Write Your Heart Out

 

write-your-heart-outOutside my window a bird is singing. So long and loud for a tiny bit of feathers. The song is varied and the notes rise and fall, fluid and melodic. Truly he is singing his heart out. Simple and beautiful. The night is gone and the sun is rising. As he sings, I type.

How naturally the notes come to him. Can I claim that innocent posture? Can I let my words fly out, wild and reckless, like he releases his song? Can I claim the natural beauty of his rhythm and cadence in my flow of words and phrases? Can I write as he sings – exuberant, thankful, not concerned with the cares of the fate of the song? Of who will hear it? Of where it will go? Or even of its value?

Now he is silent. The song is finished and he has moved on from the tree outside my window. Perhaps the song is forgotten, released into the world and abandoned. He has moved on to live his life, gathering berries and seeds, feeding his young, feathering his nest. Soon I’ll do the same with my day. Many tasks are waiting.

Tomorrow there will be another morning and another song, and I must trust that there will be more words to type, to release and surrender. The songs must be sung. Words must be written. Simple and beautiful.

Write your heart out.

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers WritingSisters.com

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice. . . Psalm 5:3

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Seven Essential Tips Every Successful Writer Must Apply

Fresh StartsI think every published author wishes they could go back in time to whisper in their younger self’s ear. Doing so would certainly save volumes of time and energy. I’m sure five years from now, I’d wish for the opportunity to tell today’s me something I need to know right now.

These are the thoughts rolling through my mind this new year, clean with the possibility of fresh starts. I think it’s important to slow down sometimes.

We need to reflect on the past in order to improve on the future. So I’m reminding myself of the tips I’d give my younger self, knowing I’ve let some slack, and resolving to begin again. I believe the seven following tips are essential, things every writer must know.

  1. Ray BradburyRead as much as you can. Phrases such as, “Great writers are great readers,” hold a wealth of truth. The more we study, the more prepared we are to succeed. Reading teaches us the subliminal art of sentence flow, heart tugs, and scene staging. It also shows us what to avoid, as we learn from the mistakes of others. It’s the best motivator I know.
  2. Eavesdrop. Most of my best dialogue came from listening in on someone else’s conversation in restaurants, conferences, stores, airplanes, etc. I write non-fiction, and I tell true stories or compilations based on real people, but even if I wrote fiction, I would use this technique for writing believable and fascinating statements.
  3. Listen to outsiders. The more detached someone is from you, the more objective their writing feedback is going to be. Family and friends tend to fall into two camps: they either gush over everything you write, even your sloppy first drafts, or they nitpick, make digs, or outright blast anything you pen. Make it your mission to interact with people on social media, critique groups, or professional advance readers who are willing to respond honestly.
  4. Pull on your thick skin. You might want to consider whale shark skin for this one, (estimated at 6″ thick). Just like “there’s no crying in baseball,” professional writers soon learn, no one’s handing out Kleenex around here either. When rejection stings, stiffen your spine, and pitch again.
  5. Douse distractions. It’s going to happen. Ten people want five different things from you at once. You’re working on one project, when the siren call of another beckons. But professionals know the power of tenacity — grinding your behind into the seat, tuning out the voices trying to break your focus, and writing through to the finish line.
  6. motivational quotesSet time-stamped writing goals. I’ve really let this one slip lately, and my work is showing it. But my One Word is Reset, so I am resetting my goals. The difference between a dream and a goal is a measurement. So my refreshed writing goals include a minimum of 5,000 words per week. This reasonable number allows for flexibility, while pushing me beyond a normal comfort zone. It’s doable.
  7. Touch your own heart. If I’m not passionate about what I’m writing on, why would anyone else be interested? If I’m bored, my readers will feel boredom. If I’m thrilled, my readers will feel a flutter of excitement driving them to turn the page.

The more I write, the more I question myself at times, and yet, when I go back to the basics, I find the truth, the way, and a successful writer’s life. Which brings me to a bonus secret.

Pages in a Thousand BooksI can write until my fingers are numb. I can start writing at dawn’s break, pushing until the wee hours of the next morn, but if I am not inspired, it’s all for nothing. My personal inspiration come from prayer, provision, and praise for my Maker. He’s the one who gifted and called me. This is my most powerful secret.

What inspires you to write? Do you have any tips you would whisper to your younger self?

You can only eat so much eggplant.

eggplantI’ve rediscovered the joy of vegetable gardening, thanks to our move to a warmer clime that allows for gardening year-round. As a result, I’ve acquired some hands-on experience with how my garden grows…or not. And, being the reflective person I am, I can’t help but apply those lessons to not only life in general, but also to life as a writer. So whether or not you’re a dig-in-the-dirt kind of person, I hope you’ll find some gems in the guidelines I’m culling from my veggies.

  1. Sow liberally and see what comes up. For my first crop of lettuce, I ignored the seed packet instructions and laid seeds thickly the whole length of the row. I wanted to be sure something came up, and my confidence didn’t match the packet’s. The result: I had all the lettuce I could eat, and then some. The next time I sowed lettuce, I followed the instructions and spaced fewer seeds farther apart. The result: nothing came up and my work was a wasted effort.

Writing take-away: when you’re new at writing, try it all. See what develops for you. It’s better to produce more than you can use than have no success at all.

  1. Thin the rows to get better results. When I noticed that the new plants were crowding each other, I pulled out the smaller ones to let the bigger ones get the full advantage of soil, sun, and water. I got healthier plants that produced more and for longer periods of time.

Writing take-away: Capitalize on what’s working for you. If your fiction isn’t doing well, focus on the self-help material that’s popular with your audience and helping your platform grow. Put your energy where you’re seeing the strongest results.

  1. Some seeds just won’t sprout. Get over it. Plant something else. For some reason, I couldn’t get snow peas to grow despite two tries. Instead of letting the soil lay unused, I planted beets, which turned into a bumper crop, forcing me to try lots of new great recipes using beets.

Writing take-away: If you just can’t find an audience for something you’ve written, it’s time to try a different approach, treatment, or subject. The new material you produce might prove an easy winner.

  1. You can only eat so much eggplant. I didn’t think I could get tired of eggplant parmesan and mixed veggie grills, but after this summer and fall, I know there really is a limit to how much eggplant I can eat. Next year, I will plant only one plant, or make a habit of giving excess produce to my neighbors much earlier in the season.

Writing take-away: You can get tired of writing in the same genre. When you just can’t face writing another devotional, or romance, or even a blog post about writing, take a break. Write something else. Binge on reading books. Watch all the movies you missed in the last year. Then a day will come that you really want to write in your genre again. You’ll feel fresh and your writing will benefit.

By the way, if anyone wants eggplant, let me know…

24 Ways to Develop Your Muse

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Charles Dickens’ Dream

The muse that lives deep in your subconscious is something of a sprite. You can write without her of course, if you don’t mind being methodical. But when the muse shows up, she takes your writing to a whole new level, offering plot surprises, adding in soulful wisdom you didn’t know you possessed, and giving your story a dreamlike quality.

The problem is that your muse is not easily tamed. She comes and goes at her own will. She is notoriously right-brained and knows nothing of schedules and deadlines. And yet, like the stray cat in your neighborhood, she can be lured in.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that work with my muse. Your muse, I’m sure, has his own personality, so your mileage may vary.

  • Let your mind drift. When your guard is down, as you take a shower, walk the dog or do dishes, great ideas will surface.
  • Ask yourself tough plot questions before you go to sleep. Your mind will get to work on it without your conscious self even being aware.
  • Flirt with writing challenges that are too difficult for you. Your muse will take the dare, if you give her time.
  • Explore scene kernels. Take a snatch of dialogue or a small piece of action and set your mind to simmer for a few days before trying to expand it into a full-fledged scene.
  • Fire your internal editor. You can invite him back later once your muse has completed her work.
  • Release guilt, self-doubt and worries. The muse likes to play, so be a child at play.
  • Read poetry. It will enrich the word creator within you.
  • Write lists of random evocative words. (See above).
  • Take entire writing days. Send the kids to Grandma’s. Take a vacation from your day job. The longer you immerse yourself in the writing, the more your muse will surface.
  • Take breaks from the writing. Muses need their rest too.
  • Write dangerously. Forget the market. Forget your audience. Break a few conventions. You can always scale back later, but a few writing leaps will give your muse room to expand your story.
  • Do your research. Whether you’re writing about a Viking ship or a modern day heart surgeon, your muse can be more creative if she’s well-informed.
  • Say no. No to committee meetings. No to the internet and solitaire. Writing time is golden, and it has to be protected.
  • Follow rabbit trails. Leave the outline, and see where the what-if leads. Sometimes the muse just knows.
  • Sleep well. A rested muse is more creative.
  • Conversely, stay up late. If you’re on a roll, don’t let the muse leave.
  • Do something you haven’t done before. If you’re not a singer, sing out loud. Cook exotic meals. Dance. Hike. Learn origami. Trying something new, especially something physical, releases another part of you.
  • Let your muse free while you immerse yourself in a new book or movie. She’ll extract ideas that become totally original when they mix in with your story.
  • Put it in writing. Notes have a way of kick-starting your subconscious into action.
  • Twist the story without a clue of how it will resolve itself.
  • Go outside. Sunlight and wind and grass invigorate us, and thus our stories.
  • Live mindfully. Taste what you eat. Turn off the TV and listen to the sounds in your home. Feel the words on your tongue as you talk. Bring your senses alive and it will build new grooves into your story.
  • Be patient. If your story is in knots, work on some other aspect. Meanwhile, your muse will be untangling the story threads under the surface.
  • Most of all, don’t try too hard to design the first draft. Ride the story’s waves. Control has its place, but the stories with the biggest hearts come from a place of freedom.

There is more to the mind than we know. It has multiple levels and works in ways we don’t always understand. Give those deeper levels permission, and your muse will work hard for you.

Writing Inspiration from Anne Rice

Sometimes, what you need is a little inspiration from those that have braved the path before you. That’s really what this blog was designed to be– a way to help those who are a bit behind on the publishing path. To offer knowledge, encouragement . . . a helping hand.

Regardless of what you think of Anne Rice, she has “been there, done that.” I came across this interview on You Tube and found the information pretty interesting.

Hope it inspires you today.

What authors inspire you to keep perfecting your writing craft? What words of advice have kept you going?

Inspired

As a teacher of writing and a writer myself, I’ve long been in the habit of examining others’ writing for what it has to say about the creative process. Nonfiction, my primary genre, lends itself most naturally to such scrutiny, since the solipsistic Scarecrow--Daniel Schwenwriters who tend to write in this genre love to write about what they’re up to. The writing of memoirists and essayists thus provides valuable glimpses into the process. In nonfiction workshop, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is my go-to handbook.

As I blogged last month, I’ve been listening to the Bible on my iPhone while I run. Since I run in five to ten mile chunks, I’ve heard whole books at a time and am making my way quickly, if haphazardly, through the text, following not the order of the Bible’s original organizers but spurious impulse (or, as I like to think, the Holy Spirit). Listening to scripture aloud, I’ve become newly appreciative of the almost constant reverberations between biblical accounts. The echoes of one story in another, of one biblical author’s phrasing in the voices of others, of the words of Hosea and Isaiah in the mouths of John and Paul and Jesus. The Bible is a masterpiece of intertextuality, a tapestry of voices in sentences that mesh and thicken from one chapter to the next.

I don’t know whether it’s because of the biblical writers I’ve happened to choose thus far or because of my new way of “reading” the Bible—that is, hearing the words aloud rather than reading them from a page—or just my old habit of paying special attention when writers mention writing, but I’ve noticed that the biblical writers talk a lot about writing. As such, the Bible offers considerable insight for me and fellow writers about our line of work.

Forgive my foray down a path we Christians like to avoid in considering the Bible—namely, the exact nature of divine inspiration that led to its composition in the first place—but one biblical writer after the next, from Moses to Isaiah to Jeremiah to John, describes the initial inspirational moment pretty much exactly as I’ve experienced it myself. An urgent voice—sometimes identified as God’s, sometimes an angel’s, sometimes unspecified—commands, “Write this down!” For these ancient writers, writing was not a choice—not a career goal or the desire to influence or educate others or even a matter of passion—so much as a dutiful response to that voice. An idea rises like a vision in the mind and the voice says, simply, “Write.”

“A writer,” I tell those who say they want to be writers, “is someone who writes.”

The most common writerly methods in scripture, which several biblical writers go out of their way to explicate, are the same ones I recommend to my students: in the words of Luke, “after investigating everything carefully from the start, to write an orderly account” so that readers “may know the truth” (Luke 1:3-4 NRSV). Careful investigation and organization are what convince.

Regardless of genre—whether they are writing poetry, chronicles, stories, or philosophical treatises—the biblical writers take pains, as Paul assures the recipients of one of his letters, to “write you nothing other than what you can read and also understand” (2 Corinthians 1:13). Nothing show-offy, though the words of scripture are often as artistic as they are true. No erudition for erudition’s sake.

And though their accounts and rhetorical goals are diverse, the biblical writers share, it seems to me, one essential writerly skill: they tell what they actually see and hear and smell and taste and feel. Unlike my students, who would rather explain their thoughts, the biblical writers are, to a person, concrete. Here’s Jeremiah (whose repetitive ranting could be boring, were it not so vivid) showing, not merely telling, how ridiculous it is to worship idols:

Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
nor is it in them to do good.

(Jeremiah 10.5 NRSV)

Wow. Like scarecrows in a cucumber field. I wish I had written that!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy students typically define creative writing as writing that doesn’t have to follow any rules. Grammar rules, especially, are irrelevant. When I talk about sentence-level problems in their writing, they roll their eyes. In poetry workshop, many abandon the sentence altogether, writing instead in fragments. Creativity, in their view, constitutes the opposite of order.

The biblical writers, by contrast, seem to model their creativity on that of God himself. The creation, as described in Genesis, is a work of separation and sorting, of repeating and omitting, of drafting and considering before declaring anything “good.” Again and again, the biblical writers are selective in what they opt to tell. They keep only the best episodes of a given narrative—key conflicts, the rising action—and leaving the rest mysteriously, sometimes frustratingly, elliptical, in this way to engaging the reader’s own imagination and mental processing. There’s never a pat moral to the story. As hard as we Bible-readers try, we can never read the Bible as a straightforward primer or even a narrative account of holy living, cleansed of all confusing or upsetting or unholy details. Rather, it portrays real life—convincing in its familiarity—and real characters, the holiest of whom, as we ourselves, struggle and fail and fail again.

For writing instruction, I’m learning, the Bible is unsurpassable. Even better than Hemingway.

Don’t Let Your Muse be a Prima Donna

Granted, there’s nothing particularly sexy about the image here, but that’s exactly the point I hope to make today. I have plenty of writing mistakes behind me, and, no doubt, I’ll probably have more ahead of me, but my biggest mistake, by far, has to have been my slow recognition of how to live with a flighty muse.

I fell in love with words and books as a little kid, and the magic holds as much of a spell on me as it ever did. Even now, watching the letters group up into words and the words into sentences on this page pleases my eyes and settles my soul; only now I know there is nothing mysterious about the magic! I once thought of my muse as this elusive creature who must be cajoled into making an appearance. I had to attend to her every need with just the right coffee/surroundings/writing pad, etc.  Otherwise, like some spoiled prima donna, she might get offended and disappear as quickly as she arrived. There’s a good country word for that sort of thing: bologna!

If I might digress a moment to a much more important subject, I’ll use my last breath on this green earth helping my fellow believers understand that this same principle is applicable to our life in Christ Jesus. I believe it’s vain to wait on some supernatural hunger for God’s word and His fellowship in prayer to bonk us all on the head and propel us to our quiet places. And yet, I know that when we bend our will to His and seek Him diligently, He meets us and begins forming those very desires within us. Now, THAT is good news, any which way you slice it. And now, back to your regularly scheduled writing post.

My muse wears work clothes. She has to, y’all. Deadlines call from every corner. Oh, yes, I love words and writing as much as ever, the process will always feed my soul. But if I were waiting on a flighty muse to show up and perform, I’d be dead in the water.

Like so much else in this life, I’ve found that success comes when one foot, or word in our case, is placed in front of the other, time and time again. I can’t get the hours back that I’ve wasted in the past, waiting on my muse to show up and perform, but that’s okay. Experience is, after all, a mighty fine teacher. I may have stumbled towards the understanding, but I’ve learned that my muse, she is me. I’ve taken the power back, and it feels good. Who knows, if she’s good, I may even treat her to a caramel macchiato!

Do you wait for inspiration, or do you start without it?