Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Friday, July 31, 2015

My Favorite Inspirational Writing Book

I have certain books I go back to again and again to get inspiration when my creative impulses seem to be buried under the tedium of daily routine. One of these is If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, published in 1938.

I downloaded it on my Kindle simply because it was free one time, and a book about writing. I really didn't expect it to be worth much, having been written 75 years ago when the world, and especially the writing and publishing world was so very different. I certainly didn't expect it to become my go-to little book when I need a kick in the pants to get back to working.

It's written in such a simple, flowy, free and easy style, it feels like you're sitting in one of her writing classes. And in between such obvious statements as "With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good. It has stretched your understanding" there are wonderful little gems like this: “The imagination needs moodling,--long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”

Why do we need to idle and dawdle for long hours if we want to write? Because of this: "inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”

It's a short book of just over 100 pages, filled with nuggets of wisdom that are so applicable to the stresses and strains we experience in our modern world, those things fighting against our creativity. I think this is why it has struck such a chord of familiarity with writers today who are joyfully rediscovering Ueland's book.

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” --Brenda Ueland

What are your favorite inspirational books, writing or otherwise?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Joy in the Small Things

My daughter recently sent me a picture of the box of clothes she was getting rid of because, as she said, "wearing them no longer brings me joy."

I thought of the clothes I wear all the time that no longer bring me joy. Two pairs of pants I used to love but now have stains on the cuffs I can't get off. Shirts that don't quite fit me right or the colors are faded. A knit dress several years old that's now pilled. The list was quite long and disheartening.

These small imperfections I try to ignore because new clothes are hard to come by where I live in Guatemala, and I only go back to the States once a year. That's a long time to wait between shopping trips.

Then I began to think of other things that take up my time and energy which do not bring me joy. Not a lot, I must admit, because at my age I've learned how to bring joy into my life even with mundane tasks. But still, there are a few areas for improvement. Like the clothes.

Have you ever given up something when it no longer brought you joy?

Monday, July 13, 2015

How Much Information is Too Much?

In this age of information overload, how much online sharing is too much? As authors with books out, we understand the necessity of getting our name and work out there. People have to know about a book in order to buy it, and bookstores and libraries aren't where readers go anymore to discover new books and authors.

With millions of books out there, a physical bookstore can only hold a tiny fraction of them. Besides, what about the unknowns who have written good stuff just waiting to be discovered?

And thus we love Amazon with its unlimited shelf space, and the e-reader with its unlimited storage space.

Writers face this new frontier of book publishing with hopeful enthusiasm for the possibilities. Yet the problem of discoverability remains. With so many to choose from, how will anyone find your book?

We get on social media, figuring the more people know about us, the more we will sell. I wonder if this trend causes us to not only spread ourselves too thin but overshare in the process.

Image result for F. Scott fitzgerald photoRemember back in the far distant past when the mystique of the writer was part of the excitement of reading their stories? I used to wonder about the people who wrote my favorite books: what was their life like, how did they get their ideas, were they anything like the characters they wrote about? What kind of house did they live in? What was their favorite food? What did they look like beyond the author photo on the back?

We don't need to wonder any longer. It's all out there for the world to see. I know my life is. Read one of my books and want to know more? You'll find everything in a few clicks. This concerns me sometimes.
Not about my identity being stolen or being stalked by eager fans or having my picture taken without makeup. It's that I, who used to be such a private person hating anyone to know my business, now freely share so much of it online.

Blogging especially does this to a writer. You need a topic and there's your convenient daily life including pictures for variety. Besides, as writers, this is what we do. We write. And write. And write. We write about what we know, which is ourselves and our families and our activities, our good days and bad.

Seriously, there are times I'm tempted to delete my blog, wipe the slate clean and keep a nice, spare website with very little personal information. Do you ever feel that way?

But then reality hits. We no longer live in the day of author mystique. A writer who avoids social media might be diminishing the chance of success. So there we have it. The conflict between oversharing and the need to make oneself and one's work known on social media.

A few have found a nice balance between the two. Most have not. There's a well-known women's fiction author whose books I used to love, until I started following her Facebook fan page where she posts long, boring updates about her everyday routine. I can't get past the first sentence. Since I liked her on Facebook, I've had no desire to read any more of her books. Her Facebook oversharing has taken away my interest.

Do you think social media can hurt a writer more than help? 

How do you feel about oversharing with your own blogs or with others you've read? How much is too much? 

Think the pendulum will ever swing back toward writer mystique? I kinda wish it would, how about you?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What, I have to admit to being insecure?

I didn't realize how difficult it would be for me to come up for topics each month for the Insecure Writer's Posts. After all, insecurity and anxiety are a way of life for me and always have been.

My entire life-- at least since kindergarten when I told my mom if I got sick to not pray for me to get well since I wanted to die and not have to go to school--I've dealt with my fears in a specific way. By either denying they exist to take away their power, or facing them head on before they get me down.

So the first Wednesday of the month comes around and I think, What? I'm supposed to sit here calmly and confess to my insecurities all matter of factly, like it's some normal thing?

Honestly, Insecure Writer Wednesday freaks me out every time. It's like having to go to the dentist. Or to the doctor for a physical. I'm even anxious about getting a pedicure. What if they take too long? Ask too many personal questions? How much should I tip? What if I don't want to tip? And don't even mention when I need a hair cut.

I think about Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. She played the character brilliantly, an absolute mess of anxieties and insecurities and unreasonable fears. We all loved her and the role earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress while catapulting her career to superstar status.

If I could play insecure like Diane Keaton played Annie Hall, then it would be great. People would love me and take care of me and throw money at me and everyone would want to be my friend. Woody Allen is the same. He's so adorably neurotic people have been in love with him and throwing money at him for decades, even when he had an affair then married his adopted daughter.

"She was Mia's adopted daughter," he said, pushing up his glasses. Oh, right, people said, here's a million dollars.

When I feel anxious, I turn to stone. I freeze, most likely with a scowl on my face. If I do talk, it'll be something inappropriate blurted out at the wrong moment, making people back away. I can't do adorably intelligent neurotic like Diane Keaton or Woody Allen. My insecure is "Whoa, what's wrong with this woman??"

So well, it's the first Wednesday of the month, la di da, la, la, la di da, well, let's's my granddaughter...

She looks a lot like me at that age except she's afraid of nothing and everyone loves her and wants to take care of her and be her friend. I bet she's going to love kindergarten.