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May 30, 2011
I’ve been thinking about these questions this week as I’ve journaled and worked through the book Writing For Emotional Balance: A Guided Journal To Help You Manage Overwhelming Emotions. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I was astounded at the relief (and practical help) I found simply through journaling.
I use the Life Journal software, password protected, and I found it so helpful, coupled with the exercises in the book. Writing means a lot to me for many reasons: a way to heal, a way to make a living, a way to connect with readers, and a lot of fun.
So I have this question for you:
What does writing mean to you?
To kickstart your thinking, here are some famous writers’ opinions. Ray Bradbury is quoted as saying: “Writing is survival… Not to write, for many of us, is to die. I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.”
What does writing mean to you?
Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, said: “Writing is a matter of necessity and that you write to save your life is really true and so far it’s been a very sturdy ladder out of the pit.” She sees writing as a safe and strong and dependable way out of a pit.
Again: What does writing mean to you?
May 27, 2011
Some terrific reading is waiting for you this weekend! The articles below from around the Web will give you writing and marketing help, help you see through the current publishing confusion, and even show you ways to get your kids to read through the summer.
“Is Publishing Turning into the Wild West?” The publishing world has changed radically in the last couple of years, thanks to those pesky e-books. Do the old rules still apply? Does chaos rule? Or are there ways to survive and thrive in the new environment? [Terrific article here by Randy Ingermanson, plus interesting comments.]
“A Dozen Ways to Get Your Child to Read Over the Summer and Have Fun Doing It!” Every year student assessments show that when kids take a break from school over the summer and they don’t read or have any reading instruction during that time, their reading skills are adversely affected. But this doesn’t HAVE to happen. Encouraging children to read during the summer will not only sustain their current reading achievement, it will also contribute to their success in reading proficiency. [Here you'll find suggestions for early primary grades, middle grades, and teens.]
“6 Query Tips from a Publishing Insider” To help you write a query letter (or submission letter) so that an agent will give your manuscript the time of day here are the top 3 Do’s and Don’ts from our head Acquisitions Editor. [The first tip was even a surprise to me, although just last week I sent a proposal to a publisher and got an email suggesting that I add more marketing stuff-even though this publisher has published nine of my previous books! She said there was also talk of adding a marketing clause in new author contracts.]
“Twitter-patted” Twittering gave the world a fast way to communicate and also a new tool for marketing. Marketing with only a few words takes planning and focus. [Read this article for a brilliant way to plan and write your Tweets while you are working on your book/story/article/ebook to be released later.]
“Ways to Improve Your Writing Style” Newer authors struggle with writing technique, and long time writers still find elements in writing that are their nemesis. Being aware of problem areas in your writing can help you move ahead as a writer when you focus on them and find ways to improve those techniques. Here are a few tips on become a better writer. [Gail Gaymer Martin's blog posts are meaty and almost a mini-workshop. Don't stop with this post, but go through her whole Writing Fiction Right blog site.]
“Tidbits” from Writer Beware! This article is FULL of information and links to longer articles, discussing topics like the new trend of agents-turned-publishers and how to interpret the numbers when you read that print-on-demand epublishing is out-stripping sales of paper books.
May 25, 2011
One of my health goals is to stop taking so much aspirin and other painkillers. It causes more problems than it helps. This has been an ongoing goal for years, and recently I found something amazingly simple that is really helping!
The Painful Side of Writing
When I started writing, I don’t recall ever reading anything about health problems associated with writing. But sitting for hours, especially at a computer, takes a toll on your neck, back, wrists, and hands. The associated headaches and back pain keep many writers on painkillers of one sort or another.
Then my daughter suggested that I get some yoga DVDs. My initial reaction was negative. My mental image of yoga was of some spaced-out chanting person twisted into an inhuman pretzel. Not for me!
Yoga for Writers (and other stiff people)
I quickly learned that my ideas were outdated. From my library, I checked out “Healing Yoga for Aches & Pains,” which was as soothing as a massage (and got rid of my headache!) I have yet to try “Yoga for Inflexible People.” My favorite DVD so far is Yoga: Sitting Fit Anytime, which has nine separate 3-5 minute segments addressing individual needs of people who sit at computers for hours.
It’s easy to follow, you do it sitting, and it targets neck and shoulder tension, lower back pain, upper back pain, tight hamstrings, headaches, and carpal tunnel problems. There was even a segment for stiff hands and fingers. There was no chanting. (FYI: I skip the New Agey intro–not for me! Just want the stretches.)
Preventive and Restorative
If you don’t have aches and pains from writing, thank heaven. But also consider doing some routine stretching to prevent developing such problems. If you already suffer from head, back and/or arm pain, consider yoga as a drug-free solution. Your body–AND creative mind–will thank you.
[P.S. If you long-time faithful readers thought this sounded like a repeat, you're right. Had a ripping headache today that I finally got rid of with the DVD stretches! Thought you all might need the same reminder I did.]
May 23, 2011
I’m a literal thinker. I like facts.
In art, I like paintings of trees to look like trees. I have trouble understanding lots of poetry (unless it’s fairly literal), and I don’t naturally think in figures of speech. (Unless I’m mad, that is–at which point, I think in cliché’s like You’re such a turkey or My office is a pit or I’ve lost my mind.)
None of this is helpful to me as a creative writer. When it comes to my writing, I very rarely create figures of speech naturally. I do love them! Beautiful metaphors linger in my memory for years–even decades–after reading certain books. I love magical writing that lifts me up and away to a different time and place!
But when it comes to writing lyrical language, I need help.
If you don’t naturally write with pizzazz and power, is all lost? Is there a way to rise above being a meat-and-mashed-potatoes writer to a gourmet writer? Thankfully, YES!
Several of you have asked me what things I’m studying this spring and summer. One thing I’m working on is language.
My vocabulary needs expanding. So first I created what Priscilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor calls a lexicon. It’s a place (journal) to collect new words you read and like, specific words for things, and the history of words. I also signed up at Dictionary.com for their “new word per day” to be emailed to me. (Still hoping to use “fungible” in a sentence sometime!)
An Entire Course
Then I remembered a book on my shelves by Cindy Rogers called Word Magic for Writers: Your Source for Powerful Language that Enchants, Convinces, and Wins Readers. I’d been given the book as an ICL instructor several years ago, had read some chapters, but never actually studied it. I think, starting June 1, I am going to use this book as a study book for my summer learning.
As Cindy says, “An excellent writer knows the importance of an interesting turn of phrase, of a crisp image that leaves an impression, of a parting thought that lingers in a reader’s mind. A word alchemist knows how to extend a group of words to grab or sway or enchant an audience.” In other words, an excellent writer grows from being a solid (but bland) meat-and-potatoes writer into a gourmet writer.
That’s what I want. I bet that’s what you want too. And in the current economic publishing conditions, it just might be what raises your writing to a level that outshines the competition. “The payoff of a terrific scene or speech versus a mediocre one is substantial,” says the author, “for it compels an audience to pay attention.” And the first audience member we have to compel is the editor at the publishing house.
Figures of Speech–and More
The book is divided in three parts: language devices (from alliteration to zeugma, including figures of speech), dazzling word choices and techniques (writing with power and style), and hooking the audience (titles, headlines, openings, endings). Each chapter by itself will teach you something about improving your writer’s language.
As I study this summer, and apply what I learn, perhaps my blogs will become more lyrical. Still nuts-and-bolts practical (since that’s who I am), but hopefully the writing will become more…magical.
We shall see!
May 20, 2011
After a couple months this spring of unexpected work and lack of sleep, I’ve found myself battling severe procrastination the past few weeks. I’m getting rested up, but I’m so out of the writing habit that getting started has become a big issue.
Luckily I can usually find a resource on my own shelves!
A Different Take on Procrastination
One such resource is a book Kurt Vonnegut called “as well researched and helpful a book on writing as I’ve ever read.” It’s Write: 10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period. by Karen E. Peterson, Ph.D. [See Amazon's great used prices for this book!]
From the author’s website: “Writers want to write, but often find themselves whirling through cyberspace, glued to HBO with a box of doughnuts, careening off to the nearest Starbuck’s, and/or carving out last week’s fossilized spaghetti from the kitchen table.”
Sound familiar? This is what Dr. Karen E. Peterson— who has overcome writer’s block herself—calls ‘the write-or-flight response.’
Write? Or Flight?
In this revolutionary book, a psychologist and novelist presents an effective way to outwit writer’s block. Based on “new brain research and sound psychological principles,” this innovative program shows writers how to conquer writer’s block using:
- Exercises to conquer the “write-or-flight” response
- Techniques to create that elusive “writing mood”
- Parallel monologue and interior dialogue to jumpstart the writing process
- Checklists to see which side of the brain is blocking you
I fully recommend that little book because it worked for me. (I realize that it doesn’t mean it will work for you, but I think it’s worth a try if procrastination is an issue for you.) It explained the actual physical reasons why certain types of blocks occur–and what to do about them.
(Now, off to read “A Block by Any Other Name…” )
Before you go though, do YOU have a favorite block buster you could share?
May 18, 2011
I heard a sermon recently about life being filled with “fillers” and “drainers.” The pastor was talking about people, of course.
Fillers are people who know how to encourage you and build you up. Drainers are in your life because they need encouragement and help; however, they don’t have time for you if you need something in return. (You know the type. They think a “give and take” relationship means, “You give, and I take.”)
A rare person is both a filler and a drainer in your life, and you’re blessed if you have a person or two like that in your family or circle of friends.
If we narrow the “fillers and drainers” idea down to writers, I think you will find the idea holds true there as well. You will meet filler writers who are great encouragers for you, who help keep your self-esteem intact through the tough times of rejection, writer’s block, poor sales and negative reviews.
And you’ll meet drainer writers, those who nail you in the restroom at the writer’s conference and want you to give a free critique, then introduce them to your agent or editor.
Occasionally you will meet a treasure: a writer who is both filler and drainer. When you do, treat this priceless person well, and do all you can to sustain the relationship(s).
It’s Your Choice
What kind of writer are you? You may not know other writers yet, so you might not be sure. But you’ll eventually meet writers at conferences, retreats, local writer gatherings or book store signings and readings. In the writing relationships you enter, strive to be a filler as well as a drainer.
If you’re unpublished or newly published, you might think you have nothing to offer. Not true! You don’t have to be published to be an encourager, an uplifter, or a good listening ear. Publishing advice isn’t the only thing other writers need. In fact, I would guess (from my experience) that it’s not even near the top of the list. (That’s why my blog is focused on the emotional issues of writing rather than how to plot or build characters or write a winning query.)
Do a Self-Check
After you attend your next writing event (large or small) ask yourself: “Was I filler or a drainer today?” Did you make encouraging comments as well as ask for help? Did you give as well as take? If you can find that kind of balance, you’ll be able to build writing relationships that will last a lifetime.
May 16, 2011
Do you believe you are called to write? Or do you suspect you are?
If that’s true, why aren’t you pursuing your calling?
Food for Thought
This weekend I started reading Callings by Gregg Levoy, the author of a very practical book for writers called This Business of Writing. In Callings, he said some thought-provoking things that gave me pause.
I started writing thirty years ago, and until six months ago, there were many reasons why I couldn’t give my all-out devotion to writing: a full-time day job of teaching, raising four childrlen, multiple jobs in the church and community, serious health problems and surgeries, etc. But last fall I retired from teaching, my children are grown, and I can decide how much I babysit grandchildren and how much volunteer work I do. It’s a time I’ve been anticipating for three decades.
So…am I pursuing my writer’s calling with full devotion? I want to. I dream about it. I can almost taste it sometimes. But do I do it? No.
I’m not sure, but these quotes from Callings are helping me ask the right questions. Maybe these ideas will help you too.
- “Although we have the choice not to follow a call, if we do not do so,..we’ll feel alienated from ourselves, listless and frustrated, and fitful with boredom, the common cold of the soul. Life will feel so penetratingly dull and pointless that we may become angry, and turn the anger inward against ourselves (one definition of depression).”
- “Generally, people won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so.”
- “Perhaps the main reason that we ignore calls is that we instinctively know the price they’ll exact.”
- “All calls lead to some sacrifice because even just one choice closes the door on another, and some calls lead to much sacrifice, which may feel anything but blissful.”
- “At some level we need to devote everything, our whole selves. A part-time effort, a sorta-kinda commitment, an untested promise, won’t suffice. You must know that you mean business, that you’re going to jump into it up to your eye sockets and not turn back at the last minute.”
Will the Rubber Meet the Road Now?
I’ve had thirty years of (by necessity) a “part-time effort” and “an untested promise.” Now that I have the time and could choose to do so, will I “jump into it up to [my] eye sockets”?
Is the pain of not doing so finally more than the fear of trying? Yes, I think so.
How about you?
[If you've decided to surrender to the call, but you don't know what you're called to write, see What Am I Called to Write?]
May 13, 2011
I took a break today from doing final revisions on a novel and picked up a little writing book called Some Writers Deserve to Starve! (31 Brutal Truths About the Publishing Industry) by Elaura Niles. I don’t find the chapters very brutal–just honest. And I agree with nearly all of them.
If you’ve been writing any length of time at all, chapters like “Putting Words on a Page Does Not Obligate Anyone to Read Them,” “All Publishers Are Not Created Equal,” and “Writing Conferences Cost Bucks” will resonate with you! Frankly, I expect there is a great deal of truth in all 31 of Ms. Niles’ chapters, but I have been spared a lot of it.
What About This One?
Two of the author’s brutal truth chapters are “Writers Rarely Help Other Writers” and “Not All Critique Groups Are Critique Groups.” Because I’ve seen what she described over the years in various groups [that didn't work for me], I believe she is right much of the time. But it also reminded me how wonderfully blessed I am to have a writer friend who DOES help me.
From time to time, I trade manuscripts with a writer friend in Australia. Her thoughtful responses in the detailed critiques have been very helpful in many areas: strengthening endings, picking up loose plot threads I had inadvertently dropped, telling me which chapters dragged, etc. I’m grateful for her honesty–which is NOT brutal.
How About You?
What has been YOUR experience with critiques and critique groups? Have they been helpful–or not so much? Is the advice good–or in such conflict that you don’t know what to believe? Give me your thoughts.
May 11, 2011
Women are givers. Women writers are some of the most giving people I know.
We tend to have stronger relationships because of it–with babies, grown children, friends, and extended family.
But unless you learn how to balance all this giving with replenishment, you’ll find it nearly impossible to write.
Gift from the Sea
It has been a particularly busy family time the last six weeks, with little sleep and even less time to write. I wouldn’t go back and change any of it either–very rewarding times. But there comes a time when you realize you’re close to being drained. Pay attention to those times, or you’ll pay for it later (in your health, in your lack of writing, and in lack of patience with those around you).
This morning I was reading a bit in one of my favorite little books, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, Gift from the Sea. I re-read it at least once a year. Here are a few snippets that might speak to you giving women:
- What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It leads …to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul.
- Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim.
- Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.
- One must lose one’s life to find it. Woman can best refind herself by losing herself in some kind of creative activity of her own.
Is That You?
If you find yourself feeling fragmented and agitated today, find a way to steal away from everyone for even ten minutes of total solitude (and if possible, silence). Breathe deeply. Bring the energy spilled on everyone else back inside for a few minutes. Re-focus. Relax.
If you have a couple hours, get a copy of Gift from the Sea and read straight through it. You’ll love it!
And if you have a couple extra minutes, leave a comment and tell us your favorite way to find solitude–whether for a day or just a few minutes. We all need suggestions for this!
May 9, 2011
All writers are looking for time-saving strategies and tips to increase their productivity. With school getting out in a month, many writers need to streamline both their writing life and personal life. If this is YOU, you’re in luck!
If you have June’s The Writer magazine, read Kelly James-Enger’s article called “10 ways to work more efficiently.” And for some free articles on this subject…
Other Writer articles online filled with tips to improve your efficiency–and give you more time to write–include:
- “5 ways to juggle your writing, your job and family responsibilities” by Shirley Jump
- “A matter of time” by Guy Stewart
- “Setting up a productive work space” by Sharon Miller Cindrich
- “Quiet! Writer in the house” by Connie Heckert (my writer friend from Iowa!)
- “Writing on the Fly” by Sandra Hurtes
Reading these articles should give you several ideas to try. I found a couple I intend to put to work immediately!Newer Posts »