Inspirational Posts

Does Your Writing Next Need Reweaving by Shan Jeniah Burton

Fall is at hand – a time when many of us scurry about like busy rodents, sprucing up our family nests to better suit the long indoors months. But, since this is ROW80, I have a question for us all:

What about our writing nests?

I love imagery – since I was a little girl, it’s helped me to make sense out of complicated ideas. I envision my writing life as a sheltering construct woven from interconnected threads, and from time to time, I need to look these over, replace frayed bits, get rid of the debris, and tighten things up. The energy of fall is perfect for this, and that will be my focus for this round. 

Want to join me, and reweave our writing nests together? Here’s a few ideas to get us going.

Assess the Framework:

A nest needs a base structure, a frame to hold all those threads together. Without our bodies – well, we wouldn’t exist in the physical plane, and writing would be much trickier! Let’s give our bodies what they need to support all those other threads:

  • Feed the need. Sometimes, when I’m deeply engaged with my writing, I forget to eat. Not good for creativity or my body. Let’s remember to schedule in food breaks, and eat things that make us feel good.
  • Get a move on! Writing can be sedentary, and time can pass without us being aware of it. Let’s get moving every hour or so, to oxygenate our blood, stretch muscles, and get a better perspective. I do hometending projects in short bursts while writing; I get a happier body and a cleaner house, at the same time!
  • Go into training. Getting up and moving helps, but we need more intensive exercise, too. I’m making room for these in my life – working out or swimming, fitness classes, dancing, jumping rope, going for a walk or a bike ride – what appeals to you? Let’s do it together!
  • Sleep matters. Learning what we need to do to get enough good sleep can do wonders for our writing – and our attitude! 

Give Me Shelter:

One of my goals this year is to make my writing spaces inspiring and functional, with elements that stimulate imagination and promote a calming flow. Small changes can make a big difference -let’s take a look!

  • Repurpose items to suit new needs. Sometimes, just looking at things we have in a new way helps. My desk was once my Grandma’s hoosier cabinet, where she baked and made ‘jells’. Writing there connects me to my own past.
  • Treating ourselves does wonders for creativity. When some small item makes me smile or feels just right for my space, I feel more creative. That’s why my stapler is turquoise!
  • Engage your senses. Colors, scents, textures, and sounds all add magic to my writing nest. Candles, fabrics, music, bits of nature – these give our senses more room to explore!
  • Use symbols. Let’s make space for the personal touches – items that remind us of loved ones, capture a treasured moment, or simply inspire us.

Mindful Matters:

When our thoughts are scattered and disorganized, things we want to learn, explore, or play with can get lost…

  • Taking stock. When thoughts and projects are tangled up, reassess. Bringing even a little order to things gives us something to build on.
  • Make lists; set goals. There’s lots of ways to do this – like ROW80! I have a WIP bulletin board, and my laptop’s calendar feature gives me a visual idea of what I want to accomplish, and when.
  • Make a plan. Knowing the what, when, why, where, and how of our projects keeps momentum moving forward.
  • Learn something new. Like bodies, our minds stay sharper if they get lots of exercise, exploration, and play!

Emotional Threads:

Writing is best when it comes from our deep, powerful places. Who and what feeds our souls, and helps us tap into our deeps

  • Are we connected? Getting enough time with loved ones and friends? Scheduling a visit, even if it’s just coffee or a quick chat, can do wonders!
  • A change of scenery. Creativity soars in places that inspire – even if it’s just the backyard!
  • Let’s indulge ourselves! Yup. Spending time with favorite books, foods, shows, activities – whatever gives us that ahhhhh! Feeling.
  • Breathe. Seriously. Let’s inhale and exhale with intention. Air is life!
  • Smile, laugh, and hug. Need I say more? =)

Shared Threads:

When what we share reflects who we are, we connect with the wider world, and touch others with our words.

  • Sprucing up our blogs or websites. For me, late fall and winter are perfect times to freshen things up byplaying with new layouts, designs, and sidebar items.
  • Oversharing? We can get overwhelmed by all the social media in our lives. Evaluating what suits usnow, and stepping back from what’s less suited, can help.
  • Undersharing? Writers can also feel disconnected, or bored, or like we’re talking to the void – that’s a good time to branch out and try something new. Joining a challenge or group, or even wandering around online to see what’s out there, can inspire connection and ideas.

With a little time, attention, and affection, our writing nests can be strong, beautiful, and inspirational!

Acknowledgment: The inspiration for this post is the essay Building an Unschooling Nest”, at Sandra Dodd. It’s an unschooling site, and so much more! 

The Backdrop of Darkness and Turmoil by Stephanie Nickel

A light, fun, airy, romantic story makes for a great read, but I’ve rediscovered the three-dimensional effect of including darkness and turmoil in my writing.

I entered a contest years ago that won second place. I admit I was confused as to why the Crossings Book Club was sending me a check for $100—until I read the memo line. I’d forgotten entering the contest. I’d also forgotten which piece I had entered.

I found the short story and gave it to my mom. “That was sad,” she said. And yes, it was.

There is a richness to love magnified by loss. And that’s what served as the inspiration for the piece I wrote for the Write to Done Flash Fiction Contest. (Thankfully, I sent it to a few trusted fellow writers and am getting some great suggestions on how to make it better. Seems my protagonist is completely unsympathetic and unlikeable. Perhaps she is a tad too dark. Sigh!)

Even after I tweak this story, it won’t be wrapped in a pretty package. No big, bright bows to tie everything together.  I want it to be raw and real.

In The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth, Ted Dekker says, ““We Christian writers must paint evil with the blackest of brushes, not to sow fear, but to call out the monsters to be scattered by our light.”

No matter what your religious persuasion, I’m sure you realize it’s hard to recognize the light without some concept of just how deep the darkness.

What is joy without gut-wrenching sorrow?

What is elation without emptiness?

What is hope without despair?

When I wrote “Shattered Hope,” my 440-word flash fiction piece based on my novel “Becca’s Journey” it gave me a whole new perception on how I want to rework the entire manuscript. Granted, it will take longer to write. It will take more soul searching, more connecting with my characters and making them relatable if not actually likeable, more bleeding on the page. But in the end, I’m sure it will be worth it.

I very much like the Paul Gallico quote, which long-precedes a similar one attributed to Ernest Hemingway. It reads like this: “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.”

As many of you know, I’m all about relationship, about establishing contact with my readers—and others whose lives intersect my own in various ways.

Here is a brief quote from my flash fiction entry. What do you think? Have I established contact? Is the darkness deep enough, the turmoil palpable enough, to act as a backdrop to the glimmer of hope I sought to include?

“And then it happened, the horrific high pitched whine I’d only heard on television. The straight blue line raced across the monitor. The nurse slipped in, flipped the switch, and disappeared without a word . . . the DNR order taunting me.

“Now I couldn’t tell him forgiveness and love were starting to take hold—but they were.”

How do you incorporate darkness and turmoil in your writing?

~*~

Stephanie Nickel

We Need To Talk By Eden Mabee

Our fabulous sponsor Eden Mabee is giving us a twofer this round.  Given a lot of what I’ve seen flying around the interwebz, I think it’s well timed.  Particularly as we’re approaching the end of Round 3 and some folks won’t have made their goals and will take that really hard.

~*~

 I want to bring up one of those “we’d rather not think about it” topics: depression. Given that the word “depress” as in to “press down” is right in the name, it should be no surprise that it can stop us dead in our tracks, keeping us from achieving not only our writing dreams but also almost anything. Depression is a serious concern, and it’s important to know how what to do about it when it happens.

Writing is a generally solitary craft. Except for the rare conference or critique group, much of our community contact comes though screen and electronic interactions. The human element that has proved so vital for heath and happiness just isn’t there. Most cubical farms offer more direct human connection.

Is it any wonder that cafes have become a haven for wordmongers? A moment’s chat with the barista, a conspiratorial wave to another oft-seen regular as you each take seats near the only two outlets in the place… asking someone if you can move their coat enough to share the outlet they are using.

There are always ways to connect with other people, ways to be more involved, of course. But often we have so much to work on: writing, editing, rewriting, social media build up of our authorial platforms (yay, screen time!), plotting covers and dealing with publishers and… and, oh yes, the daily affairs of him and family , jobs, car repairs, schools. You name it, there’s work involved that seems to never end, leaving us tired and mentally drained…

That slippery slope

The thing about depression that makes it so dangerous is how insidious it can be; one can be close to the edge and not know it. Each day at a time doesn’t seem like much, but over time, things add up. For example, a number of us try to squeeze writing in during the “wee hours”, which too often translates to after everyone else is asleep and all their needs have been attended. And morning after morning we find it harder and harder to do even the little things… till one morning we wake up and pushing the blankets off has become a Sisyphean task.

Oh really?

I can hear you all thinking “Come on, it’s not that bad. Yeah, I’m a bit tired–who wouldn’t be with the hours I put in. So a few things slid, they weren’t that vital; I can get to them later when I catch up. All it will take is a little extra effort… not a big deal.”

However, how often do we actually catch up and have nothing waiting in the wings for us to get it finished? There is always something, and we know it.

And if there were ever a recipe for hopelessness, it’s the feeling that you’ll never be done. When the words “The End” seem beyond reach, when we see everyone else hitting that “Publish” button and we’ve been fighting writer’s block for weeks at a time…. Some of us give up, some of us fight on, and all of us struggle with the questions of worth.

Something to consider

Writers, as a rule, tend to be the hardest on themselves. We are our own worst critics pressing ourselves to wear more and more hats, tweak those words just a bit more to make the sentence stronger… The challenge of breaking into our chosen field and living comfortably while doing so pushes us to take on jobs that we’re not trained for, and while adding new skills is a good thing, in the short term, it’s yet one more thing taking our energy… when we’re already running at full steam, finding that energy can feel impossible. And we’re usually running at full steam.

Even on the best days, words, ideas, even smiles, won’t always come easy. And if we’re close to that edge… let’s not have a few small setbacks push us over.

So what can I do about it then?

First off, I am not a doctor, so if you think you are at danger for depression, please get a clinical opinion and counseling/medication as needed. There is a genetic tendency towards depression, but it can strike anyone. So, if you think you might be at risk, here are a few things you can do to stave off some of the effects of depression”

  • Cultivate some strong supporting relationships: Yes, the ROW80 offers a great support structure but add some face-time to your days too. And do so before depression becomes a problem. Make a “date night” with your family, plan outings with friends, get in touch with some of the “old crew”
  • Exercise! One of the best things you can do for yourself is to get out and move regularly. This can’t be a one time shot in the hip; regular exercise releases endorphins that boost mood, and studies show that this effect can last longer than medication.
  • Practice relaxation techniques and stress management: These two go hand-in hand, but so do the two above. Exercise can help you reduce stress, and maintaining healthy emotional relationships can be relaxing and reduce stress as well (healthy relationships are key… there are a lot of unhealthy relationships out there to be had too, unfortunately). Meditation can be extremely helpful here.
  • Eat healthy: We are what we eat after all. So let’s eat the good stuff. And yes, that means we can (and should) enjoy the occasional cookie too. Willpower is healthy, but denial is not.
  • Sleep: Preferably you’ll be getting enough of that sleep when the sun is down (because sunlight is good for your mood too, releasing serotonin when it hits your optics nerve, and helping your body produce Vitamin D), and hopefully you’ll be getting close to the recommended seven hrs (give or take a small bit) a night. Sleep helps your brain process all the things in your headspace.

You can try variations on these basic five things, and if you find they don’t work, consider professional intervention–immediately if you’re feeling self-destructive. Whatever you do, don’t let this one thing slide. Depression is a very real danger for writers, but there are ways to protect ourselves.

~*~

Eden Mabee

Changing Your Path by Mhairi Simpson

I’m sitting here in front of my computer and my brain won’t stop spinning for long enough for me to stick some flesh to any of the ideas whose skeletons are currently whirling in my mind, all fairly insouciant about whether they form the basis for this post or not. I think it’s because I really like where I am right now in my life and I want to show other people how they might get there too. The problem is, a lot of different things came together for me to be in this place. Together, they are more than the sum of their parts.

Friends is definitely one. The overwhelming love and support I have experienced from my friends, even though most of them have only known me for a year, three or four at most, has changed my view of myself and what I can achieve. It was particularly eye-opening to be told, after telling one friend I was now a full time creative, “Good. The vast majority of people, I wouldn’t support it, but you are one of the very few I can wholeheartedly get behind. You can make it happen.” Or when another friend said, “You’re an insanely talented writer,” and I replied, “I know.” Then I realised what I’d said and before I could retract it, he said, “GOOD.” Your friends see the truth of you, whether you do or not. Whether your family does or not. That’s what makes them your friends.

Recognising who you really are is another aspect of how I got here, too. I’ve tried to be responsible about my journey to full time creativity. I’ve tried for sixteen years, through a number of jobs (on two continents). I never made it work. I never found a job which made me 100% happy and I firmly believe that 100% happiness is my birthright.

I didn’t used to believe that. For a long time I swallowed the idea that work was something draggy and horrible you did in exchange for money. Now I’ve realised that life doesn’t start at sixty-five. It starts when you’re born. If you’re going to be alive, damn well live!

You might be thinking, well, what about money, Mhairi? Isn’t money kind of important too?

Yes. It is important. But other things are more important. My mental health is more important than my income, for sure. Not just my happiness but the stability of my mind. And this is what I have never been able to maintain, through all those jobs in all those places with all those different companies. I’ve never felt in control of myself or the world around me. My mind would tip and sway and it never occurred to anyone, least of all me, that this might not be normal.

So now, yes, I have medicine. And I have realised I need to care for my health, mental, physical, emotional and creative, in any way I can.

So I no longer have a job. I’m not looking for another one either. Right now I have so many editing and writing and art projects lined up I don’t have time for a job anyway.

The fact is, I am not an employee. Never have been. I’ve been trying to be one for the last decade and a half and it never worked. So now I’m working for myself. I believe in myself. More to the point, a number of people around me believe in me too. And for the first time, even without money, the path shines ahead of me by the light of a billion stars. My life has never looked brighter. I can only be that which I am. I have accepted that, thrown myself into the void with only that to cling to. On the one hand, it’s terrifying. But I am not alone. I’m surrounded by people who only want to help me. I feel loved. I feel free. I feel… me.

I’m not suggesting that everyone who’s in a crappy job should quit it right now (although if you want to and can, do it!). What I’m suggesting is that maybe the first step on the path to happiness is to stop lying to yourself about what you really want out of your life. Do you want money? Do you want a big house? Do you want a book tour? Do you want a speedboat? Do you want a wife and three children?

Once you are honest with yourself about what you really want, you then have to get honest with yourself about whether what you’re currently doing is taking you closer to what you want. And if it isn’t, well, that’s where the change is.

Change is always exhilarating. This isn’t always a good thing. It depends on how much exhilaration you think you can handle. You can probably actually handle a fair bit more than you think, but when it comes to making plans, what you think you can do is more relevant, at least initially.

And even then, sometimes, the Universe just does it for you. In my case, two traffic accidents in six months. The latest one saw me dumped off my scooter into the middle of an empty roundabout in the middle of the night. I couldn’t think straight. Had no idea even how to stand up.

Two separate families of complete strangers stopped their cars and came running over to help me. They stayed with me until my friends arrived to pick me up.

How’s that for a metaphor? When you take a sudden turn in a totally different direction, people will help you.

Just… try to change your path yourself, if you can. The Universe’s methods tend to HURT.

~*~

Mhairi Simpson

Grammatical Fisticuffs by Stephanie Nickel

I read a meme on Facebook recently that was originally posted by Grammarly. (I love their memes.) I found it to be a humorous exchange between a student and his teacher about the difference between “may” and “can.” Yes, I admit there are things that make me twitch, but this isn’t one of them – and the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           things that do aren’t actually important to “the big picture.”

The thing that really got me thinking was one of the comments left by another reader. She seemed quite offended that someone who was concerned with proper word usage would be called names (pedantic and pretentious in this case). I also know of a writer and editor who feels each time we don’t follow “the rules” we diminish the language. It’s okay. They’re allowed to feel this way.

There may be some of you who already feel your blood pressure rising. Funny how a discussion about linguistics and grammar can do that to people. 

I heard Ammon Shea, author of Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation, on a radio talk show. I learned a thing or two and very much want to read his book.

One of the things that aggravates Shea is that often those who get up in arms when the rules are broken haven’t done their research. These “purists” would have been considered the uneducated ones in the not too distant past. You see, these rules change over time. What was once considered proper is no longer. Shea believes that a language that does not evolve is a dead language.

I use reference books such as The Chicago Manual of Style, but 5, 10, 50 years from now, the edition that sits on my shelf will be outdated. Even now, despite what some academics say, editing is often a subjective endeavour. Just compare one publishing house’s style sheet with another’s.

What is language really and why is it important to learn – and use – the currently accepted rules?

A Means to Communicate with One Another

According to Wikipedia, researchers conclude that less than 35 percent of face-to-face communication is verbal. If we break a rule from time to time, it won’t likely have a dramatic effect.

And when it comes to written communication, for the most part, we have to use language that can be understood by our target audience. Writings for the general population are now at a lower reading level than in days gone by. Of course, neither of these things means we shouldn’t use accepted spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

A Means to Express Your Thoughts and Feelings

Our intention may come across loud and clear if we are communicating face-to-face. However, if our written work is bogged down by errors, our thoughts and feelings may get lost in the muddle.

A Means to Effect Change

If we want to effect change on a broad scale, we don’t want our audience distracted by our apparent ignorance about the language. Whether we consider this distraction their problem or ours is irrelevant. If we want to be heard and know our audience may very well be alienated by such things, we should purchase, read, and apply a book (or two) on the subject. If you do a search for “grammar” on Amazon, you will find 100 pages of books. (This is also a good place to mention that a skilled editor is worth the investment – even for editors.)

A Means to Entertain

Deliberately breaking the rules can have a humorous effect. First, however, you must know the rules. You must also know that your audience will understand why what you say (or write) is funny.

When your humor has nothing to do with linguistics and grammar, it’s a good idea that errors in this area don’t distract from the message. On the flipside, strictly following the rules can be equally distracting—and unintentionally amusing. Consider Winston Churchill’s words: “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

An Aside

If you haven’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves, you absolutely, positively must. It’s my favourite book on punctuation. I howled as I read it while my family was watching TV. They thought I was a little strange, but that’s okay because I am. Using incorrect punctuation can convey an unintended—often hysterical, sometimes tragic—message.

My Personal Philosophy

As an editor and writer, I want to do the best I can to create—and help others create—the most polished, effective written communication possible.

When it comes to reading work created by someone else, I want to be gracious, looking passed the mistakes to the message they are seeking to convey.

~*~

Stephanie Nickel

Write Passionately And Prosper by Shan Jeniah Burton

What fires you up? What consumes you? What do you keep coming back to, again and again, in life? What are you passionate about? Do you indulge it, or feel guilty about it? Do you try to avoid it while you’re writing, because youfeel it distracts you from your work?

I used to do that, too. For me, it’s Vulcans, and it probably always will be. I have a deep, abiding passion for them that’s been with me for over three decades, now. There’s something about those green-blooded, pointy-eared beings who wear cool logic as armor over souls filled with intense and sometimes uncontrollable passions that ignites my imagination and utterlyfascinates me.

Yes, I have many other passions, but, again and again, the Vulcans draw me in, compel me, demand – politely, of course – I give them and their stories my attention. For most of my life, I told myself that the fan fiction I wrote wasn’t “real” writing, and that I was “wasting time” when I indulged it. I wrote those stories in notebooks I kept hidden, showing them only to one or two select people, and I ridiculed myself for the time and energy I expended on them.

I was cheating myself.

Only when I decided to take my passion for Vulcans seriously did I move forward as a writer who creates not only Star Trek fan fiction, but also:

  • An original fantasy series, part of a duology with my fanfiction Trek universe;
  • A poetry collection;
  • A series of novellas about life and death at a private no-cost hospice resort;
  • Short stories and flash fiction.
  • Several essays, and nearly a thousand blog posts, so far.

Those are the tangible proof that something shifted when I embraced my Vulcan passion. There are also other, less easily quantified benefits:

  • I’m better at allowing my characters to breathe and live on the page.
  • I understand more about what to say and what to leave unsaid, and the power of the smallest gestures – a swallow, the brush of fingertips, a glance, a sigh…
  • I’ve extended and stretched the way I see myself as a writer and a person, and how my passions feed all of my writing.
  • I come to my writing with a sense of freedom and playfullness inspired by indulging my passions, and I immerse myself in the realities I create.

I used to divide my life into rigid categories. I had a ‘Real Writing’ category, and an ‘Other Stuff I Write But Feel Guilty About’ category. But I’ve come to see that it’s all writing, just as writing is a part of me. Interconnection, interweaving, all swirled and blended together into an ever-shifting whole. Everything I write is Real Writing. There is no “other”. It all feeds each other, and that’s where passions come in.

Loving what I do makes me a better writer.

It’s not because I love Vulcans. It’s because I accept that I love them, revel in my love for them, and give myself permission to write about them, observe them, delve their minds…to let myself sink into all that it is that makes them irresistible to me, and to capture that and offer it to you.

I get more out of indulging my passions than I do out of fighting them. Since I began treating my fascination with writing Trek fanfiction as equally worthy, I’ve allowed myself to indulge in delightful observation of T’Pol and Spock, my two favorite Vulcans (anyone else want to read that as ‘My Favorite Martian’, or is that just me?).

Vulcans aren’t human. Their body language, thought processes, and approach to life are quite different. There is a stillness about them, a lack of the types of exuberant, spontaneous motions we humans tend to engage in. Their usually submergedemotions aren’t nearly as much a factor in their decision making as logic. A small lift of the eyebrow conveys amusement, frustration, surprise…a tiny shift of visual focus to indicate anger, discomfort, evasion…each movement means more, in Vulcans, and, in order to find my stories, I’ve needed to become attentive to those subtle shifts.

Vulcans are also a study in contrasts and unresolved inner conflicts. Writing them requires understanding and conveying the lighting flashes and thunderclaps when they lose their calm and control. When the maelstrom of raw emotion is loosed, they might kill to win a mate; make illogical and self-destructive choices, sob, seduce, scream, or sink silently and rigidly into themselves.

In learning to read Vulcans, to focus on those tiny clues and glaring signs of their inner thoughts, motivations, conflicts, and emotions, I’ve honed skills that make me a better writer no matter what species my characters are.

Because that’s really what’s at the heart of fiction writing – understanding why our characters do what they do, how to read and see into them more deeply, to know what it would be to live within their skins, their minds, their souls, their lives.

It isn’t about Vulcans or Star Trek – not really.

It’s about passion.

Because the best writing is based upon passion. We don’t choose our passions; they happen to us, based on many factors: exposure, interests, personality, needs…By indulging our passions, we’re engaging ourselves more wholly – and isn’t that exactly what we need to do, to be the best writers we can be?

At the beginning of this post, I asked what you are passionate about, and whether you indulged those passions. Now, at the end, I offer up a challenge. If you already indulge your passions without guilt, can you see the ways in which they’ve enhanced your writing? If you don’t, will you find some small space you can give to your passion, freely and joyfully?

You may find that your life – and your writing – will become richer and deeper, if you do. May you, to paraphrase the Vulcans, “Write passionately and prosper.”

~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton