Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bloggers Clearinghouse Contest!!

To any readers who are able to find the TYPO in the recent Jerry Garcia/Seth Godin post: I will personally snail mail you a fabulous prize of no monetary value, culled from my family's generations-old habit of high-class hoarding. You think I'm kidding?  The catch: You have to be brave enough to send me your mailing address. (Note: I am too busy stalking  my kids to stalk other people, and everyone in my family gets lost going to the bathroom so I wouldn't be able to find your house, not to mention your city.)

Hint: Not easy to find typo. After all, I am a world-class editor.   I'll send my email adds after you comment. Privacy guaranteed!

Monday, June 27, 2011

HOW TO KEEP WRITING, PART 4: Advice From Jerry Garcia (& Seth Godin)

Today's post comes from Seth Godin, uber-sales guy.  What sets him apart from the slick and slimy is that he shows actual respect for human beings. (Among his zillion book titles, my personal favorite title is Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing Out of Sync?)

His message is for us, writer tribe. What is "success?"  Here's a confession: Once I received a gorgeous note from someone who'd read my chapbook Bone China.  A certain poem helped her through a tough family situation.  The next day I got a form rejection from a magazine I was dying to publish in--a magazine that  had led me to believe they liked my work.  Guess what I spent the next two weeks obsessing over?

In his post The Grateful Dead and the Top 40, Seth wonders whether "Jerry ever got jealous of acts that were able to put songs on the radio. (The Dead had exactly one hit record...) I hope not..." he continues.

If you think your writing career resembles the walking dead, Jerry Garcia will give you something to live for.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


My father was an intellectual and grammarian whose profession was advertising, which left him with a certain amount of inner conflict. He took fine umbrage at the cigarette ads, which, in the presophisticated 1960s, promised that "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." "It should be AS a cigarette should!" he thundered.

Correct English was a given in our family. My grammar is almost impeccable; I only have trouble remembering definitions of grammatical terms like "pluperfect."

Actual writers spend very little time on words like "pluperfect." The word "perfect" is another story. We get very hard inside when it comes to evaluating our own work. Our brains become like a fist around them, trying to squeeze out the flaws and air bubbles. (Or should it be "as a fist"?)

I didn't start writing fiction until after my father died. But when I was 10, I snitched the manual typewriter from my parents' bedroom because I had an urge to write a story. For some reason, I wanted to write about life in a bubble gum factory. Because I knew nothing about how gum is made, I clacked out one sentence and then stopped. I hit the return a few times to make a space, then typed, "Just how in hell does one write a short story?" (Note the elegant diction.) I went off to do ten year old stuff and forgot about it.

Later, I saw that my father had come into my room and read my sentence. I knew this because he answered my question, writing in pencil on the typewritten page: "You just keep on going."

It was good advice, but it also shows up one thing that keeps writers going: relationship. What my dad really meant was: "Keep on. You can do it." He could have yelled at me for taking the typewriter. He could have gotten mad that I used the word "hell." Or not bothered to read my sentence.

I'll always remember how his casual advice made me feel. Thank you, Dad!

Do the people who evaluate your work encourage you to do better? Is there an emotional intelligence to the criticism, however tough the criticism may be?

Monday, June 13, 2011

HOW TO KEEP WRITING: PART 2. Tricks, Chocolate, and Being Stuck

Here's a categorical statement: Time spent not writing IS writing time.  This Zen-ish conundrum speaks to some core truths about creativity:

Remember being kind to yourself? (More on Chocolate below!) Consider: Would it detract from a vacation to find a book to read on the plane?  If you don't resent preparing an itinerary for a trip, why beat yourself for "not writing" if you spend time editing, doing research, reading for inspiration, or mulling over your characters' conflicts?
writing is putting one word in  front of another
The creative brain thrives on detours. Once I endured days of frustration because I had the time and inclination to write a short story, but no ideas.  It was like constipation, only worse. Then I happened to watch The Darjeeling Limited.  I think the movie's off-center dialogue jogged the non-linear part of my brain.  An idea for a story came to me in the theater, and it had nothing to do with the movie (except that 2 main characters are Indian). It was an emotional connection.

There's hard science behind this anecdote. Livia Blackburne is a brain scientist and Young Adult fiction writer.  In a 2010 guest post for Problobber  on brain function and creativity, Livia briefly explains their science.  Her Brainy Writer's Blog is inspiring because of how she unpacks the creative process.

When you're stuck, change gears.  Let go of your current direction.

1. Walk away from the work.  Let go of the urge to "fix" it.  Concentrate on physical tasks; clean out that awful closet.  Changing focus may feel dreadful.  You may think you'll never write again. This only proves that you care too much ever to quit. Or take micro-breaks. Look away from your work environment (out the window, at pictures on the wall). Don't try to accomplish anything. Just observe. There's more going on in your field of vision than first appears.

2. Catch yourself slant: Keep notebook and pencil around; catch yourself at unguarded times: On waking first thing in the morning, or when you emerge from a completely non-writing task. Write down whatever comes to mind regarding any potential solution to your writing problem.  Don't censor.  Keep this up for a week or two.  See what emerges.

3.  Have the courage to trust yourself.   

4. Read out of your genre. If you're intimidated by poetry/science writing or avoid biography,
dive into them.  Try reading out loud. Confuse your habitual mind with new information.  Marisel Vera, in a post on She Writes, describes how painful criticism of her "workmanlike prose" led to a practice of reading poetry that deepened her language and understanding of her characters...and led to the publication of her first novel, If I Bring You Roses.  Kudos to Marisel!
Marisel Vera's First Novel

5. Chocolate!  Reward yourself after a period of work with a meaningful treat.  Don't worry about whether you met your original writing goal. Did you put in the time?

What do YOU find helpful when you're stuck?

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Following through on writing projects (or any other endeavor that's not "necessary" to life) is a common problem for people who really DO want to write, or paint, or learn to refinish furniture.  Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a series on how to deal with it.

Time can be a bear.  Work/family/money responsibilities can suck up energy and leave us wondering if we'll ever have the mojo to finish a project. Still, a lot of the problem stems from things we either believe about ourselves or tell ourselves.  Here are some solutions:

1. Accept yourself.  Telling yourself "I should be writing," or more specifically, "I should get up at 5:30 a.m.  and write for an hour" or "I should write x-# words per day" FEELS motivating.  It puts you in a position of solid judgment where you're the one who tells...well, you, what the score is.  The problem is, it really ISN'T motivating. It's actually punitive. It implies an accusation should you fail. Finding your writing voice is much deeper than discovering how your words sound on the page.  It has to do with giving yourself permission to be your screwed-up self.

2.  Inertia is not your friend.  Life will conspire to make it difficult for you to carve out writing time. Accept this. When the moment to do ANYTHING remotely related to writing presents itself, go for it.  I began a novel one September afternoon 15 minutes before my daughter was due home from school.  15 minutes has a way of adding up.

3.  Make friends with the voices in your head.  They will tell you "there's no point," they will tell you you suck, they will tell you nobody cares, they will tell you that you're selfish for pursuing writing.  The point isn't whether they are right or wrong.  After all, who can say for sure? The point is, the voices don't go away.  Writers/artists/strivers both famous and obscure all struggle with this. I sure do!  Make friends with those nasty monkeys, knowing that they will always have some rude comment for you.  When they tell you you're wasting your time, smile and say, "Thanks for sharing."  Humor them, but laugh at their acne.

4.  Structure is your friend.  Whatever structure looks like for you, it will help you keep going.  Input from other writers, whether online or via email or face to face, deadlines (however you come by 'em), use of editorial services, scheduling, whatever might help, try it.  More on this next week!

5. Incremental progress is progress.  See #2.  Better to write a sentence a day than none at all.  Better to write crap than nothing (and maybe it isn't crap--you're not always the most objective judge). See #3.

6.  Don't wait to feel the magic.  Published writers all have one thing in common--they work very hard, through boredom, discouragement, and every other state of mind. I've found that feeling inspired when I write a passage doesn't necessarily make it good.  (Sometimes that's just about emotional release, when  really I need to focus more on structure.)  A writing session that feels "clunky" and "off" can produce fine work.

7. Detours are part of the journey.  MFK Fisher, renowned food writer and author of How to Cook a Wolf,  experienced her lover's dire illness and suicide, the suicide of her brother, gave birth to an illegitimate child (in 1943), and married (and divorced) a mentally ill man who'd already been through 5 wives.  In the middle of all this, she published 9 books.  Then Fisher went to care for her dying father, and for 12 years she published nothing, considering herself a has-been.  Oh, but she didn't stay in the doldrums. She published 14 more books.

The takeaway from this is NOT" and I can't even manage to spit out one!"  The point is: Unless you're dead, it's not too late.  Unless you give up.

And even if you give up, you can still go back to writing.

Next Week: Writing Structures, Tricks and Chocolate.