7:30 am Directional Epiphany

This morning in my quiet time, I felt like I was handed a new map, new orders. At first, I didn’t understand it but now I do. Writing about writing reaches a very limited number of my friends and followers.

I want to reach more people with my message but in recent months, that was called into question. What is my focus? What is my message? What is it that when I start, I don’t want to stop? And even more importantly, if the world really does have something I need, what the heck is it?

Many of you may not know that I have a long history of creating art–thirty years! Shocking, I know. And ten years ago, I laid it down to write. I’ve written my million words, now, give or take and it no longer seemed fitting for me to write about writing. It would be like Joyce Meyers talking about talking. Honey, she has a voice and she’s not afraid to use it, but if you know her, then you also know that is not the focus of her message. Her voice and words and ability to speak publicly are tools in her toolbox.

This morning it was like clicking a download button. It seemed I’d been asking a question and didn’t really know the answer to. A flood of information came rushing in like that wave of warm sunlight after the storm clouds finally pass.

And this is your heads up. You’ve been faithful on this bumpy road, but this is something that gets me all fired up again and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It means I’ll be posting every week instead of the once or twice a month of before and increasing it to twice a week. Can you handle that? If not, I understand, no hard feelings. But if you can, if you’re made of more durable stuff, are infinitely curious or just want to see what’s up my sleeve, see you next week!

9 Writing Ideas for Summer

Lane_County_Farmers_Market,_Eugene_Oregon

It’s a little late in the season for spring cleaning but I find that I’m looking over how time gets spent and, like an editor poring over redundant sentences, I excise those things that were not bad, which brought pleasure, but were not really helping my writing career as a whole. Because it’s been a rainy summer this year, (and we got a new kayak) I’m really attempting to cherish our sunny days before leaves drop and the chill wind begins whistling winter songs.

Everyone who’s been writing for a while can tell you how solitary writing can be. My husband and I are both writers and it’s easy to fall into a habit of spending days in front of a computer screen, or writing while staring out a window, but not participating in life. I want to enjoy it outside with others.  I discovered more joy and creativity when the sun shines and I’m active. I have fantastic friends whose company I truly delight in and it’s easy to get busy writing and let far too much time slide between visits. Participating in life gives us material to write about. Combining the two can give you fantastic results.

It’s an opportunity to hear a new story or a storyline I can run wild with. You may see something along the way, like I did: A young teenage girl on a pink bicycle texting while she rode wobbling precariously on the edge of a busy street. I wanted to follow her to see what happened.

So, you may ask, how do I stay focused on my writing and still enjoy my summer?

  1. Keep your pen and notebook handy. Be on the lookout for little scenes and character sketches.
  2. Think through your day. What’s ahead? Family reunion? A day in the amusement park? A wedding? Jot down some of the vignettes you catch. Describe some of the people there, what they wore, how they behaved. Write down any great lines you hear.
  3. Going on vacation? Take lots of photos and write descriptions of your lodgings, people at the pool, people in restaurants. Did you get a quirky waiter or funny waitress?
  4. Going camping? What disastrous thing happened? (I’ve never been camping without some sort of disaster. I hope you fare better than I!)
  5. Going to a street fair? Farmer’s Market? Arts and Craft show? What sort of people do you see there? Find out about the vendors who are working the show. My husband once wrote a play about a woman selling bread he met at a Farmer’s Market. What sparks your imagination?
  6. Are you going to see a traveling Circus? Maybe you’ll get a chance to talk to some of the barkers, or performers. What philosophies do they have about life and traveling?
  7. Are you going to spend an evening watching outdoor theatre?
  8. Public fountains anyone? Not terribly far from where I live, there’s a shopping area built like a small town. It’s street after street of shops. Across from the book store is a pavilion with underground water jets. They’re timed and follow various patterns. The fountain is entertaining to watch on its own. When it’s extremely hot, parents dress their kids in bathing suits and let them run through it. Invariably one little kid will look down at where the water came from after it has gone and get a surprise squirt in the face.

It seems impossible to have too many character sketches, but you never can be sure where they might lead. I visited a friend who had recently moved to a new house. We had a lovely dinner, got the grand tour of the new digs and scoped out her new studio space. As we were about to leave, she discovered a tea light candle balloon had landed in her yard. It’s too good of an idea not to write about.

14 Ways to Stretch Your Writing Voice

writing-pens

In my last post, I talked briefly about stretching as a writer. Hopefully, you’re on track with writing. You’re sitting in front of the page every day, or most days, and hammering out some words. Maybe you’re even consistently hitting your word count.

You have filled or are filling notebooks, or a journal or collecting all of your writings in a word file. You are finding your voice and feel like your writing has gained a sort of consistency.

What can sometimes happen is that you start feeling like, blah, blah, blah. Stretching ourselves where our writing is concerned is a great exercise that can broaden our horizons and add depth to our voice. Although there are many ways to expand, I have a few favorites listed below.

  1. Read outside your genre. If you write mysteries, you might dive into a few science fiction novels, or if you read exclusively romance novels, you could pick up a thriller.
  2. Create a blog. You’re a writer and you have something to say. They’re easier than ever to set up and some of them are free. For the very brave: You can allow comments and get feedback on your posts. It’s a great place to test the waters of your writing.
  3. Take a writing challenge. One of the favorites is National Novel Writing Month which falls in November. The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. I love 30 day challenges. Write a super short story, journal entry or poem every day for 30 days, or post everyday on your blog. Write a page a day. Increase your word count to see how often you hit your goal.
  4. Take a favorite character from a book you read and tell what happens to them after the book ended.
  5. Write a journal for one of your favorite characters. It can be one of yours or someone else’s.
  6. If you normally type, write with a pen on paper. Conversely, if you always write on paper, try typing or keying your thoughts into a document.
  7. Clip photos from magazines and write your own version of what happened.
  8. Using Google maps (or other favorite map site) write about a city you’ve never been in based on the images you see.
  9. Attend (or participate in !) a poetry slam, or an author reading.
  10. Sharpen your skills of observation by looking for unusual situation while in your car, or on a walk. Write down five a day. I once walked in to a local java joint to find a pretty young woman sitting in the lap of a considerably older man. In traffic one hot afternoon, I looked to my passenger side to see a tiny, bright pink car with a behemoth man in a full beard driving. On a sunny Saturday, I saw a little girl on roller skates attempting to get on a two wheeler. I wanted to know the stories of those events.
  11. Increase your word power by learning and using new words you discover in the dictionary or in the course of reading. Write them in a notebook and try to use them the next time you write.
  12. Consider all the people you know. Who among them intrigues you? Ask to interview them. You would be surprised how many people are happy to talk about their lives. And you might just make a friend. This exercise also helps you focus on dialog various speech patterns.
  13. Try to capture turns of phrase. When I lived in the Deep South, I heard some of the most wonderful idioms. I wasn’t a writer then and didn’t bother to write them down and missed out on an opportunity to collect valuable character possibilities.
  14. Gather snatches of conversations by eaves dropping in restaurants or coffee houses. You never know what phrase will trigger your next story.

Certainly there are many more ways to expand your writing possibilities. What are some of your favorite ways to stretch yourself as a writer?

Starting Somewhere

paper-stacks

A very dear friend of mine frequently said, “Do not despise small beginnings.”

It has taken me the best part of fifteen years to appreciate her advice, and it’s a quote I consider often as I go through my life on the writing journey.

It’s very east to look at others in the world who are enjoying some level of success and be a little envious. It might be a nice car, a home or homes, vacations, glamour or a lot of money. Of course those things can be attractive. These things are not really ends in themselves. I don’t write to get things I don’t have. I don’t write to become anything I’m not. They can be motivational to some starting out. What motivates you? What drives your writing or creativity?

I like writing. In fact, I’ve always liked writing. If I’d had slightly more attentive people in my life when I was younger, I might be farther ahead in my writing career. Lots of writers have been more successful at a much younger age than myself, some had parents who were writers, or their talents were recognized earlier, or they knew what to do with that gift regardless. It would be very easy to compare myself to those people and after a few hours, I’d be feeling pretty bummed out that I am not where they are.

But, I didn’t start when they did, or do what it took early on. And what I have chosen to focus on instead is that I finally recognized my passion (thank you Vera Hassell and Neil Wein) and because of that, I may not have accomplished as much as some, but I’m not where I used to be either. I move forward, sometimes incrementally, and at other times in great leaps. Those writers who are succeeding often share what they did to reach that level. Some of them are mentors to me. And it always comes down to this: They did the work.
I didn’t start taking my writing seriously until eight years ago. Up until then, I never considered writing for publication, but when I did, there was a shift in my thinking. I looked for opportunities to stretch myself.

So much of writing is about committing. It’s about showing up to the page day after day and writing when you think “you got nothin’”. I’ll step on more than a few toes when I say that you can train your muse to show up at a regular time. If you show up every day to the page at the same time, get your coffee or tea, and sit at the computer or your desk with your pen and paper, you will write. Don’t get up until you write. You can start a blog, write a short story, a poem, or your screenplay or a novelette. You can begin with one page, a word.
Start somewhere. Start now.

Reaching Your Goals

mer hand in shellSome people in my circle of influence think I’m a prolific writer. If 2000 words a day is the mark, I reach it most days. But, that wasn’t always the case. I’ve written for years, with no consistency. I wanted to be more disciplined. That required setting measurable goals. When I set up my first blog eight years ago, I forgot about it for nearly a year.  What would I talk about? Who would read it What was my platform?

Eventually, I set a goal of writing 300 words a day which is approximately half a page. When that became consistently attainable,  I stretched it to 500. At the end of six months, I had a pile of writings. Now what?

Some of it turned out to be good writing. With a little attention, some tweaking and polish, it became a decent essay. At the end of that year, I had a stack of essays. What could I do with them?

I set a new goal. I wanted to send my pieces out to various literary magazines, contests and anthologies. I researched and studied, (Long Ridge Writers Group article writing class proved invaluable!) learned how to format work so that it would be acceptable and my new goal was sending out 5 pieces a week.  I didn’t achieve that goal, but at least two went out per week with some regular consistency.  My secondary goal was to get 100 rejection slips.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I wanted 100 rejections? Getting any kind of feedback reminded me that I was working toward my goal. Every writer who became noteworthy said they had enough rejection slips to paper their walls. It goes with the territory. I expected to get 100 before I finally got published. After my fourth submission, an anthology accepted my writing. I was published! I kept sending out work and fun things happened. More people accepted my work.

This is where I am right now. Remember those photos from last week? I wrote a story (6300 words!!) and found a place to send it to. You can do it too! Just begin with a few goals and never give up until you reach them. Did you write anything this week? I’d love to hear from you.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, below you will find an excerpt from the story I sent out:

     Then, something tapped my bare foot. In the sand by my toes lay a shell. Wait, a shiny, pink and white Queen Conch shell washed up on the shore of Lake Michigan? It seemed highly unlikely. Had the dolphins somehow delivered it? I bent to my haunches and picked it up. The shell over filled my two hands and felt heavy as a brick. It looked like something from the tropics, sold from souvenir shops.

As I held it, I noticed something protruding from the opening and I quickly set it down. It looked almost like a snail head. It touched the sand, slowly lengthening, as if pulling itself from its shell. Then there were two. As I watched, mystified, then saw that it was really two fingers. I pulled out my cell phone. In my rush to leave, I’d forgotten to charge the battery. The icon on the screen was blinking, as if it was gasping for breath. I snapped two pictures before the phone’s battery officially died. The being continued to emerge until a whole hand had formed, then an arm. I backed away.

This was the strangest occurrence I had ever witnessed on the Chicago shore. I stood up and turned away to see if there were other onlookers, to call attention to this weird event unfolding, right here, just off 78th on Rainbow Beach. A mother and her child were a ways up, and I waved frantically, shouting to get their attention. The child saw me and pointed. The mother looked in my direction, clutched her kid tighter and hurried back to her car, looking over her shoulder to make sure I wasn’t following them. I felt like a nut.

There was no one left. Not even a dog. When I returned my gaze to the shell, I noticed the decidedly female form had become a head, two arms and a torso. Her head faced the water, with me behind, and I backed farther away.

I gazed in complete wonder at the woman lying on her back, wriggling herself free of that shell…

Keepers of the Flame

candles-141892_640It is possible for others to minimize your relationship with writing especially if they don’t share your gift. It’s devastating when someone who says they care about you,  attempts to invalidate your passion. Quite often, they’re disinterested or—surprise, surprise—jealous of your ability, tenacity and determination to pursue your dream.
Probably every writer has endured cutting remarks about their writing whether they wrote longhand, typed or had the newest computer set up on the market.

Learning to recognize who isn’t interested in your writing will save you many hours of pain and suffering. Luckily, people in this category can be spotted easily. Below you can view some common remarks.

  • What makes you think you’re a writer?
  • Have you ever been published?
  • Have you ever been paid?
  • Your writing is just a hobby.
  • What makes you think anyone wants to hear what you have to say?  
  • You’re still working on that same book?

One extremely close relative refused to encourage my writing. He wouldn’t read it or acknowledge it in any way. When the people we’re closest to can’t or won’t support us, it’s disheartening.  Even worse, when they make you feel guilty for pursuing your craft, disparage your efforts or try to sabotage them. It goes without say that these are not people with whom you share your work or your victories. Spare yourself feeling of discouragement. You don’t have to ditch them as friends (or relatives) but they’re not part of your tribe.candle-1818703_640

Your tribe, your clan, crew or peeps, are thrilled for you. They cheer you on. They want to see what you’ve written lately, or posted or published. They are often writers themselves but certainly, believe in pursuing dreams and passions. Develop a circle of friends with whom you can share your triumphs. When you get a book contract,  your first publication in a glossy magazine published in a national, when you complete your book. These are all celebratory moments. Share them with people who will recognize that and make them special.

Remember that not all people share our enthusiasm, but their remarks don’t make you any less a writer. It’s disappointing and it says more about them than you. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to find like- minded people.

I can’t imagine a life without writing. If you don’t have a cheerleader in your corner, comment below. I will cheer you on. If you’re writing a blog, share the link, I will follow and encourage you. If this is your dream, guard it like a candle flame. Too many people are willing to be the wind and blow it out for you. And if someone tries to put out your fire, even if you’re barely a smoking ember, come back here and let your passion be reignited. No one on this earth will ever see or say things the way you do. Keep on writing. Never ever give up. Your voice is unique. Your story is important.

Please let me hear from you if you! I’m listening.