Guest Post

Guest Post, Book Launch: How Getting Coached Saved My Sanity

I am thrilled to introduce you to my friend Lisa, a fellow Portlander.  Her fabulous debut mystery, Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, just released last week.  She's got an interesting take on how to get organized for a book launch.  Take it away, Lisa!

Book Launches: How Getting Coached Saved My Sanity Kilmoon_72dpi

by Lisa Alber

My debut novel, Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, came out on March 18th, and if anyone six months previously had told me how nuts the ten weeks before launch would be, I would have shrugged. No biggie.

Uh-huh, right. Come to find out that I have two things going against me when it comes to being a coolly together person:

* I suck at long-term planning and nit-picky organizational tasks.

* I’m a tad neurotic so I get overwhelmed and stressed out easily.

I managed to sail along in the land of delusion until January 1st hit, and then I panicked. I had less than three months until Kilmoon launched. How was I to begin the process of organizing myself, much less actually accomplishing tasks? I didn’t know where to start.

The extent to which I suck at organizational tasks and time management is outstanding. I really am a seat-of-the-pants, wing-it kind of person. But, and this is a big but, if you want to launch your novel with any kind of buzz at all, whether you’re self-publishing or going traditional, you have to have your shite together.

Lisa Romeo, my coach, specializes in writers. Hallelujah! The first thing she had me do was break down the zillions of to-dos zinging through my brain into five categories. These are your primary goals for the book launch. Priorities are good! For example, you might have:

1. Blog tour / book tour

2. Launch party

3. Newsletter/mailing list

4. Promotional giveaways (Goodreads, LibraryThing, Facebook parties, Twitter chats, etcetera)

5. Appearances and conferences

For each category, brainstorm every task you can think of. Go for it. No need to be organized yet. Remember that tasks often have sub-tasks, which have sub-tasks. List them all.

Here are some other tips and tricks that kept me sane:

1. Print out a separate calendar just for book launch tasks and then plan backwards. If you know when you want your launch party, then what are the goals leading up to that? Note the sub-task deadlines. Seeing the tasks visually was so helpful for me. This especially helped me keep track of deadlines for guest posts (blog tour category).

2. White board! I set mine up in the living room where I could see it every time I passed by. For each category, I’d list the tasks for that week. I’d get these tasks from my calendar and also my brainstormed task lists.

3. Each Sunday, look over your lists, revise your priorities as needed, and write out your next tasks for the coming week. You might find that creating a mailing list and a newsletter can wait until after the launch. Perhaps developing a new website has become more important. This is OK!

4. Cheat a little. There are always more tasks that come up along the way. I added another column on my white board for “miscellaneous.” This column might include random tasks such as updating your Facebook banner to include your cover art or ordering bookmarks.

5. Be realistic about how much time you have to devote to book launch tasks. You can’t do everything. This lesson was one of the best things I got out of coaching: let stuff go. I was batty enough as it was without trying to be Ms. Perfect Book Launch Mama.

6. Give yourself a mental high-five when you cross a task off your list. You’re doing it!

I’m here to tell you that if I can make it through launch, then you can too. I’ve found that most people are either less charmingly neurotic than I am, or more organized—that is, most have an automatic heads up on me. But I survived! And, my launch went well too.

You’ll learn some things about yourself along the way. I learned that I suck at follow-through and quick decision-making, but, hey, that’s OK. I’ll factor that in for the next launch. Next time, I’ll hire a coach four months ahead of time. That should do the trick, don’t you think?

About Kilmoon.

Merrit Chase travels to Ireland to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, in hopes that she can mend her troubled past. Instead, her arrival triggers a rising tide of violence, and Merrit finds herself both suspect and victim, accomplice and pawn, in a manipulative game that began thirty years previously. When she discovers that the matchmaker’s treacherous past is at the heart of the chaos, she must decide how far she will go to save him from himself—and to get what she wants, a family.

“Brooding, gothic overtones haunt Lisa Alber’s polished, atmospheric debut. Romance, mysticism, and the verdant Irish countryside all contribute to making KILMOON a marvelous, suspenseful read.” —Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of Through the Evil Days

“This first in Alber’s new County Clare Mystery series is utterly poetic … The author’s prose and lush descriptions of the Irish countryside nicely complement this dark, broody and very intricate mystery.” —RT Book Reviews (four stars)


Lisa_new_edit_color300dpi_optLisa Alber received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Lisa lives in the Pacific Northwest. Kilmoon is her first novel.

You can find Lisa at: website | Facebook | Twitter | blog

How about you?  Have you ever used a coach for any aspect of your writing career? Please comment!

Guest Post: Out of Your Book Mess and Into Story

I promised you a guest post from Jeffrey Davis, and here it is.  Jeffrey would be the first to admit that this post runs a bit long–but I want to tell you that it is worth reading every word! (I wrote a bit about Jeffrey, why I'm promoting his program and his upcoming webinar here.)  Enjoy reading!

Out of Your Book Mess and Into Story

by Jeffrey Davis

Sometimes I get flare calls.

An accomplished art critic calls and says she has a rough manuscript in the works and a book proposal her agent can’t sell. It involves renowned figures. Mounds of research. Book over 9 years brewing.

A business executive calls and says he has a book topic and concept and nearly a hundred blog articles circling around the topic. 2 years percolating.

An MFA grad and writing professor calls and says she has a nearly completed draft of her memoir. 3 years in the making.

Each one of these potential heroes is stuck in the middle of a creative forest.

Being stuck in the middle is frustrating and often lonely. You’ve gone beyond that first-love phase when you were struck by the initial inspiration. You’ve moved solidly into the “stand in love” phase. And how do you find your way out of this mess in a way that feels true and empowering – instead of just compromising?

No easy answers. But I will offer some ideas. We all need help, yours truly not excluded.

Draft to discover. Craft to design.

People get tripped up on drafting versus crafting. Writing is mostly rewriting. Still, drafting and crafting each are essential.

Draft to discover more of what you have to say, what your character has to show you, what that experience 12 years ago possibly means. Your own curiosity will drive you through the middle.

Drafting draws us deep.

To craft to design means you simultaneously learn the art of crafting experiences for readers.

You become a story architect who re-sequences drafted parts in ways to captivate readers. When you remember the captivating books that have cracked you open to new ways of imagining, feeling, and thinking, you can appreciate that those authors have absorbed craft knowledge in ways that let them design experiences for you.

Where’s the heart line?

At a certain point you have to ask, “What’s the heart of this book? What’s the heart of the Story?” You have to know your own heart connection. It’s the tender “why” that drives you to stand in love with this book through the difficult middle. It might be a personal story that you will never share with readers – although you might with a media interviewer when the book comes out.

But a Story, regardless of genre, also has its own heart line. One way out of the middle is to discover and trace the heart line.

A book’s “heart line” – versus the plot line – describes the movement from beginning to middle to end of what happens with the main character’s core yearning. Let’s break that down: Main character? Yearning?

Unless you’re truly exceptional at your craft, I’m only giving you memoirists and novelists one main character per book. The one who has the most at stake to lose. The one whose yearning we most clearly are drawn to care about.

Thought leaders, teachers, journalists, and other trade nonfiction authors, your hero is your targeted reader.

Yearning is what burns in the main character’s heart that he or she deeply desires to be fulfilled. In the film Thelma and Louise, naive and wide-eyed Thelma at first simply wants a taste of freedom away from her good ol’ boy husband for a weekend. In the course of the story, that want bursts into full-blown yearning to be free to be one’s true self.

Maybe your character yearns to feel at home in the world. Maybe he desires to fall madly in love again.

The reader of your trade nonfiction book on health might want to relieve her fatigue, but what she yearns for is vibrancy and vitality.

Your book’s core yearning is also your entryway into your readers’ hearts.

I’ve never been a woman married to a good ol’ boy, but I have felt stuck and compliant in relationships and have yearned for a taste of freedom – and my innate empathy goes out to almost any underdog. Thelma’s yearning becomes my yearning. Now I care and can be moved.

Move us.

Shape the opening

Many first-time authors don’t want to mess with the opening. They want to start with the Big Bang of drama. But where to go after that? These writers often avoid the delicate art of establishing and sustaining tension.

Once you discover the yearning, you can play with designing your book’s first part laden with tension. Call it the Broken World or Ordinary World. Call it the Prevailing Problem. It’s the story architect’s entryway that situates readers into this world of characters or concepts you’re asking them to inhabit.

The opening subtly introduces the tension among 1) the character’s situation (she’s married to a dolt), 3) her percolating yearning (freedom!), and 3) her resistance (where would she go? what would she do?).

When you discover your character’s yearning plus the external situation and internal resistance that conflicts with that yearning, then you have the makings for unfolding tension in your readers.

Do you only get one yearning? Yes. For now. If your protagonist or reader has three or four or five yearnings, then you haven’t yet done the work of discerning and choosing. After a certain point, the book’s story deserves your decisiveness.

I’m not talking formulas, you rebels (myself included) reading this. I’m talking core, fundamental Story forms that move your readers with a rewarding experience. That’s the craft you’re devoted to learn, hone, and make your own once you’ve drafted to discover these elements.

What is the Tornado Moment?

We human beings are wired to be curious about and to desire change and also to resist change. Isn’t that funny? And irritating?

In a captivating memoir or novel, something surprising happens that changes the protagonist’s course of action. In a captivating trade nonfiction book, a radical idea or a provocative premise comes along to challenge and change the reader’s course of thinking.

Think: A tornado comes along and drops Dorothy in Oz: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Think: After your character loses her mother, her father, and most of the rest of her family, she makes the craziest decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Coast Trail by herself. (Cheryl Strayed and her memoir Wild.)

Sometimes, this moment in Story is quiet. A decision. Meeting a stranger who becomes an ally. But it arises out of the causal sequencing of the Opening and it launches the character or the reader into the book’s fertile section – the Middle. The Quest.

Then you can better decide what stays in your book and what doesn’t. You clear the middle of clutter.

When if at all is the yearning fulfilled?

Stop the never-ending story. Please.

Look at your drafts and maps. At what point does the character fulfill – or not – that yearning? Dorothy awakens back in Kansas and realizes “There’s no place like home.” Sentimental, maybe, but it moves us. Thelma has her pal gun the convertible gas pedal and launch off the Grand Canyon cliff to reach mythic freeze-frame freedom. Yearning fulfilled.

Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You has a final section that recounts several hero stories of people who have followed their skills to find their passionate work. Yearning fulfilled.

Not everyone in a memoir or novel gets what they want. In trade nonfiction, you’re expected to fulfill your readers’ yearnings. So, if your book has essential concepts or steps, regard them as potential steps toward readers fulfilling their yearning. Then imagine the afterword you can offer.

Know who the real hero is.

It takes vulnerability and courage to send that flare that says, “I need help finding my way out.”

If you’re sticking it out and unravelling the inevitable creative mess of the middle, if you’re willing to finesse your craft on behalf of your Story and the readers who need it, then in my book you are a hero of the highest caliber.

Ultimately, though, you and I know who the real heroes of your potentially captivating book are: your readers. They’re the ones who will love your book in ways you never fathomed and who will be changed or awakened in ways, grand and small.

Your book becomes their magic tool that aids them on their own life’s quest. And that is a wonder.

Jeffrey Davis is founder of the Your Captivating Book Mentorship Program and author of The Journey From the Center to the Page. He and his team help smart-working people shape their Story – in books, platforms, and intentional lives.

Have you ever gotten stuck in the middle of a project before?  How did you find your way out?

Shhh! Here’s the Secret to Prolific Writing

WhispersPlease welcome guest poster Jessica Baverstock to the blog this morning and read her wise words on getting a lot of writing done.

by Jessica Baverstock

 I'm sure just about all of us have witnessed the Tortured Writer Syndrome. Perhaps we've even experienced it personally.

The syndrome begins with a bit of writer's block, some rubbish first draft material, a savage critique or just some good ol' white page fright.

It then grows into the expectation that writing is a difficult, thankless task that requires many hours of hard work with inevitable disappointment at the end.

Eventually this syndrome can even turn the best of writers into a martyr to their craft as they face weeks, months or even years of frustration, without ever feeling the wonder, excitement and exhilaration of what it truly means to be a writer.

Where Does It All Go Wrong?

The process starts getting all twisted when we do too much thinking and not enough actual writing.

Instead of starting our day with a freewrite to get the words flowing (and get the rusty first 300 or so out of our system before we get down to business), we worry about what we're going to produce today.

We start wondering: What am I going to write about? Will it be any good? Do I have anything worth writing about? Will anyone want to read what I'm writing anyway? Within three or four sentences we've completely lost our motivation, stopping up our natural flow with so much negativity that it takes a phenomenal effort every day to overcome it.

Then comes the inevitable writer's block and other woes of the writing life which become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe writing is hard, then it most certainly will become so. Words have power, especially the ones we use on ourselves.

So many writers are in this rut, that they are in the majority – posting, tweeting and talking about their difficulties – when the writers who are prolifically enjoying their writing life are too busy writing to respond.

How do I know?

I'm one of those prolific writers. When my words are in full flow, it's easy to write over 1,500 high-quality words in an hour. I sit down to my computer each morning with a relaxed but expectant attitude.

I feel like Sharon O'Brien who said, "Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say."

So what's the secret?

How Can You Loosen Yourself Up and Making Writing Fun Again?

Here are a few points to get you back on the road to an enjoyable writing life.

• Get the bilge out early. Start your day with a journal entry or a freewrite. If you're in any way nervous about what you're going to write, then set 15 minutes on a timer and pour your thoughts onto the page. Once you've got them out of your head, you'll be amazed at how much lighter and more confident you feel.

• Lower your expectations. You don't have to sit down at your computer and write a best-selling novel. Start writing something true – about yourself, or about life in general – and keep writing that truth until it turns into a narrative and that narrative finds a protagonist and then that protagonist goes on a journey. Allow the words to flow wherever they want to go. When you're finished, then go back and decide what to do with the end result.

• Enjoy the process. Putting words onto the page should be a cathartic experience. It's best done regularly, daily if possible, so that the words literally flow out of you. At the end of your writing day, look for one thing you especially liked about what you wrote, even if it was just a sentence or a word. Carry that positive feeling with you through to your next writing session.

• Ask for help. So many writers struggle with certain aspects of their writing. Don't let this hold you up. Get yourself a writing coach, a creativity coach, an editor or even just a good book on the subject. Invest in yourself. Show yourself that your writing is worth the extra time and effort. An outside perspective will usually pick up on where your problem lies – and you'll often be surprised at how easy the fix is.

• View your writing life as a journey. You're never going to know it all. Even the most experienced writers are still learning and honing their craft. Rather than looking at writing as something you will be graded on, view it as the narrative of your life. As you grow and change so will your writing. Get your story written now so the next story can appear and surprise you.

What about you? How do you keep your writing relaxed and fun? I'd love to read your comments!

Jessica_0551_cropped_sml (1)Jessica Baverstock blogs at Creativity's Workshop where her Creativity writes in purple text. She offers creative coaching for writers. You can read her latest book De-Stress Your Writing Life for free as she blogs it over the coming months.

Guest Post: Serving the Song

Please welcome guest poster Casey Stohrer to the blog today.  Casey is a musician in Nashville and she so happens to be a student of mine, too.  It's hard to predict which is going to happen first–acclaim as a writer or a musician.  Either way, it will be well-deserved.  Stay tuned to her up-and-coming career!

Serving the Song

by Casey Stohrer

CaseyinStudio

Casey in the studio

Bullshit is subjective. When it comes to creative endeavors, anyway. Maybe all that taste is, is how much B.S. a person can tolerate. While an artist can project their beliefs on other art, they must also learn how to project it onto their own work. Part of creating is also identifying your own stinky turds and turning them into manure for the promising flowers of your sick imagination (case in point).

 

I write essays, articles, poems, short fiction, long fiction, medium fiction, research papers for lazy, rich college students, you name it. I also started writing songs about six years ago. The dichotomy between writing fiction and music makes my brain do happy dances. It also drives me insane. Sometimes I have dry spells in my "regular writing" and switch to just writing songs for months, and vice-versa. There is enough of a contrast between the two forms that I can "steal ideas from myself” and keep things funky and fresh.

I joined a country-rock band by the name of Neo Tundra Cowboy a couple years ago. I had never played music in a band before. I had never played music in public before. I had never played bass before. Playing music, to me (and like most other musicians my age), meant getting high in my bedroom and recording my half-serious country songs on a ten-dollar computer microphone, and then posting them to Myspace. But I put myself out there, kept my mind open, and soon I got the call to join NTC and move to Nashville, the place where I always dreamed of having Dolly Parton beehive-hair.

I started to learn bass. I'd played guitar for years, but understanding the role of a bass was something else. Learning to play in a group was something I'd never even thought about. “A good musician knows how to play, but a great musician knows when not to play.” I've heard this saying a thousand times, and I can't tell you how true it is. Playing by yourself, creating anything by yourself, is of course the truest thing you can produce as a sentient being. You are uninhibited and natural. What you are trying to do is be as honest as possible. To yourself. And that is all fine and good. But creating is also an attempt to connect with other people, and that's when you have to learn how to cut and paste and rewrite and overdub. Time and space are intangible until they are needed.

How many times have you seen a crappy band play live? To me, a band is bad when the players have no regard for one another, and just (as I lovingly call it) jack-off all over the place. They seemingly have no idea where they are in the song. The guitarist might be soloing in a way that meshes all wrong with the melodies of the bass player. Or a drummer is playing too many fills, which interrupts the rhythm and throws off the singer. You can play the fanciest, most rippin' solo that anyone has ever heard, but if it doesn't serve the song, then what do you have?

The same goes for writing. James Joyce is a real badass, but sometimes I'm like, “Come on, man.” I like that heavy-hitting, stream-of-consciousness style of experimental writing, but I'm in the business of keeping things as simple as possible. I learned all my artistic philosophies through the Beatles and Charles Bukowski. George Harrison never ripped a 20-minute long guitar solo, but he was still in the greatest pop band of all time. Charles Bukowski never wrote like Shakespeare, but he is the most imitated poet of the 20th century. You know why? Because they knew how to serve the song (or poem). A great musician is not necessarily a technically-perfect performer, but they do know how to listen. A great writer knows how to read. Both Bukowski and George Harrison understood the need for simplicity, to allow negative space to give power to what is already there.

Neo Tundra Cowboy was in the studio last week, and we were recording a sad little country ballad with some honkytonk piano in it. Our guitarist Catfish was laying down this beautiful, jangly piano part, but the producer kept saying it was too much. After some more takes, Catfish had been reduced to playing just the root chords on every fourth beat. It sounded rote and boring on its own, but when the track was being mixed, it sounded perfect. It was just what the song needed to hold it together. Catfish didn't get to showboat on that one, but he didn't care, because the song got what it needed. So many bands have internal drama going on because the players get egos and think they deserve to show-off, all the while the song in question is hanging in the air, waiting for the poor silly humans to get over themselves.

I have stories and songs that hang in the air because I'm too stubborn and proud to change something I really like about them. And then they never go anywhere. The experts call this “writer's block.” Then they say to destroy the thing you love most about your creation, to “kill your darlings,” as you've heard hundreds of times. Then you drink yourself into a stupor and wonder how you came to be a masochist with no money. Then through this degrading process, your ego disappears and then there is nothing but the naked story, the simple root note, which is all you really wanted in the first place. All you had to do was sit back and listen.

Casey Stohrer  plays bass for the band Neo Tundra Cowboy and is currently working on a short story collection about Nashville. 

What about you?  How do you serve your song?  Do you cross-pollinate your writing by creating in different genres?

Living With Ease: Interview with Sandra Pawula

It is my pleasure and honor to offer you this interview with Sandra Pawula.  Sandra writes one of my favorite go-to blogs, Always Well Within, where I find spiritual wisdom and inspiration.  She's a writer herself, so everything she shares speaks to creatives.  Sandra has a new e-course that starts September 9th.  I'm planning to sign up–it's just $21.  Please check it out.  And read her informative comments on easing stress below.

You've been writing a popular blog for quite some time now. What made you decide to offer an E-course?

The purpose of my blog, Always Well Within, is to help others tap into their own inner spring of true happiness and freedom. A blog post can inspire, encourage, instruct, and spark change. But, you can only go so far in a blog post.

I’ve already been facilitating online meditation courses for more than five years. It feels natural to extend that into an e-course via my blog so that I can support people to grow through a process of positive change that occurs over a period of time.

I’ve led a high stress life, and I know it’s not easy to turn stress around, which is the focus of my course. You need a more concentrated immersion and an ambiance of care and support, to begin to retrain these long-held patterns.

What is the greatest enemy to living with ease?

Your own mind. Marcus Aurelius said:

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

This hasn’t changed since the time of Marcus Aurelius, thousands of years ago, and it will never be different now or in the future. Yet, many of us suffer needlessly because we don’t realize we are responsible for our own thoughts, emotions, and perceptions and have the power to change them. Instead, we function on automatic and in a reaction-triggered mode, feeling like a victim of circumstances, relationships, and our own turbulent mind. This can adversely affect your mood, your body, and your overall sense of well-being.

That being said, it’s important to know that some people are genetically predisposed to having a stronger stress response or a weaker relaxation response. Some immune-related diseases may diminish your ability to respond to stress as well. Early nurturing or lack thereof can also impact one’s capacity for resilience. A series of strong stresses that arrive one after the other can also wear out your ability to cope effectively with adversity.

If stress plays a big role in your life, you may be dealing with a unique mix of factors like some those above. If so, it’s critical to take this into account, and at the same time to know it’s still possible for most people to see significant improvement through the mindful use of stress reduction practices.

Stress is endemic in modern life. Physical, emotional, mental, and circumstantial stresses will always occur in your life. But you can learn to intercede and diminish the stress response. The long-term impact of stress can be so debilitating it’s foolhardy not to do so. Stress can be a key element in the development or exacerbation of many disorders like heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, skin conditions, and inflammatory bowel disease, among others. Not to mention it can totally wreck the quality of your life and relationships.

Is it really possible to reduce stress in our crazy new millennium lives?

Absolutely! More than 30 years of medical research has proven this to be so. Here’s one example of cutting edge research from the Harvard Medical School News, which provides an unequivocal yes to this question:

“A new study from investigators at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center finds that eliciting the relaxation response—a physiologic state of deep rest induced by practices such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing and prayer—produces immediate changes in the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion.”

It’s true that our highly active digital engagement – even digital addiction – adds a new dimension to the activation of stress, but we can learn to disengage from time-to-time as part of our personal stress reduction strategy.

Can you share one tip for living with ease?

Breathe! It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it’s always available. Pausing to take a slow, deep breath immediately begins to change your biochemistry. It tells the brain that danger has passed, and it’s OK to relax. But, it's not enough to just breathe once! You need to learn how to breathe, and turn it into a regular practice.

And finally, since my audience is made up of creatives and writers, can you speak to the unique stresses that we face?

Stress takes on so many possible forms in a creative life: Fear of rejection and rejection itself, deadlines, an erratic work flow if you are a freelancer, resistance, lack of motivation or inspiration, finances, juggling your craft with a “real” job. These are just a few ways that stress can manifest for writers and creatives.

If you find stress creeping into your creative life, regular use of mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques will help tremendously. But, you also have to dig deep and be willing to look at what triggers you. Once you know, you can begin to deconstruct the old stories that keep you struck one at a time, or put practical strategies in place that head-off the stress response. Through doing so it will be so much easier to find your flow.

Sandra Pawula is a freelance writer and inner explorer. She writes about finding true happiness and freedom at Always Well Within. Her new e-course, Living with Ease: 21 Days to Less Stress begins on Sept. 9th, and you can register right now.

How do you deal with stress?  Does writing ease it for you as it does for me?  Please share!

Photo by hirekatsu.

Four Writing Lessons Travel Taught Me

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

Four Writing Lessons Travel Taught Me

by Beverly Army Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you learned about writing from travel?

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

 All photos by Beverly Army Williams.  Top to bottom:

–View of Albi from the Toulouse Lautrec museum

–Journal page

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

Guest Post: Creative Fuel

Creative Fuel And the winner is: Julie Schwartz!  Congratulations, Julie, I've sent your contact info to Karen and she'll be in touch with you soon.  (By the way I used this random name selector to choose.)

Please join me in welcoming my special guest post contributor, Karen Caterson, today.   Readers of this blog know that Karen and I have been cyber-buddies for a long time.  She did a wonderful interview with Emma Jean and she and I have taught a class together.  Read to end of this post to learn more about a very special give-away Karen has arranged for readers of this blog!

Creative Fuel

by Karen Caterson

I was born creative.

All my life I've shaped
fabrics and fibers into clothes for stuffed animals, dolls, people, performers
(wait! performers are people) – messed with color in textiles, glass,
language (that's what writing is, right? playing with the colors of language) –
imagined other worlds (and others' worlds – that's what you do as a listener, a
reader, or a therapist, right?).

But despite all those years
of creative play I only recently noticed the BIG connection between my creative
output and my self-care practices.

(This may have something to
do with the fact that, until recently, I've shunned consistency in many areas
of my life. I still have a sign in my office that pays homage to this; it
reads: I may be inconsistent, but not all the time.)

Here's the BIG connection I
noticed: Self-care (substitute self-nurturing if you like) fuels my creativity!
Big time!! There's an exponential relationship – have YOU seen this too?

When I realized that this
connection existed I began to add to my self-care practices (I call these
X-treme self-care practices). I now have quite a number of them, from some that
you hear of quite often – using a gratitude journal, yoga and meditating, watching
Groucho Marx movies – to some that are less commonplace: facial acupressure,
tuning the chakras through sound, infrared foot massage, and whistling at the
top of my whistler.

And I keep adding more!
Sometimes it seems like there's not enough day for all my self-nurturing.

While it might seem
counterintuitive to take time away from creating in order to boost your
creativity, it works!

Self-care practices connect
us with our bodies and the physical world – get us out of our heads (where many
creatives spend a lot of time) – and re-energize us. Which results in more
creativity. 

When my creative work is
supported by self-care my work is more focused, I'm less stressed, more
inspired, and more energized.

And conversely, when I put
off self-nourishing until after creating (or forget it altogether) I become
scattered and less productive (my daughter insists that I add cranky to the
list, but we know that's not true, right?).

The more we practice
self-care the more we see our creativity flourish!

Fitting in enough
self-nurturing – consistently – isn't always easy, though. In the creative rush
to write or make art it's easy to forget self-care (heck, sometimes we
creatives get so involved with our work that we forget to eat!).

For me the struggle is with
scheduling. (I have a wee problem with rules and structure – see note about
inconsistency above – so much so that I even thwart my own rules!
Sigh!).

But I work with that
struggle, and keep looking for ways to incorporate self-care into my life, because
I've seen the difference it makes.

What fuels YOUR creativity?

Please comment on this wonderful post from Karen! When you do, you'll be entered into a giveaway to receive her fabulous new release, the Square-Peg Celebration: Stories of Acceptance & Grace package (MP3 and PDF), which you can read more about here.

I'll draw a name from those who comment on Wednesday, June 5th, one week from today!

And here, in her own words, is Karen's bio:

Hi, I'm Karen Caterson, aka Square-Peg Karen – I write a lot about celebrating your uniqueness, accepting yourSELF and X-treme self-care practices. Visit me at Square-Peg People (http://squarepegpeople.com) and let's get acquainted.

Photo by Lauren Caterson, Karen's talented daughter.

Guest Post: Writing my Fingers to the Bones

Today we have a guest post from mystery writer J.D. Frost.  Regular readers of this blog will recognize J.D. as a loyal reader and commenter.  J.D. is currently working on at least two, and despite my constant entreatries, he does not at the moment have a website or blog I can point you to read.   I was thrilled when I read his guest post submission because he shares a lot of wisdom in it.  So here you go:

Writing my Fingers to the Bones
Television-antiguo-admiral-524705-l

by J.D. Frost

Television is more addictive than potato chips ever
pretended to be. For a while we didn’t watch ours. I put it in the spare
bedroom, nailed the door shut and taped black plastic film over the opening.
You know how it creeps around the edges of the door, like that incessant fog in
those late-night monster flicks. You can’t be too careful.

But somehow my wife saw an episode of Bones and,
to my horror, she liked it! When Christmas 2012 came around, instead of an
electric hand vac, I bought her DVDs of the first season. Now every night at
ten—more regular than most things in my life—we watch an episode on her
computer. We are now on season five.

At first, determined not to let those Hollywood tricksters
take the edge off my piercing intellect (clearing throat), I only cast a
sideways glance at the screen. I might as well have been staring at a swinging
watch, for the show soon had me under its spell.  That left me wondering how to elicit that same wide-eyed
concentration from my readers. I flipped on my analytical switch and came up
with a list.

♦Make your characters strong. Temperance Brennan, aka
Bones, longs for a world ruled purely by science. Underneath, she is very
fragile, but that is a side she steadfastly guards. Booth, her FBI sidekick, is
a rock of reliability. He has a sense of humor, but is also quick with a gun
and a business attitude when needed. Angela is socially wise; Hodgins is quick
to anger, a bit insecure because of his small stature. As episodes progress, nuances
emerge but the gist of each character is carved in stone.

♦Write in scenes. Charlotte has suggested this many
times. When I think of scene in Bones, I think of locale: the
crime scene, the lab, the Royal Diner.…

♦Write scenes within the scenes. After the remains
are found, the arrival of Temperance and Booth is a scene within the scene. As
they approach the body, they banter about something totally unrelated to the
deceased. Keep in mind that though the location may be exotic and very busy,
what we are really interested in is what they say.

♦Conflict—doesn’t every writer’s cousin talk about
the importance of this? A famous writer, whose name I can’t recall, once said:
Everybody wants something. A doorman wishes to leave early. A cook hopes his
diners enjoy their food. The desires of each character influence how they
interact with the major players. To generate sizzle put two major characters on
a colision course.

Don’t feel too guilty about digging your TV out of the spare
bedroom. If your partner screams at you, demanding to know why you aren’t writing,
trying to earn that 7¢ ebook royalty, tell them it’s research.

J.D. Frost is a mystery writer from near the Rocket City.

Image by angelrravelor from everystockphoto.

Why Connection is Important to Writers and Others

Hand_hands_shake_238808_lSo it turns out that connection is way more crazy important than we might have thought.

This probably doesn't come as a huge surprise to writers.  After all, communication is inherent in connection, and we're all about communication.

It's why we blog.

It's why we write novels.

It's why we read the writing of others.

Connection turns out to be a powerful theme in my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, and it is also the topic of a guest post that I have over at Pomogolightly, Beverly Army Williams' blog today.    Hop on over there and give it a read!

Photo by pixelstar.

An Interview You Can Hear

I've got another interview for you today.  It is at my friend Patty Bechtold's blog, Living Deep Studio.   I'm not exactly sure how I stumbled upon Patty–or maybe she stumbled upon me–but I am so glad I did.  Patty brings a deep and gentle respect for self-development and creativity to all her work.

And this interview is a bit different (that's a really cool thing about the publicity I've done for the book–it has sorted itself out to be quite varied in its content).  For one thing, it's in audio version so you can listen to the two of us as we talk.  And for another, we talked more about thematic stuff–creativity and spirituality as it relates to the novel and, well, life.

Give it a listen, won't you?