Today I went live at The Write Practice . . .

. . . as a guest blogger. What fun! Check it out at The Write Practice blog.

Thanks to Joe Bunting and his terrific Write Practice team for giving me the opportunity. I’ll follow this post — about similes — with another one or two about metaphors later this year. Onward!

This wasn’t what I was going to write about . . .

I was going to write about beauty. I had lofty plans, including references to neuroscience.

But yesterday this quote caught my eye:

On a day when the wind is perfect,

the sail just needs to open

and the world is full of beauty.

Today is such a day.


And today Sara Dobie Bauer’s blog holds a terrific video of Benedict Cumberbatch reading a letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse about the practice of art.

Sharing these says enough about beauty and the art of practice, for now. Neuroscience-y post will come next week.

May you and your writing open your sails and abide by LeWitt’s advice to DO.

When your writing seems . . . weird.

Yesterday my writing felt odd, awkward, out of place. So I picked up Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and read some perspective-setting words and then filmed this.


Craft Matters: Timing is everything. Or is it?

We whirl through our days amidst commitments internally- and externally-imposed; some weeks we have to squeeze in our writing while waiting for the doctor, the oil change, the vet and yes that is my upcoming week.

But today I read this terrific post by Noa Kageyama, whose equally terrific blog, The Bulletproof Musician, frequently addresses matters of effective practice and discipline that applies to all of us aiming for artistry. This one looks at a study that examined how efficient learning is when it’s done at night rather than in the morning.

Don’t mess with my morning mojo, my writing muse whispered. You can’t write after three in the afternoon! I will not watch the sunset with you! 

No matter how gorgeous the sunset, my muse thinks evenings are Not a Good Time to Write. I'm going to see if she's right.

No matter how gorgeous the sunset, my muse thinks evenings are Not a Good Time to Write. Is she right?

 But the *evidence* shows that people learn and remember their learning more efficiently and effectively if they tackle it in the evening, go to bed, and then practice again in the morning. Huh. Is my muse really so special that she will be exempt from evidence-based research? Actually, is this really about my muse, that elusive spark of inspiration, or is this about the simple learning and practicing of craft?

I think it’s the latter. If I want to get the compound-complex sentence down cold (my current craft focus, inspired by David Foster Wallace’s jaw-dropping application of basic grammatical tenets), I need to learn its form and practice it.

Although I’d like to think I’m very special, I suspect that I’m no more special than anyone else when it comes to my grey matter. So based on Kageyama’s post, I am going to ignore my muse and set up some evening craft reading-learning-practicing exercise sessions for myself, followed by next-morning follow-up craft reading-learning-practicing exercise sessions.

I’ll let you know how it goes in about a month–and if you have any experiences with how you’ve learned specific writing craft, tell us all about it in comments below!

Writing Fail . . .

I’m playing with video because, y’know, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth at least a couple thousand. Includes terrific words on forgiveness by poet David Whyte.

Long time gone . . .

I’ve been a long time away from this blog – almost a year. I let y’all know I was starting a low-residency MFA at Warren Wilson College in January 2016. What I didn’t know was that the MFA work would displace my energy for blog essays. This August, as I start my second semester, familiar with the rhythm of the weeks to come and the stories, revisions, essays and letters I’ll write for my supervisor (the amazing Lauren Groff!!), I’ve been itchy to blog.
This itch arrived as I’ve experienced the power of outside accountability to transform my priority from “family then writing-unless-everything-else-is-aflame” to “writing then family then everything else.” And that shift in turn revealed the momentum-creating power of daily dedication to a practice.
I feel embarrassed to admit that it took the outlay of thousands of dollars for me to take writing as seriously as it’s taken by the professors and leaders of the MFA. My first semester supervisor, the also-amazing Karen Brennan, gave me positive feedback I didn’t quite believe, in addition to pointing out my shortcomings. And although I didn’t quite believe the good stuff, I did believe she took me seriously. And because I was paying money, I took her feedback seriously, and worked at writing in a way I’d not before. For me, this meant reading and writing instead of shopping and cooking and cleaning. The dust bunnies grew to late-summer-zucchini size. I quit volunteering for the schools, for the church. We ate a lot of takeout. The sons, when they were home, cooked. Engineer hubby got really good at grilling salmon.

rough drafting

Writing Dedication

Today, the 18 y.o. is at summer academy at Virginia Tech, and the 15 y.o. is away at Friends Music Camp. I am writing and reading like a madwoman. And of course it’s no coincidence that I’m freed to discover the waxing power of dedication as parenting duties wane.
But here’s the thing: we survived with the dust bunnies and the take-out pizza. I regret the years I walked away from dedication to my writing in order to make the house look “good,” to cook a “good” meal, the years I abandoned my writing without even examining the very real cost that extracted from me, from my family, from my community.
In these heart-breaking times, the importance of writing fiction may seem slight, laughable, abstract, irrelevant; in short, unimportant.
However: as Alan Shapiro noted in his last lecture of this July’s residency (available for download for $5 here and worth every penny), our capacity to kill each other is fueled by our lack of imagination. An inability to imagine another’s perspective, imagine their experience, imagine their life. If we are to emerge from our moment in history transformed into more than our cruelties, we must dedicate ourselves to expanding, deepening, broadening our capacity to see beauty in others.
The way I connect with beauty is through writing; I aim to dedicate myself to bringing it forth.
Whatsoever it is that connects you to beauty and to the beauty of others, dedicate yourself to it. We need all of us doing all we can.
Last night EH cooked salmon. I rinsed the dishes and tucked them into the dishwasher.
And then I wrote.
May it be so for you as well.

The Lyric Book is PUBLISHED!, and why it’s complicated …

The picture is worth a thousand words!

The picture is worth a thousand words!

The Lyric Theatre in downtown Blacksburg has been in its current location since 1930. Its story is now available in a book that I helped write, The Lyric Theatre: the Heart of Blacksburg.

It’s beautiful to look at and lovely to hold because the designer, Christina O’Connor, is crazy good at what she does. It’s interesting because Su Clauson-Wicker and Cheryl Wood Ruggiero are terrific interviewers and researchers and writers and copy-editors. And folks have said it reads well because I did much of the writing. This is thrilling!

That said, I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday who asked me: are you comfortable receiving praise for this book? My answer: it’s complicated.

I love it when people love something I’ve written. But I often feel like the story has come to me; it’s not “mine” — it’s ours. I wrote it down. The story is mine only insofar as I am responsible for listening closely to what I hear and discerning the story. I am responsible for paying attention, for discipline and diligence, for re-writing for clarity and power, and for finding a home for stories. But once I’m done writing, it’s not mine. It’s ours. I happen to be the writer.

It also happens that this book was a pleasure to serve as a writer. Enjoy it! The story it tells belongs to all of us.

And may you have the chance to listen for, and share, your stories as well.

If you’d like to buy a copy of the book, you can do so at the YMCA Craft Fair November 13-15 (I’ll be there some of the time if you want a personalized copy!). It’s also available in downtown Blacksburg at the Alexander Black House, the Artful Lawyer Gallery, the Lyric Theatre, the Montgomery Museum, and Uncommonly Gifted.