Tag Archives | the writing life

The World is Your Writing Oyster

Oyster_shell_pearl_265851_lA couple weeks ago I was greatly taken by a lecture I heard about the writing life, given by Helena Kriel at the Spalding MFA spring residency.

The talk was, essentially, about how everything in the world feeds into our writing lives and our writing–if we are but present to the world.  Further, when we are being present, seeking our deepest thoughts within and putting them onto the page, we are involved in the same sorts of transformation that sages and gurus and lamas and mystics have sought for millennia.

Being Present

Ever since I heard this lecture, this is what I have strived to do.  I have done my best to be present during my writing time, and not give in to the distractions of email, Twitter, or news stories on the Internet. And beyond that, I've really been working on an awareness of how I interact with the world when I'm not writing.

No Such Thing As Boring

For instance, when I'm doing something "boring."  I put that word in quotes because I truly believe that boring is all in the mind of the person being bored.  Instead of giving into the boredom, I try to find something in front of me that makes the event interesting.  This could be the smallest of detail–a splash of red geranium while weeding the garden, a jet flying overhead that causes me to wonder where its headed and who is on it, that person walking by with a scowl on her face.

Cultivating Ideas

It is this kind of attitude that will feed a constant flow of ideas into your writing.  And ideas are the lifeblood of the creative person, aren't they?  We need a constant flow of them, not only for new projects but for our WIPs.  Ideas come from the world around us joining with what's already within, and for this to happen one must be present, observe and practice deep listening.

Other Ideas for Ideas

–Keep an idea book.  Because if you don't write them down, they will disappear.  Ideas are sneaky creatures that like to be recognized.  I find my ideas tend to get lost if I write them only in my journal, so I keep a spiral notebook devoted solely to ideas.  I swear, once I close the cover they breed and have babies–which is exactly what you want to happen.

–Put them on the page, nowhere else.  This is not true for everybody, but it's true for a lot of creative people–talking about ideas dissipates them.  They belong on the page, not in conversation with your spouse or BFF.  Ideas are fragile and need care and tending, which is best done with pen and paper.

–Let them flow.  Ideas tend to morph.  If we exert too much control over them, say, not letting them go in a new direction when they want to, they stagnate.  You may think your book is really about robots but your idea mind suddenly says its about aliens.  Go with it.  You may get back to the robots eventually.  Or not.

When you cultivate an attitude like this, and take good care of your ideas, the world truly will be your oyster–you'll be inundated with so many ideas you won't know what to do with them.  And not only is this wonderful for your writing, it's an amazing way to live in the times when you're not writing.

What's your best tip for cultivating ideas?

Photo by roym.

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A Writer Travels

Boeing_window_wing_248675_lOne of the missions of this blog is to write about the writer's life, all of it, and for this writer (moi), travel for work is an integral part of it.

My writing-related traveling began when I was accepted into the brief residency MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, and fell into the flow of flying back there twice a year, in May and October.

It continued when I was hired as a mentor, lo those many years ago, at the Loft Certificate in Writing program in Nashville (well, really, Murfreesboro, but close enough).  For that gig, I traveled in September and January, and for awhile also went to Nashville in December and April when I was on the staff of the now-defunct Room to Write retreat.

Back in the day, I had clients in Los Angeles, and I'd fly (my favorite commute ever–just two hours on the plane, long enough for a good session of reading and voila, you have arrived) down there several times a year.  (Now I just go visit my friend Mary-Suzanne.)

And now that I do writing retreats, I get to head off the exotic locations such as Diamond, Oregon (population, 9, and we meet in a hotel that was once a stagecoach stop), and Ceret, France, where I'm headed the first week of September.

But at the end of this week, I'm heading back to Louisville again, to be a graduate assistant at Spalding after a ten-year absence.  This all started because at the beginning of the year, I started jonesing to be in the MFA environment again.  I wanted to see how different or similar it might be from the kind of teaching I've been doing, both privately and at the Loft.  I longed to be seriously immersed in the world of writing and literature again.

And, well, seriously immersed doesn't really begin to describe it.  The schedule for the 10 days is 30 pages long!  I'll be assisting one of my former mentors, Mary Clyde, whom I adore, in workshops devoted to critiquing student work, recording lectures, running errands, setting up events, attending readings by faculty and students, and soaking in as many words about writing as I can cram into my brain.  (Oh yeah, and there will be lunches, glasses of wine and dinners with old friends and new along the way.)

(I will also be reading from Emma Jean on Friday the 24th, I believe at 6 PM, and selling my book.  So come see me if you're in Louisville.)

I am going to attempt–attempt–to blog from the residency while I'm there. (If Patrick Ross can do it, surely I can!)  But, like I said, the schedule is 30 pages long, with every day packed and lots of duties outlined for me.   I am not complaining, however.  On the contrary, I cannot wait.

Oh, and the best part?  I don't have to take that cursed 6 AM flight to Dallas that I always get booked on.  My plane leaves at a leisurely 8:20 AM.

Do you travel for work, writing-related or other?  What do you like best or least about it?  Please leave a comment!

Photo by Dolphin22.

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The Writing Life: Travel, or Why Travel is Good for Your Writing

800px-HollywoodSignAs I mentioned in my previous post, I'm in LA, actually Pasadena, visiting my dear friend Suzanne.  I'm working a lot while here, but no matter, I'm somewhere other than my usual here.  Last week I was at the Oregon Coast.  Now, neither of these short vacations are trips to exotic locales.  But they are trips.  And they are reminding me why travel of any kind, near or far, for a short or long time, is such a valuable activity for writers.

One reason is because you see the world through other's eyes.  For instance, last week we stayed with old family friends, a large rowdy bunch from Denver who I adore.  And they do things differently than me, particularly in food choices, opting for standard mainstream brands and products.  This week, in LA, its a whole different story when it comes to food.  Suzanne is an advocate of a real food lifestyle, which means consuming fresh and fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir made from raw milk, kombucha, and cultured vegetables (think kraut).  Two different sets of people, two different viewpoints of the world.

The characters who populate our novels and memoirs and non-fiction books all have unique viewpoints, too, with very specific ways of looking at the world.  Travel introduces me to people who think differently than me.  It pops me out of my bubble and forces me to live according to a different schedule than I usually do.  So here are some guidelines for getting the most benefit to your creativity from travel:

Be Open to Anything.  Another way to put this would be to say yes to any experience that presents itself.  Be willing to go with the flow and see what happens.  Here's an example: Suzanne had an appointment with an acting coach and I tagged along.  We thought it was a private appointment.  Wrong.  It was a class.  And I got pressed into service to run lines.  Now, let me be very clear here: I speak in public all the time, and it doesn't scare me, because I'm talking about my passion, writing.  But acting?  This is a whole different thing we're talking about and it terrifies me. 

SunsetblvdnearvineBut there wasn't much I could do.  And I figured, what the hell?  I'm in a building on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with people I'll never see again.  So I might as well go for it.  And I did, even when I found out I was going to be taped and had to watch the playback.  It was a lot of fun when I allowed myself to just be open to it.  The next day the coach called Suzanne and told her I should look for commercial acting jobs in Portland.  When I pulled myself together after the laughing fit that ensued, I actually thought about it.

Because in being open to acting, I've realized how similar it is to writing.  How you have to parse out the scene, go deep into it and figure out the character's motivation.  How you have to allow the character to inhabit you as you say his or her words, just like you do when you're writing in a character's viewpoint.  I may not actively study acting because of this, but you can be damn sure I'll find some books about it in order to enhance my ability to understand my characters.  And none of this would have happened if I hadn't been open.

Soak It In.  To really get the benefit of travel, you've got to have your eyes wide open, be present, and soak it all in.  You've committed to being open to whatever comes your way, right?  So while experiencing different activities, be present.  Watch, listen, smell, pay attention, be alert.  Notice things so you can use them later.  And along the same lines….

Take Notes.  I'm filling my Moleskine journal, sadly neglected over the last month while my spiritual community went through some uproar, with notes and ideas and plans for my next novel.   Because I also remembered to…

Plan Ahead.  The first five chapters of my new novel are set in southern California, specifically, Malibu.  I asked Suzanne if she'd drive me over there if I bought her a tank of gas.  And so we spent a wonderfully cool afternoon while the rest of SoCal baked in record temperatures, exploring locales in and around Malibu that I planned to use for my novel.  Already, I've decided to make some crucial changes in these scenes, the result of being on-site and seeing how things really are.  (The real world is sometimes so inconvenient.)

Be Grateful.  I love being here.  I loved being at the beach last week.  I can't wait until I travel to Nashville in September.  I feel lucky and blessed that I get to travel to places near and far.  Suzanne and I sit outside in the morning and the evenings and planes fly overhead after taking off from the Burbank airport.  They are high enough up that I start to imagine, that plane is going to India.  Or, that plane is going to New York.  And I want to go, too!  I'm grateful these last two weeks have reawakened my love of travel, and it's all good for my writing.

And now, excuse me, but I'm going to go learn how to make raw milk yogurt.

Where have you traveled recently, near or far?  How has it impacted your writing?

**Need a boost for your writing?  There's still time to sign up for my novel writing teleclass, which starts next week.  Check out the page, it's going to be a lot of fun!

Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

 

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The Romantic Ideal of Writing

The traditional writing life: you write a novel, submit it to an agent, it gets sold to a good publishing house and they do a lot of work to market you.  Ads in print publications, a book tour, readings and signings galore.  If you are a literary type, you might take a job teaching writing and/or English at a university.  If you're a genre type, then you go home and write your next book.  Life is good.Library_books_122977_m

The contemporary writing life: you write a novel, submit it to an agent, wait until your as-yet-unborn grandchild grows up and has children of her own, and then you finally get a no from the agent.  So you find a small publisher for your novel, or publish it yourself.  Nobody does the slightest thing to market you, so you tend a blog, you have a social media presence, and when your book is ready to be released you make a book trailer to put up on You Tube. You realize that the income from your beloved novel is going to amount to a mere pittance and so you write an Ebook covering everything you know about writing and you begin a coaching program, too.  You even consider teaching a teleclass or webinar, because nobody's been hired for a university position teaching writing since the Clinton administration.  Life is good, but far, far different than you expected.

The traditional writing life is on life-support, if it exists at all anymore.  But for me, it has existed in my mind as the romantic ideal of writing for years.  And even though I've embraced blogging and social media with gusto, still part of me yearned to achieve a traditional writing life.  Because, wouldn't it be nice to do nothing but write novels all day?  I'd be happy if I could split my time between writing novels and blogging, popping the occasional chocolate in my mouth from time to time.

But I can't.  And up until last week, when my coach called me out on this little thought that was stuck in my head, I didn't even realize it.  (This is why coaches are so great and why the whole coaching industry sprang up overnight.) I had earnestly been explaining to her why I had yet again put off writing the Ebook that I started last December.  And after some digging and poking about, she managed to get me to uncover where I was stuck.  And let me just say, I wasn't only stuck, I was absolutely mired in this romantic ideal of writing, certain it would happen for me any day now and I wouldn't have to write the Ebook or ponder teleclasses (for a person who doesn't much like talking on the phone, the idea of conducting teleclasses is terrifying), or do anything differently from what I'm doing today.

But it is a different world, as we all know by now.  And different worlds call for different strategies.  All this is by way of saying that I am going to start working on my Ebook this week, I am, I am, I am.  Just as soon as I get my office that I started six months ago finished…No, in truth, my session with my coach transformed my thinking and cleared enough crap out of the way that I've started taking notes and getting excited about the Ebook again.  And let me just say it again, that is why coaching is so great.

What about you?  Is there something you are ignoring that you should be doing?  Are you holding onto an outdated romantic ideal of writing?

***Do you need help clearing out romantic ideals of writing or other issues?  Email me and let's discuss coaching.  Your wonderful contemporary writing career is waiting.   Or check out my page about coaching packages and then email me.

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A Writer’s Travels

I'm leaving again tomorrow, this time for Nashville.  Night-104212-m

I travel a lot, sometimes a lot lot.  The last six months I have traveled a lot lot.  In August I was in LA, September in Nashville, October in New Mexico (a real vacation, who knew people did that?), November in LA again and December in Nashville.  That was not so very long ago, and now I'm heading back.

I have good reason to go, and I'm excited about the trip.  First up is the Writer's Loft orientation, a two-day affair for writers.  I'll be presenting my Writing Abundance workshop on Friday afternoon and it is open to the public, but if you are interested, hurry quick because we are filling up.  After the Writer's Loft, I am starting research for a new ghostwriting project.  I bought me a new digital voice recorder and I'm eager to get going. It is about a cat–what could be better?  Plus I'm meeting with two coaching clients–so far.  And I have tons of friends in Nashville who always get me into interesting things, like this time I'm going to visit a prison to meet a friend of a friend. 

I tell ya, this stuff doesn't happen to me in Portland, which is one reason I love travel so much.

But it is also hard.

Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining.  I love my life and I love traveling.  It is just that I get stressed out thinking about the logistics.  You know–getting to the airport on time, making connections, picking up the rental car, like that.  When, really, I rarely have trouble with logistics and if I do, it all seems to sort itself out (on my last trip home from Nashville, I just missed my connecting flight in Denver but got to have dinner with a wonderful fellow traveler who was also stranded).

And I worry that the orientation will be satisfying, that people will like my workshop, that the research will go well, that I'll be able to take good care of the dogs who live in the house I'm housesitting…and while I'm at it, I worry that I haven't heard from the agent who is reading my book, and that my blog traffic will go down when I'm not able to post as often while I'm gone, and that I've got manuscripts to read, and that my cats will miss me and be sad while I'm gone, to say nothing of my family.  Oh wait, never mind, they are all busy with their own lives that don't center around me, I forgot.

But you get the idea.  Sometimes I start worrying so much that I wonder why I do this, why I set myself up for trips that entail so much responsibility and so many things that could go wrong.  And then I realize that if I didn't do it, I'd be bored with myself.  If I didn't set myself up for challenges, I'd probably never leave the house.  And, despite the fact that I long for a couple of months at home without rushing off again, the truth is I love traveling and I most especially love traveling to Nashville. And any crises I have to endure along the way will be worth it in the end.

So off I go again.  

If you are in the Nashville area, come see me at the Loft this Friday and Saturday or email me and we'll set something up, okay?  And meanwhile, if anyone wants to chime in on their own travel worries, feel free.  Other people get stressed about travel, don't they?  Don't they?

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A Successful Writing Life

Last week at the Fall Writer's Loft orientation, we held a panel on The Writing Life.  I moderated, and mentors Bill Brown, David Pierce, and Linda Busby Parker participated.  It was a freewheeling and wide-ranging discussion, as I'd hoped.  Since I was moderating, I scribbled notes, just in case the conversation lagged and I needed to get it going again.  That didn't happen, but looking back over my notes gives some idea of what all we covered:

  • Finding a balance between making a living and writing
  • Tips on just doing it
  • The value of getting into the flow of writing 1,000 words a day, no matter what
  • "Stay with it" momentum (see above)
  • Handling rejection
  • Pointing yourself in a specific direction
  • Switch it up–try non-fiction if you mostly write fiction, etc.
  • The pressure to write a blog and keep up with twitter and social media
  • The best writer's conferences and events
  • How to use prompts
  • And we covered all this in 45 minutes…

After I got back home to the lovely (and hot) PDX, I started pondering the writing life anew.  I didn't talk much at the panel, as it was not intended to be about me.  But many people have expressed interest in the writing life that I have created for myself.  While I don't yet make buckets of money and I'm not a household name, I do have a satisfying life that I love.  It gives me tons of freedom and independence, which are two of my most important personal values.  I can pretty much do what I want when I want, though let us not forget I earn this right by being slavishly devoted to my clients and their deadlines. (Just so you don't think I'm a slacker all the time.)

Anyway, I started thinking about some of the things I've done to create myself a writing life and came up with the following:

1.  Decide what kind of writing life you want.  Do you want to pick a job that doesn't require you give it your heart and soul, and thus frees your emotional energy for writing?  Or do you want a job that is in writing or a related field?  Obviously, I chose the latter and I like it because the more I write, the better I get.  All of the various kinds of writing that I do–ghostwriting, copywriting, blogging, fiction, critiquing–enhance each other.

2.  If you do choose the full-time writing life, be willing to do anything (well, within reason).  Like most free-lancers, I wear many hats, and I like some of these hats lots better than others.  But that doesn't mean I turn down the things that aren't as much fun.  For me, its all writing, and I still get a thrill from even the dullest of jobs.  I had no idea that ghostwriting could be such a fun and lucrative gig, until I did my first assignment, which I got nearly by accident.  So keep your mind and your options open.

3.  Be willing to take low-paying jobs at first.  You need experience.  You need clips.  Work for free or a pittance if you have to at first.  I got paid a miserable wage in my first years as a writer, but I was able to up my fees quickly once I mastered the various genres and had the clips to prove it.

4.  Broaden your physical horizons.  We're a global community now.  Many of my ghostwriting clients are in LA, and my students in Nashville.  Doesn't matter–we've got this thing called the internet that allows us to communicate instantly.  Don't reject jobs because they are in other locations.  Besides, one of the best parts of my job is the fact that I get to travel to places I love.

I'm sure I've got more advice in me, but the workers who are doing God only knows what at the house around the corner are so noisy they've got my brain scrambled.  So, since I don't have to report to anybody but myself (did I mention that as a huge benefit?)  I'm taking my freedom and heading to New Seasons.

PS.  Read more about the Loft orientation at Linda's blog, right here.

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The Accidental Vacation

I've been on hiatus.  Unlike when the television networks do this to one of their shows, this was not actually a planned break, just one of those things that happen once in awhile in the writing life.   Last week I moderated a panel at AWP, and as is the case with most conferences, didn't have a spare moment while I was there.

Since I've been home, its been wedding central.  Since my daughter is getting married, um, tomorrow, life has been hectic, moreso because we had about three weeks notice on the nuptials.  (And no, its not for the reason you think, her fiancee is being deployed by our beloved army.)

But I've also been enjoying life away from the computer.  Shocking, I know, but true.  I've not been on Twitter for over a week and I've been ignoring all but the most vital of emails. (Let's not even talk about the work projects I've temporarily set aside.)  Amazingly enough, the world hasn't ended. 

So all of this has been causing me to think, or Think, if you prefer.  I have some ideas (or Ideas) and will be sharing them with you soon.  In the meantime, I've got a house to finish cleaning before my sister arrives to stay with us this weekend.

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