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They always tell us to write what we know.  This doesn’t mean you have to know everything about something to write about it.  You can always find out.  But the truth is, the more you know, the better the piece.

Good writing requires that you put some of yourself into it.  The more integrated the writing is with who you are, the more a real person can shine through. When you write from what you have, what you’ve understood and internalized, the more wholeness, integrity show.  It’s always more believable when it’s coming from a place of knowing.  From a person you can relate to, or find common ground with.

Using what you have  – whether that’s writing, expressing love or tapping into supplies – you are sending messages of abundance to the universe.  You are saying that you are not afraid of running out of ideas, love, or pens.  Abundance principles teach that this simple act of using, multiplies.  The more you think you have, the more you have.  Ideas, in particular, are of a group which increase as you use them.  Muscles – body and mind – increase with use.

Objects which stay hidden, on the other hand, and are not used, create a drain. That creates a clog of some sort. In your mind or your life.  Things that are not used, not only take up physical space, but also psychic space.

If we are stingy with ourselves, we will be stingy with our writing.  Use what you have.  Give stuff, writing, love, time, ideas and whatever you can freely, and watch it increase.

Sometimes I find myself waiting for inspiration. I don’t know what to write, what to say about what I’m preparing to write.  It’s almost as if my mind goes blank!  Where has my muse gone?

Now, I don’t believe in the term Writer’s Block.  For one thing, it’s not something that happens exclusively to writers. (Though writers may be more sensitive to it than some, we also carry effective tools for dealing with it.)  Secondly, I don’t like imagining it as something as solid as a block.  I’ve found it a lot more malleable.

The opposite of waiting is flow.  So the best way to get things flowing again is to stop waiting and move in a different direction.

Sitting and suffering when things are stuck isn’t going to get the crops to grow again.  You don’t have to wait for everyone else to act, for all conditions to be perfect.  In some very difficult cases, taking action toward therapy may be what’s needed.  There are stories of those who sought to take action through drugs or drink, with less than adequate results.  But most of us can just get off our duffs and do something about it.  There are plenty of simpler, more healthy things that will do the trick.  The means are open to anyone, too, whether writer or not.

The key is to find something else to occupy your mind for awhile. Very often a walk, preferably outside, can open the channels again.  Just changing rooms could spark a few things. Anything which changes your perspective, can free your mind from the illusion of the block.  Taking action primes the pump for creative ideas to flow.   I like using music, especially live music.  Moving to music always inspires me!  Some may prefer a bath or shower.  Julia Cameron says that creativity is a spiritual issue.  It’s not about ego.  Anything you can do to ease your mind, find a place of peace in the situation, will support your creativity for whatever is needed.

As writers, we can bust through by putting pen to paper or fingers to keys and writing.  Anything at all.  It matters not what.  The physical act of writing can open lots of pathways. You don’t even have to be a writer to do it.  It’s perfectly acceptable to write that you can’t think of anything to write (or what to do about something), that you have no clue where to even start. In a few sentences you may be saying something like, “Well, I could do this …” and before you know it, you’re writing!  (Or painting, or composing, or looking into going back to school.)  I always support writing it out.

The lesson is that waiting does nothing to help the situation and there are a whole slew of actions you can take which do help.   Kristen Moeller wrote in her intriguing book “Waiting for Jack” asking, What are you waiting for?  It’s a study of why it just doesn’t pay to wait.  How many wonderful things you miss!  How not waiting can put you somewhere you’d never imagined.

In many ways we’ve become ingrained in waiting. Waiting in line, waiting for others to show up or do something, waiting for our favorite show to come back with a new season.

It seems to me that waiting tightens.  It interferes with free movement.  One could say, quite dispassionately, that they are waiting for a bus.  But more often than not our waiting is accompanied by feelings of anxiety.  Will the bus be on time?  Will I get a seat . . . ?  And therein lies the culprit.

The bad feelings we get around waiting do Nothing to open the way for the line to move faster, your friend to show up sooner, or writing to come. In fact, I would say, energetically, the more angst you produce, the more constricted the flow, and the longer you have to wait.

The quickest way to get over waiting is to just do it, if you can. When you’re able to move again, the anxiety slips away.  If you can’t do it, see if there’s some place to release the negative feelings.

Acceptance of where you are and what’s going on can eliminate plenty. Very often the simple act of acknowledgment that words (money, solutions) are not coming jogs things loose.  If we can just stop waiting and take some kind of Action  ~ even mentally releasing the present moment to be what it is ~ we are surprised by how things get going again.

Not long ago, I wrote about how asking “What if” was a hoax.  I believe it is a fallacy to think you can outguess life.

But I’ve come to see it from another way, now.  The question of “what if” is as essential to writing as it is to dreaming.

What if a person like this came together with a person like that?  Science fiction is based on what if questions.  What if that happens is the genesis of most fiction.  What happens next are the stepping stones.  You can’t write much without asking “What if.”

This kind of “what if” can spawn more questions to ponder.  What if I could reach out to millions of people at once with my words?  What would I want to say to say to them?  What would I wish the result to be?  What if I could help them see things in a different way, a different perspective?  That’s some important information to have.

“What if” questions open the way for unlimited dreaming.  What if you could be a success?  What if this situation was exactly as you’d like it to be? What if you got everything you wanted for Christmas?  What if you could have the things you want?

Invention is birthed in it ~ What if I could understand how this works better?  What if I could make it more able to serve?

Service is born from it ~ What if I could help others expand their options, help them to lift their burdens?  What if everyone I knew who longs to be of service was given the opportunity to use their gifts for others?

These are powerful questions about what is possible.  And the answers, while not able to offer any guarantees, can certainly map the way for some wonderful things to happen.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

I just love index cards!  They are incredibly useful. At under $5 for 500 in a variety of sizes and colors, ruled and un-ruled, and a host of accessories, they really are cheap and cheerful.

Their uses are expansive.  I keep coming up with new ideas.  Though it may be old school, I have found them helpful in keeping track of my most important contacts. They can be color coded for business associates, colleagues, hot prospects, whatever you need.  They are easy to retrieve and more accessible for jotting notes than a spreadsheet.

But this post is about writing.  Most recently, I have used index cards to help make sense of scenes in my novel. The next plot point is coming up soon, but I wasn’t exactly sure what had to happen to get there. The order was unclear and the build up missing. There are quite a lot of scenes that I imagine might need to take place before the big swing in the action.

I began by labeling each card with a short, BOLD TITLE for the scene. Next, I put the characters involved and listed the points I want them to cover, the things I want to happen between them. There’s plenty of room to say whether I want this to be narrative or a full blown scene. I can note any other characters that play a role, a distraction, conflict, added tension or anything else that occurs to me along the way.  Whether I’m waiting in line or sitting at my desk, I can have these little cards nearby.

When I have filled out all the information I need, I can spread them across a surface and have a wide perspective of the action.  Seeing how it all builds, what scenes might be repetitive or need some punching up or moving around.  I have found, in the past, that I sometimes need to change the order to make them flow better.  This view of the action helps to see all these things.

If it’s all in the right place, I can begin to number the cards in the proper order. This way, when I sit down to finally write it, I have a precise guide, making the writing a whole lot easier!

This method can certainly be used in other kinds of writing.  If you’re writing a paper to prove a point, you can create cards for each of your arguments and see if they flow logically.  Each card can offer highlights of the points you want to make.  When writing procedures, the cards can hold each step along the way, making sure it all makes sense.

The first life lesson here is in seeing things from a broader perspective.  Too many scenes, (or anything) bouncing around in your head, even listed on a piece of paper can’t compare to the visual you can create with these cards.  Perspective improves your vision.  Being able to see the Big Picture you can make calls that you can’t from a single slice.

The second lesson  is about taking things in small steps. The gathering of the information into manageable bits that are easier to digest.  Chores, ideas, feelings are handled much better in small packages.  Organized and collected.  This helps the artist brain whenever it’s tossing things this way and that.  For big dreams and ideas, you can use 5 x 8 cards to whittle them down to human size.

1) Getting the Delighted Idea.
Ooh la la!  Wouldn’t it be great to write about this! You can’t really start writing until you have an idea (or an assignment).  In life, this is the phase where you allow yourself to be led by your joy.  Where does my joy wish to go today?  This is usually an automatic answer, something that rises up inside of you.  (Or is handed to you.)

2) Developing with Love and Care.
This is the time to get clear on what it is you really want to say about this anyway.  I have written about the exercise   Where you talk to yourself on paper about what you want to write, without worrying about “writing” it. I like to do this by hand, so it’s closer to my heart, more flexible.  For instance, you might say, “I want to write about the phases of writing.  I want to show that it can be the same as phases of life.”  Writing easily about it and inserting notes like, “What about making it a numbered post?”  In life you might see this phase as figuring out just what you want.  Getting clear on it.

3) Type it Up.
At least in this day and age, it’s important to get it onto the computer.  This is tending well to it.  Rather than leaving it on a piece of paper which can get lost or stuck with other papers, this is a way of preserving it, making it real.  Even if you begin with a typed first draft, this is where you can play with it – now that it’s on the computer.  As you type it up or read it over, you can flow a little more with it, come up with new ideas, settle on a direction, rearrange your thoughts.  When we tend well to ourselves, we prepare ourselves well for the journey ahead.  We take care of ourselves and get what we need.  We give ourselves and the piece our attention.

4) Refining and Revising.
This is the heart and soul, the work of writing.  This is where it all happens.  Making it “money.”  In life, we are taking the steps toward what we want. Sending out the ships, as Chellie Campbell says.  There are those who teach that writing is really rewriting.  I see it as taking the raw materials and mixing them together into what you wish to create. Working the dough until you get it just right.

5) Letting it Go.
This can be tricky.  But there must come a time where you need to say it is finished.  I like to review it one more time to make sure it rings true and then let it go.  In life, we have to trust and surrender to the path in front of us.  Let go of things we no longer need and let our light shine for others to see.

Thanks for listening.

I read somewhere that if writing isn’t drudgery, isn’t hard work, than you’re not really writing.

I think that writing is a joy.  I like to say that writing can not only make a living for me, it also helps me plumb the depths of my soul and reach out farther than I could’ve ever imagined.

The most challenging part of writing is figuring out what you want to say.  This is simply a matter of clear thinking.  The next step is to express what you’ve decided you want to say. This takes courage.  To commit to paper or screen where others can see and judge, takes some bravado.

One could say this part is difficult.  I believe though that everyone who has a mastery of a language can say what they want to say.  Granted, those of us who have written our 100K+ words may find this easier than others. Wielding words, after all, is what we do.  And surely we can create more poetic and flowing words than those who have not put in the time.

It does take time.  It takes effort.  It takes thinking and dedication.  But none of that is drudgery.  It’s magical.  Some might call it holy.  Making a wonderful Thanksgiving meal requires planning, shopping, preparing, patience, attention and effort.  But the joy of serving the meal to those you love eradicates any thoughts of drudgery.

When words come together in just the right harmony and resonance, there just is nothing like it.

If you find writing hard work, I suggest you take up something else.  You might try recording your thoughts and taking dictation to make it easier.  Or hire a writer who loves it!

It is, officially, NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month.  Though I think this is a noble endeavor, I haven’t yet been able to wrap my mind around the practicality of writing an entire novel in a month.  Being a strong believer in rewriting, I’m not sure I could do it.  However, I see the value in that even if one comes out with a hastily tossed together first draft, it’s a whole lot better than none.  Having something in the works can provide ample motivation to keep going.

But, alas, though I have a novel, it has taken me far more than a month to write it.  Started in the early 2000’s and put on a shelf somewhere mid-way through the decade, to make room for more practical writing assignments.  I’ve resuscitated it over the last year or so and making slow, but steady progress, through the monthly meetings with my blessed critique group. Giving much of my time to non-fiction writing these days, it’s not always easy to find time for fiction.  This constant attention keeps it in my life.

This is why I’ve set up my own National Novel Month (NANOMO)  exercise.  I’ve fashioned it to fit into my schedule and style.  My process is simple: Every day I must do something on the book.  It doesn’t matter how much. Some days I work on organizing the scattered papers. Another I might write a whole chapter.  I could take notes on what is to come or read a few pages of notes.  It’s okay if some days all I can do is think about it for a few minutes.  It doesn’t matter what I do or how much time I spend.  It’s about giving attention to it each and every day.

The point of this, as Julia Cameron says in Finding Water is, “it does add up.”  I plan for as much of the long Thanksgiving weekend as I can to work on it.  Last year, when I did this, I was raring to go by the end of the month!  My small efforts every day had built into a head of steam.  I dug in and got a whole lot done!

It’s a good lesson in perseverance.  Whatever you pay attention to adds up.  You can use this for all kinds of things like making money, improving your look, or getting into college.

I honor the Novel this month by choosing to give it my time every single day.

I’ve been in a critique group for a long time now.  I often think how blessed I am to have found a group of people who are so good at critiquing.   But then I realize the faces have shifted over the years. Their common qualification is simply being writers and being willing to participate in the process.

Being in a critique group may just be the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing. There’s something inspiring about having a group of people telling you they like what you’ve written!  It’s also amazingly helpful to hear what didn’t work.

I have found that if more than one person makes a comment, there’s always something wrong. There have been times when someone in the group has helped me find just the right word I was searching for or shown me precisely what I was trying to say.  Other  times I’ve felt that what I said worked better. The comments received though, later on, have led me to take another look.  Whether I take their suggestion or find my own way there, the further attention makes the writing better, clearer, sharper than it was.

Our process is simple: We email 5 double-spaced pages ahead of our meeting date.  This gives us all time to read through and decide what we want to say.  At the meeting, we discuss our comments, giving the writer space to respond.

Critiquing though is an art. You can’t just go stomping in and say you didn’t like something.  The wrong comment delivered inarticulately can ruin a writer. At our core we are all sensitive artists. And we don’t like to hear that we’re bad at what we love to do.  You must be specific.  If you can, tell the writer exactly what went wrong, what didn’t work for you.  It helps if you can precede it with or couch it in as many compliments as you can.  Like a little sugar, the medicine goes down a lot easier.  You can talk about being unsure or not understanding.  Any feeling is okay to let the writer know if what she intended has worked.

Whatever rules may be set forth in your group, it’s good to stay within them.  At least at first.  But I believe the true Art of Critique is having respect for the person as a writer. Deliver your comments with this in mind – that the writer knows what he wants and is capable of making the necessary changes. That way your comments will be more about pointing out places that need more attention. Rather than corrections from a frustrated English teacher who always wanted to write a book but never did.  With respect you will be sure to acknowledge what you found interesting, while you’re making your suggestions. If you don’t have this attitude, your comments will fall on deaf ears at best.  You’ll crush the writer’s spirit at worst.

One of the toughest situations I have found myself in has been when someone has asked me to read their manuscript and it was horrible!  I would never say that to anyone who has made the attempt, crossed the line, gotten over themselves enough to commit their words to paper.  It is an act of faith to write something and give it to someone else to read.  There is certainly artfulness needed in this case.  You must find everything positive you can say.  Focus on those things.  Then, being kind and generous, if it feels right, point out one or two of the flaws you see.  Maybe offering suggestions for how to remedy them, if that seems appropriate. There’s no cause to point out all the problems.  If the person continues to write (if you or someone else doesn’t slam them down too soon) they will find out in due course what’s what.  The point is to have respect for what’s been written.

I have learned so much about writing from my group. Things like how to keep the reader in mind with everything I write. They’ve also taught me the art of critiquing.  I am deeply thankful for them for all they’ve given me.  Every writer needs a critique group.  No matter what you’re critiquing, make sure it’s done with respect and you’ll know just what to say.

This is, I believe, what got me to fall in love with writing in the first place.  I tend to think it’s easier to generate with fiction, but maybe it’s just long form writing that fuels it so well.  But anything, really, can pump the steam.

It happens when you spend enough time on a project.  I’m not sure of the exact number of hours.  It probably varies by the assignment, hormonal levels, time of year,  temperament, etc.  It no doubt differs from person to person.  From time to time, too.  Others may use different words to describe it. I only know what it’s like when it overtakes me.

Whatever I’m working on dominates my thoughts. It fills my head.  I can’t wait to get back to it!  I wake up bursting with ideas.  I hear passages or dialog in my head when I’m in the shower.  When talking to others, I’m usually working out how this could fit somewhere.  I’m even more in need of pen and paper than usual.  I’ll use cocktail napkins, paper towels, scraps of paper, paper place mats, matchbooks, whatever I can get to capture the ideas, revelations, understandings, new twists that come spilling out of me.

This steam not only takes over thoughts.  It is also the fuel that propels me forward.  I can get so much done with it pumping!  Whip through first and second drafts, full chapters, complete essays.  It may well push me through to the end.  Or until something comes along that lets the steam out. . .

I believe this is why National Novel Writing Month – November – is so important.  It’s a wonderful steam generator.  I intend to take up the challenge again this year.  The way I do it may not be as disciplined as some.  My process entails doing something on the project, no matter how small, every day.  By jove, by the time the 15th or 16th rolls around, my head is full of steam!

Shall we call it another illustration of my first rule of writing: Nothing Breeds Writing Like Writing.

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could plot all your conversations?  Not knowing how the other person will respond makes it hard to write a script for it. But as a writer of fiction you have the ability to play with the possibilities, to make guesses.  Perhaps in this practice we will find the seeds for better conversations off the page.

There are as varied methods of this as there are stories, . Every author has his or her own way of doing things.  But I think the main points are as follows ~

1)  You need to decide what it is you want to occur in the conversation.  What is the outcome you’d like? Where do you want it to leave everyone and the story?

2)  Be clear on the points each participant must make.  This is where the careful plotting goes on.  What needs to happen first to move the conversation logically and easily into the next? Think about what’s possible and what’s probable for all.  What are the needs of each person here?  What are their motivations?

3)  Listen to what the characters have to say.  Don’t be addicted to it finishing up a certain way.  The characters might have their own ideas about where it should go. You can always backtrack and adjust.  But allowing a new direction or new path to form if the characters choose it can take you to interesting places. Your characters may well  know more than you do.  If you’re not so sure about where the conversation ends, imagine the possible results from it.  Does this new angle make more sense, add a new twist?  Sometimes you may find that it does.

But if you’re not completely sure take some time to analyze it.  The new direction might  look cool just because it’s surprising. (Especially if you’ve been heading down the same road for awhile.)  As the author you must make this call.  It is your story.  Is this new perspective really what’s best for the story, for where you want to go?  Like the way I must weigh the thoughts of my writer’s group.  If I have three comments – sometimes all different – I know I must step in and make the choice on how it will be changed.  It has to be my call.  (Hint: If more than one person finds something wrong, there is a problem that must be fixed. As the author, though, you need to choose how that will happen.)  Do so even with your characters’ ideas.

4)  When you’ve finalized the plot, envision the exchange to see where their bodies are. Body language can show motivation in ways words cannot.

5) Read the conversation out loud to see if it makes sense.  Maybe even enlist others to play the roles!

If you’re going to have an important conversation with someone where you are not the author, it can be helpful to follow these rules, too.  Think about what you wish to cover in the discussion, what your points need to be and where you’d like it to go. See if you can guess others’ motivations – what are they looking for?

In your next conversation watch carefully, with a writer’s eye to see how it turns out.  Listen well for what the other person’s motivations might be.  Make choices in the moment. Just like fiction, you may need to stay open for the track the conversation takes, despite your desires.

In all conversations, if you stay open to what the others’ needs might be, you can mine rich material for your characters and write more true-to-life conversations.  Paying attention to your own needs and those of others can make your real life conversations more effective.

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