Something Wonderful

On this moonlit night full of laughter and fairies and princesses
and more than one Cleopatra, a touch of holiday fun:


A gentle breeze rustling the dry cornstalks.

A sound is heard, a goblin walks.

A harvest moon suffers a black cat’s cry. 

Oh’ do the witches fly!

Bonfire catches a pumpkin’s gleam.

Rejoice, it’s Halloween!

Richard Anderson

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Savory Suggestion

Here are four exciting benefits of attending a writer’s conference: 1) the energy of other people is infectious and you’re likely to get an enlivening boost of adrenalin; 2) it can remotivate you and rekindle your love for the page; 3) it can give you the opportunity to step out your work and receive feedback and enthusiastic recognition; and 4) it can broaden your writing horizons by sparking new ideas and avenues of discovery.

After a three-day immersive stint at an International Women’s Writing Guild, former journalist and Write Group member Josie Zeman returned energized and expanded. Of all the benefits she reaped, most valuable were the insights she gained from a workshop on food and writing.

What a fruitful, delectable topic! Taste comes before speech; along with smell, it’s the most primal of our senses. According to the workshop instructor, food has the power to capture both time and space. It can bring us “home” in a way that can enrich our writing, whether we’re penning a memoir or a novel. And here’s a fascinating formula the instructor offered — each character reflects the essence of four spices:

Salt: enhances flavor, stimulates the appetite, acts as a preservative;
Pepper: adds a kick; can reduce inflammation; makes you sneeze.
Nutmeg: sweet and pungent; apple pie, warm memories;
Cayenne: strong punch; clears congestion; healing heat; revs up metabolism

Think of these as personality traits that can “spice” up your story, perhaps in surprising ways: In the lives of your characters (or your own life) who adds salt, pepper, nutmeg or cayenne? Do some characters have odd, unexpected combinations? Something to ponder. Thanks, Josie, Write on!

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Creative Connections

Robert Louis Stevenson came up with the plot for the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde during a dream.

Paul McCartney discovered the tune foe his hit song “Yesterday” in a dream.

Mary Shelley’s dream at Lord Byron’s villa inspired her gothic tale, Frankenstein.

Dreams have always been a powerful creative tool in artist’s arsenal. And studies confirming the importance of sleep to our long-term health continue to pour out: They’ve determined that our neurons fire almost as often when we’re sleeping as they do when we’re awake. But here are a few findings about sleep and creativity that may surprise and stimulate you:

There’s growing evidence that our minds tend to be most creative just as we are emerging from sleep: During the half-waking, half-dreaming state known as “sleep inertia,” our creativity seems to surge. This is why coming up with ideas and writing them down as soon as we wake is a proven technique for enhancing creativity that’s been used by everyone from writers and poets to Ben Franklin.

The theory behind this: When we’re in a post-sleep, dream-like mental state, we can bridge the gap between sleep and wakefulness, and bring insights and inspiration from our sleep state into our consciousness. Once we’re fully alert, our waking consciousness assumes total control, making plans and doing things — and we pass out of the more fluid, expansive state we enjoy when we’re just emerging from our rest.

Sleep can also be a powerful creativity booster because the mind, in an unconscious resting state, can forge surprising and innovative new connections that it might not make in a conscious, waking state. In fact, a 2007 study by the University of California at Berkeley found that sleep can foster “remote associates” or unusual connections in the brain. And these connections can lead to exciting “a-Ha” moments upon waking. According to the study, upon emerging from sleep, people are 33 percent more like to make connections between ideas that seem only distantly related.

So why not test this all out and give your creativity a helping hand by having a paper and pen by your bedside, so you can jot down any hot ideas before they slip away? Write on!

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Slow Writing

“In our rush-rush world, if we allow ourselves to slow down our lives and
our writing process, we’ll discover that we’ll connect — or reconnect — with
our most profound work.”
Louise DeSalvo, The Art of Slow Writing

Slow cooking and slow writing: While the ingredients are different, the idea behind them is the same: to create something savory and soul-satisfying by taking the time, making the time, to let flavors or words ripen and reveal themselves. As Louise DeSalvo said so well at a talk about her new book, The Art of Slow Writing, the real goal is to “become our truest, deepest, most authentic writing selves.” And this takes time, intention, invention, revision.

Louise DeSalvo is an award-winning teacher and the author of 17 books, among them, Writing as a Way of Healing. She’s also a zealous “beginning writer,” who’s pursued a lifelong fascination with the writing process of both classic and contemporary authors. In her search for the wellsprings of creativity, she’s studied the early and later drafts of well-known authors, and read their journals, interviews, and letters.

She shares many of her findings in The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity. I love reading about how writers write. While writing process varies from writer to writer, I find it inspiring and encouraging to learn that Hemingway rewrote The Old Man and the Sea 19 times or that John Steinbeck spent many years gathering material and reflecting on it before he sat down and penned The Grape of Wrath.

My YA novel is still aborning: It’s my first foray into fiction and when I started, I had a handful of characters and an inciting incident: I’ve had to write my way into my story.
And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in crafting my novel, it’s that building a world takes time. With every revision, my characters have deepened and my story arc has strengthened. I’m still working my way through some major issues, but I’m doing it at a slow, steady pace. The gift of time is a gift I’m giving myself — and my story. Both of us deserve it, because we’ve earned it — together.

As Louise says in her book, “Finding our way as writers is a daily, ever-changing process.” How true this is! We all want to give our writing the time it deserves. We all need courage and faith in ourselves to plunge into and survive the stages our work goes through as we shape it and reshape it. And we all need the strength to find a new path when our original vision seems to melt away and we’re left with something altogether different.

Slow writing. Sl-o-o-w writing. I like the way this sounds. It reminds me that anything worth doing is worth doing well. And most of the time, this takes time. I remember reading about John Legend’s response when a studio executive worried that his album was taking too long to finish. Legend simply said, “You can’t rush creativity.” Write on!

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Idea Generator

“There comes a time in every novel — actually, there are many, but for me the most serious one usually comes about 120 pages into the first draft — when you realize you’re on a fool’s errand; it was delusional and hubristic to think you could pull this off; the words on the page are so much cruder and less nuanced than the story in your head. You want to abandon it. My advice: Don’t. This is normal. You have to finish a draft before you know what you’ve got. And you’ll probably have to tear it apart several times, at least, to get close to what you envisioned. Breathe, focus, keep your head down and
keep going.”
Christina Baker Kline, The Writer, October 2014

“Breathe, focus, keep your head down and keep going.” What wonderful advice! My reading group knows firsthand how generous Christina is in sharing her experience and strategies with other writers: She joined us not long ago for a wide-ranging chat about her bestselling novel, Orphan Train (see Rare Pleasure).

In her interview in The Writer, Christina described her writing process with great clarity. One approach she uses caught my attention: creating an “idea board.” As she put it, “When I’m starting work on a novel, I gather scraps like a magpie and hang them on an idea board.” For Orphan Train, she hung a Celtic cross, a dream catcher, and a silver train pin from the New York Train Riders’ reunion in Minnesota on her board. Along with these inspiring and provocative visual aids, Christina also added:

• Postcards from Ireland and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum;
• Notecards with research information (“Food in Ireland 1900s,” for example);
• Notecards with ideas/concepts/themes she wanted to explore;
• Relevant quotes to challenge and spur her creativity.

I love this idea! I have visual aids scattered around my office that I turn to for inspiration in writing my historical fantasy: a pin that inspired the amulet in my story, a picture of a racehorse, and stones, to name a few. But the idea of bringing them all together in one place where I can turn to them easily for inspiration sounds like a powerful writing motivator — one I’m definitely going to pursue as a way to “keep going” with my novel.

Visual aids can be wonderful triggers for sparking creativity; they can also spur us on when we feel our energies flagging. And as we add new quotes or mementos to an idea board, they can help remind us that our story is growing in richness and depth. This sounds like a valuable visual aid for both fiction and nonfiction, doesn’t it? Bravo, Christina. Write on!

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Screenwriter Alert

It’s amazing how many different programs exist for writers — ferreting them out isn’t always easy, but they often offer exciting opportunities for developing craft and building industry connections. One example: The Emerging Writers Fellowship sponsored by Universal Pictures. The goal of the program: “to identify and cultivate new and unique voices with a passion for storytelling. We are looking for talented screenwriters who have the potential to thrive, but don’t have access to or visibility within the industry.” Universal Pictures just opened its 2015 entry process on October 21 and will accept applications for the next 30 days or until 500 applications are received, whichever comes first.

Emerging writers chosen to take part in the immersive program will work exclusively with the studio over the course of a year to sharpen their skills. During this time, they will help shape current Universal projects and also be free to pitch original story ideas. While working on writing assignments, fellows will also receive valuable industry exposure by:

- Participating in filmmaking workshops and studio seminars

- Receiving mentoring from established filmmakers

– Networking with top literary agents and managers

– Meeting with production development executives

- Attending screenings and premieres.

Applicants must submit an original feature-length screenplay and other background to Universal Pictures for evaluation. Ten finalists will be selected and interviewed in Los Angeles, with up to five fellows chosen to work for the studio for a year. “Working with the writers allowed us a fresh perspective on some of our own material and we were also able to work with them on developing some of their own ideas,” said Universal Pictures co-president of production about a recent crop of aspiring screenwriters.

So if you have a fabulous screenplay that needs a home and can commit to a stint out in LA, you might check out this program. For more information, Google: Emerging Writers Fellowship + Universal Pictures. And write on!

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Something Wonderful

As we give ourselves the gift of time to nourish and restore our creativity, I share with you
some wisdom from the Dalai Lama, a beacon of light and love in a world needing more of both:

The Dalai Lama’s Millennium Practice

(“A great daily practice for those who are busy”)

“You can commit to creating Peace in yourself and others by
by spending 10 minutes a day with this simple meditation!”

1. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each day remembering
we all want the same things (to be happy and to be loved) and
we are all connected to one another.

2. Spend 5 minutes — breathing in — cherishing yourself; and
breathing out cherishing others. If you think about people you
have difficulty cherishing, extend your cherishing to them anyway.

3. During the day, extend that attitude to everyone you meet.
Practice cherishing the “simplest” person (clerks, attendants, etc.),
as well as the “important” people in your life; cherish the people
you love and the people you dislike.

4. Continue this practice no matter what happens or what anyone does to you.
These thoughts are very simple, inspiring, and helpful. The practice of
cherishing can be taken very deep if done wordlessly, allowing yourself
to feel the love and appreciation that already exist in your heart.

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