Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Up on the tightwire…

Several of my past blogs have touched on balance and change, so today’s musing is not a new topic for me. Guess I still haven’t learned my lesson since the universe persists in sending me reminders. I’ve been out of sorts for about two weeks now, fighting a vague malaise that keeps me from not only being as content as I’d like, but from finding that flow I mentioned last week and actually being productive. Various responsibilities have me juggling madly, and I find I’m so focused on keeping everything moving that I fail to appreciate the beauty of the patterns created as everything moves in synch. I’m out of balance.

As so often happens when I’m in the midst of a life lesson, a number of recent blogs and postings combined to remind me where I’m off-base. It started with a sobering TEDtalk by Robyn O’Brien on the fight for real food, moved into the writing venue with a commentary by Jody Hedlund on letting go of perfection, and culminated during an exchange on Google+. O’Brien and Hedlund offered variations of Voltaire’s warning not to make perfect the enemy of the good – something I need to remember every day. But more than that, such a philosophy leads to the elusive equilibrium I crave. Do the best I can, at whatever task is at hand, and move on to the next. Flow. Balance.

During the G+ discussion a friend started as a lament against sponsored Tweets (read: ads), I mourned my inability to find a workable social media balance in my life. Another commenter said, “There's no ‘right balance.’ That's like the whole myth of ‘worklife balance.’ The sooner you let go of this fruitless hope, the better.” As a Libra (if you believe that sort of thing) and one who wears a yin-yang necklace nearly every day, that irked. Balance as a myth? I wanted to respond indignantly, but the limitations of G+, while not as bad as the 140-character Twitter, prevent a reasoned debate. And as Hubby often reminds me, I needed to temper my emotion if I hoped to be persuasive. Pause, think, react according to the new situation, not something remotely similar from the murky past.

Reason and emotion. Balance.

So much easier said than done, but I can’t accept that finding balance is a myth. It takes awareness, and effort, and practice. Anything worthwhile does. Whether it be the hunt for healthy, organic foods, or the perfect (!) descriptive word, or the cost-benefit measure of social media, knowing when to strive and when to let go is key.

Such right effort keeps everything in balance.


A career can coexist with the development of the soul
when we approach each with balance and determination.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How does your writers group measure up?

I'm delighted to be guest blogging at the wonderful Ladies Who Critique website today - come visit!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ides of February

’Tis the season, sort of. The shortest month of the year that always seems the longest is halfway done. Seeds ordered in the frigid January darkness have arrived and planting dates are marked on the calendar. What little snow we’ve had is melting into the three-inch tall green shoots around the pond. Pitchers and catchers report in four days (yay!). And I just registered for my first writer’s conference of the year. I know, I’m behind on scheduling, but I’ve never been good at planning too far ahead. If I try, life steps in to remind me how foolish are my best-laid plans.

As anyone who has ever attended one of these events knows, the wealth of possibilities offered to writers of all experience levels is truly astonishing. The sheer number of options, many of them genre-specific, others more broad – or fan – based. Enticing locations all across the country – the prestigious AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair is in Chicago this year, I could stay with my son and save the hotel bill (honest, he said I could!), but it’s in two weeks. I waited too long for that one. Love is Murder is another Chicago event I’ll get to someday. And overseas: Geneva, San Miguel, Surrey…out of my price range, but so intriguing. With a limited budget, I need to stick closer to home for now.

My first outing this year, as it has been for the past two years, will be the Mad Anthony Writers Conference in Hamilton, Ohio. Not particularly exotic, but sponsoring local non-profit group does a terrific job of packing a great deal of information into two days, starting with a Friday session called Murder & Mayhem. What more could a mystery writer ask for? I registered just under the wire to qualify for the early-bird discount and look forward to their expanded three-day schedule in early April. Mad Anthony’s become a tradition for a trio of us from my weekly writers group, gals’ road trip and all, that I know will be a great time.

The always-spectacular Antioch Writers' Workshop in July right here in my new home town of Yellow Springs is on my calendar as well. It’s a week-long event that never fails to overwhelm with the amount of information offered on everything from the finer points of fiction, to poetry, to snagging that elusive book contract.

Conferences and workshops are about so much more than the formal sessions. I often get as much benefit (dare I say more?) from meeting fellow writers and basking in the non-stop craft conversations that fill hallways, dining rooms and sometimes even a local bar. The spirited interaction is a great reminder that, even in the solitary work of writing, we are not alone.

Do you conference? When and where? I need to start planning ahead…

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


I follow far too many writers’ blogs, spending more time reading sometimes questionable words of wisdom about the craft than actually writing myself. It’s a procrastination tactic I struggle with daily. But every so often, when the synchronicity of the universe presents the same topic from different angles in a variety of my perusals, I’m sensible enough to take heed. This week the universe wants me to focus on flow – starting it, maintaining it, appreciating it.

Most writers will agree that when they’re “in the zone,” everything clicks. The words do indeed flow almost effortlessly from brain to hand to quill/crayon/pen/keyboard. Psychics call it automatic writing, the sensation of another being controlling the instrument. I’d rather think it’s more an unleashing of deep-seated thoughts and emotions too often buried under the busy-ness of life, or the pain of remembering. It’s that possibility of pain that keeps me from tapping those resources, of letting go of fears of what my words may reveal, how they may be received by potential readers.

When I do manage to get past those emotional roadblocks and write from the depths of my being, my words have power. Hubby has told me on many occasions that he can tell when I write from the heart. If my personal in-house non-fiction reading computer geek can see it, so can more discerning readers. I need to tap that source more often, allow the words to flow unimpeded. But how?

Last night I finished my current study of Gail Sher’s One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers. She ends this slim but powerful volume with another Zen reference, urging writers to cultivate a “fresh mind.” Sher says, “The real work of writing is, day after day, to discover how to maintain freshness.” Even more compelling to me is the idea of “giving over the part of you that knows to the writing.” Giving over. Surrender. Release. Flow.

From a practical standpoint, author Johanna Harness posted a blog recently about her technique for priming the pump. She uses freewriting, figuring twenty minutes of uninterrupted writing, or about one thousand words, gets rid of the detritus and allows her to find that fresh mind. “I don’t know why it took me so long to realize I need to warm up with disposable words.”

Disposable words – there are few more frightening concepts for me in the writing world. I labor so intensely over each word choice that the thought of deliberately tossing any of them aside, of murdering my darlings, has always been heart-wrenching. It’s the main reason why I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for three years. The month-long exercise encourages me to turn off the internal editor, get the thoughts down on the page, and worry about fine-tuning things later. In the case of freewriting, I may never use those particular words and phrases again, but it’s like opening a spillway, releasing the stale, stagnant water at the top and exposing the unpolluted springs below.

I can embrace the concept of freewriting better than the other technique offered by many writerly blogs, that of journaling. For some reason, journaling triggers memories of self-absorbed teenage angst poured out to Dear Diary. Semantics probably, but if it helps me get past my hesitation, I’ll take it. Freewriting, as Harness points out, is disposable. I don’t keep it in leather-bound volumes for the ages. If the occasional spew seems worthy of further consideration, I can save it; however far too often in my experience, the words have lost their luster by the time I return to them. Disposable indeed, but therapeutic, and useful at the time. I’ve even adapted the practice for my critical writing class, more to teach my students not to fear writing than to encourage narrative flow, but again, useful.

Sher ends her essay with, “What is the best way to write? Each of us has to discover her own way by writing. Writing teaches writing. No one can tell you your own secret.” For me, freewriting teaches writing, and done regularly, may help reveal that secret I can’t or won’t see otherwise.

How do you prime the pump and tap your hidden reserves?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Echoed in the wells of silence…

~ Simon & Garfunkel

A growing trend in many of the writing blogs I follow seems to be toward compiling soundtracks to write by. I can imagine only a few things more detrimental to my writing than being surrounded by music. For me, silence is truly golden.

It wasn’t always this way. When my kids were young, I could lose myself in a book while they romped and the television blared. Now I’m so easily distracted almost any noise is a frustration. I’d love to join the throngs at the local coffee shops, laptops nestled next to the crumpets and hot beverages, immersed in the act of putting words on the page. But I could spend hours in such surroundings with only a paragraph or two to show for my efforts; it’s too much fun to people-watch and eavesdrop (what? don’t tell me you don’t do listen in – how else do you get story ideas or write great dialogue?)

I’m still reading Gail Sher’s One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers – it’s my bedtime companion, giving me words of contemplation to still the bustle of the day. In one of her brief chapters, she addresses the notion of silence by quoting author Bill McKibben’s forward to an annotated Walden: “Without silence, solitude, darkness, how can we come to any sense of our true size, our actual relationship with the rest of the world?” Sher details a Chinese poet Wang Wei who identified three levels of silence: physical, spiritual, and the silence of mystical meditation. “When thought stops, words halt, and we move through light toward absolute stillness,” Willis and Tony Barnstone wrote when introducing Wei’s poetry. Sher finishes her essay on silence with, “Stillness shrinks us to our own size, empowers us to acknowledge our pain, lends us the air into which this pain can, momentarily, evaporate.”

“Absolute stillness.” “Mystical mediation.” Those are the places from which my best writing springs, evaporating from the depths of my mind only to solidify onto the page. I can’t find the words if my brain is flooded with noise, no matter how beautiful the music may be in other circumstances.

A soundtrack for my writing? The soothing sounds of silence, when my thoughts can take center stage, is enough.