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Friday, September 30, 2011

“If you want to write . . . a novel, a short story, your memoir . . . if you want to write anything, the first step is to start writing. It’s the next step that’s the tricky one and the one where many writers trip up: keep writing.”—Judy Reeves

The key to writing anything is a daily writing practice. Sure, you can write now and then, only when you feel like it, but the writing muscle cannot develop any strength if it is exercised only once in awhile. If you want to finish a project , if you want to improve your craft, write every single day.

If you don’t, you’ll become like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz – you’ll need lots of time and effort to oil those rusty joints before the words start to flow.

Write every day, even if it’s only for a little while. Don’t let your writing joints get stiff and awkward. The more you write, the more limber you get, and if you write every day, soon you’ll be cartwheeling through stories and sprinting through the pages.

“Write every day, the muse insists. Don’t skip a day no matter how you’re feeling, no matter how many wars your country is fighting, no matter how many tornados are heading your way. Crawl into your storm cellar and pick up a pen. If you can’t think of anything to say, write the word God again and again. If you don’t believe in God, write the word dog. Everyone believes in dogs.” – Sy Safransky

Thursday, September 29, 2011

“In the past few years I've assigned books to be read before a student attends one of my weeklong seminars. I have been astonished by how few people -- people who supposedly want to write -- read books, and if they read them, how little they examine them.” ― Natalie Goldberg

When I started writing, one of the first rules I was told was “Read. Write. Don’t Stop.”

Often, I meet people who want to write or are writing, but who don’t read. Maybe they used to, but they just don’t have the time anymore. I think they view reading as a luxury. A leisure pursuit. Which it can be, but as a writer, it’s part of your craft.

As a writer, you learn to read differently. You may still read the same old fluff you always enjoyed, but now you look at it and decide which parts you admire, and which you would do differently. Read in and out of your genre, read anything and everything. Read writers whom you admire. Read classics. Read what you want to write.

I’ve heard some writers say they don’t read because they are afraid it will affect their ‘voice’ (the style in which they write). It probably will, but what you write probably won’t be derivative. What you read will join the rest of what you’ve read, and mingle and simmer in your head, and emerge as your very own style.

Art students used to copy the masters before they began painting on their own. Writing isn’t much different, except our medium is words rather than pigments. When you find a writer you particularly admire, try copying a few paragraphs or a few pages. Get the feel of their rhythm in your fingers as you type. Examine how they handle transitions and body language and dialogue. Learn from them.

Look at reading as study for your craft. Set aside time to read just the same as you set aside time to write.

If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write. --Stephen King

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“Over and over I feel as if my characters know who they are, and what happens to them, and where they have been and where they will go, and what they are capable of doing, but they need me to write it down for them because their handwriting is so bad.” —Anne Lamott

When you practice freewriting, you learn to let go and let the words come up from wherever they reside without trying to form them or push them into being a certain way. It takes practice and effort, just like those Magic Eye books that were so popular in the 90s. It seems counterintuitive to look at a picture and instead of focusing on it, to let your eyes relax and gaze into the space beyond the picture. But that’s the only way you’ll ever see the Magic Eye picture form out of the crazy pattern.

Freewriting is learning to unfocus your mind and let images emerge. It is about letting Wild Mind be in the driver seat. Let your Muse take charge. You’ll know you’re there when your characters start doing and saying things you never would have expected.

Once you reach that place, you’ll feel as if your characters have a life of their own, a past you must discover rather than invent, secrets you must coax out of them, fears and dreams and desires they may or may not tell you about. Enjoy the discovery!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“'Writing Begets Writing.'
If you're stuck on a difficult scene, write it anyway.
Write it badly. Write it in verse. Write it as a journal entry, a Dennis Miller rant. If you're frustrated at being stuck, write about that. I don't care. But write.
If you have angry, self-critical feelings, give them to a character in your story. If there isn't a likely candidate, invent one. There IS one, anyway: you. Your anguish, doubt, fears and frustrations are as vital and elemental to what you're writing as any character or plot point.” —Dennis Palumbo

The first and most important step is to get words on the page. Trick yourself any way you need to, to get the first sentence written. Sometimes, when I’m having a particularly hard time, I skip a few lines and start typing without indenting, without capitalization or punctuation. I just blather on for a bit, hunting for a loose corner to start picking at. Eventually, I’ll hit my stride and the writing will take off, no longer needing me to push it, but instead, pulling me along. When I finally pause to look over what I’ve written, I notice that at some point, I’ve started punctuating, indenting, creating paragraphs and dialogue without being aware of it.

Occasionally, the writing won’t transcend the struggle. I push it uphill for the duration of my writing time, save the file and find something else to do. When I come back to read it the next day or week, I realize there are some great threads I can follow, even if the writing itself is cumbersome and heavy.

Once in a great while, when I go back to read a piece I know I struggled through, I don’t find any particular gems. But even then, I recognize that the time wasn’t wasted. It was simply a day for exercising the writing muscle. Which is still a worthwhile pursuit.

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” —Anne Lamott

Monday, September 26, 2011

“There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.”—Art Turock

No judgment either way, but it’s important to be clear about your intentions. This advice has come up for me a number of times over the years, both as it applies to myself and as it applies to others. Dieting, exercising, writing . . . Don’t say you want to do something and then make excuses as to why you can’t. Face it, if you have excuses – “reasons”—why you’re not doing it, it just means it’s not as high a priority as you might wish it was.

This quote comes up now because I almost allowed myself an excuse for not posting a quote today. I burned several fingers in a stupid kitchen accident last nightand I spent the evening holding a baggie full of ice. “How could anyone expect me to type with burnt fingers?”

Sounds legit, doesn’t it?

But in all honesty, I was able to post to Facebook, work on name tags for my upcoming workshop, reply to an email, and add a really cool widget to my website. So obviously, though my fingers hurt like the dickens and I frequently had to stop to hold the ice bag, I was still able to type. So why allow myself to make excuses for skipping the quote of the day? I made a commitment on September 9th, one I intended to keep for an entire year. How serious was that commitment? Did I mean it? Or did I mean ‘only on days when it’s convenient’?

Then followed a short discussion with myself, a search for an apt quote (during which I found a really cool blog I shared on my Facebook), and here I am, typing a bit slowly, lots of typos I have to fix, but very proud of myself for sticking to it.

Now it's time for me to put my fingers back on ice.

“If you don't want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.”—Yiddish Proverb

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Writing is Healing

Storytelling is healing. As we reveal ourselves in story, we become aware of the continuing core of our lives under the fragmented surface of our experience. We become aware of the multifaceted, multichaptered ' I ' who is the storyteller. We can trace out the paradoxical and even contradictory versions of ourselves that we create for different occasions, different audiences... Most important, as we become aware of ourselves as storytellers, we realize that what we understand and imagine about whole.—Susan Wittig Albert

When I first started writing seriously, I had no idea that making up a story would lead to self-discovery. Of course I journaled during high school and college, filled dozens of spiral notebooks with melodramatic retellings of various events and my feelings about them. But that was more akin to whining or venting than true processing.

When I was in my mid-thirties, my grandmother passed away. One of the last things I remember her saying to me was “I’m afraid everyone will forget me.” After years of trying unsuccessfully to write, it was her words that gave me the nudge I needed. I started writing a story very loosely based on her youth, using bits and pieces of her history along with scraps from my own imagination, stitching them all into a quilt that unintentionally bared my feelings and perceptions about life. The more I wrote, the more I realized I was thrashing my way through all the assumptions about life and happiness I’d taken as gospel over the years.

Time and again, I’ve found my deepest beliefs and desires tucked between the lines, sliced thin and passed out to multiple characters to play out.

When we write with abandon, simply taking dictation from our imagination, from our subconscious, without attempting to alter or deny or pretty it up, we discover things about ourselves that otherwise might have remained buried. If you keep at it long enough, eventually you can stand back and see patterns changing, perceptions about life and the world opening up, coming unknotted, making sense, and sometimes finding resolution.

Write fiction or memoir, explore your past or make up a world for imaginary characters, write without restriction and see where it leads you.

"Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy." — Stephen King

Saturday, September 24, 2011

“I wonder if I don't give too much of myself to writing: I am always half where I am; the other half is feeding the furnace, kick-starting the heat of creativity. I am making love with someone but at the same time I'm noticing how this graceful hand across my belly might just fit in with the memory of lilacs in Albuquerque in 1974.”—Natalie Goldberg

I remember hearing Diana Gabaldon say one time that being a writer means that if you were held up during a convenience store robbery, one part of your brain would be able to remain detached enough to observe “so this is what it feels like to be held at gunpoint.”

Anything is fodder for your writing. Fiction or nonfiction, nothing is off limits. As soon as you start setting boundaries on what you are or aren’t willing to explore, you miss out on discoveries that could enrich your writing. This isn’t to say there shouldn’t be boundaries on what you’re willing to put out into the world, that choice may be different for each of us. But at the outset, there should be no corner too far away to be explored, no closet so dark we should not cast a light into it.

“Remember that you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point to you, while a chilling voice thundered, "We *told* you not to tell." But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.” —Anne Lamott

Friday, September 23, 2011

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.”—James A Michener

In addition to my fetish for stationery, I have a passion for words. Written and spoken. Language is like music to me, like a puzzle, like a secret code. Dialect, syntax, colloquialisms, inflection, slang, romance languages, Germanic languages, Latin roots. Sometimes I can sort of unfocus my mind a bit and step back into a place of amazement at how language works. How we can convey complex thoughts and ideas with some sounds shaped by our breath, lips, teeth and tongue.

This love of language then morphs into wonder at how fluid reality is, how each of us can interpret the same event through different eyes and different contexts. Then there’s the granddaddy of all paradoxes – how sometimes fiction can be more true than facts.

When you have a love affair with words and language, explore it all. Write about everything. Write to discover how you feel about something. Let your subconscious lead you across the page. Let your imagination carry you away to dance with words and ideas.

Sometimes when I read, I want to read slowly, to savor the language like rich chocolate. “All the Pretty Horses” (Cormac McCarthy) is that way to me. Sometimes, language is fun like cherry cream soda – like Dr. Seuss or Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

Whether you’re reading or writing, stop once in awhile to enjoy the language.

If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.”—Anais Nin

Thursday, September 22, 2011

“But now I know that imagination comes, works, when you are not trying, when you have a peculiar passive clarity.” --Brenda Ueland

Natalie Goldberg calls it Monkey Mind and Wild Mind. Some people think of it as right and left brain, rational and intuitive, concrete and abstract . . .

Whatever you call it, the place where your imagination lives is a wide, expansive place, sometimes difficult to access. You can’t force it.

I think your imagination lives in the same place memory does. Have you ever been watching a movie and recognized one of the actors from something else you’ve seen? You try to think what movie it was, what character, and the harder to dig for the memory, the tighter your mind clenches around it. Finally you give up. Later that night while you’re washing dishes or taking a shower, suddenly the movie, the character, the name, whatever it was you were trying to remember drifts from your subconscious accompanied by a feeling of “well, duh”.

It’s like the old story about how to catch a monkey. Cut an opening into a coconut that is just large enough to put a hand in, but not large enough to pull a fist out. Put a tasty treat inside. Tie the coconut to a tree. When a monkey reaches in for the treat and can’t remove his hand, he gets quite upset but doesn’t let go of the treat, thus being caught. The irony is the true trap is not the coconut, but the monkey’s mind and his unwillingness to “Let Go.”

The next time you’re trying to remember something, or trying to solve a problem (with writing or otherwise), if the solution doesn’t present itself, try relaxing and letting go. Wash dishes, do some gardening, go for a walk, engage in something creative like painting or coloring. Or write around the problem. Let your subconscious, your Wild Mind, work on it. Write what comes before (before the story opens, even) or what comes after, or whatever is happening meanwhile back at the ranch. Relax and have some fun. I like to call these informative scenes ‘outtakes’ because I never intend to include them in the final draft. I just write them to entertain myself, inform the story, or solve a problem.

“...[T]here should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don't look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.” —Anne Lamott

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

“Sometimes, when it's going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationery. The true writer, the born writer, will scribble words on scraps of litter, the back of a bus ticket, on the wall of a cell.” --David Nicholls, One Day, 2010

Okay, I’ll admit it. I have a fetish for stationery. I love colored parchment, pretty flowery designs, new fountain pens, and most especially, fancy journals. Since I was very young, I’ve always felt that if I could find just the right notebook, the prettiest paper, the smoothest pen, I would be able to stay neat and organized with my homework, or when I was older, that I would be able to write the Great American Novel.

The truth is, the fancy journals get in the way of writing a novel. They get in the way of writing to discover what I have to say on any given subject. They get in the way of most everything type of writing except for the imaginary kind I do in my head with poetic turns of phrase and flourishes of my pen. I have a whole shelf of various kinds of fancy notebooks and journals, and every one of them empty.

This is why I particularly like Natalie Goldberg’s advice:

“Sometimes people buy expensive hardcover journals. They are bulky and heavy, and because they are fancy, you are compelled to write something good. Instead you should feel that you have permission to write the worst junk in the world and it would be okay. Give yourself a lot of space in which to explore writing. A cheap spiral notebook lets you feel that you can fill it quickly and afford another.”—Natalie Goldberg

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“The best way to get quiet, other than the combination of extensive therapy, Prozac, and a lobotomy, is first to notice that the station is on. KFKD [K-Fucked] is on every single morning when I sit down at my desk.” —Anne Lamott

Most of us recognize the conflicting mutter of thoughts in the back of our mind as we write. Some are maybe more aware than others, but we all have it, and if you pay attention, you come to realize each voice has a different personality. I heard of one person who referred to this mutter of thoughts as the Committee. She said she pictured them to be the Seven Dwarves sitting around the boardroom table in Snow White’s cottage, arguing.

Maybe you remember the television series “Herman’s Head” in which the majority of the show took place in the main character’s mind. The various aspects of Herman's personality would discuss the event, replay realted memories, worry about possible outcomes, demand desires be met.

My committee changes. I think they must have a term limit. Sometimes my Muse resembles something along the lines of Stephen King’s boys in the basement. Sometimes my Muse is the Lily Tomlin operator character. One time when I was particularly frustrated, Debbie recommended I have a meeting with my committee. I recognized it as a good suggestion and when it was time to write that day I sat back for a few minutes to conjure up my committee. I was pretty surprised to see the cast of the Waltons filing in and sitting down.

Anne Lamott’s “committee” apparently broadcasts their board meetings on a radio station.

Whatever your committee is, it’s important to recognize each of these voices for what they are – fear, worry, boredom, optimism, pessimism, inspiration, and so on. Once you’ve recognized them, excuse them. Thank them for their input, ask them to leave. Then go on with your writing time. Just because all those voices have something to say doesn’t mean it’s constructive for your writing, or even particularly truthful.

Try this: Open your writing notebook and draw a line down the middle of the page. On one side, choose your writing prompt, set the timer for five minutes, and start writing. On the other side of the paper, take notes about what the committee members have to say as you write. When the time is up, read over the committee’s comments. Personify each voice. Have fun with it. Put a hat on one, give a cigar to another, let one wring her hands, let another one make sweeping generalizations and grandiose statements.

Once you have met and gotten to know each one, acknowledge their opinion and thank them for participating. Then ask everyone but the Muse to leave your writing space. One or two may be invited back in to help edit later, but for now, when you are freewriting, it should only be you and the Muse.

Monday, September 19, 2011

“Imagine how little good music there would be if, for example, a conductor refused to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the grounds that his audience may have heard it before.”—A.P. Herbert

“There are only 7 basic story plots.”
“There is only one basic plot and that stems from conflict.”
“There are twenty basic plots.”
(Click here for short description of each of these theories.)

They may argue on the exact number, but to be sure, the number of plots in literature is far less than the number of great stories. Don’t be afraid to explore a common plot or theme. As long as you write honestly your unique combination of personality, experiences, education, voice, and influences will give whatever plot you choose originality. No one else on earth has the same set of circumstances you do, and for that reason alone, no one else can see the world quite like you do.

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” --C. S. Lewis

Sunday, September 18, 2011

“Don't let a single day go by without writing. Even if it's garbage, if garbage is all you can write, write it. Garbage eventually becomes compost with a little treatment.”—unknown

If I approach my writing time with discipline, determined to write no matter how wooden or bland it feels, I often discover that, as I’ve been plopping words on the page without enthusiasm, an idea emerges that I had no idea was lingering in the back of my mind. Rather like one of Rorschach’s inkblots, the image may be merely a suggestion, I may have to squint and tilt my head to the side, but hey – it sure does look like an idea worth following.

Remember, no word is wasted effort. Some words grow into ideas, some are mere fertilizer, but even fertilizer serves a purpose.

“Nora Roberts says ‘you can fix anything but a blank page’ and that’s absolutely true. If you spend a day writing crap, you can fix it. If you spend a day not writing, you’ve got nothing”.—Eve Ackerman

Saturday, September 17, 2011

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”—Stephen King

The first time I heard this advice, I was appalled. Why would you write something good and then delete it? I had to sweat over those words, had worked hard on them and was proud of them. So why get rid of them?

I gradually came to understand the intent of this advice, even though I still hated having to follow it. I would read through a draft and debate how darling a particular line or passage was, and why it should remain. The harder I argued to keep something in, the bigger the red flag to take it out. The point is, your writing shouldn’t call attention to itself. It should transfer the story to the reader’s imagination without preening and admiring itself in the mirror. Especially if it’s only a line here or there.

Eventually, I learned to recognize the voice that liked putting those darlings in and fought so hard to keep them. I call it my greeting card voice, my melodramatic voice, my show-off voice. I don’t trouble keep this voice out of the first draft. Sometimes that voice has really good ideas cloaked in the poetic turns of phrase. But on the second draft, watch out. I recently found a way to soothe my poet's feelings over deleting the darlings. Greeting card companies will pay for poetic turns of phrase they use on their cards. They don’t like sappy, sweet, or melodramatic voices either, but they do sometimes like ‘the darlings’.

Stephen King was not the first to offer this advice. Check out the dates for these other quotes:

“Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” --Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings”. –Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, 1916

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” —William Faulkner, 1897-1962

Friday, September 16, 2011

“If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.”—Louis L’Amour

What is it that gets in your way to prevent you from writing? Sometimes it’s life. Events out of your control pop up and interfere with your schedule. Not much we can do about that except have a plan for a minimum amount of writing time on those days. But what about the times when you sit down to write and you just don’t feel inspired? When anything sounds more interesting than sitting at your keyboard wrestling over one word at a time?

Give some thought to why you might be stuck –is it than you’re bored with what you’re writing? You don’t know what happens next? You’re worrying if it’s good enough?

While you’re pondering that in the back of your mind, change up your writing routine. Pack up and head to a cafĂ© or to another room in your house, or outside. Ditch the computer and try writing longhand. Set a timer for small increments and practice freewriting (keep your hand moving, no stopping, no editing, no rules).

“You can't think yourself out of a writing block, you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.” --John Rogers

Thursday, September 15, 2011

“Within our dreams and aspirations, we find our opportunities.” –Sue Atchley Ebaugh

There are many different words to describe how it happens. Serendipity is one of my favorites. The actual definition of serendipity is “The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” Jung called it synchronicity. Others call it a lucky break or the hand of God. Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) says the what must come before the how. A perfect example of this the famous line from Field of Dreams – “If you build it, they will come.”

Sometimes what is most needed is to step out in faith and do the work you love. The Universe will meet you more than halfway. It may not look quite like you first envisioned it, but it is surprising how opportunities seem to present themselves once you wholeheartedly commit to a course of action.

Use S.M.A.R.T. goals to set a course toward your dreams.

“Leap and the net will appear.”—John Burroughs “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”—Thomas A. Edison

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

“We have seen too much defeatism, too much pessimism, too much of a negative approach. The answer is simple: if you want something very badly, you can achieve it. It may take patience, very hard work, a real struggle, and a long time; but it can be done. . . faith is a prerequisite of any undertaking.”
—Margo Jones

Patience, hard work, time, and faith. It’s simple recipe. If you have a dream you want to realize, the first step is to set a SMART goal. Try applying this method to your writing goals.
  • Specific – Too general and you don’t have a target to aim for. You should be able to state what, why, and how, each in a single sentence.

  • Measurable – You must be able to measure your progress, which means setting milestones and target dates.

  • Attainable – Identify goals that are important to you. If you set goals that are too far out of your reach, you probably won’t commit to doing your best to achieve it. This also means setting goals you are able to reach without luck or dependency on other variables falling into place.

  • Realistic – This doesn’t mean easy. It means ‘do-able’. Set the bar high enough that you have to work for it, but reasonable enough that you don’t feel doomed to failure before you even begin.

  • Timely – Set a timeframe. Set deadlines. Set target dates for milestones along the way. If you don’t set a time limit, the commitment is too vague and you will put it off because you feel can start at any time.

This method works for any goal you can set. Try it. You might surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.

“If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.”
—Mary Kay Ash

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

“When people make changes in their lives in a certain area, they may start by changing the way they talk about that subject, how they act about it, their attitude toward it, or an underlying decision concerning it.” –Jean Illsley Clarke

How you view yourself will affect how seriously you take your desire to write, which will profoundly affect your ability to be a writer.

When someone asks what you do, how do you reply? Do you offer your title at your day job? Or do you say “I am a writer”? If it’s the former, it’s time to come out of the closet and claim the identity. As long as your writer identity is in the closet, your commitment to making time to write, making the effort when inspiration is lacking, or submitting your writing somewhere will be less than what it could be.

Monday, September 12, 2011

“The Chinese say that water is the most powerful element, because it is perfectly nonresistant. It can wear away rock and sweep all before it.” --Florence Scovel Shinn

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” As children we are taught that words are just words, as harmless gentle raindrops. As we grow up, our experience tells us differently. It’s true, words are just a collection of vocalized sounds or black marks on paper, but in their silent, nonresistant way, they can be a torrent that wears away the rock of someone’s prejudice, or a river that carves a canyon between cultures, or cool relief that soothes the sting other words have caused.

Never underestimate the power of honesty and passion in your writing.

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”—Edward Bulwer-Lytton (author of the famous “It was a dark and stormy night.” opening line)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

“Like an old gold-panning prospector, you must resign yourself to digging up a lot of sand from which you will later patiently wash out a few minute particles of gold ore.” –Dorothy Bryant

I’ve heard it said you sometimes need to write 100 pages and throw away the first 99 to get something good. If you think about words like sand, that you need a hundred pounds of ‘sand’ to find ten flakes of gold, suddenly freewriting takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes a sluice box rather than a single pan. Freewrite as if you need to produce a hundred pounds of words for every ounce of gold.

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"I believe that true identity is found . . . in creative activity springing from within. It is found, paradoxically, when one loses oneself." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I believe this is true about all writing—fiction and nonfiction. The act of writing opens a channel to the page from an inner world that we tend to keep under tight control lest some 'inappropriate' idea escape. If you really relax and let it flow, i.e. 'lose oneself', often the words that find their way to the page surprise and inform. And once out there, we can realize even the 'inappropriate' ideas have value, an honesty that will resonate with others far better than any carefully shepherded words are able to.

When you sit down to freewrite, do so with the intention of staying out of your own way, of not directing your thoughts into safe, 'acceptable' channels.

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." - Rumi

Friday, September 09, 2011

Quote of the Day

A little more than a year and a half ago, inspired by the movie Julie and Julia, a very good friend of mine made a New Year’s resolution to blog every single day for one year. She was just embarking on a writing journey separate from many years of academic writing. During the course of the year, she confided she had a hard time blogging some days, was uninspired some days, but in the whole 365 days, I think she missed blogging only one day. I was impressed by her commitment and self discipline, and through her effort, our discussion of how to write even when it’s difficult was born. That led to the book I’m currently working on, which indirectly led to an idea for a quote a day with a daily ‘meditation’ for writers to help through the uninspired times.

Debbie died unexpectedly a few weeks ago, leaving unrealized dreams, unfinished writing projects, and a world poorer for her absence. Today is her birthday and today I am committing to 365 days of posting to my blog.

After some consideration, I decided to post writing quotes, which Debbie and I both loved to share and discuss, and a daily ‘meditation’ to help in uninspired times. My hope is that, rather than being preachy, it will be an inspiration, as Debbie’s blog was to me. I hope it will also be a reflection of my core belief that writing every day is a crucial habit for writers to form. Even if it’s only five minutes, don’t let a single day go by without writing.

With seven kids at home, a full time job, teaching writing workshops, and volunteering, some days five minutes of writing time is all I can manage. If I can do it, my hope is you will be inspired to, too.

(Click HERE if you’d like to read Debbie’s yearlong blog)