What I’m Reading:The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena, a book I picked up on a whim from the “Lucky Day” shelf at the library. I started reading is Saturday evening after teaching all day, read after two small boys I babysat that night went to sleep, read with breakfast Sunday morning, and finished after church that afternoon. It is a page turner!
I’ve also been working a bit with Story Genius: How To Use Brain Science To Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel. The author, Lisa Cron, had me at brain science. I love that stuff. But in truth, there’s not a whole lot if in there. I have mixed feelings about this book. I love the first part of it, in which she has you dig deep into your protagonist’s inner journey. But I get a little nervous when people tell me exactly how to structure scenes and plot. I always welcome guidance on this, but I don’t want to follow any one system slavishly. There’s a lot of great stuff in this book, though, and it is well worth reading, if you complete her exercises or not.
What I’m Watching: Same stupid sitcoms from last week. However, I’m happy to report that many of you also watch them. I feel vindicated. And, in the Department of Confessing How Pedestrian My Tastes Are, next week my favorite show starts up again. That’s right, its time for The Voice. One of the reasons I love this show is that it demonstrates what it takes to make it.
What I’m Loving:The Writer’s Almanac, which is a daily newsletter you can sign up to have delivered to your inbox. For the love of all that is good and holy, why haven’t I known about this before? It features a poem, and a quote about writing, and then a couple longish almanacky-type articles about something of interest–a person born on that particular day, etc. Bonus: you can listen to Garrison Keillor read the whole thing. One newsletter this week featured the poem Recuerdo, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Again: why don’t I know about this kick-ass poet and the amazing life she led? (Okay, don’t answer that, it’s because I tend to ignore poets and poetry. To my detriment.)
Convincing a group of at-risk teens that writing is not only a useful activity, but a fun one, could be a bit of a challenge, wouldn't you say?
And that was my charge at a workshop I co-lead on Monday for an organization I volunteer for, Step It Up. The nonprofit hosts a Career Club for high schoolers, giving them practical information on job-related activities such as business site visits, resume writing, informational interviews, and writing cover and thank you letters. After a few months of this training, they graduate to actual internship positions.
But first they have to learn to write those resumes and cover letters. And in order to do that they need to get over their fear and hatred of writing. Which was our goal on Monday. We led them through a variety of creative activities (anagrams, how many images can you draw in the circles, etc.) to loosen them up and then got to the writing.
Here was the brilliance (it was my co-leader's idea, so I can say that) of it: in order to illustrate the writing process, first we had them glump, then we had them write Haiku. Thus showing how the initial step is to put everything out on the page in one glorious brain dump, and the second step is to fit it into a specific structure, such as a Haiku. Expansion and contraction. We had them free-write on one career-related word of their choice, and then compose a Haiku using that same word.
I started thinking how useful an exercise this two-step process could be for writers, to loosen yourself up and get the juices flowing. Try it:
1. Glump. Set a timer, use a prompt or a word, and write. Keep that hand moving across the page. Don't censor yourself or even think very much.
2. Review. This is an optional step, but it can be helpful to go through your glump and highlight sentences, words or phrases you like.
3. Write a Haiku. Take the same prompt or word and write a Haiku about it. As a refresher, a Haiku is a three-line poem. First line is 5 syllables, second line is 7, third line is 5 again.
The great thing about Haikus is that they can be lyrical and descriptive, or silly and fun. I once had a weeks-long email exchange with my wonderful friend Suzanne, in which we entertained ourselves by writing only in Haiku.
So try it and let me know how it works out for you. Leave a Haiku in the comments if you feel so inspired.
And remember, if writing Haiku fails to inspire you, my Get Your Writing in Gear sessions are on special through the month of March
Thus beginneth a new feature, the Creative Cognoscente Interviews.
For the record, Cognoscente is pronounced kon-yuh-shen-tee, and it means: persons who have superior knowledge and understanding of a particular field…
Nobody better fits that definition than Tara Sophia Mohr, whose interview kicks off this new series. I'm not sure how I first stumbled on Tara's blog, Wise Living, but I know that once I did I stuck around for quite awhile to explore her many prose and poetry posts and to peruse her website.
Tara was gracious enough to agree to an interview and answer the many questions I threw her way. I think you'll find her answers incredibly inspiring and I'm anxious to get right to it, but first let me tell you a bit more about her (and I hope she forgives me but I snitched this info directly from her site):
Tara's work focuses on teaching personal growth through coaching, writing and group programs.
Her writing on personal growth has been featured in USA Today, Forbes, Ode Magazine and many other publications. She's a regular blogger for the Living section of the Huffington Post, and is currently at work on a book about living an authentic life.
Tara is a certified coach, trained by The Coaches Training Institute in an intensive, two-year program.
CRD: I'm really drawn to your poetry and judging by the comments on your poetry posts, I'm not the only one. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for, and the process of, writing them?
TSM: I truly feel the poetry has very little to do with me, but I feel very grateful to be the vehicle for it. Usually, I’ll start to hear a couple lines in my head and when that happens, I try to stop and take them down right away. I pull over on the road if I need to. I write on napkins in the bathroom if I need to.
That part is pretty much just being open to a voice that is coming through.
My role comes later – when I look at all that material and edit, filter, put in order, mine for the gems. This can be tricky because sometimes my conscious mind wants to edit out what is actually the best stuff – because my conscious mind doesn’t get it at first (or ever). So I’m learning to feel my way through that and be discerning.
My other role with my poetry is setting up the conditions in my life so that I can even hear that inspiration, so that I’m a good vessel for the poetry to come through. That’s the foundation for any poetry happening at all.
Those conditions include: making time for uninterrupted writing, staying in the habit of writing, reading other works that inspire me, processing my own negative emotions and icky energies so they move through me, being on my own inner path, and going to bed and waking up early – since the early morning is when I tend to be most able to really access something bigger than me in my writing.
CRD: Is your process for writing prose similar? Do you know setting out which you'll be writing?
TSM: My prose is more directed by me, by my left-brain. It’s more of a dance of equal partners between me and the muse (vs. poetry where the muse or whatever that other force is is definitely leading.) Prose is more informed by my personal experience, my knowledge my personality. With poetry, I’m learning from the poems as they come through.
CRD: You write for the Huffington Post—how did this come about? You also write for magazines such as Forbes, USA Today, and Ode Magazine (one of my favorites). I know many of my readers would love some advice for putting themselves out there and connecting with the big guys….
I started writing again about two and a half years ago, after a long hiatus that my inner critic helped me take.
I knew I wanted to write a book with a mainstream publisher. I started talking to publishing folks, who responded very positively to my writing, but said I needed a platform – an existing audience — to get a book published. Some literally said, “We love your work! Call us back when you have 5000 people on your mailing list.” At that point I had 38 people reading my blog, so this was totally daunting.
It was a step by step process. I looked around for other personal growth blogs that hosted guest posts. I wrote the authors of those blogs with a full guest post submission attached – so that they could see that my work was quality. They ran my pieces.
As it turns out, more prestigious publications comb these blogs for quality content, and one of my posts got picked up by Forbes. Similarly, I posted a piece on Ode Magazine’s “Exchange” online forum, which is open to all, and it got picked up in their print magazine.
With clips like these, I had something to send to the Huffington Post team – and I did – just a cold email. That’s how I started blogging for them.
I’m not sure if that’s the only route, or if it’s replicable, but that’s what worked for me.
CRD: One of your popular posts is titled "Leaving the B+ Life." You've done this through your writing, coaching, and teaching. What's your top tip for getting out of the B+ rut?
TSM: Gosh, there are so many. It’s hard to choose. Here are a few simple things that I think can help us leave B+:
•Spend 15 minutes in silent meditation every day. If you do this, you will wake up to your life. Things will start to get really interesting.
•Trust and get curious about your discomfort. If you feel bored, dissatisfied, squelched in your life – that’s really important. We tend to avoid or try to numb those feelings. Lean into them and get curious about what is actually feeling off in your life.
•Listen to the nagging longings, the whispers, the creative ideas. See if you can trust them and welcome them – rather than jumping to judgment.
CRD: I loved reading your bio. You spent your childhood analyzing dreams with your family and then eventually got your MBA. Awesome! How do you balance these two different sides of yourself?
TSM: Oh lord! It wasn’t always easy. It’s been a struggle for me to really share my voice because often my perspective was so different from the mainstream one in whatever environment I was in. I’d be in personal-growth type circles thinking, “You guys need to a get a grip and use your logical brains here” – but I didn’t ever say that, because of course I also love harmony and fitting in. I’d be in the business school classroom thinking, “What we are learning right now is precisely what is responsible for the destruction of the earth” – but frankly, that wasn’t exactly a comment you could raise your hand and make in the middle of the lecture. Trust me. I tried it.
I feel I’m just coming into the integration of these different parts of myself now, and it’s all about learning it really is okay to bring my voice, my views, to the table. More and more now I am bringing a controversial view into the room, but doing it diplomatically, and finding it’s often welcome and appreciated.
CRD: Do you have a mission statement by which you live, or perhaps a favorite mantra?
TSM: Hmmm…not exactly, but if I had to pick one, I’d say this:
“Compassion is the natural expression of wisdom.” That’s what my lifework is about – teaching how this is the case, and hopefully, ultimately, changing our society in some key ways to reflect that understanding.
Compassion, compassion, compassion. I don’t believe there are evil, immoral people. I believe that there are sick people. I believe if a human being has the emotional capacity, they will do good. Otherwise they need some healing. When we get that, parents will parent differently, the prison system will look entirely different, the way we view terrorists will be different, what we fear and what we allocate our resources to will be very different.
CRD: How about some advice for writers?
TSM: To be careful about advice! Sometimes it feels easier to figure out what other people do and convince ourselves we need to do that –rather than look inward to see what fosters creativity for each of us.
Beyond that, what I think matters most is this: are you willing to allow something beyond your conscious thought take over in your writing process? And what helps you do that?
CRD: And finally, I'd love for you to share some information with my readers about your services and products.
TSM: First, there’s my blog, where I write articles and poems – about living wisely, about creativity, about creating an authentic, empowered life – a couple times a week. That’s here). Sign up!
I also have an exciting new program coming up for women leaders, artists, innovators, writers, entrepreneurs – anyone who has a message and mission they want to share with world. The program is for people who want to play bigger, make an impact, and realize a vision their world. It’s a combination of inner work – covering topics such as “Silencing Self-Doubt” and “Understanding Your Calling” as well as tactical trainings around publishing, public speaking, negotiation, etc. It is made up of the tools that have most helped me share my voice fully in the world. Click here for information about that program.
I have a free, email-based guide with my very untraditional (and effective) approach to setting and achieving goals. Your readers can sign up to receive that here.
And since we are talking to writers, you can download a free short collection of my poetry here – but please do also sign up for the blog – because otherwise I won’t get to keep in touch with you too!
Also, for those of you in my hometown, Portland, Tara will soon be visiting Portland, speaking on the topic, "Unhooking from Praise and Criticism." Learn more here.
CRD: Thank you so much, Tara, you are a delight and an inspiration.
I named this post after a book. It sat on my bookshelf for years, but I think I finally sold it in one of my fits of purging. I loved the title of the book, maybe because people don't vow much any more and we probably should, but I never could get into the book.
This post is not about books, but it is about poetry.
In walks around my neighborhood of northeast Portland lately, I've been seeing wooden display boxes affixed to a wooden post. Inside the display box is, generally, a poem, though at times you might also see a photo or a quote.
I love these boxes and delight when I come upon one.
Saturday morning, eating breakfast at a new cafe, I happened to read an article in the neighborhood newspaper about the boxes. I learned that they are called Poetry Posts and are made by a northeast Portland resident.
I am getting me one for my birthday which is a mere twelve days hence.
I plan to post poetry on a weekly basis, interspersing it with quotes, an occasional math theorem from my son, maybe some flash fiction. So here's my question to you–what poems, quotes, or small pieces of prose should I include? (Don't worry, I don't expect you, the wonderful readers of my writing blog, to come up with math theorems.) The box is big enough to display one 8 1/2 by 11 size piece of paper.
I can't wait to read your suggestions. And be sure to check out the link to the Poetry Posts, because they are just too cool. (And note that they look better than the one in the photo, which is courtesy of takomabibelot on Flickr, taken in Maryland. I'm all for public displays of poetry, but I still think my Poetry Post is cooler.)
Specifically, the Olympics. I often write about what a time waster watching TV is and I truly don't watch much of it myself, except, for reasons inexplicable to me, American Idol. But one thing I love is the Olympics, specifically, the winter Olympics. So I've been finishing my work in time to sit in front of the TV every night. (Okay, sometimes I take my computer with me to sit in front of the TV, but still.)
Last night, I was struck by two different athletes and what their efforts represented to me on a larger scale. And, of course, as with all things, I saw an immediate relationship to writing. Because, well, when you are a writer, everything relates to writing. So, today, I'm going to write about my first observation. The second will be covered in a post tomorrow. So here goes:
Stepping Up to the Plate
At the 2006 Torino Olympics, Bode Miller was an ass. He stayed up all night partying, talked trash, didn't really seem to take the whole thing seriously. He had a sense of entitlement, as if he were the anointed one. Bode fell victim to hubris, otherwise known as, pride goeth before a fall. Because he bombed out and didn't do nearly as well and predicted. Going in, they said he might win up to five golds. He won none.
Flash forward four years and Bode is a changed man. He's been training hard, speaks humbly in interviews. He seems to get how amazing and cool it is that he's at the Olympics this time. This is a man who, for whatever reasons, has been given a second chance and he knows it. And this Olympics, he's a winner. First he won bronze, then silver, and last night, a gold medal for the men's combined skiing.
I think he's an example of what happens when we put all our crap aside and step it up. Instead of letting fear rule us, we meditate for a few minutes before our writing session, so that we can bring our full selves to the page. We take the chance on a speaking engagement, even though we're afraid of talking in public, or we go back and edit our novel one more time because we know in our hearts that we really need to.
Stepping up to the plate is doing whatever it takes. When I was at my first residency while studying for my MFA, we had an assignment to write a poem based on one of the pieces of art we'd seen on a visit to the museum. I'd written a rough draft of a poem that was okay, but not quite there yet. I mentioned my struggles to the program head, Sena Jeter Naslund, and she said to me, in her charming southern way, "Why, Charlotte, why don't you just go work on it some more, then?"
So, while everyone else went off to lunch, I went to the computer lab and worked on it some more. And it turned out to be one of the poems which was read in public as a successful example. I'll never forget that the poetry mentor wrote on it, "This is a poem!"
Stepping up to the plate is that simple and that hard.
Before we get started, I want to make one thing perfectly clear, just in case the FTC happens to be reading my blog (stranger things have happened, but not many). I have an ulterior motive in writing this review: I got a free book to do so. Gasp! I know, I know, shocking but true, review copies of books are given out so that writers can read them.
Okay, that taken care of, let's get started. This memoir by Deborah DeNicola is about a spiritual quest. The author found herself plagued by strange visions (a room she was in completely changed itself to a previous incarnation) and intense spirits, for lack of a better word, who made her life somewhat of a living hell with their antics. But, ultimately, this turned out to be a good thing, as it set in motion a journey through many mystic and mystery traditions, including goddess worshiping and the gnostic gospels, and consultations with psychics and channelers. Denicola, a poet, also set off on journeys to sacred sites in Israel and Europe.
DeNicola's background in poetry clearly shines through in her lyrical descriptions and beautiful flights of fancy. Her accounting of her quest for spiritual answers in incredible in its detail. Since I can't generally remember what I ate for lunch the day before, I'm amazed at the recall DeNicola has about things that happened years ago. I don't mean this as a criticism–rather; I'm envious. I presume she kept a meticulous diary. And even with that, the level of detail is impressive. I keep what I consider a somewhat obsessive diary and I still wouldn't be able to recount my every thought from years ago.
Impressive as the detail is, I also consider it the main drawback of the book. At times I longed for a glance at the bigger picture because being inside DeNicola's head for the constant play by play of her quest was sometimes exhausting. Upon occasion, I longed for a step back to ponder what all of this might mean.
That being said, the book is well worth reading, particularly for those with an interest in New Age and spiritual topics. There's a lot of interesting history and information here, on a wide variety of topics, sometimes all on one page! Deborah DeNicola has written quite a fascinating memoir. Here's a bit more information on her, in a blurb provided by her publisher:
Deborah DeNicola is the author of five poetry collections and she edited the anthology Orpheus & Company; Contemporary Poems on Greek Mythology. Among other awards she won a Poetry Fellowship in 1997 from the National Endowment for the Arts. Deborah has been a recipient of many writing colony residencies. She also teaches dream image work and mentors writers online at her web site www.intuitivegateways.com. To purchase a copy of The Future That Brought Her Here and receive up to 20 bonus gifts, please visit: http://www.thefuturethatbroughtherhere.com/bonusoffers/
Well, its not that far, really. I'm heading up to the Washington coast to visit my Nashville friend Sue at her father's place. What makes it feel far, far away is that there is no internet service and no cell phone service. No blogging! No Twitter! No text messaging!
However, I'm only going to be gone until tomorrow. I'm taking my camera and since my new end-of-the-year resolution is to snap lots of photos, I'm hoping to come back with many of them to share. In the meantime, here's a photo I took last night of the Christmas train at Oaks Park:
Not quite sure how to get that date stamp off it. Words are my forte, not photos.
Which brings me to the point of this post.
I'm feeling a bit tired of it all and in need of some inspiration, which is where you come in. I want to know what you want to read about in terms of writing, and what you need to know. If you feel so inclined, pop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with answers to the following questions and in return I'll send you a free beta bcopy of my Ebook, Set the Words Free. (But bear in mind that I'm going to be out of wireless range for a few days and thus will not be getting back to you with it until the end of the week.)
1. Do you write: fiction screenplays nonfiction poetry
2. What is your biggest writing problem?
3. Do you struggle more with finding time and motivation to write or issues with craft?
4. Are you a published writer?
5. If not, do you aspire to be a published writer?
6. If yes, what do you aspire to publish (ie, novel, short story, get a screenplay optioned, poetry, etc.)
7. Do you aspire to make money writing? If so, in what area?
8. What kinds of posts are most helpful?
9. What kinds of posts do you enjoy the most? (ie, life of a writer or craft)
10. What is your biggest writing goal for 2009?
11. If you are a regular reader of this blog, what brings you back to it?
If you only want to answer a couple of questions, that's cool, I'll take any and all feedback. Thank you so much and I'll be back with photos at the end of the week.
He writes his own books and they are good–I just started reading The Audacity of Hope this week. And even though I make most of my living as a ghost-writer, I applaud the man for writing it himself. Honestly? I do a great job of getting people's voices on the page, just as an actor inhabits his role, but there still is no substitute for the voice of the writer himself. Okay, I can think of instances where this is not true, but in Obama's case it is.
Obama actually reads. An AP story tells of the time he phoned Nobel laureate Toni Morrison to ask for her support, but first he told her how he admired her work and how much it had meant to him. The story goes on to talk about Morrison's admiration for Obama's writing. To quote, "Writers welcome Obama as a peer, a thinker, a man of words — his own words." The article also quotes Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley and novelist Ayelet Waldman.
My buddy Roy just sent me a snippet from Poets and Writers, headlined, "Will a poet read at Obama's inauguration?" In 1961, Robert Frost read at John F. Kennedy's inauguration; James Dickey read at Carter's in 1977, and Bill Clinton, of course, featured Maya Angelou. So who, if anyone, will Obama choose? According to Poets and Writers, poet laureate Kay Ryan has the inside track.
Generally, I go about my business, I travel, I write in my journal about my experiences, and those jottings are too often self-absorbed treatises on what I'm feeling. I like this, I don't like that, I feel so fabulous this morning or life sucks, blah, blah, blah, endless variations on an emotional theme.
But lately I've been writing a bit differently in my journal. Instead of the endless scribblings that are all about me, I'm into an objective reporting vein–attempting to capture the essence of what its like to hang out in the Pasadena neighborhood where my friend lives, or documenting the unique aura of Ventura Boulevard, where I have appointments.
Its not that I haven't done this in the past, because I have. But what has happened before is that all of my experiences have gone directly into the alchemical pot of fiction, to come out the other side the same base thing yet somehow different. My new practice feels much more like a non-fiction, documentary approach.
And it requires careful observation, noting specific details. It reminds me of my brief career in drawing. Everyone in my family–all three of my older sisters got the art gene. (And the thin gene. Is this fair? I ask you, where's the fairness here?) One of my sisters even makes her living at it.
Okay, okay, so I got the writing gene–I'm not complaining. But I did once go off on a wild hair and decide I would start drawing. There's something so appealing about taking your journal with you everywhere you go and recording everything you see. And what I learned from drawing is that you truly, truly learn to look at the world and see it when you are drawing it.
And of course, that is what we do with words, whether they are arranged into fiction or non-fiction. I'm a wordsmith, not a visual artist, that's all there is to it. What I'm learning from my new documentary approach is how insight grows out of careful observation and objective reporting. By observing and seeing you really begin to get the gist of the situation.
The good news is that this kind of documentary writing can then be alchemized into whatever form you like–fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, poetry. So I'm finding its an excellent writing practice. And may I just point out that this is why writing never gets boring? There's always something new to discover.