A regular dad. A rare brain disease. A chance to live forever.
Welcome to one of the August 29th stops on the blog tour for Bedtime Stories for the Living by Jay Armstrong with Goddess Fish Promotions. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for spotlights, reviews, author guest posts, and a giveaway! More on that at the end of this post.
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Author Guest Post
18 notes on writing from a high school English teacher turned award-winning author:
1. There are two types of writing: private and public. Private writing is for your eyes only like journals, diaries, and memos on your phone. Public writing is meant to be read by a reader. It includes blogs, emails, novels, or an angry letter to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The point of public writing is to connect to the reader. A public writer must be selfless. A public writer must attempt to identify, visualize, and connect to their private reader.
2. The first draft is always for the writer. Every other draft after is for the reader.
3. Good writing is vulnerable writing. Let your reader hear the things they’re reluctant to say out loud.
4. Young writers often think long sentences mark good writing. Silly. Short sentences show poise and control. They are easily digestible and appreciated by the reader.
5. However, long sentences are sometimes needed to vary the rhythm of a piece, convey a complicated feeling or to show action. The 142-word first sentence in Tim O’Brien’s “The Man I Killed” taught me more about writing than four years of college.
6. Get comfortable with contradictions. Humans are contradictory creatures. We value privacy yet we post our lives on the internet. We want to know other people’s secrets yet fear being exposed. We want to hold on but we yearn to let go. The point is, contradictions are the hub of human conflict. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you want to develop characters who—like you and I—are struggling with their own contradictions.
7. Include natural imagery in your writing. As you or your characters live life, gravity pulls, the world turns. Juxtaposing human strife with the grand yet indifferent natural world will stir your reader’s imagination and offer them comfort. Because while they are reading your writing, nature is outside their window doing its thing.
8. Include sensory imagery in your writing. Readers want their senses tickled. Describing how something smells, tastes, feels, or sounds helps the reader further appreciate and experience your writing.
9. When you doubt yourself as a writer, take a deep breath, and repeat, “I am a writer” as many times as you need to drive self-doubt away. Also, know that self-doubt never goes away. You can only hope to exile self-doubt to the time-out corner for a brief period. A good rule is one minute of time-out for every year of the writer. For example, a forty-year-old writer should hope to keep self-doubt in time-out for forty minutes.
10. Young writers often measure their writing ability by scores or teacher evaluations. This is a trap, especially if you earn high marks. A good writer knows writing will never be completely mastered.
11.Do not capitalize, concern yourself with punctuation, grammar, or consider proper writing etiquette when writing a first draft. Save this tedium for the second and third drafts.
12. Have enough confidence to write a poor first draft and enough guts to write a second.
13. Write with humor. Remind your reader laughter is essential for survival.
14. The pursuit of perfection leads to procrastination. You or your writing won’t be perfect. Get used to it.
15. Start walking. This will help clear your mind and allow for writing breakthroughs you can’t achieve while sitting at a computer. Also, walking is a fine metaphor for writing. Go at your own pace, breathe, be patient, and take one step at a time.
16. When you’re ready—buy, read, and study the following four books on writing: Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Once you finish reading, go write. Reading about writing is helpful, but only the act of writing will make you a better writer.
17. A story is only as interesting as its conflict.
18. 95% of writing is overcoming these four words, “I can’t do this.” Heck, 95% of life is overcoming those four words. You may wonder what the remaining 5 % is. I don’t know. I think it’s for us to figure out on our own.
About the Book
Bedtime Stories for the Living: A Memoir
by Jay Armstrong
Published 3 December 2021
Write On Fight On LLC
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Page Count: 290
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
Diagnosed with a progressive brain disease, a young father is determined to teach his children the importance of pursuing their dreams.
A cell phone’s ring interrupts the silence as Jay Armstrong sits in his high school classroom preparing for the year ahead. Something about the ring makes his stomach drop. It’s his doctor.
The words, “diffuse cerebellar atrophy, a rare, degenerative brain disease” float through the speaker. All of Jay’s youthful dreams of being a writer rush back, flooding the twenty years he has spent teaching students how to appreciate novels, memoirs, and poetry. The care he put into teaching them how to write with clarity, insight, and humor, and how to dance at the prom. The bedtime stories he never told his children spin in his imagination. It will all die when he dies.
Jay chooses to experience his condition as an inspiration here to teach him to appreciate the time he still has. He writes letters and stories to his three children about his failing voice, his impaired motor skills, and falling down on Christmas morning. Writing helps him cope with the illness and its symptoms. And so, he accepts the mission of writing more stories for them: the difference his father’s wink made at a critical moment of a baseball game, why they should take walks even in cruddy weather, and how he avoided having to explain what semen is for.
As his condition worsens, Jay’s faith in the power of storytelling deepens. His daily life is wildly different than he foresaw, and possibly shorter, but he can leave his children a legacy more valuable than any financial inheritance. He writes “Bedtime Stories for the Living”, an episodic memoir to show his children how to accept their limitations and find joy. The collection of tender, witty stories about fatherhood, persevering despite illness, and pursuing your dreams, demonstrates how love gives us the strength to face heartache with bravery and grace.
Don’t Give Up
Eight years after the phone call that revealed I had cerebellar atrophy, I saw a new neurologist—on a friend’s recommendation—who specialized in complicated neurological diseases. (It’s safe to say all neurological diseases are complicated). The neurologist was cool. He wore a bowtie, asked a lot of questions, took handwritten notes, and made lighthearted neurological disease jokes. He suggested I have a spinal tap to see if my spinal fluid was carrying disease like a roofer up a ladder and into my brain.
White Ladder was the title of David Gray’s 1998 best-selling album. I spent many a college night listening to Mr. Gray as I tried to untangle whatever juvenile nonsense I had knotted myself up in. I often think about that eighteen-year-old kid trying to make sense of himself and the world, only to conclude I’m not so different now. Yes, some things are different. I’ve put on a few pounds. Strobe lights give me headaches. I’ve replaced cheap light beer with filtered water. But I’m still listening to “Babylon” on repeat. Still struggling to keep going. I’m still soothed by the music of my youth.
The doctor had straightened his bowtie, scanned his handwritten notes, looked up, and said, “What do we have to lose?”
“I guess nothing,” I said. “But does it hurt?”
“Have you had one?”
“A spinal tap? No.”
I’m pretty sure in 1998 I spent all of my energy avoiding pain. And when life hurt, I cured myself with cheap light beer and David Gray. Little did I know then, pain is elemental. As long as we’re alive, we will never be short on suffering.
My friend Jesse Jackson, Texan host of the Bruce Springsteen podcast Set Lusting Bruce, is recording new episodes while he battles his second serious bout with cancer. Trevor, who, like me, has cerebellar atrophy, recently reached out from San Diego, California to send positive West Coast vibes to the East Coast. A few weeks ago I got an email from a mother in Ohio whose son had recently been diagnosed with a rare, degenerative neurological disorder. She said she found my blog and thanked me for sharing my story. She said my writing helps her son find hope in a seemingly hopeless time. The nice lady at the end of my street, who waves to me and our dog Maggie on our morning walks, just had to put down her fourteen-year-old dog.
No matter your affliction, your confusion, your heartache, or your pain, life is hard. Life is really hard. And sometimes I want to quit. Sometimes I want to self-indulge. Sometimes I want pity. Sometimes I don’t want to write on. Sometimes I don’t want to fight on.
A former student emailed me after a horrible family tragedy to say their life is really hard right now. A lot of tears. A lot of loneliness. A lot of sadness. And then, in the last paragraph, they thanked me for always writing.
Yesterday, I received a message from the cool neurologist regarding my spinal tap. No viruses or stale beer from 1998 had been found in my spinal fluid. The blood tests conducted to find some evidence of why I might have a hole in my brain also came back negative. The neurologist concluded that after eight years of endless and expensive medical tests, the evidence remained unclear. He was still uncertain as to why I have a hole in my brain and, if or when, my condition will worsen.
Let me be clear: I don’t want to live like this. I want my balance and vision and speech to return. As much as I love him, I would gladly lean Clark Able in a closest corner forever. I want to ride a bike and run and jump once more. I don’t enjoy suffering. I’m not a sadist. I don’t enjoy uncertainty. I’m not a Buddhist monk. I’m just a suburban dad who knows my present choices will ripple far into my kids’ future lives.Their choices will be, in some way, influenced by my actions. I want them to know, right now, I’m trying my best. I want them to know I endure for them. Because I know one day, when they’re struggling in their adult lives, they may ask themselves, “What would Dad do?”
I discover again and again that I’m stronger than my pain. I want you to remember you’re stronger than you realize, too.
Don’t give up.
What do you have to lose?
About the Author
In 2013, Jay Armstrong was diagnosed with diffuse cerebellar atrophy. A condition that causes dysfunctional motor skills, speech and vision impairments, and balance deficiencies. At the time of diagnosis, he was establishing himself as an endeared high school English teacher, a varsity soccer coach, and an above average dancer. However, the progressive disorder forced Jay to reevaluate his life.
Supported by his high school sweetheart turned wife (Cindy) and their three children (Haley, Chase, Dylan), Jay retired from teaching in 2021 to pursue his dream of becoming an author.
Jay believes in the power of storytelling. He also believes in dad jokes, laughter, and the unrelenting pursuit of dreams. Jay’s debut book, Bedtime Stories for the Living, is an episodic memoir in which Jay shows his children how to accept their limitations and find joy. The collection of tender, witty stories about fatherhood, persevering despite illness, and pursuing your dreams, demonstrates how love gives us the strength to face heartache with bravery, humor, and grace.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Jay is passionate about Philly sports, soft pretzels, and Rocky Balboa.
Jay Armstrong will be awarding a $10 Amazon or B&N gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.a Rafflecopter giveaway
|Aug 22||Uplifting Reads||Aug 29||Hope. Dreams, Life… Love|
|Aug 29||Westveil Publishing||Sept 5||Literary Gold|
|Sept 12||Fabulous and Brunette||Sept 19||Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews|
|Sept 26||Sandra’s Book Club||Oct 3||Long and Short Reviews|
|Oct 10||It’s Raining Books|
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