So Long, Farewell, Auf Weidersehen Goodnight to 2014

(In case you don't know–what, you've lived under a rock for the last umpteen years? Kidding, just kidding–my title is a take-off of a song from The Sound of Music, the best musical of ALL TIME, and no I'm not talking about the stupid rip-off live version with Carrie Underwood in it.)

The-sound-of-music-1920x1080This is the last time you will hear from me this year.  And I thought it might be fun to look back at what inspired me, perhaps inspiring you to think about what inspired you this past year and what might inspire you in 2015.  I've been doing a lot of work with goals (there is nothing I love more than planning and pondering) for the new year, and an important part of that is looking back to see what happened in the last year.

I've had a few disappointments, goals that didn't get accomplished and progress not made in certain areas.  But I really prefer to dwell on the positive, and besides I have it on good authority (I read it in two, count them, two different places on the interwebs and we all know how reliable that source is)that 2014 has been a year of discovering what it is you truly want while 2015 will be all about accomplishing it.  

Here we go with my inspirations (in no particular order except for the way they came out of my brain):

1.  Indie publishing.  As the year began, everyone, all over the webs, was talking about making it as an indie writer.  All you had to do was throw shit up on Amazon and it sold and made you a millionaire!  I was intrigued.  Then, in March I went to AWP in Seattle and heard Hugh Howey, the poster child for indie publishing speak.  More enthusiasm! Much excitement! He made $150K in one month with his books!

I was intrigued enough to experiment with putting a wee bit of effort out, and posting a story for sale.  While I didn't get rich selling it, I do like to think that it has introduced some new readers to me.  Maybe.  Not sure.  

Now, as we head towards 2015, I hear much less noise about how easy it is to make tons o' bucks on Amazon and I think they may be due to their Kindle Unlimited option.  I don't know the exact details but it is something to do with customers getting all the Ebook downloads they want for free with a Prime membership.  Yeah, that might put a crimp in author's royalties.  Ya think?

However, I still applaud the indie publishing movement.  It's going to continue to be fascinating to watch the battle between Ebook and print, and indie versus traditional publishers as the future rolls along.  And I am planning to publish my MFA novel myself, because it is sitting on my computer, so why not?

2. France.  'nough said.  No, wait.  Not really.  Because, France.  And Paris.  And writing with a group of like-minded people.  It really is the best.  Getting away from your regular routine and devoting yourself to writing in an exotic location rocks.  That's all there is to it.  (You can still join us–3 spots left.)

3. Family.  Always and forever.  I am blessed, no doubt about it.

4. Splashy Success.  Not mine, not yet, but as the year ends I've got people like Cheryl Strayed on my mind. She is, of course, the author of the memoir Wild, which burst splashily upon the world when Oprah reinstituted her book club in order to feature it.  And then Reese Witherspoon made a movie of it, which premiered recently.  I saw the movie a couple of days ago and I liked it.  The film is about courage–the courage to confront the demons of your past and put one foot in front of the other over and over again while you do so.  

By all accounts, Strayed, who is a Portland resident, is a woman who went from so-broke-she-couldn't-buy-Christmas presents to millionaire status seemingly overnight and has maintained a lovely even keel throughout.  

5. Writing Fast.  The class I took about it was a bust, but never mind.  More and more I'm seeing that writing fast without thinking too much is the way to go.  Because, rewriting.  Once you get the words on the page, then they are there for you.  As Henry, my 3-year-old grandson would say, of course.  But we so easily forget that of course and allow our writing to stall as we stare out the window at the 27-degree morning because we don't know what words to put on the page.  These days, when I catch myself stopping to think, I force my fingers to fly across the keys.  There's nothing more satisfying to a writer than toting up a massive word count for the day!

I'm in the midst of rewriting my novel at the moment, (on page 209 of 305 and I'm aiming to complete this rewrite by the end of January) so I'm not actively writing a rough draft, though every so often I do write 1K words or so on a new idea I have.  (New ideas are one of my tragic flaws. Bright shiny object!  Let's abandon this WIP and start a new one! I really have to be careful with this tendency.)  But, in September, when I took the above-mentioned class that really was more like a support group, I batted out 24, 280 words in the first two weeks of September.  Then I got on a plane to France and that was the end of that.  However, the novel is waiting for me on my computer and when I complete the current rewriting project I shall return to it.  The story needs a lot of work, and I've had ideas that will take it in a new direction, but again, all those words are sitting there waiting for me.  Woot woot!

6.  Breathing.  I'm going to brag here for a minute, so avert your eyes if that bothers you.  But, many, many years ago now I bore two children.  And I brought each of them into the world without one bit of anesthetic.  Completely natural births (though I did have to have Pitocin the second time through, because he got stuck and it turned into an emergency, but that's another story).  And how did I accomplish this?  Through breathing, of course.

So I find it ironic that all these years later I have realized how often I constrict my breathing.  I just did it as I wrote that sentence!  I hold my breath at the throat as I write and I'm not sure why I've developed this habit.  Anyway, I've been working on becoming aware of it and changing and also just taking deep breaths throughout the day whenever I think about it.  The results are quite wonderful, though I confess to backsliding a bit during the holidays.  It is something I will continue to work on in 2015.  (I wrote about it earlier in the fall, too.)

That's it.  I know there's a lot more that inspired me, but those are the things on my mind as the clock ticks toward a glorious new year.  I wish you all the very best for next year and I thank you for reading my blog.  Why not take a minute and share–what inspired you in 2014?

A couple of quick notes:

–Don't forget to download my book of free writing prompts!  There's one for every day in January. Fun, fun, fun.  (And it will help you with writing fast.) Go here.  It is free, free, free.

–And for anybody who lives in Portland, I'm having a signing next week!  My Twitter friend (and guest poster here) Tam Holland and I will be signing books, drinking coffee, and chatting with "fans" as the wonderful coffeeshop owner calls them on Wednesday, January 7, at 4 PM.  The location is the Rain or Shine coffee shop on SE 60th and Division.  Come meet us!

A Wednesday List

Punkins

Punkins, ready for the big night

So, I've had this idea lately. 

What might that idea be, you ask?

I shall tell you.  It's that maybe, once in awhile, more often than a blue moon, maybe even weekly, I'm not sure yet, it likely depends on you all react, I shall write a post that is more personal in nature.  In case you hadn't noticed, I just about always find a way to relate my posts to writing. 

Like, always.

Mostly because it is my firm belief that when you are a writer, everything does relate back to writing. But, still.  There are other aspects of my life that might be fun to comment on once in awhile.  

Thus beginneth the idea of the Wednesday List, with today's post being the first one.  Consider it a glimpse into my world beyond writing. Are you ready? Here we go.

1.  I'm cooking a lot.  Ha, news flash!  To some of you, this might not seem like much, but I am a Lazy Ass Cook Extraordinaire.  As in, buying something to throw on the grill and a prepared salad at Whole Foods.  Or even better, convincing my husband we need to go out.  (This generally does not take much work.)  But in France, I appreciated sun eggs (that's what they called them) so fresh they didn't need to be refrigerated, and tomatoes that tasted like they used to, back in the dark ages.  And so I vowed to cook more when I returned, and I have.  Mostly soups and quick breads so far, but still. And I have purchased two pieces of cooking equipment–a gigantic crock pot and a Madeleine pan. Haven't actually baked any Madeleines yet, but I will.  Maybe this weekend.  I shall report.

2. A story about how knitting saved my writing.  I am a knitter from way back, like birth, even. And yet I don't have much to show for myself, because I, um, tend not to finish things.  It's the idea of the finished object I like, apparently, and the process.  I am trying to change this, but in the meantime, I was recently reminded of how beneficial a knitting project can be.  Because I am trying diligently to finish my projects, I had my most recent one, a sweater made from lovely heathery blue/purple yarn sitting out within easy reach.  Thinking I was procrastinating, I sat down to knit.  I was procrastinating because I was stuck in the writing of my novel, trying to figure out how to fit in a couple of new scenes.  I shall think, I told myself, in order to justify the procrastination.  And guess what?  It worked! Within minutes, I had it all set in my mind.  So then, of course, I didn't get much done on the sweater.  Julia Cameron advocates repetitive activity as a creativity booster in the Artist's Way but I hadn't experienced its benefits in quite some time.

3.  My crazy Tub Wad cats.  They are two tabby brothers we rescued from the Humane Society

TubWad

Lieutenant, the fattest Tub Wad, in his favorite position

several years ago and they are fat.  I mean fat. (See photo for proof.) I used to tell people they were just big-boned, and they are, but I have to admit that even factoring that in, they are fat. And they love to eat.  Their evening feeding time is 5 PM, and long about 2, they start complaining that they are hungry.  But the other day, they were both happily asleep on the couch at that hour and I couldn't figure out what was going on.  Then I remembered the strange noises coming from the room we grandiosely call the library (if you could see it now you would laugh because it is serving as a storage and junk room) where their food was stored in a gigantic plasticized bag.  (We have to buy special food from the vet for them.)  I had secured the top of the bag with a clip, but Captain and Lieutenant made quick work of that.  Turns out they were helping themselves to food at all hours of the day and night. I'm pretty sure it was Captain who figured it out.  He's the smart one.  I always say he's studying to be a human in his next incarnation because he's constantly observing, with his ears perked up so you know he's listening to every word.

4.  Halloween.  I love it.  And its this Friday.  Yay.  But I'm not even sure why I like it so much.  I don't eat the candy, preferring dark chocolate or something more dessert-ish.  And I loathe dressing up in costume.  I think it is the fall color that I like, and the feeling of the crisp air, and all that (though this year our color here in Portland is the worst I've seen in years).  I even like–wait for it–the time change, so that it gets dark early.  Blame it on my Danish heritage, but the dark days of late fall are my favorite time of year.  This year, as always, I'll make my famous chili with the secret ingredient that makes it the best chili you've ever eaten, and my family will come over and the grandbabies will go out trick or treating (maybe–they are still a bit young) and there will also be wine, and beer for the men.  And fat Tub Wad cats lying in the middle of everything.

5.  Overwhelm.  I've been in it since I returned from France.  And I realize I do not handle it well. When I'm overwhelmed, I procrastinate.  Since I'm having problems getting things done, why not make it worse by not doing anything?  Yeah, it works real well, let me tell you.  I'm starting to climb out of it, with only two manuscripts left to read this week (and don't get me wrong, I love reading my client's work) and some forward progress on the rewrite of my novel.  Part of the reason I get overwhelmed is that I have a busy social life, with obligations to family and friends.  Obligations, ha! It's pure pleasure and I know it.  But every once in awhile I have to call enough and quit saying yes to things.

Owlies6.  I got a tattoo.  You can see by the accompanying photo that is it the best thing ever.  Owls are the family symbol because my Mom collected them for years, long before they enjoyed their current moment.  My daughter got a huge, complicated tattoo on her upper arm featuring an owl, and my sister is getting one in December (she had to get an old tattoo removed first). My tattoo is in honor of my grandchildren, with the symbols of their astrological signs in the body of each owl.  And guess what?  It didn't hurt much at all.  I was lying on the table squeezing my eyes shut, telling the tattoo artist to be sure and warn me when he was going to start, certain I was going to flinch and ruin it all. And then when he began I said, "Is that all there is to it?"  Now I'm ready to get another one.

Okay, so a whole novel later, that's what's going on in my life at the moment.  What's up with you, writing or otherwise?  Please leave a comment!

 

12 Ways for Writers to Celebrate Autumn

Marquette_Sugarloaf_beautiful_249786_lYay! It's autumn, my favorite season.  There's something about this time of year that I just love–the crisp days and fall color, the nummy seasonal food (apples and butternut squash, anyone?) and, of course, Halloween.

I always feel a sense of personal renewal at this time of year, stretching on through the dark days of December.  It's because for so many years I returned to school come September, going back to a whole new slate of things to learn.  

And now, with the cooler temperatures here at last, there's no better time for writers.  So, herewith are my suggestions for celebrating autumn.

1.  Sit by a roaring fire and write.  Okay, you don't even have to do the fire part–just write.  Gone are the distractions of summer and it is likely raining or cold outside.  Sit your butt down and write.

2.  Curl up in bed and read a good book.   Pile on the comforters and duvets and pull out your Kindle or your book.  There's no better time than a autumn day to get lost in a book.  And one of the best things about being a writer is that reading is a big part of the job description!

3.  Drink a pumpkin spice latte.  If that doesn't get you going, nothing well.  (Actually, when I was in the Salt Lake City airport on my way home from Paris I got a pumpkin spice latte from Seattle's Best Coffee.  Um, they put pumpkin spice in the whipped cream, people!  It's fantastic!)

4.  Take a long walk and scuff through fallen leaves.  Julia Cameron says that walking is one of the best things for creativity and I agree–it clears your mind and allows new thoughts to enter.

5.  Conquer stress at last.  Stress is the cause of most, if not all of our ailments, including, I would venture to say, writer's block.  So let's slay that dragon this fall, shall we?  My dear friend Sandra Pawula offers a wonderful home study course to do just that.  Click on the Living With Ease button to the right and check it out!

6.  Make leaf placemats.  There's a myth afoot that taking time for creative projects other than writing will just take you away from your WIP.  But the opposite is true–creativity breeds creativity. So here's a fun project (especially good if you have tiny humans around, but they aren't strictly necessary): Collect a variety if colorful leaves and lay them on one sheet of wax paper, cut to the size you want your placemat.  Then place shavings and bits of crayons around the paper.  Cover it with another sheet of wax paper, and using a sheet or something to protect the iron, press together.  Voila! Leaf placemats.

7.  Commit to a new project.  Nanowrimo is coming up in just a couple of weeks.  Who wants to write a novel in November?  You've got just enough time to dream up some characters, plan the plot, create a world, before starting writing on November 1.

8.  Finish a current project.  As I write this, it is Mercury Retrograde, the perfect time to return to unfinished projects.  Most writers I know have a story or two or twelve languishing unfinished on their computers.  Pull them out and polish them off!

9.  Watch a movie.  Watching movies (and TV shows) can help you understand structure and dialogue and scenes.  To me, there is something positively decadent about taking time for a movie on a week-day afternoon.  So I give you permission to do it.

10.  Start a journal.  I'm a big fan of journaling, in all its permutations.  I am off and on with it, going stretches without setting pen to diary, but then suddenly I will feel like I absolutely must write in a journal again.  (This happened to me most recently in France.)  Regular journal entries help you create flow in your writing and are good for noting all the things you want to incorporate in your work.

11. Take a nap.  Dreaming is good for writing–and the soul.

12.  Bake an apple pie.  Or an apple crisp.  Or a pear crisp. Or a crumble.  The apples and pears are so delicious right now and there's nothing more satisfying then assembling a nummy dessert.  Then you can eat a piece while doing #1, #2, or #3.

Well, I could go on, but you'd likely get tired of me raving about all things autumn.  (I didn't even get to Halloween, my second favorite holiday!)  So I will just turn the floor over to you–what are your favorite autumn activities?  Please comment!

5 Tips (Plus a Bonus) For Writing More Dynamic Scenes

(I've been working on this post for a few days.  I planned to publish it yesterday and then things happened.  Like having my granddaughter here.  And getting a tattoo!  Yes, you can tell me how brave I am!  It is wonderful!  I will post a photo when it is all healed.  But, anyway, here's the post at long last.)

I have discovered the secret to enduring long, overseas flights, and no its not paying for business class, though that would likely be the ultimate answer.

It is to watch movies.   Above_floating_flying_229463_l

On my recent flight home from Paris, I watched three, count 'em, three, movies.  I usually prefer to read on flights, so I couldn't believe how this made the time pass quickly.  The movies I watched were: The Other Woman (so-so but funny), Chef (wonderful–my favorite), and, for some odd reason, Maleficent.

One of the things I noticed watching Maleficent is how concise the scenes were–they used the smallest bits of time possible in order to move the story forward, sometimes showing an important bit in a line or two of dialogue. (I was interested to read an interview with the director, Robert Stromberg, who said of the writing, ""I met many times with Linda Woolverton, the writer. We did lots of roundtable discussions and sort of cut out the fat as much as we could and sort of purified the storyline as much as we could …")

And this made me think about scenes.   They are the building blocks of fiction writing, the discreet units that comprise a plot.  You've heard the advice to "show, don't tell," five million times by now–and writing in scene is one surefire way to do that.

Just because I have to be thorough, here's the Google's definition of scene, though I know you know it:

  1. the place where an incident in real life or fiction occurs or occurred.
     
  2. a sequence of continuous action in a play, movie, opera, or book.

We are, of course, talking today about the second definition.  

One of the problems I see most often in my travels through student and client manuscripts are issues with scenes.  Often they go on way too long.  Sometimes they seem rather flat–nothing much happens in them.  And sometimes, though not as often, authors write scenes when a quick bit of exposition would do better. 

So here are some of my tips for writing scenes:

1. Make them work as hard as possible.   A scene needs to accomplish at least one thing–show character, move the plot forward, or reveal crucial information, but if it can do more than one thing at a time, that's even better.

2.  Start late, exit early.  Sometimes I read (and write) a scene that goes on and on, when all it really needs to do is get in and get out. It can help to start as late as possible in the scene.  Don't show us your main character driving to work and then getting fired, start the scene in her boss's office.   This is one way the creators of Maleficent were able to use such concise scenes.

3. Have something happening in the background.  A hazard of scene writing is the talking heads scenario.  You have something to tell the reader, and wisely, you choose to do it in dialogue. But your characters just sit there and talk.  Alas, this gets a bit boring to the reader.  A simple way to avoid it is to have something going on at the same time.  In the movie Chef, the main character is constantly chopping or preparing food, or doing something.  It's a wonderful way to keep things interesting.

4.  Put your characters at cross purposes.  If all your characters want the same thing and agree with each other, there's no conflict.  And if there's no conflict, there's no story.  So put your characters at odds.  Give each of them a desire and make those desires conflict.  This can be very simple, such as two characters driving, one wanting to stop for a break and the other wanting to reach their destination as quickly as possible.

5.  Start and end in different places emotionally.  You may hear someone say a scene is flat. This is often when the characters start and finish the scene in the same emotional space.  They start sad and end sad, for instance.  Or vice versa.  It's much better to either move the character to a higher space emotionally or a lower space.

Bonus tip: Slow is fast and fast is slow.   This is a little saying I picked up somewhere along the way and I find it quite helpful.  I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating.  If something would go slowly in real life, it can be dispatched with a line or two in prose.  For instance, a lazy picnic at the park.  If something would happen fast, write it slowly.  For instance, the propane tank on the grill at the lazy picnic blows up.  

Okay, that's it, that's all I got for now.  Do you struggle with writing dynamic scenes?  How do you approach scene writing?

Photo by Glen26.

Soaking It In

As you may have noticed, things have been a bit quiet around here.  I've been in France, as some readers know.  France, people! Two weeks in the south and several days in Paris. 

And I have been soaking it all in.

So much so that my brain feels ready to explode and I can't wait to get on the plane and have time to write.  (But given a choice, I'd stay here longer in a hot second.)

To back up a bit:

The first couple of weeks in September, I wrote a lot. I took a class about fast drafting, and managed to write 80 pages on a brand-new project before I got on the plane for Europe.

The third week in September, I was in Pezenas, co-leading a writing workshop.  And, since all the participants were writing every day, I wrote, too.

Then my husband arrived in Pezenas.  And a group of us stayed on a second week.

There was no writing.  Instead, there were adventures.  Like a trip to Sete, where we rode a boat in the canals and harbor and got drenched in a rainstorm.  (None of us even had coats on.) A visit to St. Guilhem-de-desert to see the old houses built up a ravine and the Cloisters.  A journey to the beautiful and lively city of Montpelier.  And lots of time spent wandering the town of Pezenas, which has an historic core that is fun to get lost in (and get lost you will, the streets are very curvy and narrow).  And now, of course, Paris.  Just, Paris.

About mid-way through the first week I bought a journal.  (Buying paper goods is one of my favorite things to do here.) And I wrote in it a few times in the morning.   I thought for sure I would write delicate, important words about Paris in it once we got here.  But I haven't.

And for once, I'm not worried about it.

Because I am filled up with the sights and sounds of my time here.  And the flavors, let us not forget the flavors: macarons from Laduree, foie gras with fig jam in a small cafe in Pezenas, leg of lamb at a cafe on Boulevard Montparnasse after walking all day.  And the wine! Vin rouge, from theLanquedoc, the best wine in the world.

It really doesn't get any better than this.  Even if you're not writing.

So here are my recommendations for going with it and just letting it soak in:

1. Take insect repellent.  Les moustiques Francaise love me.  I was covered with bites the first two weeks, and they would suddenly activate in the middle of the night and start itching.  Once I bought insect repellent, my sleep improved dramatically.  The moral of the story? Be prepared.  I think being prepared in writing is related to soaking it in.  Being a sponge for every sensual experience is preparing yourself to disgorge words on the page.

2. Try.  I speak French haltingly.  But I find if I at least attempt a few words in French, people laugh and talk to me in English.  It is nice to try, though.  Same thing with writing.  Try putting some words down on paper.  When you're blocked, just try it and see what happens.

3.  Be willing to be uncomfortable.  I've written about this before, but on my table it is way too complicated to find the link.  Part of the experience of travel is a willingness to be embarrassed because you did something wrong in a different culture.  To get lost.  To have to walk 2 miles because you missed the bus.  To be uncomfortable.  And is this not also the essence of writing?

4. Have fun.  Every time something goes a different way than we anticipated, my husband and I look at each other and say, "Who cares? We are in Paris!" And then we soak in some more of wherever we find ourselves.  If you're not having fun with your writing, you might want to consider another career.

5. Use the toilet wherever you find one.  This is excellent travel advice.  Alas, I find I cannot relate it back to writing.  Maybe you can. 

As is so often the case with writing, I find that now I am to the end of this post I finally get what the true theme is.  And that is what I said in #4.  One should always live life, and approach writing, with the idea that wherever you find yourself is the most wonderful place on the planet to be.

Bon jour.  I promise that next week I'll be back to normal on my blogging.  In the meantime, what's up with you?  How's the writing going? Please report in the comments.

 (Alas, posting photos is too complex at the moment and I only have one day left in Paris so I am off to explore.  If you want to see some images from my trip, follow me on Instagram.

 

Writing in France (Or Anywhere)

Bon jour.

I am in Pezenas, France, down near Montpelier and Beziers (where we stayed Friday night and had an experience on the free bus trying to find our hotel that still makes me laugh out loud every time I think of it).  We–six of us–are staying in a house that could more accurately be called a mansion, with three floors and a grand marble entry on the inside, and a koi pond and swimming pool with a swag of oleander dripping above it on the outside.

Every morning at 9:30 we meet to workshop attendee's stories and discuss our book in common (Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes).  Our subject this year is character, so everything is viewed through that lens.

And every afternoon we write.  (I got in five pages yesterday).  Then at 5:30 we meet for wine, olives, pate, cheese, and bread–lots of bread.  (Paleo people just have to put aside their thing about carbs.  Besides, the wheat is better here.  And so is the butter.  And the eggs.  I'll stop now.)

In between, when the writing is done, there are walks into town (curvy streets barely wide enough for cars, restaurants tucked into every alley, shops and art galleries and lots of people smoking) or into the country side (vinyards and big old stone houses).

But notice I said, when the writing is done.

Because that's the point of being here, after all.  And it is surprisingly easy to get writing done, even in paradise, when you've got a whole houseful of people doing the same thing.

Between this experience and the Book in a Month class I took before I left (which entailed writing 20 pages a day for 14 days, thus finishing a draft, and then rewriting it the last two weeks of the month)I've come up with new knowledge of how to get words on the page and, as always, I am here to impart this wisdom to you.

Are you ready?  It's a multi-part process, so it is imperative that you pay close attention to the very end.  Here we go.

1.  Write

2. Write some more

3. Take no longer than one minute to ring your hands about how bad the writing is and then get back to it.

4. Write more

5. Notice you are writing utter crap and charge ahead anyway

6. Write, write, write

7. Finish your goal of pages or words for the day and breath a sigh of relief because you did it.

So, yeah, I'm being a bit tongue in cheek here (ya think?) but the gist of it is true.  I'm come to realize that we (myself included) make the act of writing way too complicated and emotional, when really, it all boils down to one thing: getting words on the page.

It doesn't matter how good or bad those words are, your only job is to throw them at the page.  To sit your butt down in the chair and write.  Because the wonderful thing about writing is that it can always be revised–and revision is ever so much easier when you actually have word on the page to work with.

What about you?  How is your writing going? What tricks do you use to get yourself to the page?

10 Takeaways from France

CobblestonesI flew home from Paris last Sunday, and as I write this, I'm still a bit jet lagged.  One of these days I'm sure I'll get back to a normal sleep schedule.  I now seem to rise at 4:30 every morning–at least it gives me time to write.

But I'm not complaining.  Because travel–any kind of travel, but especially international travel–is good for the writer's soul.  Really good.  So herewith is a round-up of some of my impressions of France, and how I see they relate to writing.  (Because, you know, everything relates to writing.)

1. Potato chips.  You gotta love a country that is as obsessed with potato chips as France.  Nearly every bar or cafe brings you a little cup of them with your wine or Orangina (my new obsession).   It's offering a little something extra–a habit we writers would be wise to emulate, don't you think?  Take the time to go deeper, to go back and rewrite that scene you've never quite been able to get right.  Take the time to give a little extra in your writing and your life.

2. Fantastic wines from the Languedoc Roussillon region.   Oh man, we loved the wines from the area we stayed in.  (It was the south of France, but very close to Spain.  Big Catalan influence with many signs in both languages.)  What can I say?  Setting is important. Bring yours to life with details from the location you're setting your story in.

3.  Water follows a natural course.  In Ceret, the sides of the narrow, cobblestones streets have gulleys in which water flows all day and night.  (See photo above.) The sound of running water and church bells chiming the hour (starting at 7 AM–no sleeping late there) are a constant backdrop.  Hopefully, your writing flows, too.  It does when you just let it, go I've learned.  And it doesn't when you force it.

4.  You will get jet lag.  And that's a fact.  The best way I found to cope  was to go with it.   The first few nights in France, I awoke every night and stayed awake
for a few hours, but I was so excited to be in Paris (and have a 360
degree view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur)
that I just got up and admired the vista.  You will get writer's block at some point, too.  My advice?  Quit resisting and go with it.  Take a break.  Refresh yourself.  You'll get back to the work, trust me.

5.  French women do have more style.  They just do.  And I think its because they make an effort to put their best selves forward in every situation.  Even if they are running to the corner boulangerie, they pay attention to what they're wearing.  Do me a favor, would you?  Check over your manuscript one more time before you send it out to anyone.  Make sure its formatted correctly (double spaced, please) and that there are no typos. I've seen a lot of manuscripts lately wherein the writer seems to have forgotten this crucial step.  Put your best self forward.

6.  If you don't speak the language, try anyway.  My high school French is rusty, very, very rusty.  But a smile and a sincere effort to communicate always did wonders.  Funny, because this was one of the things I worried about most but I always muddled through.  So maybe its time for you to try writing that personal essay you've been mulling?  Perhaps you really do have a novel in you? (And by the way, if you decide you want to learn a language, there's a fabulous free website called Duolingo that can help you.)

7.  In Ceret, there's a boulangerie on every block.  (Kinda like there's a coffeeshop on every corner here in Portland.)  Every morning, I'd take a walk and swear I would not return home with chocolate croissants.  I'll leave it to your imagination to decide how successful I was.  But this baked goods abundance made me think about ideas, and how we live in a rich stew of them.  An idea on every corner!  And many more in between.  We just have to become aware.

8.  Tourist areas are fun–but many other areas offer delights as well.  I traveled through Paris on my way to and from Ceret.  My first couple of nights in the city, I stayed in the home of a wonderful woman named Diane (this was where I had the amazing view of Paris).  I rented this place through AirBandB.com.  On my way back, I stayed in a fancy hotel on the Champs Elysses (thanks, Marlene).  Two very different experiences.  Is there a different area of your creativity you'd like to explore?  Painting?  Line dancing?  Fiber arts?  Head off the beaten path and see what you create.

9.  A community of writers is crucial in so many ways.  Our hardy band of retreaters read and commented on each other's work every morning as part of our workshops.   Not only did they enjoy the support and trust that sprang up, but they spurred each other on to new heights in their writing.  No kidding.  You wouldn't believe some of the amazing work that got put on the page! Find your community, whether it's a physical or in cyberspace.  (And I have one word for anyone interested in going on retreat with us next year: Italy.)

10.  All roads lead to Perpignan We took the bullet train (that baby really is fast) from Paris to Perpignan, which is a bit of a hub.  It's where Salvador Dali reputedly had a psychedelic experience that led him to declare that Perpignan was the center of the universe.  This may well be true.  As we were out and about on the countryside, we discovered that no matter which direction we traveled, there would be a sign saying we were on the road to Perpignan.   For me, this is true of writing as well.  All roads lead back to my writing.  All experiences, everything that happens, are reflected in my writing one way or another.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

What about you?  Does travel, foreign or domestic, inspire you?  What exotic locale would you most like to visit?

***The above photo was taken by moi.  I had planned to add a bunch more images to this post, but major wonkiness is going on with Typepad and photos.  I took tons of pictures, some blurry, some crooked, some actually halfway good, and you can see them all on my Instagram stream.

 

Four Writing Lessons Travel Taught Me

Please welcome my friend and fellow writer Beverly Army to the blog today, as she makes us drool with envy over her vacation in France–and gives practical tips on how to maintain a writerly attitude while away from home.

Four Writing Lessons Travel Taught Me

by Beverly Army Williams

Beverly1862Ahhh, summertime. The season of slowing down, of
garden-fresh veggies, of tart lemonade, bike rides, and salty beaches. The
season of lofty writing goals. And traveling*.

I don’t know about you, but my guilt-o-meter bounces
about when it comes to writing and traveling. On the one hand, there’s all that
beautiful time yawning ahead of me, ripe for setting word after word after
word. On the other hand, the adventures to be had! The extra sleep to sleep!
The long, luxurious dinners to eat!

What is a creative person to do? How can a writer make
the most of vacation without losing the groove, enraging the muse, ignoring the
story gods?

I returned recently from three weeks in France.
Originally my plan was to work two hours a day on my novel. But then I didn’t
want to carry the keyboard for my iPad. And then the days were filled with
adventures and late, late dinners that left me too tired to work. Instead, I
gave myself permission to use the three weeks to fill my creative well.  Let me share what I learned:

Embrace Being an Outsider (this isn’t permission to be an
obnoxious! Manners matter! See the next paragraph!) I spent weeks before the
trip planning what I would pack, checking the weather, reading posts from
fashionable expats in Paris. I did not want to stick out as a tourist. I wanted
to blend, to see the country as though I belonged. 

But, here’s the wonderful thing about traveling: we do
not, in fact, belong. When we travel, we are outsiders. We are foreign, whether
we travel to the next state or another continent. We may have mastered the
manners of a region (always, always say “bonjour” when walking into a shop in
France), still, we don’t quite fit in.

During this trip, I realized that the not-fitting-in was
like a pebble in my shoe. Awareness of my surroundings—the glow of the church
in Auvers after it rained, the smell of the Canal St-Martin in the early
morning, the taste of cheese (oh, the cheese!), the sound of a language I could
just barely understand—filled me with new ways of seeing and describing.


Beverly2171Try a New Medium
My observations and experiences were one
way to do just that. For years I’ve messed around with paint, but the
I’m-a-writer-not-a-visual-artist self talk limited me. I packed a watercolor
journal and a small box of paints. While I didn’t journal every day, I did make
efforts to paint frequently and to add little ink and wash images to the
narrative pages. Journaling in a new medium helped me to see better and made me
think about my observations in a different way. Score another one for filling
the creative well!

Quiet Time Can be Lively Even the most adventurous,
active vacations have some quiet time built in. I spent many hours on planes
and trains during my trip. If I’d been home, I would have felt obliged to fill
that time: run errands, write a new scene, or clean the house. But five hours
in the quiet car of a train left me with little but my imagination. Sure, I
read, knit, and wrote in my journal, yet I also indulged in staring out the
window, imagining the inhabitants’ lives as we zoomed past farms and villages.
The conductor didn’t scold me for being too noisy, but he might have if he’d
been inside my imagination!

Love Every Language I can read French passably. I can be
polite in French, even if I can’t converse about more than the weather. I
embraced being an outsider, and at the same time, I wanted to communicate. That
is, after all, the goal of every writer. I pulled out my high school French,
and I made efforts. I bought and struggled through French fashion magazines. I thought
ahead about what I wanted to say and practiced it. I asked my French-speaking
pals to repeat words so I could understand the nuances of pronunciation. I
listened with great care to conversation before I admitted how little I
understood.
Beverly1901

By loving the language of the place—which might mean a
different language or simply a dialect or regionalisms—a writer can learn about
her own language (ah, so that type of sentence construction is common in
English, but not in French) and develop an ear for authentic dialog (a French
speaker “takes” a decision; an English speaker “makes” a decision).  Everything we learn about language
emerges in our writing.

Travel and vacation are meant to recharge, and if that
means not writing every day, accept it, and find your own ways to fill the
creative well.

*humor me and let “traveling” and “vacation” mean the
same thing. Even a staycation can be an opportunity to travel outside of
regular routines! 

What have you learned about writing from travel?

BeverlyBeverly Army Williams blogs and coaches writing at PoMo
Golightly
. You can follow her on Twitter.

 All photos by Beverly Army Williams.  Top to bottom:

–View of Albi from the Toulouse Lautrec museum

–Journal page

–A Nutella crepe, enjoyed during the French tradition of "taking a pause."