I spent this just-past Thanksgiving weekend at the beach with a rotating cast of family members in attendance. It was a blast. And, I got some writing done. I woke up early every day and sat at the dining room table and wrote on my laptop. (It helped immeasurably that the house has no wi-fi.)
I’d been struggling with rewriting two chapters, the segments of which needed rearranging. I had looked at them every which way from Sunday and back again. I would get to a point where I thought I had it all figured out and then I would realize it wouldn’t work. So I’d go back to making notes and lining each chapter out and again, it would all collapse and go to that place where plots that don’t work go.
Finally I started writing. I went with my latest organizational scheme (because I thought I had it all figured out) and just freaking started writing. Which is when I realized that what I thought would work wouldn’t. Again. However, this time I found the answer in the writing. The arrangement of scenes flowed effortlessly, organically. No angst or wringing of hands.
While we were at the beach, we spread out a jigsaw puzzle, which turned out to be a very difficult one, so difficult that there was much cheering every time a new piece got fit in. That’s how I felt with my chapters. I figured out the order. Much cheering.
But here’s the main takeaway: START WRITING. It amazes me over and over again how the answers always lie in the writing itself. Why I forgot that and need to remind myself so often is a mystery.
It’s a few days before Christmas, and I still have shopping to do and presents to wrap. And cookies to bake. Forgot about that. So what am I going to do tonight? Watch a Christmas movie, of course. Because, Christmas movie. Enough said.
In general, I’m a terrible movie watcher, which is ironic for a couple of reasons.
#1 is because going to see a film at the movie theater is one of the great pleasures of my life. I love every bit of it; buying the crummy popcorn, watching the stupid advertisements, worrying that the people behind me are going to talk all the way through the movie. There’s something about the good old shared experience of watching a film that I just really enjoy.
And #2 is that I often study–and recommend–screenwriting books to apply to novel writing. Those screenwriters, man they have structure down. And structure is one of the hardest things for a novelist to master, at least in my opinion (and I’m fully aware that might just be my issue, though I see it in students and clients as well). And, yeah, I get it, reading screenwriting books without watching movies is sort of like writing a novel without ever reading one.
But for some reason there never quite seems to be enough time to go to the theater. And I’m terrible about watching movies at home. I get antsy, for one thing. But worse is my genetic propensity to fall asleep in front of the TV set. (I can’t tell you how many stellar performances I missed on The Voice this year.) It truly is genetic. My mother was famous for dozing in her chair watching Frazier, her favorite show, with a stack of half-read newspapers in her lap. My sister falls asleep in front of the TV and so does my daughter, who loves to tell the story of how she fell asleep during one of her first dates with her husband. He did marry her anyway,luckily. Putting up with slumbering women is apparently a prerequisite for marrying into this family. To this day, my husband pretends he believes me when I tell him I’m really not asleep and I haven’t missed a thing.
But Christmas movies. They are different. We have several that are required watching every year, and for some weird reason I don’t fall asleep. I could probably recite every line of every scene of these movies, and yet I don’t get bored and pass out. Go figure.
I have no idea why I don’t fall asleep during them, but I have been thinking about what makes them enduring, and that is just plain old-fashioned good writing: characters you care about, plot lines that have some teeth. With the exception of a couple on my list, you could take the background of Christmas out of them and they’d still work.
I keep waiting for Hollywood to come out with a new classic Christmas movie I can add to my list but that hasn’t happened for quite a few years. In the meantime, here are our favorites:
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There’s no better way to start the Christmas movie viewing season than with this classic of goofiness which really does exemplify the crazy intentions we set for a perfect holiday.
Elf. Yes, Elf. Its a great screenplay and a great cast–James Caan (one of my all-time favorites), Will Ferrell, Mary Steenbergen, Zoe Dechamel. At a dinner party a few nights ago, I was shocked to find people who had never seen this movie. It really is worth it. (It is actually showing at the Laurelhurst, if you live in Portland.)
Love Actually. If I could only watch one Christmas movie, it would be this one. Like all things that have to do with love, it is easy to mock. But I love it. So there. (And if you are a fan, also, here’s a link to some tidbits you might not know about the film.)
Will Watch if There’s Time
White Christmas. I’m not the best for old movies, but I do love this one. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney–what’s not to like? Plus, the ending where the big door opens up and the snow falls down is one of my favorites.
Meet Me in St. Louis. Not technically a Christmas movie, but still. I’m not as big as fan of this as some of the other oldies, but my husband loves it so I watch it. Once in a great while, anyway.
Can Watch Between Christmas and New Year’s
The Holiday. This was a movie that appeared and disappeared in the theaters, but for some reason I love it. In some ways it is tied more to New Year’s Eve and though its set at Christmas, there’s not a lot of Christmas stuff in it.
So that’s my short list of Christmas movies. We’ve managed to watch the first three so far this season. Of course, this year I really am going to the theater the day after Christmas to see the new Star Wars movie. (I don’t even know its proper name. Everyone refers to it as the new Star Wars movie.) And by then I’ll probably be back to my usual falling-asleep-in-front-of-the-TV routine. But I’ll have had my fill of Christmas movies by then.
So, tell me in the comments. What are your favorites? Which movies do you like to watch over and over?
Today is December 15th, which may qualify as last minute for some of you but not for me. I have not bought a single present. But that’s okay, because A. my family has very much cut back on the over-the-top gift giving and B. I am a dedicated online shopper.
So as far as I’m concerned, there’s plenty of time for Christmas shopping. And here are some ideas you might want to share with your beloved families or significant others in case they, like me, need some writerly gift ideas. Here goes:
An online class. James Patterson, famous (infamous?) as the most best-selling author of all time, has a class on novel writing that is actually pretty good, especially for the first-time novelist. (The lovely folks at Master Class gave me a copy of the class and I’ve not made it all the way through, but I have watched some.) It is worth checking out, and you can see a video preview right here. (Also, this is where you should envision a cool photo of Patterson surrounded by all his books. For some reason, it is not coming through when I publish. Weird.)
How about springing for Scrivener? I have so far not mastered the software enough to claim myself as a fan but so many other writers love it so much that I have to include it. You may covet it for yourself, or know another writer who longs for it.
You can’t go wrong with a book. Duh. They are my favorite things to give and to get. Run to your local independent bookseller and buy up a batch, or if you find yourself stranded on a desert island, did you know you can gift Ebooks on Amazon? It’s kind of cool.
Office supplies. Never met a writer yet who didn’t love them as much as I do. Spirals, pens, fancy journals, plain journals, binders, notebook paper. I’d be thrilled with a gift certificate that would allow me to run wild at Office Depot. (One of the best things about my grandchildren is that they both love sitting in my office playing with post-it notes, pens, paper clips and other odd bits.)
How about a coaching package? Really, there’s no better way to jump start your writing and if 2016 is the year you vow to really get it going, this would be a wonderful thing to put on your list. My prices are going up January 1st, so tell Santa to buy a package now and you can use the sessions any time.
A tablet to read on. I have a long, tortuous history of trying to find the perfect tablet to read Ebooks on, starting with the cheapest most basic version of the Kindle, moving through the mini Ipad and the Surface and even a freebie Dell that I bought with my computer last summer (I love my computer but the tablet was a piece of you-know-what). So now I have my eye on the $50 Amazon Fire tablet. At that price-point, you might put it on your list, too.
A stand-up desk. I got this nifty number from Target early last year and I’m working very hard at taking my computer to it part of every hour. Which reminds me, its about time to do that. I couldn’t find the Target link, but it is worth looking for, because I got it very inexpensively there, with free shipping. If you Google stand-up desks, you’ll find a ton of options.
Coloring books. Yeah, they are all the thing right now, but with good reason because they are stress-relievers. I also think they are excellent for brief breaks from writing, for when you need to think. I like this one, for knitters, because I am one, or this line, too.
And finally….the grandest present of them all. How about the gift of time and knowledge? Ask for the tuition to our writing retreat in France. We have only a couple spots left, people, so now is the time to decide! We will be in my most favorite town of them all, Ceret. See you there!
Okay, so those are my ideas. What’s on your list? Please share any and all ideas in the comments.
Yes, I know. It is the holiday season, and whatever holiday (Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, a pagan solstice celebration, your own made up day) you celebrate, odds are good that things are a bit, shall we say, busier than usual.
And, if you are anything like me (I presume you are, because we writers do tend to have certain traits in common) when things get busy, what’s the first activity to go? Yep, writing. This is clearly ridiculous because writing is the most important thing in the world to me (besides my family, of course). So why do I let my writing practice lapse at the first sign of being busy? Let me count the reasons:
Because writing takes concentration, and when I’m busy I don’t have enough bandwidth in my brain to work on my project.
Because in the crush of Christmas activities, writing easily becomes the least urgent item on the to-do list, so it doesn’t get done.
Because going out to Christmas parties and staying up late wrapping presents throws me off schedule and it is hard to get up as early as I usually do.
Because people visit from out of town and expect me to be at their beck and call, and really? I want to be. I want to spend time with them.
Because I ate too much sugar/drank too much wine/insert favorite Christmas vice here and now I don’t feel so good. Surely you don’t expect me to write?
You probably have a few choice arguments of your own to add to the list. But I’m here to tell you why you don’t want to pay any attention to those arguments and carry on with your writing throughout this season, and how you can accomplish this. First the whys:
Because for me, this is one of the most creative times of the year. The dark days of December engender all kinds of new thoughts and plans and ideas. If I didn’t spend time writing, I’d lose all those.
Because when I’m Not Writing, I’m an anxious, miserable mess. I feel like there is something missing. I feel weird and out of sorts. Now, listen, the holiday season messes with our emotions enough—do you really want to add an additional layer of anxiety onto it?
Because I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel when I start writing again. I want to maintain the momentum I’ve created by writing every day or nearly every day.
Because it will make me feel better.
Because it gives me an outlet. When Great-Aunt Matilda tells me my hair looks awful for the tenth time, I can put my anger on the page and let it simmer there instead of inside me.
Yeah right. This is all well and good, but how in the universe am I supposed to accomplish keeping up with my writing. Funny you should ask. I have a few suggestions.
Lower your standards. Of course, your writing is brilliant and you must labor over every word to make it so. But cut yourself some slack this time of year. Allow yourself to write crap. Which brings me to my next point…
Do just a tiny bit. So you usually are a writing machine and you devote mountains of time to it every day. This season, write a pebble’s worth. As in, make yourself sit down for five minutes and be satisfied when you are done. Because…
You need a placeholder. By lowering your standards and lessening the amount of time you require yourself to spend, your keeping your hand in. You are maintaining the momentum and upholding your intention to write regularly. This will serve you very well when Uncle Ralph leaves and your schedule returns to normal.
And also bear in mind… One of the things I love most about my Christmas tree this year its color-changing lights. When the push of a button the lights switch from colored to white. This appeals to my fickle nature. And you can make the concept work for your writing, too. How? By switching the lights. Try writing in your journal every day during these busy times instead of writing a scene. Write to a prompt, or write a memory
from your childhood. Let the writing be different and fun for a few weeks and see what comes out.
And please, if you have any of your own tricks and techniques for maintaining your writing, share it in a comment
*My knitting readers will realize that this quote sounds familiar, and it is—I based it on the famous Elizabeth Zimmerman quote, “Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.”
**By the way, in my last newsletter I offered Complaint Free bracelets to the first 10 people to ask. I still have a couple left. If you want one, hit reply and send me your address!
I hope you are happily opening presents, snacking on cookies, and enjoying the company of family and friends.
I know you are busy today (me, too) and so I'm not going to take much of your time. But I do have a free gift for you. It is….ta dum….a book of writing prompts, one for each day of January. Download it now and you'll be set to begin a consistent writing practice when 2015 dawns.
All you have to do is go here to download it. That's it. You can go now and I'll say, once again, that I hope you are having a wonderful holiday. But if you would like to stick around and hear the story of how this book came to be, feel free.
One of my former students, Amanda Michelle Moon, asked me to put together a book of prompts based on my Tumblr blog for the Noisetrade site and I was delighted to say yes. (By the way, you can see the interview I did with her when her book came out earlier this year here.) Noisetrade is a beautiful site, and its a place where you can discover new authors or music by downloading a sample of their work, or a short book, like mine.
My book features a short introduction about ways to use prompts, and then the prompts themselves–31 of them, one for each day of January. And best of all, it is free, free, free! So go download it and tell your friends as well.
My first thought was that I don't do this kind of thing. This is a blog about writing, for Chrissakes. I thought that very loftily, I might add, especially since its been quite some time since I baked cookies. But then I realized that I have the perfect cookie recipe to share with you. And that a Virtual Cookie Exchange Blog Hop sounded like fun. And that one of my goals over the last couple of months has been to branch out some on this blog, with personal posts every Wednesday.
And so I said yes. To paraphrase something Kristina said on her post about the cookie exchange, the things I do for people.
But, honestly? You are going to thank me for writing this post. You are going to bless me for this cookie recipe. Because it will save your bacon over and over again, as it has for me for years. It is our family cookie recipe that we've all made since forever. It is so easy you can always remember the ingredients, and also you will always have them on hand. You can make it plain and simple, or you can add things to it. (Don't tell anybody, but its really not a Christmas cookie recipe. But if you add stuff to it, you can make it work for the holidays.) And most importantly, this cookie recipe is freaking delicious! As in, eat-every-cookie-in-the-batch-delicious. (The dough is to die for also.)
Also, this cookie recipe is gluten free. It was gluten free long before GF became a thing. Truly, I've been making this cookie recipe for 30 years, and who had heard of gluten free back then? Nobody can believe it when I tell them it has no flour in it. And on dark days when you desperately need sugar you can actually convince yourself that these cookies are good for you because they have protein in them.
Okay, enough of the big buildup, here's the recipe:
World's Best Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
That's it. Those are the only ingredients you need, trust me. Mix everything together and drop spoonfuls onto cookie sheet, then smoosh them with a fork in that way we do with peanut butter cookies (dip the fork in water if you need to). Bake at 350 degrees and check them after 10 minutes, though they will likely take longer.
–My daughter has tried this recipe with Splenda, but it didn't come out so well. You might have better luck, though.
–Add chocolate chips
–To make them more festive for Christmas, put red or green or both sprinkles on them
–You could also try adding M and Ms or other candies as you like.
But they are also delicious just plain!
And now, part of my deal with this exchange is to tag other people to participate. These four will post their recipes and posts in one week, on December 23rd. I choose
Christmas is in two weeks. Urp. How did that happen? So, here's my list of suggested Christmas gifts for the writers in your life. Or for the person who needs to buy a gift for the writer in their life. If you're like me, you'll offer your significant other a long tiny list of suggestions.
1. A book!
Is there any better present than a book? I think not. I've got several possibilities, from friends near and far.
Emma Jean's Bad Behavior. My novel, she said modestly. It's about a woman who loses everything but ends up finding herself. Most of my stories are about that in one way or another.
Dollface: A Moses Palmer Crime Thriller. From my beloved reader J.D. Frost, this thriller will keep you wondering what will happen next, as good thrillers should. It is also a lovely evocation of the city of Chattanooga. Read J.D.'s guest post from earlier this year here.
Swept Upby Kayla Dawn Thomas. A wonderful romance. It kept me company on the plane ride to Paris this year. I did her cover reveal for the book, which you can see here.
These Gentle Wounds, by Helene Dunbar. Another one I've not yet had the pleasure to read, though I did read part of it in manuscript form a few years ago and loved it. Read my interview with her here.
2. Pens (Make great stocking stuffers)
My current favorite is the Tul. (The u is supposed to have a funny little thing over it, but I don't know how to do that.)
3. Notebooks, of course
I'm partial to Moleskines. But I also just bought the Circa system from Levenger for my 2015 bullet journal, and I'm excited to see how it works.
4. A class on Udemy
One of my favorite novelists, Rachael Herron, has one on how to write a book. It's aimed toward beginners, but I figure you can always glean something from everything you read/watch. Speaking of watching, keep an eye out for sales on Udemy–they have them all the time. Like serious, 75% off sales.
In a previous post, I confessed how setting specific goals doesn't work well for me. So maybe I should learn how to change that? I'm a big fan of Michael Hyatt, and he has a goal-setting workshop here.
7. Post-It Notes
I cannot exist without mine. I use them for everything. My desk and calendar and to-do lists are covered with them. So are my notes for my novel rewrite. Great stocking stuffers.
Stalled on your book? Need a jump-start? Hit me up! You will be amazed and thrilled at how working one-on-one with a writing coach can get you going.
10. A Stand-Up Desk.
I like the looks of this one. I'm currently in the very long process of moving my office from upstairs to downstairs so I've not bought one yet, but its on my list for early in 2015. I sit way too much, and I'd like to have the option to set my laptop on a pedestal and stand.
Those are my suggestions. What are you asking for for Christmas this year? What are you giving? Please leave a comment.
Today is Thanksgiving in the United States, a day to eat too much turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, and show our gratitude for, well, everything. And because of that, I highly doubt that many of you are reading blog posts or newsletters today. So I'm going to keep things simple today, with a reminder that nearly all of us can appreciate:
No Whining on the Yacht.
I get that there are many people suffering all around the planet. I am deeply, truly sorry for their pain and wish I could wave a magic wand and have it all go away. However, for most of us–likely you who are reading at this very moment–things are pretty good, at least comparatively speaking. We are passengers on a yacht and rather than appreciate it, we complain.
Things are good are for me, too. Yes, I would love to lose a few pounds. And gain a few dollars. And I wish to God my house were more organized. But, honestly? Beyond that I am rich in blessings. I have great health, a satisfying career, a wonderful family and a passel of amazing friends. I have a warm house with a fire we light on cold nights, and a big backyard with a deck we enjoy on warm nights. I have hobbies I enjoy. Two fat cats and two adorable grandchildren.
I get to rise every morning and write, which besides the afore-mentioned grandchildren, is my biggest blessing in the world. I am rich in blessings. I am dripping in them. I am immersed in them.
And sometimes I forget that. I think we all do. Instead, I like to bitch and moan about things. Kvetch about the state of the world. Go on…and on…and on about what's wrong and why it is so unfair to me.
But more and more these days, I am working to catch myself when I do this. Because, complaining is really nothing more than a bad habit. And so, on this day designed to remind us to count our blessings, I offer you this:
Will Bowen started this project as a little thing his church could take on and it mushroomed into an international movement. You can order his bracelets (cheap and well worth at $10 for 10) and wear it to remind you not to complain. Every time you do complain, you switch the bracelet to the other arm. The goal is to go 21 days without complaining.
A brief aside: one thing I've noticed about my efforts to quit complaining is that I may not always be able to stop myself from complaining, but if I catch myself I can then ask myself why I'm complaining. And sometimes that reveals a deeper concern that needs to be addressed. (And sometimes often it just reveals me being bitchy.)
So go forth and quit complaining. No whining on the yacht, guys!
I'd be grateful if you left a comment telling me what you are grateful for!
Yay! It's autumn, my favorite season. There's something about this time of year that I just love–the crisp days and fall color, the nummy seasonal food (apples and butternut squash, anyone?) and, of course, Halloween.
I always feel a sense of personal renewal at this time of year, stretching on through the dark days of December. It's because for so many years I returned to school come September, going back to a whole new slate of things to learn.
And now, with the cooler temperatures here at last, there's no better time for writers. So, herewith are my suggestions for celebrating autumn.
1. Sit by a roaring fire and write. Okay, you don't even have to do the fire part–just write. Gone are the distractions of summer and it is likely raining or cold outside. Sit your butt down and write.
2. Curl up in bed and read a good book. Pile on the comforters and duvets and pull out your Kindle or your book. There's no better time than a autumn day to get lost in a book. And one of the best things about being a writer is that reading is a big part of the job description!
3. Drink a pumpkin spice latte. If that doesn't get you going, nothing well. (Actually, when I was in the Salt Lake City airport on my way home from Paris I got a pumpkin spice latte from Seattle's Best Coffee. Um, they put pumpkin spice in the whipped cream, people! It's fantastic!)
4. Take a long walk and scuff through fallen leaves.Julia Cameron says that walking is one of the best things for creativity and I agree–it clears your mind and allows new thoughts to enter.
5. Conquer stress at last. Stress is the cause of most, if not all of our ailments, including, I would venture to say, writer's block. So let's slay that dragon this fall, shall we? My dear friend Sandra Pawula offers a wonderful home study course to do just that. Click on the Living With Ease button to the right and check it out!
6. Make leaf placemats. There's a myth afoot that taking time for creative projects other than writing will just take you away from your WIP. But the opposite is true–creativity breeds creativity. So here's a fun project (especially good if you have tiny humans around, but they aren't strictly necessary): Collect a variety if colorful leaves and lay them on one sheet of wax paper, cut to the size you want your placemat. Then place shavings and bits of crayons around the paper. Cover it with another sheet of wax paper, and using a sheet or something to protect the iron, press together. Voila! Leaf placemats.
7. Commit to a new project.Nanowrimo is coming up in just a couple of weeks. Who wants to write a novel in November? You've got just enough time to dream up some characters, plan the plot, create a world, before starting writing on November 1.
8. Finish a current project. As I write this, it is Mercury Retrograde, the perfect time to return to unfinished projects. Most writers I know have a story or two or twelve languishing unfinished on their computers. Pull them out and polish them off!
9. Watch a movie.Watching movies (and TV shows) can help you understand structure and dialogue and scenes. To me, there is something positively decadent about taking time for a movie on a week-day afternoon. So I give you permission to do it.
10. Start a journal. I'm a big fan of journaling, in all its permutations. I am off and on with it, going stretches without setting pen to diary, but then suddenly I will feel like I absolutely must write in a journal again. (This happened to me most recently in France.) Regular journal entries help you create flow in your writing and are good for noting all the things you want to incorporate in your work.
11. Take a nap. Dreaming is good for writing–and the soul.
12. Bake an apple pie. Or an apple crisp. Or a pear crisp. Or a crumble. The apples and pears are so delicious right now and there's nothing more satisfying then assembling a nummy dessert. Then you can eat a piece while doing #1, #2, or #3.
Well, I could go on, but you'd likely get tired of me raving about all things autumn. (I didn't even get to Halloween, my second favorite holiday!) So I will just turn the floor over to you–what are your favorite autumn activities? Please comment!