Monday, September 29, 2014

Reads for Writers: Gail Caldwell Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.


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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Keys to Writing Successfully

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.  Write every day.

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

 2.  Make small sacrifices.

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

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

3.  Every night before bed I read.  

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

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Reads for Writers: Caroline Knapp Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

Each of us has a list of authors so good we will read whatever they write. One of these authors, for me, is Caroline Knapp.
        I discovered Knapp when Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs was released in 1998. Since I own German shepherds, the cover caught my eye as on it the author poses with her shepherd mix, Lucille.
        In the book, Knapp becomes a new dog owner of an eight-week-old puppy after being sober for 18 months and while dealing with the deaths of both her parents. She works her way through training while meeting new dog-owning friends and dealing with old not-so-enthusiastic-about-new-dog friends and family.
        "Before you get a dog, you can't quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can't imagine living any other way." (page 6)
That's my kind of person—and this is my kind of book: funny, thoughtful, and informative.
        As I always do when I find an author I like, I read his or her previous books. In Knapp's case, this consisted of Alice K's Guide to Life: One Woman's Quest for Survival, Sanity, and the Perfect New Shoes, a light-hearted collection of her Boston Phoenix columns featuring a somewhat fictional character, and Drinking: A Love Story, a national bestseller.
        I'm not much of a drinker, but I never better understood what alcoholics feel than when she wrote: "But even now, when a waitress walks by with a tall glass of white wine, six or eight ounces of liquid relief, my pulse still quickens and I find myself watching it wistfully, the way you might look at a photograph of someone you loved deeply and painfully and then lost". (page 105)
        In her next book, Knapp looked back at her twenties and her struggle with anorexia in Appetites: Why Women Want. Again, not a disease I suffer from or one I would normally read about; however, it turns out, I could relate to far more of this book than I ever would have guessed. I recommend it to all women.
This was the last book she would write. It was published posthumously as Caroline Knapp died at 42 from lung cancer in 2002. I cried when I heard about her death which surprised me as I never met her, but her writing was so honest and intimate and insightful, I felt bereft.
In 2004, I felt like I received a gift when The Merry Recluse: A Life in Essays was released. From the back cover: "Caroline Knapp had a remarkable presence on the page. Throughout her writing career…she brought a keen eye and incisive scrutiny not only to women's lives, but also to…contemporary culture..." She is a writer I admire.
Then there was one final, glorious gift. Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship was published in 2010 by Caroline Knapp's best friend, Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell. She deserves a masterclass post of her own which will appear here next week.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Prayer for Freelance Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Last night I attended our first PTO meeting of the year and was thrilled to see such a large turnout--15 people.  That may seem like a lame turnout to most, but for those of us in the world of PTO, any number above the board members that shows up is a plus!

Once we got down to business, we were excited about all the plans for the upcoming school year, but we also realized we have our work cut out for us.  Funding is difficult, parent involvement is usually a challenge, and even rallying teachers to get involved can add to the mix.  An optimist at heart, I refuse to let these types of things get in the way of the spirit that we have amongst even our small group, so at the end of the meeting I suggested we take a deep breath, and visualize a positive school year experience for our kids, the teachers and the parents in our community.  Then I took it one step further and got a little cheesy by asking all in attendance to share one thought they could offer that we could turn into a PTO Prayer (not in the religious sense) to reflect on throughout the year.

The ladies (and one dad!) that were at the meeting really liked this idea and within 15 minutes we had a witty, inspiring, thought-provoking sentiment down on paper that we are going to print and distribute to our school community.  It felt great to walk away from the meeting with such a creative twist on how we as involved parents want to contribute to our school this year.

When I got home, I began thinking about this post.  As much as I'd love to admit I plan these posts in advance, it's just not possible with my full-time work schedule and busy life as a mom of 8.  Still, I look forward to it all week long and can't wait to sit down and write it.   As I reflected on our awesome PTO meeting, I began to think about prayer in general.  I'm not trying to make today's post about anything religious, I promise, but what I am trying to share is that sometimes we can take the wording of a prayer and use it as a tool for inspiration and even as a calming mechanism when we're feeling overwhelmed or frustrated that we can't write as often as we'd like.

As luck would have it (or more like it was meant to be!) I received the following e-mail entitled "A Short Prayer for Freelance Writers written by Carol Tice.   I'm sharing it below as "food for thought" in hopes that maybe you can glean a few of it's points to help inspire your writing in the days and weeks to come.

Just for today, let me be compassionate with myself.
I forgive myself for not writing enough, or well enough, or fast enough.
I am thankful today for my unique creative gifts. Instead of dwelling on regrets about what I haven’t accomplished yet, I will focus on what I can do now to develop my craft.
Let me take at least one, small step today to put my writing out there.
When my query letters go unanswered, I will remain serene and remember that it’s often not about me or my writing.
I will listen and learn from people whose feedback I value, but trust that my most important guiding voice and source of confidence as a writer lies within.
When opportunities arise, let me evaluate them with clear eyes and have the wisdom to pass if the gig isn’t right for me. I will not let feelings of panic or desperation lead me to make bad choices, but trust that if I do my marketing, the right gigs will come to me.
Because the people who matter to me are important, I will strive to set aside device-free time today in which I am fully present for them.
I will make time to move my body, stay healthy, and take in the beauty that surrounds me. I know it will fuel more creativity.
Grant that I lie down in peace tonight, grateful for the chance I’ve had today to write, to grow, and to send my message out into the world.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about how a prayer like this could influence your writing going forward.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Writing Careers Are Possible

From Kate's Writing Crate…
        My writing career started when I was an unhappy accountant and I signed up for my first writing class after writing in notebooks and journals for years. I arrived an hour before the evening class started every week as it was close to my office, but far from home. The second person to arrive was always the new owner of a local community magazine—a fortuitous benefit for following my dreams.
When the class session ended, the magazine owner hired another classmate to be the editor of her new second magazine. I signed on as a freelance writer and the proofreading intern. I moved up to assistant editor then editor of one magazine leaving accounting behind forever! Eventually, I became the editor of both magazines.
I still write one to four articles a month which means the fun of interviewing authors, volunteers at the local senior center and animal shelter; the women's club behind the Clown Town fundraiser; the Rotary Club's annual ALS Race; the Turkey Trot organizers; the National Guard Air Show; Movies on the Beach events; locals bands and choruses; art festivals; an American Red Cross Hero, and people dealing heroically with all kinds of cancer and other health issues including a brave and cheerful five-year-old boy 18 months into chemo and radiation for a brain tumor. He wants to be a police officer when he grows up and mentioned he would like to meet a K-9 team. The local police station and an officer arranged to take him to school in a squad car as well as meet a K-9 officer and his dog.
These articles let residents know about upcoming events as well as about neighbors helping others and those neighbors in need of help. It feels good to be part of a vibrant, caring community. Writing articles makes a difference in people's lives and my own.
I am a writer. I have known that since I learned to read. I was side-tracked into another career as writing isn't revered in this country until you are a bestselling or well-known author.
While being a New York Times' bestselling author (NYTBSA) may be most writers' goal, there are many other writing careers available to us. Even as I was told there was no money in writing, there are millions of publications and web sites that have pages and space that need filling daily, weekly, and monthly.
        Okay, you probably need to write a lot before you get paid so start filling a notebook a month as soon as you can as per Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. The more you write the more you improve. Also, read Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott for inspiration and a reality check.
Writers write so write no matter what!
        Start a writing project—book, essay, article, poem, post, etc. Then finish it!
Blogs are a great way to get going. Start one. Now you have a weekly deadline. Meet it!
For inspiration, read blogs like and Kristen Lamb's
Take a writing class and/or join or start a writing group. Support and discussions about improving writing are essential.
Read local publications. See if there is space for writers to submit letters, essays, etc. Then submit something or email/call to ask about writing opportunities. Working with editors who give you feedback will improve your writing and get you published.
When you feel ready, go on web sites like Thumbtack to find freelance opportunities across the country. Make sure you complete assignments and turn them in on time. Build a reputation as a writer who works quickly and competently, and editors will contact you with assignments as well as remember you when they move from one publication to another gaining you a larger audience and more money.
Usually the rights to your assigned articles revert to you after publication. Don't forget, you can tweak articles to work for other publications. For example, if you write about a person or event in the northeast for a local publication, Yankee Magazine might be interested in the same topic. Double pay is a good thing!
The Writers' Digest is a helpful resource to find publications interested in your submissions. Why not make the most of your hard work? This also gets you more bylines which then makes it easier to be accepted by other publications.
Agents, editors, and publishers read magazines and blogs. Writers have received representation and book and movie offers based on their work published in these venues.
You never know who is reading your work or where it may lead. The important thing is to write and to keep writing. Then send your work out into the world. If your goal is to be a writer, NYTBSA or otherwise, start writing now!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Creating a Writer's Endurance

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

In our household, we are now well into week three of the new school year.  The transition is still ongoing but for the most part, we are settled into our new routines of earlier mornings, full school weeks, and we are definitely experiencing the ebb and flow of all our after-school activities and commitments once again.  Yep--summer is over!

When my kids get busier with their school lives it means I get busier as well.  I'm the PTO President of our middle school as well as the school's newspaper club adviser.  Soccer, football and scouts are in full swing and on top of working full time and enjoying my job as a freelance writer for local magazines I have a house to run and pets who need my TLC.

Writing is always a part of my day in some fashion, but during transition times like back-to-school, it is usually present via list making or hurried assignments that I've been enjoying writing but just never seem to have the amount of time I'd like to have available to complete them without that feeling of "deadline is here--hurry up and finish!"   

That's why when I find articles suggesting ways to strengthen my writing routine, I devour them and refer to them in my hour of need.

One such article is 3 Steps to Creative Endurance:  A Writer's Training Plan written by Tom Meitner.

He shares, "See, when you decide to run a race, there is an implication that you’re going to train. It’s the same for anything else – a girl who wants to play the guitar, or a newlywed that wants to cook dinner. Every one of those activities implies a certain amount of practice to get it down. That means training your body to do something it’s never done before – like running a 5K – or teaching your brain how to do something correctly without thinking – like playing an instrument.
And yet, so many people get frustrated with our writing that we quit – and we never really train for it."    

Check it out and let us know if you have a "training plan" to help you become a writer than can go the distance!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reads for Writers: 20 Writers Discuss Why They Write

From Kate's Writing Crate…
        Why do we write? Every writer has his or her own motivation, but it's helpful and inspiring to hear other writers' reasons.
        In Why We Write, edited by Meredith Maran, 20 acclaimed authors discuss how and why they do what they do. Each author gives an overview of his or her background and books as well as discussing his or her writing life. Here are some highlights:
"Writing is always giving some sort of order to the chaos of life. It organizes life and memory."
                                                Isabel Allende   (page 11)
"There's a moment in every book when the story and characters are finally there; they come to life, they're in control. They do things they are not supposed to do and become people they weren't meant to be. When I reach that place, it's magic. It's a kind of rapture."
                                                Sara Gruen   (page 62)
"I write to dream; to connect with other human beings; to record; to clarify; to visit the dead. I have a kind of primitive need to leave a mark on the world. Also, I have a need for money."
                                                Mary Karr   (page 107)
"I write to explain myself to myself. It's a way of processing my disasters, sorting out the messiness of life to lend symmetry and meaning to it."
                                                Armistead Maupin   (page 130)
"I write to investigate things I'm curious about."
                                                Jane Smiley   (page 206)
"Working it out is a kind of exercise you've given yourself that no one else will give you. It's a very personalized form of homework."
                                                Meg Wolitzer   (page 220)
        Why do you write?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of The Writer's Crate

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Blogging is not only fun and a true passion, it's also a way to measure time.  

We started the Writer's Crate two year's ago--and thanks to the support and good humor of my blogging partner, Kate, I see many more years of "blog" in our future!

Happy 2nd Anniversary to one heck of a great blogging partner!  (Uh, that would be you Kate!)

Overcoming Writer's Procrastination

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Thursday is my day to post to this blog.  I have it scheduled on my calendar and it's embedded in my mind, but somehow, regardless of how well organized (or not!) I am, Thursday sneaks up on me and many times I'm scrambling to post on time.

This certainly isn't a result of my lack of wanting to blog here at The Writer's Crate--absolutely not!  It's truly one of the items on my writing agenda that I look forward to each week.  I suppose being a full-time working mother of 8 kids could have something to do with my last-minute posts, but to be honest I don't think I can point the blame to that either.  No--I think I can be honest enough with myself as to why I tend to work off the adrenaline rush of the last hour and quite simply the bottom line is that I'm a procrastinator.

There, I said it!

I can't say this is always the case, but I've noticed over the past few years I've wandered over to the "other side" of time management, and it's starting to bother me just a bit.  Rather than complain and come up with excuses, I set out to find some realistic strategies that I could put into place, and I'm happy to report that I came upon a very helpful article titled "Overcome Procrastination with These Easy Strategies" written by Gail Brenner, PhD and author.

I love how she point blank says "If you're a writer, you're probably familiar with procrastination.  It descends like a haze.  It takes you over before you know it.  And there you are, checking e-mail for the millionth time rather than focusing on the task at hand."   This writer knows exactly what's going on inside of my "writer's mind" and for that I am grateful!  Not only did I not feel so alone after reading her article, it also helped me realize that with a little tweaking, I can turn this around and get back on task.

She lists boredom, fear, and limiting thoughts as reasons for procrastinating and then gives simple fixes for each.

I encourage you to visit this original article and then let me know if you have similar challenges and any clever ways of overcoming your procrastinating woes.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Six-Word Memoirs(R) to Celebrate Second Anniversary

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        Since I enjoy writing Six-Word Memoirs®—and it's been my most popular post topic—I thought I'd write them to celebrate the second anniversary of this blog.



        Blog idea.

Write regularly.

        Great satisfaction!



        Beginning: fun, fear.

Now: fun, fulfilling.



        Blogs pull writing out of you.



        "Forced" to write.

        Write with force.



        Met  deadlines.

        Created body of work.



        Posting makes perfect practice for me!


Happy Second Anniversary Cheryl!