Train Travel Residency

Train Travel Residency

Poet Julia Shipley enjoyed several Train Travel Residencies this past winter

The Amtrak Residency is currently suspended, but that hasn’t stopped poet Julia Shipley and two colleagues from creating a Train Travel Residency of their own.

Shipley is a non-fiction writer, journalist and poet who lives in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. This past winter she and two colleagues created their own Train Travel Residency.

They boarded Amtrak’s Southbound Vermonter in Waterbury at ten in the morning and wrote for the three-hour journey to Brattleboro. On their walk up Main Street to Brooks Memorial Library, the three poets stopped for lunch. Once at the library, they held a planned workshop, where they read and gave comments on one another’s work. Shortly before five, they retraced their steps to the station and wrote for the three-hour trip home.

Train Travel Residency

Amtrak residencies were last offered in 2016

The Amtrak Residency, designed to allow creative professionals the time and space to work while traveling by train, included a private room with a desk, a bed, and a window on a long-distance route, with meals in the dining car. Over one hundred residencies were offered in 2016, the last year they were awarded.

But as Shipley and her cohort have proven, for the price of a train ticket, it’s possible to create a shorter residency on rails that combines six intense hours of writing time, three hours of collegial workshop time, and the comfort of sleeping in your own bed. All it takes is a little planning, ingenuity and modest fees.

First, find a round-trip route that takes you to a desired location in the morning and can bring you back at the end of the day. Second, collect your writing buddies and prepare for the workshop by distributing your works-in-progress beforehand, so you and your colleagues can read and comment carefully. And third, save up a small stash to make it all happen.

The round-trip ticket from Waterbury to Brattleboro would have cost Shipley about $36 if she purchased it more than two weeks in advance. And great lunches are to be had in Brattleboro starting at $10. All told, about a week’s worth of fancy lattes near home.

While a DIY residency costs more than a day of writing at your local coffee shop, it also offers more concentrated time, the soothing motion of the train, the company of colleagues, and the stimulation of travel.

Deborah Lee Luskin writing studio

The desk in my writing studio.

I wrote about a DIY residency a few years ago, when I stayed in my brother’s San Francisco apartment while he was away. Now, he wants me to leave home so he can come write in my studio. With just a fraction of the creativity used to put words on a page, writers of all kinds can find inspiring places and uninterrupted time to work on their words.

What are your ideas for a DIY residency?

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator who tells stories to create change. Learn more and read her weekly blog at www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Writer Who Hasn’t Been Writing

 

In her smart and inspiring book, Lab Girl, geobiologist and author Hope Jahren writes, “A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed.” One of many gentle insights on the dogged perseverance of both budding scientists and plant life, this passage invites personal musings on dormancy, both literal and figurative.

Dormancy is a regular part of nature. At this time of year, we think of the world as “coming back to life,” but the innumerable seedlings and buds that finally emerge in spring have, in fact, been very much alive during the long, enchanted sleep of winter. They were never dead; they were just biding their time until the moment was right.

Even houseplants, which live in artificial conditions and are sometimes subject to neglect, have the ability to seemingly resurrect themselves. I have a small cyclamen plant that I saved from a holiday arrangement a few years ago. I did a passing fair job of caring for it until this winter when a severe cold trapped me on the couch for a week. By the time I remembered to water the poor thing, there was nothing left of the cyclamen except two dried leaves and one straggling bud that never had the chance to bloom.

Despite the sorry state of the little plant, I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Not expecting any miracles, I gave it some water and a sunny spot on the windowsill. For months, nothing happened. It looked as if I was caring for a pot of dirt. And then one day there were signs of life.

Like the undulating arms of a tiny terrestrial octopus, several delicate, fuzz-covered shoots arched gracefully out from a tangle of dead stems and partially exposed roots. A few days later, the tips of several shoots had unfurled into beautiful variegated leaves that spread wide and began, imperceptibly, tracking the movements of the sun like an array of miniature radar dishes tuned into the songs of the stars.

There are parts of ourselves—dreams, hopes, beliefs—that are like seeds waiting to germinate or like neglected houseplants that seem half dead, but have really just drawn their life force back into themselves for safe keeping.

Maybe you grew up wishing you could be an explorer or an artist, but life led you down a different path, and now you can hardly recognize yourself as the child who dreamed of sailing the seven seas, writing poetry, or capturing visions in paint. That piece of yourself is not dead and gone; it is just dormant, waiting for the right time to stretch into the light.

You can often coax new growth simply by providing a little sustenance. Just like my cyclamen needed water and sunlight, your sleeping dreams need time and attention. For now, they may be curled up in the quiet dark, but there is no expiration date on their potential.

Our dreams can even benefit from time in stasis. Like a seed that must hold itself in limbo until there is enough space, sunshine, water, and nutrients to sustain it, sometimes our dreams have to wait until we have the right life experience, confidence, or motivation. While our Western sensibilities tend to encourage a state of constant striving, sometimes we would be wiser to practice a more organic way of becoming.

Jahren tells a story in Lab Girl about a lotus seed that scientists dug out of a peat bog in China. After the seed sprouted in the lab, the researchers radiocarbon-dated the discarded shell and found that the seed had been dormant for two thousand years. Truly, you can never say never.

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Jamie Lee Wallace I am a freelance content writer, columnist, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. For more from me, check out the archives for the  Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy posts. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared as a column in the Ipswich Chronicle, and subsequently on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Words On The Page

words on a page

Words on a page – where it all starts.

Whether it’s a post, a radio interview, or a keynote address, events like these represent great opportunities for a writer to build audience and generate income – and they all start with words on the page.

Yesterday, I was interviewed on Vermont Edition about a writing talk I’ll be giving on Friday, called Having the Last Word: How to Write Your Own Obituary.

Vermont Public Radio picked it up due to a commentary I wrote and recorded for them the week before.

Tonight, I’ll be giving the keynote address, Making the Most of Middle Age at the annual meeting of the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, thanks to my blog, The Middle Ages.

Wednesday, I’ll be talking about Getting from Here to There: A History of Transportation and Settlement in Vermont in New Haven, Vermont.

All these presentations represent audience outreach and income, and all started with words on the page.

So, it’s worth thinking about going beyond print to get your message out, and it’s worth remembering that it all starts with organizing your thoughts into words.

How do you reach your audience?

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator who advances issues through narrative and tells stories to create change. Read her weekly blog at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Jane Kenyon’s Advice

I just came across this gem from the late poet, Jane Kenyon, and I thought it might give others guidance for planning their weekend.

Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.

~Jane Kenyon

All best wishes for enough quiet to hear your voice rise within,

~Deborah

How Writing a Book is Like Riding a Roller Coaster

Writing a Book is Like Riding a Roller Coaster.

Writing Roller Coaster

Writing a book is sometimes like riding a roller coaster.

It’s been a long slog uphill as I’ve worked on a long piece of narrative non-fiction on and off for going on three years. The on part has been the research and some published articles; the off part has been a heavy sense of guilt for dragging my feet.

But in the last few weeks, something’s shifted, and I’m coasting now.

Maybe it’s a decision not to be so hard on myself, or to give up feeling badly about the slow pace of my creative process, or finally getting some snow in March. Whatever the reason, I’m riding this wave of focus and forward motion. In fact, I’ve dedicated myself to it so thoroughly that yesterday I didn’t draft my post for Live to Write – Write to Live. And this morning, I decided that I had to work on my project first.

So, while I’m sorry to disappoint any readers who look forward to my posts (and honestly, I have no idea if there are any readers who anticipate my alternate Tuesday posts), my excuse is that I’m modeling the behavior of a writer dedicated to her work. And like writers and plumbers and workers of all kinds, and parents and caregivers and volunteers, I have only so much time, compressed by middle age, when the reality of time running out becomes tangible.

Like all of us, I’ve had to prioritize, and today I put writing Learning to Hunt ahead of my commitment to this blog.

I know I’m lucky: I’m choosing one writing project over another. I know that many writers have to choose between making their kids breakfast or sitting down at their desk. I’ve been there – at that desk at five in the morning so I could write before the kids woke, and I taught them how to make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as soon as they were counter height (with the help of a step-stool, I might add).

And while kids grow up, parents age. I’m now caring for my 93-year old dad. But I still make it a priority to write. And now, I’m making it a priority to advance the first draft of this book.

I’ve achieved a critical mass on this project, climbed up the steep slope of trying to figure out how to start. I’m now in one of those sections of composition where each decision I’ve made up to now makes the next one more evident.

I know this roller coaster, though. I’ve been on it before. And I know that there will be other steep hills ahead. But I’m making the most of this exhilarating ride where the words flow and the story takes place.

I’m counting on your forgiveness for posting a few hours late, and I’m wishing you all equally joyous rides where ink flows from your pens, forming just the right words on your page.

Deborah Lee Luskin makes her blog deadlines most of the time: every other Tuesday here with thoughts about the business and craft of writing, and essays every Wednesday at Living In Place. Thanks for reading.

Publishing Advice From Author Bill Schubart

GUEST POST

Guest Post by Bill Schubart

Bill Schubart, author

 

 

This guest post is by author and colleague Bill Schubart, who gives a brief, long view of the publishing industry’s transformation from Twentieth-century traditional publishing to today’s many options. He ends with good advice to all writers. Read on!

HOUSE BRANDS

I grew up amid two publishing families. Roger Straus (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Alfred and Blanche Knopf. They were both family cousins and close friends of my paternal grandparents. In the fifties, the publishing world had two entities, vanity publishers (Vantage Press et al.) and the traditional publishing houses. The traditional publishers enjoyed their reader’s brand respect.

BRAND IDENTITY

Today, in this Amazon-driven maelstrom of buying, publishing, and distribution options, most publishers have lost any cohesive brand equity. By “brand equity”, I simply mean value recognition – whether a publisher’s name evokes any specific quality or characteristic in the consumer’s mind. If I say, “Harper Collins,” does anything come to mind? Does anyone go into a bookstore and ask, “What’s new from Random House?” Coherent publishing brands evoke in the consumer some identity attached to the books they publish like Harlequin Romance, Chelseas Green, or National Geographic. Its lack makes online marketing a challenge.

VALUING CONTENT

Bill Schubart

Lila & Theron is a finalist for a Benjamin Franklin award in best popular fiction.

Furthermore, publishers failed miserably to ascribe any value to the content they sell, leaving consumers to believe that a book’s delivery medium defines its selling price – $25 for a hard-cover book; $18 for a paperback, and $15 for an audio book. So, when ebooks arrived, readers assumed they would be free as the transactional cost to buy and deliver one was virtually nil. Had publishers defined their work with a value, say $8.00, and then allowed consumers to choose the delivery medium, authors and publishers would be in much better shape.  As in music and film, the ability to monetize digitized intellectual property is at grave risk.

HYBRID PUBLISHING

The good side of all this is that technology has filled the void between vanity and traditional publishing, enabling anyone to publish either alone or with a for-hire or “hybrid publisher.” There are many professionals who can assist and advise would-be self-publishers about the universe of these intermediary publishing services. The ins and outs of self-publishing are too numerous to detail in a blog post and can be better served in a panel discussion. I can only speak to stand alone self-publishing and traditional publishing, as they form the basis of my own experience.

ADVICE TO WRITERS

I will, however, offer one piece of advice to writers seeking to publish in any channel. Escape yourself. Get out of your own head. When writing, you must inhabit the imagination of your intended reader. When seeking an agent or publisher, you must understand the constraints and protocols of their business model. When your self-published books arrive, you must understand the rudiments and challenges of bookselling as you approach a bookstore owner and ask him or her to promote you and carry your books.

EMPATHY FOR ALL

It’s good to believe in yourself and your work, but only when you have empathy for and knowledge of those who will make your book a success, will you start down the road to a successful career.

Bill Schubart lives works and writes in Hinesburg, VT. His latest novel Lila & Theron is a finalist for a Benjamin Franklin award in best popular fiction.

Deborah & Bill met at Vermont Public Radio; both write fiction set in Vermont.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Verbs

Power of Verbs

Verbs are the engines that power your sentences.

Here’s an exercise that will help you learn the power of verbs.

See if you can make the following paragraph more interesting by changing the verbs. Challenge yourself to show this narrator either speeding through her day or dragging through it by the verbs you choose. If you like, post your revision in the comments below.

I got up this morning: I got dressed I got coffee and a bagel when I got gas. I got the news on the radio, and I got the mail on the way down the hall to the office. I got through my email before my ten o’clock meeting, but I got a phone call from a client so I got to the meeting late.

After the meeting I got through the HR about my health benefits, because I got a bill for my last doctor’s visit that didn’t get covered by my insurance and should have. I got a liverwurst sandwich at the deli across the street and I got red licorice at the candy store next door. I got a lot done between one and three because I got smart and turned my email and phone off. But my boss got mad because she couldn’t get through. When I told her all I got done, she got thoughtful. I got to go out to the bakery with her and got a coffee and an éclair and got a chance to tell her about all the ways I get interrupted at work and all the ways we could get more done. She got it and thanked me. I got back to my desk and got some more done before I got back in my car. Even with traffic, I got to my yoga class in time and got home feeling like I’d had a good day.

Give it a try – then show off your work and any comments about what you learned.

Always wishing you the exact word to express precisely what it is you want to say, ~Deborah.