Any Time

“Anyone can do anything at any time.”
Grammy Award Winner

I don’t know anything about the young man who said this as in his Grammy acceptance speech — who he was, what songs he’s written, or how he rose up to the top of his field. But as soon as I heard him, I knew he was speaking to me — and to you. What a liberating seven words! Let’s deconstruct them and see what they hold for us:

Anyone: That’s you, that’s me, that’s anyone we know, and anyone and everyone who feels impelled to write and share their thoughts. All of us are equal when it comes to our untapped potential. If we can find the inner strength to encourage and nourish our ideas, if we bring the loving husbandry needed to let those ideas grow and blossom, we can all achieve something we feel is worthwhile. We all breathe the same air as Shakespeare or Voltaire or Virginia Woolf.

can do anything: Why not? Why not? Who says we’re limited, constrained? Is there any limit to the imagination? Any limit to where it can take us and we can take our readers if we dare — if we stop dreaming and start doing? Nestled within the word “impossible” is
another two words, “I’m possible.” So let’s dream higher, bigger, bolder — let’s write dangerously and see where it takes us. Let’s go all out instead of holding back.

at any time: At any moment every thought we need, every word we long for, is available to us, just waiting to be plucked from the ether and put on a page. We have all the words — and thousands more — that Emily Dickinson or John Keats or Alice Munro or Willa Cather or used to write beautiful, heart-stunning poetry and prose. Amazing! Just think of all the tools we have at our command — we are kings and queens of the page: It’s our kingdom, our refuge, our playground. At any moment, we have the power to summon up words that sing and dance — and create magic. Right here, right now.

“Anyone can do anything at any time” — write on!

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Something Wonderful

In honor of our recent Valentine’s Day, here are some lovely verses from the Song of Solomon, 2:1-13:

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
2  As the lily among the thorns, so is my love
among the daughters.
3  As the apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under
his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was
sweet to my taste.
4  He brought me to the banqueting house, and
his banner over me was love.
5  Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples,
for I am sick of love.
6  His left hand is under my head and his right
hand doth embrace me.
7  I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem,
by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that
ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.
8  The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh
leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.
9  My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold,
he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at
the windows, showing himself through the lattice.
10  My beloved spake, and send unto me, Rise up
my love, my fair one, and come away.
11  For, lo, the winter is past, and the rain is over
and gone;
12  The flowers appear on the earth; the time of
the singing of birds is come, and the voice
of the turtle is heard in our land;
13  The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and
the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away….

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Fascinatingly Forward

“If you believe it will work out, you’ll see opportunities. If you believe it won’t, you’ll see obstacles.”
Wayne Dyer

A story: A man making a business presentation was feeling incredibly nervous. He paced outside the door of the boardroom he was about to enter: His mouth was dry, his pulse was pounding. Then he had an idea: Instead of telling himself to relax, as he usually did — which never really helped — he told himself, “I feel excited!” Suddenly, all his symptoms of nervousness — the tight stomach, the racing pulse — began to energize him. When the boardroom doors opened, he bounded in and gave a dynamic, successful pitch.

Fiction? Yes, but the story holds a nugget of truth we can use to advantage in our writing. I’m sure there isn’t anyone among us who doesn’t know from experience that feeling tense and stressed dams up our creative juices. “A relaxed mind is a creative mind” is one of my favorite Yogi teabag quotes. Yet sometimes worry and anxiety can get in the way of a productive writing session. Luckily, there’s a simple solution;

“The science of emotions tells us tells us that our bodies respond similarly to different emotions, including anger, excitement, and anxiety. And recent research has shown that if we verbally put those symptoms into a different context — by saying, “I feel excited” when feeling stressed, for example — we can trick ourselves into following suit…in the right context, stress can become a source of positive energy — not just a by-product of anxiety.” So says Ian Robertson, author of The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper (Time, January 23, 2017).

Amazing, isn’t it, how our mind works? By telling ourselves we’re excited when we feel stress, we can gain access to a positive energy that can fuel our creativity instead of damming it up! This is the same principle can allow us to handle obstacles with positive energy: When we hit a rough patch, we can use my friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert’s* approach and get “fascinated instead of frustrated.” Frustration saps our creativity, while fascination fuels it.

How wonderful to have a simple way to keep our creativity flowing! Write on!

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Fly Free

“Discipline yourself and others won’t have to.”     John Wooden

“Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that
sets me free to fly.”     Julie Andrews

“Make the work interesting and the discipline will take care of itself.”     E.B. White

Discipline: It’s a loaded word, isn’t it? On the one hand, it has the unappealing association of being disciplined as a kid. And on the other, it’s a valued quality that we associate with perseverance and success.

My handy Webster’s dictionary sums up its varied meanings nicely: 1) training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral behavior; 2) control gained by enforcing obedience or order; 3) orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior; 4) self-control: to impose order upon (example: serious writers and their writing style).

Personally, I’ll take flying! I love the way Julie Andrews describes discipline as, “a kind of order that sets me free to fly.” And I love the promise in E.B. White’s words: When work is interesting, order and rhythm flow from it naturally and organically — discipline isn’t imposed, it’s discovered.

So how can we make our work engaging and exciting enough to uncover the hidden discipline we need to push forward and stay with it?  A few ideas:

We can approach the page with expectancy. Instead of forcing ourselves to sit down and do what we feel we should be doing, we can revel in knowing we have the power to create new worlds — to set ourselves and our readers free. Who knows what fabulous ideas await?

We can bring an “attitude of gratitude” to our writing. What a gift it is to have the chance to flex our writing muscles — to mine our imaginations and growing skills, to do work that we find restorative and fulfilling!

We can stay curious and open. When we bring an adventurous spirit to our writing, it can lead us where we need to go. Excitement and pleasure take over and we naturally tap into the inner resources we need.

So let’s free ourselves to fly today — and all write on!

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Reading Rules!

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”  Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“Something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”   J.K. Rowling

On my car radio yesterday I heard that the gift people treasure most on Valentine’s day is a handwritten note. I love it! Even today, when we text and email oceans of words, the ones that matter are handwritten ones — there’s something about reading a handwritten note
that touches and inspires us — just like reading itself. Just consider the benefits that our readers will reap when they cast their eyes over and dip their hearts into our stories:*

They’ll be emboldened to achieve their goals: Just reading about a character who fights through obstacles and goes on to achieve his or her goals can inspire us to keep going when we hit rough patches in our own lives, according to Ohio State researchers. Just
think of feisty Jane Eyre or embattled Odysseus and all the quest stories you’ve ever read and stages that characters go through — it’s the same in life!

They’ll stay mentally alert and nimble: Reading keeps our brains supple and  vibrant. Losing yourself in a good book and fully inhabiting the imaginary world it creates has been proven to actually keep your brain younger! That’s right — younger! One study found that people at risk for Alzheimer’s who read on a regular basis are far two and a half times less likely to develop the disease.

They’ll form better, stronger relationships:  Studies show that people who love reading fiction aren’t just enhancing their capacity for enjoyment, they’re also gaining greater empathy for others. People who get into the heads of characters in novels become more adept at understanding what others are thinking in their real, everyday interactions and better at reading and reacting to other people’s emotional cues. Isn’t that amazing? Reading enriches friendships in so many ways — no wonder book clubs are so popular!

They’ll increase their intelligence: Readers of all ages who enjoy delving into the worlds that words create are constantly exercising their imaging capacities and igniting their curiosity about people, places, and things. They are also building their vocabularies and honing wordsmithing skills. Kids who read learn 50% more words than TV watchers!

OK, we’re on a mission: Our readers need us to keep their brains sharp and their hearts full. So let’s all write on!

  • This summary of benefits (embroidered upon by me) comes to us via Woman’s World.
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Stories Save

“The stories we love best do live in us forever…”
J.K. Rowling

A tale to warm your heart on a cold winter’s day:*

Little Juniper was born weighing only 20 ounces and the odds were against her. Watching her tiny baby struggle to survive in her incubator, Kelley struggled to stay hopeful. Then her husband Tom pulled out a dog-eared book and began reading to his tiny daughter. The book? Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — the same copy that he and Kelley had shared with his two sons as they were growing up. When Kelley wondered aloud whether what Tom was doing made any sense, Tom said, “A story is a promise. It’s a promise that the end is worth waiting for.”

So Tom began reading at Chapter One, The Boy Who Lived.” In the weeks that followed, as he read page after page of six volumes of Harry Potter to little Juniper, a miracle occurred. Hearing the rhythm of the words and the joy in her dad’s voice as he read, tiny Juniper tugged at her tubes. And amazingly, her oxygen levels and heart rate rose. When Tom stopped, they plummeted. “Keep reading!” the nurses urged him.

So Tom and Kelley did. Hearing is one of the first senses to develop and listening to her mom and dad’s voices telling a magical tale of broomsticks and wizards, friendship and love seemed to give Juniper strength. Slowly, she began to grow. Six months later, Tom and Kelley took their baby home, where she thrived. When she was old enough to play
dress-up, it was always as Hermoine. “I see Hermoine in my dreams!” Juniper would say.

Then one summer, a mysterious box arrived in the mail. It was a special set of British Harry Potter books. The inscription read, “To Juniper, The Girl Who Lived! With lots of love, J.K. Rowling.” Later Juniper would send the author a copy of the book that her parents wrote: Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon.

Today, Juniper is a healthy kindergartner who loves ballet, gymnastics, and make believe.
And no wonder! “We will never stop believing that Juniper is here because of her wonderful medical care, because of grace and because of Harry Potter,” says Kelley.

Time and again we hear about the magical powers of reading aloud to children — how the rhythm of words, a loving voice, and fabulous imagery can all help young minds grow and develop. Just imagine if mothers and dads everywhere were reading books to their children — stories of courage, adventure, love and hope. We live in a magical world just waiting to be discovered and we are the wizards of the word. Write on!

* This lovely story comes to us via Woman’s World (February 20, 2017).

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Abraham Advises

Yes, Abraham Lincoln just had his birthday this Sunday. Happy Birthday, Abe! When I was a kid, it used to be a national holiday. And now it isn’t. Why not? Mmmm…

But what I really want to talk about is setbacks. We’ve all had them — and some of us bounce back more quickly than others. But whatever we’re experiencing, take heart:

Lincoln “Failures” List

Lost job in 1832.
Defeated for state legislature in 1832.
Failed in business in 1833.
Elected to state legislature in 1834.
Sweetheart died in 1835.
Had nervous breakdown in 1836.
Defeated for Speaker in 1838.
Defeated for nomination for Congress in 1843.
Elected to Congress in 1846.
Lost renomination in 1848.
Rejected for land officer in 1849.
Defeated for U.S. Senate in 1854.
Defeated for nomination for Vice President in 1856.
Again defeated for U.S. Senate in 1858.
Elected President in 1860.

And now, a few quotes from a brilliant wordsmith to inspirit and inspire us:

Whatever you are, be a good one.

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important
than any one thing.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.

I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser than he was yesterday.

If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character,
give him power.

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Abe really knew how to turn a phrase, didn’t he? Let’s do the same — and write on!

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