Posted in Writing

A writer’s 2021 letter to Santa Claus

What does a writer want for Christmas? Inspiration, tenacity and a killer work ethic spring immediately to mind. But these are things that neither friends nor family members can provide. They’re the kinds of thing a writer must find within, but maybe there’s someone who can assist at least a little bit with these.

Most of the lists I see online for suggested gifts for writers are filled with things like computer writing software, printer paper and coffee cups emblazoned with bon mots from writers who have gone before us. I’m not sure that these are things most real writers covet. Of course, every year, I wish for more Moleskines, of which I can never have too many.  Apart from that, there are a few things I might covet. I’d like to share my 2021 letter to Santa with other writers and aspiring writers. 

“Dear Santa:

Well, here we are. We made it to the end of 2021. Last year on New Year’s Eve, we all toasted to the end of 2020, hoping that it was gone and forgotten and the weirdness we’d been experiencing would fade away. That, of course, didn’t happen, and we’ve been slogging on through this peculiar pandemic and all it entails. For me, though, it has had a silver lining. It’s been a year of writing, not writing, writing some more, editing manuscripts, and publishing not one but two books. Well, you know what I’ve been through this year. I’ve worked hard, so I know you’ll look kindly on this writer’s little Christmas list. 

First, I would like a few more Moleskines.[1]  Of course, they’re expensive as notebooks go, but who can put a price on a writer’s dearest companion? I thought you might agree. I know that other people in my life can provide these as well―but one can never have enough Moleskine notebooks, can one?  Anyway, if they’re good enough for Ernest Hemingway, they’re good enough for the rest of us.  I continue to be addicted to those brightly-coloured covers. I seem to be inspired to write just by looking at them, and surely contributing to inspiration is Santa’s job, n’est ce pas? Other people can also give me Moleskines, and that’s fine with me.

Now to the things that only you can give me. First, I’d like the gift of present mind―one that stays in the moment and pays attention. Let me see ideas everywhere I go and in everything I do (then the Moleskines become very useful, right?).  If that mindfulness could be with me wherever I am―sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, riding the subway, dining at a favourite restaurant―then I might pick up a few ideas. You know what I mean?

I’d also like the gift of serenity in the rewriting and editing process. When I write, I seem to be in the moment, but I get fidgety when I begin editing. You know that feeling? When you just want it to be over? Well, I know that the rewriting and editing are at least as important as the writing, so I need that serenity, unflappability. Could you bring me some? Thank you.

Then, Santa, although I know it might be difficult, I’d like the gift of benevolence toward the editors who can’t seem to answer their email in a timely fashion―even when they’ve requested my proposal or manuscript.  *deep breath*

Well, that’s it for this year, Santa.  I’m planning another hard-working writing year, a new book out next fall and hope to be able to share with you at the end of 2022 just how far I’ve come with these gifts of Christmas 2021. Oh, and if you can manage it, please deep-six this damn virus so we can all travel again. You know how much travel inspires me! Thanks for reading, Santa. Merry Christmas!”


[1] For the uninitiated, Moleskines are (as their website says): “…the heir and successor to the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway…”  You can read about them at http://www.moleskine.com/en/moleskine-world and buy them all over the world in book stores and online.  The paper is great and the array of sizes and colours is amazing.

Posted in Writing, Writing rituals

Don’t cure writer’s block: Avoid it!

So, what is writer’s block? Is it a real thing? Damned if I know. I’ve never had it. No, really. I. Have. Never. Had. Writer’s. Block. I’ve been writing for thirty-plus years and cannot ever say I’ve been blocked.  Stuck from time to time, maybe. But it only lasts for a nanosecond, and I find myself able t move forward. I think it’s because (a) I don’t buy into the notion that it’s a thing for all writers, and (b) I have some habits that seem to help me void the dreaded block.

We all get stuck once in a while. We just get unstuck. Being blocked is being paralyzed by an inability to continue a project you’re working on. This paralysis is a problem and a problem that sits squarely inside a writer’s head. Does that make it real? Only if you want it to be.

I’m not the only writer who doesn’t think writer’s block is a real thing. Or at least we can avoid it.

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. For me, there’s no such thing as writer’s block―don’t even say writer’s block.” ~ Judy Blume

“Writer’s block doesn’t exist…lack of imagination does.” ~ Cyrese Covelli

“Writer’s block is just an excuse by people who don’t write for not writing.” ~ Giando Sigurani

“Writer’s block is just a fancy way of saying ‘I don’t feel like doing any work today.’” ~ Meagan Spooner

Here are the ways I avoid writer’s block.

1 – At the first sign of being stuck in a project or when the characters seem to have stopped talking, I change my environment. I get up and go for a walk. I do the laundry. I make a sandwich. I don’t’ just take my writing to a different space―I put my head into a different space.

2 – To avoid falling into the trap of seeing only the problem―or even letting the situation arise in the first place―I do some writing practice every day. I have notebooks of all types and will write something. Sometimes, I write a script. Other times a blog post for the travel blog I write with my husband. Sometimes, it’s just a few paragraphs.

3 – I always have at least two projects on the go at the same time. I am always writing a novel―always. That’s a given. But I also write scripts for my YouTube Channel and often have another book at some stage of gestation. For many years, I always had a fiction and a nonfiction project on at the same time. My newest novel (out next month) was written while I was also writing How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal that Sells. Stuck in one project? Move to the other, then come back.

4 – I have a writing ritual. Before I begin writing, I always have a cup of coffee. Always. Sometimes, I add a yoga session before the coffee, but the coffee is a ritual that gets me moving. It’s not about the caffeine. It’s about sipping the coffee mindfully. This means that you’re not thinking about your writing during the ritual―you’re thinking about the coffee. Or the yoga. Or the Chopin Nocturne you’re playing on the piano. Then you write.

5 – I have a second creative outlet. I design clothing and create garments. This is a major creative outlet for me that often feeds my primary passion: writing. You might take up sketching, playing music, ballet, oil painting, singing, making Kumihimo jewellery or whatever other creative passions ignite you. You’ll be amazed at how this creative outlet can get your writing muse on the ball.

I’m going to give Erica Jong the last word (you know her, of course??)

“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” ~Erica Jong

So, if you’re afraid of being judged, just write for yourself. Writer’s block will dry up.

I can almost guarantee it. Almost.

Posted in Journals, Writing, Writing craft

5 tips to make better use of your journals and notebooks

You have journals, right? Writers have journals.

The authors of an interesting article in The Guardian newspaper in 2018 about the inner workings of writers’ journals said this: “Note-taking is not just a method for remembering. It is a way a writer tells himself, or herself, a story―and this becomes a process of life, a mode of being.”[1]

But this story-to-self is unpublishable. And that’s where we begin.

Your notebooks and journals serve several purposes, but one of them is NOT to be published. Ever. They are for your eyes only. That’s the beauty of them. They are probably also the only time you write long-hand these days. I know a few writers write without a computer, but that’s not who I’m talking to here. I believe that a writer needs a pen-and-paper journal or two (or three).

I have five tips to help you make better use of your notebooks and journals. (Skip to the bottom to see me talk about these tips).

1 – Choose your writing instrument carefully.

Your pen (or pencil if you prefer) should glide across the paper. If it doesn’t, you won’t write as much or as often. There should be no scratching at all.

2 – Use it every day.

I mean it. Every day. Without fail. (well, almost veery day) Write something. Try Natalie Goldberg’s approach from her wonderful book Writing Down the Bones for writing practice. Start with “I remember…” and keep your hand moving for 10 minutes.

3 – Turn it into your artistic ritual.

Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit (which I’ve mentioner before) has a wonderful section on artist’s rituals. For example, composer Igor Stravinsky had to sit at his piano and play a Bach fugue every morning before he began work. Julia Cameron, author of the now-classic The Artist’s Way, talks about “morning pages” for writers: a ritual that gets the creative mind in the mood. Make your daily journal writing your own personal ritual.  

4 – Have more than one.

This is my approach. I have one for gathering snippets. One for each project I’m working on or thinking about. A “big-idea” book. I reach for one or the other several times of day as I sit at my computer when I see, hear or think of ideas don’t belong in that particular manuscript.

5 – Regularly review your journals to mine them for inspiration.

Your jotted notes that capture your thoughts and observations are a treasure trove of ideas. Think of them as a treasure chest you can open whenever you want, whenever you’re suffering from writer’s block, whenever you’re looking for new ideas. Remember that you were impressed enough by the thought to write it down. Why did it impress you? Go back and figure it out.

Is your notebook a diary? It can be, but for most writers, it doesn’t seem to be. Use it to try things and remember things. But just never publish it. And remember, it is the one piece of writing you’ll do that is unhackable!


[1]

‘Messy attics of the mind’: what’s inside a writer’s notebook? https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/06/tales-masters-notebooks-stories-henry-james