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Due to a recent burst pipe in the attic, I had a change to move a lot of ‘stuff’ around in order to make room for ceiling repairs. It’s been like spring cleaning, but in the dead of winter. I’ve made quite a few discoveries as I’ve sorted into a keep and toss piles.

Common Phrases and Where They Come FromOne of my discoveries is this great little book called Common Phrases and Where They Come From by John Mordock & Myron Korach.

I thought it would be fun to share some snippets of phrases I find myself using – and the history behind them.

I start off with the phrase and how I use it. The bullet points are my summaries of the write-ups within the book.

The phrase “all agog” has me seeing someone with mouth wide open in great surprise. It turns out, I’m not far off.

  • Medical practitioners noticed that when somebody was anticipating a great happy event, their eyes became lustrous and animated. This eye condition became “goggling eyes,” and groups of people stood “with all eyes goggling.” Then, over time, the phrase became “all agog.” (Disappointment resulted in “all aground.”)

I think “apple of my eye” refers to the person/people that one loves or cherishes. Children are usually the apple of their parents’ eyes, right?

  • Long ago, people in the medical field closely studied the pupil of the human eye and concluded it was apple shaped. The pupil became known as “the apple of the eye.” Then, since the eye was considered as vital as life itself, the gallant hero began to call his love interest “the apple of my eye.”

Although not one I’ve used, “bandy with words” strikes a chord with me as a writer. How can a writer not love to play with words?

  • Turns out, it basically means to talk a lot about nothing! It morphed from a game called ‘bandy’ (described a lot like table tennis), where opponents hit a ball back and forth until one of them misses. Bandy = hit and miss. And to people watching the game, it seemed pointless (ooh, my own pun!); so bandy eventually became associated with idle conversation.

As a mystery fan, I enjoy “red herring”s in stories — particularly trying to figure out what clues are false. And it’s quite fun as a writer to add them to my stories.

  • Campaigning politicians spend a lot of time focusing on matters irrelevant to real issues. It was first known as “dragging a red herring across the trail” then got shortened to “red herring”. It was also used to describe scholars using illogical points to try to prove a thesis. And it was also used to (literally) describe criminals who used strong-smelling smoked red herrings to cover their scent as they ran from justice. Bloodhounds eventually had to be trained to tell the difference between true scents, and that of smoked red herring.

These are just 4 small examples of the fun with phrases people have had over time.

This is a fun book to read through.

Isn’t it amazing how some phrases have morphed into what we use them for today? I find it fascinating.

Is there a phrase you’re curious about?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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Once a week I am kidnapped. And I’m actually okay with it.

I have a friend (hi Gina) who is convinced that if I just have the time to write my book that my book will happen.

Good friends like that are kind of awesome. She recognizes that although I have a book with a compelling story, it’s the money projects, the wildfires, and the kids that are *always* put first – meaning that my book languishes. (That’s one reason why the weekend at the Buddhist retreat was so productive – it was a weekend of only writing with no distractions.)

So my friend makes sure that I get to her house, one morning a week from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. and we write, she on her next book and me on my project (working title: A Tick and a Chick – How a deformed chicken helped a mom cope with her son’s chronic Lyme disease.) Oh sure we talk a bit, and we’re always throwing technique questions back and forth, but then we go to separate rooms and we write.  In part, because of her insistence to this schedule I have a 300 page first-draft manuscript.

Yesterday I was going over a hard copy of my draft making notations where more information was needed and where events needed to be put in a different sequence in order to make sense to the reader (even though they made perfect sense to me J ) and I realized that the first 100 pages looks pretty damn good.

I floated out the idea that perhaps I should query an agent and send along those 100 pages.

“Not on your life,” my friend counseled, reminding me that “This has happened before.”

And it has. I’ve had 3 very good literary agents show interest in my project but when they requested a full manuscript, a kid got sick, we had school events, work projects showed up, you know, life happened and with one thing leading to another, interest dropped.

Literary agents want to make the sale – they aren’t particularly keen about sitting around and waiting until the stars line up perfectly in your life.

I console myself by saying that my story has evolved and it wouldn’t have been ready at those junctures, but even I can recognize sour grapes when I see them.

So while it defies every bit of writing advice (never send a completed memoir, just send the first 50 pages) I have to agree with my friend’s logic. If I don’t get it done, chances are, I won’t get it done.

The bar has been set.

My friend wants my book done by January. And with a supporter like this in my back pocket, I’m starting to believe that this may actually happen.

It's all right in here

It’s all right in here

Update from my friend: When she read this post her response was:

“Love your NHWN blog post!! And what’s this may actually happen stuff … it will happen!!!”

Ooooh that one is a task-master!  :-)

***

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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I know that a few of you were interested in what exactly happened during the Buddhist Mediation Writing retreat.

IMG_20131005_150539816Friday afternoon, after we had all gotten settled in, we met as a group. The instructor told us the format of the retreat (meditation, writing workshops, writing time, *great* food) and then we went around the room and introduced ourselves.

There were poets, future novelists, those who wrote journals – the common denominator was that they all loved the art and craft of writing.

When it was my turn to introduce myself, I told everyone that I was a writer. I wrote full time for a living. I was what some of them wanted to be.

“Be careful what you wish for,” I told them. I spend my days writing what other people want me to write and as a result I don’t have time to work on the project that *I* really want to get out. If it’s not the editors requesting a story, then it’s my kids who need a ride somewhere,” I whined.

“I never have time to focus on what I want to do.”

This was when the instructor said to me to use this workshop as I felt I needed to. “If you need to go off somewhere and write, go ahead. If you’d rather skip the workshops and meditation feel free. Do what you need to do.”

“Oh no,” I glibly replied, “I’m here for the experience. I’m going to participate in everything.”

Once we had gone around the room, the instructor told us that after dinner we were going to enter into something called “Noble Silence” for the rest of the weekend. That meant no talking.

At all.

Wait. What??????!!!! No one had told me about that part.

As anyone who knows me is aware, that’s one tall order.

But a funny thing happened when we stopped talking (for the record, I didn’t consider Facebook updates “talking”) when I stopped hearing other people’s voices, I started hearing my own.

I sat down at the end of a long dining table and I wrote.

I went to some mediation sessions (I made it to one a day) but I didn’t go to all four. I didn’t even go to the workshops, instead I wrote and wrote and wrote.  Seriously if my butt wasn’t in that chair for writing, then it was in the SUV where  I was sleeping.

People walked through the room, I wrote. Bells rang, calling for meditation, I wrote. The story, my story, that had been hovering on the edges of my mind, *finally* had the freedom to come out. I heard the voices in my head telling me how it was and because of the silence, I was able to feel some of the pain that I had been so careful to stuff into a jar so that it wouldn’t overwhelm me.

My initial wise-guy response to the “Noble silence” was “what’s so noble about silence?”

I had it wrong, by Sunday I realized my query should have been “what is there that’s not noble about silence?”

Between Friday night and Sunday afternoon, I ended up writing 35,000 words. Combined with what I went up with, I now have a 300 page first draft manuscript.

Was it worth it? You betcha’.

Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat.

My only regret (besides being woken up by the 3 resident roosters at 5:30 a.m.) was that it took a writer’s workshop for me to give myself the permission to write what I wanted to write.

As a writer, I should have embraced that permission all along.

***

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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Two weeks ago I wrote a post (“In the Company of Writers“) about my journey as a writer over the past ten years. I created a list of the things I have learned, and included the following:

  • Success of others doesn’t diminish your chance of success. It improves it.

Two of the comments questioned that statement, and so I thought I would explain, or try to.

The easy answer is that being around success you learn how people create their “luck”:

  • When you have a friend who gets a story published, you learn about markets, and niches, and submission processes.
  • When you know writers with agents, you hear how they made that happen. You take a look at a query letter that worked, and you learn. You hear stories about rejection, and you take heart. And perhaps you have opportunities to meet agents in the process.
  • When you have a friend who has a book published, you learn by watching her go through the process. You learn about proposals, contracts, deadlines, timelines, editing, copy edits, Goodreads, ARCs, blog tours, book launches, metadata, Amazon rankings, and B&N lists. And you gain knowledge in advance of needing it, which is always helpful.
  • Authors need teams to help them market, and to offer support. So you pass out book marks, drive to signings, and clap loudly at panels. And you find that talking about your friend’s work is easy, and fun. And again, good practice.

Luck requires hard work. Seeing other people navigate the waters of publication, your path may become easier. But probably not. It will just become clearer, and a lot less scary.

But this philosophy is about more than learning. It is about self preservation. There is room enough for everyone, and success is defined a lot of ways. But discontent in the form of “why not me?” creates room for jealousy, which soon turns into full blown envy. And this isn’t a good place for writers to live.

Instead, be happy for the success of others, especially for your friends. Raise a glass over every contract, dance when they get a book deal, weep when they get on a best seller list. Ride on the wake of their success, cheering all the way. If nothing else, it is a lot more fun.

“A rising tide will lift all boats.” — John F Kennedy

************

J.A.Hennrikus writes mysteries, and blogs with five friends all in varying stages of launching new series over at Wicked Cozy Authors.

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This Friday I am going to a weekend Buddhist writer’s retreat in northern New Hampshire. This is how the retreat is described:

At the Write Meditation retreat, we will delve into the creative writing process within the context of Buddhist meditation practice and explore how the qualities of mindfulness and compassion can enhance the generative flow of creative writing.

banner-aboutThis retreat has much to do with Listening. . . listening with the heart, mind and senses to what arises from the stillness of our being; listening for the voice and narrative that yearns to be expressed through writing.

We will use techniques and skillful means that help bypass our tendency to inhibit or self-edit the creative impulse and help identify the themes and images we most want to explore in our writing. We will also work with methods for revising and revivifying works in progress.

Sounds nice, right?

Although I’ve been to writer’s days and conferences, where there is a frenetic mishmash between workshops and exhibits, I have never gone to an event that is focused on nothing but writing for an entire weekend.

My biggest complaint about my personal writing is that I never have time for it. There is always a job that pops up or a kid’s soccer game that is out of town, or…. My best intentions always leave me with a blank page and a bit of a pissed-off demeanor.

Hopefully this will address that very issue of time.

So what does one do at a Buddhist retreat? The short answer is anything you want. There is a structure, but you are not obligated to follow it.

You do what you need to do. (That’s kind of how Buddhists roll.)

If, however, you do need some structure, there are meditation (ha, my spell check had corrected that to medication)  sessions –  running from 45 minutes to 1 hours – a few times a day, designated writing times, and even an opportunity to share your writing with others.

I figure that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this. I’ll be attending all of the meditations (I used to attend a Buddhist meditation group and so for me, sitting for an hour meditating is not as difficult as it sounds) and workshops, while working on my personal writing only (not bringing up any article work) during the dedicated writing sessions. Not sure if I’ll read my material out loud but I’ll certainly go to cheer on others.

I’m also looking forward to the vegetarian meals that will be offered. We’ve all heard that expression “garbage in equals garbage out.”  That applies as much to your physical body as to your imagination and writing soul. Even on my restricted diet, (for Lyme disease) my diet could always use some cleaning up.

Between the meditation and the food, I look forward to the cleaning out of stagnant materials that may be interfering with my writing (really, Wendy?? You can’t find 20 minutes during the week in which to write?)

And in an effort to really experience the retreat, I’ll be sleeping in my car for the weekend.

Yup, my car.

I signed up for the camping option.  There were bunk house and even private room options available (for an added cost) but I figured – in for a penny, in for a pound. I was all ready to set up one of my son’s single person tents on the retreats grounds (several people do this) when I realized that our (very large) SUV is easily the size of any tent (and its water and windproof.) I’m going to put all the seats down and lay out my sleeping bag in the back. I don’t plan on sleeping much and the way I see it, your eyes are closed when you are sleeping so who really cares where you are (And besides, the doors will be locked.) I’m just going to make sure that I have plenty of warm socks, a flashlight with a backup, and a polar fleece liner for my sleeping bag.

I have friends who are mortified that I would even consider doing anything like this retreat (especially the car sleeping part) and who are concerned that I might be falling into a “cult”, (once again, repeat after me Buddhism is not a religion but a philosophy) but, I’m not worried, the way I figure – it’s all about trying new experiences and getting that story.

And this will definitely be an experience.

***

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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Today’s guest post comes from a friend; Lisa Allen, who is not only a talent writer, but also a Literary Life Coach.

Family lore puts four-dozen Golden Books on my bookshelf before I turned two. As much as defining my familial reputation as the bookish one, I like to think that such an early relationship with words and paper has also served as a subliminal guide towards my role as a Literary Life Coach. What is a Literary Life Coach? Well, it’s another way of saying book shepherd, book midwife, or writing coach. I like to include the word ‘literary,’ as it is my way of implying quality for the end-product.

1182178016_50870517afIn the excitement of seeing their names in print, it is easy for first-time authors to overlook fundamentals, such as grammar and spelling, before self-publishing or querying a manuscript. Although I do not proofread, copy edit or edit manuscripts, my Rolodex of publishing professionals includes others who do. It is my mission to ensure that my clients’ projects have integrity, from the inside out.

A writer creates their own work schedule. This is where I bring out my virtual pom-poms. The Literary Life Coach is a customizable cheerleader, a writer’s accountability partner, with a mutually agreed upon timeline and an eye on the end-goal. Those pom poms are shaking, twisting and shouting during every phone check-in. Working with an accountability partner is a writer’s tool for keeping a project on track, an ongoing source of encouragement.

Everyone has a book in them, I say, and have always enjoyed talking with people about their writing projects (you don’t have to be a professional writer to have a book idea or publish a blog!), problem-solving concept and/or structural issues, encouraging writers and following up on their progress. A cross-pollinator of people and ideas, it is thrilling to help others make valuable connections, so if you meet with me, be sure to bring paper and pen for note taking. As the Literary Life Coach I work with non-fiction writers, primarily business owners, who use books or websites and blogs to strengthen their visibility in the marketplace — to help them make noise in the world.

Recently, I had a call from a business consultant who described her current project as “writing hell,” although she is already the author of several books. With input from her team of advisers, she had three versions of the manuscript. She was absolutely stuck on how to organize the chapters and how to edit out some elements that should be used for a different project. How lucky was I that she was vacationing at her lake house, and that we could meet there for a day-long session?! Together we worked out the best flow of information for her book, and, the true test, after sleeping on it, she was energized and focused and back on track.

A very different kind of project is the children’s picture book biography of a famous historic figure. The manuscript has been edited, finely groomed, given the thumbs-up by important people in high places, yet the author needed regularly scheduled check-in sessions to override self-doubt. With the manuscript already in good order, we have brainstormed publishing options and marketing strategies. I will soon be meeting with the author and her illustrator, an accomplished artist. It is exciting to see this project come to fruition.

Writing can be a lonely process. Belief in a project’s completion can feel elusive. For the duration of a story’s journey, a Literary Life Coach is that guide with a headlamp, a reassuring voice in the dark.

 About the author:

web_Headshot_Lisa Allen 2013 150x200Lisa Allen Lambert first discovered the lure of writing while researching and writing travel news at Yankee magazine. Later, she wrote, designed, and self-published Eating Clean, a cookbook based on the healing and healthful benefits of unprocessed foods. Recently, an excerpt from her MFA memoir thesis, “Paradise Not Quite Found,” was a finalist in the anthology contest “Times Were A-Changing.”

As the Literary Life Coach, Lisa can help you with your nonfiction book or blogging projects. She is the managing editor for Tall Poppy Writers (website launching in Sept.), a new online consortium that connects smart readers with smart books, and is the assistant residency director for a low-residency MFA program in creative writing.

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Early this year I spent about four months of my (writing) time reworking a short story for submission to an anthology. I edited, rewrote, shared the story with my critique group, and rewrote again. The week the story was due I was in New York City with my family. I stayed up late tweaking the manuscript and got up early to do it again (and again, and again.)

When I finally mailed the manuscript, I knew I couldn’t have done any more–I also knew the story wouldn’t be accepted.

It wasn’t until the story was out of my hands and on it’s way to the editors of the anthology that I saw the “fatal flaw” in my story. I realized, in that moment, that the story didn’t work on a fundamental level. I saw that it was a good story, and I also saw how I could have made it better.

A part of me was disappointed, but another part of me realized I had to go through the process of preparing the story for submission and sending it off in order to get to that epiphany.

The clarity gained from the experience of writing the best story I possibly could and actually submitting it was priceless.

In my coaching work, I often talk about “eagle vision” vs. “mouse vision” with my clients. Eagle vision is the big picture view, seeing everything from a great height and distance, as the majestic eagle does. Mouse vision is seeing just what’s in front of you, the very next task, as the busy mouse does. I believe that every aspect of our lives benefits when we are able to use both these types of vision–and, if you asked me, I would have said that I used both routinely.

However, I jumped right into mouse vision with my short story and didn’t take the time to stop and use my eagle vision to view my work as a whole, at least not until after I sent it off.  If I had switched my focus from “zoom” to “panoramic,” I think I could have made my story even better.

But I don’t feel that I wasted my time because I learned a valuable lesson: In writing, as in life, eagle vision and mouse vision work best when they are used alternately.

Diving into the work of rewriting (mouse vision) works best only after a look at the big picture (eagle vision) to make sure each task gets me further toward my goal of creating the best story I can. Also, pulling back from the work periodically throughout the editing process to make sure I’m still on the right track is important.

And, finally, no writing is really wasted. It’s all part of the journey toward becoming a more skilled writer. After submitting that short story, I know I’m a better writer than I was before I wrote it.

What lessons have you learned from your writing life?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD, is a wife, mother, stepmother, writer, life coach, and family physician. I’m slowly but steadily putting in the hours in hopes of becoming a published author. In the process, I’m having a great time!

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