Home Work

“…all writers have a unique voice and are compelled to write. It’s as simple as that.”
Lady Terry Robinson

I’m not exactly sure who Lady Terry Robinson is (www.thereseblogs.com), but I know she’s a seasoned writer. One of the joys of trolling the Internet is the odd bits of advice you come across that actually prove to be useful. In an amusing, but apt post, Lady Terry offered some sage tips, especially for those of us who are home-based writers:

Pull yourself together: “Get out of your sweatpants and fix your hair,” Lady Terry counsels — and based on my experience, she’s right. When you work at home, it’s easy to let yourself get almost too casual about how you dress and without even knowing it, this can affect the way you do your work. In my interviews with entrepreneurs, many of them stressed the importance of “feeling” professional even if they were operating their business out of a basement or a closet. When they “dressed for success” even at home, they felt and acted more successful. No need to go overboard here, but how you feel about how you look can affect how you feel about your work. Go figure.

Have fun: As Lady Terry observes, “Our best creative work happens when we are in flow, using our imaginations, having fun. Obviously there will come a point where we become hypercritical of our writing and believe we’ll never be the next e.e. Cummings, E.L. James or J.K. Rowling. But remember that’s only because the rest of us all have proper first names. There is a time for editing, a time for revising, a time for throwing most of our work in the trash, but there is also a time for play.” Wise words. Inviting fun and flow into our writing lives is one of the best ways to juice up our creativity. As Lady Terry points out, there is an ebb and flow to the writing process — a time to edit and revise, but also a time to experiment, discover, take risks, and play.

Keep writing: “We can all find excuses. My particular one is that I’m traveling so much. As they say, we can fool some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time. Frankly I just believe that we can’t fool ourselves for very long. Just get up earlier and write or stop talking about wanting to be a writer. Writers write. It’s as simple or as complicated as that.” Not much to add here. Whether we write at home, in an office, or fire up our computers at cafes, as writers, we need to write.

Create a congenial atmosphere: Lady Terry notes, “I love my vintage typewriter. Even though I use a laptop, just having it there as a prop sets a tone and a mood. Surrounding yourself with novels, books you love, bric a brac you treasure creates ambience.” How true! My tiny office is filled with many of my favorite books, little mementos, and inspiring quotes. Having all these around me helps put me in a contemplative, creative mood. A nourishing, supportive atmosphere can make writing more enjoyable.

“Finally, make sure you remember to enjoy writing and look to it with pleasure and not as if it’s a chore – that’s when the real magic happens.” Bravo, Lady Terry — write on!

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Be Unstoppable

“It’s the fifth time I stand on this shore, the Cuban shore, looking out at the distant horizon, believing again that I’m going to make it all the way across that vast, dangerous wilderness of an ocean….this year, the mantra is — and I’ve been using it I training — find a way. You have a dream and you have obstacles in front of you, as we all do. None of us ever get through this life without heartache, without turmoil, and if you believe and you have faith and you can get knocked down and get back up again and you believe in perseverance as a great human quality, you find your way…
Diana Nyad, on her epic swim from Cuba to Florida at age 64

Wow, what a thrilling story! After four failed attempts, the first when she was in her 20s, Diana Nyad plunged into the water and tried again — determined to swim 100 miles across the open ocean from Cuba to Florida. She braved endless nights, deadly jellyfish, sharks, hypothermia and all the unbelievers who said she couldn’t do it to finally win the biggest competition in her life — the one she had with herself. What grit! What determination! What a triumph over adversity! As I listened to an inspiring TED talk my friend and mentor Coach Tully sent me, three thoughts leaped out at me:

Be the journey — Over the 40 or so years that Diana was thinking, dreaming, preparing, and failing for her epic swim, she was on a journey. As she put it, she was “reaching for the horizon” over and over again. And as she said so well, “…when you reach for the horizon, as I’ve proven, you may not get there, but what a tremendous build of character and spirit that you lay down. What a foundation you lay down in reaching for those horizons.” Every time she pushed and stretched herself, even when she failed, she was adding to her bank of perseverance, so that when she needed to draw on it to survive, she had “money in the bank.” Something to reflect on.

Build a team — Diana swam those 100 miles on her own, but she wasn’t alone. Over the years, she’d built an incredible team of 30 people — friends and experts in all areas — who guided, encouraged, and supported her. All around her during those 53 long hours, she had people in boats giving her food and support.

“Never, ever give up” — These are some of the words Diana shared with the world when she finally stepped on the shore of Key West. “Find a way” — by taking this as her mantra, Diana opened herself up to all kinds of ideas and opportunities that ultimately led to her triumph. When you are determined to find a way, you’re telling the universe, “I can do this — I can make it happen. And I will. I’m going to keep going until I get there.”

When you summon up this kind of grit — and show up every day and take action to achieve your goal, the universe takes notice and supports you. And when the universe is part of your team — anything is possible. So today, let’s decide to “find a way” and “never, ever give up” as we all write on.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

May your life be filled with joy and gratitude, now and always:

God’s World
Edna St. Vincent Millay

“O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide gray skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with color! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, world! I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known the glory of it all
But never knew I this,
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart. Lord I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year.
My soul is all but out of me — let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.”

Have a blessed day!

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Decompressing Tips

Here’s something I’ve learned during my years of freelancing that I’ve found very helpful in my creative writing: the importance of taking time to decompress. As a freelancer in marketing communications, I worked on a project basis. Some projects were quick turnarounds and some were longer term in nature. But either way, there were always deadlines attached to them. And one of the reasons I freelanced successfully for years was my commitment to meeting those deadlines — it was a source of professional pride to me and earned me a reputation as a reliable, go-to pro.

But here’s what I want to share: Meeting those deadlines was often stressful. I learned that the best way to keep myself from burning out was to give myself time to decompress — to wind down and take it easy in between intense bouts of work. This allowed me to recharge so that I could bring my full cup of mental energy to the next project I had to handle.

I’ve taken the same approach with my creative writing. It’s worked well for me — and I think it can help you manage your energy more effectively as well. Giving yourself time to decompress after an especially intense round of writing can:

Prevent burnout: Sapping your creative energies is never a good idea. When you feel burned out, you lose your momentum, But even more serious, you run the risk of losing your motivation. You lose not just your drive when you feel drained, you also lose the joy and playfulness that are so important to spirited writing.

Re-boot your creativity: When you allow yourself to recover from intense mental activity, you give yourself the chance to renew your creative juices. You also give yourself the opportunity to let wonderful new ideas bubble up and to open new paths to unexpected discoveries that can enrich your work on many levels.

Renew your commitment: To get to the next level, we all need to step out of our comfort zones, to stretch and grow. We all have far deeper mental and physical reserves than we give ourselves credit for. At the same time, if we push ourselves to the point of strain, we make it harder to bounce back. When this happened, our commitment to our writing goals can be strained as well.

Decompressing can be as simple as building small breaks into your day: punctuating intense bouts of work, with quick restorative walks or stretching, for example. Or it can involve giving yourself a day to relax, digest, and integrate major changes you’ve made to a draft so that you can revisit them with a fresh eye and mind. Sometimes just reading a magazine or taking time for a movie works.

How about you? Are there any ways you decompress that work well for you? If so, I’d love to have you share them as we all write on.

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Inner Beat

“Only three things are necessary to make life happy: the blessing of God,
books, and a friend.”
Henri Dominique Lacordaire

One of best features of having a literary family is the totally enjoyable chats you can have about books and such — anytime, anywhere. Just tonight, my son Alex and I were having dinner at a cozy pub. While imbibing a glass of Blue Moon beer nearly as tall as I am, I happened to bring up Kate Chopin’s amazing novel, The Awakening. Alex had read it a while ago, but I’d recently revisited it and was struck by Kate’s bold use of repetition. At one point in her story, she has her character describe herself as “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.” Now that’s writing dangerously! What a tremendous emotional wallop it packed.

This prompted Alex to remark that he’s always instinctively used “threes” in his writing and that he’d read an article about this on line. Before I could take another sip of Blue Moon, he’d sent me a link to the story: “Writing to the Beat” by Perry Garfinkel (The New York Times, 11/22/14).

As a drummer and writer, Perry has been awed by “fascinatin’ rhythms” from a young age. He loved poetry because it reminded him of drum riffs. He enjoyed Shakespeare, and quickly decided that “the Bard had a beat.” Over time, he came to “appreciate the relationship between rhythm and writing.”

“It’s no coincidence,” Perry points out, “that the language of rhythm infiltrates the writer’s vocabulary. We speak of pacing, meter and cadence. We sense when a beat is missing from a line. We notice the flow in a section or the staccato rat-tat-tat in a series of sentences.”

Perry was “riveted” by the rocking rhythm that Hemingway created in The Old Man and the Sea, when he wrote, “And bed he thought. Bed is my friend. Just bed, he thought. Bed will be a great thing. It is easy when you are beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought.”

As Perry analyzed his own writing, he realized that it had a distinctive rhythm: He gravitated toward what drummers called triplets and what some literary analysts call, “The Rule of Threes.” Consider these famous trios: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” “Truth, justice and the American way.”

In much the same way, the repetition of sounds creates rhythmic prose, either through alliteration or by an approach Perry uses: repeating “words that begin with, or contain, the same letter in nearby words to create what I think of as accents in a sentence,” in order to highlight its rhythm. “The Rule of Threes” — I learned this from my Latin teacher, Mr. Kizner, in high school and I’ve used it ever since. I love knowing that Alex does, too. How about you? Write on!

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Rumi Ruminates

Rumi was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic. He’s has called described the “most popular poet” and the “best selling poet” in the United States. His work has been translated in many languages around the world. I came across an inspiring gathering of his quotes about living and writing dangerously, and wanted to share them:

“Forget safety.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
Be notorious.”

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”

“Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.”

“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth.”

“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”

“Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”

“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?”

May some of these words light a fire in your heart as we all write on!

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Something Wonderful

When I read this to my poetry group, everyone loved it. So I wanted to share it with you:


by Mary Oliver

I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It’s like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
full of moonlight.

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

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