Something Wonderful

What lovely gift I received when Ron Bremner, an accomplished poet and enthusiastic Poetry Study Group contributor, sent me a copy of You are once again the stranger, his wonderfully versatile  poetry collection. Gathered over many years, it includes free verse, rhyming poetry, and a scattering of beautiful haiku. As Ron says so well, “These are poems for your life, your work, and your play, to be read in cafes, bars, libraries, and your lonely room.” I had a hard time picking one poem to share! If you’d enjoy reading more of Ron’s work, you can find You are once again the stranger on Amazon.

The crossing of the Red Sea

Ron Bremner

The sky is a red sea,
The moon is a smooth stone.
Dark cloud eroding islands
Shade deep-hung cliffs.

Washed in by such an evening tide:
Revolutions gasp in bartered currents;
Romance erodes in dullish sweat;
Creation skims and dips away.

But in the cleaven sea, something
bright excites the iris.
And the cool, round moon echoes
with remembered melodies.
And in the dark island caves
lurking, hiding,
waiting to be discovered,
lives…what promise?
  what fate?

These are reasons;
fair enough,
as reasons go.
No less real
than any abstract.
No less false
than any trust.

The sky is a red sea,
The moon is a smooth stone.
Dark cloud ferry steamers
Pledge to carry me home.

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Indies Inspire

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

This Saturday, April 30, is Independent Bookstore Day. So put on your dancing shoes and get thee to thy nearest independent bookstore and celebrate by buying a book or two or three — or a literary mug or note cards. There’s plenty of good news to hoist a glass to. The buy-local movement is boosting bookstores everywhere.

In 2009, the American Booksellers Association’s membership fell below 1500. But indies rebounded and over the past six years, the number of these intrepid ventures has actually increased by 25 percent. To celebrate, some 400 bookstores coast to coast are planning book events, from entertainment and book talks to food fests.

Watchung Booksellers, my hometown of Montclair’s beloved local indie, is a shining example of all that makes independent bookstores so special and creative: wonderful personal service, a book-loving staff, inspiring events, author book signings, loads of popular book clubs, and boundless community spirit. Browsing its shelves, ordering books, chatting with the friends I meet there, and getting expert advice from intrepid owner Margo Sage-EL and her enthusiastic team add so much joy to my day!

Given its entrepreneurial spirit, it’s no surprise then, that Watchung Booksellers is celebrating the resurgence of indies in style, with giveaways, a raffle, special merchandise, and author readings.

So whether you’re in Montclair, the Big Apple, Washington, D.C., Houston, or San Francisco, why not visit your favorite indie this Saturday, celebrate, and write on!


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At Zero

“This is a process that we might call “getting to zero,” when an artist — or anyone, really — digs through all the sap that gets encrusted around a career or relationship and retouches the intrinsic impulse that got him or her into it in the first place. Hemingway’s career got overlayered by money, persona and fame, but sometimes even at this late stage he was able to reconnect with the young man’s directness that produced his early best work.”
David Brooks

My wonderful sister Stephanie often sends me inspiring stories: the latest is a New York Times feature by David Brooks called “Getting to Zero.” It’s an intriguing look at how Hemingway, plagued by health and emotional problems in the last phase of his career, still managed to create exciting and beloved novels, including For Whom the Bell Tolls (my personal favorite) and Old Man and the Sea. After years of ruinous success, how did Hemingway rediscover his writing groove?

As Brooks sees it, three things enabled Ernest to reconnect with his artistic creativity:

“The daily disciplines of the job” — Hemingway had always prided himself on being a disciplined writer. Wherever he was and whatever else he was doing, he usually put in solid hours writing in the morning and kept track of his output. As Brooks put it, “Sometimes it seems to have been the structure of concrete behavior — the professional routines — that served as a lifeline when all else was crumbling.”

“Moments of self-forgetting” — Despite all his problems late in the writing game, Hemingway still managed to get out of his own way and let the work he needed to do emerge. He was able to transcend his daily difficulties and as Brooks observed,”just try to serve the work — focusing on each concrete task and doing it the way it’s supposed to be done.” While “in the zone,” Hemingway was able to tap into his hidden reserves of creative energy and strike golden veins of prose.

Reclaiming his authenticity — In spite of all his self-indulgence late in life and all the distractions he consoled himself with to escape his own betrayal of his gifts, Hemingway could still push through his problems and self-pity. He still had the inner resources to listen for and summon up what Brooks calls “good, true notes.”

“Hemingway was a man who embraced every self-indulgence that can afflict a successful person. But at moments he shed all that he had earned and received, and rediscovered the hard-working, clear-seeing and unadorned man he used to be.”

Daily discipline, moments of self-forgetting, and tapping into our true voice: these are essentials of the writing life — and they’re all within our grasp. Write on!

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Crafting Stories

“I’ve often thought that the oldest thing we have is the story: people gathering around the fire…eventually these turned into myths and legends. To me all of this comes out of the most human of activities: sharing our experiences with others.”

“The main thing is to do whatever works for you.”
Meredith Sue Willis

Storyteller, teacher, and author of 18 books of fiction and nonfiction, including Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel, Meredith Sue Willis cast a wide net when she explored key aspects of craft development in a lively Write Group session.  Valuable pointers:

Create momentum: “Most writing is about big picture and little picture” (how the book is crafted). The larger picture is about momentum: what pulls us through a story and keeps us reading. In some stories, for example, a writer’s “voice” creates momentum; in others, it’s based on the “Hero’s Journey” — the stages a character must go through. “The greatest novels are both wonderfully written and have a big picture.”

Separate process and product: “I think it is essential to separate the process of writing and the product” — what you show to editors and readers. “The beginning of a story: what gets me rolling is not the same as the beginning I end up with.” Creating a book is, in part, about creating a product. “Process” is whatever gets you started on a story and keeps you going. The “product” you emerge with is the result of crafting: creating an opening hook and making other intentional decisions in order to draw  readers in and keep them engaged in your story.

Think in scenes: “The scene is the building block of a novel.” If you look back at a novel you’ve read, most of what you’ll remember will be scenes from the story. “Scenes are where the drama is.” One of Meredith’s methods for outlining a story is to list and then draft 21 scenes. At the end of this process, she’ll have 50 to 100 pages to workwith. This is one “process” technique she uses to launch into her writing.

Dialogue is the building block of a scene: Dialogue is an essential tool for creating drama — it’s what comes closest to reality in a story. Meredith offered a simple, but powerful, 3-step technique for creating dialogue: 1) write a scene in which your characters talk without using any dialogue tags or description — just let the dialogue flow from one character to another without interruption. 2) Next enrich the scene by adding gestures, descriptive information, and tags (“he said,” or “she protested”). Use as few tags as possible — just as many as you need to identify the characters. 3) Now that you have your dialogue core, write more — make the scene  even stronger. If you’ve used a real conversation, you may want to fictionalize it.

You’ll find many resources on writing, a newsletter, and other helpful advice on Meredith’s website: Bravo, Meredith — write on!

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Muse Amusement

“Life is more fun when you play games.
Roald Dahl

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
Albert Einstein

Sometimes our muse needs a little cajoling to sprinkle fairy dust on our pages and inspire us to new heights of creativity. When wooing a wayward muse, a spirit of play helps enormously. A Writer’s Relief online article called “Jump-Starting the Muse” had a few ideas worth exploring:

Do a geographical: When kids have a meltdown, one way to cut it short is to give them a change of scenery. Your muse might enjoy it as well. So if you’re feeling sluggish and uninspired, get moving: Go someplace different: a new coffee shop, an unfamiliar street in your town, a store you wouldn’t normally explore. Sometimes a change of scenery can
give you a fresh view of things.

Listen in: People say the darndest things! And sometimes just catching a few lines of a conversation is all you need to get your creative juices flowing again. Walking in the park one night, I heard a young woman say to someone (probably her mother), “My books are my boyfriends.” What a line!

Take notes: If sitting in front of the page isn’t working, tuck a notebook in your pocket and go for a walk. Jot down anything that strikes your fancy and try to capture it in a few choice words or phrases. As you amble along, let your mind wander and if a wisp of an
idea floats up, catch it.

Read around: Bust loose! Read outside your genre: If you’re writing a romance, read a thriller. If you’re writing a thriller read a romance. Read a horse magazine or one on knitting or the theater at your local library. You never know where a fresh idea might come from. Get out of your reading rut and you may discover something amazing you can apply
to your own project.

Free write: It may sound counter intuitive, but if you’re wrestling with the page in a current project, set it down and just free write. Get a fresh sheet of paper and just start pecking at your computer keys or letting your pen glide across the page. Let the words flow without any investment in what comes out. Sometimes this looseness can free you up.

Brainstorm: If you’ve hit a rough plot patch, you can sometimes skate over it by diving into it. Challenge yourself to come up with five or six totally new scenarios or ideas for resolving it. Set a timer and give yourself 15 minutes to generate them. See what bubbles up: Your ingenuity might surprise and delight you!

Any techniques you’ve found helpful in wooing a wayward muse? I’d love to hear them as we all write on!

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Blushing Bard

Advertising. Bloodstained. Cold-blooded. Fashionable. Hobnob. Moonbeam. New-fangled. Puking. Swagger. Worthless. Zany.
Words coined by Shakespeare

It’s been 400 years since Shakespeare shook off his mortal coil and in honor of the anniversary of his passing, April 23rd, it seemed appropriate to revisit this little-known, but amazing, fact: The Bard is said to have invented between 1,700 and 2,200 words. No wonder he didn’t need a dictionary — he practically invented it (see Sans Dictionary). Will’s not alone in the word-coining universe: George R.R. Martin, author of the incredibly popular Game of Throne series invented a whole language called Dothraki. In Dothraki, for example, “small clothes” translates into “underwear.” Bet you didn’t know that! See how much you learn reading this blog?

But I digress. New words are cropping up all the time. In 2015, the Oxford online dictionary introduced these gems: awesomesauce; manspreading; and onboarding.

Back to The Bard. Surely, our boy Will must have had tons of fun dreaming up all his freshly minted words and word combos. Just in case you want to do the same, here’s an overview of five of Wily Will’s tricky wordsmithing techniques:*

Verbing (changing nouns into verbs): When Cleopatra said, “I’ll unhair thy head!” she was verbing. When we say, parenting, shoulder the blame or table that motion, so are we.

Adjectivizing (think I just invented a new word!) — transforming verbs into adjectives. Example: After you filter water, it turns into filtered water. Barefaced, blushing and gloomy are all adjectives coined by Shakespeare.

Combining words: Clever new word combinations crop up in the media all the time and making these up has to be a blast. A few examples: Youniverse, Brangelina, tween, and authorpreneur. A variation, dubbed “portmanteaus,” refers to words that blend the sounds and meanings of two words. Blog, for example, is a shortened version of weblog (website plus log). A few more: jeggings (jeans plus leggings), screenager, and a personal favorite coined by Alex when he was four: freelax as in, “Just freelax, Mom!”

Agglutination: Whoa! Someone needs to invent a better word for this process – adding prefixes and suffixes. This results in words like: declutter and commoditize. A few gems from Shakespeare: discontent; invulnerable, metapmorphize.

Cold-blooded coining: Some words just spring from nowhere. A few Shakespeare conjured up one morning or afternoon when he was tired of writing Hamlet: addiction, lonely, and manager. Who knew?

Any words you or a friend have invented? I love to hear about them! Now that I’ve stoked your creative fires, let’s all write on!

* Kudos to the terrific site for an online story by Demian Farnworth called “Shakespeare’s 5 Rules for Making Up Words (to Get Attention)” from which I blushingly purloined these fashionable techniques and many of the zany examples.

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About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.

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Something Wonderful

In celebration of the Immortal Bard, one of his lovely sonnets:

Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took,
And each doth good turns now unto the other:
When that mine eye is famish’d for a look,
Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,
With my love’s picture then my eye doth feast,
And to the painted banquet bids my heart;
Another time mine eye is my heart’s guest,
And in his thoughts of love doth share a part:
So, either by thy picture or my love,
Theyself away art present still with me;
For thou not further than my thoughts canst move,
And I am still with them and they with thee;
Or if they sleep, they picture in my sight
Awakes my heart to heart’s and eye’s delight.

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 47

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