Monday, November 24, 2014

Reads for Writers: Tony Schwartz and Betty Edwards Provide Masterclasses

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy creating!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Writing Gratitude

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Writing Despite the Cold

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

The New England Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook

From Kate's Writing Crate…
          November and December equals food and family so now is when I look through favorite cookbooks to start planning holiday meals and treats. Two that still delight me are The New England Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook: Receipts for Very Special Occasions and The New England Butt'ry Shelf Almanac: Being a Collection of Observations on New England People, Birds, Flowers, Herbs, Weather, Customs and Cookery of Yesterday and Today by Mary Mason Campbell. Both are illustrated by Tasha Tudor.
          These books were Christmas gifts from my grandmother when I was nine years old. She had her own well-worn, cherished copies.
Even though I had never seen an old-fashioned butt'ry (pantry) before, I loved the cover illustration of one with wooden floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed full with mason jars filled with bright red, yellow, and green preserved fruits and vegetables, blue and white crocks, pots, pans, platters, and pitchers. Baskets of apples, onions, and potatoes sit in front of the shelves alongside ripe pumpkins at the edge of an oval blue and red braided rug with dried herbs hanging overhead. It's comforting and cozy.
          Inside the Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook are ideas and recipes for holidays as well as afternoon tea parties, birthdays, anniversaries, breakfast under an apple tree, and mountain cookouts. Who wouldn't want to attend these events?
          The Thanksgiving Dinner menu (page 129) includes:
Oyster Cocktail
Hearth-roasted Turkey with Spiced Red Crab-apples
Sausage and Sage Dressing           Giblet Gravy
Creamed Onions        Mashed Potatoes       Squash Souffle
Eben's Cranberry Sherbet
Cranberry Sauce       Celery Sticks       Pickled Peaches
Cornbread               Fresh Butter
Pumpkin Pie       Apple Pie
Mince Pie with Brandy Hard Sauce
Thick Cream              Yellow Cheese
Champagne Cider       Coffee       Orange Liqueur
I have never tried Eben's Cranberry Sherbet or Champagne Cider; however, when my grandparents were alive, Thanksgiving always included giblet gravy, creamed onions, squash, and Mince Pie with Brandy Hard Sauce. Time passes and some traditions fade away, but it makes me happy to have the recipes in case I ever need them.
          Mary Mason Campbell's books take readers back to yesteryear when everything was homemade and deliciously rich. Most of us don't have time to make everything from scratch, but a few of these dishes added to a Thanksgiving feast can become family traditions that make the holiday memorable.
          The Christmas menu is wonderful as well plus there are a dozen cookie recipes.
Happy Holiday Season!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Getting the Most from Facebook

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

When I want to unwind and have a little internet fun the first place I usually head to is facebook.  Though I was skeptical when I first learned of facebook well over five years ago, now I can't imagine going a day or two without visiting my trusty news feed to see what's been going on since I last logged on.

I often refer to facebook as my personal playground.  It' here where I can connect with dozens of friends and family and learn what's going on in their lives, check out their recent photos, laugh at silly cartoons and jokes, and find interesting articles and information about nearly anything under the sun.

As a mom, I'm able to see what's trending in parenting--the latest products, advice, and even support groups.  As a writer, I'm also able to glean up-to-date information from hot authors, writing gurus and fellow bloggers.

Today, I found a very interesting and informative article that focused on clever ways to increase fan interaction while using facebook.  It was like hitting the jackpot so I wanted to share it with you--fellow writers and interested readers so perhaps some of these ideas will help you connect with more fans and followers.

For instance, did you know that 

The Best time to post on Facebook  is when your fans are not at work?

The analysis showed that it was best to post during times when fans were not at work and between the hours of 8pm and 7am. So to increase your “likes” and “comments”, post during “non-busy” hours.


The Best day to post on Facebook is Wednesdays and Sundays.

These are just two of Bulla's great tips.  To learn more, click on the link above and read the rest of his simple but effective strategies to get the most bang from your facebook buck!

How often do you engage your fans on social media sites like facebook?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Writing Weather: National Novel Writing Month

From Kate's Writing Crate…
          Every day is a writing day, but some days are easier than others. Deadlines motivate me as do projects I love, but I am also influenced by the weather.
Rainy and snowy days are perfect writing days. I generally write in the mornings, but "bad" weather means I will stay at my desk longer.
Sometimes I take walks in the rain, but, generally, I prefer to hear it hit the roof and windows as I write. Snow makes me especially grateful to work from home. The weather provides atmosphere; it's not an obstacle.
In the same 24 hours, I get much more done during the days of late fall and winter compared to spring and summer. There are simply less excuses to leave my office when it's cold outside. Then factor in the early darkness. The sun setting before 5pm makes me feel like hibernating which again means more writing time.
A project also helps keep me writing and November is National Novel Writing Month. However, as I have previously stated in my post "Deadlines are Essential" dated 11/5/12, January or February would be a better choice for this project. Thanksgiving and preparing for the December holidays take up a lot of time in November. It's also my favorite time of year—and I want to enjoy it--so I have no problem changing this deadline.
I wish success to all who are writing their 50,000-word novels in November.
Wish me well when I write mine during a colder, darker, stormier, uninterrupted-by-holidays January.