How do We Keep Improving our Writing Practice?

Writing Your Destiny picI spent over a decade of my life as a professional business writer. Add to that my years as a Sustainability Director at a non-profit in Chicago, which required that I do a lot of grant writing and create many types of marketing collateral,  I did a lot of writing.  Even during my years as a product engineer, writing was a big part of what I did to make money.  And during all these years, I appreciated editors.

I never had much problem in receiving criticism on ways my business writing could be improved.  It wasn’t difficult to keep a distance from my writing.

Creative writing is different for me, but probably shouldn’t be so much.

Many years ago, I took a few classes where my creative writing was critiqued in workshops, and I mostly hated the process.  I can’t really imagine getting a MFA where my creative writing would be workshopped and made to fit some mold.

Yet, I have to admit that I will need an editor for my novels.

I have been refining and editing drafts of my novels for years.

This year, I will finish the first novel, because my attitude about writing the novel is beginning to feel like it did when I was writing professionally for someone else.

I have stopped thinking of my creative writing as needing to be perfect or precious.  I want it to be beautiful, which I believe is a different focus.

Thought for today:  How do you view your writing as less precious, so that it can be edited and refined to be the best it could be?

Writer of Destiny: Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros signing copies of her book
Sandra Cisneros signing copies of her book (Photo credit: Gwinnett County Public Library)

I want to be

like the waves on the sea,

like the clouds in the wind,

but I’m me.

One day I’ll jump

out of my skin.

I’ll shake the sky

like a hundred violins.

Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street

A couple of years ago, my mother gave me an anniversary edition of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  This was one of those books I thought I should read but somehow never got around to reading until this week.  I’m glad that I finally read this wonderful gem.

House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street was written over 25 years ago in a Chicago that is both very different and similar to the Chicago of today.  Reading this book, I felt myself transported back to the 70’s and early 80’s when she wrote it, and also to the Chicago of the 90’s and 2000’s when the city was such a big part of my life.  I was also reminded of the stories my mother used to tell me about growing up in Chicago in the 30’s and 40’s.

My mother’s grandparents were immigrants from Germany and as I read The House on Mango Street, I could see and feel the core of the immigrant experience in coming to the intense melting pot that is Chicago.

Being a witness is important for any writer of any time, but I continue to believe that it’s even more critical that we have writers who chronicle this time in which we are living.  We live in a time when the world is changing so dramatically from what it was like for thousands of years of human and earth history. Cisneros provides a profound witness to our chaotic and ever-changing time with beauty, brevity and nuance.

Her honest and open introduction in the anniversary edition, is almost even more moving than the original story.  Cisneros combines poetry and prose in a highly readable and accessible book.  There’s much to learn from her about the craft of writing just in the House on Mango Street.  I intend to read more of her work soon.

Have any of you read other books by Cisneros that you could recommend?

Do You Create Secret Journals or Videos for Your Children?

the next four journals
the next four journals (Photo credit: paperbackwriter)

I decided this week’s theme is about how do we leave a legacy with our writing, our art and our life.

Today, I want to start with a simple writing idea.

Before my first son was born, I got the idea to write a secret journal that I would give to him sometime in his teenage years.  The journal would contain quotes from me and his father and his grandparents.  Then over the years, it would contain the wisdom that I have acquired for living a good life as well as expressions of how proud I have been of him throughout his childhood.

It’s been a while since July of 1998 when I started the first journal when I was pregnant with my first son. Now about 14 years later, I have two journals — one for each of my sons.  I’ve been sporadic about adding material to them.  Life gets in the way.  I was reminded of this journal today as I shot a video of our house and garden as a reminder of their early life for my boys to add a video component to my “secret writings”.

It’s easy to forget how short life is.  We think it will go on and on forever.  We worry about the daily challenges of life — making a living, getting a promotion, buying a new car, getting our kids into the “right” schools, saving for retirement and so many other transitory concerns.  We get annoyed with our kids for stupid things they do, or ourselves for being less than the person we wanted to be.

My inspiration for writing journals for my children is my mother.  She has always been a great letter writer.  I have a chest full of letters and keepsakes from her.  My mom also taught me how to ask deep questions about life from the time I was little.

Unfortunately, I have very little from my father in the way of written expressions of love or wisdom shared, and I can only remember vaguely the things he shared with me.   I have photos but they aren’t as powerful as written words when it comes to sharing wisdom.  He wasn’t a talkative man either, so I sometimes wonder what mattered to him in life.  I still miss his presence in my life, four years after his passing.  It made me cry to see what he had written in my son’s journal back in 1998.  I am so glad that I asked him to write something when he still could.

There’s no guarantee my kids will appreciate their wisdom journals from me.  I just hope they will know that I cared enough to think often about their future happiness as well as my own.  I want them to know that I will always be wishing them the best for them from wherever my spirit takes me.

If you have kids, it doesn’t matter how old they are, or even if they’ve moved out of the house.  Think about sharing your love and wisdom with them in a journal or video. For there will be a time when you won’t be around to show how much you care.

Related articles

Resources for the Writer’s Journey

This week’s Writing Your Destiny theme is using our resources wisely, and today I’d like to share some resources that have been valuable for me that might help you navigate more gracefully through your journey as a writer and a person.

Latest edition of The Writer's Journey

The first resource is Christopher Vogler’s book  The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Storyteller and Screenwriters.

I first read this book many, many years ago, maybe even 20 years ago when it first came out in 1992.  The book can be a wonderful resource for you as a writer, and provides an excellent template for structuring stories. Vogler goes into great detail describing a hero’s path that many stories follow.  The basic flow occurs in 12 stages:

Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where

They receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE.

They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but

Are encouraged by a MENTOR to

CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special World where

They encounter TESTS, ALLIES, and ENEMIES

They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold

Where they endure the SUPREME ORDEAL.

They take possession of their REWARD and

Are pursued on the THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.

They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.

They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World.

Some people write stories and screenplays from their very beginning using Vogler’s structure.  I’ve been writing my novel first, because I don’t want to be limited by the structure, but now that I’m editing, I’m looking at how my book fits Vogler’s structure, and seeing if my novel could be enhanced by incorporating this structure.  I’ve also used this model in a more unconscious way when I developed a green business program for the City of Chicago, but that’s a longer post, which I may share some day. One of my favorite Martha Beck books

One of my favorite Martha Beck books

The second resource I suggest this week is Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck, which has a shortened version of  a change cycle condensed down to four stages of:

  1. Death/Rebirth
  2. Dreaming and Scheming
  3. The Hero’s Saga
  4. The Promised Land

Both books are really helpful when you feel like you’re stuck or know that you’re ready to transform to the next level.  Perhaps, you’ve been doing a lot of work and don’t know why you can’t move forward.  Sometimes you’ll realize that you’re in a stage where you have to complete certain task before you can move forward and these books can help.  It’s good to see that it’s a very normal to be tested.

Which brings me to the importance of having allies.  To move through life, we need more than just inner strength, most of us need external help.

With both these resources in mind, I’d like to suggest that you spend some time today on looking at your resources, particularly your allies and alliances.   How are they working for you?  Could you use some new ones?

Sometimes, grace presents us with people in our lives just when we need them, and sometimes they are only meant to help us for a short time.   Other people are allies for life. I call these type of allies — Destiny Partners.  I’ll be writing more about Destiny Partners in weeks to come.  Today, I want to suggest that you look at all of your allies, both short-term and long-term.

You might ask yourself some questions:

  1. Who are the most important allies in my life at this time?
  2. What type of ally do I need in my life, who I do not currently have in my life? The new ally you need might be a romantic partner, a business partner, a better boss,  a writing buddy, a dog.  Anything.
  3. Which of my allies bring greater ease into my life?

Don’t be afraid to look for new allies, or ask for help from your allies.

With that spirit in mind, I’d like to make a request of you, my blogging ally.  If you like my posts, I’d really appreciate having you click the Facebook Like button on the right hand side of this page.  It’s a pure vanity thing on my part, but it would make me happy to know that people receive value from what I write.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog for being my allies on the writer’s journey!

Do You Create Vision Boards? They Might HelpYour Writing

I’ve been sharing some fairly esoteric posts about energy, strengths, weaknesses and treasure recently.  I’m feeling an urge to shift gears just a bit and talk about something a little less lofty.  So, today, I’m writing about the connections between our closets and clothes, and editing our writing.

Let me start by saying that I’m a big fan of vision boards.  I’ve been doing them for years. There so much fun to make.  I have not tried Pinterest yet for fear of addiction. With that said, I also often find that vision boards don’t usually work for me in the way that I originally intended. They almost never help me with money, relationships, getting thinner or any of the big dreams that I add to the boards.  I wish they did. However, vision boards have a wonderful way of highlighting my desires as well as the inner resources that I think I need from the outer world, but already have within me.

For instance, in the last two weeks, I’ve been buying the spring fashion magazines and cutting out pictures of clothes to put on my fashion vision board.   When I pulled together my latest fashion vision board, it was full of beautiful, bright pink, orange and lime green edgy and eclectic clothes as well as some earthy feminine pieces.  The board looked so cute, and I was so proud of myself for pulling it together. Despite all the money I don’t have, I dreamt of making my fashion vision board into a reality as soon as possible.

Then, a series of wise observations occurred to me.

First, I noticed that I had a whole bunch of bright, eclectic, edgy and earthy clothes that I wasn’t wearing. Looking even more closely, I decided that part of my problem was that my clothes weren’t grouped together well.  I also had many clothes I didn’t wear.  The closet edits of Gail King in the latest edition of O Magazine also inspired me to make some changes.

You might be wondering if this is a post on the benefits of cleaning closets.   Please humor me, I’m going somewhere with this. The process of looking at my existing resources for living my fashion vision, helped me to notice that my novel’s problems correlated very closely with my formerly unwieldy closet:

  • I had never taken the time to organize all the pieces in my novel strategically.
  • I didn’t allow myself to gratefully acknowledge what pieces, scenes, characters I loved about my novel.
  • I hadn’t grouped scenes together in a way that made the story flow better.
  • I was afraid to throw anything out because I was too worried about my word count, and wondered if I’d have any story left after editing.

My new vision board for my novel looks quite a bit like a conventional storyboard, with the difference that it’s focused on what I really love about my own book. Focusing on what I love about my novel has helped me immensely to respect it more. Organizing a writing vision board is also very good preparation for an upcoming writer’s conference that I’m going to attend one in Madison in mid-April where I need to know pivotal scenes in the novel, the climax of the story, and a synopsis that is clean and easy to understand.

My “love your novel” vision board process is not a guarantee that a novel will be any good, but it is a much more interesting way to make the process of fine tuning and editing the novel fun.   It’s also taught me that we should look at our other dreams and visions for clues about our creativity.  My fashion vision board reflected back to me that I want to create a boldly colorful, eclectic and slightly edgy, earthy and feminine fantasy novel that expresses my true personal style, and that I have existing resources to do this.

Don’t know if you do vision boards, but you might take a look at any you have created recently or in the past and see if they tell you anything new about what your writing wants to express through you.

Focus on Your Strengths as You Write

Every so often, it feels appropriate to talk about my experience as a consultant and how that might apply to writing.

Today, I’d like to share an idea that I first heard 6 years ago, when I was working for a non-profit that was part of the National Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).  I was taking a class on executive coaching from a woman who had successfully coached hundreds of CEOs to become more innovative and profitable.

She surprised me by teaching us that manufacturing was suffering in America because its leaders focused too much on eliminating weaknesses and not enough on expanding strengths.  Focusing on weaknesses was leading manufacturers to become commodity creators and driving down costs.  A business that focused on expanding its unique strengths stood a much better chance at being innovative and more successful.  Think Apple and Steve Jobs!  Ever since that time, I’ve wondered about coaches who focus so much on weaknesses.

This same idea applies to any of us who wants to write for a living or as a passion.

This idea of knowing our strengths came up again in a recent Shero class where Jen Louden asked us to get 10 people to tell us our strengths.   I asked several people to do this for me, and got some unexpected answers like: you have a flair for fashion and you like shoes.  I hadn’t thought of my love of fun shoes as a strength! However, the best strength was this one by my ex-husband.  Yes, I asked him!  I’m one of those weird people who is better friends with my ex now that we’re not married.  Here’s what he shared:

Since they were young, I've taught my boys to enjoy trees too!

You also have the ability to see the bigger picture.  Some would call it “vision”.  Not all people have that gift.  I have some of that but I’m very task oriented.  I get the crap done, but you see what needs to be done – in a grand style.  This is also your downfall. You see the forest in spite of the trees because you climb atop of the trees to see the forest.  Every now and then you fall from the top of a tree.

Yet, the funny thing was that as I’ve been writing my novel, I have scenes scattered throughout my book where the main characters sit at the top of trees.  And of course, sometimes they fall from them!  Art does imitate life.

So, how does this apply to you?

This next week or so, find some people to tell you what is great about you and your writing.  Then, for the rest of your life focus on getting better at those things.  The weaknesses you’ll always have, and you’ll find a way around them.

To paraphrase ancient Greek wisdom, “Know Thy Strengths!”

Writing as a Form of Healing

A comment to one of my recent blogs inspired me to devote today’s blog about writing as a form of healing. If you’re reading this blog, I suspect you have a gift for writing words that heal. As you probably know, all the problems that healers regularly experience are also challenges for you as a writer, and a few more.

The nature of writing is different from many other forms of healing and requires some different ways of recharging our healing gifts.  One challenge that we have as writers is the inability to have our healing gifts flow through our words.  We generally give this challenge a name — writer’s block.

Most writers experience writing blocks at one time or another. You may experience a block every time you attempt to write.  I find that certain kinds of writing have their own timings and cycles as well, and that some blocks are really incubation times.  You may know of many ways of working through or with your writing blocks.

Writing blocks can also happen because we know that we have a powerful message or story that wants to come through us, and yet we approach our writing as if it were all about our talent to write a good sentence or compelling story. Or we worry about how our writing will be received or our ability to get published.  We treat our writing as if it were a task to be completed rather than a sacred gift that is ours to honor and share.

Ultimately, our writing and other healing work are both different expressions of our personal unique healing energy that flows through us every day. This week, I’d like to offer some ideas on how you might work with your personal energy to help your writing flow more easily so that you can be the total healer you are meant to be in the world.

To get started, here are a few questions for your contemplation.  What would happen if you allowed yourself to wholeheartedly believe that:

  1. Your writing is another aspect of your healing work in the world, and you have a gift for writing?
  2. Your writing eventually is meant to be a healer in its own right that can heal people when you are not physically present?
  3. Your writing is a reflection of your unique personal energy, and your energy heals people?

Do not underestimate your gifts for healing as a writer.

In the next few days, I’ll be offering some ideas on how to play with your writing in a way that not only uplifts others, but uplifts your own energy as well.   Be kind to yourself and your own healing energy today.

Look forward to connecting with you again, soon!