Reading to Improve Writing and Life

stephen king on writingFor the last several months, I’ve been reading, writing and coaching a lot more, but sadly blogging a lot less.

So, I wanted to share some insights from some of the books that I was reading.  Today, I’d like to discuss the insights I received from On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King.

This an older book, and a somewhat odd book for me to read.  I don’t like the horror genre much.  I tried to read The Stand and it scared me too much.  However, I very much felt inspired by King’s book on writing.

If you’re looking for a book to encourage you to take a long view of your writing career, this is a good one.  He also gives some recommendations on how to get started and perhaps to get an agent. I also liked that Stephen King doesn’t use outlines.  I probably need outlines, but I somehow like that Stephen King proves that you don’t need to use an outline to write best-selling novels.

The funny thing about this book is that the way it helped the most, was that it inspired me to start exercising every day.

Not only does King write and read every day, at least according to this book he walks 4 miles every day.  I decided to try a 4 mile plan.  I’ve been walking or cycling 4 miles a day for a month and I have so much more energy for writing and the rest of my life.

Daily Contemplation:

Have you read any books lately that have helped you with your writing or life?

Harnessing the Transformative Power of a Writer’s Retreat

Deutsch: Retreat
Deutsch: Retreat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you read or listen to many coaches for authors, you might notice them saying the same thing.

The first purpose of inspirational writing is to change yourself.

You may or may not agree with that idea, but you probably have noticed that often when we teach something to someone else, we are the ones who learn the most.  Personally, I have always found any kind of writing to be transformational.  Even writing computer user guides can teach you something about writing.

The process of organizing our thoughts or simply writing them, at the very least lets us know what our thoughts are.  Sometimes when we’re lucky, our writing creates beauty and wisdom and inspiration for others.

Most of all, writing is a form of self-expression.  What else could we be put upon this earth to do, if it is not to share our best self?  If writing calls to you, why not see where yours will take you this summer in an even more concentrated way and take part in a writer’s retreat?

You may already be planning on attending a writer’s retreat or creating your own.  Whether your retreat is 15 minutes or the whole summer, give yourself the chance to learn, grow and explore your unique self that you’re expressing.

In the next few posts, I’m going to offer some ideas on how to increase the expression of your self in a self-driven writer’s retreat. You deserve something that goes beyond your typical routine with writing and you can do that on your own.  However, if you want to include other writers, that’s great too!

Had you planned on giving yourself the gift of a writer’s retreat this season or this year?

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Where is Your Writing Taking You?

Shell Spiral
Shell Spiral (Photo credit: Theen …)

There are many places that our writing can take us:

  • New worlds (fantasy or real)
  • New work – assignments and projects we might not have been able to imagine
  • Discovering we have a tribe of followers of our ideas
  • Discovering no one resonates with our ideas
  • Deeper into our soul, whether anyone reads our writing or not
  • Into despair even though we have many readers
  • Closer to God
  • Farther away from God
  • Stuck in our mind
  • More deeply into the heart of our life
  • Into our own world that keeps us separated from others
  • Into a shared world that brings us closer together with others

And more . . .

Our writing destination is both a choice and an unplanned spiral journey expanding us and often bringing us back to a focal point defined by the greater part of our soul.

Where is your writing taking you now?

Where would you like your writing to take you?

Do you have a choice?

Celebrate where you are going, even if it’s not obvious to you in this moment.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Part 2 – What this Means for Writers

Most writers don’t like to think that they’re recycling or reusing material.  We like to create fresh ideas with new perspectives.  Yet, when we’re honest we tend to like certain authors because in some way they are repeating a type of voice that we like to read. From a certain way of viewing their work, most great writers reduce, reuse and recycle their best ideas, style and voice.

Cover of "Voices (Annals of the Western S...
Cover of Voices (Annals of the Western Shore)

Yesterday, as I was waiting in lines for various recyclers to take my stuff, I began reading an Ursula Le Guin book, Voices, published in 2006.Reading her book gave me some ideas about how we as writers might choose to reduce, reuse and recycle our own writing.  So, I thought I’d offer her book as a bit of a case study for the 3 R’s at work in writing.The first thing that I saw when I opened Voices was a hymn and then a map of the Western Shores. I immediately thought of EarthSea.  Readers who like EarthSea  not only don’t mind, but actually want Le Guin to re-use a style of writing and a group of characters that feel familiar.

Recycling our stories however often requires that we change something to make it useful again.  In this case, Voices offers a new world and familiar but slightly new themes.  This book deals with the place of women in the world and the magic of writing and reading in a refreshed way from her earlier books.

Finally, Le Guin reduces the story to the minimum words to tell the story.  She masterfully tells us just what we nee to know.  I absolutely love the first line of the book:

The first thing I can remember clearly is writing the way into the secret room.

I won’t give away the story, but this first line is spare and perfect and tells us what the story will be about.

If you think about your favorite writers and stories, can you see evidence of where they reduce, reuse and recycle? How might you reduce, reuse and recycle your work in a way that your readers would appreciate?

Using Journals for Memoir Writing and More

A few of my many “pretty” journals

Do you use journals to record your thoughts, ideas, emotions, poems and stories?

When I first started journaling, I followed Julia Cameron’s ideas in The Artist’s Way.  I wrote 3 pages of long-hand on any cheap notebook or paper that I could find.  In some ways, I’ve come full circle and have been returning to that idea, and even moving to online forms of writing.

However, in the interim between then and now, I spent years writing in beautiful, whimsical, artistic and “professional-looking” journals.  Unfortunately, much of what went into those lovely books was drivel.

Yet, interspersed between the mundane and the trivial were some interesting observations about my life and times that make memoir and creative writing easier.  If I want to know how to write about life in Chicago in the 1990’s, I already have some starting material.

Even more fascinating to me is how  journal entries sometimes foreshadow the story that I am now writing in my novel.  Like this little admonishment to myself on March 2, 2001:

As long as you “control” your ship you cannot swim in the ocean and dive as the mystical whales do.

I read that now and get a shiver up my spine, because there are mystical whales in my novel now.  I had a vague idea of the novels I wanted to create then, but no idea of writing about whales (consciously).

Nicholas’ drawing of a Fumaron when he was 8 years old in 2010

Today, I was even more delighted to find the journal with drawings from my son Nicholas 2 years ago when he was only 8 years old.

One of my projects this summer  is to transfer the gems from my journals over the last twenty years into Evernote notebooks so that they can be searched more easily.

Too often we spend hours writing and don’t go back to look for the good stuff.

This weekend how about taking some time to look at your early writing, journals, art, premonitions or anything else that you might still be able to access?

If you don’t have any records of your life and times on earth, there’s no time like the present to start creating some!

Awakening Your Natural Goodness

Hopetoun Falls, Otway National Park, Victoria,...On Sunday, I suggested an exercise for anyone who wanted to release the brakes on their energy.

Today, I wanted to go a little further with that idea through a writing exercise that helps you to get in touch with your own natural goodness and allow it to flow through your life.

There are many ways to feel the goodness of your natural energy such as meditation, yoga, and exercise. These are important physical ways of feeling your energy without the interference of our mind.

Sometimes, however, it’s good to engage our mind so that we can strengthen our intellectual and intuitive powers of our energy.  So, today, I’m sharing a process and worksheet to help you open up to your natural goodness with the power of your mind and intuition.

It would help if you did Sunday’s exercise, but it’s not necessary to use this process.

The main benefit of this process is to discover and prioritize the most important longer term soul projects that are doing.  It’s quite possible that you are already doing soul “work”, but this exercise also helps reinforce that understanding or broaden it.

Like Sunday’s exercise, this can be done as quickly or carefully as you want to do it.  Here is a worksheet you can download and print out to make this easier:

Natural Goodness Worksheet

Here’s the steps:

  1. Using information from your worksheet from Sunday or your own personal knowledge, write down the top 3-7 qualities of your higher self or your natural energy in column one of the worksheet.
  2. In column two, write a list of between 10 and 20 skills and strengths you have or would like to have.
  3. Column three is where some brainstorming work comes through combining the words in column one with column two. For instance, if a quality of your natural energy is compassion, and one of your strengths or talents is writing — that combines to writing with compassion or compassionate writing.

The point of this exercise is to see how you could or are already applying your best personal energies to your actions in the world.  Creating as many options as possible can make this easier.  I usually like to do this with a group of people because it tends to free people up with their ideas, but you doing this by yourself gives you more time to ponder the possibilities.

At the bottom of the natural goodness worksheet is an opportunity to look at your longer term projects or create new ones from column 3.

Hope you enjoy this exercise!

When You’re Bored, Embarassed and Uncomfortable – Write!

Spending  three days at a basketball tournament with a bunch of junior high boys and their parents is not my idea of a great time.  For some people this is a precious time to be treasured forever.  For me, being a sports mom is part of the marathon/sprint that is modern parenting that I probably would avoid if I could.  Yet, this weekend has been one of those occasions where I had unexpected opportunities to open my mind and improve my writing, that at first didn’t feel like moments to be celebrated.

By nature, we all tend to stay in our comfort zones unless we allow ourselves to try new situations.  Of course, as writers, there are times that we need to shake up our view of the world.  

This weekend I was reminded how boring, embarassing, and uncomfortable situations can strengthen our writing.  Here are some ideas that can transform these kinds of situations for you as a writer:

  1. Write down the details of some situation that you hate, and imagine if that situation would never end.  While I was listening to way too many kids running and screaming in a swimming pool that sounded like an echo chamber, I got the idea for adding a situation where people are tortured by never being able to turn off the noise.  I may or may not use this idea in my novel, but it made an annoying situation into a more amusing experience. 
  2. Talk to people you wouldn’t think to talk to and listen to their story.  Today, I met a young woman who is about to graduate college with a degree in Spanish and Political Science.  It turned out that she’s also a lifelong writer and poet.  We ended up sharing the stories of our novels and creative work. As I told her the story of my novel, she suggested that I listen to a Uriah Heep song – Tales.  It was one of those moments that I felt she was telling me something I was meant to hear.  You never know where you will meet a “wizard” who can give you a key to growing your creative work!
  3. Leave behind expectations of which people to connect with and those you can’t.  Sometimes we have to be patient so that we can gain the trust of those around us.  Just showing up counts.  This weekend, I heard stories of struggle and heartbreak that reinforced what I already know but sometimes forget that essentially we are all people just doing our best to live well.  

Sometimes, in today’s polarized world we have so much trouble seeing past politics and even lifestyle to see the common struggles we share.  Take the chance to be one of those writers who can’t be easily labeled. If you’re bored, embarassed or uncomfortable with a situation or experience in your life– congratulations, you have golden material for your writing.