Blowing Up the Writing Balloon

By guest writer Vicki Lathom. Photos Copyright © Vicki Lathom.

Vicki Lathom and Chico the Boat Dog

Vicki and Chico

I guess it all started when I realized I wasn’t having fun with writing, but I had a lurking feeling that I might have fun if I just knew how.

I’ve been writing for 40 years: majored in journalism, was a public information officer for local government for 20 years, wrote speeches for a governor for 15 years and am now teaching writing in two graduate schools at the University of Maryland. However, deep down, I never really considered myself a writer. It was an identity I didn’t own.

I’ve always written to product; that is, I have a deadline for an article, a press release, a speech . . . or, God help me, a memo. I’ve always thought that writing was a set process of establishing a production schedule: do the research, do the outline, do the draft, put it in the drawer, and then revise, revise, revise.

Not very fun sounding.

Fiction, or making something up and not just reporting, seemed impossible. I kept telling Milli, “I can’t write what I can’t see and I can’t see imaginary people and events.” She said, OK, convince me that you can’t.

Maybe this is what they call paradoxical intervention, but I ended up almost convincing Milli but not convincing me. Don’t tell me I can’t do something! So, I did it. I put two of my characters together in a boating situation and let them go. It felt like making paper dolls. They wear anything you want them to wear, say what they want to say, go wherever they want to go—all within the constraints, ironically, of what they are capable of.

I’m not a gusher, so I won’t call this a breakthrough. It was a revelation. Now I see how these writers do it. How they create a bunch of characters, have them act out, get to like them or hate them. Before that assignment, I never could understand what these writers were talking about when they referred to killing off their characters. They’re like Lilliputians you create to live in a book-size, doll house world.

What works for me with Milli is that she understands the link between personality and writing. So, her assignments are frighteningly on-target for a writer’s inner self. It’s scary how she can pick up the personal vibrations and tailor lessons accordingly. If she were a one-size-fits-all coach, it wouldn’t work for me. I have a BS radar in my head and she knows it. I don’t want to write about birds chirping, angry sunsets, or children running in slow motion over fields. I want to write about people who are selfish and even evil, and people who are not in control of their lives.

I’ve always had a problem with making sure there’s enough of the pizza pie in my life left for me. A slice for teaching, one for the condo board of directors, another for family responsibilities, one for doctors’ appointments, another for socializing with friends.

But now I can see that, as Milli puts it, I am blowing up a balloon which is taking more and more space in my life, pushing out the rest of the demands in a very natural way. It’s letting me make a decision without making a decision, so to speak. As I do more of what I’m doing here today, I have less time to do other non-Vicki stuff. I’m learning how to be selfish. For my writing.


RELATED TOPIC: Writer’s Muse Coaching Service


Vicki Lathom

Vicki Lathom

Vicki Lathom has been a writer and sailor for 40 years. She has been director of public information for Montgomery County, Md. and speechwriter for Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer. She is currently a writing instructor for two graduate schools at the University of Maryland. Vicki has done freelance travel writing and photography for such publications as SAIL and Maryland Magazine. She also writes for Milli’s travel blog; click here to read her stories on Milliver’s Travels.

2 Responses to Blowing Up the Writing Balloon
  1. j
    July 7, 2011 | 8:55 PM

    I’m a big fan of selfish. ;-)Your breakthrough (I have been know to gush) is wonderful. You’re playing! I think the playground is the best place to meet your muse. Write on!

  2. Joan Lambert Bailey
    July 8, 2011 | 6:25 PM

    That sounds amazing. I always think fiction is well out of my bounds, too. It appeals to me, but I’m not sure if I have a story to tell. Although, I sometimes suspect one if floating about there. Good for you!

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