Monday, December 15, 2014

Joy of Writing 2

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          There needs to be more joy in the world so if writing brings you joy, write. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it. Just sit down with pen and paper or at your keyboard and write.

          You may meander around topics. You might only jot down words and phrases. Stay seated. Keep going. The hardest part of writing is getting started. As Mary Poppins said, “Once begun is half done.”

          Once I have an idea or reach my stream of consciousness, words fly from my brain onto the page. It happens so quickly, I don’t always realize what I have written until I go back and read it.

I am happy to sit still alone and write. I don’t feel joy then, just excitement when I hit my stride.

The joy comes when I sit back and read what I wrote. Even if it isn’t always good, it’s good to get it down—to have written. There is usually an idea, a phrase, sentence, or, upon occasion, a paragraph worth keeping. The longer I write, the more there is to keep.

But that isn’t all there is to writing. Come back to what you have written a day or two later. You will see what is good and not so good with fresh eyes. You will have more to write as your subconscious has been simmering and considering things. The more you work on a piece, the more it shines.

Give yourself the joy of writing. Following your dream is the best gift!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Best Writing Advice Ever

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Concise writing takes more thought, more work, more drafts. However, the results can stand the test of time.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, published 1935

Omit needless words (page 23).

          Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. (62 words)

Gettyburg Address, 1863, the Nicolay version—thought to be earliest copy of the speech—is copied here:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow, this ground—The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people for the people, shall not perish from this earth. (235 words)


I’m not sure I can legally print lyrics here, but these songs are surprisingly concise:

“Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce, from 1971, is 128 words long.

“Sunshine on My Shoulders” by John Denver, from 1971 is 113 words long.

“Three Times a Lady” by Lionel Richie, from 1978, is only 51 words long.


          Make every word tell. I think that is the best writing advice ever.

Please note: This advice refers to the polishing/self-editing stage, not during early drafts when the goal is to get all your thoughts down on paper.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Festive Book Trees For Christmas

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

I'm in definite, full-blown holiday swing at the moment, which is my excuse for being a bit behind on this week's blog post!

As busy as this time of year is for a mother of eight kids, it also happens to be one of my favorite seasons.  Those who know me well (blogging partner, Kate!) are not surprised that I begin listening to Christmas music as early as late October.  For some, that's absurdly too early, but I find holiday tunes incredibly uplifting and plain old cheerful, and I will be listening to the last jingle bell wafting through my home well past New Year's day.

This week, I am immersed in garlands, wreaths, twinkling lights, shimmering ornaments and everything else that represents the joy of decorating for Christmas.  My kids and I have been back and forth to the attic dozens of times bringing out our treasured decorations, and if we're lucky our home will be all decked out by late this weekend.

While I was doing some research on an article I'm currently writing, I accidentally stumbled upon some amazing photographs of Christmas trees that took my breath away.  No, they weren't 6-feet blue spruces or artificial masterpieces that twinkled in silver or gold, these trees were something even more spectacular--trees made out of one of my favorite items in the entire world--books!

I was so excited when I spotted them that  I immediately sent one to my partner in blogging crime, Kate and a few other friends that are as book crazy as I am.

I know this is a writing blog, but being that I'm presently in the spirit of decorating for Christmas I thought I'd share a few of the tree images I found to be so inspiring.  Who knows, maybe when I finish stringing up the lights on our own tree this weekend, I might attempt a book tree of my own.

Feast your eyes on these beautiful pieces of art!

What are some of the different ways books inspire you throughout the season?

Monday, December 1, 2014

2014 Fun Gifts for Writers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

 These are holiday gift suggestions for the writers in your life—or for yourself.

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review Edited and with an Introduction by Pamela Paul
          By the Book is a Q&A article included in The New York Times Book Review each week. Here 65 authors share which books influenced them, what they are reading now, what books they recommend, what books they have not read, which three authors they would invite to a dinner party, what books the president should read, what are their ideal reading situations, their opinions on rereading, descriptions of their libraries, and favorite children’s books along with many other questions and answers. You get insights into authors you love, leads on books to read as well as discover authors new to you. An excellent gift!

New Bold Cristal BICs

          These are iconic, inexpensive pens. I have used them, but never loved them until now. The bold BICs have thicker 1.6mm nibs. The ink flows smoothly, although there are the occasional blobs. They are a pleasure to write with when you want to get your ideas down quickly.

A Writer’s Ring (see post dated 3/17/13)

          I love my faux, channel set diamond and sapphire ring that I wear on my thumb so I can see it sparkle in the light as I write, but another way to go may be a very rustic initial that looks like the face of an old typewriter key.

A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration & Encouragement by Barbara Abercrombie

          The 365 mini-essays written by the author include thoughts, observations, and stories about other writers. Topics include: #7 Jumping Off; #28 In the Company of Animals; #35 Eight Ways to Sabotage Yourself;  #68 Making Use of Fear; #127 One True Sentence; #243 Stepping Up to the Plate; and #315 Flying Off Course. Each essay is followed by a quote from another writer.

Literary Necklaces

          I bought a few of these necklaces for fun. However, I don’t wear them. They look like miniature framed quotes so I hook the chains over the corners of my computer screen and around the base of my reading lamp so I can read them. My favorites:

Poetry: the best words in the best order

Whisper Words of Wisdom

Book Vixen

I have taken to living by my wits. (Sherlock Holmes)

Literary Charms

          These charms are book-shaped with titles like Wuthering Heights and Moby Dick.

A Favorite Children’s Book

Memories are wonderful launching pads for writing ideas. I love Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (post dated 1/21/13), most books by Richard Scarry, and The Frances series by Russell Hoban. New favorites are from the Ordinary People Change the World series by Brad Meltzer including I am Albert Einstein; I am Rosa Parks; I am Abraham Lincoln; I am Jackie Robinson; I am Amelia Earhart; and I am Lucille Ball.

Ceramic Mug, Pot, or Vase

          Pick a favorite color, eye-catching shape, or inspiring quote. They are great for corralling pens for the writer in your life. Of course, the mug can be used for tea or coffee; the pot or vase for flowers—all inspiring for writers, too.

Blank Note Cards

Writing is writing so, if you cannot think of anything else to write, send notes to friends or family members. Make them smile when their snail mail arrives—and help achieve your daily writing goal.

A Pad of To-Do Lists

Writers need goals! Lists are a great way to keep you on track for projects and deadlines.

Happy Holidays!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Reads for Writers: Tony Schwartz and Betty Edwards Provide Masterclasses

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.

          I love to read and write, but I have always longed to draw well, too. My great aunt illustrated dozens of children’s books. Her artwork also included a huge cathedral drawn in charcoal and a mixed media Christmas scene both of which grace the walls of my parent’s home. My favorite painting by her is a three foot by three foot depiction of Noah’s Ark with the most adorable monkeys, giraffes, elephants, ponies, camels, penguins, zebras, deer, owls, hippos, bears, lambs, ostriches, cattle, and doves walking and flying to the Ark that she painted for my father’s nursery and was hung in the hallway outside my room when I was growing up. However, I did not inherit her talent.

          Over the years, I have tried to draw many times. I created two pieces that aren’t terrible, but I really want to be able to sketch quickly and accurately.

          I discovered Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence by Betty Edwards while reading What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America by Tony Schwartz. He included a photo of a self-portrait he completed after finishing Edwards’ course which amazed and inspired me.

I love to learn new things so both of these books appeal to me. In fact, I recommend you read Chapter 4 “Seeing the Big Picture” in What Really Matters before you start Edwards’ book as Schwartz gives a  fascinating look into Betty Edwards, her ideas and research, and her beliefs as well as a detailed view of learning to draw from his own beginner’s perspective. He compares writing and drawing on page 178.

          Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was originally published in 1979. I did not discover it until decades later, but the instructions still work. If you want to be inspired, look at pages 11-13 to see before and after drawings by six people. The improvements are astounding.

I have completed the first six chapters and have drawn two pictures I am proud to sign: one of my left hand holding my mascara and the other of my bare foot. If you want to learn to draw, start now with this book.

Drawing is an excellent complement to writing. It teaches you a new perspective. It gives you another way to get thoughts and details down on the page about people/characters and settings when you are out and about. Having this artistic skill gives you confidence and another outlet for your creativity.

I’m recommending Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain now as winter weather (or heat waves if you are in the southern hemisphere) keeps many of us inside so we have time to spend on a new pursuit. We can always use a new perspective.

Happy creating!


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Writing Gratitude

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

During this wonderful season of Thanksgiving, today's post is devoted to what I consider one of the greatest gifts a person can have--gratitude.
We all experience difficult days, sometimes very long stretches of challenge after challenge, but if we have the tools to turn those tough times into temporary setbacks and instead focus on all the positives in our lives, I believe we live a fulfilling, joyful and worthwhile life.
One of the most popular ways to live a grateful life is to keep a gratitude journal.  You've probably heard this said many times, but have you ever thought about keeping one yourself?  My first experience with a gratitude journal came from reading one of my favorite and most meaningful books, Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  This book really tuned me into the art of appreciating the simple things in my life.  I still keep this treasured book on my nightstand and have given dozens away as gifts to the special women in my life.
I must admit, however, although I first read Simple Abundance in 1996, it wasn't until a few years ago that I actively kept a gratitude journal.  I had good intentions for many years but my ready-made excuse of "busy mom of eight kids" was usually the reason I never kept at it
My gratitude journal means many things to me, but at the end of the day if you were to have a peek at the hundreds of pages I've written I think you'd be surprised at how simple my thoughts usually are.
There are days when I give thanks for a beautiful new piece of artwork hanging in my house, or finally finding a pair of jeans that fit me just right.  I also note the amazing experiences I am so lucky to have like visiting my dream publisher--Macmillan--in NYC--because I work for them or how fortunate I am to have just taken 7 of my 8 kids on a fabulous trip to Disney World this past summer.  But for the most part, my pages are filled with things such as being able to listen to Christmas music in early November, cuddling with my dogs on the couch after a full day of work, baking brownies with my 9-year old daughter, sharing my smile with people all day long.  Those are what I jot down in my gratitude journal on a regular basis.
So, today, one week before we celebrate Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with you how important gratitude is not only in my life, but especially to my writing.
If you've ever contemplated keeping a gratitude journal for yourself, this just might be the perfect time to give it a try.  And if you already do have one, what keeps you writing in it on a regular basis?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Writing Despite the Cold

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I feel like the proverbial poor starving artist in a cold Parisian garret. Well I’m not starving or in Paris, but I am freezing. A new furnace has not married well with a very old chimney. This is the busiest time of year for chimney sweeps so it’s proving difficult to get an appointment to fix or replace it.

          We can live without heat for a few more weeks by wearing three, four, or five layers. The difficult part is living without hot water heated by the furnace. Makes us reconsider bundling them. Plus our tech bundle—cable, phone, and Internet—went out two days later.

          So we are having a too close for comfort look at living 100 years ago except, luckily, we still have power so no candles for lights and I can still use my computer for writing. Since no experience goes to waste for writers, this situation has provided inspiration along with goose pimples.

          How dedicated writers were when they had only quills and pens with scratchy nibs that had to be constantly dipped in ink. Add the cold to that situation and I’m amazed at what they produced. Writing requires endurance.

          It also gives me a whole new appreciation for our ancestors who only had heat and hot water from fireplaces and wood stoves. All the work of chopping wood and gathering kindling to keep the fires burning all day and night, then pumping water into buckets, then heating water in pots to pour into a tub must have been exhausting. No wonder people only bathed one day a week. (We are doing far better than that thanks to nearby relatives.)

          What really strikes me is the quiet of the house with no incoming signals from the outside world or even the cycling of the furnace as it keeps the hot water hot. No dishwasher either. I'm heating water on the stove to wash the silverware and pots and pans. We switched to paper plates much to the delight of the dogs who, on sunny days, are napping on the deck warmer than I am sitting at my desk. At night, they wear their flannel-lined coats while sleeping on warm, cozy beds.

          I thought I lived a quiet life, but, compared to this day, not so much. Usually, I have the TV or radio on in the background as I write. When needed, the dishwasher is running. The house seems active; now it’s napping.

          I know the tech part will be fixed shortly. I have an “account current” relationship with that company.

I'm not so sure about the chimney/heat/hot water situation. I've never met a chimney sweep, but I will be exceedingly grateful when I do.

          In the meantime, I will continue to write. If Christmas gets closer and we are still without heat, I think I will be feeling more and more like Bob Cratchit. I better look for my gloves now.

P.S.  This happened in late October/early November so dogs were never freezing. Heat and hot water are restored.