Monday, August 14, 2017

Reads for Writers: Award-winning and Bestselling Author Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache Series

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I discovered Louise Penny and her mystery books on the CBS Sunday Morning TV program a few weeks ago. If you like Agatha Christie, you will enjoy Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series that begins with Still Life. To date, there are twelve books in the series.

New York Time's bestselling author Louise Penny has won five Agatha Awards. She certainly has Christie’s ability to see into the hearts and minds of murderers. I have lost count of the universally true Insightful Asides I have underlined while reading about the murders in Three Pines, a small Canadian village near the US border.

“It [Three Pines] had croissants and cafĂ© au lait. It had steak frites and The New York Times. It had a bakery, a bistro, a B. & B., a general store. It had great joy and great sadness and the ability to accept both and be content. It had companionship and kindness. (page 12 in A Fatal Grace, book 2).

Sounds like an idyllic place to live—except for the murders.

Here are a few of my favorite Insightful Asides from the series:

“His [Brother Albert] theory is that life is loss,” said Myrna [bookstore owner] after a moment. “Loss of parents, loss of loves, loss of jobs. So we have to find a higher meaning in our lives than these things and people. Otherwise we’ll lose ourselves.” (page 138 in Still Life, book 1)

“…Murder was deeply human, the murdered and the murderer. To describe the murderer as a monstrosity, a grotesque, was to give him an unfair advantage. No. Murderers were human, and at the root of each murder was an emotion. Warped, no doubt. Twisted and ugly. But an emotion. And one so powerful it had driven a man to make a ghost.” (Chief Inspector Gamache on page 154 of A Fatal Affair, book 2)

“Accepting murder meant accepting there was a murderer. Among them. Close. Someone in that room, almost certainly. One of those smiling, laughing, familiar faces hid thoughts so vile they had to kill.” (Clara Morrow on page 66 of The Cruelest Month, book 3)

“There are four statements that lead to wisdom…You need to learn to say: I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need help and I was wrong.” (Chief Inspector Gamache on page 130 in The Cruelest Month.)

“Hazel Smyth had been off to the funeral home…It was like being kidnapped and taken into a world of hushed words and sympathy for something she couldn’t yet believe had happened.” (page 144 of The Cruelest Month)

“…He saw all the Morrows, trudging along, chained together, weighed down by expectation, disapproval, secrets. Need. Greed. And hate. After years of investigating murders Chief Inspector Gamache knew one thing about hate. It bound you forever to the person you hated. Murder wasn’t committed out of hate, it was done as a terrible act of freedom. To finally rid yourself of the burden.” (page 205 in A Rule Against Murder, book 4)

“Grief was dagger-shaped and sharp and pointed inward. It was made of fresh loss and old sorrow.” (Inspector Gamache on page 262 in A Rule Against Murder)

          Poetry plays a big role in Louise Penny’s books and in her writing. Chief Inspector Gamache reads and quotes poems in these books and there is a poet who lives in Three Pines.

          Louise Penny thinks reading poetry is essential for writers. As she states in her Acknowledgments on page ix of The Brutal Telling (book 5):

…I actually need to thank the wonderful poets who’ve allowed me to use their works and words. I adore poetry, as you can tell. Indeed it inspires me—with words and emotions. I tell aspiring writers to read poetry, which I think for them is often the literary equivalent of being told to eat Brussels sprouts. They’re none too enthusiastic. But what a shame if a writer doesn’t at least try to find poems that speak to him or her. Poets manage to get into a couplet what I struggle to achieve in an entire book.

          I, too, think poetry is essential as does author Ray Bradbury. See posts dated March 9, 2015; March 21, 2016; and April 4, 2016.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Summer Dream Vacation

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          If I could plan a summer vacation just for me, it would be a nine-day staycation of nothing but reading.

I’d sort out books I can’t wait to read and stack them in my reading nook.

          Every morning, I would choose a book on my way to breakfast. I’d read while crunching on toast. When finished, I would lounge on the couch or the deck depending on the heat and humidity or rain while turning pages at a steady pace with a cool drink of sweet tea on the table.

          I would read though all my meals—so many books to get through—and I would end the uninterrupted days reading in bed. I’d finish two or three books a day as I’m a fast reader.

          I would also jot in my notebook and even write a bit when inspired, but, mostly, I would just read.

          I know this is an impossible dream as there are other people to consider and other things that need doing—feed and walk the dogs, cook, laundry, etc.—but a reader can dream.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Motivation by Deadline

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m a big believer in motivation by deadline. I have paying deadlines for the magazines I write for—both in print and online. I also have fun deadlines I assign myself—fill a notebook a month which keeps me writing almost daily and projects like Backpack Literature, a textbook by X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, which I love because it requires reading, learning, and writing. I can choose to complete a chapter a week or a month.

          Because writing is hard work, writers need to keep their skills sharp by reading, learning, and writing. I love books that combine the three.

          While browsing at a bookstore yesterday, I discovered two more books I’d like to set up as personal writing classes: The Jane Austen Writers’ Club: Inspiration and Advice from the World’s Best-Loved Novelist by Rebecca Smith and The Writer’s Devotional: 365 Inspirational Exercises, Ideas, Tips & Motivation on Writing by Amy Peters.

          I don’t know about Austen being the best-loved novelist in the world, but I do enjoy her work so I’m intrigued by The Jane Austen Writers’ Club. With chapters like “A Fine Pair of Eyes: Point of view,” In Jane Austen’s Pocket: Techniques and devices of the great author as well as “And What is Fifty Miles of Good Road? Making use of journeys (and staying at home) in your work” I believe I will have fun studying her work and incorporating her techniques into some of my work.

          I’m even more intrigued by The Writer’s Devotional. This is not a flimsy list of writing prompts, but a disciplined writing course. Mondays:  Writers on Writing; Tuesdays: Motivation—tips and tricks; Wednesdays:  Writing Class; Thursdays: Editing; Fridays: Biography; Saturdays: Books Writers Should Read; and Sundays: Writing Prompts.

          In the first week, the Writers on Writing section starts with a quote by Anais Nin then Amy Peters discusses The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Persepolis by Marjane Sattapi, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Authors discussed on other Mondays include: Anne Lamott, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Stephen King, George Moore, Anne Rice, John Hersey, W. D. Wetherell, Mickey Spillane, J. K. Rowling, and many more.

          Tuesdays start with a quote by a writer followed by an essay on motivation—sometimes facts and figures about a writers’ work is listed, sometimes you just need to make a decision about your work or goals, sometimes you just need to read some advice.

          Wednesdays are writing classes. Week 1—write a short bio of your best friend. Week 3—write a blog post about a recently released movie. Week 11—write a haiku about your favorite season. Week 36—record your family history of an event you did NOT attend.

          Thursday are about editing. Learn how to edit your dialogue, delete all versions of “to be” from your work, when to use italics, colons, and semicolons among many other editing tips.

          Fridays are short inspiring biographies of writers like George Orwell, Stephenie Meyer, John Grisham, Marvin Neil Simon, James Baldwin, Rick Riordan, Mary Higgins Clark, and 45 others are highlighted on Fridays.

Saturdays give readers more than 52 book recommendations especially for writers.

Sundays are writing prompts which can lead to the completion of a sentence, a paragraph, or an essay if you want to spend the time.

There is also a list of resources and references in the back along with two indexes—one of literary figures and works as well as one of daily activities. The second index is very useful as it lists all the biographies of writers, books to read, editing by topic, motivations, writing on writing topics, writing classes, and writing prompts.

I like the look of The Writer’s Devotional so it will be my next motivational personal writing class. Now I just need to find the time!

My word count for the week of July 23-29 was 5,598.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Working Writers: Songwriting With Soldiers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Don’t ever doubt the power of words—the power to hurt; the power to help; and the power to heal.

          Most of us have heard, said, written, and read words that hurt. We know that power. No need to dwell on it.

But what about the words which help and heal? We should dwell on them.

Several songwriters donate their time to soldiers, mostly with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as part of a healing program called Songwriting With Soldiers. It’s also a PBS show entitled In Their Own Words: Songwritering With Soldiers.

Over 2.5 million soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. One in five suffers from PTSD.

To help these soldiers, songwriter and singer Darden Smith founded this program several years ago. He wanted to help soldiers tell their stories and, since he is a songwriter, turn those stories into songs.

In this program, soldiers and their spouses go to a weekend retreat. The soldiers meet with the songwriters in the great room with a huge fireplace or at picnic tables outside or even walking through the woods.

Smith said that the most important thing is to listen to the soldiers. Ask questions, but let them tell their stories in their own words. At some point the songwriter picks up on a theme or a phrase. The two then start collaborating on a song.

In 48 hours, 12 songs were recorded and then played for the group along with their spouses. In this event, the wives of the soldiers also wrote a song with a songwriter about having different husbands come home than the ones that left.

People were crying as the songs were played. Smith watched the face of the soldier as he sang their song. He saw a burden lift off the man as he sang. When he finished, the Smith burst into tears knowing he had helped change this brave soldier’s life.

The power of words in action. Amazing!

My word count for the week of July 16-22 was 8,939.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reads for Writers: Updates to My Summer Reading List

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Hectic week at the magazine. Deadline was moved from the 18th back to the 16th so I’ve had a lot less time to write. For this post, I’ve decided to continue with my Summer Reading List as some readers may be looking for something to read.

          I did read Hunger by Roxane Gay which is a painful memoir, but well-written. Books about trauma are hard to recommend because readers with similar traumas will have totally different and valid takes on it.

          I also completed On Wonder and Other Survival Skills. The essays didn’t all appeal to me so a mixed review. I’m glad I read it, but not a high recommendation.

          I’m partway through Arthur & Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes by Michael Sims which is an informative read. Fans will enjoy it. I’ve already added two of the author’s other books to my reading list: The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man’s Unlikely Journey to Walden Pond and Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic.

          I also read chapter one in Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I learned a great deal about what happened in the first five minutes of the Big Bang. I like the book so far.

          A friend recommended Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series set in Canada. I like to read books in order so Still Life is in my reading pile now.

          Another friend loaned me My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul. Bob is a journal where Paul lists every book she’s read. More than a list, she shares her thoughts and parts of her life. Looks good. I’ll let you know.

Word count for the week of July 9-15 was 8,089. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reading is Writing Vicariously

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I have filled six monthly notebooks successfully so far this year. June was in doubt as I fell far behind when visitors were here, but wrote 7,471 words on 21 pages on June 30 to meet the deadline. It wasn’t fun, but I didn’t fail.

          However, my life is a bit out of balance right now. I’m meeting all my writing deadlines—monthly notebooks, magazine assignments, and Facebook essays—although sometimes rushed, but I am not reading enough. I have completed two of the twelve books on my summer reading list. I’ve started another, but I’m a fast reader. I used to read four books a week. Now I’m lucky if it’s two.

          I have been working on a big home improvement project while also entertaining visiting friends and relatives. That does lessen the amount of time I have to read, but I guess I’m too tired to disappear into books and use my imagination to flesh out the characters. I find myself watching more movies and TV shows. This is not a terrible thing except that reading uses different parts of the brain and inspires me to write.

I need to allot more time to reading because it is writing vicariously. The words are there—the rhythm; the style; the themes; the facts or the imagination. They are not my words, but, if the writing is good, I appreciate and enjoy the words. They make me think. They invite me to meld with them. They change me. And, best of all, they inspire me.

I just read a piece where the writer (I can’t find name) noted that words were her toys and she loved playing with them. That sums it up nicely. Words, whether I read them or write them, are fun to play with—and I need to schedule a reading and a writing playdate every day.

My word count for the week of July 2-8 was 10,072.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Reads for Writers--2017 Summer Reading List

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I have lots of books waiting to be read, but I’ve chosen the next twelve I want to complete this summer.

          I started reading Wonder and Other Survival Skills: A Selection of Essays from Orion Magazine on July 1st. I love to wonder, as most writers do, and I think it is a survival skill so the title really appealed to me. Among the contributors, I have read Diane Ackerman and Rick Bass before—in fact, I own most of each of their books—but I have never heard of Michael P. Branch whose essay “A Ladder to The Pleiades” I chose randomly to read first. It was a delight. I will never look at a night sky without thinking of his three-year-old daughter and the life lessons she taught him.

          I am not sure in which order I will read the rest of these books.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson ties into the essay I mentioned above, but I chose it long before that because of the author and subject. I did the same with Bang! The Complete History of the Universe by Brian May (guitarist in Queen) Patrick Moore, and Chris Lintott.

As I mentioned above, I read Diane Ackerman so her book The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us is on the list.

Since I am a writer, I like to read books about writers as well as books that help me improve my writing including: Arthur & Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes by Michael Sims; Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee; and the memoir The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries by Jessa Crispin.

Also on the list is Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay. I saw her speak and read some of her work on Book TV on C-SPAN. She is an extraordinary writer.

In the fiction category, I have chosen Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan; Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin; and A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass. All of them tie into books and/or authors. 
My final choice is Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World by Jane Hirshfield. I also started reading this book. It is so profound and beautifully written that I recommend it to all writers. This book will be a future Masterclass blog post.

I hope you enjoy your summer reading list as much as I’m going to enjoy mine.

My word count for the week of June 25-July 1 was 15,798.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Tough Writing Week

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I got smug. I’ll admit it. I’ve been writing at least 1,000 words a day in my monthly notebooks since March. Things were going well. No 40 pages to fill in the last week of the month like happened in January and February. I learned my lesson and wrote steadily—until this week.

          Company that had been scheduled to visit months ahead was arriving soon. Their dog can no longer make it up the stairs so we thought we’d change the rarely-used formal dinner room into a guest room as this particular dog isn’t the only company having issues with stairs.

          Mostly my stuff was stored in there so I cleaned it out, but, of course, it took longer than I thought. Once it was emptied out, it had to be scrubbed—walls, floors, cupboards. Then a bed, side tables, bureau, bookcase, and lamps had to be relocated along with some wall art.

          Then the workmen were scheduled. The old dining room needed a new outlet for the old TV in the new bedroom so called an electrician. Then the cable guy came the day after to hook up the cable box. Plumber came after that to fix a running toilet, but found a bigger problem under the sink. Pipes replaced with PVC the next day so it’s all good, but time consuming and distracting.

          Then I had to do the usual guest prep: make the bed, put out guest towels, fresh flowers, food shopping, cleaning the rest of the house while still keeping up with regular laundry and other chores and errands.

          It was also deadline week which left me little time to write. Obviously my notebook writing is the first thing to go when I’m in a time crunch. It doesn’t pay any bills, make company’s visit more comfortable, or keep our lives going.

          It does, however, keep me happy. Calm. I’m doing what I love while also jotting down thoughts, ideas, project steps, planning, venting, or crossing off To Do List items. My notebook is a place to check in with myself. Without it, I get cranky. So I squeezed in some writing by giving up sleep, not a choice I like to make. Too much stress during deadline week is too much for me to face without a pen in my hand, notebook pages to fill, and time to do so.

My word count for the week of June 18-24 was 6,937, but only 5,393 in my notebook.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Reads for Writers: The Writer's Life edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Writers need inspiration to create any good piece of work, but sometimes we need inspiration to continue writing at all.

The Writer’s Life: Intimate Thoughts on Work, Love, Inspiration, and Fame From the Diaries of the World’s Greatest Writers, edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, is a book you can pick up and open randomly or choose a topic to hone in on what you need. Either way, inspiration is but a moment away.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.
                                      --Theodore Roethke (p. 22)

The work is not a thing that we make, but an already-made thing              which we discover.
                                      --Thornton Wilder (p. 25)

Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.
                                      --Raymond Chandler (p. 32)

Art is a microscope which the artist fixes on the secrets of his soul, and shows to people these secrets which are common to all.
                                      --Leo Tolstoy (p. 45)

I often think that the best writing is done after you’ve forgotten what you wanted to say, but end up putting something down anyway just as though it were the actual evidence of your original intention.
                                      --Clarence Major (p. 50)

Because one has written other books does not mean the next becomes any easier. Each book in fact becomes a tabula rasa; from book to book I seem to forget how to get characters in and out of rooms—a far more difficult task than the nonwriter might think.
                                      --John Gregory Dunne (p. 62)

Training to be a writer is a slow and continuous process, with time off for human behavior.
                                      --Marie-Elise (p. 67)

If thou art a writer, write as if thy time were short, for it is indeed short at the longest.
                                      --Henry David Thoreau (p. 76)

A poet told me that when her little boys were small she used to put her typewriter in the playpen and sit there and work while they tore up the house around her. Of course, she is an exceptionally energetic and resourceful person.
                                      --Ellen Gilchrist (p. 137)

          To write is an entertainment I put on for myself.
                                      --Jean Cocteau (p. 141)

Word count for the week of June 11-17 was 7,128.

Monday, June 12, 2017

I Love Living the Writer's Life

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I love the writer’s life.

          I love pre-writing. I love observing, imagining, reading, and connecting.

I love writing. I love picking up a pen and filling pages. I love sitting at my desk and hunting for thoughts and ideas then capturing them by keyboard.

          I love rewriting and refining my work. I love honing in on what I want to express—making it as clear as I can—however long that takes.

          I love making people think, laugh, or even get misty-eyed when they read my pieces. It means I’ve written well—and I love that most of all.

Word count for the week of June 4-10 was 8,993.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Tidying Up

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

If you cannot think of anything to write, try cleaning or organizing your desk or Writer's Crate. Doing something mindless like dusting or tossing old papers, gives your conscious mind something to focus on, but your subconscious is free to roam and come up with ideas.

          We’ve been spring cleaning the house as many friends and relatives will be visiting this summer. Recycling old papers and magazines, tossing junk, and boxing up donations is invigorating. A clean and organized space has new energy, but clean and organize to your own specifications.

          I’m a vertical organizer, i.e., a pile person, so my idea of organized may not match most people’s—and that’s okay. I’m the one who works in my office so it only has to meet my standard. While others may think I’m disorganized, I can find what I need within a moment or two.

          Like everyone else, I can be surprised at things I find in drawers and cupboards. Out of sight, out of mind so I keep important things in sight.

          I did have fun with the Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, method of clothes sorting. She recommends putting every article of your clothing on your bed then deciding quickly whether to keep, donate, or toss them. I thought it would be daunting, but it was the easiest way to do this. I filled one bag with ripped or stained clothes (mostly with ink as I love red and blue liquid ink Pilot V-Ball pens). Another bag was filled with clothes I rarely wore or new clothes I have never worn to be donated. The rest are in drawers or the closet. No piles anywhere except the laundry hamper—and I can live with that.

          All this cleaning and organizing gave me a visitor-ready house as well as ideas for this post, my Viewpoint column, and my Editor’s Facebook Thoughts. Always fun when a chore turns out to be a creative outlet!    

Word Count for the week of May 28-June 3 was 11,266.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Reads for Writers: inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity by Tina Seelig

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Creativity is essential for writers. In her book inGenious: A Crash Course on Creativity, Tina Seelig gives readers or, as she calls artists of all types, noticers great insights including:

“Mastering the ability to reframe problems is an important tool for increasing your imagination because it unlocks a vast array of solutions.” (page 19)

“You, too, can spark a revolution by looking at the problems you face from different perspectives.” (page 23)

“Connecting unexpected people, places, objects, and ideas provides a huge boost to your imagination. You can practice this skill by using provocative metaphors, interacting with those outside your normal circles, building on existing ideas, and finding inspiration in unlikely places.” (page 46)

“Scientists and artists of all types are the world “noticers.” They are trained to pay attention and to communicate what they see and experience to the rest of us.” (page 75)

“…the most salient thing [the students] learned from this intense experience is that by opening your eyes, paying attention, and asking a lots of questions, there are remarkable things to see around every corner.” (page 76)

“Focused observation is a powerful way to acquire valuable knowledge about the world. That knowledge is the starting point for all your creative endeavors because it provides rich fuel for your imagination.” (page 32-83)

“If you live and work in an environment that is stimulating, then your mind is open to fresh, new ideas.” (page 102)

“I eventually realized I that I putting off writing on purpose. It was creative procrastination!” (page 105)

          However, my favorite part of this book is the opening chapter discussing the “hardest exam in the world. It required both a breadth of knowledge and a healthy dose of imagination.” (page 4)

          It’s a “…‘one-word exam.’ The Essay, as it was called, was both anticipated and feared by applicants. They each flipped over a piece of paper at the same time to reveal a single word...The challenge was to craft an essay in three hours inspired by that single word.”  (page 3)

          “…This challenge reinforces the fact that everything—every single word—provides an opportunity to leverage what you know to stretch your imagination.” (page 3)

          What a great exam—especially for writers! I’m going to randomly open a dictionary with my eyes closed and point to a word. Then I am going to write an essay in three hours. Why not? I’ll be writing for hours this week in my notebook. I may as well use a writing prompt that will challenge me like this one.

          Take the one-word test. See what you know and notice.

Word count for the week of May 21-27 was 11,431.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ideas Out of Nowhere

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I love to watch interviews with writers. In our profession, everyone has a different process. I love to learn about them as it’s comforting to know we all slog through ideas and words until we hit upon the right ones.

          On the PBS show Hamilton’s America, a camera crew followed Lin-Manuel Miranda around while he was researching and writing Hamilton. He went to historical places, wrote while sitting in Aaron Burr’s bedroom, worked with his creative Broadway show team, and lived his life.

          Miranda didn’t know when he picked up Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton to read on vacation that he would be writing a $100+ million musical and book. Miranda’s background included Rap; Hamilton’s did not—yet that’s all Miranda could hear as he read the book. And it’s all people can talk about after they see the show.

Because he’s been listening to all kinds of music and writing for decades, his mind was open to possibilities. He didn't fight the unlikely idea, just went with it. He didn’t lose his enthusiasm even when it took over two years to write it.

          I also watched J. K. Rowling & Harry Potter: Behind Closed Doors on the Reels channel. She wrote her first book about a rabbit at the age of six. Her mother loved it so Jo asked her mother how to get it published. She knew then she was a writer.

Rowling received her idea out of nowhere when she was on a train thinking of nothing. Suddenly, she pictured a little boy who didn’t know he was a wizard on a train heading to a wizard boarding school. Then she worked backwards as to how he got there.

          Turns out trains were a big part of Rowling’s life. Her parents met on a train so she always thought of them as romantic. (Later on, her second husband, knowing this, proposed to her on The Orient Express.)

          Also, Rowling studied the classics in college. Her knowledge certainly played a big part in the Harry Potter series in the names she used and in the spells. Grounded in history, mythology, and literature, they were both a bit familiar and new to readers.

It took her five years to write the first book as she was also working, pregnant, and then raising her daughter after an ugly breakup with her first husband. Even when broke and worried, she wrote not knowing if the book would ever sell. She said, “I just believed in my book.”

Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight vampire series who always wanted to be a writer, says her idea out of nowhere came to her in a dream about a teenage girl and boy sitting in a field together. The problem: the boy wanted to kill the girl as much as he wanted to love her. Meyer didn’t know why but wrote until she discovered the answer.

          Ideas from nowhere and yet the prepared minds recognized them and followed through.

For the week of May 14-20, my word count was 8,725. Yes, ideas are coming to me and I'm working on them.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Staying Inspired

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

Everything we see, hear, smell, taste or touch is grist for our writing mills. We can grind it all in our minds and come up with kernels of ideas. Some people also call it filling the well. It’s an essential part of writing so we have material to work with when we need an idea for an essay, blog post, article, etc.

Whatever you want to call it, make sure you are collecting material that you can fall back on by living full lives, reading, watching TV, eavesdropping on public conversations, and observing humans and nature.

What did I put in my well lately?

The lilacs are in bloom so I gathered a vase-full every other day to fill the house with their lovely scent and color.

The chickens are cackling proudly when they lay their eggs. Luckily, they do not cackle all together or the neighbors might complain.

The nearest neighbors just put in a basketball hoop. The dogs do not like the sound of a bouncing ball so they bark at it, but they will get used to it in time, we hope.

Employees at the deli counter, two female and one male, were discussing whether they would ever get Lasik surgery. Two were wearing glasses. One of them couldn’t get contacts. Their consensus was no. I agreed silently while waiting for a pound-and-a-half of American cheese and four chicken breasts.

As I waited, a man came by looking for packaged sandwich wraps made with cheese seats. After he left, I looked at what he bought—wraps made with chia seeds. Hard to hear him over the Lasik conversation.

On the recommendation of a friend, I read Carly Simon’s biography, Boys in the Trees: A Memoir. Her life was often sad and occasionally tragic. There are also some intimate details I wish I didn’t know, but I guess that’s show business.

On the CBS Sunday Morning show, Mother’s Day was celebrated, but unacceptable stats were given for maternity and paternity leave. Only 49% of women received paid leave while 70% of men who have access to paternity leave were paid.

          On the Science channel I learned that three billion years ago the moon had more than one active volcano. Imagine looking up in the sky and seeing lava flowing.

Keep adding material to your writing mill or well. You never know when you’ll need an idea, fact, or memory for a project.

Word count for the week May 7-13 was 8,649.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What's in My Notebooks?

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I advocate filling a notebook a month as a great way to keep yourself writing—especially if you don’t have immediate deadlines. But even if you do have deadlines, filling the notebook keeps ideas flowing and gives you a place to vent if you are stuck.

          For about 15 years, I filled a notebook a month, but as I wrote more pieces for publication, I filled a notebook only every two or three months. I loved having a place to jot down thoughts, feelings, happenings, etc., but I wasn’t disciplined about it again until this January when I resolved to go back to filling a notebook a month.

          I started with an 80-page notebook in January—because 100 pages was too daunting—and wrote 21,598 words. I had no daily set amount of pages or word count. With a week left to finish, I had 38 pages to fill. I did it, but it wasn’t fun. I also wrote very sloppily in larger handwriting than usual.

Obviously I stayed with the 80-page notebook in February. I wrote almost every day, but still had 19 pages to fill the last week. Again, I filled it, but wasn’t as helpful because I just jammed stuff in it. Total word count was 25,574. Not being as rushed, I wrote less sloppily so more room for words.

In March, I again went with the 80-page notebook, but this time I tried to fill 2-3 pages every day. This was much more helpful to all my writing projects as I had space to think about topics, come up with ideas, and whine when writing wasn’t going well. I wrote 26,203 words.

Feeling more comfortable with my new habit, I switched to a 100-page notebook in April and wrote 35,006 words. My goal was 1,000 words a day, but I ended up averaging 1,167. I looked forward to writing in my notebook. It wasn’t a chore or a resolution anymore.

What do I write about in my notebooks?

I rage or regale about my writing projects. Work on titles for current pieces. Consider new projects. I also work on plots. Copy down quotes I love from books I’m reading. Jot down notes whenever I see an author being interviewed on TV as well as any thoughts I want to ponder—and then I ponder.

I write down observations about people, pets, nature, TV, and books as these often lead to posts for this blog or thoughts for my Editor’s Viewpoint column or my Facebook essays for the magazines or sometimes because they are funny. For example, out to dinner with three writing friends, we simultaneously stopped talking to listen to the conversation at the next table. The foursome was getting into a heated discussion about whether an evening can be enchanted or not. I don’t know how the topic came up, but it was fascinating. They got up to leave so we rushed to pay our bill so we could continue to eavesdrop in the parking lot. They were still going at it as they got in their car and left. We stood in the parking lot and laughed at ourselves for being such writers but how could we resist listening to such passion about a description of a night.

Nature gives great copy on walks or even when I look out my office window. There is a 25-foot tall trumpet vine growing up an evergreen tree. Every summer, several Ruby-throated hummingbirds visit to drink their fill of nectar from the dozens and dozens of bright orange blossoms putting on a colorful show. Then there was a black butterfly that played with our puppy for over five minutes fluttering just out of reach back and forth in the side yard. At first I was worried the puppy would hurt the butterfly, but he/she flew up and around over and over again to the pup’s delight only leaving when the adult dogs arrived to see what the commotion was all about.

I’m also very human in my notebooks. I write about my feelings, whether happy, sad, or angry, putting things into perspective.

If you give yourself space and permission, you will find yourself writing pages and pages. None of it goes to waste. Even if nothing appears in other formats (a rare thing), filling these notebooks increases your writing speed, improves your observation skills, and clarifies your thoughts.

This is why I recommend filling a notebook a month and also reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Her essays about the writing life and her life are engaging and full of wonder. The author of ten writing books and novels, her writing practice is filling up a notebook a month for about forty years. This book made me a much better writer because writing begets writing.

Start filling your own notebooks now!

Word count for week of April 30-May 6 was 11,034.