Word Plays

This comes to us via my dear friend Rich Burns, who is always sending me witty and thought-provoking information to entertain and enlighten me:

Pithy selected winners from the Washington Post’s “Mensa Invitational,” which asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and then create a new definition:

Cashtration (n.):  The act of buying (or building) a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

Intaxication:  Euphoria at getting a tx refund, which lasts until you realize that it was your money to start with.

Sarchasm:  The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

Inoculatte:  To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

Hipatitis:  Terminal coolness.

Osteopornosis:  A degenerate disease (This one got extra credit)

Karmageddon:  It’s when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, and then the earth explodes and it’s a serious bummer.

Decafalon (n):  The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Glibido:  All talk and no action.

Dopeler Effect:  The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Just think of all the witty word ploys out there — amazing.  Bravo Rich! Write on!





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One Book

As soon as I heard this story on my friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert’s Success Hotline,* I had to share it. Rob is a big believer about the power of one: the power of one idea, one book, one encounter to have a life-changing effect. But he adds, “If you don’t go, you’ll never know” — if you don’t go to that program or event, meet that person or see that book, you’ll never be exposed to your personal game-changer.

Case in point: Years ago, when he was in college, Scott Kelly went to the school bookstore to buy some gum. While he was there, he happened to see a copy of The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. Something about it — the name or the cover — attracted him. He brought it and read it from cover to cover. As he described it, the book “ignited a spark in me.” By the time he finished it, Scott knew what he wanted to do: he wanted to be an astronaut.

Not long ago, he completed a 350-day mission in space and while he was there, he called Tom Wolfe to thank him for penning his book and setting him on his life’s path. Wow! What a testimony to the power of writing. Wordsmiths take heed and sustenance!

Great story, isn’t it? I wonder if all writers and aspiring writers are like Scott and can point to a single book or life experience that ignited their desire to play with words and create the world’s stories. When I ponder my own beginnings, I think of a short story a gifted teacher Mrs. Parsons gave me when I was about 12. We had just finished a story that I talked a lot about in class and Mrs. Parsons said, “If you liked that story so much, Karin, I think you’ll really love this one.”

She handed me a copy of “Neighbor Rosicky” by Willa Cather. She was right! I absolutely loved that story. Something about its elegant structure, its spare writing so freighted with emotion, affected me so deeply. In that moment, I came to appreciate what it meant to use
words to craft a story that truly touched the heart. And I knew I wanted to learn how to do that — that it was an important and worthy endeavor deserving of my time and devotion.

How about you? Is there a book or story that helped set you on your writing journey? If so, I’d love to hear about it as we all write on!

* Check out Dr. Rob Gilbert’s fabulous Success Hotline: 973.743.4690.

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Ripening Reading

When cartoonist and author Roz Chast was asked to name five books she’d never part with or would take with her on a desert island, here’s her response:

Anna Karenina
Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby
The Magic Mountain
The Talented Mr. Ripley
War and Peace

“The first four because I’ve read them all at least twice, and have loved them more on repeated readings. There seems to be something in all of them that reveals more of themselves upon not only repeated readings, but on letting five or 10 years pass in between rereadings. The first time I read Anna Karenina, when I was 17, all I cared about was Anna and Vronsky. I completely missed the fact that she was an opium addict. I really didn’t understand much of the politics. Reading it a second time was like reading a whole different book.”

Just realized that our friend Roz listed six books, not five, but, hey, who’s counting? What I love about her comment is that reading a story you love again after a long break is “like reading a whole different book.”

I once read about an author who rereads one particular novel that he admires every year — and every time, he finds more layers and meanings. To me, that’s what a classic is — a book that endures and ripens. As readers, we ripen, too. We bring more life experience, more compassion, and more insight into our reading — and add to a book’s inherent value by bringing more to the page.

Just recently, I pulled a taped version of Emily Bronte’s wonderful Wuthering Heights from a shelf and listened to it. Like Roz, when I first read it as a teenager, it was the story’s doomed romance that captured me. This time around, I was struck by the artful way Emily used her story’s physical setting to reveal her character’s roiling emotions. I also found her use of not one, but two different narrators fascinating. By making them a reader’s stand-in, she isolates and intensifies her story’s emotional pitch. What an inspired decision by a first-time author! There’s something here to ponder and learn from.

Have you found that rereading stories you love lets you learn more about what makes them tick? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Write on!

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Creating Conviction

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”   Aristotle

“Constant repetition carries conviction.”    Robert Collier

Repetition often gets a bad rap: People think it’s boring or deadening, or they associate it with building physical strength instead of reinforcing mental agility and creativity. And yet, a single-minded devotion to our calling, whether it’s simply writing every day or, more specifically, constantly working to improve one aspect of your writing, say dialogue, is one of the most powerful tools in our writer’s kitbag.

In my own writing life, I’ve found that there is enormous value in using repetition in a variety of ways. Far from finding it limiting, I find it freeing: Like a sonnet, which has a
predetermined pattern but harbors the potential for endless creativity within its confines, I find that repetition can be a springboard for invention. With this in mind, here are a few ideas for inducing repetition to yield its fruits:

Reading inspiring passages: I know of at least one author who reads a few pages from
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn every day before he begins his own writing. He is a great admirer of Mark Twain’s humor and humanity and he finds that immersing himself in Twain’s words inspires him to reach higher as he chooses his own. I like to begin my day by reading from several books that uplift and comfort me. Doing this daily  “primes my pump” and helps get me going — it anchors me and helps launch my day.

Focusing for four: This is a simple strategy I’ve developed for myself that I’ve found very helpful when I am working on something tricky, for example, a paragraph or even a short poem: I commit to rewriting it four times.  Just knowing that I can tap this approach makes me relax and focus because I always feel confident that if I rework a tricky paragraph over again and again, something better is bound to emerge. And you know what? It always does. I find this very empowering: It “carries conviction” — the very act of tackling something not once or twice, but four times is energizing. “Three strikes and you’re out” is the name of the game in baseball, but I find going back that fourth time pushes me beyond my comfort zone. When I go the “extra mile,”  hat fourth time, often some sort of magic happens.

Copying a beloved poem or passage: When you are committed to improving your craft, there’s so much to learn from authors you admire. One way to help “internalize” their work and absorb their rhythms is to copy a few passages or a poem that you love by long hand
not once, but several times. When you do this, you begin to understand an author’s word choices and sentence patterns more fully.

“Constant repetition carries conviction” — something to ponder as we all write on!

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Full Out

“When you don’t care whether you win or lose, you play full out. Then you’re really  dangerous because you can win. If you don’t care about the outcome and you’re playing for the point right there, the ball right there, then you possess a lot more power. You are more dangerous because your energies are not conflicted.”
Sally Huss, tennis player, Game, Set, Match: A Tennis Book for the Mind

“The secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.”
Tim Gallwey, peak performance expert and author

Many of us have some goal in mind as we write — some “win” we want to achieve: We want to finish our novels, get them published, reach a lot of people, establish ourselves. All this makes sense, given everything I’ve learned about keeping my eye on the prize and effective goal-setting.

But over time, especially after learning more about peak performance, I’ve come to realize that I’m much more productive when I focus on effort rather than the end game — when I focus, in the moment, on writing the best sentence, finding the most vibrant word, and crafting the best paragraph. Let’s look at Sally’s advice and see how we can apply it:

“Don’t care about whether you win or lose” — Just for today, let’s go of the outcome, of where our work is going to take us, of getting to the finish line.

“Play for the point” — Let’s focus on the ball “right there” in front of us: the sentences we’re crafting, the plot point we need to fine-tune, the chapters we need to juggle.

“Play full out” — Whatever small piece of our work we’re focused on, let’s give it our total attention and energy. Let’s tackle it with laser-like intensity and give it all we’ve got, right in the moment, where it counts.

“Possess our power” — When we’re in the moment, totally focused, and not draining half our energy away by wondering about how we’re doing and whether we’re making progress, then we are truly marshaling all our power: the power of devotion, intention, and effort. We are in the zone.

Let’s play “full out” today for the “ball right there” — the job at hand — at let the rest take care of itself. Write on!

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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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Fast Paced

Rev your engines — it’s almost NaNoWriMo time again! From November 1 through 11:59 on November 30th writers of all persuasions — plotters and pantsers alike — are committing to writing 50,000 words or getting within striking distance of completing an entire novel (see my post, “Thirty Days”). If you have an idea for a romance, fantasy, or thriller kicking round, you may want to consider jumping on board. If the idea appeals to you, here are some tips from Alexandra Suarez published in the “International Business Times” that might prove helpful:

1. Become an official NaNoWriMo participant: It’s free to join and it will help keep you focused and on target. When you sign up, you’ll be able to create a profile and share your experiences with fellow writers. You can also receive advice from well-established authors that may keep you motivated.

2. Take advantage of the NaNo website: The site offers videos and advice on story planning so you can make the most of your 30 days. There is also information on character development, story building, and plotting. Having all this information gathered in one place can be helpful and energizing.

3. Write. Write. And keep on writing: This is the perfect time to kick your internal editor and negative self-talk out of your head. Focus on meeting the word count you’ve decided works best for you — whether you’re going for broke and planning to write 50,000 words or you’ve set another target for yourself. Whatever your ultimate goal — keep your daily word count target front and center — and strive mightily to achieve it, even if you feel that some of what you’re writing is less than Shakespearean.

4. Commit to writing at the same time each day: This is a strategy that many established writers use and it’s one worth pursuing. Some people write early in the morning, before their “official” day begins; others write at night. Whatever time you choose, stick to it. When you make this decision, it simplifies your life considerably. By setting aside a block of time, you are making it easier for yourself to devote that time to your writing — and not to answering emails or running errands.

5. Stay connected: Even though you may have to put in considerable time on your own to hit your word count, don’t isolate yourself. One of the key reasons that many people jump on board the NaNoWriMo is the sense of community and shared purpose they enjoy by experiencing this intense writing challenge with others. Some libraries host NaNoWriMo events and some people partner up with one or more fellow writers so they can stay motivated and feel accountable. So, take advantage of the NaNoWriMo community.

6. Keep going: Writing an entire novel in a month is a crazy goal — but it’s not an impossible dream. Believe in your idea and keep getting your words down on paper. Some days, they’ll flow and some days, they’ll be slow. But if you keep at it by the end of the month, you’ll have the beginnings of a draft you can whip into shape over time.

NaNoWriMo-ers, unite. Start your engines — and write on!

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