Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Beauty of "Morning Pages"

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

With the doldrums of winter now here, I find myself seeking out inspiration any place I can find it.  We have had a snowy, dank and gray few months with sunshine a rare sight to be seen.  Though I'm not the type of person who needs a bright sunny day to dictate my mood, I'm only human, and as the mother of eight kids who have been cooped up for so many, long weeks, I cannot lie--I pray the groundhog is right and that spring is on its way!

Thankfully, I've discovered a very therapeutic tool that helps me to release the majority of my daily frustrations such as bad weather, whining kids, endless of loads of laundry, or whatever else the case may be, and I have author Julia Cameron to thank for it.

This insightful and inspiring author introduced me to a ritual that I don't think I could live without now that it's become a habit of mine--writing my "morning pages".  In her book, The Artist's Way, she talks about a way to retrieve and keep one's creativity fruitful and alive in a process she lovingly calls "the morning pages".

Cameron describes this vital process in a recent interview:

"I don’t want you to pause and have a mental cigarette and strategize about what you’re going to write. It’s better to just say “here goes” and go right into writing.
One thing that’s important to remember is that if there’s something that’s really bothering you, the Morning Pages won’t let you drop it. Morning Pages will keep tapping at your consciousness, and if there is something really important that you are meant to notice, Morning Pages will keep tapping until they get your attention. You don’t need to worry too much about thinking and addressing a topic."
"Sometimes people ask me what the difference is between writing Morning Pages and writing in a journal. In journaling, you you tend to choose a topic and then write everything on your mind on that topic. With Morning Pages, it is more free form. You can jump from topic to topic, and that’s OK. Morning Pages typically sound scattered– they’re not “real” writing. We’re not looking for real writing– we’re looking for stream of consciousness."
I couldn't agree more.  I have filled three notebooks already with my "morning pages".   Some mornings my hand sings as it records all that is going well in my world, other times I feel as though Eeyore is holding my pen, rattling off all the things that annoy me during a particular time.   
The best part about "morning pages" is that I can write freely, without any restrictions, and by the time I am done, I have usually freed any creative blockages that were standing in my way, allowing me to breathe and get on with my day as planned.
If you haven't read The Artist's Way, I invite you to get your own copy and quite possibly, you'll unwrap your own daily package of creativity that you never knew was bound up inside yourself.
Have you ever tried a version of "morning pages" to release your inhibitions and let your voice shine without any restrictions?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Reads for Writers: Robert Fulghum Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writer's 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 or 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, voice, and/or creativity.
             Robert Fulghum's voice is unmistakable. Most famous for his book All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, he has written many more including It Was On Fire When I Lay Down on It, Uh-Oh: Some Observations From Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door, and Maybe (Maybe Not): Second Thoughts From a Secret Life.

The author writes about his life as a series of funny and sometimes sad anecdotes which cover his childhood adventures through his careers as a working cowboy, professional artist, folksinger, bartender, parish minister, teacher, and amateur philosopher. He has been a part of the tragic and triumphant moments in people's lives and shares them with his readers in poignant detail. These short tales make you laugh, occasionally cry, and always illuminate our humanity.
As a minister, Fulghum officiated at many weddings—over a thousand, in fact. My favorite story of his begins on page 9 of It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It.
As he states,
"…I always look forward to marrying again, because most wedding are such comedies.
Not that they are intended as such. But since weddings are high state occasions involving amateurs under pressure, everything NEVER goes right…"
He then goes on to tell the "quintessential wedding tale. One of disaster. Surprisingly, it has a happy ending, though you may be in doubt, as I was, as the story unfolds."
It's hilarious! 
The author has a way of making many things funny: holiday stress, family secrets, obsessions, and even funerals including a surprisingly funny story covering the battle between a "Band of Brothers" and an acerbic widow over the service for a VFW member in Uh-Oh starting on page 173. His buddies and his wife loved the man in their own ways, but did not agree in how to honor him.
Whenever I find myself in need of a laugh or a change in perspective, I randomly open any of these books and dive in. You may find the author climbing trees, wearing a beanie while walking to work with a briefcase to observe other's reactions, playing a favorite game of making up occupations with newly-met seatmates doing the same on airplanes, or relating the real biographies of the unremembered people behind famous inventions and songs.
His delightful observations about love run through these books so it's no surprise he wrote another book entitled True Love: Stories Told To and By Robert Fulghum. In his book Uh-Oh, he had suggested he would love to hear other people's tales of love. This book contains some of the letters he received recounting stories of best friends, soul mates, love affairs, and the kindness of strangers. Again, the stories are a combination of funny and sad showcasing the beauty of love in all its forms.
If you enjoyed these books, Fulghum also wrote From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives and What on Earth Have I Done? Stories, Observations, and Affirmations.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Finding Ways to Improve my Writing

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Although I've been writing professionally for about 15 years now, I've had a pen and journal in hand since I first learned to write.  Even before I could write anything that made sense, I still jotted down words, made lists, and even pretended I was a reporter because writing and taking notes made me feel important and empowered.

Today, I still feel empowered when I am able to take any thought at all and bring it to life on paper.  Depending on my mood, and how creative I'm feeling there are times when my fingers can't keep up with the ideas flowing from my mind.  There's nothing more exhilarating than writing non stop for hours without any blocks or  limitations, regardless of the finished product.

On the other hand, there are also plenty of times that I've sat with my laptop and written for hours and when I do review my efforts, I can't believe I was capable of writing such drivel.  

I believe in myself and feel that my passion will guide my writing career down a healthy and inspired path, but I also realize I still have a lot to learn so I need to be open and receptive to learning how to improve my craft.

Here are 5 tips that I gathered from various writing sources that I am using to guide me in my quest to continually improve my writing so that I can grow and challenge myself along the way.

#1.   Read everything aloud
Read your writing aloud in a natural conversational tone.  By reading what you've written at the same pace as if you were talking to someone, you will spot mistakes, stiff areas, awkward sentences, or weak-sounding words right away.
In 2013 I  have vowed to improve my  writing skills, including making the time to read more.

#2.  Write Now, Edit Later
Many times, your own worst critic—in writing and in life—is you. So, when you’re writing, it’s really important not to judge what you write down, at least at first. Even experienced writers don’t often crank out a perfect first draft, so setting your expectations too high from the outset is unrealistic (not to mention discouraging).
A good exercise in nonjudgmental writing is to set a timer for 10 minutes and just write. Write down what you know, what you feel, or whatever’s on your mind. Don’t try to write too carefully or too intelligently or too accurately. In fact, stop trying, period. Writing goes much better when you don’t work so hard at it or criticize your every word.
#3.  Just Write
The more you do it, the better.  I'm focusing on everything in my life that involves writing, including composing well-crafted emails and clever facebook statuses.
I read a great tip about making a game of it. At the beginning of every day, pick two or three words you want to use that day. Write them on post-it’s and stick them on the wall in front of you, and find a way to use them in your writing that day.  Whatever I can do to sneak more writing into my day, I'm going to find it.
#4.  Be concise
This is the classic “use one word instead of two” advice. Tight language is easier to read and will move the reader along more quickly. This is one area that I constantly strive to improve!
#5.  Get your tools and resources in order
Writers don’t need a lot of tools, but they definitely need something to write with, whether it’s a fancy computer or a great pad of paper and a favorite pen. Make sure you have any necessary resources on hand too, like dictionaries, grammar and style books, and a few of your favorite writing reference books.
For 2013, I made a promise to myself to read as much as possible.  I want to read for pleasure first not only because I enjoy getting lost in a good book, but there is so much I can learn by paying attention to my favorite authors' styles.  I also have plenty of inspiring "writer's reference" books easily accessible in my writer's crate so that I can continue to learn from the masters.
What has helped you become better at what you do? Share in the comments.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reads for Writers: Cookbook Memoirs

From Kate's Writing Crate...

            In many families, recipes are handed down through generations. My family is known more for its readers than its cooks which may be the reason I gravitate towards cookbooks that are also memoirs.
            My favorite cookbook memoir is Confessions of a Closet Master Baker: A Memoir—One Woman's Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado, sister of actress Sandra Bullock. However, you can only buy it as a used book. While the original title seems more true to the author's outlook, it's been repackaged as My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over One Cake at a Time. Take note: the recipes cover more than cakes.
            This book is more memoir than cookbook as there are no photos, but the stories preceding the recipes are amusing, poignant, and full of good baking tips. Gesine writes as beautifully as she bakes sharing family traditions, nostalgic childhood memories, and the importance of pastries to her dying mother. Then there are her hopes about her new business, funny and serious baking disasters, and stressful behind-the-scenes goings on when she produced Hollywood projects.
Instead of working lunches and dinners at fancy LA restaurants, the author now rises at 3:30am to begin her 15-hour work days at her Vermont bakery. She starts each day heading for the laundry room to find clean clothes stating, "I don't care that our clothes never make it from the intertwined dance of the dryer to the smooth folds of the dresser drawers anymore." (Wonderful words to live by!)
She notes, "I do care about cake. There really aren't any new ideas in baking; it's the same confectionary plot again and again, perhaps in different combinations. But everything I bake is a story worth retelling."
 While the writing isn't as polished, another favorite is The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond. You may have heard of her through her award-winning web site or her Food Network TV show.
The book begins with an introduction to Ree, how she met her "Marlboro Man", and all the changes in her life now that she is married and raising four children. She went from being a foodie in an urban life to a country wife where eating out is an exception—and there is no pizza delivery. Luckily, she loves to cook.
Her cookbook has tons of photos so readers can see what the dishes look like at every step. This is especially helpful for inexperienced cooks.
What makes it even more accessible are the short introductions to the recipes—sometimes funny, sometimes personal, and sometimes encouraging in case they look daunting. In between the sections of recipes for Starters, In the Morning, Dinner, Supper, and Sweets are longer essays on the delights of motherhood, family life, gardening, ranching, horses, and dogs.
If you ever dreamed of getting away from it all, here is a glimpse of the life you might lead and the feast you can enjoy there.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Creating a Writer's Bucket List

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Before I even get to my post today, I want to wish all of our readers a very happy Valentine's Day!  I don't tend to look at this holiday as a celebration for couples only, but I do focus on the word "love".  

It's my feeling that Valentine's Day should be a celebration of love between partners, friends, family members, pets and their owners, certain co-workers, and it should definitely include a love for our passion in life.

My family is my first passion, but writing and all that it entails is definitely my second, and because of that I am excited to share some wonderful ideas that I just stumbled upon in an article I read in Writer's Digest called "Five Things That Should be on Every Writer's Bucket List" by Dana Sitar, a freelance blogger and indie author ofWriterBucket List: 99 things to do for inspiration, education, and experience before your writing kicks the bucket.”  (A book that is now on my "must have" writing book list!)

1. Do something bizarre just to write about it.

Author A.JJacobs (The Know-it-All; The Year of Living Biblically) is the personification of this concept for writers, and my personal inspiration for adding it to the  Bucket List. There’s little that’s more interesting to read than the experiences of someone who deliberately puts himself well out of his element just for the sake of the story.
Trying something new is one thing, but trying something new for the purpose of writing a book, article, or blog about it gives the experience a special purpose and gives you a much more interesting perspective. I learned this myself from doing stand-up after about a year as a comedy journalist. I would have easily talked myself out of it had I not promised to do it to gain a better understanding of my subjects. Re-organizing your experiences into a book or article is a great way to analyze them, learn from them, and even savor failures for the great stories they’ll make.

2. Self-publish Something

Self-publishing doesn’t have to mean publishing and selling a book or novel on your own. It can be as simple as publishing a post to a blog, writing a newsletter, or printing an informational pamphlet. The point of putting this on your bucket list isn’t to make money from sales or fill in your backlist. It’s about finding the confidence in yourself to share your work with the world.
Though a lot of people talk about the relative technical ease of self-publishing these days, they sorely under-acknowledge the self-confidence required to present your own work to the world without the requisite validation of an editor, publisher, or agent. If you can do that, and especially if you can do it so well that you actually sell books, you will have overcome a major hurdle and prepped yourself for future success. (Abbott Press is worth checking out if you’re considering self-publishing your book.)

3. Find a mentor.

No number of books, blogs, or courses can trump career and life advice tailored specifically to your dreams. A mentor is someone has already walked the path you want to take, and is willing to guide you along it. This kind of direction is most valuable because you’re able to hand-pick a guide who is exactly where you want to be, and they’re able to get to know you and offer advice that fits your unique goals.
If you know writers in person, find someone who is where you want to be, and follow her example. Sit down with her a few times a year for advice on what you should be doing to follow her path. If you don’t know many writers in person, seek a mentor online. Connect with writers through their blogs and social media, and you could strike up a real relationship with someone who can help you along your journey.

4. Edit your favorite novel.

Do you already do this sometimes while you read? Maybe you just note typos and errors in your head, or maybe you actually carry a pencil to mark them in already-published books? Those errors can’t escape your writer’s eye.
Go ahead! Correcting work you love can be a good exercise to strengthen your own writing. Noting errors that elude the editor’s eye and the sentences you would reconstruct in your favorite novel can both train you to deconstruct the story in a new way and remind you that even your favorite writers aren’t infallible.

5. Live poor for a few months (or years).

Aside from the lifestyle offering artistic inspiration, poverty will drive you to succeed. When you’re desperate and have no other way to pay your bills but to sell another article, you’ll find a way. You’ll work harder than you thought you could, and you’ll get creative. You’ll find new markets for your writing, come up with new project ideas to attract customers, and work your ass off to polish your work into something an editor wants to buy.
I found these to be excellent suggestions, and I am particularly excited about working on #4.  How about you, do you have a bucket list for your writing desires?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reads for Writers: Essie Summers

From Kate's Writing Crate…

            Once I realized people wrote books—they did not just magically appear on my childhood bookshelves—I knew I wanted to be one of them, but no one I knew wrote for a living. As I had no idea how authors came to be, I looked to books for information and inspiration.

At a used bookstore, I came across No Orchids by Request and Sweet are the Ways by Essie Summers. These books are delightful stories about heroines who are writers, one at a newspaper and the other a copy editor and freelance writer until her first two books are published.
Through fictional and fortuitous fate, they each end up moving to cottages where they could write—my dream life! The newspaper writer is given a cottage by a family friend. The author buys her cottage. She also describes her writing routine and the dedication it takes to become published.
There are more writers in other Essie Summers' books: In Daughter of the Misty Gorges and So Comes Tomorrow the leads are all authors; in Season of Forgetfulness, he is the author, she works for a publishing firm; and in My Lady of the Fuchsias, she writes, he illustrates. Other books with writing characters include The Kindled Fire, Goblin Hill, Through All the Years, Where No Roads Go, and Beyond the Foothills (my favorite).

Extended families, including three or four generations, are central to these novels. A majority of the characters are voracious readers. Books are almost characters, too, sitting and stacked in most rooms. The adults read aloud to children in front of fireplaces and quote favorite writers in conversations. These are charming romances with enough reality and conflict to keep readers engaged.

Settings include working sheep stations, nearby lakes and mountains, picturesque villages, and cities like Christchurch. Essie Summers' beloved New Zealand becomes a travel destination for her readers.
Now I knew it was possible to be an author because even though these characters were not real, they lived writing lives as did Ms. Summers who wrote and jotted all her life, but, due to family responsibilities, was "late" to the publishing world. However, she still wrote 56 books starting when she was 45, as well as an autobiography, The Essie Summers' Story. She wrote for Mills & Boon starting in the 1950s then later for Harlequin.
Romance publishers have provided woman writers opportunities they never would have had otherwise. The early authors were well educated and good, solid writers. True, there are romance novels that are not well-written or well-plotted, but there are also a great many fantastic ones.
While romance novels are not held in high regard by some people, consider that women buy the majority of books and the majority of them can be classified as romances. It's not a genre to be overlooked or mocked.
As one Essie Summers' hero says to the heroine when he discovers she writes romances, "I don't know that I have anything against love."
I know I don't.
What novels helped you see how authors live and work?               

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Great Writing Tips From EzineArticles

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

My last post was written from my sick bed, my very sick bed, as I battled the flu.  A week later, I'm feeling almost human again, but still not like my usual, perky self.  As a busy mom of 8 kids, I've learned to go with the flow in almost any situation, and being sick is one of them, especially when I'm the one sick!  

Because I'm not back to feeling 100%, I thought for this week's post I would share a wonderful article I read from EzineArticles.  It's a combination of insightful, motivating, and useful tips that every writer can use when in need of some inspiration.   I hope you find a few that will help you continue on your journey to be the best writer you can be, and please feel free to share with others!

Every month @EzineArticles provides well over 100 useful tidbits of information and training - We've gathered some of the best ones from January right here. Retweet any of them for motivation or to share with your Twitter followers.
Just CLICK on  to Retweet.

Quotes and Ideas
  • "A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." -- Richard Bach. Solidify your Expert Author status - don't give up on your articles. 
  • "Every artist was first an amateur." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson. You've got to start somewhere in order to improve. If not now, then when? 
  • "Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open." -- Stephen King. Write and open yourself up to feedback. 
  • "I firmly believe every book was meant to be written." -- Marchette Chute. You have something to say and your readers want to hear it! 
  • "Style is to forget all styles." -- Jules Renard. Blaze your own writing trail and deliver original work for higher quality. 
Article Writing and Grammar
  • Your title is the first thing people look at - make it count. 
  • Grammar Matters Tip: Advice (noun; guidance) vs. Advise (verb; to offer guidance) ... "Need ADVICE? We can ADVISE you!" 
  • What do i.e., except, advise, bare, and forth have in common? They're all misused too often! Read more at 
  • Silence is golden. Find a quiet spot to produce high-quality, error-free articles at a faster pace.
  • A vs. An - A guide to this indefinitely mind-boggling English rule: 
EzineArticles Tips and Training Snippets
  • Writer's block? Don't get discouraged. Get up, take a walk, and come back later to 
  • Focus on consistency to practice your quality. Write an article a day and you’ll produce superb content in no time. 
  • Starting an article is a great first step; finishing it is even better. Keep working at it! 
  • What's your song? The heart of your passions? Your interests? Share it with readers! 
  • Making mistakes is part of learning. Grow from them and you'll achieve your goals in no time! 
EzineArticles Inside Information
  • Discover how another expert's article on planning, self-confidence, and success can help you write confidently at 
  • Should you use voice transcription software? If it's 8x's faster than writing, then why not?! Join the discussion 
  • Top 7 insider tips to get back on track with your goals to build exposure and increase 
  • Give yourself a little link love by ensuring your author photo is at least 154 pixels tall. Discover why: 
  • Did you know that many Expert Authors featured on our blog were found because they engaged with us on our blog? Why: 
  • Avert disaster by watching out for these top 7 repurposing content snafus: 
Motivational Moments
  • Fill in the blank: To motivate myself to write articles, I _____________. 
  • Don't let quality take a back seat in your articles! Watch the video 
  • Fill in the blank: I was ______ when I thought of my last article. At the store? In line at the bank? At home? 
  • The Article Masters Marathon Challenge: 365 articles. 365 days. Are you ready?! 
  • "I am an inventor and a writer and wordsmith." - Terry Weber, Expert Author. Retweet this if you share Terry's passion! 
What’s your favorite Tweet from January? Click here to share your comments! Don't forget to followour Twitter page for the latest and greatest EzineArticles tips, tricks, and tools!

Monday, February 4, 2013

90-Day Novel Project Update 2

  From Kate's Writing Crate... 

              I'm now on Day 35 of the 90-Day Novel project.

Days 7-28 follow the same pattern as Days 1-6 that I wrote about in my first 90-Day Novel Project post. Author Alan Watt shares his thoughts and insights on a variety of topics then asks his fellow writers to answer two or four open ended questions, spending five minutes on each question.
Watt addresses problems some—or most—writers face as well. He also provides support to strengthen his readers' resolve to finish their novels. On Day 7, he states, "We are uniquely qualified to tell our story. Everything we need to know to resolve the dilemma at the heart of our story lies within. Our job is to maintain a spirit of curiosity." On Day 8, he continues," If our hero is at peace at the end, be curious about where he is not at peace in the story. If he's willing to share intimacies at the end, be curious about the secrets he is keeping within the story. This gives him a dramatic arc. It gives him somewhere to go."
On Day 13, Watt shares, "Story structure invites our subconscious to organize a host of disparate ideas into a coherent narrative that leads to a transformation. We are seeking to imagine a story that becomes bigger than we are, where we step back with wonder and say, 'Where did that come from?"'
On Day 15, readers are also assigned to read Alan Watt's novel Diamond Dogs. On Day 22, readers look at a story structure analysis so they can see how Watt's prompts, thoughts, and insights apply to a novel. He welcomes readers to start working on their novels after Day 22, but recommends waiting until Day 29.
In 28 days, I'd only answered the assigned questions. However, I put a lot of work into my novel's characters, backstories, plot, subplots, and settings.
After Day 28, there are writing assignments, but no more prompts and questions. Watt switches to support and cheerleading. On Day 34, he says, "Even if we don't understand why it's being written, we can trust that when we've completed our first draft we'll begin to see patterns that will lead us to a more specific understanding of our story."
On Day 35, Watt notes, "Expecting too much too soon can be a fatal mistake. Of course we should strive for excellence, but excellence in the first draft involves dancing with the muse, not self-flagellation…"
What a lovely goal: dancing with the muse. It sounds so much more fun and easier than writing.
Trust in the process. Get your story down on paper. That's what matters.
What I most love about this book are Alan Watt's thoughts and insights. He takes you at your word that you want to be a novelist and that you are willing to put in the work. He is a mentor sharing what it takes to complete a novel successfully with those ready to write their own.

My next update will be Monday, March 4.
How are your novels coming along?