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Navel gazing and other writerly fears

"Quick Splash" by Jay Melnick via Albumarium. The picture of canine shame. ;)

“Quick Splash” by Jay Melnick via Albumarium. The picture of canine shame. ;)

You self-indulgent, spoiled brat.

If someone hurled these words at you, it would feel like a physical slap in the face. You would flush with reflexive shame and regret before shifting to feeling indignant or even angry. Thankfully, these words are only ever spoken out loud in rare moments of extreme conflict. To hear them, or anything like them, ringing in your ears is – I hope – something you never have to experience.

However, while the circumstances that would incite another person to deliver such a sharp insult seldom occur in the real world, the possibility of suffering such an attack from our own inner critics is, sadly, a much more likely event. After all, our inner critics are not bound by any sense of propriety. They are severely lacking in social graces and have abysmal impulse control. Whether they are shouting their cruel accusations or, more insidiously, whispering them, they always appear frighteningly confident and justified in their judgment.

As writers, we spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in what might understandably be perceived as navel-gazing. We create and inhabit internal worlds that ultimately serve as vehicles of self-expression. We have the audacity to believe that our dreams and ideas have the right to a life outside the confines of our own minds. Cheeky, aren’t we?

Most of the time, your focus on the craft provides protection against would-be assailants intent on character defamation. But a moment’s doubt is like a blade slipping through your defenses to deliver a small but decisive wound. You falter. A moment ago you were blissfully immersed in the creative flow, but now there is a covert poison working its way through your system. There is a small voice asking, “Who are you to tell this story?” And, suddenly, you don’t know who you are or what possessed you to believe you could do this thing.

You have succumbed to the fear of self-indulgence.

You have given in to believing that your writing is a selfish, conceited, and frivolous act. You have accepted your inner critic’s ruling that you are unworthy. Only Real Writers have the right to write, and you are most certainly not among that high and lofty set. After all, no one is reading what you write. No one is paying you to write. No one needs to hear your stupid story.

But, they do. They do. Who are you to tell this story? You are the only person who can tell this story. And do you know what is selfish and self-indulgent? Keeping the story to yourself. Staying scared and silent. Giving up. Using your fear to protect you from the possibility of rejection.

Writing is not self-indulgent. Writing is brave and generous. It is the act of digging deep down inside your heart, mind, and soul; extracting the truth you find there; polishing it to the best of your ability; and sharing it with others. Writing is the opposite of self-indulgent. Yes, it requires that you look within, but ultimately that internal searching is an effort to connect. Stories are not meant to be kept inside. Stories are, by nature, shared. They are the best gift you can give.

 

What I’m Writing:

writing classA few weeks ago, I signed up for a Fiction I class offered by the Grub Street writing center and taught by KL Pereira. The first class took place this past Tuesday, but I was unable to attend because my daughter came down with a nasty cold on Saturday and was convalescing on the couch through Thursday. Happily, she is feeling much better now and was able to return to school on Friday. Sadly, missing that first class felt, for a moment, like a particularly unking karmic injustice. But, I’m over that now.

Pereira was wonderfully gracious and accommodating. She provided me with handouts and assignments and even shared my classmates’ “intro questionnaires” via email. Though I was sorry to have missed that first getting-to-know-you session, I felt welcomed and was already excited about being engaged in the learning process … even if from a distance.

This coming Tuesday (knock on wood), I will have the pleasure of meeting these people in person and giving myself the not insubstantial gift of five hours dedicated to my non-business writing. Despite my heavy freelance workload, I will prioritize what’s important over what’s urgent. I will put my money where my mouth is. I will choose desire over obligation.

I know that it won’t be easy, and I know that taking this one class will not dramatically change my writing life. But, it is a small step in my right direction. It is tangible evidence of my intention and commitment. And that matters. A lot.

 

What I’m Reading:

book tin houseThough my temporary role as Florence Nightingale left little time (or energy) for reading, I did manage to do my “homework reading” from the Grub Street class that I missed. This week’s assignment was a short story called “Moving On” by Diane Cook. Since I was not in attendance to receive the hard copy, I ended up downloading the back issue of Tin House (Memory) which features Cook’s story alongside others by writers whose names were mostly unfamiliar except for a few whom I recognized right away (Stephen King and Cheryl Strayed).

After wrangling the MOBI file onto my Kindle, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate (with, perhaps, a splash of Bailey’s) and settled onto the couch to read.

The very first sentence drew me in, “They let me tend to my husband’s burial and settle his affairs.” It’s a simple enough sentence, benign at first sight except for those first three words: They let me. With three words, Cook raised all kinds of questions – conscious and subconscious in my mind. Let me? I read on.

I like short stories because I can usually enjoy them in one sitting. Unlike a novel, which has the potential to steal me from the real world for hours at a time, a short story invites me to indulge in a more controllable and defined time out that I can safely shoehorn into almost any day. Despite this advantage, I have always struggled a little to understand the short story form, particularly those of the literary kind. I usually come away feeling like I’ve read the beginning of something but had to walk away without gaining any closure. I also sometimes feel like I’m not smart enough to “get it.” Short stories often feel like intellectual riddles that I’m too dull to solve. I’m left puzzling over the last sentence – something cryptic but obviously full of meaning that goes right over my head.

I enjoy the language and the imagery. I am interested in the characters and their actions and thoughts, but I’m left wondering, “What was the point?”

I have a feeling I’ve a lot to learn about the short story form. At least the literary kind.

Still, I did enjoy the Cook’s piece and am now working my way through the rest of the Tin House issue. I haven’t read stories like these in a long (long) while, so it feels like an adventure in a foreign land. I’m not quite sure what to expect or how to behave, but I’m doing my best to be respectful of local customs and learn what I can from my visit.

 

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 magic new beginnings

Eckhart Tolle

 

I hope this week brings you the pleasure of indulging – guilt-free – in your writing passions, the satisfaction of learning something, and the joy of new beginnings. 

.
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.

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: What’s your favorite way to get about town? Your favorite mode of transportation?

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: In Boston,  I have two favorite modes of transport. Public transportation, the T, either train or bus, is a great way to get around from meeting to meeting. But my favorite is to walk. I try to reach 10,000 steps a day (FitBit!), but that is a tough goal. I will say, as a walker, it is hard to be fashionable from the ankles down. For leisure, I drive when needed, but prefer being a passenger. I used to love to fly, but these days prefer trains if possible–better for writing time.

 

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Like Julie, I also have a FitBit and try to get 10K steps a day. (trust me when you’re a writer who sits in front of a computer, sometimes that’s not easy.) On the weekends, my husband and I try to go somewhere just so we can get our steps in. As I live in a residential area, I use my car (new favorite is our Bright Red Kia), but if we’re talking about absolute favorite modes of transportation, nothing beats being on a bike (I have the “Murder-she-wrote-upright kind of bike) to see what’s going on around town.

 

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I drive around town in my Volvo station wagon, which I love. Every once in a while, as I’m driving, I think: “I’m so lucky to have a reliable car to get around in.” My brother-in-law is a Boston firefighter and he once told me he’s pulled many people out of cars after accidents and when it’s a Volvo, they are much more likely to be able to walk away. That sold me on the Volvo as my next car.

When I first moved to Nashua, in 2006, we lived in the Clocktower apartments and I loved being able to walk to Main St. and do my errands. I’ve lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where I also walked and took public transportation, which I miss being able to do. I have to make a conscious effort to get my exercise in here in the suburbs, but I love to be outside so I get to Mine Falls and run a few times a week. In a pinch, I’ll do laps around my little dead-end street to get some miles in!

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I love walking whenever I can, it gives me time to enjoy the fresh air and disconnect from the Internet of Things. I lived on an old farm growing up with a lot of land. I spent hours exploring the woods and just listening and soaking up my surroundings. It was so blissful.

I enjoy cycling, but don’t do it nearly as often as I’d like any more — too many distracted drivers on the road for me to feel as confident as I’d like.

I mostly drive and have a super-reliable Honda; if it was economical I’d prefer a Jeep or a large pickup truck, though. I wish I enjoyed being a passenger in any vehicle (auto, plane, train, boat…) but I don’t, unless I’m medicated to avoid motion issues!  A dream is to find a community to live in that had all I needed and where I didn’t need motorized transportation. Walking, to me, is the best way to get around.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: I’m a walker, hiker and biker, but I live in a rural area and simply can’t get anywhere without starting the car. I used to think that driving was the biggest waste of time ever, until I bought a car with Bluetooth. Now, I look forward to the next chapter of whatever audiobook I’ve downloaded from the library. Nothing like stories to change attitude!

 

As many of you know, I hosted a writing retreat in Nashua, NH, on September 20, 2014. It was a wonderful day and I’m so glad I did it. I’m already planning my next retreat.

The most surprising thing about the day, for me, was how much of my own writing I got done. I’ve hosted many writing retreats in the past and I don’t usually get too many words of my own on the page. This time, I did.

Being in a room with a group of writers, in a structured setting, turned out to be an ideal way for me to be able to get past my “gremlins” and get down to the business of writing.

I felt supported by the other writers in the room and inspired by them. If they could take time out of their varied and busy lives to make writing a priority, then so could I.

Back in January of 2014, I went on a different kind of writing retreat. A friend and I went up north and stayed at a condo in the mountains for a few days. I got a lot of writing done then, but it was very different. Having had both experiences in the same year, there are some things I will do differently the next time I go on a solitary (or unstructured) writing retreat.

  • I will plan smaller blocks of time to write with breaks in-between, especially at the beginning of the retreat as this seems to “prime the pump” for me.
  • I will give myself concrete assignments for each block of writing time—even if that assignment is “Do a 10 minute flow writing exercise,” which could take me anywhere.
  • I will plan time to talk about my writing process—what’s working and what’s not, either in my journal or with my writing companion.
  • I will assess my WIP at the beginning of the writing retreat and again at the end (for a multi-day writing retreat.)

There are also some things I will do differently for my next structured writing retreat, but they mostly involve non-writing issues, so I won’t detail them here.

Every bulleted item on my list above is something I can do in my regular life as well. Maybe Mondays I’ll do more writing prompts and flow writing, and later in the week I’ll focus more on my WIP. I’m going to play around with what I’ve learned from this latest writing retreat and apply it to my daily life, where I often have my journal open on the kitchen counter or my laptop set up at the kitchen table.

One other thing I learned (again) from this writing retreat: writers write. All the writers in the room with me on September 20th, had one thing in common: We wrote.

What are you writing right now?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, mother and stepmother. I’m trying to post this while cooking dinner and fending off a 4-year-old who can’t wait another 10 minutes to eat dinner, but it’s all good. He’s into the pot cupboard and deciding which “shield” works the best for him right now. Happy writing!

pin fight way outThey say that beginning is the hardest part, and they aren’t kidding.

Have you ever gotten excited about a story idea only to have your enthusiasm squelched by the blank page? I have. Whether I’m gently cupping the first smoldering cinder of a new tale in my eager hands, or carefully holding the almost-fully realized story in my mind; when I sit down at the keyboard to type those critical first words, I freeze.

The pressure of finding the “just right” way to begin is too much.

We all know how important beginnings are. Those first lines are what will (or won’t) grab your reader. They set the scene and the tone for everything that follows. In short, they can make or break your story.

It’s a lot to ask of a few hundred words.

But here’s the thing – you don’t have to start at the beginning. In fact, most of the time it’s better to start in the middle.

Just because, ultimately, your story will be read in a linear fashion doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Start where you are inspired. You are the writer. You’re in charge. You can drop into your story anywhere you feel like it. You can write it backwards if you want to. (Some people do.)

Often, even if you think you’re starting at the beginning, you will go back to find that your real beginning is buried somewhere on page three, or page thirty-three. Sometimes you have to write that much to figure out your best beginning. By charging ahead, you can take advantage of the chance to do a little reverse engineering and craft a beginning that launches your story perfectly.

Beginnings are hard, so don’t start there. Just start. You’ll get around to writing the beginning … eventually.

Planning A Blog

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog of my own for some time. Now that the current draft of Ellen is on my agent’s desk for review, I’m finally ready to turn my attention to this task.

I have two goals for a blog.

The first is to write about place, a concept that has been fundamental to my life, a tug that pulled me to Vermont thirty years ago, and continues to inform my daily activities (chickens, garden, town politics) and most of my writing. My commentaries for Vermont Public Radio are all about life in Vermont, as are my editorials for the local papers. And all of my novels are set in Vermont. Into the Wilderness, published in 2010, earned a Gold Medal for Regional Fiction as well as recognition from the Vermont Library Association for its sense of place.

The second goal is to stay connected to my audience in the long stretches between novels. Readers are curious about the writers they read, a curiosity that often takes me by surprise. I hope that I can satisfy my readers’ curiosity without compromising my own need for privacy. In fact, I love connecting with readers across the page. I’m still a letter writer, and I’m thinking of the blog posts as letters to my readers.

One of the reasons I’ve been putting off starting this blog is that it requires a long-overdue revision of my website. I’m not exactly a technophobe, but neither am I particularly confident in my design or on-line skills. I do know I learn well one-on-one, so I’m looking for someone who will teach me what I need to know in order to migrate my current site to Word Press, set swimming hole picup a blog, and even expand to other social media. (Gulp!)

I also want to be sure that I can keep up with my blog by setting a realistic schedule, probably posting only every other week – an admittedly slow pace for the blogosphere, where many bloggers post daily. That’s not for me. And frankly, I don’t think it’s right for my audience, either.

I will write at least a half dozen posts to have in reserve before I launch, so I can keep to my schedule, and I will have a marketing plan for the launch, so that I can reach my current readers and introduce myself to new ones.

In order to be successful, I also need to start taking more pictures. This probably means relearning how to use the digital camera we bought three years ago for a trip out west and have barely used since. Hmm.

Finally, by posting my intentions to my audience here, where I’ve been contributing for over three years, I will be held accountable to follow through with my plans.

How have you succeeded – or not – launching your own blog? What advice do you have for becoming a successful solo blogger? Please share your blogging stories in the comments below.

dll2013 Deborah Lee Luskin lives in southern Vermont.

Grammarly (www.grammarly.com) conducted a study with 3,000+ participants to settle an existential question that has been plaguing mankind for centuries (or maybe a few years here and there):

“Which gender has the better writers?”

They published the results to the question above in an infographic (below) and I got permission to share it here with you. I thought it would be fun for some discussion.

 

Grammarly_MenvsWomen_Writers_infographic

 

The results for characters question splits out equal from both perspectives — I think it’s only natural that we include bits of ourselves in our writing, since that’s a person we know best!

Pronouns & Determiners are pretty evenly split, too.

What do you think about the plot vs character and long vs short sentences? Would you put yourself in the majority in those categories?

I would for the first – I like (try) to develop my characters and have the plot follow. For sentences, I do my best to write short active sentences, but there are times when long works better!

————–

From their website: Grammarly’s online grammar checker is the most accurate tool for grammar correction on the market. 

Disclosure: This is an online tool you have to pay for (minimum is $29.95/month); I’m not a subscriber, but it can’t hurt to check it out when you have a minute or two if it’s something of interest — they do offer a 7-day free trial period. Remember to read all the Terms and Conditions!

————–

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She enjoys sharing writing resources when she finds them. You can connect with her on Twitter,FacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Conflicted. A writer torn between duty and dreams.

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

- E.B. White

three geese flyingI love the fall. It is, by far, my favorite season of the year. I love the cooler weather, the blazing foliage, and the return to routine. I love the sense of industry that comes in September, even though I am well past my school years. And, I love the prospect of curling up in cozy environs with a good book and a steaming mug of hazelnut truffle tea. (Fall and winter reading has always held more appeal for me than sticky, sandy summer reading.)

But, most of all, I love this season because, falling as it does at the three-quarter mark on the calendar, it is the perfect time to reflect on the year’s progress and, perhaps, find a new beginning. Autumn’s bittersweet quality brings me a sense of quiet peace and acceptance with a sharp edge of urgency and angst. The column I wrote for my local paper this week reflected on how this season’s inclination towards gentle assessment and intentional redirecting differs from the champagne-sipping pressures and sequin-clad expectations of the January New Year:

September is a much more appropriate time for a progress report. You are almost a year older (and presumably wiser), so you have greater perspective than you did nine months ago. The end of the year is in sight, providing a sense of urgency; but there are still a few months left in case you discover that your best intentions have, inexplicably, come off the rails. There is still a chance for the little GPS-inspired voice in your head to whisper reassuringly, “Recalculating.”

With the happy chaos of summer behind us and the joyful insanity of the holidays still far enough away to be safely ignored, we steal a moment to catch our collective breath. The turning foliage, a subtle reminder of our own mortality, prompts us to consider all the things we have put off for another day.

While no one would blame you for sighing with resignation at the enormity of everything left undone, September’s New Year is not without hope. After all, remember, there is still time before the end-of-year reckoning. You still have a chance to resurrect your resolutions from the rubble. Go ahead – pick up your lucky writing pen, lace up your running shoes, call about that cooking class. Whatever you had hoped to achieve, it’s not too late.

And herein lies my conflict.

Looking back at the year, I am mostly pleased with what I see. My business is doing well. I had a wonderful summer with my daughter and beau. I have done a better job at prioritizing time with friends and making space in my daily rounds for self-care. I have, most recently, taken baby steps towards increasing my commitment to “my” writing (as opposed to the writing I do for my content marketing clients). But, I still feel like I am, as Tolkien describes, standing on the edge of a knife.

Another year has gone by – flown by, in fact. 2014 is winding down and while I have lived a good year, I am really no closer to the Big Goals I set for myself. Though September invites quiet reflection, I also feel an urge to take fierce action – to make an abrupt correction that will send me careening back to the path I envisioned in January. But the risks associated with that kind of move are great. While the impulsive child in me would like to grab the wheel and burn rubber back toward her intended destination, the responsible adult in me knows that a more gradual realignment is a safer, saner course.

I don’t know which one to listen to.

Life is short and time runs fast. How are you feeling at this point in the year? Do you have any desire to do something a little crazy in order to get closer to realizing your temporarily neglected dreams? Or, are you feeling bound to duty and considering a more subtle approach to getting yourself back on track?

 

What I’m Writing:

nanowrimo shieldMy writing output these days is the usual bill-paying content marketing (websites, and ebooks, and case studies, oh my!), bi-weekly columns (thank the gods for a small, creative outlet), and morning pages. Nothing super exciting, but not too shabby either.

As September draws to a close, however, November and NaNoWriMo loom large on the horizon. A writer friend invited me to indulge in this international month of insanity with her. In the past, I have completed my 50,000 words to cross the NaNoWriMo finish line a “winner.” I have also give up halfway through and refused to even try. Talk about feeling conflicted.

IF I decide to do NaNoWriMo this year, I want to have something specific to work on. In other words, if I’m going to make this work, I need to make some time in October for planning and outlining.

Yeah, I know that kind of goes against the “no plot, no problem” spirit of NaNoWriMo, but if I’m going to invest 40 – 60 hours, I’d at least like to come out on the other side with a sh!##y first draft that’s worth editing.

So – what about you? Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? Are you thinking about it this year?

What I’m Reading:

book toujours provenceAfter recently re-read (via Audible) Peter Mayle’s wonderful A Year in Provence, I found I was reluctant to leave the south of France. I returned, again via Audible, to indulge in more culinarily inclined essays in Mayle’s follow-up collection, Toujours Provence. The duplicity of the season may cause my heart and head to dance back and forth between the shoulds and wants in my life, but plugging back into Mayle’s world of pastoral scenery, five-course lunches, and gastronomically experienced neighbors reminds me that what really matters is living in and savoring the moment.

book lord lady bunnyMy daughter and I also finished reading another follow-up book, this one from Polly Horvath. In Lord and Lady Bunny Almost Royalty, we once again get to ride along as the intrepid Mr. Bunny and ever-stylish Mrs. Bunny journey from their home in Canada to the realm of Queen Elizabeth. As with the first book, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire, this tale is a fun read aloud with characters who aren’t afraid to speak their minds. I especially enjoy the good-natured ribbing between Mr. and Mrs. Bunny (or, perhaps, I should say, “Lord and Lady Bunny”).

book empowerFinally, I also read a few short stories from a couple of anthologies on my Kindle. The first, Empower: Fight Like a Girl is a collection of short stories by women TV writers. As its title suggests, the book’s theme is about empowering girls and women. I discovered the collection via Kam Miller’s (one of the contributing writers) and am enjoying doling out the stories over time. Though the genres (supernatural, crime, horror) are not my usual fare, it’s been fun to see how each of these writers chose to embody empowerment.

book irregular creaturesNext, I read the first story in Chuck Wendig’s Kindle Single, Irregular Creatures. I’ve been reading Wendig’s blog, terribleminds, for a while. I am by turns fascinated, impressed, and offended. Wendig is not the type to pull punches. His style is in-your-face and completely unapologetic. I bought Irregular Creatures after reading his blog rant titled, A PSA About Nude Photos. Though it is rife with, shall we say, colorful language, I thought it was spot on and passionate and worth the read. It made me want to support him as a writer, to learn more about the kinds of characters and stories that might come from such a mind … so I started small with the $0.99 collection of short stories. So far, I’m enjoying it and already considering additional purchases from his impressively prolific pen.

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 reading quiet

Here’s to hoping you find your own quiet time to accept the season’s invitation to stop and muse a while, to get all introspective, and to look ahead at the next adventure. Happy writing and happy reading. 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.

 

Quote sourced from The New York Times on the Web

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