Monday, June 19, 2017

Reads for Writers: The Writer's Life edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Writers need inspiration to create any good piece of work, but sometimes we need inspiration to continue writing at all.

The Writer’s Life: Intimate Thoughts on Work, Love, Inspiration, and Fame From the Diaries of the World’s Greatest Writers, edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, is a book you can pick up and open randomly or choose a topic to hone in on what you need. Either way, inspiration is but a moment away.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.
                                      --Theodore Roethke (p. 22)

The work is not a thing that we make, but an already-made thing              which we discover.
                                      --Thornton Wilder (p. 25)

Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.
                                      --Raymond Chandler (p. 32)

Art is a microscope which the artist fixes on the secrets of his soul, and shows to people these secrets which are common to all.
                                      --Leo Tolstoy (p. 45)

I often think that the best writing is done after you’ve forgotten what you wanted to say, but end up putting something down anyway just as though it were the actual evidence of your original intention.
                                      --Clarence Major (p. 50)

Because one has written other books does not mean the next becomes any easier. Each book in fact becomes a tabula rasa; from book to book I seem to forget how to get characters in and out of rooms—a far more difficult task than the nonwriter might think.
                                      --John Gregory Dunne (p. 62)

Training to be a writer is a slow and continuous process, with time off for human behavior.
                                      --Marie-Elise (p. 67)

If thou art a writer, write as if thy time were short, for it is indeed short at the longest.
                                      --Henry David Thoreau (p. 76)

A poet told me that when her little boys were small she used to put her typewriter in the playpen and sit there and work while they tore up the house around her. Of course, she is an exceptionally energetic and resourceful person.
                                      --Ellen Gilchrist (p. 137)

          To write is an entertainment I put on for myself.
                                      --Jean Cocteau (p. 141)

Word count for the week of June 11-17 was 7,128.

Monday, June 12, 2017

I Love Living the Writer's Life

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I love the writer’s life.

          I love pre-writing. I love observing, imagining, reading, and connecting.

I love writing. I love picking up a pen and filling pages. I love sitting at my desk and hunting for thoughts and ideas then capturing them by keyboard.

          I love rewriting and refining my work. I love honing in on what I want to express—making it as clear as I can—however long that takes.

          I love making people think, laugh, or even get misty-eyed when they read my pieces. It means I’ve written well—and I love that most of all.

Word count for the week of June 4-10 was 8,993.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Tidying Up

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

If you cannot think of anything to write, try cleaning or organizing your desk or Writer's Crate. Doing something mindless like dusting or tossing old papers, gives your conscious mind something to focus on, but your subconscious is free to roam and come up with ideas.

          We’ve been spring cleaning the house as many friends and relatives will be visiting this summer. Recycling old papers and magazines, tossing junk, and boxing up donations is invigorating. A clean and organized space has new energy, but clean and organize to your own specifications.

          I’m a vertical organizer, i.e., a pile person, so my idea of organized may not match most people’s—and that’s okay. I’m the one who works in my office so it only has to meet my standard. While others may think I’m disorganized, I can find what I need within a moment or two.

          Like everyone else, I can be surprised at things I find in drawers and cupboards. Out of sight, out of mind so I keep important things in sight.

          I did have fun with the Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, method of clothes sorting. She recommends putting every article of your clothing on your bed then deciding quickly whether to keep, donate, or toss them. I thought it would be daunting, but it was the easiest way to do this. I filled one bag with ripped or stained clothes (mostly with ink as I love red and blue liquid ink Pilot V-Ball pens). Another bag was filled with clothes I rarely wore or new clothes I have never worn to be donated. The rest are in drawers or the closet. No piles anywhere except the laundry hamper—and I can live with that.

          All this cleaning and organizing gave me a visitor-ready house as well as ideas for this post, my Viewpoint column, and my Editor’s Facebook Thoughts. Always fun when a chore turns out to be a creative outlet!    

Word Count for the week of May 28-June 3 was 11,266.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Reads for Writers: inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity by Tina Seelig

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Creativity is essential for writers. In her book inGenious: A Crash Course on Creativity, Tina Seelig gives readers or, as she calls artists of all types, noticers great insights including:

“Mastering the ability to reframe problems is an important tool for increasing your imagination because it unlocks a vast array of solutions.” (page 19)

“You, too, can spark a revolution by looking at the problems you face from different perspectives.” (page 23)

“Connecting unexpected people, places, objects, and ideas provides a huge boost to your imagination. You can practice this skill by using provocative metaphors, interacting with those outside your normal circles, building on existing ideas, and finding inspiration in unlikely places.” (page 46)

“Scientists and artists of all types are the world “noticers.” They are trained to pay attention and to communicate what they see and experience to the rest of us.” (page 75)

“…the most salient thing [the students] learned from this intense experience is that by opening your eyes, paying attention, and asking a lots of questions, there are remarkable things to see around every corner.” (page 76)

“Focused observation is a powerful way to acquire valuable knowledge about the world. That knowledge is the starting point for all your creative endeavors because it provides rich fuel for your imagination.” (page 32-83)

“If you live and work in an environment that is stimulating, then your mind is open to fresh, new ideas.” (page 102)

“I eventually realized I that I putting off writing on purpose. It was creative procrastination!” (page 105)

          However, my favorite part of this book is the opening chapter discussing the “hardest exam in the world. It required both a breadth of knowledge and a healthy dose of imagination.” (page 4)

          It’s a “…‘one-word exam.’ The Essay, as it was called, was both anticipated and feared by applicants. They each flipped over a piece of paper at the same time to reveal a single word...The challenge was to craft an essay in three hours inspired by that single word.”  (page 3)

          “…This challenge reinforces the fact that everything—every single word—provides an opportunity to leverage what you know to stretch your imagination.” (page 3)

          What a great exam—especially for writers! I’m going to randomly open a dictionary with my eyes closed and point to a word. Then I am going to write an essay in three hours. Why not? I’ll be writing for hours this week in my notebook. I may as well use a writing prompt that will challenge me like this one.

          Take the one-word test. See what you know and notice.

Word count for the week of May 21-27 was 11,431.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ideas Out of Nowhere

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I love to watch interviews with writers. In our profession, everyone has a different process. I love to learn about them as it’s comforting to know we all slog through ideas and words until we hit upon the right ones.

          On the PBS show Hamilton’s America, a camera crew followed Lin-Manuel Miranda around while he was researching and writing Hamilton. He went to historical places, wrote while sitting in Aaron Burr’s bedroom, worked with his creative Broadway show team, and lived his life.

          Miranda didn’t know when he picked up Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton to read on vacation that he would be writing a $100+ million musical and book. Miranda’s background included Rap; Hamilton’s did not—yet that’s all Miranda could hear as he read the book. And it’s all people can talk about after they see the show.

Because he’s been listening to all kinds of music and writing for decades, his mind was open to possibilities. He didn't fight the unlikely idea, just went with it. He didn’t lose his enthusiasm even when it took over two years to write it.

          I also watched J. K. Rowling & Harry Potter: Behind Closed Doors on the Reels channel. She wrote her first book about a rabbit at the age of six. Her mother loved it so Jo asked her mother how to get it published. She knew then she was a writer.

Rowling received her idea out of nowhere when she was on a train thinking of nothing. Suddenly, she pictured a little boy who didn’t know he was a wizard on a train heading to a wizard boarding school. Then she worked backwards as to how he got there.

          Turns out trains were a big part of Rowling’s life. Her parents met on a train so she always thought of them as romantic. (Later on, her second husband, knowing this, proposed to her on The Orient Express.)

          Also, Rowling studied the classics in college. Her knowledge certainly played a big part in the Harry Potter series in the names she used and in the spells. Grounded in history, mythology, and literature, they were both a bit familiar and new to readers.

It took her five years to write the first book as she was also working, pregnant, and then raising her daughter after an ugly breakup with her first husband. Even when broke and worried, she wrote not knowing if the book would ever sell. She said, “I just believed in my book.”

Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight vampire series who always wanted to be a writer, says her idea out of nowhere came to her in a dream about a teenage girl and boy sitting in a field together. The problem: the boy wanted to kill the girl as much as he wanted to love her. Meyer didn’t know why but wrote until she discovered the answer.

          Ideas from nowhere and yet the prepared minds recognized them and followed through.

For the week of May 14-20, my word count was 8,725. Yes, ideas are coming to me and I'm working on them.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Staying Inspired

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

Everything we see, hear, smell, taste or touch is grist for our writing mills. We can grind it all in our minds and come up with kernels of ideas. Some people also call it filling the well. It’s an essential part of writing so we have material to work with when we need an idea for an essay, blog post, article, etc.

Whatever you want to call it, make sure you are collecting material that you can fall back on by living full lives, reading, watching TV, eavesdropping on public conversations, and observing humans and nature.

What did I put in my well lately?

The lilacs are in bloom so I gathered a vase-full every other day to fill the house with their lovely scent and color.

The chickens are cackling proudly when they lay their eggs. Luckily, they do not cackle all together or the neighbors might complain.

The nearest neighbors just put in a basketball hoop. The dogs do not like the sound of a bouncing ball so they bark at it, but they will get used to it in time, we hope.

Employees at the deli counter, two female and one male, were discussing whether they would ever get Lasik surgery. Two were wearing glasses. One of them couldn’t get contacts. Their consensus was no. I agreed silently while waiting for a pound-and-a-half of American cheese and four chicken breasts.

As I waited, a man came by looking for packaged sandwich wraps made with cheese seats. After he left, I looked at what he bought—wraps made with chia seeds. Hard to hear him over the Lasik conversation.

On the recommendation of a friend, I read Carly Simon’s biography, Boys in the Trees: A Memoir. Her life was often sad and occasionally tragic. There are also some intimate details I wish I didn’t know, but I guess that’s show business.

On the CBS Sunday Morning show, Mother’s Day was celebrated, but unacceptable stats were given for maternity and paternity leave. Only 49% of women received paid leave while 70% of men who have access to paternity leave were paid.

          On the Science channel I learned that three billion years ago the moon had more than one active volcano. Imagine looking up in the sky and seeing lava flowing.

Keep adding material to your writing mill or well. You never know when you’ll need an idea, fact, or memory for a project.

Word count for the week May 7-13 was 8,649.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What's in My Notebooks?

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I advocate filling a notebook a month as a great way to keep yourself writing—especially if you don’t have immediate deadlines. But even if you do have deadlines, filling the notebook keeps ideas flowing and gives you a place to vent if you are stuck.

          For about 15 years, I filled a notebook a month, but as I wrote more pieces for publication, I filled a notebook only every two or three months. I loved having a place to jot down thoughts, feelings, happenings, etc., but I wasn’t disciplined about it again until this January when I resolved to go back to filling a notebook a month.

          I started with an 80-page notebook in January—because 100 pages was too daunting—and wrote 21,598 words. I had no daily set amount of pages or word count. With a week left to finish, I had 38 pages to fill. I did it, but it wasn’t fun. I also wrote very sloppily in larger handwriting than usual.

Obviously I stayed with the 80-page notebook in February. I wrote almost every day, but still had 19 pages to fill the last week. Again, I filled it, but wasn’t as helpful because I just jammed stuff in it. Total word count was 25,574. Not being as rushed, I wrote less sloppily so more room for words.

In March, I again went with the 80-page notebook, but this time I tried to fill 2-3 pages every day. This was much more helpful to all my writing projects as I had space to think about topics, come up with ideas, and whine when writing wasn’t going well. I wrote 26,203 words.

Feeling more comfortable with my new habit, I switched to a 100-page notebook in April and wrote 35,006 words. My goal was 1,000 words a day, but I ended up averaging 1,167. I looked forward to writing in my notebook. It wasn’t a chore or a resolution anymore.

What do I write about in my notebooks?

I rage or regale about my writing projects. Work on titles for current pieces. Consider new projects. I also work on plots. Copy down quotes I love from books I’m reading. Jot down notes whenever I see an author being interviewed on TV as well as any thoughts I want to ponder—and then I ponder.

I write down observations about people, pets, nature, TV, and books as these often lead to posts for this blog or thoughts for my Editor’s Viewpoint column or my Facebook essays for the magazines or sometimes because they are funny. For example, out to dinner with three writing friends, we simultaneously stopped talking to listen to the conversation at the next table. The foursome was getting into a heated discussion about whether an evening can be enchanted or not. I don’t know how the topic came up, but it was fascinating. They got up to leave so we rushed to pay our bill so we could continue to eavesdrop in the parking lot. They were still going at it as they got in their car and left. We stood in the parking lot and laughed at ourselves for being such writers but how could we resist listening to such passion about a description of a night.

Nature gives great copy on walks or even when I look out my office window. There is a 25-foot tall trumpet vine growing up an evergreen tree. Every summer, several Ruby-throated hummingbirds visit to drink their fill of nectar from the dozens and dozens of bright orange blossoms putting on a colorful show. Then there was a black butterfly that played with our puppy for over five minutes fluttering just out of reach back and forth in the side yard. At first I was worried the puppy would hurt the butterfly, but he/she flew up and around over and over again to the pup’s delight only leaving when the adult dogs arrived to see what the commotion was all about.

I’m also very human in my notebooks. I write about my feelings, whether happy, sad, or angry, putting things into perspective.

If you give yourself space and permission, you will find yourself writing pages and pages. None of it goes to waste. Even if nothing appears in other formats (a rare thing), filling these notebooks increases your writing speed, improves your observation skills, and clarifies your thoughts.

This is why I recommend filling a notebook a month and also reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Her essays about the writing life and her life are engaging and full of wonder. The author of ten writing books and novels, her writing practice is filling up a notebook a month for about forty years. This book made me a much better writer because writing begets writing.

Start filling your own notebooks now!

Word count for week of April 30-May 6 was 11,034.