the bedroom closet — within was your stroller and car seat tucked away. I didn’t even have the strength to pull it out for donation. I didn’t cry right away, but when I did, I cried for months. I pulled the pregnancy progress pictures off Facebook, and then I put them back. It is difficult to distinguish the difference between trying to say goodbye and wanting to forget.

But my biggest mistake of all is I didn’t talk about it. How do you? Pulling these words out of my mouth is no less than ripping out my tongue. It’s trying to put sentences together from the bile at the bottom of my stomach. It’s vomiting yourself to gastrointestinal disorder over a faulty uterus.

Only now will you learn, “everything happens for a reason” is the cruelest sentiment. I think our all-loving, all-benevolent God has quite enough angels, or at the very least, can wait until old age to collect them. Life is beautiful, isn’t it? A blessing, a gift. Why would anyone retract it?

Yes, I can try again. No, that will not make this better.

It seems that I am met with unintelligent design, or at the very least, a universe that is clearly uninterested with my timeline.

And, through this internal struggle of attachment and detachment from self and child, will I slowly find myself again. Often, it will be in the arms of loved ones who loved me before and after such a tragedy. I will be met with

I will be met with good wishes, and a, “is there anything I can do to make this better”, and of course, I will respond with, “no – but thank you for asking”.

 
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Today, my husband and I celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary.

Yesterday, while we were on a walk, I reminded him of this, and he asked,
“So, how long have we been together now?”
I replied, “It’s our wedding anniversary plus 10 years.”
— “Oh, right”, he said.

It really does feel like forever — I’ve ran out of fingers to count the years. It’s hard to imagine what it felt like before I met him. It’s like trying to imagine what it’s like to live without a sibling or parent — it’s just hard to imagine because they’ve always been there.

What’s so peculiar is that it wasn’t until more recently, maybe within the last year or so, that I reached this sudden realization that this was for life. It’s not like on your wedding day when you make this vow of forever, you make that promise — no, this was different, I suddenly just *knew*, and now, I exist differently because of it. It’s the epitome of reassurance and comfort to have a friend, and more importantly, an ally or comrade for life, and to feel like the Universe has got your back, at least on this — which is arguably the most important thing in life anyway. We were meant to do life together.

Over the years, I’ve tried to write about love, but it’s very difficult to write — at least realistically and truthfully. I think *this* is just so difficult to describe, even for a writer. We’re constantly growing and learning what all of this means. And, I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that no one can really teach you about love, similarly to no one can really teach you about life. It’s one of those things you have to learn yourself. I’m grateful that I get to learn about love and life with Thomas. There are billions of people on earth, and somehow, someway, our histories, our lives, they decided to intertwine. I’ve had poor luck with friendships and finding others I can connect with, yet, somehow, I hit the lottery with you. What a blessing.

 

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Aldi Harlem “Mini” Haul, Savings Galore!

After watching about a zillion Youtube videos, I’ve FINALLY popped my Aldi cherry (Harlem location)! I’ve been dreaming of this shopping experience for quite some time, but have yet to make my way there. In 2017 alone, I’ve moved from Manhattan to Queens, back to Manhattan, and luckily for me, I am now approximately 15 blocks from this Aldi location (as well as Target – control yourself, Jocelyn!)

It is true when people say that you can easily save 50% on your grocery bill by simply coming to Aldi. You don’t have to wait for sales or use coupons to save a lot of money here. I haven’t tried many of the products yet like other bloggers and YouTubers have, but I can say that the produce is fresh and well-priced. For example, you won’t find wilted salads here! Like many others have mentioned before me, Aldi supplies their own off-brand products, which so far, have been of very good quality, with many low-priced organic and GMO-free varieties to choose from. A few things you should keep in mind: They don’t bag your groceries, and you have to pay for plastic bags if you don’t bring your own. The same can be said for a shopping cart.

Unfortunately, because my husband and I have to lug back everything we purchase, we can’t shop too heavy. And, let’s face it, the bigger the value, the heavier it is! I’m not even kidding – the canned goods, the rice, the bag of sugar, flour, potatoes, etc. – that’s heavy stuff, and we only have 4 arms combined. However, the great thing is, those prices won’t disappear. They’ll still be there next week.

So, I’ll begin by sharing with you all what I’ve purchased along with a list of meals I plan to incorporate with these items. Then, I will share some good finds that I weren’t able to purchase and carry home, but felt it was worth mentioning.

Before I begin, keep in mind that I am meal planning under certain circumstances such as limited refrigerator space and cookware. This haul is meant to last 2-4 days, with a focus on snacks, lunch, and dinners. We are also shopping to stretch our food stamp dollar the absolute furthest possible.

PRODUCE:

Bag of navel oranges — $1.49, probably the best deal from this haul!

Baby carrots — .99

PANTRY:

3lb Long grain rice — $1.39, again, you won’t find this price elsewhere

2 cans of black beans — .69 ea, ^^^

2 cans of vienna sausage — .49 ea, I’m not quite sure why I bought this, I used to eat them straight out of the can as a child and it’s kind of a treat when I’m feeling homesick

Peanut butter wafers — $1.09, my husband’s guilty pleasure

DELI:

Bag of hard-boiled eggs — $1.89, this is a pure convenience purchase; we share a community kitchen with our neighbors and any time I can save in the kitchen goes a long way

Kielbasa sausage — $2.29

2lbs of potato salad — $2.49, I love potato salad, what can I say?

Honey Ham, cold cuts — $2.59, makes about 3-4 sandwiches, depending on how generous you want to be

Smoked Turkey, cold cuts — $2.59, ^^^

Cheddar cheese slices <3 — $1.89

DAIRY:

Strawberry yogurt cups — .49 ea

FROZEN:

Chicken fried rice — $3.09, meal for 2 type of thing

Frozen peas — $1.05

 

Right now, we have a decent amount of cereal, cereal bars, and granola bars, which, by the way, are mostly from Aldi as well! With that in mind, we didn’t shop for any breakfast foods. For lunches, we plan to have sandwiches with a cup of yogurt, an orange or handful of baby carrots. I have some salad dressing and hummus in the fridge to jazz things up. For dinners, we will be enjoying A LOT of rice and beans, and rice and peas (with carrots too)! We plan to throw in some kielbasa, eggs, or even some sliced ham. I will probably divide our kielbasa up between 2-3 meals and have some of it sliced, browned on the stove, then put on some bread with potato salad on the side.

Flavors will depend on what we have on hand from take-out condiments such as soy sauce or hot sauce.

In all honesty, I am a very simple eater. I am very satisfied with a bowl of rice and eggs with a little soy sauce or hot sauce. Chances are, we may go back for more kielbasa because it’s literally $2, and we can’t deny how versatile it is for meal planning – they have all-beef smoked sausage, lean turkey, etc. so there is some variety to choose from. Next time, I also plan to pick up some canned tuna because they’re .50 a can! Another simple meal I enjoy is diced tomatoes tossed in with some tuna (preferably tuna in-oil) with a few tablespoons of fish sauce stirred in over hot rice.

A few goodies I spotted but wasn’t able to purchase:

$1.99 box of fruit bars that I really wanted, but would melt before I got home :/

MILK – it’s $1 less than anywhere else I’ve been!

Spices, sauces, dressings, and condiments.

Basically all baking and staple pantry items such as flour and sugar.

What are your favorite Aldi products? What would you recommend to new Aldi shoppers?

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Modesty Is Bullsh*t

We often mistake modesty for humility, and although they have similar definitions, one is authentic, while the other is not.

I was very lucky to have a mother who believed I could do anything — literally anything. Only and if I wanted it bad enough. My father reminded me often of my worth. He lifted me up while also making me tough. I wasn’t really taught modesty, like many of my peers. I wasn’t taught not to brag. I wasn’t taught not to be self-centered, or not to be self-indulgent.

Instead, I was taught to not only notice but also value my accomplishments. I was taught to be self-aware and honest. And, most of all, to cultivate and protect my happiness and well-being. Although indirectly, my parents helped me realize that modesty is by far the most false and unwise attribute you could use to sell yourself.

I never once questioned if I could ever, or would ever, earn the title of “writer”. I didn’t concern myself with the deep implications of this seemingly logical term to describe the practice I do often — write. I write — I am a writer. It’s not rocket science. Modesty is stupid.

It’s not only stupid, it’s manipulative and needy.

It’s a false crutch. It’s a way of saying: I’m insecure! The thing is, it takes great bravery to say, “Yes, I am good at this; I am good at writing” because there will always be someone, who is less secure about themselves, that will say, “Hey! You’re taking up too much space in the room; you’re too big — who do you think you are?” And that stings.

But, what is it you’re supposed to say? That you aren’t sure of yourself? That you are terrible?

That’s silly. The game of modesty is silly. Recognizing your strengths is not bragging. If you wrote an A+ piece, more than likely, you worked hard. Your hard work paid off. You did a good job — that was the entire point, wasn’t it?

But then you realize that you’re simply celebrating your victories — the ones you worked hard to accomplish. You’re doing this because it is more productive than sulking, whining, and marinading in failure.

Insecure people will always want to make you smaller,

and you shouldn’t take that personally. Find and seek comfort in your power, in your strengh, and in the energy that you possess. Celebrate your life force, shine bright, and be colorful.

Humility, on the other hand, is simply living honestly. It is being “real”.

Humility is admitting that no one gets to their destination alone. We all had help.

But, that doesn’t mean we didn’t work hard. That doesn’t mean we didn’t fight tooth and nail. That doesn’t mean that hard work doesn’t pay off — because, at the end of the day, nothing pays off more.

All humility means is that we’ve developed self-awareness. We know what we do well, and we know what it is we could work on. We are honest about our strengths and our weaknesses.

Sometimes you’re good. Sometimes you suck. Sometimes you’re brilliant. Sometimes you’re foolish.

And, you know what, when you start becoming comfortable with your strengths, you also start becoming comfortable with your weaknesses. Eventually, you want others to point them out — you want to improve. Why? Because you believe in yourself and you trust others. You want to be better for yourself and those around you. Don’t be modest. It’s bullsh*t.

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Save the Drama for the Page

Let’s face it: Drama is addictive.

Unfortunately, it does very little for our personal life or our writing life. Naturally, humans love gossip — they love to hear about the lives, and pains, and struggles of others. They enjoy it through their favorite television series and even more so between friends and coworkers.

Misery loves company, and you must be careful of that.

The truth is, it’s so easy to spend all this energy being miserable. It’s easy to sulk. It’s easy to complain. But, it’s still energy you’re wasting — energy that could be redirected towards something more productive like writing or healing. Or both, simultaneously.

Have you ever tried writing when miserable? It’s hard work. Impossible even.

I think what most of us don’t realize is that our dramas become big because we feed them — they’re often not big by default. They’re big because we allow it to consume us in a big way. Deflate your misery by talking about it less. Don’t invite others to fuel the flame. Change your focus. Consider that we can completely toss days or weeks of progress out the window by making a small inconvenience a big one. We begin fixating on how hard this issue is making our lives and it consumes us — every waking hour, and before you know it, we’ve fallen off track and lost our rhythm.

This is especially true for my writing life. It doesn’t take much for me to lose my momentum.

A small inconvenience turned big drama can make me stop writing for weeks, months, even years, really, if it’s substantial enough. And, all of this happens because I am not conscious of how much I am letting outside forces dictate my life. This is not to say that our problems are not valid because they are, but what much does that matter if we do little to help ourselves?

And, the truth is, this is not anyone’s fault but our own.

Don’t get sucked into other people’s problems, but also, do not blame them for having problems. Similarly, don’t get sucked into your own problems, but also, do not blame yourself for having them.

The problem is never nearly as important as the reaction or attitude towards it. We all have problems, but what are you going to do about it? That’s what really matters. Assuming you even need to solve it. Because sometimes we sign up for a battle that isn’t even ours.

Keeping calm in the midst of chaos is the ticket to a long and serious writing relationship. That is how we build discipline — by working when we don’t want to. As writers, we improve drastically by continuing our practice when life throws us a curve ball.

I like to compare the writer’s life to athletes in training.

Being miserable is exhausting. Writing requires your best self — your rested and focused self. The same can be said for any sport or activity. Writing is hard work, and I think admitting this fact is a step in the right direction. Knowing and accepting that writing is hard helps us understand that we can’t do it unless we’ve fully prepared our minds and bodies for it. We have to be ready to write, and being ready to write often means we need to take care of ourselves first.

Writing is the most demanding work I do, and I try to do it daily.

However, I know that for me to be able to do it daily, I have to eat 3 square meals, I have to be active, I have to prioritize my mental and physical health. At the end of the day, I find that this life — the writer’s life, is simply a healthy life. It helps to surround yourself with those who not only want to watch you succeed but also want to succeed themselves.

Again, this is why I say the writer’s life is much like the life of an athlete.

You must train like an athlete does. There is no doubt about it. Heck, you don’t have to be great. You don’t even have to be good. It doesn’t take a superstar to run a marathon, but you do have to train. And, rest. But, most of all, you have to conquer your head.

And, yes, this will make you unpopular. Why? Because putting yourself first in such a way requires a level of selfishness. You will ask others to step up to the plate and be better. You will also say no. A lot.

But, that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to write a novel or compete in a marathon. Your training must come first — you can’t miss a day, or a week, especially not a month. Not if you want to reach the finish line. Protecting your writing schedule requires you to detach from everything else in your life, especially the drama, but before you can do that, you must believe writing can and will save your life.

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Where Do We Go From Here

Blogging is such an intimate act, isn’t it? Sure, it is hugely public, but there are many eyes that do not engage their keyboards. In no way am I asking you to – if fact, apart from my blog, I really don’t engage with others – especially not bloggers, but perhaps I, and you, should start. What’s interesting is I am fully aware that I am talking directly to people who are reading, but I am still sort of talking to myself, for myself.

I truly can’t say what direction I’m going in with this blog. I haven’t a clue what the future holds for us. In truth, I started this huge project on a whim because I needed something to throw myself at. You’ll soon discover that I throw myself into a creative project whenever I am in a crisis. And, this is, in fact, the result of that. Believe me, I was hardly prepared for the work ahead, but today, even though I am far from reaching my writing, blogging, and publishing goals, I am immensely proud of myself.

I initiated this very firm plan of focusing specifically on minimalist and frugal living, with a focus on urban cities such as New York City, but alas, my life is so much more than that. Yes, I am food-stamp receiving coupon-clipping human. Yes, I get a thrill when sifting through crates of hardcover books at the Salvation Army. But, I am also heavily interested in politics and culture. I spent the last year gaming somewhat competitively in a very popular MMORPG. But most importantly, writing is my life. I live a writer’s life and have lived it since the age of 13. Being confined to a “themed” blog was painful at times. I wanted to write poetry. I wanted to share my life without using nice words. I wanted to write all of the things I am publishing on this blog now.

I have a few blog posts lined up for the rest of the month. The next post will probably be in dedication to my husband. He and I are celebrating our 3 year wedding anniversary this month and I’d like to write a little something about that. This year, I have officially known him for half of my life. Isn’t that just insane? Especially at such a young age? We met 13 years ago, gosh, probably more like 14 years ago. I can’t even begin to tell you how blessed we are to have each other. Life is hard, and it’s nice to have someone to share the burden.  He is much more than a lover or a friend, he is an ally, which is a bigger word than most realize.

In the future, I’m hoping to gain the courage to be real, to be raw, to display the fact that, yeah, there is a real person behind the scenes, with a life equally as terrifying as yours. To those reading quietly from the sidelines, I appreciate you and I hope you stick around. And, please, know that I am always ready to engage. If you choose to connect, I will listen, and be grateful for it.

See you in the next post,

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Writing From Your Compost Pile

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas from. And, always, there is this assumption that the best and most imaginative writers were brilliant and had brilliant ideas, when in fact, brilliance happened by accident – it was an unintentional result of a practice or a lifestyle.

Much like sex, it’s a desire, it’s an urge, it’s raw – a most natural act. It is not thinking, it’s more like breathing. When you’re in love, you don’t plot your sex life, do you? God, I hope not. You don’t know what works until you’re already there. You don’t make a schedule with your lover. If you submit yourself to your writing life, as absolutely ridiculous that sounds, the less you will worry about your ideas.

By submitting yourself to the writing life, you’re inadvertently sifting through your compost pile. That is where all of your material brines. It’s your history marinading in the backyard. This is all those parts of your past you threw out, it’s the stuff you keep covered, you filed away, sometimes to never look at again.

Everyone feeds their compost pile differently. Some, never at all. Eventually, it becomes fertilizer, it’s just for some of us, if you never touch it, you’ll be dead by the time it’s ready. I eat cake, write poetry, and play a shit ton of video games to digest mine. You can go to therapy to digest yours, or the amusement park.

If you’re looking for the next best seller, stop going across town. Importing stories that aren’t yours will not help you write. They won’t be authentic, and you’ll know it. Look towards your personal history, your passions, your concerns, your obsessions, and all these little details that shape your life. I’ve often said write what you know, and I believe this wholeheartedly. Thing is, the only thing you truly know is what you’ve lived. This doesn’t mean you can’t write a bomb-ass fantasy fiction novel. Because you can, and even then, the story will be bits and pieces of who you are. Your novel will be a mix of your home life and your favorite stories. Each character you build will be aspects of your personality or the personality of people in your life.

While you’re sifting through your compost pile, consider that it takes a while for all of that to sit well – to ripen and mature. You may not be able to write about events that happened yesterday or last year, depending on how painful it was. To see your history through clear eyes, they can’t be watery. You’ll need to walk around in it for a while, you’ll need to heal first. Then you’ll find the truth, then you’ll find the lesson. Then you’ll finally get your brilliant ideas. The beauty is, if you don’t like your compost, you can live differently. Then you’ll have other brilliant ideas.

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A Writer’s Guide to “Killing Your Darlings”

You’re not killin’ it until you’re killing your darlings.

If you’re a writer, a practitioner of this craft – a world builder, you’re probably fully aware that all good writers are self-critical.

“Kill your darlings” is a nothing short of a segment from your self-written writer’s manifesto, and if isn’t yet, it should be soon. What does killing your darlings mean for a writer? Killing your darlings, killing your babies, whatever you want to call it, might sound like a murderous violent task, but I assure you, if you do it correctly, it doesn’t have to be bloody. It’s quite simple actually: If something isn’t working in your writing, take it out. It could be a single word, a sentence, or even an entire chapter. As Will Rogers’ famous advice goes, ‘Never miss a good chance to shut the hell up’.

Your darlings are those sentences, paragraphs, or even whole chapters that tug at our heart strings.

They often lift us up and make us feel like we’re floating in the clouds. They bring up emotions that often link us to personal memories. They haunt us when we re-read them. We love how these words are organized, and we love how these words make us feel.

The problem is we can be so enchanted by these words, that we forget what we’re writing – we simply could not care less if it fits our story, or helps our writing in any way. In fact, these beloved anecdotes often serve us so deeply, but only confuse our readers. We love these words, but unfortunately, we do a huge disservice to our writing, to our readers, and to ourselves by keeping them.

This doesn’t mean you should limit yourself.

I’ve always believed that the first draft, of any piece of writing, is always written by the writer for the writer. It is not until the editing process begins that we start to consider the reader. Write uninhibited, write with ambition, and don’t concern yourself with labels, genres, or style.

We are not burying your works six feet under to be forgotten forever.

The great thing about it is although it’s necessary to kill our darlings, we do not need to arrange for a funeral service – we are not burying your works six feet under to be forgotten forever. Why? Because chances are, that piece of writing, although not fitting for your current project, is probably brilliant. And, if it makes you feel some type of way, you do not delete it forever.

Instead, save them for later – open up a Word document, CTRL-C, CTRL-P, then save. By doing this, we can keep moving forward while also relieving a little pressure off ourselves.

Storycraft – Kill Your Darlings

Now the real work begins.

You’ve removed the offensive cluster of words; now you must fill the gaping hole in your manuscript. Start by re-reading the section, paragraph, or chapter before the portion you cut, then immediately, yes – immediately, write a new version of that scene. Don’t over-think it, just let the words flow. Let the images in your head guide your pen (or keyboard – to each their own). Don’t concern yourself with the bits of words you exterminated before, just write like it’s your first time, and you’re simply continuing the story. Write it fresh, write it from within, like you already know how, and I promise you, it’ll come out so good, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear at the end.

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Introduction to Creative Non-Fiction

What is Creative Non-Fiction?

Creative Non-Fiction is your diary hidden under the mattress, your travelogues, your WordPress blog, it’s your overflowing binder of recipes, erotica, your favorite fanfiction, it’s your advice columns, Yelp reviews, satire news articles, and literary criticism. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Literary Journalism

Creative Non-Fiction, also known as Literary Journalism, makes a great example of how flexible the practice and art form of writing truly is. Most of us adhere to the simple understanding of fiction and non-fiction being categorized by how factual the writing is. Creative Non-Fiction purposely blurs these lines; that fact alone is the reason why it is my preferred genre and the reason why I absolutely adore it so much. It is a reminder that a person’s individual truth is often subjective, whereas a concrete, well-supported fact, is not. Creative Non-Fiction enjoys dipping its toes in and out of sub-genres, rubbing people the wrong way, while often dancing all over and challenging a critic’s claims.

Sub-Genres

A basis for understanding this concept can be seen when observing sub-genres such as poetry, song-writing, or scriptwriting. Unlike personal essays or memoirs, where the foundation is in fact, real life, such a rule cannot be measured or tested in these works. Only the writer can verify whether or not their poetry, song-writing, or script is derived from real life, and how much of it is. Creative elements within poetry, song-writing, and scriptwriting, as well as style or theme, make such a claim impossible to measure.

Journaling – You’re Probably Already Doing It

Many types of writing, many of which you probably do often in your day-to-day life, is considered Creative Non-Fiction. In fact, journals, not to be confused with diaries, are the most common types of Creative Non-Fiction. Diaries are technically a type of journal in which you log or document the events of your day-to-day life, while a journal is any kind of written log – anything written with the intention to reference later. This can be a collection of recipes or a comprehensive guide to completing your long-term goals.

Susan Orlean Shows How to Find Subjects for Creative Non-Fiction

Literature vs. Journalism

Why has Creative Non-Fiction taken on the nickname of Literary Journalism? First, we must consider what Literature is, and why it holds value in Journalism. Literature, more specifically, is considered written work with a strong creative or artistic touch. Literature is the poetic element; the story-telling. It is the parts of writing that bring forth pleasure, imagery and other emotions. Journalism, objectively, is the reporting of facts. It often strives to inform the reader of events that are happening around them.

The Future of Creative Non-Fiction

Today, journalists instill elements of Creative Writing into their news reporting in order to make their stories more compelling. Many would advocate that this strategy blurs the facts, while others often suggest it is a competitive tactic driven by media giants and their desire to maximize readership, consumption, and profit. There is no doubt that the capitalistic nature of mass media influences what is produced, as well as what is distributed, however, the beauty of art, language, and literature is we are all free to write what it is we want, and most free when we do it. We are not restricted by what and who we share it with, either. Keep creating. Keep writing. Keep sharing it with the world.

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