practices of the prolific and prosperous writer

Follies: Festive Fridays

It's Friday!  And you know what that means, time for some folly.  In this case, festive folly.Clown_clowns_robinson_261035_l

This week we are beginning a crazy dance party.  What's a crazy dance party?  I will tell you.  Years ago, there used to be a kid's show on PBS and every so often one of the characters would yell, "Crazy dance party!" and everyone would stop what they were doing and start dancing.  So now every once in a while I like to yell "Crazy dance party!" and start dancing.  Most of the time, especially at social gatherings, people look at me like I'm crazy.  Except my family, who are used to me.

Anyway, I think every party should have someone who yells "Crazy dance party!" at dull moments don't you?  And so let's design our very own party.  (Remember, you can do this to explore your own life or that of your characters.) Here goes:

Who will you invite?

Who do you wish you could invite but you can't?  Why can't you?  And what does this say about you or your current life situation?

Who do you want to come?

Who do you have to invite but you hope won't come?

Which guests do you have to keep far away from each other?  Why?

Which guests might go home with each other? (Ooh-la-la.)

Which guests are most apt to get into a fight?  Why?

Who is most likely to get drunk?  Eat too much?  Get overly dramatic and emotional?

In future weeks, we'll delve further into our crazy dance party, pondering what the guests will wear, what they will eat and drink, talk about, and what kind of entertainment will be featured.

So until then, have fun.  After all, that's what crazy dance parties are all about

For the first, explanatory post in this series, hop on over here.

And by the way, if anyone knows what the name of that PBS show was, please let me know.

The Place You Write

Bulletinboard I write in my upstairs office which is a converted bedroom.  As I'm writing this post, rain is pounding on the windows and if I turn my head and look out the window, I can see into the backyard, which is lush and green and full of just-blossoming flowers.  At least they were ready to blossom before this massive rainstorm came in last night.

This office is the place where I most often write.  It is actually the place I spend most of my time.

I started thinking about what my office means to me because I've inadvertently been writing a series on place.  It began with a post last week on having a place to go in your writing.  Meaning, that you leave off in a place that will give you an easy starting point at your next writing session.  And then I wrote a post about the role of place in your writing.  What settings inspire you?  What locations do you set your characters in?

And so today it seems fitting to end this mini-series with a post on where you actually perform the magic.  I also recently wrote a post about organizing my office, which those of you who come here often know has been a long, drawn out process, mainly because I only find an hour here and there to work on it.  So my writing place is in transition at the moment.  When I return from Nashville mid-month, I'll be buying a complete new office set from Ikea, for which I can't wait. 

But even in its current almost-organized state, it is the place I love best.  And I loved it when it was terribly messy, too.  I love it because it is all me–my books, my supplies, my furniture choices, my weird things hanging on the wall, my bulletin board covered with nametags from conferences and old artwork the kids did  years ago.  I'm surrounded by my reference materials, including binders full of old stories that I've written and a shelf of my published books and magazine articles, and I love working in the midst of the fruits of my labors.

I haven't always had a room of my own in which to write.  I started out using a big old desk that came from my father's printing plant.  It was set up in the corner of our bedroom, and how we fit it in there, I don't know.  Then I set up a desk in a makeshift corner of the then-unfinished upstairs.  When a fire swept the second floor, it miraculously stopped just short of my office, meaning all my computer and all my old writing journals were spared.  (Though the cleaning crew who swept in to rid the house of the smell of smoke took every journal and wiped down every page.)

When we moved back in after the fire, I set up in a spare bedroom downstairs.  I loved that space, but my son claimed it for his bedroom.  So when my daughter went away to college, I claimed her upstairs bedroom, which I continue in to this day.  And even though I have a laptop and can write anywhere, I spend most days ensconced up here.  Sometimes I take my computer and hit the neighborhood coffee shop and upon occasion I go downstairs to the family room or the kitchen for a change of venue.  But most often I'm right here at my old desk, which is soon to be replaced by a new one. 

You don't have to to have a room of your own to write.  It is nice, that's for sure, and you deserve one.  But you don't have to have one.  Back in the day when my desk was in the bedroom, I often hauled the typewriter out to the kitchen table to write so I could keep a better eye on the kids.  But what you do need is at least a little bit of space to call your own, even if it is a cupboard that you store your papers and computer in and close up when it is not in use.  

So what about you?  Where do you write?  Do you like writing there or do you long for a different space?  Do you do your best writing at home, on a break from work, or at Starbucks?  I'd love to hear about the place you write.

A Place You Go

800px-Laguna_Beach Yesterday I wrote a blog post called Have a Place to Go in Your Writing.  It was about how important it is to know where you are going when you begin a writing session.  You can go back and read it here, but you don't really have to in order to understand this post.

This whole thing about place grew out of a journal entry from a few weeks ago.  I started out by writing on the topic of yesterday's post–having a place to go in my work and what a difference that made.  And then the journal entry morphed into how important the concept of place itself is in my writing.  The fact that place is front and center in my work is not news to me.  I wrote my critical thesis for my MFA on the role of landscape as character in the works of Willa Cather and Flannery O'Connor.  (And for the record, I'm a huge, raving Cather fan.  O'Connor***, not so much.)

There's a scene in my recently completed novel where the heroine, Emma Jean, who is a bestselling novelist, dramatically announces to her husband, "I cannot live someplace that does not inspire me."  While this is true for me, what is even more true is that I can't write about a place that doesn't inspire me.  And, bear in mind, I use the term "inspire" loosely.  I love writing about LA, though I have no desire to live there.  But something about the place inspires me as a location.  Conversely, though Nashville is one of my absolute favorite places on the planet, I've not yet been able to write about it.  I've set fiction in Portland (where I live), in Santa Fe, and in Sun Valley, Idaho.  I love the Oregon Coast, but have never been able to use it as a setting.  Weird, huh?

 And furthermore, getting the location set is as important to me as coming up with a character to write about.  To me, a character is so intricately linked to place that if I change the place she lives, that can jinx the whole book.  And, if I don't have a place firmly in mind when I think up a character, there's a good chance the story won't go anywhere.

Perhaps this odd thing about place that I have is about wanting to explore the parameters of a location.  It may not be that I have to love the place to write about it, but just that I want to know more about it.  LA, for instance, despite the many times I've been there, is a vast mystery to me.  I still marvel at the sunshine, the palm trees, the freeways, the cars.  I am still amazed that people actually live there.  Manhattan is the same.  A couple years ago, attending a conference there, I rode in the back of a taxi from the airport, staring at people walking down the busy sidewalks, flabbergasted that so many people lived in this place where you can't see the sky.  Try as I might, I could not figure out what it would be like to live there.

And maybe that is what it is all about–trying to figure out what its like to live someplace else.  Because, really, isn't fiction all about trying to figure out the someplace else and the someone else?

Thoughts?  What role does place play in your work?  Is it important or something you don't really think about?  How do you choose a setting for your writing?

**The photo is of Laguna Beach, where my dear friend Julie Brickman lives.  I've had the picture on my computer for awhile, but I think it originally came from Wikipedia.

***Now that I've dissed Flannery O'Connor, let me point out that today is her birthday.  She was born on March 25, 1925.  I just learned this while finding the link for her.

The Writing Process Redux

471px-Venn_diagram_cmyk.svg Every week my family gets together with my sister's family for dinner. We instituted this after my Mom died last year as a way to make sure that we all see each other regularly.  It has been a wonderful thing, and we guard our Sunday Supper time zealously.

Last night at Sunday Supper, in between everyone taking bets on when the son-in-law would finally arrive on his long drive home from the army in Texas, my brother-in-law asked me if I'd read the latest Time magazine.  When I said no, seeing as how I don't subscribe to Time, he said I absolutely had to read the interview with Elmore Leonard and found the magazine for me.

Besides marveling at the fact that Leonard has lived in Detroit since 1934, and still doesn't use a computer or email, the one thing my brother-in-law wanted to point out to me was when Leonard  said this: "You've got to write every day."

Where have we heard that before?  Why, perhaps right in these very posts.

I started off this morning intent on writing about the writing process.  I'm not sure why, since I wrote about it fairly recently, hence the word "redux" in the title.  (And even if I hadn't written about the writing process before I would have used that word, because, let's face it, redux is a great word.)

But then I started thinking about the Elmore Leonard article and his commandment to write every day.  And then, after I pondered some more (the very strong coffee I'm drinking helped), I realized that I what I needed to write about today is the intersection of the writing process and writing every day.  If I could draw a Venn diagram, it would be the place in the middle where the two circles meet.

Because writing every day, no matter what stage of the writing process you are in, is what makes your dreams happen.  Whether you are writing a rough draft, or working on one of many rewrites, writing every day helps you to stay connected to your work, and keep the momentum going.  Plus, it reminds you that you are a writer, which is easy to forget in this busy world.  And I find that if I've done the most important thing first, ie, writing, that everything else falls into place.

So, writing every day + the writing process = finished products.

Now, here's the question of the day.  In my search for an image of a Venn diagram, I found the above on Wikipedia.  However, it has three circles, when my example only has two, the writing process and writing every day.  So, say we named this Venn diagram The Writing Life, what would you name the third circle?

Embracing Spring

My apologies to those of you currently buried under snow, or digging out from your latest blizzard, but here Almond_orchards_trees_248628_l in Portland, we've had one of the warmest winters on record. The rhodies, daffodils and crocus have been blooming for a couple weeks now and the temps are regularly reaching 60 degrees.  We've even had us some sunny weather.

It is wonderful, and I'm still trying to like it.

I'm more of an autumn person.  I love when the leaves fall and everything is red and orange and yellow.  (Have you ever noticed what a great accent color orange is?  It pops everything out.) I love when the big windstorms blow in from the Pacific and the rain begins again and the days get shorter. (Yes, I really do love it when it gets dark early–I blame that on my Danish heritage.)

When the days are short and dark, you can cuddle up inside by the fire, and read and write and not feel like you have to be outside doing stuff.

The last few weeks I've been struggling with the urge to be outside and do stuff.  I should say, I haven't been struggling with that urge, because I resist it when the weather first turns.  Like a small child, I throw tantrums: I don't wanna go outside and walk, I want to stay at my computer and become one with it.  I don't want to revel in the sunshine, I want to be lazy and lie on the couch and read this here book, and while I'm at it, become one with the couch, too.  Because of these childish urges, I'm actually happy when the sun goes away and the rain starts.  Yay!  I can stay inside longer.

But the weather gods have not been cooperating with me, and I've had to put up with these endless days of sunshine.  So I'm learning to embrace spring.

And the thought occurs that there's a correlation to writing.  Because, you know, there's always a correlation to writing in my world, it can't be helped.  And over the last couple weeks, I've been fooling around with a new novel.  For a long time, I was hesitant even to say the word novel.  I'd call it a project. 

Because what if it didn't turn into anything?  And what if I talked about it and it didn't turn into anything and then people started asking me about it and I got embarrassed?  I'm convinced half the problems in the world could be solved if we did away with embarrassment.  Because I wanted to save face, it was easier to call it a project than a novel.  Or just pretend I wasn't really working on it at all.

Enjoying spring weather is the same way.  What if you start going outside and reveling in it every day, and then, the rain comes and suddenly all that glory is taken away from you?  Better just to not enjoy it to begin with.  Better to leave the novel in your head, unwritten.


Not a chance.  Life is about taking risks, plunging in, placing yourself on the edge to see what will happen when you tip over. 

So I will now admit that I'm working on a new novel.  As a matter of fact, thanks to one of my lovely students, the wonderful Karen, I am actually working really hard on a new novel because she and I have made a sacred Nanowrimo pact and are each writing 50,000 words a day.  That's 2,000 words a day, baby!  Read it and weep!

Because, oh God, it is wonderful to be wrapped up in writing fiction again.  Even more wonderful than spring.

Three Rules

I'm reading Crush It, by Gary Vaynerchuk.  In case you haven't heard of him, he's the marketing genius Kodakz760_662439_l who built his father's liquor business from four million in sales to fifty million in sales in just eight years.  How did he do it?  Mainly through video blogging, with his show, Wine Library TV, and the use of social media.

His book is a quick read, and essential if you've not yet dabbled much in social media.  If you have, you'll probably get more in the way of inspiration than new information.  But hey, I'm all for inspiration!  And one of the things that Gary wrote about inspired this post, so there you have it.  Specifically, in chapter one, he writes about the three rules by which he lives.  His are: love your family, work super hard, live your passion.

I've been thinking about this three rule thing a lot lately. I'm really attracted to the concept of living life by a set of rules, which is odd, because in general I'm a rebellious type.  Years ago, in a critique group (which I seem to be thinking a lot about lately, since I wrote about it here, too) we talked quite a bit about characters with moral codes.  You know the kind–the detective who may, to outside appearances, seem to be completely insubordinate and anarchic, but when you dig deeper you learn he's got good motivation and a strong compass to guide him.  A current example of this on TV would be, of course, Dexter, who is a serial killer who kills serial killers.  

So, I decided to assign myself the task of coming up with three rules by which I live.  I approached this by thinking about what my absolute, bottom-line, bedrock beliefs are, and by how they get played out in my day to day life.  Oh, and by the way, you'll see that these are, because of my very nature, writing related, but as far as I'm concerned writing bleeds into life and life bleeds back into writing, so the two are inseparable.

Ready?  Here goes:

Three Rules for Living

1.  Always Connect.  In my Writing Abundance workshops, I always, always, always begin by talking about the practice of connecting.  To me, this means connecting with something bigger than you, most likely the divine, in however you view it.  Take time to meditate or pray, in whatever form this takes for you, every day.   Beyond this absolutely crucial practice, you can view this rule in other ways, too, as in connect with friends and family to get their support for your writing, connect with others via social media, connect with writers through critique groups or other networking opportunities.  Connecting is vital.

2. Give it All Up, Get it All Back.  This also translates to, put it all on the page, always.  I just wrote a whole blog post about the practice of letting go.  It is a worthy thing to aspire to in life, and it will serve you well in writing, too.  Put everything you have on the page every time you sit down to write.  Fling your whole self on the keyboard or paper.  Don't hold back, don't back off.  You can–and will–edit later. Fling yourself at life, putting everything out there, without worrying about what will happen.  Remember, we only think we know what is going to happen tomorrow.  I've learned the hard way that plans can change in an instant.  So don't waste time trying to control what you can't (and this includes reactions from agents, editors and readers).

3.  Write or Create Every Day.  I am a firm believer that writing every day is the best way to establish a prolific and prosperous writing career.  It is incredibly difficult to maintain momentum on a project when you are only giving it sporadic attention.  Yes, there is something to be said for taking breaks, and I'm a fan of downtime (I love me American Idol) and self-care, which I deem to be essential.  But there are 24 hours in a day, in case  you hadn't heard.  Couldn't you spend just 15 minutes of them with pen and paper?

So there you have them, my three rules.  Ask me about them same time next year and I might well have a new set.  But these are mine for now.  What are yours?  Do you like the idea of having rules to live by?

**Photo by DrewMeyers, used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

Make the Words Flow

I noticed something this morning when I was in the middle of writing an email.Myjournal

The words were flowing as smooth as a glass of fine wine. 

I started paying more attention.  And realized that I was allowing myself to go a bit deeper emotionally in my response.  So I stopped and thought for a bit, and realized why this was. 

Because I've been jingling every morning again.

Now, I'm an inveterate journaler.  I've written about journaling over and over again, so much so that you are no doubt sick of it.  Recently, I was reading Katrina Kenison's memoir, The Gift of an Ordinary Day, and in one scene she is delighted to find that over the last 18 years or so, she has filled 10 to 12 journals.  Um, I'm filled hundreds.  I have tubs of them in the downstairs closet, and more bursting out of cardboard boxes in my office.  So I've got some journaling cred.

But every once in awhile I take a break from it.  I decide that I should get right to my novel writing first thing in the morning, since it is the most important thing in my life and all the experts say to do that first.  So I shun my journal and go do my other work. 

And then something calls me back.

I pick up my journal again and before you know it, I'm writing like crazy every morning, and then sometimes several times a day.  And I have to admit, as I realized while writing the email, my work is better off for it.  Here, I've decided, is why:

  • The words flow more easily
  • The process of going deeper comes naturally, without effort
  • I'm more connected with my emotions
  • I notice more
  • Writing breeds more writing.

Take special note of that last item.  If I take time to write in my journal, those words breed more words. Has anybody else ever noticed that?  The more I write, the more I'm capable of writing.  It is almost magical.

One of the reasons this may be is that the act of writing in my journal shakes loose the muse and often what I write about is how I want to do a certain scene in my novel.  Nearly every day, a blog post comes through.  I get ideas for all kinds of things.

So.  Writing in your journal doesn't have to take up your whole day, and it doesn't have to be first thing in the morning.  Pull out your moleskine at lunchtime and write for 10 minutes, or have a mini-writing session during your afternoon coffee break.  You'll be amazed at what happens.

On Not Having Time to Paint

For Christmas, I asked for and got paints.  I got acrylic paints, canvases, a cool wooden box to put the paints in, paintbrushes, one of those round plastic palettes, a couple books on painting.  Just looking at all these art supplies makes me tingle with anticipation.

I've been feeling the urge to paint for awhile now, and so getting all this for Christmas made me really happy.  After the rush of the holiday was over, the tree down, the decorations out of the way, I took over an extra table in the guest room for my art.  I arranged all my paints, found an old mug to stick the paintbrushes in, set the books out for easy reference.  The art supplies look good there, all ready to use.

And so far all they are doing is looking good.

Because I haven't touched them.

Not once.

My daughter actually made a semi-snide reference to the fact that I wanted the art supplies so bad and hadn't yet used them. 

"I was gone in Nashville for a week and a half," I pointed out to her.

She backed down quickly and I felt pleased with myself for being right, and having such a good excuse for not having spent any time with my paints.  But later, when I was opening the shades in the guest room so Lieutenant, one of my new cats, could sit in the window, and look out my eye fell on the paints.  And I realized that being out of town was just an excuse.

  • I have other excuses for not painting, too.  They include:
  • I have to get my messy office organized first
  • I have to work
  • I have to watch American Idol
  • I have to go see a movie with my friend Paula
  • I have to go out to dinner
  • I have to go to Eugene

Good excuses, all.  But the fact remains that they are just excuses, and there is one real reason why I've not yet gotten out the paints.

  • It is because I am scared.  And because I am scared, here are some of the things I tell myself:
  • I'm not a painter
  • I don't know how to paint
  • I won't be good enough
  • It won't be right
  • I won't be perfect
  • I don't know what to do first
  • Someone might see me doing it and expect me to be good

Dumb, stupid excuses all.  And because I am a person who tends to think that everything that happens in my life has meaning, I am not only looking deeply at my resistance to painting, but also likening it to writing.  It gives me renewed empathy for the writers that I coach, for those of you who desire so strongly to put words on the page, for everyone who hesitates before committing pen to paper. 

Because my experience with not paint makes me empathize with everyone who is not writing.  So let's make a deal, shall we?  I'll paint if you write.  Okay?  Easy.  We can do it.  I know we can. 

***Besides writing, my favorite thing to do is coach creatives to become prolific and prosperous writers.  I'm working on getting my coaching page up, but in the meantime, if you're interested in hiring me, just email me.  You'll find the address at the top left of this page.

The Things That Scare You

I'm afraid of everything.Silhouette_woman_body_229243_l

At least that is how it seems some days.  Most days. 

Most people, looking at me, assume that I'm brimming with self confidence.  I travel alone, I speak and present workshops, I talk to strangers wherever I go. And maybe, if self confidence means constantly pushing at barriers, I am overflowing with it.  Because, the fact is, most of the time I'm either terrified or feel like an idiot because I don't know what I'm doing.  The only difference between me and others is that I'm out there doing it.  

Because to not to do it is to let fear win.

Recently, I did something I've always especially feared.  This is going to sound really silly to most people, but I've always been afraid to eat out alone, especially at a nice restaurant.  On Monday, my dinner plans got canceled.  No problem, I thought, I'll have a quiet evening home alone.  Except while I was out doing errands the thought hit me like a brilliant epiphany that I should go eat at the bar at J. Alexander's.  It is a nice big bar, with attentive bartenders and singletons eat dinner there all the time.  I know, because I've been there with a friend.

I argued.  The thought persisted.  I texted one friend, called another.  Perhaps they wanted to join me?  One was unavailable, one was sick.

I argued more.  Wouldn't it be best just to stay home and eat leftovers?

The thought grew louder: do the things that scare you.

And so I did.

I loaded up my armor of  journal and book and screwed up my courage and off I went.  And I had a fabulous time.  Struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me and never even had to pull out my armor.  Drank one glass of wine too many and ate a delicious burger and fries.

The next day, even though I was just the wee-est bit hungover, I felt fabulous.  Why?  Because I had felt a deep thrill of exhilaration while I was at the bar–I was successfully facing one of my deepest fears!–and afterward, an even deeper sense of satisfaction for having done it.

But here's the deal.  Fear is a sneaky demon and it shifts and shakes and siphons off our energy in unexpected ways.  Facing down one fear doesn't mean all the rest of your fears are now dealt with.  Not by a long shot.   You have to keep facing them, one by one, and then when you think you've gotten through the whole entire list some new ones will appear.  And fear can masquerade as boredom, or laziness, or telling yourself it just wasn't meant to be.  What I fear is not the same thing that you fear.  What you fear today may morph into something else tomorrow.

And so, my challenge to you is the same as my challenge to myself: do the things that scare you.  The only way out is through.  The only way to conquer fear is to walk through it, one step at a time.

What does this have to do with writing?  You know exactly why talking about fear relates to writing.  You know exactly.