Writing

Je Reviens: The Power of Scent

JeReviens1Many, many, many, many, many, many (okay, I'll stop now), years ago in college, my favorite perfume was Je Reviens.  This was a perfume that stopped men in their tracks, causing them to ask me why I smelled so good.  I clearly recall one instance of this when I sat studying in the EMU Fishbowl.*  A frat boy sitting two booths away yelled over to ask the name of the perfume that was distracting him. There was just something about this scent–and maybe the way it reacted to my skin–that enticed people, including me.  

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure my sister Alice, who was an airline stewardess for TWA back in the days when they were still called stewardesses and TWA still existed, must have brought me bottles of Je Reviens from Paris. I quit wearing perfume for a long time and forgot about Je Reviens. But flash forward a gazillion years, to last summer, when the hub and I were in Paris on our way home from Pezenas.  I decided to try to find a bottle of Je Reviens to take home.  The glitzy–and intimidating–perfume store on the Champs Elysees, which sells every perfume known to man, didn't have it.  And the bored ladies who worked there hadn't heard of it.  I asked everywhere I found a place they sold perfume–at a cute little store at the base of the Sacre-Coeur Cathedral in Montmarte, at a shop in Montparnasse, where we stayed.  But nobody seemed to have heard of it.  (I'm certain my terrible French pronunciation had nothing to do with it.)

Upon my return home, it finally occurred to me to ask my friend Angela about the perfume.  She is a perfume writer, you see (as well as being a wonderful mystery writer).  She immediately told me she had some vintage Je Reviens she'd found in an antique shop and she would decant some for me. (See photo.)  She also explained that the perfume had gone through several incarnations recently and was still available, albeit in a watered-down, drugstore version.  I carried my sample home with reverence and stuck it in my bathroom cabinet to use for special occasions.

I am wearing it today.  I'm not going anywhere special–I'm not going anywhere at all.  I sprayed it on to cheer myself up after the WORST allergy attack that anybody has endured, ever, happened to me yesterday.  And it has done the job.   It brought back all kinds of pleasant memories, as noted above, and it has also made me ponder the power of scent in writing.

Firstly, smells transport us to other times and places.  A whiff of a hawthorne bush, and I'm a little kid again, at my Aunt Betty's house in Hillsborough, California.  The smell of corndogs and I'm at the Rose Festival Fun Center carnival that assembles itself every year along the waterfront here in town.  (They call it CityFair now to try to jazz it up.) The aroma of sage transports me to New Mexico. Inhaling Je Reviens brought back all the memories I wrote about above.  And these are rich veins, people, rich veins.  You could do worse than to line up some smells to use as prompts.  Take a whiff and start writing.

And second, smells can be just as evocative in our writing.  Adding aroma to your descriptions helps to bring it alive–and yet it is probably the least taken-advantage-of sense.  In my just-submitted novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, my agent challenged me to do a better job of evoking the smell of the protagonist's macaron shop.  Erp.  Here's what I came up with: 

And there was no other word for the smell of it but heavenly—that faint whiff of sugar, like cotton candy at the fair, or an ice cream cone on a hot summer day, the aroma that called to mind the best day of your childhood, or maybe your whole life.

Not holding myself up as the paragon of descriptive writing here, but rather illustrating how I equated smell with emotion rather than try to evoke it exactly. Because, how do you describe smells, other than to use the noun of what they come from–rose, for instance, or grass?  I think that's why writers shy away from using smell in their descriptions.  But I urge you to try.

So, yeah, 700-some words later and I've written a blog post, all inspired by my perfume.  The power of scent, indeed.

*The EMU at the University of Oregon was the scene of the famous food fight in the movie Animal House, and also one of my favorite scenes of all time, when John Belushi says, "I'm a zit."  Just to balance the sweetness of this post, here's the clip:

 

How do you use smell in your writing?

How to Establish a Regular Writing Practice

I love headlines and titles that promise me they are going to teach me something basic, like a few years ago when a book came out titled, How to Think.  Now that's basic.  So I was going to title this How to Practice but then I thought perhaps that was too vague, because one can practice a lot of things besides writing.  Like the ukelele, or meditation, or making perfect. Practice-makes-perfect-concept-23764447  

So here we go with some advice on how to establish a regular writing practice.

The impetus for this is an article by Antonya Nelson about her tips rules for writing that a friend sent. The rule I keep pondering is this one, #8:

Be tolerant of dry spells. Understand that being a writer is not illustrated solely by the act of typing. Mulling, reading, meditating, lollygagging, cooking, joking, traveling, watching television—all activity, as pursued by a writing sensibility, is potentially the stuff of writing.

I am the first to acknowledge that creativity comes in cycles, and sometimes you just have to wait it out until it comes back again.  But I also know, and have observed in myself and others, that "being tolerant of dry spells" too often turns into Not Writing.  Period.  And that those dry spells you are so happily tolerating can stretch for months and then years and then a lifetime and then there you are–you've become that person who put her unfinished novel in the drawer and there it sits for your children to find after you are dead.

So that's why I think that a regular writing practice is a good idea.  You don't have to be writing brilliant words on your potential bestseller of a novel regularly.  You can write in a journal, or just free-write on prompts, or scrawl a one-stanza poem every day, or nearly every day.  In my humble experience, writing, no matter what kind, leads to more writing.  And if you're a writer, as you and I are, you are not truly happy unless you are writing something.

So, write already.  Here's help for how:

1.  Follow your natural rhythms.  I'm a morning writer.  I love getting up at 5:30 and heading straight to the page.  By evening all I want to do is down sip a glass of wine and watch TV or read.  My brain is not alive enough for writing.  But you may be the opposite–I know plenty of people are. Go with what works best for you.  I know, simple advice, but I myself have spent years trying to twist myself into what others think best and I suspect you have, too.  Because that's what we humans do, crazily enough.

2.  Define what regular means.  Maybe regular to you is not once a day, but two or three times a week.  Or once a week.  Whatever.  My whole life and my coaching are built around encouraging people to discover what's best for them and then do more of it.  But here is where I step away from that platform and remind you that in defining regular, you need to commit to more than once a year. Or even once a month.  Because practice means "the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use." (I got that from consulting the Google.)

3.  Set a reasonable goal.  I know, I hate the G word, too.  I really do.  I start squirming in discomfort when I read books written by logical, left-brained business types about accountability and all that.  And sometimes I rebel against my own goals.  But I still think they are useful.  Set yourself a word count or page goal and have at it.

4.  Lower your standards.  You don't have to write the whole novel in one week, nor should you. Books get written one word at a time, so all you have to do is get yourself to the page and write a few of those words.  Julia Cameron talks about how three pages a day doesn't seem like much–but at the end of the month you've got 90 pages, which is one-third of a novel.  I read a book last summer (forgive me, the name of it has escaped into the ether) in which the author recommended a writing practice of a few hundred words a day.  That, my friends, is achievable by anyone.

5. If all else fails, give up.  Walk away from it.  Throw up your hands and say forget it.  Release your dream of being a writer.  Because here's what I think: you really do want to be a writer.  And writers write.  So if you give it all up and are able to stay away from it and not write, then you're not really a writer.  But if you really are a writer–and I'm certain you are–you will not be able to stay away.  And you'll figure out a way to make it a regular practice in your life.

What are you best strategies for making writing a regular practice?  Please share in the comments!

12 Ways for Writers to Celebrate Autumn

Marquette_Sugarloaf_beautiful_249786_lYay! 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!

Writing by Hand Versus Writing on the Computer

Do you favor writing by hand or on the computer?   Painted-printed-blue-401-l

This may well be one of those never-the-twain-shall-meet dichotomies.   

We all start out writing by hand as little kids, and for many of us that remains the preferred method of composition.  For years I've taken lots of notes by hand before I switch to the computer.  I even wrote half of a novel by hand once.  (I ended up abandoning that novel, so I'm not sure what that says.)  

And, for years, I've been a proponent of writing by hand when journaling or free writing.  There's a more direct connection between hand and brain when you are writing by hand.  And sometimes it is helpful to step away from the computer with paper and pen to write.  (For other benefits, read this article.)

But lately I've been rethinking my position.   I've noticed that when I write by hand, I get bored quickly and can't seem to force my pen across the paper.  I quickly get into a this is stupid, why am I bothering frame of mind and I quit.  A client and I were talking about this yesterday and she said when she writes by hand what comes out on the page feels very juvenile and not at all adult.  I love that–I know just what she means.

And another problem is that my handwriting is increasingly difficult to read.  (Just ask my husband how hard it is to read my grocery lists.)  When I write something that I want to keep, it is hard to find it in the scrawl of my journal pages.  And often when I go back, I'm unimpressed with what I wrote anyway.  I've read that some people take all their free writes and put them onto the computer, but I simply don't have time for that.  So many of my free writes are not about much of anything and I use them as warm-up exercises.

A month or so ago I bought a book called Writing From the Senses: 59 Exercises to Ignite Creativity and Revitalize Your Writing.  I've not made it very far in the book, but what I read in the introduction changed my writing life.  Here's what Laura Deutsch, the author of the book, wrote:

"A word on whether it's better to write by hand or on the computer.  Many people feel there's a heart connection when writing by hand.  I, too, feel a difference.  Yet, I usually write on my computer because I can write faster and because I can save my freewrites."

So, apparently all it takes for me is for one person to give me permission because ever since I read that I've been off and running, doing freewrites and writing practice on the computer.  Last week, I did a journal entry of sorts on the computer–I wanted to remember an experience I'd had and hand writing it just seemed way too onerous.  

Now I'm a huge proponent of freewriting on the computer.  And, the thought occurs that this may be a phase I need to go through and that some day I'll get back to writing a lot by hand.  But, whatever–I don't care.  As long as words are getting on the page one way or another, I'm happy!

What is your favorite way to write?  Please leave a comment.

Photo by brokenarts.

The One Thing You Need to Do to be a Successful Writer

Okay, are you ready?  I'm about to reveal it all.  The one and only thing you need to do to be a writer, that will guarantee you success on some level.

And that is… Mlab-gary-hamel-1921221-h

Drum roll, please….

The one thing you need to do to be a successful writer is to write.

You need to write regularly, every day if you can.

You need to throw words at the page without worrying about the end result, or how the words sound, or anything else except putting one word after another on the page. 

And that is all you need to do.

That one thing is the simplest thing there is.  And the hardest.

But its all you need to do.

And, honestly?  All my advice, all seven years of it contained in 1078 posts, boils down in one way or another to that.

So quit reading the blog already and go write.

(But come back on Thursday, when I'll have a wonderful guest post about ways to overcome writer's block.)

Do you write every day regularly?  Is it easy or hard for you to do this?

Photo by jurvetson.  I'm not sure what it depicts, but I loved it.  All those words and diagrams!

How Do You Define Writing Success?

"Visualize this thing you want.  See it, feel it, believe in it.  Make your mental blueprint and begin."  Robert Collier

Copper-canal-path-432055-l

The importance of getting clear

We're all well-versed in goal-setting, becoming certain about what we want, and visualizing our outcomes. Knowing what you want is a no-brainer, because how can you get "there" if you don't know what your "there" is?  This process is often compared to traveling without a map.  Sure, you can get from New York to Los Angeles without one, but your route is apt to be far from the least efficient path if you go any which way that presents itself.  

As writers, it is paramount that we understand what we want to achieve.

It's just that these days there are so many possible paths that might get us to writing success.  And it's difficult to achieve clarity on what we want when there are so many options.  Let's look at some of them.

 

Paths to Success

Legacy publishing

Indie publishing

Teaching/coaching

Freelance writing

Ghostwriting

Novel writing

A myriad of choices. But which one is the path that is your heart's desire?  Maybe it's a path I didn't list here, who knows?  Only you.

Years ago, I was doing a lot of feature writing for newspapers and regional magazines. I'd go interview somebody and come home and shape it into a story.  But increasingly as I progressed in my career, I found that I wanted to make stuff up because it would create a better story.   I'd look over the quotes from the interview and find myself wishing that the interviewee had said something just a little different, because it would be so much more interesting that way.  This is when I turned to learning the craft of fiction.

The Path Gets Muddy

And, then there's the slight problem of making a living.  Most fiction writers don't exist financially on their novels and stories alone.  They have to teach, or freelance, or ghostwrite, or something.  And when doing something else, it is oh so easy to get distracted by it, lured into thinking that this is what you really want to do.

This has happened to me.  Even though since the day I started writing fiction I knew I wanted to be a novelist, I've taken a number of creative U-turns along the way, mostly for the sake of earning a living.  I've taken on soul-sucking ghostwriting jobs and convinced myself this kind of writing was great.  I've let business coaches cajole me into focusing on branding myself as a content and copywriter–areas I'm not good at and that I loathe.  And I've been enticed by the lure of internet information marketing. When all I really wanted to do was write novels. 

It's very, very easy to lose your way when the path gets murky.

And that is my point today.  If you can get very, very clear on your heart's desire, at least you can make concrete steps towards attaining it.  Probably won't happen all at once, but hey, the journey is the destination–and nowhere is that more so than writing.

An example of this is my recent foray in indie publishing.  I'm not breaking sales records or hitting the bestseller list, but I'm learning something new, enjoying getting my work out in different ways, and most importantly taking steps toward doing what I love doing the most–writing fiction.

What is your heart's desire as a writer? Are you taking steps to achieve it?

Photo by familymwr

Are You a Big Picture or a Little Picture Writer?

Frame_picture_gold_263287_lDo you like working with the tiny details or the grand sweep of things in your writing?

I'm in LA, visiting my dear friend Suzanne, researching some locations for my next novel, and launching into the edits for Emma Jean.  This combination of work has me thinking about little picture writing and big picture writing.

Little picture writing = Edits for Emma Jean (the tiny things like approving comma changes and so on).  You could include specific details, description, scenes and final polishing.

Big picture writing = Scouting and visualizing locations for the next novel.  It might also translate as theme, premise, character motivation, and story.

See the difference?

Little picture writing encompasses all the little beats and details that, taken together, create a novel.  The truth is, novel writing is a back and forth process between the little and the big.  You write dialogue between two main characters and realize that what you just wrote impacts the theme.  You tinker with a scene near the beginning of the book, tightening and honing it, and see that what you just did impacts everything that follows it, all the way to the end.

It's important to be able to think both big picture and little picture, though most people are more comfortable with one mode or the other.  (I'm a big picture gal myself.)  Because if you can't think big picture, you're going to have trouble coming up with an overarching structure for the novel.  And if you can't think little picture, you're going to struggle with writing scenes that make the reader feel like she's there.

Anne Lamott, in her writing classic Bird by Bird, tells of keeping a small picture frame on her desk.  If she flounders in her writing, she picks up the frame and peers through it, reminding herself that all she needs to write about is what she can see through that frame.  This is a great reminder for writers.  And yet, you need to keep the big picture in mind, too.  You need to be able to write the little picture that you see through that frame while keeping the big picture firmly in mind.

It's really not that hard, and I think its good for you, because I'm pretty sure it engages the whole brain.  But if you battle with big picture writing, remember this: it's really just a bunch of little picture writing strung together.  And if you struggle with little picture writing, ponder the following: it's really just the big picture divided into portions.

I'm simplifying wildly, of course.  But that's because more and more these days I'm seeing that what this writing game is about is just writing.  Clearing away the worry and the obsessing and the advice and the critiquing and just writing.

Which is the hardest thing of all to do.

So, tell me.  Are you more comfortable with the big picture or the little picture?

If you do struggle with writing novels, you might be interested in my Get Your Novel Written Now class which begins next week.  In four weeks you'll be raring to go!  Check out the page with more information here.

Photo by melodi2.

 

Question, Question, You’ve Got Writing Questions? I’ve Got Answers

Question-trade-world-11479-lI had a brainstorm yesterday. 

As is my wont (for some reason I absolutely love that phrase), I was visiting my usual haunts on the internet, among them the Pioneer Woman's blog.  And there I found that she is putting on her advice columnist hat and answering questions about reader's problems.

And the thought occurred that I could do the same thing.  Only about writing.  Or getting inspired to write.  Or maintaining a writing practice.  Or my upcoming classes.  Or my coaching.  Or any of the gazillion things we talk about on this blog.

So, here's the deal.  If you have a question about an aspect of writing, write it out in the comments below.   Make sure you're signed up so your name and blog name appear so I can give you a shout-out, and why don't you throw in a bit about what you're working on?  (If you'd rather be anonymous, send me your question via email with Writing Question in the subject line so I don't miss it.)

I'll gather up your questions and do my best to answer them, starting next week.  If I've got a long answer, it'll make up one post.  Short answers will be grouped.  And if I don't know the answer to something, I'll do my best to steer you to a resource that will.

So come on, now.  Don't be shy.  What are your writing questions?

 

So Go Write Already

One of my students said something about writing and the teaching of writing that resonated with me.  She said, basically, that every writing teacher says the same thing in different ways. 

What is it that we say? Finger-blank-paper-25643-l

The way to become a writer is to write.

Period.

The big secret is that there is no secret.

It's all about putting words on the page.

Now, every writing teacher, myself included, has come up with various tips and tricks to get yourself to the page.  But they are all variations on a theme. 

The theme being, go write.

So what are you doing reading this blog post?  Go write, already.  You could start by writing a comment about what most often keeps you from the page.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: You know what I'm going to say.  Go write.

Photo by OmirOnia.

Balance vs. Excellence

Everystockphoto_187217_mA Post Wherein I Explore Two Approachs to Writing and Confess I Don't Know Which is Best.

Let's begin with balance.  It has been a bit of a massive buzz word the past few years, with experts telling us we need it in our lives and offering advice on how to achieve it.  Seems it's what we're all looking for, that elusive balance between working hard and taking time off to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

What does balance look like?  For me, its something like this:

–I rise early after sleeping well.

–I head to the computer, ignore my email inboxes, and work on my novel.

–After a rousing writing session, I eat breakfast and shower.

–The rest of the day is spent working on assignments or coaching.

–After dinner I take a walk and am able to relax and watch trash TV or read.

Plenty of time to work, plenty of time to relax.  Balance.

But lately, I've read some things dissing balance, saying it really isn't all that it's cracked up to be.  That balance equates mediocrity and who wants to be mediocre?  Chris Guillebeau, whose writing I admire, wrote about it a few weeks ago (and of course, now I can't find the exact link.  But go check out his site anyway.  After you're done here, of course.

What does the other way look like? (Loosely, we'll call it the pursuit of excellence.)

–It looks the same throughout the day, with the exception that I probably rise earlier.

–After dinner, I'm not wasting my life watching stupid TV.  Nuh-uh.  I'll return to my office and work late into the night, only to get up early and do it all again the next day.

As I was writing this post, I got an email from somebody hyping a telecall discussing how important it is to achieve balance, because if you don't, you'll blow out your adrenals, with drastic consequences to your health.  Which is the antithesis of working all hours to finish a project.

So what's a writer to do?  Which way to seek?

My answer: I dunno.

What I do know is that my life bounces between the two extremes and I suppose that is its own kind of balance.  I love, love, love the days when I've had a satisfying and productive day and can knock off by 5:30 or so.  But I kind of like the weeks when I'm madly working to finish a million things, and return to my computer for at least an hour, if not longer, in the evening.

As a vote for the side of balance, I know that creativity begins in the darkness, in the quiet hours we sit in silence and if we're rushed and stressed new ideas are not going to arrive in our psyches.

As a vote for the side of excellence at all costs, I also know that I desire to create a life and body of work of high caliber and have no desire to be mediocre.  And if that requires staying up late a few nights, so be it.

How about you?  What works best for you?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Experiment with scheduling your writing and other responsibilities and see what works best for you.

Check out my new coaching packages when you get a chance!

Photo by dancerinthedark.