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Monday, February 29, 2016

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

Can there be self-help books for writers? Sure, there's all kinds of books about craft, but what about a book to soothe the writer soul--one that tells the truth and ultimately motivates and inspires? For me, reading Bird By Bird fits the bill...or is it the beak? 

It's the equivalent of sitting down with a fellow writer friend to commiserate over the woe-is-me-how-do-I-get-words-down-on-the-page, a friend who gets it and isn't afraid to say out loud many of the things that the rest of us are thinking. Lamott's language may be a little (a lot) more colorful than mine, but her insights definitely resonate. 

Even if you aren't a tortured writer soul, but just someone like me trying to write a halfway decent story that people will enjoy reading on a lazy afternoon...and well into the night because YOU. CAN'T. PUT. IT. DOWN.--this book on writing will make you laugh and nod your head and get up tomorrow and begin again to get those words onto the page.

Happy Writing!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Finding Writing Time in Bird by Bird

by Tamara Passey

Another busy day coming and going around here. I have my parents to look after and my kids and hardest of all—myself. Staying on track and staying focused amid rides, meals, medication management, household management, and trickiest of all—time management. That last one could be an oxymoron couldn’t it? Most days I wonder if I manage my time or if my time manages me? And making time for writing? Is it my healthy sense of humor that drives me to fit the crafting of a novel inside the living of an epic?

So no wonder that this is what jumped off the page for me today, from Bird by Bird, in the chapter “Someone to Read Your Drafts.”

Anne tells the story of going shopping for a dress with her dying friend Pammy. Anne modeled a lavender mini-dress (though she usually wore big, baggy clothes) and asked her friend if it made her hips look too big.

Her friend’s response is something that she said may have permanently changed her:

“Annie? I really don’t think you have that kind of time.”

Anne goes on to say this, now speaking to you, the reader—the hopeful writer:
“And I don’t think you have that kind of time either. I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it, and I don’t think you have time to waste on someone who does not respond to you with kindness and respect. You don’t want to spend your time around people who make you hold your breath. You can’t fill up when you’re holding your breath. And writing is about filling up, filling up when you are empty, letting images and ideas and smells run down like water—just as writing is also about dealing with the emptiness. The emptiness destroys enough writers without the help of some friend.”
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, p. 170-171

Enough said. I think I’ll get on with some writing now. Hope you will too.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Bird by Bird Take One

How many pieces have you started and then part-way in, abandoned or lost interest?

Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird believes, "it may be that there is nothing at their center about which you care passionately." That passionate caring inside you is your moral position. It is not a message, not a slogan, not wishful thinking. "It begins inside the heart of a character and grows from there."

She goes on to say, "The core, ethical concepts in which you most passionately believe are the language in which you are writing." And they may be such a part of you that you think they are givens, that they are things that everyone knows. "Telling these truths is your job." I love that line. Telling these truths isn't something that comes from maybe an insightful one-liner or bumper stickers. They are things demonstrated through our storytelling, unfolded page by page.

Anne says, "If your deepest beliefs drive your writing, they will not only keep your work from being contrived but will help you discover what drives your characters."

"To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal, but you have to care."

Lamott, Anne, Bird by Bird, pg 103-109

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Magic of Tidying Up

Our first guest post, by Deb Graham

Call me sensitive–when a perpetually neat houseguest bought me a book entitled The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it kinda raised my ire. The houseguest was my mother, alias The Recreational Cleaner.
After walking by the book for two days, I finally picked it up, planning to casually skim the first chapter or two. Sucked in, soon I was turning the last page.
I admit I learned a few things, such as Never Throw Away Other’s Belongings, of which I may or may not be guilty. But the Spread Out Every Item You Own, Touch Each, Have A Conversation With It, Asking If It Brings Joy Or Not, seemed outlandish to me. I set the book aside; just another self-help scheme.
And then the weirdness started. Dressing in the mornings, I’d find myself thinking, “Hm. Do I love this faded tee shirt? How much joy is left in it?” Unloading the dishwasher, I’d ponder stacking the green bowl neatly, or throwing it out. Did it make me happy? It felt like a spell had been cast on me, and I was annoyed.
I’m an author, a mother, a traveler, and on a daily basis, I’m swamped. Between husband, kids, grandchildren, friends, Church people, writer’s groups, I converse plenty, and I simply don’t have time to be talking with jackets and seven-year-old skirts.
I’ve written ten non-fiction books, including two best-selling cruise books, and around this same time, I began my first novel. Off to a great start, until the voices in my head began. Does this paragraph bring me joy? Is this character making me happy? Has this scene outlived its usefulness?
I reread Mom’s book. I know it plainly talks about sorting one’s Things, but it wriggled its way into my mind and changed my writing for the good. If “man is that he might have joy,” then I guess I’m entitled to some joy in my writing, too.
Meet our guest blogger, Deb Graham!

Peril In Paradise was released in January 2016, and is selling well already. I love the cover design. It’s a cozy mystery set on a cruise ship in Hawaii, with warm characters and descriptions so rich, you could plan a cruise with it. The process was fun, and –bonus–I also have more room in my closet since I began writing. What is it about The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up?

Check out her book:
Amazon link: Peril in Paradise


Monday, January 25, 2016

Start the New Year With a Little Zen by "Tidying Up"

by Valerie Ipson

What is it about this cover that just makes me so calm and happy? 
The restful clouds and peaceful blue sky...and the no-capital letters. 
I just want to open it and learn how decluttering will bring me all of those things. 
Of course, the red circle announcing it's a NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER helps too. 
There is a place for ALL CAPS in our zen-world and that is it! Now on with my post...

" papers...accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?"

Um, yes. Have you seen my house? Clothes, actually, aren't so much of an issue now that all my children but one are out of the house, but PAPER? PAPER is driving me CRAZY.

The first line of this post is from a blurb about the life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo. (We're giving it away this month! Details HERE.)

Here's what else you find in the blurb... 
"...Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again." Even though, surely, it was too good to be true, that's the line that sold me.

She has a method--an order of what to tidy first, second, third, etc. Easy, non-emotional stuff first, like clothing and books (okay, maybe semi-non-emotional when it comes to books). But just the idea that eventually I would un-bury myself from the piles (snowdrifts--except that they absolutely will not melt, dang it!) of paper in my office and possibly discover a computer waiting with my current WIP* on it sounds lovely.

I've konmari-ed my clothes, now I'm on to books and looking forward to a clutter-free space, and brain, to work with.

What about you? What can tidying up do for your writing life?

*Work-In-Progress, for the non-writerly among us

Friday, January 22, 2016

Win a Copy of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

If you don't already have the number one best selling non-fiction book from 2015*, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, then here's your chance:

Sponsored by the authors of Five Pages of Something
Oh and just why the giveaway of this book? Best-selling books get our attention, but we also were so curious...was there 'magic' in 'tidying up' our lives? Would it have any effect on our writing? As mothers and authors, we've often talked about (lamented over) the near-constant tug-of-war between having a house of order and writing time. We decided to experiment, take on the challenge, and find out what 'tidying up' could do for our creative energies. And we're sharing what we discover with you. We'd love one of our lucky readers to discover the magic too. Check it out! Giveaway Ends Soon!

And for the record, we have no relationship with or connection to Marie Kondo -other than as some of her newest readers!

*Publishers Weekly

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On Tidying Magic and Writing Joy

by Tamara Passey

Does this outfit make me...feel joy?
When was the last time you asked yourself that question?
Well, if you've been reading Marie Kondo's best-selling book "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up," (enter to win a free kindle copy here) then maybe you have been asking yourself that very question. She tells her readers to hold every piece of clothing they own and ask, "Does this spark joy?"

I'd been itching to clean out my closet. Over nine years in the same house can contribute to some pesky clutter. Her mandatory rule of gathering every item of clothing and piling it in one place didn't even sound like work--this is what I need! A system! But the question is what I, well, questioned.

Since when did I expect clothes to spark joy? Could I expect a t-shirt from Old Navy or a blazer from my tax-preparer days to spark something as lofty as joy in my soul? Not that I didn't have standards for my wardrobe--I'm sure liking the clothes I brought home from the store had something to do with the purchase, but four or five shirts into the process and I could see just how far my standards had fallen. I'd hold a piece and think, "but this is the only thing that matches the gray skirt," or "this was such a deal." Better yet, "At some point I will find the right pants to go with this Chaps navy-and-white-polka-dot-dress-shirt." Joy? Where did that fit into the equation?

I persevered and began to find clothes that did, in fact, bring a smile to my face and an immediate, "oh I am keeping this," to my mind. And by the end of the day (okay two days) I had stacks of clothes for Goodwill, more room than I'd ever had in my closet, and clothes that I could honestly say I looked forward to wearing.

But what could any of this do for my writing? My creative energy? That question was what started this journey in the first place. An off-hand comment at the end of a writer's group meeting, a fellow writer said, "my sister told me about this book and if I can get my house in order, maybe I can get my writing to follow." Ooohh, the sound of that was so inviting! A house in order so it's occupant could be free to write in a blissful state of "a place for everything and everything in it's place!" Sign me up!

Two weeks later, I'd read the book (mostly) and started the process (because I'm impulsive). Didn't matter that it was the middle of December and the holiday was fast approaching. I tackled clothes and moved right into books and though I was having the time of my life, I hadn't been spending much time writing. I had to ask if I'd found another brilliant way to procrastinate the finishing of my sequel. What could all this gathering, sorting, and purging really do for my writing if I wasn't writing?

But something was happening. How many times can you ask yourself if something in your life sparks joy without it seeping into your psyche, taking up residence? At what point do you wonder if what you are about to make for dinner sparks joy, if your workout at the gym (the same one you've been doing for ten weeks straight) sparks joy? I'm telling you--it gets to you.

In a joy-sparking good way.

So one day doing the dishes, I asked myself why I hadn't been writing? Why wasn't I making the time for it in the same way I was making time for clutter-clearing and package-wrapping. And the question I'd been afraid of asking just bubbled right up: did my story spark joy?
I wasn't afraid of the question as much as I was of the answer. If it didn't spark joy, I didn't want to have to throw it away. But here is what I realized. A story has parts. And I discovered the story did spark joy, but some parts of it, not so much. The good news, I could change those parts.
Pretty soon the dishwasher was loaded and I had found the indispensable "magic" every author needs to keep writing a story--enthusiasm. By asking that simple question of myself, I came upon the very feeling that got me started down the writing path in the first place, the excitement over an idea and saying within myself "I want to tell this story."

I'm still in the tidying process. The paper category. Yes, I have a lot of paper (I'm a writer, think journals, writing notebooks, and lists galore.) And yes, I am asking if this paper, or that scrap, sparks joy. And no, it isn't easy at all. But it's working. And with every item I decide to keep, my creative energy grows. Trust me, the joy is worth it.