prolific and prosperous writer

Whole Abundance

Grocery_store_food_267541_l A new Whole Foods store opened about 10 blocks from my house and so far this week I've shopped there ever day.

I love everything about this store.  I love driving up into the parking garage, grabbing a little green wire cart, and taking the elevator down into the store.  I love wandering the aisles and looking at all the unfamiliar brands.  I love cruising past the bakery, checking out the petite sweets, stopping at prepared foods and buying grilled veggies and spinach-rice cakes, hitting the meat counter in the back for an entree for dinner.

The funny thing is, Portland has a plethora of wonderful natural food stores, some funky, others just as lush as Whole Foods.  New Seasons, for instance, is a home-grown version of Whole Foods.  I enjoy shopping there, I do.  I believe in choosing the local option whenever possible.  And I agree with the business policies of New Seasons, as well as the way they treat their employees.  Whereas I think the CEO of Whole Foods is a jerk and don't agree with his policies.

But I love shopping at his store beyond all reason.  Why?  Because, for whatever reason, shopping at Whole Foods makes me feel abundant.  I like that feeling.  I want to feel abundant in every area of my life–financial, relationships, family, career, writing–except for my physical body, because, well, abundance does have a tendency to turn to fat.

I talk a lot about abundance in the workshops I do.  (Um, that's probably a good thing seeing as how they are titled, Writing Abundance.) Finding abundance in the form of a prolific and prosperous writing practice is what I guide people to do, through workshops, coaching, and this blog. 

So abundance is a hot topic for me, and I've learned that abundance is as much a feeling as anything.  When I find something that makes me feel abundant, I'm all about soaking it in, reveling it it, letting that feeling surround and energize me. 

Hence my current love affair with Whole Foods.  Like all good love stories, I have no idea why it attracts me so, since love is generally blind, but I'm going with the feeling.  However, when I'm not cruising the aisles like a small child in a toy store, or planning my next trip there, I've thought a bit about what makes me feel abundant in writing.

There's the obvious–racking up a good daily word count makes me feel abundant in writing.  But beyond the actual act of writing, what makes you feel abundant?  For me it's a stack of yellow legal pads, a couple of Moleskines, and a package of brand new pens (my current favorite being the Pentel Ener-Gel, but it will change next month). 

None of which are available, by the way, at Whole Foods.  Perhaps it is time to resume my long relationship with Fred Meyer.

What tools make you feel abundant in your writing?

Standing in Judgment

One of my new year's resolutions was to be less judgmental.Gavel_judge_justice_266806_l

Every single member of my family laughed hysterically when they heard this idea.  I was deeply offended by their presumption that I could never be less judgmental, even though my sister and I have raised judging others to an art form.

So I've been seriously thinking about being judgmental.  Yesterday I wrote a post about finding and sharing faults about yourself in order to be a more sympathetic narrator.  The first fault I listed was being way too judgmental.

And yet, my family is right–I see being judgmental as an innate part of who I am, and rebel against any efforts to change that, new year's resolutions to the contrary.  Because being judgmental seems like part and parcel of being a writer.  I mean, c'mon, if I make my living being judgmental how can I cure myself of it?

Are Writers Judgmental?

So, help me out here.  Do you think writers are judgmental?  Isn't it part of what we do every time we put words on paper?  Think about it.  We choose one word over another, judging that it will suit the piece better.  We create a character, and decide which details will bring her to life.  We judge that one line of dialogue will be better than another, that this description works well and the other doesn't….writing is one long string of judgments. 

In order to back this considered behavioral justification opinion up, I consulted the dictionary. Here's the MacBookPro dictionary definition of judgment:

  • the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions
  •  an opinion or conclusion

I rest my case! I am all about "considered decisions," and "sensible conclusions!"  Yes, that is me, the considered, sane, and judgmental writer.

So why does being judgmental make me feel bad?

The Writer Confesses

Being judgmental makes me feel bad because judging someone else separates me from them.  Because there's an automatic ego thing going on–in my judgment I'm either thinking that I am better than them or they are better than me.  And in that judgment there's a removal from the present moment.  I'm trying my best to learn that all we really have is the present moment, and in this learning I see how many things take us away from it.  Because judgment is really just another form of fear, and damn it, I don't want to live a life ruled by fear.  Do you?

I happen to have a friend who I deem as being incredibly non-judgmental (you know who you are, Sue).  And she's a damn good writer, too.  So how does she transcend being judgmental and still manage to be a good writer?  I think it is because she replaces judgment with curiosity.   While I might hear of someone starting a new endeavor and think dark, jealous thoughts about how I should have had that idea and furthermore if I had had that idea I'd make a million from it, not the one paltry penny that they will make.  But Sue would hear about the new endeavor and just ask a million questions because she was just curious and interested.

Even writing about the difference in approaches I can feel the different energy they evoke.  Sigh.  So I guess this means I'm going to have to stick with my resolution to be less judgmental and just buck up and realize that it in no way means I am going to be less of a writer.  Because I will replace judgment with curiosity.  I will be sane, considered, and curious.

But I reserve the right to hold onto the other faults on my list.  Rebelling against authority now being number one.  Anybody for a writer's riot?

Finding Faults

I'm perfect.Sharon's Flowers

I am.  I am poised, intelligent, attractive, talented, funny, loyal, passionate.  Like I said, perfect. 

And, already you are bored with me and ready to go elsewhere to read because who can relate to perfect?  Already you are thinking, well, if she's perfect than I have nothing in common with her at all and what exactly do all those general terms mean anyway?

So try this instead:

I'm not perfect.  I'm way too judgmental, not good with details, have a terrible habit of rebelling against authority just because it is authority, I veer from crazy deep emotion to extreme containment of it, sometimes I lack focus, I eat too fast, I am currently not exercising enough, I get so excited when I'm talking to friends I interrupt…

Now don't you like me a lot better?  And aren't you way more interested in me as a person?  And, not that you are not perfect, but can't you relate to my faults a bit better than my perfection?

In a post I wrote last week, I discussed the Top Takeaways from the Writer's Loft, specifically, the workshop that Richard Goodman hosted.   One exercise focused on making yourself likable as a narrator by sharing a fault.  This, Goodman said, "provides the reader some freedom."  It allows the reader to feel that the writer is like him, and creates an emotional bond.

And, it is a lot more interesting.  Conflict and imperfection is far more compelling than calm and perfection.

Alas, this is why we have wars.

But I'm a writer, not a warrior, so back to our topic.  Goodman talked specifically about finding fault in terms of narrating memoir, but it also applies to fiction.  Think Holden Caulfield or Jean Rhys (his examples).  And think, too, of the memoirs you've read in which you fell in love with the narrator.  Chances are, they had a fault or two. 

During the Writer's Loft workshop, the readings that came out of this exercise were some of the most entertaining all day.  One participant wrote of his fear at facing a roomful of college students he had come to teach, another wrote a humorous paragraph about always getting lost.  We laughed at these pieces, but we also felt a kinship with their authors.  Who hasn't obsessed over having to speak to a group of people, or gotten themselves good and lost?

In my own novel, the narrator Emma Jean is loudly judgmental, thinks very highly of herself, and gets herself into trouble by flinging herself headlong into new things.  People like her because of her faults.  (And, um, she's not based on me at all.)

So if you are writing memoir, share a fault or two with us.  We'll like you lots better.  And if you are writing fiction, give your characters some faults so that we know they are just like us.

Anybody have any suggestions of famous flawed narrators?  Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.

***Thanks to Jessica, who left the comment asking for more information on this topic, and thus inspired this post.

And, by the way, the photo of flowers is supposed to epitomize perfection.  Not sure if you would get that or not, so I felt compelled to explain it, which means it is probably not working as an illustration.

Sunday Afternoon Style

I'm re-reading Richard Goodman's book, The Soul of Creative Writing.  I'm reading the book because I'mRgoodman-210-exp-Soul_of_creativ going to interview Richard next Saturday morning, as part of his appearance at the Writer's Loft, so it is something that I had to do.  And now I'm glad I followed my instincts and told my partner Terry that I would happily take on this job, because all of Richard's books are excellent (you should also check out French Dirt).

Earlier today, I re-read Richard's chapter on style.  This is the first chapter of the book, and it is called The Music of Prose.  In it, he makes the point that "the sound a writer makes on the page is music."  Goodman says that we, as humans, are innately musical "for the simple, profound reason that we have a heart."  All of us live with the steady rhythm of our heart beating within and thus come by music naturally.

Goodman then goes onto cite different kinds of musical prose: lyrical writing, comedic writing, detective fiction, and government writing.  (Don't get the wrong idea here, when he says government writing, he is talking about the likes of Thomas Jefferson.) Goodman talks about how an essential aspect of music is rhythm, and in writing, rhythm comes from sentence structure.  Varying sentence structure is a key way of creating a rhythm for your writing.

I've seen this over and over again with some of my student's work.  I often start out reading manuscripts and writing the same thing over and over again–"Vary sentence structure!"  One of my favorite students wrote a whole manuscript in the same cadence over and over again, using the same structure for every sentence: subject-verb-object.  I probably wrote that phrase, "Vary sentence structure!" a hundred times when we first started working together.  But she was an eager student and soon got what I meant.  She revised the book and went on to sell it to a national publisher last year.

Goodman references the famous point made by Eudora Welty, that when we read, we hear the words in our mind, almost as if someone is speaking them to us, and he says, "To be conscious of the music in your writing is merely an acknowledgment of how we read, of how we absorb words." Good writers "hear" their style as much as anything and this is one reason why it is a good idea to read your work out loud.  This facilitates getting the rhythm of our work deeply inside us, inside our minds and hearts, because, really, this is what it is all about.

The Benefits of Not Writing Daily

Yesterday, based on a workshop I'm going to be presenting next week in Nashville, I wrote a post on The Benefits of Writing.

So today's topic is the opposite–the benefits of not writing every day.Rose_pencil_write_244520_l

Here's the deal: there are none.


Well, sort of.  Everyone is different and needs to find a process that works for them.  But for me, writing every day, even if it is for just a few minutes, is the key to having a prolific and prosperous writing career.

But some people think that it is better not to write every day.  Here are some possible reasons:

  • If you force yourself to any kind of rigid schedule, you drum the life and creativity out of your work and what's the good in that? (I submit that you may need to force yourself at first, but eventually the habit kicks in.  Plus, sometimes a bit of structure is good for us creative types.)
  • Sometimes you need to get distance from your work and the only way to do this is to set it aside.  (Too true, too true.  But you have other writing you can do, don't you?)
  • Everyone tells you to write every day, so for that reason you shouldn't.  (Um, maybe the reason everyone tells you this is because it works.)

That's it!  That is all I can think of.  If anyone has more reasons why it is beneficial not to write every day, please let me know.   And please don't think I'm being sanctimonious and holier-than-thou when I go on and on and on about how important it is to write every day.  It is just what works for me, and what I've seen work for countless others.

Now–hit me with some more reasons why the opposite might be true.