Gift Ideas for Writers: The Wordstrumpet Christmas List

Christmas season has officially begun and even though I went to an awesome wine tasting and sale last night, it wasn’t at a mall or even a traditional store so thus I did not officially participate in Black Friday.  I did, however, buy a handcrafted Christmas ornament and started getting in the spirit of the holiday.  And what better way to celebrate the start of the season then with a Christmas list?  I love lists of all kinds but especially Christmas and birthday lists.  What follows is The Wordstrumpet Christmas list, full of books and and various other items of possible interest to writers.  It is admittedly random, in no particular order, and based on my current obsessions, which may well change completely tomorrow, in which case I’ll write a new list.  Until then, here we go:
1.  While we are talking about awesome wine tastings and sales, why not buy gifts from a local artist or craftsperson?  There’s nothing more special than a hand-crafted present, whether you made it yourself or bought it from someone who did.  If you don’t know of any convenient local sources, try Etsy for a vast array of fabulous ideas.

2. The Ethical Executive. This book by Robert Hoyk is a must-read for everyone, not just executives, because it will help you steer a path through the sticky wickets of multiple ethical dilemmas.  I featured this book on a page on my sister site, Bookstrumpet, which you can see here.

3.  While we are on the topic of great books, how about a little Christmas cheer?   You can buy Christmas is a Season, on Amazon (see the handy button to the left) and read a story by none other than moi.

4.  While we are on the subject of Amazon, I am still coveting a Kindle., the new electronic reader.  When I travel, and I travel often, I cart pounds of books along with me.  I had to buy a rolling carry-on bag to save my shoulder and I’ve takeen to checking it planeside because it is so heavy from the books.  If I had a Kindle, I could load every title I wanted to read on it and save my arms.

5.  I’ve just discovered the author Will North, and I’m reading his novel, The Long Walk Home.  He’s being billed as a latter-day Robert James Waller (author of Bridges of Madison County) but trust me, he’s better.  Way better.  He’s a ghostwriter, like me, though I can’t claim quite the high-falutin’ clients that he can.

6.  A session with Suzanne Peters to clear out any blocks you might have around your writing career or your ability to put words on the page.  She’s doing an amazing new process called  and getting great results with it.

7.  Every writer needs a furry companion, and there’s no better choice for that than a pug.  If you’re in the Portland area, try the Pacific Pug Rescue to adopt a pug in need.

8.  I’m addicted to office supplies, especially the really cool, elegant ones that Levenger sells.  I could spend entire fortunes on office supplies and books, and be happy.  Well, I do like to buy clothes, too, but that’s a topic for someone else’s blog.

9.  I desperately need a new computer (Vaio, don’t fail me yet) and there’s no denying it, I want a Mac.  Blasphemy, since I’ve been a PC user for years, but there it is.

10.  There comes a time in every writer’s life when he or she needs some support, encouragement, or instruction. Why not consider signing up for The Writer’s Loft? You’ll get one-on-one instruction, working closely with a mentor.

11.  If you have a desperate need to learn more about writing fundraising letters, you can purchase the book I wrote on said topic here.     Good stuff, honestly.

12.  Make 2009 the year you write your book.  I’m starting an online program to teach you exactly how to do that.  Your book is your business card.  You need one to achieve the success you desire.  Stay tuned for more details on this program, coming soon!

13.  Lucky number thirteen bonus idea:  sign up for my newsletter, full of writing tips and ideas.  Or sign up one of your loved ones.  Its free!  All you have to do is provide your name and address in the handy box to the right.

In The Body: Writing and Running, Part Two

A few days ago I wrote a post about writing and running.  Since then I've been staying in Laguna BeachTarget D1127
and running the canyon.  Okay, I run down and walk back up, but then so does nearly everyone else.  It is a looong way back up.  Yesterday as I hit the last and steepest hill I ran into a man named George who proceeded to tell me about Kangen water, which helped make the hill climb a lot easier.  (He dropped off some of the water for me to try later, and that was pretty cool, too.)

Water and interesting men aside, I have had Thoughts as I continue this new-found activity.  Thoughts which relate to writing.

My biggest Thought concerns the difference between writing and walking. Besides speed, the main difference to me is that when I run I'm totally in my body.  I'm focusing on keeping myself going, on breathing, maybe on that pain in my ankle, on making it to the next street or up the next hill.  When I walk, my mind roams free.  I ponder writing problems, and, alarmingly often, obsess about what I'm going to do first when I return from my walk. 

Over the years of my walking career, I've often noticed the difference between passing another walker and passing a runner.  Another walker always makes eye contact and greets me (at least in Portland, where we tend to be inordinately friendly).  But the runners always run on by.  I assumed this was an inbred snottiness about runners, but now I understand.  Runners don't say hi because they are in the body, not quite so focused on the surroundings.

How does this Thought relate to writing, you ask?  Just as a runner stays in the body when running, a writer needs to stay in the body when writing.  Its just that the body might be someone else's.  The body could be the heroine of your novel or the person for whom you ghostwrite a book.  In order to truly write from another point of view you need to deeply inhabit the body of your character.  This is also true in the case of writing a personal essay or even an article.  You must be in the body–your own body–in order to access the truths you wish to share in writing.

Some people get to this state by meditating.  You might have other ways to reach it.  Whatever path you choose, just remember that being in the body, deeply inhabiting the essence of yourself or your character, is the state you need to write from.

Technology , Spirituality and Creativity

This is a funny confession, but technology inspires me both creatively, and spiritually. 

I used to live in a tiny bubble that was comprised of my immediate neighborhood, my city, occasional forays to other cities.  Now, thanks to technology, I’m connected to a vast web of people, through my blog, email, and social networking.  I’ve got ghostwriting clients in LA, students in Nashville, and friends all over the world.  People say technology is the death of intimacy, but I say the opposite.

There’s no escaping it–we’re all connected. Quantum physicists tell us that everything we do impacts even the tiniest atoms of matter.  Technology proves this to me, over and over again, every day.  Because I have physical evidence of our interconnections through technology, it is much, much easier for me to believe it in a spiritual manner.

As above, so below, the ancients say.  As technology, so spirituality. 


The Writing Process

The thought occurs that reminders about the basics are a good thing.  I know for certain that I forget things about writing all the time and then when I remember them I feel like I've discovered the fountain of youth or the secret to cloning Brad Pitt.  No, wait, I hear that Johnny Depp is the current hot boy.  Well, you can clone Johnny and I'll clone Brad.

One of the things that is easy to forget about is the writing process. Or, perhaps we should capitalize it, The Writing Process.  It sounds official and mysterious but really it is the easiest thing in the world because basically all you have to do to partake of The Writing Process is write.

Sounds easy, and, um, logical, right?

Too bad we silly, wonderful humans allow ourselves to get bogged down and forget how easy it is to write.  Instead, we get mired in the muck of perfection.   We may begin to think that every sentence or even every word must be perfect before we move on.  We decide that we should know every single thing about our main character and her arc and every single scene we are going to write and every detail of it before we move forward.  We convince ourselves that this is how we are supposed to write, and we also convince ourselves that the "real" writers produce sterling prose the first time out, without ever having to revise.

Not even.

The most prolific writers follow The Writing Process.  It is damn difficult to be prolific when you are obsessing over every word that must come from your brain, through the fingers, onto the page.  It is really hard to get a lot of writing done when you are locked in a war with yourself about perfection.

On the other hand, there's also the trap of putting words on paper as they occur to you and assuming your are done, that your genius needs no revising.  This is most often seen in beginning writers.  There's that rush of creation and it feels so damn good that it is difficult to believe that the slightest thing could be wrong with your creation.

Steer a middle path through these two extremes and you'll find The Writing Process, which allows you to alternate between the two extremes.  Here's a rundown of it:

  • Rough draft.  Some people call this the discovery draft, because you are discovering the story.  You start writing at the beginning and push on through to the end, without stopping to revise or edit or make the changes your critique group told you about.  Even if you make a major change mid-stream, you keep writing.  At many times throughout the process you may feel lost, but once you get to the end, you'll know much, much more about the story than you did when you started.
  • Second draft.  This one is going to be a bit shapelier, but still not gorgeous.  You'll be looking at big issues this time around, such as how the plot functions and if the character arcs work.  You've learned so much from writing a rough draft that you'll be applying all those stellar ideas to this draft.
  • Third draft.  Probably more of the same, unless you're really good or you've made a deal with the devil.  Every draft that you do will allow the novel to unveil itself to you, and you'll get to a deeper and deeper level with it.
  • Fourth draft.  In reality, you'll probably do so many drafts that you'll lose track, but for the sake of the story, let's assume after the third draft you're satisfied with all the big issues and ready to move on.  Now you look at style, such things as using active verbs and varying your sentence structure, making sure you don't overuse the word "that" and so on and so forth.  I once had a mentor tell me to spend an hour per page in this stage, but I've never been able to manage it.
  • Fifth draft.  The fine-toothed comb draft.  Every word, every comma, every semi-colon, is up for consideration. 

After all this, finally, you will have a draft you can be proud of and eager to send out.  And then the real fun begins, as you navigate the dangerous waters of the publishing world.  And that is a topic for another post, or more likely, another person with more expertise than me.

Ah, LA….

where it is illegal to look different from anyone else.

It is a requirement here that you be thin, tan, have long hair, wear sunglasses and pout, AND be young.  Thus if you are not young it is required that you go get plastic surgery really, really fast.  And then you look like you are trying hard to look like everyone else, even though everyone knows that you went under the knife to do it.

Ah, LA.  I love it so, and I'm not even sure why.

Being here always makes me muse on the nature of identity and true self.  These are important topics for writers because letting that ole true self out in words is pretty much the key to it all.  You will find success only when you find your voice and you find your voice by writing enough that you can let it rip, and open a direct line from your deepest inner being, through the arm, out the fingers, and onto the page.  Or keyboard.  Or digital recorder.

My friend Deidre, who lives in Silver Lake, says that everyone in LA strives to look alike and act alike and be alike and then the one person who is not like everyone else arrives and they are the one who makes it.  So why does everyone else persist in attempting to be like everyone else?

And once you hit 40, forget it.  Actually, it might even be 30.  Soon it will probably be 20.

Lat night I had drinks with a friend who is an entertainment attorney and he says its a hellish culture of youth here  (my words, not his, but they have a ring to them, no?)  As an attorney, he is expected to be wise and mature so he doesn't have to worry about the the age thing, but if you are flailing about on the creative side trying to make it, you gotta be young.

The hell part is, of course, that everyone ages.  Even Hollywood Goldenboys.  Then they have to dye their hair and pretend they are still young.

I realize that none of this is news, yet it continually perplexes me every time I come down here. Why do we all persist in trying to make ourselves just like everyone else, when there's only one of each of us in this whole world?  I'm veering dangerously close to getting teary eyed and talking about snowflakes here so forgive me, or better yet, explain it to me.

I'm reading Harriet Rubin's latest book, The Mona Lisa Stratagem: The Art of Women, Age, and Power, and she talks about how if a famous actor is on stage and a cat is on stage, all eyes will be on the cat. Why?  Because the cat is uniquely, gloriously, himself, no matter what.  Animals just are.  (This might help to explain why the most popular photos on my yahoo home page are always of animals.  So we're not as simple minded as I feared.)  Its the same thing with babies.  Ever notice how nobody can keep their eyes off them? 

Somebody ought to tell all the 20-something wannabe actresses that story.

And yet, despite my horror at the preponderance of clones everywhere and the cult of youth here, there is something about this place that keeps luring me back. 
Maybe I like coming here so much because I can flee back north to
Portland, where everybody seems desperately determined to not look like
anyone else, ever. 

Or maybe its just the palm trees.

Interview with Me

John Craig did a 5-question interview with me and he posted it today.  I loved the questions he asked and I love his photography, so go check it out. 

You can find his blog here.

After you've read the interview, stick around on his blog and read his posts.  He's got some great stuff and he's also working on a book, I'm happy to report.  And don't forget to check out his photography on his website.

Thanks, John, for interviewing me!

One of Those Days

It’s been one of those days.  I thought I’d take time to work on some of my self-initiated projects instead of all the work I do for other people (those pesky items that pay the bills).  And yet.  There was a series of emails that needed to be sent out for the Loft, and those led to a flurry of emails in response.  And then my friend in LA had called and so I needed to call her back and there was that earthquake so it took way longer than usual to get through because all the circuits were busy.  (Can I just say how happy I am that there was an earthquake this week, since I’ll be in LA next week?  This takes the pressure off all those underground faults and fissures, so there won’t be another one for a long, long time.  Right? Right? Right?)

And after that, oh so many things happened that kept my nose to the grindstone.  I emailed a couple of book publicists for my book review and author site, and went through the contracts for the AWP panel.  More emails.  A lot more emails.  Completed a long-overdue survey about the makeover the wonderful Typepad people did for me.  And so on and so forth.

All wonderful things, but not writing.  Not at all writing.  All writing-related, but not writing.  Sheesh.  The good news is that I got enough done–oh, except there is the wee matter of the next ghostwriting project I need to start–that tomorrow can mostly be devoted to writing.

So, before dinner, feeling proud of myself, I sat down with a glass of wine and my knitting to relax a bit.  Never mind that my son, who is way too old for this kind of behavior, was banging relentlessly on the wall of the family room asking when dinner would be ready.  I ignored him as best I could (he finally went and started dinner himself but don’t be too impressed because it was take-out meatballs) and concentrated on my knitting, pondering what lovely words I would be writing tomorrow.

And as I formed stitch after stitch (I’m making a skirt, yes, a skirt–check out this great book called Handknit Skirts from Tricoter) I had a thought.  A brilliant thought, actually, about a problem in one of my fiction pieces that had plagued me.  I am going to submit a story to my friend Linda’s Christmas anthology, and I’m going to be editing a chapter of my first novel down to make it into a short story.  I really have no clue how to do this, and less of a clue as to how to start.

Ah, but such is the benefit of finally getting one’s mind quiet enough for brilliance to flood in.  It helps, immensely, when one’s hands are occupied, I find.  Any kind of repetitive behavior seems to set the mind free for great ideas.  Gardening is good, as is lawn mowing, or vaccuuming, or sewing.  Walking is excellent.  I’m sure golf probably is, but I wouldn’t know as the one time I played golf it took me so long at each tee that kicked me off the course.  Anyway, you get the idea.

So now I’m primed to get going tomorrow.  As long as I start with fiction first and do no go to the email I’ll be fine.

Hollywood of Comic Books

My son went through a long comic book phase when he was a pre-teen, which involved me driving him to comic book stores and conventions and then standing around waiting for him.  Having nothing better to do, I picked up comic books and began to read and in this way grew to love the form.  One of my early attempts at novel writing actually was set in the world of comics–a sure sign something holds a lot of interest to me, cause I won’t write about it unless I really love it.  (Except for ghostwriting.  I’ll write about anything if you pay me enough.)

For the record, as far as I’m concerned the best comic ever is Concrete, written by Paul Chadwick, and published by Dark Horse comics which just so happens to be located in Portland, along with all the other hot comic companies.  Concrete is the story of speechwriter Ron Lithgow whose brain was transplanted into a huge body of concrete by aliens.  But the series is far more than what it sounds like, as Concrete muses on all kinds of things such as the nature of people’s passions and so forth.  And, as I recall, there’s this sort of tragic The Sun Also Rises thing going on, with Concrete in love with a woman that he can of course never have.  For an interview with Chadwick, click here.  And to see what looks like a pretty complete list of the Concrete oeuvre, click here.  Check it out, its worth it, I promise.

I’ve been thinking about comics because of the success this summer of Hellboy II, a Dark Horse project, and, of course, The Dark Knight, which I’ve not yet seen.  Recently my local newspaper ran an article about how Portland truly is the Hollywood of the Comics world and you can read that article here.

So when I was looking at the ads that run alongside my gmail inbox (it fascinates and scares me how they are so keyed to whatever is being talking about in an email) and saw an ad for a comic book called The Elves of Iax, I had to click on it, just to check it out.  Turns out the comic is produced by Jeremy Kayes, who apparently lives in Seattle, which we’ll have to forgive him for as he might not be able to help it. Anyway, Jeremy is giving away Chapter 1 of his comic until August 11, 2008.  (You can give him a donation at the end of the process.) 

I deeply admire people who do things like this, because it implies that he cares not so much about making money, but getting his work out in the world.  He cares not so much about what the world can do for him as what he can do for the world.  Excellent karma.  So go check it out.  The elves look intriguing and I can’t wait for my copy.  And do check out Concrete, too.

Ah, But Here’s the Rub

A couple months ago I wrote a post titled Write Three Pages a Day and You’ll Be Happy.

This command, and the post I wrote about it, are all true.  I believe this statement with all my heart, because I believe that as writers, we must write regularly to be happy.

However….

Upon rare occasion, there may come a day, when you realize, as youmdutifully write your three pages a day on a daily basis, that you are lost and meandering.  In a dark wood, wandering, so to speak.  Unsure where those three pages a day are taking you, if anywhere.

Not that this has ever happened to me, mind you.  Just sayin’ it might happen.  It just might.

And you will need to be prepared if it does.  Because when if this happens you might inadvertently feel worse for having written your three pages then if you’d not written at all.  Here you are, diligently writing, yet you seem to be wandering far afield.  No plot appears.  Your characters are aimless, boring creatures.  Your words like dead and flat on the page.

What to do when this happens?

I don’t know, really.  The truth is, nobody does.  Feeling lost and uncertain where you are going in a project is an occupational hazard.  Rare are the writing projects that write themselves.  Wonderful as they are, they can be a curse, too, because if that happens to you even once, you’ll spend the rest of your life wishing and hoping that it will happen again.  It might.  But then again, it might not.

But even though I don’t really have the answer, I’ve managed to muster some suggestions.  So here we go:

What To Do When You Don’t Have a Clue What You’re Writing

1. Cry.  I am sort of kidding about this, but sort of not.  Crying is very cathartic.

2.  Remember that the only way out is through.  You know what this means. Keep writing.

3.  Trust.  This is related to #2.  You must trust that the story will out, that the cream will rise to the crop, that the….you get the idea.

4.  Go back to the basics and plan.  Ask yourself questions about the characters, or interview them.  Put scenes on 3 by 5 cards and arrange and rearrange them.  Make a plot outline–work fast and just write down everything you know about what happens next.  Or write up some scene guides–noting all the physical details of the scene, who is in it, where it takes place, what will happen, what the scene needs to accomplish and so forth.

5. Take a break.  I know, I know, I’m forever harping about writing regularly.  But once in awhile you can let yourself off the hook and take a little break.  As long as it is the pause that refreshes and not the time you quit working on the novel or screenplay forever.

6.  And finally, for some fresh inspiration, download Chris Guillebeau’s free ebook called, The Art of Nonconformity: A Brief Guide to World Domination.  I think you’ll enjoy it and find it useful.

Writing is Enough

I may have already written about this before–and I reserve the right to write about it again.  Does anyone else have that thing where you forget what you’ve written?  It’s not age, or fading brain cells, it comes from writing a lot and being so present with what I’m writing that I forget everything that has come before.  Or so I tell myself.

But back to the subject at hand, in my continuing effort to master the art of letting go, I’ve been thinking about things I need to let go of in my writing career.  (New age/self-help/energy primer 101–letting go does NOT mean you want to get rid of it, but that you want to get rid of fussing over it, expecting it to happen, requiring it to happen.)  I love every aspect of my writing.  I love writing blog posts, coaching, teaching, and directing the Writer’s Loft.

Most of all, I love writing fiction.  Love, love, love it.  I love every aspect of writing fiction, from brainstorming the initial idea for a novel, to writing the rough draft, rewriting, revising, fussing over it, talking about it–every bit of it.   The most important goal in my life right now is to publish my novel.

But that goal must be secondary to the writing itself or I’m doing it for the wrong reasons.

My wise friend Sue told me on my most recent trip to Nashville that she had realized that writing was in and of itself enough.  That writing is a useful activity that should be encouraged in the world, even if what we write never gets published.  (It is possible to believe this and still desire to get published.)

Sitting down to write is enough.   Doing this is a useful activity that improves the world, even if not one word of what you write ever sees publication.  Why?  To wit:

  • Writing centers you
  • Writing helps you make sense of the world
  • Writing orders your mind
  • Writing helps you to organize your thoughts
  • Writing helps you process emotions

Further, creating stories:

  • Helps you figure out who you are
  • Helps you figure out your world
  • Helps you to find your place in it
  • Helps you to understand others
  • Gives you a moral compass

I’ve often said that I don’t understand how people who don’t write survive in the world.  And it is for all of the above reasons that this is true–writing is a tool, a friend, a habit, a career, and more. 

And using writing for any and all of these activities is, quite simply, enough.