Writing in Books: Valuable Marginalia or Graffiti?

February 22, 2011 at 10:40 am | Posted in The Muse | 4 Comments
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As a life-long bibliophile, it’s easy to admit I consider books so much more than merely ink on paper. You want to see me freak out? Use a book as a coaster for your drink. Crack the spine of a paperback. Or dog-ear the corners of the pages. When I’m reading, I bask in the peace some people find in church. Defacing a book is the equivalent of putting Cheez Whiz on a communion cracker.

That said, for decades, I would never even consider writing in a book. That kind of graffiti ranked right up there with the sacrilegious coaster thing. But I did pardon that sin for one exception: college textbooks. Why not? Everyone else was doing it. (Just try to find a used textbook *without* highlighting and margin notes!)

Yes, I, too, sullied those margins daily; it helped me learn the material, collect my thoughts about a particular passage, and served as a study guide to prep for tests.

When I began my self-study of the writing craft, I continued the practice as a way to mentally Post-It Note the concepts I wanted to remember. Somehow it seemed okay to engage with the content in a book where the author had provided a feast of information for my consumption. But what if I don’t like what the author is serving? Is it defacing the book if you counter with your own opinions in the margins? Apparently, that wasn’t uncommon in the eras of Charles Darwin, William Blake, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Walt Whitman, among others, who were known to write commentary in other people’s books.

In the Newberry Library, those books reside in a climate-controlled vault and are considered valuable *because of* the marginalia. According to that recent NY Times article, the margin notes are thought of as fodder for literary archeology, revealing insights to the readers of that time period.

Hmmm… I never thought of it like that.

***

Do you write in your books? Nonfiction and fiction? Does coming across the marginalia of others give you a greater insight to the book? If you’re a serial marginalia-ist, are you reluctant to embrace digital books?

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3 Things You Can Learn From Jack LaLane

January 24, 2011 at 11:51 am | Posted in The Journey, The Muse, Writing Craft | 6 Comments
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“The only way you can hurt the body is not use it. Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it’s never too late.”

Jack LaLane, an American fitness guru, died Sunday afternoon at 96 years old and left behind a legacy, motivating millions of people since his first gym in 1936. This is a man who lived and loved his passion for health and fitness for more than 75 years.

So, how does his life relate to writing? I’m glad you asked. Because Jack LaLane’s “use it or lose it” and “it’s never too late” philosophies can be directly applied to your life as a writer.

Let me count the ways:

1. If you take care of your wellness by keeping an active lifestyle…

You live longer, with a better quality of life, and you can write more! This is something that has hit close to home recently. As I write this blog post, I can feel my back brace hugging my squishy muffin top. But that feeling, as restrictive and uncomfortable as it is, sure beats being flat on my back for a week, alternating between screaming like a wounded animal with every passing spasm and lying nearly comatose from a tablet cocktail of Motrin, Flexeril, Percocet, and Zanax. How did I end up like this? One word: atrophy.

Over the last ten years that I’ve been writing, my activity level has dropped considerably and I’ve become sedentary—hour-after-hour, day-after-day, I sit at the computer. At one point, I put on a pedometer, just to see how much I moved in a day. I discovered that on some days I walk less than 200 steps. What has that done to me? My weight has increased by 30 lbs. and my muscles have lost tone, strength, and flexibility. How did I hurt my back? I spent six hours in the mall doing Christmas returns. How embarrassing is that?! I wish I could say: While cycling during the eighty-seventh mile of a triathlon, my wheel came off my bike and I crashed into a tree. That would be a much better reason to be in a back brace.

Jack was right: Use it or lose it. I don’t have to train for a triathlon, but I do need to make exercise a priority and a regular part of my daily routine, not use it as a reward when I get my computer work done. Because it’s never done. There will always be another chapter/article/interview/manuscript to write/edit/publish/promote.

2.  If you keep your mind sharp…

You can continue to write until you take your last breath. Ok, so obviously the body needs exercise, but so does the brain. While spending time in South Florida, a retirement landscape of aluminum walkers, I had the opportunity to people-watch in a completely different demographic than the helicopter-mom/Hummer3 set in The OC beach suburbia in California. And, after observing the locals, I can’t decide which is more scary: having a sharp mind trapped in a decaying, shrinky-dink body, or having an atrophied raisin-brain in an old, but functional body.

The thought of being in either condition in my golden years scares the crap outta me. I mean, I’ve had my share of raisin-brain days lately, but I think that’s because I’ve stopped doing something I’ve done every year for the last 20+ years: take classes to learn something new. I’ve always been an education and information junkie and in addition to countless craft-of-writing classes, I’ve taken classes to learn Photoshop, Tai Chi, kickboxing, archery, picture framing, knitting, bellydancing, henna tattooing, beading, tole painting, stand-up comedy, improv, American Sign Language, Italian, Zumba, and djembe drumming. Mental deterioration happens the same way muscles become atrophied.

Jack was right: Use it or lose it. I think it’s all part of finding balance in life—making time to learn something new, different, interesting. I used to sit down with a highlighter as soon as the community education brochure came in the mail and mark all the classes I wanted to take. It’s not a luxury, for long-term mental health, it’s necessary.

3.  If you let your muse out to play…

She will continue to create. But if you neglect her, your creativity will weaken just as significantly as any other muscle. Sadly, this I know. I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it has taken me to write this blog post. If you guessed more than an hour, keep guessing (and multiply that hour by four). I’ve never been a fast writer. My internal editor edits and re-edits every sentence before moving on to the next. But when I was working on The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, I’d get into “The Zone”—that place where my husband kisses my forehead in the morning and goes off to work, then returns later to find me unshowered, still in pjs, still writing, and I say, “Oh, you came home for lunch?” and he replies, “It’s dinnertime.” It’s been years since I’ve exercised my creative muscles (writing articles and interviews, editing and teaching don’t count to my muse).

Jack was right: Use it or lose it. The worst thing a writer can lose is her creative flow. It circles back to finding balance again. Move. Learn. Create. All three are equally important and need equal attention.

When it comes down to it, Jack LaLane was right. It’s never too late to take care of your body, mind, and soul. He has proven that if you take care of yourself and pursue your passion—both lead to a long and happy life.

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Anti-Procrastination Project – Do It Now!

November 19, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Posted in The Muse | 11 Comments
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Artwork by Richard Krzemien

Artwork by Richard Krzemien

I have something to admit. (Isn’t that the first step to recovery?) My name is Annette Fix and I am the official Procrastination Poster Girl.

For the last 8 months, I’ve hit an all-time productivity low. Sure, I’ve been crazy busy, but I’ve been crazy busy procrastinating—rearranging my schedule to complete my tasks later later later tomorrow tomorrow, hey, I’ll just do it next week, starting on Monday.

Sure, I’ve gotten a few things done—wrote an article here, an interview there, a few editing projects, some teaching, but nowhere near my 2009 out-put. No creative writing. No blogging. No book marketing. And I’ve virtual dropped off the face of the social networking grid. In this noisy online world, I may as well be pushing up cyber daisies.

So, I decided it was time to hit the ground running. No more bumping my to-dos from one day to the next in my Google Calendar. Time to pull the bench splinters out of my ass and get back into the game.

And, right when I need it, the universe always seems to provide the perfect message to help me on my path. Yesterday, I opened an e-newsletter and found this article:

9 Simple Solutions For Procrastinators
by Christine Kane

Irony: As I started to write this article, I thought, “I’ll just go play one Sudoku game first.” I caught myself in the act and marched to my laptop.

People who say that procrastination is about laziness are probably the same people who think that anorexia is about not eating enough.

Procrastination isn’t about laziness. It’s about fear. It’s about perfectionism. It’s about overwhelm. We all experience it, and there are some tricks to help you get moving again.

Here are 9 ways to break the procrastination habit:

1 – When you get an idea, do some little thing to begin.

When I read Stephen King’s book On Writing, I noticed something. I noticed that when Stephen King gets an idea, he writes it. Immediately and imperfectly.

Most people get an idea. Then they sit there. They wonder if it’s a good idea. Then, they wonder if it’s a good idea some more.

Got an idea? Begin it now!

2 – All hail small chunks of time!

Lots of us complain about having no time. My guess is that we all have lots of time. It just doesn’t happen to be all at once.

Are you waiting for many hours of spare time to begin your idea, your project, or your taxes? Stop waiting! Learn to use the spare half hour that comes up here and there. (I gave myself 45 minutes to write this article just to take my own advice.)

3 – Agree to do it badly.

Set a goal to do it badly. Set a goal to show up. Let go of doing it ALL, or doing it WELL.

Some of my coaching clients’ biggest victories have a lot more to do with getting over perfectionism and fear, than they do about getting it all done perfectly.

4 – Commit aloud.

Call a friend and say something like this: “I’m going to spend the next hour working on creating my new product.” Then go do it.

Call the friend after the half hour and make her congratulate you. Repeat daily.

5 – Define quantities.

Nebulous goals make for nebulous results. “I’m gonna get my office organized” is a lot like saying, “We oughtta do something about Global Warming.”

Most procrastinators have a hard time defining quantities. We think everything needs to be done NOW.

When are you going to do it? For how long? Which part of your office? The file cabinet? Or your desk?

Define the goal and acknowledge its completion.

6 – Install this System Upgrade into your Mental Hard Drive: Less is More.

Have fewer goals. Have no more than three priorities for a week.

Why?

Because you’re not lazy. You’re just trying to do too much.

Find out what it feels like to accomplish one thing instead of not quite getting to everything. Wow – what a difference this makes!

7 – Do it first.

My first coach made me write songs first thing in the morning. He told me to schedule the 2-hour chunk as my first activity upon waking.

Why?

“Because you’re telling the universe that this is your priority. And then the universe lines up everything to align with your priority.”

Action grounds your priorities. It makes them real. It also makes your day easier because you’re not wasting energy thinking about this thing you’re supposed to be doing.

8 – Avoid nose-bleed activities.

Email, voicemail, web stats – any activity that bleeds itself into your whole day becomes a non-activity. It becomes a nose-bleed.

When you do it all the time, you never complete it. You just let it slowly drain the very life force from you. Define times for these activities. Then, turn off your email, your cell phone, your web stats, until that time comes.

9 – Don’t ask how you “feel” about doing the activity.

Have you ever committed to getting fit? And then when the alarm goes off, you lie in bed thinking, “Do I really feel like going to the gym?” (Like you even have to ask!)

Change this pattern. Make your decision the night before. Commit to getting up and going right to the gym, the computer, the blank canvas. Don’t have coffee and sigh and think, “I’ll probably feel more like it at lunch time.” You won’t!

If it’s a priority, don’t waste time asking yourself how you feel about doing it. Feelings are an easy out.


Christine Kane is the Mentor to Women Who are Changing the World. She helps women uplevel their lives, their businesses and their success. Her weekly LiveCreative eZine goes out to over 12,000 subscribers. If you are ready to take your life and your world to the next level, you can sign up for a F.R.E.E. subscription at http://christinekane.com.

(One thing I *did* do recently: I edited an interview with Christine Kane for the WOW! WomenOnWriting “Creativity Carnival” issue.)

SO…there we have it, dear readers. Nine great tips to kick productivity into gear. Are ya with me?

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Perfectionism and Competitiveness: Are You a Winner or a Loser?

October 12, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Posted in The Muse | 16 Comments
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winningHas perfectionism or competitiveness ever strangled the joy out of your muse? Both traits can be creative suicide for a writer—or, at the very least, they can rob you of a much needed desktop Snoopy Dance.

Example: Today, I received an email from Jessica Strawser, editor of Writer’s Digest. I felt a flutter of excitement and knew it had something to do with the results of the competition I entered back in May. The subject line “Your Self Published Book Entry” was a pretty solid clue I was right. My muse whispered, “Get ready to dance. It must be good news or you wouldn’t have gotten an email.”

So, I opened the email and read: “One of my most enjoyable tasks as editor of Writer’s Digest is passing along good news to writers. This is one of those fun occasions. It is my pleasure to tell you that your book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir in the Life Stories category, has been chosen as an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest 17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. Your book will be promoted in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest. In addition, you will receive a letter, a Notable Award Certificate and $50 worth of Writer’s Digest Books.”

When I read the words “honorable mention,” my heart sank. It felt like I’d received a thanks-for-participating ribbon like the ones handed out in grade school. Instead of elation, I immediately told my muse she would have to work harder next time. Write a better book. Tell a more compelling story. Something. Something to make it win. It didn’t matter to me that there were probably hundreds of writers who didn’t receive an email at all. It mattered that my book wasn’t good enough to win.

Yes, I am self-aware enough to understand that my reaction is self-flagellation. My perfectionism and competitiveness are the same personality traits that made me hound my university English professor about why I received an A- in one of her classes and an A in the other. Why the A- grade? What could I have done differently? Better?

I know I’m tough on myself and I’m competitive. I believe there is always room for improvement—in anything and everything I do. But today, I realized how much joy I lose when I let those tendencies run roughshod over the moments I should be celebrating: the milestones, the acknowledgments, the good reviews, etc.

So, I’ve decided that when I receive my March/April issue, I’m going to frame the magazine page my book title appears on as a reminder to be joyful and grateful for my accomplishments. And I’m looking forward to expanding my writing craft library with my $50 worth of WD books!

Ok, dear readers, I showed you mine, so what are your writer demons?

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Establish Effective Writing Goals

September 4, 2008 at 4:57 pm | Posted in The Muse | Leave a comment
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One of the biggest struggles freelance writers and aspiring novelists face is establishing a daily writing schedule.

In the the workforce, an employer assigns a time that the workday begins and ends, as well as the time and length of lunch and breaks. Work-at-home writers have the luxury and curse of defining their own schedules. It’s often difficult to carve out the time to write when juggling traditional employment, domestic responsibilities, and caring for children.

The best way for a writer to meet her daily word count is to set effective writing goals. It’s not enough to say: “My goal is to be published by the end of the year.” Goals need to be measurable, meaningful, and attainable.

Attainable. It’s always great to dream big. The NYT Bestseller List. Oprah’s Book Club Selection. Appearances on the Tonight Show and Good Morning, America. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. Post those images on your Vision Board.

The distance between where we are and where we want to be often seems insurmountable. Establishing effective goals can help close that perceived gap. Baby steps. Bird by bird. There are a number of ways to describe the same concept of taking manageable and doable steps toward reaching our goals.

If your dream is to become a self-supporting, full-time freelance writer and leave your day job, make an action plan to get you to your destination. Outline each individual step. Take a business course for freelance writers, so you know how to properly set up your new business. Examine your knowledge base and decide what markets you want to pursue. Join something like Premium Green–a resource for information and market listings and an organization of supportive women freelance writers on a private listserv.

Perhaps you’re a freelance writer and you’ve always wanted to write a novel. Take the steps: take a novel writing class, come up with your premise, outline your story, do any necessary research, join a local or online critique group. Give yourself a challenge to get moving: join other aspiring novelists and participate in National Novel Writing Month. Each individual step you take brings you closer to attaining your dream.

To set attainable goals, you must be realistic about what you are able to achieve. If you set goals like winning next year’s Oscar for Best Original Screenplay before you’ve taken your first screenwriting class, you are setting yourself up for failure. Make the goals do-able.

Measurable. It’s always good to want to become a better writer and be successful in your writing career, but those aren’t measurable goals. You can only gauge your progress toward your goals by using concrete and measurable results.

Define your goals in terms of time and number. “I will write X number of pages this week.” “I will submit five queries by Wednesday.” Don’t get bogged down by over-scheduling yourself. You won’t feel any sense of accomplishment if you pile too much on your goals plate. Take those cliched baby steps one-at-a-time. You have to crawl before you can run, grasshopper. It’s best to have success at a few incremental goals than failure with a lot of big ones.

Meaningful. The most important point I can make is to remind you to run your own race. Set goals that are meaningful to you. It’s not about keeping up with other writers. There will always be someone who has received more accolades, achieved greater financial success, or acquired more publishing credits. In the end, reaching your writing career goals should be personally satisfying to YOU.

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Create a Vision Board for Your Writing Dreams

August 23, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Posted in The Muse | 1 Comment
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Last week, I was visiting a friend and noticed a large collage on a poster above her desk. She was excited to tell me about her “vision board” which contained images and words she had clipped from magazines. She told me she uses the board as a daily reminder and inspiration to pursue her dreams.

I thought it was great idea and immediately began thinking of what I would choose for my own vision board.

Today, while I was thinking about what to post on the blog, I was poking around in a pile of papers on my desk. I came across a hastily jotted note to set up another Girl’s Day Event with my writer friends. We try to get together once a month to get out from behind the computer and pretend we have a life. So far, we’ve had a painting day, a park picnic, lunch and art walk in Laguna Beach, Chinatown excursion, Garment District shopping day, and pilates day. I thought a Vision Board Day would be fun. So, I Googled “vision board” to give me some ideas on how to set it up.

That’s when I came across a great blog (http://www.christinekane.com/blog) and found an article I wanted to share with my Paper Trail readers. After you finish reading this article, be sure to stop by her blog. She has tons of great articles about finding ways to be creative.

How to Make a Vision Board
by Christine Kane

What is a Vision Board?

A vision board (also called a Treasure Map or a Visual Explorer or Creativity Collage) is typically a poster board on which you paste or collage images that you’ve torn out from various magazines. It’s simple.

The idea behind this is that when you surround yourself with images of who you want to become, what you want to have, where you want to live, or where you want to vacation, your life changes to match those images and those desires.

For instance, before I ever started performing music and I had no idea how I’d ever get a gig, write enough songs, or assemble a press kit, I drew a picture of myself in a bar with people watching me perform (I’m a terrible visual artist, so I actually had to label the people “people!”). And though it wasn’t the only factor in making it happen, I had a calendar full of bar and coffeehouse gigs by the next year.

My drawing was a kind of a vision board. Vision boards do the same thing as my drawing did. They add clarity to your desires, and feeling to your visions. For instance, at the time I did my drawing, I knew I wanted to play in bars and coffeehouses. (I have since left the that circuit, and I’m performing in theatres and at conferences. But in my early twenties, I wanted to play in bars and coffeehouses. I was pretty clear about that!) Taking the time to draw it out, even poorly, made it indelible in my mind.

There are several methods you can use for creating your vision board. I’ve written about each one below. You can choose which one works best for you, depending on where you find yourself on this path of creating your life.

Supplies you’ll need for creating a Vision Board:

– Poster board. (Target sells a really nice matte finish board. I highly recommend it.)

– A big stack of different magazines. (You can get them at libraries, hair salons, dentist offices, the YMCA.) Make sure you find lots of different types. If you limit your options, you’ll lose interest after a while. When I facilitate my women’s retreats, I always make sure we have plenty of Oprah, Real Simple, Natural Home, Yoga Journal, Dwell, Ode, Parenting, Money, Utne, and an assortment of nature magazines.

– Glue. Not Elmers. (It makes the pages ripple.) I like using Yes! Glue or Rubber cement. Glue sticks are my second choice because they don’t last.

Before you begin your vision board:

No matter which method you’re choosing, have a little ritual before you begin your vision board. Sit quietly and set the intent. With lots of kindness and openness, ask yourself what it is you want. Maybe one word will be the answer. Maybe images will come into your head. Just take a moment to be with that. This process makes it a deeper experience. It gives a chance for your ego to step aside just a little, so that you can more clearly create your vision.

Put on soft music. My favorite music for activities like this is Anugama Shamanic Dream I and Shamanic Dream II. I love these CD’s for massage or any activity where you want to keep your mind quiet.

The Five Steps of Creating a Vision Board:

Step 1: Go through your magazines and tear the images from them. No gluing yet! Just let yourself have lots of fun looking through magazines and pulling out pictures or words or headlines that strike your fancy. Have fun with it. Make a big pile of images and phrases and words.

Step 2: Go through the images and begin to lay your favorites on the board. Eliminate any images that no longer feel right. This step is where your intuition comes in. As you lay the pictures on the board, you’ll get a sense how the board should be laid out. For instance, you might assign a theme to each corner of the board. Health, Job, Spirituality, Relationships, for instance. Or it may just be that the images want to go all over the place. Or you might want to fold the board into a book that tells a story. At my retreats, I’ve seen women come up with wildly creative ways to present a vision board.

Step 3: Glue everything onto the board. Add writing if you want. You can paint on it, or write words with markers.

Step 4: (optional, but powerful) Leave space in the very center of the vision board for a fantastic photo of yourself where you look radiant and happy. Paste yourself in the center of your board.

Step 5: Hang your vision board in a place where you will see it often.

Three Types of Vision Boards:

1 – The “I Know Exactly What I Want” Vision Board

Do this vision board if:

– You’re very clear about your desires.
– You want to change your environment or surroundings.
– There is a specific thing you want to manifest in your life. (i.e. a new home, or starting a business.)

How to create this vision board:

With your clear desire in mind, set out looking for the exact pictures which portray your vision. If you want a house by the water, then get out the Dwell magazine and start there. If you want to start your own business, find images that capture that idea for you. If you want to learn guitar, then find that picture. I remember at the last retreat, one woman yelled out, “If anyone finds a picture of a little girl with red hair who looks happy, give it to me!” And someone else yelled out, “I’m looking for a Cadillac!” Pretty soon, a lively trading session began. Following the five steps above, create your vision board out of these images.

2 – The “Opening and Allowing” Vision Board

Do this vision board if:

– You’re not sure what exactly you want
– You’ve been in a period of depression or grief
– You have a vision of what you want, but are uncertain about it in some way.
– You know you want change but don’t know how it’s possible.

How to create this vision board:

Go through each magazine. Tear out images that delight you. Don’t ask why. Just keep going through the magazines. If it’s a picture of a teddy bear that makes you smile, then pull it out. If it’s a cottage in a misty countryside, then rip it out. Just have fun and be open to whatever calls to you. Then, as you go through Step 2 above, hold that same openness, but ask yourself what this picture might mean. What is it telling you about you? Does it mean you need to take more naps? Does it mean you want to get a dog, or stop hanging out with a particular person who drains you? Most likely you’ll know the answer. If you don’t, but you still love the image, then put it on your vision board anyway. It will have an answer for you soon enough. Some women at my retreats had NO idea what their board was about, and it wasn’t until two months later that they understood. The Opening and Allowing Vision Board can be a powerful guide for you. I like it better than the first model because sometimes our egos think they know what we want, and lots of times those desires aren’t in alignment with who we really are. This goes deeper than just getting what you want. It can speak to you and teach you a little bit about yourself and your passion.

3 – The “Theme” Vision Board

Do this vision board if:

– It’s your birthday or New Years Eve or some significant event that starts a new cycle.
– If you are working with one particular area of your life. For instance, Work & Career.

How to create this vision board:

The only difference between this vision board and the others is that this one has clear parameters and intent. Before you begin the vision board, take a moment to hold the intent and the theme in mind. When you choose pictures, they will be in alignment with the theme. You can do the Theme Vision Board on smaller pages, like a page in your journal.

Some things to remember about vision boards:

– You can use a combination of all three types of vision boards as you create. Sometimes you might start out doing one kind, and then your intuition takes over and shifts into a whole different mode. That’s called creativity. Just roll with it.

– Your vision board might change as you are making it. I was just talking with a friend of mine who said that she had been making a vision board for the new year. The theme was all about what she wanted in this year. Then, as she pulled pictures and began to lay them out, the theme changed into a simpler one about her everyday life and the moments in each day. It surprised and delighted her to experience that evolution. You might find that you have little epiphanies from making a vision board.

Make a Vision Journal

Another option is to use these same principles in a big sketch book. Get a large sketch book and keep an on-going vision journal. This is especially effective if you’re going through many transitions in your life.

I welcome anyone who has created a vision board to write your own experience in the comments…

Reprinted from Christine Kane’s Blog: Be Creative. Be Conscious. Be Courageous.
First published February 1st, 2007

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Write Now!

August 18, 2008 at 12:30 am | Posted in The Muse | Leave a comment
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It’s not often that inspiration shows up on my mental doorstep, insisting I stop whatever I’m doing and indulge the urge to spill creative juice all over the page.

As a matter of fact, I haven’t had a creative writing burst in years. Sure, I’ve penned articles, interviewed authors, and blathered about one thing or another in blog posts, but I’m talking about the act of storytelling—the writing process that makes my heart sing.

I miss the early mornings when I dove headfirst into the first draft of my memoir, The Break-Up Diet and the next time I looked up from the screen it was dinnertime and my husband was standing over me asking, “Have you eaten or had anything to drink today?” It always felt like waking up from a dream and realizing the world was still functioning outside of my writing bubble. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so content as when the images were forming in my mind and the words were filling the pages.

A couple days ago, inspiration showed up. The scenes of a new book flowed through my head: the settings, the characters, the dialogue—it all came in a rush like water over a broken levee. I stared at the ceiling of my bedroom and it continued from 1:30am to 3am when I finally willed it to stop, promising I would get up and write it all down in the morning.

But I didn’t.

When morning came, there were too many other things that needed my attention. Duties. Responsibilities. The never-ending, daily To Do List. I’ve always honored my commitments to others before my needs, but I can’t help feeling a little slighted—even when it’s my own doing.

So, I’ve decided I’m going to give myself permission to write because it makes me happy. I’ve promised my muse that I will enter NaNoWriMo this November. And it’s a promise I intend to keep.

A Change of Perspective

July 26, 2008 at 6:18 am | Posted in The Muse | Leave a comment
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old-lady-on-motorcycle1Now that I decided to get back on the workout wagon, I set aside time in the morning to go to the gym. And the other day, I was huffing and puffing my way through a step aerobics class, and I looked at the woman beside me. She was older, yet moving deliberately through the series of steps, methodically, though much slower than the younger ladies in class.

I have been attending the same class, without any regularity, for the last four years. And whenever I show up, she’s always there.

When the instructor told the class to grab floor mats for the abdominal exercises, I leaned against a post to catch my breath and between heaving gulps of air, I grumbled that I felt like I was going to drop dead.

The woman turned to me and said, “Keep at it. It gets easier if you stay with it.” Then she mentioned she had been trying to persuade her daughter to come with her to class. “She’s only 68, but she thinks she’s too old. I keep telling her, it’s never too late.”

That was one of those ah-ha moments for me—when simple wisdom echoes like a thunderclap. I thought about so many things I didn’t stick with because they were difficult, and all of the things I told myself it was too late to begin. Writing poetry. Mastering a foreign language. Learning ballroom dancing. Trying scuba diving and skiing.

I think sometimes that can happen with our writing, unless we remember the two most important things: It gets easier if you stay with it. And it’s never too late.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, open up a blank document and write. It’s never too late to get started!

Fill Your Writing Well

July 20, 2008 at 6:19 am | Posted in The Muse | 1 Comment
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As writers, we internalize the sights and sounds around us and use them to create the images that move our readers.

But, when the crispness of these images fade in our own minds, it’s time to leave our quiet, secluded writing room and venture out to collect more sensory detail to fill our depleted well.

Our setting, characters, and dialogue depend on our ability to recall the visual details of locations, behavior and emotions of people, and nuances of human interaction.

10 Ways You Can Restock and Refresh Your Image Well:

  1. Spend a warm, sunny afternoon people watching from the patio of a sidewalk cafe—make up stories about their lives.
  2. Take a walk along a trail canopied by large trees—inhale the scent of mossy piles of fallen leaves.
  3. Go to a petting zoo or pet store—touch and play with the animals, notice the feel of their fur/feathers/scales, their scent, and the feelings they evoke.
  4. Stretch out on a blanket in the grass under a tree in the park—watch the way the sun peeks between the leaves and feel the breeze lift your hair.
  5. Build a sand castle at the beach or collect shells—feel the texture against your fingertips and breathe in the smell of the salted air.
  6. Walk around an outdoor marketplace or farmer’s market—listen to people talk to each other and the shop keepers.
  7. Get on a bus and watch the city go by—look at the design of the buildings, the different types of cars and their drivers, and the people on the street.
  8. Go to a fair, pier, or amusement park to ride a roller coaster, ferris wheel, and carousel—tune in to the feelings these rides evoke in you.
  9. Attend a live music event—let the sound move through you and dance with joyful abandon.
  10. Build a bonfire and roast marshmallows for s’mores—feel the warmth, watch the flames dance and blacken the logs, smell the tang of burning wood, taste the sticky sweetness of the marshmallows.

In addition to filling your well, these jaunts remind you to enjoy your life—outside of your writing room.

What are your favorite ways to gather sensory details?

Writing Through Summer Distractions

July 12, 2008 at 7:46 am | Posted in The Muse | Leave a comment
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Summer is here and there are a million reasons not to work on your novel. There are tide pools to explore, trails to hike, sprinklers to run through, lounge chairs to recline in, and picnics to pack.

This is definitely the most difficult season to stay focused on your computer screen while the sun and outdoor fun beckons.

To reach your set daily word or page count, it takes unwavering discipline—or at least a solid schedule to keep you on track. Neither of which I have, so I won’t be handing out kernels of wisdom on those topics. But, what I will say is that somewhere, someone is waiting to read your story: the adventure you write about may be the only vacation a reader can take.

I grew up in a semi-rural, low desert area where the average summer temperature was 110-115 degrees before noon. During my 15th summer, I read 43 books in 2 1/2 months. Every day, I sat on a lounge chair in front of a whirring fan with a bowl of frozen grapes in my lap, and I went on a trip. I was an auburn-haired girl named Tori, sailing with a cute boy at my family’s vacation house in Nantucket. I spent months on a deserted island riding a beautiful black stallion. I slipped into a wardrobe and was transported to a magical land where animals spoke. I had so many amazing adventures that by the time summer ended, I was exhausted (and exhilarated) by all my travels and adventures. The experiences were so clear and full that I felt I had really been there. It was the only summer I remember now, 25 years later.

So, if for no other reason, carve out time to write for your reader. Use that as your motivation.

Riding the Book Review Roller Coaster

July 4, 2008 at 6:59 am | Posted in The Muse | 2 Comments
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No matter how serene and unaffected you think you’ll be, when the reviews of your debut book start rolling in, you need to be ready for a wild emotional ride. I don’t think there’s a roller coaster theme park in the world that can match the highs and lows.

My memoir, The Break-Up Diet launched on Valentine’s Day. Over the course of the first month, I watched Amazon like the future of my writing career depended on it. It was a lot like waiting in a long line for the best ride. The anticipation. The excitement. The waiting. Then…

Woo-hoo! Readers say the book is “compulsively readable,” “clever and entertaining” and they use words like “superb,” “witty,” “fascinating,” “endearing,” and “terrific.”

You’re in the front car, front seat, with your hands in the air, riding on The Slingshot—rocketing toward the stars with the wind in your face, laughing, flying, and about to take a second lap around the moon.

Then, before the exhilaration cools, more reviews come in: “disappointing,” “not much substance,” “forgettable.”

Welcome to The Death Drop—where you are the only rider aboard, frantically trying to brace yourself in a seat with a broken safety buckle. The car is pushed to the edge of a precipice and you find yourself free-falling with your stomach lodged in your throat and no chance to catch your breath.

And so it goes on The Yo-Yo Ride. Up and down: happy, sad, elated, depressed, confident, worried, thankful, irritated—until finally, you decide to trade in your E-tickets and climb on the Whatever Tram. It’s not an apathy ride; it’s smooth and Zen-like in its simple acceptance and understanding that you can’t please everyone.

All you can do is put your story out into the world. Some people will embrace it, others will not, and that’s okay. You have new stories to tell and your characters need your emotional attention. So, stop checking your Amazon ranking and get back to writing!

Breaking Down Writer’s Block

June 30, 2008 at 8:54 am | Posted in The Muse | Leave a comment
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Let’s face it…some days, it’s just not happening. There you sit, staring at your computer screen with the blinding white of a completely empty page and that blinking cursor mocking you, but nothing comes out.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little skip down a creative path to get your muse back on track with the work that needs to be done. All work and no play can leave your creative child pouting in a corner. However, there is a way to coax her back to the page.

Read through this list of 50 and choose a prompt that resonates with you. Pick one that gives you an immediate image—a story, memory, event, or thought—from which to create.

• What I know for sure…
• A letter to my younger self… (at four milestones in your life)
• Lessons I learned the hard way…
• Something someone said still haunts me…
• My guilty pleasure…
• On my tombstone, it reads…(4-5 short phrases)
• In my eulogy, they said…
• Mistakes were made…
• In my next life…
• She was always right…
• A summertime memory…
• It was like fireworks…
• Innocence–yours or someone else’s…
• A random act of kindness…
• My message in a bottle…
• When I first learned about sex…
• My rebirth, the decision I’m making from here forward…
• My 1st impression was wrong…
• A dream you wish came true…
• He left…
• Independence—yours or someone else’s…
• The consequences of my actions…
• A crazy person who is (or was) in your life…
• Running in the sprinklers…
• A story from your life you’ve told a million times but have never written down…
• I’ve never laughed so hard in my life…
• It was a loss…
• A Secret…
• I thought it was forever…
• Only a little white lie…
• Snow days…
• An obsession…
• A job, a boss, and a sticky situation…
• Monsters in the dark…
• A bad haircut…
• Holidays with the family…
• It was the truth…
• I just won the lottery…
• A broken promise…
• The best or worst date/night/sex of your life…
• A nickname that stuck…
• When the truth is enough and when it’s not… A time when you had to take the truth and twist it…
• A personal win that was icing on the cake…
• A bad thing you did and didn’t feel guilty about… And a bad thing you did that you did feel guilty about…
• My last day…
• Innocence is…Humiliation is…Comfort is…Joyfulness is…Solitude is…
• It was a miracle…
• My first kiss…
• That neighbor…
• With my bare toes in the sand…

Now that you’ve chosen a prompt, begin freewriting about whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece—allow yourself to build a sandcastle with words.

You never know…the gems you may find from writing through one of these prompts could inspire your next novel, short story, or poem. At the very least, your muse will thank you for giving her a much needed chance to play.

Excuses For Not Writing

June 25, 2008 at 7:30 am | Posted in The Muse | Leave a comment
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There is a difference between reasons and excuses. It’s a fine line, but when you apply the concept to writing for a living, it becomes clear which is which.

Do you write every day? Are you doing everything possible to seriously pursue a career as an author or freelance writer? Do you invest time, effort, and money to collect and use book and online resources, attend workshops, critique groups, and conferences to study the craft? Do you consistently seek out new information to learn more about writing and the business of writing? Is writing your passion above all other things you could be doing for a living?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, go read someone else’s blog today. If you answered no to any of these questions, read on and let’s see if you have reasons or excuses for not following your dream and taking your writing seriously.

Reason or Excuse?

“I just don’t have time right now.” = Excuse.
One word: Priorities. Unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day. With other responsibilities like working a day job, higher education, parenting, and domestic duties, there will always be things lined up to consume every hour of your day. If you wait until you have time to pursue your writing career, it’ll never happen. You need to make the time.

When you decide your writing career is a priority in your life, you will find opportunities to spend that precious time working on something just for you. Decide your writing is important, make it important, and realize you deserve to spend your time on it. As women, we know sacrificing for others is viewed as noble, but we also tend to overlook the fact that all martyrs end up dead. And that’s a sure way to guarantee your writing career will never get started.

“I don’t have enough money.” = Excuse.
We’ve all heard the cliche that it takes money to make money. But the key word missing is easily. It takes money to make money easily. Sure, it would be great to have enough money to pay for the newest computer technology and software, a luxury office with all the amenities and a personal assistant. With that kind of money, you could hire private tutors to help improve your writing skills, and pay services to do everything from typing to submitting manuscripts for you. But then you would miss the journey of growing as a writer, working toward and earning your knowledge and experience of the craft. It doesn’t take money. You can begin your writing career with a pen, a notebook, and public library access. Determination is the most valuable thing you can have and it’s free.

“I don’t know how to ___________.” = Excuse.
Not web savvy? Unsure about how or where to start a blog, create a website, or dive into the social networking pool? Don’t know who to query or how to query? How to write good dialogue? How to structure an article?

You’re not alone. No one is born knowing how to do these things—everyone must learn. Don’t feel like you are too far behind everyone else, too old, too young, or too anything. There are books and online resources that can teach you anything you want to know about the craft or business of writing. Enroll in low-cost community college and adult education classes, join local groups made up of people who are interested in the same topics. There is certainly no shortage of information resources available. Seek out these resources.

“I’m not an expert about anything.” = Excuse.
We all know that nonfiction writing—whether it’s an article or a how-to book—requires expertise in the topic. You may not think you have expert knowledge about anything, but everyone is an expert at something. As women, we often undervalue the experience we have. But it’s important to realize that 95% of the people seeking the knowledge we have to offer know less about it than we do.

As an example: I was a single mother, sole support and care of my son from 0 to 15 years-old without any financial support or help raising him—and boy did I learn a lot. Everything from juggling work and parenting responsibilities, dealing with the structures of the public school system to homeschooling to team sports, advising him about developmental changes and sexual activity and relationships, guiding his education and shaping his values, teaching him life skills like common sense, money handling and budgeting, cooking and cleaning for himself; I taught him how to drive and how to defend himself–and the list goes on and on. I don’t particularly think what I know from experience is remarkable in any way because it was just part of my life; however, to the new single mother who is bringing her infant home from the hospital—I have a ton of valuable knowledge she will need and benefit from.

Take a close look at everything in your life—your job, education, culture, lifestyle, hobbies, experiences, etc., and you will discover topics you can write about that will provide answers for someone who has questions.

“There are already so many people writing about _______.” = Excuse.
The last stats I heard: approximately 150,000 new books are published each year. And with the technology that brings publishing to the people by way of subsidy and self-publishing, you can pretty much bet that number has more than tripled now. With the internet providing millions of websites for information consumers, the number of writers and amount of written material is staggering. It’s intimidating and overwhelming, so why bother becoming a professional writer? Simple answer: because you have something to say, you believe in your message, you want to help, inform, encourage, or entertain people, and you really, really, really want to do this.

There is only one viable reason for not pursuing your writing as a career: someone is reading this blog post as a eulogy at your funeral right now.

Don’t let your life pass without pursuing your dream. Just do it.


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