Tag Archives: Writers Resources

I’m jumping …


… into a new part of the writing ocean: I’m offering a workshop with my writerly friend and colleague, Jenny Zia of the Center for Creative Change. We’re focusing on process, sustaining a writing practice, and getting to know one’s writing self. I’m tickled about facilitating the program in the community meeting space in the Lyric Theater’s Community Arts Information Office — we’ll go to local cafes and stores for some of our writing exercises.

Contact us at joyofwriting04@gmail.com for more info; some details below.

Writing for the joy of it

Have you always wanted to write but don’t know how to start or sustain your practice?

This workshop provides a series of structured exercises that honor the writing process, support discovery of your writer’s voice, and exploration and development of your stories.

Instructors Jenny Zia and Lesley Howard ground their facilitation in their own combined six-plus decades of daily writing practice, inspired by the philosophies of Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott and Priscilla Long, among others.

Jenny Zia, MA, MSW, has shared writing prompts and journal practices with a variety of individuals and groups. Lesley Howard is a local freelance writer, blogger, and one of the founding members of the New River Valley Voices juried reading program. Both are members of a long-standing writing group.

When and Where?

Jump Start: Saturday, Sept. 7, 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM

Momentum-Sustaining Sessions: Tuesdays, Sept. 17, Oct. 1, and Oct. 15, 6:30 – 8 :30 PM

The End is the Beginning Closing Session: Saturday, Oct. 26, 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM

$100 for all sessions; includes muse-nourishing snacks and beverages.

All sessions will be held at the Community Arts Information Office in downtown Blacksburg, VA; we will take field trips to local cafes for some of our exercises.

Contact us at joyofwriting04@gmail.com if you need additional information or to register.

The New Year is ten days old …

… and I remember ten days being a milestone of sorts after giving birth. Double-digits a Big Deal for my westernized mindset; tenth birthdays received Special Treatment for both the boys as well, though whether that was due to my influence or the inherent tidiness of the number ten I can’t say.


Abandoned bits Photo credit: the|G|™

This year, ending with what some consider to be the unlucky thirteen, has begun its inevitable forward march, and I have found myself trailing behind the column of daily soldiers, picking up the lost boot with the broken laces, the reading glasses with the crushed lens, the muddied confetti and the shiny, neglected pennies. I’ve dawdled behind with my bag of assorted broken treasures, unsure of what to hope for, daunted by my mounting rejections, turned upside down in others’ emotional furor.

And then one of my oldest friends, from way back before I was a mother, sent me the link to this article about Jeffrey Eugenides by Todd Hasak-Lowy, ostensibly about how to write, but also wrestling with the inherent tension of writing as “art” and writing as “product.” It provided me with the energy I needed to sort through my broken-treasure collection and cull out the fix-able paragraphs, the still-inspires-me story ideas, and the hopeful jottings. May it prove equally inspiring for you.

National Novel Writing Month is about OVER. Thank Gawd.

ImageI decided, on the third of November, that I would participate in the National Novel Writing Month project this year. I have a short story whose protagonist has been poking me with the proverbial pointy stick for fifteen-plus years, and she and her neighbors and family and Preacher weren’t obeying my command for them to stay within the short story format. So I decided to let them romp for all of November. Whatever they wanted, they could have.

This is not a stance I adopt often, in either real life or creative life. I am one of those who has an idea of where the story is headed, often not because I’ve forced it, but because endings come to me before beginnings. Ah, I think, there it is. The. End. Then I have to figure out how that character arrived at that end.

As my kids will attest, the day when anything goes is a cold day in hell in our household, indeed. I have this motherly insistence on fresh veggies, limited screen time, and not consuming more sugar grams than one can count on one’s fingers and toes. At least not at a single sitting.


Photo credit: Roger Penguino

So yes, go ahead and call me anal, or right-brain dominant, but structure serves me well. Routines and habits allow me to get me to the writing desk on a regular-enough basis without paying the piper in the precious psychic coins of mounds of dirty laundry, no milk, no bread, dirty litter boxes, and dog fur matted into a pseudo-carpet on the stairs.

But because I started a few days later than November first, I was behind on the average words-that-must-be-generated-daily-to-write-50,000-words-by-November-30th. Gack. I had to do 2500 words a day, more, ideally, if I were to get enough ahead to be semi-present during the Thanksgiving break when we would be out of town. Double gack.

So I dared to step at least one foot over the threshold of my comfortable routines. I didn’t go to the gym first thing, I wrote. Then I skipped the gym entirely! I didn’t keep up with my email. We ate a fair amount of frozen food. Without fresh veggies. I believe a gallon of ice cream was consumed in less than twelve hours by my children. The dog’s walks were considerably shorter (now she glares at me from the couch when I say, “walk time!” accusing me of abusing the term walk. It’s not a walk when you go out, do your business and come back in. It’s a walk when you go to the woods, chase the squirrels, roll in deer poop, eat some of same, and run, run, run. Liar, her glare accuses. I have to do penance, apparently. I did not know dogs kept score in addition to giving unconditional love.)

I frolicked in letting my writing all hang out. I enjoyed the encouraging NaNoWriMo emails. I buddied a friend I’d made at a writing conference. I gloated over the graph on the website that showed my forward progress.

And I noticed several things: 1. When I treat my writing like a job with a deadline, I get more done. 2. My writing doesn’t feel like a job when it’s all about generating new words only (eg, no revising, no research). 3. The jobs of revision and research appeal to me today, at the end of a month of nothing but making up a new story. I, queen of the routine, need variety.

Yet again, just when I have become semi-self-satisified that I have figured out “the answer” to what works for me, I discover that I don’t, in fact, have it figured out. Either because my circumstances have changed, or I have changed, or because the story needling me demands a different exit method.

Duh. But obviously a lesson I need to learn, again.

A green and red Perseid meteor striking the sk...

A green and red Perseid meteor striking the sky just below Milky Way. The trail appears slightly curved due to edge distortion in the lens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope all of us fumbling creative souls, in the shortening days leading to the solstice, may have a version of NaNoWriMo:  a moment, at least, to step outside ourselves and gaze with surprise and wonder at the starry skies above us. And then another moment when, returning, we step inside and gaze with equal delight and awe at our own spinning universes, so often clouded over.

Neat, short writing opportunity: I Write Because …


Albuquerque (Photo credit: jared)

Fellow writers: check out this submission opportunity, offered by Jennifer Simpson of Albuquerque, NM (she’s also in charge of DimeStories):

The I Write Because Project


Regardless of whether or not you opt to take a stab at submitting, try the exercise of a ten-minute write wherein every sentence begins with the phrase, “I write because … ”

It will show you some hitherto unknown parts of yourself…

Letting your Freak Flag Flap in the Wind … or not

Image by kendiala via Flickr

Sometimes, you just gotta let your freak flag fly

My college-era friend George Clark, not only has a blog, a fulltime job as a reference librarian, two kids, and a long commute, but a creative heart and soul. He has a respectable and, imo, charming collection of song lyrics. He even bought Robert Ray’s The Weekend Novelist after I shared its effectiveness for me. Although, he said, he wants to rip the cover off it so others – security guards, colleagues – won’t know the full extent of his creative heart and soul.  Nonetheless, he concluded in one of his emails, “Guess I should just let my freak flag fly.”

This line sparked all sorts of thoughts for me, but first and foremost: do we need to let our freak flags fly? YES, part of me roars. Or yells. Or says sort of loudly. Or whispers to my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Surely it is less “freakish” to create than to go through society’s routines without reflection, thought, reaction. But. Society with a capital-S dominates more often than not through its power to squish and homogenize our individual freakiness.

Four years ago, fresh from my first month-away-from-family retreat at Vermont Studio Center, I was working, hard, on my novel. Inspired, passionate, outline in hand, I labored on it at every available moment. In this particular instance, I was in Gillie’s (fabulous vegetarian cuisine, one place my now-husband took me when he wanted to convince me Blacksburg could be home. His clever, ultimately successful strategy included Gillie’s egg-n-cheese biscuits.)

Image by chersland via Flickr

Gillie's specials ... one way to Lesley's heart

I’d enjoyed my two eggs, home fries and toast, and I was nursing a cup of tea. My fingers were fairly flying across the keys due to the residual butter from said toast. “X” had also eaten there, with colleagues, and we’d exchanged a brief, friendly hello. But.

As X’s colleagues left and they rose to pay the check X stopped at my table. “Working on the great American novel? Delete, delete, delete!” These last words accompanied by gestures meant to indicate hitting the delete button repeatedly.

Did I engage in witty repartee, tease that X’s work (bureaucratic paper-pushing for a large commercial institution) was perhaps more worthy of deletion than my own efforts, did I look affronted or offended or reveal any sort of hurt? Nope. I laughed as unpublished authors, un-galleried artists, un-sung lyricists are wont to do, and X moved on, quickly, thank gawd, and my screen blurred with my brimming tears and I went to the restroom right quick and choked on a huge throat-full of sorrow and shame, and flushed the commode.

And became very, very angry.

No one would ever say: “working on a business plan? Deletedeletedelete!” Or, “designing on the curriculum for your freshman English class? Deletedeletedelete!” Or, “campaigning for [insert political candidate of your choice]? Deletedeletedelete.” (Ok, Gingrich’s staff did say that, but that was a rare event.)

While George hasn’t said his colleagues are insulting his copy of Rey’s book and the subsequent implication that he’s exploring the foothills of novel-writing’s mountain, I think it behooves us to be careful about how and with whom we share our tender shoots of creativity. Julia Cameron covered this territory brilliantly in The Artist’s Way, and I encourage folks to use that resource to systematically work through their decisions about how and with whom to share their efforts.

Image by kingmagic via Flickr

Tender ...

But bottom line for me, at this point, is: if it feels tender, it is tender. You are not obligated to share with anyone what you undertake in your private time or what you’re typing on your laptop or dreaming up in your head during those incredibly boring Powerpoint presentations. This includes spouses.

X isn’t someone I socialize with save once or twice a year, and the only way they knew about my novel was through a mutual friend, who supports my writing unequivocally. I’ve hardly sworn anyone to secrecy about my efforts; after all, it’s often the friend-of-a-friend who has productive connections or insights. Ultimately, my friend’s support outweighs the ickiness of X’s poor word choice (and X isn’t a bad person; they’d be sorry to know how their casual words affected me. I certainly have long since forgiven them; we all say things intending to be funny that fall flat. My reaction is mine.)

Image by iluvcocacola via Flickr

Give your babies a nest, tucked away from prying eyes

Nonetheless, I’m more cautious since the deletedeletedelete comment. We need to protect our creative babies. Shelter them until we’re clear that our art is not us. For me, that process looks like this: first the words are all about me, my response to a real or imagined situation. Then something about the story flat-out doesn’t work, and I have to change the structure/theme/rhyme scheme/perspective. That change demands others and this iterative practice, for me, at least, results in a piece that is about my craft, but not about me. Ideally the story will connect with others – in their own way. I’ve been surprised by what others see in my stories, often pleasantly so, sometimes less-pleasantly so – but once the story is done, readers’ reactions are their own, and have nothing to do with me, personally. If someone wants to deletedeletedelete my story, that’s fine.

And if I want the opportunity to practice the iterative tweaking and playing my writing requires, then I have to guard my space – literally and figuratively. Novelist and short story writer Margot Livesey’s strategy to sustain the “energy” of her stories has, upon occasion, involved making up another story to tell her friends and colleagues – a fiction to cover her fiction. Eventually, she notes, you have to tell folks that the fictional fiction didn’t work out but in the meantime it provides great cover! Here’s an excellent interview with Livesey by Valerie Compton.

Image by outlier* via Flickr

o joyous belly rub!

Let your creative self roll around in the warm summer grass, wiggly and grinning like a dog. No one can stop you from frolicking and basking in your mind when you need it. Especially if they have no idea you’re having that much fun.


A grab-bag of ideas for “cover stories” to guard the spaces you need: taxes, filing, de-cluttering, sorting family photos, working on your will. Others? Tell us in the comments section.