The Writers' Loop

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Some “Essentials” for Writers and Others

By Susanne Marie Poulette

I read a Writers’ Digest article entitled  Top 10 Essentials to a Writer’s Life.  Zachary Petit wrote about New York Times bestselling author Erik Larson’s ten essentials.  Yes, there’s a plethora of material out there on this topic, in writers’ websites, blogs, books, magazines and journals, but this one caught my eye.  I think several of these essentials apply to accomplishing lots of other tasks besides writing.

First, Larson has some fun with us, listing coffee, then more coffee, and then Double Stuf Oreos as three of his essentials. (I, however, would substitute the Oreos with Chips Ahoy.)

coffee oreosThen on the serious side, Larson provides useful suggestions such as: access to a good library, trusted beta readers, physical diversions when finished, and the importance of reading.  All pretty solid advice, eh? But the next three really tripped me up. They’re excellent recommendations, and if I could practice them, I’d probably finish my novel in under eight years.  Regrettably, for me, they’re as doable as climbing Mt. Everest or K2 in flip-flops.  Maybe that’s why I’m not on the bestseller list.  Here we go:

“A Sense of Pace…Write for three hours straight, without interruption, then stop.”

“Knowing Where to Stop…My favorite ‘trick’ is to stop writing at a point where I know that I can pick up easily the next day.”

“Blocks of Undisturbed Time…I set aside a minimum of three hours every morning, seven days a week, during which no one is allowed to intrude except to report an approaching cruise missile.”

How I wish I could do anything I choose for three hours straight without stopping.  Never mind seven days a week, or knowing exactly which paragraph closes up shop for the day.  If only I could manage calling it quits at optimal points, and ignore the ringtones on my phone, the chirp of new texts arriving, and the sound of my cat sharpening her claws on the sofa.  My water glass requires perpetual refills from the tap in direct proportion to the frequency of bathroom breaks. And on the best of days, my dusty furniture, thirsty plants, and cat-hair-flecked carpet beg for rescue when I look up from my keyboard.  Oh, to resist these temptations and emulate Mr. Larson!

...good, now what happens next?

…good, now what happens next?

Why is it, then, that creativity and concentration often hit at the most inopportune times?  Why doesn’t inspiration blaze like wildfire during dedicated writing time (à la Mr. Larson) with laptop powered up, shades drawn, and phone silenced—instead of times when I’m cruising along a highway, watching the clock in a waiting room, or shivering in a frozen food isle at the grocery store?  Rather than mundane activities, these are sparklers for me.  Everyday experiences spark new ideas, insights and stories. They’re real-life writing prompts.  This is why my car’s glove compartment is stuffed with illegible notes that I’ve jotted while stopped at a traffic light, and why I can’t throw out a used shopping list because there might be pearls of brilliance scrawled on the back. paper If I were organized, I’d keep my voice recorder handy, or carry a small notebook so I don’t look like a refugee from a paper recycling center.

It’s all the fault of my novel’s main characters.  They don’t respect my personal time; they just won’t quit. They hop around inside my head, talking up a storm and coming out with great stuff that I have to get down before it evaporates.  The free flow is amazing!  It’s the polar opposite of the blocks that come during those attempts at three-hour-without-stopping stretches.

As a case in point, I could have signed my life away at my Toyota dealership two years ago.  There’s a lot of waiting involved, when you’re buying a car.  After the big decision, you sit at the sales desk, passing chunks of time scratching your name on piles of papers like contracts, warranty forms, motor vehicle and insurance documents, while the salesperson rotates between you and some dealer inner sanctum.  So midway through my purchase transaction, I was struck by a miraculous bolt of commentary by my novel’s protagonist.  With the salesman off on his clandestine mission elsewhere in the building, I grabbed a paper from his desk, turned it over to find a clean side, borrowed a pen he had left behind, and started scribbling dictation from the narration taking place between my ears.  Head down and absorbed in writing, I quickly turned aside and signed on the highlighted lines each time my sales fellow materialized and interrupted my concentration.  And how annoying is that, just when you’re on a roll?

Later, and I have no idea how much time had actually passed—because I was in my writing mind, not my right mind—the salesman came back, clearly distressed. Somehow, he had lost my title and proof of ownership for the car I was trading in. Reluctantly and with an impatient sigh, I put down my pen and helped the poor guy who was spurting sweat like a sprinkler, despite the frigid blasts of air conditioning.

I felt really sorry once we found that I had been writing on the backside of my New York State Title Certificate, and hoped the employees at Motor Vehicles would enjoy the handwritten excerpt from my book.  Anyway, thank goodness for photocopiers…I couldn’t afford to lose such inspired text.

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This brings me to my essentials for getting the job done. I only have seven, but then again, I’m not a bestselling author…yet.

If you can’t manage to work for three-hour, non-stop stints, then just take advantage of any opportunity when it arises and be grateful for it.

Always carry either a notebook and pen, or a voice recorder for those unexpected visits from the characters inside your head.

Always check out the used side of a sheet of paper before you write on it.

Never compose your prose on the back of a legal document.

Clean your house, water the plants, silence your phone, and lock up your pets before you get started.

Keep lots of tea and chocolate chip cookies handy.

Smile and celebrate your creativity and hard work.    cute-smiling-animals-33

For the Writers’ Digest article:

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/top-10-essentials-to-a-writers-life

 

 

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Five Ingredients to Ignite the Adventure in You

By Peggy Morehouse

In 2006, The Secret, a self-help book by Rhonda Byrne soared to the top of bestsellers lists everywhere. It was based on the law of attraction and claimed that positive thinking can create life-changing results such as increased wealth, health, and happiness. According to Wikipedia, “The author claims that as we think and feel, a corresponding frequency is sent out into the universe that attracts back to us events and circumstances on that same frequency. For example, if you think angry thoughts and feel angry, it is claimed that you will attract back events and circumstances that cause you to feel more anger. Conversely, if you think and feel positively, you will attract back positive events and circumstances.”

Just think I’m rich and money-making situations will appear. It sounds too good to be true, and I think it is. There is no scientific evidence that this method works. Although a positive attitude is essential to achieving goals, it is only the beginning. Without strategies and action, high hope thinking will never amount to much. There are plenty of people who have started businesses with a great deal of optimism, only to be disappointed by the outcome. For example, I believe that I can become a career novelist, but am aware of the blood, sweat, and tears associated with such an ambitious endeavor.

The reality is, I will not see my name on The New York Times bestseller’s list simply by visualizing it. I need to write the damn book. I have to spend several hours a day in creative mode, study the craft, become a masterful editor, and face rejection without feeling defeated. I’ve never heard a successful author say: I finished my first draft and was immediately signed by a literary agent who landed me a six figure publishing deal.

The Secret doesn’t address the commitment and perseverance involved with most triumphant stories. What happens when we encounter obstacles and failure? How do we move past them? Is continued positive thinking all we need to make our dreams come true? Not according to Michael Jordan:

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As Bruce Springsteen sings in I’m Working on a Dream, “I’m working on a dream though sometimes it feels so far away. I’m working on a dream and I know it will be mine someday. Rain pourin’ down, I swing my hammer. My hands are rough from working on a dream.” Yes, he’s positive, but he also has to confront the rain pourin’ down to reach his goal.

What do we do when we find ourselves in a storm on the way to our dream?

While I was at the writing workshop with Cheryl Strayed at The Omega Institute, I discovered an excellent guide that addresses the reality of dream chasing. It happened one late afternoon when I attended a seminar conducted by Matthew Walker. He has lived out his wildest dreams through high adventure living, which include climbing the highest mountain peak on every continent, being a committed husband/father, receiving a master’s degree in applied behavioral science, and working as an outdoor educator and mountain guide for the past two decades through his company, Inner Passage. In his book, Adventure in Everything, Matthew provides, “A framework for making changes guaranteed to weave excitement and a sense of possibility into every single day.”

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I read Adventure in Everything and was impressed with the substantive details Matthew provides for achieving a high quality life. He goes far beyond positive thinking. His formula involves:

  • High Endeavor
  • Uncertain Outcome
  • Total Commitment
  • Tolerance for Adversity
  • Great Companionship

I was so intrigued by the book, I decided to discuss it through this blog over seven consecutive Sundays. That’s right! We’re going to have an online book club right here. By the time we’re through, you’ll be ready to tackle a goal whether it be to land a role in community theater or grow a herb garden. Anything your heart has been yearning to try. The start date is Sunday, September 14, end date October 26. If you’d like to reconnect with your dreams and passions, come along. Adventure in Everything truly delineates how to make the good stuff happen.

Learn more about Matthew Walker at:  http://www.innerpassage.net/

Adventure in Everything is available for purchase at  Amazon or you can order it through your local independent bookstore:  http://www.amazon.com/Adventure-Everything-Elements-Authenticity-Inspiration/dp/1401929605/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

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Authors Sue Halpern and Bill McKibben Present at Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga Springs

By SUSANNE MARIE POULETTE

 

PART TWO:   BILL McKIBBEN discusses WANDERING HOME:  A LONG WALK ACROSS AMERICA’S MOST HOPEFUL LANDSCAPE  

 

bill mkBill McKibben is a leading environmentalist and New York Times Bestselling author who has written extensively on the dangers of global warming.  His lengthy list of books include EAARTH, OIL AND HONEY, DEEP ECONOMY, and THE END OF NATURE which is considered to be the first book to warn the general population about climate change. He is the founder of the environmental organization 350.org, the first global, grassroots climate change movement.  McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the 2013 winner of the Gandhi Prize and the Thomas Merton Prize.

 

St. Martin’s Press calls WANDERING HOME “…one of his most personal books…Bill McKibben invites readers to join him on a hike from his current home in Vermont to his former home in the Adirondacks. Here he reveals that the motivation for his impassioned environmental activism is not high-minded or abstract, but as tangible as the lakes and forests he explored in his twenties, the same woods where he lives with his family today. Over the course of his journey, McKibben meets with old mCK 1friends and kindred spirits… all in touch with nature and committed to its preservation. For McKibben, there is no better place than these woods to work out a balance between the wild and the cultivated, the individual and the global community, and to discover the answers to the challenges facing our planet today.”

Bill McKibben took the podium while chuckling that he would take less time with his reading so that his wife, Sue Halpern, and tail-wagging therapy dog Pransky, the darling of the audience, would have longer for their presentation.  Before discussing his book, McKibben announced the People’s Climate March and invited all to join in the event. It will take place  in New York City on September 21, while world leaders are present at the United Nations for a summit on the climate crisis.  A link to the organization is provided below.

 

McKibben then read from WANDERING HOME, stopping occasionally to explain a point or add information.  He stated that he spends a lot of time thinking about “bad things”—global climate change—but walking and experiencing the beauty of the landscape offers good counter examples.  McKibben reverently described the extraordinary 360 degree view from the top of Mount Abraham.  He went on to read the passage about “Mt. Abe,” including the perfect weather conditions that gifted him with seven rainbows at one time.

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The Lincoln Gap to Mt. Abraham portion of the Long Trail

 

Having spent many childhood summers in the Adirondacks, I had some specific thoughts and questions regarding WANDERING HOME, which I presented to Bill McKibben:

SMP:   I noticed that your route on this trek took you north and then west of the mining communities of Mineville and Witherbee in the town of Moriah, so the issues of exposed tailings piles in that area aren’t discussed. Do you address this issue in any other of your Adirondack writings?

BMcK:  I don’t think directly, but it is a fascinating area. Amy Godine has written powerfully about that history. I drive through those towns pretty often, en route to Lake Placid from Vermont.

www.townsandtrails.com

View of Giant Mountain from Roaring Brook Trail

SMP:  I enjoyed learning about forests in your book, but I’m not acquainted with much of the terminology of woodlots, logging, and forestry. Can you suggest a book for one to begin reading and learning more about the topic?

BMcK:  I’d recommend reading Northern Woodlands magazine, which is remarkably good and accessible, and reading up on/talking with David Brynn of Vermont Family Forests, who is the kind and knowledgeable guru of the emerging new forestry movement.

 

SMP:  How remarkable that John Davis lives in his cabin with no power, running water, or motor vehicle. Does he spend winter in the cabin, and if so, what means of transportation does he use when weather precludes biking?

BMcK:  Well, John has married since and has a child. I’m not sure what his arrangements are at the moment. But my guess is that when it’s too snowy to bike he stays home, which seems like a sensible arrangement.

 

SMP:  From his boyhood days, my grandfather had a favorite pine tree at the very top of what we called Lock Hill, which I believe, is actually Lock Mountain. So I was especially touched by the quote from the hand-lettered sign of 1845, hanging on a giant white pine tree and asking that it be spared. Do you have a favorite passage from Wandering Home?

BMcK:  I think my favorite funny passage is about the hike out from Elk Lake to the bison farm, and my favorite sentimental passage is about the five or six rainbows I could see at once from the top of Mt. Abe as I looked out over the Champlain Valley.  I’ll remember that one on my deathbed!

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Lake Champlain

The Writers’ Loop wishes to thank Bill McKibben for participating in this interview, and Northshire Bookstore for bringing this distinguished author to meet his readers.

To learn more, follow the links to the following websites: billmckibben.com;  350.org;  peoplesclimatemarch.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Authors Sue Halpern and Bill McKibben Present at Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga Springs

By SUSANNE MARIE POULETTE

On August 14, at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, two prominent authors read from, discussed, and signed their books: Sue Halpern’s A DOG WALKS INTO A NURSING HOME and Bill McKibben’s WANDERING HOME.   I was tempted to title this post: “Therapy Dog Upstages Two Distinguished  Authors at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs,”– but I thought better of it.  You see, the audience was seated and waiting for the authors to arrive, when up the center isle walked Pransky, Sue Halpern’s therapy dog, who also walked into a nursing home.  Pransky sweetly greeted folks, walked toward the podium, and found a comfortable spot to relax.  When she arrived, Sue Halpern walked Pransky toward the audience for a more formal introduction.  For a second time, the labradoodle was petted, tapped, and ear-rubbed with oos and ahs and a clear, “I love you!” from one ardent admirer.  Pransky, better known as “Pranny” to Sue Halpern and her husband, Bill McKibben, went on to win hearts and hugs for the rest of the evening. 

Pransky 1

This is the first part of our interviews and reports on this double event.  Please return on August 17 for the second part featuring Bill McKibben’s presentation and information regarding the People’s Climate March to take place on September 21, in New York City.  And now,

PART ONE:   SUE HALPERN Discusses Her Latest Book, A DOG WALKS INTO A NURSING HOME: LESSONS IN THE GOOD LIFE FROM AN UNLIKELY TEACHER16158517

Sue Halpern has written for publications including: The New York Times Magazine, Glamour, The New York Review of Books, Good Housekeeping, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and Conde Nast Traveler.  She has authored five critically acclaimed books, on subjects ranging from butterflies to memory and aging. Halpern was a Rhodes Scholar and a Guggenheim Fellow, and is a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, Vermont.

In A DOG WALKS INTO A NURSING HOME, Sue Halpern applies her knowledge and background, including a doctorate from Oxford and work in prisons and hospitals, to write about her experiences as a therapy dog team with her well-behaved and highly engaging dog, Pransky.  She describes finding unexpected meaning and pleasure by volunteering in a public nursing home, and brings readers a new kind of dog book that offers lessons in virtue from a richly diverse group of nonagenarians.

 

Halpern began her presentation by telling humorous stories about previous readings where audience members have “confessed” to faking the label “therapy dog” to gain admittance for their dogs where they were otherwise not allowed.  So began her delightful presentation by eliciting laughter and encouraging all to ‘confess’ similarly, if there was a need.   Halpern then read passages and described how Pransky came to be a therapy dog, and why she highly recommends doing this kind of volunteer work.  “It is really fun….A dog doesn’t see people in a nursing home as their illness…a dog looks at them as just people.”

Sue Halpern 1

Earlier on, Halpern graciously granted an interview concerning A DOG WALKS INTO A NURSING HOME:

SMP:   Your title and cover really capture one’s attention.  How did you choose the title and the cover with Pransky wearing a nurses’ cap?  Did you work with an art director for the cover?

SH:   I kicked around a number of title ideas but none of them seemed quite right. Then one day the title “A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home” just came to me, and I thought it was both appropriate and playful, so I ran it by my editor and she liked it a lot, and she ran it by her people at Riverhead and they liked it, and that was that.  The cover was designed by the art director at Riverhead. She had the concept, and wanted to bring Pransky to NYC for a photo shoot. Actually, she said, “I want to shoot your dog,” which alarmed me, but then I realized she meant she wanted Pransky to be on the cover. I explained that bringing her to a photo studio in the city was probably not going to yield the best results, so a photographer was dispatched to our house in Vermont.  The photo shoot lasted three somewhat hysterical hours, especially because the photographer forgot after a while that her subject was a dog. “Pransky, smile,” she kept saying.

Pransky 2SMP:   Can you describe your writing routine?

SH:   I can’t honestly say that I have a routine, but when I’m working on a book I tend to spend as much time doing the research and reporting as I do the writing. When I have finished the research part I make an informal outline so I can see how things fit together, so when I sit down to write, I know where to go, though that often changes as I’m actually writing. I usually give myself a word limit every day. Sometimes it takes four hours to get there, sometimes fourteen, but if I’m disciplined I don’t stop till I have put in the words. I do a lot of self-editing, so I often am crossing out more words than I’m writing, which is frustrating.

SMP:  You write that Pransky comes home after working and sleeps, tired out from being such a patient therapy dog for two hours.  Does she show any indications that she is proud of herself for working hard? 

SH:   My sense is that Pransky has internalized that she works at the nursing home, which is to say that it’s just what she does. I know she loves being there, but I don’t think it’s a matter of pride, just a matter of fact.

SMP:  How is Pransky doing these days?  Is she still visiting the nursing home on Tuesdays?

SH:   Pransky turned 12 in July, and this month began her sixth year at the nursing home. But it is bittersweet because in June she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, and while she is doing quite well, all things considered, it is pretty clear that her time with us is coming to an end. What has been so gratifying is how the residents and staff at the nursing home have rallied around her.

SMP:   Often when visiting my mother in her nursing home over the years, I found it difficult to avoid becoming attached to the other residents, difficult to avoid internalizing their pain, both physical and emotional.  I could leave and try to put it out of my mind.  However, in writing this book, you took these folks home with you, and thought about them while writing.  Did/does it pose a challenge to avoid becoming personally attached?  Any advice for others who deal with the issue?

SH:   Empathy is a large part of what makes us human. Better to embrace it than shy away.

SMP:   Your book raises many issues that our elderly face, as well as some solutions, such as David Dworkin’s air conducting … “goodness is ours to dispense,” and shopping day,  “…the distinction between giving and receiving is often blurry and sometimes false…”  Did you have in mind to encourage volunteerism as well as raising awareness?

SH:   The quick answer here is “yes.” I was hopeful that others would read the book and get inspired to do something similar. I thought that by demystifying the nursing home, people might be less hesitant to volunteer there, and by showing what it is like to spend time there with a dog, they might realize that they can do something similar.

SMP:   One of my favorite quotes from your book is:  “…fortitude was not a virtue consciously practiced but rather one that accrued….And this: the reward for getting through life is getting life itself.”  Do you have a favorite quote?

SH:   Oh that’s too hard a question! I take the 5th.

SMP:   Is there anything that you would like to add for our readers? 

SH:   The best way to be a writer is to write. Sounds simple, and is simple—sort of—but people put up all sorts of obstacles in their own way. Since the world already puts up obstacles, don’t be complicit. And don’t worry about your first draft. Just get the ideas down and the words down. You can always go back to work to make them better and better. But you can only rewrite once you’ve written—so get to it!

 

On a personal note, I loved meeting Pranny, but I wasn’t able to get an interview because her interpreter, Sue Halpern, was busy signing books.  However, I can provide this link to a previous Pranny interview for readers to enjoy: http://suehalpern.com/pransky_interview.pdf.

Pranny and moi 2

Even bribing with treats didn’t work for a Pransky interview!

Pransky and moi

For more information regarding aging and/or therapy dogs, visit Halpern’s website link: http://suehalpern.com/links.html.

The Writers’ Loop wishes to thank Sue Halpern for participating in this interview, and Northshire Bookstore for gracing Saratoga with yet another in its rich array of author presentations.


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Author Signed Book Giveaway

The Writers’ Loop has been up and running for almost two months now. We’d like to thank all of our followers by offering a fun contest. We will be giving away four signed books from authors we have interviewed to one lucky individual. They are:

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bill mk the opposite of everything

 

You are automatically entered if you follow us through Word Press or by email.

If you are just stopping by, look to the sidebar on the right, and follow The Writer’s Loop. As soon as you do that, you are entered.

A winner will be randomly selected on Sunday August 24. We’ll announce the first name here and let that person know privately by email.

Thank you to the authors and publishers for providing the books for this giveaway.

Contests are just part of the fun at The Writers’ Loop. Please follow us and stop by often!

Peggy and Susanne


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A Blank Page

By Peggy Morehouse Strack

I thought I would blog more frequently while at my writing workshop at The Omega Institute with Cheryl Strayed. I could give you the expected answer as to why I didn’t. That I just didn’t have the time. That I was so busy crafting the great American novel and mingling with interesting people that blogging fell by the wayside. But that wouldn’t be true, although I did write and I did meet some pretty amazing people.

The reason I didn’t blog very much was because so much provocative information was being delivered that I needed to process it before writing about it.

Topics like objects and talismans, revelation, and interiority in our stories were addressed. There were questions like: “What is the universal question at the core of your work?” and “Is there another experience you’ve had that collides with this story?”

Yes. I did spend quite a bit of time pondering while at Omega, and will think about what I learned now that I’m home.

As far as blogging about the workshop goes, I’ll continue to focus on reluctance as part of the writing process. Anyone who has ever written or thought about writing knows what that means. When you’re face to face with a blank page, wanting to begin, but so unsure of how to start. Frightened that the right words won’t come, that what it so clear in your head will be an incoherent mess on the page, that emotions will seep out that you hoped would stay contained.

It’s the same reluctant feeling that we have when we stand alone on a trailhead before we enter the forest, when we stop on the shoreline before diving into the ocean, when we hesitate before saying “I love you” for the first time. Scary stuff lives in those places. Things like  bears and sharks and  rejection. Yet a stronger force calls us forward–a desire to explore, to feel, to live. Fear remains, but we move beyond it. Turning back would be like slapping our own spirit in the face. So we step into the woods, the ocean, love. We write that first word and allow our story to begin.

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“If your Nerve, deny you –Go above your Nerve –”

Emily Dickenson (and Cheryl Strayed) 

 

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Reese Witherspoon playing Cheryl Strayed stepping onto the Pacific Crest Trail in the movie “Wild” (to be released in December, 2014)

A Little Something Extra:

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If you ever have the opportunity to study writing with Cheryl Strayed, I strongly recommend it. By far, the best writing workshop I ever attended.


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The Craft and Heart of Writing

By Peggy Morehouse Strack

What did I learn on the first day of my writing workshop with Cheryl Strayed?

A lot. Much more than I have time to type out here, but I will share some thoughts.

First, I learned that the author of Wild is a superb teacher who sincerely cares about helping writers dig deep to uncover the story that only they can tell. When she first walked into the room I was admittedly star struck. That “in awe” reaction soon dissipated and was replaced by an eager desire to sharpen my writing skill. Cheryl has so much to give. Not only is she knowledgeable and prepared, she is kind, witty, friendly, and open.

My attention was particularly activated when she addressed writing reluctance. I had just discussed this with my co-blogger and friend, Susanne, the day before. I love to write, especially fiction, but lately I haven’t felt like it. My second novel is in the revision stage. I’m on summer vacation from my teaching job. I’ve had some interest from the publishing world. I should be sprinting to the finish line so I can stamp “the end” on the last page of my book. Instead of scrolling away however, I find myself online loitering on Facebook, checking my email, the weather, the news, the class schedule at the YMCA, Groupon, and Buzzfeed. When I’m done with that, I think where else on the World Wide Web can I visit or maybe I should sort through those boxes of books in my closet.

I know I’m procrastinating because creative writing is hard work and some days I just don’t want to work that hard. Cheryl relayed that good writing involves two major components: craft and heart. Regarding craft, there’s plot, characters, dialogue, setting, pacing, voice, language, beginnings, endings, and so much more. There are thousands of books available about the craft of writing along with an array of classes on the subject offered in most communities. I’ve done enough homework to know that craft is an area of study that is unremitting and forever evolving.

Then there’s the heart component. That’s even more challenging than craft. It involves digging down deep into my emotional reservoir and pulling out treasures that will stoke my story; zap it with originality and passion; capture a reader with a message from a journey that only I have traveled. I need to find golden threads from my own experiences and connect them to another through my words.

That’s tough stuff. As Cheryl pointed out, the way to make that happen is through practice. Finding a routine that works and sticking with it whether it be a couple of hours of writing each day or one long writing day per week. Different methods work for different people. The bottom line is when done consistently, craft and heart emerge onto the page. One to three hours of writing per day generally works for me, so no more excuses. In her book, Tiny and Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed gave this advice to a writer having trouble getting motivated for an assignment from The New York Times:

“Writing is hard for every last one of us. . . . Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. Which brings me to the last piece of advice I have: Get over it. Bloody hell: The New York Times asked you to review a book!…Am I going to have to remove my silk gloves and bop you with them? Sweet pea, you need to get out of your own head, get over yourself, and reach. Starting now.”

Well okay, Cheryl. I’m on it, and I hope she doesn’t wear silk gloves to class tomorrow!