Archive for March, 2010

Typewriters, Then and Now …

Ever since childhood, I have had this deep adoration and affection for typewriters.  Perhaps I owe this to my maternal grandmother who taught me to type on her Remington typewriter perched on the vanity in her room. Twenty years later, my first book was typed on a Smith Corona which sat on a homemade desk my husband built for me during my bed-ridden pregnancy. I can still feel the residue on my fingers from the little white out sheets used to correct my inevitable typos.

Those of you who have visited my website, know my splash page features a typewriter and if you’ve visited my writing studio, you cannot help but notice the assorted collection of retired typewriters. At a recent meeting with a colleague in New York  I learned that there are others with this deep-seated affection. My colleague directed me to a website called, “The Classic Typewriter Page,” http://bit.ly/9rKFR3. The site states that typewriters in their original form date back to 1714, however, the actual concept of the writing ball dates back to 1870 when the pin-cushion-resembling ball was released by Malling Hansen.  In 1873, the Sholes & Glidden typewriter was launched  resulting in capital letter typing and the introduction of the QWERTY keyboard which we are still familiar with today.

As a writer, it’s fascinating to hear about other writers and their typewriters. I recently learned that Mark Twain claims to have been the first well-known writer to have submitted a completed typed manuscript to a publisher. Hunter S. Thompson used a typewriter until his death in 2005. Some writers, such as Cormac McCarthy still use a typewriter. In fact, he’s written all of his novels on an Olivetti , which he has been using since 1963. Supposedly in 2009, his original typewriter was auctioned at Christie’s for $254,500. He ended up buying a new one for a mere $20 to continue his writing. David Sedaris is another author who still uses a typewriter, up until the release of his essay collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000).  Isn’t it interesting that my research has revealed only male writers? If anyone has any insight into this phenomenon, I would love to hear it!

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What To Write….

Whether you write fiction, nonfiction or poetry, there’s no doubt you have a unique story to tell with your very own perspective. For many writers, reliving and retelling childhood stories are common platforms for their work. We often return to those times because they were filled with pain, joy or unanswered questions.

Even though we might have a sense of what story we need to tell, but once in a while we get stumped. Many writers say their best story ideas come to them when not sitting at their desks ‘working,’ but rather when they’re out and about. It’s important to remain alert to those mundane moments in everyday life—odd discoveries and chance remarks made by others in social, work or casual settings. Compelling stories contain snippets of these incidents woven with well-known factoids. That’s one of the many good reasons to carry a notebook with you wherever you go.

My typical day begins with reading the newspaper, either on line or with my morning coffee. An article might spur my interest which would drive me to surf the web for more information. If I am in the middle of another project, I will toss the idea into my “Writing Idea,” folder which contains stories I hope to tell one day. Whether I get to them or not is not important, the important thing is to have that folder for those days when my well runs dry.

Outside of having the “Writing Idea Folder,” when stuck for ideas, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

1)What is going through your head?

2) Who are your villains? Who are your heroes?

3)What are you obsessed by?

4) What inspires you?

5) Where are you in your life now?

6) What stories are you compelled to read?

Whatever you choose to write, you will soon realize that the creative journey is similar to life’s journey—it is unpredictable, unstructured, mysterious and laden with miracles.

In her book, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing (2002), Margaret Atwood says this, “Writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out into the light.”

In Writing (1993) Marguerite Duras says, “Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome.”

William Faulkner believed that there’s a more profound reason why writers write. “An artist,” he says, “is a creature driven by demons. He has a dream. It anguishes himself so much he must get rid of it.” Whatever this dream is writers often lose sleep until the project is completed and this is how they uncover the story they have to tell.

In many ways, writing could be thought of as a modern, guilt-free replacement for confession. This might be one reason so many people are drawn to writing memoirs and personal essays. Writing about real life experiences is like a snake shedding its skin and leaving a former self behind. It’s easier moving forward when the baggage from the past is dropped. Franz Kafka summarized this idea beautifully by saying, “I write in order to shut my eyes.” Fiction writers might argue that they write fiction so that they can tamper with the facts in their life and that they have more freedom during the writing process.

Joan Didion says this about her writing, “Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

In essence, we write to know ourselves and to figure out the world around us. Even our darkest—or unknown—thoughts, memories and fears, can transform themselves to reveal value and meaning in our lives now. And with any luck, for others as well.

A Writer’s Spring Cleaning

For me, springtime is the perfect time for cleaning, not only our physical space, but our literary domains. This could mean organizing everything from our desk to our thoughts to our musings, to our unfinished poems or manuscripts.

In order to initiate this process, the writer needs to visit their favorite writing place. Visiting that special place in the springtime offers a unique opportunity to clean up the clutter sprawled about our literary world.

Virginia Woolf, author of Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, and A Room of One’s Own coined the term, “A Room of One’s Own.” Woolf referred not only to the physical room—but also to the figurative room, the places writers go to tap into their subconscious or to find the muse that sparks their creative energy. This is a place writers are safe and happy, whether it is in the confines of their own home, in a coffee shop or in a retreat. Most writers are aware of their “place.”

While in your place, think about simplifying your life. One reason to consider doing this is so that you have more time to do what you really want to do, and that is write. To begin your cleaning, try composing , a literary to-do list. Start by making three columns. The first one could be called,  “Works-in-Progress,” the second could be “Future Projects,” and the third might be called “Back Burner Projects.” Preparing this list  will make it easier for you to prioritize and help you see that all of your projects may not be viable. Springtime gives you permission to make decisions about what’s important.

After preparing your list, go to the right column and start by filing away projects on the “Back Burner.”  Just get them off your desk. Perhaps you will return to them at a later date, but don’t let them clutter your work space. Remember that your goal for spring-cleaning is to de-clutter. Next, put your “Works-in-Progress” and “Future Projects,” in order of their priority. Now glance at your list again. Perhaps you have some insights about your work. This might be the time to crack open a new journal and jot them down.

I think of springtime as a time of new beginnings. Many of you know that I’m a journaling advocate for both the young, old, happy and sad. I believe there is a place for notebooks in all of our lives, whether it’s a small pocket notebook like the one carried by poet Kim Stafford or a larger format like I keep on my desk.

You might choose one notebook to lump all your musings, or you might favor separate ones for different projects. You might considering beginning a gratitude journal to write about what you’re thankful for and what brings  joy into your life, whether it’s people, places or things. Sometimes half the battle of achieving happiness, rests in the ability to verbalize or write down what brings you joy. What makes your heart dance? Writing empowers you to discover your deepest desires.

Springtime is also a good time to shed bad energy. Focus on surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself and those who nurture and inspire the writer in you. Wean yourself from what I call ‘toxic persons,’ who cast negative energy your way. This might be more challenging if those people are family members, as my father used to say, “You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your relatives.”

If you have a relative who you don’t see eye-to-eye with, you might want to consider writing a letter expressing your feelings. Not only will this help relieve some of your stress, but it may also help foster a new beginning in your relationship.

Springtime often floods me with memories of lost loved ones and this is a good time to write about them. I like to think of every day as a new beginning, but springtime has its own unique kind of charm.

Enjoy your own writing and springtime!

Happy International Women’s Day !

Today, we celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women and  indeed, we have so much to celebrate.

First and foremost, how wonderful it was to see Kathryn Bigelow make history last night by being the first female director in the 82-year history to win the Academy Awards and on top of that it was for a war movie. Bravo Bigelow! Yesterday also marked the death of the oldest living person in the United States, Mary Josephine Roy, who was a sports-loving, card-playing woman and if you can imagine, was born before Henry Ford built his first car. In the end, she outlived her husband by forty years, had two sons, eight grandchildren, thirteen great grandchildren and five great-great children. Now that is quite a legacy, don’t you think?

International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1911—even  before women were allowed to vote.

Today, in my journal I am going to take some time to reflect on the most influential women in my own life, both alive and dead.

TO ALL YOU MALE READERS– I just read that in Great Britain, male cosmetic sales are growing at twice the rate of those in the female market. There has been talk about males wanting to keep up and keep young. Perhaps you are all getting ready for your big day – International Men’s Day to be celebrated November 19 — so don’t fret, you will have your turn!

Namaste!

Linking Creativity and Depression

It’s not a new theory that some of the brightest, most creative and influential individuals in history have been plagued by depression – including Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, William Syron, and more recently the novelist, David Foster Wallace. A feature article in this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine section entitled, “Depression’s Upside,” by Jonah Lehrer offered a fascinating new slant on the subject. A study by a Yale Psychologist, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, showed that those with ruminative tendencies are more likely to become depressed. I found this to be an interesting factoid depicting those prone to this illness.

Supposedly, Darwin viewed his depression as a clarifying force, which helped him focus on essential problems. Apparently, in his writings, he claimed that sadness “leads an animal to pursue that course of action which is most beneficial.” In other words, for the creative individual, the darkness can be a sort of light.

The article certainly validated some of my own depressive moments. When everything is going extremely well in my personal life, I am more prone to writer’s block. As a journaling advocate and writing instructor who frequently lectures on the healing power of writing, I was thrilled that Lehrer referenced a recent study citing that ‘expressive writing’ leads to a significantly shorter depressive episode.  Many of us in the literary world are aware of this, but it’s refreshing to see it addressed in this reputable reference, for the masses to read.

In fact, in the journaling classes I teach, I see a major transformation in my students from the first to last class, particularly if they had signed up to find their way out of a crisis. I don’t really need any long-term case studies to convince me of the healing power of the written word. Just by examining my own life and those of my colleagues and students, I can see the pattern. I frequently make students laugh when I tell them that writing is certainly less expensive than therapy and often times, much more effective.

Depression is common in the general public and the article states that seven percent of the population will be affected by depression and this number tends to be higher amongst creative types.  So fellow writers, don’t worry so much about your depressive moments  or disregard your analytical ruminations, because you just never know what the outcome will be! Oh no, a literary drought!

To read the complete article, check out the following link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/magazine/28depression-t.html?em


Quote of the Week


"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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