Category Archives: Quotes

Romance Your Writing

I sent this post out to my list on Valentine’s Day but you can romance your writing all year long!

Happy Valentine’s Day, Your Writerly Highnesses!

May this day remind you of the many ways in which you can show your love. Not just in the romantically high-profile ways like giving flowers to your sweetheart, but also in the less heralded ones like extending a friendly hello to a stranger on the street, going out of your way to open a door for someone struggling with groceries…or taking two hours out of your busy day and spending it on a writing project that’s close to your heart.

Our writing projects need our love too!

When we have a longstanding relationship with our writing, as many of us do, we can take it for granted. It can become a chore, an item on a to-do list – or even worse, a source of quiet torment because we haven’t been able to get to it lately.

Here are four romantic gestures to dissolve the dreary and rekindle the spark between you and your writing.

1. Plan a date night, if you’re a night owl – or a date morning, if you’re a lark. I was busy all last week with editing work for clients, and so to ease my writerly heart, I made a plan to devote the first two hours of my Saturday to my memoir project. An act of love that not only soothed my soul, it was also fun!

2. Yes! Write for the fun of it! Being a dutiful sort, I have to remind myself to have fun with my writing. (Sad but true.) Deciding that having fun was the only requirement made for a delightful morning. And inevitably, that have-some-fun! attitude opened doors to great solutions to writing issues that had been dogging me for months.

3. Take your writing on a retreat. Dedicating time just for your writing project with no other distractions is delicious. I’m lucky enough to be part of a group of writers who periodically gather in a secluded setting – a retreat centre, a group of holiday cabins in the off-season, or even someone’s home if our numbers are low and other family members are away. We devote our days to writing on individual projects with very little interaction among us. Then we reward ourselves with a great meal (we take turns cooking dinner) and an evening of revelry! I just booked myself and my memoir into a weeklong retreat this coming April. Can’t wait!

4. Share your writing. This seems obvious, but we generally don’t write strictly for our own amusement. It’s important to find out how our words affect people. There’s little more rewarding than evoking an unexpected positive emotional response to something we’ve written. It fuels our desire to keep going. But even if the response is negative, it’s so helpful to find out how we can improve (assuming the reader is someone you trust as opposed to someone whom you know won’t support you). Finding your voice as a writer does not happen in a vacuum. Austin Kleon, author of Share Your Work, says it well: “I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.”

Paying attention to our writing by using our voice, by giving it our time, or by writing in community, blesses us in the best possible way – with that deep, heartfelt peace and contentment that comes from doing something we were born to do.

The Courage to Cross the Finish Line

Just a few days ago, I received a beautiful new Young Adult (YA) novel in the mail, a gift from one of my clients who had hired me a year ago to provide her with feedback on her work in progress (see Masterpiece Package).

I told Lucille (not her real name) that she had a strong story idea and gave her some notes as to what she needed to do in order for her idea to be realized. She had done a lot of business writing in the past, but this was her first attempt at a novel. The issues that I identified are commonly found in novels in progress.

I told her to make sure that:

• your focus is on your main character.
• your character is active and that his/her actions are driving your story.
• you provide enough detail and examples to make the world that you’ve created come alive for your reader.
• when you use dialogue, your characters have distinct voices that reflect who they are, so that we always know who’s speaking.
• your language and tone are oriented toward a contemporary YA reader.

A year later, at another client’s book launch, Lucille came up to me and thanked me for being honest about the shortcomings in her novel, and not simply telling her what she wanted to hear. She told me that she had taken my notes to heart, had been working away on her manuscript, and would be having her own book launch soon!

What a joy it was for me to hear that! Whether or not she applied all of my suggestions was less important to me than her willingness to take the feedback, to keep going, and to carry her fledgling novel across the finish line.

It takes stubbornness to cross that finish line, it takes talent and, perhaps most important of all, it takes courage. Just this morning, I received that very message in a blog by Seth Godin, brilliant best-selling author, entrepreneur, TED talker and all-round motivational god: “You can improve your skills, get better tools and do the hard work of actually getting better…But most of all, you can realize that the most urgent work is the work of dancing with your fear, because the fear is the real reason the work isn’t getting done.”

Lucille didn’t let her fear hold her back. And that makes Lucille a hero.

“You’ve wrapped. You’ve shipped. You’ve licked this sonofabitch. Kudos to you!”
Steven Pressfield

Writing When You Don’t Know What to say

Do you think you need to know what you’re going say before you sit down to write?

You don’t.

Holding that belief, often unconsciously, is a great way to keep from writing at all and an even better way to make writing an excruciating, bloodletting experience.

For my first decade as a professional writer, I tortured myself with the assumption that I had to figure out whatever I was writing in advance. I opened a vein every time I put a word on the page. Not so surprisingly, I didn’t do much writing for the fun of it during those years, because writing wasn’t fun. It was interesting, it was rewarding, it was gratifying to be able to earn my living in such a cool way – but fun? Never – or at least rarely. Only when I was able to turn in my completed script. Then I was ecstatic. I wasn’t so much into writing as I was into having written.

I was saved by deadlines, without which I would never have begun anything. I was saved by nightfall when the whole world slept and, pulling yet another all-nighter, I sat alone at my desk, looking out the window at a darkened, tree-lined street, empty of all humanity, checking my long hair for split ends while I waited for the words to come. I was saved by page after page of yellow lined paper inscribed with my messy long-hand.

Sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, and in the innermost of the witching hour, the words could finally appear, the ideas could flow, the solutions to writing problems could materialize – not exactly effortlessly but far more freely than in the glare of daytime when, inevitably, the reflexive belief that writing required advanced planning would once again reclaim its command over mind, heart – and pen.

As seems fitting, it was writing that freed me. In the early 1990s, when I started leading journal-writing and other kinds of creative writing workshops, I would instruct my participants to write without thinking, without letting their pen leave the page and, most important of all, without any need whatsoever for their writing to be any good. It didn’t even have to make any sense.

Timed exercises were the ticket to writerly freedom. One of my favorites was giving my writers five minutes to write their autobiography, an idea inspired by Deena Metzger’s brilliant book, Writing for Your Life. A deliciously impossible task, it often provoked unexpected insights and revelations (an unexpected bonus, never a requirement).

Because it felt weird for me to sit at the front of the room doing nothing, I wrote along with them. Seeing me scrawl away in my notebook gave them permission to scrawl away in theirs, and doing the exercises gave me something to do besides stare at them like an examination proctor. When my trusty Tibetan bell announced that time was up, I stopped when they stopped.

Writing in tandem with my participants, I freed myself as a writer.

Timed writing continues to be a mainstay in my writing workshops and is part of my personal practice as well. I do it often, and in fact am doing it right now as I write this blog! Setting a timer for a short period of time is a great way to bypass that insistent message that you need to know what you’re going to write before you write it.

The familiar advice, “get out of your own way,” when applied to writerly endeavors has always struck me as more annoying than helpful. However, I’ve come to understand it as finding a way to deactivate the inner fraidy-cat who doesn’t want any of us to write a single word unless certainty is guaranteed. Timed writing is a great way to do that.

With the exception of grocery lists and the like, writing is not about certainty. At least not the kind of writing that makes your (and your reader’s!) soul sing. “Writing is the act of discovery,” says Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones and countless other wonderful books on writing.

“We are writers, and we never ask one another where we get our ideas. We know we don’t know,” says the renowned Stephen King, author of 56 novels at last count and winner of countless writing awards.

And the great essayist, novelist, and screenwriter, Joan Didion, winner of the National Book Award for The Year of Magical Thinking, says it beautifully: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Not only do we not need to know what to say before we sit down to write, we mustn’t and we can’t. It is when we place pen on page or fingers on keyboard that we find out what we want to say. This excerpt from Wanderer, by Antonino Machado, speaks of the vicissitudes of life, but it applies equally to writing:

Wanderer, the road is your
footsteps, nothing else;
you lay down a path in
In walking you lay down a

Lay down a path of words now, Dear Writer. Set your timer for five minutes and tell me the story of your life.