Posted in Backstory, Ideas generation, Journals, Writing craft

A writer’s letter to Santa Claus

christmas treeWhat do you give a writer for Christmas?  Most of the lists of suggested gifts 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 have a different view of what a writer – like me at least – really covets.  So, apart from the Moleskines which I covet every year, Santa Claus is really the only one who can fill this list.  I’d like to share my 2014 letter to Santa with other writers and aspiring writers.

“Dear Santa:

So we come to the end of another year.  It’s been a year of writing, not writing, writing some more, editing manuscripts, madly searching for a publisher, and taking a foray into self-publishing.  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.

  1. First, I would like a few Moleskines.[1] I know that they’re expensive as notebooks go. I know that other people in my life can provide these as well – but one can never have enough Moleskine notebooks, can one? After all if they’re good enough for Ernest Hemingway, they’re good enough for the rest of us. I also know that most of my work is digital. But I can’t shake my addiction to those brightly-colored covers. I seem to be inspired to write just by looking at them. Or at least I’m inspired to think about writing. That’s a first step in any project, isn’t it?books
  2. Now to the things that only you can give me. First I’d like the gift of a continually open mind. Let me see ideas everywhere I go and in everything I do (then the Moleskines become very useful, right?). Let that open mind accompany me when I read the newspaper, eavesdrop on conversations in restaurants and airports – well, you get the idea.
  3. I’d also like the gift of patience in the rewriting and editing process. That feeling that comes at the end of a finished manuscript at long last is wonderful, but can put me off from the rigors that are then required in the revision process. I need that forbearance more than anything else to get me through that part of the writing process.
  4. Then, Santa, although I know it might be difficult, I’d like the gift of compassion for all those agents and editors who can’t seem to answer their email in a timely fashion – even when they’ve requested the proposal or manuscript. *deep breath*
  5. I’d also like the gift of creativity so that I can see old ideas in new ways. I have journals filled with all those ideas from my sometimes open mind (see #1), but they are often derivative or jotted down on a whim leaving me without a clue as to context later. Please let me revisit those journals and consider how to turn those ideas on their heads or inside out to come up with a truly innovative approach to the material.
  6. Finally, thicken my skin just a little bit as I prepare to send out a manuscript to readers for pre-publication comment. I’m sure they won’t all love it (as they should).

Well, that’s it for this year Santa.  I’m planning another hard-working writing year and hope to be able to share with you at the end of 2015 just how far I’ve come with these gifts of Christmas 2014.  Merry Christmas!”

[1] For the uninitiated, Moleskines are (as their web site 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 colors amazing.

Posted in Ideas generation, Journals

Travel as writing inspiration

Who wouldn't be inspired by a beach in Tahiti?  I was.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by a beach in Tahiti? I was.

As I finish draft three of the new book and begin deliberations with a new publisher (more about that in an upcoming post), I’m also thinking about my packing list – that list is the one for an upcoming trip to London, Rome, the Greek Islands, Athens and ultimately five days in Istanbul. Travel is the other love of my life – after my husband, son and my writing.  I’m taking a few notebooks, a great pen, a mini-iPad and a flash drive.  Other than clothes, that should about cover my needs!

The truth is that I think we can be inspired by so many things. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, we need to be always aware of our surroundings, what we see, what we hear, how we feel about what’s going on around us.  There we can find the genesis of an idea.

As I’ve said before, “The most accurate way to describe my mind is to use the Buddhist term: monkey mind. That’s me.  My mind is always moving; the thoughts are chattering away, unbidden.  Ideas fill my head from morning until night.”  Obviously, this can sometime make real life challenging, but I’ve learned to cope as all writers do.  The truth is that travel – whether to the other side of the world or simply to the other side of your town, province, state or country – opens up my mind t new things if I only pay attention and let my mind fill with the ideas without grasping for them.  Then that’s what the notebooks are for.  I take along several Moleskines™ of different sizes, my favorite kind, a great pen, and an iPad for making electronic notes that I then either store in Dropbox or send to myself as an email.  The flash drive is in case I have access to a computer in an airport lounge or, as is the case on this upcoming trip, in our suite on board the ship that will take us from Rome to Istanbul.

My new character.  What could she be thinking?
My new character. What could she be thinking?

I’ve been inspired with ideas for historical fiction in particular several times in the past. Two great ideas are still gestating in my mind as we speak, since I’ve been embroiled in several non-fiction projects with deadlines and haven’t had time to get back to my real love.  But that time is fast approaching.

One time several years ago, my husband and I were on a ship in the Mediterranean. Believe it or not the ship interior was the inspiration.  Among the various pieces of fabulous artwork on board was a large painting that covered one wall of the piano bar.  I was drawn into the face of the main subject as she sat aboard a ship on what in my mind at least was a transatlantic voyage.  She was a character out of an era that has always fascinated me: the 1920’s.  I photographed her and thought about her, wondering what she was thinking.  I didn’t figure it out until a year later when we visited the Caribbean island of

Bequia and I saw the ruin of a village that was evidently built in the 1960’s but in my mind (and that’s all that really matters to a writer, isn’t it?) it was built much earlier and finally I had a transatlantic connection.  I’ve already started the book.  Maybe I’ll post the first chapter here some time.

Moon Hole, Bequia.  My character is headed here.
Moon Hole, Bequia. My character is headed here.

The places that we’re visiting over the next month and a half are steeped in ancient history. I’ve been doing as much background reading as time permits and I think I’m ready.

I’m going to listen, look, smell, taste and feel some new experiences. I’m going to write those impressions down in my trusty notebooks and then I’m going to come home and write a new book.

Other thoughts about inspiration, keeping journals, and travel:

The Genesis of an Idea

Keeping journals

Maybe Bora Bora will inspire you! (from our travel blog)

Posted in Journals, Writing craft, Writing rituals

Blogging as writing practice

Just like athletes and dancers, those of us who call ourselves writers need to “practice” our craft and “warm up” before embarking on a new piece of work.

Whenever I’m faced with the prospect of a brand new writing project and find myself sitting in front of that blank computer screen, fingers poised over the keys, I need to feel that I am in practice and that I’m warmed up to begin properly.  So, how do writers practice when they’re not writing something destined for publication in one way or another?  And how do we warm up for the task at hand?

Over the years, many writers have simply kept journals.  I’ve done that myself and I continue to do it.  I love my journals as any of my regular readers know. I have journals for a wide variety of things.  But they do serve me two very different purposes.

The first purpose is for me to have a place to write down ideas as they come to me.  Most writers do this and these days many will do it electronically on IPhones and IPads or other electronic devices.  I do this as well, but for me there is nothing like my nice pen and my Moleskine journal(s).

What kind of book notes & ideas reside in this journal? Hmm...

The second purpose for me in keeping journals is for writing practice.  Writing guru Natalie Goldberg says, “It’s good to go off and write a novel, but don’t stop doing writing practice.  It is what keeps you in tune…”[1]  I’ve always loved her approach to writing practice; keep your hand moving.  That works fine when I use a pen and notebook, but it’s not so useful when I’m at a keyboard.  Maybe it should be, but it isn’t.  That’s where blogging comes in for me.

Just like everyone else out there, when blogging first started to become a force, I started a blog.  I thought that I could use the blog to make some of the work I do at the university available to a wider audience – but I wasn’t committed to it, and as I look back on the exercise now, I think I really wanted to learn the technical aspects of blogging more than I wanted it to be good pieces of writing.  But blogging can be that practice Natalie talks about.

Consider this: if you are a writer, you need to write every day – or at least those five days a week that you devote to “work.” (I know, some of your friends don’t think you’re actually working when all you seem to be doing is sitting at home diddling away on the computer – my mother thinks that if I’m not in front of a class or at a meeting, I must not be working.  I wonder where she thinks those books come from?)  But you don’t always have a big project – and sometimes when you do, all you seem to be able to do is stare at that blank screen.  This is where blogging as writing practice comes in.

Blogging, however, can only be a practice if you are committed to it.  This means that you commit to writing almost every day and posting at least every week or two.  But do you have to make your every blogged thought available to the masses?  In a word, NO!

Not every blog has or needs to have an audience.  You can actually blog away with your settings set on private.  It does not need to be searchable by the Googles of the world.

For most people, blogging requires an idea that triggers a personal response that then becomes the basis of a blog post that begs for reader response.  Blogging in this scenario is a very public activity that begs for that dialogue.  Blogging as writing practice, on the other hand, does not need an idea, or an angle.  It does not need an audience, and certainly doesn’t need any feedback.  It just needs the writer to begin with a word or two – such as “I remember…” as suggested by Natalie Goldberg – and fingers to the keyboard, repeating that two words every time the ideas stop flowing.  What’s very important here is that what you write doesn’t even have to be good – it just has to be.

This is how I justify spending time on this and my other blog – the other blog is one that chronicles my other passion – travel.  They started out as ways simply to practice and warm-up before a big project.  They have, obviously, evolved.  That’s the nice thing about writing practice (even in your journals): you never know where they might lead.  They just don’t need to have an objective at the outset.  Happy blogging!

The Common Craft video reminds us that blogs are “news” of the 21st century – but as writers, we know better.  Blogs can be anything we want!


[1] Goldberg, Natalie. (1986, 2005). Writing Down the bones.  Shambhala Publications, p. 17.