Sunday, November 30, 2014

best gifts for writers

This Year's Best Gifts for Aspiring Writers
A supply of Seven Year Pens~~After all, that's just about how long it will take them to finish writing their NY Times best-seller. These are perfect for when the power goes off or their laptop crashes. They can just keep on writing.
A treadmill writing desk~~Be sure to include a gift card that wishes them good health in the New Year. Don't mention the spreading hips or expanding waistline.
Coffee wine~~For the caffeine addict/wine lover in your life, it solves two problems without dirtying glassware unnecessarily, and, yes~~it does exist. Check it out here.

And, for those who claim they don't want ANYTHING for Christmas, you can always try this:
A word of sincere appreciation~~This doesn't mean you have to gush over their epic dystopian romantic thriller if you're not into that kind of thing. No, it means you understand how hard they work, the dedication it takes, the solitude it requires. The missed meals, sleepless nights, and unpredictable mood swings that you have not only witnessed, but experienced yourself just by being around them.

An encouraging word~~It says to them that you understand their need to stare out the window or at a blank wall for days on end to come up with just the right word, and no, you don't think they're lazy good-for-nothing loafers because that's how they've chosen to spend their entire adult life.
A gentle critique~~Start like this: "I enjoyed reading your 856 page manuscript, 'Moo Cow Makes It Home'...." Nod and say it with a smile. After all, you don't want to alienate the author, especially if it's your spouse or best friend. After you flatter them you may then point out salient problems as you see them, "...but it's a little long for a children's book." You'll be doing them a favor.


A contract, if you're an agent or editor~~You have the easy job. No shopping around for you. No fretting over what to give. This is guaranteed to be a big hit under the Christmas tree.

With just twenty-five shopping days until Christmas, what's on your list?
"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store?
What if Christmas
means a little bit more?"
~~Dr. Seuss~~

Sunday, November 23, 2014

three reasons you should envy me

Three Reasons You Should Envy Me
  1. My Christmas shopping is done and my gifts are all wrapped.
  2. My cards are all written, sealed and stamped.
  3. #1 and #2 don't really count because I have some surgery coming up, so I had no choice. This is the one that counts though: I didn't have to cook dinner last night. As a matter of fact, I went out to eat...with my best friend...before we joined 1300 (I kid you not) other fans for "An evening with Anne Lamott" in Lancaster, the last stop on her 12-cities-in-12-days "Small Victories" book tour.

Anne Lamott writes about friendship, families and faith with wisdom, humor, and downright irreverence.
Anyone who reads her books surely must love them as much as I do. Still, I never imagined I would encounter such a huge crowd at a book signing. My hand goes numb at the thought of autographing all those books--enough to boost her over the proverbial wall and onto the New York Times best sellers list this week. Which is where she belongs.
Here are a couple of delicious nuggets from the book:
"Where can we begin, in the face of clearly not having been cherished for who we are, by certain tall, anxiously shut-down people in our childhood , whom I will not name? How far back does the sense of provisional welcome go?...The reality is that most of us lived our first decades feeling welcome only when certain conditions applied: we felt safe and embraced only when the parental units were getting along, when we were on our best behavior, doing well in school, not causing problems, and had as few needs as possible."
"What had happened that turned my parents from the bright young things who fell in love over literature and wine to a cheerless woman and man who after dinner took their books and glasses to opposite ends of the living room, connected only by the lily pad of children on the rug between them, lost in homework?"

"I was learning the secrets of life: that you could become the woman you'd dared to dream of being, but to do so you were going to have to fall in love with your own crazy, ruined self."

"Having a good dog is the closest some of us are ever going to get to knowing the direct love of a mother or God..."
I have read and loved all of Anne Lamott's books, but in this one I think she nailed it, and I'm only halfway through.
"One day I will find the right words
and they will be simple."
~Jack Kerouac~
Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving this week. The kids are coming...the snow is coming. I wonder who will win?

Monday, November 17, 2014

read like a writer

There is a growing pile of books on my desk that is begging for my attention.

Among them is a book by one of my favorite authors (Ann Patchett), a book that was recommended by a friend ("Lila"), and a couple of books that deal with my favorite subjects (medicine, religion, coping with life in general). Then there is a book of short stories by Alice Munro.

I picked this one up because Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013, along with numerous other distinguished awards for her writing. This book won the Man Booker International Prize. Plus, her age, wisdom, and creativity give me hope.

A beginner can learn a lot about technique, characterization, dialogue, and description by reading great writers.  

Here's the problem I ran into. I started reading the book the way I always do--like a writer, with my virtual critic hard at work, red pen in hand.

I could just hear my critique group take on some of these stories the way they do mine. In fact, I was tempted to reproduce one of her stories and present it to them as if it were mine just to see what they would come up with:
"The action doesn't really begin until the fifth paragraph. I think you should start the story there."
"I couldn't be sure who was speaking at the bottom of page two."
"You used the word 'was' six times on page one alone."
I read a couple of the stories this way and these things kept jumping out at me. It made me wonder. How did Alice Munro win the Nobel Prize? The Man Booker Prize? My critique partners never would have allowed it.
Then, it dawned on me. These stories stayed with me long after I finished them. Why was that, I wondered, when they concerned ordinary people in commonplace situations? There was nothing scary, or exciting, or suspenseful about them. It occurred to me that they left an emotional imprint because each one ended at a critical point in a character's life--an epiphany, an "aha" moment, or a turning point. It might be the unexpected termination of a relationship, a sudden stroke of insight, or a heart-breaking loss. With that, Munro leaves the reader to wonder what will happen next. How will the character respond? How will he/she get on with life?
It leaves you feeling a little uneasy because you're not told how things will turn out for the you keep on thinking about it. Which, it seems to me, is pretty much how we get through life.
If, like me, you lead an ordinary life in an unassuming place, imagine the stories you can tell! Anything that the reader recognizes, that makes him uneasy, and keeps him wondering is a story that needs to be told.

Are you uneasy about something? A friend's illness? Where your teen really was last night? A bill you can't pay? Tell us what you know about it.
"The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think,
but to give you something to think upon."
~Brandon Sanderson~


Saturday, November 8, 2014

"just do it"

Thought for the Day: which I would add, you should go do them:
  • before it's too late
  • while you still have the passion for it
  • even though you might not succeed
  • despite what others may think
  • in order to feed your spirit
Notice I did not mention that you should wait:
  • until you have the time or money for it
  • until the kids are grown, or worse (like me), until you retire
  • for your friends' or family's approval
  • until this silliness passes
I've been lucky enough to check a few things off my list over the past couple of years. I wanted to devote my time and energy to writing, and I have. I joined a critique group. I traveled to Africa twice on medical missions.

I started to journal. I took up yoga and meditation. But that still leaves two other lists:
  1. Things I wish I had done earlier in life:
~taken voice lessons
~studied photography
~gotten around on a motorcycle
~learned to play the banjo
      2. Things I'd still like to get around to:
~art lessons, in particular bas relief oil painting
by Justina Kopana
~photography lessons
 ~go vegetarian
~get back on my skiis
~see Tibet

I mean, a person can dream, right?
What brought all this on is a long-running debate I've been having with myself. That is: whether or not to join our church's choir. I'm not a great singer but I can read music and carry a tune, and I'm an alto so it's not likely I'd ever be asked to sing solo. It's just that sacred choral music is so beautiful. And our choir is so'o'o good. I might like to become a part of it...but then there's all that other stuff I want to do, too.
How do you decide when it's time to take a chance and start something new? How do you decide what it will be? I know I need a lot of encouragement:

There, I feel better now. You??

Have a great week. Stay warm. Try something new.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

how to deal with setbacks

So...yesterday was a fairly productive day for me. I got some cleaning done and caught up on the laundry.

My Motto
Paid some bills. Took a 3 1/2 mile walk. Made a big pot of Italian lentil soup compliments of Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the perfect meal for a cold, blustery day.

The Kripalu Cookbook
I spent some time hunting for the notes I took months ago in an interview for my WIP, and when I found them, I added another six hundred-plus words to the manuscript.
Yes. It was a good day...right up until

All six hundred words disappeared into cyberspace for reasons I still cannot fathom.
Has that ever happened to you? All that time, wasted. And you can never get it to sound quite the same the second time around. You have to console yourself with the notion that it must have happened for a reason...that the rewrite will be so'o'o much better. But it never is...
Not to worry. Fortified with a sip of wine and bowl of good hot soup, I did the rewrite and finished up in time to fall into bed before midnight!
Today? I feel some serious "retail therapy" coming on...

How do you deal with setbacks?
"When you feel like quitting,
think about why you started."