Flexing a writing muscle

(I know, are you sick of me yet? Because I’ve been MIA for a while, I decided to fill in a few holes this week. Thanks for putting up with me and oh by the way, I’m happy to hear that I’m not alone in my book hoarding tendencies. )

Today’s little discussion is going to be about breaking out of your rut.

“What rut?” You may think – “What’s she talking about? I’m perfectly happy writing short stories, non-fiction, copy material or news articles.”

And chances are you probably are happy. You’ve got a routine, you can write what you need to write and perhaps it’s even gotten easy.

You don’t want to rock the boat, right?

But look at any kind of exercise program. You never go to the gym and do the exact same routine every day. You’re supposed to mix it up. Cardio one day, weights another, maybe even a day of rest. When you do this, your entire body gets stronger.

I recently went to Spain with a friend. When I’m on vacation I usually take at least 3 books to read (what if I finish one and there’s no bookstore around?) This time though, I only took one book. Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing. I took one book so that I would read that one book.

I’m not a travel writer. Oh sure, I can write *stories* about my travels but that’s different from “travel writing.”  (Here’s an example of my “story travel writing.

While we were on the plane(s), I read my book.

Before I turned off my light each night, I read my book.

I carried it with me and read the excellent examples of travel essays with pen in hand, highlighting certain parts that I thought were brilliant.

And something funny started to happen. When we visited a cathedral, I started noticing details that I might not have before. I began to pay more attention to history, how things were constructed and how it all fit together.

At a restaurant I noticed the atmosphere, the prices, the glasses in which our wine was served.

It’s like I started using some muscles that although they had been there all along had become weakened from non-use.

Does this make me a travel writer?

Absolutely not, no more than getting up and walking around the block makes me a marathoner.

But it does open my eyes. It adds more muscle to my skill kit. I liked what I read enough to try writing a few travel articles. Like anyone else with a new program, I’ll start small, but if I keep with it enough smalls will eventually lead to a large.

Consider flexing a new or unused writing muscle in your spare time this weekend.

Read, do, write.

 

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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.

Hi, I’m Wendy and I’m a book hoarder

Hi, I’m Wendy and I’m a book hoarder.

I try not to buy any new books but I can’t seem to help myself. I read a back cover about an interesting story –

I want to know more.

I hear about a new vegan family cookbook.

I want to try the recipes.

I watch someone being interviewed on a show.

I want to learn more.

And nope, buying them to read on a Kindle just doesn’t do it for me. I have to hold the book in my hands, smell the pages, feel the paper, see the font that’s used.

I am aghast when I enter a house that has no bookshelves, where on earth do you keep them?

I secretly judge people when I pass a bedroom and there is no book on the night stand.

And yes, I have more books than I can possibly read in my lifetime. I’m trying to offload some of them but it’s like saying goodbye to friends – something I’d rather not do. I keep books that I’ve started and lost interest in thinking that *someday* I’ll get back to them. So I make deals with myself. I can’t bring in a new book until I move out at least 3 books.

It worked until I went into an independent bookstore. By my calculation I need to get rid of 27 books by tonight in order to stay true to my commitment.

And then there are used books. Whenever I go with my daughters to a thrift store, they go right to the clothing and I to the books. Yesterday I brought home 2 travel essay books.

Add 6 more books to my removal total.

My husband is a very tolerant person. As an avid reader himself, he’s never commented on my “habit” – I mean when making bad life choices buying books is pretty low on the list.

But still the other day he quietly pointed me to a news article. Apparently the Japanese have a word for book hoarders.

The desire to buy more books than you can physically read in one human lifetime is actually so universal, there’s a specific word for it: tsundoku. Defined as the stockpiling of books that will never be consumed, the term is a Japanese portmanteau of sorts, combining the words “tsunde” (meaning “to stack things”), “oku” (meaning “to leave for a while”) and “doku” (meaning “to read”).

Who knew? In some ways it’s nice to finally be recognized (diagnosed?) for what I have, but on the other hand – wow, who knew this was a thing? It looks like I’m a member of a tribe that I didn’t even know existed.

So I guess I need to modify my introduction.

Hi, I’m Wendy and I have tsundoku.

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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.

Living linear (or not) in a world of imagination

I recently had to see a few different doctors about a medical condition of mine (I’m fine.) As it turned out to fix my condition, I was supposed to have surgery in one office and then travel to another site, the next day for a surgical repair by a plastic surgeon.

When I initially consulted with the plastic surgeon he explained the proposed surgery to me. It was going to be complicated and involved skin flaps. I told him that I was a writer, had done a ton of research prior to the appointment and that I had many questions.

Some questions were on what he planned to do.

Some had to do with infection rates (I used to be a clinical microbiologist so I knew enough to be concerned about that.)

Some questions were just about things I wanted to know.

I asked my questions and at one point he stopped me. “I can tell you’re a linear type. I have a lot of patients who are engineers and I can see that you’re like them. I’ll tell you what, write down all your questions and I’ll answer them on the day you have surgery.”

Well, okay then.

The thing is, I’m not a linear thinker (just take one look at the clutter on my desk and you’d see that was clearly not a valid description of me.)

I was a little miffed. As a woman asking questions, was this the persona I emitted? Or as an ego-driven surgeon was that the persona he assumed of a woman who dared to clarify information?

As it turned out, I didn’t have to use that particular doctor’s services (yeah!). The wound I had following the first surgery was something that could be closed up onsite. It was all good.

Yesterday I went to get the stitches out. As the nurse was (literally) in my face, she kept up some small talk to distract me from scissors and scalpels (that again, were literally in my face.) “You’re a writer?” she asked me. She liked to write but had never gotten anything published.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m a writer.”

We talked some more (there were a lot of stitches) about the life of writers, how I worked from home, and how I was able to be a full-time freelance writer because my husband had a good job that included benefits.

“It must be fun,” she sighed.

I told her it was. “And the best part is that I get to hang around with other writers, the people in my tribe.’ I told her. “Writers are the most extraordinary people because they all invent these wonderful worlds in their heads.”

She finished, bandaged me up, and I was on my way.

Two different situations – two vastly different reactions to what I am as a person – as a work of life-art.

Look I could read a lot into this – male vs. female perspective, pre-surgery jitters vs. post surgery relaxation, doctor vs. nurse, there are a million things to compare, but what I want to leave you with is that old adage that we’ve heard a million times.

When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. (ass-u-me)

As writers, it’s our job to give out correct and appropriate information so that our readers don’t make the wrong assumption about us or our stories. We can’t assume they have prior knowledge, or that they hold similar beliefs. Heck we can’t even assume that they’ll be the same audience that read our last piece.

And if we don’t, if we somehow give someone the wrong impression of us or our work, then we need to take a good look at that situation.

Sometimes it’s the other person’s fault, their filter make them only see something in a certain way.

But it’s important to at least acknowledge that sometimes it just might be *our* filter that made us act (or write) in a certain way to give that impression.

Soooooo not linear.

 

***

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.

KeepCup – a great way to warm cold fingers

 

As you know I live in New Hampshire and as you *might* know, we just got hit with a big snow storm. It wasn’t as bad as was predicted (30 inches predicted, we got around 16), but we still need to shovel out from under the snow and it’s cold again.

As would have it, right before the storm hit I did some errands and one item I picked up was this reusable glass KeepCup from a local organic food/salad/yummy restaurant.

KeepCups originated in Australia. I thought it looked cool and the fact that it was glass and reusable appealed to me. I try to stay away from all mugs made in China as more often than not they use paints and glazes that contain lead.

The cup I got was the small size. It’s a round little tub without handles (but it does have a protective band that prevents you from burning your hand when you pick it up.

Here’s what I discovered. Because there are no handles you have to essentially cup the cup, which means that it warms your hands when you drink.

As one who during winter months sits in front of a heater and who has been known to wear Bob Cratchit fingerless gloves, I find that when I type for a long time my fingers can get ice-cold (seriously , I’ll put them on my husband’s neck and he’ll reply “how are you even alive?”) It turns out that this little cup is a God-send.

I fill it and pick it up often just to warm my hands.

The downside? It’s not insulated and the coffee (or tea) doesn’t stay hot for a long time, but with the small size I got, it’s hardly an issue (plus it limits the amount of coffee I drink, 2 or 3 small cups is enough and then I switch to herbal teas.

The upside? My hands get warm while I get caffeinated – that’s called a win-win.

I don’t expect anyone to run out and buy this cup, BUT if you are a writer and you suffer from cold fingers when you type for an extended amount of time or if you have arthritis in your fingers, you could do worse than look into these KeepCups.

*

I am not affiliated with Keep Cup in anyway. Just sharing good information when I find it.

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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.

How to begin writing when you can’t

 

My son had to write a paper for his college class. He had a week to do it and while he did write some notes over the weekend, he left writing the bulk of the report until the night before it was due. It wasn’t that he’s a bad writer. It wasn’t that he didn’t know the subject.

It was that he was overwhelmed and he didn’t know where to start.

We’ve all been there before thinking how on earth can I write anything that’s going to be judged (in this case graded) by someone else? It’s too big to do, so I’ll just sit here and do nothing in my fear-induced paralysis.

The problem with ignoring the challenge is that it doesn’t get done. And if you want to get a project done (or pass a class) then you’ve got to buckle down and get started. This is how I advised him:

First step – write an outline. It doesn’t have to be a complex outline just put the general points.

  • Introduction – definitions, relevant history, purpose of paper, layout of discussion
  • Part One – definitions, how it relates, good things, bad things, graphic
  • Part Two – definitions, how it relates, good things, bad things, graphic
  • Part Three – definitions, how it relates, good things, bad things, graphic
  • Summary – bring it home baby, repeat your purpose and state why you have proved it.

He knew what he wanted to say, he just hadn’t known how. Using this format, my son banged out an outline. But even though he now had a structure, my son was still stuck.

Second step – write. “So what’s the easiest part to write about?” I asked. He pointed to Part Three of his outline which described a type of technology that he found interesting. “Well then go ahead and start there.”

As long as you have a structure and you’ve identified your purpose, you never have to start at the beginning if you don’t want to. Have a killer idea for a summary?, well then jot that down first. Feel more confident about one particular topic? then write about it. You don’t have to worry about complete sentences, or even coherent paragraphs, you simply need to capture what it is you want to write about.

Because once you start writing, you start writing.

Following this approach, he was able to crank out a first draft. But as we all know, first drafts are not meant to be judged by anyone. He knew his paper had holes and he knew that it didn’t transition well from one topic to another but he didn’t know how to fix it.

Third step – get feedback. This is where a trusted confident comes in handy. My husband sat in the room with my son and while my son read the paper out loud my husband asked questions like Why? and How? when it appeared that information was missing or was confusing. When you are so close to the subject you can be guaranteed that you’ll miss things. A second pair of eyes is critical.

There was no judgment, there was no criticism. There was only a desire to make the document stronger.

The paper got done, it was passed in the next day and my son let out the breath he had held since it had been assigned. This is the method my son ended up using to write his assignment, but take a look at the steps:

  1. Outline
  2. Write
  3. Get feedback

And you’ll recognize that the process he used for his paper is the exact same method every writer uses for every piece of writing. It’s not magic, it’s just a path to the goal. As a writer, you need to step back in order to break your work down *before* you put pen to paper – you need to know where your words are going. Once that’s done you then work to coherently build the parts into what will become the glorious whole that is your piece.

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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.

Friday Fun What’s the writing project you keep avoiding?

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:   We all have at least one. What’s that one writing project that you keep avoiding?

 

wendy-shot Wendy E.N. Thomas – for me, it’s a fiction story I had started years ago during a NaNoWriMo effort. Each night I’d read what I had written out loud to the kids and to this day they still talk about that story. There was something a little magical about it.

For whatever reason, I’ve convinced myself that I stink at fiction and that my skills are forever tied to non-fiction. Non-fiction speaks to me and it feels so much safer than fiction.

But perhaps it’s time to revisit that story of mine because even if it falls flat – that would be far better than always asking “what if?”

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Right now, I’m with Wendy. I have been working on nonfiction so much that fiction seems very exotic to me these days. I still have lots of ideas for fiction pieces, and sometimes I jot them down, but I haven’t written any fiction in the past year. There’s a story a wrote a first draft of for NaNo a few years ago that I’d love to get back to, but I’m not sure when.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin: I’m not sure if I’m avoiding the two books that accompany me on every walk, while I’m cooking dinner, and even into the shower. They’re like good friends who live far away. I’m looking forward to when they’ll come and visit. When I called it avoidance, the separation made me anxious; lately, I’ve come to respect the richness of our time apart – and I’m looking forward to the intensity when we do make time for one another.

Writing muses

I’ve always collected things just as I collect memories, so I happen to have many different muses around my office (so many that at times it looks more like a play yard than an office.) Among my current top 3 are:

My Writing Witch – I’ve had this little doll for years and somewhere along the way she lost her broom, but she’s stood by me in good times and bad.

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An inspirational magazine cover sent to me by a kindred spirit. It motivates me to be strong and persevere.

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My beloved office mate – Pippin, who has never once disagreed with the direction my writing has taken. Such a good boy.

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Look around your writing space. What’s there that inspires and motivates you?

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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.