Oh, oh. You’re a writer? You’re it! By Beth Camp

You may find yourself invited to play tag these days. A kind of virtual blog hop tag where you answer four questions about your writing process on your own blog and then tag two or three others to do the same, sometimes within the week, sometimes on a specific schedule. The questions are a little innocuous, and yet, there’s something endlessly fascinating about the responses, that allow the reader to look behind the door or under the veil.

Essentially we are being asked: Who are we as writers? How do we do what we do? Here are the “official” questions:

  • What am I working on currently or just finishing?
  • How does my work differ from others in this genre?
  • Why do I write what I do?
  • How does my writing process work?

Not everyone wants to play, even if they first say yes, for we all know how hard it is to say no.

So when one of my writing friends hit a wall and couldn’t post her response, I invited a colleague from my working days, Sandy Brown Jensen.

Sandy writes poetry, paints, teaches writing, and has embarked on something called digital storytelling, combining voice and image in a video. She is committed, each day, to be creative, to inspire others, and to write. In this photo, she talks about a painting by her sister, Cheryl Renee Long.

And here is Sandy’s video using VIMEO, “The Current is Everything” — her response to the first question: What am I currently working on?

Her video brought me to tears, in the way something true and exceptional evokes that emotional response.

Technology continues to change how we read and how we write. Yes, I carry my Kindle with me everywhere, a neat repository of books read and unread. I have used a computer for decades now, the keyboard invisible as I type, research immediately accessible. And we will all learn new techniques for publishing, marketing, and now, perhaps digital storytelling.

Here at ROW80, we are an online community of writers. We bitch and moan, we make goals, we celebrate our struggles and our accomplishments. And each week, we inspire each other.

What is it that keeps us writing is some inner voice, sometimes dark, sometimes stubborn, sometimes that germ of creativity, characters that grab us and do not let go, our irrepressible connection to that which is essential – our unique voice. Sometimes we work slowly. Sometimes we suffer from what is truly known as writer’s block, that inability to put the words we want down on paper.

With each twice-weekly check-in, we build our own progress towards our writing goals. We persevere. We will challenge ourselves, regardless of the medium, to tell our stories from the deepest part of ourselves. As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, ““Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

So if someone invites you to play tag, consider saying, “Yes!” Dive into those four questions. Articulate who you are as a writer and write!

~*~

Beth Camp

The Quest for Imperfection or Getting Our Wabi-Sabi On” by Beth Camp

A quilting buddy told me that 2014 was going to be her year of wabi-sabi.
I had never heard the term. She said it meant you let go of the quest for perfection and celebrate the perfection that already exists. Since she was laughing and feeling less stressed, I thought she meant something more than that little green ball of hotness you mix in with your shoyu sauce when eating sushi.
I jumped online to learn wabi-sabi is a deeply held Japanese philosophy that is at the very core of Japanese esthetics.
For example, consider just one aspect of the very formal Japanese tea ritual which involves the host selecting precisely the right cup for the guests. The most treasured cup may have some sort of imperfection, a roughness in shape or design. The cup that is the most humble, that does not draw attention to itself, honors the guest as well as the art of tea-making and tea-drinking.
According to Richard Powell, “[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect” (1).
As I look at my ROW80 goals for 2014, I felt a knot of tension unwind. For while I do not truly understand this very complicated philosophy that stems from medieval Japanese thought, and that, yes, has been both appreciated and commercialized here in the states, these were words I needed to hear.
Nothing lasts. Nothing is finished. Nothing is perfect.
Nothing lasts. It doesn’t matter if we are twenty, forty, or seventy. The very impermanence of our lives means our writing — product or process — or any other commitment we make — will not last. We live in this moment, the now. In this sense of stepping away from the awareness of time, outside the flow of past and future, we choose to value our precious time, the ‘now’, by our actions and affirmations. A contradiction: I am a writer, yet I write, knowing that nothing lasts.
Nothing is finished. How well I know this in my bones. I cannot read a page of anything I’ve ever written, whether poetry or fiction, without wanting to change a word or question a scene. The tipping point is that I can let go of the quest for perfection. We know this tipping point is different for every writer. But the discipline of revision, at least for me, requires multiple readings and endless changes at micro and structural levels. So I finish projects and yet, they remain unfinished because . . .
Nothing is perfect. Not my writing. Not me. I can celebrate what I write in a very private moment that says “Aha! That’s it! Exactly!” A turn of a phrase. An insight into a character. A scene that builds seamlessly on theme. A fierce emotion that emerges out of the simplest of words. But we writers know how quickly that moment fades. For nothing is perfect.
It is enough that we write to create that moment — for ourselves and our readers. We may write our fictions for a variety of purposes — to entertain, to amuse, to escape, to persuade, or to teach. Our words celebrate our characters, their conflicts, their imperfections, and their quests. In doing so, we persevere. We challenge our own imperfections, and we continue our personal quests.
Sometimes we do not know why we write. In our darkest moments, in the midst of writer’s block, despite the nastiest of self-doubt, we write.
Perhaps for us all, writing is a form of meditation. And that brings us full circle back to the essence of wabi-sabi, this philosophy influenced by Buddhism.
As we begin Round One of ROW80, this year, I can accept imperfection and incompleteness. For these words, this day, I can write my stories. I am accountable. My hope is that even for a moment, this idea of wabi-sabi will help you trounce the devils of perfection, that you will go forth into 2014 to celebrate your own writing voice.
(1) Richard R. Powell, Wabi-Sabi Simple (Adams Media, 2004). Quoted in Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi

 

 ~*~

Aargh!!! My Blog is My Platform? Now what? by Beth Camp

 

Have you ever faced a blank page when writing your blog?

As we set goals for each round of ROW80, our blogs become a very real way to assess and report our progress and stay connected with others committed to writing. Even the process of setting goals has me (as many of us do) thinking about and balancing my writing goals with those for marketing, deepening my understanding of craft, and publishing.

Some writers have no problems in coming up with content for their blogs, or they may schedule a certain kind of writing for a certain day of the week by writing book reviews or participating in a blog challenge or blog hop.

My day begins with writing on my novel. Sometimes, I feel like my blogs (all three of them – a writing blog, a travel blog, and a ROW80 blog) waver with the topic of the day, falling back on poetry when all else fails.

Not to say anything’s wrong with poetry, but . . .

Our blogs are supposed to be an important part of our marketing platform. So now the challenge is: What do we write about on our blogs that will appeal to our readers – and that potential agent or publisher?

Think content: I’ve been reading Joanna Penn’s helpful e-book, How To Market A Book, and found this very useful advice: “Blog around your writing journey and/or research to start building audience.”

Somehow this advice resonated with me. Simply stated, it means I can write about my own writing journey, and I can write about the fascinating research I find. Both of these shoes fit nicely.

Here’s an example of what this looks like: Jeanette Harvey’s blog, “Sisters of the Bruce” writes fact-filled posts supporting her current work-in-progress, complimented with photos that draw you into the history she’s exploring. Once in a while, she’ll also write a ‘how-to’ article. Her June 24 post, “Ten Amazing Tips for Writing Historical Fiction” reaches out to other writers.

One of my favorite bloggers, K. M. Huber, writes about an entirely different genre – meditation. Yet I come away from her blog refreshed — and perhaps more thoughtful about my own writing.

As a sponsor, I’ve committed to read at least 10 other ROW80 blogs each week, those who post on the Linky and those posting on Facebook.  Each time, I pick up helpful ideas. This week’s gems included:

  • Fast drafting for a minimum word count.
  • Meditating before writing (even 5 minutes is good).
  • Deciding on a blog topic for the week and write it!

Participating in ROW80 and similar blog hops leads can lead us to many new connections. I confess I also read blogs by marketing gurus, Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer and Katherine Logan Lowry’s Notes from Tabor Lane are two of my favorites for their encyclopedic resources.  Friedlander’s post today (July 8) just happens to be “Top 7 Strategies for Blog Marketing”!

Wait! Wait! There’s more!

We may be dismayed by some of the tricks that marketing people use – and wonder IF we should be using some of these strategies in our own posts.

Consider using some organizational tools on your blog posts.

ü  Catchy titles can intrigue the reader,

ü  Shorter, more readable paragraphs  are easy to read (that computer screen is pretty small);

ü  Key word highlights focus the reader’s attention,

ü  Descriptive headings and titles help people find relevant information quickly,

ü  Lists can break up the text, and

ü  Vivid photographs are typically noticed first.

Have you noticed how many marketing specialists use numbers? “Twenty-five ways to tie your scarf in 4.5 minutes” or Karen Woodward’s “Four Ways to Motivate Your Reader to Keep Turning Pages,” or Marya’s “Four Ways to Write Your Next Blog Post Opening That Works.”

This use of numbers inspired me to write a rather long post on 75 ways to create more time for writing, thankfully retired to that Recycle Bin on my desktop, though it was fun to write.

But what’s most important in writing your blog?  When Joanna Penn encourages us to write about our writing journey and/or research, she’s asking us to write about what is closest to our heart. We can do this. If we invite our readers to consider our writing projects, our characters, our stumbles and our successes, then we are building audience interest authentically.

Reach out to your reader: Adding a question that invites a reader response – or some kind of action – can increase a reader’s interest in you and your blog.

So I invite you to face the challenge: What marketing strategies do you consider (if you do) when you’re writing your blog?

~*~

Beth Camp

What Impels You To Write? by Beth Camp

Some of us are motivated by routine. We start each day with writing, and all is well. Skip the writing, and something seems off balance, unfinished.

I know some writers called ‘bleeders’ who write very, very slowly. These writers think through the entire story before beginning and test each word before it drops on the page. But those words are nearly perfect, needing little revision. Perhaps you write this way, planning exactly and on all levels how the story should unfold. Perhaps you spend more time agonizing and thinking about what you want to write than you actually spend writing. But you persevere.

Or you may write as I do, sprinting ahead without a plan. I know generally where I want the story to go; I know my characters and some key scenes, but I am surprised along the way. I draft great clumps of text that can be moved and revised and reshaped until my characters and their story come clear. I spend as much time drafting as I do deleting. But I persevere, having finally accepted that how I write works for me. Even so, my writing process remains a draft, subject to revision!

Thinking about HOW we write can sidestep the issue of WHY we write.

I write to bring order to my universe, to work out issues fictionally I do not confront so easily in real life. I write to create the happy ending that escapes so many of us, especially when forces beyond our control create chaos. I write to protest economic and historical change, to learn from the past, to appreciate the efforts we all make to create beauty in some form. Even if no one reads my stories or poems, I would write. For there is satisfaction in seeing well-crafted words on a page, the characters come to life, and the story itself eases something deep within me, something almost unnameable.

I do believe that we each have a unique story to share, that writers, as any artist, bring craft and heart and skill to the process of creating a story. And that we must confront what is hidden in ourselves and in our characters to truly understand our writing. Sometimes we discover what we mean only after we have written.

While we may fall in love with a particular time or place or character, I’ve always thought that we each have unique issues that motivate us to write. We may not realize it consciously: These themes ring through our writing like a great bell. For example, I do not have to be a psychologist to know that my storytelling is informed by issues of loss and abandonment. I am drawn to the happy ending where joy meets joy.

My characters thus undertake a grand quest – to surmount evil, to bring beauty into the world in small ways and large, and to understand through action, what it means to be a moral person, what the costs of personal choice might be, and to celebrate the resilience and strength we all share in spite of differences in class, gender, and circumstance, or human frailty.

Can you identify what underlying themes consistently appear in your writing and why? Knowing what themes you find most compelling may help you work below the surface of the story in those areas that are implied rather than known. Then you will know what essentially inspires you to write and what you must write.

As Morgan Dragonwillow commented recently, “May you find the strength to be who you are, say what you need to say, and dare to write your truth.”

~*~
Beth Camp serves her first term as a sponsor at ROW80, having benefited greatly from the goal-setting and accountability in each round of words. For April, she’s also participating in the A to Z Challenge, where you can read more of Morgan Dragonwillow’s writing atwww.morgandragonwillow.com or visit Beth’s blog at http://bethandwriting.blogspot.com