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.

Five on Friday: Raining Again

What I’m Complaining About: The weather. Again. I’m sorry. It has been a really long winter here. My husband looked at the weather app on his phone this morning and said the forecast was for a clear day on April 9th. Sigh.

What I’m Watching: In the category of We’re Old and Clueless About Technology, we finally got our Amazon Fire stick working with the TV (thank you daughter-in-law, who fixed it in, oh, two seconds).  And wow, are there are a lot of great things being produced by Amazon.  We’ve watched three of four of Z: The Beginning of Everything, about Zelda Fitzgerald.  It stars Christina Ricci as Zelda, and if you thought of her mostly from The Addams Family, you’re in for a surprise, as I was.

What I’m Reading: Finishing up the Rachael Herron book from last week. I’ve been out several nights this week and haven’t had a lot of time to read. Also, I have this bad habit of reading magazines at lunchtime.   But I’m now reading as fast as I can because a crop of great books just came in for me at the library: the first Maisie Dobbs novel, The Underground Railroad, and Scratch, which is an anthology about writers and money. Speaking of which, I see library fines in my future because none of these are renewable. I consider my library fines my contribute to their existence. We have one of the best and busiest library systems in the country here, and I use it lavishly.

What I’m Doing This Weekend: Working on taxes.  It is going to rain all weekend anyway. This is a cheery post, isn’t it?

What I Re-learned This Week:  That when you stall on writing a story, and something is bugging you, there’s a reason for it.  If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.  Most often my experience is that the scene is set in the wrong location.  That was the case for me this week.  I was also wrestling with whether to set the scene in real time or backstory. Both have big disadvantages.  But finally this morning, as I was driving in my jammies home from dropping my husband at the light rail station, I thought of an entirely new place to set the scene–and that opened it all up. I’m happy now. The weekend may proceed.

What’s up with you? What are you reading, watching, working on?  Tell me interesting things.

Photo by Scott Robinson.

Blocked? Try This to Get Your Writing Going Again

Before we get started, I have a guest post today over at the wonderful Samara King’s blog. It is called Born to Be Bad, and it is about the importance of wielding your creative power. Go read it!

Okay, so I promised you a tip for when you are blocked.  This is so ridiculously simple that you’re going to think I’m crazy, but it works. It’s based on one of the laws of the universe (possibly physics, though I am not scientific enough to know) with which you are familiar:

Nature abhors a vacuum.

And so does creativity.  And so here’s the idea:  you create a space in which to allow your writing to flow. I know. I told you it was simple. But it really works, because not only are you telling the universe are ready to riot, you are also easing yourself into the work.  Here are some suggestions as to how:

External

Open a file.  Opening a file is telling yourself (and the world) that you are serious. You’re going to do this thing. You are creating a place in which to actually write it. Woo-hoo!

Buy a notebook. Ditto above. Only analog, not digital. Claiming your space!

Create a binder. And ditto again.

Fill out a template.   This can be a character dossier, or a form (or forms) that you find in a book or online. Sometimes having somebody tell you what to do helps, and if they’ve given you a ready-made outline, so much the better. (Though take everything anybody tells you, especially even me, with a grain of salt.)

Title a blank page (on the computer or in a notebook) with Chapter One (or whatever). Now you’ve created a vacuum.  I’ve been known to have a file open or a notebook created for days or weeks at a time before actually writing anything in it. And that’s okay, because the energy is there, gathering. This draws on the Japanese productivity theory of Kaizen, which advocates small increases in productivity.  As in, one day you open the file, and the next day you write one word, and so on. Sounds crazy, but it works.

Kon-mari your workspace.  Creativity is messy and sloppy, yes, but getting things organized creates, yes, you guessed it, a vacuum into which words can flow. And yeah, I’m the worst person on the planet to be preaching this, seeing as how I’ve been re-organizing my office for years months.

These simple actions tell the universe that you’re ready to receive. That you’re serious. You’ve fashioned a vessel into which the ideas can flow.  And before you know it, you’ll be writing like crazy again.

Do you ever create containers for your creativity? What’s your favorite way?

And hey, don’t forget about connection calls. Just click here to schedule a time to chat about writing!

Photo from Everystockphoto.