On eclipses…and love (a love letter)

Dear Writers,

Tomorrow (August 21) is the Great American Eclipse, and as you read this I’ll either be on my way or soon to be on my way to view it.  Me and about a million other people—that’s how many visitors are forecast to arrive in Oregon, a broad swath of which is in the path of totality.  Traffic jams and food and gas shortages are predicted. You can’t get a hotel room or rent a car to save your life anywhere near by Portland. (We are just a few miles north of the path of totality.)

I love mass events like this.

And I love eclipses even more. I’ve been greatly enamored of this eclipse since it first came on my radar several years ago.  Because: eclipses are when day becomes night and night becomes day.  They shake things up, astronomically and astrologically.  And sometimes, shaking things up is good.

They are also about showing us our shadow side, the darkness in us that generally stays hidden.  All you have to do is look at the events of the last week to see that in action.  And difficult as it is to witness, I believe to my core that you can’t eradicate the darkness until you can see it.

On a far less serious and more personal level, I see the eclipse as a giant reset button, a chance to challenge old, stale ideas. Like: creativity is just fluff (even though it is vital to our health and well-being), or, you can’t make a living as a writer (even though you can these days, in a million different ways), or one of the biggies: there’s not enough (of course there is).

But the biggest outdated idea of all is the most pernicious: that of the other. As in, you’re different than me and that make me better. And all the variations on that theme that result in abuses of power, politically, financially, and morally, over and over again.

So I suggest, that along with our personal resets, we also focus our eclipse ideas on a grand scale.  And let this event uncover the fact that there is nothing more important on this planet right now than loving one another.

Because there isn’t.

Happy eclipse.

Leave a comment and tell me if you plan to view the eclipse! (And what you might like to reset.)

On Being Sick…and Getting Well Again (A Love Letter)

I have a fraught history with getting sick.  Well, duh, who doesn’t, right?  But I like to think I have a particularly difficult time with it because in my family it just wasn’t acceptable.  When any of my sisters or I complained of feeling ill and wanting to stay home from school, my Mom, would say, “You’ll be fine. Get up and get going.”

And so we did.  I realize now, after having raised children of my own, that my mother’s attitude stemmed more from desperation at having a kid underfoot during her precious days alone, than an inability to abide sickness.  But that kind of attitude was not conducive to lingering in one’s sick bed for any length of time. Or at all.

So it is inculcated in me to avoid illness at all costs.  Imagine, then, my surprise and embarrassment when earlier this week I sat up from the Pilates machine at my physical therapist’s and the room spun.  It spun in a way I’d never experienced before, even when I drank too much MD 20-20 as a teenager. An alert PT aid asked me if I was okay and when I said I thought I was going to vomit, brought me a wastebasket.

Into which I promptly retched.  In the middle of a gym full of people.  Somehow I made it home, running into the house and throwing up more upon arrival. And that was how the rest of the day went: massive vertigo with any kind of movement followed by vomiting.

I was not a happy camper.

But, after a couple days of rest, I am pretty much back to my normal self. (And desperately sympathetic to anybody anywhere who struggles with vertigo.) And let me tell you, the world looks like a bright, shiny new place. It is as if someone has pushed my reset button.  Getting in the car and driving to the grocery store, a chore I hate so much I often order online, is a pleasure, because: I’m out of the house! Taking the car through the car wash is a fascinating experience.

And it makes me wonder how much I miss when I’m meandering along through my life, thinking same old same old.  How many stories and ideas are passing me by because I’m pondering what a drag it is to have to go grocery shopping?

This is when I vow to turn my journaling habit—which tends to be navel gazing and figuring my life out entries—into more of a writer’s notebook, in which I will write brilliant observations, copy down witty dialogue, and note gorgeous descriptions.

Yeah, right. But I will say that’s the one good thing about getting sick—you come out the other side feeling like a fresh, new human being.

What’s going on with you these days? Leave a comment and let me know.

And don’t forget to join the Facebook group! (I’ll be on there regularly during my blogging hiatus.)

A Brief Hiatus

Where I won’t be, except in my dreams

Sometimes you just have to take a step back.

I’m a big believer in honoring one’s own creative process, whatever it might be and however it works. (You’ve probably noticed that if you’ve read much on this blog.) And one of the things I’ve realized about my own process is that sometimes I just need to take a break to let things gestate.

This is one of those times.

I’ve been writing this blog for ten years now. I’ve written about every aspect of writing and writing inspiration and motivation, as well as the writing life.  And lately, it is getting harder and harder for me to think of anything to write about on those topics. It’s like there’s a big blank wall in my brain when I try to come up with something.

Composting: what my brain will be doing

And so I think I need to take a break for composting–which is what I call what my brain does when it is pondering and breaking down many ideas.  I’m making this intentional instead of just kind of wandering away, as so often happens in my life to other people. (You’ve probably noticed the frequency of my posts has gotten sparser.)

I AM NOT GOING AWAY.

I’ll be back at the beginning of October, maybe sooner if I get inspired while I’m in France.  I just want to have space to think without the voice in my head constantly saying, you should write a blog post. And I have some ideas. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to suddenly start writing about knitting.  Or fixing up cars. Or keeping aquariums.)

IN THE MEANTIME:

I will continue to write, send to my list, and post here on Sundays, my weekly love letters. If you want to have them come right into your inbox, sign up in the form to the right.

AND: I’ll be talking about writing over on the Facebook group.  Click here, ask to join, and I’ll approve you.  For those doubters out there, let me just say I am not a fan of participating on Facebook on my main feed.  It is just overwhelming to me. But groups are different. Groups are where like-minded people come together to discuss one topic. There’s no what color is your ego? quiz or posts about the glories of someone’s vacation (unless it bears on writing). So do come join me there.

Your Creative Type ( A Love Letter)

Last week, I was helping a client search for agents to whom she could submit her book proposal.  (Fun times.) One of the titles we came across in the process is a book called Your Creative Type.  Both of us allowed as how it sounded like a fun book to read.  I added that I had no idea what my creative type might be, but I was pretty sure it was something to do with being wild and free. (That undisciplined crazy woman flinging words at the page, sometimes literally, in the corner? The one who has a million projects going at once, including some random art and craft things? That’s me.)

Okay, so I jest, sort of, but the premise of the book is valid.  It is that we each have a specific creative type and knowing it can help you in your daily creative efforts. Some people are motivated by thoughts of fame and fortune, some by the idea they want to change the world.  Others, (me, apparently—there’s a test you can take on the site) just want to express the deeply profound thoughts inside them. Release the emotions, and all that.

The book looks like it offers some good points, and I may put it on hold at the library, so I can maintain my weight lifting exercises hoisting the huge stacks of books I bring home and never have time to read.  I’m all for anything that will help us be more creative—write more often and with more freedom.

But what I am not for is books and theories that try to harness creativity.  That quantify and categorize it.  That tell you it can only exist under certain circumstances.  Reading anything along those lines brings out my rebel faster than you can say, “I’ll prove you wrong.”

And that rebellious streak is also why I get so angry at writing experts who tell you exactly how to approach your writing.  That you have to have an incredibly detailed outline, noting every pillar of the story, or, conversely, that you’re stupid if you waste time doing that and you should just plunge in.  A human could go nuts trying to follow all the advice out there.

Including, ahem, mine.  When I first started writing about writing and creativity ten years ago I tried really hard to hand down authoritative opinions about how you should do things.  But I soon gave up. (Wild and free, remember?) Because I’ve learned, over years of working with writers, that if I try to impose a certain way of doing things on someone who is not comfortable with it, they’ll shut down. And that doesn’t serve anybody.

So it really is worth your time to learn what works for you.  All of us so-called experts can present you with ideas, tips, and thoughts about what might be helpful. But you’ll do better, and be happier I will bet, if you figure out what works for you and ditch the rest.

And now I must go rustle about through my stacks of projects and decide which to work on next.

Tell me about your creative type?

And don’t forget to join the Facebook page! Just click here to ask to join and I’ll approve you!

Living Your Life Purpose (A Love Letter)

I’m a sucker for a catchy headline (also known as click bait, which, funnily enough, I’m terrible at writing), and the other day I saw one that said something like this: it is why you are here.

Well, I knew immediately what the “it” was, and you probably do, too.  Your life purpose, of course.  Headlines like this are a dime a dozen these days because everybody wants to life their life purpose. Right?

Well, yeah. Duh.

I fear I’ve gotten so inured to the idea of life purpose that I rarely even notice anything to do with it any more.  Except that recently, in a moment of weakness, I got sucked into the black vortex of my Facebook timeline and noticed an impassioned post. It was about how all that life purpose crap is hooey and how being an ordinary person without one was just fine.

I’ll be honest, I bristled at this post.  Because besides a slight tendency to roll my eyes at the most diligent purveyors of the life purpose view, I do believe in it. Maybe because, at heart, finding your life purpose is about finding and making meaning in our lives.  And I believe fervently in that.

Finding meaning is what writing does for me.

Once, many years ago, my sister and I went to a talk by the late Madeleine L’Engle (author, of course, of one of the best books ever, A Wrinkle in Time).  When the talk was over, my sister turned to me and said, “She makes me want to be a writer.”

And that was because L’Engle talked about writing with a capital W, as a calling, as a purpose, as a thing that gives life meaning beyond worrying about publishing stats or finding an agent or your latest word count.

The author of the anti-life purpose Facebook post wrote about how ordinary life was enough—and we could find joy in the every day things and be content.  But that is precisely what my writing does for me—makes me love all the little things I write about in my journal or stories, makes me appreciate the life I have. Makes me find joy.

And if that is not the purpose of life then I don’t know what is.

Make Like a Bird and Sing (A Love Letter)

I’m betraying my age here (which is fine, I’m old and I own it), but when I was younger there was a common saying that people would twist in funny way.  I’m going to make like a banana and split, you’d say when you were leaving.  Or, make like a busboy and get the fork out of here.  Or, make like a tree and leave.  We said them for all kinds of occasions.

Ah, yes, those were simpler times.

But I thought of those sayings the other morning when I was outside writing early in the morning, listening to the birds greet the day as the sun rose over the houses across the street. And I thought, I need to make like a bird and sing.  (Only in my case, sing is a metaphor for write because, trust me, you don’t want to hear me sing.) Or, make like a flower and bloom.  Or, make like an Oregon grape plant that the husband planted against all objections and take over the garden.

My point being: the birds don’t worry about who, if anybody, is listening, or if they are singing it right. The flowers don’t worry about if they look fat in that color of red, or if they are arranged in a way that will be pleasing to everyone.  And the Oregon grape? Well, I’m pretty sure it has world domination in mind but never mind.

Because, wait for it here:  we need to make like a writer and write.  Because like birds singing, flowers blooming, and Oregon grape dominating, that’s what we do. Writers write. Except when we don’t.  Because we worry. About how it will sound, how it looks, is it right? Will the agent I want to submit to like it, how will my readers react, what will my mother think when she reads that sex scene? Did I spell that word right, is the grammar correct, and how do I punctuate a sentence like that?

It gets worse when you start writing professionally (or aspire to) because all of those concerns can be front and center all the time.  You have to push yourself to write fast, to go back to writing for the joy of it—even if you’ll eventually get paid, too.

Because I wager that none of us got into this writing biz because we wanted to fuss and worry over punctuation and sentence structure.  (Okay, I know there are some of you grammar geeks out there shaking your heads.) We got into it because writing, to us, is singing, blooming, growing so marvelously lushly that there’s no room to walk past us on the deck. Am I right? And it really is easy to forget that.

So, next time you sit down to write, remember the birds. And the flowers. And the Oregon grape. Okay, not the Oregon grape. Remember why you do this…and make like a bird and sing.

Motivation Monday: Sometimes, in Writing and Life, You Just Have to Let Go

Yesterday I wrote about resistance.

But today I’m writing about its opposite, letting go. Which is funny, right? Like life is funny.

Anyway, here’s the deal. This past weekend, the hub and I took an overnight trip to Eugene, a hundred-ish miles down the road from Portland, and home of one of my alma maters, the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!).  We were going to attend a birthday party for my friend and client, Kim Leval. (And what a fun party it was–but that’s a story for another day.)

When we take a short road trip, I usually make ask my hub to drive so that I can knit. (I wear these so I don’t get carsick.)  This past weekend, I had the perfect idiot knitting project (one you can do without paying much attention to). It is an airy scarf that I hope will be wide and long enough to wear as a shawl.   I’m not that far along on it, but I made good progress in the car.

However.

Something bad happened to my knitting.  It started slanting.  As far as I was concerned, the thing was supposed to come out all nice and neat, eventually forming one gargantuan rectangle I could artfully wrap around my shoulders. But instead it was freaking slanting.  I kept telling myself it just appeared to be slanting, and that if I yanked on it enough, it would stop. So every knitting session turned out to be a marathon of yanking on the edges of the damn thing, then holding it up to see if that made any difference.  

It didn’t.

I wasmaking myself crazy trying to make the shawl into something it was never going to be.  And I might just as well have been getting my teeth cleaned for all the enjoyment I was getting out of it.

Finally, driving home yesterday I had an epiphany: the shawl is slanting because it is creating a bias drape as I knit. I have no idea how or why this is happening. (I’ve been knitting since I was a kid, and still the craft offers mysteries to me.) But it is happening and no amount of yanking is going to change it. So I decided to quit fussing over it and relax and enjoy it.

I no longer care, either. It will be what it will be. Maybe it really is forming a bias drape, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it will magically become the giant rectangle I have in mind! But most likely it won’t. Doesn’t matter.  Because, suddenly, the knitting is fun again.  I am no longer resisting the natural shape of the shawl and instead I’m relaxing and enjoying it.

I don’t know about you, but this is all too familiar to me in other areas of my life. Like all the times I’ve tried to force a character (or a real person) do something they have no interest in doing.  Or when I hang on to the idea of how a scene should go when it is clear that is leading itself in a different direction.  Or when I keep trying to do the same thing over and over again in my career when it is clear it isn’t working.

And when I finally let go (which is surprisingly hard) the relief is so sweet.

Is there something in your writing or life you’re hanging onto that you need to release?

Update: I almost forgot! (Well, technically, I did forget.) My How To Get an Agent Class is tomorrow! Come join us! Just in time for summer pitching!

 

A love letter about resisting the status quo

There’s a lot of noise in the world at the moment.  Political, and societal to be sure. But there’s also all the information we get from the interwebs constantly, all day and even all night long. And much of it is designed to ensnare us—to click onto the website, read the news story, buy the item, support the cause.

It’s the status quo.

And as writers, it is our job to resist.

But wait, you say.  You need all that information.  You need it in order to have something to write about, you need it to support your WIP (as in research), you need it because you must know what is going on in the world.

Yeah, I hear you. I’m a huge input person.  Next to writing, one of the things I love best in the world is gathering information. Set me up with a topic to research, a pile of books, and access to the internet, and I’m a happy woman.

But, there’s a limit to how much I—and you—can take in before it starts to become a detriment.  Before it starts to affect our concentration levels, and our focus, to say nothing of our emotions and energy, both physical and mental.

Which is why I say you need to resist its lure.

Because when you do, you gain so much. It is difficult in the moment—I’ve had to tell myself not to click over to the internet numerous times as I’ve been writing this—but what I’ve gotten in return is clarity and focus.  And far more enjoyment of the writing process.

And by resisting, you’re claiming your right to be different.  To be a person who stands for writing and creativity and art.  A person who dares to challenge the status quo.  A person who follows her own inner tune.

That’s not always easy in this world, but it is vital.  If you are going to do good work, you need to be able to hear your inner voice and you can only do that if you tune out the noise of the world.

So, let’s do it together. Resist the status quo! Turn to the page instead of the latest news story or blog post. And together we will change the world one word at a time.

Leave me a comment about what you’re writing–and resisting.

(FYI, this originally appeared as my weekly newsletter. If you’d like to get it delivered directly to your inbox, just fill out the form to the right.)