On Travel and Writing (A Love Letter)

As you read this, I’ll just be settling into my home-for-a-month in Ceret. (Follow me on Instagram for lots of photos.) Because I will be spending several days in transit, I went in search of an older post to set up ahead of time and this one from 2015 seemed especially appropriate. Enjoy!

I love travel, as you might have guessed. So let me count the ways, and convince you, too.

 1. Travel inspires me.  Duh.  This is the obvious reason most people travel.  Immersing oneself in different locales and cultures shows us new things, fires new neurons, inspires new ideas.   And, of course, ideas are good.  They are our life blood.  A writer can never have too many ideas.  Ever. 

 2.  I’m different when I travel.  I don’t know anyone, other than the people I’m traveling with, so all bets are off.  I can drink all night, swing from the rafters act anyway I want–talk to people I meet on the street, stop and stretch in the middle of the sidewalk, gaze with obvious rapture at a medieval cathedral.  Nobody knows me so I’m free.  And isn’t this what we long to be on the page?  Once I regularly experience the feeling of freedom in my regular life, it is much easier to translate it to the page. 

 3.  Travel sometimes makes me uncomfortable.  Okay, let’s face it.  Most of our lives are not hard.  Well, my life, anyway, is not hard.  Mostly I sit at the computer all day long and convince myself, hand on forehead that I’m suffering.  But travel is a different thing.  There are times when I don’t know what’s happening, or what stop the train just pulled into, or what the person in front of me is trying to say to me.  There are times I’ve probably embarrassed myself.  But you know what?  This is good, excellent, even.  It is good to feel discomfort once in awhile.  Because, after all, isn’t that what we put our characters through? Don’t we always say, the more conflict the better? Yes, yes, we do. 

 4.  Travel is fun.  And I don’t care if you’re trying to write or become an insurance agent, fun is important.  We get veeeery serious about our lives most of the time. 

 5.  Travel makes me adventurous.   I’ve gotten obsessed with reading the blog of Eugene Kaspersky.  He runs some crazy big cyber-security site and spends tons of time traveling, some of it adventuring.  He climbs volcanoes in Kamchatka, treks across snow fields in Iceland, circumnavigates the planet, and so on.  I’m just going to say right now I will do none of these things, ever.  But I love reading about him doing them.  And when I travel in my own tame way, I step out of my comfort zone into my own adventures.  And there are always adventures when you travel. 

 6.  Travel makes me try new things.  Like the unknown shellfish we tried at a seafood dinner in Port-Vendres, or climbing the side of a mountain (I exaggerate a tiny bit here) to reach the ruin of a castle when my hips were screaming in pain (again, a tad bit of poetic license, but still).  It can be as simple as turning now a new street, or trying a different café–things I don’t do often enough here because I so easily get stuck in a rut.  Things that may somehow work their way into your writing. 

 7.  Travel lets me meet different kinds of people. There aren’t a whole lot of French men or British women carousing down my street, for instance.  And it is relatively rare to even hear someone speak in a different tongue in my day to day life.  If there’s one thing I love, its meeting people (I confess to a terrible extrovert streak–I’ll talk to anybody, anywhere).  And one of the best things about travel is the different people you meet–the couple from Australia in Paris, or the nice lady from London who was toiling up the hill beside me.  Again, who knows what person might spark an idea for a character? 

 Okay, so I hear you.  You’ve got a newborn baby, you’re in school, you have a demanding career.  And travel to Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, is just not on the horizon.   But, honestly, you can “travel” in your hometown.  Change up your routine, do something different, drive a new way to work.  Do something, anything to shake things up. 

 Last week, the morning after I got off the plane, my brain as foggy as a morning in November, and inspired by my visit to the Inter-marche Hyper (read=big, very big) supermarket in France, I went to the American version here that I usually avoid.  My shopping took me twice as long as I stumbled through the aisles trying to figure out where things were, but I discovered new products and chatted with an adorable, funny cashier.   One never knows when someone just like him shall appear in a book. 

So, how about it?  How about we all spend the rest of this year devoted to living with a spirit of adventure?  I’m in, are you? 

 Do you love to travel or hate it? Hit reply and tell me. (I’ll have a good wi-fi connection and be eager to hear from you.)

On Writing and the Olympics

I’m ready. I’ve got two projects I want to finish, one knitted, one crocheted, on the needles, and I’ve warned my husband that we’ll be eating our dinners in front of the TV for the next couple weeks.  Because: Olympics.  Because: Winter Olympics.

I love them.

I love watching the Olympics, especially the Winter Olympics.   I love the skating (all of it, from figure to racing), the skiing, the crazy jumping. Even the curling.  I love seeing the snow and how beautiful it all is.

I think I love it because I don’t do any of these sports. Oh, I took figure skating as a kid after the doctor told my Mom it would be good for my ankle after I broke it. My sister and I got matching-but-different-color skating skirts and went to the mall every Sunday afternoon to wobble around on the ice.

And I had a brief shining moment as a skier in college. I was so into it that I took a semester off school and lived and worked in Sun Valley one winter.  While I lived there that year, I got to see a World Cup race in person, which was pretty awesome.  As I recall, watching the races was easily accessible. These days it would probably be a mob scene.

And even though here in Portland we got tons of snow last year (well if tons means a dusting that shuts the city down every week) we don’t often see a lot of it.  This year, one storm on Christmas Eve that only succeeded in ruining everyone’s holiday plans.

So I watch these sports that are held on snow and ice every four years from the comfort of my home, likely holding knitting needles and a glass of wine. And, honestly? At this stage in my life I’m happy to be viewing from the comfort of my home.

What does this have to do with writing? One word: passion.  It takes passion by the truckload to become an Olympic champion and I submit it takes the same to become a writer.  Okay, so one is physical and one mainly mental.  Same trait, different arena.  And I think this has a lot to do with my fascination over the games.  I love stories of people excelling, no matter what they choose to excel at.

You and I won’t may not ever make an Olympic team.  But we can excel at our own personal writing.  How? One word at a time, one writing session at a time. Over and over and over again.

One of my favorite current promos for the Olympics shows skier Lindsay Vonn as she prepares for her competition.   It intersperses shots of her as a tiny little girl first on skies, with her kicking ass in the gym and flying down the ski slopes.  It reminds me, every time I see it, of what it takes to succeed.

Yeah, you can call it grit or determination or discipline or whatever you want. But all it really is for us writers is to sit down over and over and over again and return to the page.

 

Hey–join the Prolific and Prosperous Writers Facebook group.  Lots of good stuff going on over there.

And–I’m going to France for the month of March and taking a couple lucky clients with me. Metaphorically, people.  I’m committing to work with only 2 people while I’m there doing mostly writing and I’ve got one person lined up. So if you need some help with your writing, be it encouragement or editing, pop me a line at wordstrumpet@gmail.com.

 

On Writing and Travel (A Love Letter)

(While I’m away teaching in France for the month, I’m running a few favorite letters from last year.  We will be back to regular, new programming the first week in October. Meanwhile, if you want to come to France with me next year, click here for a look at this year’s program.)

Here I am in France, an American in Paris (having just spent three weeks down south, in the lovely town of Collioure).

One of the first things people ask me when I tell them about my annual jaunts to Paris is, “Do you speak the language?” And the answer is, I do not. I took French in college and can sort of read it, but when natives speak it, forget it.  And my halting pronunciation brings either a smile or a grimace from the locals.  Furthermore, I do not look like a French woman. I am short and round.  Every single French woman on the planet is tall and thin. (I think it’s a law they passed a while ago.) And its for certain I don’t have the classic French personality, which I think of as elegant and reserved.  I tend toward the, the put it charitably, exuberant.

So I am different when I am in France.  And I’m constantly aware of it. (One of the most fun things about travel is arriving to a U.S. airport and suddenly realizing I can understand what people are saying around me.)

But I have come to appreciate that feeling this difference is a good thing. I live in my comfort zone way too much.  I like my comfort zone.  But the job of the writer is (at least partially) to bring a different point of view to their reader. To teach them about something they might not otherwise have known about.  To open new worlds.  And how can we do that if we’re not venturing out beyond our own usual world?

Funnily enough, though so many of us shy away from putting ourselves in a situation where we are different, there are some advantages to it.  Because you can’t interact as readily, you can observe others more clearly.  You may only be able to find your way through observing! And because you are constantly straining to understand, you listen better.  Being different in a different world keeps you pretty much always in the present moment.  You don’t waste time pondering the past or worrying about the future when you are trying to figure out what the hell is going on right where you are at the moment.

Finally, you can be bold. Nobody knows who you are, so you can act anyway you want. (But please leave the Ugly American act at home.)

All these thoughts about being different lead me to ponder how we need to celebrate differences between characters in our work.  I’m painfully aware of how often my characters tend to reflect me, a white middle-class woman of a certain age, and this is something I’m trying to change.  Being in France makes me remember that, too.

But being home is going to be wonderful also!

Do you like to travel? Leave a comment and share your experiences!

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Motivation Monday: Where’s the Joy in It?

Sitting in church yesterday, one word kept popping out at me, even though the message wasn’t really focused on it. And that word was joy. I kept thinking about it in terms of writing. I wondered: where’s the joy in it? Lord knows, writing is a tough business full of rejection and low-paid work. So, is it worth it to keep at if there’s no joy in it? Am I still finding joy in it? Are you?

I am one of those writers who can’t not write.  Even if you told me that I’d never make another penny from my work, never see anything published ever again, I’d still keep writing. I love the puzzle-like fun of putting a novel together and continuing to discover things about my characters. I love the self-discovery that ensues from a good journaling session.  And I love writing about writing (and motivation and inspiration and all that good stuff) in my blog and newsletter.

So yeah, I still find joy in it.  There’s nothing like the feeling I get after a good writing session, when I look up and find myself in love with everything in the world. That’s what sustains me when I get another rejection or I can’t seem to think of a topic for a blog post or the vicissitudes of life keep me away from my writing.

It’s the joy of it.    

The joy of the creative process, of putting words on the page, one after another.  When it is going well, it’s bliss.( Of course, when it’s not going well, it’s hell—but that’s a topic for another day.)  That’s what keeps me going. And I assume, because I’m pretty sure you and I are not so different, that it’s what keeps you going as well.

But what happens if you’ve lost the joy in it? What if you long to write but the fire has gone out?

Here are a few things to try:

–Write fast.  A lack of joy in writing comes from perfectionism, which manifests as laboring over every word.  Short circuit that tendency by vowing to write fast.  Set a timer and see how many words you can get on the page before it goes off. The words don’t have to be pretty, they just have to be on the page.

–Remember that writing is a process.  Too often we get hung up on product.  The joy comes in the process of writing, in that lovely feeling when you are so absorbed that time passes and you’re not even aware of it.  Let yourself focus on the process without worrying about the end result.

–Write any old thing.  If you’ve lost the fire for your novel, write an essay about a topic dear to your heart. If you’re struggling with your memoir, write a short story. Write a poem. Write in your journal.  Write a play or movie script.  Shake those brain cells and neurotransmitters up!

–Take a break.  Tell yourself you can’t write. Can’t work on any of your projects. Can’t journal. If you are anything like me, you like to rebel against yourself, and this is a surefire way to get back to it and kindle some joy.  If you really do end up taking a break, you’ll come back to it with space in your brain and heart to find the joy again.

I hope some of these suggestions help to motivate you. And if you are having a hard time finding the joy, might I suggest that coaching can help? Continuing through midnight on July 4th, I’m running a coaching special.  For three-month, paid in advance clients, I’m offering two free extra sessions.  That’s 14 sessions instead of 12. And for six-month, paid in advance clients, I’m adding on 4 sessions. Woot! That’s 28 sessions instead of 24.  Just think what you can get done in a few months of one-on-one coaching with me. You could get a huge start on your novel. Or finish the project that’s moldering in the drawer. Or start the process of getting an agent—or get your book self published.

Interested? Contact me and let’s chat.

Five on Friday: Good Friday Edition

What I’m writing: Draft Two of my first romance novel.  I am living proof that you can write a Really Shitty First Draft and make it into something.  With previous novels, I’ve known more about the plot and characters and thus had a more polished first draft (still crappy, though).  There are many places in this one where I write in all caps things like I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE, and I really didn’t.  There’s tons of boring narrative summary and endless paragraphs of characters thinking, thinking, thinking.  But I got the story down–and now I’m having a blast figuring out better ways to present it to the reader. I’m pretty happy with it.  So if you’re in the middle of a draft that you’re despairing over, take heart.  Oh and here’s a pertinent quote I found today:

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist.” Jane Smiley.

I love it. By the way, that photo to the left is of Horn Seven. He’s my new writing buddy, given to me (and named by) my grandson to sit by my computer. (Follow me on Instagram for lots of photos of the writing life. Well, my writing life anyway. IG is my current favorite social media.)

What I’m Reading: Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang, and Dior or Die by Angela Sanders.  The first is a collection of short stories, one of which the movie Arrival was based on.  Chiang is the current darling of the sci-fi world and I waited months to get this book. And…I’m fascinated with it but it makes me feel dumb because I don’t always get the stories.  Sigh.  Dior or Die is another great mystery by my friend Angie. Go buy it and read it.

What I’m Watching: The current American Experience: The Great War, about World War I. I’m now fascinated with this era, thanks to the Maisie Dobbs books. (Book two in the series is next on my reading list. It will actually be the third one I’ve read, because the one I found that introduced me was way out of order.)  Anyway, it may or may not be true that I fell asleep on the couch watching American Experience, but still, it is worth mentioning.

What I’m Excited About: Nia, an exercise class. I wrote a whole thing about it in my newsletter that comes out this Sunday. If you’re not on my list to get it, you can subscribe from that banner up top. And you might want to, because I mentioned something exciting in it.

What I’m Excited About 2: Ordering groceries online. THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER.   A huge time saver for me. I’m not a human that likes going to the grocery store. At all. Ever. So this is a godsend.

Happy Good Friday and Easter, everyone. Hope you get some writing in even though its a holiday weekend!

PS. As I’ve mentioned, we are offering two sessions for the France workshop this year. But the first session is full (though we could accommodate you if your begged, or bribed us), and the second session is filling up fast.  So check it out!

What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part One

asok_project365_mydesk_1059218_hWherein I talk about what it takes to be a writer, in my humble opinion, anyway.  To finish a book project, or even an article or short story.  To get the book out in the world, either into the hands of an agent and editor, or publish it yourself, which is a whole other enterprise. To hit the bestseller list. To rinse and repeat, which you’re going to need to do to build a career as a writer. What it takes to accomplish whatever your dream is.

Fresh off teaching a recent workshop in France, I’ve been pondering this.  Working with writers, listening to their hopes and frustrations opens my eyes over and over again, because their concerns echo mine in my own writing practice.  We are all gloriously different, right? And, at heart, we are also all very much alike.  To that end, here are two arenas in which many frustrations lie:

  1. Mindset
  2. Butt in chair

Let’s look at mindset,  otherwise known as the way you think, first.  It is easy to groan about this, to hold up your hands and say “Don’t tell me I am what I think!” But the cold, hard truth of the matter is that it’s true. If you think you can do it, you will be able to. But if you don’t think you can, you won’t. Sigh. You really do need to master your mindset about your writing.

But here’s a lot of the reason why—because after thinking about it, you need to do it. I know. Duh. But if you’re busy telling yourself that you can’t do it, you won’t. It’ll be too much pressure. You’ll get bored and wander away, take up archery or long-distance swimming or bird-watching.  Thoughts wear grooves in your brain and if you keep thinking you can’t, then your brain will believe you. And you won’t take time to write, because, well, you’re convinced you can’t. Or that you’re a bad writer. Or that the odds are stacked against you.

I follow a young woman named Jennifer Blanchard.  She is always ranting fervently about mindset and how important it is, how one must write down their goals every day, or at least re-read their goals. Etc., etc.  Part of me loves this stuff. Loves it. And part of me—the part that actually has to take the action—rolls my eyes at it.  But the thing is, everything she says about mindset is true.  You gotta get your brain in the right place to be a writer.  And that means doing whatever it takes, be that rereading your goals every day or monitoring those pesky negative thoughts.

Most of all it means you have to believe you can do it. Because if you don’t believe, you won’t make the time for it.  You’ll read knitting blogs (like I do when I get blocked), instead. Or you’ll decide the kitchen floor needs mopping. Or the cat’s nails need trimming. And the thing is—you won’t even realize why you’re indulging in these procrastination activities. You’ll convince yourself that it’s because there’s that spot of dirt, right there on the floor where everyone can see it.  Or that you absolutely must read that blog because you have to figure out where you went wrong on the sweater you’re knitting.  Or that the cat pulled up a thread on your gorgeous slipcover. Like that.

What’s the antidote to this? In truth, a lot of it is in taking action, which I’ll get to in a moment. Because the more you write, the easier it becomes and the easier it becomes, the more you’ll believe you can do it. Yeah, there is definitely an endless loop going on here.  But here are a couple other hints about mindset:

  1. Visualization has scientifically been proven to help. Not visualizing the moment you stand at the podium and accept your Nobel Prize for Literature, but visualizing yourself actually sitting at the computer writing. Thinking about how it feels as the words flow and your fingers range across the page.

Here’s an article that gives a good rundown on how to do it, and here’s one from Psychology Today on its benefits.

  1. Meditation and positive thinking. Activities that go hand in hand with visualization are meditation (you knew I was going there) because it quiets the damn monkeys in the brain enough to allow you to think positive thoughts about your writing, and affirmations. Yeah, I know. Dopey. I get it. But you can use them in the most casual of ways, as in when you’re thinking how you just can’t seem to get the scene right instead of berating yourself for being an idiot who can’t write, turn it around and tell yourself you know the story and you can figure out the scene. Just tell yourself that the rest of the day. C’mon, you’re a storyteller, right? So tell yourself a positive story. That’s all an affirmation is, in truth. You’re going to be telling yourself something all day anyway, it might as well be something positive.

As for meditation, just try it. Really. It is ten or fifteen minutes out of your day, and if it helps you become a better writer, isn’t that time well spent? I highly recommend downloading the Insight Timerfor your phone and using it. You can set interval bells so that the fifteen minutes doesn’t seem to stretch to fifteen hours, and there’s all kinds of cool ambient sounds you can meditate to, as well as a selection of guided meditations to try. Plus, it’s like social media for meditators. You can create a profile and interact with others all over the world.

Okay, so, alas, one cannot sit in one’s recliner and meditate and visualize and think positive thoughts all day and become a writer.  Would that we could. So I’ll discuss part two of the topic of what it takes in a blog post slated for Wednesday.

Until then, happy mind-setting. Or meditating. Or whatever.

And do tell what you think it takes to be a writer.

Well Hey, Otherwhere, It’s Nice to See You Again!

I’ve been remiss in providing you with Otherwhere links for quite some time now. The problem is not that I don’t have enough, it’s that I have too many.  And when I start to corral them, I get overwhelmed.  Okay. Deep breath. Here we go (and forgive me if they are not in any particular order):

Finding your voice from Jen Louden (she’s doing a cool self-guided retreat on this, too.

Having empathy for characters not like you

The Ultimate Summer Reading Flowchart

Three Easy Edits for Better Emotional Impact 

When You Don’t Want to Write

How to Get Unstuck

Great Advice and Ideas from Asian-American Writer’s Workshop

8 Literary Gardens to Escape to This Summer

How I Organize My Time, Tasks, and Creative Ideas (from Sandra Pawula)

Okay, I could go on…and on…and on. But my cats are begging me to feed them and besides, this ought to be enough to keep you busy for awhile, no? Do weigh in on what you’re looking at on the web in the comments.

Otherwhere: May 9th

pencil_notebook_writing_237689_lI have a veritable cornucopia of links for you today, so let’s dive right in. Here goes:

Writing

Finish that novel already! (I know, it’s not that easy.)

Writing historical fiction

For the love of it

Write great YA fiction

How to become a ghostwriter

Writing setting (a topic dear to my heart since I wrote my MFA critical thesis on landscape as character).

How to make comments and use track changes in Word.

Reading

The late science fiction writer Octavia Butler was a genius in many ways. Here’s a quote about how she read.

Travel

France porn. (We still have a spot left in our France retreat!)

Food

I’d much rather write than cook, but every day the same need arises: figure out something to fix for dinner. Here are some imminently makeable but not-necessarily-good-for-you ideas.

That’s it! That’s all I’ve got! What have you been browsing through lately?

 

Inventive Writing Post Round-up #10

The latest in writing inspiration from my Tumblr blog.  Have at it, guys!

#68  Close your eyes and imagine your childhood home.  Now put your main character in action in this home.  What happens?  Who does she see when she walks in?  What does she think of the place?

#69  The most important thing that's ever happened to you.  Really, stop and think about it.  Then write about it for you–and for your main character.

#70  They sat around the campfire roasting marshmallows.  And then the screaming began.

#71  The most romantic moment of your life.  Assign it to two characters and see what happens to them after it.

#72  The day has come at long last and I can't believe it is here.  Finally, I get to….

#73  "I can't believe it, this is all my fault," she said.  "If only I hadn't…"  What happened? What did she do to cause the problem?  Who is she talking to about it?

#74  “When I open my eyes in the morning, I am not confronted by the world, but by a million possible worlds.”  Colin Wilson.

What world does your character see in the morning when he/she wakes up?

Have a wonderful time writing, my lovelies!

Reviewing Your 2013 Writing Life

Infodesign-calendars-design-52489-hSo, we've got two days until the new year, and I don't know about you, but I've been busy thinking about 2014.  I have so many writing goals I want to accomplish–novels and stories to get out in the world, and classes and products to offer here on the blog.  So this year I'm trying to approach it logically (not my strong suit, as I'm about as right-brained as they come), and write out my goals now.  (I'm using this workbook that my daughter got me for Christmas.)

The difference for me this time around is that I'm actually taking the time to review 2013.   Yeah, I know, brilliant idea, right?  Anyway, as I was working on this project earlier this morning, the thought occurred that maybe you would like some guidance on looking over 2013 as well.  So herewith, I offer questions to ponder and answer in three areas: writing, motivation and putting it into the world (also known as marketing).

(And by the way, I'll be back on Thursday, newsletter day, with guidance for planning your 2014 writing life.)

1.  Writing.  

We start with this because it is the basis of everything.  Duh.

–What was the best thing about your writing in 2013?

–What was the worst thing?

–What are you most proud of?

–What is your biggest writing accomplishment?

–What felt good around your writing?

–What felt off?

–What lessons did you learn around your writing?

–What do you want more of?

–What do you want less of?

–What was your biggest writing problem?

2.  Motivation

Yes, one could argue that this could come first, but I maintain, as mentioned above, that when you're a writer, writing is the starting point of everything.  

–What inspired you?

–What motivated you to plant your butt in the chair and write?

–What de-motivated you?

–What got in the way of your writing?

–What is your biggest issue in finding time to write?

–What time of day were you most inspired?

–What books inspired you?

–What blogs inspired you?

–What magazines inspired you?

–What other creative pursuits inspired you?

3.  Marketing

I know, ick, but if you want your work to go out in the world, you've got to consider it.

–How did you market your work in 2013?

–What were your most successful channels?

–How many times did you submit your work in 2013? Or, how many pieces did you publish yourself?

–Which social media outlet did you rock?

–Did you blog or maintain your website consistently?

–What did you learn about yourself and your writing through marketing?

–Do you have a mailing list?  Did you grow it this year?

–How did your off-line marketing efforts go?

–Did you get media publicity this year? In what venues?

–What areas of marketing did you most enjoy?

Okay, there you have it–30 questions to answer about 2013.  I'll be back on Thursday with thoughts to ponder for 2014.  In the meantime, would you care to comment?  What was your biggest writing accomplishment in 2013? 

Image by eliazar.