Saturday, November 03, 2018

Turning Down the Screws

“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” - Henry David Thoreau in a letter to Harrison Blake, November 16, 1857

In elementary and high school, I belonged to a 4-H club to train dogs for obedience. My rat terrier, Tony, and I won first place at the Ohio State Fair two years in a row. We had a great trainer, a retired factory superintendent, Louie Levengood who had raised and trained award-winning golden retrievers for decades.

As a big show approached, Louie would run a hand through his white hair and remind us it was time to "turn down the screws." We were to become precise, tightening our training the way a woodworker might give a screw a few final turns so the head is flush with the wood. Minor imperfections we'd let slide earlier in the season took on new importance.

If Tony did not sit close enough to my heel or was not looking straight ahead as he sat next to me, I gently corrected him. If he did not come quickly enough, I corrected him. Every detail was important. This paid off. Both years, the state fair judges explained, these details were what led each judge to place Tony and I a few points ahead of the nearly perfect Doberman, Precious, and his young woman owner.

It's time once again to turn down the screws - this time with my memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target.

My deadline, December 1st, approaches like an oncoming train. While I trim, trim, trim, I'm also fixing lingering problems: info dumps, too much telling, and dialogue that doesn't carry its weight. These tasks require focus reminiscent of those days I spent in the large yard near our barn, walking Tony around and around. Stopping and starting again and again. Correcting. Praising. Perfecting. Over and over and over.

I'm under no illusions that the book will be perfect. This isn't the state fair. But I know I have the skill and patience to improve it. With Louie's voice in my ear, I will do my best.

Monday, October 22, 2018

What Writers Eat: Comfort Food

After a long day of traveling, hubby and I found ourselves ten minutes from home at dinner time. We stopped at the new Hen Quarter in Dublin. Fried chicken. Shrimp and grits. Brussel sprouts. Macaroni and cheese. And, happiness!

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

What Writers Eat While in Toronto

I'd never known my life was incomplete until last month when Hubby and I traveled to Toronto for a conference and rambled into Trattoria Mercatto right behind our hotel. Lemon ricotta ravioli with rainbow chard filled the void!


Ed's seafood pasta pleased him as well. Nom. Nom. Nom.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

On Autumn Saturdays, We Watch Buckeye Football

As my husband and I age, the thrill of attending Ohio State football games at Ohio Stadium has waned. Frankly, we'd much rather watch in the comfort of our home while the pupperina chews on things she shouldn't and where no one is spilling a beer down either of our backs.

But today, we made our annual trek to the 'Shoe to watch the Buckeyes beat Indiana.

For me, the best part of a game is the band. Yes, I'm biased, but I believe the Ohio State marching band is unrivaled in precision and style. I lived for band in high school and still regret selling my professional Haynes flute. I also regret that I didn't play a brass instrument and therefore couldn't be in the all brass "Best Damn Band in The Land" at Ohio State. But I was in law school anyway and barely had time to eat or sleep let alone practice music or routines.

I miss the days when television stations showed the full band performance at half-time. Now, when the sportscasters blather on during the mid-game break, I clench my teeth and mute the TV. We're lucky to see ten seconds of marching band footage.

So I may have squealed a little today when we made it to our seats in time to see the "incomparable" Script Ohio, during the pre-game show. If you missed it, here you go - our view from 19C, Row 2.

Friday, October 05, 2018

What Writers Eat after Running and while Reminiscing

On Wednesday nights, a small contingent of my running pace group meets for a few mid-week miles. This week we did four in the thick, humid, central Ohio air. Still green trees and three small deer cheered us on.

After, some of us often go out for a meal, but this week, everyone else needed to go home. I hadn't eaten so I drove through Taco Bell for the bean and rice burrito.


It was not in the least reminiscent of my years in New Mexico. Instead, I remembered evenings with my sister when we would dine at Taco Bell, enjoying not so much the food, but the company. She lived ten minutes away for many years. This summer, after she had retired, she moved to a small town an hour away to live with her long-time boyfriend and his three grandchildren.

After I ate, I texted her. "I went to Taco Bell. Miss you." She texted back, "Miss you too." She's happy and I'm happy for her. Knowing that made the mostly dull burrito taste better.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Not Time to Party Yet!

"If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?" ~ T. S. Eliot

It's official!

This morning I signed a contract with Mango Publishing to publish my re-titled memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought me Back from the Brink.

Yes, I'm over the moon!

But it's not time to party. Now the real work begins.

The editor made suggestions and I have my own ideas of what still needs work. I have until December 1st to submit a "final" draft. (Is any writing project ever final in the writer's mind even after it's published?) That will be edited and returned to me. I'll make those additional revisions and then it will be submitted to the copy editor.

Boom! Boom! Boom! The published book is expected in Spring of 2019.

In the meantime, if it seems I've disappeared, my apologies. I'm head down, working, blinders on.

Don't worry. I'll keep you posted as developments occur.

We party in the Spring!!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

What Writers Eat While Ill

Yes, I would like some cheese with this whine.

I've been home from New Orleans for a few days and have come down with a low-grade fever. The timing for illness is never good, but wow. I've got so much writing to do!!! Write Now Newsletter is due Wednesday night and I'm deep in book revisions.

Thankfully the #ninetyninepercentgooddog and the #onehundredpercentgood are on duty.

Hubby brought home this ginormous box of chocolate Lucky Charms with magical unicorn marshmallows. He knows I adore unicorns. I hope it lasts the weekend.


And see! Real unicorns, rainbows, and shamrock hats. I'll be better soon.


Monday, September 24, 2018

What Writers Eat in New Orleans

Ed and I traveled to New Orleans for the Happy Birthday Mr. Faulkner Conference after my memoir manuscript Depression Hates a Moving Target, was short-listed in the Faulkner Wisdom Writing Competition.

While in NOLA, we took a friend's suggestion and dined at Mr. B's Bistro. It did not disappoint!


Featured: The #onehundredpercentgoodhusband in his much needed bib. Crab cake with green salad. Barbecue shrimp.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Time and Space for Writing

I'm fortunate to have a lovely bedroom converted to an office in our house. So it's a bit unfortunate that I have so much trouble writing there. This is a serious first world problem, I know, but I prefer to leave the house and write in coffeehouses and libraries.

Writing takes both physical and mental space. And when I'm depressed, it's harder to focus at home. With a clean table and a fresh cup of java, my mind clears.

The main culprit interfering with my concentration at home is our fifty-four pound yellow Labrador "puppy" (she is 13 months old) Scarlet. On social media, she's #ninetyninepercentgooddog. She's so much less mischievous than she was just a few months ago, but I'm hypervigilant and every sound makes me wonder if she's shredded yet another chair or killed another television.

Now that Ed, my husband, is retired, he often stays home part of the day and helps keep the pupperina out of trouble. But he's a busy guy taking classes at The Ohio State University, volunteering at the Upper Arlington Senior Center, and remaining active in politics. Some days, he's gone most of the day.

When I need a break from the pupperina and don't want to leave her alone for eight hours, I ship her off to Puptown Lounge for doggy daycare. From the looks of the photos they take, I'm pretty sure she doesn't mind.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What Writers Eat FAIL!

I forgot to take a "before" photo: meatloaf, green beans, and corn.


It was delicious.

Monday, September 17, 2018

What Writers Eat #1

Sports fans often ask their athlete idols what they eat. Do readers wonder what famous writers eat? I'm not a famous writer, but what the heck. I'm going to begin posting some of the things I eat.

Thankfully, Ed, the one hundred percent good husband, does most of the cooking. If not, we'd starve.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Power of Lists

You've heard of the "to do" list, but what about the "to write" list? It's a powerful tool in my writing kit.

Sitting in the classroom at Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico, I watched as best-selling author Natalie Goldberg picked up her cheap spiral notebook, flipped to the back, and showed us a list of scrawled topics she'd penned on that last page. She said she carried a notebook everywhere and jotted ideas on the back page of the notebook as they occurred to her. "If I'm stuck, I look at these," she said.

She'd mentioned this list in one of her books, most likely Writing Down the Bones, but to see the real thing left quite an impression. I began to do the same and still carry a notebook at all times.

We also did list-making exercises in the many workshops I took from her. The topics varied, but here are a few of my favorites:

~ The things I carry (a spin-off from The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien).
~ Make a list of everyone you've ever met
~ Write the names of every place you've been
~ Name your pets
~ Tell me every car you've ever owned and what happened to it
~ Write down everywhere you have lived
~ List all your loves
~ Tell me everything you know about the color blue

When I write a list, sometimes I'll fill the entire writing practice with listed, but more often, as I made the list, something would occur to me and I'd soon be writing an essay instead.

Do you use writing lists? I'd love to hear if they work for you!



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Running with the Unicorns!

We did a little running today - ten miles. And there were unicorns to cheer us on!


Up close and personal!


Does your running group have unicorns? If not, maybe you should join ours!

Friday, September 14, 2018

A Dog. That is All.

Some days, days like today, when the new computer is unsatisfactory and needs to be returned, the old computer is on the fritz (which is why you bought the new computer), but the new computer has not yet been returned and the even newer computer has not yet arrived, the roof is leaking and must be replaced, and the air conditioner, while new, needs to be paid for, you only need to look out at the adorable pupperina to know that everything is right with the world if you just stay in the moment. A dog. That is all.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Winning!

I entered a contest. I didn't mean to win. I thought the picture of the prize was ugly. We had to name three ingredients to include in a sushi roll. I listed the three most disgusting things I could think of. I can't even remember them now. But, the joke was on me.

I won!

She arrived today. Yes, we "sparkle sisters" (the wearers of Sparkle Skirts brand athletic skirts) refer to each skirt as "she." And each skirt has a name. I'm calling this one, "On a Roll."

Get it?

Imagine my surprise when I opened her and loved the colors. She's so bright and cheery. Perfect for the rainy weather we've been having.


Sparkle Skirts didn't intended for it to be a writing contest, but I'm counting it as a writing success!

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Grounded for Life

The pupperina that is. She broke the TV.


The TV was on a table. She was tethered to the table. She's been tethered to the table many many times before. But this time, she jumped just right and pulled just right and whirled just right. And crash, down went the TV. It fell - just right - and the screen cracked.

We're headed to Best Buy.

It a good thing she's cute.

Monday, September 03, 2018

The Number One Rule of Social Media (and life)

"Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish." ~ Richard Dawkins

As I mentioned in a previous post, agents and editors want writers to have an established platform when pitching a book. I've spent the past month consulting experts and reading books and blog articles on the topic while I try a few techniques. For example, I tackled Twitter with some success even though I'm a major introvert. I'm growing my social media following, blogging more often, and gathering additional subscribers to my email list for Write Now Newsletter.

No matter which book I pick up, which expert I talk to, which blog I read, the bottom line comes back to one thing: Generosity. If I'm not offering my followers and readers valuable information, I'm doing both of us a disservice.

Learning this reminded me of a saying I heard years ago. "You have to give it away to keep it." Seems like a paradox, eh? But in yet another area of my life, it's proving true.

The books and blogs and experts talk about "noise to signal ratio." If there's too much "noise" (Buy! Buy! Buy!) and not enough "signal" (Here's a helpful thing.) people will turn and run. If I follow someone or subscribe to their blog and all they do is pitch their wares, I won't hang around.

Why would I expect this to be any different when the tables are turned?

To address this, my current experiment is to share 99% useful or humorous (laughter is also a gift) information. I offer techniques I've found helpful, answer questions, and (of course) share cute animal photos. Cue #Scarlet the #ninetyninepercentgooddog. Use her hashtag on my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts!

The remaining 1% of my platform is sales pitch material. This might be a link to my newsletter, a request to follow this blog, or an announcement of a class I'm teaching. It's just a fraction because, when people think of me, I want them to see me as helpful and entertaining rather than as someone chasing after their wallets.

The unintended consequence of trying to be "of service," is that I no longer dread "marketing." More than once, when I've been sad or in crisis, a mentor has advised me to reach out to help someone else (unless I'm in a deep deep depression for which I need medical intervention). Invariably, just as in the rest of my life, if I can be useful when promoting my business, I feel better too.

What is your experience with being generous in business? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, September 01, 2018

A Photo of My Dog Not Watching Football While I Watch Football

Despite her name (Scarlet as in "Scarlet and Gray,") the pupperina is wholly uninterested in this sports thing probably because it does not include doggy snacks.


And no, I am not writing. Sometimes you need a day off.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

"It Will Be Easy," they said.

I'm kidding.

No one ever said it would be easy. People give advice to make "it" (nearly anything) less difficult. But no one told me running would be easy and many tried to warn me about how difficult writing could be.


But they (whoever the heck "they" are) also could never have fully conveyed the joy I have found in both.

So there.

No, it won't be easy, but yes, it will be worth it!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Rethinking the Purpose of a Title

When I first began blogging in April of 2006, I thought of each title the way a poet might. The title didn't so much introduce the "poem" (blog article) as enhance it. It was its own "line" in the poem.

I was idealistic and much younger then. I was still in MFA school.

And, I hadn't read this stack of books on using social media effectively.

In the age of Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Facebook business pages, a title must do more than entertain. A title must make a promise. The article must fulfill it.

With overburdened schedules and a flood of information, readers scan titles for the helpful or entertaining. It is the age of the micro-blog, the mini-article, the itsy bitsy essay. If the title doesn't catch a reader's attention, it is lost.

You've probably already noticed a change here. What I might have previously titled, "The Farmer" became "Good? Bad? How Can You Tell?" and what I contemplated calling, "The Introvert's Dilemma" was posted as "Twitter for Introverts." These are still creative, I hope, but more informative. They promise information.

Don't worry. I'll still post photos of #Scarlet the #ninetyninepercentgooddog with silly titles.


Those promise to entertain!

And now I shall go enter "Effective Blog Titles" into the google machine and see if the experts agree.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Good? Bad? How Can You Tell?

My writing life, like everyone's writing or non-writing life, is punctuated by ups and downs. A polite rejection is followed by placement as a finalist in a contest which is followed by a not-so-polite rejection which is followed by an email telling me that a different contest has decided not to select a winner at all which is then followed by an email from an acquisitions editor saying, "Let's see if we can make something happen."

How do I keep from getting whiplash?

I remember this story:
A poor farmer's horse ran off into the country of the Barbarians. All his neighbors offered their condolences, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't good fortune?"

After a few months, the horse returned with a Barbarian horse of excellent stock. All his neighbors offered their congratulations, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't a disaster?"

The two horses bred and the family became rich in fine horses. The farmer's son spent much of his time riding them. One day he fell off and broke his hip bone. All his neighbors offered the farmer their condolences, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't good fortune?"

Another year passed and the Barbarians invaded the frontier. All the able bodied young men were conscripted, and nine-tenths of them died in the war.

Thus good fortune can be disaster and vice versa. Who can tell how events will be transformed?

---- "The Huai Nan Tzu Tells a Story,"
from Tao Te Ching translated by Stephen Mitchell

Seriously! Who can tell how events will be transformed? Not me.

Stay tuned, but fasten your seat belt. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Abundance of Reader and Writer Events in Central Ohio Continues to Grow

In today's Columbus Dispatch, "So to Speak" columnist Joe Blundo writes of the Columbus arts scene, "We're still not New York City, but as you read what's ahead in the arts, keep in mind how far we've come."

The same can be said for the "book scene" in central Ohio. Steve Stephen's piece, also in today's Dispatch, truthfully proclaims "Plenty of authors await ravenous readers," and lists a half page of writing events.

In January of 2003 when I began publishing Write Now Newsletter, a monthly email listing central Ohio reader and writer events, the list had nine entries. Wow has that changed! Due to the summer lull, this month's email in August 2018 "only" included thirty-two events while the April issue had sixty-one. The poetry scene is exploding as are the number of author readings, writing groups, workshops and other writing and reading events of all kinds.

This abundance of options is fabulous news for the readers and writers of our community. It provides an opportunity for eager readers to meet the people behind the words. I still thrill at watching a favorite author pen their name on the title page of their book.

While I do my best to include every reading and writing event in our multi-county area, I fear I miss a few. Please help me make Write Now Newsletter as complete as possible by sending reader and writer events to nita@nitasweeney.com.

And, if you're so inclined, drop a few pennies in my tip jar. Thanks in advance!

Now get out of here and go see those authors!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Twitter for Introverts

In a previous post, I explained how agents and editors expect authors to have a social media presence before pitching a book. I did not mention how daunting I found this fact. It's similar to how naked I felt when I first began pitching a book to agents and how it has continued to feel pitching the book to publishers and submitting to contests as well.

You see, I'm an "off-the-scale" introvert. It's no surprise that every time I take the Myers-Briggs personality inventory whether it is a short version on the internet or the very very long version administered by a psychology professional, my "introversion" score is nearly as high as the scale goes. Putting myself out there is truly a stretch.

Add to that recurrent chronic depression and you have a roadblock many might not overcome. I can only do this social media stuff if I find a method that works with my natural talents.

My Facebook author page hadn't seemed that much of a stretch from my personal Facebook page so I linked it to Twitter. When I posted to Facebook, it automatically tweeted the same thing.

But the books I read about Twitter explained that this wasn't enough. I needed to interact. To my introverted self, this sounded as terrifying as walking into a cocktail party and shouting, "Look at me!" That was not going to happen.

On a four-mile run, I began to think about how I best communicate: one on one. I wondered what would happen if I just began talking to individuals the way I might in the rest of my world.

So I started responding any time someone tweeted something that resonated with me. For a few days, my tweets went unanswered. A few days later, one or two people replied.

Then, something remarkable happened. One of my running heroes, Hal Higdon, retweeted one of my replies to his tweet!















A few days later, it happened again!




















My one-one-one approach not only allowed me to play along with the extroverts who love Twitter, but also effectively increased my social media exposure. I learned that even off-the-scale introverts can Tweet!

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Ever Helpful Dog

For fourteen years, Morgan (aka Mr. Dawg), served as my writing helper.
















When he died last November, I worried I'd never have such good dog help again.

But #Scarlet, the #ninetyninepercentgooddog, is up to the task.

Here she is "helping" Ed with a project in the first weeks after we got her.













Eight months later, she's still "helpful," but at a much more relaxed pace. Today she helped us eat lunch.




















In the evenings, she helps in my office. I savor these moments watching her sleep.













Do you have a "helpful" pet?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

When In Doubt, Consult the Literature and Ask (someone younger) for Help

Platform. Platform. Platform.


It is not news that editors and agents want a writer to have a following. And it shouldn't be news that they expect that writer to have those potential readers in place BEFORE the book is published. But I'm often late to the party.

Oh, I've had a platform for years. I've been publishing Write Now Newsletter, my monthly writing email, since 2003. I've been writing this blog for nearly that long. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn. But in the current market, publishers favor authors who have a platform ON STEROIDS!

When I received a reminder of this truth, I did what I always do. I went to the library. The stack of books in the photo is just the beginning of my research. And, honestly, I already know much of what they are suggesting.

I also asked my friends, especially the younger ones, for advice. Last night, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to post something on Instagram. A friend sent this helpful photo:


Literally, I just didn't know what button to push!

But once I've figured out the mechanics of these sites, there are bigger challenges. Yes I had a presence on these platforms, but I wasn't engaging on social media often enough and I wasn't doing it the most effective way. I'm still reading and consulting friends, but as I make changes, my numbers are climbing.

Stay tuned. Give me a few more weeks and I'll write about what I've learned.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Back to School

Today is back to school day for many kids in our central Ohio neighborhoods. My brother just texted a photo of his grandson (my great nephew) heading off to first grade. My sister posted photos on Facebook of her grandchildren. Two are going to elementary school and the oldest to his first year of middle school.


I had to ask myself if I missed that end of summer feeling? Not really. Still, being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life. I previously wrote about why that's not such a bad thing!

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Writing Excuse Number 1,283

My dog is too adorable. Will you look at those paws!! I can't write under these conditions. I must share photos.

Monday, August 13, 2018

How to Use #nitaprompt and Other "Writing" Topics

On a Wednesday night group run shortly after I blogged about posting a writing prompt every day, a friend asked, "What are we supposed to do with them?"

Good question!

Ideally, one would do "writing practice" the timed-writing, no holds barred approach championed by my long-time teacher Natalie Goldberg with whom I have studied for many years. For those not familiar, I recently blogged about teaching Nat's "rules of writing practice." Since many of my followers on Facebook and Twitter are writers, I thought of each #nitaprompt as a topic for writing.

But feel free to use them however you want.

One artist friend finds they inspire her drawing and painting. This makes my heart so happy.

Another friend who teaches at a university stopped me to say, "I like those #nitaprompts. They make me remember things I'd forgotten." I do not know if he intends to write about them or not, but it was lovely to hear someone was paying attention!

The pupperina #Scarlet aka #ninetyninepercentgooddog brags to her doggy daycare friends about her creative mommy and her doggy friends bark about the topics.

Okay. Maybe that last one isn't entirely true.

My point is that I have no claim to how these topics should be used.

Do you have a unique way you use "writing" topics? I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Thank You for Playing Along

Today, I spent a fabulous afternoon in the company of writers. Yes, I did most of the talking, but what the people arbitrarily labelled "participants" didn't know going in was that I needed them more than they needed me.

I teach the "rules of writing practice" as taught to me by best-selling author Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind). In the year 2000, shortly before Ed and I returned to my home state of Ohio after living in Taos, New Mexico where I had studied with Natalie, Nat told me to teach writing practice in Ohio. She knew what I needed.

My lame paraphrasing of Nat's brilliance goes something like this:
1. Use Timed Intervals
. . . just like in meditation practice. Start with ten minutes. Set the microwave timer and GO! The time constraint has a pressure cooker effect, heating up our minds and helping words flow.

2. Keep Your Hand Moving . . .
. . . for the entire time period you've selected. It separates and your creative momentum from that oppressive internal editor. No stopping. No crossing out. Don't let that critic have a chance to stop your naturally moving hand. If you don't know what to write, write the topic again and continue. Something more will arise.

3. Be Specific.
Oak, not tree. Teddy bear, not stuffed animal. Capture the essential details of your life.

4. Don't Worry about Spelling, Punctuation; Grammar. Or even the lines on the Page

5. Go for the Jugular.
If it's scary, it has energy. If you don't write about it, you'll just end up writing around it. Even if you know you'll never publish those words, just go for it!

6. You're Free to Write the Worst Junk in America
(America, Earth, The Milky Way, The Universe). Take the pressure off. We all write junk. If you're free to write awful nasty stuff, you'll be free to write hot, lively stuff as well.

7. Lose Control!
Don't try to manage what goes down on the page. Let the wild waves of your mind roam free. Don't grip the pen too hard. It doesn't matter how sloppy your writing or your thoughts become. Set yourself free.

8. Don't Think.
Take a vacation from logic, organization, or anything your left-brain loves. Capture the way your mind first flashes on an experience. Step into the words and go. Become the words. No mind. Just write.
Simple enough.

The problem? I forget to follow them.

These "rules" have become so ingrained in me that I take them for granted. And I forget to use them. I lose sight of the practice that has kept me going all these years. I still write, of course, but not with the wild abandon and rich freedom offered by these simple rules. My writing turns shallow and my mind dull. I lose touch with my own big heart and crazy wild mind.

So thank you today to the brave "participants" who allowed me to refresh my recollection by teaching. And thank you to Nat (always) for knowing what I needed in order for the practice to continue at my own desk and at the desks of others. As is often the case, we teach what we need to learn.