Archive for Writing

I recently had my annual physical checkup. Perhaps it is because I am heading to official senior-dom in August, but I was given or scheduled for a bunch of tests I’ve never had before. They also drew blood, weighed and measured me (I’ve shrunk in height but, unfortunately, not in weight). I left the office feeling good that I’d done what I could to keep myself healthy.

This made me think about how our creative work, our writing could use an annual (at least) check up as well. Have you done one in the last 12 months? If you haven’t, then maybe it is time to do one for yourself and look at the following:

Bone health. Your bones hold you up, provide the internal structure for the muscles and blood and organs to do their work. Otherwise you would just be a pile of…well, goo in a skin sack. In your writing, your bones are your commitments and the habits and discipline that help you follow through on those commitments.
Blood health. The air you breathe and the food you eat nourishes the blood that nourishes your body. The body of your writing also requires nourishment through all aspects of yourself. Exercise, sleep, good food help the physical you, but nourishment in the form of reading, meditating or dreaming, working with oracles, and keeping a journal are also important.
Muscular health. The muscles of your body move you from place to place, position to position. Without muscles, you’d go nowhere. Think of your goals, dreams, story ideas, and deadlines as your writing muscles. They have to be exercised, strengthened daily.
Heart health. Like the other organs of the body, the heart is critical to survival. It’s critical to the survival of writing as well. A healthy heart means a regular rhythm, your regular rhythm. The heart of your writing also needs a regular rhythm; it may vary from time to time but words need to pulse onto paper or screen in a regular rhythm, the beat that goes on, that denotes creative life.

I know I’ve stretched the metaphor a bit, but you get the point. You need to give your writing life a regular checkup for it to stay healthy and active. So take time for a checkup with these diagnostic questions:

1. What is your commitment to your stories, your writing, your writing career?
2. What are you doing to nourish your imagination, to keep your writing blood healthy and pumping, your words flowing?
3. What is your reason for writing?
4. What goals, dreams or visions pull you forward to keep writing even when there is no promise of a contract or reward at the end of the project?
5. What daily, weekly or monthly goals do you set to give you something to move towards?
6. How do you reward yourself for your hard work?
7. What do you do to keep your writing rhythm regular?

Use these questions to keep your writing and writing life healthy.

Categories Creativity, Writing

Empathy, the least comfortable of human emotions.
~Frances Gray Patton~

An important technique of fiction writing is Deep POV (Point of View). This technique uses the third person point of view in such a way that the reader feels as if she is inside the person’s head—or heart—for that scene.

Which means, as you read, page after page goes by, the words disappear, and you feel as if you’ve experienced what the character experienced. Tears, pounding heart, knotted stomach are signs that the writer has done her job with deep POV.

Why does that matter? Because, as Lisa Cron in her book, Story Genius, writes, “just like life, story is emotion based…In a story, if we’re not feeling, we’re not reading. It is emotion, rather than logic, that telegraphs meaning…”

To tap into that level of emotional connection, the writer has to know her characters, and, whether villain, sidekick, or heroine, she has to empathize with them.

Remember Darth Vader from Star Wars? Do you think George Lucas had some empathy for this character who was doomed to live his life behind that mask, knowing he had once been admired and even loved?

Empathy gives creative power in other forms of art, as well. Painting, music, dance, and theater all convey either pure emotion or use story as a vehicle for emotion.

Yes, you can connect mentally to the structure, design, composition, use of color, contrast, etc, but in order to really have an impact, the emotion—and therefore the empathy—has to be there.

Think of Michelangelo’s “Pieta”, the power of the grieving mother in that piece. Think of Picasso’s “Guernica” and the horror and anger and even despair there. Think of the dark emotions of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The power of those works arises out of the creator’s empathy.

Empathy is defined as the ability to sense other people’s emotions or to share and understand another person’s emotions and experiences.

To truly reach depth and understanding in your creative work, you need empathy.

Empathy—often a hero’s greatest challenge—is also crucial to a successful, meaningful life.

How you use empathy—in your life and work—matters.

A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.
~ Rita Mae Brown ~

If you are a writer, especially a fiction writer, then you are very aware that October is almost over and that means…

NaNoWriMo!

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

If you are not a fiction writer, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, an event that began in 1999 in San Francisco with 21 participating writers and has since grown to last year’s 421,626 participants from all over the world. Their mission, as stated on their website: “National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.”

How do they do that? Well, their primary program is the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month, beginning November 1st and ending at the stroke of midnight (actually, the minute before) on November 30. And since they began their national challenge, over 250 participants have been traditionally published including Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.

Three things help many participants to meet this daunting goal—community, accountability, and a deadline.

Once you sign up for the free program, you get emails about regional and local gatherings of other participants who meet to write together and offer support. Regular emails from popular published authors offer encouragement. Each day, you go to the site to enter your daily word count. Near the end of the month, you can upload your manuscript for an official word count to win.

The deadline is key to the popularity of this event. You only win if you write 50,000 words in 30 days, by the end of the month…not one day or one hour after.

True, no one is going harass or embarrass you if you don’t meet that deadline. You won’t lose a contract. But if you commit to the goal, then not meeting it feels a little unsettling, especially if you’ve been participating in the online forums or attending the local write-ins.

Deadlines, whether self-imposed or not, create structure, a container for your work.

They give you a mark against which you can measure production and growth.

Deadlines help you push past the resistance that is procrastination.

Steven Pressfield, in his book, The War of Art, says “The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit…Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives…This second, we can sit down and do our work.” A deadline helps you do that.

Deadlines help you manage your time.

When you have a deadline, you know how to divide up your hours or days to determine how much work you need to accomplish per hour or day, and how much you’ll have to make up if you don’t meet that goal.

If you don’t have an external deadline like a contract, a contest, or NaNoWriMo, then create your own and enlist the help of a colleague or friend to keep you accountable. Maybe you can return the favor for that person.

Just make sure that your deadline is reasonable and doable.

Promise yourself a reward for reaching a deadline. NaNoWriMo participants and winners receive goodies from participating sponsors like Storyist and Evernote. So promise yourself a reward…new software for writing, or ice cream at your favorite creamery, or whatever delights your inner child.

Use deadlines to spur you into action, to keep you motivated, productive and…inspired.

Categories Writing

One recent Sunday morning I woke early and, creeping downstairs to my studio, decided to use the time to clean out some email from my Sent box since the number had climbed into the thousands.

As I read through emails I’d sent from as far back as 2009, I deleted some and saved others. I realized that in many ways what I had on the screen was a form of a journal. paper-blanks-journal1 In those emails, I documented Read More→

Categories Writing

Wedding kiss Bob’s and I celebrated 43 years of marriage last week. Add an additional year of being engaged and a year of dating before that, and we have been sharing our lives for 45 years.

That’s a long time to spend with one person…in close quarters…come hell or high water. A l-o-n-g time.

People often comment on how we still seem so much in love (we are), what great role models we are (thank you), and that perhaps we ought to teach a class on marriage (hmmm, no).

So many things could have undermined our marriage, illness and death being two of the biggies. Economic challenges, career challenges, moves, and extended family issues are all things that can eat away at a relationship.

Just as they can eat away at your relationship with your creative work.

So here are five (by no means all) things I’ve learned about marriage that are also key to an enduring relationship with your Muse:

1. Commit wholeheartedly. If you want an enduring relationship—with your partner or your creativity—don’t bring conditions to it. Don’t commit for a month or a year or until it is challenging or uncomfortable. Bring everything you have to it. Everything.

2. Communicate regularly, even if only you do the talking. Often in a relationship, one partner is more verbal than the other. So, take responsibility, even if it feels uncomfortable or scary, to share hopes, joys, concerns, and inspirations—even if you have to follow the other out of the room. And be aware if you need to be the one who sits down and really listens. Don’t make your Muse chase you.

3. Be patient. Growth in individuals, relationships, and creative projects takes time. We’d all love for things to move quickly and perfectly but they usually don’t. Sometimes they even move backwards. Be patient in small things as well as big ones. Be patient if words don’t flow onto the screen. Be patient if the agent didn’t get back to you in two weeks or two months. Be patient if your Muse hasn’t delivered the next idea by your plucked-out-of-the-air deadline. Consider it a creative’s spiritual practice.

4. Take time for each other. And by that, I mean take time for really being with each other to play, enjoy, relax, engage, imagine. Go on regular vacations where the focus is on just being with each other and re-igniting the passions that brought you together. It doesn’t all have to be about work.

5. Forgive each other for failing. This is a biggie. HUGE. Really. Forgiveness is key to an enduring relationship. No one is perfect, even if you intend to be. You will fail in ways big and small to fulfill the hopes and expectations of your partner. And vice versa. So when the ideas don’t come, the story isn’t flowing, or you’ve gotten your 20th rejection letter, forgive your Muse and forgive yourself.

Use these marriage tips with your Muse and you’ll be celebrating anniversaries of first publication, first exhibit, first payment for your work, and other creative events.

And your marriage to your Muse will endure.

Recently, I set a writing goal to finish a proposal for a nonfiction book.

For those of you who have never done a book proposal, it is something like writing a Master’s Thesis–lots of work, lots of writing.

On Monday of that week, I set the goal to finish the book proposal by that Friday and get it off to an agent who waited to see it. It was a self-imposed goal but one that I believed I could accomplish within that time. I had much of the proposal pieces already written, but I still needed to work on Promotion and About the Book, plus I had to finish writing Chapter One and write Chapter Two.

By Friday morning, I knew I wasn’t going to accomplish the original goal. Chapter One was taking longer than I anticipated and Chapter Two was twisting me up. So Read More→

Categories Creativity, Writing

What dynamite we handle when we lift a mirror or bend towards one!
Elizabeth Coatsworth, Personal Geography

Whenever I read tarot for new clients, I tell them that the reading is a mirror, providing perspective and clarity on the direction and challenges of their concerns. We know that the future is determined by past actions and present choices. The tarot is a mirror that makes it easier to see those actions and choices.

Still, bending toward the mirror is not always easy.

I celebrated my 64th birthday last week. While I celebrate the gift of another year lived, noting how many more years I’ve lived than my mother who died at 53, I also find bending toward the mirror (never mind bending at all) much like handling Read More→

Three weeks on the road—or in the air. And now I am home.

Home, where I sleep in my own bed, eat the food I’ve prepared, Purple with yellow throat and greet the daylilies still blooming in the yard.

I can enjoy the view from the chaise in our bedroom while I write and revel in the silences and the stillness as my body returns to East Coast time and recovers from the stresses of different routines and beds and being constantly with other people.

The Romance Writers of America conference is an opportunity for me to be inspired by, educated by, and connected to any of the 2000 women (and a few men) who attend. I love that I can meet a woman from Australia, another from England, another from New Zealand, and yet another from Canada while riding the elevator to and from my room or walking to workshops. We talk about finding an agent, writing a synopsis, book promotion, the challenges of social media, and on and on, my brain whirring at top speed.

I love all that social energy after weeks and months pretty much in isolation at our home in the country…until I don’t have the energy for it anymore.

By then, I am thirsting for, starving for my solitude. Returning home where I am surrounded by trees and marsh and birds, restores my sense of grounding, of peace. I love the privacy and the quiet. And then there are the views. For me, the view outside my windows is all green at this time of year, green leaves of trees and grass and wild things. The view here changes with the seasons. That is part of its magic and nourishment.

But you may not be like me. You may prefer the hustle and bustle of city living, where a short walk brings you to your favorite coffee shop or bookstore. Or you may prefer the in-between world of the suburbs. A little more quiet than the city but still with that coffee shop not too far away.

What is home for you?

Do you need the hustle and bustle of the people around you or do you need silence and solitude? What do you need to see outside your windows?

How often do you need to leave home in order to get the stimulation and connection you need?

And how long can you travel before you hear the call, feel the pull to return home?

Categories Travel, Writing

Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.
Helen Keller

In this week’s Tarot Message from the Muse, the Focus card for the week is the 3 of Cups. 3 of Cups

The Focus card asks a question. In this instance, the questions are, are you experiencing joy in your creative work; are you celebrating your work with others?

Three is the number of the Goddess (Maiden, Mother, Crone), the source of all life and creative energies. The 3 of Cups is linked in the Major Arcana to the Empress, whose number is also 3.

Creativity is often a solitary act, requiring a lot of sweat, worry, work and commitment. But one of the attractions of creativity is its inherent potential for joy and celebration.

Too often, creatives take themselves and their work too seriously. Yes, there is work. Yes, you can feel like the man beneath the burden of the 10 of Wands who just wants to get home and drop his burden.

But don’t let your creative become drudgery. Don’t let joy in the work be left behind in the dust.

The 3 of Cups affirms that joy is an important—necessary—element in creativity.

In your creativity.

So how stay connected to it?

First of all, stay open to discovery and possibility. Remove the shoulds and shouldn’ts from your creative vocabulary. Joy is to be found in new discoveries, new accomplishments, new understandings. So coloring within the lines won’t work here. Neither will playing small. Respond to impulse and whimsy and intuition. Turn the work—or yourself—on its head.

Secondly, pace yourself. Joy is lost when you become a taskmaster of your creativity instead of the committed channel or partner. Take breaks for naps, for walks, for a long hot bath, for a cup of tea on the patio.

Finally, play with others. Another aspect of that 3 of Cups is celebration with friends. I have a writer friend who is working on a project in collaboration with others. The collaborative energy feeds and nourishes her and brings joy back to her writing. So try collaborating. Or working separately together. Or just plain take a break and go have lunch with someone who loves to play, who lifts your spirit and makes you laugh. You don’t always have to go it alone.

Because without the joy, what’s the point?

Categories Creativity, Tarot, Writing

MONDAY TAROT MESSAGE FROM THE MUSE, 6/27/2016

Theme, Faith. This Major Arcana Card is also known as the Heirophant, the one who teaches or causes people to see a vision with the power given from a tradition–like an art or craft. Obviously, the four major religions of the world arise out of a long, historical tradition. That tradition provides a solid foundation for moving from or even rebelling against. This week, create with a sense of confidence and faith in the traditions or your art or craft as a starting place to move from or push against.

Focus, 3 of Cups. Cups is the element of Water in the realm of heart, emotions, dreams, intuition and creativity. Our deepest visions, our best creativity comes when we celebrate and experience joy. Are you giving yourself permission to celebrate, to play, to experience joy in your creative work?

Action, Strength. This Major Arcana card shows a strong woman who is not using physical strength to tame lions and other big cats, but rather, she uses her inner strength and knowing. From your knowledge and faith in your creative traditions, and with joy, this week create with the inner confidence and strength of trusting in yourself and your creative message.

Gift, Queen of Coins. This Minor Arcana card speaks to the reward of being the Queen, the mistress of the element of Earth in the realm of home, health, wealth, and anything you can touch, taste or feel. In other words, when you create from that place of strength and of joy, and with a firm foundation, you become the mistress (or master) of the physical manifestation of your creative work and thereby reap the rewards.

Categories Creativity, Tarot, Writing