mentor

Not sure how many of you have had the chance to catch the first season of David Letterman’s Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, but Letterman’s return to television has made me realize how much I miss those “Top Ten” lists he used to rattle off on the Late Show.

If Letterman had done a survey of the top ten questions writers were asked while sitting in a bar, it might have gone something like this:

10. Didn’t I see your book on a bargain table at B&N?

9. Does your agent go by 007 or just Bond, James Bond?

8. What’s it like to sit about in your pajamas all day chasing the muse?

7. You wouldn’t write about me now would you? Would you?

 6. How’s the day job?

5. Is Stephen King a little edgy or what?

4. What are those voices in your head telling you?

3. Are you sure I haven’t read any of your work?

2. Who gets more in royalties–you or J.K. Rowling?

And

1. Need an idea for your next novel? Well, pull up a stool. Today’s your lucky day.

Obviously, this list is all in jest–and thank God I’m not a comedy writer looking for a gig at SNL any time soon.  One thing that occurred to me while creating this list, however, is how many times we find ourselves on the opposite end of the spectrum, in a position where we’re too timid to ask another writer about his/her process or about how to navigate the craft because we don’t want to appear foolish, or worse, ignorant in front of someone whose work or career inspires us.

I’ve always believed in the importance of a generous and supportive writing community.  There is so much we can learn from one another. I’d love to open up the conversation and take this opportunity to invite you to contact me via my contact page with any questions you may have concerning the writing life, craft, publishing or otherwise. I’ll do my best to address these questions in future blog posts and hopefully, others will feel compelled to weigh in and add their comments and/or experiences to the mix as well.

My hope, really my wish, is that this forum of sorts will become a soft place to land for those writers who need a little guidance and/or the occasional boost so they feel emboldened enough to propel themselves forward. After all, there’s nothing more comforting than knowing you’re not swimming in the big pool alone. I’m excited to hear from you.


Photo Credit: Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

innovation

Last Sunday my husband and I watched the Super Bowl. My husband’s the football fan. I just happened to be reading a book on the love seat in the same room as the television. I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t confess to peeking at the commercials. The one with the daughter cracking up while her father explains the metal wand in his hand is a dipstick made me chuckle. I cringed when the trailers for the new Avengers and Toy Story movies popped up, though. Maybe this grumpy gal is tired of the same story line being rehashed to death so another line of action figures can be merchandised. Just saying.

One has to wonder where originality and innovation have gone. Have they disappeared? I certainly hope not. Author, journalist, and opinion columnist Anna Quindlen gave a commencement speech to the graduates of Mount Holyoke College back in 1999. This is what she had to say:

“Every story has already been told. Once you’ve read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound & The Fury, To Kill A Mockingbird, A Wrinkle in Time, you understand there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in history of time has ever had.”

And then you have Christopher Booker in his 2004 book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, reaffirm this by suggesting all the stories written since the dawn of civilization fall into one of the following archetypes:

1. Overcoming the Monster: The hero overcomes the bad guy (monster.)

2. Rags to Riches: Your basic Cinderella story.

3. The Quest: The protagonist sets out on a mission. Think Lord of the Rings.

4. Voyage & Return: Adventure story where the character has a life-changing experience and returns home to tell the tale.

5. Comedy: Everything that could go wrong will go wrong, but everything comes full-circle by the end.

6. Tragedy: Always an unhappy ending. The main character pays heavily as the result of his/her flaws.

7. Rebirth: A story of self-discovery where the character emerges transformed.

As writers we’re often encouraged to read and/or imitate writers who have come before us so one can assimilate how good writing ought to look and sound. And yes, feel. Even famous writers, like Hunter S. Thompson, have gone through this exercise. It’s said Thompson retyped not only The Great Gatsby; but also, Farewell to Arms so he could become one with Fitzgerald and Hemingway. The danger, you ask? When your beta-reader returns your piece and says, “Hey, you know, this piece reminds me a lot of [insert favorite writer/story here].”

It’s true. Meaningful stories aren’t always born out of originality. Some readers prefer the familiar because it makes them feel more rooted or connected. Yet, we must not forget our role as writer is also to provide the bridge which leads the reader on a journey to someplace he/she could never imagine unless the story is written.

Take risks. Slow down. Be a keen observer. Break the rules. Seek out the extraordinary. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to embrace your own unique voice. The world is waiting to hear what you have to say.


Photo Credit: Photo by Clever Visuals on Unsplash

stess

There are days when it feels as though the only other person on this planet who could possibly understand the pressure associated with maintaining enough stamina to produce not only original, but meaningful work out of a few disparate images floating around the fog of one’s subconscious over and over and over again is another writer.  Sometimes the weight of it all takes more of toll than one imagines.

How can one protect him/herself from burning out? Well, here’s a little advice from one writer to another:

Accept that writing is a marriage not a one-night stand. Relationships require time, commitment, the ability to listen to one’s partner without judgement. The same can be said for writing, don’t you think? Writing is a process. There will be good days when everything feels born of genius. And then there will be days that make you feel as though you’re fourteen again standing in the front of Mrs. Stoller’s English class, your cheeks turning from blush to crimson to despair as you stumble through diagramming a simple compound-complex sentence on the board. Everything evens out over time if you keep at it. Trust me.

Stop caring what other think. I’ll be honest, this one catches me every time. If you’re anything like me, an innate people-pleaser, you already know how difficult it is not to let the opinions of others affect your work. Some people will absolutely hate what you have to say. Others will fall in love with you. At the end of the day neither matters. The greater gift is that you’ve dared to contribute your unique voice to this experiment we call humanity. Nobody else can do that quite like you can.

Unplug. Taking a break from the internet and/or social media can be regenerative. It’s crazy how dependent we’ve become as a society. Do we really need to check our Twitter feeds every half hour? Do we really need the play by play? Do we really need to know what Kim Kardashian is wearing? Take a breather. Clear your head. You’ll be better for it.

Have something else in your life besides writing. Give yourself permission to live life. Bake bread. Plant a garden. Take a pottery class. Train for a half-marathon. Visit a friend in the nursing home. Play with your dog. Join a band. All these experiences eventually make their way back to the writing.

Read something beautiful every day. I have a practice of reading either a poem or piece of micro-fiction before I start writing each day. It reminds me what a privilege it is to be part of this lineage that chooses beauty and meaning over the superficial. What a difference words make in this world.

Take care of your body/mind/spirit. Eat right. Exercise. Meditate. Get your ZZZs. This is just good life advice, friends.

Spend time with a child. Play with your kids. Take your nephew or niece out for ice cream. Volunteer at your local school or Boys & Girls’ Club. There’s so much we can both teach our children, as well as learn from them. We need one another. Children are beautiful reminders of what it is to see the world through curious eyes.

Find a community. It’s often said writing is a solitary act. However, reaching out to other writers whether via a workshop, writing group, or forum not only provides an educational outlet; but also, a support network of writers who’ve walked along the same path. I don’t know what I’d do without my writing friends. We really are in this together.

Once in a while walk away. Don’t be afraid to take a break every now and then, be it a day, a week, a month. Regroup. Refill the well. It’ll still be here when you get back. Promise.

Remember why you fell in love with writing in the first place. Write out of passion. There’s no other way.


Photo Credit: Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash 

 

 

 

 

resolutions

It’s that time of year again. I’m sure your inbox and Twitter feed have been chocked full of “Top 100” and “Best of” lists just like mine. There’s something to be said about this annual socio-cultural exercise we put ourselves through, where we tally up all our accomplishments and hope like hell they out-number the disappointments. Obviously, some years are better than others, but sometimes it can be tough not to feel a little blue, especially if things don’t quite align as one envisioned, say, 364 days ago.

I suppose it’s human nature to lift a glass at the crack of midnight and resolve to shoot for the same goals as the year before, vowing this time things be different—really, I swear—even though deep down we know all will likely be forgotten by the vernal equinox, or at the very least, until one sits down to type up next year’s “Best of” list. Rinse, repeat, pour another.

Does this mean we shouldn’t set ourselves goals? No, of course not. Without goals life becomes a stagnant pool of boredom, never changing, never growing. Like food, goals nourish us. Where the problem lies is in expectation.

How many times do we make promises like these?

  • This year I’ll finish that novel I’ve been working on for the last five years.
  • This year I’ll get started on that blog/website.
  • This year I’ll shop around and see if anyone thinks my short story is worth publishing. Maybe someone at the New Yorker will give it a chance.
  • This year I’ll write every single day without fail. Really, I swear.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these goals. You could even call them lofty. Are they attainable, though? Depends on how you look at it.

The poet William Stafford wrote at least one new poem a day for over twenty years. In fact, he felt so passionate about the discipline he assigned the same task to his students. The groans and sighs that must have filled that classroom. As lore goes, a student once challenged him by asking how anyone could be expected to write an amazing poem every single day. Stafford’s response, “lower your standards.”

We often set such monumental expectations for ourselves that we risk immobilization at the very thought of taking the first step. It’s like seeing the entire ocean before us without acknowledging the beauty of its very existence.  Instead maybe we ought to take a lesson from Stafford, break it down, celebrate the day-to-day achievements, which when recognized make our goals seem less daunting and yes, attainable. Perhaps by year’s end you’ll realize you’ve accomplished more than you ever imagined possible.


What goals do you have for 2019? Please feel free to leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.


Photo Credit: Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

writing podcast

I’ve been a multi-tasker my entire life.  Who knows—maybe it has something to do with the continued circus act of trying to find the right balance between writing and the rest of life.  Nonetheless, one of my guilty pleasures while folding the laundry or working out at the gym or sitting in traffic on my way to get groceries is to listen to writing podcasts. There are several out there, but I thought I’d share a few of my favorites:

 

  1. Writerly Podcast: Hosted by award-winning authors Danielle Trussoni and Walter Kirn. Trussoni and Kirn discuss all aspects of the writing life. Topics include everything from craft and productivity tips to how to find an agent and navigate the ins and outs of the publishing world. I suggest checking out Trussoni’s recent interview with author Panio Gianopoulos (A Familiar Beast; How to Get Into Our House and Where We Keep the Money) about how he manages to get in his daily word count while also holding down a full-time job and staying actively involved with his family. Talk about multi-tasking! Gianopoulos writes in short, focused micro-sessions while on his train commute to and from work. It’s amazing what he’s been able to accomplish in those snippets.

 

  1. Creative Penn Podcast: Hosted by award-winning author Joanna Penn, who’s website The Creative Penn has become a must for aspiring writers wanting to learn more about how to publish and market their books, as well as how to create an author brand or platform.  Episodes run every Monday and include interviews and other valuable information on what it takes to become an effective creative entrepreneur. Joanna recently celebrated The Creative Penn’s tenth anniversary. Hear all the details on how she went from writing her first book to managing her six-figure writing business in Episode #405.

 

  1. Beautiful Writers Podcast: Hosted by BookMama.com’s Linda Siversten. Awesome interviews with all your favorite authors about the writing life.  Recent interviews include Seth Godin, Ann Patchett, Maria Shriver, and Tom Hanks—yes, that Tom Hanks.  Who doesn’t love Tom Hanks?  If you haven’t read his short story collection Uncommon Type, find a copy.  His story, “A Month on Greene Street,” which is included, was also picked up by One Story (Issue 232).  And if you haven’t already guessed, you’ll hear Hanks’ distinctive voice in your head for days after reading it.

 

  1. Dabblers & Doers Podcast: Hosted by Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia. Dan interviews writers and artists about their creative journeys and how they made the shift from merely dabbling or thinking about their creative work to taking action and becoming a “doer” who creates, finishes and shares work with others. It’s always inspiring to hear about another writer’s success story and to realize we all share the same struggles along the way.

 

  1. Author2Author Podcast: Hosted by the effervescent Bill Kenower, editor-in-chief of Author magazine and author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence. Bill interviews a wide range of authors from all different genres about how writing and life connect and are, in essence, one in the same.  If you’re feeling a little self-conscious about calling yourself a writer, check out Bill’s interview with Andre Dubus III about identity and persistence.  You’ll feel better.

 


I’d love to hear what podcasts inspire you as a writer.  Feel free to share your comments below.  It’s always a pleasure to hear from you.


Photo Credit: Photo by Melanie Pongratz on Unsplash