Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Community of Writers

Writing is of course a lonely activity. You sit at your desk with silence and solitude your best friends. Closed doors are a treasure and you get settled in, shutting down your phone and disconnecting your internet. You don't want distractions or interruptions, Alone at the keyboard or notebook you let the plots of your novels unwind as you meet new characters who help or hinder your protagonists' goals. Along the way you conjure up stories in the most magical but comprehensible language you can muster and it is a lovely way to spend a few hours a day.


But eventually you need a community of other writers. When I lived in New York I had such a group. Over a period of fifteen plus years we met one Saturday a month to commiserate over wine and good good. We shared what we had been writing and received gentle but honest critiques. We talked about our personal lives and about the challenges of writing and trying to get published. It was a welcome three hours a month for writers who spend so much time alone.

We called the group "Tapestries" because we saw ourselves as seven women intricately woven together in this writing journey. Over the years some members came and went but there were three of us who endured for most, if not all, of those fifteen years. We were lucky because we all had a common commitment to writing and to the group. Our writing ability was fairly equal and finally in the last few years we were each writing a novel. A critique group working on a common genre is easier to navigate and more effective. Lucky too that our personalities meshed well, which isn't always easy with a group of women. We got along so well that finally we created our own writing retreat.

Twice a year we headed to Montauk Point and stayed in the Sea Crest Resort on the Atlantic Ocean in Amagansett. There we experienced the privacy and solitude we needed to write since we were away from family and household errands and chores. There was nothing to do but write and read, and of course eat and drink wine and tea.


Though three of us shared one apartment and we were not totally alone, we were all there to work on whatever novel we were in the process of writing or revising. There is something about that collective energy of a group of people sharing a similar goal with a similar need for silence and time to work. That energy infuses the writer with motivation to do the work that must be done to get a novel written and ready for submitting to agents or editors. And it worked sublimely. Even chilly and windy walks on the beach added to an ambience that enriched our creativity and our writing.

Now that I live in Southern California I don't have a writing group. I am looking for one because I want the support and critique of other writers. But it will never be the same as "Tapestries." There will never be that bond among a group of women with like spirits and like commitment to writing. I miss those gals terribly and wish I could fly back to New York once a month for our meetings. If not that than I would love to fly out twice a year and join them in Amagansett. 

Maybe then I could get this novel finished.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Writing Begins with Yoga

I wake at dawn as soft light penetrates through the window blinds mere feet from my bed. Though the idea of staying cozy beneath the sheets is tempting my bladder and my brain have other ideas. The bladder, well that needs no explanation. When she calls I must answer and once I'm up my brain kicks in and going back to sleep is a lost and foggy idea.

As I brush my teeth and wash sandy sleep from my eyes, ideas begin to tumble along neural pathways and lodge themselves in wormy gray matter. Even if I'm sleepy, and crawling back into bed with my snoring husband is inviting, I push myself to my writing room. These precious silent minutes alone are perfect for a writer. What chances I get once my husband is awake will have to be carved out of the daily grind, or other adventures we take in our new home in Southern California. There is so much to explore and of course shopping, laundry and cleaning are additional critters pushing away delicate hours I could spend constructing poems or revising the new short stories mounting up in my notebook. Then there is the novel outline I've been sculpting for too long.

So I go to my room and gently close the white door, effectively blocking out the rest of my life. I walk to the window and as gray light turns golden I begin to stretch. I have found that yoga is a way to center myself before I get to my desk. It revs up the pathways in my brain and lets my muscles know they better wake up.

After stretching each muscle group and opening up my chest and hips with delicate asanas and deep breathing I go into sun salutation, a nice flow of yoga poses that both calm and alert my mind and body.

Now I am ready to sit at my desk, awake and focused. I begin with morning pages as per Julia Cameron and "The Artists' Way." This not only lets me vent any concerns and get the minutiae out onto the page, it also helps me focus my writing goals for the day, week, month, year. Now I know where I am headed and I have a trail of deadlines to follow to get to the end. Morning pages also allow me to write about my diet and fitness goals. You can't sit in a chair all day and not get up and move. I have to have a plan to keep my body healthy and strong so I can accomplish all these writing projects.

Beginning the day with yoga helps bring focus and flexibility to my body and to my writing.

I will add some candlelight and watch the pages and stories mount up as the light gentle flickers and scents the room with vanilla.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Synchronicity for Writers



Synchronicity comes in a variety of packages and at myriad times if only we are open to hear those whispered voices. For writers and other creatives synchronous events and unexpected connections are the gifts we need to keep going when challenges or deadlines get too much for us. Recently certain connections have made it possible for me to get back into writing mode and set art journaling aside. Oh I'm not giving up art journaling but I'm definitely curtailing it to two or three times a week. Writing every day is more crucial if I'm to meet my goals. So here are the happenings that lead me to focus more.

Firstly I heard about a woman in the Temecula Valley Woman's Club who has written and published three novels and I am meeting with her on Friday. The value of a partner in this writing life is crucial and since we moved from New York to California I am missing my writing group of amazing women.

Last night we attended the monthly meeting of the Temecula Valley Art League and I happened to be talking with a woman about possible places I could find a writing group. A few minutes later, during an acrylic painting demo that was truly remarkable, she tapped me on the shoulder and introduced me to a man who belongs to a critique group. At first I feared it was the local library group that turned out not to be very welcoming but no, it's a different group. I will try it out to see how it fits.

Yesterday I discovered that one of my favorite online teachers, Melanie Faith, is offering a novel outlining class in September. Part of me wants it to be sooner so I can get my novel set up to write. But it actually works out fine. I enrolled in the class and I know it will be coming up but in the meantime I will take these few months to finish my two current writing projects.

The first is a chapbook of haibun and tanka prose that I am writing for a contest in August. I have three online poetry classes over the months of May and June and that should result in enough poems for the chapbook and give me the month of July to revise and properly order the poems.

The second is a chapbook of connected flash stories that I've been nurturing for a while now. I'm using my present online class in Writing Short with Len Leatherwood to write and get some critique on a few of the stories. And this project, called "Thursdays at Seven," has just given rise to an ongoing writing project I am heartily looking forward to.

I want to take the main character of these stories and expand it into a novel. The chapbook project will give me time and space to develop her character and her problems and find a direction for the novel. Though the chapbook and the novel will be able to stand alone, the novel will be a direct spinoff from the stories in the chapbook. From there I would like to take three other characters and create novels with them as the protagonists. It will be a romance series with a setting in the vineyards of the North Fork of Long Island. Again, writing these flash stories will give me a chance to build these characters and there stories. A way to get to know where I can go with bigger stories about each one.

Everything seems to have aligned this week to put me in writing mode and I can't ignore the signals. The colorful paint will have to be brushed aside and replaced with my blue, purple and red pens, and yellow highlighters. The canvases and art journals will be replaced by spiral notebooks and moleskine journals as well as my computer and printer.

The writing life awaits at the tip of my pen and I am ready for it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Is Poetry Dead? Please say it isn't so!


At least once a month my husband and I spend a morning in Barnes and Noble sipping coffee and exploring. He will browse art magazines and cookbooks while I explore books based on my current topic of interest.

On Sunday we spent just such a morning. When we got to Barnes and Noble soft music was playing, just right for reading, but it soon morphed into something more popular and downright annoying. I want classical or smooth jazz and preferably instrumental when I'm reading. I would also prefer the absence of other people's conversations but it is a public place after all and I have to adjust.

At various times my focus has been art magazines and books, literary journals, self-help books, inspirational musings or sometimes health and cookbooks. I always spend some time among the shelves of fiction looking for a new author or one of my favorite author's latest release to add to my ever growing pile of fiction. Sometimes my focus is on writing and that may include novels, memoir, short stories or poetry. This particular visit was focused on poetry.

There were new books by Marie Howe, Billy Collins and Philip Levine to look at. I was also browsing for new poets to get to know and maybe even find a book about writing poetry but alas poetry has been relegated to a small space.

April is National Poetry Month but apparently Barnes and Noble did not get that memo. It was not advertised and none of the new poetry collections were highlighted. In fact the poetry section of this particular store is hidden in a back corner behind children's toys. It is not part of the literature section as it is in other branches of B and N. And it is small and wanting. There are few if any collections by the likes of David Whyte, Marie Howe, Sharon Olds or other well known poets of our times. And the books that are there are out of order though the little metal label on the shelf says "in alphabetical order." I managed to find two of the books I wanted--"My Lost Poets" by Philip Levine and "The Rain in Portugal" by Billy Collins but I was frustrated and annoyed at the slim pickings offered.

It occurred to me though that perhaps poetry is dead. Well it surely isn't for me or for the other new poets out there squeezing poems from their veins and trying to get published and known. But it's reign seems somewhat diminished and that disturbs me.

How can we raise poetry to the level it should be? How can we advertise and increase its importance?

There are poems of love and protest, grief and longing, birth and death. Each line of poetry written not only displays the poet with her heart and soul wide open but helps her heal, helps her have a voice, helps her reach out and touch other human life forms. We need to send this message out to young people, students and teachers, seniors and scholars.

Bring poetry back to the classroom but make it real not a chore. Study the newer poets and the accessible poets. Billy Collins and Philip Levine who write of everyday man and his struggle for life worth living. David Whyte and Mark Nepo who touch the soul with words that open you up to the world. Mary Oliver who will show you all the life there is on this earth and teach you to notice it, be astonished by it and respect it.

The world needs poetry now more than ever. Pull it out of the darkness, out of the corner of the store behind the bright colored toys and for heaven's sake, if you are a book store, at least give a little sign that you are aware it is National Poetry Month.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Rituals for Writing, Writing as Ritual

As I shift my creative focus from art back to writing I remind myself of what I need to do to enter my writing life. Rituals are a good place to start. We all have our own personal rituals even if we don't identify them as such. We have mealtime rituals, bedtime rituals, morning rituals and perhaps exercise rituals. Here are a few of my writing rituals that I will implement once again.

Five rituals that get me writing:



  1. Cleaning my desk: The first step is to clear my desk of anything art related to eliminate distractions. Gone are the water glass, the paintbrushes, the art journals. All moved to another part of the room. The desk is then dusted and my mug of pens is placed in the corner.
  2. Setting up notebooks: I print labels for a notebook and binder for each writing project. Sometimes it is only one of each for a novel but often it is several. One for each flash fiction or flash memoir chapbook I am writing. Sometimes for a poetry collection in progress.
  3. Buying and/or reading books on writing craft: Somehow having books about writing in clear view acts as inspiration for me. Seeing them reminds me of my commitment to write. Admittedly reading these books takes up time when I could and should be writing. But a ritual is something we do all the time and this is one of mine. It has worked in the past to get things written and my mind back to writing so I will keep it around.
  4. Brainstorming: Keeping lists and outlines of future books helps too. Anything that gets me thinking about writing. Having a stockpile of ideas for fiction and memoir motivates me to keep writing.
  5. Taking online classes: Last but not least is taking classes. Once I hone in on a genre--poetry, novel or short fiction--I search or online classes related to the genre. I know just where to look too. I go straight to two websites: www.storycircle.org and www.wow-womenonwriting.com These two sites offer classes all year round and there is always something to pique my interest in my chosen genre. I like to follow teachers too. Len Leatherwood and Melanie Faith are two excellent teachers who have kept me writing and revising despite life distractions. And when it comes to poetry I head for Lorraine Mejia at www.lorrainemejia.com
Those rituals truly help to get me back on the writing track.

But writing itself can be a ritual. For me I need to deliberately set a time each day of day in which to focus on a work in progress. That may vary due to daily errands and life in general. The thing doesn't waver, or rarely wavers, is morning writing. Every morning after my other hygiene rituals I head to my desk, now cleared for my writing mind. I open a notebook, which must be a one subject, spiral bound, wide ruled affair, and begin to write. This might take the form of morning pages as per Julia Cameron and The Artists' Way. It might take the form of scribing a few poems from prompt books of which I own many. It could be writing based on a lesson for a class I'm taking or may even be some solid writing on a story. 

Like exercise, writing is best done early in the morning so you don't become distracted by other responsibilities. It sets up the day with some progress and keeps my mind on my writing life.

No matter how I look at it rituals help me be the writer I want to be. The writer I tell myself I am.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Manuscripts in Cyberspace

It's early morning and blue light drifts into my writing space. I open a one subject, wide ruled spiral notebook and begin the first draft of chapter 10. Writing first drafts in longhand has always been my approach to writing in any genre. The words flow down my arm and out through my hand in blue swirls across the page. And any time I wish to review a few pages, find a certain scene that needs tweaking or check my scene notes, there they are inside the bright covers of the notebook.

Things can get tricky however when those character arcs, plot twists, and back stories are converted to documents in a word file on my computer.

I've been at work on this present novel for several years. Over that time plots and characters have changed and hopefully the whole has become better. But there are files, files and more files related to the varied forms of this novel. Some on the computer, some on a flash drive. Up until the passed few weeks this has worked okay. But I have been struggling with finding the first draft of the particular version I want to actually finish.

I have searched every document and folder for this draft and had not been able to find it. Until today!

I decided to do one more search and finally was able to seize the draft I was looking for. There it was in a file, in a folder within a folder that was inside a folder marked "saved folders." One hundred and sixty-five pages rescued from the ether. Two thirds of a first draft just waiting to be finished. As in the play "Six Characters in Search of an Author," my characters were waiting in cyberspace to see what was going to happen to them next. Lovers caught in mid-kiss wondering what that kiss would mean to their futures. An abused and pregnant teenager not sure if my protagonist would be able to save her or not.

Well, now those one hundred sixty-five pages are printed, hole punched and secure in a blue binder never to be lost again. And my poor characters will now, finally, discover what their futures will hold.

The document is also stored on the computer, in the cloud, and on a flash drive, hopefully never to be lost again.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Getting back to writing a novel


It's been nine months since I wrote that last post and lots has happened--very little to do with writing however. Much to my embarrassment I haven't touched that novel since my critique group retreat in April. I do have an excuse though.

In May we flew to California and found a new home in a very nice apartment complex. It took many months to settle the details, pack up our belongings and drive from the east coast to the west. But now we are here and settled in and loving the sunny warm weather. We have taken care of details and acclimated ourselves to where things are in the town and now it is time I got back to business.

I have been making lots of art journal layouts and enjoying it immensely but it's time to get back to writing this novel.
It seems I do not have any of the previous material so I am beginning from scratch!

I set up my notebooks and have an idea where I'm going. I also signed up for an online class to outline the foundation of the novel so I can have a solid start. This is meant to be the first novel of a three book series and I hope I can recreate my notes for the stories.

I plan to post more often and share with you the process of turning my idea into a viable novel. I think writing novels is fun despite the hard work and headaches and time that go into writing. But I am up for the challenge.

Perhaps the warm winter here in southern California will provide inspiration.