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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

It’s almost November 1st—a thrilling time of year! I love the idea of National Novel Writing Month and I love that the only criteria for winning is to “have written” 50,000 words by November 30th.

Quantity over quality for one month gives you a lot of material to work with for the next eleven months.

I know this and that’s why I’m excited about NaNo—even though I haven’t signed up.

When I look at my life realistically, I know I’m not going to be able to write 50,000 words this November, so I’m not even going to try.

What I am going to do is host a couple of write-ins for those brave souls in my area who make that amazing commitment. While I’m with them, I’ll put aside my regular life and write with them as if I was on my way to 50,000 words.

20,000 words in the month of November would be a win for me. So would 10,000 words.

I’m using the energy and excitement of NaNo to fuel my writing. Just being in the month of November prompts me to do word sprints, to shut off my computer screen so I can’t edit as I write, and to turn off the Internet so I can get some words on the page.

Are you doing NaNo? If yes, congratulations! I’m cheering you on. If no, what are you doing this November with your writing? And I’m still cheering you on!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother, and stepmother. I love contributing to this blog because it helps me keep my writing a priority when I know so many others are out there getting the words down on the page! Happy Halloween!

 

 

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Find Your Quiet Place

My quite time view

My quite time view

I love to be alone.

It’s not that I dislike spending time with other people, but I find that solitude grounds me. Quiet time by myself has always been the best way to reboot my system and recharge my batteries. It’s much too easy, in the rumble and buzz of our daily rounds, to let the external noise drown out our own thoughts. When that happens, we feel overwhelmed and unmoored. At least, I do.

And then, a funny thing happens. Instead of stepping out of the fray and back into our own head and heart, we plunge further into the noisy world around us, reaching and grasping for something to bring us home to ourselves. We seek guidance from experts and search out the advice of authorities. We tune into distractions of all kinds, hoping they will help us relax and find our balance again. We assume that the answers are out there somewhere.

But, of course, as Dorothy discovered, the answers are never “out there.” They’re right here.

Solitude helps us untangle ourselves from the rest of the world so we can rediscover our personal truth and reality. This is important for any human being, but nonnegotiable for writers.  Our work, our best work, comes from that place inside us. Though our writing is influenced by the outside world, the core of what we have to offer in our stories springs from our personal well of experience and being. That is where the magic comes from.

Spending time alone gives us the chance to gently or aggressively slough off the layers of otherness. It might hurt. It might be scary. But it will bring you home and it will give you direct access to the source of your stories. I invite you to make solitude part of your writing practice. It’s not easy to carve out even a small pocket of alone time in our over-scheduled world, but it’s worth it.

My private haven of choice is the early morning, before my daughter is awake and before I let the world in through my computer screen. I sit with my journal and a mug of tea. I watch the sun rise, and I do my best to bushwhack my way towards the place inside my mind and heart where the really good stuff is. Some days I can only dance around the perimeter of the forest, but other days I find a narrow track that leads me right to the core. It’s never the same journey twice and never an exercise I regret.

And, I find a lot of stories there, just waiting for me to come into the quiet so I can hear them.

 

What I’m Writing:

sidewalk sproutLast Saturday, I had planned a luxuriously long, uninterrupted block of  writing time during which I hoped to write a story. I was scheduled to submit this yet-to-be-written story to my writing class on Tuesday morning. I had the seed of an idea, and assumed that, with a few solid hours’ work, I would have something suitable for sharing with gentle beta readers.

Oh, a writer’s best-laid plans.

Life intervened, of course, in the form of several, unavoidable distractions that quickly and efficiently consumed several hours of my carefully hoarded time. I had the sensation of watching them evaporate in puffs of white smoke the same way apps disappear off the dock on my MacBook. Though the loss of time was painful, I could have gotten past it and written through the remaining time except for a much bigger problem: my story idea wasn’t fully baked.

I had that seed of an idea, but I hadn’t taken the time to plant it, water it, and help it grow. So, I sat there in front of my blank screen with an inert seed in my hand, and I wondered what to do. I started researching. I started playing with the idea – trying to figure out what I needed to germinate it. I had new ideas. Different ideas. I had questions. Lots and lots of questions.

In the end, I didn’t write a single word.

For class, I dredged up an old piece (the first chapter of a middle grade urban fantasy) and did some editing. At first, I was disappointed that I’d been unable to whip up something new. But then I thought about why I’d been so stumped, and I realized that my stuckness was actually the result of my growth as a writer. I’d learned enough that I couldn’t be satisfied with my half-baked idea. I knew there was something better. Something more worthy of my effort. It wasn’t a matter of worrying about perfection. I was ready to write a shitty first draft. It was about sensing that there was more to my idea than met the eye.

The good news is that I have a second chance to submit a piece in class. And, even better than that, I’ve been nurturing my idea over the past week and I think I’m on to something. I think I’ve started to unravel a new twist that will give me a stronger, more interesting story. I’m so excited and can’t wait for next weekend’s writing time.

 

What I’m Reading:

impossible wolvesThis week hasn’t left much time for reading, but I did gift myself with a story by the writer who is teaching the Grub Street class I’m taking. On her site, Darkness Loves Company, KL Pereira invites readers to “Get Dark” …

Darkness is so much more than the things that lurk–darkness drives our deepest selves, our desires, passions, deviances. It’s the true surrender to the shadow self that lives just inside, in the oldest corners of our bones.

How could I resist such an invitation, especially around the Halloween holiday?

So, I picked out a story called Impossible Wolves. I was able, at the time, to purchase it as a very cool, little chapbook, but it seems to have disappeared off her etsy website now. Still, if you are interested, she has a number of other stories available for perusing on her site.

Pereira’s Fiction I class has done much to not only improve my understanding of the writing craft in general, but also to increase my appreciation for the short story form. The pieces we’ve read in class are fascinating examples of how something that appears simple can, in fact, be dizzyingly and gorgeously complex. There is an undeniable elegance in the shorter forms. The paring down seems to reveal a story that is, in some ways, more pure. I’m rambling, but the point is that sort stories are worth reading.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin solitude

Here’s to finding your quiet place and having time to spend there communing with the stories inside you. Happy reading. Good writing. See you on the other side.

.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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When I write, sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I wear my jammie pants and sometimes I write while wearing a skirt and sweater.

IMG_20141018_143815382When I was young and trying to be an angst-filled writer, I used to think that I couldn’t write anything worth anything unless I was wearing a very specific ratty green shirt and had a cup of Earl Grey tea in front of me. I had to have routines. If I had a personal (and sacred) routine it meant I was serious about my craft. Often it would take me an entire evening to get the first paragraph out on paper and perfected, and I couldn’t ever write anything else until that very first paragraph was worthy. Because, well that was the way I worked… and this was how I envisioned real writers did it.

But times have changed. I’m not even sure if I have that old shirt anywhere (it might be hiding in the back of a closet, but I doubt it) and although my drug of choice has changed to coffee, I don’t keep it near where I write having ruined far too many keyboards from reaching over a pile of books and spilling drinks over the years. Keyboards cost money, something that that earlier writer might not have been so concerned with (Dear Mom and Dad, somehow my typewriter broke…)

My point is that writers grow up, just like everyone else. We evolve. We mature. We realize that writing is a job and not just a fanciful, artistic quest. We realize that mortgages have to be paid, school sports equipment has to be purchased, and if you want to drive, you’d better purchase some insurance.

No longer do I have to try and struggle to force a thoughtful perfect phrase from my mind. Instead I sit down and say to myself – “Okay, let’s begin” and then I do. From hours and hours and hours of practice, I have learned how to craft a story and I know where the beginning is, the middle, and the ending. I may not even start at the beginning because often I don’t need to, by the time I sit down to write, I know where I’ve come from and I know where I’m going.

Of course this all begs the question – whatever happened to that angsty young writer of yore? Did she disappear with the roles and responsibilities of life (it’s tough to be angsty when you have a slew of young children who’s needs trump yours) or does she now just face the inevitable music?

Now, if an editor wants me to change a sentence or cut a paragraph, I say “yes, m’am” and I make the cuts. No questions asked. Although my words and thoughts are important, at the end of the day, it is my audience that matters most.

I’ve learned to write for my readers instead of for my personal release. Oh to be sure, I put my personal stamp on my writing and it is definitely unique to only me. But I’ve come to accept something that I hadn’t ever bothered to consider in my youthful ambition and it is this: much like a tree falling in the woods, if no one is there to read your words, then is it really writing?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

 

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What if “happy” comes first?

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness.

What about just “life, liberty, and happiness?”

There is a cultural misconception that happiness is a conditional state that depends on external factors.

  • I’ll be happy when I get the right job.
  • I’ll be happy when I meet my true love.
  • I’ll be happy when I can fit into a size six.
  • I’ll be happy when I’m published.

We mistakenly assume that we must jump through all kinds of hoops in order to “earn” happiness, and we routinely trade in-the-moment happiness for a maybe-sometime-in-the-future happiness that may or may not ever materialize.

We turn “being happy” into an If-Then statement to which there is no resolution, because each time we meet the conditions we’ve set, we immediately set new conditions. We move the goal line another ten yards out (to use an uncharacteristic sports metaphor).

I invite you to watch this excellent (and brief – only twelve minutes long) TedX talk by Shawn Achor, author of several books including The Happiness Factor. He shares some really intriguing revelations about how happiness affects our productivity and success … rather than productivity and success affecting (or creating) our happiness. I invite you to give him a listen, let it sink in, and think about how your assumptions about happiness might actually be handicapping your ability to be happy.

I’m also curious: how do you define happiness in relation to your writing?

 

What I’m Writing:

As this post goes live on Saturday morning, I will be prepping for an all-day writing session to work on a the piece I’ll be submitting for class critique next Tuesday. I’m unreasonably anxious about this.

I’ve had pieces “workshopped” before. I’m not really nervous about being on the proverbial hot seat. I welcome the opportunity to hear some honest feedback about my writing. I think what I’m finding most unsettling is that I haven’t (yet) got a strong story idea. As I mentioned in last week’s weekend edition, I have a number of story ideas milling around in my head, but none of them have stepped up to demand my full attention. The countdown is nearing zero, and I’m still waffling about which story I want to tell.

To help me get over this paralyzing indecision, I am going to treat this exercise as an experiment. I’m going to try to “play.” We did just such an exercise at the end of last week’s class and it was great fun. After spending some time analyzing all the ways that dialogue can “go awry,” we were tasked with writing a scene that included as many dialogue faux pas as possible. The results were not only hysterical, they were very informative. By forcing ourselves to do it wrong, we saw more clearly how to do it right. Pretty neat trick.

While I’m off figuring out what the hell I’m going to write, I thought I’d share a few pictures of the beautiful and oh-so-bookish Salem Athenaeum. I hope they put you in a writing kind of mood.

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What I’m Reading:

book halloween treeThis week, perhaps inspired by our in-class focus on the short story form, I set aside my novels in favor of more bite-sized reading indulgences.

First, I listened to Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree evocatively read by Bronson Pinchot. Other than the books required by my high school language arts curriculum, I have not read much of Bradbury’s work. This story, however, will certainly be one that I listen to again. It also has me curious to read more of Bradbury’s short works.

The Halloween Tree is a sort of tour through the ages with a focus on the origins of and different incarnations of our modern-day Halloween celebrations. Traveling through time and across continents, Bradbury weaves together the folklore of many different cultures. The language is beautiful. My favorite line described headstones in a graveyard as being “frosted by old moonlight.” Bradbury is also a master of creating tension and I often found myself almost holding my breath at different points in the story (and especially at the end).

I have recommended this story to my ten year-old daughter and hope that she will give it a listen before the 31st. Much more than a history lesson, The Halloween Tree is a story about embracing the darkness even as we flee towards the light. It’s just perfect for this time of year as the seasons draw us into the long, shadowed rest of winter.

kelly linkThe second piece I read was Flying Lessons by Kelly Link.  I searched this one out because our class instructor, KL Pereira, said in an online interview that it is one of her favorites . I was delighted to discover that the full story is available for free on Link’s website.

I haven’t read any other of Link’s work (yet), but I enjoyed this piece and will definitely give it a few re-reads in order to study it’s craft and structure. The story plays out in a series of short scenes, each with its own title. I would guess that the genre would be magical realism/fantasy (my favorite). Though the story takes place in a seemingly ordinary, fairly contemporary setting, there are strange things afoot and fantastical characters lurking just behind carefully constructed masks.

The opening is wonderful and was one of the “great beginnings” examples Pereira used in class:

1. Going to hell. Instructions and advice.

Listen, because I’m only going to do this once. You’ll have to get there by way of London. Take the overnight train from Waverly. Sit in the last car. Speak to no one. Don’t fall asleep.

When you arrive at Kings Cross, go down into the Underground. Get on the Northern line. Sit in the last car. Speak to no one. Don’t fall asleep.

The Northern line stops at Angel, at London Bridge, at Elephant and Castle, Tooting Broadway. The last marked station is Morden: stay in your seat. Other passengers will remain with you in the car. Speak to no one.

These are some of the unlisted stations you will pass: Howling Green. Duke’s Pit. Sparrowkill. Stay in your seat. Don’t fall asleep.

How can you resist reading on?

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin happy monster

Wishing you happiness today – in your writing, your reading, and your living. Enjoy! 

.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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IMG_20141014_120358354

Healing wishes being sent to my friends on a regular basis

 

I didn’t know I was going to do it until this past weekend. A friend of mine left town and asked me to house-sit until she came back.

I love house-sitting for her for several reasons:

  • She keeps a fantastic stash of cookies (yup, I broke that ketogenic diet right in half this weekend)
  • She’s got great pets that make me laugh
  • I don’t know how to work her TV set (she has about a half dozen remotes that must be used in a highly specific sequence) so I can’t waste time watching shows

This all means that I get to read and write uninterrupted (expect for the occasional cookie run) the entire time I’m there. While munching on a handful of goldfish crackers, I was thinking about some friends of ours who had gotten into a horrific car accident (sending positive prayers to you guys constantly.) Their accident was so random, so out of the blue, so not their fault.

You just never know.

It got me thinking. What are the lessons I’ve learned that I want my kids to know and what if I never get around to telling them because I’m too busy?

I started listing bits of advice this mama hen has gathered throughout her life that she’d want to share with her chicks. When I looked at the list (it currently stands at over 200 items), I realized that I could match pretty much every lesson up with a story from our backyard chicken flock.

Ah-ha! That would make for a great book (if only to give my kids.)

But how on earth was I going to find the time on top of all of my other writing assignments to get this project done?

Enter Nanowrimo which starts when the clock strikes 12:00 a.m. on October 31.

I didn’t do Nanowrimo last year and I certainly didn’t *think* that I was going to do it this year (too occupied with other writing is my  standard excuse), but in this case, Nano is the prefect kick in the butt for what I want to do. I have the stories, they all exist in my head – and because I hate to lose, the incentive is there to find the time to get them out and onto the screen.

Nanowrimo will be the gift of “getting it done no matter how busy I am.”

So while I wasn’t planning on participating in a writing challenge this year, you can count me in. Nanowrimo gives me the perfect opportunity to write all those stories of life lessons for my kids – because you just never know, right?

How about you? Anyone else going to take the Nanowrimo challenge?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

 

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artistsway-t           Several years ago I followed the exercises in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Well, I followed some of them; I wrote my morning pages without fail. But I confess: I didn’t do the collages, and even though I went so far as to schedule regular Artist Dates, I didn’t always follow through.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron prescribes taking oneself on a regularly scheduled “artist date.” An artist date is “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you pre-plan and defend against all interlopers.”

Even though I’m good at blocking out time for writing and other word-related activities, I’ve never followed through on Cameron’s advice, even though I carried a shadow of shame that I should – if only I had the time.

Then last weekend, while I was in the Hudson River Valley for a family wedding, I visited The Storm King Art Center, a world-class sculpture park.

Waves, by Maya Lin

Waves, by Maya Lin

It was as I was strolling across the rolling terrain studded with sculpture of all sizes that I finally got it – what the artist date was all about.

Most of all, I became more observant, especially as my point-of-view of each sculpture kept shifting first as I saw it from a distance, then as I walked closer to it, around it, and then again from a distance. What I was seeing changed from each vantage point, just as our stories are shaped by the point of view from which we tell them.

I was also struck by the way the relationship of objects and angles bent space and changed one another, just the way details in narrative shift in importance and meaning depending on how they are presented.

I was especially struck by the power of negative space – the blank area created by sculptural lines that nearly vibrated with tension. Great prose can do this too – outline what’s not there, what’s not being said, but what may in fact be forcing all the characters in a story rushing toward mayhem.

Abstract sculptures at Storm King Art Center

Abstract sculptures at Storm King Art Center

Many of the sculptures were abstract. Nevertheless, I nearly always tried to make up a story about them, to ground them in narrative, because that’s how humans (or this human, anyway) makes sense of the world: through story. And once I noticed myself trying to tell a story about each orange girder, I challenged myself to see it simply qua orange girder, the way in yoga class I’m learning to acknowledge intrusive thoughts and then let them go. This technique allowed me the freedom of seeing without storytelling, sharpening my observational capability and focusing my concentration, two key tools for writers.

Some of the artwork literally stopped me in my tracks, they were so breathtaking, others barely registered as I strolled by. I simply noted this, without trying to evaluate it. Isn’t it interesting, I said to myself, that some of this art is so moving and some leaves me cold? And I walked on.

By the end of the day, I was seeing ordinary objects in new ways, which is one of the wonderful things that any IMG_1302art can do – sculpture, painting, music, prose. Suddenly, the way two trees leaned toward each other was pregnant with meaning, as was the relationship of two trashcans standing shoulder to shoulder, like sentinels guarding the parking lot.IMG_1312

And that was it: looking at art changed how I look at the world.

It also taught me the importance of the artist’s date, which I’ll now ink into my calendar and heed.

 

 

 

IMG_1298Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist living in southern Vermont.

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Your story isn't just a meandering journey through the wilderness. Where have you promised to take your readers?

Your story isn’t just a meandering journey through the wilderness. Where have you promised to take your readers?

I own many books on the craft of writing, and I think the “Best Title” award goes to A Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson. And, guess what? The book lives up to its promise.

Stories have been with us since the beginning. Even before we had language we told stories, using pantomime and pictures. Stories are not just a nice-to-have form of entertainment. They are how we perceive, explain, and process our world. Stories teach, inspire, and help us find meaning to our lives. They provide emotional and spiritual sustenance in the same way that food and water provide physical sustenance. Stories help us define who we are to others, and – more importantly – to ourselves.

book story promiseIn A Story is a Promise, Johnson explains (in a very step-by-step process that’s filled with super helpful examples) how to craft engaging stories by understanding the principle of the promise. I essence, each story promises to deliver a specific moment of fulfillment.

From the book:

A story sets out its promise by offering details of life-like characters, issues, events, and circumstances, then editing and arranging those details to move an audience toward a desirable experience of resolution. For example, when a story created around the issue of courage fulfills its promise, the story’s audience experiences a fulfilling moment of courage. The story’s audience experiences the truth of the story’s promise.

I think this idea sometimes gets lost in the literary world where authors can take so long to fulfill the promise that we almost forget what it is. An easier way to wrap your head around this concept is to think about your favorite television shows and movies. Think about why you choose to watch certain shows and films. You have an expectation, and that expectation emerges from the story’s promise.

Take a couple of my latest viewing choices:

  • Leverage - This show is basically a reimagining of The A-Team. I watch it because I know it will fulfill its promise of Robin Hood-esque good guys outsmarting corporate bad guys with a healthy dose of campy style and one-liners. These are David and Goliath stories where David wins in style and Goliath crashes to the earth in a spectacular swan dive. Justice is served with a relish. I love justice.
  • Practical Magic (a perennial Halloween season favorite) – I come back to this movie each year because it fulfills a promise to show me not only good overcoming evil, but self-belief overcoming self-doubt and a group of previously estranged individuals coming together around a common cause.

Now think about the books and stories you read. What is your expectation? Why do you choose this one over that one? What unspoken promise do you hope the author will fulfill? What experience do you trust the story to deliver?

And then, flip that around and think about what experience you’re trying to deliver with your story. What promise are you making to your reader? How can you edit and arrange the details of your story to deliver the desired experience of resolution? Always keep your promise in mind. Craft your entire story around that promise. That is what your reader came for. You aren’t just describing a sequence of events, you are trying to create an emotional experience for the reader. Weigh each decision against that purpose. Make sure each element of your story serves the promise.

Keep your promises and your readers will keep coming back for more.

 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: Drew Geraets via Unsplash

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