Stephen King’s books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television series, and comic books. King has published 58 fictional novels, and six non-fiction books. In his (more rare) non-fiction book, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” he gives his best advice to would be writers.
I like his conversational and transparent style in this book, you learn more about his writing life and his own (sometimes severe) hurdles. He shares his genius and–as usual–is super funny, I laughed out loud and took many notes throughout my reading.
King’s own synopsis of this book is: “On Writing is both a textbook for writers and a memoir of Stephen’s life and will, thus, appeal even to those who are not aspiring writers. If you’ve always wondered what led Steve to become a writer and how he came to be the success he is today, this will answer those questions.”
Where does King’s genius originate in his writing? A writer friend of mine concludes that “he doesn’t know jack, that he writes intuitively and that can’t be transferred. He can only say, “This is how I write.” She says if you follow his advice, you will probably end up sounding a lot like Stephen King. I do agree that he is an extraordinary “gut-centered” writer, which my book discusses. But his other two creativity centers: His head and heart center are actively working too–creating striking intersections!
I happen to heartily disagree with my writer friend on the value of King’s advice. I get inspired by his book–it made me ponder exceptions to his rules, which I’ll highlight below. I ask writers out there–did you benefit from King’s writing instructions–or not?
Along with his writing rules, King chronicles his career as a writer (starting in grade school), which is wonderfully entertaining, scary and down to earth–just like his novels. His rules follow:
Rule #1: Don’t use passive voice Active voice is great if you want to produce a driving passage, filled with energy and momentum. This rule got me thinking… its not always true! What if we want to convey something else – mystery, suspense? Here is an example of passive voice:
“The body was hanging in the hall. It had been hung there some time in the night, when we were sleeping. As we made our way down to breakfast, we all stepped around it. Nobody looked up. We all knew who it was.”
If we use an active voice: “Somebody hung it in the night,” it doesn’t have the same feeling. The focus here is on the body. Using passive voice increases the tension and forces us to wonder, “Who hung it there?”
Stephen King’s Rule #2: Don’t use adverbs I agree with King that the overuse of adverbs (anything ending in -ly) is mostly annoying and unneccessary. I’m trying hard to avoid them in my own writing. However, sometimes an adverb can fulfill a purpose. Sometimes we need to describe how someone is performing an action, without a lengthy descriptive phrase.
“Gently, oh so gently, they lifted my body out of the river. They placed it on the bank and arranged my tattered clothing to cover what remained of my flesh. Then they stood around me, in perfect silence, their hats in their hands. If only they had shown me such respect when I was alive.”
This passage could have begun without “gently.” But the impact of the (dead) narrator’s voice would have been compromised, and the force of the final line would have been diminished.
Stephen King’s Rule #3: Don’t use a long word when you can use a short one English is a mashup of Germanic and Latin roots (among other things). The Germanic lexicon is agglomerative: get up, get down. Latin roots are inflected: ascend, descend. Academic writing favors Latin roots, while colloquial speech prefers the Germanic. If you want to sound like Hemingway, or Stephen King, stick to the Germanic roots. But, if you are after a more scholarly effect, go for the Latin.
In dialogue anything is permissible. Sometimes I do believe a five-dollar word can accomplish more than its one-syllable equivalent. Here is the last phrase of Camus’ The Stranger, taken from two different translations: Which version will you remember?
“… they greet me with cries of hate.”
“… they greet me with howls of execration.”
This example shows you can write anything, if you can pull it off. If you can’t, then like Kings says, don’t do it! Being able to do something successfully is what is important, not whether you follow “the rules”.
It is important to understand the difference between commercial and literary fiction, which can be subtle. In general, commercial fiction is formulaic, whereas literary fiction tends to experiment with form and style. Commercial fiction falls into genres – science fiction, chick lit, romance, etc. – whereas literary fiction may cross or blend genres, or depart from them entirely. Literary fiction also places greater value on the craft of writing, which is not to say that genre fiction does not, but in the case of literary fiction, the writing is front and center.
I get a big kick out of King’s editing style, he is a strict (former) English teacher: This example shows you CAN use hyphens, commas, etc. extensively AND use long sentences: “Writing did not save my life–Dr. David Brown’s skill and my wife’s loving care did that–but it has continued to do what is always has done: it makes my life a brighter and more pleasant place.
There are at least five big ideas that King shares: 1) Embrace rejection: He craved feedback from publishers who rejected him. He had a ‘growth mindset’, not a ‘fixed mind set’. Fail faster to succeed. 2) On muses: Show up every day, “work your ass off” you must clock in your time if you want your muse to show up 3) You must read and write–both!–a lot. He reads 70-80 books a year (only after he clocks in his own daily writing). 4) Jumper cable brain: Must learn to settle your brain down to write. To be truly creative we can only do one thing at a time (I explain the science behind this in my book), so turn your phone off and get into your writing cave! 5) He did not write one word of any of his books for money. (If there was one person he wanted to impress, that would only be his fellow-writer wife). He writes purely for the JOY of it, the money is only a by-product of his writing craft. He writes for the joy of creation!
I love this book and think you will too. What do you think about his rules and ideas? Where do you see exceptions?
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY America! We are celebrating a very special day–symbolic of US!
But did you know there are some other cool(!) FACTS about our unique day: Continental Congress actually approved the legal separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain on July 2. But it was on July 4 that the Declaration of Independence was officially signed in 1776.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence made July 4 our official independence day, but also the deaths of two of our founders cement it. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, former U. S. presidents, BOTH passed away on July 4th in the same year, 1826. They were bitter political enemies–until retirement, when they became close–writing each other more than 150 letters. Even more amazing is that both died by a difference of five hours and both knew that the other was on their deathbed. Their intimate and intellectual genuine friendship is an inspiration. We can move–upward and onward–beyond petty politics!
July 4 is also Liberation Day in Rwanda. The Rwandan Genocide ended this day in 1994 and birthed a new government. Heroes in Rwanda’s Patriotic Army overthrew the Hutu’s regime. This date also started their trajectory of success to the present day and beyond.
What do July 4th and Mount Everest have in common? Ever independent George Everest was born July 4th, 1790–after whom the world’s highest mountain is named. This is the mountain where so many are willing to die to climb to the peak, all in the name of adventure, discipline and accomplishment. Such wonder and breath-taking beauty!
What else is unusual about July 4th? The usual date of Earth’s “aphelion,” when our orbit is furthest from the sun is—you guessed it! –July 4. There is that mighty and symbolic independence again! See ‘ya later Sol…
Coincidentally, on July 4, 1862, Lewis Carroll told Alice Liddell a great story that would grow into Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.
It has been estimated that 150 million hot dogs will be eaten in the US in today’s celebrations. (I didn’t say we had healthy taste…)
The Bald Eagle, is the Symbol of our Nation. The American Bald Eagle gained immediate, unofficial recognition as our National bird when the Great Seal of the United States was adopted on June 20, 1782. Official designation of the massive bird that has a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet did not come for six more years.They are at the top of the food chain, with some species feeding on big prey like monkeys and sloths. Their amazing eyesight can detect prey up to two miles away. SO CHEERS TO US–JULY 4TH IS OUR AMAZING DAY, but also…
I’m sending lots of love out to (especially) the ladies of Rwanda, this is YOUR day too. Sending more independence, joy and success to all today!
Thank you for reading my post. My core message of everyone is creative resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursuing long term creative quests in my book and website.
The Tree diagram illustrates some of the contemplative practices currently in use in organizational and academic settings. Which of these practices (if any) help you with your creative process? Are you willing to try something new?
There are seven main branches: 1) Stillness, 2) generative, 3) creative, 4) activist, 5) relational, 6) movement, and 7) ritual.
Being a gut dominated person I am drawn towards the movement branch. My daily trail jogging/hiking with my dogs is deeply meditative for me. Being silent in nature allows me to not only visually rest but also to hear nature’s sounds, to take them into my own rhythm and well-being. And yes the dogs point to things I’d otherwise miss. They show me who has been there before us with their keen noses, mostly coyote, rabbit and deer but also bobcats and foxes.
On the generative branch are many helpful practices. I enjoy Lectio Divina because it allows me to engage all three of my centers of intelligence. Deep, contemplative reading is part of just about all traditions with written scriptures (head center). In the Christian tradition there is a contemplative reading known as lectio divina (“divine reading,” in Latin). Through a process of contemplative reading the words on the page become clearer and more meaningful. The idea is to bring greater understanding and connection, the opposite of superficial, quick reading.
In the third Century, the Christian scholar Origen said if you read in the right spirit, you will find the meaning “hidden from most people.” When St. Benedict compiled his rules for monasteries in the sixth century, he included reading as an important part of the monk’s day (at a time when personal reading was still relatively rare). He called them to deeply study, ponder, listen, and pray. To this day, The Rule of St. Benedict is the most common and influential rule used by monasteries and monks, more than 1,400 years after its writing.
In the 12th century, a Carthusian monk named Guigo, formalized four stages to the practice of Lectio Divina. He described four levels of meaning and four approaches to the text: lectio (reading and then understanding the text, head centered), meditatio (reflection and contextualizing the meaning, heart centered), oratio (listening within and living the meaning, gut centered), and contemplatio (being still, and meeting God in the text).
The approach allows one to first become keenly aware of what is on the page and then successively builds to greater and deeper meaning within (using our distinct three centers), until ultimately bringing us to personal connection and action. Each of these steps together form a process by which we encounter God in His sacred word and respond to His grace. They form parts of a larger whole, but each one comes with a certain set of skills for us to master. For me this practice brings creative inspiration as I receive God’s love and attention, which I accept through my faith in His word–“and leap to flame”.
One creative application (from a secular standpoint) of Lectio Divina is from David G. Haskell, Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at the University of the South, in his course on “Food and Hunger: Contemplation and Action,” introduces a modification for reading short essays on hunger and food in class. This participatory process of reading aloud around the room immerses students in the text so that “they’re swimming in it.”
In a circle of students, he reminds students to project their voices and assures them that it is all right to pass; in initial stages of group work, it is important that students feel comfortable. This provides a safe place that allows them to embrace fear rather than freeze or fight it.
The instructions for his exercise are as follows:
Sit quietly and relax our minds and bodies for one minute.
Read aloud, slowly, the entire text, each of us reading one or two sentences, “passing along” the reading to the left to the next reader.
One minute of silence and reflection.
One of us reads aloud the short passage that we have chosen in advance.
Another minute of silence and reflection.
We share a word or short phrase in response to the reading—just give voice to the word without explanation or discussion.
Another person reads the short passage again.
One minute of silence and reflection.
We share longer responses to the text—a sentence or two. We listen attentively to one another without correcting or disputing.
Another person reads the short passage one last time, followed by another minute of silence.
I’d love to hear from you readers, which of these practices (if any) help you with your creative process? Are you willing to try something new?
Did you know that asking yourself active questions instead of passive questions changes the focus of your answers? Active questions empower you to make changes you wouldn’t otherwise consider!
I learned about active questions from Marshall Goldsmith, an executive coach, who practices what he preaches. He teaches all of his clients and students this method of self-reflection for positive behavioral change. I am just beginning to practice this method and hope it will move me to where I need to be.
Six Questions that Set You Up to Be Super Successful:
1. Did I do my best to increase my happiness today? I can find happiness in the smallest things. These small things cumulatively add up for me. Today I watched a hummingbird at my feeder. He was so tired from his long Spring migration to my place that he sat and deeply drank for a long time without moving his wings. Usually hummingbirds beat their wings at 10-15 times per second… but not this guy. I felt oddly bonded to him as I quietly watched. Another small thing: I love to grow plants in water on my window sills in clear jars and see the roots sprout and grow every day. Who knows why, but it gives me great pleasure–from succulents to tropical plants to herbs.
2. Did I do my best to find meaning today? What is meaningful for you? One thing I know for sure is that Despair = Suffering – Meaning. Viktor Frankl says in his book Man’s Search for Meaning that if people suffer but see meaning in their life, than even in their suffering, they do not despair. He himself did not despair in Auschwitz, he survived–even thrived–writing a book on scraps of paper he collected. He said, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” For Frankl and for the rest of us–he who has a WHY can bear any HOW. Your true Purpose= Suffering (very likely) + Meaning. Below is a UTube with rare footage of Frankl:
3. Did I do my best to be fully engaged today? This can be a tough one. If you are like me, sometimes I just can’t get into gear. I have to ask myself–why? I talk a lot about this in my book, I must first identify where my active resistance–with a capital R!–is coming from? Is it coming from my heart, emotionally resistant? Or is it coming from my head, with its inner critic? Or is it coming from my gut? Once I’ve identified where my resistance is coming from then I can move to rectify it… OK you inner critic, I CAN do this and I’ve done it before, so lay off already, I know what you are up to!
Sometimes its just a matter of physically REMOVING ALL DISTRACTIONS for me. I am NOT strong enough, so I close up my e-mail app until the next morning or I don’t turn the TV on to watch Netflix tonight or I set other rules. One thing I know for sure: Without rules distractions RULE!
4. Did I do my best to build positive relationships today? And are they the right people I need to connect with today? It is said that I am the average of the 5 people that I spend my time with… I don’t know how true this is… but I do know that negative people really drain me of focus and energy. I also know that I need to hang out with other writers and read diverse works to improve my own motivation for writing.
5. Did I do my best to set clear goals today? It is true that if we don’t commit to something–then we will likely be distracted by everything. I have to ask myself–am I doing the right thing or am I just doing what is easy for me? There are different categories of goals; some are easier for us and some are harder. Career building social media tasks are easier for me to do than public service volunteering, which is one goal currently that I intentionally want to do better at.
What if you aren’t sure about what your goals are? I suggest meditating on it: Start with your head, get it de-cluttered, and quietly ask it–what does it want? Move down to your heart, sincerely ask it what will make it happy and fulfilled? Then move down to your mighty gut and ask it–intuitively–where should you start? What should you do next as a priority?
6. Did I do my best to make progress toward goal achievement? This obviously ties directly into question 5. As human beings we must be doing something that we view as truly meaningful in order to have any emotional satisfaction (heart oriented). Reading all the major paper headlines might fulfill our daily “head” knowledge but it will never fulfill our “meaning” needs. Making some kind of progress daily on our goals (however minute!) is the single most important thing we can do to feel good about ourselves.
I am challenging myself to ask these questions to my head, heart and gut–distinctively– everyday. Would you like to join me in this challenge? How about trying this for 2 weeks and seeing how it works–or does not work–for you? Please feel free to modify the questions so that they work for you. I’d love to hear from you on how this is going!
I’m working to SQUASH my negative thinking patterns. More than ever before– I am going to fight them off! OK, I concede there is no way I can exterminate them completely because they are AUTOMATIC. Renowned brain disorder psychiatrist, Dr Amen coined the word ANTS for them, Automatic Negative Thoughts in his book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. He describes them as “the little voices that pop into your head and tell you you’re not good enough, not thin enough, a rubbish daughter, mother, worker.” A few ANTS, he says, can be managed. But he warns to watch out for ANT-infestations — when hundreds of negative thoughts start to take over. Has this ever happened to you?
It has happened to me. Like when I eat one of those incredible Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups and wow, it blows me away… so I eat one more… then just one more. Then I think, well I’ve blown my low sugar allotment for today so I may as well finish off the bag… I can never do this low sugar diet thing anyway… I just don’t have the discipline or will power or whatever it takes… (more negative thoughts)… no wonder I’m a failure in certain areas of my life, like being blocked in my creative work right now… and on and on…
Here are some examples of typical ANTs (automatic negative thoughts):
“You never listen to me.”
“Just because we had a good year in business doesn’t mean anything.”
“You don’t like me.”
“This situation is not going to work out. I know something bad will happen.”
“You are an arrogant know-it-all.”
“I should have done much better. I’m a failure.”
“Its too late for me.”
“I wish I was creative.”
“It’s your fault.”
These thoughts severely limit our creative powers. The answer, Dr. Amen says, lies in simple ANT-eater techniques that stop the bugs in their tracks. “Your brain is a powerful organ,” he says. “If you see yourself as fat, old, wrinkled or forgetful, you boost production of the stress hormone which affects your health, your weight and your mind… Negative thoughts can make negative things happen.”
Why should I/we care about creating our own personal ANT eaters? Because we know our NEGATIVE THOUGHTS un-monitored lead to NEGATIVE CHOICES, which lead to NEGATIVE HABITS and our habits determine our CHARACTER, which becomes our DESTINY. Oh no(!), fat, old and uncreative we think… NOT! How do I/we stop this nonsense?! My ants invade my mind like ants at a picnic. They arrive suddenly, are unwanted, uninvited, stinging ugly sticklers that don’t leave unless I intentionally force them out!
It helps to understand there are at least nine categories of negative thoughts.There are nine different ways our thoughts lie to us and make situations seem worse than they are, listed below. Our first step is to identify—NAME– the type of ANT, and by doing this we begin to take away its power.
Which of these nine show up most in your thinking?
“Always/never” thinking: thinking in words like always, never, no one, everyone, every time, everything.
Focusing on the negative: seeing only the bad in a situation
Fortune-telling: predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation
Mind reading: believing that you know what others are thinking, even though they haven’t told you
Thinking with your feelings: believing negative feelings without ever questioning them
Guilt beating: thinking in words like should, must, ought, or have to
Labeling: attaching a negative label to yourself or to someone else
Personalizing: investing innocuous events with personal meaning
Blaming: blaming someone else for your own problems — a red ant, it is very poisonous!
I’ll be honest and share that patterns 7 and 8 are ‘stinkin’ thinking’ ANTs for me. I use the 5 A’sof awareness, acceptance, appreciation, action, and adherence (discussed in my newly published book) to squash these suckers. My stinkin’ thoughts must be noticed, captured and accepted as real before I can take action and replace them with more realistic positive thoughts and choices.
If I don’t deal with my ANTS in real time the result is the 5 D’s—depressed, despair, dissed, de-energized and deflated. I need SOS in real time– stop, observe and shift techniques. If I’ve allowed a genuine infestation to occur, then worse, I become devastated and immobile.
Its no wonder these mind attackers don’t go away– but must be managed. Some truly frightening scientific facts about antsinclude: they are as old as dinosaurs, have already survived a mass extinction event, have conquered almost the entire globe, their total population make our 7 billion look weak, they can exceed two inches in length (!), they have a hive mind (a killer!) and they actually practice slavery. It is true—they commonly raid neighboring colonies and steal eggs or larvae in a practice known as “dulosis.” Their forcibly acquired young are then either eaten or put to work.
In our never-ending ANT battles, our redemption lies in building our own arsenal of ANT-eater solutions. I will not be captured automatically as a slave to my own ANT’s! I will fight them and kill them—this is my choice!
I invite you to share how you feed your anteaters? Onward and upward brave soldiers—together lets KILL our ANTS, lets revolt together!
Thank you for reading my post. I am an organizational and business consultant living in the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico with my husband and dogs. I enjoy hiking and high desert gardening. My core message of everyone is creative resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests.
Do images of hang gliding or dying on Mount Everest come to mind? Does it mean an activity where one false move can mean death for you? The truth is risk doesn’t need to involve danger. Risk can also be defined as the intentional interaction with uncertainty. “Uncertainty is a potential, unpredictable, unmeasurable and uncontrollable outcome; risk is a consequence of action taken in spite of uncertainty” says Wikipedia. Risk can be defined as “activities with uncertain outcomes.”
The ability to take calculated risks is an essential human trait, crucial to our development. Our risk-taking ancestors were the successful survivors who took chances to adapt to their changing environment. And today, the same principle applies, “To grow, we need to experience challenges — whether we’re 4, 14, or 40” says psychologist Michael Ungar. I’d add–until our dying breath.
Facing things that make us uncomfortable has advantages, whether we succeed or fail: we become more emotionally resilient, confident, satisfied, and engaged with life. We don’t have to parachute from a plane (thank God!) to reap the benefits of taking risks. Choosing to be creative everyday means taking some risk. Any time we pay attention to areas of our life that feel challenging, lacking or intriguing to us– we can choose to take some risk. Whether that means being open to the universe to find a new mate after a divorce or to change our artistic medium in order to better express ourselves on an easel. We embrace the adventure of uncertainty. “Do one thing every day that scares you,” Eleanor Roosevelt said.
Will taking a risk cause anxiety? Yes!
Researcher Hans Selye found there are actually two kinds of stress: Distress is a negative stress and eustress is a positive stress. “Eustress,” or healthy anxiety motivates or focuses our energy. Healthy anxiety is “just right” anxiety; the kind we need to be creative. Too much anxiety becomes toxic to our performance, paralyzing it. Too little anxiety is toxic as well, as it puts us in an “I’m bored” state. So the level of risk we choose to take should include “just right” anxiety for us. This will look different for you than it does for me, but for both of us, it will involve a “stretch” from our head, heart or gut center (or all three).
Pioneer Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard explains in his 1844 treatise that anxiety is the dizzying effect of freedom, of paralyzing possibility, of the boundlessness of one’s own existence. He writes, “Anxiety is altogether different from fear and similar concepts that refer to something definite, whereas anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility.”
We intuitively know that our best learning occurs just beyond our comfort zone from our heart, head or gut perspective. That’s what happened to me when I left my corporate job after 19 years. I had to take a big risk, relinquish the golden handcuffs, and take a leap of faith into the deep unknown. Through the process I discovered more passions: living off the grid in the mountains, building a rustic cabin, trail running on old mining paths and meeting my soul mate whom I would marry. There is always a sense of satisfaction that emerges from trying something entirely new and proving ourselves to be capable of the task. Creativity is born!
Perhaps the coolest benefit of taking a risk is that it’s simply fun. Neuroscientists explain this bliss with biochemistry: New, challenging, and risky activities trigger the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that’s part of the brain’s reward system. Call risk taking the ultimate antidote to boredom. It’s the best way (I am aware of) to wake up and feel fully alive. We can have a say in our destiny—by taking a risk– versus being dominated by our circumstances. Indeed every chance we take teaches us something about ourselves and leads us mysteriously along our long term creative path.
If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done. As Vincent van Gogh said,“People are often unable to do anything, imprisoned as they are in I don’t know what kind of terrible, terrible, oh such terrible cage.”
Any risks you’ve taken you’d like to share– that reaped you creative benefits? Was the risk from a head, heart or gut perspective? Happy risk taking.
Thank you for reading my post. My core message of everyone is creative resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests.
Read more in my book and my website: The Three Sources of Creativity: Breakthroughs from Your Head, Heart and Gut.
Wolfgang, my husband, and I were sitting in the Atlanta airport on Sept. 1 waiting for our flight to St. Maarten with boarding passes in hand. I decided– last minute–to go to weather.com to check on that tropical storm that was brewing in the Atlantic Ocean. We had left our home in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Thursday in order to arrive on Friday. We were beyond excited: A three-week vacation snorkeling in those turquoise waters was going to be paradise. We were in tropical heaven thinking about it until I pulled up that website. “Honey, look the tropical storm is now a hurricane and it is headed right for the islands! Look! Look!” I said. I had the most terrible feeling in my gut… all the bells and whistles were going off, ‘oh no don’t get on that plane!’
St Maarten relative to other Leeward Islands. Island is split between the French and Dutch side. We were on Dutch side.
Wolfgang responded that the flight is totally booked and there is a long stand-by list of people waiting to get on. Do we really want to bail now—now that we are getting ready to board? We had minutes to make a decision and decided to board. Could all these people be wrong? Rationality settled in and the bells and whistles in my gut were put aside. We can deal with this when we get there.
Simpson Bay resort pre-Hurricane Irma
Next we are sitting in our gorgeous timeshare room on the 7th floor at the Simpson Bay resort– located on the Dutch side of the island–when an email popped up from our timeshare exchange group. They wrote if we wanted to cancel our trip to the Caribbean due to the pending weather we could. This was Friday afternoon and official check-in was tomorrow. How could they be sending this option to us so late??
Wolfgang: Snorkeling is our favorite activity on the island
I quickly e-mailed my nephew Justin, a certified meteorologist, asking him for his advice on the likelihood that Irma would hit us. Should we get off the island pronto? We heard back from Justin who said it would likely skirt us, making a northeast turn. However, he said we’ll get category 4 or 5 winds and he personally would not take the risk.
From this point forward the rest of our time on the island was spent trying to find a flight off the island. Everything was booked and overbooked. Everyone was trying to avoid this monster storm, regardless if it was only going to ‘skirt’ us. We wanted out! But there was no getting off the island. Not enough flights and too many people wanting out. We told our families the news, we would have to ride out this storm, please pray for us.
Up to Tuesday all of our time was spent preparing for Irma. We knew we would loose power and water. We had enough food and bottled water for 3 weeks. We went to multiple grocery stores to stock up even more. We noticed on the French side they were boarding up absolutely everything: They were not taking any chances. They suffered the brunt of the last hurricane, Luis, a category 4, which struck in 1995. Nine had been killed and it devastated the island’s economy. Irma looked a lot like Luis they thought… Even more eerie, Irma was due to hit St. Martin/Maarten on the same day–Sept 6–when Luis had hit. The irony of it was surreal!
Luis path in 1995 devastated St Maarten/Martin
The last item we wanted– and searched endlessly for– was duct tape for our windows. Wow, we had a lot of glass in our room, extensive sliding glass doors in both the living room and bedroom. If they were to break, at least the tape would prevent shattering shards (we thought).
It was odd to us that none of the locals we spoke to wanted to discuss the hurricane… they would say, “no, no– no hurricane,” and put their finger to their lips saying ssshhh. It was bad luck for them to speak about it, to give it a place in reality… if they did it might become a reality. “I think we will get lucky but I will prepare anyway,” was a common response.
On Tuesday we received the latest Irma report from Justin. It helped to know what kind of wind speeds we’d have to endure at what times of the evening. It was clear to him (after reviewing all the models) that the worst would hit between 3-4:30 AM Wednesday morning (BTW, he nailed everything). We would brace ourselves for this. After living in Houston I had experienced a few hurricanes already and knew the bathroom was safest. No windows. We moved two outside lounge chairs into the bathroom to use when the time came.
We went to bed Tuesday evening around 10 pm thinking we could get a few hours sleep before the worst of Irma. There were no shudders on any windows so we had moved furniture in front of our sliding glass doors and pulled the curtains tightly shut. In the living room we pulled out the murphy beds and pushed the mattresses against the windows and piled more furniture against them.
We had met with our suitemate, Nina, earlier from the adjoining room. We unlocked our adjoining door and made a pact to weather the storm together. Whoever’s room survived the best, we would move there during the storm if needed. I advised Nina to stay in her bathroom through the worst of it. We taped her sliding glass doors and moved furniture in front of them as well. The three of us were prepared as best we could be. It helped to know that our resort was considered a shelter for the island, it was a cement building with 8 floors. Locals had flocked here and checked into our resort before the storm.
Nina, our new friend, came alone to SXM. She helps get the homeless off the streets in New Jersey.
About midnight I moved from our bedroom into the bathroom. The wind had become really loud and kept flinging the huge potted palm tree that was next door on the balcony against our bedroom wall. Wow, was it loud! Wolfgang moved into the bathroom a little later, he made some coffee and grabbed his book. The rest of our story becomes terrifying… absolutely terrifying.
Water first started coming into our living room, a lot of water, then our bedroom and bathroom. Wolfgang started using our beach towels to try to soak it up… when POP part of the sliding glass door blew out in the living room. This set up a horrific domino effect: The pressure instantaneously caused the front door frame to break and then worse… the bathroom door to break open. We were using all our might to close that outer bathroom door, which was impossible until Wolfgang jammed the lawn chair under the door and into the wall. But it still wouldn’t stay shut! I moved into the toilet room, which had a separate door. Wolfgang stayed in the outer bathroom holding the door shut with all his strength. He could not completely shut this door for the rest of the storm.
It is now around 4 AM and I’m sitting in the bathtub with a big pillow in front of me— the ceiling tiles were flying everywhere. The whole room is shaking, especially the ceiling, is shaking madly. It felt like an earthquake. Would this cement building really stand up through this? Would that ceiling come down? The toilet door was now jiggling open! Luckily we had filled all of our garbage cans with pool water before the storm and put them in the bathroom so we could flush our toilet when we lost power. I used all my strength to shove those garbage cans in front of that door to help keep it shut.
Meanwhile Wolfgang is still in the outer part of bathroom holding the door shut. Irma is SO LOUD, beyond loud—she sounds like a vicious fire-breathing dragon, relentlessly (for three hours) furling bands of 185 mph tornado winds at us. Yes I could feel those awful bands, they had a crazy rhythm to them. I kept yelling as loud as I could to Wolfgang—are you OK? My yells were no match to Irma. I could not even hear them myself, let alone Wolfgang! Mysteriously I felt a calm sitting there, my body was not shaking and it should have been! The grace of God was with me. I prayed now hard, really hard, please… allow the eye to come so this tornado dragon can let up just enough to escape somewhere else. It’s hard to say how long that took, but it did. The winds calmed just enough that I could crack my door to see that Wolfgang was fine and still holding the door shut with his muscles and the lawn chair.
Thankfully, the eye of the storm had finally arrived (and no there was not complete calm, it was still plenty windy). Nina came running from her room into ours. She had heard really loud noises from our room and was so relieved we were OK. We all had water in all of our rooms. However, her doors and windows were still in tact. We made plans to ride out the second half of Irma in her bathroom. With pillows, blankets, chairs in place, we heard a loud knock at the door— Joseph from the resort was yelling—“mandatory evacuation, mandatory evacuation!” We followed him to the third floor marketing room – “the safest room in the building,” he said.
As we evacuated we saw four older and frail looking women crawling down the hillside–fleeing from the other buildings across from us: One had a cane, one had a dog carrier. They looked pitifully vulnerable… how would they make it down that steep hillside with all that debris? They had no choice. All of the roofs of their buildings had been blown off. Miraculously they did make it! There was probably one-two hundred of us huddled together in that marketing room…relieved to be alive so far. Many of us joined hands and prayed, “Lord you got us through the first half of this storm, please bring us through the second half.” Joseph had risked his own life during the eye interlude and evacuated all of us. Thank God for Joseph, truly our angel!
We huddled in that room, our sanctuary, and waited for the second half of the storm to pass. We could see huge chunks of cars and other debris flying by us through the glass doors. We could hear the wind as Irma picked up again, but I felt so much safer being on the third floor! Our room was on the 7th floor and located at the end of the villas building. We could feel the entire building shake at this level… by both the sustained winds and 200 + mph gusts!
Our room: Sliding glass door broke open, all door frames broke
Gratefully the second half of Irma was not as long in duration as the first half. However, for most, it was even more damaging. When we were finally released from the third floor, we returned to our rooms. Our front door was blown wide open, frame broken, and another glass door from the stairwell was sitting at our doorstep. Our Murphy bed mattresses were blown onto our balcony and there was debris and glass everywhere. I picked up a seven of diamonds playing card that had blown in from the resort casino. I took this as a good sign, seven is my lucky number. We crawled onto our wet bed and slept for several hours, unable to keep our eyes open due to sheer exhaustion.
Our room: Stairwell glass door blown to our front door
When we awoke we promptly began cleaning up: Wolfgang handled all the large glass pieces with my diving gloves, Nina and I swept and swept the water and debris out. The largest debris went on top of all the glass pieces outside —at the end of the building away from our rooms.
We persevered to get the clean up done as soon as possible because we had already heard another hurricane was coming—Jose. Now I must say this was very disheartening—really, another hurricane is coming, you’ve got to be kidding!? We had barely survived Irma, many guests had stuffed 30 people into their shower stalls, our rooms and buildings were destroyed and we felt exhausted and helpless. I could not even make up a story like this!
Most of the cars were destroyed/thrown about at resort
All communication was down, because the airport was significantly damaged, and most of the cars in the resort were strewn and destroyed… big pile-ups everywhere. Roofs and windows and doors were blown out in many buildings. The resort looked nuclear. The trees looked like match sticks. No water and no power. We thought, even if the airport got fixed in time to evacuate us for the next hurricane, how would they remove all the upside down cars and debris to clear the roads in order to drive to the airport? It looked worse than any movie I had ever seen. And the looting had already begun—yes, this was Irma-geddon.
As we began preparing for the next hurricane, Jose, we knew it was going to be really tough. There was not enough personnel at the resort to clean up all the debris. The limited personnel left had other priorities (pursuing ways to get us food, water and out). It became clear that nothing would be cleaned up or moved out… that regardless if the winds of Jose were less, we were severely compromised and vulnerable. This is the time period when pure chaos broke out at our resort and the whole island.
(Please note I said “Irene” instead of Irma in one video and Hurricane “Joseph” instead of Jose, due to being dumbfounded by what I saw!)
Looters were walking around with flat screen TV’s and the high-end jewelry stores in downtown Philipsburg had all been robbed. The jail on the Dutch side had been demolished so criminals were free and robbing forcefully. The Dutch military finally arrived with machine guns on Friday, Sept. 8 to help restore order.
We felt relieved when the military arrived two days later, but it was too few and too late for many. Our resort had responded compassionately and taken in locals before and after the storm. Unfortunately, they made a big mistake: They did not segregate the “guests” into one area of the resort apart from locals. Most of the locals were legitimate evacuees and brought their entire families and babies because their homes were destroyed. But unfortunately some bad ones (looters!) got in too. For example, a neighbor in the villa building returned to his room to find that his room safe had been drilled open and his $2400 was stolen.
It was terrifying to know that bad guys were now living among us at the resort—and there was no way of weeding them out. They were holding guests up at knifepoint for money. Wolfgang, my awesome man, dragged a huge pole into our room and was prepared to use it as a weapon if he had to. Our doors were broken and there was no other way to secure our room. One of the three of us always stayed in our room at all times to keep vigil. There were meetings to go to in the lobby and garbage cans of water to haul up seven flights of stairs– in order to flush our toilets–we became a determined survival team.
The resort did their best to give us updates at these meetings, however they were chaotic and we could not hear most of what was being said, most of the time. There were hundreds of people crammed in the lobby and there were no megaphones. The resort also tried to pass out free meals but we always seemed to miss out on these… the food was gone by the time we arrived. We observed aggressive outsiders wanting more than their share and the distributing food volunteers felt too vulnerable not to give them what they wanted.
Our evacuation from the resort to the airport was random and mysterious. We were told planes were coming Saturday morning but with little explanation about who or where they were coming from, or where they’d take us? How would we be selected for evacuation? By building or floors? Or alphabetical name order? Communication was ambiguous, we were only told that American planes were coming and that children and people with medical issues would be given priority.
Fortunately, Nina was one of the first to make it out. She had a medical condition and left the room about 4:30 AM on Saturday morning. At 6 AM Wolfgang went to the lobby to check in and discovered there were shuttles taking Americans to the airport. Our names were listed for the sixth shuttle. No one had alerted us or knocked on our door, consequently we had about 5 minutes to get back to the lobby with one small carry on allowed only.
When we finally arrived to the airport we gasped because of the long winding lines. The Dutch military were running the show in an orderly and professional manner, calling out certain names to come forward. We still had no idea what was going on until we saw the U.S. Air force cargo planes arrive—OH MY GOD, FOR US! We were eventually going to be evacuated by one of those planes! We learned the Dutch and French had evacuated first in their own planes and that Americans were given the next priority. It was good to see how well the Dutch and American military groups worked together. We were told the plan was for all Americans to be evacuated from the island, what a huge relief!
Me in green: Evacuation onto U.S. Air Force plane
We were fortunate to be in one of the first groupings of approximately 1000 Americans to get out. (There were 6100 Americans stranded on St Maarten/Martin.) We thank God for our military! The cargo plane (from Kentucky) that lifted us out was the smoothest flight I have ever experienced. It felt like a dream that we all were sitting in jump seats and being swooped to safety by the highly capable U.S. Air force!
Wolfgang and I happy to be in Jump seats: Evacuation by U.S. Air Force cargo plane
We were evacuated to Puerto Rico, arriving about 12:30 PM on Saturday. There were no flights available that day or for 5 more days to bring us back home. The airport was heavily backlogged with customers due to its forced closure during Irma. Additionally, most evacuees from the islands were evacuated here, along with others from Florida. We were then bused to different hotels where everyone stayed until they could find available flights out. We were so grateful to be on American soil again that the wait didn’t matter—we were with caring and helpful Puerto Rican people. The tourism department even gave us an armed escort to our hotel!
Recovery soup in Puerto Rico
We returned home to beautiful New Mexico on Wednesday afternoon, September 13. A stunning rainbow welcomed us as we drove up our mountain. A rainbow of hope, we had finally made it home! Irma was an experience that will forever be engraved on our souls.
What were the key things I learned?First, my faith is stronger than ever. There is no doubt in my mind that our Creator God protected us through this storm. I understood there would be mass destruction and only prayed that lives would be spared. Lives were graciously spared. If you witnessed the nuclear destruction–you would be in awe over this fact too. It is simply a miracle that we are here relaying our story.
Second, none of the Leeward Islands could have been truly prepared for Irma. She was not so much a hurricane as she was a gigantic tornado cycloning over us for six solid hours. She hit everyone, rich or poor, French, Dutch, and American or otherwise, there was no one who escaped her wrath. We need to learn to listen to our instincts, our guts, when they “go off” on us. Our guts are our oldest brain and know how to help us survive.
Fortunately for most tourists, we returned back to intact homes. The people of St. Maarten/Martin did not. They risked their lives to help us through this disaster and have destroyed homes, businesses and are without jobs to earn a living for their families. We will help in every way we can: One way is the Simpson Bay employee fund where 100% of funds are donated to rebuilding their homes (starting with the worst hit), a crowdfunding site will donate 100% to St. Maarten Red Cross: https://www.gofundme.com/sint-maarten-disaster-relief-rebuild-fund. Another active group is: Samaritans Purse.
Third, the ocean is angry, and I do mean really angry with us. We experienced this firsthand. Our oceans are living organisms—as was Irma—and they are not done. They are fighting back! We have not been the good stewards of our planet Earth that we were intended to be. When will we learn to accept that all living organisms are connected on our planet?
The butterfly effect is a concept that states “small causes can have larger effects”. The concept originated in weather prediction, but now is widely used in Physics. Can something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing really cause a typhoon halfway around the world? We saw this concept play out with Irma: We knew our destiny on the island and the path of Irma was determined by the Bermuda high, which acts like a traffic cop for the North Atlantic Ocean. Would it shrink or grow? In Irma’s case it grew and that meant no skirting around the high with a Northern turn. Tiny wobbles of the high made a huge difference throughout her path. In Jose’s case it shrunk –due to cold air in Greenland—and ultimately turned north avoiding the islands. Everything, every wobble, is connected on our planet.
We can become better people and better stewards. I do not believe it is too late to start now. Small shifts in our thinking and how we spend our energy, can lead to massive alterations in our end results. Please, can we start together now?
Last, Wolfgang and I are eternally grateful for all of our family and friends prayers and huge support during this tragedy. We could feel them and they saved us, we love you all!
UPDATE TO POST: Undamaged rooms at Simpson Bay are being rented to electricity plant and construction workers and 150 military personnel. They still do not have water or electricity on the island due to additional damage by Hurricane Maria’s flooding. All rooms in resort were filled with water once again. Rooms are in urgent need for recovery work, so a dedicated small group of managers is staying behind to clean and make rooms available.
No wonder communication has gone South! This info-graphic, Talking a different language explains it: Baby-boomers want a cell phone call, Generation X-ers want an email, and Generation Y&Z/Millennials want a text message (or Snapchat).
If you don’t think Millennials are important–think again! The term “Millennials” was coined in 1987, around the time children born in 1982 were entering preschool, and the media identified their prospective link to the “new millennium” as the high school graduating class of 2000.
More than one-in-three American workers today are Millennials (adults ages 18 to 34 in 2015), and this year they surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce, according to new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Ignore their future growth momentum at your peril!
I’m not sure why there is not a special category for the Great Depression era survivors (like my mom). A call will not do–no way!–they want to see the whites of your eyes and make bodily contact (i.e. a kiss, big hugs, hold your hand and sit with you for awhile). Whatever happened to eye contact, kisses and big hugs as communication anyway?
With much of the world in political chaos, some people are worried about going through another economic and/or security crisis… lets hope that does not happen. Is that what it would take for big hugs to be popular again?
Have we lost our intuitive knack for effective communication? Let us observe how the animal world communicates–are they better at it?
My sincere message is: Don’t leave anyone out of your group communications (especially mom and grandparents)!! What do you think, are we getting better or worse at effective communication?
Thanks for reading my post. I a writer and consultant living in the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico with my husband and dogs. My core message of everyone is creative resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become the best version of themselves in my book and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests.
This is a great video of Stephen King and George R. R. Martin interviewing each otherthat you simply must check out. They are two iconic authors of our time and have opposite writing styles. The first video is the interview in full, the second one is a short clip of a dumbfounded GRRM asking King, “How do you write so fast?”
King has published 54 novels and six non-fiction books andhas written nearly 200 short stories. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine. His novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was the basis for the movie The Shawshank Redemption which is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time–it is one of my all time favorites.
The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for 7 Oscars in 1995
George R. R. Martin is best known for his international bestselling series of epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, which was later adapted into the wildly popular HBO dramatic series Game of Thrones. Martin has been called “the American Tolkien”and Time Magazine named him one of the “2011 Time 100,” a list of the “most influential people in the world.” GRRM (as he is known) lives in my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico– we are blessed by his very generous community presence and participation! He helped fund the successful Meow Wolf–an arts production company born in Santa Fe, New Mexico that has spread to Denver and Las Vegas.
Example of “live” Meow Wolf art installment in Santa Fe, NM
These two authors have opposite writing styles: King writes several books a year and Martin infuriates his fans due to his slow writing pace. This leads Martin asking King a question he’s always wanted to know regarding his writing process.
It’s a great example of how there is not one writing style that works: On one end of the spectrum some authors work freely–“organically,” and on the other end–other authors structure detailed outlines (skeletons) that they follow and add dramatic meat to (like James Patterson).
Enjoy the highly entertaining conversation between these two funny characters: At nearly an hour-long, this spontaneous and friendly interview dives into the details of both author’s writing crafts. The two discuss each others work, aspects of their personal life, writing interests and more. Warning: there is profanity.
Which of these two authors do you more resonate with and why? Please do share your thoughts about their interesting discussion.
Thank you for reading my post. My core message of ‘everyone is creative’ resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become–the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests–in my recent book and website.
Do you love top 10 lists? I find them hard to resist on topics I’m passionate about. Today I have chosen three videos of top 10 rules from three iconic writers: Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Maya Angelou.
Every time I watch Stephen King “live” I find myself laughing out loud–really loud!–the writer comes off as an extroverted stand up comedian. King needs little introduction, he is an American author of contemporary horror, science fiction, and fantasy and has sold more than 350 million copies. A favorite King quote of mine is:
Stephen King’s Top 10 Rules For Success: Be sure not to miss #10!
Ms Rowling is a British superstar novelist and best known as the author of the unprecedented Harry Potter fantasy series. The books have gained worldwide attention, won multiple awards, and sold more than 400 million copies. In 2004, Forbes named her as the first person to become a billionaire by writing books! A favorite Rowling quote of mine is:
J.K. Rowling’s Top 10 Rules For Success: Don’t miss her #4 insight!
Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She’s best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. For me she pierces the heart with her words–always poetic–and so inspiring they sweep me away. I simply adore Maya Angelou! My favorite quote of Maya’s:
Be sure not to miss #10 of this Maya Angelou video!
I thankEvan Carmichael for making these useful and heart-felt video collages. Its simply amazing what you can find on the internet–from creative people for free–for inspiration!
Thank you for reading my post. My core message of ‘everyone is creative’ resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become–the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests–in my recent book and website.