Thursday, November 29, 2012

Becoming an Organized Writer

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

One of the biggest joys in my writer’s life is contributing to this blog each week.  When Kate and I first launched The Writer’s Crate in September, I truly had no idea how much I would look forward to writing my posts and reading hers every Monday and Thursday.  Not only do I learn something new about a writer’s life from Kate’s perspective, I continually learn something new about my own life as a writer because of the time I spend in my Writer’s Crate every day working on my various projects such as this blog, my novel, my weekly and monthly columns, and my freelance work in addition to my personal journals.
As I described in my very first post, my Writer’s Crate is self-contained in a soft turquoise washed computer armoire.  It contains my laptop, favorite writing resources, pens and pencils, journals, inspiring quotes, a copy of my first published book, and family photos that make me smile.  It wasn’t long ago, however, that I had a small work space dedicated to my writing in my bedroom.  Though it was a cozy nook with all the essentials I needed, I must admit that I didn’t always keep it very neat and organized.

Luckily, I was usually able to locate whatever item I needed without too much disruption to my schedule, but when I took a closer look at how much time I was wasting by not being organized, I realized I was only hurting myself and my valuable time.

Here are some tips that I find very helpful in keeping my Writer’s Crate fresh and orderly:

Keep Your Desk Clean    Besides your computer, you should have only the key materials you need for your current writing project and just a few items you use multiple times throughout the day, such as pens, pencils, and reference books.
When I finish a piece I’m working on and switch to a new project, I always take the unnecessary items off my desk and store them in their proper places.  This helps keep me focused and on task.
Take the time to keep your writing desk neat and organized.  This step will help you to increase your creativity and production!

Keep Your Writing Supplies Stocked   Keep all things you need on a regular basis close at hand on shelves and tables. This includes paper, paper clips, favorite writing tools, contact information, scissors, envelopes, telephone, books, and even healthy snacks.  This way you don’t end up wandering to find things and losing your concentration.

I also have a timer on my desk so that I can measure my productivity, stay on task, and take breaks when needed.  Having a well-stocked writing area really does help to keep your writer’s momentum flowing nicely.

Keep a Travel Bag Supplied with Items You’ll Need on the go   When I’m not writing in my home, I love to take my laptop to the library, a beautiful park, or sometimes to a coffee shop.  I have a travel bag that I keep in my car with all of the items I keep at my desk so that I am always prepared.

Post a “Do Not Disturb” Sign Near Your Writing Space     I always post a reminder sign near my Writer’s Crate that says “Please respect my Writing Time—Thank You!”   Not only does it signal my family not to interrupt me unless the house is on fire, it’s a reminder to myself to respect the time I set aside for writing.

What are the things you rely on to stay organized with your writing life?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reads for Writers: Anne Fadiman 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 for me 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, dialogue, backstories, plots, settings, and/or voice.

          As an avid reader, I never liked to consider what ten books I would want with me on a deserted island. Only ten books just wouldn't do! It's doubtful I would survive with the complete works of ten authors. I need a supply of new books to be happy, even while rereading favorites, which is why I haven't been caught on a boat in years.

          However, there is one book that would make any reading list of mine--Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman.

          I envy you if you have not read this fabulous collection of essays on books, reading, and writing yet. It is the perfect combination of topics, knowledge, vocabulary, passion, insights, appreciation, humor, and life lessons written by a fellow bibliophile.

          Fadiman's life has been intertwined with books from the day she was born to Clifton Fadiman, author, editor, and TV personality, and Annalee Whitmore Jacoby Fadiman, an author, screenwriter, and magazine correspondent. Anne's first building blocks were her father's twenty-two volume set of Trollope. (Her son, Henry, was a bit more destructive; he liked to chew and devour books when he was only eight months old.)

           Books are present in every important phase of her life. She shares the details and the titles with her readers including her introductions to sonnets, sex, and sesquipedalians. After marriage, anyone with an extensive personal library and a spouse with one, too, will relate to her painfully true tale of commingling her books with her husband's.

          But what I appreciated most about her essays is the genuine joy she shares about everything to do with books--shopping for secondhand ones, ways to shelve them, and discovering words new to her in them.

          I, too, enjoy reading books with some unfamiliar words. As a writer, expanding my vocabulary is one of my favorite hobbies. I always have a dictionary close by in the hopes that I will have to look a word up. I had to look up more than usual while reading this book, but, thoughtfully, Fadiman listed the definitions of the new-to-her words at the end of "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" chapter.

          As an editor, I appreciated the "Inset a Carrot / Insert a Caret" chapter. Proofreading is a good, if time consuming, habit. It's also a fun family affair for the Fadimans, including her brother Kim, when they are looking at menus, newspapers, books, and even birthday cakes.

          There are eighteen essays in this book--and I love them all. Her chapter "Never Do That to a Book" will make you both laugh and cringe at the ways people treat their books. A favorite pen is immortalized in "Eternal Ink". And any writer who can also make the receiving of incorrectly addressed catalogs a delightful diversion is a treasure.

          While we have never met, and probably never will, Anne Fadiman's book is next to my Books by Friends and Relatives Shelf (mentioned on page 7) as I consider kindred spirits to be good friends.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Writer's Thanksgiving

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

I’m so excited that my post today falls on my favorite holiday of the year—Thanksgiving!
Sure the delicious stuffed turkey with all the fixings is something my family and I will all enjoy, but the best part about Thanksgiving is celebrating a special day that focuses on gratitude not on commercialism or material items.

One of my favorite quotes for this day is by Gerald Good.  “If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily.”     With that in mind, I’d like to share 5 things that I, as a writer, am so very grateful for today, and all year long.

    My Imagination and my Good Health:  I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes five years ago.  Since no one in my family has ever had diabetes, I was truly surprised that I now had it, especially when I consider myself to be a healthy person.  Thankfully, I have a great doctor who connected me with the proper nutritionists and other diabetic specialists and so far, I’m able to control it with minor medication and diet.  I am most grateful for my health—physically, emotionally, and mentally.  A day doesn’t go by that I don’t daydream or imagine all kinds of interesting things that I want to write about it.  For me, having an active imagination is priceless.

<My Readers:  After my first essay was published 11 years ago, I was awestruck every time someone commented to me about how much they enjoyed reading it.  I never tire from hearing from my readers about the things they take away from my articles, essays, and my book, PregnantWomen Don’t Eat Cabbage.  Readers are like family to me, and I thank you for taking time from your busy lives to stop and read my work.

<My Laptop, Writer’s Crate and other Writing Tools:  One of the most important components to my writing life is my sacred “Writing Crate”.  Kate and I both shared descriptions and photos of our special writing places when we first started this blog in September.  No matter what’s going on in my life, I know once I retreat to my tranquil writing area all my troubles will (temporarily) go away, and I can connect with myself and my thoughts and make them come to life on my laptop, in a journal or notebook, or even on my calendar.  I will never take these amazing tools for granted.

<My Family, Friends and Pets:  My family, friends, and my precious dogs Molly and Gracie are the center of my life.  I can’t imagine my days or my writing life without my 8 unbelievable children, my handsome husband, my supportive mother, my unbelievable circle of friends, and my writing buddies that know and understand how important my life as a writer is to me.  Thank you all!

<The Future and all the Unwritten Books and Articles that Await me:  Each day is a new opportunity to express myself in any way that I please when I write.  I know in my heart that many more articles and books are living inside of me and someday will be published.  And for that, I am humbly grateful and appreciate this inspiration each and every day.

This is my short list of what I’m most thankful for on this treasured day of Thanksgiving.  What things are you thankful for in your writing life?  Please share them here in the comment section.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Readers Create Their Own Libraries

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          I read about a woman visiting a friend who was upset because her friend's books were not in alphabetical order. The woman couldn't figure out how her friend could find a specific book.

          It never occurred to me that people would alphabetize their books. I did a quick survey of my family, friends, and co-workers to check on my hypothesis and no one alphabetizes. Why should they? Home libraries are not for public consumption.

          My library is a reflection of how my mind works. My books are placed according to how I see them relating to other books I read.

          Few people would be able to find a specific author, but, as I rarely let others browse my bookshelves, my system only has to work for me. Furthermore, I know where 99.9 percent of all my books are--unless someone borrowed one without permission which is a punishable offense.

          I have multiple bookcases for fiction, non-fiction, classics, writing books, reference books, recent purchases, and books loaned to me. Within those bookcases, I organize my fiction by similarities, not authors' last names, because I read fiction by mood. I do have mysteries in one section, chick lit in another, and beloved childhood favorites and YA fiction in another. Paperbacks are on higher shelves than hardcovers---and are also piled in a small, little-used closet, and spine up in the shallow drawers of two old bureaus.

          Classics/poetry are put on shelves they fit on either by height or whole shelves if I have the complete set by an author like Mark Twain.

         Memoirs again are organized by topic/mood.

          My Writer's Crate is filled with writing, reference, and inspiring books. Writing books are sorted by topic, then most useful or best-liked. Reference books are arranged most to least used. It's a working library for a writer and editor--not much in there for general readers.

          My entire library is in constant motion. I have as many as 20 books going at the same time so they move to my desk, reading nook, or bedside. Writing books are rarely read straight through. Some books cannot hold my attention for more than a few pages at a time while others I cannot put down. Reading until 2AM is not unheard of if a book warrants it--as all book lovers know! Plus I reread favorites.

          New books and books loaned to me go in one bookcase which I browse like a bookstore when nothing else interests me. When I finish a book, I return it or donate it to a public library or lend/give to a friend or place it with great thought in my library. When shelves are full, reorganization is needed--sometimes along with adding another bookcase.

          I love looking at my bookcases. To me, they are every bit as beautiful as a favorite piece of art. Shiny new covers brighten up the muted shades of older and used books in these interactive installations. Who knew readers were also artists?

How do you organize your books?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Joy of Writing

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

When I'm feeling rushed and overwhelmed with too many commitments, I am always reminded that the main reason I love being a writer is because it makes me happy.  Though many times I must physically write amongst chaos, noise, and dozens of other nuisances, when I am focused and deep in thought I am instantly transported to my own little world, a world that I control with my ideas.

I call this my "writer's happy place", and each time I am in this zone, I feel calm, content and able to handle just about anything that comes my way.

While writing in my "happy place" I experience moments where I laugh out loud, sometimes cry, or when I'm really tapped in and turned on I might discover something new about myself or the world around me that I never would've realized had it not been for my love of the process of writing.

So, if writing can evoke such a plethora of amazing feelings, what could possibly be the hang up?  Real life, that's what!  I don't mean to keep returning to the "I'm a busy mother of eight" scenario, but it is the truth.  And every writer I know is juggling a career, household, families and pets, never mind raising kids, so at least I'm not alone.  Because of our passion to write, we find creative ways to make it a regular part of our lives despite the odd hours we keep or the eclectic rituals we follow to make it happen.

Through the years I've saved an on-line journal of my favorite writing advice from other writers.  I visit this collection when I'm feeling uninspired as well as when I'm on a writer's high and my words just seem to flow.  By doing this I allow myself to glean new ideas on a host of topics regardless of how many times I've read the same advice because my needs at that particular moment are different than they were last year when I read the same piece.

John Soares from is a writer I turn to when I want to shake things up with my writing.  Here are three thoughts of his that I have found very helpful in keeping the joy alive and well in my “writer’s happy place”.
Staying inspired with an on-line journal of quotes from writers helps me keep the joy in my writing.

Move From One Writing Project to Another
If you’re like me, you have multiple projects going at one time. You must pay attention to deadlines and make sure you meet or beat them, but within the structure of your project completion dates, you usually have some flexibility. If I find myself growing weary of one project, I switch to another on a different topic, or to one requiring different skills. This brings back my enthusiasm and my ability to get high-quality work done quickly.

Practice Present-Moment Awareness

Frequently associated with Buddhism, Taoism, and other religious traditions, present-moment awareness means staying focused on what you are doing this moment. Don’t think about anything that happened in the past. Don’t think about what you’ll be doing in the future. Just relax and give your single-minded attention to your writing.

Vary Your Writing Location

You can do this in many ways. I frequently write on my laptop on the back deck of my house in rural northern California. I also like to write in coffee shops and libraries. In summer I go camping with my laptop (and DC-AC inverter that allows me to recharge the laptop battery using my car battery). And I also get to write in the beautiful homes where I house sit.
What do you do that keeps the joy in your writing life?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Literary Adventures: Reading With Robin

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          Last year, Cheryl suggested we start going on Literary Adventures--to book and writing-related events--at least monthly. We realized we had made a lot of author connections writing for local magazines. Through the years, we had both also written about the Reading With Robin radio show hosted by Robin Kall on 920 AM WHJJ at 7am on Saturday mornings.

          Robin Kall is on the ultimate Literary Adventure. She loves to read and wanted to talk to and share news about authors she enjoys with other readers. About ten years ago, Robin started her radio show where she interviews authors from across the country. These conversations are fun and insightful. This show is a terrific place to discover new authors and learn more about the ones you love.

          Friendly, outgoing, and civic-minded, Robin then started hosting An Evening with Authors events benefiting the Love, Carol Foundation which was set up by Robin and her sisters to honor their mother who died from breast cancer. The proceeds help families deal with the ravages of breast cancer in their lives.

          Robin has been very gracious to invite Cheryl and me to many events including the An Evening with Authors, Reading Across Rhode Island breakfast to celebrate Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, and the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) breakfast and convention as well as asking us to be guests on her radio show with author Maryann McFadden. Turns out Cheryl is a natural on air. Amazing the things you learn on adventures with a person you thought you knew.

          We sat next to authors at breakfast and learned that Elin Hilderbrand, author of Summerland and many others, writes her books longhand in notebooks a hundred pages at a time then types them into her computer. J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine, types her books with only her left index finger.

          Turns out many authors are quite funny--Chris Bohjalian, Amanda Eyre Ward, and Elizabeth Berg to name a few--but the reigning champion of hilarity is Adriana Trigiani. At yet another event hosted by Robin Kall, Cheryl and I expected a reading from Adriana's latest book and a Q&A with the audience. Instead, it was non-stop laughing as she recounted her childhood and incidents including her large extended family members. If Adriana is speaking anywhere near you, attend the event. You won't be sorry!

          When we aren't at a "Robin event", Cheryl and I attend book readings, signings, and events at local bookstores and libraries, or meet for lunch to discuss our writing projects and the books we are reading. The waitresses join in the discussion sharing their favorite books with us as well.

          Then we started this blog--just for fun and for a writing deadline. It is a wonderful outlet to share our adventures, experiences, and love of reading and writing.


                                   GREAT ADVICE! If you are looking to
                                   live a literary life, Carolyn See offers
                                   writers suggestions, tips, and insights
                                   in her book from her years of
                                  experience as a novelist, memoirist,
                                  critic, and creative-writing professor.
                                  Having a like-minded literary friend
                                  makes attending events easier and
                                  more fun, but the more timid among
                                  us can start right away, as I did, with
                                  Making a Literary Life.

          It is fun to follow your bliss, meet kindred spirits, learn, laugh, and live a literary life. Give it a try!

What are your favorite Literary Adventures?

Listen to Reading With Robin on 920 AM WHJJ from 7-8am Saturdays or anytime by visiting

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Encouraging Kids to Write

From Cheryl's Writing Crate 

Long before they go to school, before they even know the alphabet, children begin to write. In fact, for most children, literacy begins at home with a crayon. Young children who are encouraged to draw and scribble stories will learn to write more easily and confidently once they head off to school.

I noticed with each of my eight kids who was interested in books and writing from when they were toddlers. Some of them easily gravitated to books and loved to sit and point at the pictures. Most of them couldn’t wait to get their hands on crayons or markers and create non-verbal masterpieces whether it was on paper or not! Two of my children had no desire to spend extra time drawing and looking at picture books unless I engaged them, which believe me, I did! 

There are dozens of opportunities for children of all ages to get excited about writing, especially if you make it fun for them. Here are a few ideas that have worked with our family:

From infancy on, reading books aloud to your children is the single most important way you can help them get ready to both read and write. Hearing you read aloud gives them their first meaningful experiences with printed words and makes them aware of how stories work.

Young Children
Take advantage of your regular household activities for putting children's writing skills to good use.

Shopping Lists.  Ask a child to write out your list or have your children add their personal items to the list you've already made.

Foster your children's interest in writing by making it fun!
Family members can also leave each other notes at a message center. Each of my kids has their own “communication log” that they leave in their bureaus. My husband and I take turns writing things back and forth with them. This is great for teens who hate to share out loud!
Ask your children to write in their own appointments and dates on a family calendar. Very young children can draw picture reminders.
Have your children make cards. People in retirement homes or sick children in local hospitals will appreciate them. Not only do your kids get practice writing, they will really brighten someone’s day. 
Older Children and Teens: 

Journal writing. A gift of a journal or diary is a way to get young people into the habit of writing daily. A journal begins the writing process and may be the source of ideas for poems or stories. Journals also provide  private outlets for emotions.
Join a school newspaper.  Because writing is my passion, I was thrilled when my children’s middle school asked me to start a school newspaper. The Mariners’ Catch is an authentic 16-page publication printed on real newspaper, and is now in its 5th year. We have an enthusiastic staff of 30 reporters who are learning everything it takes to produce a professional newspaper.
Visit the library and find books about writing. Ask the librarian to help you find books for your child about plot and character development, mystery or humor genres, or perhaps how to write magazine articles.
     A Holiday Newsletter.  Around the winter holidays, some families send all their distant friends and family copies of one long letter recounting events of the past year. Your children can contribute to this kind of holiday greeting.

Keep an area in your home stocked with writing supplies such as stationery, birthday and greeting cards, post cards, envelopes, and stamps. This is a great opportunity for your child to take charge of sending grandma a birthday card specially from her rather than a parent just signing the child’s name to the card.

How to you encourage the young writers in your home?  Please leave us a comment.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Deadlines Are Essential For Writers

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          Adding more deadlines to my life has made me a more motivated and dedicated writer. Yes, this means more pressure, but deadlines are the driving force for most writers.

          I must meet two monthly and two weekly deadlines plus various deadlines for freelance projects. This requires organization and dedication.

         If I don't meet my magazine monthly deadlines, my bills don't get paid. This means that I cannot write posts for twelve days straight. To compensate for this time crunch, I write five posts during the other eighteen or so days to stay ahead of the weekly blog deadlines. I write one extra in case I run into production problems, illness, or emergencies. I write the posts in advance so I don't let our readers or myself down. It's too easy to let deadlines for fun projects slide--and then let go of them altogether.

          Another weekly deadline was added when I signed up for a writing class led by an excellent teacher who inspires me to write more thoughtfully and expansively. The other students are terrific writers and listeners who make insightful suggestions that improve my writing, too. Good feedback is also essential. It strengthens my work when I can see clearly what to cut, rewrite, or edit.

          As I have done for years, I continue to fill a spiral notebook every month with thoughts, jottings, and early drafts of posts and assignments. I write in this notebook first thing in the morning and keep it nearby all day so I don't lose ideas, random phrases, and thoughts that come to me.

          Furthermore, Cheryl and I agreed to work on our novels to new deadlines. November is National Writing Novel Month, but this project doesn't work for us--it's difficult to find the time to write a novel with the regular pressures of life and, for Cheryl and her husband, all the fall sports' practices and games for five boys and one girl to carpool and attend, as well as preparation for Thanksgiving and other upcoming holidays.

          We are going to start in January and work on completing our novels following either or both The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt and 90 Days to Your Novel by Sarah Domet. Feel free to join us!

          January, February, and March are good months to spend inside working on big projects as there are no major holidays and the weather compels us to stay inside with hot tea and cocoa. I cannot wait to start--and finish!

          If this time frame doesn't work for you, try following The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray or The Weekend Novelist Writes A Mystery by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick. Get going on your novels now!

          There just isn't enough time for all the reading and writing I want to do. Additional deadlines mean not only more writing (which leads to better writing), but less procrastination and more goals achieved. Give yourself some deadlines and see what happens to your writing.

What deadlines do you use to keep writing?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Art of Accepting Rejection

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Whether you’ve been writing for a short period of time or have been published for many years, chances are you’ve faced some type of criticism for something you’ve written. I’ve been writing professionally for 12 years now, and I can still remember the very first time I received a rejection. Ugh! It was the third personal essay I had ever submitted. Because the first two had been published, I never dreamed I’d be faced with this hurtful type of criticism on my third try. (How naive of me!)

Worse, this particular essay was all about kindness. Though I thought I had presented my views on this topic with a very unique and fresh perspective, the editor scribbled a note on the back of it that said, “Even Pollyanna wouldn’t want to read this.”

Now that I’ve been writing for awhile, I know that rejection letters or negative feedback simply go with the territory. Thankfully, I no longer take it personally. I have tried (when I’m in a good mood that is!) to glean something constructive from them.

Overall, I’m very grateful that most of my work is praised as humorous, thoughtful, and creative as the columns and articles I write are generally not controversial, but more in the lines of entertaining or thought-provoking. But as a published author currently in the midst of writing a first novel, I know I need to be prepared for the rejection and disappointment that goes hand in hand with getting published.

Here are some helpful tidbits I’ve kept on file throughout the years for accepting rejection as gracefully as possible.
Turn rejection into a positive, no matter how small!

Don’t take it personally:  It’s important to remember that the critiques and rejections are of our work, not us, not our family or our pets, just something we wrote.

Persistence Pays Off: If you keep writing, you’ll keep getting better as long as you are open to improving your craft. Writers that persist and put themselves out there have a much better shot of getting published.
You’re Not Alone: J. K. Rowling was rejected the first time she sent out Harry Potter--and thirteen more times after that. Stephen King’s novel Carrie was turned down more than a dozen times before it was published and he shot up the bestseller lists. William Golding’s The Lord of The Flies was rejected more than twenty times before it was finally picked up. These are just three of thousands of examples of authors who never gave up.  I’d say we’re in good company!

Make it a Motivator: When I send a query to a magazine, I visualize receiving an acceptance e-mail or letter from the editor. I also realize that sometimes it’s a matter of odds before my idea is accepted, so each time I submit something I know I’m one step closer to either getting published or crafting an even better article or story.

How do you deal with rejection as a writer?  Please share your thoughts with us in the comment section.