Gather Words

“And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.”   Pablo Neruda

“COLLECT WORDS! Buy your own dictionary. Read your dictionary every
day. CIRCLE exciting words. The more words you know, the better you
will be able to express yourself, your thoughts.”   Gwendolyn Brooks

Bumptious. Scrumptious. Resplendent. Gobsmacked. Aura. There are
legions of words ripe for the plucking and the page — and the more of
them we gather to ourselves, the richer the language we have to share
with our readers.

In her wonderful guide, Writing Toward Home, Georgia Heard suggests
keeping a notebook and filling it with words you love . “Listen to
words spoken around you,” she advises, “write down words from menus,
signs, books, newspapers — the more you become aware of the words
possible to you, the more abundant your writing will become.”

And to inspire us all, here are some beautiful words about words from
the joyful poet Pablo Neruda:

“It’s the words that sing, they soar and descend…I bow to them…I love
them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them
down…I love words so much…The unexpected ones…The ones I wait for
greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop…Vowels I love…They
glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are
foam, thread, metal, dew…I run after certain words…They are so
beautiful that I want to fit them all in my poem…I catch them in
mid-flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I
set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to
me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily like fruit, like algae, like
agates, like olives…And then, I stir them, I shake them, I drink them,
I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go…I leave
them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like
coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves…Everything
exists in the word.”

Let’s all catch words “in mid-flight, as they buzz past,” and write on!

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Enduring Story

Hats off to Hugo! Last night was the finale of a new mini-series of Les Miserables and it was riveting. I’m a huge fan of this story and once again, I’m amazed by Victor Hugo’s virtuoso performance. What an immortal storyteller he is — and how dangerously he wrote! He wasn’t afraid to tackle big themes, big conflicts, big problems: Poverty, war and its aftermath, greed, redemption – he takes them all on with gusto.

What a story! What a plot! And what memorable, fate-colliding characters he creates: Fantine, the young, fallen mother; Jean Val Jean, the tortured thief; Javert, his relentless pursuer; Cosette, a sweet innocent; and a money-mad ex soldier. Then there’s the kindly priest who sets Jean on the rocky road to redemption. Hugo lavishes many pages of ink in describing him in his novel. The priest’s story is reduced to to an inciting incident in the film, TV, and stage versions of Hugo’s tale,  yet you still feel the power of his belief and the ripple effect of its influence.

All these characters all leap from the page to the stage to the screen – easily making the transition form one medium to another because of the vibrant characters Hugo creates.And the plot – what twists and turns it takes! How masterfully Hugo weaves together his story and has his characters collide and conflict again and again as it builds to climax.

I can just imagine the author standing before a wall in his villa looking at massive pieces of paper he’s bought from a butcher and tacked up so he can map out the way his massive saga unfolds. Mmmm – this is all just fanciful on my part, but He must have done some heavy plotting somehow to keep all the threads to his complex story straight.

Somehow, he keeps it all going and makes it believable. There’s a stong sense of fate and inevitability as there is in Hardy, and Hugo resorts to the same kind of coincidences that pepper Dickens’ novels. In his deft hands, these tools, which could seem clumsy and lead-footed, somehow seem to work.

But in the end, after all the themes are laid out and played out, after the characters battle each other and manage to survive, some battered, some beaten, what do we have? What’s the beating heart of the story? Love. The power of the old priest’s love of God and of a flawed, broken man. Love. The power of a young, desperate mother’s love for her daughter. Love. The power of the priest’s love to redeem Jean and free him to love an innocent child and save her. Love. The power of that innocent child to give Jean a sense of family and someone to protect and care for.

What a masterful writer Hugo is! Little wonder that his story has endured and been told and retold. Let’s bring his same passion and precision to the page as we all write on!

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Something Wonderful

A Jelly-Fish

Visible, invisible,

a fluctuating charm

an amber-tinted amethyst

inhabits it, your arm

approaches and it opens

and it closes; you had meant

to catch it and it quivers;

you abandon your intent.

— Marianne Moore




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Motion Notion

“Action seems to seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together, and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”   William James

“The quality of writing I do on the days I don’t feel like it is just as good as the quality of the writing I do on the days I do feel like it.”   John Kenneth Galbraith

Action changes attitude: In a nutshell, this is the message legendary psychologist William James is conveying — and recent studies confirm its accuracy. What a priceless nugget of wisdom for us as writers! It frees us to separate how we’re feeling from how well we work — something many successful authors have discovered, including Galbraith.

How does this translate into getting words down on the page? It means that if we put ourselves in motion, then our feelings will follow our lead. Instead of being captive to them and letting them dictate the quality of our work, we can enlist them and make them march to the beat of our drummer.

When the “I don’t feel like it” distraction rears its soul-sapping head, here are a few helpful ways for acting your way out of it and onto the page:

Act as if you’re enthusiastic: When you act as if you’re excited about what you’re doing with gusto, you free up your energy and you actually become enthusiastic. Smiling, sitting up straight, and even pacing back and forth are all physical signals to your body and mind that you are ready for action.

Envision a successful day: Imagery is one of the most powerful tools we have at our command. If you spend a few moments in a relaxed state and use all your senses to conjure up the emotional benefits of a happy, successful day, you can put yourself in a frame of mind that makes working easier and more productive.

Get moving: If you hit a knotty problem on the page, and you find yourself wrestling with it to the point of frustration, get physical: do some stretching or better yet, take a walk outside. Getting out into nature is restorative — it can reignite your energy.

Are there any special “action steps” you’ve found especially helpful in overcoming the “I don’t feel like it” blues? I’d love to hear them. Write on!

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Marcus Muses

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”   Marcus Aurelius

What wonderful, joyful advice for us as writers and as people – who could ask for a better prescription for a hopeful, happy day? Consider all the enlivening pleasures we have precious privilege of every day:

We have the chance to ponder what it means to be alive and what unites us and builds community.

We have the opportunity to think, really think, about ideas and people, about events and inner meanings.

We have the chance to enjoy creating worlds and making meaning of the world – in ways that entertain uplift, and even educate.

We have the ability to share our love of words and ideas in ways that span time and space — leaping beyond them

We are free to chase any idea that pursues and persuades us – any deep passion that keeps us engaged and enthusiastic.

We have rich opportunities to learn and grow – we can cast around for any facts and fancies that we yearn to know about and explore them.

We can let our minds range freely over landscapes of the past, present, or future – our horizons are limitless.

We can venture into the dark, the dangerous places – the ones that other people shy away from – and bring back the news and the light they offer.

We can envision worlds that enliven and embolden us – worlds that help give our readers fresh eyes and open minds.

All of this at our fingertips! We are like magicians holding the magic lamp. What wonders will we conjure up today? Write on!

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“Some Will”

“If people don’t love or hate your work, then you really haven’t done that much.”                Tinker Hatfield

Love that name, “Tinker” — and love this quote! Tinker Hatfield is a well-known designer associated with Nike — a creative with a sharp eye and, I suspect, a sharp tongue. When I saw this pithy bit of wisdom emblazoned on a sandwich board at a local coffee shop, it really jumped out at me. It made me think of writing and the Big R: Rejection.

Unless we tuck our poetry and prose under our pillow at night or stuff it in a drawer or let it languish on our computers, we’re going to face rejection. Sure, some people are going to love what we do. But some will hate it. They won’t relish our subject or our style or our genre or our genre jumping or… You name it. But as Tinker suggests, better a strong reaction good or bad, than a lukewarm one. Then we’ve got porridge. All this called to mind a great sales formula:

SW Formula*

Some will
Some won’t
So what!
Someone’s waiting
Stick with it
Stop worrying

Some will —  Some people will like or even love what we do. That’s great, especially if some of them are editors, publishers, and agents.

Some won’t —  Some people will take a pass on us for one reason or another. Mostly these decisions prove to be unfathomable, so we’re better off seeing this as part of the territory.

So what! —  We can wring our hands and turn the story of these naysayers into a tale of woe or we can do what Babe Ruth did. Whether he hit a home run or struck out, he tipped his hat. He cultivated what one admirer called an “air of indifference” and just kept swinging.

Someone’s waiting —  Somewhere out there, someone receptive is waiting for our work. Every time we put it out there, we’re a step closer to finding out who it is — and that’s exciting!

Stick with it — Don’t quit, can’t fail. Let’s take this as a mantra. As long as we mine any constructive feedback we receive and keep on improving and digger deeper, we’re on the road to success. It may take a while, but if we stick with it, we’ll get there. So keep going!

Stop worrying — We don’t have any control over what other people think — whether they love or hate what we do. So let’s not get all angsty about it. Let’s focus on the power we do have and what we do control: our devotion to craft, our effort, and our attitude. Write on!

* The wonderful SW Formula comes to us via Dr. Rob Gilbert’s fabulous Success Hotline. Be sure to check it out: 973.743.4690.

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Writerly Wisdom

Today, a gathering of writerly wisdom to inspire and encourage us today:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.”   Marcel Proust

“The advice I like to give young artists, or realy anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show us and get to work.”   Chuck Close

“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.   Flannery O’Connor

“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgmet and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.'”   Saul Bellow

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”   Barbara Kingsolver

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.   Ray Bradbury

“Now is the time to write. Let your story flow effortlessly onto the page, All you have to do is… Pick up your pen and start.”   Mark David Gerson

“It is amazing how much support, encouragement and direction a book or good story can give you when the rest of your life’s not going too well.  Amelia Diaz, Metamorphosis: The Girl with no Face

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”   Maya Angelou

“It is good to have an end to journey to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”   Ursula K. Le Guin

And now, emboldened and energized, let’s all write on.

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