Have you heard about Natalie Goldberg and her classic book Writing Down the Bones? If you haven’t read it, you should. Its stories and exercises will knock the blocks right out of your writing practice. So will her other books, like Old Friend from Far Away and Wild Mind. Meanwhile, she has a new book, The True Secret of Writing, coming soon. I heard her speak a couple years ago, and I was transformed. Visit her website at http://www.nataliegoldberg.com.
U.S. writers, our income tax deadline is only about two weeks away. If you have put it off, my previous posts on income tax may help you figure out how to handle the writing part of your tax forms. The key things you need to know: keep track of every penny you earn with your writing and every penny you spend. You are legally required to report your income, and your writing expenses are deductible. For advice, visit “Last Minute Tax Tips.”
You open the door and find an Easter basket on your front step. Except this basket contains something you would never expect the Easter Bunny to bring. What is it? Use your imagination to come up with a story or poem based on what’s in the basket, maybe what you wish was in the basket or what you’re afraid might be in the basket.
Now Go Write
Once a week I am offering three quick tips that you can take and use right away. For those of us who would rather be writing than reading blogs, this is a place you can grab something useful and get back to work.
Writing Metrical Poetry by William Baer, Writer’s Digest Books, 2006. Remember how boring it seemed when your high school teachers forced you to read and analyze poetry? Well, this isn’t. Read some of the world’s most famous poems, see how they work, then try writing some yourself.
At her Practicing Writer newsletter and blogs, Erika Dreifus offers a steady stream of advice and resources, paying markets, jobs and opportunities for writers. Don’t miss it. Click on http://www.erikadreifus.com/blogs/practicing-writing.
Stuck for a writing idea? Reach into your purse or pocket and pull out one thing, anything. Set it on the desk or table in front of you. Study it. What does it bring to mind? For example, a key might make you think of the door it opens or how you got that key or how you lost your keys on a special occasion. A receipt might bring to mind what you bought and why you bought it and who you met at the store . . . Give it a try. In live classes, I let students pick one more thing if they just can’t stand their first choice. Don’t have a purse and there’s nothing in your pocket? Try the junk drawer.
Now go write.
Do you know that feeling when you get so immersed in your writing that you just keep going and going and no longer care what time it is or what else is waiting for you to do? Later you’ll have to worry about revising, editing, marketing, and all that blah blah blah, but if you haven’t experienced it, let me tell you that when the writing flies on its own, it’s the best.
How do you get there? You allow time, you prepare yourself and your tools, you warm up, and then you write. Do this as often as you can, and it will happen.
This morning, I got up late and was more inclined to stare at the TV coverage of the mass shooting at a local shopping mall than to write another page of my novel. But the newscasters were getting repetitious, and my work was waiting. Blessed with being able to stay home most mornings, I treat my writing like a job. I shower, eat breakfast and get dressed, then report to my bedroom office with a mug of hot tea. I go through the mail, pay bills that are due soon, check email and various websites, then get down to business.
I start by sitting on the sofa with my dog and my notebook. I journal, I write a little poetry, I jot down ideas for future writing projects. Sometimes it’s total junk, but it’s writing. Then, warmed up, I go back to my computer, silence the Internet, and bring my current project onto the screen. I read what I wrote yesterday, tweaking it here and there, and then I start writing.
Today was one of those days when I didn’t feel like it, and yet, after a page of whining about why I couldn’t write, I wrote a poem about the shooting. Then I wrote 1,600 words on my novel, so excited about the scene unfolding before me that I didn’t want to stop. If I didn’t remember a detail from past pages or needed to look up a word, I marked it and went on. If something didn’t feel quite right, I marked it and went on. I had planned to give the book just 15 minutes because I have a lot to do today, but two hours passed and I didn’t care. It was fun, the most fun a writer can have.
Don’t feel like writing? Can’t get started? Get yourself organized, write a little junk and see if that doesn’t lead to something good. Don’t promise yourself magic or hours of productivity. It scares the muse away. Just write a little something and see what happens. If you do this often enough, the time will come when you’ll feel the story taking over, sort of like cruise control on the car. Keep writing and enjoy the ride.
Have you noticed that today, Oct. 31, 2012, is loaded with subjects to write about? No matter whether you write, poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, articles, blogs or even screenplays, if you can’t find something to write today, you aren’t looking.
Hurricane Sandy has been amazing and horrible. When nature comes at us full force, there’s nothing we humans can do to stop it. Please join me in praying for all those suffering from this super-storm with its rain, wind, floods, fires and the subsequent destruction and shortages of electricity, water, food and everything else.
Now, let’s put on our writer hats. My 90-year-old dad said last night that he keeps imagining what he would feel if this happened to him, if everything he owned was suddenly wiped out. What would you do? Can you imagine yourself in that situation and write a poem or story about it? Might a character in your novel encounter a flood or hurricane? Take notes on what’s going on and use it in your writing.
Does this event bring up memories of something that happened to you or a loved one? Has there been something about Hurricane Sandy that especially horrified or inspired you? Something that made you angry? Write about it. Can you think of article ideas for how to cope with a disaster such as a hurricane, how to be safe, how to decide whether to evacuate, how to stay in contact with loved ones, how to deal with insurance, bank accounts and other matters? Write an opinion piece, research an article, or pull together a query letter.
While the hurricane has occupied most of our attention, did you know that British Columbia suffered a huge earthquake over the weekend and it triggered tidal wave warnings all along the Pacific coast, with measurable surges in Hawaii and the western U.S.? So many stories could be told there, maybe even making a connection with the hurricane or with previous earthquakes and tsunamis. Remember Japan?
If that isn’t enough to write about, the election is less than a week away, and it’s Halloween.
Get off the Internet, grab your keyboard or your pen, and start writing.
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, in which participants challenge each other to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. DigiWriMo, born here at Marylhurst University in Oregon, challenges writers to pen that many words for online outlets, such as blogs and web publications. PAD is Writer’s Digest’s Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem a Day challenge, which he offers in both April and November. Unlike so many writing activities, these do not cost money. Although the sponsors would love donations, there is no fee to participate.
All of these challenges push you to write, write, write. They let you post your progress on-line and offer various publication possibilities. NaNoWriMo has turned into a vast community with online forums and in person “write-ins” in many communities, including even my own Newport, Oregon. You “win” if you write the desired number of words. It’s a lot of words—approximately 1666 every day–and if you’re sticking by the rules, they all have to be fresh writing, no revising or adding to something you wrote before. It takes a great deal of dedication to reach the goal. I honestly have never gotten past the first week on this one.
DigiWriMo is new to me, but I plan to try it this year. Again, it takes a lot of work, but you’ll be cheered along by your fellow participants, and the sponsors promise to offer lots of prompts and exercises and ways to collaborate with other participants. [Note: As I’m posting this, I’m having trouble making the link work. Try @digiwrimo on Twitter to connect. ]
I have done the Poem a Day challenge several times. Although I missed some days, I had other days when I wrote more than one poem, so I came out with a nice batch of new poetry. Robert Lee Brewer, who publishes poetry prompts every Wednesday the rest of the year, offers a new prompt every day of the challenge and encourages poets to use them to write a poem and then post it online. He frequently offers contests for the best poems of the challenge or challenges poets to create chapbooks out of their PAD poems.
There are other challenges, and not just in November. Occasionally smaller organizations will challenge their writers to write toward a goal together, literally or at the same time in their own spaces. Search and you will find them.
All of these challenges have one beneficial effect: they give you an incentive to write. The one drawback (besides wanting to ignore your family or your job) is that sometimes you are driven to write garbage just to achieve the desired number of words. But out of that garbage, you may find some gems.
I urge you to consider a writing challenge. Simply working toward a goal with other people helps smash whatever blocks keep us from committing to our work. However, I also offer this suggestion: You can adapt the challenge to your own needs. Maybe you’re halfway through a project and just want to work on that. Maybe you just can’t do weekends or you’re going away for Thanksgiving. Work around it. Use the official goals and times to work on what you need to work on. Challenge yourself.
We still have more than than two weeks before November starts, but if you sign up now, you can get in on the pre-challenge discussions and planning.
I invite you to comment here on what you plan to do and how you’re doing. I’ll be doing DigiWrimo and the Poem a Day challenge.
Ha. 613 words. At this rate, I’ll be done in 83 days. But wait. It hasn’t started yet. I’m just warming up. How about you?
Did you know that writing is big business? Not actually writing itself but selling stuff to people who want to be writers. I don’t think anyone could count all the services and products being marketed to wanna-be writers. So many. They’ll help you sell your stories, publish your books, build your platform, get organized, jump over writer’s block, and tell you how to write. They all seem to promise that if you just buy their products and follow directions, like baking a cake, you will have the books, the fame, and the money. But they can’t guarantee it. Most of the people who buy these things don’t get all the goodies. They don’t become full-time writers. I don’t want to discourage you, but what you really need to become a success writer doesn’t cost a lot of money but it does take effort, time, and faith.
First, you have to write well. Not only must your writing be grammatically correct, with proper spelling, but it has to say something original, something that is not just a copy of everything already published. It has to touch or help people in some way. It has to have substance, details, more than just what you pour out of your head. A million would-be writing coaches tell you to write every day, but they don’t tell you what to write or how to write it. You need to learn and practice the craft of writing. Take classes, read books, join a critique group or find a friend who will tell you the truth about where your writing works and where it doesn’t. And keep writing, even when you don’t have somebody prompting you to do it. That’s what makes you a writer.
Start with an idea, add information and thought, write it out, and revise it, revise it, revise it.
And yes, you need to market, to offer your stuff to appropriate editors in appropriate formats over and over again. Sure, there are books, magazines and blogs that will tell you how to do this, but it’s all the same information. Once you have learned the process, you just have to keep doing it. You will be rejected more often than not. Revise it again and send it back out.
Writing is like dieting. You can’t do it for a week or two then go back to living on burgers, fries and Coca-Cola. It has to become a lifestyle. No one can guarantee that you will become rich and famous. But if you write well and keep sending your work out, you will have some success. You will be published. You will be a writer.
Every time somebody offers to sell you something to help you be a writer, be suspicious. Ask yourself if you really need it and if they’re just in it for the money. Sometimes a product or service can help you work better or inspire you when you’re feeling blocked, but in the end what you really need to be a writer is hard work and persistence, something you can’t buy.
End of sermon. Go write something good.