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Writers: Step Away From Your Computer*

Yeah, I know.  It’s November and you’re holed up in your writing cave.  Because, NaNoWriMo.  You’ve got words to write! 50,000 of them, to be exact! And even if you’re not participating in that NaNo thing, you’re doing your best to get tons of words on the page every day because that’s what we writers do.Typewriter_Writing_Writer_238822_l

And so, I hear you saying that you cannot step away from your computer.

But I’m telling you that you must.  That it is healthier for you and your writing to get out and about once in awhile.  And in case you’ve forgotten what that looks like (I had a writing friend who invented excuses to go to the grocery store so she could talk to the clerks) here are some suggestions:

Go to a writing event.  Okay, so these don’t exactly fall out of trees.  But even when they are available, we sometimes don’t take advantage of them.  I’ve been to two recently: Poets & Writers Live, and Wordstock, our version of the Southern Festival of Books, albeit in a pasty Northwest its-pouring-down-rain-out-there-not-sunny-like-in-Nashville kind of way.  Each was very different, but each had something that inspired me, educated me, or reminded me why I write.

Join a critique group.  This will get you away from you computer on a regular basis–weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.  And it will have the added benefit of gaining you readers for your work.  We all need readers for our work, precisely because we sit in our little caves and write and get way too close to our work.  You can find one by contacting your local writing group (most every city and region has one) and/or looking at the Meet Up site.

librarybooksGo to the bookstore.  If you’re anything like me, you spend more time on the internet looking at books than in actual brick-and-mortar stores.  But remember the pleasure of whiling away an afternoon in a book store, looking at books?  Its one of the best ways to spend the day ever.  And if the sight of all those author names on books doesn’t inspire you, nothing will.

Have a writing retreat.  Why, I just happen to know about one happening in Nashville in January.  It’s called Room to Write, and I’ll be there to guide and encourage you and talk about how to keep a writing practice going over the long haul.  Terry Price and Janet Wallace will also be on hand, but mostly you’ll have lots of time to write.  Even if you can’t come to Nashville, you can create your own writing retreat.  Find a cheap motel or an Air BnB nearby and hole up.  Band together with some writing friends and rent a vacation cottage (inexpensive in the off season).  Banish your family and hole up at home for the weekend.

Take a writing workshop.  There are plenty of them around. Try your local community college.  They usually offer a plethora of continuing education classes.  Check with your local writing group.  Ask the Google to find you some local private instructors.  Or, I don’t know, you could come to France with me next September.  (You can read about this year’s adventure here.  I’m in the process of posting info for 2016, and it will be up shortly.  But email me if you’re interested and I’l send you the brochure.)writersworkshop

Take an online class.  Okay, so you’ll likely have to sit at your computer for this.  And its not quite as good as getting out and about in the world.  But it might be a good chance to meet some other writers and learn stuff, too.  There’s a ton of them out there, and I predict there will be a rash of new ones starting in January.  Again, consult the Google.

Do something fun and forget about it.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is take the day off.  Yeah, it is best to have a regular writing practice, but taking time off can clear your mind and allow room for new ideas to emerge.  Julia Cameron recommends people take Artist’s Dates, wherein you go off on your own and do something that you enjoy, whether that’s swinging in the park or visiting an art gallery.  One’s writing brain does need replenishment once in awhile.

So, how about it?  What do you do when you have been sitting at your computer way too long?

*Remember, way back in the day when some car alarms didn’t shriek a loud, horrible noise, or honk their horn, but instead intone in a very deep voice, “Step away from the car” over and over again? I do.  And that phrase is forever embedded in my memory.

Photo credits (all are from everystockphoto):

Typewriter–kiamedia

Library shelves–click

Writer’s workshop–marshalltownpubliclibrary

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Otherwhere: S*&^ Happens Edition

objects-stationery-draw-10141-lI started this new blog series a little over a week ago, on Halloween, with the intention to publish a new post every Saturday. And, well, as the title says, s%# happened over the weekend.  Like Wordstock, for instance, our local book and author fair (more on that in a post later this week).  And the fact that Saturday was a major backyard clean-up day, even though it was pouring down rain.  (Let me be clear that I did not have to get my delicate hands dirty. I left the work to my hub and son-in-law, God love them.)  But anyway, better late than never, right? And I’ve been diligently gathering links for you all week so here you go:

  • For those of you doing Nanowrimo (and those who just want to write a lot) here’s a list of helpful titles (my own included) that you can download for free.
  • And if you are doing Nanowrimo, why not get a whole chunk of your 50K words done in one day? My friend Milli runs 10K for Writer days every month. Join in the fun here.
  • Here’s a nice post about one writer’s journey to publication.  Nicole and are are Twitter friends and she’s a fellow Oregonian.
  • A bit of fun from Stephen Pressfield.
  • And some insight into nurturing yourself as you write from Janice Hardy.
  • Should you write for online markets? Answers here.
  • From Kristen Lamb, advice about how fast drafting is actually good for your writing.
  • And finally, did you know there’s going to be an American Writer’s Museum?

And, please note, I have learned how to insert photos into posts!  Woot woot! This one happens to be by danzo08, from everystockphoto.

ALSO I think we’ve gotten the comments sorted out.  So please leave one.  And remember, the giveaway for the J.D. Frost novel runs through next week–so you still have time to leave a comment there for a chance to win!

Okay one more thing, I’m still not certain that old blog subscribers got transferred over to the new site–so you might want to check the little subscribe box when you’re leaving a comment.

Thank you!

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Five on Friday: Everything New

Hola! Its a beautiful Friday afternoon in Portland, Oregon, and I am posting the very first post on my new blog. Well, its not exactly new–just the design and the host (WordPress instead of Typepad).  So, there’s a bit of a learning curve here and I’ll be playing around the next few weeks.  But seeing as how it is Friday, its time for another edition of five things are going on in my life.

What I’m Working On: NaNoWriMo, in a cheating sort of way.  Cheating because I already had around 17,000 words written when I started last Sunday and the rules say you can’t start until November 1.  What I’m doing is using the collective energy to help me writing every day.  And its working–I’ve got 10,000 more words racked up then I did this time last week.

What I’m Reading: After You, by Jojo Moyes and a book on meditation.  Speaking of which:

What I’m Crazy About: Meditation.  I know.  But I’ve managed to put together a daily meditation practice for three weeks in a row now and I’m pretty happy about it.  Researchers say the brain changes after just six weeks of meditation and I believe it, because I feel different.  More in a blog post about this next week.

What I’m Doing This Weekend:  Attending Wordstock, our local literary festival, reconstituted after a year’s hiatus.

What I Need You To Be Aware Of: The fact that if you followed me on Typepad and arranged to get notification when a new post published, that might not have transferred over.  Then again, we’re not sure.  So if anybody got here via email, please let me know!  Meanwhile, I’ll try to figure out how to let you subscribe in the comments box.

And, um, yeah, there’s no photo–because I haven’t figured out how to add one yet.  All in good time, people, all in good time.

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The Dream World

"Imagination is sacred and divine–I trust it implicitly."

So said Andre Dubus III at his Wordstock reading last weekend.  Dubus, best known for House of Sand and Fog, read from his latest novel, The Garden of Last Days, which was inspired by the Florida sojourns of the 9-11 hijackers.  After he read from the book, Dubus talked about writing the book.  He quoted Flannery O'Connor, who said, "writing is waiting," to make the point that even when you are staring at the computer monitor, you are writing.  And then he ripped off this line: "You are summoning, almost like a prayer to an angel, the imagination to give you something."

After hearing that line, I was ready to go buy every book the man ever wrote.  He went on the say that if you summon the imagination regularly it will reward you with things to write about.  Someone in the audience asked him how difficult it was to get inside the head of one of the September 11 hijackers, and he told how he resisted and resisted it, that he had no interest in making one of them a viewpoint character.  But then the novel seemed to sputter and fall flat and he was in danger of losing it completely.  He realized that he had to make one of the hijackers a viewpoint character, so he sat and did nothing but read books about the Middle East for five months.

Dubus quoted Mike Nichols, saying that the charge of the storyteller is to share what it is really like to be in the midst of whatever is happening.  In character-driven fiction, you want to establish empathy for the characters, not sympathy.  As a writer, you do this to the point that there is no other.  What you do in writing is to go beyond knowledge of the other to totally be the other.

Interestingly, this is true in fiction, as well as in many other arenas of writing. When you write a press release, there's a certain tone and style that you emulate.  In a much more superficial way, you're becoming the other–the PR pro who knows what will grab attention.  A blog post sounds different than a web page and an article in a newspaper is dissimilar in tone to a piece in the New Yorker.   In each instance the trick for the writer is to figure out the trops and do them.  Be the other.

I was discussing this with Mary-Suzanne yesterday in terms of ghostwriting.  How does a writer get out of their own skin and into the skin of the person who is supposedly writing the book?  Here are some tips (which are applicable to every kind of writing imaginable):

1.  Get Over Yourself.  Clear the gunk out.  Do it however you like, but I think the best way is to write a bunch of crap down on paper.  Set a timer and write out all the petty judgments and grievances and even all the things that are making you happy.  (You may get some ideas along the way, though that is not the point of this.  As an added benefit, you may also improve your mental health along the way.

2.  Enter the Dream World.  Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, center yourself, do whatever it takes to get yourself calm and zen and relaxed.  Listen to music if you need to. 

3.  Start to Observe.  Pull an image of the person you are melding with into your brain.  What do they look like, smell like, sound like, feel like?   Be aware that in making these observations you are still on the outside looking in.

4.  Become the Other.  Now, go a step farther and sink deeper into the character.  Instead of observing the character, imagine yourself actually going into her head.  What does the world look like from inside her viewpoint?  Where is she sitting?  What is the view outside her window?  What does she do when she first gets up in the morning?

5.  Trust Your Imagination.  Remember, as Dubus says, it is sacred and divine.    All you are really doing in this exercise is imagining life through another person's eyes.   And, honestly, what could be more important than bridging the gaps between us?

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