Coming Out the Other Side + Holiday Special (A Love Letter)

Years ago I read a science fiction novel, the name and author of which is long lost in the mists of time and my brain. A female scientist (I think), living on another planet (of course), was studying an alien life form that appeared in the form of lights in a lake. The lights blinked on and off, saying I am here. I am alive. I am here.

I’m like one of those alien light forms. I am here! I am alive! I am here!

I made it through surgery with flying colors.  I woke in the recovery room, looked at the nurse, and said, “That’s it? It’s all done?” I was so amazed to remember nothing after being wheeled into the operating room—and then wake up two hours later, with nothing but blankness in between.

That was a week and a half ago and I’m doing great.  I’ve got very little pain, less than what I had before the surgery, to be honest. I’ve ditched my walker and am getting around easily with just a cane. (My advice to anybody getting hip replacement surgery: find a doc who does the direct superior approach. It is far less invasive and offers a much quicker recovery.) I’m working hard at physical therapy, doing my at-home exercises, and trying very hard not to do too much too fast.

And I am grateful. So, so grateful. It is such a gift to be given a second chance—an opportunity to live without pain. It’s a cliché bordering on the ludicrous to establish a gratitude practice, but the last few nights I’ve found myself spontaneously listing what and who I’m grateful for as I fall asleep.  My surgeon, all the nurses who cared for me, family, friends, and of course—you.

You who read my weekly missives, join the Facebook group, and read my blog posts. And so, in the spirit of this past weekend’s Black Friday/Small Business Saturday and the upcoming Cyber Monday, I am offering my own mine-sale.

Here’s the deal: two options, listed below. Please be aware that I won’t be booking any appointments until mid-December at the earliest. But you can grab the discount prices now and use the sessions any time over the next year. Prices good through Wednesday, November 28th at midnight Pacific time.

Also, please be aware that my rates will be going up in 2019.  I’ve had coaches yelling at me for years to raise them and it is time. So take advantage of one of these deals while you can!

You can pay direct by using the buttons below. Thank you!

 One Hour Coaching Session, during which we can talk about your work (you can send me up to 10 pages), brainstorm plot ideas, or talk about how to get your writing practice back on track.  $100.

 

Three Months Coaching at a killer price.   12 sessions of coaching, consisting of me reading 10-15 pages and a 30 minute phone or Skype conversation. $1,200. (You will NEVER get this low  price again.)



 

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

(No photos today because for some reason the media library is not accessible.)

 

On Deep Inner Magic (A Love Letter)

An email came into my inbox this week with the subject Deep Inner Magic. Being a sucker for such things, I clicked. It was a promo for a webinar that didn’t interest me much, but the phrase stuck with me.

Photo by Mervyn Chan on Unsplash

As I pondered why, I realized it’s because deep inner magic is what I believe happens to all the best story characters. The characters I love to read about in novels transform themselves in some way.  They are alchemists—transmuting metaphorical base metal into gold.

We readers experience that transformation with them. There’s a tension in watching a character transform.  The wise reader often knows exactly what the character needs to do, but it takes the character much longer to figure it out, since they are the ones doing the transforming. That tension sustains attention, and when a reader’s attention is sustained, the reader is much more likely to share the emotions of the main character. (All this is according to Psychology Today.)

And—wait for it—if the reader shares deep emotion with the character, they are more likely to mimic that emotion later in their own lives. Which is why reading truly is transformational, baby. And, I submit—why writing is transformational as well. Because I believe that we writers transform as we write our characters’ transformations as well. As the ancients used to say, as above, so below.  Transformation in one area of life is always echoed in another.  And if that isn’t deep inner magic, I don’t know what is.

But how do we make this magic happen?

You’ve heard it a million times before, but I’ll repeat it. Give your characters something they desire desperately—and then make it really difficult for them to get it. This is the simplest of story-writing advice, and putting it into practice is incredibly hard.

I think this is true for a couple of reasons. First of all, most of us have been trained not to go after what we want with everything we’ve got. And so we settle.  We settle for a good enough life, a good enough marriage, a good enough career. But the characters we love to read about don’t settle. They go after what they want with a vengeance. And get pushed down, knocked about, and pressed to the ground in the process.  Because so many of us don’t have experience doing that, it is hard to write about.

And second, we don’t like to torture our characters. I don’t know about you, but I fall in love with my characters, all of them, even the despicable ones. And then I want to make their lives easy and simple and sweet. However, sigh, easy and simple and sweet does not create deep inner magic. Or any kind of magic.

So, give your characters a fierce desire and huge obstacles to achieving it and watch the magic happen in your character, your reader, and yourself.

Monthly Round-up

Reading

 Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This novel is the star of my October reading. I’ve heard how marvelous it is for years, but only just now got around to reading it. Ursula Todd is born, then dies, and is born again.  Throughout the book you read her different lives. I don’t know how Atkinson made it work, but she did. Not a quick read, but worth it.

Nantucket Wedding, by Nancy Thayer.  I’ve been reading Thayer’s books since I was a young woman with small children, an eon ago, and she is still at it. She’s traditionally been one of my favorites but I’m finding this one predictable and a bit boring. Yet still, I persist.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,  by Daniel H Pink.  Pink consolidates tons of research and thought into a highly readable book.

10% Happier, by Dan Harris.  After an on-air panic attack, the he ABC News anchor started searching for answers to his anxiety. He writes a funny and engaging book about his journey through self-help. Ultimately, he lands on, wait for it, meditation. So of course he’s near and dear to my heart!

Make Something Good Today by Erin and Ben Napier.  In one of my free writes I had an idea for a story about a couple similar to this one and then I saw this book at the library, so I brought it home. The book exists for no other reason than that this cute couple has a TV show.

Watching

Oscar’s Oasis, Justin Time Go, The Cat in the Hat, Story Bots, and many more kids shows. Please don’t make me do a run-down of each of them for you.

 Don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already.  I post lots of good links and we often have lively writerly discussions going.

This post contains affiliate links.

 

The Scourge of Not-Enoughness (A Love Letter)

I have it. You do too. But the funny thing is, most of the time I look at you and think you don’t have it. And you most likely look at me and feel the same.

But every human being on the planet, except for maybe Queen Elizabeth or Elon Musk or Gwyneth Paltrow, has it. And it is a scourge.

It is the scourge of not-enoughness.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

It manifests in many different ways.  Such as, my writing is not enough, my talent is not enough, my body is not enough, my brain is not enough. I’m not smart enough, thin enough, rich enough, famous enough. I don’t have enough money time or talent. There’s not enough, not enough, not enough.

Name your favorite not-enough scourge and someone else shares it. Which is scant comfort when you’re trying to deal with your own not-enough crap.

But deal with it you must. Because otherwise it will eat holes inside you that turn into yawning black chasms of depression, disgust and all the other dire emotions. And you won’t get a lick of writing done.

Myriad are the ways in which we can battle our not-enoughness.  Like meditating, exercising, eating right, reading a lot (but not the internet and definitely not social media), doing all the things we know are good for us and doing them regularly.

But the best way I know to battle not-enoughness is to write.

I feel enough when I’m doing my writing, period. Whether it is terrible (as first drafts are), or wonderful, whether the words flow like magic from a wand or they stay stubbornly locked inside me until I force them out, I feel enough when I have written something. Anything. I may go back to not-enoughness when I finish, but for the brief shining moments when I’m writing I can keep it at bay.

And then everything is enough. It is not only enough, the world is brimming with life and energy and vitality and good cheer and hopefulness and I am in love with it.

So that’s the best reason I can think of to pick up your pen.

 

Don’t Give Up On Your Creative Practice (A Love Letter)

This has been a crazy week.  Besides the usual round of appointments and teaching commitments (which I love), my daughter had hand surgery after slicing a tendon and a couple of nerves in her thumb.  Thus, I’ve been tending small children even more than usual. I know, you’ve probably had a crazy week, too. And even if you haven’t, there’s the constant onslaught of news to contend with.

Distractions galore.

It’s enough to make you run screaming and vow you’ll never write another work again. (Or paint another picture. Or plant another garden. Or knit another stitch.) Because who can write when life events are making you feel so very un-creative? So distracted and un-focused?

It’s so easy to go into overwhelm and decide it’s just too hard to write. Sure, you have a few minutes here and there to put pen to paper, but what’s the point? What difference do a few paltry minutes make? And so you don’t do it and then you just give up. You forget who you are at your core, and who you want to be, and you just go along the path of least resistance.

Sound familiar?

But I submit to you that taking those few precious minutes—or longer—is what will save you. And maybe the world, too. Because it is your writing that will ground you and center you and remind you of who you are through the darkest of times.

I adore my grandchildren beyond all reason, but this week as I changed diapers and made mac and cheese and picked up toys and coaxed a three-year-old to take a nap (which went about as well as you might expect), I forgot my creative self. Which I believe is my true self.

Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

Except I picked up my pen and wrote for fifteen minutes every day. And then I remembered. That simple practice brought me back to myself and made it infinitely easier to hobble down the block after a toddler on the loose. And, make no mistake about it, writing is a practice, one that gets easier with every fifteen-minute spring you devote to it. A practice that makes it easier to commit to how you want to show up in the world, whether you observe from the safety of your office or go march to express your opinions. A practice that may some day bloom into a finished novel or memoir or garden or painting or sweater. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay, too. The sheer act of doing it is what’s important. Because that is what will steady you for whatever comes your way.

So no matter what is going on in your life, please don’t give up on your creative practice.  You need to, I need you to, and the world does, too.

The Delicious Effort of Story (A Love Letter)

Story takes effort.

Photo by Robert Baker on Unsplash

Sometimes at night I sit in front of the TV and I don’t have the energy to watch anything more than a thirty-minute sitcom, or a singing reality show, which I can digest in small bites and turn off when I get bored. Because the mental effort of engaging with a longer story takes too much effort.

Watching a story takes effort.

Sometimes I get in bed at night and read one page before my book falls out of my hands and clatters to the floor. It’s not even that I don’t like the book—it’s just that I’m tired and want to go to sleep.

Reading a story takes effort.

Sometimes I don’t think I have it in me to write. It is so much easier to consume words rather than create them myself.  So off I go to wander aimlessly around the internet, which mostly involves sort-of, kind-of word consuming.

Writing a story takes effort.

Here’s the moral: anything to do with story takes effort. Studies show  that you use more of your brain when listening to a story, and I surmise that the same holds true for reading a story and writing one as well.  The more tension in a story, the more you’ll pay attention, the more you pay attention, the more you’ll feel the emotion of the characters in the story, and the more you feel the emotion, the more likely you’ll be to mimic the behavior of the characters in the story afterwards.  Which kind of goes to show why everything to do with story takes such effort. It’s almost as if we’re living it ourselves as we watch, read, or write a story.

Because story changes us. Never forget that you wield that power as you write.  I don’t know about you but knowing that motivates me to write. It motivates me to open the computer on days I don’t feel like it, to spend the time it takes to get a story onto the page. To make the effort. Because I can’t think of anything more powerful than the ability to change a person’s life with the words you write. Can you?

And so, truly, story is worth the effort.

Here’s a related prompt for you:

The story begins when….

(Remember, just use the prompt as a starting point. And you don’t have to take it literally.)

Writing Workshop!

And if you would like to study story through the lens of the five senses, consider coming to Astoria, Oregon, for a winter workshop!  We’ll be offering a week-long writing workshop in fun, funky and eclectic Astoria, Oregon, the first week in February. Great seafood, fun shops, a week devoted to writing and writerly camaraderie. We’re so excited, and we’ve already had several sign-ups. Space is limited, so check it out soon! You can read all about it here.

Changing Things Up (A Love Letter)

If there’s one thing I know about writing, it’s that not all techniques work for every writer. Not only that, but what works for one writer one time may not work the next time.  The system you use to write your novel the first time out just doesn’t fit the next time out. The way you wrote your article, following a template you thought you’d always use, suddenly doesn’t work. Or any of a million variations on those themes.

And yet, if you’re anything like me, you might keep trying to do things the old, tried and true way. Because it worked once, so why shouldn’t it work again? (Because the muse is a mysterious and fickle creature, that’s why, but we forget this.) And you may also be as resistant to change as I am. But recently I’ve had an experience that is earth-shattering in its importance.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Ready for it?

I’m no longer exclusively writing my novel chronologically.

Let’s back up a bit. I’ve called myself a plotter (one who plans ahead) for years, but I’ve come to realize that I’m really more of a pantser (a writer who flies by the seat of her pants). I like a loose outline so I have an idea where I’m going, but if I get too technical, I’ll get bored. Be that as it may, I’ve been a strict chronological writer with every novel I’ve written. I tell myself it’s because one scene has to flow naturally from another. I need to know what’s come before so I can figure out what to write in the future. Right?

But two classes I’ve taken are changing that.  The first class I took last spring, and it was called Write Better Faster  by R.L.Syme  (highly recommended). The class takes the approach that we are all different (duh) so accordingly, different writing processes will work differently for each of us. I learned a lot from that class but my two biggest takeaways are that A. I am an external processor (which is why I like to talk out loud to myself) and B. I learn and create from the middle. Pantsers, unite! I really am one of you! And I can finally say goodbye to slavishly trying to fit my scenes into a precise order dictated by some structure expert who has probably never written a novel in his life.

Class #2 I’m in the middle of, and it is called the Devoted Writer, taught by Cynthia Morris. Cynthia emphasizes fun things like free writing (set a timer, and write without stopping) and mind mapping (a right-brained style of outlining), both of which I’ve used to varying degrees of success. But, I’m telling you, I have now drunk the Kool-aid big time. I’m a convert. I’m using mind mapping and free writing for everything I write, including this newsletter.

As I was working on my novel the other day, an idea for a new scene popped into my head. I duly made notes about it, as I do, but the feeling I needed to work on it would not go away.  “But it’s not in order,” I cried. “Tough,” I answered back. “Do it anyway.” And so, I did. You might have felt the thunder rumbling and the earth shaking, so big a departure this was for me. It feels very freeing, and also a little scary. Lighting out for new territory!

Photo by Jess Watters on Unsplash

So I’m starting to take a look at all the ways I do things, and try to keep myself open to new techniques and styles.  And, by the way, doing the free writing is fast becoming a foundational practice for me. It feels like a way to keep me connected to myself and my writing in 15 simple minutes a day. And make no mistake about it, most of what I write in my free writes is crap, plain and simple. It’s the process that is so mind blowing and illuminating.

(I wrote a blog post that tells more about free writing at the start of the week. Check it out here.)

So please do tell—have you made any changes in the way you approach your writing lately? Leave a comment and tell me. I’d love to hear about it. I’m open to more new ideas!

Your Priorities As A Writer

What are your priorities as a writer? Do you have a firm sense of them? Knowing what comes first in your career and life can help you take hold of your time management.

Photo by Renáta-Adrienn on Unsplash

I started thinking about this after reading an article in the May 2018 issue of the Romance Writers Report, the magazine of the Romance Writers of America. It was written by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who, as many of you may know, is a very prolific writer. Bear in mind that her priorities as a writer might be different than yours–but that’s the point. You need to figure out what works for you. (Also note that these priorities are for indie writers. She seems to take a somewhat dim view of traditionally published writers.)

Here are her priorities:

#1–Self-Care (getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well)

#2–Spend Time With Loved Ones

#3–Writing New Words

#4–Publish New Words

#5–Whatever Keep You Healthy and Happy

So…she lumps marketing, if it makes you happy, into #5. I should think a traditionally published author might want to substitute marketing for publishing new words in #4. And then, of course, there are those of us who teach and coach or, gasp, have a day job. That has to fit in there somewhere, too. Right?

But I feel like these guidelines are an excellent starting point for a discussion you might want to have with yourself, your spouse, or your family.  Think about it. Roll it around in your mind, talk about it. You don’t have to figure it all out at once. But I do think it is good to have a firm grasp of your priorities so you can pull yourself back when you deviate from them.

Don’t cringe at the words self-care. It is just about eating right, exercising, and sleeping enough, which are baseline activities that will do more for your writing than just about anything.  And maybe you are an extreme introvert who doesn’t give a rip about any damned loved ones, in which case you can knock that priority out.  But I do try my best to take care of myself, and I do love my loved ones, so I am pretty good with her outline up to #3, but after that I’d diverge, adding:

#4–Paid Work

#5–Marketing

#6–Things that Make Me Happy and Healthy

In truth, I’m pretty good about the latter, given that much of what makes me happy is spending time with loved ones. And going to France every year, from where I just returned.  Honestly, what tends to get shoved aside when things get overwhelming is my own personal writing–and I know I am not alone in that.

How about you? Do you have priorities firmly planted in your mind, or maybe even written down somewhere? Care to share them? I’d love to hear what they are in the comments.

(If you want to read more about this topic from Kristine, go to her site and search for “burnout” or “sustainability.”)

On Leaving..And Coming Home (A Love Letter)

As you might have guessed, I am home from France. Jet lag has not been terrible this time. We got home Tuesday evening and as I write this on Friday, I’m feeling pretty good. Which gives me time to dig into all the things that got put on hold while I was gone.  And, boy, do things pile up.

Some views of Collioure

I’ve got a ton of recommendations this month because I had a lot of time to read and also many confined hours on long flights in which to watch movies (which I’m usually bad at). But I did want to write a brief recap of the trip and encourage you to think about coming with next year. So here goes.

We landed in Paris on the last day of the month and spent an afternoon wandering about the neighborhood near the Gare De Lyon, which was surprisingly appealing.  Also, getting a good dose of daylight helps with jet lag. After a pretty good night’s sleep, it was on to Perpignan via the fast train, which is comfy and relaxing.  Dali called the Perpignan train station the center of the world, and while that seems a bit excessive, the city is growing on me. We stayed in the historic center, full of twisty streets and fun shops and a divine place to eat, Restaurant Le St. Jean.   (In case you ever find yourself there, it is right next to the Cathedral St. Jean and you actually eat in a courtyard right next to the church.)

The next day it was on to Collioure, our location for the next three weeks. That included two weeks of writing workshops and one week of leisure in between. There is something so special about sinking into one place for an extended period of time. Even though I was working two weeks out of three, it is infinitely relaxing. On workshop weeks, we meet every morning from 9:30 to 12:30 (except on Sundays and Wednesdays, which are market days, so we meet at 10 in order to give everyone time to wander the stalls). Our teaching is a combination of mini-lectures on writing, discussion of assigned books (see below), writing exercises and prompts, and discussion of the assignments everyone has completed the night before. You may think that people don’t make much progress on their writing when billeted in paradise, but the opposite is actually true. Every year we see writers make huge leaps in their works in progress, get re-inspired, and write more than they thought they would—all while enjoying the hiking, shopping, eating and drinking of the region.

But three weeks does fly by—and last Saturday it was back to Paris, this time to stay in a lovely Airbnb in Montparnasse , my favorite neighborhood in the city. It rained like a mofo on Sunday afternoon but once the rain cleared, everyone emerged, and we were able to celebrate the hub’s birthday at a fun restaurant. The next day we played tourist and went to the top of the Arch de Triomphe (there was an elevator, thank god—my poor hip couldn’t have done the stairs).  And then, sadly, the next day it was time to leave.

But leaving is made easier by knowing I’ll be back next year. And even more than that, by knowing that my family awaited me back home. Along with good friends, my own comfy bed, my crazy fat cats, the even crazier family dog, and good plans for the fall—not to mention crisp autumn days. (Temps in Collioure were in the mid-80s, but the humidity was very, very high and the mosquitos were killer.)

So that’s my story about leaving and coming home. Oh, while there, I read over my novel one last time and fixed a couple inconsistencies. My agent is submitting it even as we speak I write. And I made some good progress on my next book. So, there was that, too.

We should now be back to regular weekly programming here. So, I’ll see you next week—but please do leave a comment and tell me what you’ve been up to.  And see below for the links to September reading and watching, as well as a new feature, a weekly prompt or two!

A Prompt

We had such fun using prompts at the writing workshops in France, I thought I’d start a new series and give you a prompt thematically linked to the love letter’s topic each week. Here is this week’s effort:

Write about a time you hated leaving. Now write about a time you couldn’t wait to leave.

September Round-up 

Reading

An American Marriage  by Tayari Jones.  This was one of the books we assigned in our France workshops (the other being Educated, by Tara Westover, which I highly recommend). I had decidedly mixed feelings about this novel and can’t help but feel it is over-rated. We did have lively discussions about it, though!

Pardonable Lies, the third Maisie Dobbs mystery, by Jacqueline Winspear.  I picked up #10 or #11, not sure which, of this series and liked it so much I’m reading them from the beginning.

The French Exit,  by Patrick DeWitt. I hate to speak ill of a fellow Portland writer, so I won’t. But I will say this book was just not my cup of tea.

Two books by J.A. Jance, both in the Ali Reynolds series. A friend finished Deadly Stakes in Collioure and gave it to me to read. I enjoyed it, so I downloaded the first in the series, Edge of Evil.  I’ll definitely read more.

Slain in Schiaparelli, the third Joanna Hayworth vintage clothing mystery, by my friend Angela Sanders. I love everything she writes, her capers and her kite mysteries written under the name Clover Tate, as well.

Watching

 A Wrinkle in Time. This was my favorite book growing up—my sister and I read it a million times. But the movie was terrible, awful, wretched. I hated it.

The Post. Conversely, I loved this one. It tells the story of the Washington Post publishing the Pentagon Papers, and how that turned the paper into the national publication it is today, as well as changing Katharine Graham from a D.C. socialite into a powerhouse publisher. Highly recommended.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The Mr. Rogers documentary. Proof that Fred really was as nice as he appeared on TV. Wonderful.

Book Club. Pure fun. Loved it. Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, and Diane Keaton.  So good.

Facebook Group

And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already.  I post lots of good links and we often have lively writerly discussions going.   https://www.facebook.com/groups/1910275502543679/

 

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter. It  contains affiliate links.

 

 

 

 

Two Writing Exercises

Photo by Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

While I’m in France, teaching writing, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating good cheese and bread, and drinking lots of wine, I’m offering either a collection of writing prompts, story starters, or exercises each week. Today I have a couple of writing exercises for you. I hope you will use them to jump-start your writing!

Sometimes writers think that writing exercises are for beginners. Wanna-bes. Not for serious scriveners like you and me. And then the writing stalls. And you don’t know what to do with yourself. That is when, my friend, you pull out the writing exercises. Because they will help you.

It’s funny, because practitioners of other creative genres rely on exercises and warm-ups as an integral part of their practices–dancers and musicians spring readily to mind.  Yet we writers (because I don’t think I’m alone in my sometimes-disdain for them) are far too apt to dismiss them as irrelevant.

When you are stuck, when you have been away from your writing for a while, when you are fishing for ideas—pull out the writing exercises! Here’s why I think they work: because they give you some structure to hang your words on.  No longer are you facing the empty page (or screen).  You’ve got somebody telling you what to do.  Which is helpful when you don’t exactly know what to do.

And here’s my best tip for working with writing exercises: use them in relationship to your current project.  This helps me to convince myself that I’m not wasting my time, since I’ll be generating ideas and scenes for my WIP.  The other thing I find is that while doing this, ideas for other projects come up.  I just had a brilliant (she said modestly) image for a short story appear, for instance.

Here are two that I’ve used over the years. I hope you find them helpful!

The DaVinci Device

 

The Bluebird Canyon Special

I will return to regular love letter programming on September 30th.

The Journal Chronology

While I’m in France, teaching writing, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating good cheese and bread, and drinking lots of wine, I’m offering either a collection of writing prompts, story starters, or exercises each week. This week, I have something a little different—a journaling technique you might find useful. Enjoy!

So here goes.  My current favorite type of journal writing is the Chronology.  This is my name for actually writing about the things that happen in your life, the people you run into, the day to day events that make up your existence.

The desire to write a chronology of our days is why many of us are drawn to journal writing.  It is the urge to make meaning of our lives, or perhaps the desire to leave something for posterity.  The chronology records history in the making if we’re lucky–witness the diaries of pioneer women that have been such wonderful records of that era.

The chronology is also fertile ground for practicing the writer’s craft.  In noting the details of your best friend’s outfit and how she never seems to wear things that match yet she always looks great, that you start to understand how to create characters that come alive on the page.  In writing a description of the coffee shop you visited the day before, the seeds of description and setting are created.  And so on, through all the aspects of observing a day to day life.

The chronology is what fills our journals with rich detail and interesting tidbits.  And yet, this kind of writing is what is often sorely lacking in my own diary.  Why?  Because when writing a journal on a regular basis, I tend to get lazy.  It is far easier to indulge in a whiny emotional outburst or write quick morning pages that are really more about the day’s to-do list than to really write about the what happened the day before: how the sun looked on the river as you crossed the bridge, or the way your son’s face lit up when he took a bite of chocolate.

I realized how the quality of my journaling had deteriorated when I read My Life in France, by Julia Child, after seeing the movie, Julie and Julia.  If you saw the movie, there were several scenes where Paul, Julia’s husband, is seen sitting at a desk writing letters to his twin brother back home.  Those letters were apparently so filled with detail and wonderful tidbits that they were used heavily by Julia and her nephew in writing her memoir (which is, by the way, delightful, and well worth reading).  Upon reading this I was struck by what a rich vein of gold letter writing results in, and then I realized that journal writing could be the same thing.  My journal writing could be a rich vein of gold, if only I weren’t so indulgent about all those whiny outbursts.  Or obsessed with to-do lists.

So, I resolved to actually write something of worth in my diary and began to sit every morning and write an account of the day before.  Yet this chronology meandered and lacked cohesion.  (I know, I know, it’s a journal, it is not supposed to be perfect.  But, as with all writing, I need to feel comfortable inside the form before it takes off for me.)  And then I read a charming article in O magazine.  I’m sorry I can’t point you to the exact month because I tore it out and gave it to my daughter, but it was sometime this past fall.  The article was written by a woman who had recently had a baby.  During her pregnancy, she wrote down every single item she had eaten and with whom, the idea being that her baby was the sum total of all of this food and company.

And from this I got my brilliant idea–keeping a Food Journal.  No, not the kind that nutritionists and diet experts tell you to keep, though that can easily be incorporated.  This kind of food journal notes not only what you ate, but where you ate it, who you ate it with and what they were wearing, what song was on the radio as you drove down the freeway with a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich in hand, whatever.  And then that leads to a paragraph about how, you guessed it, the sun shone on the river as you crossed the bridge over it and so forth and so on and before you know it you’ve written a chronology of your entire morning, full of lush detail and interesting anecdotes and now you’re onto lunch, which is a whole other story in itself, because your numbskull co-worker told that stupid joke and then your boss yelled at all of you while she had a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

What the Food Journal really does is give you an excuse.  It gives you an excuse to write about everything that happened in your day, and in giving you a structure, it makes it so much easier than to meander about in your brain and try to remember what you did.  Food is life, as we know, and it turns out that writing about food makes remembering life easier.

This kind of journaling takes a long time.  Writing about your entire day could easily take your entire morning.  So, you might want to limit yourself to one aspect of it.  Or not.  What I find is that this kind of writing, the loving attention to the detail of reality, leads me back into the writing that I truly love doing–writing novels.  And then the hell part is that I get so engrossed in writing novels that I don’t have time to keep a food journal or really any kind of diary.

But that is okay, because my journal will be there waiting for me, as it always is, when I feel the need to write morning pages to get myself back on track again.  Or to do some writing exercises because I’ve lost my way and feel blocked.  Or because something happened to me of such import that I feel the urge to write about it.  That’s the great thing about journals–they are always there for you.

Are you a journaler? Got any techniques you use that you’d like to share? Leave a comment!

I will return to regular love letter programming on September 30th.