On Conflict and Writing (A Love Letter Reprise)

(While I’m away teaching in France for the month, I’m running a few favorite newsletters 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.)

 When first I started writing this letter, it was about a different topic (travel to be exact).  But as I tunneled further into it, I realized that what I really wanted to write about his week was conflict.

Ah, conflict.  It is the most important element of any piece of writing.  Conflict creates the underlying rhythm of all fiction, and non-fiction as well.  It is the thrumming baseline, the constant hum, the clothesline on which we hang all our writerly clothing.

Many of us are told, repeatedly, to add more conflict in our work. And yet we run from it, screaming, in life, right? Right? I know I do. I shrink from arguments, hate confrontation, abhor conflict in all its forms. I meditate and knit and weave and go to church to find inner peace, because I absolutely, positively, for real, hate conflict.

But there is one conflict that is basic to my life: every single moment of every single day the constant drumbeat in the back of my head is, I should be writing.  (Years ago I had a writing friend who set her screensaver to say, why aren’t you writing? I did that until I took to screaming what I thought were perfectly logical reasons I wasn’t writing at the computer.)  When I’m watching TV at night, I think that. When I’m performing the afore-mentioned relaxing crafts I’m thinking it. When I’m reading emails I’m thinking it.

I suspect that many of you feel the same way. Our time to write can be precious and fleeting in the press of other life demands and so we obsess about it when we can’t do it.  I suspect other creatives share this trait with us, that painters worry about painting, musicians about playing music, and son. In fact, I think it is this constant conflict, this constant pull, that separates creative people from non-creative types. Okay, truthfully, I think everyone is creative, some just don’t choose to express it.  But for the sake of brevity, we’ll just call them non-creative.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be one of them.  To not have this constant thing nipping at my heels, calling me to attention.   Peaceful and easy, I imagine. I wouldn’t have to work so hard at all that inner peace, right? And yet I’d be bored as all snot, too.  I can’t imagine what life would be like without the call to creativity and I really don’t want to find out.

I had this crazy idea as I’ve been writing this letter.  And it’s this: that writing pulls us out of our everyday lives, that it’s the impetus to pull us onto a creative path, the hero’s journey if you will.  I just pulled out one of my favorite writing books, The Writer’s Journey (1st ed.) by Christopher Vogler, vaguely recalling that he said something about this very topic. And indeed he does: “The Hero’s Journey and the Writer’s Journey are one and the same. Anyone setting out to write a story soon encounters all the tests, trials, ordeals, joys, and rewards of the Hero’s Journey…. Writing is an often perilous journey inward to probe the depths of one’s soul and bring back the Elixir of experience—a good story.”

So take heart, because all that conflict you’re experiencing about your writing makes you heroic, my friend.  And remember, all you really need to do is put the conflict on the page—instead of getting embroiled in it in life.

Leave a comment and tell me how you deal with the constant conflict of writing vs. not writing.  I’m in France, but I’ll do my best to respond!

And–if you would like to receive these weekly letter directly into your inbox, just click the sign-up form to the right!

A love letter about having, and deserving, good tools (A love letter)

Recently, I got a new computer, the one I’m writing this newsletter on.  It’s a Macbook Air, and I love it. Working on this computer makes everything easier and smoother and faster.  Working on this computer makes me happy.

My previous computer was two years old; a very inexpensive PC. I liked it well enough. I thought it was just fine. But it wasn’t until my cat threw up on its keyboard that I pondered getting a new one.  (Only the keyboard was damaged, the rest worked fine. So, for a while I carried an external keyboard and mouse around with me.) I went kicking and screaming to a Mac, buying one only because I want to run Vellum, the book formatting software on it, and it is available only for Macs.

And now I’m in love.

The other day I had to check on something on my old computer.  I was stunned at how slow it was, how long it took to connect to the internet, how clunky it felt. (And let me be clear, this is not a rant against PCs, I like them. It was more about my poor, overworked computer.) But as I worked on it, I remembered: this was previously what I struggled with every day.

So why didn’t I get a new computer earlier? Because new computers are expensive. Because I told myself I didn’t need one. Never mind that I use it all day every day. I told myself the one I had was just fine. Never mind that it was slower than trying to get a toddler to do something he doesn’t want to do. Just never mind.

I guess I should thank my cat for vomiting on the keyboard because now I realize how much I was putting up with. Settling for.  And pondering all this has made me think that maybe there’s still a bit of that old residual feeling of, but I’m just a writer. I don’t need anything fancy. For some of us it may even be a reluctance to admit that we are writers.

So many of us have self-doubt about our role as writers. And even though I’ve been a professional writer for years, I still sometimes struggle with this, too. When I read a story about a humanitarian building schools in Africa or a teacher changing the lives of children or an activist accomplishing great things I get deflated.  And start to think that all I’m attempting to do with my so-called life purpose is entertain people.

And then I remember one of my favorite quotes of all time, from Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey:

But take heart, because writing is magic. Even the simplest act of writing is almost supernatural, on the borderline with telepathy. Just think: we can make a few abstract marks on a piece of paper in a certain order and someone a world away and a thousand years from now can know our deepest thoughts. The boundaries of space and time and even the limitations of death can be transcended.

And when I remember it is magic, I feel better about my role as a writer. I hope that you will, too. And also remember that because you are a magician, you deserve the best tools, be they a computer or the special pen you love or that expensive paper that feels so good to write on.

Indulge yourself. You deserve it. You’re creating magic!

Don’t forget to join the Facebook group!

This is a reprint of my weekly love letter, which you can receive directly into your inbox by filling out the form to the right.  No spam, promise! Just weekly letters and announcements about classes and books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On eclipses…and love (a love letter)

Dear Writers,

Tomorrow (August 21) is the Great American Eclipse, and as you read this I’ll either be on my way or soon to be on my way to view it.  Me and about a million other people—that’s how many visitors are forecast to arrive in Oregon, a broad swath of which is in the path of totality.  Traffic jams and food and gas shortages are predicted. You can’t get a hotel room or rent a car to save your life anywhere near by Portland. (We are just a few miles north of the path of totality.)

I love mass events like this.

And I love eclipses even more. I’ve been greatly enamored of this eclipse since it first came on my radar several years ago.  Because: eclipses are when day becomes night and night becomes day.  They shake things up, astronomically and astrologically.  And sometimes, shaking things up is good.

They are also about showing us our shadow side, the darkness in us that generally stays hidden.  All you have to do is look at the events of the last week to see that in action.  And difficult as it is to witness, I believe to my core that you can’t eradicate the darkness until you can see it.

On a far less serious and more personal level, I see the eclipse as a giant reset button, a chance to challenge old, stale ideas. Like: creativity is just fluff (even though it is vital to our health and well-being), or, you can’t make a living as a writer (even though you can these days, in a million different ways), or one of the biggies: there’s not enough (of course there is).

But the biggest outdated idea of all is the most pernicious: that of the other. As in, you’re different than me and that make me better. And all the variations on that theme that result in abuses of power, politically, financially, and morally, over and over again.

So I suggest, that along with our personal resets, we also focus our eclipse ideas on a grand scale.  And let this event uncover the fact that there is nothing more important on this planet right now than loving one another.

Because there isn’t.

Happy eclipse.

Leave a comment and tell me if you plan to view the eclipse! (And what you might like to reset.)

On Being Sick…and Getting Well Again (A Love Letter)

I have a fraught history with getting sick.  Well, duh, who doesn’t, right?  But I like to think I have a particularly difficult time with it because in my family it just wasn’t acceptable.  When any of my sisters or I complained of feeling ill and wanting to stay home from school, my Mom, would say, “You’ll be fine. Get up and get going.”

And so we did.  I realize now, after having raised children of my own, that my mother’s attitude stemmed more from desperation at having a kid underfoot during her precious days alone, than an inability to abide sickness.  But that kind of attitude was not conducive to lingering in one’s sick bed for any length of time. Or at all.

So it is inculcated in me to avoid illness at all costs.  Imagine, then, my surprise and embarrassment when earlier this week I sat up from the Pilates machine at my physical therapist’s and the room spun.  It spun in a way I’d never experienced before, even when I drank too much MD 20-20 as a teenager. An alert PT aid asked me if I was okay and when I said I thought I was going to vomit, brought me a wastebasket.

Into which I promptly retched.  In the middle of a gym full of people.  Somehow I made it home, running into the house and throwing up more upon arrival. And that was how the rest of the day went: massive vertigo with any kind of movement followed by vomiting.

I was not a happy camper.

But, after a couple days of rest, I am pretty much back to my normal self. (And desperately sympathetic to anybody anywhere who struggles with vertigo.) And let me tell you, the world looks like a bright, shiny new place. It is as if someone has pushed my reset button.  Getting in the car and driving to the grocery store, a chore I hate so much I often order online, is a pleasure, because: I’m out of the house! Taking the car through the car wash is a fascinating experience.

And it makes me wonder how much I miss when I’m meandering along through my life, thinking same old same old.  How many stories and ideas are passing me by because I’m pondering what a drag it is to have to go grocery shopping?

This is when I vow to turn my journaling habit—which tends to be navel gazing and figuring my life out entries—into more of a writer’s notebook, in which I will write brilliant observations, copy down witty dialogue, and note gorgeous descriptions.

Yeah, right. But I will say that’s the one good thing about getting sick—you come out the other side feeling like a fresh, new human being.

What’s going on with you these days? Leave a comment and let me know.

And don’t forget to join the Facebook group! (I’ll be on there regularly during my blogging hiatus.)

Your Creative Type ( A Love Letter)

Last week, I was helping a client search for agents to whom she could submit her book proposal.  (Fun times.) One of the titles we came across in the process is a book called Your Creative Type.  Both of us allowed as how it sounded like a fun book to read.  I added that I had no idea what my creative type might be, but I was pretty sure it was something to do with being wild and free. (That undisciplined crazy woman flinging words at the page, sometimes literally, in the corner? The one who has a million projects going at once, including some random art and craft things? That’s me.)

Okay, so I jest, sort of, but the premise of the book is valid.  It is that we each have a specific creative type and knowing it can help you in your daily creative efforts. Some people are motivated by thoughts of fame and fortune, some by the idea they want to change the world.  Others, (me, apparently—there’s a test you can take on the site) just want to express the deeply profound thoughts inside them. Release the emotions, and all that.

The book looks like it offers some good points, and I may put it on hold at the library, so I can maintain my weight lifting exercises hoisting the huge stacks of books I bring home and never have time to read.  I’m all for anything that will help us be more creative—write more often and with more freedom.

But what I am not for is books and theories that try to harness creativity.  That quantify and categorize it.  That tell you it can only exist under certain circumstances.  Reading anything along those lines brings out my rebel faster than you can say, “I’ll prove you wrong.”

And that rebellious streak is also why I get so angry at writing experts who tell you exactly how to approach your writing.  That you have to have an incredibly detailed outline, noting every pillar of the story, or, conversely, that you’re stupid if you waste time doing that and you should just plunge in.  A human could go nuts trying to follow all the advice out there.

Including, ahem, mine.  When I first started writing about writing and creativity ten years ago I tried really hard to hand down authoritative opinions about how you should do things.  But I soon gave up. (Wild and free, remember?) Because I’ve learned, over years of working with writers, that if I try to impose a certain way of doing things on someone who is not comfortable with it, they’ll shut down. And that doesn’t serve anybody.

So it really is worth your time to learn what works for you.  All of us so-called experts can present you with ideas, tips, and thoughts about what might be helpful. But you’ll do better, and be happier I will bet, if you figure out what works for you and ditch the rest.

And now I must go rustle about through my stacks of projects and decide which to work on next.

Tell me about your creative type?

And don’t forget to join the Facebook page! Just click here to ask to join and I’ll approve you!

Living Your Life Purpose (A Love Letter)

I’m a sucker for a catchy headline (also known as click bait, which, funnily enough, I’m terrible at writing), and the other day I saw one that said something like this: it is why you are here.

Well, I knew immediately what the “it” was, and you probably do, too.  Your life purpose, of course.  Headlines like this are a dime a dozen these days because everybody wants to life their life purpose. Right?

Well, yeah. Duh.

I fear I’ve gotten so inured to the idea of life purpose that I rarely even notice anything to do with it any more.  Except that recently, in a moment of weakness, I got sucked into the black vortex of my Facebook timeline and noticed an impassioned post. It was about how all that life purpose crap is hooey and how being an ordinary person without one was just fine.

I’ll be honest, I bristled at this post.  Because besides a slight tendency to roll my eyes at the most diligent purveyors of the life purpose view, I do believe in it. Maybe because, at heart, finding your life purpose is about finding and making meaning in our lives.  And I believe fervently in that.

Finding meaning is what writing does for me.

Once, many years ago, my sister and I went to a talk by the late Madeleine L’Engle (author, of course, of one of the best books ever, A Wrinkle in Time).  When the talk was over, my sister turned to me and said, “She makes me want to be a writer.”

And that was because L’Engle talked about writing with a capital W, as a calling, as a purpose, as a thing that gives life meaning beyond worrying about publishing stats or finding an agent or your latest word count.

The author of the anti-life purpose Facebook post wrote about how ordinary life was enough—and we could find joy in the every day things and be content.  But that is precisely what my writing does for me—makes me love all the little things I write about in my journal or stories, makes me appreciate the life I have. Makes me find joy.

And if that is not the purpose of life then I don’t know what is.

Make Like a Bird and Sing (A Love Letter)

I’m betraying my age here (which is fine, I’m old and I own it), but when I was younger there was a common saying that people would twist in funny way.  I’m going to make like a banana and split, you’d say when you were leaving.  Or, make like a busboy and get the fork out of here.  Or, make like a tree and leave.  We said them for all kinds of occasions.

Ah, yes, those were simpler times.

But I thought of those sayings the other morning when I was outside writing early in the morning, listening to the birds greet the day as the sun rose over the houses across the street. And I thought, I need to make like a bird and sing.  (Only in my case, sing is a metaphor for write because, trust me, you don’t want to hear me sing.) Or, make like a flower and bloom.  Or, make like an Oregon grape plant that the husband planted against all objections and take over the garden.

My point being: the birds don’t worry about who, if anybody, is listening, or if they are singing it right. The flowers don’t worry about if they look fat in that color of red, or if they are arranged in a way that will be pleasing to everyone.  And the Oregon grape? Well, I’m pretty sure it has world domination in mind but never mind.

Because, wait for it here:  we need to make like a writer and write.  Because like birds singing, flowers blooming, and Oregon grape dominating, that’s what we do. Writers write. Except when we don’t.  Because we worry. About how it will sound, how it looks, is it right? Will the agent I want to submit to like it, how will my readers react, what will my mother think when she reads that sex scene? Did I spell that word right, is the grammar correct, and how do I punctuate a sentence like that?

It gets worse when you start writing professionally (or aspire to) because all of those concerns can be front and center all the time.  You have to push yourself to write fast, to go back to writing for the joy of it—even if you’ll eventually get paid, too.

Because I wager that none of us got into this writing biz because we wanted to fuss and worry over punctuation and sentence structure.  (Okay, I know there are some of you grammar geeks out there shaking your heads.) We got into it because writing, to us, is singing, blooming, growing so marvelously lushly that there’s no room to walk past us on the deck. Am I right? And it really is easy to forget that.

So, next time you sit down to write, remember the birds. And the flowers. And the Oregon grape. Okay, not the Oregon grape. Remember why you do this…and make like a bird and sing.

A love letter about resisting the status quo

There’s a lot of noise in the world at the moment.  Political, and societal to be sure. But there’s also all the information we get from the interwebs constantly, all day and even all night long. And much of it is designed to ensnare us—to click onto the website, read the news story, buy the item, support the cause.

It’s the status quo.

And as writers, it is our job to resist.

But wait, you say.  You need all that information.  You need it in order to have something to write about, you need it to support your WIP (as in research), you need it because you must know what is going on in the world.

Yeah, I hear you. I’m a huge input person.  Next to writing, one of the things I love best in the world is gathering information. Set me up with a topic to research, a pile of books, and access to the internet, and I’m a happy woman.

But, there’s a limit to how much I—and you—can take in before it starts to become a detriment.  Before it starts to affect our concentration levels, and our focus, to say nothing of our emotions and energy, both physical and mental.

Which is why I say you need to resist its lure.

Because when you do, you gain so much. It is difficult in the moment—I’ve had to tell myself not to click over to the internet numerous times as I’ve been writing this—but what I’ve gotten in return is clarity and focus.  And far more enjoyment of the writing process.

And by resisting, you’re claiming your right to be different.  To be a person who stands for writing and creativity and art.  A person who dares to challenge the status quo.  A person who follows her own inner tune.

That’s not always easy in this world, but it is vital.  If you are going to do good work, you need to be able to hear your inner voice and you can only do that if you tune out the noise of the world.

So, let’s do it together. Resist the status quo! Turn to the page instead of the latest news story or blog post. And together we will change the world one word at a time.

Leave me a comment about what you’re writing–and resisting.

(FYI, this originally appeared as my weekly newsletter. If you’d like to get it delivered directly to your inbox, just fill out the form to the right.)

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.

A Love Letter About Writing and Heat Waves

(I’m experimenting with posting my weekly newsletter here on the blog as well. If you’d like to have it delivered right to your inbox, fill out the form to the right. I will never do anything untoward with your information!)

Yesterday it was 97 here. Today it is forecast to be the same.

Now I know many of my readers may exist in more modern conditions than I, as in, you have air conditioning.  But we live in an old house that doesn’t have it. And, at least historically (not so much anymore), we would only get maybe a few days of extreme heat every summer, and so there really wasn’t much need for it. So when it is hot, I suffer. Oh poor me and all that.

But there is still writing to be done, right?  When you are a writer, there is always writing to be done, no matter what.  The baby cries, the cows need milking, the beloved ancient parent needs tending.  But there’s till writing to be done. And so one needs to find a way to do it, in heat waves and cold snaps alike.  And even if you are cossetted from it, extreme heat is still energy-sapping. (For those of you reading this from the Southwest, I hope your terrible temperatures abate soon.) You still have to get from house to car and from car to work and from work to the grocery store.

A couple of summers ago I got in the habit of taking my computer outside and working at the table on the back deck in the cool early mornings.  When the sun hit the fence beside me, I knew my writing time was over for the day because soon it would be shining on my monitor.  It was a lovely way to get my writing done and set myself up for rest of the day.  Later, when I’d be toiling in my hot office, I’d remember my morning sojourn outside and smile.

I often observe how my cats behave in the heat. Mostly, they stretch their fat selves out as far as possible and sleep.  We should emulate them in the heat, right? Ha! Would that we could. But in some parts of the world, they do such things. The other day I was at my daughter’s and we were trying to get my five-year-old grandson to have thirty minutes of quiet time.  Not even a nap, mind you, just quiet time. So I told him about what happens in the small towns of France (and many other European countries).  How every day from noon to two the stores close and every one goes home for a break. Quiet time.  It is a lovely habit and one that can serve the rest of us well during heat waves.  Just allow yourself to take a break once in a while, for goodness sake.

Doing research for my Do That Thing class, I ran across some information last week that said most people spend a good chunk of their precious time worrying about expectations. They feel they must be perfect parents and perfect on the job. And I know for a fact that writers often feel they need to be perfect the second they throw words on the page. This makes my heart hurt. All these harsh expectations we place on ourselves.

And I think the hot days of summer when you don’t feel like doing much of anything are a good time to start practicing slowing down a little. Give yourself a break from those expectations that control you.  Get your writing done in the cool of the morning. Find an air-conditioned coffee shop and camp out there with your computer.  Go easy on yourself.

Do leave a comment about how you beat the heat!

Okay–are you ready for the big news? I have created a Facebook group for us! People are engaging in all kinds of different ways these days, and Facebook is a biggie, obviously.   The group is called Prolific and Prosperous Writers and it is closed, which means any posts you make won’t appear on your personal timeline–that way you have all the freedom in the world to kvetch about your writing without worry that civilians (those who may not understand) will read it. Join here. Please do, I can’t wait to chat there!

Offerings:

Freedom and Independence Coaching Special:

I’m running a Freedom and Independence Coaching special through the Fourth of July.    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? Email me and we’ll set up a time to talk.

My new How to Get an Agent class is on July 11th.  (I moved the date out because I, um, forgot I was going to be out of town.) It’s a one-session class that will tell you everything you need to know about getting an agent, from query and pitch through what to ask when an agent is interested in your work.  Just in time for summer writing conference season, and the class includes an upgrade option for a critique of your query. Find out all the details and sign up here.