Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Call to Write

Have you heard the call? Have you heard the call that thrills as it terrifies you?

Have you heard the call to set something down on paper? To tell a story...one you think you do not know?

To inspire others...in ways you do not yet understand?

Have you heard the call? The call of your Muse? The call to write?

Of course you have, or you wouldn't be here, reading these words.

Discover what that call is about and explore what it means to you in "Have You Heard the Call," a free 11-minute excerpt from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write that I read on the July 26 edition of the Authors Read radio show. Click here for the complete excerpt.

All any of us can do who are called to this journey is place one word after the next and then another and then another, allowing the power of our pen -- or of our fingers skipping across the keyboard -- to chart the way, pen stroke by pen stroke, pixel by pixel, moment by moment, breath by breath.

Hear other excerpts from the Voice of the Muse book and CD.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cut the Fat

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

~ Mark Twain

Have you used two or three words -- or sentences -- where one would do?

Keep your work lean and trim. Say more with less.

Look for words like “very,” “actually,” “really” and “quite.”

More often than not, actually, they are really quite unnecessary.

Can you put the previous sentence on a diet and trim it from 10 words to four?

Adapted from Rule #9 in "Eighteen Rules for Revising Your Work," from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (LightLines Media, 2008)

Photo: Mark Twain -- damning his very's?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

LA Times to Shrink Sunday Book Review?

The Los Angeles Times, already facing cutbacks, will cease publication of its standalone Sunday book review section at the end of July, Publishers Weekly reports today in its PW Daily newsletter.

The article quotes Nancy Sullivan, the paper's corporate communications director, as confirming the move, which will reduce dedicated book review staff from five to three and move book news and reviews to the calendar section.

An e-mail signed by Steve Wasserman and three other former book review editors calls the plan a "philistine blunder that...will further wound the long-term fiscal health of the newspaper."

For her part, Sullivan insists that the L.A. Times "remains committed to book review coverage. What form that takes," she added, "is what’s under evaluation."

According to PW, the changes will not affect the popular and long-running Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, scheduled next year for April 25 and 26.

Image: Part of the logo for the 2008 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Is book coverage at the Times flying away?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Gift of Your Words

"Everyone of us has a gift to give. And when we give that gift, we really co-create Heaven on Earth."
Rev. Mary Omwake, Leadership Council, Association for Global New Thought

Among your many gifts, if you're reading this today, is a gift to create...an ability to communicate, to weave worlds of wonder with your words.

Of course you possess that gift. We all do. But you have chosen to let that gift possess you, to devote at least some hours of your week to a pen-and-paper or keyboard-and-screen communion with your Muse.

Or have you?

When you allow the voice of your Muse free access to your heart and mind, writing becomes a transformative act, one that transforms you and, through you, the world...one that, through the simple act of surrendering to your passion, helps co-create Heaven on Earth.

How are you giving that gift today? How are you honoring your gift, your Muse? If you haven't yet, take a moment -- today, now -- to give the gift of your passion, to free the voice of your Muse onto the page and into the world.

For help acknowledging and unleashing your creative power, listen to "You Are a Writer," one of the tracks from The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers.

The 2-CD set, recorded by Mark David Gerson against a backdrop of Michael McDade's original music, is available online from either Amazon.comor LightLines Media.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Overcoming the Ultimate Writer's Block

When author Howard Engel opened his front door and picked up his morning paper seven years ago, nothing on the front page made any sense to him. At age 70, the dean of Canadian mystery writers and creator of the Benny Cooperman series had lost his ability to read.

As it turned out, Engel had suffered an overnight stroke that left him with alexia sine agraphia, a rare condition that made it impossible for him to read, while still being able to write.

Many writers would have given up at that point. Not Engel, though with 10 Cooperman books, a handful of short stories and novellas, and a pair of radio and TV adaptations behind him, he could easily have walked away from the book world with no loss to his reputation.

Instead, he relearned the alphabet and dictated a new Benny Cooperman mystery -- Memory Book-- in which his sleuth wakes up in a Toronto hospital with a condition similar to Engel's.

His latest book, released last week, is a memoir: The Man Who Forgot How to Read. It's a testament, writes renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks in the afterword, "to the resilience and creative adaptation of one man and his brain."

It's a testament, too, to a love of the written word and a commitment to creation that would not be stifled.

How does your commitment express itself? Where have you been blocked and how have you overcome that block? If you haven't yet overcome it, what's holding you back?

Nothing is holding Engel back. According to the current issue of The Week, "Engel is working on a third post-stroke mystery, sounding out each syllable as he hunts and pecks on the keyboard in his Toronto study."

Photo of Howard Engel: Joshua Sherurcij

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Trust. Let Go. Leap.

I'm fond of saying that there's no difference between creativity and life, that the precepts of one apply equally to the other, that the first rule of both is that there are no rules.

Yet I've discovered that once you commit to the highest possible path and purpose, there's a trinity of principles that's always at play:

1) Trust
2) Let Go
3) Leap

First, you trust the voice of your deepest heart, which is also the voice of your divinity, your god-self, your muse, your highest imperative. Next, you let go of all resistance, all clinging and all clutching (which doesn't mean you're not afraid). Finally, you leap into the void -- just like the Fool in the tarot.

Legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury says about writing that you must leap off cliffs and trust that you'll sprout wings on the way down.

Not only do I do my best to write that way, I do my best to live that way. It's scary, but ultimately satisfying. And even though it means living and writing without a net, those wings Bradbury talks about have never failed to appear.

Of course, I'm not always without resistance. "You want me to do what!?" I have been known to exclaim when presented with my next step.

That's what happened 11 months ago, when an inner voice interrupted my on-the-road reveries and urged me to refresh, revise and overhaul my modest Voice of the Muse eBook into an expanded and published form.

Yet once the initial shock dissipated (my novel, The MoonQuest, had been out barely a month at that point), I surrendered to the higher imperative.

I trusted, let go and leapt...and watched all the requisite resources begin to fall into place, often miraculously.

Now, not only have my wings sprouted, they're lifting me higher and higher and higher. The Voice of the Muse is selling well (and helping to sell The MoonQuest), and the book and its companion meditation CD have received great reviews and hyper-enthusiastic reader testimonials.

Trust. Let Go. Leap. It's a chapter in The Voice of the Muse. It's the only way I know how to live.

In writing as in life, it always works.

Read "13 Rules for Birthing Your Book" from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

Order your Amazon copy of The Voice of the Muse book and/or CD . For a signed copy, order directly from the publisher.

Image of The Fool card from the Osho Zen Tarot, published by St. Martin's Press. Illustrated by Ma Deva Padma.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Maya Angelou: The Call to Write

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
~ Maya Angelou

What stories are you carrying inside you that are yearning to be freed onto the page?

What stories are you carrying inside that, once freed onto the page, will also free you?

Whatever they are, write one of them. Now.

Write your story, and feel the healing freedom that all creative acts inspire.

Thanks to BellaOnline: The Voice of Women for the quote
Photo: Cover of Maya Angelou's A Song Flung Up to Heaven

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I Can't Write Until I...

“Writers never want to work, never. They all find any excuse not to sit down and look at an empty sheet of paper or a blank monitor -- the room’s too hot or too cold -- they have to go to the toilet -- pencils need sharpening -- the typewriter needs a new ribbon -- the keyboard needs cleaning -- the pictures on the wall need straightening — the wastebasket needs to be emptied — or it’s lunchtime."
~ Andrew J. Fenady, A. Night in Hollywood Forever

Although Andrew Fenady may be speaking only for his book's main character -- a detective-turned-nonproductive-novelist -- what my blogging colleague Linda Stone calls "deceptive distraction" is an issue for most writers.

It certainly was an issue for a fellow Albuquerque author who recently lamented to me that a certain computer game was keeping him from starting his next book. It's an issue for me, too, as I try to juggle the seemingly competing demands of creation (working on the sequel to my novel, The MoonQuest) and promotion (marketing my two existing books).

It's not always easy negotiating competing demands, let alone dealing with the reluctance many writers feel about writing. (Canadian writer June Callwood once said, "I hate writing. I love having written." )

Sometimes, it's not time to write. We're not ready for the story, or it's not ready for us. Sometimes, too, we need a break from writing to regain our focus. Linda Stone calls such breaks "receptive distractions." (I'll be writing about both those situations in future posts.)

But if you've heard yourself utter any of the following, you probably are dealing with neither timing nor focus. You're dealing with distraction:

• I’d better check my e-mail/voice mail...

• As soon as I [insert task here], I’ll be able to write without worrying
about it.

• I can’t write on an empty stomach. I’d better get a snack...or fresh coffee...or...

• Let me just see who this is on the phone/at the door/in this new

• Let me just respond to that tweet from Twitter; it's only 140 characters...

• That bathroom floor and [insert anything here] is disgusting. I’d
better clean it first...

• Oh, I really need to call [insert name here] before I can start.

• I can’t write until I [insert distraction here]...

• Let me just look that up on the Internet, then I’ll be ready to write.

As I tell students and coaching clients, writers often have the cleanest windows, floors, fridges and toilets, the most up-to-date filing systems or the best record for returning calls or emails because, in the moment, just about any task seems more palatable than sitting down to write.

If you fall into that category, here are seven suggestions to minimize distraction and procrastination until you have completed your day’s writing (or, at least, your first installment):

1. Keep all Internet-related distractions out of sight and earshot until after you’ve written. Don’t check your e-mail. Don’t open your web browser. Turn off all e-mail, Twitter, instant messaging and other notifiers that flash, beep or ping.

2. Don’t answer the phone or check voice mail. To avoid temptation, turn off your phone’s ringer and your cell phone while you’re writing and, if you use an answering machine, turn off the sound so that you can’t hear who’s calling. (Don’t cheat by looking at the caller ID screen!)

3. Don’t open the morning paper or your mail. Don’t check to see if they have arrived.

4. Don’t open your checkbook to pay bills or visit your online banking site.

5. Don’t start that book you’ve been meaning to read. Don’t pick up that book you’re a few pages from finishing.

6. Don’t pick up a sponge, mop or cleaning rag.

7. Don’t do anything unrelated to writing.

Again, perform no task or errand until you have written. If that has proven impossible, keep pen and paper or laptop by your bed and don’t get up until you have written. That was how I got through the first 100 pages of my first draft of The MoonQuest.

Another benefit of making writing your first assignment of the day (other than getting it done!) is that you won’t waste time during the rest of the day doing all the things you normally do to avoid writing.

What kinds of distractions to you succumb to? What strategies have worked (or not) for you? Please share them here.

And when you're done, close your browser, free yourself of all potential distractions, open a fresh page in your word processor (or pick up pen and paper), and start writing. Anything. Just do it. You can write. Now.

~ adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wordl-y Distractions

From the Dept. of Distractions comes Wordle, an online word-cloud generator that's way too effective a distraction from writing.

Here's how it works, you plug in any text or the URL from a blog or from any site with an RSS feed et voilĂ : a word cloud that you can then manipulate in scores of time-wasting ways -- fonts, colors, orientation, language and layout.

Of the two pictured here, one was created from the prologue of my fantasy novel, The MoonQuest, and the second from the back-cover copy for my book about writing, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

One tip: As far as I can tell, Wordle only lets you save your word creation to its gallery (offering an image link to post it elsewhere). But you can also use a screen-capture utility (for example, Grab on the Mac) to get your own, offline copy.

Yes, it's a distraction -- I spent much more time playing with Wordle than creating this post. But at least it's all about words!

(I first heard about Wordle on Twitter. If you're not already following me on Twitter, please do.)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Stephen King on Plot

"I won't try to convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible.

"I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. ...

"[M]y basic belief about the making of stories is that they largely make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow."

~ Stephen King, On Writing

What's your relationship with plot and story? With spontaneity and creation? Do you feel the need to control the plot? Or do you let your stories "largely make themselves"?

For help in freeing your story to tell itself, check out the "Thirteen Rules for Writing in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and the shorter version on my website.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Time to Write

Now is the time to write.

Now is the time to pick up your pen and touch its tip to your blank page.

Now is the time to set that flashing cursor to work filling your empty screen.

See the words take shape out of nothingness. Watch the once-paralyzing void vanish in a flood of words, thoughts and images.

Whatever yearns to find its way onto the page will do so if you allow it the freedom to travel the shortest distance imaginable -- from heart to hand to page.

Let your heart direct your hand.

You don't know what it is your heart cries out to express? Then let one word, any word, tumble onto the page. Then another. Then another.

It doesn't matter what those words are. They'll find their own rhythm and form. And if they don't end up being the right words, other words will replace them, in time.

For now, fill the void. With anything. Just fill it.

Do it. One word or one hundred. Place something on the page. Something. Anything.

Now, let those first words form a sentence, those first sentences form a paragraph and those first paragraphs cascade onto the page, one after the other, on the Muse Stream of free-flowing creativity.

That’s all writing is -- one word leading to the next, then to another. Then to another.

There. Now your page is no longer empty, your screen no longer blank.

You have written.

You have freed the words of your heart and taken the time to write.

Adapted from "Now Is the Time to Write III," in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

Photo by Mark David Gerson: Yellowstone River, the largest undammed river in the lower 48 states, Yellowstone National Park

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Inspired Quote: Einstein on Imagination

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

"Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions."

~ Albert Einstein

What's your relationship with your imagination?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Everyone's a Critic?

"Why don't you write books people can read?"

~ Nora Joyce, to her husband James

Those closest to you -- your partner, parents, best friend -- are not always the best people from whom to seek feedback for your writing.

Remember, your work is as much your creation as is your child. You have no more right to knowingly expose it to influences that could harm it or set it back than you do your child.

Seek out only those people and situations that will support you and your writing. Always use your discernment.

Where do you turn for healthy feedback? How do you ensure that the comments you're getting support you and your writing?

~ adapted from "How to Get Healthy Feedback," from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write

Photo: James & Nora Joyce, 1915 -- Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Instant Inspiration

Whether or not the silver screen is your scene, this three-minute film -- a promo for the screenwriting site Sceneplay -- will remind you why you're a writer, a storyteller and a weaver of worlds.

Watch the movie and then free the creator you are to paint the word pictures that long to leap from your inner vision to the page.

And if you need some additional inspiration, be sure to read/listen to the free excerpts from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.