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August 2012
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October 2012

How to Build a Writing Community

Nikon_stones_tag1_15105_hDo you feel supported as a writer?  Do you have a writing buddy you can contact after you receive a rejection?  Someone you can talk to (or write to) when the novel just isn't going the way it should? Do you know other writers with whom you can talk shop?

If not, you're missing out.  I spent last weekend at the Writer's Loft orientation in Nashville, and being surrounded by writers for two days reminded me how vital it is to make connections with others who share our passion. 

It can be difficult to talk about your work with a civilian, because non-writers don't understand the ins and outs of plotting and characterization, just to name a couple.  And most civilians certainly don't get why we are willing to spend hours at our desks writing, when there's no guarantee that what we're working on will ever see the light of day.  The antidote? Find a writing community.  If you don't know how to do that, here are some tips.

1. Take a class.  One of the fastest ways to meet like-minded people is to sign up for a class.  When I first started attending church, I wondered how to meet other people there--but once I signed up for a class I immediately made friends.  Look for local classes at community colleges, privately taught, or sign up for one of many available online classes.

2. Sign up for a program.  There are also programs like the one I talked about above, The Writer's Loft, that offer a longer duration than just one semester.  This can be a great way to meet others, too, and perhaps to even....

3. Join a critique group.   A critique group that meets regularly to review and talk about each other's work is a huge boon.  I've been in various groups for years and couldn't write without them.  Not only will your work improve, but you'll find like-minded people with whom to hang.

4.  Join a writing association. Every genre has a national association that offers online benefits and annual conferences.  Romance writers, mystery writers, children's writers--all of them are well represented.  Use the Google to find the right one for you.

5.  Join a local writing group.  Most communities have local writing groups that offer regular meetings with guest speakers.  Some even present conferences.  These can be a great source for friendships and seeking out critique groups.

6. Go to a writing conference.  Not only is this fun and educational, if you're open and friendly, you might strike up a friendship with a fellow attendee.  Plus, many conferences offer the opportunity to meet agents and editors.  A win-win.

7. Read writing blogs and comment.  I've made many online friends through going to other writing blogs and commenting.  You really don't even need to have a blog of your own to do this, though it helps.  Internet friendships can be as supportive as in-person ones when it comes to writing.

8.  Meet other writers through social media. Ditto above.   I know many people think of social media as a scourge, but I've made great friends through Twitter.

9.  Go to readings.  Support authors and local bookstores when they do readings!  And chat up the person sitting next to you--lots of writers attend readings because we're all avid readers.

 Those are just some ways that you might begin to search out a writing community.  What about you?  How do you find writing community?

Photo by Angela Sevin.

On a Writer, Being Alone

I assumed I'd have plans.

I'm in Nashville, and I always have plans.  Like, for every minute.

But it turns out that I didn't.  I texted a couple friends to go grab a glass of wine, but it was Saturday night and I was way too last minute.  Everyone was busy.

And so I faced a loooooong evening alone in my room, which, it needs to be said, is smaller than most prison cells.  And has no television.  And spotty wi-fi.

Normally I love being alone, but normally I have TV for company (for some reason I always leave it on in hotel rooms).  Normally I have the internet.  The night stretched ahead, empty.

I know: why didn't I write?  I am a writer, after all, one known to whine quite often about not having enough time to work on my novel.  But bear in mind that two days of taking in information about writing tends to clog up one's head.  And it was already well and truly congested from a bad cold.

We not only need time for writing, but energy.  Mental energy, and I had none.

I thought perhaps some wine might change that.  It had been a couple days since I'd had a glass and I'd been thinking hard through workshops and presenting one myself.  But I was staying on an alcohol-free campus.  Yes, there are a gazillion restaurants and bars nearby, seeing as how Vanderbilt University is right across the street, but they are usually quite crowded with college students.  Not the kind of places you'd be comfortable sitting in a bar alone.

And besides, I was out of the habit of going out to eat alone.  I'd done it before (and wrote about it here) but it had been awhile.  The thought made me nervous.  Hanging with the college kids made me nervous.  In that moment, everything made me nervous.

But then I had two brilliant ideas:

1.  If I went early, the bar might be quiet

2.  If I faced my fears, I'd feel better on the other side

And so off I trundled.

And found the bar at Bound'ry with all the sliding windows open, the breeze swaying the flower baskets hanging from lamp posts right outside.  And, it was gloriously empty.  Except for me.

You know what facing your fear feels like? It feels like jumping into a pool of clear, blue water.  It feels like sailing from a trapeze.  It feels like driving too fast down the freeway.

And on the other side is deep, soothing relief.

Wine and trout for dinner and back to my room.  Where I did work a little on a piece of flash fiction I'd written at the workshop, and re-read my novel (which I can finally get back to, now that the Emma Jean edits are done).  I also texted with family and friends back home about the score of the Duck game.  (Just try to find a TV playing a Pac-12 game in Nashville.  Try it.  I dare you.)  And I talked to my friend.

It was a glorious night.

Have you faced any fears lately?  Do you face them in your writing?

Book Review: Daring Greatly

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine.

What is vulnerability?

If you are like most people, you probably answered weakness.

But shame researcher Brene Brown argues in her new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, that vulnerability is actually not weakness.  Instead, she says, "It's being all in."  It's showing up and allowing ourselves to be seen. It's daring to share our authentic selves, instead of hiding in shame. This ability to show up and be who we are is daring greatly (the title is taken from a Theodore Roosevelt quote).

Sounds a lot like what we as creatives, do, doesn't it?  Which is exactly why I wanted to review this book.  And Brown does have a section on creativity, which I read avidly.  Brown argues that shame is the opposite of vulnerability and its shame that we feel when our inner critic (she calls it a gremlin) gets activated and says things like, "Dare not! You're not good enough."

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?  We talk about variations on these themes all the time on this blog.  But I like Brown's approach of talking about the shame tapes that get played in our heads as we try to work.  She also reminds us that this shame may not even be the result of what we're currently doing, or the project we're working on: "Sometimes shame is the result of us playing the old recordings that were programmed when we were children, or simply absorbed from the culture."

There's more, so much more to this book, including discussions of narcissism (which is really just the fear of being ordinary), bullying, shame in our culture and how to parent in a daring greatly way.

It's a great read, with lots of thought-provoking ideas.

How about you?  Do you get consumed with shame when you are writing?  (We all do, some of just cope with it better than others.) How do you deal with it?

Journaling: Days of Future Past

I've been writing in my journal regularly again and I love it because I come up with all kinds of brilliance epiphanies.  (You can read my most recent journaling epiphany here.)

Yesterday, the thought occurred to me that there are two kinds of journalers:

--Those who basically dissect the past in their diaries

--Those who prefer to write about the future

I fall squarely into the latter camp. Hmmm.  Let's discuss.

Anais Nin famously said, "We write to live twice, in the moment and in the retrospection." Nin, also famously, was a kick-ass writer who specialized in getting her journals published.  And said journals were full of all kinds of juicy affairs, as well as creative thoughts.  (Or so I've heard, I've only managed to get through part of the first one.)

Brief aside for an interesting thought: if Nin were alive today, would she be a blogger?  I suspect so.

But when I write about what happened to me the day before, I get bored and rush through it.  I feel compelled to note it for some mythical future reader (unless I decide to burn all my journals, which is a real possibility).  I don't really enjoy this living twice thing.  And its not that I'm bored with my life, because I'm not, I love my life, for the most part.

So what gives?

What comes out in my Moleskine, when I allow myself just to let loose, is a volley of ideas, things I want to ponder that perhaps grew out of what happened recently, thoughts on blog posts, articles and books.  That kind of stuff is what populates my journals.  Also recipes, notes from phone calls, lectures, sermons, and conversations, names of websites, phone numbers and so on.

But not a lot about what happened to me the day before.  When I force myself to write in my journal a certain way, that's what comes out.  In the most boring of fashions imaginable.  I'm bored with it, so I feel sorry for my future readers, because if I'm bored think how bored they will be.  (The one exception to this is when I write about specific things in terms of a writing exercise, such as noting details of a person I saw, or relating dialogue.)

I'm not a person who reads books twice, either.  Recently, friends and family members have been so enthralled with the book Shadow of Night that they've either read it or listened to it twice.  The thought of doing that slays me.  There are so many books in the world, I want to go on to the next one.  (Of course I'm still slogging through Shadow of Night, so I've not even finished it once yet.)

All this forces me to one conclusion: I've a shallow, impatient mind.


What about you?  Do you have a deep, thoughtful mind that loves to dissect every aspect of the day before?  What do you journal about (if you dare tell)?

**Don't forget to sign up for the Get Your Novel Written Now class, which starts in October!

Does Your Habitual Thinking About Writing Serve You?

Sitting-outside-park-33150-lThe other night, in the middle of the night, I came to a realization (I guess being wakeful has its uses). The realization was this: every time I think of something I want, my next thought is, but I can't afford it.  It doesn't matter if I'm thinking about buying a luxury automobile or a five cent piece of candy, every thought about something I may buy is inexorably linked to I can't afford it.

Talk about habitual thinking.

Talk about negative habitual thinking.

This thought was so ingrained that it took a drowsy, unguarded moment to shake it loose, and I was actually amazed that I remembered it in the morning.  As I thought about it, I pondered buried habitual thoughts and wondered how many I might harbor about writing.  Quite a few, I'd wager.  Thoughts like:

I'm a writer. But I'm unpublished.

Not too harmful, right?  Except that what we focus on grows.  So how about changing that thought to:

I'm a soon-to-be published writer.

Great, you say,'s not so easy.

Yeah, I hear you.  And I've also been working diligently on changing my habitual thoughts for years.  The morning I woke up with the realization I think I can't afford anything, I wrote down the process I use for changing thoughts and herewith share it with you. 

1.  Be Aware.  This is probably the hardest part--figuring out what those habitual thoughts are. Once you start to pay attention, it gets easier.  The old stalwart brain training rituals like meditation or exercise will help here also.

2.  Feel.  It's not enough to become aware, you've also got to feel it in your body.  You've brought it up from the murky depths, don't let it sink back in.  What part of your body does it lodge in?  How does it make you feel? Concentrate on it and allow it to intensify.

3.  Cut Cords. Imagine fine silky cords running between your original thought (I'm a writer) and your negative thought (But I'm still unpublished). Now lop those cords off.  That's right, go ahead and snip 'em.  If you believe in guides and spirits you can ask one of them to do the cutting. Doesn't matter.  Just get rid of the cords.

4. Think a New Thought.  One unencumbered by negativity.  Like, oh, say, I'm a writer.  Plain and simple.  Because you are!

5.  Rinse and Repeat.  Whenever you're feeling down, look at your thoughts.  And repeat this process as needed.  It really does help. 

In general, changing your thoughts makes a huge difference.  At the very least, it is way more pleasant to think positive thoughts than negative thoughts.  At the very most, it could make an enormous difference in your writing career. (Because, what we focus on is what grows.)

So, tell me--how do you deal with habitual negative writing thoughts?

***And don't forget my Get Your Novel Written Now class, gearing up for a new session in October.  Sign up here.

Image of woman sitting on the bench by Zizzy0104.

Writing Habits

Wine_glass_alcohol_240313_lSo, I'm doing things totally backwards.  (Many will say that's not unexpected from me.)

I've got a big post on habitual writing thoughts coming up on Thursday that I just scheduled.  But I  had thoughts on writing habits that I want to talk about today.  So here goes.  And I'll keep it brief.

Often we think of habits as dull and boring.  Except when it comes to writing.  We actually want to create a writing habit, as in, perhaps, writing every day.  That would be good, wouldn't it?

Recently, I formed a habit.  Two habits, as a matter of fact.  When I was in LA at the beginning of August, I stayed with my friend Suzanne.  Every morning, we'd drink coffee and write morning pages outside in her wonderful back yard (okay, we chatted a bit, too).  And every evening, we'd re-convene in the yard for Happy Hour (red wine and delicious treats that she whipped up).

After a week of this, guess what I did when I got back to Portland?  Went outside to my wonderful back yard every morning to write and every evening for Happy Hour. 

And thus beginneth a habit.

I don't think it took that long to form the habit--probably a couple of days.  I love this habit--I look forward to getting up in the morning to write and ending the day in  the same place with a glass of wine.  (And by the way, the days are getting shorter and cooler fast.  This habit will soon be a thing of the past, which is why I'm enjoying it as much as I can for the moment.)

You probably have figured out why I'm mentioning this. 

Because if it is this easy and quick to form a daily habit of morning pages and wine at opposite ends of the day, it is easy to form a habit such as working on your novel every day.

Just saying.

How do you form habits?  Do you have a good writing habit?

***I'm teaching my Get Your Novel Written Now class again come October.  I've updated the page with testimonials from those who took it in August.  Check it out!

Photo by EmZed.


Why Writing a Novel is a Good Thing--Even if You Never Get it Published

Yeah, so, you want to write a novel.  And you're even thinking of doing Nanowrimo this year. (Nanowrimo = National Novel Writing Month, just in case you don't know, and it's in November.) 

But then the voices begin:                             

The dreaded blank page.

You'll never get published.

Why bother?

It's a waste of time.

You could be doing other things.  Worthy things.

You think you can write?

Who do you think you are to write a novel?

And so on.  I'm sure you know the variations.

But I'm here to tell you otherwise.  To inform you that writing a novel, in and of itself, for no other reason than to do it, is a worthy activity.  It is.  Even if you never get published.  (Which, with all the publishing options we've got these days, you probably will, one way or another.) And here's why:

1.  It's a creative act.  And the world needs as many of these as we can get. Creativity breeds creativity, just as energy breeds energy.  Who knows what spending time writing this novel might lead to?  It might lead to a best-selling novel, or an amazing idea in another area.  And, it doesn't matter if that doesn't happen because the simple act of sitting down to create is important.

2.  Novels change the world, in big ways and in little ways.  Novels deliver stories, which we're hard-wired to accept, and stories change us.  Think of novels with grand, culture-baring themes.  Or remember how you felt the last time you read a small, intimate novel.  It changed you a little, didn't it?  And that's how changing the world happens--one person at a time.

3. Novel writing makes you happy.  At least it makes me happy.  I love it.  And I presume that it will make you happy, too.  Lest you think that happiness is an unworthy goal, remember that none other than the Dalai Lama says that happiness is the point of life.

4.  Writing a novel is an accomplishment.  The first time I finished a novel (it's the one sitting in my office cupboard)I was so amazed at how much oomph it took that I vowed to respect every single book ever written, even the crappiest romance novel.  And I do.  You should too--especially the one you're writing now.

5.  Writing a novel hones your skills.  And remember, getting better at one thing affects the way you do everything.  Improving your novel writing will impact your blog posts.  And your articles.  And your diet.  As the ancients used to say, as above, so below.

6.  Writing a novel helps you understand the world.  To write a novel, you must populate it with characters, and to create characters, you must understand people.  And, guess what?  People are what make our world go around.  Writing a novel helps you understand them.

7. It's your deepest, most heartfelt desire.  Don't let that desire go unanswered.  Go do it already. 

Here's what I recommend: create your own list of reasons to write a novel.  Name it the Novel-Writing Manifesto, or something a bit less grandiose.  Post it next to your computer.  Read it often--especially after something has shaken your confidence.  It'll snap you right back into a novel-writing space.

What are your reasons for writing a novel (or any project)? Do you use them to steer yourself back on course?

And if you feel you need a little help on writing that novel, why not consider a class?  My Get Your Novel Written Now class is starting up again in October (just in time to get you ready for Nanowrimo) and you can read more about it here.  If you'd like to read a review from a recent participant, go here to read Beverly Army Williams' review.  (Thanks, Beverly!) I'd love it if you joined us.

Image from Everystockphoto.

Who Do You Write To?

Everystockphoto_224932_lThis morning I got up, grabbed my coffee, and went outside to write. (The days I'll be able do this are numbered and I'm taking full advantage while I can.)  I began writing about my day yesterday (2 Labor Day picnics = fun) and mentioned a couple people.  Then I explained who these people are.

Which got me pondering:

Who am I writing to when I write in my journal?  I'm obviously not writing to myself because I know these people.  So why take the time to explain to the page who they are?

Because I'm writing to an audience.  Even in my journal, apparently.  Which is not as surprising as it seems when you consider that writing is communication, and communication implies a sender (the writer) and a receiver (the reader).

In the case of my journal, perhaps the audience I'm explaining things to is the page itself.  I certainly don't glump my thoughts onto the page every morning with any expectation of people reading them.  Quite the contrary--I'd be one unhappy camper if anyone did.

All this brilliant obsessive morning writing led me to wondering about other audiences, aka, readers.  Who do I write to when I write? 

Who do I write to when I write my novels?  Years ago, I heard a novelist speak about her ideal reader.  She had envisioned a clear image of the average reader of her books and when she sat at her computer she visualized this reader.  Do you do this?  I have to admit that I don't. But when I think about it, sometimes when I'm writing I do have an audience in mind--my weekly critique group, the first readers of my work.  This is a fairly unconscious thing.  I have to really dig deep to realize when I'm doing this. 

So, good idea or bad to have an audience in mind while writing?

Perhaps the idea of writing to an intended reader could have a bad side if you're constantly thinking about how they will judge you.  When doing first draft writing, you really want to set your inner critic to work doing something else so that you can write.  Just write.  You want to do the work without judging, letting yourself fly wonderfully wild and free on the page.  (Doesn't that sound like fun?  I miss working on my novel.  I set it aside to finish the Emma Jean edits.)

And I can see a good side to keeping your readers in mind if you're beyond the first draft, and engaged in a more editorial type of work--rewriting and revising.  Perhaps you're keeping your ideal reader in mind because you want to make sure she keeps turning the pages.  Or you're keeping your audience front and center so that you don't fall back onto sloppy writing habits. 

And what about non-fiction?  Keeping your ideal readers in mind might allow you to stay on topic and hew to what you know your intended reader is interested in.  When I write blog posts I stick to articles about writing, inspiration, motivation and spirituality.  Those are the things you're used to me writing about. Those are the topics my readers expect to read about.  So that is keeping an ideal reader in mind--because, you know,  those of you who so kindly and loyally read this blog are my wonderful ideal readers!

So I guess this blog post doesn't come to any conclusions and instead asks a lot of questions.  It's a topic I'll ponder further.  Oh God--I almost forgot to include the best quote of all time about who a writer writes for:

"People ask me who I write for, I tell them I write for the rain."  Tom Robbins

A caveat here: I'm quoting this from memory.  I believe Robbins said it in a long-ago profile in Esquire and I've never forgotten it.  (He's a Northwesterner like me.) But the wording of the quote might not be exactly exact.

To continue the questioning, who do you write for?  Do you have an ideal reader in mind when you write?  I'd love to hear either way.

 Photo by cwsillero.