Posts Tagged ‘writing’
You know writing is good when you feel you have a one-on-one relationship with the author after reading their words. (Does this feeling grant me first name basis? Hug to you, Ann!) Today I’m finishing “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage,” a collection of essays by New York Times bestselling author, Ann Patchett. Each of these curated essays are autobiographical in nature, painting the scene of her dashingly successful writer’s life.
While disparate and not chronological, each chapter spells out the broader story of Ann’s life. She uses simply poignant words, sharing her successes without shying away from her faults. She loves her dying grandmother, swipes a puppy from a child, leaves her first marriage thinking she’d never succumb to matrimony again (although, spoiler alert, she does on p. 265.)
While I find Ann’s personal life interesting, what really intrigues me is her advice on writing. I think of her with something akin to awe, impressed at her gumption and raw talent. She also inspires me to go after my own writing dreams:
If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, “I’ll be playing in Carnegie Hall next month!” you would pity their delusion … Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. (p. 28)
With that wisdom in mind, I’m recommitting myself to make time to write, for the sheer pleasure of learning how to write better. You can see the Chinese fortune I’ve kept for years. “You have a charming way with words and should write a book.” Sometimes this fortune taunts me, reminding me I haven’t yet quieted the compulsory urge to be an author. I don’t aim to be the next J. K. Rowling; I’m not after fame and glory. It’s more the sheer delight of capturing a story in words I’ve never gotten over, not since kindergarten.
I sometimes get distracted by other interests, but I’ve always felt writing beckoning me. I’ve had idea after idea, and even started a few books, but put them off with internal justifications. “I’ll get to it after I’m done with grad school assignments,” was the reasoning for a long time, and now, “Oh, maybe when my baby is older, or when I’m in my thirties.” The most logical (and true) excuse is my lack of desire to even look at a computer after a full day of office work. (As Ann states, “The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.“) While there is validity all of those reasons, something inside me knows I’m procrastinating my own good. (Besides, I make time to keep up with multiple social news feeds. Time’s there for the taking.)
And so, this week I’m following my own fortune, even if I’m starting small. I publicly commit to write for one hour every day this week. I’ll report how it goes.
Here’s a question to consider: If you could write your own fortune – what you really want to achieve – what would it say? And are you going in that direction?
I recently stumbled across a fabulous TED Talk. Elizabeth Gilbert, known for her internationally acclaimed memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love,” shared insights into what it was like to have skyrocketing success as a writer.
Surprisingly, such writing fame made her feel the same misplacement of self as she did in her years as unpublished waitress. The heights of success and lows of rejection felt the same to her subconscious: an unsettling distance from her center. After that explanation, she really caught my attention by saying she needed to get back “home” as quickly as possible.
Gilbert describes home as “what we love more than we love ourselves.” For her, it’s writing. When I grant myself the time and space to flow with words, I really feel at home too.
What is “home” for you?
No matter our gender, age, or socio-economic status, we’re all granted the same daily salary in minutes and hours. When’s the last time you did something you truly, completely love to do? For me, writing is a high thrill. Stringing words together in fresh ways gives me a rush. It’s my creative outlet, it’s my sanity. All that being said, the title of this post deserves a question mark more than an authoritative colon.
I’ll admit, this post is mostly for me. For someone who really is “delighted to write,” I confess I keep struggling to make time for it. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the daily minutiae, while my lists of writing ideas sadly stack up on my desk, waiting for me to give them legs. Granted, working full-time, finishing a master’s thesis, and being 37 weeks pregnant does take a toll on a person. But I hope to live my life making time for the people I love and and doing things I truly love to do. As I’ve thought lately about how I hope I’ll use my time as a mom, these are ideas on how I’ll keep my writing aspirations alive:
Keep a notepad nearby.
A couple months ago I heard NPR’s classic Diane Rehm interview best-selling author John Grisham about his new book. It struck me how he wrote the entire manuscript on legal pads through handwritten snatches of inspiration. It took him three years. He enjoyed the process so much, he was reluctant to hand it over to publishers. Lesson learned? Be ready to capture ideas as they come.
Close all browsers.
With a bachelor’s degree and (soon to be) graduate degree in communication, I consider myself an educated media consumer. Yet I still get sidetracked by email notifications, social media updates, and other Internet traps. I’m fully aware content is designed to pull one in, and have still been a willing victim to virtual distraction. In William Powers’ life-changing book, “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age,” he points out “unnecessary interruptions and consequent recovery time now eat up an average of 28 percent of the working day.” He adds:
Unlike computers, when we switch tasks – either by choice or because we’re suddenly interrupted – it takes time for our minds to surface and focus on the interruption, and then still more time to return to the original task and refocus on that. (p. 58)
I’m going to do a better job of closing all other browsers and limit my computer’s power to distract me when I write.
Set the smartphone aside.
My smartphone both liberates and imprisons my time. Sure, I have access to the world’s knowledge in the palm of my hand, but it’s alarming how much time I waste checking out social feeds, app updates, etc. My “only two minutes” on Instagram turns into 20, and my days get eaten away. I do see great value in keeping in touch with people, but recognize the need for self-discipline. When I’m writing (like now), my thoughts can’t flow through my fingers if they’re busy texting. The phone can wait.
Pick a time and stick to it.
I’m willing to give others appointments of my time; why not myself? Sure, some days are more time-committed than others (I’ve avoided the term “busy,” ever since I read this NYT article), but I can have semi-weekly times reserved for me. I featured my writing friend, Amy Wilde, who wrote her entire memoir in the hours after her children went to sleep. She dedicated that time to writing, and now has an inspiring book published.
How do YOU find time to write (or whatever else it is you love)?
With Halloween around the corner, what’s better than a good ghost story (or ten)? I’ve known author Paul Rimmasch for a couple years here in Ogden, Utah. This Saturday Spotlight features his current project: a series of ghost stories, based on his experience as a local CSI investigator. Turns out, they don’t call late nights the “witching hour” for nothing and “tales of the paranormal” find their way into CSI fieldwork. Spooked yet?
Q. As a CSI investigator, you have the unique role of deciphering fact from fiction. How does that play into your current writing project?
My concept for the book I am writing is to not only spin a spooky yarn, but to place the story in the law enforcement context in which it was experienced. For example, when I paint the picture of the truly horrifying thing an officer saw in the Ogden City Cemetery one night, I will also explain why cops park in such secluded places in the first place. Or, why was it that when I was stuck in an elevator in a haunted hotel, the people I was stuck with were looking at me funny.
At first I was unsure of how this concept would play, but advance readers have been fairly positive, so I guess it is working. I love folklore, whether in written form or told around the campfire. When you think about it, campfire stories were the first form of literature, and even in this digital age, there is nothing quite as magical. This is my attempt to add to this wonderful genre.
Q. Do the ghost stories you’re sharing come from real-life experiences?
One might expect a career in the forensic sciences and an interest in ghost stories to be diametrically opposed. After all, one deals with verifiable evidence and the other delves into a realm where proof has proved to be more elusive.
The reality, however, is that CSI fieldwork and tales of the paranormal fit together like a hand and a glove. In this business, you spend a lot of time hanging around dead people and the places they died. And not just any dead people; we’re talking suicides and homicides. These violent acts, and the strong emotions associated with them, have traditionally been the genesis for many a haunted house. Spend enough time in these places and you feel and experience things that lead you to believe that there are things in this universe that can’t be measured scientifically.
Remember, law enforcement personnel are awake and about when honest people are home in bed. They don’t call the interval between midnight and 4:00 “the witching hours” for nothing, you know. One also finds oneself alone after dark in cemeteries, mausoleums, lonely country roads, and old abandoned buildings. Everyone has seen enough scary movies to know what happens in those places. When something happens to a cop or CSI that they can’t explain, most accept it at face value and don’t try to make it fit into a preconceived intellectual compartment.
Q. Tell us about your first published book.
My first book is entitled “The Lost Stones.” Quite a departure from what I am working on now, it is a fictional adventure story with a heavy dose of real-life archaeology mixed in. “The Lost Stones” is in the same spirit as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “National Treasure,” but with LDS themes. I thoroughly enjoyed doing the extensive research that went into writing the book and it is very gratifying to get feedback from readers saying they learned something new by spending time with my characters.
Q. What did the publication process look like? Did it take longer than you expected?
Compared to a lot of authors I have met since “The Lost Stones” came out, I think I had it pretty easy for a first timer. The publisher, Cedar Fort, was only the second publisher that I sent my manuscript to. As a first time author, I didn’t really know what to expect, but the time between acceptance and publication did seem to drag on forever. When you get that acceptance letter, you are about as excited as you’ve been in your whole life. You want stuff to start happening. You want to see your book in print… in your hand… yesterday. The trouble is, it takes time to get a book edited and put together. Not to mention the fact that the publishing company has a certain release schedule planned well out in advance. So all in all, you end up waiting. Needless to say, the 11 months between acceptance and release were the longest 11 months of my life.
Q. What led you to writing your first book?
Basically I wasn’t smart enough to know I shouldn’t try. I am by no means a strong writer, but the story for “The Lost Stones” so preoccupied my thoughts I figured the only way to get it out of my head was to write it down. Let me be a lesson to you would-be writers out there. Don’t let anyone (especially yourself) tell you that you can’t do it.
Connect with Paul Rimmasch
What makes a book feel like a friend? Or a news article share-worthy? Or a story cause you to take action?
I was asked what makes writing good in an interview last year, and here’s how I responded:
Great thoughts. Anyone can slap words on paper (or clink them out keyboard), but good writing materializes with the infusion of creative, authentic ideas. Writers paint with words, using a palette of verbs and nouns. When they get it right, they gift readers with power-punch phrases, such as this beauty from the September 2012 Real Simple magazine: “My ratio of tra-la-la to ay-yi-yi shifted noticeably.”
Since then, I’ve thought about the great thoughts and good writing in my life. I’m always paying attention: the plastic wrapping on my fruit leather, tweets from standout writers, and billboards I pass on my way to work. Words are everywhere. What makes some combinations more powerful than others?
Good writing resonates. It touches a piece of my soul, often connects me to something greater and inspires makes me want to act or think new thoughts.
Martin: I was always a huge fan of ee cummings. He did a series of lectures at Harvard or Princeton, and they were recorded. And they were incredibly moving. He does this long anecdote, and then he says, “To me, these are the most beautiful words ever written in the English language.” Suddenly you’re really listening. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I thought about that a lot. It’s like when you listen to a comedian, you think, “Well, what is your life?”
As the Three Amigos comedian alludes: We need writing that moves us, inspires us. Words grant us more than means of mere communication. They are the medium by which we define our lives.
Now it’s your turn: What makes writing good?
Last year I heard distinction expert Scott McKain give a keynote address. His vivacious and mesmerizing presentation hooked me into fandom. You see, Scott not only gives sound advice for business and life – he’s the living example of it. Besides being a best-selling author and well-known speaker, he sets himself apart by truly caring about people. I love that. You’ll soon see why I respect Scott so much: He’s as distinct as they come. And lucky you, he’s giving away a signed copy of his brand new book. Read on to see how you can win it!
Q. Congrats on your book, Create Distinction (2013) launched this month in nationwide airport bookstores, from LAX to JFK. What’s it like seeing your own idea become a tangible reality?
Thank you! You’ve really touched upon the most gratifying — and surreal — aspects of being an author. When I’m speaking, I love the instantaneous response of the audience, yet wonder if there is any tangible impact. When I see the book on a shelf in the bookstore, or see someone reading the book on a plane, I’m thrilled because there is a sense of both accomplishment and completion. At the same time, it does seem quite extraordinary that something beginning as thoughts jotted on a legal pad in Starbucks can become a tangible product — one I’m fortunate that some people find of value.
Q. You’ve written three Amazon.com No. 1 business bestsellers – what makes the latest book stand out from your others?
This is the first time I’ve followed up on a previous book. “Create Distinction” is an expanded and updated version of my previous book, “Collapse of Distinction.” I wanted to do this for a couple of reasons; first, after the original was named to the “Top Ten Business Books of the Year” list by the Miami Herald and other major newspapers, I felt the previous publisher — and this author — didn’t quite do enough to maximize its potential in the marketplace. A “re-launch” would give the material the opportunity to find a wider audience.
However, I also wanted to validate the points of the earlier book by showing how the distinctive organizations I mentioned had performed since the original work. Any author can create a theory of how a business should approach the marketplace, or how customers should be served. The critical question I hear from corporate leaders and entrepreneurs, however, is, “Will this work in the real world?” “Create Distinction” provided me the opportunity to deliver the evidence that the answer is a resounding “yes!”
Q. In addition to being a celebrated author, you’re an energetic storyteller. I know, having experienced your powerful keynote speech in 2012. Which do you believe creates more distinction and why: writing or speaking?
The best answer is not new or original to me, however, it’s the best one: The magic is in the mix.
We all are aware of speakers with a compelling presentation style who have nothing of significance to say — they’re all style and no substance. On the other hand, there are authors who have deep content, but their presentation style doesn’t create audience engagement.
In today’s media-centric culture, it’s not about the “or” — it’s about “and.” The most distinctive content providers will be able to both write powerful stories and deliver compelling presentations. That’s a level to which I aspire.
Q. You learned a lot about pleasing customers when working at your parent’s small town grocery store as a kid. Back then, did you ever imagine yourself being an international expert on distinction?
NO! It never crossed my mind in Crothersville, Indiana that I would ever become an “international” anything! While I don’t like referring to myself as “lucky” — because that seems to imply mere random circumstance — I constantly see myself as extremely fortunate. I have been blessed with extraordinary mentors and colleagues, and have been encouraged by my family and friends to travel the “road not taken.” And, as the classic Frost poem proclaims, for me, too, it has made all the difference.
Q. Getting theoretical here, but if everyone avoided stifling sameness, would anyone be distinct?
It’s a great question. And, unfortunately, because of all the cliches we hear as kids, I don’t think we are in danger of it occurring. We are warned against standing out and attracting attention — and we have such a strong desire to “fit in” with our peers — that I believe we are predisposed to similarity.
Theoretically, yes, you’re right — if everyone was distinctive, then it would be common to do so. For some reason, that reminds me of the scene in Monty Python’s classic film, “Life of Brian,” where the throng is awaiting any words from the man they erroneously presume is holy. In his irritation to get them to stop following him, Brian shouts, “You are ALL individuals.” And, they respond in unison, “Yes! We are all individuals!”
My point is that uniformity and conformity have become so common, the sameness is — as you suggest — stifling. While it probably wouldn’t work for us ALL to become unique, my research and experience has taught me that YOUR business will profit and YOUR career will benefit if you create distinction.
WIN your own SIGNED COPY of “Create Distinction!”
To enter, “Like” this post and answer one of these questions in the comments: What makes you distinct? OR Why does creating distinction matter? I’ll pick the most distinct answer as the winner! Be sure to comment soon – I’ll announce the winner Friday, April 5, 2013.
Connect with Scott McKain
See his site: createdistinction.com
Send him a tweet: @scottmckain
Check out his blog: mckainviewpoint.com
Boo! It's time for all things orange and black: happy Halloween is back! I can’t help but go all out when it comes to dressing up, and above you see my costumes in the past five years (left to right: Pippi Longstocking, Buttercup/Princess Bride, Wilma Flintstone, Chiquita Banana, and a Christmas troll...apparently I like spraying my hair red!)Read More Post a comment (0)
Writer friends and fellow marketers, we're direly needed. Today marks USA Today's launch of a print ad competition. They're offering $1 million of free ad space to a winner who can capture interest with zesty, clever copy. Michael Wolff, the USA Today writer who convinced executives to launch the contest, explains the call for savvy copy: "While technological disruption is most often blamed for the existential predicament of the media business, the more precise problem is that advertising doesn't work as well as it used to work. This presents a crisis not only for newspapers, magazines and television -- but also, according to the stock market, for Facebook. We just don't look at advertising, respond to it, or believe it, as much as we once did, wherever it appears.Read More Post a comment (4)
Let’s admit it. We spend ridiculous amounts of time on Facebook. Mashable declared “Facebook” the most searched term last year, and the ubiquitous ‘Like’ button sets a widely accepted standard of, well, likeability. What does that mean for writers?
With oodles of author/writing/word Facebook pages out there, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a consolidated list. Thus, I hunted. I’ve sought them out based on a few criteria: Do I literally ‘Like’ it myself? Is the page content uplifting and educational, tidbits I’m happy to see in my stream? Is it beneficial for those of us who love wrangling words?
After searching, here’s my curation of like-worthy pages for writers. While I could rank them most-liked, I decided to give underdogs/newbies the spotlight and put them at the top. My comments are in italics, and each page has handy hyperlinks so you can give them some ‘Like’ love too. Ready, go!
“The world is full of good people. We’re introducing you to them, one interview at a time.” Filled with uplifting content, this page has made me smile many times. I featured Amy, the lovely founder of GPOE, here.
“We provide writing tips daily for aspiring writers looking to increase their knowledge and writing skills.”
Leaders, Readers, Writers. I love the “Power of the Word” concept they’re sharing.
Amber shares insightful posts on communication and social media. She’s a wordmeister. I’m a fan.
Doesn’t it, though? I love this concept and they share inspiring, happy notes.
Anyone who can teach kids to love books gets a gold star in my eyes.
Travel the world with this guy! He’s sharing words and images as a full-time traveler. What a rad way to live.
They often share humorous grammar memes. You know I’m a sucker for those.
What beautiful pictures! They share great thoughts too. It’s a celebration in your Facebook stream to follow this page.
I often see quotes from wise writers here. If you dig quotes, this page will definitely brighten your day.
It’s always nice to learn about writing gigs and connect with a large network of writers. Thank you, Freelancers Union.
With 80,000+ Likes already, here’s a page every word lover needs to see. Grammar Girl will keep you in line, with a little bit of sass!
Let’s make it an even baker’s dozen, shall we? My page is a meant to be a celebration of words.
Like this post? Let me know by giving my page a thumbs up!
Recently my husband and I attended a local rodeo that attracted riders from across the country. As we hooted and hollered with the crowd, I realized the similarities between writers and riders go beyond the fact that they’re homophones.* In fact, here’s six.
6 things writers and rodeo riders have in common
1. Your end result is on display for all to see. After drafts and edits, revisions and headaches, a writer’s work is out in the open, available for the audience, whether that’s a boss, a grant-awarding committee, a client, or a national consumer audience. Likewise, rodeo riders spend endless hours perfecting their lasso or getting their grip just right for their 10-second bull ride in front of the beer-guzzling crowd.
2. You take ownership of the animal. To be a successful writer, you must take a decisive lead over concepts and words, deciding where to go and how to get your readers there. When a rodeo rider takes that leap into the arena on bare back, darn tootin’ they own their animal.
3. You have stiff competition. With approximately 15 million books published in 2012, and an avalanche of digital media sources, there’s more to read than can ever be read. It’s intimidating for writers. The rodeo competitors we watched also had a narrow margin between champion and the guy no one remembers. That’s tough love, but it’s true.
4. You make your craft look good. When a writer gets it right, their words jump off the page (or screen). It’s both a talent and a hard-earned skill. The same goes for rodeo queens. Woo-whee, they whip around that arena with hairspray-plastered locks flying behind, and it’s almost like you’ve witnessed art in a cowboy hat.
5. You like attention. Let’s face it: If you’re going to throw your ideas out to the world, you like the spotlight. In fact, there’s almost nothing a writer likes more than having others partake and respond to their words. Comments are the way to their heart. (Not hinting here…OK, well maybe.) Rodeo riders are the same – whether on a bull, steer wrestling, barrel racing, tie-down roping; they’re addicted to those bright stadium lights and the roar of the crowd. It’s pounds of work for ounces of spotlight, but it’s worth it.
6. You know you can’t win them all. Alas, not every marketing email gets the click-through rate you want, manuscripts get rejection letters, and some worthy blog posts get ignored. Writers are no strangers to rejection, but with some grit, their next victory may be on its way. Rodeo competitors know that only one name will grace the billboard as the winner. Especially if you’re these guys.
*Flashback to your English class. “Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings.” Think flower and flour, peace and piece. Next time you’re on ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,’ you’ll thank me; I take a 5% winning commission.