Something Wonderful

They Speak to Me

Chief Dan George

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.
The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
speaks to me.
The faintness of the stars,
the trail of the sun,
the strength of fire,
and the life that never goes away,
they speak to me.
And my heart soars.

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Newly Minted

Newly minted writers are always a joy to encounter because they view writing with fresh eyes (see post, Beginners Mind). That’s why I was very excited when my wonderful husband David, an ace genealogical researcher, passed on a story from “American Ancestors” magazine* by Margaret Hendrick. An adoptee, Margaret spent years tracing her family tree in order to find “my roots, my foundation, perhaps my identity.” She achieved a major life goal when she published Against the Tides: An Adoption Memoir, chronicling her search .

“I was truly less than even a novice writer when I started my memoir,” Margaret notes. “Not one of my early teachers, relatives, or friends ever commented positively on my writing skills, so I never wrote more than a Christmas card.” “She signed up for an internet course on “writing a memoir” run by the Gotham Writers Workshop and went to town. She worked on her memoir for four years. Based on her experience, she offers some valuable advice:

“First, just write. Let your ideas fall on the page. Write about walking down the street, write about an experience at the grocery store. Write about just one episode in your life. Just write and see where it takes you.

“One of the things that helped me be a better writer was listening to books on tape. I found I only absorb the rhythm of a book by hearing it. And from there I found my own rhythm.

“Take a train trip and write the whole time. I was amazed at what came out of me while enroute to Washington, D.C. I am not sure why riding a train was so helpful, but it was. I have since heard that other people have had the same experience.

“Read books on writing. I valued this advice from Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: ‘When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.’

“My final bit of advice would be to rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite! Every time I edited the memoir, I tightened up the story.”

Timely tips from a freshly minted author to inspire us all as we write on!

* American Ancestors, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Vol. 18, no. 2,
Summer 2017

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Hack Away

“Want to be more successful? Do more of what works and less of what
doesn’t work.”    Sports Coach

“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the
inessentials.”    Bruce Lee

There’s gold to be mined for all of us in these nuggets of advice — today and every day.
Doing more of what works — what a simple recipe for success, but how hard it is to put into action! As writers, we all pretty much know what “the essentials” are for improving our craft:

Making writing a priority: devoting time and space in our day to thinking and creating.

Making deliberate practice — working to strengthen our weak skills — an intentional focus.

Making a passion for completion a daily pursuit in order to build our “commitment muscle.”

We might also add:

Making perseverance a goal and “fight through it” a mantra when we hit roadblocks.

Making reading and supporting kindred spirits part of the “fuel” that ignites our ingenuity.

Whatever projects we are working on, these are surely among the building blocks we need to bring to our pursuit of the writing life. But our boy Bruce may have hit on another “essential” — the need to “Hack away at the inessentials.” The more we subtract what isn’t working — the distractions and habits and choices that get in the way  — the more time and energy we free up to devote to developing our craft. So what are the “inessentials” we should all be hacking away at? The time-wasters we should avoid?

Mine are pretty obvious: 1) Lack of self-organization — not having a clear-cut daily plan for what I want to accomplish, which often allows me to drift instead of do. 2) Not structuring my day so that I can devote major chunks of time to my work. 3) Being easily distracted by distractions — and allowing them to divert me.

How about you? Can you come up three “inessentials” to hack away at so you can give your precious time and energy to what matters most? If you do, please share them as we all write on!

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Creativity Creates

“Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”   Sarah Bernhardt

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”   Maya Angelou

What inspiring invitations! Sarah and Maya surely knew a thing or two about creativity and energy: they were both amazingly active and procreative all their lives. Their words are potent reminders that abundance is all around us — everywhere and anywhere, within and without,  and always ready and willing to share its treasures for us — if we seek them out with an open heart and mind.

Yet, so often, we limit ourselves. We hit a roadblock in a story or despair of a clumsy, jerryrigged plot or find that our secondary characters feel flat and wonder how to breathe more life into the
pages they inhabit.

What to do? What to do? We can fall back on a handful of old patterns and approaches — and lull ourselves into feeling that they’re good enough to solve the problem, even though we secretly know they’re not. Or we can resort to the Land of Imitation and refurbish a well-worn strategy. Or we can retreat into the Land of Limitation and just give up: put the work aside because we believe we just don’t have enough juice in the moment to make it sing and dance.

Or — we can write dangerously! We can venture into the Land of Possibilities and embrace abundance. instead of feeling spent and tapped out, we can “spend ourselves” and “become rich” by actively pushing past our sense of limitation. We can tap into our inner wellspring of creative energy and come up with fresh, even surprising, ways of tackling thorny writing challenges when they crop up.

Energy creates energy! The more creativity you use, the more you have! Creativity an artesian well: as you draw upon it, more bubbles up. The more joy, power, and inventiveness — the more resourcefulness of mind and heart — we ask for and bring to our writing, the more alive it will become. Why play small? If Wallace Stevens can discover “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” then we, too, can surely call upon our own inner muses to surprise and delight us — and the readers we ask to journey with us.

Abundance awaits you. Ask for it. Accept it — and write on!

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Book Enthusiasts

As we ply our writing trade today, let us take heart and inspiration from the words of book addicts and adorers down the ages:

“Books, the children of the brain.”    Jonathan Swift

“Worthy books are not companions — they are solitudes: We lose ourselves in them and all our cares.”    Philip James Bailey.

“To do its work, a book needs only the energy of a human spirit.”   Daniel Boorstin

“Books are both our luxuries and our daily bread.”    Henry Stevens

“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.”   Austin Phelps

“A book should teach us to enjoy life, or to endure it.”   Samuel Johnson

“Give me books, fruit, french wine, and fine weather and a little music out of doors, played by somebody I do not know.”    John Keats

“It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books which are your very own.”    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“Nature fits her children with something to do,
he who would write and can’t write, can surely review.”    James Russell Lowell

“The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid,
reliable business.”   John Steinbeck

“A book is an axe to the frozen sea around us.”    Franz Kafka

“Even when all other forms of communication fail, books will remain.”   George Brockway

“Read at whim! Read at whim!    Randall Jarrell

And now, enlivened and enthused, let’s all write on!

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A Blessing

A short story: Arturo Toscanini was very nearsighted. At the age of 19, he was playing the cello in a small European orchestra. He couldn’t see the music on the stand in front of him, so he had to memorize it and learn to play it by heart.

One day, the orchestra leader suddenly became ill and couldn’t perform. Young Toscanini was the only member of the orchestra who knew the score. That evening, he conducted the orchestra’s entire program without ever referring to the music. His performance was perfect. The audience applauded enthusiastically.

With this event to spur him on, other chances to conduct soon appeared and Toscanini was on his way. If he hadn’t been nearsighted, he might have continued playing the cello as part of the orchestra instead of leading it as one of the finest conductors in the world. He found a way to turn his biggest handicap into an asset and a blessing.

“Your wound is your gift” a dear friend of mine used to say. Sometimes it’s hard to see how this can be true, but in our writing as well as our life, there are ways to make our flaws favor us if only we’re willing to be creative and find them. Let’s look at Toscanini’s tale for inspiration.

First, he accepted his limitation: He didn’t deny it or fight against it. He didn’t let it discourage him to the point that he dropped out of the orchestra and stopped playing the cello altogether as some people might have. Instead, he made a different choice: He decided to work with it.

Then he got creative: He figured out a way to work around his weakness. Instead of letting it overcome him and stifle his dream of being a musician, he found a way to overcome it — to surmount it with a practical strategy.

And finally, once he came up with his strategy, he put it into action: he memorized the entire musical score. Now this must have taken him hours and hours of practice — he must have had moments of discouragement, but he pushed through them. He was a kid, only 19. He could have been out partying with his friends, but instead, he committed himself to doing something difficult that he really cared about.

Right now, you may be struggling with some flaw, some weakness in your writing. I know I am. Let’s take a tip from Toscanini: let’s look for a creative way to work with it. Let’s mine it for gold. Instead of getting discouraged, let’s encourage ourselves to wrestle with it just as Jacob did with an angel, until it blesses us. Write on!

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Something Wonderful

This week’s “Something Wonderful” is a lovely poem in celebration of Father’s Day.
It reminds me of dipping my hand into the pocket of my father’s overcoat when I was
a little girl and finding all sorts of treasures:

My Father’s Hats
Mark Irwin

Sunday mornings I would reach
high into his dark closet while standing
on a chair and tiptoeing reach
higher, touching, sometimes fumbling
the soft crowns and imagine
I was in a forest, wind hymning
through pines, where the musky scent
of rain clinging to damp earth was
his scent I loved, lingering on
bands, leather, and on the inner silk
crowns where I would smell his
hair and almost think I was being
held, or climbing a tree, touching
the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent
was that of a clove in the godsome
air, as now, thinking of his fabulous
sleep, I stand on this canyon floor
and watch light slowly close
on water I’m not sure is there.

Wishing all fathers of our hearts and memories a day of sunshine and joy!

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