Something Wonderful

I found these two quotes on the same page in a favorite little inspirational book of mine, “Daily Strength for Daily Needs,” Selected by Mary W. Tileslon:

“Of all paths a man could strike into, there is, at any given
moment, a best path for every man; a thing which, here and
now, it were of all things wisest for him to do…His success,
in such case, were complete, his felicity a maximum. This path,
to find this path, and walk in it, is the one thing needful for him.”

Thomas Carlyle

“Every man has his own vocation. There is one direction in which
all space is open to him. He has faculties silently inviting him
thither to endless exertion. He is like a ship in a river; he runs
against obstructions on every side but one; on that side all
obstruction is taken away, and he sweeps serenely over a
deepening channel into an infinite sea.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Enchanted Evening

“Flash back to 1995: Bring in ‘Da Noise Bring in ‘Da Funk was winning Tony Awards and mesmerizing audiences, showcasing its original blend of dance/music/poetry. With an all-Black Creative Team and Black producer, Noise/Funk probably had more freedom to tell a genuinely Black story than any musical in Broadway history.”
“Noise/Funk – 20 Years Later,” Montclair Art Museum

Isn’t it a joy when the universe sends you a gift? That’s exactly how I felt when Nicole, one of my cherished KWD readers, and Nancy, my dear friend and writing buddy managed to snag two tickets for Alex and me to hear talented tap dancer Savion Glover and gifted writer reg e gaines talk about their groundbreaking collaboration on Bring in ‘Da Noise Bring in ‘Da Funk. I wish I could bottle their creativity and energy!

Seeing Savion and reg bounce ideas off each was like watching bolts of lightning flash between two lightning rods — each sparking the other. It gave everyone in the audience a glimpse of what it must have been like to be in the same room with them while they were creating their amazing musical. As Savion described it, “The process was like life imitating life and then becoming art.”

What’s more exciting than hearing two intensely creative people talk about creating? Savion “writes” with his feet and Reg with his fingers, but their art springs from one source: the heart. A few snippets of their conversation to inspire us all:

Savion: “I want to do work that speaks for me.”

reg: “Stay open. Stay open. I wanted to stay open to my ancestors, their legacy.”

Savion: “I had no choice but to be totally engulfed in the work. It was one of the most gracious times in my life, the most creative times in my life.”

reg: “I could see the writing he [Savion] could do with his feet. A story was being told musically….George Wolfe would tell me, ‘I need a poem about slaves in the hull of a ship, only make it like a love poem.’ Then he’d come back in 20 minutes and ask, ‘Have you got it for me?’ because you wouldn’t be in that room if you couldn’t do it.”

Savion: “You need to go out and find out about yourself so you can manifest all it is who you are….I continue to look forward to people who can change my life so I can learn, learn, learn.”

reg: “Use your words to make music.”

What better way to live than to create? Bravo! Dance on, Savion! Write on, reg!

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Thirty Days

“Thirty days and nights of literary abandon! No plot? No problem!”

A heads up for anyone who’s been noodling around a novel project: National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo) is almost upon us. November isn’t all voting, turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. It’s also the month when tens of thousands of authors and aspiring writers will take on the awesome challenge of writing 50,000 words of a new novel from November 1 until the deadline of 11:59 on November 30.

The goal of all this is to get people writing every day for thirty days and to keep them motivated enough to work their way through a rough draft. Now all this might sound a little crazy, but at least eight best sellers were launched as NaNoWriMo projects.

Among them: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which spent a year on best-seller lists and was made into a movie; Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which began in November of 2004 and was published seven years later to wide acclaim; and Wool by Hugh Howey, a dystopian series which made a huge splash in the self-publishing industry and ultimately netted Hugh a contract with a major publisher.

So, if you’ve been longing to strengthen your novel-writing muscles, you might consider jumping on board the NaNoWriMo train before it leaves the station. If you decide to dive in, you can register on the project’s website before November 1st, check out its tools and tips, including “NaNo Prep.” You can also post profiles and information about your novel. Word counts are validated on the site at the end of the 30-day marathon — and if you meet the 50,000 word goal, you’ll receive “official” recognition for it.

The idea isn’t to compete with anyone or write the great American novel in a month: The focus is on completion, not perfection. The goal is to get a rough draft down on paper without self-editing — and then step back and see what you have (see Fast Drafting). NaNoWriMo also provides ongoing support, which we all know is hugely important.

To find tips on getting started, local places where writers are meeting, and other support, check with your local library and visit: Write on!

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Spirited Storyselling

        “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
       “However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

What a masterful opening salvo! In a handful of beautifully crafted sentences, the Divine Miss A establishes the theme and the stakes of her story.

Fueled by pizza and wine, my reading group just met. Austen was on our agenda and I brought along my much dog-eared and annotated paperback of Pride and Prejudice. Among the six of us we must have had five or six different versions of the book — a testimony to its staying power. No wonder Jane’s so huge (!

In rereading portions of this classic novel, I was struck anew by how much the artful Austen manages to pack into Chapter 1. In a mere 2-1/2 pages, she “sells” her story to the reader through a masterful blend of showing and telling. I know, I know: We’re constantly bombarded with caveats about “show, don’t tell.” Yet as Lee Child has pointed out (see Budding Writers) we’re called “storytellers” for a reason. And actually, “storysellers” (think I just coined a new word!) captures the two tools we have at our command — tools that many beloved authors wield with precision and panache.

Here’s what I mean: Chapter 1 of Pride and Prejudice opens with the very telling few sentences above, in which Austen very clearly and authoritatively tells her readers what her story is about. No mincing or pussyfooting. Then she segues into about two pages of showing: dialogue which quickly reveals the characters and motives of two key players: Mrs. Bennet, who’s desperate to marry off her five daughters and the long-suffering Mr. Bennet, who longs to hide in his library. The chapter ends with another paragraph of telling, in which Austen shares her view of the Bennets:

“Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.”

Austen creates a delicious verbal sandwich for the reader to munch and enjoy: two pieces of hardy telling stuffed with showing via dialogue. Masterful selling. Write on!

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Filter Free

“As a fiction writer you will often be working through ‘some observing consciousness.’ Yet when you… ask readers to step back and observe the observer — to look at rather than through the character — you start to tell-not-show and rip us briefly out of the scene.”
Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction

Skilled writers employ an artful combination of showing and telling to convey necessary information while keeping a reader engaged and turning the page. But as we strive to balance these two forms of story sharing, there’s an important touchstone we can use according to Jacqueline Hesse: “Don’t put unnecessary distance between your story and your reader.”

In “No Filter,” an article published in “The Writer” magazine (September, 2016),
Jacqueline explores the fine line between reminding readers that they are observing a character and letting them actually experience the scene through the character’s eyes. Consider these two examples Jacqueline provides:

1) She stood at the cracked open window and saw a cat dart under a picnic table. she noticed the way its tail swished, back and forth, back and forth. It reminded her of a pendulum.

2) She stood at the cracked open window. A cat darted under a picnic table. Its tail swished back and forth, back and forth, a pendulum.

In paragraph 1, the words “saw,” “noticed,” and “reminded,” all act as filters — barriers that create emotional distance. In paragraph 2, these filter words are removed and we see the action through the character’s eyes — we experience it through her, not by watching her watching the action.

Filter words are often used in nonfiction, such as biography, because it’s impossible to verify what a character might have seen or felt. In fiction, filter words can seem deceptively useful. It’s easy to let them creep into our prose, but excising them can make our stories tighter and emotionally more affecting.

Here’s a simple exercise: Take a few paragraphs of your work and circle any filter words you spot, including: “saw,” “heard,” “thought,” “watched,” “seemed,” “felt,” “noticed,” and “remembered.” Then read each sentence with the filters and without them and note the difference. If you do this consisently, you’ll become more and more attuned to when and how you use filters in your work. Write on!

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Book Blessed

Post 1997 Book Blessed

Have you every enjoyed one of those golden periods when The Law of Attraction seems to be brings you all kinds of treasures to enrich your writing? Gifts have dropped into my lap at different moments recently and shed some light on how we can attract helpful people and resources to our work. Here’s what happened:

Moment #1: In Vermont a few weeks ago, while visiting the town of Middlebury, I spent a happy hour or two in its public library; with wooden paneling and cozy chairs, it’s a great spot to read and reflect. On my way out, I checked the “For Sale” shelf and  found a 50-year old guide on training horses. Since a character in my children’s novel is a budding, “Horse Whisperer,” this book is proving to be a goldmine.

Moment #2: At a local arts fair, I was drawn like a magnet to the booth of Kathleen Scranton, an artist who rescues old books destined to be destroyed and saves them by making the covers into beautiful bags and rebinding the pages into paperbacks ( I walked away with an adorable small teal “Biggle Horse Book” purse and a pint-sized primer on horses that’s given me more ideas.

Moment #3: At another arts-fair booth, I was attracted by the gorgeous original prints and jewelry by Emily Lustine ( As I admired her work (I’m sure a beautiful necklace is in my future!), she and I chatted. It turns out she’s planning a children’s story based on some of her lovely art. She told me about a book I need to read and I shared some resources with her about children’s publishing.

What a wonderful series of fortunate incidents — they made me feel “book blessed!” And here’s what I’ve learned about attracting The Law of Attraction: •

Be fascinated: When you immerse yourself in a subject and think about it with deep interest, the universe takes note: It approves and offers a helping hand.

Be open: When you have your antennae up, alert and alive to anything and everything that might be of use in your writing, you become an idea magnet.

Be grateful: When a wonderful book or article or person comes your way, make a “joyful noise” — gratitude creates abundance.

Have any Law of Attraction incidents enriched your writing life? If so, I’d love to hear about them as we all write on!

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Something Wonderful

I came across this beautiful meditation in my beloved mother Dorothy’s
book, One Thousand Beautiful Things. Read it aloud — it’s entrancing:

Autumn Sunset

by Henry David Thoreau

The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible, with all the glory and splendour that it lavished on cities, and, perchance, as it has never set before — where there is but a solitary marsh-hawk to have his wings gilded by it, or only a musquash looks out from his cabin, and there is some little black-veined brook in the midst of the marsh, just beginning to meander, winding slowly round a decaying stump. We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright, I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like a boundary of Elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman driving us home at evening.

So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bank-side in autumn.

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