Saturday, August 30, 2008

Writing as Self-Discovery

"Most writers write to say something about other people -- and it doesn't last. Good writers write to find out about themselves, and it lasts forever."
~ Gloria Steinem, Revolution from Within

Writing at its best is an act of self-discovery and revelation. Where are you hiding behind your words? Where are you letting yourself shine through them?

There's a difference between self-indulgently puking your life onto the page and using your life and emotions to connect with your readers. Don't censor yourself, but learn to discern when your experiences have universal value and when they serve only you. Both deserve to be written. Only the former deserves to be shared.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Writing as Pilgrimage

"Don't be fooled into thinking you are supposed to arrive at a destination. It is the going that is central, the you that is going. Your pilgrimage is really about yourself observing your own transit across the landscape."
~ Richard Leviton, "Designing Your Pilgrimage"

Writing is also an act of pilgrimage.

We set out on a journey, often intent on a particular direction and destination. Yet if we're true to our art and to our heart, we free the story to carry us where it will.

The resulting journey is one that reveals not only the story we're writing but the one we're living.

When we listen for the stories that move through us, we also discover the story that is us.

How has your writing been a pilgrimage? What has it taught you -- about yourself, about your work, about the world?

Photo by Mark David Gerson: Sandia Mountain Road, Albuquerque, NM

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Risky Writing

"If 20 percent of the people aren't against you, then you're not going anyplace interesting, whether you're name is Martin Luther King Jr. or whether you're a dorky management guru [named Tom Peters]."
~ Dorky Management Guru Tom Peters

Creative expression is about risk-taking. It's about boarding the Starship Enterprise, taking off for parts unknown and going where no one has dared to go before.

When you do that, chances are that not everyone is going to like what you've written. Chances are someone is going to hate what you've written.

It's all right to offend people, to push people's buttons, to take them up to that ledge on which we, as artists, live...and then to give them a gentle nudge. Art is about pushing boundaries. It's about forcing people (including the artist) out of their comfort zone and inciting them to reexamine their beliefs and rediscover who they think they are. Sometimes, it's about getting people mad at you.

"You've got to go out on a limb," American humorist Will Rogers is reputed to have said, "because that's where the fruit is."

Where are you going out on a limb and taking risks with your writing? Where are you clinging to the tree trunk and playing it safe?

Where are you willing to get people riled up? Where are you holding yourself back for fear of being attacked?

Commit today to taking more risks, to going out on a limb. Commit today to letting yourself be judged...and letting it be okay.

Photo Credits: #1 Tom Peters by Allison Shirreffs; #2 Will Rogers from

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Free Your Characters. Free Your Story.

“God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. ...”
Your act of creation is like God’s in Genesis, an act of allowance, of letting...of surrender. Surrender to the story that calls to be written, surrender to how it calls to be written, surrender to the lives your characters choose to live. For, if you’re writing fiction, those lives are your story.

Just as the Creator in most religious and spiritual traditions allows you the free will to live your imperative and forge your story through the living of it, your call is to allow the beings who leap from your heart, mind and vision the same freedom. Gently guide when necessary, but allow them -- and yourself -- to experience their story as it writes itself onto the page.

Your job as creator is to let your characters and their story emerge from the formless void and to breathe life into them so that they -- and you -- can experience all they have come onto your page to live.

Let there be light...and there will be.

Where are you allowing your characters free will and where are you forcing your will on them? Where are you allowing your story to take shape and where are you insisting on taking control?

What works in your creative life also works in your daily life. Where are you trusting that your life story knows best? Where are you insisting that you're smarter than your story?

• Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (LightLines Media, 2008). Click here for additional excerpts and purchase information.

Photo by Mark David Gerson: Bald Eagle State Park, Centre County, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Contests from Writer's Digest

Time is running out for these three writing competitions from Writer's Digest magazine:

~ WD Popular Fiction Awards: Entries accepted in Romance, Mystery/Crime Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Thriller and Horror. Deadline: Nov. 3, 2008. Details here.

~ Writer's Digest Poetry Awards: Any style, as long as the poem has fewer than 33 lines. Deadline: Dec. 19, 2008. Details here.

~ Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition: Fiction that's "bold, brilliant...but brief." Deadline: Dec. 1, 2008. Details here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Do Ask, Do Tell: Mark David’s Writing Habits

Everyone approaches the writing process differently. Everyone has a different way in to the blank page. Truly, there is no right or wrong way. Here's a peek into my writing it is right now...

1) Do you write on the computer or longhand?

All of the above. But no quill, despite the graphic illustrating this post!

I wrote The MoonQuest entirely in longhand, though each evening I input up that morning’s output so as not to be faced with having to type up the whole thing when I was done. I write about that experience and why it was so important for me in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, which itself was written partly in longhand and partly on the computer.

These days, I do most of my writing directly on the computer...unless I’m stuck, in which case pen and pad are great unstickers.

2) Is coffee or tea part of your writing routine?

Even though I have an expresso machine at home, I don’t make very good coffee. A Tazo green tea blend (Zen) at home and soy lattes when I work in a café, a favorite thing to do (see #7).

3) Do you write best during the day or at night?

I wrote the first 100 manuscript pages of The MoonQuest in bed, before getting up. It was the only way I could guarantee that I would get to the writing. Most of the rest of the book was also written in the morning, before the day’s distractions set in. (See I Can’t Write Until I...)

Parts of The Voice of the Muse were written in the car on my way to work (mornings).

I still prefer to write in the morning, but do some of my best writing late in the afternoon, which is when I'm writing this.

4) What's your favorite genre to write in?

Anything inspirational and anything about writing. I also write fantasy (The MoonQuest) and essays. I don’t really choose my genres, though. They choose me...and I surrender. For example, I never expected to be writing fantasy...until The MoonQuest started spilling out of me. Who knows what I’ll feel called to write next!

4a) Favorite genre to read?

I spent many years devouring contemporary and older classics -- American, Canadian and European -- and have plowed through a lot of young adult fantasy, as well as books about spirituality, creativity, metaphysics and personal growth. These days, I read lots of mysteries and thrillers.

5) Do you use a pencil, pen or computer to revise/edit?

Unless it’s a short newsletter or blog piece, I almost never revise and edit onscreen. I much prefer hard copy and pencil, not pen.

6) Do you have any unusual writing quirks, traits or routines?

Earlier in my writing life, I would set up a little altar -- consisting of favorite crystals, art and other (legal) mood-altering devices. I even carried a portable version of my altar with me in the car if I thought I would be writing there. Now, I rarely need that sort of help getting into a meditative space for writing.

7) Do you prefer writing from home or writing in a cozy café?

I have favorite cafés I’ve worked from over the years. But I do better with fiction from home.

Here in Albuquerque, my favorite café is the Satellite Coffee on Montgomery Ave. When I lived in Santa Fe, I often hung out at the café in the downtown Borders.

8) Do you prefer music or silence while your write?

Both. Depends on my mood. When it comes to music, I prefer something meditative if I’m writing fiction. I’m a bit more flexible with other kinds of writing.

9) What's your favorite motivational writing quote?

Mine, from The Voice of the Muse: "The story knows best." It's proven itself to be true more times than I can count -- in my writing and in my life. So has this one, which also appears in The Voice of the Muse: "Rule #1: There are no rules. There is no right way. There is no wrong way. There is only your way."

10) Do you have a favorite bookmark?

Any scrap of paper!

11) What's your favorite fictional character of all time?

I hate “favorites” questions! I’d have to say that my favorite fictional character is the one who is engaging me in a given moment.

12) Who's your most admired living writer today?

See #11.

What are your writing habits? How have they changed over the years? Please share them here or post them on your own blog.

Thanks to writer L.J. Sellers for inspiring this post.

Friday, August 8, 2008

25 Words to Live By

It wasn't until two days after the deadline that I got around to responding to the 25 Words of Work / Life Wisdom challenge put forward by fellow blogger Liz Strauss last month. But it's such a good exercise -- in writing and in life -- that I tried it anyhow. Now, I want to share it and invite you to try it, too.

Here's Liz's idea (slightly modified):

1) Look for something you see too much or too little of, something you're feeling right now or someone/something you would like to describe.
2) Without thinking too much as you do it, write a sentence or two about it.
3) Count the words you have written.
4) Trim the sentence until you have 25 words -- no more, no less. Notice how your idea changes as you distill it and how your feelings change with each rewrite.
5) For a little extra fun, create a Wordle word cloud with your 25 words at

Because it's too late to be part of Liz's project, I invite you to post your sentence here -- or to post it on your own blog and include a link to your blog in the comments here. Include a link to your Wordle word cloud, too.

It's a great writing exercise, but it's also a great experience in both distilling and discovering what you think and what you believe.

Here's mine:
Today I remember that surrender is the key to writing and life: trusting that all is in divine order in every moment, in every breath.
You'll find more examples on Liz's site as well as at the Remarkable Parents blog.

Give it a try. It's both fun and enlightening!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Eternally Yours

"That’s the glorious thing about putting something on paper. Even when you’re gone it’s still there. Your words and thoughts. What you liked and didn’t like. The characters you create never die. They live and speak and love and hate forever. The written word is eternal."

~ Andrew J. Fenady, A. Night in Hollywood Forever

Writing as a form of eternal life was important to Fenady's private-eye-turned-writer protagonist, A. Night. Does the eternal nature of the written word inspire you or scare you? Do you like the thought of your thoughts, beliefs and characters of the moment living on forever?

What's important to you about writing? About being a writer?

What do you like? Dislike?

What do you wish you could change? What are you glad is eternally yours?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Whose Book Are You Writing?

"The books that I have written in an attempt to give readers 'what they want' have done relatively poorly.

"The books I’ve done with little or no regard for market considerations and popular appetites have had the greatest critical and commercial success. I do best when I write my book, not someone else’s."

~ Lawrence Block, Spider, Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers

Whose book are you writing?

Remember, what the market is looking for today may not be what it will be looking for when your book or story is done. But what your heart calls for you to write in this moment may be just what others’ hearts will cry out to read in two months, six months or a year.

Write your story today, and let the market take care of itself.

Photo from Lawrence Block's web site