Thursday, April 03, 2014

Business and Art

"Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art." - Andy Warhol

We don't talk much about the economics of writing. It's definitely not my forte. Still, folks have questions. Fortunately, some artists do talk dollars and sense or how to make sense of the dollars that come.

One such person is Elaine Grogan Luttrull. Luttrull addresses the business of writing in her book, Arts & Numbers: A Financial Guide for Artists, Writers, Performers, and Other Members of the Creative Class. Luttrull states, "I hope Arts & Numbers does this (subtly) in sharing relevant financial information with creative entrepreneurs in a technically-accurate and accessible way."

Luttrull was interviewed by Doug Dangler, the host of the Wednesday evening show Craft on WCBE (90.5) about the business of writing. The interview will air on May 21st at 8:00 p.m., and Doug has two copies of her book to give away as part of the show.

The interview came about because Chang-rae Lee mentioned casually in an interview with Doug that he never discusses the economics of writing with his students because, "they know what they are getting into." She believes there is a better, more proactive, slightly more empowering approach to the subject.

You can listen to the interview with Chang-rae Lee here (and read their exchange in the comments!). More about Craft: The Show is on its website as well.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Freedom

"Writing a book is 10% inspiration and 90% not being distracted by the internet.” George Dyson

Facebook. Twitter. Buzzfeed. Instragram. Pinterest. Goodreads. And so many more. I mean just the internet in general. These potential distractions all make it easier than ever to avoid writing. We get sucked into this world of cuddly puppy photos, recipes, and political rants not to mention cat videos and e-postcards created by friends and relatives. What's a writer to do?

Lately I've been using Freedom, an inexpensive program, to minimize distractions (aka the internet). You tell the program how long you want "freedom" from the internet and it blocks you for that amount of time. To regain access before the time has expired you have to restart your computer. You can use the trial version five times before you must switch to a paid version. There's also Anti-social which only blocks social media. That way, you can do research, but not check Twitter. Freedom and Anti-social are not magic bullets.

I still find myself trying to click to Facebook before I realize what I'm doing. But once I remember my "freedom," I get back to work. Maybe these will work for you!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Poor Grammar? No Problem!


“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” ― Dorothy Parker, The Collected Dorothy Parker

Last month I received yet another note from a reader who dreams of writing a book. Like many others, he fears his poor grammar will prevent him from succeeding. His note to me read:

I've wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember. I'm a voracious reader and I love to write. But I've struggled with grammar and punctuation since grade school. Do you have any suggestions on how to master grammar now that I'm an adult?
Many of my readers have similar qualms. Here was my reply:

If you want to write a book, just write a book. Don't let any of your fears get in the way. In WILD MIND, Natalie Goldberg suggests, "Don't worry about grammar, punctuation, or even the lines on the page." She's talking about first drafts, but she's serious. Later, after many drafts of the work are finished, hire a copyeditor to polish it for you.
As far as learning grammar and punctuation, there are many great books including EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES by Lynne Truss. I also follow a blog called Grammar Girl that may help. I subscribe and follow her on Facebook. I attempt to master each tip she posts. I discover my errors by reading about them and finding the solution.
Here's a list of 10 good grammar sites including Grammar Girl. Purdue Online Writing Lab and Grammarly are both very good as well. Enjoy and have fun!
Do you have any great sources for finding grammar information? I'd love to hear about them.

Monday, December 30, 2013

On To The Next


"Paralyze resistance with persistence." - Woody Hayes

Yesterday, The Ohio State University Buckeye football team landed in Miami. On Friday they face the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl. Earlier in the season, they took a harsh defeat at the hands of Michigan State. I'm sure they were saddened, stunned even, by their loss to the Spartans, but they were not defeated in the larger sense of the word. Instead of stopping in their tracks, they kept moving in preparation for the next contest. They lived to play another day.

I'm going to use the Buckeye attitude as my writing strategy. I've had my share of defeats. It's been a while since I've put myself on the agent firing line or ventured into the editorial slush pile, but I like this thought of moving on and heading into the next adventure without feeling like a loser. Our Buckeyes just keep moving. So will I.

Is it really a defeat if you're still standing when it's over? Doesn't it just mean the time wasn't right? Perhaps it wasn't the right book or the book wasn't done or I wasn't ready for what came next. On we go. On to the next. In the interim, the writing itself is the reward.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Long While


"Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short." - Henry David Thoreau

Last month during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I edited out 50,000 words from a 193,000 word manuscript. It wasn't easy. Partly because I am a writer and partly because of mental heath issues, I fall in love with my words. They seem hard won. Perhaps I just like to hear myself talk. But this document grew beyond anything I had intended or from my worst nightmares. I worked on it for a year and wound up with a monster.

I used the structure of NaNoWriMo to ease the editing process. I gave myself a goal of removing 1925 words each day since we were traveling at the end of the month and I would get no work done while we were gone. I started at the beginning of the book and read chapter by chapter asking myself difficult questions.

Does this scene belong? Does it move the story forward? Does it belong here? Could it be said in a better way? What is the point I am trying to make? Why should the reader care? Can I make it more interesting? Can I cut the scene altogether?

I was as honest with myself as I could be. Some days I removed only a few hundred words, but most days it was closer to several thousand. I found whole sections I could easily delete. I had repeated myself, drifted off-topic, or not made sense. These had to go. I found other places where the work held its own and those sections I kept. I wound up with a book of 140,000 words and a story that made sense to me.

There is more work ahead. Ideally I will remove another 50,000 words. I have stepped away from the book for now to let it breathe. The next edit will require even more self-honesty and brutal cuts. Some of my favorite parts will have to go. That is the work of writing. The first draft I wrote for me. These later drafts, and there will be many, are for the reader.

I'm reminded of the motto, "To thine own self be true." This doesn't mean I get to spoil myself or be sloppy. It means I must be honest with myself. Tell myself the truth. In editing, this is the only way.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Reverse NaNoWriMo


"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." - Mark Twain

National Novel Writing Month has officially begun. During the 30 days of November, folks all over the world will attempt to write 50,000 words of fiction. This year I'm a NaNo Rebel since I'm not writing a new novel. Instead, I'm doing "Reverse NaNoWriMo" by attempting to remove 50,000 words from a 193,000 word manuscript.

I enjoy the NaNoWriMo structure and have used it for the past nine years to create or revise. The local NaNoColumbus group, libraries, and the Thurber House host write-ins where others are also working on their books. The NaNoWriMo website offers forums where I go to ask questions, offer tips, or socialize between writing sessions. The website also features a list of published authors who have used the NaNoWriMo structure to do their work. There's even a special forum for the "NaNo Rebels."

Since this is my first re-write of this particular manuscript, I'll be doing a "big picture" edit in which I'm trying to create the shape I want for the book. During October, I reviewed each scene and determined which ones needed the most overhauling. Now that NaNo has begun, I'll work through those scenes to distill them to the essence of what the book is about. Sometimes this is as simple as removing words and rearranging sections. More often, however, it requires an entire rewrite of a scene, a chapter, or the entire book. It will be good to have the support of my fellow "Wrimos" (that's what we call folks attempting NaNoWriMo) in this endeavor.

Where are you in your writing process? Is it a time of creation for you or, like me, are you in the throes of revision? I'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

It's Too Big!

“That’s the magic of revisions – every cut is necessary, and every cut hurts, but something new always grows.” ― Kelly Barnhill

Last year during National Novel Writing Month I wrote 52,000 words about running my first marathon. During the subsequent ten months, I added another 141,000 words to the book. So now I've got a behemoth of 193,000 words and I've been ruminating about what to do with it.

Last Tuesday on my usual trip to the library, I spotted Roy Peter Clark's book, Help! For Writers on an end cap. I scanned the index and noticed a chapter titled, "My work is way too long." Bingo! Since the average memoir ranges from 60,000 to 70,000 words, my task will be to lop off about two-thirds of the thing. But which two-thirds?

Clark makes suggestions I can follow. He recommends not compressing sentences or paragraphs until after considering other cuts. This means I'll need to look at the big picture of the story before doing the knit-picking edits I prefer.

He suggests cutting any elements that don't advance the focus of the story. Following this suggestion will require me to know the focus of the story. That led me to another chapter, "I don't know what my story is really about." Sounds like I need to read that as well.

Clark also says to begin the story as close to the end of the narrative as possible. Maybe the day I jogged for one minute for the very first time wasn't the place to begin the book. Um. Alright. I've got some work to do! But his suggestions give me a place to start and that's always a good thing.

Where do you find help with revision? Do you have a favorite book or method that works for you? I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Right Here, Right Now.


"Run the mile you're in." - Ryan Hall

I am forever trying to run the last mile. Sometimes that motivates me. I think about what it will feel like to cross the finish line. I think about how good it will feel to run the final 100 yards. But usually it just depresses me.

It's better for me to keep my mind in the present and focus on my current surroundings. "Stay here!" I tell myself. Just run this mile. I look around and see the trees. If we're on the Olentangy Trail I look at the river or Antrim Lake. In my neighborhood I notice the color of a roof or the shape of a window. I see when a neighbor has planted a new tree or flowers. I notice whether a car is parked in the usual spot. I do my best to stay in my senses and see what's actually around me.

I try this practice in writing as well. Still, I often catch myself thinking ahead to the end of the book and imagine myself typing the last few words. Or sometimes I think way beyond that and image holding the finished book in my hands. I used to imagine handing it to my mother or father. There are times when this is helpful. Sometimes it is motivating to imagine the final product or think about getting an agent or an editor and even a royalty check.

However, I do better by sticking with the scene I'm writing. Where am I in the book? I stay there. I write that next line, the next word. Frankly, all the rest is daydreaming. I'm not there yet. I'm not meeting with the agent or feeling the spine of the book. I'm in the scene and I need to give it my full attention. This is the way the work gets done.

Do you daydream about finishing your book? Do you find it helpful? I'd love to hear about your process.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Courage to Write


"Courage is only an accumulation of small steps." - George Konrad

Writing is also an accumulation of small steps. It starts with a pen, an open laptop, a keyboard, or a hammer and chisel against a piece of stone. It begins with the simple act of moving the hand in a particular fashion, fingers gripping or tapping, following the racing mind. To work on my book, I must first open the file. To open the file, I must sit or stand before the computer. To sit or stand before the computer, I must move across the house to my desk.

Unfortunately, moving across the house to my desk is often a herculean task. I balk and stew and do a myriad other things before simply heading in the general direction of my work. Resistance is so huge, I feel it thrum in my brain.

This is when I ask for courage. I ask some part of my brain, the adult part, the part that actually wants to do the work, to activate. Or maybe it's the little girl part, the part that really enjoys the work once I get started. It's okay that I don't know how this works. What's important is that I have experienced it work in the past. What's important is that I recognize that I will not get anything done unless I ask. Asking creates willingness and willingness generates action. With willingness, I take a small step toward the desk. With one small step across the room, before I know it, I am in front of the computer.

The next key is to simply open the file without resorting to internet surfing. The peril of the web looms large. I avoid it by asking for more courage. Again I channel that part of me that wants to do the work. She's hiding in there somewhere. I ask until I find the mouse on the filename and the screen open to my document, the book, my baby. There she is.

The final step is simply moving the cursor to the place in the book that needs the work. Often the exact location where I begin is not important. What matters is that I begin somewhere. My mind will make order out of chaos if I just let myself begin. I'd love to hear how you find the courage to write.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Wild: An Adventure in Transitions

 
"Life is one big transition." - Willie Stargell

As a writer, when I read and listen to books on CD, I do so from a different vantage point than someone who does not write. Part of me reads for the story, but another part, the writer part, searches for technique. "How did the author do that?" I ask as the narrative moves forward.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, the book I'm currently listening to on CD, tells of author Cheryl Strayed's adventure hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as a way to get over her mother's death and her recent divorce. As the story unfolds, I'm struck by the ease with which she weaves different time periods together. Transitions always interest me. They are not easy even though authors like Strayed make them look deceptively so. "How does Strayed do this?" I ask as I listen. I've observed her success at using the following two methods.

The first technique involves the way she moves into flashback. When Strayed wants to move the reader back in time, she uses, from the past she is about to reveal, something that resonates with the present time of the book. For example, early in the book Strayed checked into a hotel near the Mohave desert to spend the night before setting out on her hike. She unpacked some of her newly purchased backpacking equipment:

I reached into one of the plastic bags and pulled out an orange whistle, whose packaging proclaimed it to be "the world's loudest." I ripped it open and held the whistle up by its yellow lanyard, then put it around my neck, as if I were a coach. . . .

Would I need it? I wondered meekly, bleakly, flopping down on the bed. It was well past dinnertime, but I was too anxious to feel hungry, my aloneness an uncomfortable thunk that filled my gut.

"You finally got what you wanted," Paul (her now ex-husband) had said when we bade each other goodbye in Minneapolis ten days before.

"What's that?" I'd asked.

"To be alone," he replied, and smiled, though I could only nod uncertainly.

It had been what I wanted, but alone wasn't quite it.

With this transition, Strayed begins to detail the unraveling of her marriage. Her feeling of aloneness in the motel and her ex-husband's use of the word "alone" make the connection between the two periods of time.

Strayed uses a second technique to bring the reader out of a flashback and onto the trail with her again. She does this by grounding the transition in detail in order to bring her readers back into the story. Strayed handles this beautifully in the prologue. There she explains how she accidentally knocked one of her heavy, expensive hiking boots over a cliff while standing on a crest on the trail. Then, in a sort of summary, she turns back in time to explain how she came to be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the first place, taking the reader to events that happened years before. When she's done with this summary and ready to bring her reader back to her lost boot on the trail, she uses sensory detail to plant the reader back in the present moment:

I looked down at the trees below me, the tall tops of them waving gently in the hot breeze. They could keep my boots, I thought, gazing across the great green expanse. I'd chosen to rest in this place because of the view.

In that instant the reader is back behind Strayed's eyes seeing the Pacific Crest Trail as she does in the moments after she lost her boot. She has moved eloquently through time.

These are only two of the many techniques available to move through time. Strayed uses these and others well. I hope to emulate them in my work.

How have you learned to read like a writer? I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, June 03, 2013

No Future Reward


"There are no standards and no possible victories except the joy you are living while dancing your run. You are not running for some future reward - the real reward is now!" - Fred Rohe, The Zen of Running

When I run, and especially when I race, I'm able to stay in the moment. I just finished the San Diego Rock n' Roll Half Marathon. A line of women all dressed like Marilyn Monroe left me laughing for a good mile. The funky houses and friendly neighbors in University Heights kept me alert and awake for several more miles. The sight of runners dressed like Elvis, wearing tutus, or dolled up in other costumes helped me keep my head right where my feet were for more miles after that.

When there were no interesting distractions, I made the physical sensation of running my companion. I observed the rhythmic movement of arms and legs. I felt my heart beating. I focused on my breath as it flowed in and out. All of these things kept me rapt for 13.1 miles over several hours. There was no future and no past. There was only now.

I know that there are standards and victories in writing, but still I wish I could adopt the attitude of having no future reward every time I face the page. So often my mind turns to the future. I wonder if what I'm writing will interest anyone else or if I'm simply writing for my own purposes. I wonder if it's marketable. I wonder if it's boring. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder.

All this wondering is simply my inner critic taking me for a ride. It is not helpful to me or the writing and it is not kind. Rather, it is painful. The inner critic thinks it is being helpful by preventing me from making mistakes. The problem is, when the critic is so strong, merely facing the page becomes a huge challenge. Finishing anything turns into a monumental task.

The key, I believe, is to be fully present to the writing as I'm doing it. Not only do I lose myself in the work, but I take pleasure in the physical sensations whether it is my fingers on a pen or on a keyboard. I alternate between a sitting desk and one for standing which helps keep me alert and reduces pain. And when the words take over, I lose myself for long periods of time in the consciousness of the page.

In my experience, publication alone doesn't bring the huge rewards one might think. The huge rush of seeing my first magazine article on the cover of Dog World Magazine lasted only a few days. It was a momentary high I'm glad I experienced, but neither it nor my other publication credits could carry me for the long run.

Rather, the writing itself delivers the pleasure. If not, I wouldn't write at all. And this brings me back to the moment. I must continue to find ways to enjoy writing in the moment. Even a bad day writing, a day when I put in the proverbial comma in the morning only to take it out in the afternoon, is better than a day not writing at all.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Carpe Diem! Carpe Viam! Carpe Scribendi!


"No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world." - John Keating (actor Robin Williams) in the movie THE DEAD POETS SOCIETY

On Thursday, April 11, 2013, I thought Ed was dead. That's exactly what I screamed as I ran out our front door to my neighbor's. "He's dead! My husband is dead!" I was trying to dial 911, but couldn't find the dial pad on my "smart" phone. I could pull up Facebook, Twitter, and the recently dialed numbers, but not the squad.

As I scrambled to the house next door, Ed sat in our bathroom unconscious. He'd become severely dehydrated from either food poisoning or the norovirus. He had fainted in my arms, fallen, hit his head hard enough to dent the bathroom door, and remained unconscious for the excruciating minutes it took me to get help to work my phone. He regained consciousness as the EMTs pulled into our drive. They wheeled him off to The Ohio State University emergency room for intravenous fluids and Zofran, the magic anti-nausea drug. He recovered fabulously just in time to take care of me when I fell ill the next day. Thanks to more anti-nausea drugs and his tender loving care, I recovered over the weekend without incident.

The following Monday, April 15, 2013, Hubby and I had watched a live feed of the elite runners finish the Boston Marathon from our respective computers in our central Ohio home. When the live streaming ended, we packed our car for an overnight to Athens, eighty miles south. An hour after we left, as Ed and I blithely drove along somewhere between Logan and Nelsonville, the two bombs were detonated killing three people and injuring at least 260.

We heard the tragic news when we reached our hotel and immediately turned on the television. We could only tolerate watching for a while. The images and commentary overwhelmed us. Once we realized the newscasters on all channels were recirculating the images and information and that nothing new was being revealed, we headed for dinner with little of our only recently-regained appetites.

I spent several days after these events following Ed around. I took his temperature and his blood pressure and asked if he was feeling alright. He was patient, but eventually he asked me if I didn't have something better to do!

I'm in several running groups. One is a primarily on-line group named The Dead Runners Society after the 1989 movie The Dead Poets Society. In the movie, The Dead Poets Society adopts as its motto the aphorism, Carpe Diem which can be loosely translated as, "Seize the day!" To suit their purpose, the Dead Runners Society amended this to "Carpe Viam!" which (also loosely translated) stands for "Seize the Way (or Seize the Roadway)."

Recent events made seizing things seem like a great idea. Carpe Diem! Carpe Viam! Why not Carpe Scribendi? That was it! I'd seize the pen!

So those are my mottos and that's what I've done in the days since. Each day I wake and feel grateful for another 24-hours with Ed. Carpe Diem! Another of my running groups held a fun run fundraiser for the bombing victims. I participated in that. Carpe Viam! And I continue to work on the book about running. I'm nearly done with a first draft. Carpe Scribendi!

What about you? What's going on with your writing? What will it take for you to Carpe Scribendi? I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Sit, Walk, Write


"I beg to urge you everyone:
Life and Death are a Great Matter
Awaken, awaken, awaken
Time passes quickly
Do not waste this precious life."
                     - Zen Evening Chant

Best-selling author Natalie Goldberg, in her recent book, THE TRUE SECRET OF WRITING, released March 19, 2013, provides a glimpse of the writing and meditation workshops she has conducted since the early 2000s. I have attended or assisted Nat at many of these and can attest to their effectiveness at bringing the mind to a stillness I have found nowhere else except in running.

In an interview with Melissa Studdard and in the forward to the new book, Nat explains the tongue-in-cheek title. Nat's workshops often ended at noon on Friday. It is a three-hour drive from Taos to the nearest major airport. Invariably, in the final days of the workshop, a student would approach Nat to explain that she had booked a flight Friday afternoon and so would have to miss the Friday morning class. Nat would smile and say, in all seriousness, "I'm so sorry. That is when I am going to tell the true secret of writing. I guess you'll miss it."

In the book, as in her conversation with this student, she makes an important point. Show up! If you want to run, show up for the workout. If you want to write, show up to the page. If you want to learn, show up to the class. Especially in writing, there are no shortcuts. There are skills to be learned, hours to be spent in practice, and mistakes to be made. There is no easier, softer way.

It's been a pleasure to get these new reminders. I've studied with many others and have learned from all of them. Still, the lessons from Natalie through the years have kept me going when I've forgotten all the rest.

For information about Nat's workshops, visit her website. Her workshop schedule is limited in 2013 due to her book tour.

Natalie admits there is actually no "true secret of writing." But if you could say there was one, what would it be?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Art of Fielding

It's been a long time since a novel captivated me as much as The Art of Fielding. I know very little about baseball and thought I cared even less. Harbach made me love each character, one by one, and crafted a great story about them. The characters (college baseball players, the school president, and his daughter) were compelling, the setting (a small, private college on the shore of Lake Michigan) stark and interesting, and the story simple (primarily about relationships and the forces that drive people), but elegant. The story begins with gifted short stop Henry Skrimshander and his error-free streak. When Henry's record-tying streak is broken by an errant throw, the book shows how it impacts the other characters' lives. The book is beautifully written and contains tons of literary references especially to Melville, the college President's favorite author, after which the baseball team, the Harpooners, is named. I had been listening to it in the car on CD, but about 2/3 of the way through, I couldn't wait any longer to learn what happened to Guert Affenlight, Owen Dunne, Henry Skrimshander, Mike Schwartz, Pella Affenlight and the others. I got the hardback from the library and finished it in one sitting. P.S. After I finished the hardback, I continued listening to the audiobook in my car. I just wasn't ready to let go of the characters.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions


“You can fix anything but a blank page.” - Nora Roberts

Each month I receive questions. Below is a summary of frequently asked questions and where to find the answers.

The most frequent question I get is whether I will read manuscripts. I have done this in the past, but currently am focusing on my own writing and not taking individual clients. However, other people are. If you click the "Newsletter" tab on my website then the link on the right-hand side of the page you'll find "Individual Assistance." This page lists editors, coaches, writers, teachers and other people who are in the business of helping writers get the job done. It is not a complete list. I do not necessarily endorse these people or know how well they work. I only know that they have contacted me and they are available.

The second most frequent question I get is whether I know of any writing groups. As a matter of fact, I do. If you're looking for a group, surf over to the Ongoing Writing Groups page. Some writing groups focus on a particular genre. Others are open to anything. Perhaps you'll find one that suits your needs. If you're already in a writing group that is open to new members and you don't see it listed on my website, please let me know and I'll include it. Similarly, if you start a group and you'd like to attract members, I'll be glad to post that as well. You'll find this list of groups under the Newsletter tab and then by clicking the link on the right.

Also under the Newsletter tab you'll find the current essay, the current list of writing events, a list of promotions for individuals and organizations with which I am familiar (these are endorsements, not advertisements), a page of "fine print" which lists specifics about the newsletter such as deadlines and subscription information, a link for signing up for the newsletter, and submission information. There is also a link to an archive of past newsletter articles.

In the shameless self-promotion category (in separate tabs along the top) you'll find a list of my classes, quotes from people who recommend me (aka kudos), and my biography.

Under the tab "Websites," I've listed many different links to my favorite stuff including writing courses, meditation, coffeehouses, and other things I just want you to know.

Finally, yes, Write Now Newsletter and Bum Glue do accept donations. If you find either the newsletter or blog helpful, this is a great way to show it. In addition to our time, we have internet, web design, and mass email fees every month. Under the Newsletter tab, at the bottom of each page, is a link which allows people to donate.

Is there something else you would like to see on my website? I'd love to hear your suggestions.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Wolf in the Parlor


"Just exactly what is a wolf doing in my parlor?" Science journalist Jon Franklin spends nine interesting CDs (I listened to the audiobook) answering this question in the frame of evolution.

I would have given The Wolf in the Parlor five stars on goodreads.com (I gave it 4), but IMHO, the book didn't get personal soon enough. Instead of chronicling the history of his employment and laying out his credentials as a science journalist, he would have captivated the reader and hooked us for the ride much earlier if he had begun the story with the scene in which he proposed to his girlfriend and she responded, "Does this mean we can get a puppy?" As the book stands, I listened to an entire CD asking all the while, "What does this have to do with dogs?" and "Where are the dogs?" The photo of the old man and the puppy, a snapshot of an archeological dig, is an interesting hook, but I wanted something more personal.

I'm glad I stuck it out. The book delivers both scientific information and memoir in a sweet balance. For the the evolutionarily-minded dog-lover, it's a good story. [Note: The subtitle of the most recent edition of this book has been changed. The book I listened to was subtitled, "The Eternal Connection Between Humans and Dogs." The newer subtitle is, "How the Dog Came to Share Your Brain."]

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Sun is Hiring


The Sun Magazine, one of my favorite publications, is looking for a Managing Editor. Details here! Do you have what they're looking for and would it be a good fit? Good luck to all who apply.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Writing is Killing Us


“Go into cubeland in a tightly controlled corporate environment and you immediately sense that there is a malaise about being tied behind a computer screen seated all day. The soul of the nation is sapped, and now it’s time for the soul of the nation to rise.” - Dr. James Levine, Mayo Clinic


Writing is killing us. Well, writing itself isn't killing us, but sitting at our desks all day hunched in front of our computers moving nothing but our fingers might be. According to one New York Times article, "Excessive sitting . . . is a lethal activity." USA Today reported, ". . . people in sedentary occupations are at the highest risk of early death." And How-To Geek put together a scary, statistic-filled infographic on the risks of so much sitting.

What's a writer to do? Most of you have read (especially if you scroll to the bottom of my monthly newsletter and scan the "Paranoid Ex-Lawyer's Release") about my somewhat successful attempt to turn from couch potato into athlete. Unfortunately, the New York Times article cited above explains, "Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting." The article continues, "Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin." Sigh. And here I thought running a marathon was the answer.

The New York Times article suggests the treadmill desk . To use this device, a worker walks very slowly on a low-noise treadmill while working at the desk specially designed to fit on the machine. I don't have one, yet, but it's on my wish list. There's also the standing desk which has been used by the likes of Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Dickens. Everything old is new again! Given the space requirements and the price, I'm more likely to purchase a standing desk.

For now, though, I've simply instituted the "posture reset" policy. Every half hour, I get up, circle my arms over my head, touch my toes, and walk a big circle through the house or coffeeshop. I set the timer on my phone to beep (or vibrate if I'm in a public place) every 30 minutes alerting me it's time to move. Will this ensure longevity? I don't know, but it's got to be better than sitting completely still for long periods.

How do you minimize the amount you sit? I'd love to hear your experiences.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Between Panic and Desire


Between Panic and Desire, Dinty W. (an initial he explains in this book) Moore's cultural memoir of linked essays in experimental form complete with quizzes and his own autopsy report demanded that I read it in one sitting. The book weaves John F. Kennedy, Nixon, the cold war,the Cuban missile crisis, 9/11, both Bush presidents, the Beatles, Charles Manson, Squeaky Fromme, missing fathers, father figures, drug addiction, Irish heritage, automobiles, and Leonard Cohen into a witty and inventive narrative about life in the television-watching U.S.A. of the 1960s and the journey of a young man wandering through it. I really enjoyed the ride.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Conversations with Jackie


Released 50 years early in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy Presidency on permission of daughter Caroline, Conversations on Life With John F. Kenney interviews by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. provide only a bit of insight into the life of Jacqueline and J.F.K. I listened on CD and, aside from the New England accent, Jacqueline Kennedy could have been Marilyn Monroe with her breathy voice and her adoration of J.F.K. I wish I knew my history better, but I couldn't place most of the people that were asked about and who she discussed and so the subtleties were lost on me. I did, however, take note of the fact that, as Caroline mentioned in the introduction, Jacqueline felt her job was to make her husband happy, to bear and raise his children, and to stay out of politics. She would later change these views and embrace feminism whole-heartedly, but this was 1963 and she was a young woman still so fresh in the shadow of losing the man she loved.

For the conspiracy theorists, there was no mention of Lyndon Johnson master-minding the assassination although it was clear that they did not care for him. In fact, Jacqueline stated quite clearly that Johnson was not selected as V.P. candidate to enhance the ticket, but rather because J.F.K. thought he would be much less dangerous there than as Senate Majority Leader, the position he held prior to the campaign.

For the gossip columnists, there was no mention of Marilyn or any of J.F.K.'s other alleged lovers and also no mention of Jacqueline's supposed retaliatory affair with William Holden.

Overall Jackie was elegant if sometimes snobbish, and very convinced in her judgments of people and of the positions she stated that J.F.K. held. There were several brief appearances by John, Jr. and Caroline, but as always, they were protected.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

How'd Those Resolutions Work For You?


"Many years ago I resolved never to bother with New Year's resolutions, and I've stuck with it ever since." ~Dave Beard

Last January, departing from my usual custom to not make New Year's resolutions, I resolved to read 50 books and watch 50 movies in 2012 as part of the fiftyfifty.me challenge. I also promised to wear earrings every day. I missed all of those goals. Instead, I ran a marathon, revised more than half of the memoir about my last year with my father, and started writing a book about running. Setting goals isn't a bad thing, just sometimes we wind up achieving different goals from the ones we set. At least that's how it worked for me.

Although I didn't achieve my publicly stated goals, I'm still pleased with my progress. I watched 41 movies including many titles I wouldn't have watched if I hadn't taken the challenge. I watched thrillers and documentaries, romances and comedies, and a few sad movies which made me cry. I kept track of the movies on Pinterest by posting an image and writing a one or two sentence comment about each. You can see them here.

As for the books, I finished 25. I read several memoirs, a few books about dogs, several running books, and four novels. I started many how-to books about running and didn't finish them out of sheer boredom. Again, I'm pleased with the result. Twenty-five is nearly a book every two weeks which is still more than the 17 books the average person reads in a year.

The truth is that I couldn't make myself begin many books because I was afraid. Ever since my last major depressive episode (the politically correct term for a nervous breakdown) which began after my niece died in February 2007, I have been self-preservationally selective about reading. I hate to say I'm sensitive, but it appears to be true. I fear reading anything too sad, too violent or too dark. I go to those emotional places so easily without the aid of art that I am loathe to read, see, hear, or visit any book, show, lecture, or exhibit that might send me tunneling into the depths. Although I am much more resilient now, I'm still afraid. And that fear kept me from reading more in 2012.

I picked up Marley and Me and although I have heard it is good, I'd also heard how it ends and couldn't bring myself to read it. The same is true of The Reader which Ed adored and which has gotten high marks, but I couldn't put myself through it. I thought about reading nothing but romance novels, but I couldn't bear that either. While some romance novels are well-written, a little bit of that goes a long way with me. And so, twenty-five is my total. I tracked my progress on GoodReads if you care to look it up.

As for the earrings, it was lofty to think that I was going to dress up enough or even remember to wear earrings every day. It got old really quickly. I don't think I made it through April. I'm not sure.

I thought about tackling the 50 book goal again in 2013, but decided against it. Rather, I will just read as many books as I can. I would love to hear suggestions of books with happy endings that are well written. Let me know what you adore. I will also watch as many movies as I can and will wear earrings when the spirit moves me! That is much more my style.

Did you make New Year's Resolutions in 2012? If not, why not? If so, how did that work out for you? I'd love to hear your experiences.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

I Be Hip Ya'll

Have you gizoogled yourself yet? It looks like google, but it's definitely not. It's kind of like google translate, but instead of turning your prose from English into Spanish, it turns the places you appear on the web from regular boring old people speak into gansta rap.


Surf to Gizoogle and type your name in the box. Then be sure to click the tab on the left, "Gizoogle Dis Shiznit" to get the full effect.

The Gizoogle.net version of my website says:

"Nita writes n' teaches rockin tha writin practice steez of best-pimpin lyricist Nate Dogg Goldberg wit whom her ass has studied since 1996."

And that's "Ahiya" to you, homeboys!

Monday, December 03, 2012

We Are Not Alone

"The reason we race isn't so much to beat each other but to be with each other." - Christopher McDougall, author of  BORN TO RUN

I like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the same reasons I enjoy running in races. It's about being with others. We participate together, side by side. And although in NaNoWriMo we're each competing to get to 50,000 words and secretly hoping to write the magic number quickly or secretly hating the people who get to 50K without much effort at all, we're really only competing against ourselves. And most of us, loners that we are, need a structure to help us find other writers.

It's wonderful to know people who share our common goal. We’re so different and yet in November we come together for a common purpose. The books of my fellow wrimos differ greatly from mine. I typed 52,203 words of memoir about - you guessed it - running. As I wrote about buying my first pair of real running shoes and learning tricks to avoid chafing in awkward places, my friends wrote about exploding coffins, children growing up in cemeteries, historic race wars, time-eating space machines, and dystopian scenarios I can't even begin to wrap my head around. Yet at the numerous write-ins,  we were all together writing away.

A community helps us know we're not alone. When I sit here writing, I am alone, but there's this whole field of people behind me. On the back of my door in my office, I have pictures of photographs of women writers I admire. This includes many very famous writers such as Natalie Goldberg, Anne LaMott, Toni Morrison, Anne Patchett and many others. It also includes less well-known writers such as Tania Casselle, Martha Crone, Sammi Soutar, Deby Dixon, Wendy Drake, and Jamie Figueroa. These are the people who have my back. These are the writers I admire whether they've ever published a book, so much as a single line of anything, or nothing at all. These are my colleagues and my commiserants. We take care of each other.

On December 16th, when I toe the line with a few thousand other folks in Indianapolis for the Santa Hustle Half Marathon, I probably won't know any of the other runners. And it won't matter. I’ll stand out in the cold with like-minded people and be happy. When the starting horn sounds I'll run as hard and fast as I can, but that won't be my primary goal. That race is just an excuse to hang out with a bunch of other crazy runners dressed like Santa. We just want to be together.
 
Writing and racing have that common thread. We are ultimately alone. I sit here writing with my own fingers and my own mind or I race along with my own heart and my own legs, but I do it alongside others. We're all alone, together.
 
How do you find community support for whatever activities you enjoy? I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hug Someone

It's Hug a Runner Day. When is Hug a Writer Day? In Canada, it's January 24th although it's not actually recognized by the Canadian government. Of course, my husband hugs a writer every day! Lucky me! Lucky him!

If you know a runner, go hug them today. And if you know a writer, hug them today too!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Exuberant Imperfection

"The world is a lot more fun when you approach it with an exuberant imperfection.”  - Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder and author of No Plot? No Problem!

It's day two of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) and I'm 1,704 words into the requisite 50,000 required during the thirty days of November. That number of words puts me a little behind, but the day's not over and several write-ins are scheduled in the upcoming days which are guaranteed to boost my word count.

During NaNoWriMo, fellow wrimos (that's what people who attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge call themselves) gather in a predetermined location to work seperately on their projects all at the same time. Tommorrow's write-in will be held in a conference room in an office building. Sunday's write-in is at a Panera restaurant community room. On Monday I'll host a write-in at Colin's, a locally-owned coffeeshop near my house. Other write-ins are scheduled throughout the month. If you live in central Ohio and are participating in NaNoWriMo, you can find the calendar here.

During five prior Novembers, I have written two memoirs and two novels (I wrote one of these novels twice) with the help of NaNoWriMo. I have not yet published any of these projects. They are in varying stages of doneness. My first NaNo project, the memoir about my father and I playing golf the last summer of his life, is the oldest and most complete book. Another author might have finished it years ago, but I am slow and perfectionistic. That's part of why I adore NaNoWriMo. There is no time during November for the inner critic to take hold - at least, not if you want to win.

I am encouraged by visiting the Published NaNoWriMo Novels page. Scrolling the list, I see one hundred eighteen books created during NaNoWriMo that went on to be published, many by well-known publishing companies. I recognize several titles including Water for Elephants and The Night Circus. NaNoWriMo is a welcome, supportive structure in which to write. For me, it's also a great adventure and a chance to reunite with friends I only see once a year. As a bonus, I get some work done!

How do you plan to get your writing work done this month? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

That Nasty Little Voice

"Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit." - George Sheehan, columnist, cardiologist, running legend

When I woke today, that nasty little voice told me I couldn't run. I hadn't run in three days. Two of those days were required rest after a 22-mile run on Saturday. The third was an additional rest day because I had a very minor medical procedure. The voice pressed the issue, but I knew what to do. I thanked it for the information, pulled on running clothes, leashed the dog, and headed out the door.

Next month is National Novel Writing Month, that time when hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world join in a common goal: to write 50,000 words (primarily of fiction) in thirty days. Most of me is excited. I can't wait to hang out in coffeehouses hammering out words side-by-side with other writers. I also love compulsively updating my wordcount on the NaNoWriMo website. And who doesn't adore telling their friends about the latest insane plot twist the mind conjured in the writing process.

But as the calendar turned to October and the trees began to show hints of scarlet and orange, that little voice began trying to ruin my fun. "It's a waste of time. You never finish those books. You should keep working on that other book. You'll never publish anything if you keep this up." Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Natalie would call this voice "monkey mind" after the Zen reference to that jumpy, skittery state of mind that tries to distract us from our heart's desire. I'll be the first to admit there is some truth in the little nagging voices. But there's a larger truth I want to remember. Life is very, very, very short. If hammering out 50,000 words during the 30 days of November (that's a mere 1667 words per day my friends) floats your boat, then by all means do it!

Still, I'm going to keep Dr. Sheehan's words in mind. While I'm competitive by nature and I'll be pushing my wordcount as hard as I can, I'm going to try something new. I'm going to challenge myself. Not numerically. I'm not going to try to beat my highest wordcount. Instead, I'm going to plan. You heard it right. I'm going to spend some time during October plotting my strategy. It won't be elaborate. Don't mention the word, "outline." But it will be more structure than the list of semi-related topics or random character traits I usually have by November.

So, fellow Wrimos, ready-to-be Wrimos, or never-to-be Wrimos, I'd love to hear from you. I'm sure some of you are plotters who have a master scheme for your book before the first word is written. How does that work for you? We learned some techniques in MFA school, but I want to hear YOUR version. How do you prepare to write a book? And do you have any wisdom for the new Wrimos? What do they most need to know during October to prepare for the November writing challenge ahead? I look forward to reading your advice.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Writing Practice: One Way to Write

"The calm mind allows one to connect with the inner self . . . the very source of our being. That's where the music lives. That's where my music comes from." - Clarence Clemons

Writing practice is one way to write. It is so much more than mere “practice.” Even when I am working on a project, part of me is doing writing practice. I write much of my work in short spurts of timed writing. I am in the pressure cooker. It is a way to keep going for the short run and also for the long haul. It is a way to not think too much about what is next. It is a way to move on.

Writing practice calms the mind. Similar to meditation, it's a way to observe the mind. In writing practice, thoughts download and the mind flashes on the way it first captures something. You make connections using writing practice that you might not make with the rational mind.

In writing practice, you don't question. You don't judge. You don't ask what is next. You pick the topic and go. And so it’s a way to get unstuck. You just go. But you keep the place you want to land in the corner of your mind. You head away from it, but since you have it in the corner of your mind, you will wind up there. It's the same reason they tell you in driver's education not to look at the headlights of oncoming cars. If you do, you’ll wind up driving right into someone else. Your hands will follow your eyes turning the wheel ever so slightly and you'll risk a head on collision.

But in writing practice, you use that reflex to your advantage. Say I want to write about Morgan, our yellow Labrador, but I don't just want to write, "Morgan is a dog. He is yellow, gold and copper." Instead, I'll start writing about the weather, about how dry it is and how the trees are wilting and how it makes me sad. Eventually, I will begin to write about how Morgan is responding to the weather. His coat is dry and he drinks so much more water than in a regular year and how I have to take care not to run with him when it is too hot and that I must carry extra water for him so he doesn't get dehydrated on our runs.

And then I will write about how sad I am that he ages so much more quickly than we humans and how I am afraid for the day he will die because, since I love him so in the present, I will miss him so desperately when he is gone.

And I might notice how easily my mind spins into the future and into fear and how the only solution is meditation or, with writing, writing practice, because it brings us back to the present moment where Morgan is right here, next to my feet, breathing steadily in a dream-filled sleep, his paws vibrating ever so slightly.

That is how it works. You move seamlessly from one thing to another. Or sometimes, not so seamlessly. But you move anyway following the mind’s natural rhythm. It’s the way the mind moves and even if the segues seem awkward in writing practice, when we go back to edit, they make sense.

The mind always takes some time to settle. That's what writing practice lets us do as well. It gives the mind a chance to settle naturally. The mind is like a jar filed with rocks, water and sand. You shake it up and it becomes murky and you can't see the rocks. All you see is brown sludge in the jar. And when you set the jar down on the table, you can't make it settle. You can't pound the jar on the table or move it around to make it settle. It won't settle that way. You have to wait. You have to let gravity do its thing.

Eventually, the water will begin to clear. The sand will sink to the bottom and, in time, the rocks will drop and the sand will drop around them and the water will turn clear again and you will be able to see it all. But it has to have its own process. It has to have its own time. That's what you do in writing practice. You keep your hand moving as things settle. You let the mind settle and the water will rise to the top as the sand and rocks drop away. The things that obstruct your view will fall, sifting to the bottom of the jar and you will be left with the clear water. Your view will be universal.

Those are a few ways I use writing practice. If you use writing practice, I’d love to hear how you use it. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Back to Basics

"Do not be afraid of going slowly, only of standing still." - Chinese proverb

One foot in front of the other. That's what I can do right now. Depression has been my companion for many years. It sat nearby, often in the chair beside me. Recently, it slid over and climbed onto my body like a dark cloak. Not the magic kind. I walk through the world with it hanging from my shoulders. I walk slowly, but I will not stand still.

In the meantime, I've gone back to the basics of pure writing practice with a touch of technology. My friend Wendy and I skype write. Wendy is at the core of my writing. She is one of two women I discovered writing and reading aloud to each other in Stauf's Coffee Roasters in August of 1996 when I returned from my first workshop with Natalie Goldberg. They let me join their little group and she and I have written together at different times since. She and writing practice bring me back to the ground of my being.

At an appointed time one of us initiates the video call. I pick a topic. She sets a timer. We write. The timer goes off with a sound like the barking of a dog. I smile. As she reads, I close all the other windows on my computer so I can listen and watch her face. Her words fill me. I thank her, but do not comment. Then I open the document and read only the words on the page, mistakes and all, without explanations or disclaimers. She says, "Thank you." Then I pick another topic and we do it again. Over and over and over. It is simple and healing and perfect for this slow time in my life.

What does your writing look like when life takes you down a notch or seven? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Win An iFitness Belt!!!

I know. I know. This is a writing blog, but still. I want to win a contest and so I am posting a link to this contest in which you can win an iFitness race belt!

Then again, writers could use it. The GU slots are perfect for holding highlighters of up to six different colors! And you could use the pouch for paperclips and binder clips and smallish pens. It's like a holster for your accessories!

I already own an iFitness belt (a different model) and I ADORE it! It does not ride up, does not jiggle, does not wobble, and the bottles (not included in the contest) do not leak. It's simply a fabulous race belt.

For details, go here: http://how2runfast.com/post/28088280256/win-an-ifitness-ultimate-race-belt

Okay. I'm done. Go back to writing!!!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

It's Anxiety and There's A Solution!

“Love is the spirit that motivates the artist's journey.” - Eric Maisel

As anyone who reads my blog or receives the newsletter knows, I suffer from various forms of malaise that might be called "writer's block." As soon as I read the title Mastering Creative Anxiety, I knew this book would help. I ordered the book and began using the lessons immediately.

Why this book? First, the title alone properly identified the problem. According to creativity coach, Eric Maisel, I don't actually have a block. What I have is anxiety around creating. I also grow anxious around some non-writing activities, but this was the first time I'd named what went on in my head when I sat down to write as anxiety.

Second, the book is practical. It offers twenty-two specific tools and examples of how to use them. I appreciate that Maisel gets to the solution quickly so I'm not muddling around. I already know I've got a problem. I want to know what to do about it.

Third, Maisel's tone and strategies are both firm and kind. There's no shame in this book and no slacking either. Gently, yet clearly, he explains that success depends on applying the suggestions.

Fourth, and possibly most important, Maisel addresses all the different aspects of the creative life and the appropriate tool for that stage in the process. One day I'm tackling the rough draft. One or two tools (including a technique very similar to writing practice) works for that. Another day I'm in the revision process. A different tool helps there. In the promotion process, still another method is offered. Realistically, the book approaches different aspects of creativity in different ways.

The jury is still out, of course. I am working on, but have not yet finished the current revisions nor once again taken up promotion which I set aside awhile back. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, do you recognize anxiety in your process? If so, what techniques work for you in the various stages of the writing life? I'd love to hear about it.