I’ve written 11 nonfiction books. I’m completing the final edits on my 11th book (to be published in April 2020 by Shanti Arts). I write this weekly Writers' blog (most weeks). I write for a local paper. I’m working on the finishing touches of my novel. And yes, I’m writing my 12th nonfiction book (which is for writers!). I’ve published a few short stories, and, I’ve submitted poetry to contests. (Okay, and I'm taking notes on a memoir I'm working on).
Like most authors, I don’t make enough of a living from my writing, so I have day jobs.
So, how do we keep writing till our project is complete?
The way to keep writing is to stay in the conversation with your theme and subject. You are in fact writing when you are cleaning the toilet if while cleaning ideas come to you. (and you jot them down).
When you are in the conversation you will harvest metaphors and lines like an apple picker during peak season. While in the conversation you will think about how to present an idea or scene. You will work sentences in your head. You will pay attention and notice more. What you notice will be relative to your subject and theme. You will explore ideas on your feet and off the page.
When sharing your subject and theme with someone else it is conversational when the dialogue is going back and forth, not if you are just telling someone about your book or ideas. There is a back and forth, a give and take, an exchange in conversation. You will get more ideas, make more connections when you are heavy on the listening and light on the talking.
All in all, when we tap into the conversational nature of reality with a given subject or theme the doors of the Divine open up to synchronistic and meaningful encounters which will have you pulling out your field notebook and taking notes.
Of course, writing does get down to putting ideas down on paper (or these days your computer screen). However, the writing it down part will be more natural and progressive, just part of the conversation. Conversational writing will not feel forced and there is no such thingy as a writer’s block.
How to Stay in the Conversation and FINISH your Project (book/blog/article):
Focus your conversations and explorations.
Be open and look for metaphors and analogies in your daily environments (that are subject and theme related).
Always carry a field notebook (on my walks, I use my phone to take notes).
Hand write ideas or thoughts down (every day).
Have guiding questions that open you up to receiving ideas.
Write a weekly blog on your subject or theme.
Keep to a particular subject (and theme) till your project is done. (That means you Dina.)
Join a supportive Writing Circle, (not a critique circle).
Hire a Writing Sherpa!, Mentor or Coach.
Take workshops on your theme or subject (just as important than on how to write).
Sign up for my on-line class The Initiated Writer.
Find a new environment once a month to write in.
And you could always get a new (rescued) puppy . . .
We will be welcoming Lulu into our home on March 27th.
“How would we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.” W.H. Auden, taken from, The More Loving One
Being appreciated and recognized as a writer is lovely. – Acceptance and recognition is something that we want but rejections, being edited and rebuffed are part of the writer's life. However, when we do get an acceptance from a publisher or editor, we often forget all the rejections it took to get there. I could wall paper my home with the rejections I received on my first manuscript. I landed Doubleday with that book. I had rejections from agents and publishers for my latest manuscript (my 11th book), until I received a contract from Shanti Arts. A perfect publisher for this book and its message.
I see that all my acceptances (even in personal relationships) are built on upon a multitude of rejections.
So, viva la rejections. This literally translates into LIVE THE REJECTIONS.
Then, after the acceptances, comes the editing, which becomes another dance of letting go on what we thought our piece would look like. The editor will reject some of your sentences, and challenge your ideas and how you present them on the page. Excellent! These mini rejets are again what will lead to something beautifully written.
So viva the mini rejections!
I submitted a feature article to the local paper, not having all the skills for this particular genre of writing. The editor accepted my article but I had to work on the craft of writing for a paper. So, his mini rejets made for a better article.
"Love the piece more than yourself," Matt Geiger, executive editor of the local paper said to me (as he challenged some of my writing!). Such great advice to all of us writers: make the piece more important than feeding your ego. Have our focus be on making something beautiful, or at least something of interest to our readers.
In this weeks consultation with the I Ching I received: "Concern yourself not with the form things take but with there content." An invitation to cut through my bravado and concerns about appearances . Instead, I can focus on what makes this piece genuine and meaningful to me, and hopefully, to my readers.
Create something meaningful for readers from your JOURNALS and NOTES. Or learn how to USE YOUR JOURNALS and notes to make a great written piece. From Journal to Reader: 4 Evenings of Turning Your Ideas and Journals into Blogs, Articles, Essays, or Book for Readers. 4 Thursday nights, two in June and two in July at Healing Services on the River in Prairie du Sac. June 14th and 28th; July 11th and 25th. 5:30 pm till 9:00. Room for 10. Register soon, as this will fill up fast. Your investment is $220.00, includes personal attention and consultation and critique of 10 pages. You will leave with a solid template and path to sharing your ideas with the world. Contact me at email@example.com.
“The greatest way to reduce suffering in our lives and the lives of others is to take care of our bodies, along with our speech and our thoughts” (Thich Nhat Hanh).
“Body, speech, and mind are considered the three doors to enlightenment” (Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche).
In Buddhism, Mind, Body and Speech are the doorways to enlightenment. Or happiness. Or health, creativity or joy. Mind, body and speech are pathways to a meaningful life. Speech refers to how and what we communicate. What we put out into the world with our words. Right speech is encouraged. We want our words, and the consequences of our speech to have integrity, to have a positive impact.
The Buddha defined right speech as “abstinence from false speech, abstinence from malicious speech, abstinence from harsh speech, and abstinence from idle chatter.” (I can't claim for a fact the Buddha said this, I wasn't there to hear it for myself. The Buddha did not write anything down. The earliest known scriptures were recorded hundreds of years after the Buddha's death. Still, the Buddhavacana. Words of the Buddha, are claimed to be the literal utterances of the Buddha as the Sangha orally maintained them since the Buddha's death.)
Right speech means not lying, not using speech in ways that create discord among people, not using a cynical, hostile or angry tone of voice, and not engaging in gossip. These guidelines urge us to say only what is true, to speak (and write) in ways that promote harmony among people, to use a tone of voice that is kind, and express ourselves mindfully in order that our speech is useful and purposeful. Right speech helps people connect to one another.
Messaging the world through our blogs, books, letters, texts has consequences. Any time we have a reader we are influencing this person. We are making contact and having an impact on them.
I am influencing you right now.
We can make the world more beautiful and resilient through our speech. We can empower ourselves and others through our written words and through every conversation. Our words inherently hold a reciprocity. Every shared word has a karmic imprint.
When it comes to your speech consider the impact you want to have on others, along with the karmic imprint this creates on your life's path.
MAKE A LOUDER, MORE MEANINGFUL IMPRINT: Create something meaningful for readers from your JOURNALS and NOTES. From Journal to Reader: 4 Evenings of Turning Your Ideas and Journals into Blogs, Articles, Essays, or Book for Readers. 4 Thursday nights, two in June and two in July at Healing Services on the River in Prairie du Sac. June 14th and 28th; July 11th and 25th. 5:30 pm till 9:00. Room for 10. Register soon, as this will fill up fast. Your investment is $220.00, includes personal attention and consultation and critique of 10 pages. You will leave with a solid template and path to sharing your ideas with the world. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” Neil Gaiman
Join up with other writers, agents, authors, writing mentors and coaches at UW, Continuing Studies 30th Writers’ Institute. April 4-7th, on the beautiful (and historical) Madison campus.
Jane Friedman and Jennie Nash are the Keynote Speakers. (Jane alone would be worth the admission.) But the benefits, connections and resources only start here! Explore a plethora of possible avenues to writing success with a personalized pathway to publication.
I will be offering advanced manuscript critiques (a few slots left). And, I will be one of the coaches for this year’s PATHWAY TO PUBLICATION mentorship program. If 2020 is your year to complete your manuscript or to get published, this is the program for you. Take advantage of this EXCLUSIVE publishing opportunity for attendees of the 2019 Writers’ Institute.
Okay, hope to see you there.
"Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and adventures are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes and forgotten." Neil Gaiman
You have likely heard the expression: “You can’t travel in a parked car.”
As it turns out, we can’t get far with too many cars parked in our stall either.
A woman whose seminar I sat in on last spring was at a recent staff meeting of Social Work instructors. (A truly great group of people to find myself in). She was a natural educator and taught about micro and macro levels of social work practice that made the subject relatable and meaningful. She was funny. After the talk I approached her with a collaborative idea and she responded with interest. I sent her a follow up email. And when I didn’t hear back within a month, I sent another one (in case there was an email issue). I never heard back. Then recently I see she will present the same talk again (and I’m excited to learn from her again. Like a great sermon, a repeat of her material is sure to further inspire). I admit to wondering if she knew of my secret flaws and just wasn’t interested in meeting up with me. (I admit to you I have flaws so secret I am not always aware of what they are myself, but others certainly catch on to them.) My curiosity and boldness helped me to send out one more email. No response. Then, at this staff meeting, there she was. She sat at a long oblong table among a dozen other instructors. When she spoke up she was articulate with a bent of humor and vulnerability. I wondered if she knew who I was. I contemplated whether I wanted to approach her. I put this matter in the hands of Spirit, in that, I had already reached out and there was no need to push the river or make a point. I practiced too, not taking her inaction personally. (Everything, always is grist for our spiritual practice or writing.) As I got ready to go, she came over to me. She apologized for not getting back to me. She was interested in getting together and generously offered that I share my ideas at her seminar. I declined because I wanted my students to get the full breath of her talk (and I wanted to hear it again). She said she would get back to me soon. I told her I would follow up too.
So, what stopped her from getting in touch with me? She revealed that my emails were “parked in her in-box.”
I was one of her parked cars. She mentioned having many of them.
I realized that I too have many, too many, parked cars.
In my preparation for spring break I will tend to all my parked cars first. (She now is one of my parked cars, because I have yet to get back to her). I have a crowded parking lot.
All those parked cars, if still parked during my holiday, will rob me of a truly enjoyable time off. They will haunt me, as yours do you. Parked cars cram our creative space with a chronic nag. All those things we need to attend to but put on hold rob us of fully enjoying our day to day life.
During my holiday, I want to write, attend yoga classes, take a few day trips with my dog, walk and maybe start another project. I am signed up for a facial and a massage. (I want to enjoy my TV binging time which I am sure to do!) I want to send out some letters (not emails). So, I am busy each day now clearing out my parking lot of saved emails, boxes I’ve yet to unpack, commitments I put on hold, and work related tasks. I am checking-in internally to all my “maybes,” “I will get to that,” and, unfinished projects. I am doing my Yes, No, Maybe practice. Maybes are parked cars. This simple and effective practice can be found in my book, The Zero Point Agreement: How To Be Who You Already Are.
Well, you will hear from me next week when I’m on my holiday because I want to write my blog; I enjoy writing these blogs. I hope you enjoy reading them. That's another thing about parked cars -- how many of them are things you really don't want to do?
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I will be at Sjolinds on Friday, March 29th from 10 till 2:00 Come to write, meet other writers get some free consultation with me.
I am excited to announce that I will be offering a WRITING & Yoga RETREAT in August with yoga teacher (and writer) Molly Chanson. Enjoy 4 days of writing, yoga, nature walks, meditation, more writing. Leave inspired and more aligned in mind, body and speech. More details soon!
“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality.” — Ursula Le Guin, National Book Awards speech, 2014
We tend to see out of the same lense. We look out into the world and interpret what we see with an unconscious regularity. Our habits and set ideas tend to drive our narrative. We also know that to change our habits, such as what we think about ourselves, or, what we eat, is difficult. Research has shown us that we are unlikely to change anyone’s mind, unless they are at least curious enough to listen. Internal change comes by invitation.
We may live in a smaller picture but many of us crave a larger view. We seek to experience and understand more.
Writing can help us gain a larger picture, and give us the power to change our lenses and view. Writing gives us a way to witness our lives, so that we can participate in a more conscious way. And, as we open up our view more, we will help our readers open too. The power of the written word is mighty for the writer as she writes and then for the reader as they read.
There are known writerly tools that open our consciousness and view, that help us gain vision while we capture a bigger picture. Here are a few:
Leave the recipes.
Intentionally break rules and patterns.
Stay longer or leave early.
Identify and challenge all expectations.
Hand write ideas and stories down. (Journal every day).
Write a poem.
Write about the door you haven’t opened; the visitor who never came; the country you never visited; the person you never met; the room you never entered.
Hang out with new people. Travel to new places. Go on a scavenger hunt for new items, conversations, people. Give yourself a day to visit a new place with your scavenger list. Don’t go home till you have most of the items checked off. (Of course, keep notes.)
Do consciousness-opening practices.
Visit communities that expose you to a diversity of people, or, a new culture.
Switch the art on your walls. Move your furniture. When things don’t change, you stop seeing them. Change things up.
Be curious. Ask questions. Listen.
Writing Prompt: (When it warms up), go outside and listen to all the sounds. Listen for the sounds beneath the sounds. Jot them all down in your field notebook. Then (separately) write about what you don’t remember…. I don’t remember my father visiting me; I don’t remember my childhood kitchen; I don’t remember my first kiss…. (as examples, I do remember my first kiss). Then, later bring these two together: write a poem using the sounds and what you don’t remember.
“The use of imaginative fiction is to deepen your understanding of your world, and your fellow men, and your own feelings, and your destiny.” ― Ursula Le Guin,The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1979
"Once one has eyes to see it, wholeness can always be found, hidden beneath the broken surface of things." Parker J Palmer, On The Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Older.
Whether the brokenness comes from within or without, writing can open a way in and through our brokenness.
We all fall, get our hearts broken, experience disappointment and loss, get scared and feel our separateness from others. To write gives us a way to be present with all the brokenness and then to discover its hidden wholeness. A wholeness that consistently resides within and around us. Writing gives permission to our vulnerability and a way to be intimate with all that scares us. Writing is both a way to contemplate the world and a way to stay engaged.
My book, The Zero Point Agreement, was (unknown to me at the time), a love letter to my future self and readers. A way to lay a path down and give myself a place to go. What I find to be true is, what we experience as we write is experienced by the reader as they read.
My novel (which is nearing completion!) is a place for me to play, learn and explore. I get to go into places through fiction writing that are off limits elsewhere.
Now, my up and coming book, The Red Thread, based in part on conversations with, and teachings of Parker J Palmer, helped me to live more whole and courageously in a broken world. I intend my future readers to tap further into their courage and wholeness. On Valentines Day I received a contract to publish this book with Shanti Arts.
I am grateful to the time I give myself to write and to read. I have traveled on the page places I would otherwise have missed.
apparent in the world
Beyond that world of opposites
is an unseen, but experienced,
unity and identity in us all"
– Joseph Campbell, Reflections on the Art of Living
Write about that.
Meet up with me and other writers at Sjolinds in Mount Horeb Friday March 1st, 10 till 1:00, to write and visit. I will happily consult with you on your writing.
Here is a thing my heart wishes
the world had more of:
I heard it in the air of one night
when I listened to a mother
singing softly to a child
restless and angry in the darkness. Carl Sandburg, WindSong
Poetry helped me make sense of my teenage years. I still have my copy of Wind Song by Carl Sandburg along with Leanord Cohen’s Selected Poems and Rumi. If I open Wind Song too far or too fast the binder will snap. I would likely have been more alone, and my mind less connected to the metaphorical reality of life if it weren’t for my poets. Poems and metaphors make connections where there appears to be none. Metaphor and poetry don’t render us stuck on just one thing – one idea or perception, or relying on someone else’s idea; poetry lets us come to understand something in our own way.
Meet Matt Geiger. I met Matt by responding to an ad in the local Buyers Guide. I was new to Mount Horeb and searching for connection and opportunities to meet my neighbors. So, instead of throwing out the Guide, I took a look. (It was a lonely night and one never knows where inspiration and connection can be found.) I didn't find anything until up in the right-hand corner on the last page was a small ad for a reporter. I applied and Matt (the Managing editor) asked me to send my resume and a writing example. I sent him a recent All Write Wednesday blog. I figured he wouldn't be interested. I figured wrong. I have been writing articles on the Town of Blue Mounds board meeting for 5 months now. When I shared my new writing job with a friend she gave me Matt's first book, “Raised by Wolves & Other Stories.” He has since visited my writing circles where he has astonished and inspired us all. Matt Geiger’s debut book, “Raised by Wolves & Other Stories” won First Prize in the Midwest Book Awards and was named as a Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the American Book Fest. His new book, “Astonishing Tales!” was named by Cyrus Webb as one of the best non-fiction books of 2018. He currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife and their four-year-old daughter.
Playing With Words by Matt Geiger
We are a narrative species.
Each animal has its own special adaptations that allow it to survive, and sometimes even thrive, in a hostile world. Giraffes have their long necks. Cheetahs have their speed. Birds of paradise have their resplendent plumage. Turtles have their shells. Wolverines have mandibles shellacked in bone marrow.
And we have our stories.
When other species are young, they play with their gifts, honing their adaptations to a razor’s edge. The baby pronghorn jumps and runs, practicing maneuvers that will one day keep its haunches just out of a pursuing wolf’s snapping jaws. The baby tiger stalks a leaf.
We play, too. We play with words. And once we are good enough, we play with stories. Because stories are how we survive. They are how we elude the devils that pursue us, and they are how we give meaning to magnificent little lives that, when you think about the scale of the cosmos, and billions of years that our earth has been here, and the 200,000 years that our species has been walking and wondering, are so very small.
One of the most important things stories do is to help us really see the world around us.
There is a bumper sticker, popular in the part of the country where I live, that proclaims: “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention!” I think the opposite is true. Outrage is easy. Outrage will come to you. You don’t even have to try. Your phone will deliver outrage directly to your eyes, which will instantly transfer it to your amygdala, where it will fester and eventually cause you to lash out at your fellow human beings, before it eventually gives you a heart attack or a stroke.
You don’t have to pay attention to be outraged. Outrage is for the lazy. What you really need to pay attention in order to see, is all the beauty, and all the humor, that paint the spaces between the anger in our vast world. Those are real, and they are here with us, but it is they that require effort on our part. It is they that require vision. If you don’t see them, you aren’t paying attention.
And that is where stories come in. You have to be observant, and you have to assume your readers are not. Yet.
Stories help us see the world around us. They disrupt our habitual perception of the world, shaking us out of the autopilot we use to get through our days. They make us really see. And once we start really seeing the world, what we find is not horrible, cruel, evil, ugly things - which we knew were there all along - but rather beautiful, funny, wonderful things.
Beauty and humor mean nothing if you do not see them. You, as a writer, show them to people, really put them in front of people, and say, “look!”
The first step is simply to stop and see the things right in front of you, which is what most novels and short stories do. There is even a word for it (in Russian): “Ostrananie.” It means “to make strange” or to “defamiliarize.” When writers employ ostranenie, they use semantic or linguistic shifts to slightly change the reader’s perspective, and they give the gift of sight. They make the reader really see the things in the story, by showing them in the illumination of strangeness, and the result is a gift.
And with that strangeness comes intimacy, and the opportunity to share.
I’ve written before that there are really only two times in life when we really, really see things. The first time, and the last. What you try to do when you write, is to let people back into the world, so that they can see it as if for the first time, but before it’s the last.
Out minds already know this. Each night while we slumber in darkness, our brains go to work, flooding themselves with ideas and images from our ordinary lives, but made strange. And in your dreams, when your mother rides in on a Huguenot, or your boss morphs into a homunculus in a jar of spirits on the desk in front of you, your mind sees the problems that lay before you in the real world, and works to solve the puzzles of everyday life.
If you write humor, you want your readers to laugh more; not just when you tell a joke in your book, but out there, in the big, messy world. You want your stories to make them see more humor in the real world.
If you write horror, you don’t just want your readers to jump on page 130, when a monster jumps out of the shadows; you want their skin to crawl a month later, when they have to go into the basement to change a lightbulb.
If you write romance, you don’t just want them to fall in love with your characters; you want them to be more able to give and receive love in the real world.
Words are merely symbols. “Love,” “hate,” “beauty,” “death” - they are not the things they represent. But they can make you see the things they represent.
Anton Chekhov, one of the greatest writers of humor and tragedy, knew that a comprehensive view of the world is impossible, but he also showed us, through his stories, that little bursts of insight, meaning, and humor are possible. That’s why we have our stories, our species’ adaptation, which help us to see the world, and to share it with those around us.
Click on book cover to purchase book at Amazon.
In my work with writers I give a lot of attention to the writer’s life and the writing experience. When we set up the conditions for a writer’s life, we will write. When we write, our writing will naturally improve. Our voices will emerge from the words; our ideas will move along the page; we will discover ourselves, our stories and what is meaningful to us. When we cultivate a writer’s life, –– blogs, articles, poems, and books will emerge from our busy lives.
We will flourish as writers.
All Write Wednesdays: World into Word
All Write Wednesdays is a blog about living the writer's life. Everything in our lives is material. Read all of the All Write Wednesdays posts.
Zero Point Blog
The Zero Point blog shares my teachings about living your life from the inside out and becoming the cause rather than the effect of your life. Read all of the Zero Point posts.
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Julie lives in Mount Horeb WI where she walks her dog through Stewart Park, gardens her corner lot, attends yoga at Bliss Flow Yoga in Madison and waits for spring 11 months of the year. She is author of The Zero Point Agreement & ten other books. She also writes for the local Mount Horeb paper and in her free time listens in on others' conversations at Sjolinds.