Monday, January 25, 2016

Reads for Writers: The Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert 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.

          In The Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, and divinity. Under these categories, she shares her own stories as well as stories told to her by friends and strangers. One of my favorites is about a costume party that could have gone badly awry, but courage and trust saved the evening. (“Walk Proudly” on page 260.)

          I saw Gilbert discussing this book on Well Read on PBS. During the interview, Gilbert was funny, warm, and encouraging anyone who wanted to live a creative life to live one. She states: I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear. (page 9)

          Gilbert who travels the world, speaks in front of crowds, and publishes books about her life, discusses how many fears she had while growing up—some legitimate and some hilarious—and how she decided to get over many of them thanks to her parents and the examples they set.

          She gives us words of wisdom like:

“…you have treasures hidden within you—extraordinary treasures—and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing these treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.” (page 27)

“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your success or failures. You can battle your demons…instead of battling your gifts… You can believe that you are neither a slave to inspiration nor its master, but something far more interesting—its partner…” (page 41)

          I love Gilbert’s theory of ideas showcased in “How Ideas Work” on page 34, “An Idea Goes Away” on page 47 and “The Tiger’s Tale” on page 64. Her advice on finding ideas: “…Trust in the miraculous truth that new and marvelous ideas are looking for human collaborators every single day…Let them know you are available.” (page 49)

          She tells an enchanted tale of friendship with author Ann Patchett starting with “Wizardry” on page 49 through “Multiple Discovery” on page 61. It will amaze you.

          The Big Magic is not just for writers. It’s meant for anyone who wants to be creative, to follow their gifts, to find joy in their work and life.

“An Amplified Existence” on page 9 tells the story of a woman who loved ice skating as a girl, but gave it up when she wasn’t talented enough to be a champion. At 40, she took up skating again. “It was a revolution. A literal revolution, as she spun to life again on the ice.” (page 11)

“And while paths and outcomes of creative living will vary wildly from person to person, I can guarantee you this: A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.” (page 12)

Any creative person will find The Big Magic a tour de force.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Writing Quotes 5

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


There is no pleasure in the world like writing well and going fast. It’s like nothing else. It’s like a love affair, it goes on and on, and doesn’t end in marriage. It’s all courtship.

                                                          --Tennessee Williams


The author must keep his mouth shut when his work starts to speak.

                                                          --Friedrich Nietzsche


Only a mediocre writer is always at his best.

                                                          --W. Somerset Maugham


I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.

                                                          --Pearl S. Buck


I see but one rule: to be clear.



Monday, January 11, 2016

Reads for Writers: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          How many of us say yes to every invitation and opportunity that scares us? Being writers—often introverts who need solitude to read, think, and work—I’m guessing very few of us. So who knows where the roads not taken would have led us?

          Shonda Rhimes knows the answer. After almost a decade of saying no, she chose yes as her word of the year in 2014. She said yes to every opportunity and invitation that scared her. As the creator, writer, and/or producer of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice, and How to Get Away with Murder, many, many opportunities and invitations that scared her came her way.

          In her book Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, Rhimes shares her journeys behind the scenes and in the spotlight as she welcomed opportunities and faced her fears. The worst things she worried about never happened (passing out and fear snot among many others) while the best things she never considered happened (joy, new friends, playing more often, and losing over 100 pounds).

          Her words of hard won wisdom resonate:

Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral. Pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change. (page 78)

                   “The rule is: there are no rules.

Happiness comes from living as you need to, as you want to. As your inner voice tells you to. Happiness comes from being who you actually are instead of who you think you are supposed to be.” (page 286)

Her feelings are real and relatable when faced with scary situations like appearing on Jimmy Kimmel’s show live:

“You can die from the hiccups. For real. I’m a fake doctor who writes fake medicine for TV. So I know stuff. And I’m telling you, we killed Meredith’s stepmother with hiccups and that could happen to me. I could laugh until I hiccup and hiccup and die.” (page 48)

 “…I am afraid I may accidentally Janet Jackson Boob Jimmy. Or pee on his sofa like an excited puppy. Or fall on my face before I even make it to the sofa. Or die. I don’t say anything about any of that.

Because I’m a lady, damn it.” (page 50)

Her experiences are varied: sometimes funny, and sometimes, as her young daughter Emerson says, mazing. Her take on motherhood and how it evolved during this year is also shared. If you want to know more, say yes and read this book.

Yes is a powerful word. Rhimes’ life was transformed inside and out simply by saying yes.

Reading this book might make you choose yes as your word of 2015.

Rhimes also writes about writing in this book. And about her TV shows. And the actors on them. Who her hero is and why. It’s a book worth saying yes to for so many reasons.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Delights of Owning a Dog (or Three) and the Writing Benefits

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          When I moved out on my own after college, I went to an animal shelter and adopted an adorable St. Bernard mix named Barnaby. Over the years, my family has adopted three other wonderful dogs and six cats from the animal shelter. As we also love German shepherds, my family has adopted two adult shepherds. We’ve brought home a few puppies, too, as we own multiple dogs at a time.

          However the dogs arrived, they have all given us love, joy, and companionship as well as a reason to get outside and enjoy nature.

          I love walking in the woods or alongside water. I love watching the sun rise and set. I love rain and light, fluffy snowfalls. I don’t mind mud. To this day, I haven’t found any one person who will walk with me under all of these conditions, but the dogs are always ready to go.

          I wouldn’t have seen as many sunrises and sunsets as I have if not for the dogs. It’s easy to convince myself to stay in bed, but the dogs give me a reason to get up and go outside. Breathe fresh air. See the changes in the seasons. They are ecstatic no matter the weather or the time.

          This makes the dogs among the best fitness trainers—located at home, available on my schedule, cheerful under any conditions, always willing to walk longer or more often, and work for food and treats. They don’t mind walking with only me or the whole family. Also, petting dogs (or cats) lowers blood pressure. Relaxes us. Makes us smile. It’s just fun to be with them.

The dogs greet me and all family members with wagging tails when we return home. They bark to let us know about visitors. They snuggle with us on the couch. They do tricks. They love us. In short, they make us happy.

The dogs also keep me company when I’m writing and editing. Sometimes they lie on my feet which keeps them warm this time of year. They keep me active as they need play breaks—me, too! But in walking them, I get inspired. Fresh air jolts me awake. I see my surroundings as birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and the occasional deer and coyote make sudden appearances. I see the footprints of creatures out walking before us. We also meet other people and their dogs.

Then there is the light. The beautiful colors at sunrise and sunset. The glow as it reflects off snow covered fields and trees. The sparkle as it hits the stream. The dappling in the woods. Sometimes all seen on the same walk!

Thoreau believed sauntering was essential to his life and writing. I believe it, too. It's an active writing exercise. The rhythm of walking is soothing. The changing views are eye-opening. The fresh air is invigorating. I take a small notebook and pen to jot down thoughts and often start writing as soon as we arrive home.

If you are looking for all these benefits including writing inspiration as well as a way to keep your resolution to get fit, consider adopting a dog. If your life isn’t conducive to dog ownership, please consider becoming a dog walker for a local animal shelter.

Here’s to another successful year of writing!