Merry Christmas 2014! I Have a Wee Gift for You

Merry Christmas! Light_candle_hanukkah_264769_l

I hope you are happily opening presents, snacking on cookies, and enjoying the company of family and friends.

I know you are busy today (me, too) and so I'm not going to take much of your time.  But I do have a free gift for you.  It is....ta dum....a book of writing prompts, one for each day of January. Download it now and you'll be set to begin a consistent writing practice when 2015 dawns.

All you have to do is go here to download it. That's it.  You can go now and I'll say, once again, that I hope you are having a wonderful Shutterstock_pencilholiday.  But if you would like to stick around and hear the story of how this book came to be, feel free.  

One of my former students, Amanda Michelle Moon, asked me to put together a book of prompts based on my Tumblr blog for the Noisetrade site and I was delighted to say yes.  (By the way, you can see the interview I did with her when her book came out earlier this year here.)  Noisetrade is a beautiful site, and its a place where you can discover new authors or music by downloading a sample of their work, or a short book, like mine.

My book features a short introduction about ways to use prompts, and then the prompts themselves--31 of them, one for each day of January.  And best of all, it is free, free, free!  So go download it and tell your friends as well.

And have a Merry, Merry Christmas!


This is a post about cookies. Yes, cookies. Christmas cookies, even!

I was tagged by my purple-haired Twitter friend Kristina Martin (we live across the river from each other but have never met in person--one of these days, I hope we will) to participate in a Virtual Cookie Exchange Blog Hop.  

Virtualcookie-exchange-blog-hop-1My first thought was that I don't do this kind of thing.  This is a blog about writing, for Chrissakes.  I thought that very loftily, I might add, especially since its been quite some time since I baked cookies. But then I realized that I have the perfect cookie recipe to share with you.  And that a Virtual Cookie Exchange Blog Hop sounded like fun.  And that one of my goals over the last couple of months has been to branch out some on this blog, with personal posts every Wednesday.

And so I said yes.  To paraphrase something Kristina said on her post about the cookie exchange, the things I do for people.

But, honestly?  You are going to thank me for writing this post.  You are going to bless me for this cookie recipe.  Because it will save your bacon over and over again, as it has for me for years.  It is our family cookie recipe that we've all made since forever.  It is so easy you can always remember the ingredients, and also you will always have them on hand.  You can make it plain and simple, or you can add things to it.  (Don't tell anybody, but its really not a Christmas cookie recipe.  But if you add stuff to it, you can make it work for the holidays.)  And most importantly, this cookie recipe is freaking delicious!  As in, eat-every-cookie-in-the-batch-delicious.  (The dough is to die for also.) 

Also, this cookie recipe is gluten free.  It was gluten free long before GF became a thing.  Truly, I've been making this cookie recipe for 30 years, and who had heard of gluten free back then?  Nobody can believe it when I tell them it has no flour in it.  And on dark days when you desperately need sugar you can actually convince yourself that these cookies are good for you because they have protein in them.  

Okay, enough of the big buildup, here's the recipe:

World's Best Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe

1 egg

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup sugar

That's it.  Those are the only ingredients you need, trust me.  Mix everything together and drop spoonfuls onto cookie sheet, then smoosh them with a fork in that way we do with peanut butter cookies (dip the fork in water if you need to).  Bake at 350 degrees and check them after 10 minutes, though they will likely take longer.

Adaptations:

--My daughter has tried this recipe with Splenda, but it didn't come out so well.  You might have better luck, though.

--Add chocolate chips

--To make them more festive for Christmas, put red or green or both sprinkles on them

--You could also try adding M and Ms or other candies as you like.

But they are also delicious just plain!

And now, part of my deal with this exchange is to tag other people to participate.  These four will post their recipes and posts in one week, on December 23rd.  I choose

Kayla Dawn Thomas, romance writer extraordinaire

Patty Bechtold, amazing counselor and life coach, artist, and insightful blogger

Suzanne Peters, baker of divine gluten free goodies and real foodie

Beverly Army Williams, wonderful novelist, writing teacher and fiber artist

(I have glorious internet friends, don't I?  I encourage you to visit all their sites, even before the 23rd.)

Since are talking cookies, how about chiming in and telling us about your favorite cookie to bake or eat at Christmas?


10+ Christmas Gifts for Writers

Christmas is in two weeks.  Urp.  How did that happen?  So, here's my list of suggested Christmas gifts for the writers in your life.  Or for the person who needs to buy a gift for the writer in their life.  If you're like me, you'll offer your significant other a long tiny list of suggestions. Birthday_wrapped_wrap_269147_l

1. A book!

Is there any better present than a book?  I think not.  I've got several possibilities, from friends near and far.

My suggestions:

Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  My novel, she said modestly.  It's about a woman who loses everything but ends up finding herself.  Most of my stories are about that in one way or another.  

Dollface: A Moses Palmer Crime Thriller.  From my beloved reader J.D. Frost, this thriller will keep you wondering what will happen next, as good thrillers should.  It is also a lovely evocation of the city of Chattanooga. Read J.D.'s guest post from earlier this year here.

Swept Up by Kayla Dawn Thomas.  A wonderful romance.  It kept me company on the plane ride to Paris this year.  I did her cover reveal for the book, which you can see here.

Committed by Patrick Ross.  A unique memoir about creativity.  You can read my review and interview with Patrick here.

The Road Presents Itself, by T. Phillips Holland (also known as Tam).  I've not read this one yet, but it is most definitely on my list!  Read her guest post here.

These Gentle Wounds, by Helene Dunbar.  Another one I've not yet had the pleasure to read, though I did read part of it in  manuscript form a few years ago and loved it.  Read my interview with her here.

2.  Pens (Make great stocking stuffers)

My current favorite is the Tul.  (The u is supposed to have a funny little thing over it, but I don't know how to do that.)

3.  Notebooks, of course

I'm partial to Moleskines.  But I also just bought the Circa system from Levenger for my 2015 bullet journal, and I'm excited to see how it works.

4.  A class on Udemy

One of my favorite novelists, Rachael Herron, has one on how to write a book.  It's aimed toward beginners, but I figure you can always glean something from everything you read/watch.  Speaking of watching, keep an eye out for sales on Udemy--they have them all the time.  Like serious, 75% off sales.  

5.  A different class

This is the time of year when there are tons of them offered.  And some are ongoing. One I've got my eye on is Making a Living With Your Fiction Writing by Dean Wesley Smith.  He is, um, a bit on the bombastic outgoing side, so I'm bracing myself, but it does look worthwhile.  

6.  A goal-setting workshop

In a previous post, I confessed how setting specific goals doesn't work well for me.  So maybe I should learn how to change that?  I'm a big fan of Michael Hyatt, and he has a goal-setting workshop here.

7.  Post-It Notes

I cannot exist without mine.  I use them for everything.  My desk and calendar and to-do lists are covered with them.  So are my notes for my novel rewrite.  Great stocking stuffers.

8.  A workshop in France!

C'mon, you know you want to join me in Collioure this year.

9.  Coaching.

Stalled on your book?  Need a jump-start?  Hit me up!  You will be amazed and thrilled at how working one-on-one with a writing coach can get you going.

10.  A Stand-Up Desk.

I like the looks of this one.  I'm currently in the very long process of moving my office from upstairs to downstairs so I've not bought one yet, but its on my list for early in 2015.  I sit way too much, and I'd like to have the option to set my laptop on a pedestal and stand.

Those are my suggestions.  What are you asking for for Christmas this year?  What are you giving? Please leave a comment.

Photo by Sh0dan.


Thanksgiving: No Whining on the Yacht

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States, a day to eat too much turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, and show our gratitude for, well, everything.  And because of that, I highly doubt that many of you are reading blog posts or newsletters today.  So I'm going to keep things simple today, with a reminder that nearly all of us can appreciate: Tatoosh_paul_allen_794745_h

No Whining on the Yacht.

I get that there are many people suffering all around the planet.  I am deeply, truly sorry for their pain and wish I could wave a magic wand and have it all go away.  However, for most of us--likely you who are reading at this very moment--things are pretty good, at least comparatively speaking.  We are passengers on a yacht and rather than appreciate it, we complain.

Things are good are for me, too.  Yes, I would love to lose a few pounds.  And gain a few dollars. And I wish to God my house were more organized.  But, honestly?  Beyond that I am rich in blessings.  I have great health, a satisfying career, a wonderful family and a passel of amazing friends.  I have a warm house with a fire we light on cold nights, and a big backyard with a deck we enjoy on warm nights.  I have hobbies I enjoy.  Two fat cats and two adorable grandchildren. 

I get to rise every morning and write, which besides the afore-mentioned grandchildren, is my biggest blessing in the world.  I am rich in blessings. I am dripping in them. I am immersed in them.

And sometimes I forget that.  I think we all do.  Instead, I like to bitch and moan about things. Kvetch about the state of the world.  Go on...and on...and on about what's wrong and why it is so unfair to me.  

But more and more these days, I am working to catch myself when I do this.  Because, complaining is really nothing more than a bad habit. And so, on this day designed to remind us to count our blessings, I offer you this: 

A Complaint Free World.

Will Bowen started this project as a little thing his church could take on and it mushroomed into an international movement.   You can order his bracelets (cheap and well worth at $10 for 10) and wear it to remind you not to complain.  Every time you do complain, you switch the bracelet to the other arm.  The goal is to go 21 days without complaining.

A brief aside: one thing I've noticed about my efforts to quit complaining is that I may not always be able to stop myself from complaining, but if I catch myself I can then ask myself why I'm complaining.  And sometimes that reveals a deeper concern that needs to be addressed.  (And sometimes often it just reveals me being bitchy.)

So go forth and quit complaining.  No whining on the yacht, guys!  

I'd be grateful if you left a comment telling me what you are grateful for!

Photo by MC Hart.


12 Ways for Writers to Celebrate Autumn

Marquette_Sugarloaf_beautiful_249786_lYay! It's autumn, my favorite season.  There's something about this time of year that I just love--the crisp days and fall color, the nummy seasonal food (apples and butternut squash, anyone?) and, of course, Halloween.

I always feel a sense of personal renewal at this time of year, stretching on through the dark days of December.  It's because for so many years I returned to school come September, going back to a whole new slate of things to learn.  

And now, with the cooler temperatures here at last, there's no better time for writers.  So, herewith are my suggestions for celebrating autumn.

1.  Sit by a roaring fire and write.  Okay, you don't even have to do the fire part--just write.  Gone are the distractions of summer and it is likely raining or cold outside.  Sit your butt down and write.

2.  Curl up in bed and read a good book.   Pile on the comforters and duvets and pull out your Kindle or your book.  There's no better time than a autumn day to get lost in a book.  And one of the best things about being a writer is that reading is a big part of the job description!

3.  Drink a pumpkin spice latte.  If that doesn't get you going, nothing well.  (Actually, when I was in the Salt Lake City airport on my way home from Paris I got a pumpkin spice latte from Seattle's Best Coffee.  Um, they put pumpkin spice in the whipped cream, people!  It's fantastic!)

4.  Take a long walk and scuff through fallen leaves.  Julia Cameron says that walking is one of the best things for creativity and I agree--it clears your mind and allows new thoughts to enter.

5.  Conquer stress at last.  Stress is the cause of most, if not all of our ailments, including, I would venture to say, writer's block.  So let's slay that dragon this fall, shall we?  My dear friend Sandra Pawula offers a wonderful home study course to do just that.  Click on the Living With Ease button to the right and check it out!

6.  Make leaf placemats.  There's a myth afoot that taking time for creative projects other than writing will just take you away from your WIP.  But the opposite is true--creativity breeds creativity. So here's a fun project (especially good if you have tiny humans around, but they aren't strictly necessary): Collect a variety if colorful leaves and lay them on one sheet of wax paper, cut to the size you want your placemat.  Then place shavings and bits of crayons around the paper.  Cover it with another sheet of wax paper, and using a sheet or something to protect the iron, press together.  Voila! Leaf placemats.

7.  Commit to a new project.  Nanowrimo is coming up in just a couple of weeks.  Who wants to write a novel in November?  You've got just enough time to dream up some characters, plan the plot, create a world, before starting writing on November 1.

8.  Finish a current project.  As I write this, it is Mercury Retrograde, the perfect time to return to unfinished projects.  Most writers I know have a story or two or twelve languishing unfinished on their computers.  Pull them out and polish them off!

9.  Watch a movie.  Watching movies (and TV shows) can help you understand structure and dialogue and scenes.  To me, there is something positively decadent about taking time for a movie on a week-day afternoon.  So I give you permission to do it.

10.  Start a journal.  I'm a big fan of journaling, in all its permutations.  I am off and on with it, going stretches without setting pen to diary, but then suddenly I will feel like I absolutely must write in a journal again.  (This happened to me most recently in France.)  Regular journal entries help you create flow in your writing and are good for noting all the things you want to incorporate in your work.

11. Take a nap.  Dreaming is good for writing--and the soul.

12.  Bake an apple pie.  Or an apple crisp.  Or a pear crisp. Or a crumble.  The apples and pears are so delicious right now and there's nothing more satisfying then assembling a nummy dessert.  Then you can eat a piece while doing #1, #2, or #3.

Well, I could go on, but you'd likely get tired of me raving about all things autumn.  (I didn't even get to Halloween, my second favorite holiday!)  So I will just turn the floor over to you--what are your favorite autumn activities?  Please comment!


Keep Calm and Carry On With Your Writing

Xmas_christmas_christmas_227801_lRaise your hand if, with 13 days to Christmas you are overwhelmed.  Raise both hands if, with all the extra to-dos on your list, your writing is suffering.

I thought so.  Me, too.  There is shopping to finish, presents to wrap, decorating the house, writing Christmas cards, and on and on.  And even if you don't celebrate Christmas I'd wager that you still get caught up in the hoopla.  It's pretty impossible to escape.

But this is probably one of the most important times to write.  For one thing, this time of year, with its early dark, is always an incredibly creative time for me, with numerous ideas popping up.  It would be a shame to waste it.  And for another, if you give up on your writing now, all could be lost until the new year.  I speak from experience--this has happened to me.

So here's my advice: keep calm and carry on with your writing.

The whole "keep calm" thing has become a cliche, but it has a great origin.  Rumor has it that this is what the queen mother said during the blitz of London, when bombs were dropping all over the city every night.  Every freakin' night.  Go take a look at this map of how many bombs were dropped on the city from July 1940 and June 1941.  

And now tell me: does the stress of this holiday season equal the stress (not to mention utter terror) that Londoners felt during this time?

I didn't think so.

But how, exactly, to keep calm and keep writing?

For starters, remember that the calm part is like happiness--a choice.  You can choose to get all stressed out and dramatic about your life or you can do what writers have done forever--put all that drama on the page.   And remember, too, that throwing words on paper can be an incredible antidote to stress!  Write out your anger and frustration.  You'll feel better when you're done, I guarantee it.

It might also help to take the time to meditate, or walk, or do yoga or Qi Gong--whatever it is that calms and centers you.  It is very easy to not take the time for these activities when you're in the midst of an especially busy time.  (I'm writing to myself at the moment, I'll confess.  I had a great meditation routine going but its been a week a few days since I've done it.)

Creating calm is often a matter of making time for it.

Ah, but you say, how can I take time for creating calm when I barely have time to write?  The point is, you'll be better able to focus and get your writing done if you've spent a few minutes sitting quietly or taking a walk around the block.

And now, about that writing....um, yeah.  Do me a favor and keep in mind one thing: you don't have to write 5,000 words a day to make progress.  Perhaps it is time to lower your expectations for yourself.  Instead of 5,000 words a day, aim for 500. When you're in the thick of it, maybe 500 is even too much.  Go for having the time to look over your work and maybe make a note or two.

The point is, be easy on yourself.   Put it all in perspective.  Remind yourself that this too, shall pass.  And if things get really overwhelming, go look at that bomb map again.

How do you cope during the holidays? I'd love to hear.  Please leave a comment!

 


Are You Grumpy about Gratitude?

It is hard to talk about gratitude without sounding trite.

I mean, who hasn't heard Oprah talk about how important gratitude is, and how using it changed her life?  And with Thanksgiving (in the US) bearing down on us, chatter about gratitude is all over the place.

It's easy to get grumpy about gratitude.

It's also easy to get glib about it.  

And when you get grumpy and glib about something, odds are good you will no longer partake of it.  Which is a shame, because gratitude really does rock.

Here are some reasons why I think we tend to not rock gratitude and their antidote as well:

It can feel superficial, like you're just making crap up.  Which of course, you are (because we make up all our stories, the ones we write and the ones we tell ourselves about ourselves).  But who wants to waste their time on trivialities?

The antidote:  Keep going with the gratitude until you get to the deeper stuff--or you realize that you really are grateful for those little things (like hot water, I am grateful for hot water every morning, truly grateful).

It can feel like the booby prize, like you're just saying stuff because you're supposed to, when really your life totally sucks and you don't have anything to be grateful for.

The antidote: Do it anyway, because you really do have something to be grateful for--you're breathing aren't you?  Start wherever you can and keep going.  The thing is, we get what we concentrate on.  So if you're concentrating on lack, that's what you'll get more of.  

It can feel like it's not worth it.  Ah, humans.  So often we only do something when we think we're going to get something out of it.  We've been told that a practice of gratitude will enhance our lives, so we do it once and then when nothing happens, we stop.

The antidote: Do it for no reason.  Do it because you really are grateful.  Do it just because.  And then, when you're not looking and not expecting it, watch how good it makes you feel.  And, when you need help practicing gratitude, try this:

The And Avalanche

I was at a women's retreat this past weekend and the leader, Karen Drucker, told the story of her friend who likes to participate in an And Avalanche.  It goes like this:  you find something to appreciate, and then something else.  And then something else.  And so on.  So, you find yourself in line at the post office.  It's a long line, and moving slowly.  But you tell yourself how much you appreciate the color the walls are painted. And how pretty the jacket on the woman in front of you is.  And....and...and...until you have totally lifted your mood.  Pretty nifty, huh?

So here's something that will make you feel good all over--a video of the above-mentioned Karen Drucker singing "I'm So Grateful."  My favorite part is a few minutes in, where she sings "Gratitude Before Me" complete with hand motions.  Start your day with that every morning and see how you feel! 

How do you incorporate gratitude into your life?


How to Go Places That Scare You In Your Writing

Webcomics_webcomic_scary_449578_lThe Halloween spirit is in full swing at my house and all around the city.  I love decorating for Halloween, though I don't go nearly as all out as some of the places I see which feature scarecrows and witches and ghouls rising from tombstones.  Love it all!

Halloween is supposed to be frightening, with many people (not me) watching scary movies and wandering through graveyards or impenetrable corn mazes.  But I've been thinking about scaring yourself in a different way--through your writing.

Specifically, going to the places that scare you in your writing.

This may be writing about something bad that happened to you in your past, or writing a fight scene when you have an aversion to conflict. Maybe sunshine, lollipops and rainbows scare you (okay, I couldn't resist--see below for the video of that song.) 

Whatever it is that scares you, it is important to go there.  Why?  For a number of reasons.  Because once you get it out on the page, it won't scare you anymore.  Because there's fabulous gold to be mined in the scary places (stories are nothing without conflict).  Because if you're not going there, you're probably not putting your true self on the page.

But how do you go there, when it's too scary?  Below, find some of my best tips for doing so.

1.  Cultivate uncertainty.  We all assume that we know with certainty what's going to happen tomorrow.  We'll get up, go to work, come home, have dinner.  But we don't really know that for sure. You might wake up sick and not go to work.  Or get out to the car and it doesn't start so you decide to take the day off.  Instead of clamping down on this (i.e., feeling you must exert control), learn to live in the knowledge that nothing is certain.

2. Make Friends With Discomfort.  When I flew to Paris by myself this summer, I was nervous. When last I was in France, the people were, um, there's no tactful way to say it...they were rude.  I don't speak the language, either (well, haltingly).  Finally, I realized I was afraid of my own discomfort.  I'm not rich, but I live a pretty cushy life compared to most of the world, and I reckon that most of you reading this can say the same thing.  We don't have to experience discomfort very often, and thus we protect ourselves from it.  So, instead of running from it, go towards it, especially in your writing.  (And by the way, I found the French people absolutely lovely this time around.)

3.  Free Write Lavishly.  Getting into that space where you are not really thinking but your hand is moving across the page is the best way to get into the scary places.  Once more with feeling, the way you free write is set a timer, begin with a prompt, and then have it--let your hand move across the page without stopping.  Did you get that last part?  Without stopping, even if you are writing one word over and over again.  It's this constant movement of the hand that accesses the deep parts of the unsconsious.  Oh, and don't worry about sticking to the subject of the prompt.  It is just there to get you started.

4.  Keep it Private.  Remember that just because you are writing the scary stuff down, it doesn't mean you have to share it with anyone.  Nobody has to read your journal entry, your halting attempts to write that scary scene, the episode of your memoir.  You might eventually get it polished enough and feel brave enough to share it, but that's in the future.  Right now, it's just you and the pen and the paper and neither one of them is going to talk.

5.  Trust the Process.  As a wise soul (maybe Emerson, but don't quote me on that) once said, "The only way out is through."  Yeah, it's true.  You've got to walk through the fire to get to the other side, and if you go around it, you don't get the same benefits.  You get to stay stuck and so does your writing.  And we don't want that, do we?  You will survive writing about the scary things.  Nobody has ever died from writing in private in their own little room.

So there you have it--my recommendations for getting to the scary places.  And here's that video (you can thank me when you wake up singing this song tomorrow):

How do you get yourself to write about the scary places?

 

Photo by I'm Fantastic, used under Creative Commons 2.5.


Happy New Year and Welcome 2013

Firework_fireworks_night_229277_lI'm probably about the last one to say it to you, but Happy New Year. 

Here's what I'm hoping for this year (in no particular order):

--snow

--a successful book release

--health, happiness, safety and success for my loved ones

--that I continue to enjoy a deep journaling practice every morning

--that I make good on my commitment to write at least one hour a day

--that I get to spend lots of happy times with family and friends

--success and happiness for my wonderful clients and students

--shaking lose a few pounds

--expanding outlets for my writing

--continued spiritual studies

--success and happiness for my wonderful blog readers

--a literary agent

--that all of us remember to replace fear with love

That's my list.  I'll probably add more as the year goes on.  What's on your list? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

PS--If you're in the mood for some more fun reading on this lazy New Year's Day, check out my friend Doni's post here.

Image by brokenarts.