Free Spirited

“Advice from a HORSE” — this headline, emblazoned on a fire-engine red T-shirt, caught my eye at a friend’s store. Since horses loom large in my children’s novel, I bought it to inspire myself. When it cropped up recently, I began to ponder the gems of advice printed below a dashing, prancing stallion — and realized that they apply, not just to life, but to writing as well. Here’s what I mean:

“Take life’s hurdles in stride” — Always a good idea. We’re going to have good days and rough days, good times and hard times. We’re going to face thorny plot points, rejection, rebellious characters, and dry spells when nothing much seems to be happening. If we take whatever comes our way in stride, we’ll stay in the saddle.

“Loosen the reins” — When we hold the reins too tightly and try too hard, our creative juices often stop flowing. “Efforting” feels just like what it sounds like: effort. When we loosen our grip, we let go of our reliance on results and outcomes.

“Be free spirited” — Here’s my favorite Yogi teabag quote: “A relaxed mind is a creative mind.” When we’re free spirited, we’re alive to adventure, to fresh ideas, to new ways of thinking — and we can crack our stories wide open.

“Keep the burrs from under your saddle” — Little annoyances and distractions can irritate us and drain away our energy just when we really need it. So let’s take every opportunity to simplify our days and avoid frittering away priceless time.

“Carry your friends when they need it” — We may write alone, but we all need fellow travelers to help us find our way. So let’s “carry” each other. Let’s support and encourage and embolden and inspirit each other.

“Keep stable” — Let’s meet whatever comes our way with poise and equanimity. Let’s root ourselves into the earth like the trees that shade our world and nourish it.
When we’re well balanced, even the roughest wind won’t break us.

“Spur yourself onto greatness!” — Let’s spur ourselves and each other on! Let’s do more than expected. Let’s surpass ourselves. Let’s go for greatness — and write on!

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Reader Award

“I have to say I didn’t think in a million years that I would be so lucky to win! Books have always provided a refuge and comfort for me in difficult times. I’m the person who wants to go to a bookshop when she’s sad or angry, because the mere presence of books provides relief. This amazing gift has completely changed my life and I will be forever grateful to Heywood Hill for having chosen my entry!”
Mariadela Villegas, a third year student at the University of Texas in Austin

Mariadela didn’t win the lottery, but as a book lover, she may have won something far more valuable: In a raffle hosted by the London bookshop Heywood Hill to mark its 80th anniversary that attracted more than 50,000 submissions from 100 countries, Mariadela won the grand prize, its “Library of a Lifetime Draw.”

What a totally awesome idea! In launching its innovative contest, Heywood Hill described the “Library of a Lifetime Draw” is “the world’s first major literary prize focused on readers of books, rather writers. The first prize winner will receive the “Library of a Lifetime” — one newly published and hand-picked hardback book per month, for life, delivered anywhere in the world.”

To enter the competition, avid readers had to submit the name of a book that had a profound impact on their reading lives. Lucky winner Mariadela selected “Fahrenheit 451″ by Ray Bradbury as her the submission. Here’s how she described her choice: “The mere thought of a world where books are forbidden both fascinated and terrified me. The idea of a band of nomads who are the only remaining links to great works of literature kept me up at night imagining what it would be like for them to know that if something were to happen, a literary classic would be lost forever.”

“We think of Heywood Hill as the biggest little book shop in the world, ” said Tom Nind, the bookstore’s manager. “This raffle is the proof in the pudding. Readers all over the world responded to our call. We are looking forward introducing our winners to new authors and books. We are particularly excited that our first place winner is a true book-lover with whom we can build a long-standing relationship. To create such a unique personal relationship is the delight of what we do. In fact, among our oldest and dearest customers is Patricia Lovejoy from Greenwich, Connecticut, to whom we’ve been sending books every month by mail since the early 1970s”.

Surely, an arrow to the cold hearts of Amazon’s robots! Write on!

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Short Takes

Have a fresh, exciting story that’s longer than a flash fiction piece, but shorter than a long short story? A story that barrels along and weighs in at 1,500 words or less? If so, then you might want to pull it from your files or your computer, polish it until it sparkles, and consider entering it in the 17th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. The deadline: December 15, 2016.

The winning entries will all be featured in the 17th Annual Writer’s Digest Competition Collection. In addition:

The First Place Winner will receive: $3,000 in cash and have his/her short story title published in Writer’s Digest magazine’s July/August 2017 issue. The winner will also receive a paid trip to the 2017 Writer’s Digest Conference along with a collection of helpful writing resources.

The Second Place Winner will receive: $1,500 in cash and have his/her short story title published in Writer’s Digest magazine’s July/August 2017 issue. He or she will also receive a collection of helpful writing resources.

The Third Place Winner will receive: $500 in cash and have his/her short title published in Writer’s Digest magazine’s July/August 2017 issue, and will receive with a collection of helpful writing resources.

Your entry must be original, in English, unpublished, not accepted by any other publisher at the time of submission. Any piece posted online, anywhere other than a personal blog, is considered published.Writer’s Digest retains one-time nonexclusive rights to the stories.

If you submit, be sure to double-check your word count. Any stories over 1500 words will be disqualified. When you enter your story, type the exact word count (every single word, except the title and contact information) at the top of the manuscript.

For more information, visit: And write on!

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Magic Folder

“It is a law of the universe. Assistance must always be given to those who request it.”
Oprah Winfrey

Wouldn’t it be wonderful — absolutely fabulous, in fact — if you could somehow magically conjure up vital information that you need for a project you’re working on? Well it may not be as far fetched an idea as it sounds at first blush. Not if you invoke the “Magic Folder” principle. Here’s how it works:

First, you simply find an empty Manila folder or if you’re a paper lover like me, a jazzy, colorful one with William Morris flowers on it. Then you label it with the title of what you need: “Healing herbs from the Middle Ages” or “Daring Escapes of World War II” or even something highly specific to a novel or story you’re writing, like “Five Possible Subplots.” Then you just carry it around with you everywhere and see what happens.

According to my friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert,* you’ll start accumulating material almost instantly, When he first used this principle to research a paper he was writing, it worked like a charm. The first day, his mother gave him a helpful “Reader’s Digest” article she’d come across; then a friend told him about a TV program related to his subject — and on and on. I’ve had similar experiences, so I’m definitely a fan of this approach (check out my post “Idea Magnet” — it’s one of my favorites). Why does this work?

You’re announcing your intention: There’s nothing more powerful than a clearly stated intention backed up by action. When you write down what you’re looking for and create an empty folder waiting to be filled, you are signaling to yourself, everyone around you, and the universe at large that you are focusing your attention and energy on a goal. And as Rob points out, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

You’re asking for help: As Oprah says so well, when you request help sincerely and in good faith, you invoke a “law of the universe” — “assistance must always be given.” I’m a firm believer in this — asking for help brings it to you.

You’re opening yourself to receive: When you open yourself up to new ideas and fresh approaches, you’re clearing the wave lengths, cosmically speaking, and allowing avenues of information to open up and flow freely to you — often in unexpected ways. You’ll be amazed at where and when tidbits of information will arrive!

So, it you need a boost, why not use the “Magic Folder” technique? If it works for you, I’d love to hear about it as we all write on!

* This powerful tool comes to us via Rob’s wonderful Success Hotline: 973.743.4690.

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Something Wonderful

Something Told the Wild Geese
Rachel Field

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, — “Snow.”

Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned, — “Frost.”

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,–
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

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Do More

“No one sets out to be a habitual procrastinator — instead, we develop procrastination as a means of coping with life’s obligations. It might not be the best way of dealing with things, but for better or worse, it allows us to continue functioning…. Changing from life as a habitual procrastinator — into a ‘do’-er takes time, practice, and above all else, the willingness to stick with the process.”
David Parker, The More You Do, The Better You Feel

“The land of procrastination:” We’ve all been there at some point. And we all know the feelings of anxiety and self-defeat it creates As David Parker says so well in his action-oriented, groundbreaking book, The More You Do, The Better You Feel: How to Overcome Procrastination and Live a Happier Life, it’s often a place of “unrealistic expectations, broken self-promises, and frustration.” And for some, even depression. The word’s meaning says it all: “To put off till another day or time, or from day to day; defer; delay…until an opportunity is lost.”

Most of us are probably casual rather than chronic procrastinators. But wherever we are on the spectrum of delayers vs. “do”-ers, we’ve had some experience with its results — or lack of them. Recently, I’ve had my own bout of procrastination on the writing front: I’ve been struggling with a tough phase of revision to my children’s novel. In response, I’ve drifted into “delay” mode: reading, puttering, ignoring, instead of putting “butt in the chair” and writing. That’s why I was so relieved when David’s book caught my eye. His how-to guide is based on personal experience and is divided into two clear, compelling sections: “Understanding Procrastination,” and “Into Action.”

Whether procrastination is a major or a minor problem for you, The More You Do, The Better You Feel, offers a goldmine of insights about how and why we immobilize ourselves through delay and distraction. Section II of the book, “Into Action” offers the antidote. One chapter offers “golden rules” for defeating chronic delay, which range from “always keep the promises you make with yourself,” and “try not to compare and despair,” to “avoid being a perfectionist.”

The heart of the book is a simple, easy-to-apply technique designed to transform procrastinators into “doers” — “The J.O.T. Method,” which stands for “just one task.” With practice, it can train you to focus and screen out distractions, so you can take action, increase productivity, and get results. Patiently and consistently applied, it works for everyday tasks, but it can also be adapted to writing. By breaking down even complex tasks into their basic components, it makes taking action easier and more inviting.

Procrastination as a habitual way of coping isn’t easy to overcome, but it can be done. If it’s preventing you from doing the work you want to do and seducing you into inaction through distraction, then you’ll want to check out The More You Do, The Better You Feel. To find out more, visit: — and write on!

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“Divine Perseverance”

“Genius is divine perseverance. Genius I cannot claim nor even extra brightness, but
perseverance all can have.”
Woodrow Wilson

“People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant
success is achieved.”
Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher and mentor

“If you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you
could not hold on a minute longer, never give up, for that is just the place and time that
the tide will turn.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe

When Jay Winik wrote his book, “April 1865: The Month That Saved America,” his focus was on the final days of the Civil War. But during his research, he also learned a lot about how leaders face adversity and ultimately triumph over it. As he put it, “What I discovered is this most common trait among great leaders: They can repeatedly suffer failure and be undaunted by it. They adhere to their vision, and they just keep plugging away. Plugging away seems like the simplest explanation you can have, but historically, it’s very clear. People who go on to do great things in history often do them against great odds. They do it because they refuse to be defeated by the whirl and sway of events. You see it in Lincoln; you see it in Grant: you see it in Robert E. Lee.”

To wrap up his book, Winik cast his eye forward, looking at people who would shape America’s destiny over the fifty years after the Civil War. He was “shocked” by what he found: In 1865, most of these movers and shakers were failures. Mark Twain was considering moving to Hawaii and vaguely hoping that, at some point in the future, he might be able to write a book. Thomas Edison had been fired from his fifth job and was working as a telegraph operator. Henry Ford’s father dismissed his son’s aspirations by telling him, “You are a tinker and you will never amount to anything.” Yet, each of these dreamers and doers, despite repeated failures, found the internal drive to forge on.

Take any other period in history, and it’s more than likely that you’ll find exactly what Winik did: Most of the people who end up being successes leave behind them a long trail of what the rest of the world sees as failures. And yet these achievers and overcomers view failure differently: They see it as feedback, information they can use to improve their performance as they move forward.

What’s our takeaway from all this? Keep going! Just when you think things can’t get better, keep going — and by sheer effort and perseverance, you can make them better. Wonderful news for us as we write on!

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