Monday, October 20, 2014

Staring at the Ceiling

From Kate's Writing Crate…
I take comfort in knowing I am not the only person in the world alone in a room leaning back in a desk chair looking up at a ceiling then leaning forward to hunch over a keyboard. These writers' sit ups are part of the job description. (I just wish they burned more calories.)
          Such a seemingly uninspired thing to do, stare at a ceiling, but my office chair is built to tilt making it easy to do.
I see the brush strokes in the white paint. There is a rougher texture to the ceiling as opposed to the semi-gloss white on the walls of my office barely visible above my bookcases and between the paintings hung on them. The lightning blue molding between the two white spaces breaks up the color monotony.
          I see the expansive white ceiling with my eyes, but my mind uses it as a blank canvas. Nothing to see here and yet…there is everything to see. Ideas pop into my head. Or were they there all along and I just noticed them pop against the bland, white background?
          Or is the white ceiling an opaque mirror reflecting ideas equally opaque? Like a double negative, does the double opaqueness cancel itself out so ideas can be seen clearly?
          I love this idea.
          No wonder people have their heads examined. Minds are endlessly fascinating.
Writers know this or we wouldn't spend so much time alone, staring at ceilings, examining our own thoughts and ideas.
Further thoughts on staring…
          In a required college Psych 101 course, I remember the professor told us about a study where, one at a time, kittens were put into a tiny, empty room with plain white painted walls that was attached to a tiny, empty room with white wallpaper with faint vertical lines on it. The vast majority of kittens choose to stay in the room with the lines. The professor noted minds need stimulation however faint.
          I wonder which room writers would choose? Would it make a difference?
Since both ceilings were plain white, it might not matter to me. Though I think I would choose the line-less room as each writing project begins with a blank page. I already have lines in my head waiting to be written down.
However, I also stare at the lines on my notebook pages and 'word lines' on my computer documents for a living so I might choose the other room if the lines were a more writer-friendly horizontal. I'd have to stare at them to be sure.
How much writing time do you spend staring at the ceiling or walls for that matter?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Writing Quotes 4

From Kate's Writing Crate…
Here are some quotes that inspire me:
The work of art which I do not make, none other will ever make it.
                                                        --Simone Weil
The very nature of creation is not a performing glory on the outside; it's a painful, difficult search within.
                                                                --Louise Nevelson
To participate requires self-discipline and trust and courage, because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself: "How alive am I willing to be?"
                                                                --Anne Lamott
…the writer writes for himself, out of his own need…
                        --Madeleine L'Engle
To write, you can never be alone enough.
What quotes inspire you?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Inspiring "Author" Blogs

Happy Thursday Evening!

Last night at this time, I was sitting amongst a group of about 200 writing and reading enthusiasts--99% women!  (But to be fair, the five men in the audience were definitely noticed and very much appreciated!)

So--where was I? It was with great pleasure that I attended the 6th Annual "Evening With Authors"--presented by Rhode Island's own Book Lover Extraordinaire and Radio Talk Show Host Robin Kall Hominoff--which benefits Breast Cancer Awareness Month as well as keeps an excited reader-junkie audience on the edge of their seats!

As a side note--my "Writer's Crate" blogging partner, Kate Phillips, was my partner in crime last evening, and I truly believe it was one of the best "Literary Adventures" we have yet to attend.

Let me explain. I've been privileged to be writing for Kate for over 12 years now! We have experienced many "literary" adventures together during this time--a combination of both professional and personal delightful adventures. Kate is one of those editors that takes writing to a whole new level! She makes my published writing shine like the North Star and the many facets of writing that I've gleaned from her editorial finesse has taken my writing to grand, new heights!

Not every blog or post will resonate with each of us, but if you're connected with writers you love, something will surely grab your attention if you read them on a regular basis!

Today's post is all about inspired beginnings! The three authors we heard from last night were beyond amazing and entertaining! I would like to share their websites and blogs with you.  

Dani Shapiro   --  Moments of Being

John Searles   Help For The Haunted

Susan Jane Gilman   A View From Abroad 

I'm not advocating that you'll become these three authors biggest fans, but I do encourage that you explore new writers so that you can broaden your own horizons through even one or two of their messages and lessons.

Do you have a favorite writing blog that makes you tick?  Please share your thoughts with us!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Remember This

From Kate's Writing Crate…
          If you can't think of anything to write, remember something.
Here's a memory from my only trip to Ireland, home of my mother's side of the family.
My friend April, who had stayed with extended family enjoying home-cooked meals during her first visit to Ireland, wanted to eat dinners only at finer restaurants this trip. Her rules: breakfast at the B&B; lunches at pubs and diners; and no American chain restaurants ever!
One evening, we dined at a first-rate restaurant where a tall and dour maître 'd studied everyone—staff and diners alike—as he silently oversaw this thirty-table establishment in Dublin from behind a mahogany podium twenty feet from the entrance.
After we were seated, our waiter, who dropped his pen while writing down our drink orders, didn't bring them to us. The waiter who did took our dinner orders then bumped into a nearby empty table as he turned around. A waitress then brought us our appetizers, but she tripped and grabbed the bannister while going back down the three steps to the main floor level.
All glared at by the maître 'd, we never saw any of them again.
We looked at the other diners surreptitiously. It was such an elegant and tiny restaurant with only eight tables occupied so disappearing wait staff couldn't help but be noticed. However, no one seemed fazed by these banishments.
Both writers, April and I began imagining what happened to them: lashed to hot ovens; tossed into the freezer; thrown into the River Liffey; or reassigned to the pub next door. Our laughter about these scenarios caught the maître 'd's attention as our salads arrived via yet another waiter. Abashed, we settled down.
 This waiter walked away without mishap so we hoped he would return. Unfortunately, I'd ordered a plain salad, but received one with dressing. I wasn't about to complain; however, he came rushing back with the correct salad.
We weren't surprised when a fifth server arrived with dinner. We hoped she would survive unscathed, but she mixed up our side dishes. We tried to switch them unobtrusively while eating our entrees. When the maître 'd noticed, I jerked my arm back and knocked my fork into my lap splashing neon-yellow saffron sauce onto my white dress swirled with shades of gray.
April and I both froze. Would I disappear now, too?
I looked up apprehensively at the maître 'd as I picked up my fork, but he turned away. It hadn't hit the floor with a clatter. No other diners had noticed so my clumsiness was overlooked—except my dress was ruined. Punishment enough, I supposed.
I don't remember dessert, only that the newest waiter reappeared with our bill.
The maître 'd watched our every step as we left. I know because he was reflected in one of the large, spotlessly clean windows on either side of the front door as we walked out into the dark never to return. We're still wondering if the wait staff ever did.
Try writing about a memory and see where it leads.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Redesigning My Writer's Crate

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

This past weekend was devoted to an entire fall housecleaning mission--one that started at sundown Friday evening and went well into the wee hours of Monday morn!  When one of these intense decluttering, deep cleaning fetishes strike it completely consumes me, and the only way for me to survive it is to simply get into the zone and just go with it.

Although I usually have a bit of help around the house throughout the week from my 6 children that still live at home, when I'm in the midst of a full-fledged cleaning rampage like this, they know it's best to steer clear and let me have at it without any interruptions.  And because they fear for what I might ask them to do (scrubbing the fireplace tiles is not high on anyone's list in this family!) it's usually never a problem to get the house to myself for a couple of days.

As I whirred about my seemingly endless list of tasks (happily so, I might add, because believe it or not, these deep cleanings are therapeutic for me) I stopped and took a good, hard look at my sacred space that we here at this blog refer to as our "Writing Crate".

Our mission on the homepage of The Writer's Crate blog states "Live a writer’s life. Take yourself seriously. Set up a Writer’s Crate—a nook, a corner, or a room dedicated to writing filled with items that inspire you—then sit there and write every day."   We launched our blog in September of 2012--two years later, I still enjoy reading our mission on a weekly basis because it reminds me of how important it is to feed my muse and write as often as possible especially when my busy life tries to get in the way of that.

Even when I don't have the amount of time I'd like to sneak away and spill my gazillion ideas onto paper, I usually have a few minutes (make that seconds) to sit quietly in my very own corner of the world, my writer's crate, and just daydream a little bit (usually about the novels I'm going to write as soon as the last dish is cleaned or the last load of laundry is folded and put away).

It's this special sanctuary that I find comfort, inspiration, passion, and usually direction where my writing life is concerned.  But like other rooms in my home, I tend to get bored if the layout, color scheme, and overall design remain the same for too long. So as I tore about doing all that cleaning and reorganizing last weekend, I realized that my writer's crate needed a bit of freshening up.

Because I am working full-time now, my mind is even more busy than I ever thought possible, so I've really been focusing on simplifying as much in my life as I can.  With that theme in mind, I realized that my writer's crate had gotten a bit cluttered and wasn't as orderly or inspiring as it was when I first created it a couple of years ago so I decided it was definitely time to make some changes.
My First Writer's Crate

It didn't take much to redesign my precious, new writing haven.  I traded my writing armoir (my daughter scored it for her new mini art-studio) which was loaded with books, journals, sticky notes, quotes, and ongoing project lists to a smaller, simpler desk that I painted in a pale turquoise.  I keep a simple vase on it (because I love it, plain and simple) as well as a reading lamp and that's it!  I have enough room for my laptop or one of my journals and the two drawers hold my favorite pens and writing books.  
My Fresh, Simple Writer's Crate Makeover

Everything else has been placed back on my favorite bookshelves or in my little office that I use for bookkeeping and other household tasks. When I need something during a writing session, I make sure I have it available, but now that I've been writing in my new nook, I'm finding I have everything I need, just a clean and quiet space to let my thoughts flow without the dozens of distractions I used to have all around me.

It's only been a short period of time that I've been working from my revamped writer's crate, but the change in scenery and the set up of this new space has already shifted my attitude and production immensely. Not only did my entire house get a thorough cleaning and makeover, but my passion to write did as well, and once again I get excited to find those very important snippets of time to sneak off and do what I love most--get creative in my beloved and newly refreshed writer's crate.

Have you taken an inventory of your writing space lately?  If you could create the perfect writer's retreat, where in your home (or elsewhere) would it be?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reads for Writers: Gail Caldwell 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.
This is a companion piece to last week's masterclass post about writer and author Caroline Knapp.
Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, written by Caroline Knapp's best friend Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell, tells their story—one I never expected to know and now can't forget.
Right from the start, readers know that Caroline died. What they don't know is how she lived as a writer and became best friends with Gail. "Everything really started with the dogs." (page 15)
As both were writers living alone, recovering alcoholics, and serious dog owners, they had a lot in common including dedication to a sport—rowing for Caroline and swimming for Gail. They tutored each other in the finer points of these activities even planning on entering a double (two-person/one boat) race.
"Because we both possessed that single trait that makes a lifelong rower—endurance—we declared that we would row the Head together in our seventies, when the field had thinned sufficiently to give us a fighting chance." (page 104)
The friends had strict writing schedules followed by daily phone calls and long walks with their dogs, Lucille and Clementine. The title of this book comes from Caroline telling Gail, 'Let's take the long way home' when driving back from their walks so they could continue to talk about writing, life, the dogs, and everything else of interest to them.
"Finding Caroline was like placing a personal ad for an imaginary friend, then having her show up at your door funnier and better than you had conceived…We had a lot of dreams, some of them silly, all part of the private code shared by people who plan to be around for the luxuries of time." (page 13)
For years, they rented a summer vacation house that allowed dogs together with other writing friends and Caroline's boyfriend, Morelli, a photographer, who captured many moments of fun and friendship. Photos treasured, but, sadly, some lost over time.
In the winter of 2002, Caroline, a smoker, began to cough. She was treated for pneumonia, tested for tuberculosis, and then, in April, diagnosed with stage four lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain and liver.
"…Caroline [was] crying as I wrapped my arms around her, after they brought her back up to her room, when the first thing she said to me was "Are you mad at me?" It was the voice of early terror, a primal response to bad news, and to this day I don't know whether she meant because we had fought about the smoking or because she knew she was going to leave." (page 128)
Morelli became Caroline's husband in an early May wedding planned by their friends. Gail guided ring-bearer Lucille up the aisle.
Despite the joy of the wedding, the reality of Caroline's illness couldn't be denied. "Accepting a death sentence is like falling down a flight of stairs in slow motion. You take it one bruise at a time—a blow, a landing, another short descent." (page 144)
"That great heart—of course it took her a long time to die…Caroline lived for eighteen days from the night she had the [brain] bleed. Morelli had all but moved into her hospital room, bringing Lucille with him." (pages 143-144)
Caroline died on June 2, 2002 leaving everyone to deal with a new wave of grief.
"My life had made so much sense alongside hers: For years we had played the easy, daily game of catch that intimate connection implies. One ball, two gloves, equal joy in the throw and the return. Now I was in the field without her: one glove, no game. Grief is what tells you who you are alone." (page 3)
Heartache caused by death is not easy to live through, much less write about, but Gail manages to do both gracefully. Framed by a friendship we would all like to have and the grief felt from diagnosis to dying—only a seven-week journey for Caroline and her friends and family—it's all the more devastating.
"The only education in grief that any of us ever gets is a crash course," notes Gail. (page 150) "Death is a divorce nobody asked for; to live through it is to find a way to disengage from what you thought you couldn't stand to lose." (page 153)
Let's Take the Long Way Home was published eight years after Caroline's death. Through most of it, readers are right there as things happened, but at the end Gail looks back through time to share: "I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder creatures. Sometimes I think that the pain is what yields the solution. Grief and memory create their own narrative…We tell the story to get them back…(page 182)
I only wish Lucille's entire story was also included as Clementine's was. Caroline had asked Gail and Morelli to promise to walk the dogs together once a week forever. (page 130)
Did they?
I'd like to think so for the dogs' sakes at least, but it might have proven too painful for the bereaved best friend and husband or too private to share.
What Gail Caldwell did share in this book is a gift to all of Caroline Knapp's fans and those who have lost best friends—as well as provided a masterclass for writers.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Keys to Writing Successfully

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

I'm a writer.  I'm a full-time working mother.  I'm a doggy-mommy to two feisty but loveable dogs.  I'm a writer.  I'm a putterer and someone passion-ridden about all things home and garden.  I'm a podcaster.  I'm a dreamer.  I'm a writer.  I'm an explorer.  I'm a writer--yet--I don't write nearly as often as I desire or need to.

Just when I think I have my schedule arranged perfectly to accommodate more precious writing time, life interrupts my plans, and I have to drive the carpool, take care of a sick child, run out for milk, finish a report for work, walk my playful dogs or tend to something silly like laundry or cooking dinner.

Luckily, in addition to all the attributes listed above, I am also determined, and by all means not a quitter, so while I do consider myself a writer, I will always consider myself a student of this craft I love so much, therefore, I will always be open to finding ways to be the most successful writer I can be.

Today I stumbled upon a wonderful article about this very topic called What is the Key to Writing Successfully by Sandy Appleyard, and I knew I had to share it with you.

In this well-written piece, author and full-time writer, Sandy Appleyard, shares "Momentum is the key to writing successfully, and it is what you get when you're on a roll, when you've got your story in mind or already started, and you have the drive to continue working on it until it's finished, regardless of whatever else you are doing."

I know she's right, but yet, I allow so many other things to slow me down in the process, even when I do have that momentum building in my favor.

Sandy shares her ten best tips for maintaining a constant writing momentum.  You can read them all in her article, What is the Key to Writing Successfully, but I will list my three favorites for you here.

1.  Write every day.

Make it a habit.  Find what time of day best suits you and set aside that time to write.  Think of it as your ‘me’ time and it helps to minimize the feeling of selfishness that authors can sometimes get.  Consider writing a favour you do for yourself each day; like exercising your brain.

 2.  Make small sacrifices.

Many of us watch what we may think is just a little television, or spend a perceived small amount of time surfing the internet or on social media.  But if you record the actual time that you use on each or individually, you’d be surprised how much it amounts to. 

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to turn off all the notifications I had on my cell phone.  It was such a distraction getting Facebook and Twitter updates constantly, I barely got any writing done.  The same holds true for the television.  If you cut even one or two shows out per night, you’d be amazed how much writing you can get done.
 Read if you can’t write.

3.  Every night before bed I read.  

Sometimes I write, too, but for the most part I’m too tired to write.  Reading good books is food for a writer’s brain.  Consider that if you don’t read that you’re literally starving your brain if you want to continue being a writer.  You simply cannot have the tools involved in writing good books if you’re not reading them too.

Just reading Sandy's helpful practices has already started my momentum building up again.  What are some of the ways you keep moving forward when you want or need to write?  If we combine our ideas and practices, perhaps we can all become unstoppable writers like Sandy Appleyard.