Archive for the 'inspiration' Category

The New Journal – Author Blogging

Dear Reader ~

The art of being an author means that it is no longer enough to craft a compelling manuscript and submit to an agent or publisher. We are now told that no matter what the size of our publishing house we need to do our fair share of marketing.  We must now be excellent promoters of their work and with this revolution comes the relatively new interface of the author blog.

Over the years, my journals have been a conglomeration of personal and impersonal—

scribblings which sometimes lead to published work, but other times include lists of things to do and books to read. Now that some of my scribbles have gone public, I find myself a little more reflective. I try to keep my blog entries general enough so that those who are not authors will also find them stimulating, but those particularly interested in the writing life will gain some personal insight into their chosen field.

In general, there continues to be an intrigue and mystique associated with the writing life. I learned this while editing my last book, Writers and Their Notebooks (The University of South Carolina Press, 2010), and how fascinated readers are to hear about how the writer’s mind works. Even though we don’t get paid much, many people still say they would love to be a writer if they had time. In fact, yesterday I had lunch with a dear friend whose son asked her, “Mom, if you could be famous for anything what would it be?” She turned to him and in spite of working in a completely unrelated field, said, “I would want to be a famous writer.”

Surely everyone else’s grass looks greener, but if you love to read you probably would be proud to call yourself a writer. OK. I’m veering from the subject of blogging, but also making a point that there are different types of author blogs and it’s beauty is that it gives you a chance to ramble and muse. Alas, I have made a promise to my readers that my blog will never exceed 1000 words, and most often they hover around 700. Long blogs will loose readership. We simply all have too much to do.

Many authors already have blogs, but if you are considering one, here are some things you should know about the different types of blogs:

Daily Blog – Even though at first, this may seem like a wonderful idea because it inspires regular writing, these types of blogs are very difficult to maintain over a long period of time. The idea is that writing your blog should not be a chore, but something you actually look forward to doing. You also want to make them stimulating and interesting to read, unlike the journals you kept as a young child. In your first draft, you can start by writing, “Dear Diary,” and write from your heart, write about what really interests you and chances are it will also interest your readers. Then go back and cut what might not be interesting.

Weekly Blog – This is what I do, because a week’s time frame presents itself with enough material to filter through and find something captivating to write about. If nothing happened or sparked your interest in the past week, then write about something in the news which interests you. Write about what you’ve read. Write about a movie you saw.

Subject-directed blog – This is a good type of blog, particularly if you are a nonfiction writer who specializes in a particular topic, whether you’re a politician, scientist, activist, photographer, fashion designer, medical practitioner, painter or filmmaker. These types of blogs stir up the most controversy and will probably get the most comments.

Group Blogs – This is a good way to go if you are unable to make the commitment to a weekly blog. You might want to gather a group of authors together who write similar books and take turns blogging. If you choose this route, make sure you have a list of guidelines laid out in the beginning. In addition to my personal blog, I am a guest blogger and columnist on a few other blogs and I enjoy the occasional and refreshing nature of this arrangement.
What makes a powerful blog? This is an important question because unlike diaries, there’s really no use for a blog without readership. I suppose we should ask our readers, but many of mine have told me that they were just thinking about the subject I blogged about, which I guess means that my blogs are very timely. So here are some tips I live by which might help you:

1 – Have your finger on the pulse on the times.

2 – Let your personality shine through. Readers are attracted to passion in writing.

3 – Write well and compelling text. Sometimes a good writer can make an uninteresting story or life sound very interesting. It’s all in the writing.

4 – Update regularly. My readers expect my entries on Monday.

5 – Stay ahead of yourself. Typically I am one week ahead, just in case and I cannot blog on a Monday, I always have an entry in the hopper.

And the best news of all, (before this blog entry gets too long), is once in a while we hear that blogs can sometimes lead to a book contract – now wouldn’t that be a perk?

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!

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

Why We Write

As a journaling advocate who has been writing for over forty years, I have often reflected on the reasons why people have chosen writing as a career. My journaling habit has served as a foundation for my life as professional writer. I have a lot of gratitude for those little red diaries with lock and key that my mother gave me each birthday during my childhood.

There are many reasons why writers are compelled to the page, including having a story to tell and the desire to bridge the gap of loneliness. In order to sit down and put words on the page, writers must submerge themselves in a zone which ignites their creative energy and spirit. Sometimes this requires the simple act of closing an office door, making an escape to a writing retreat, or going to a local bookstore or café. In other cases, it might take a more profound removal from day-to-day life. Sometimes darkness is brought on or initiated by something real in the writer’s life.

According to Margaret Atwood, in her book, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing, (2002), “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.”

Marguerite Duras, in her book, Writing (1993) 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.”

The childhoods of writers are thought to have something to do with their chosen vocation. Although many are quite different, what they’ve often contained, were books and solitude. My own childhood had all the vital ingredients to provide a lifetime or writing. When I was a child, there were no films or theatres and the batteries in the radio always seemed to be dead. Yet, something ever present was books. I had a shelf above my desk and there was also another big one in our living room.

I learned to read at an early age. My mother was an avid reader and inspired the same in me. Each week she took me to the public library and I’d leave with a stack of books reaching all the way up to my chin. Margaret Atwood also spent a lot of time reading as a child. “My mother liked quietness in children, and a child who is reading is very quiet,” she writes.

As a child, journaling was the only place where I could visit myself and be alone with my thoughts as I tried to make sense out of the world around me. William Faulkner argued 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.” That’s why many of us working on longer projects can get by with very little sleep. The demons just won’t let us stop until they are satisfied and there’s no telling how long it will take them to be satisfied.

In many ways, writing and psychotherapy are both healing and 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.

Soren Kierkegaard describes what it is to be a poet: “A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music….” The way I look at it is that we are all blessed to be writers.

Joan Didion in her essay, “Why am I a Writer,” says, “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.”

As expressed by these exceptional writers, in essence, we write to know ourselves. Even our darkest—or unknown—thoughts, memories and fears can transform to reveal value and meaning for us. And with any luck, for others as well.

Boomers Become Elders

This past week my dearest uncle Lou [cousin Jed’s father], suddenly passed away. Lou was a dynamic, vibrant, enthusiastic, loving 91-year old whose presence brought a smile on the face of whoever’s path he crossed. He had this indescribable lightness of being and he was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was a man who right until the end, continued to give back to his community by helping to care for the less fortunate. Lou was from my father’s generation of men and women who I greatly admire. This was the generation I called upon for doses of wisdom and a sense of perspective when life had a tendency to go astray or when there were no answers to unexplainable problems or concerns.

As I sat on the airplane on the way home from his funeral in Florida, my eyes stretched out towards the heavens trying to grasp onto his spirit and keep it close to my heart. I hoped that wherever he might be, he was peaceful and would continue to watch over us.

After twelve hours of travel, I returned home, unpacked my suitcase and sat down at the vanity in my bathroom. For some reason the gray hairs encircling my face were a little brighter and more obvious. I suddenly realized that for my children’s generation,  I am the generation they will look to for their wisdom, in the way that I looked to Lou’s generation for my solace. I stood up from my chair, pulled back my shoulders and walked to the liquor cabinet for some Armagnac [special brandy from France], something I learned from the previous generation to do at the end of the day. My father-in-law swears by its healing powers to help with everything from sore throats to depression. I also learned from my father to be kind, non-judgmental and to treat people with respect. Habits like these are ones I’ve learned after years of standing on the shoulders of giants. I now realize that every snippet of wisdom they shared is now cherished more than ever. Today, there are only a few remaining who were born in the early 20th century. For me, it’s Uncle Bob, my father’s brother who voiced his somber sentiments at Lou’s funeral by saying, “It’s so sad, it’s as if our generation is all standing in line waiting to die, and we never know who will be next.”

Uncle Bob’s words stopped me in my tracks as I tried to imagine what it must be like not having anyone to look up to, or to glance  around the room at family gatherings to see that there is no one older. Also, there was a sense of the end of the road, a sense that there is nothing to look forward to and that everything that generation has seen has been seen many times over. My response  to Uncle Bob got lodged in my throat and all I could say was, “Uncle Bob you’re fine; you look great.” I really did not know what else to say but I did start some serious thinking. I thought about how my generation needs to prepare for the role of being the seniors and bestowing wisdom onto the next generation. We are soon to be the pillars holding everything together, but the big question is are we ready? Are us baby boomers ready to walk in those shoes and share the wisdom of our predecessors?

This New Year brings so many things to think about!

Happy New Year — resolutions, yes or no?

I made no resolutions for the New Year.  The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me. — Anaïs Nin

It’s 2010 and this is the first year I toasted the New Year without any resolutions. What’s the point, we never keep them anyway! Instead of pronouncing my resolutions over a glass of champagne, I decided to write mine in my journal. First and foremost, I decided to slow down a bit this year, do more reading and less published writing. Four books in eighteen months has given me a little bit of heartburn and although I’m happy about my accomplishments, I’m somewhat tired of reviewing galleys.

During the holidays, I read two books—Mary Karr’s third memoir, Lit which was great, but just a continuation of the tragic drama in her life. It’s mind-boggling how one woman my own age could have already written three memoirs. I bow to her writing style and story. The second book I read is one which has to do with my written New Year’s Resolution and it’s called, Awakening The Buddhist Within by Lama Surya Das. The first chapter is called, ‘Contemplating Your Life,’ which for me will be the subject of 2010, the year my first child gets married. Das writes in a very compelling and easy-to-understand manner and much of what he says appears to be common sense, but it’s nice to see it on the page. He says that self-reflection helps us heal our lives and accept any problems we have and realize that something might need to be changed. He says that everything in our life depends on our relationship with the self, the world and the other. He says that when something is going on inside your head, chances are it will have something to do with at least one of these parameters.

On the path to happiness, he suggests sitting down and trying to change one of these relationships. He poses some interesting questions which can make great journaling prompts. Try these:

  • Where do you want to be in a month, a year, five years, ten years?
  • What or who might you be if you were given the choice or the chance?
  • If someone gave you a cosmic credit card what would you do with it?
  • What do you want to do with your creativity?
  • What would you do about your compassion for others? How would or could you help others?
  • Who am I and who can I be?

In summary, the tenets of Buddhism includes being mindful or pleased in the pleasures of the moment. Focus on the words, ‘just this here and now,’ while you inhale and exhale (important part) and simplify, simplify, simplify and remember what the Buddha said, “Wherever we go, wherever we remain, the results of our actions follow us.”

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU AND THANKS FOR BEING FAITHFUL READERS!!

The Red Book by C.J. Jung

Last week I had the special opportunity to visit Pacifica University for James Hillman’s Lecture, entitled “The Active Imagination,” which was prompted by the recent and controversial release of C. G.Jung’s The Red Book (Liber Novu) which last month was published by his heirs with the assistance of the translator Sonu Shamdasani. Hillman encountered Jung in Zurich in 1958 after obtaining his Ph.D. Jung began the journal in 1913 after a falling-out with Freud. Apparently he was afflicted by a psychotic episode which he viewed as a voluntary confrontation with his unconscious. At the time he was having strange dreams and frightening visions. Because of the personal and quirky nature of the manuscript, it was not published during his lifetime. The book’s theme is about how Jung regained his soul and overcame his imbalance and spiritual isolation.

In The Red Book, Jung described his dreams which reflected what was going on in the world—what was happening during the horror and crumbling of the 19th century. According to Hillman, Jung was thrown off by all the events of the time. Hillman described The Red Book as the theory of madness and the defending of madness. He continues, “Many have written that Jung was psychotic or had something called, ‘creative illness.’ This makes the point that in order to do something radical, one must leave the safe terrain. What held it together for Jung was his commitment to his own world, which had no acceptance and had no real authoritative background.” Apparently, Jung stayed committed to the journal for about 15 years and wrote in it at the end of the day, in spite of a busy practice, a wife and children. He was desperate. He was going crazy and had to do something. He was trying to survive with his demons, images and voices, which is why he wrote in the journal.

Jung believed that imagination is the reproductive activity of the mind in general. He believed that people often suffer from a lack of imagination. According to Hillman, many might have thought this book to be a book of instruction, but in fact it’s not – it is simply a book to learn from. The book retails for $195, but is available on Amazon for $ 114.07, although I noticed this morning that it is temporarily out of stock. I also understand the book is on display until January at The Rubin Museum of Art in NYC.

What Moves You?

This was a question frequently posed by my mentor, Anaïs Nin, and today I pose the question to you, my readers. During the past few weeks I have been in the midst of what could aptly be called a literary slump. Thankfully, my recent sojourn to Paris healed me. Many writers, both living and dead, have professed that you should write what you know—but I will take this thought one step further and suggest that you write what you are passionate about or what moves you. The energy of your passion will be enough to carry your creative energy across the page.

Beyond writing about what interests you, the question is: what do writers do when they simply cannot be ‘moved?’What do they do when their pen stalls on the page and words do not churn out as quickly as they would like?

The Poets & Writers website has a section called, “Writers Recommend,” which is a collection of interviews with writers whose work has previously appeared on their pages. In this section, writers discuss what inspires them and what they might do to stimulate their creative juices. I believe many of these suggestions apply to all creative persons. Many of the writers’ responses may seem obvious to my readers, but it is amusing, nevertheless, to see these ideas all lumped together. Below is a summary of the most interesting and helpful tips offered by these writers, some which have been used for centuries by artists and writers alike. My recent trip to Paris was a testament to their efficacy because I have returned to the U.S. with a heightened literary charge. In fact, during my week in Paris, I managed to fill up an entire leather journal, accompanied by jottings on my laptop of future article ideas.

Here’s a summary:

1)    Go to places that inspire you—whether it is a bookshop, local park or café

2)    Read the works of your favorite writers to stimulate or alter your own world

3)    Sit somewhere outside of your typical writing area

4)    Do something different to recharge your battery, like learning a new hobby or sport

5)    Drink coffee, sip alcohol or use other mood-altering vices… in moderation, of course

6)    Listen to music

In addition to this list, there are other things I personally do to stimulate my own creativity or to give me a literary boost. For example, I might visit my local bookstore or library, walk around and pick up a  book which interests me and skim through its pages. I might carefully study the Edward Hopper print on my writing studio wall, which depicts a woman reading her book in a moving train. Something about her demeanor and sense of calm stimulates my creativity. For some poetic inspiration, I might focus on one image or emotion for an extended period of time and this might percolate into a poem. Sometimes while traveling, (which I frequently do because all three of my children live on the east coast), I might write a poem on a hotel pad, in the same way that William Carlos Williams used to draft poetry on prescription pads between patients. Speaking of Williams, while in Paris, I visited one of the three or four English bookstores, The Red Wheelbarrow.

The Red Wheel Barrow

So much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chicken.

Et voila! Here’s to inspiration. Let me hear from you as to what you might do to get your own creative juices churning and if you found any of my tips useful.

Thanksgiving in Paris

I am writing you from Paris where my family and I just celebrated our favorite holiday together—Thanksgiving. My son, Josh, an NYU student, is in the midst of a semester abroad here. Although this is not a French holiday—we thought we would join him and have our own celebration. It has been a feast, the days before and after our Thanksgiving, as we enjoyed the pleasures and decadences of French dining from the cheeses, French breads and pastries. (Although I must say there is a strong lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, and today’s task will be to locate a fresh market).

On Thanksgiving Day, we only had one glitch—the French do not eat turkey. In fact, through the eyes of Frenchmen, turkey is served to peasants and sometimes only at Christmas. It is rarely, if ever seen on restaurant menus. At the restaurant we chose for our private Thanksgiving feast, I did manage to find a small hen which was a fabulous substitute. I ordered mashed potatoes and salad—just the type of meal I would have prepared, had we celebrated at home. In the end, I came to realize that home is where your family is and the fact that we were all together was even more important than the food which was served. After all,

Thanksgiving has always been our favorite family holiday for as long as I can remember. One of the reasons we love it, is that it is does not have religious connotations. I recently learned that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in St. Augustine, Florida, America’s oldest towns and the one that all Florida school children (including my own) have visited at least once during their youth. The one thing I remember about that town, this many years later is the old school house and the dunce cap worn for misbehavior and as the name implies, ‘stupidity.’ In those days they definitely knew nothing about being politically correct! They would never get away with such a practice today.

In addition to Thanksgiving being a good excuse to get together and eat with loved ones, it is a time to give thanks for the harvest and to give thanks, in general. The dinner table as a perfect place to reconnect and tell stories and catch up. It’s fun to reminisce about past holidays and how in the 1970s my husband and I had our honeymoon in France. We discussed all we are thankful for. In years gone by, when my kids were young we used to feed the homeless at the local shelter in Orlando where they fed 1500+ people in a big tent downtown. My kids would go to the buffet and fill up plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and yams accompanied by a bun and serve all the homeless men, women and children. There was enough gratitude to go around. They were thankful for the warm meal, and we were thankful to be able to help and for the life we lived. As we struggle with social and economic issues we must never forget all the good which surround us and to always find time to journal our blessings.

In fact, this is a good week to do some powerful gratitude journaling!


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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