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.)

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!

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.

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.)

Freedom, Independence, and Writing ( A Sunday Love Letter)

Tuesday is Independence Day in the states. Yesterday was Canada Day in, um, Canada, which I think has something to do with becoming a country but I couldn’t quite tell from the Wikipedia page. (Forgive me Canadians, and perhaps one of you could enlighten me?)

The idea of independence and freedom is afoot in the world.

It’s something we all want, right? I mean, who wants to live their life in chains, real or imaginary?  For most of us, thank God, the only kind of prisons we will experience will be mental and emotional.  But those prisons can be excruciating and powerful.

And I am here to assert that the feeling of freedom and independence comes from one place only—within. Okay, I’m fresh off a weekend of watching kid movies, Trolls and Moana, so I admit maybe I’ve been a bit unduly affected by their messages.  But this idea that it all comes from within is something I fervently believe in, and forget often.

So here’s a reminder for me and you: freedom comes from within, and the best tool I know to access that is writing. Yes, writing. Whether you’re exploring your emotions on the journaling page, or pouring them into a character in your WIP novel, or shaping them in the memoir you’re writing to make sense of your life, writing is your best path to mental freedom.

Because, you can put the drama on the page, as Julia Cameron says.  And then it does have to go out into the world, where it can damage tender relationships. Freedom.

Because, you can spend time expressing yourself, doing what you feel called to do, rather than plopping down in front of the TV or computer. Freedom.

Because, you can put your stories out into the world, where they will affect others in positive ways, maybe even loosening some of the bonds that bind them.  Freedom.

So, let freedom ring.  Set pen to paper. Let it rip. It is your path to freedom and independence.

And don’t forget–my Freedom and Independence Coaching special runs through July 5th.  Learn more here.

What are you working on this holiday weekend? Do leave a comment and let me know.

(This post originally appeared in my newsletter. If you’d like to have it delivered to your inbox every Sunday, just fill out the form to the right.)

Photo by kplantt.

Tuesday Tip: Remember, it’s called a rough draft for a reason

I’m going back through the second draft of my WIP novel, checking for places where I have to drop things in. Most of these are little things, like another mention of a physical object that figures in the plot (in this case, a necklace), or pumping up a description that didn’t get fully mounted on the page.

But in one instance, I have a whole chapter to drop in. (Because, um, it features an important character that I failed to show anywhere in the novel. Duh.)

So this means I am writing rough draft material again for the first time in a couple of months. I’ve been rewriting and editing and getting the draft ready for beta readers. (Soon!)

And this morning I found myself laboring over every word.

WTF! I know better than this.  A rough draft is just that–the draft of a chapter or story or essay that is in its rough stages.  And just because the rest of my novel is almost ready for other eyes, doesn’t mean that this chapter needs to be.

I had to remind myself to just put the words on the page.  Let them rip. Write fast. Don’t worry about how “good” the words are once they land. Just get the damned thing written!

And that is my Tuesday tip for you–let the writing of your rough draft stink. Make it awful. Require it to be. Because once you’ve gotten those words on the page, you’ve got treasure with which to work.  You can rewrite and revise and edit to your heart’s content.  But not yet.

Remember there’s a reason it is called a rough draft and let it be, well…rough.

What to Do When You Finish a Draft

I finished draft two of my romance novel this past weekend. Woot woot! It still needs work so there was no dancing in the streets or swinging from chandeliers. Just a quiet sigh of pleasure.  And there’s always a bit of confusion as I ponder, what do I do next? So I figured a blog post about just that topic was in order.

Let it rest.  Simmer, marinate, compost, whatever you want to call it, your brain needs time to do it.  You’ve been close to this baby–so close–for months or even longer now. You’ve got to get away and get some distance from it.  Give yourself a few days, preferably at least a week. Go off and don’t think about it.  Let your subconscious do that while you’re busy playing golf or making soap or doing something, anything but working on your novel.

Decide what happens next.  (You can do this while it is composting.)  Was this your first time through, also known as the discovery draft, the rough draft,  or Shitty First Draft?  If so you likely have at least one more draft that you’re going to need to write.  But if it is your third or fourth draft, you may be pondering getting it out in the world. So, at his po9int you have a choice to either:

Write another draft or carry on.  Let’s discuss writing another draft first.  

First, of course, you’re going to re-read it. Duh. As you read, make notes. I use the post-it note method for flexibility. You can read about that and my entire theory of rewriting here.  I like to keep notes of things that I’ll need to put in next time through, ideas that will make the plot stronger, additions to character arcs.  Go through these and see what you’ve got.

Sometimes, this is a matter of going through and dropping things in. For instance, you may have decided on a physical object that is of importance to your protagonist, but you only figure this out fifteen chapters in. So now you need to go back and salt it in a couple times earlier.  These are fairly easily accomplished (once you figure out where they go.)

Do these easy run-throughs first and then see where you are. If you are several drafts in, or an excellent first-drafter, you may well feel very pleased with your work, and ready to take the next step.  And so, ta-da, it is time to get some fresh eyes on it.  You may have a trusted family member who reads all your work, or an agent or editor you work with.  Or perhaps you need to find you some:

Beta Readers.  These are the most wonderful of creatures, those lovelies who will read your book in its current form and give you feedback on it.  You can find them among friends and family (as long as they promise to be honest), amid your writer friends, or on social media.  Some of you may already have a trusted group who read your every release.  Take their ideas and incorporate them or not as you see fit and get ready to carry on. Woo-hoo! Almost there!

Here you have another choice point.  (You probably already know the answer to this.) Are you looking for a traditional publisher or will you publish yourself?

If you are going to self-publish, you will need to find an editor, formatter (or learn to do it yourself), and cover designer.  Don’t skimp on any of these, because they can make or break a book’s release.  You want your book to stand out from the crowd and actually get purchased, and going the cheap route is not going to do you any favors. Trust me.

And, if you are going to seek traditional publication, you will need to search for an agent. Fun times.  It is a process that basically involves writing a query letter, researching agents, and then submitting to them. And a whole lot more. All of which I am going to cover in my upcoming How to Get an Agent class.  Which you can read more about here.  Summer writing conferences are coming up, with opportunities to pitch, so why not learn all you can about the process and present your work in its best light?

Good luck with whatever stage you are in! And please leave a comment and let me know what draft you’re on and how you’re feeling about it.

Five on Friday: Sunshine Through my Window

Fingers crossed for a nice weekend!  Here’s what’s going on:

What I’m Reading: Same books as last week, which I can’t divulge, because I’m reading for a contest.  But I also have occasion to load up my Kindle with Ebooks because I read while baby George naps on my chest.  So I have been perusing You Are a Badass at Making Money.  Because I’m a sucker for self-help books and this series by Jen Sincero is far more entertaining than most.

What I’m Watching: Not much of anything. I’ve been out a lot at night.  Oh crap, I just looked at my calendar and I am out every night through next Wednesday. This is why I end up watching stupid sitcoms.  Because there’s not a lot of evening time for anything more taxing.

What I’m Excited About: The beta launch of my Do That Thing program. Couple of spots left–check it out here.

Where I’m Spending Time: Answering questions on Quora. I’m finding it mildly addictive.  Very fun.

What I Recommend:  One of my favorite blogs is Thekitchensgarden.    I read it first thing in the morning to find out what’s going on down on Cecilia’s farm.  A writer needs to let loose her inner farm girl once in a while.  Though I’d probably collapse in a quivering heap after one hour trailing Cecilia about.

That’s it for the end of this week. What’s going on with you?

Five on Saturday

Why I’m writing this post on Saturday: Because yesterday morning we had a big windstorm.  One minute it was a nice, calm Friday morning and the next it was so windy I thought the fir tree in the backyard was going to crash into my house.  And lots of trees did crash down all over the city. Turns out the combination of our very wet soil and everything in bloom was not a good match for high wind.  And so yeah, the power went out.  I had appointments all day, including on Skype, and nearly decamped to my son’s house. Luckily, it came back on quickly. But then it took a bit to get the internet working…and such distractions are murder on the schedule.

What I read: I finished the first Maisie Dobbs novel and am on my way to the library today to get #2. I know I’ve written about this series a lot, but I haven’t been this taken with a character in a long while.  It’s interesting, because in this first book there are some things that would normally drive me crazy and make me throw the book against the wall, like viewpoint shifts.  But the character and the setting–London between the two wars–keeps me so fascinated I don’t care.  I emerge after finishing the book and every other book I have on my to read shelf looks dull and boring by comparison.

What I’m writing: Perking along on the novel rewrite.  One thing I noticed in the Maisie Dobbs novel is what a great job she does of withholding information.  The reader may not learn the fate of a character for many pages.  Or, Winspear will hint at something in Maisie’s backstory and only later reveal it.  This is not a technique that is new to me, of course, but it is useful to see it in action. (This is why we read as writers.) And, I’ve been applying it to this novel rewrite with good result. (Or so I say. Nobody has yet read this thing but me.)

Most popular post on Instagram: The doll hospital.

What I did last night: Took a friend who is attending a conference for death and grief therapists here in town to an open house at The Dougy Center. I’ve driven by this place a million times–it’s on my route to my daughter’s house–but have never (thank God) had reason to go in.  The center is a non-profit that helps families cope with grief over the death or dying of a loved one.  In 2009, a huge arson fire destroyed their offices, located in an old home.  So they build a new place–and it is amazing, with myriad rooms devoted to various activities–talking, art, music, games, a theater and a mock-up of a hospital room. It is hard to express how incredible this place is–but it is a testament to rising literally from the ashes into something way better than the original.

That’s my report. What’s yours?

Ten Year Blog Anniversary

Yep, as of two days ago, March 26th, it’s been ten years since I began this blog.  I can’t believe it, either. There’s now nearly 1500 posts on this blog, which is stunning to me also.  While I now do my best to blog twice a week, there was a time back in the day when I managed a post every day. God only knows how I did that.

But this blog has been the centerpiece of my writing career for those ten years and I’m proud of it. I’ve gotten countless clients and tons of new friends from it.  And I continue to learn as much from writing it as I hope you do from reading it.  Some of you have actually been reading me since the beginning, and I thank you for that. It truly means the world to me.

I often tell clients this story to encourage them: when I first started this blog, I remember telling my son about it. But then I quickly said, “But don’t go read it.” I was too uncertain about it, too nervous to have my words out in the world, not sure it would amount to anything.   And here I am, ten years later, still putting words out there.  So I mean it when I say that if I can do it, you can, too.  And that applies to any aspect of writing.

Over those ten years, I’ve worked with dozens of writers one-on-one, taught numerous classes, started and maintained a business hosting workshops in France, published a novel, gotten an agent, written more fiction which will soon see the light of day, written articles, had stories published in anthologies, and scribbled lord knows how many pages in my journals.  I’ve traveled regularly to Nashville, L.A.,the Oregon Coast, and France, been to New York City and Barcelona once, and Seattle numerous times.  I’ve said goodbye to three good pugs, managed to live with two very fat and opinionated cats, and I’ve stayed married to the same very patient man.  I lost my mother, but gained a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law, and fast on their heels, four grandchildren.

It’s been a busy ten years, and I am a lucky woman.

I thought it would be fun to include my very first post in this anniversary, so here it is:

Beginnings

My friend Sue (one of my Nashville peeps) and I have both recently started re-writing our novels.  Today she emailed me and asked what I knew about first chapters.   I told her one thing I know about first chapters is that they are hard–hard because a first chapter is the foundation for everything that is to follow.

First paragraphs in articles are hard, too.  Usually (okay, always) I must have my first paragraph set before the rest of an article will flow, and its for the same reason–all the words that follow depend on  the firm foundation of the first paragraph.

So, too, with first entries in a blog, like this one. It logically (though logic is not my strong suit, despite my love of Sudoku) follows that the premiere post should be a strong basis for all the missives to come.  It should delineate the themes of the blog, be witty and erudite, and make people want to keep coming back for more. Which makes it really hard, just like writing the first chapter of a novel.  The difference being that by the time a novel gets published, that first chapter will have been rewritten a gazillion times, and the essence of a blog is daily communication. So, to heck with it.  I’ll forget about strong foundations and all that and just dive right in.

After all, one of my fondly held beliefs is that process is more important than product, at least while one is the middle of the process of creating a product.  Its so easy to get caught up in thoughts of the product–does it sound right? will people like it? is it good?–that it can paralyze you while you are trying to be engrossed in the process.  And conversely, there’s nothing better in the whole world than those times when you are so caught up in the writing process that two hours pass like two minutes. 

This blog will focus on process, and words, and how to produce a lot of them, and a whole lot more.  After all, the word strumpet means prostitute and the word prostitute means, according to Webster’s, a woman who engages in promiscuous sexual intercourse, especially for money.  As a word strumpet, I engage in promiscuous writing activity, especially, but certainly not solely, for money. Strumpet that I am, I can’t get enough of words, can’t get enough of writing. 

Hence, the blog, which will not only serve as a forum to produce more words but hopefully provoke comment.  Because another one of my firmly held beliefs is that writing is communication, and communication is a loop.  If any part of the loop is broken, something is missing, which is why writers whine a lot about how hard it is to get published.    So I am casting my words into the circle and you can keep the circle unbroken by writing back with comments.

Until then, as always, I’ll just be here writing.

And I gotta say, for all the other changes in my life, one thing has remained the same: I’m still just here, writing.