Something Wonderful

Wise words from Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796:

“Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very
liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and
individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be
abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

“For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts
of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”

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Small Steps

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go”.
T.S. Eliot

“One that would have the fruit must climb the tree.”
Thomas Fuller

There’s good news on the risk-reward front: Small steps can lead to rich rewards. According to Katy Suckle, author of The Art of Risk: The New Science of Courage, Caution, and Chance, just taking a few more risks in life — even small, easy to manage ones — can help us improve our decision-making and even write more dangerously:

Start small: To move us all in the right direction doesn’t require dramatic shifts with our past or inclinations — just small steps that gradually pull us out of well-worn grooves and open us to new possibilities. Taking a more scenic route to a meeting, even though you risk being a few minutes late or ordering a new dish in a restaurant that you’re not sure you’ll enjoy can lead to a ripple of positive change. Regularly breaking up our routine and stepping out of the box in small ways is proven to boost creativity and resilience, and trigger changes in brain patterns that improve our mood and even reduce stress by making us less afraid of the unexpected.

Go for small wins: If you’ve decided this is the year you want to be published, just take the first, easiest step toward that goal: Sign up for “Publishers Marketplace,” for example.  “Again and again, research shows that when we take little risks along the way, we reach our goals so much faster,” says Sukel. Rewarding yourself for each small step also helps: “Rewards train your brain to embrace risk and keep going!”

Make a list: If you want to try something more daring than usual, you can ease the way by making a list of the potential benefits you’ll gain from taking the risk you’re considering — everything from feeling proud to moving closer to a lifelong goal. Seeing gains in black and white ignites the rational part of your brain and boosts your confidence by showing you that taking the risk is a good decision.

Stay optimistic: The one quality all successful risk-takers share is optimism. “Whether you journal positive thoughts, or read others’ success stories for inspiration, keeping your optimism ignited is key to pushing past your comfort zone,” notes Sukel. And don’t be afraid of failure. If you don’t succeed, don’t see it as failure, view it as feedback — and keep going (see “Be Untoppable”) As rock climber Steph Davis told Sukel, “I haven’t failed — I just haven’t finished yet!” Every time you take on something new, you gain new ideas and insight that you can build on the next time around.

Small steps, big rewards: Great news as we all write more dangerously!

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Great View

“Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance toward the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to observed from each new vantage point. Climb slowly, steadily, enjoying each passing moment. The view from the summit will serve as a fitting climax to the journey.”
Harold V. Melchert

Completing a writing project is a lot like climbing a mountain: We have a distant goal in mind and many a mile to go before we arrive. To help us keep going, we can focus on outcome and output so intently — setting goals and straining to reach them — that we forget to enjoy the view, to take pleasure in the journey. But it’s often small
moments of joy and satisfaction in what we’re aiming for that provide the fuel, the juice, to help us get there. So let’s take pleasure in the view along the way:

Let’s enjoy gearing up:  As we fire up our computers or pick up our pens or ride out in cyberspace in search of research material for a story, let’s take a moment to enjoy the tools of our trade — all the equipment that helps us do what we do.

Let’s enjoy using our minds: How lucky we are! The work we do, our calling, is tailor-made for keeping our minds young and supple, for stretching them and creating new byways in our brain. What a gift!

Let’s enjoy the challenge: There’s nothing more satisfying than wrestling with something difficult that you really care about. My good friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert often say this on his wonderful Success Hotline (973.743.4690) — and I’ve found it to be true. Tackling a thorny plot problem or reigniting a character who’s gone flat is exciting and energizing.

Let’s enjoy the act of creation: Every day, in small and large ways, we have the opportunity to create something that didn’t exist before: to call our characters to life, to give them voices, to share what we’ve learned and believe with readers. Just engaging in this powerful, life-giving process can be a source of joy and energy — and
help keep us going.

I don’t know what mountain you’re climbing today, but let’s all lace up our boots, start climbing slowly and steadily, and take time now and then to enjoy the passing scene from wherever we are. Write on!

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Martin Motivates

Martin Luther King’s birthday is actually January 15th, but since it is being celebrated this week, I thought I’d inspire us all with some of his words of wisdom about hope, faith, life, and excellence:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive
out hate; only love can do that.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

“No person has the right to rain on your dreams.”

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.”

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be
undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college
degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve…You
only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness
like a mighty stream.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and
convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl,
but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a
Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote
poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will
pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

“Whatever your life’s work is, do it well.”

And whatever your goals and dreams are, your words matter. Your writing can make
a difference — believe in their power and write on.

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Five Questions

“Description does nothing to move a story forward on its own. It’s how it interacts with the characters that makes or breaks it. What we want, are details that breathe life into both the characters, and the setting.”
Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy is a writing coach and the author of several novels and how-to guides; her site, Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, offers a host of helpful articles. In a recent post, she gave five questions to ask about setting that can help a story come alive:

1. Who’s doing the looking? Each character in your story will look and see the setting around them differently based on their attitude, mood, and knowledge. As Jane suggests: “Think about how they would describe something, not how you would.” Who is your protagonist — what problems are they facing in a particular scene? How will their mood affect the details that create the setting their in?

2. Why are they looking at it? Whatever the setting in a scene, a character interacts with it differently, depending on why they are there: Sometimes they’re happily expectant; sometimes, afraid and alert. As Jane notes, “Your reasons for looking impact what you
see and how you feel about it… using details to bring out an emotion or thought from your protagonist helps make the setting more memorable.”

3. What’s important to them? Whatever the setting, people notice what’s important to them in it and so do characters. Highlighting details that matter can help reveal character; throwing in extraneous details can pull the reader out of your story.

4. What’s important to the scene or story? Sometimes a detail needs to be in a scene to advance the plot; but these should feel natural, not artificial: Bring them in from the character’s point of view and they are meaningful — and telling.

5. What tone and mood do you want? “Small details can really add to the emotion of a scene. They give you opportunities for similes and metaphors that flow seamlessly, because the detail evokes a feeling in your protagonist.”

For the full story and examples, see:
Write on!

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Think Snow

Before you pull out the snow shovel, read on. The byways I follow on my way to the running track in my town of Montclair are chockablock with all kinds of fascinating items. On one recent ramble, I came across a little sign that said “THINK SNOW,” a little spontaneous word prompt which led me to do exactly that. Here are a few ideas that cropped up for me while ambling along:

•  “Snow day” — two of a kid’s favorite words
•  Snowbound with Betsy — one of my beloved sister Judy’s favorite books
•  Snow: A kiss from the sky.
•  Snow: Silence falling
• Romping in the snow with my dogs Watson and Ryder
•  Snow globes and a poem about on by Billy Collins
•  How many words do Eskimos have for snow? (Read on!)

Later, I happened across some more snow-related references:

•  “Blue shadows on white snow” — from the film, “Private Lives” by Noel Coward
•  “Each snow-laden tree and bush looked like a bride kneeling to pray…” — from Mama’s Way by Thyra Ferre Bjorn
•  “The storm was over and the great clouds had disburdened their snow…” — from The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson.

According to current research, one Eskimo language has more than 53 different terms for snow, including “matsaaruti,” for wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh’s runners, and “pukak,” for the crystalline powder snow that looks like salt. The Sami people, who live in the northern regions of Scandinavia and Russia, use at least 180 words related to snow and ice.What a rich store of words and images to tap into!

Not only are word-association games tons of fun, they can also be a great way
to enrich our descriptive powers as we all write on!

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Something Wonderful

Along with the lovely spiritual nature of this poem, there’s a story
that’s equally moving:
Author Myra Brooks Welch was born in the late 19th century. This poem
was written in 1921 after Myra heard an inspirational talk that so
moved her that she went home and penned these words in 30 minutes.
More than 100 years later, it still endures:

The Touch of the Master’s Hand

‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile.
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”

“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three…” But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
And going and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of the Master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
A game — and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.

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