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How Do We Move Forward When Life Pushes Us Back

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IMG_0039“I am shedding old patterns and moving forward in my life.”  That has been my mantra during hard times– when I feel powerless and afraid and alone.  It’s a call to action and it works.  But there was a day when I could barely imagine making this claim.  I felt like I was going to lose everything—my kids’ and my stability, in house, finances, and emotional security. I lay in bed, trying to find my mantra.  It felt like a ruse.  How was I going to move forward in my life?  How?

What do I know how to do that can help us stay secure? What do I know how to do, no matter what?  Write.  How have I made it through crisis?  By writing. What is the most powerful tool I know to utilize during hard times:  writing.  Who needs this?  Everybody. Who feels confident in this?  Hardly anyone.

So I put it on Facebook.  “Anybody want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana?” In two hours, 24 people signed up, and Haven Writing Retreats was born. Did I keep my house?  Yes.  Did my kids maintain their security in home and mother?  Yes.  Do I feel proud…well…yes.  I do.  I feel like life kicked my ass and I kicked back, in the words of my new friend Amy Scher.

IMG_0043 I was recently asked to connect with a Millennial by the Fierce Fifty Revolution group to Bridge the Gap between my generation and theirs. It made me smile. I am a connector, a bridge builder, and have rarely seen age as an obstacle in my life. I certainly don’t now.  I’m a writer and a retreat leader.  I don’t have to deal with image or wrinkles, or techno abilities getting in the way of what I do for a living. The older I get, the better I am at what I do, because I’ve lived through more obstacles, and stretched myself to grow as a result of treading their waters.  Sometimes well. Sometimes not.  So when I was paired with Amy Scher, I was thrilled.  This is a woman who shares the same philosophy.  She takes life’s challenges, and becomes wiser for having lived them.  She turns that wisdom into service to others through her books, online classes and much more.  We got on the phone as strangers and a few hours later, were in a major love fest.  If we’d recorded our conversation, it would have been podcast-worthy.  So we decided to ask each other four powerful questions about our relationship with moving through obstacles—when life almost halted us.  I came up with four which she answered here, and she came up with four that I answered over on her blog. Please enjoy!  There is sure to be something in both of our questions and answers that goes straight to your heart.IMG_0044

Here is her wisdom:  (Head on over to her blog to see my answers to her questions)

Amy’s inspirational story, down-to-earth approach to self-healing, and accessible teaching style has been well received by a variety of audiences including the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University. She teaches her approach through her How To Heal Yourself online course and speaks at conferences and healing retreats nationwide. Most importantly, Amy lives by her self-created motto: “When life kicks your ass, kick-back.”
amy-head-shot-300x200

1- What does a meltdown feel like for you when you’re in it? Is there calm in the eye of it, or is it always chaos? Do you think that it’s possible to learn from it while we’re in it? Or only in hindsight?

What does a meltdown feel like to me? Oh boy. Well, I’ve looked in the mirror a time or two and can definitely tell you what it looks like: like a complete mess of snot and mascara. Hmm, I’ve never thought much about what it feels like, but I think it’s comparable to a drunken stupor; where everything that’s going wrong in life suddenly becomes disproportionately magnified and dramatic. And while I’m not a frequent drinker, I can definitely still attest to what that feels like. Ha. Everything is kind of spinning and I know that I’m making this big dramatic scene, even if just in front of myself, yet the part of me that’s keenly aware of it can still do nothing to tame it.

I do think it’s possible to learn from a meltdown while we’re in it, but maybe only as much as to learn that we have to surrender to it in order to survive it. For me, the real learning and growing comes once I’ve moved even just a few inches beyond it and my sanity has started to flow back. But I actually think the meltdown phase is always part of the expanding process. Meltdowns need to happen for new perspective and energy to be born in order to help us move forward. Looking back, the times in my life that I was most emotionally stoic was when I was most stuck.


2- To get unstuck, I often say: “I am shedding old patterns and moving forward in my life.” You are a master at moving forward in yours. How, specifically, have you shed old patterns in thought, heart, and action in your life so that you have become the woman you are today?

I feel like my brain has always gotten me into more messes than out of them. So for me, I’ve needed to dive really deep to clear old ingrained patterns. I usually can’t talk myself into much sense. And I’d been to years of therapy by the time I was an adult, which didn’t seem to be what I needed either. Beginning in my early 20s, I became chronically ill with Lyme disease, which lasted an entire decade. It was the hardest time in my life, but it taught me a lot about myself, including how I was holding onto so much emotional baggage. Letting go of the old turned out to be the key to my physical healing. What worked for me was accessing my emotions and releasing them through energy work. First, I discovered and used Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which was a big shifter for me. Over time, I also created some of my own techniques. One of my favorites is called The Sweep, which is basically a script that you repeat to “sweep” away old beliefs from the subconscious mind (examples: “I’m not good enough” and “nothing ever works out for me”). I even wrote a book on my approach, which includes everything I did to heal myself when nothing else worked. (link here)
3- How do you know you have moved forward in your life? Can you walk us through what it looks like to be in a healthy, functioning place in your life?

I know I’ve moved forward because I’m nicer to myself. I sometimes eat too much pizza and lose complete zen-like perspective. And I’m fine with that. I’m more myself than I ever allowed myself to be, and for me, that’s the ultimate sweet spot in life. There is an ease that comes with finally giving up the pattern of fighting with yourself. I mean, I’m a Virgo, so I’ll always probably lean toward unrealistic perfectionist tendencies (like keeping a very orderly house and writing impeccable first drafts of my books). But becoming the true me was the crux of my healing. Still now, having been completely health for almost ten years, I try my best just to stay out of my own way and let myself live freely.

4- How would you define “okay?” Eating, exercising, a calm mind? Or is “okay” an illusion? In other words, is the Meltdown always with us, teaching us (or maybe haunting us), or are we every truly liberated from it?

My favorite quote is Pema Chödrön’s, “None of us is okay and all of us are fine.” This says it all for me. I think being okay means accepting that sometimes we’re just not okay. Not at all. But that it’s all fine anyway. Trying to manage every aspect and emotion of our lives is what gets us in trouble. Every hard time in life or meltdown is just a season that will pass. Except for when we hold on so tight to the emotions and expectations that it can’t go anywhere. That’s when we know that there’s more work to do to get to the “okay.” It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

BIO: Amy B. Scher is an L.A-based author, energy therapist, and leading voice in mind-body healing.
Amy uses energy therapy techniques to help those experiencing emotional or physical challenges to heal permanently and completely. After years of struggling from a life-threatening illness herself, she discovered answers to the important question: Why do some people heal from emotional and physical issues, while others don’t? After healing herself when no one else could, Amy is now an internationally sought-after practitioner helping others turn inward for healing.

She has been featured in major publications including CNN, The Huffington Post, Curve magazine, Elephant Journal, OM Times, Cosmopolitan magazine, Psych Central, the San Francisco Book Review, and was named one of Advocate’s “40 Under 40″ for 2013.

Amy’s most recent book, How To Heal Yourself When No One Else Can (Llewellyn Worldwide January 2016), is a step-by-step total approach to mind, body and spirit healing. Her work has also been featured in Elizabeth Gilbert’s anthology, Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It (Riverhead Books March 29, 2016). To learn more about Amy, go to Amy Scher.  To read her book go here!

 

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What to say when someone dies

dove

Featured in Huffington Post and Thrive Global

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No one really knows what to say to someone when their loved one dies.  You can say, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” and maybe that’s true.  Maybe you actually know what to think or pray on that person’s behalf.  Personally, I’m never sure. 

You can tell them that you’ll be there for them—that you’re their middle-of-the-night-phone-call friend, and promise to sleep with the phone near your bed.  You can write them a With Sympathy card and let Hallmark say something in lofty cursive and sign your name with love.  Or make a digital card with organ music to have a more flashy effect.  You can go to the funeral and wake and talk about all the good memories of their loved one, memorialize them with a slide show, give a toast, even ease the pain with some good jokes. 

You can bring them soup.  Bone soup, if you’ve been there.  If you know how hard it is to eat when you are in emotional triage.  It gets physical fast.  And every bite needs to hold health.

You can use social media to show support, post by post.  But do you “Like” an announcement of death?  Do you “Share” it?  Do you “Comment?”  It’s all a way of observing your friend’s loss.  But in the same place you share about what you ate for breakfast? 

You can give them books:  A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, in which the minister rages against the loss of his beloved wife, himself, his God, and Who Dies, by Stephen Levine, especially Chapter 8, where he goes deeply into Grief as an ultimate vehicle of liberation, saying, “We are dropped into the very pit of despair and longing…an initiation often encountered along the fierce journey toward freedom, spoken of in the biographies of many saints and sages.”  But most people are not open to that journey in the first place, and certainly not when their hearts are shattered into splintered shards.

The truth is, and it hurts in the worst way…that ultimately, the mourner will be alone in their grief, and who wants to say that?  Who wants to bear the news that soon…people will stop Thinking, and Praying, and Liking, and Sharing, and Commenting, and bringing soup, and sending cards and emails and books.  Even the phone calls and texts will fall away.  The unspoken reality is:  People go back to their lives and you are alone.  You are in a club that you never wanted to be in.  And that’s when you watch Renee Fleming singing “Walk On” over and over on youtube as loud as you can.  And eventually…you do.  You absorb the grief.  And you start to see the “golden sky” she’s singing about.  But you never get over your loss.  Never.222

There is the opportunity, however, to use it.  If you’re in the club, you might as well be a steady and gracious club member.  I’m in the club.  And recently, one of my dear friend’s beloved husband dropped dead out of nowhere.  She’d lost her grandparents in their old age.  No one else.  She was bereft.  She asked me to write her a list of things that would help her, based on a phone call we’d shared.  Her mind was in a triage fog, my words were helpful to her, and she wanted to remember them. 

Here is what I wrote.  I offer it to you, if you are a new member of this club.  You are not alone.  And I offer it to you if you are one of those people wondering what to Think, Pray, Say…do: 

Hello, beautiful.  I am thinking of you non-stop.  Thank you for calling on me to be in your circle at this impossible time.  I am not afraid of this, so I’m glad you called me in.  I will be there for you.  The books you asked for should be there by the end of the week.  I will write some of the points I made on the phone here, since you asked for them.  If my words on the phone were helpful, it’s only because you are open to them.  I truly hope they help.  Here is what has helped me and some of the people I know who have been through deep loss: 

  • First of all:  Breathe.  I mean it.  That’s your most important tool to stay in the present, out of fear, and to sustain yourself.  You will find yourself holding your breath.  Try to stay aware of your breath no matter what and keep breathing…in…out…in…out.  Deeply if you can.  Little sips when deep is too hard.
  • Lean into Love.  Wherever you can find it.  In your God.  In friends and family.  In yourself.  Let it hold you for now.  Call on friends and family to give you what you need.  You cannot offend anyone right now.  Let us know what you need and tell us how to give it to you.  “Bring me dinner, please.  Come sit with me.  Read to me.  Sing to me.  Rub my back.  Draw me a bath…” 
  • That said, be careful who you bring into your circle.  Stay away from people who say things like, “He’s in a better place,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”  They’re trying to help, and maybe those things are true, but right now you need people who are not afraid to hold the space for your pain.  You need to find the people who feel easy and safe and not necessarily wise.  Keep your circle small for now.  It might be that you call on people very different from the ones you habitually have in your life.
  • Make sure to eat.  Even if you want to throw up.  Please, eat.  And drink a lot of water.  You don’t want to block your natural energy flow.  Your body actually knows how to handle this immense pain.
  • Lie in bed with your feet up. 
  • Take a walk if you can, every day.  Even if it’s short.  Just get outside.
  • Take Epsom Salt baths.  Lavender oil helps.  Keep some in your purse, put a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together, then cup your hands to your nose and breathe deeply when you need grounding.
  • Write.  If you can.  Just a little bit.  If you have it in you, at some point sooner than later, it’s incredibly useful to write down your vision of what was “supposed to be.”  I heard those words come from your deepest place of sacred rage and I believe that to write that story, as fully fleshed out as possible, would be an important step in one day sending off that “supposed to be” into the sea of surrender.  So that you don’t have to hold it anymore and you can live into your future.  Letting the supposed-to-be go doesn’t mean that you do it injustice or that it no longer exists in dreams and heart.  But it’s important not to have it become armor of some sort.  It’s not time now to surrender it.  But I do believe that it would be helpful just to write it out with great details as a way to honor it.  And one day…yes, to let it go.  Writing is the most transformational and therapeutic tool I know and I think it should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of wellness.  Keep a journal by your bed.  It helps.
  • When the terrifying, claustrophobic, impossible thoughts come, do not let them multiply.  Literally put up a wall that keeps them on the other side.  They are not your friend.  There is no making sense of this loss.  Unless your thoughts are loving and forgiving and helpful, banish them.  If you have to shout “NO!” then do it.  What you let into your mind should feel and act like the very best friends and family who would never let you entertain fear, but only shower you with love.  Love yourself.  There is no thinking your way through this.  This is a time to really find what it is to just…be.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.  In out in out.
  • There is no check list right now.  There is nowhere to get.  There is no goal other than to fully live in the present moment.  You can’t skip steps with triage, grief, or healing.  Grief attacks at will, it seems.  Be gentle with yourself if you feel graceless around it.  You have to feel it to shed it.
  • Go slowly.  Be careful.  The only real wisdom I have gleaned from Grief is this:  Grief is one of our greatest teachers because it doesn’t allow for hiding places.  When we open to our sorrow, we find truth.   Your tears then, are truth.  Honor them.

That’s enough for now.  The main thing is to be gentle with yourself.  I love you so.  And the love you two shared will never ever go away.  He is Love now and he is all around you and in you.  If you can’t feel him, feel Love and you will be feeling him.

Hope that helps.  You can do this.  I am here for you.  I promise.  If only just to listen to your tears and let you know you are not alone.

Love, 

Laura

In honor of Dr. Nick Gonzalez 

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What I Learned on Career Day…

career
as featured in Huffington Post 50

Recently, I was asked to be on a panel of professionals for Career Day at a local therapeutic prep school in the Montana woods. I had no idea what to expect. I went to a prep school, but not a “therapeutic” one. I went to one that was all about having big answers to the “what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you- grow-up” question. As a dreamy, driven teen, it was a challenge that both daunted and inspired me throughout my high school career. My dreams were always out-of-the-box — an artist of some sort — an actress, maybe a film-maker … but luckily I was someone who figured out how to be comfortably in-the-box, keeping my out-of-the-box thoughts mostly to myself. So I wrote a lot. That practice turned into an obsession which turned into a craft which turned into a career. That was the goal for this Career Day: panelists were supposed to tell our stories — talk about the arc of our careers, then and now. But we weren’t talking to in-the-box kids. It turned out, we were talking, quite frankly, to our interior adolescent selves.

Given the nature of the students at this school, I knew that my story had to be as transparent and true as possible. These weren’t kids who dance to any level of BS. They’ve been through hard stuff and they don’t want the Kool-Aid. They want the raw, the real, the impossible possible.

I practiced my 15-minute presentation in the car as I drove further and further into the woods. I speak and lead retreats about the power of using my profession (writing) as a therapeutic tool, so I figured I had this one in the bag. All I needed to add to my well-developed story was the part about how I discovered that creative self-expression on the page is an excellent way to process life, and how I’ve learned to practice this every day, against the odds. How it sustains me personally, and now financially. Lesson: find out what you love and do it with all your heart, no matter what, and eventually you will succeed, whatever that means to you. I’m living proof. Easy.

The first panelist to present was a prosecuting attorney. I prepared for a serious talk from a serious person. Instead, he talked about wandering. Living in Hawaii. Surfing. Snow-boarding. Bartending. Being misunderstood. Feeling like a loser. Worrying his parents. Wanting something different. And finding his way eventually to a profession that meets his needs. The second panelist was a successful web-developer with prominent clients all over the world. In his presentation, he talked about wandering. Living in New Zealand. Surfing. Skiing. Bartending. Turning down corporate America for mountain living. Worrying his parents. Wanting something different. Inventing things. When it was my turn, I found myself telling a very similar story, mostly the wanting-something-different component. Oh, and I bartended too. And wandered. And worried my parents.

We had three rotations of students who listened to our presentations, all with interesting questions, and a modicum of blank stares. These kids were listening. And we on the panel were listening to each other … three times. It’s one thing to wow a crowd with your best one-liners, cutting honesty, and slightly irreverent stories. But looking into the eyes of these kids who’ve travelled miles of hard road, there was zero room for schtick. I pride myself on heart language. Turning heart language into schtick is a depressing trajectory, but truth-be-told, it’s happened to me along the way, likely out of a self-preservation that grows from being constantly on the road, sharing your message. Given this Career Day format, there was no way it was happening here. Quite probably because of this fact, what I saw in myself and my co-panelists (we supposed “experts”) was a fountain of truth.

The first time around, we gave blow-by-blow plays on the journey of our careers. Fascinating details. Twists and turns. Yellow brick road of success with pitfalls you only admit when you’ve found your way to Oz. The second time, we three offered more — personal stuff, odd vignettes that ended up inspiring major life choices right down to a conversation on a plane and a pair of flip-flops. But before the third group of students came into the classroom, one panelist admitted, “I’ve been telling it wrong.” His eyes lit up and he offered to go first. He spoke about inventing things — got deep into what made him want to invent things and why. Which begat a confessional from the other panelist about how he didn’t always love his profession, but how he has learned to live by his principles, moment by moment. And when it was my turn, I got ready to tell my usual story — about wanting to follow my passion with all my might, even if it left me poor and unpopular … but instead, this voice escaped like it was pulling free from very old shackles:

“I wanted to be famous. Really famous. Meryl Streep famous. I was jealous of Julia Roberts. I wanted that career. I was jealous of the literary brat pack from the 80s. I wanted those careers. Desperately. But the voices inside my head were so loud: you’re not good enough, your dreams will never come true, who do you think you are to have those lofty dreams, you’re a show off, you’re self-centered, you’re not talented, you’re an embarrassment to your family, you’re a failure.” My heart pounded and my face heated, but I continued. “I’ve let my inner critic run me. Until very recently. Even though I give speeches and lead writing retreats about how to become aware of that voice and shed it, I’ve still allowed my inner critic to hold court. I don’t want that for you all.” And then privately, a very new thought brought me to my proverbial knees. And I added, “I never realized until this moment … that I’ve allowed her to be much freer than I am. She lives out-of-the-box. I’m the one still somehow in-the-box because she tells me the story, and I dance. I don’t want a story. I want to be rid of stories and just be.”

I looked at those kids and I realized: that’s what they wanted — to be free of their story. Of their pain, their pressure, their past. To free themselves of boxes altogether. And yes, to have permission to wander. And worry their parents.

I ended up staying for lunch. I sat with the students and answered more questions but mostly I listened to them. I commended them for being different and admitting it and wanting to understand themselves, truthfully. I commended them for being honest and outed for exactly where they are in their evolution. “Most of the stories we tell ourselves are myths,” I told them. “If there’s one thing to live by, it’s that. Find your truth, no matter how inconvenient, and live into it. And for what it’s worth, the “experts” are really grown-up high school kids, scared, just like you.”

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Commencement: A Mother’s Guide to the Extra Stuff

cap tossas seen on mamalode.com

I can never remember if the word “commencement” means beginning or ending. My knee jerk reaction is to think that it means ending, though my writer’s mind quickly corrects it.

That’s probably because graduation ceremonies are called Commencement, and I think of graduation day as an ending– leaving the known behind: a good reputation, dear friends at a stone’s throw, families whose refrigerators and bikes and kitchen tables are yours for the sharing… the dismantling of decorated walls soon to betray you for guests, or someone else with new photo collages, new tapestries, new blue ribbons. I have never been good at leaving the familiar, and I usually mark it with a little hidden graffiti—Laura Munson lived here, and the dates.

But it’s not my turn this upcoming Commencement. It’s my daughter’s. Now it’s she who is dismantling her room, coming down to the end of her check list, five more days of school to go, graduation invitations in the mail, college deposit in, orientation dates in stone. There is a new timber in her voice; something dire. “Mom, can you do something with my Breyer horse collection?”

“Can’t you just leave them on your shelf?” I ask, vignettes reeling by of mock horse races on the lawn and barnyard feedings with tiny plastic apples, and that one coveted palomino paint that became real one Christmas.

“I need room for my stuff.”

“What stuff?”

And then I realize that the stuff that has been strewn all over her room for the last four years of high school actually could have had a home in her bookshelves if we’d been more able (or willing) to pack up her plastic horse collection.  I’m not sure whose job this is. Please Lord, not mine.

I look into her eyes. And I see…it’s my job. Some things are just too hard.

Suddenly, I feel a desperate need to give advice in fast forward. “Have I taught you how to make hospital corners? And to never leave a wet towel on a bed? Or leave a glass directly on wood?”

“I know. Respect the wood. You’ve told me.” She’s tolerating my Mom-ness much more than usual lately. She’s in the bittersweet of Commencement while I am bursting into tears in pathetic public places, like at the bank drive thru, catching myself in the video screen looking miserable. Will her roommate know that when she needs a hug but is too shy to ask, she makes tea? Will she know that she likes to sing in harmony and that all those eye-ball rolls don’t really mean anything? Will she know that she acts street-tough sometimes, but is deeply sensitive and if she’s playing the ukulele along with Jack Johnson, something pretty rough probably happened at school that day?

“Mom, why are you crying?” she says, bringing me back to the grim task of packing up her happy childhood.

“I’m sorry. I’m just going to miss you.”

Last week was when it really hit. I was doing laundry and I heard from her room in that new dire timber, “How do stamps work?”

Stamps? Like postage stamps?”

“Yeah.” This from a 4.0 student.

I went into her room. She was sitting on her bed addressing graduation party invitations. “Really? You can program a computer, but you don’t know how stamps work???”

“My generation doesn’t really use them.”

I was sure she was playing a joke on me. Stamps? But she wasn’t. She really had no clue that you use the same stamp for a local letter that you do for one that goes all the way to New York City.

Geez– what other glaring omissions have there been in my mothering? I’ve tried so hard to fill in every blank, taking every single second possible as a teaching moment. “Maybe I should write you a survival handbook for college and beyond. Would that be helpful?”

“I know all the basic stuff. But yeah…maybe the extra stuff.”

I wracked my brain, taking inventory. The extra stuff. If stamps are “extra” this could get ugly! I decided to do it room by room, compartmentalizing life in cross-section, like the dollhouse we spent hours decorating and playing in.

Kitchen:
I started with How to boil water, tell if pasta is ready, smell a gas leak, turn off the water main…but suddenly it turned into a different kind of “extra.”
• If you’re having a bad day, leave the dishes. But do soak them, or you’ll really be in a bad mood when you get around to cleaning them.
• If you’re having a really bad day, don’t adhere to the utensil slots. Just chuck ‘em all in and let them fall where they may. Actually, if it’s a really bad day, just leave the dishes alone. They can wait.
• No matter what kind of mood you’re in, make yourself a nice meal, especially if you’re lonely.
• Always eat some fruit in the morning and some veggies at some point in the day. Keep bananas, carrots, apples, and potatoes around. They do the trick when you’re not feeling inspired.
• Keep a granola bar in your purse. (Tip: Use only small purses—lest you end up with a Mary Poppins carpet bag, coat rack and all. Read Nora Ephron’s essay on women’s purses.)
• Splurge on really good jam and really good bread.
• Always have a flower or a piece of greenery in a vase on your kitchen windowsill. It really helps.
• If you see evidence of mice, set traps immediately. This probably will not apply to 99% of the places you’ll live, (we live in Montana), so take it metaphorically: See s*** for what it is and get rid of the source before it gets out of control.
• If you use To Do lists, get rid of the word “goal” and replace it with “possibility.” You’ll be nicer to yourself that way.
• If you find yourself writing down something that you’ve already done on a To Do list, just so you can cross it off, you might want to stop making To Do lists.
• Allow yourself to grocery shop without a list, but not when you are hungry. You might surprise yourself by what ends up in your grocery cart—like rhubarb or radishes or kale or pistachios!
• Always smell fish before you buy it. If it smells like fish, it’s no good. Also, look into its eyes. They should be clear. This also applies to boyfriends.
• To cut goat cheese, use dental floss. (Unflavored! Duh. Don’t roll your eyes.)
• To make Deviled Eggs, put boiled eggs into cold water/ice bath. When cool, cut in half, shell ON, with sharp knife, then scoop egg out with spoon. Magic!
• Learn how to make homemade chicken broth. (Ask your mother)

Living room:
• Splurge on nice candles. Light them for yourself daily. Light the not-nice ones for guests. Not the other way around.
• Lie on the couch and do other things than watch TV. Like read a book or listen to classical music.
• Watch old movies. You know…back when people used stamps, and women dressed for travel. There’s a lot to learn from the “olden days.”
• Limit TV.
• Listen to NPR. Especially opera on NPR. Pretty much everything you need to know about life is in operas.
• Make sure to have musical instruments and keep them within eye-range so you’ll actually play them. Guitars and pianos welcome group jam sessions.
• Always have a drum somewhere for that person who claims they “aren’t musical.”
• Have board games and cards in a drawer or on a shelf. Play them. Especially Scrabble, backgammon, gin rummy, Farkle, and Scattagories.
• Have guide books and binoculars. It’s good to know your birds and flowers and other critters. Even in the city, there are hawks.

Bathroom:
• Have nice hand towels and nice soap in your powder room. Your guests should feel special.
• Use your powder room. You should feel special too!
• Always have an extra roll of toilet paper in each bathroom.
• And a plunger. (Replace plungers every-so-often, unless you are the type to wash and disinfect toilet plungers. Dirty secret: I’m not. That’s what the second flush is for.)
• Don’t forget to wash the toilet flusher handle when you wash your toilets. They are dearly overlooked. (Try not to think about that too much in hotel rooms.)
• Put nice art in your bathrooms. And magazines. You can learn a lot about a person from their bathroom.
• Supply room spray.

Bedroom:

Don’t be a slob.  Pick up your clothes.  If they’re not dirty, put them somewhere to wear again during the week, like in a hamper in your closet. NOT on a chair. And definitely NOT on your treadmill. Like your mother. Who then forgets she has a treadmill.
• Wash your sheets at least once a month.
• Splurge on nice sheets and feather pillows.
• If the person/people with whom you are sharing your room snore, make sure you have earplugs by your bed.
• Supply your nightstand with books that you want to read when you grow up: a book of poetry, a spiritual text of some sort, a classic novel, something on the best-seller list that is not written by a celebrity.
• If you eat breakfast in bed, use a tray. Crumbs are worse than bed-bugs in some cases, especially if you’ve listened to your mother and splurged on good bread.
• Eat breakfast in bed, but not lunch or dinner. That means you’re depressed.
• Do not let your dog sleep with you. Or your babies. They need a bed of their own, and so do you.
• Sleep in every-so-often. Like till eleven. This will get harder and harder the older you get.

Closet:
• You’re on your own on this one, but do get nice hangers if possible.
• Oh, and do accept that your “skinny” clothes are probably a thing of the past if you haven’t been able to fit into them for a few years…

Office:

Virginia Woolf was right—you need a room of your own, even it’s in an eave, or a closet under a stairway, or (if you’re lucky enough) a whole studio over your garage, or an unoccupied bedroom, or a renovated garden shed.  Claim space for yourself!

• Don’t allow people to come and go without knocking.
• If you have children, always have an available chair in it for them. It’s important to have your own space, but it’s also important that they know that your work does not take away your motherhood.
• This one is really really important: Whatever it is that you do in that office, whether it’s a vocation or avocation, make sure it’s something you love. NOT something that you are necessarily good at. If you happen to be good at what you love, then that’s a bonus, but not a rule!

Outside:
• Have a communal outdoor space that feels like a room in your house, but isn’t exactly…like: A screened porch, fire escape, hammock, hot tub, front stoop, garden or terrace. It doesn’t have to be big. Just a place where you sit at least once every few days and dream a little.

A few extra extras:
• Write handwritten notes on nice stationary to people you love. That’s where the stamp comes in…
• Try not to kill bugs. If they’re inside, put a mason jar over them and take them outside. They do elegant things like lick the wax off the peony buds so that they can bloom. (I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there.) (Mice are a different story. If you’ve had one die in the walls, you’ll know what I mean.)
• Practice Yes and Possibility instead of No and Not Possible. Positive begets positive and negative begets negative. You don’t want the latter.
• Have fun, for crying out loud! Life is beautiful and heartbreaking any way you slice it so you might as well enjoy the ride!
• There is no such thing as cool.
• Judge not.
• Don’t mistake a full schedule for a full life. If you find yourself saying, “There’s never a dull moment,” you should probably make it a goal to have at least one “dull moment” every day.
• Take walks. (especially in the rain)
• Sing.
• Dance.
• Read poetry.
• Have dogs.
• Grow a garden.
• Travel.
• Create the sacred wherever you are.
• Be kind to old people and remember they know a lot more than you do. Ask them to tell you their stories.
• Know that there are saints everywhere. Look for them. They’re often where you least expect it.
Call your mother. Texting is a challenge since she can never find her reading glasses. Plus, she likes to hear your voice. It reminds her of lying in bed with you when you were little, reading books, singing, praying, watching the moon, dreaming. And she loves you no matter what, which is hard to find.
DRINK WATER

graduation_cap

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Writing as Passion and as Architecture.

After my last blog post spouting writing advice, and the appreciative responses I got…I am inspired to share another bit of writing advice I have recently given in hopes that it might help writers out there.  Or anyone who wants to express themselves creatively.

Recently a new friend asked me if I thought a person could have a blog and write about their passions and thoughts and life without being a “real writer.” She’s concerned that her words don’t always come out on the page the way she’d like.  Still she is compelled to write and wanted to know what I had to say about it. My knee-jerk reaction to this sort of question is usually an across-the-board YES! Express yourself! Who cares if it’s not perfect! But my response to her sort of surprised me. In hopes that I do not discourage ANYONE out there who loves to write to get those words down…here’s what a bit of a different side of me had to say:

We could talk and talk about this subject. I guess I agree with Francine Prose: “A well-made sentence transcends time and genre.” I suppose it depends on whether or not you want to attempt to acheive that. Regardless, I think that we need to honor our readers: if the reader is going to invest the time and money and potential emotional energy into our writing, we need to be architects and find that intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing. I go back and re-read Strunk and White yearly (“The Elements of Style”) just to make sure I haven’t gone off course. I had a bear of an English teacher in high school who would give us an F if we used the passive tense “the dog was walked by me” vs. “I walked the dog.” He docked us big time for what he called “Bombast” and “Deadwood” —extra words, flourish, adverbs etc. I learned early on how to build a sentence without really knowing it was happening and I am most grateful for that.

That said, who cares about a well-built sentence if it’s not alive? If you can’t feel its pulse or hear it sing? That’s what I try to help people with on my writing retreats. I really care about this. For me, it comes down to timing and word play. And authority. And compassion. And responsibility. And intention. When I’m in the hands of a writer who has those things in spades, I am in heaven. And that’s where I want my readers to be. Tall order, but it’s my life’s passion.

It’s the Devil’s-advocate (and I realize, sort of obnoxious) question I ask of my singer/songwriter friend who can’t read music but considers himself a professional musician.  ”Are you really a professional if you don’t know the language of your art?”

He counters with the old “Jagger can’t read music. Most famous rock stars, in fact, can’t read music.” He argues that he does know the language of his art. And it’s true– the language of his music is deep and beautiful. But there is something stubborn in me that wants to insist that language is not language if it can’t be written down, and when it’s written down there are certain rights and wrongs that make it a language that can be spoken long after he’s dead and by people in other countries and cultures.

Even if he gets someone else to write it down for him, wouldn’t it serve him to be able to read music found in an archive somewhere from hundreds of years ago? Don’t we have some sort of responsibility to keep languages alive? I fear this with script. They’re not teaching it in schools as much any more. How are the next generations going to be able to read the letters and documents of our Founding Fathers, for instance? And for that matter, is our language going to turn into: “R U probs going 2 the dance?”

My singer/songwriter friend says he’s not interested in that— he doesn’t need to be Bach. Sometimes he wins me over. But the truth is…maybe there’s something in me that…well, wants to be Bach. LOL.

In any case, art is made to inspire its perceiver to laugh and play and heal and grieve and know they’re not alone. (and its creator too.) So…who really cares at the end of the day about the precision of the language. It’s all about expression. And it helps us to make sense of this beautiful and heartbreaking planet. So do what you do on the page, and if you want to become more of an architect, go back to Strunk and White. If not, just try to sing your song.

p.s.  I’m well-aware that I write in in-complete sentences from time to time and sometimes a lot.  But at least I know I’m doing it.  We can play with language, afterall…

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To a Young Writer

I was recently asked to write down some writing advice to a young person who loves to write and needs some guidance. There’s practically nothing I’d rather do. Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” largely shaped who I am as a writer and a person today. The following is what came out of me. Please feel free to share it with anyone– young, or old, or in-between who needs a little help in this category. Writing ain’t for sissies, and we need a little hand-holding/nudge every-so-often. yrs. Laura

Write what you HAVE to write.

Don’t give up.

Write and write and write.

And write.

Don’t believe in writer’s block.

Don’t worry about getting published.

When you think you’ve gone deep enough, go deeper. And then go deeper.

Think of yourself as an archaeologist and you want to crack the case on the cavewoman.

What did she worry about? What did she do to find comfort?

Tell people, “I am a writer.”

Hold your head up high when they look confused, and even judgmental.

Allow yourself to be misunderstood in life and on the page.

Believe in yourself.

Only you can tell your story the way you can tell it.

When you sit down to write: get butterflies in your stomach. Feel like it’s a snow day.

Always believe that you have something to say.

Always know that you have nothing to say.

Say it anyway.

Be brave.

Be kind to yourself.

Believe. Receive. It’s all happening.

All you have to do is show up.

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Letter to a Young Blogger

Recently a blogger wrote to me asking for advice, feeling desperate and raw the way that every writer feels. I get a lot of letters, for which I am deeply thankful, and have learned that I have to be economic with my response time in a committment to finishing my current novel. I started writing her what I assumed would be a short but honest letter, hoping to find just the right words…and realized that what I had to share was an old fashioned, long, heart-in-the-hand, letter. And as I opened up to that and my words increased, more and more impassioned, I realized that I really was writing to myself and all writers everywhere. I’d like to share it with you, with her permission. And likewise, I’d like to share her response. Hope it helps. yrs. Laura

12/11/10

Dear, Nikki.

I know people don’t use “Dear” anymore in emails, but to you, from me, sisters in words, it is “dear.” Thank you for reaching out to me in your very candid and honest letter. It takes guts to reach out to published authors, especially when their work has touched you. I have a whole file of letters I’ve written over the years to my favorite author, but was too shy to send them to him. Finally one day I exploded in desperation and wrote 20 years of writer’s woe into a letter, and sent it to his editor thinking he’d never in a million years actually get it. But it felt somehow good just to know that I’d finally spoken my truth to the person I most respect in the literary world: and that was that I was terrified I’d never get published, that I knew I was a good writer and had written good books, and that I needed help. He emailed me a few weeks later. We ended up meeting for drinks that spring in a small border town in Arizona where I was camping with my family. We ended up becoming friends. And he ended up putting in a good word to his editor for me. The book deal fell apart anyway. Writers can’t really help writers get published. Even wickedly famous ones such as he. But we can share our feelings and we can make suggestions and we can help guide one another.

You said you weren’t sure why you wrote me, only that you were so ready to launch your career that you were afraid of being “Over done.” “Burnt to a crisp.” That’s to me a way of saying, “Help. In any way you can. Just help. I can’t be alone in this one more second.” A cry for help—not necessarily on-the-ledge kind of help, but maybe on the soul’s edge. And all you really want is an echo that says there was a meeting point out there in the world that heard you and bounced it back to you in a game of mystic catch. You’ve been witnessed. You are not alone. You’ve been met. I have some things I’d like to say about that and I hope it finds you, if nothing else, met.

I so deeply understand where you are in all this. Having so much work and wanting it to be read and wanting to be respected for it, and wanting to be paid for it. It feels so helpless and hopeless– like you’re working so hard to mine your life and bridge human hearts with honesty, empathy, compassion…and yet nobody really sees you or cares. Like you’ll somehow fall between the cracks. Any of this ring a bell? (sorry for all the mixed metaphors, but we writers need lifelines—basic full frontal flung floatation– and well-worn metaphors can sometimes feel like just that!) As you know, I’ve written many books that are not published. Not all good ones. And not all ones which I’ve submitted to my agent. In fact, I’ve really only submitted four or five, and she’s only shopped so far three of them. In three years of hard-at-it submissions, her New York City hardened fist to the pavement, only one of them got published. It was crushing.

I’d been told many times that getting an agent was harder than actually getting a book published, so when I finally landed mine, I had high hopes. Even in this economy. Even with the publishing industry in shambles. I still had hope because I had someone who believed in me even when I didn’t. After both books were considered seriously by two different big time editors, both of whom were willing to work with me on the sly to get my manuscripts in the best possible shape so they could come into their editorial staff meetings guns blazing…and after both were still in the end rejected, my agent decided she wouldn’t even send my work out any more. I needed a platform. I’d sent her my memoir, the one that just got published, the one that ended up on the New York Times bestseller list, and she said, “I’m sorry. I’m just not sending your work out. You’re too good of a writer to keep falling through the cracks. You need a platform.”

So there I was, feeling completely hopeless. Because wasn’t having a top notch New York agent in the first place, sitting on three polished and what I considered to be powerful manuscripts, proof enough of my writing moxie? How did a girl prove herself even more than that? “By getting into the New Yorker or the New York Times,” she said. Ugh. I’d tried that. I’d failed at that. I honestly had never felt more bereft. Never in 20 years have I had writer’s block, or faced a blank page without butterflies in my stomach. Never had I lost a lick of hope. That day, I got off the phone and put my head down on my computer, and wept. I really, for the first time, saw clearly that my career, at 42 years old, very well might never launch. The ship wouldn’t come in. I’d be bobbing in cold waters so tired of clutching that life preserver, that I finally might just let go, and become fish food. I felt myself, for the first time in my life, beginning to let go.

And something miraculous happened. In a flicker of a moment, sort of how they say that you see your life flash before you just before death, I had this deep warm feeling of knowing. I’d write the short version of my memoir, the one my agent wasn’t going to shop, and I’d send it to the New York Times Modern Love column. I’d just had two rejections from them in tandem the week prior. At least I was fresh in the editor’s mind. So in an hour, I wrote the essay. It flowed out the way I suppose one’s last breath flows. One long rattle. And I sent it, left the house to pick up the kids, and forgot about it. That was going to be the way things went from now on. I would have to train myself to forget about it. To take the future out of my brain and heart. I didn’t know what that meant. Would I stop writing? I couldn’t fathom that death, so I let it go. And it was just me alone in that sea. The alternative was to thrash. And I couldn’t do that any longer. I was too tired of thrashing.

The next morning, I got an email: “This one, we’re going to take.” It was from the editor of the Modern Love column. And you probably know the rest of the story. That essay was the number one most read article on The New York Times website for weeks. The responses crashed the site. It went viral all over the world. I heard from ministers, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, mothers, wives, husbands, fathers, sisters, brothers…you name it. People wanted to hear that particular message which was simple but hard to apply, especially to a marital crisis, which was my essay’s entry point. The message was: you can find freedom in crisis by focusing on the present moment, getting rid of the destructive voices in our heads that have us reacting in a place of fear, to love those voices into submission, to take responsibility for your own happiness no matter what’s going on in your life. To let go and just be with the pain of life, using the pain of life, breathing through the pain of life. Simple. I’d applied this philosophy to my marriage, and now I was finally applying it to my writing life. And that’s when everything happened.

Now, a year later, I’m sitting here on a Saturday morning in December with my husband and children skiing, trying to work on a novel. I’d like a novel to be published next. I worry about being pigeon-holed as a memoirist. It’s the novel that is my deep love; the craft at which I’ve been “hearkening and hammering,” as Rilke said (who wrote his own “dear” letters to another writer), for all these years. And I find myself putting this philosophy to play all over again. My inner voice wants me jumping through hoops and walking across coals. The dread blank page. The likelihood of a novel getting published in this industry. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe it was just a rogue nerve that I hit the way my anesthesiologist did when he was giving me my epidural before my cesarean. “I’ve hardly ever done that,” he said. And like you, I’m asking those old questions: what if this really is just my three minutes. And the clock is ticking. Never mind the simple fact that we need money, badly. To keep our house. To regain health insurance and life insurance and pay our bills after years of career failure. I honestly don’t know how we’re going to pay for Christmas this year. And the kids with such long lists.

I think that the single most dashing aspect of being a writer is feeling so alone. So the help I can give you is not the lifeline, but the simple act of catching the echo, your voice to mine, mine to yours. Even though my book has been more successful than I ever dreamed as I sat here at this desk a few summers ago writing my way through a hard time in my life, not even all that sure that I’d one day submit it to my agent…I still face what you face. The loneliness, the fear, the sinking hope. I wasn’t sure my marriage would make it through that crisis and I wasn’t going to give it an even larger burden if in fact it did. But I wrote with all the compassion and honesty I could, responsible to a rule I made to myself and that was: not to vilify my husband. Not to play victim. Not to expose things beyond what felt necessary to the memoir. In the end, my agent sent out the book. In the end I got that long awaited book deal. The book tour. The national television. The NPR interviews. The positive reviews. The fans. The pay check. The New York Times bestseller list. The opportunity to have written something that is helping people. All the things I’d dreamed of.

And here I am, having spent a year of my life running around creation talking to people about that book and that time in my life, trying so hard to give people hope, especially writers. And I’m here to say that the whole reality of success is a myth. There is no real destination there. You’re just “seen and heard” that’s all. And it feels so good after feeling so unseen and unheard for so long. But it also feels disorienting and a little wrong. Like you’re really supposed to be back in that office, staring at the blank page, doing the work. Not being a travelling salesperson/social networking whore/motivational speaker. As another writer friend so perfectly put it a year ago, “Enjoy this initial bliss. In a matter of months, your cherry will be popped and you’ll realize that you are at the end of the day, not a writer, but a businesswoman, caught in a machine.” I didn’t want to believe that she was right. To a degree, she was. But no one can take away the writing. In that place, I completely trust myself. In that place, I am floating, surrendered, riding the waves, not thrashing, not a bit of future in me, watery dark ocean’s bottom or helicopter rescue.

So it’s my pleasure to respond to you and share what I’ve learned, having gone to the other side so suddenly this year. The “platform” I’ve wanted most of all is the one from which to help writers persevere. I’ve wanted this desperately for a long time. Somewhere along the line I turned around and realized that I was an expert on the subject of perseverance. I knew how to do one thing well: start books and finish them. Start essays and finish them. Start short stories and finish them. I wasn’t as good with submissions, and that was part of not yet wanting that “cherry” to be popped. Something deep in my psyche knew that I had to learn my craft. To understand that intersection of mind and heart and craft that is writing. To build that body of work. And yes, now the business of it is upon me. I’m trying to look at it like a game rather than a tragedy about to happen. I’m trying to look at it as a numbers game, or a pie chart, or something simple and practical. I write something and I submit it to these three places and I forget about it. And if I do that on Monday and Tuesday, and spend Wednesday on blog posts and researching grants and residencies, then I have Thursday, Friday and part of the weekend to work on my novel. Simple. If I strip it down, moment by moment, and not get stuck under the miasma of “what if.”

As my favorite writer said to me at that bar in southern Arizona, “Somebody has to get published and why not you.” So I pass that on to you. You are not alone. And you are alone. And that’s not bad news. You are a part of a collective sisterhood and brotherhood of writers who trust themselves best at the intersection, otherwise why else would they put themselves through this writing life. All those blank pages. All that rejection. I wish for you, and for all of us, that flicker of a moment when we finally let go, and get to the depths of compassion, empathy, and yes craft…send off our work surrendered, and somewhere have it received, met, echoed back in e. e. cummings world of Yes. Yes is a world. May we know it as writers, first deep in ourselves. And then from the world.

I wish you all the very best, Nikki.

Yrs.

Laura

Here is her response:
Hi Laura,

The other day I tried to compose an email to you, and it was a challenge to even do this. I was unable to write anything, and then a couple days ago I woke up and realized why. My soul will not allow me write from the place of ego- you know that small, weak place of wanting to write for attention and following and publication and approval. There was a time I only wrote for me, and as I have moved out to share my writing and wanting to make a living from it, my ego perks up its head and pushes me with its demands. It is wonderful to realize I cannot write, at least well, for those reasons. I have to write for something deeper.

I am so glad I reached out to you, and again I thank you for your letter. It will be something I keep and read when I need that support. I am grateful it inspired a letter to all writers and I would be honored to have my name displayed. There is so much for us to learn within the writing process. Recently I began writing another blog dedicated to this and it helps, as you say, warm up for the writing day ahead.

Thank you for saying my blog is my platform. This brought such relief. And I am receiving more requests for potential money making with ads on my blog and like you I want to maintain integrity. As far as blogher, I signed on with them a couple of years ago. I have had a good experience with them. The only issue is when I change my blog design I have to make sure the ad is near the top. They have requirements of where the ad should be. I can’t remember how I signed up with them, but I am sure the site walks you through. I know you can choose what kind of advertising you want, and if there is a company you are opposed to, you can customize settings. There will be an html code to add and then it should appear. They will also share your posts, which helps get more people to your site.

Thank you, honestly for being the echo, and holding the space of my desperation. This, especially in these times, is essential. I, like you, hold our vulnerable moments the most sacred and we need people to hold that space for us, and honor it. We also need people to show us by their example we can persevere and do what we love. I think what was most valuable to me in your letter is knowing even with your success you have not arrived. I shared a story in my local paper- and it speaks to this- recently I climbed a steep mountain, at least for me coming from Minnesota, it was steep, and while I climbed I had moments of terror, where I just didn’t think I was going to make it, but what kept moving me forward was wanting to see the view from the top. I also wanted to know I could make it. When I arrived, there was not the breathtaking view I imagined or was there the path I had hoped for to bring me back down so I wouldn’t have to roll down the way I came up. Instead there was another climb ahead and these tiny flies buzzing around my head.

My dad shares this message with me- everywhere we go there is the Buddha and flies. I found both, and more ground to cover. I feel honored to walk into this possibility of success holding this knowledge. As you say success is not a destination. It is an illusion. Even you, with your best seller still goes to her writing space and climbs another mountain. And now you are stronger.

I do hope we will stay in touch. I, too wish you all the very best. We are here to express everything that is our potential- that world of “YES.” Isn’t it wonderful to know and experience, especially when shared.

Namaste, Laura.

Nikki

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Filed under "Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear", A Place For Writers To Share, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

Interview with Inspire Me Today Radio– one of my very favorites!

I had the pleasure of meeting an incredibly inspiring woman recently: Gail Goodwin. She is one of those people who is day by day changing the world. Today she is featuring me on her website Inspire Me Today. I’d love for you to check this website out because it is such an excellent example of how we can make the deliberate choice to better the world simply by shining a light on the positive. I am proud of this interview and I’m honored to share it with you here. I love Gail’s high road questions and maybe my answers will help with some of the questions you ask me at THESE HERE HILLS. Come join me at Inspire Me Today where you’ll find a short piece I wrote for them and a link to the radio interview mid-page. Please share with your friends. I really want this interview to help people. yrs. Laura

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Hard Frost. Slow Dance. (For Author Magazine)

I am pleased to be regularly contributing to Author Magazine online. Here’s a piece about wintertime and the muse….

This is the time of year when the muse is hungry. Starved by a summer in Montana where the physical world bullies you to come out into it and join the dance that leads with mountains, and twirls with rivers, and rests in lakes—a spent tango. And we find ourselves in fall. The physical dance over. Time to go home in the dark. There is a lot of darkness now.

This morning was the first hard frost. I could see it on the roof by moonshadow, silver and glinting off shingles. It was confirmed by the first light over the ridge… to read more click here

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Daily Tips for Writers

I have been writing these tips daily on Twitter http://twitter.com/Lauramunson Hope they help.

Be intentional. Get to know your “third eye.” And don’t let life infect it. Yes we mine our lives, but writing is a pause.

When people ask what you do, say: I AM A WRITER. Practice saying it in front of the mirror!

Find something physical that requires the same sort of awareness you use in your writing and try to do it every day.

When you are rejected, you haven’t done something wrong. It just wasn’t right for them. Think of it as a numbers game.

Go at it with joy, not fighting and muscling and kicking. Go at it like it’s already there. You’re just lifting the lid.

Don’t believe in writer’s block. It doesn’t exist for you. What MUST you write? You know the answer. Now write it.

Write what you must and write it with compassion.

Don’t let Social Media interrupt your focus. Use it as a tool and be grateful for community. And know when to unplug.

Do something sacred before you begin. A cup of tea. A deep breath. Lie on the floor with your eyes closed. A beginning.

Don’t take rejections personally. Take a breath, and send it out again. GOOD LUCK!

Use your pearls as they come. No need to stockpile them. More will come.

Challenge yourself to be flexible. Write not just on your mother ship computer, but on a laptop, outside, on a legal pad

When in doubt, ask. You have to ask. For connections, advice, help, time, space, critique, support. Ask.

Read books like textbooks, underline, comment in margins, date your comments. Don’t lend them out. Refer to them often.

Don’t take outlines too seriously. Your characters are your guides.  Sherpas, even.  Follow them.

Love your characters. Even the villians.  They all have something to teach you.  But you have to love them into it.

When you give your working drafts to friends to read, make sure you agree to the shape of critique you want and deadline.

If you don’t want to write a scene, maybe it doesn’t belong in your book. Trust your instincts. Be willing to re-route.

If you find you are having a hard time balancing between your writing and social media, consider getting two computers. One cyber. One not.

In the spirit of Twitter, keep it lean. Exile adverbs. They suck the action dry.

 Consider your reader and ask yourself: why do they need my writing? Writing is an act of empathy. It’s not all yours.

 Writing is your meditation, your prayer, your way of life, and sometimes your way TO life.  At least it is for me.

If your loved ones don’t read your stuff, consider it a compliment.They want to know you as they know you.Not always on the page.

I love hearing from writers who love their work.  We need to be hungry for our own work.  Champions.  Stewards.  Even when the publishers don’t agree.  

Clean your office. Clutter bring chaos. A clean space really helps with the blank page.

Be willing to learn something about yourself on the page. It’s okay to “tell” on yourself. It will help people and you.

What is your piece about? Practice saying it outloud on a walk, in 3 minutes or less. It may morph as you go along. That’s OK.

Writing comes from sacredness, silence, and sometimes secrecy. Oftentimes best not to share what you are writing about til it’s done.

I find that writers who are writing are kind to one another. Not competetive. Let’s keep this kindness alive and well.

Hemingway couldn’t write in an airplane and either can I. Best to know your limits as long as they’re not avoidances.

Be leary of writers who spend a lot of time trying to protect their work. It’s only moving through you to begin with.

Be leary of writers who do more reading than writing. Or who are always doing conferences. True seeking is most often solitary.

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