Life as a Writer

Sometimes it’s best to just walk away.

2013-12-03 09.21.09

Have you ever gone on a trip with a beloved friend only to find yourself desperately looking for a way out halfway through the journey? Then, when it’s all over, you get home, fall back into your normal routine and after a little break you are missing your friend again? Writing can be a lot like that sometimes.

For the past year, I have been working on a memoir project that has been difficult at times. Rather than breezing through on the flight of my imagination (as I would on a fiction piece), I’ve had to sift through memories and emotions, picking and choosing what I share, but processing everything again, in my own way. Looking back at my childhood through the filter of my older and somewhat wiser eyes, has been an educating experience. Some things have been lost, and some have been gained. It has been an opportunity to glean the beauty from the chaff of the past, and for that I am thankful and even appreciative. But, even as I completed the first draft, there came a point where I had just had enough. My heart and my brain were hurting, missing the past and identifying points in time that if I could just reach back and change…well, you know how that goes. Simply put, I had grown weary of my companion, despite the worthiness of the journey. But, I am stubborn, and was determined to see my project straight through. In true fashion of my personality, I was determined to keep digging until I hit water, no matter how badly I needed a break.

Fortunately for me, two of my friends, unbeknownst to one another, challenged me with a change of scenery. A change of pace. “Why don’t you take a break from chasing a Pulitzer, and just have a bit of fun for a while,” they said. “Why don’t you work on something else? Something lighter?” they said. At first, I didn’t like the idea. I had a project to finish. I was a terrier with a bone hidden deep in the ground, and it’s hard for me to let go, even temporarily. But, the idea of a breath of fresh air, to take flight on the zephyr once again, called to me in sweet whispers of possibility.

So, a few weeks ago, I collected my memoir manuscript and tucked it away with a kiss and a promise and started working on a short story, which I hope to have done and posted on Amazon in a week or so.

And guess what? I have started to miss my memoir. I am starting to look forward to reuniting with it, revisiting those precious memories and doing my best to bring them back to life. We just needed a little time apart.

That’s the way it is with some things in life, not just manuscripts and memories. Have you hit a wall in your journey? You might consider a scenic detour. It does wonders for the heart and soul ūüôā


Top 5 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block


You have a project due, but the page is blank, the pen feels awkward in your fingers, and your laptop hums mockingly in sleep mode. You’ve got nothin’, nada, zip, zilch, zero.¬† You know the feeling. It churns in your stomach, makes your head spin, and turns your thoughts to vapor. Writer’s Block strikes again, stripping you of all sense and musing, casting you down in a spiral of deadline despair.

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there probably more times than we’d like to admit. Here are a few things that might help pull you out of the darkness and into the light.

1. Take a few minutes to read, well, anything. Give your mind a break and introduce some fresh ideas into the mix. Writing an article on the toxicity of South American plant specimens? For goodness’ sake, go read some Walt Whitman.

2. Go for a walk. The fresh air will nourish your brain, and you just might be inspired by your senses.

3. Call a friend. Seriously, have a good chat, and hopefully a few laughs. The change of pace and mental stimulation of a good conversation can work wonders!

4. Eat something. Odds are, you’ve been wrestling with words for a while. Take a break and have some light, healthy refreshment. It might just be the boost you need.

5. I’ve saved the best for last. It’s my fail-safe go to in times of trouble. Ready for it? Okay – here it is…write anyway. Yep. Take your pen, keyboard or lucky green #2 pencil in hand and write. Something. Anything. It can be your grocery list or the Preamble to the Constitution. Get your fingers moving. Get words out. It might hurt, it might not make sense, and it might make you want to scream or cry. But, do it anyways. I promise, you’ll break through.

Soldier on!

Ethics in Writing

If you do a Google search on Ethics in Writing, you are likely to find a lot of articles on the “P” word – plagiarism. It seems that, in general, we writers like to hold one another accountable, and are ferociously protective of our own thoughts and ideas. Our works are, after all, our babies. But, I would like to carry this discussion of moral responsibility a bit further. To what degree, then, are we ethically bound to our readers?

We all know the first rule of writing is to consider your audience – we couch our words in a way that we think will be the most appealing to them. We want our readers to take in what we have to say. We want them to be moved, to be influenced in some way that is for the better, at least in our opinion. But, to be honest, much of our writing is about ourselves. It’s about what we want to say. What we want to sell. What we want to express, or what we want to change.

It can be tempting to get on our soapboxes, pushing our own agenda – especially when we’re hoping to persuade our reader. But, consider this. In taking in our words, the reader has literally invited us into his or her heart and mind. ¬†This is a great privilege and a great¬†responsibility.¬†Do not take advantage of this sacred trust. Let them come to their own conclusions and make their own decisions. Can we still write with passion? Absolutely! Can we still change the world? You know it! Can we still touch a life? Of course.

Just remember that our writing should¬†present itself as an offering, not as a mandate.¬†¬†This is a prime value area of¬†influence –¬†write smart,¬†write responsible.

Stay classy, my friends.

The Second Most Important Thing to Know about Writing

Writing 101, Freshman Comp, Secrets to Writing the Great American Novel – they’ll all tell you the most important thing to consider when writing is your audience.¬† The phrase, “know your audience” has been drummed into our minds until it left a permanent mark. And, it’s true. The most important aspect of writing is to know who you’re writing for, right? But, what would you consider to be rule #2?¬† I’ll tell you what I think…

Important Thing #2: Know your Product

What are you offering your audience? If you’re a copywriter, it is probably a product or a service. If you’re a journalist, it’s information. If you’re a novelist, it’s an idea or a feeling.

Get to know your product. Spend time with it – whatever it may be. Do you want your audience to buy the latest breakfast cereal, do you want them to be inspired to support a cause? Or, do you want to move them – perhaps change the way they think or feel about something important to you?

I learned a long time ago, in an earlier retail career, that it’s much easier to sell something if you know the product. And, it’s much, MUCH easier if you like the product. If you believe what you’re telling the prospective customer (reader), then it’s more likely that they will too.

I make it a personal rule to get to know a new project as much as possible. If I’m writing ad copy for a book launch, I read the book. I Google the author and attempt to hunt them down on Pinterest and Facebook. It’s not creepy. It’s called professional research. It lends an authority to your voice as a writer that, I believe, you can’t get any other way. And, your audience can spot a fake. If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, why should they?

I know we all have deadlines, and some are more crazy than others. But, if you do the best you can with what you can, even just a little time taken to educate yourself will be well worth the effort. Your writing will be of a higher quality, your message will be clearer, and your audience will believe you.

Time is relative, write?

We never stop being a writer, even if we’re not currently engaged in the physical act of writing. We spend our days with words, immersed in a symbiotic relationship with 26 characters that make up the known world.

Words are always with us, and inspiration is always around us. We writers have this burning desire to settle down for a cozy visit with our wise old friend, The Muse, eager to sit at his knee for hours, listening to his latest tales so that we, in turn, can pass them on through pen and ink. His words will become our words and, together, we will change the world. Right? Right.

But also, if you’re like me, we writers rarely have the luxury of leisurely musings. So, here I offer 3 ways to think creatively and write productively in a busy world that is often indifferent to our artistic sensitivities – throwing towards us the responsibilities of “day jobs,” home, and hearth.

1. Be ready to receive.
Inspiration is always pecking at our shoulder, trying to get our attention. But, so is almost everything else. We need to cultivate an awareness of our senses and our thoughts. Personally, ideas usually come to mind at the most inopportune times – like while I’m curling my hair in the morning (I have often put down the hot iron and grabbed my phone, texting myself words and phrases before they disappear in a haze of hairspray), while I am at work, or out for a walk. Be looking or listening, be open, and be prepared. Always have some method on hand of recording your thoughts.

2. Don’t limit yourself by compartmentalizing.
I used to think that there had to be a method to my madness – a sort of antiquated, eccentric forumula for success. For instance, writing while laying at the foot of my bed, writing for 3 hours straight, or only on a full moon with Coke and Twizzlers at my desk. Truthfully, we don’t need these things. We want them. And, if we’re not careful, they can be the crutches we think we need in order to succeed and, conversely, the rubble in the road that causes us to trip and fail. While having a set schedule or little ritual to get our brains in gear would be nice, we can’t always make that happen. Which, leads me to my third point…

3. Take what you can get.
Yep. Take what you can get, and run with it. Ten minutes waiting for school to let out? Write. Fifteen minutes left of your lunch break? Write. Thirty minutes before the laundry is dry? Write. Right? Right.

Every finished work begins with an observation, a thought, a musing that inspires. But we will never move another human being with our words if we don’t finish the sentence. Again and again. Every turn of a phrase, every finding of the perfect word, every tap of the key and scratch of the pen matters. Fight for it.