Sunday, December 30, 2012

advice from a writer

It's time to begin again. A new year is almost upon us. Three hundred and sixty-five blank days stretch out ahead of 365 blank pages. To a writer this is a story waiting to be written, word by word. To an artist--an empty canvas waiting to be painted, stroke by stroke. To a composer--a melody waiting to be composed, note by note.

To each of us--this is time waiting to be lived, moment by moment.

Like a writer sitting down to begin a new story, you may already have a few ideas for the year ahead. Call them resolutions...or dreams...or intentions. Or prayers.
And, like a writer, you may be full of inspiration and enthusiasm as you begin...until, a few weeks or months later, when the story starts to unravel. Your resolutions fade into memory. Your best efforts fail to move you ahead. Your inner critic (rudely) invites himself in, wraps an arm around your shoulders, and breaks the news to you: you're a loser. Nothing you do is ever good enough. You're lazy or weak or stupid. And before long, you start to think you'll never succeed.
Don't believe it for a minute! It's never too late to begin again! 
Take some advice from a writer:
revise, revise, revise.
  • Get some action verbs in there. Some superlatives. Walking and jogging may be better than sitting around, but this is the year you hit the pavement. Rather than rolling out of bed in the morning, seize the day! Instead of dieting, learn to eat whole, green and clean. Do you want to be happy...or elated? Satisfied...or fulfilled? Motivated...or compelled?
  • Eliminate whatever it is that doesn't move your story ahead--whatever prevents you from achieving your goal.
  • Downplay "back story." In other words, try not to dwell on the past.
  • Figure out a way to give your story a happy ending. People like that.
This year make your story the best it can be.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” - Buddha


How will you begin?
 "Each new day is the beginning of a new year."
Wishing each of you a New Year filled with inspiration, hope and grace!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

celebrating winter


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.  
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.  

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
This is my favorite poem. This is my favorite season--a time to celebrate the quiet delights of winter.

Wishing Everyone a Blessed Christmas
A Healthy and Happy New Year

Friday, December 21, 2012

good news

The news has been so bad...for so long...for so many that it has taken some of the joy out of Christmas for all of us.

The magnitude of suffering has been monumental. But our collective sighs do little to console the victims of tragedy...
...and the outpouring of sympathy does little to ease their sorrow.
I sometimes wonder how life goes on for any of us. Why doesn't Mother Earth simply give up, spin off out of orbit, and end it all?
Thankfully, though, the sun rose in the East this morning, and we can count on it to set in the West tonight...
...and that's good news for all of us.
"The best things are nearest:
breath in your nostrils,
light in your eyes,
flowers at your feet,
duties at your hand,
 the path of God just before you.
Then do not grasp at the stars
but do life's plain, common work as it comes,
certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things of life."
--Robert Louis Stevenson--

Saturday, December 15, 2012

false promises

Like everyone else this week, I'm trying to process the tragedy that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday.  I didn't turn on the news this morning for the latest updates...not because I can't bear to revisit the pain these families are suffering, not because I'm untouched by it, nor because I'm hardened against it...but in deference to their need for privacy and respect. I'm trying to keep my thoughts reverent and prayerful. The problem is that, in light of this tragedy, I'm not exactly sure who I'm praying to:

God the Father?

God the Son?
I Need More of God in My Life


Or God the Holy Spirit?

It makes me wonder what I'm doing wrong when I pray, or why I bother at all, so little seems to come of it. And that's a problem for me having struggled for so long to come to some sort of workable relationship with a power or deity who chooses to reveal himself/herself in apparent false promises:
"For my yoke is easy and my burden light." Matthew 11, 30
Really? irreconcilable contradictions:
"For the Lord loves justice and right and fills the earth with goodness." Ps. 33, 5
...and in elusive mysteries:
"Faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen." Hebrews 11, 1
This kind of tragedy...not to mention its enough to raise some serious doubts even among dedicated believers. At Mass tonight, it was reassuring to me to learn that even our pastor struggled to make sense of today's gospel:
"...the Lord is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear." Zephaniah 3, 15
In my Roman Catholic heart of hearts, I don't believe that all the prayer in the world is going to bring one moment of peace, one dew drop of solace, or a trace of comfort to the parents and families of the children whose lives were lost at Sandy Hook yesterday...not to mention the first responders whom I, personally, worship.
Nevertheless, when someone else's suffering is paralyzing to witness and we are powerless to help...we may have nowhere else to turn but to prayer, in the hope that someone or something, somewhere, is listening and able to fulfill his/her promises, to reconcile the contradictions, and to answer the question--"How could you let this happen?"--once and for all.

It's gotta be worth a try.


Friday, December 7, 2012

what is winter without snow?

What is winter without snow?


Okay, I give up...
The cold was our pride,
the snow was our beauty.
 It fell and fell, lacing day and night together in a milky haze,
making everything quieter as it fell,
so that winter seemed to partake of religion
in a way no other season did,
hushed, solemn.
--Patricia Hampl--
Oh, my. Yes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

have no fear

Anyone who knows me knows that I love winter.

In my opinion, whoever invented snow deserves praise and glory forever and ever. Amen. I mean, who doesn't enjoy a "snow day" once in a while?

This is a great time of the year, especially for those among us who thrive on chaos. No sooner is Thanksgiving a pleasant memory, than we begin our gift-wrapping, card-sending, cookie-baking preparations for Christmas.
The trouble is that takes time...time away from the daydreaming, word-searching, plot-twisting devotion we need inorder to write. Which is why I've taken to jotting things down on the back of cashier receipts, cancelled envelopes, and on the back of my to-do lists...

...wherever and whenever they come to me. Because I'm slow at writing and at this time of the year I don't have time to fritter away in front of my laptop waiting for inspiration to strike.

So...when I carved out a couple of days last week to go to Pittsburgh, it was just One. More. Thing. But I was optimistic about it. The drive takes about four hours depending on weather and traffic...

four uninterupted hours I expected to spend in my head, revising a short story I'm writing, plotting out the next couple of scenes in the novel I seem to be stuck on, and reflecting on the memoir I'm starting to write. Instead, my monkey mind scampered from party planning, to holiday decorating, to cookie baking...anything but story telling. Not one thing came to me. Not one line of dialogue. Not one scenic image. Not one original metaphor. I couldn't have flushed one out if my life depended on it...

...until the drive home. I spent four hours in silence when, for reasons I still cannot fathom, it all came to me. In my mind, I finished the short story and I lined up all the scenes I need to get to the end of my novel.

How does that happen? One day--nothing. The next day--BAM!

The point is that writing requires patience. It can't be forced. But have no fear--when the story is ready, it will come to you. Just when you are about to give up on it, it will drag you, kicking and screaming, back to the keyboard, or to your notebook, or, to a piece of scrap paper, and it will pour itself out. You simply have to be ready for it, open to it, and grateful for it when it happens.

Mary Keeley, an agent at Books & Such Literary Agency, has posted a great piece about this conundrum that you can find here: .

Are you patient with yourself when you write? How do you handle frustration?
"So you see,
imagination needs moodling--
long, inefficient, happy
idling, dawdling and puttering."
--Brenda Ueland--
Next week: What is Christmas without SNOW??