Monday, September 22, 2014

Reads for Writers: Caroline Knapp Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate…
As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.
        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.
        Each of us has a list of authors so good we will read whatever they write. One of these authors, for me, is Caroline Knapp.
        I discovered Knapp when Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs was released in 1998. Since I own German shepherds, the cover caught my eye as on it the author poses with her shepherd mix, Lucille.
        In the book, Knapp becomes a new dog owner of an eight-week-old puppy after being sober for 18 months and while dealing with the deaths of both her parents. She works her way through training while meeting new dog-owning friends and dealing with old not-so-enthusiastic-about-new-dog friends and family.
        "Before you get a dog, you can't quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can't imagine living any other way." (page 6)
That's my kind of person—and this is my kind of book: funny, thoughtful, and informative.
        As I always do when I find an author I like, I read his or her previous books. In Knapp's case, this consisted of Alice K's Guide to Life: One Woman's Quest for Survival, Sanity, and the Perfect New Shoes, a light-hearted collection of her Boston Phoenix columns featuring a somewhat fictional character, and Drinking: A Love Story, a national bestseller.
        I'm not much of a drinker, but I never better understood what alcoholics feel than when she wrote: "But even now, when a waitress walks by with a tall glass of white wine, six or eight ounces of liquid relief, my pulse still quickens and I find myself watching it wistfully, the way you might look at a photograph of someone you loved deeply and painfully and then lost". (page 105)
        In her next book, Knapp looked back at her twenties and her struggle with anorexia in Appetites: Why Women Want. Again, not a disease I suffer with or one I would normally read about; however, it turns out, I could relate to far more of this book than I ever would have guessed. I recommend it to all women.
This was the last book she would write. It was published posthumously as Caroline Knapp died at 42 from lung cancer in 2002. I cried when I heard about her death which surprised me as I never met her, but her writing was so honest and intimate and insightful, I felt bereft.
In 2004, I felt like I received a gift when The Merry Recluse: A Life in Essays was released. From the back cover: "Caroline Knapp had a remarkable presence on the page. Throughout her writing career…she brought a keen eye and incisive scrutiny not only to women's lives, but also to…contemporary culture..." She is a writer I admire.
Then there was one final, glorious gift. Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship was published in 2010 by Caroline Knapp's best friend, Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell. She deserves a masterclass post of her own which will appear here next week.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Prayer for Freelance Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Last night I attended our first PTO meeting of the year and was thrilled to see such a large turnout--15 people.  That may seem like a lame turnout to most, but for those of us in the world of PTO, any number above the board members that shows up is a plus!

Once we got down to business, we were excited about all the plans for the upcoming school year, but we also realized we have our work cut out for us.  Funding is difficult, parent involvement is usually a challenge, and even rallying teachers to get involved can add to the mix.  An optimist at heart, I refuse to let these types of things get in the way of the spirit that we have amongst even our small group, so at the end of the meeting I suggested we take a deep breath, and visualize a positive school year experience for our kids, the teachers and the parents in our community.  Then I took it one step further and got a little cheesy by asking all in attendance to share one thought they could offer that we could turn into a PTO Prayer (not in the religious sense) to reflect on throughout the year.

The ladies (and one dad!) that were at the meeting really liked this idea and within 15 minutes we had a witty, inspiring, thought-provoking sentiment down on paper that we are going to print and distribute to our school community.  It felt great to walk away from the meeting with such a creative twist on how we as involved parents want to contribute to our school this year.

When I got home, I began thinking about this post.  As much as I'd love to admit I plan these posts in advance, it's just not possible with my full-time work schedule and busy life as a mom of 8.  Still, I look forward to it all week long and can't wait to sit down and write it.   As I reflected on our awesome PTO meeting, I began to think about prayer in general.  I'm not trying to make today's post about anything religious, I promise, but what I am trying to share is that sometimes we can take the wording of a prayer and use it as a tool for inspiration and even as a calming mechanism when we're feeling overwhelmed or frustrated that we can't write as often as we'd like.

As luck would have it (or more like it was meant to be!) I received the following e-mail entitled "A Short Prayer for Freelance Writers written by Carol Tice.   I'm sharing it below as "food for thought" in hopes that maybe you can glean a few of it's points to help inspire your writing in the days and weeks to come.

Just for today, let me be compassionate with myself.
I forgive myself for not writing enough, or well enough, or fast enough.
I am thankful today for my unique creative gifts. Instead of dwelling on regrets about what I haven’t accomplished yet, I will focus on what I can do now to develop my craft.
Let me take at least one, small step today to put my writing out there.
When my query letters go unanswered, I will remain serene and remember that it’s often not about me or my writing.
I will listen and learn from people whose feedback I value, but trust that my most important guiding voice and source of confidence as a writer lies within.
When opportunities arise, let me evaluate them with clear eyes and have the wisdom to pass if the gig isn’t right for me. I will not let feelings of panic or desperation lead me to make bad choices, but trust that if I do my marketing, the right gigs will come to me.
Because the people who matter to me are important, I will strive to set aside device-free time today in which I am fully present for them.
I will make time to move my body, stay healthy, and take in the beauty that surrounds me. I know it will fuel more creativity.
Grant that I lie down in peace tonight, grateful for the chance I’ve had today to write, to grow, and to send my message out into the world.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about how a prayer like this could influence your writing going forward.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Writing Careers Are Possible

From Kate's Writing Crate…
        My writing career started when I was an unhappy accountant and I signed up for my first writing class after writing in notebooks and journals for years. I arrived an hour before the evening class started every week as it was close to my office, but far from home. The second person to arrive was always the new owner of a local community magazine—a fortuitous benefit for following my dreams.
When the class session ended, the magazine owner hired another classmate to be the editor of her new second magazine. I signed on as a freelance writer and the proofreading intern. I moved up to assistant editor then editor of one magazine leaving accounting behind forever! Eventually, I became the editor of both magazines.
I still write one to four articles a month which means the fun of interviewing authors, volunteers at the local senior center and animal shelter; the women's club behind the Clown Town fundraiser; the Rotary Club's annual ALS Race; the Turkey Trot organizers; the National Guard Air Show; Movies on the Beach events; locals bands and choruses; art festivals; an American Red Cross Hero, and people dealing heroically with all kinds of cancer and other health issues including a brave and cheerful five-year-old boy 18 months into chemo and radiation for a brain tumor. He wants to be a police officer when he grows up and mentioned he would like to meet a K-9 team. The local police station and an officer arranged to take him to school in a squad car as well as meet a K-9 officer and his dog.
These articles let residents know about upcoming events as well as about neighbors helping others and those neighbors in need of help. It feels good to be part of a vibrant, caring community. Writing articles makes a difference in people's lives and my own.
I am a writer. I have known that since I learned to read. I was side-tracked into another career as writing isn't revered in this country until you are a bestselling or well-known author.
While being a New York Times' bestselling author (NYTBSA) may be most writers' goal, there are many other writing careers available to us. Even as I was told there was no money in writing, there are millions of publications and web sites that have pages and space that need filling daily, weekly, and monthly.
        Okay, you probably need to write a lot before you get paid so start filling a notebook a month as soon as you can as per Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. The more you write the more you improve. Also, read Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott for inspiration and a reality check.
Writers write so write no matter what!
        Start a writing project—book, essay, article, poem, post, etc. Then finish it!
Blogs are a great way to get going. Start one. Now you have a weekly deadline. Meet it!
For inspiration, read blogs like and Kristen Lamb's
Take a writing class and/or join or start a writing group. Support and discussions about improving writing are essential.
Read local publications. See if there is space for writers to submit letters, essays, etc. Then submit something or email/call to ask about writing opportunities. Working with editors who give you feedback will improve your writing and get you published.
When you feel ready, go on web sites like Thumbtack to find freelance opportunities across the country. Make sure you complete assignments and turn them in on time. Build a reputation as a writer who works quickly and competently, and editors will contact you with assignments as well as remember you when they move from one publication to another gaining you a larger audience and more money.
Usually the rights to your assigned articles revert to you after publication. Don't forget, you can tweak articles to work for other publications. For example, if you write about a person or event in the northeast for a local publication, Yankee Magazine might be interested in the same topic. Double pay is a good thing!
The Writers' Digest is a helpful resource to find publications interested in your submissions. Why not make the most of your hard work? This also gets you more bylines which then makes it easier to be accepted by other publications.
Agents, editors, and publishers read magazines and blogs. Writers have received representation and book and movie offers based on their work published in these venues.
You never know who is reading your work or where it may lead. The important thing is to write and to keep writing. Then send your work out into the world. If your goal is to be a writer, NYTBSA or otherwise, start writing now!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Creating a Writer's Endurance

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

In our household, we are now well into week three of the new school year.  The transition is still ongoing but for the most part, we are settled into our new routines of earlier mornings, full school weeks, and we are definitely experiencing the ebb and flow of all our after-school activities and commitments once again.  Yep--summer is over!

When my kids get busier with their school lives it means I get busier as well.  I'm the PTO President of our middle school as well as the school's newspaper club adviser.  Soccer, football and scouts are in full swing and on top of working full time and enjoying my job as a freelance writer for local magazines I have a house to run and pets who need my TLC.

Writing is always a part of my day in some fashion, but during transition times like back-to-school, it is usually present via list making or hurried assignments that I've been enjoying writing but just never seem to have the amount of time I'd like to have available to complete them without that feeling of "deadline is here--hurry up and finish!"   

That's why when I find articles suggesting ways to strengthen my writing routine, I devour them and refer to them in my hour of need.

One such article is 3 Steps to Creative Endurance:  A Writer's Training Plan written by Tom Meitner.

He shares, "See, when you decide to run a race, there is an implication that you’re going to train. It’s the same for anything else – a girl who wants to play the guitar, or a newlywed that wants to cook dinner. Every one of those activities implies a certain amount of practice to get it down. That means training your body to do something it’s never done before – like running a 5K – or teaching your brain how to do something correctly without thinking – like playing an instrument.
And yet, so many people get frustrated with our writing that we quit – and we never really train for it."    

Check it out and let us know if you have a "training plan" to help you become a writer than can go the distance!

Monday, September 8, 2014

20 Writers Discuss Why They Write

From Kate's Writing Crate…
        Why do we write? Every writer has his or her own motivation, but it's helpful and inspiring to hear other writers' reasons.
        In Why We Write, edited by Meredith Maran, 20 acclaimed authors discuss how and why they do what they do. Each author gives an overview of his or her background and books as well as discussing his or her writing life. Here are some highlights:
"Writing is always giving some sort of order to the chaos of life. It organizes life and memory."
                                                Isabel Allende   (page 11)
"There's a moment in every book when the story and characters are finally there; they come to life, they're in control. They do things they are not supposed to do and become people they weren't meant to be. When I reach that place, it's magic. It's a kind of rapture."
                                                Sara Gruen   (page 62)
"I write to dream; to connect with other human beings; to record; to clarify; to visit the dead. I have a kind of primitive need to leave a mark on the world. Also, I have a need for money."
                                                Mary Karr   (page 107)
"I write to explain myself to myself. It's a way of processing my disasters, sorting out the messiness of life to lend symmetry and meaning to it."
                                                Armistead Maupin   (page 130)
"I write to investigate things I'm curious about."
                                                Jane Smiley   (page 206)
"Working it out is a kind of exercise you've given yourself that no one else will give you. It's a very personalized form of homework."
                                                Meg Wolitzer   (page 220)
        Why do you write?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of The Writer's Crate

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Blogging is not only fun and a true passion, it's also a way to measure time.  

We started the Writer's Crate two year's ago--and thanks to the support and good humor of my blogging partner, Kate, I see many more years of "blog" in our future!

Happy 2nd Anniversary to one heck of a great blogging partner!  (Uh, that would be you Kate!)

Overcoming Writer's Procrastination

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Thursday is my day to post to this blog.  I have it scheduled on my calendar and it's embedded in my mind, but somehow, regardless of how well organized (or not!) I am, Thursday sneaks up on me and many times I'm scrambling to post on time.

This certainly isn't a result of my lack of wanting to blog here at The Writer's Crate--absolutely not!  It's truly one of the items on my writing agenda that I look forward to each week.  I suppose being a full-time working mother of 8 kids could have something to do with my last-minute posts, but to be honest I don't think I can point the blame to that either.  No--I think I can be honest enough with myself as to why I tend to work off the adrenaline rush of the last hour and quite simply the bottom line is that I'm a procrastinator.

There, I said it!

I can't say this is always the case, but I've noticed over the past few years I've wandered over to the "other side" of time management, and it's starting to bother me just a bit.  Rather than complain and come up with excuses, I set out to find some realistic strategies that I could put into place, and I'm happy to report that I came upon a very helpful article titled "Overcome Procrastination with These Easy Strategies" written by Gail Brenner, PhD and author.

I love how she point blank says "If you're a writer, you're probably familiar with procrastination.  It descends like a haze.  It takes you over before you know it.  And there you are, checking e-mail for the millionth time rather than focusing on the task at hand."   This writer knows exactly what's going on inside of my "writer's mind" and for that I am grateful!  Not only did I not feel so alone after reading her article, it also helped me realize that with a little tweaking, I can turn this around and get back on task.

She lists boredom, fear, and limiting thoughts as reasons for procrastinating and then gives simple fixes for each.

I encourage you to visit this original article and then let me know if you have similar challenges and any clever ways of overcoming your procrastinating woes.