"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sky is nearly a battleship grey and I must confess to not venturing outdoors all day. But it's time to pop out to buy a bottle of champagne. I want to wish you and your family health and happiness in 2010. If you're a writer, I'm wishing you success along with patience and endurance. And few more quotes for you:

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." Ralph Waldo Emerson

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” Little Golding II

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential. ~Ellen Goodman

And of course have heart, be calm, and keep writing. And thanks so much for stopping by, Jessica
I'm dancing back and forth today, flitting among several projects because some days this seems to work best. But I just realized that I hadn't read today's The Writer's Almanac entry as I normally do each morning and alas, now have an acute case of writer envy. The cause? Mary Oliver, who else?

Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh
by Mary Oliver

All winter
two blue herons
hunkered in the frozen marsh,
like two columns of blue smoke.

Find the rest of this lovely, lovely poem at The Writer's Almanac. Note: Today's poem is written by John Berryman, the Oliver poem is from December 27, 2009
Steady rains this morning and in fact, the skies are the color of rain. A few days ago I was reading the January issue of Smithsonian magazine and read Jayne Anne Phillips gorgeous essay about her hometown in the Allegheny foothills that she claims was "the perfect birthplace for a writer." As I read, I kept stopping from time to time to admire the elegance of her language and clarity of thought. And yesterday I read the interview with her in November issue of The Writer magazine. I'm blown away by her life as a writer, by her vision. And decided that in 2010 I'm going to read her body of work. So if like me, you've been neglecting this amazing writer, you might want to begin with her essays at her website.

Here's an excerpt from Dreaming of Beauty:
When people ask me how it feels to write a novel, I tell them it's like serial dreaming. Our dreams feel inevitable, no matter their content. We may be moved, aroused, frightened, inspired by our dreams, but the pictures in which dreams play out are spun from one another and hold together. We can't argue with them, unless, of course, the argument is part of the dream. Those layered distortions of recent or long-ago realities can be startling or nearly magical; still, something stays true. A memory may be almost completely transformed, but the seed of its very appearance lies in its inalienable, essential nature, and the nature or truth of a memory turns up in prose as surely as details turn up in dreams.

Beginning a novel, the writer dreams in daylight, arguing with herself with a kind of gentle, persistent persuasion. The writer takes on the persona of the lonely orphan, the (grown) child alone with potentially dangerous images. Somehow, she must persuade herself to speak, and this requires courage -- the courage to let the words inhabit a purely white field, to submit what is only partially understood to intense scrutiny. And there is no scrutiny more intense than that of emptiness, space that goes on for years. The writer, almost by definition, has carried these images around half a lifetime, forgetting them to protect them, until it is time to write the book. The writer begins to dream. It could even be said that the writer struggling to complete a novel never quite wakes up until the book is finished. Women who write live the Sleeping Beauty story again and again, but we assume all the roles in the fairy tale, circling, scaling walls. Making our way on foot through the dense, thorny forest that surrounds a barely visible castle. We seem to remember that we ourselves may have tended this garden when it was only rosebushes and hemlocks, supervising its impenetrable growth for just this chance -- to see it from the inside when it has grown vast and assumed shapes we could never have planned or imagined. There is a castle at the center, something hidden, but it may be a year or more before we're really that interested in catching sight of it. The writer gets addicted to any glimpse of the miraculous, and the real miracle is in the process itself. Is this what we mean by beauty: no maps, no guidelines, no guarantees? Loving something fearsome, even terrifying, out of instinctual belief in what lies beneath the surface? Forget Beauty, the good, perfect one in the diaphanous gown. We could call our story "The Buddhist and the Beast." In writing there is no surface, or there shouldn't be. The minute we begin to describe it, we sink into it.

Writing is like seeing in the dark, but more sensual. There's a partial blindness amidst murky, indefinite shapes, a delicious taste in the mouth, and a beckoning foreboding. There's a sense of recovery. We do recover what was lost -- by making it up. Fictional territory can't be considered real, and is certainly not history, yet certain places or geographical features are etched in light Place, within a novel as in real life, is far more than what can be described or astutely observed: it is atmosphere itself, absorbed by (spiritual) osmosis and somehow rendered whole. We write about place, enter it, translate it through the screen of the material. We understand who we were, and where we might have been. Like the traveler in T.S. Eliot's 'Four Quartets," we come to the place where we started, and know it for the first time.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

And this is another reason why I write:

Dear Jessica Morrell,
I would just like to say thank you. Your book " Thanks but this isn't for us." was inspiring. I've been writing for two years, almost three actually, and you book was extraordinarily helpful. I don't nean to take up your time, I realize you are busy. Just wanted to tell you that you really did help my writing.
(name withheld)
I'm constantly inspired by the insights and lives of other writers. Here's one such inspiration from author Gary Willis: In choosing our teachers we do not have to depend on lucky accidents--on finding the one person among our contemporaries who has the time and will to enlighten us: the great Academy of the Past is open to all who would use it.
Clouds moving in and our lovely snow is melting. As you can see, I'm remodeling around here because I want to update the look of this blog and I like how this color looks like old parchment. I'll be adding a list of blogs about writing and publishing and other fun spots to visit when you should be writing....because reading blogs is inspiring. If you have suggestions for more features, please let me know at jessicapage at spirtone. com.

Meanwhile, just a reminder for Portland, Oregon residents--I'll be the speaker at the January Willamette Writers meeting on Tuesday, January 5th at the Old Church. I'm talking about Killing Your Muse....and other advice that will make sense, once I figure out what I want to say.

What are your writing plans for 2010?
Snow fell in Portland today and I went out walking three different times, happy as a school kid on the last day of classes. I was out at about 7 p.m. and the world was hushed and white with mounds piled in the tall firs and bare winter branches frosted. I kept stopping to look around it was all so gorgeous, so magical.

I've been thinking a lot about what I want to accomplish in the coming year and decade. What are your plans for writing? Dreams aren't enough, goals require plans and steps and determination. And let's throw in passion and discipline.

For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning. T. S. Eliot

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Don't disregard your life. It is too precious. This moment, right now, is the only life you will ever have. You can't store it up for the ideal time. When you walk, walk with your whole body and mind joining the floor. Place your eyes in the soles of your feet, walking as if the floor were a dear friend. This is intimacy with all things, where the whole world is self, where there is no "outside" or other."
- Pat Phelan

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sky still dark this morning and the wind is howling like an angry beast caught in a trap. I'm back home after three days off and every time I started thinking about my to-do list of projects and my usual worries, I firmly banished my thoughts and went back to the order of the day--cooking, eating, cleaning up after eating, relaxing, walking against the gales, watching movies, chatting on the phone with relatives in the Midwest, playing with the kids, reading to the kids, playing games with the kids (Sketchy--lots of fun) petting the dogs.....you know, down time. On Christmas day here the sky was so blue I swear I didn't recognize it, so I'm curious about the color of today's skyscape.

I need to work on an editing project for awhile, which brings to mind this quote from the oh-so wise Voltaire: The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.

Have heart, be calm, keep writing and dreaming.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Across the street my neighbors have sprinkled white lights over their shrubs and bushes and I'm reminded of the fireflies of my childhood. Fog has settled over the valley and my gifts are wrapped, cookies are baked, and I'm getting ready to join my family later today. Meanwhile, a blizzard has hit the Midwest and it sounds like my parents are going to be snowed in today in their cozy home on a northern lake. They'd planned to drive several hundred miles to my sister's home, but I'm hoping they stay home so I'll be calling them soon. It seems to me that no matter where and how you spend Christmas or Hannukah, that you never need to feel that your celebration is hollow or some consolation prize because there is something soft and miraculous about this time of year.

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~Charles Dickens

And here is a link to a great interview of Dylan Landis Details are my Weakness.

Happy Christmas to all

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Solstice and first day of winter. Solstice is Latin for 'the sun stands still.' From the Writer's Almanac:

In the northern hemisphere, today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. ... It's officially the first day of winter and one of the oldest known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years, before humans even began farming on a large scale. Many of the most ancient stone structures made by human beings were designed to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun.

The January issue of National Geographic has a terrific article and pictorial of Scotland's Hebrides Islands and includes a stunning photo of Callinish, a circle of standing stones. Some of you might know that author Diana Gabaldon used standing stones found around the world as a central device in her Outlander series.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Smoky-looking skies this mornings and I've got a bunch of presents to wrap and cards to send. Last week I found myself way too wrapped up in politics and the health care reform vote and have been so concerned about our legislative process in this country and how it's influenced by corporate interests. I keep asking myself what each person can do to make a difference. There are always phones calls to your representatives and the White House, but I'm going to keep looking for more ways to be involved, be a voice. Also looking for a way to stay informed about the politics of our time, but still feel optimistic about life and the future of our country.....especially since this is Christmas week.

Here's a writing prompt:
Write about a time when you clicked, bonded, or fell in love. For an extra challenge, write it from the other person's perspective.

Have heart, stay calm, keep writing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Low stratus clouds tinged in silver this morning. I just wanted to recommend today's lovely poem from The Writer's Almanac. It's called Going to Bed by George Bilgere. Here is a segment:

The stars are halogen-blue.
The constellations, whose names
I have long since forgotten,
look down anonymously,
and the whole galaxy
is cartwheeling in silence through the night.

Meanwhile, keep dreaming, keep writing, and keep reading poetry.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

So it's evening and the rain seems to have stopped for awhile. Today I met for the last time with the writers in my critique group and they were fun, and talented and inspiring and funny. What else could I want from a group? Was dashing around buying a gift for my brother-in-law in Milwaukee, stopped at the post office for those flat fee priority boxes for mailing, and then met a writer friend for drinks. Arrived home all jolly and started wrapping and generally feeling smug about crossing off an item on the holiday to-do list when I realized that I brought home the wrong boxes. The ones I have are only meant for the military. In my defense the post office was low on boxes and I was trying to make it to my writers on time. Back out with the masses tomorrow--imagine me in a long postal line.

But I need to share this terrific list from Poets & Writers of the 50 Most Inspiring Authors in the World. And was happy to see Floyd Skloot on the list. A huge congratulations to Floyd and the others included. Have heart, be calm, keep writing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Human beings can't live without the illusion of meaning, the apprehension of confluence, the endless debate concerning the fault in the stars or in ourselves. The writer is just the messenger, the moving target. Inside culture, the writer is the talking self. Through history, the writing that lasts is the whisper of conscience. The guild of writers is essentially a medieval guild existing in a continual Dark Age, shaman, monks, witches, nuns, working in isolation, playing with fire.

When the first illuminated manuscripts were created, few people could read. Now that people are bombarded with image and information and the World Wide Web is an open vein, few people can read. Reading with sustained attention, reading for understanding, reading to cut through random meaninglessness - such reading becomes a subversive act. The writer's first affinity is not to a loyalty, a tradition, a morality, a religion, but to life itself, and to its representation in language. Ego enters in, but writing is far too hard and solitary to be sustained by ego. The writer is compelled to write. The writer writes for love. The writer lives in spiritual debt to language, the gold key in the palm of meaning. Awake, asleep, in every moment of being, the writer stands at the gate.
The gate may open.
The gate may not.
Regardless, the writer can see straight through it."

- Jayne Anne Phillips

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Steady rain this morning and world is soggy and gray. Last night I went to a friend's Christmas ships party. Before I moved to the Northwest I'd never heard of this tradition of decorating boats with Christmas lights and traveling along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers so that people can watch them pass by. We stood beneath umbrellas as the boats chugged past decked in festive colors, most featuring figures from convertibles to whales and salmons.

According to The Writer's Almanac today is Edna O'Brien's birthday. She was working in a chemist's shop in Dublin when she discovered a slender volume called Introducing James Joyce: a selection of Joyce's prose,with an introduction by T.S. Eliot. She later said: "I opened it to a section from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the Christmas dinner scene, with the blue flame over the Christmas pudding. Up to then, I had been writing rather fancifully, with a lot of adjectives. When I read that, I realized one thing: that I need go no further than my own interior, my own experience, for whatever I wanted to write. It was truly, without sounding like St. Paul, an utter revelation to me." To this day, Edna O'Brien keeps the book handy, its yellow hardcover now faded. Inside, she inscribed it: "A Book that taught me more than any other about writing. Purchased for sixpence in Bachelor's Walk in 1950 or 1951."

What book or author taught you the most about writing? What book set fire to your desire to write?

Monday, December 14, 2009

If I worked for a paint company as a person who branded color names, I'd call today's color Winter Sky and it would be placed among the various shades of muted grays. After a busy weekend I'm reading a client's manuscript this morning and there is no tension in the first 90 pages. This makes me so sad for the writer and for me as the person who needs to explain why this lack in a story is deadly. Tension keeps readers turning pages. Writers don't forget that you don't want happy readers, you want worried, uneasy readers. You want your story to grab their imagination and senses. You wanted reading to be an experience that they can feel in their bodies.

For writers in the Northwest, here's contest announcement from Ellen Waterston, Director The Nature of Words

The Nature of Words, Central Oregon's premier literary organization, announces the launch of its sixth annual literary festival with the call for submissions to the Rising Star Creative Writing Competition for young writers. The competition, now in its fifth year, is awarded at the literary festival, scheduled for November 3-7, 2010 in Bend, Oregon. Prizes will be awarded in fiction, literary non-fiction, nature essay and poetry in two age categories, 15-18 and 19-25. Winning writers will receive a cash prize, inclusion of their winning entry in an anthology, recognition in an awards ceremony at the November festival, and a scholarship to one of The Nature of Words workshops in their winning genre.

Submission Guidelines

The competition is open to writers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Competition genres include poetry, fiction, literary non-fiction and literary non-fiction/nature essay.
All entrants must be a member of one of the eligible age categories: ages 15-18 or ages 19-25.
Submitting writers who have won in the past two years may not submit in their winning genre(s).
Submitting writers may not have published a first book or chapbook, but may have had individual stories, essays or poems in print.
Submit each entry, accompanied by a short biographical summary, via email to risingstar@thenatureofwords.org. Poets may submit two unpublished poems (4 single-spaced pages, total); prose writers may submit one unpublished double-spaced piece of no more than 3,000 words per genre. "Publication" includes appearance on any Internet source except a blog. Use one inch margins, Times Roman typeface and 12-point type. Submissions must be in Microsoft Word format. Entries will not be returned, so entrants should retain a copy of their submissions for their records.
The author's name, mailing address, phone number, email address, genre of the submission (poetry, fiction, literary non-fiction, literary non-fiction/nature essay), age category, and word count must appear on a separate cover sheet with each entry. The author's name must not appear on the submitted entry.
Entrants' short bio should include information about themselves and their interest in/experience in writing.
Winners must submit a photo (head shot preferred) for use in publicity and the Event Guide.
Entrants must mail a check in the amount of $5 per entry (submission fee), payable to The Nature of Words and addressed to P.O. Box 56, Bend, Oregon OR 97709 or pay via the PayPal link at www.thenatureofwords.org/Donate. PayPal payments must include 'Rising Star submission fee' in the payment description.
Entries must be received in The Nature of Words email (risingstar@thenatureofwords.org) no later than 12 midnight on the submission deadline date of May 10, 2010. Entries dated after this date will not be read.

The Rising Star Creative Writing Competition is sponsored by Julia Kennedy Cochran.

For more information about the Rising Star Creative Writing Competition and The Nature of Words, visit www.thenatureofwords.org, email info@thenatureofwords.org or call 541.330.4381.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"I can imagine nothing in the world preferable to a nice, well-heated room, with the books one loves and the leisure one wants." Gustave Flaubert
Dust-colored skies this morning and so far the snow, ice, and freezing rain predicted for Portland have not arrived yet. Heat blasting in all the rooms and NPR on in the background with yet another story about Tiger Woods. So much speculation about why he did it---isn't that obvious?

But anyway, I wanted to post my latest news. I received an email from Gabrielle Moss, my oh-so helpful editor at Tarcher that my latest book Thanks, But This Isn't For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected has gone into a second printing. So my thanks to anyone who bought it or told friends about it.

Since the weather outside is going to be frightful I'm baking cookies with kids this afternoon and am looking forward to the warmth and smells of cinnamon and chocolate.

Stay warm out there and keep writing, keep dreaming.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Another morning of blue skies and cold temperatures but a storm coming in from the south is arriving later today....which means snow and ice which this city doesn't tolerate well. I've got my place decked out for Christmas and I'm going to bake more over the weekend.

I just wanted to call your attention tot he acceptance speech by
Herta Müller when she won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It's an amazing story of endurance. She said in part:

Can we say that it is precisely the smallest objects—be they trumpets, accordions, or handkerchiefs—which connect the most disparate things in life? That the objects are in orbit and that their deviations reveal a pattern of repetition—a vicious circle, or what we call in German a devil's circle. We can believe this, but not say it. Still, what can't be said can be written. Because writing is a silent act, a labor from the head to the hand. The mouth is skipped over. I talked a great deal during the dictatorship, mostly because I decided not to blow the trumpet. Usually my talking led to excruciating consequences. But the writing began in silence, there on the stairs, where I had to come to terms with more than could be said. What was happening could no longer be expressed in speech. At most the external accompaniments, but not the totality of the events themselves. That I could only spell out in my head, voicelessly, within the vicious circle of the words during the act of writing. I reacted to the deathly fear with a thirst for life. A hunger for words. Nothing but the whirl of words could grasp my condition. It spelled out what the mouth could not pronounce. I chased after the events, caught up in the words and their devilish circling, until something emerged I had never known before. Parallel to the reality, the pantomime of words stepped into action, without respect for any real dimensions, shrinking what was most important and stretching the minor matters. As it rushes madly ahead, this vicious circle of words imposes a kind of cursed logic on what has been lived. Their pantomime is ruthless and restive, always craving more but instantly jaded. The subject of dictatorship is necessarily present, because nothing can ever again be a matter of course once we have been robbed of nearly all ability to take anything for granted. The subject is there implicitly, but the words are what take possession of me. They coax the subject anywhere they want. Nothing makes sense anymore and everything is true.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Here's a link to a fascinating interview with author Tod Goldberg. He says in part:

There’s a romantic notion about what it is like to be a writer vs. what it’s actually like to write, which is of course an entirely different experience. So I think people have an idea that it’s a kind of life that is a purely intellectual pursuit where they could spend their lives telling the kinds of stories (or writing the kinds of essays, or constructing the kinds of pop-up books, or…) that they’ve always wanted to read and that, in process, they will be loved and adored and treated like a celebrity who, unlike, say, Paris Hilton, is famous for something intensely worthy. They probably think they’ll be invited to salons. There is a slight chance they imagine themselves in Paris during the Jazz Age. Certainly, there’s a belief that their life would be better as a writer than as a plumber or nurse or lawyer or dog-catcher or…well, you get the idea.

What they never seem to factor in—“they” being the people who tell me this sort of thing on a fairly regular basis—is that they’d actually need to sit down for hours and, you know, write. Writing is one of the few professions everyone thinks they could do. I blame the dreadful adage that “everyone has a novel inside of them” on this belief. Not everyone has a “specialty in thoracic medicine” in them or an “ability to understand what the knocks and pings in the average Honda Accord foretell in relation to the transmission” either. So I think people find this life seductive because it isn’t the life they have, but it’s one they can imagine having if only they had the time or the volition to sit down and write. But of course it’s a job like any other job when you get right down to it and sometimes, like at night when I can’t turn off the story, it’s enough to make you wonder what life as a dog groomer might be like.

I come from a family of writers—my mother was a journalist, my father was a TV newS journalist, my brother Lee Goldberg is an author and television producer and both of my sisters, Linda Woods and Karen Dinino, are authors, too—so I don’t feel like I’ve ever been seduced per se. All I’ve ever really wanted to do, from as young an age as I can recall, was to tell stories, to entertain people. And that’s still what drives me each day I sit down at the computer: an overwhelming desire to tell a story and to make someone feel something.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The morning sky is as blue as Paul Newman's eyes and we're in the midst of a cold spell. Love it! Yesterday I took a vow to slow down and savor the holiday season and so with that in mind went to hear Portland Baroque Orchestra perform Bach. And somewhere while the violins and cellos were producing their bright and mellow tones, I felt something in me unlock and ease.

So going to hang onto that sense as I go about my days and check off items on my constant to-do list. A friend just sent me Quarantine by Eavon Boland--I recommend that you Google it. Last week I spent some time at Jeanette Winterson's blog because she fascinates me with her capacity for language and the way she sees and experiences the world. Here is a bit more of her rich thoughts about poetry:

"Yes, I do think of poems as lie detectors, it's because the language has to be precise, exact, profound, and layered. Language isn't just about conveying meaning; it's also a metaphor, a way of saying many different things. That's what poetry can offer. In a poem, the language is always authentic. We live in a world of spin, where we find it very difficult to believe anything that we read or anything that we hear. Either we have to put up with that kind of chopped up karate syntax of the sound bite, which is what you hear on the TV, or a kind of verbal incontinence favoured by politicians.

When you go to the poem you find something which is exact, which is precise and which is true in the best sense of the word, that it is about an authentic emotion, or an authentic experience that really happened and is therefore passed on. So it's a place of trust. When you bring poetry into your life you find that it asks you not to lie, not to lie to yourself and not to lie to others, because art has a way of challenging our laziness, our apathies, our inertias and asking that we be better than we are. I think that regular contact with poetry works as a kind of homeopathic medicine and some trace of it still stays under your tongue so that when you next speak, you too are speaking with that precision, with that exactness, with that emotion, with that authenticity. We need, all of us now, to have that authentic voice and not to be seduced by the blandishments of spin."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Foggy as a Dickens novel here this morning and I'm declaring today the official beginning of the holiday baking season. Luckily, I've also just joined a gym again--so maybe I can salvage my waistline during the excesses of the season. I'm a big Cormac McCarthy fan but he's rarely interviewed. So I was happy to learn that he's in The Wall Street Journal. Here's the opening in the article:

"Novelist Cormac McCarthy shuns interviews, but he relishes conversation. Last week, the author sat down on the leafy patio of the Menger Hotel, built about 20 years after the siege of the Alamo, the remains of which are next door.

The afternoon conversation, which also included film director John Hillcoat of "The Road," went on 'til dark, then moved to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Dressed in crisp jeans and dimpled brown cowboy boots, Mr. McCarthy began the meal with a Bombay Gibson, up.

The 76-year-old author first broke through with his 1985 novel "Blood Meridian," a tale of American mercenaries hunting Indians in the Mexican borderland. Commercial success came later with 1992's "All the Pretty Horses," a National Book Award winner and the first installment of a Border Trilogy. Critics delved into his detailed vision of the West, his painterly descriptions of violence, and his muscular prose stripped of most punctuation."

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Writing Prompt:

Today on Facebook Jacqueline Mitchard describe the cold on her face like "rhinestone bees." What does the weather,especially the cold, feel like against your skin?
Skies are still dark here and I've got lots to accomplish today, tomorrow, and the days to come. All week we've had this rare, glorious almost-winter weather of clear skies, brisk temperatures, and winds howling down from the Columbia Gorge. And the moon last night was so mysterious and gorgeous it felt like you could launch into the sky to chase it down. On Tuesday night I took part in the Willamette Writers Book Faire. I'd been reluctant to go because I have a bunch of deadlines this week and I wanted to stay home and work. All day I wrestled with an urge to call it off. But I arrived toting my box of books and piled them up on a table, and said hello to the woman sitting next to me.

And then a kind of miracle happened as if I had stepped into the Republic of Words. Writers and readers, some I knew and some I didn't, kept coming up to me and saying hello and buying books and complimenting me on books and the column about writing I've been cranking out since 1998. And yes, that's a lot of columns. And yes, I do run out of ideas.

And they told me their stories. Of bad editors and books that aren't selling and hopes for books to come. It was a noisy as a swarming hive, and my brain was feeling rattled when a group of kids joined the fray. They belong to the Young Willamette Writers and meet each month while the main meeting is taking place. And they'd been assigned to interview writers about their careers.

Three girls interviewed me Elle, Constance and Jasmina--all fifth graders. And by coincidence I told them how when I was in fifth grade, living in a small town in Northern Wisconsin, Mr. Becker, our half-mad teacher would tune into a public radio show that was a creative writing class. And how because of these weekly assignments I started writing tales of monsters and castles and faraway places and got hooked on writing. The girls were so fragile and fine and shy. And small--I kept trying to imagine myself that small, and in love with words and stories. I gave them each a copy of my first book and urged them to keep writing.

If you read this blog you know I'm a big fan of salon.com and its writers and content. I especially appreciate their coverage of books, arts, and politics. They also feature a columnist Cary Tennis who writes Since You Asked in which people send him their thorniest dilemmas and he pens amazing answers of grace and enlightenment. Tennis has cancer and will be operated on and hospitalized for a month. He's a beautiful, humble writer and I would like to suggest that you might want to buy his books and print-on-demand books because he needs the money to get through all this.

Again, the link is at http://www.salon.com/life/since_you_asked/index.html?story=/mwt/col/tenn/2009/12/03/medical_imaging

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Books last for years and make a wonderful Christmas or Hanukkah gift. You can pass them around, read out loud to a child or friend,spark a conversation. This morning NPR featured Susan Stanberg talking to independent booksellers about their choices for the season.
John Banville, on the BBC, the morning after unexpectedly winning the 2005 Man Booker Prize for Fiction
'While thought exists, words are alive and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living.'

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Low, overcast skies this morning and I'm working on editing jobs and pinching myself because I cannot freakin believe that December has arrived already. Don't dare to think about all that must be accomplished this month.

Tip of the day: Do not send your first draft to an editor--the results will break your heart.

Second tip of the day: Check out the always-sassy Chelsea Cain writing at Storyfix--
What I Wish I Knew About Getting Published Before it Happened To Me I especially like her advice to carry a corkscrew, avoid red wine before speaking in public, and the consolation that it's normal to hate your copy editor. There is one copyeditor that I still cannot think of without fuming, but names will be avoided to protect the guilty.

Also, the piece below Chelsea's written by Bill Johnson on narrative tension is also great advice. Keep writing, keep dreaming, stay calm.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Skies are silver this morning and I'm emerging from the long holiday weekend with many tasks ahead this month, but also with determination to hold on to the quiet and peace of this season. As someone who is always doling out advice to writers, I love to note what other writers advise, especially those living in other times and places. With that in mind, here is wisdom from Vladimir Nabokov. I love what he has to say and suspect you will too.

Advice to A Young Writer
1.If possible, be Russian. And live in another country. Play chess. Be an active trader between languages. Carry precious metals from one to the other. Remind us of Stravinsky. Know the names of plants and flying creatures. Hunt gauzy wings with snares of gauze. Make science pay tribute. Have a butterfly known by your name.

2. Do not be awed by giant predecessors. Be ill-tempered with their renown. Point out flaws. Frighten interviewers from Time. Appear in Playboy. Sell to the movies.

3. Use unlikely materials. Who would choose Pnin as hero, but how did we live before Pnin?

4. Delight in perversity. Put a noun into the dictionary. Now we recognize the Lolita at every corner, see her sucking sweetened milk through straws at every soda fountain, dream her through all our fantasies.

5. Burn pedants in pale fire. Accept no fashions. Be your own fashion. Do not rely on earlier triumphs. Be new at each appearance.

6. Age indomitably, in the European manner. Do not finish your labours young. Be a planet, not a meteor. Honor the working day. Sit at your desk."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Even the most solid of things, and the most real, the best-loved and the well-known, are only hand-shadows on the wall. Empty space and points of light. Jeanette Winterson
Soot-colored skies this morning, but apparently about four days of sunshine are on the way. I just might get a chance to relocate more plants this week. NPR is broadcasting a story about Norman Rockwell's means of producing his art--he'd pose his subjects and settings and photograph them to capture the level of detail. Apparently his paintings are in vogue again and one recently sold for $15 million. You can see the photos that he used at npr.org/pictureshow.

I've been collecting quotes about writing and creativity for years and hope you find inspiration in these brief posts. Here is one by Charles T. Tart:

"In the depths of our minds are great treasures — but there is a problem in getting them. Our minds are like a lake on which a storm is blowing. The waters are constantly agitated. When you try to look through the surface of the lake to see the treasures in the depths, you generally can’t see them, or you may sometimes get a momentary, but generally distorted, glimpse of them because of the agitation of the water. What you think is here is actually over there, size and shape are distorted, etc. No way are you going to clearly see the treasures in the depths until you learn to still the waves by calming the storm. Until you learn to still that incredible agitation that is ordinary consciousness, agitation that is so habitual you hardly even notice it, you can forget about observing the really worthwhile stuff, the treasures that are inside your mind."

Be still, have heart, and keep writing.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts. We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need - not all the time, surely, but from time to time - to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember - the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived."
- Frederick Buechner

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fog this morning so the world is mysterious. I need to start cooking, but wanted to suggest that you might want to read The Thanksgiving Visitor by Truman Capote. I read it a few days ago for the first time in years and was charmed by the story and as always,admiring Capote the word spinner. Hope you all have a Thanksgiving filled with grace and plenty.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sunset came over the region with a swath of purples and violets. Another golden day is dwindling and I've been editing off and on. So can I just say this for upteenth (where does this word come from?) time: Fiction leaves out the boring parts of life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Skies are muted this morning and I’m tucking into several editing projects today and then going out to buy Thanksgiving supplies. Here’s something if you need a chuckle: Tom’s Glossary of Book Publishing Terms.

Some I’m especially fond of: EDITOR: A writer with a day job. ADVANCE COPY: A bound book that when opened by an editor will instantly expose an embarrassing mistake. NOVELLA: A short story that has not been edited.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Today was golden with sunshine and calm, the light casting a glow over the world in that odd, coming-on winter way that fools you into looking around, wondering at the season. Went out tonight to hear Jennie Shortridge at Annie Blooms bookstore. As usual, she was full of grace and insights and radiance. With the holidays coming, please support the books of writers you know (Jennie's latest book is When She Flew) and independent book sellers.

"Like it or not, when you're a writer, there's no escaping the writer's life . . . when it comes to the feelings, obsessions, and just plain worries that accompany any writer's efforts, there's no getting out. Regardless of career experience, advancing age, and sizeable amounts of therapy, there's no 'cure' for the writer's life.
As soon as writers commit to the writing of a thing, they embark on a journey through both an external world of crises and triumphs and an internal world of feelings and belief systems."

~ Dennis Palumbo

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dust-color skies this morning and am going to work on my new book for awhile before joining a friend for a walk. Today's Writer's Almanac has a gorgeous poem XI from Wendell Berry that perfectly describes the landscape here:

The bare branches of winter had emerged
through the last leaf-colors of fall,
the loveliest of all, browns and yellows
delicate and nameless in the gray light
and the sifting rain

Start your morning with a poem. Have heart, be calm, keep writing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'm up late after falling asleep watching Grey Gardens--this is the second time I fell asleep watching it. Trust me,the performances are amazing--it's just me. But I'm going to take advantage of this midnight quiet to write and send out a few emails. I was thinking about my columns I'm going to write to launch the new year and ran across this interesting quote by Philip K. Dick.

Dick whose novels have been adapted into Bladerunner and six other movies, thought deeply about human nature, the human condition, and a host of other questions. Between 1959 and 1964, at his creative peak, he wrote sixteen SciFi novels that were published, as well as mainstream novels that were never published, much to his dismay.

Dick wrote: “So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudorealities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later. Or at least that is what my editors hope. However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes that do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe--and I am dead serious when I say this-- do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The tall firs across the street are dancing in the wind, the sky pouting and sullen. Just wanted to extend a congratulations to the National Book Award winners, especially Collum McCann. And did you note T.J. Stiles saying,“the book lies at the heart of all of our culture.”Couldn't have said it better myself.
"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no 'brief candle' to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
- George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

‘Tis the season to write poetry
A conversation with Sage Cohen
author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry

As the holidays approach in a down economy, Sage Cohen proposes that poetry can provide a meaningful way forward. Author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry, Cohen sees poetry not just as an art form, but a way of life. Following is our conversation about the possibilities of poetry today.

It’s the holiday season. Why poetry? Why now?

In today’s economy, many people are seeking alternatives the typical holiday spending frenzy. The good news about hard times is that they challenge us to find creative new ways to give, share and create meaning. Poetry can be a powerful instrument for conjuring such alchemies.

These days people have less cash than usual. How can poetry help?

Poetry can’t change our bank statements, but it can change the way we think about wealth and prosperity. In fact, it is my lifelong relationship with poetry that has taught me that income is one thing, but prosperity is frequently something else.

For example, a few years ago, I heard Mary Oliver speak. She reported that a critic of her poetry complained that she must be independently wealthy to have so much time to lie around in the grass and ponder nature. This made the poet laugh, because the critic was reporting in an underhanded and confused way about a truth that Oliver tapped into long ago: the act of lying in the grass and listening to the world IS wealth.

The truth is, we don’t need to go anywhere special to tune in to poetry. Our lives are already inundated with sensory information that is the raw material of poems. All we need to do is slow down, pay attention and write down what moves us, intrigues us or stirs our curiosity. This does not require an inheritance or a 401K. It simply requires a willingness to welcome the abundance that is already ours, and to follow the golden thread of language wherever it leads us.

What poetry can give us is something far more valuable than money could ever buy – it gives us ourselves. Poem by poem, we write our souls into existence. Weighted in words, the spirit that animates us becomes palpable. By the same token, each poem we read offers a small window into the human condition, in which we may better recognize some glimmer of our own being.

The world seems to be falling apart around us. Why should we be focused on poetry when it can’t help change anything?

You’re right; poems may not stop the clubbing of baby seals, domestic violence, child trafficking, dog fighting, genocide, conflict in the Middle East or whatever it is that feels most difficult on any given day. But as the motorcyclist must lean into the turn to prevent a fall, poems become a kind of machinery of transport, giving us a context for leaning into the pain that we meet and safely navigating through it.

My father always said, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” And poems are the treasures that can be exhumed from those undesirable experiences. Just think all of the great, poetic opportunities for understanding that lie coiled at the heart of every mistake, heartbreak, disappointment, and regret.

What if you were to literally look to your poetry practice as a way of moving through what pierces you to the core? What injustices might it help you examine unflinchingly? What epicenter of pain or grief might it help you enter and consider? How might you relax into the universal truths of divorce, death, intolerance, and change, and make a poem offering that illumines these truths with compassion?
How do you recommend that readers get started with their holiday poem-making?
I always remind people that their ordinary lives will offer more than enough source material for poetry. The following exercises are designed to get folks mining their own daily experience to see what inspired thoughts and language might be awaiting them below the surface.

1. Choose an activity you do regularly that is the absolutely most routinized, unremarkable event of your day. (Mine would be doing dishes.) Write down the answers to these questions about it:

• Notice the physical feeling of this routine. Which muscles are involved? What kind of rhythm or tempo does it involve? Are you cold or hot, energized or depleted?
• How do you feel emotionally when you do this?
• What are the smells associated with this activity? (I use lavender soap, so my sink smells like a French garden.)
• What do you see when engaged in this routine? (I look out at the butterfly bush and magnolia tree in my back yard. I enjoy watching meals erased from plates and glasses.)
• Pay close attention to your thinking. What images and ideas bubble up as you are doing this activity?
• How does the time of day or weather or location (indoors vs. outdoors, your home vs. someone else’s home, summer breeze or snowfall) affect your experience?

2. What wildlife, plants and trees do you see out your window at home, at work, or en route? What do they look like, feel like, sound like? What are their names? What are the visual cues and references in your home and/or workspace?

• Make a list of the 20 things you come into contact with most.
• Write down something else in the world that each of these 20 things remind you of. For example, The red teapot reminds me of the robin red breast. The worn wood of the mirror over the sink reminds me of the door to Grandpa’s barn. The curlicue pattern on the silver platter makes me think of storm clouds.

3. Think of someone you see regularly in passing but do not know well, like your mail carrier, barista or neighbor. Write a poem that imagines what their life might be like:

• Who do they love?
• What have they lost?
• What do their pajamas look like?
• What are their aspirations?
• What do they eat for breakfast?

4. Explore your holiday archives:

• What was your biggest holiday surprise?
• What holiday is most meaningful to you and why?
• Who do you yearn to see during the holidays?
• How has Santa (if you have a relationship with Santa) satisfied you and let you down over the years?
• What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened around the dinner table with your family at holiday time?
• What outfit comes to mind when you think back on past holiday celebrations?

This should give you a foundation of source material to start playing with. Circle a few words or phrases that interest you, and let those be the kindling for your poetic fire.

Don’t know where to go next? Freewriting can be a useful way to take your ideas and language a little further into the realm of the poetic. Set your timer for 10 minutes, sit down with your notebook, and keep that hand moving across the page, no matter what, without stopping, for the entire 10 minutes. You’re not trying to be brilliant here – just to get loose and let words start coming without thinking too hard. The more you practice, the looser you’ll get. And the looser you get, the more your language will surprise and delight you.

I’d like to send readers off with a thought about poetry and holiday cheer

Egg nog, move over. Rudolph, there’s a brighter light guiding our sleigh tonight.

I’ve never experienced any holiday cheer that rivals the state of grace that poetry invites into our lives. That is why I often give poems I’ve written as holiday gifts. I print them on pretty paper, place them in an attractive frame and presto – the most treasured holiday gifts I’ve ever given only cost me the time I spent creating them.

Try it! You just might get hooked.

Wishing you all a peaceful and poetic holiday season.

* * * * *

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World (Queen of Wands Press, 2007). An award-winning poet, she writes four monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Sage has won first prize in the Ghost Road Press poetry contest, been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and been awarded a Soapstone residency. She curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. To learn more, visit www.sagesaidso.com. Drop by and join in the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at www.writingthelifepoetic.typepad.com!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A huge storm passed through here in the night after battering the coast with mighty winds. The sky is showing lots of blue, but it won't last. For anyone writing mystery and suspense you might want to check The Writers Police Academy. I've met Lee Lofland and can recommend that this former detective, turned author, not only knows his stuff but is lots of fun. He consults with authors and for television and maintains the blog site The Graveyard Shift.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The morning sky is so gray I'm reminded of the terrible Dust Bowl days and all those people who stayed behind in states most affected, choking on dust, struggling to scrape by as the topsoil blew off and rains wouldn't come.

Busy, lovely weekend, but now I'm settling in to finish a bunch of projects. Last night my book club met to discuss Jess Walter's The Zero, which I thought was the perfect title to sum up the ridiculous plot and the protagonist who we never came to know. One of our members loved it and I'm fascinated how people are revealed through their reactions to books. Anyway, after dessert (apple walnut cake) we chose our next book, after wading through a pile of choices.

And one of the contestants was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. It's then that I recalled this essay Diaz wrote in O magazine Becoming a Writer.


Friday, November 13, 2009

There's some blue sky showing this afternoon and I'm heading out to run errands. Last night I went to see Ben Franklin: Unplugged at Portland Center Stage and want to recommend it and remind folks that it's still playing until the 22nd. Also, my interview with Susan Johnston of TheUrbanMuse is now available. And you know, so far, Friday the 13th ain't scaring me a bit. Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I was out tonight listening to my pal Marian Pierce and other writers at Marylhurst College read from their work. Lovely evening of ideas, language, chatting...makes me feel rich.

So I'm still at my computer answering some e-mails and wanted to pass along a link that Kerri Buckley just posted on Facebook by Michael Geffner 10 Places to Help Find a Home for Your Writing. Some great tips and links here. Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Oh and by the time I went out for my walk earlier there was a steady downpour so I didn't walk as long as I wanted....It's that time of year when I need to take advantage of every moment when it's not raining to head outdoors.
Cloudscape is a steely blue and I'm going for my walk soon. Thanks to all the veterans out there and their families for all they give and do. The jazz station has been on all afternoon (the better to think with my dear) and finally decent tunes are coming forth. Here's a quick writing prompt for you:

It's November, a Monday at dusk and a person is walking down the streets of Seattle (or Portland, or London) and although the person knows better, because it's autumn and a rainy climate, a sudden, violent storm catches him/her by surprise and without an umbrella. He/she dashes into a beauty salon/barber shop for shelter and upon walking in finds that there are several people engaged in a loud, growing louder, argument. They barely flick a disdainful look in the interloper's direction, but then things get really heated....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I was out walking just before dusk and huge, black, scowling clouds were descending,bullying the sky. I was walking toward home gazing at all that darkness overhead and asking myself what it reminded me of. And I decided it reminded me of power.
Here are a few thoughts from novelist, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk who has spent 10 hours a day alone, sitting at his desk, writing:

In order to be happy, I must have my daily dose of literature. In this I am no different from the patient who must take a spoonful of medicine each day. When I learned, as a child, that diabetics needed an injection every day, like most people, I felt bad for them; I may even have thought of them as half dead. My dependence on literature must make me "half dead" in the same way. When I was a young writer, especially, I sensed that others saw me as "cut off from the real world" and so doomed to be "half dead". Or perhaps the right expression is "half ghost". I have sometimes even entertained the thought that I was fully dead and trying to breathe life back into my corpse with literature. For me, literature is medicine. Like the medications that others take by spoon or injection, my daily dose of literature - my daily fix, if you will - must meet certain standards.

First, the medicine must be good. Its goodness is what tells me how true and strong it is. To read a dense, deep passage in a novel, to enter into that world and believe it to be true - nothing makes me happier, nothing binds me more to life. I also prefer it if the writer is dead, because then there is no little cloud of jealousy to darken my admiration.

The older I get, the more convinced I am that the best books are by dead writers. Even if they are not yet deceased, to sense their presence is to sense a ghost. This is why, when we see great writers in the street, we treat them like ghosts, not quite believing our eyes as we marvel from afar. A few brave souls approach the ghosts for autographs. Sometimes I remind myself that these writers will die soon, and that once they are dead, the books that are their legacy will occupy an even higher place in our hearts. Though of course this is not always the case.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Morning skies are changing every time I look up from my computer but right now they're about as cheery as a haunted graveyard at midnight. According to the Writer’s Almanac it’s the birthday of the poet Anne Sexton and the astronomer Carl Sagan who said, "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

Yesterday I talked with a writer who had sent me a book proposal that was incomplete and unprofessional. She seemed like a nice person, but almost every time I raised a point, she disagreed, or explained how other writers had given her contrary advice. There’s a lot of crappy, inconsistent, or strange advice lobbed at writers these days. And lots of people who set themselves up as experts. In fact, one of the reasons I wrote three of my books was to add a voice of sanity or expertise into the writing world. So be careful out there and check the credentials of the people who are advising you.

Here’s a link to an article about the habits of novelists that will make you weep or giggle, How to Write a Great Novel. Although, I must admit I get my best ideas in the shower and while walking. Here's the URL in case the link doesn't work http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703740004574513463106012106.html

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The morning sky is the color of dust--which reminds me, time to clean this joint today. I've already posted this on Facebook, so want writers out there to know about a blog post by Aprilynne Pike who wrote a post called Firsts. It's about how to set your goals as a writer and break into print and break out as a writer. It's about thinking big, going for the gusto, and the wise and simple advice that if your manuscript isn't selling, you write another one. And oh by the way, her first book Wings hit the number one spot on the Bestseller List, it's been optioned to be a movie starring Mily Cyrus and she's only 28.

Happy Sunday everyone, and you know the drill: keep writing, keep dreaming.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Skies are changing every hour and I'm sure another deluge is about to descend. Last night I had a few hours to kill between my critique group and meeting a friend, so I stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner. I was eating alone so passed the time writing in my notebook and creating a word web for the new book I'm working on.

A few tables away a married couple was eating and the woman yammered away, as if afraid of the silences in her marriage, her husband's occasional replies a low murmur. And there was an old woman sitting alone waiting for her friend. She had tousled, wild, white hair with a pink scalp showing through and wore sturdy shoes and pants, and sat with her feet planted wide.And I realized that old women in restaurants fascinate and scare me. I always want to know if they're widows or have spent a lifetime alone. They look brave and vulnerable and solitary. I notice they almost never bring books, but just sit and savor their meals, looking around, perhaps eavesdropping like I do. Maybe I'm afraid this solitary life is my future too. But I was curious when her friend arrived and they chattered about their layers of clothing (they both belonged to the same book group) and then the friend, a younger woman by a decade or two, began describing her upcoming trip to the Chelsea Flower show and other travels.

The new issue of The Writer magazine arrived yesterday and an archive article by Donald M. Murray is called 10 habits of a SUCCESSFUL WRITER. And one of his habits is called The habit of completion--something I've been writing about in my new book. He writes: A piece of writing is not finished until it is submitted for publication as many times as necessary for it to appear in print.

I also wanted to let you know about an interview with John Irving at bigthink Advice to Aspiring Novelists: Don’t Shoot Yourself
Oh, and besides eavesdropping, I had a breakthrough while noodling in my notebook.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The sky is promising rain and I need to prep for my afternoon critique group and toss a load of laundry into the washing machine. I just wanted to post a few updates here from the writing life.

First, Jennie Shortridge's When She Flew is now available. I've posted a review at amazon and in my November newsletter. She's going to be at Powells in Portland on November 12th and Annie Blooms on the 23. For her full schedule go to her website.

Also, Hallie Ephron has a new book,
The Bibliophile's Devotional. For more information on Hallie and her books go to http://www.hallieephron.com/ Hallie's smart as a whip(although as I write this, I'm wondering where that expression came from. The crack the whip makes in the air?) and her books and insights are always worthwhile.

Finally, for Portland-area writers- Writers in the Grove Present:
An afternoon of original readings
2 PM, Sunday, Jan 10, 2010 Theatre in the Grove
2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove, OR
Donations accepted to benefit Theatre in the Grove and the Forest Grove Senior Center
AUTHORS -- short (<3 minute) submissions wanted Deadline Dec. 7, 2009
For application to submit or for questions, e-mail writersinthegrove@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

From my Division of Shameless Commerce--well, maybe that's not quite accurate. What I want you to know that there’s still time to sign up for this inspiring, empowering, and thought-provoking workshop on November 7.

Writing a Book that Makes a Difference
9:30- 4:30
PNCA 1241 NW. Johnson
Cost: $75
A workshop that instructs writers on how to write a book that comes from our deepest passions, and communicates emotions, caring and concern. We’ll discuss how our books can touch a reader’s imagination, life, and heart. A wide range of examples from various genres will be used to illustrate the discussion and a reading list and generous handouts will be supplied.
Topics to be covered:
 What makes a novel, memoir or nonfiction book matter to readers.
 How to make meaningful statements that make peoples’ lives better without preaching and sentimentality.
 How to identify your audience.
 How to choose your format—inspiration, fiction, memoir, or how-to.
 How to focus on the central theme, question, or issue.
 How to hone your writing voice “the music of what you mean in the world.”
 How to break down a project into doable segments.
 How themes are handled in fiction.
 How narrative is used in all forms of writing.
Please contact Jessica at jessicapage AT spiritone.com or 503 287-2150 for more information or send a check to P.O. Box 920141, Portland, OR 97282-1141.

Monday, November 02, 2009

After a morning creepy with fog, the sun is out this afternoon and although I should sit here and crank out my newsletter, I’m heading outdoors to work in my flower beds –I’ve got plants to move around--and bulbs to plop underground while the world is somewhat dry. And yes, the Halloween party was great fun, but I’ve never been so thankful to slip out of my heels (which I rarely wear these days) and uhm, foundation garments and slop around in my bathrobe when I arrived home. Plopped on the couch and watched an episode of True Blood.

And here’s a fabulous quote for fiction writers Hilary Mantelin a recent article in The Guardian: “A novel arrives whether you want it or not. After months or years of silent travel by night, it squats like an illegal immigrant at Calais, glowering and plotting, thinking of a thousand ways to gain a foothold. It’s useless to try to keep it out. It’s smarter than you are. It’s upon you before you’ve seen its face, and has set up in business and bought a house.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/oct/17/hilary-mantel-author-booker

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Hallows Eve,
Clouds are massing to the north, washing machine is sudsing away, and I've got a basket of miniature candy bars poised near the front door for costumed callers. All day every time I stepped outdoors the crows seemed to be conspiring to riot. And I just saw a small flock swoop past--wonder what's up in the crow community. Trick-or-treaters are coming to the White House tonight and retailers are reporting that costume sales are up. I'm predicting a lot of Sarah Palins out tonight.....

Now I must paint my nails because I'm going out later as a Mad Men chick and need to figure out how to make my hair look like the sixties....Does anyone remember Dippity-Do? I could use a bit.

And just for fun--heard on Prairie Home Companion a few minutes ago, the winner of the Six Word Short Story Contest: Returning your zucchinis. Accept this fruitcake.

Watch out for goblins.....and don't forget to set your clocks back.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I woke this morning and in my dream was my Aunt Kathleen, who has been dead almost ten years from cancer. She was speaking to me as I awoke and I lay there for a long time thinking about what she told me. If you have problems remembering or hanging on to your dreams in the morning, it helps to stay in the same position as when you awoke. Meanwhile, sky is dusky colored and rain is predicted for the next few days. I still have lots of gardening chores to accomplish this fall so I’m hoping for a spate of drier weather.

Something odd has been happening with my body clock. I seem to be writing my new book in the middle of night. Wait a minute—that last sentence was imprecise. I’m writing much of my new book in the middle of the night. I’m typically a morning writer, but my body clock has spun off into an entirely different pattern and instead of fighting it, I’m sitting here, working away. And making progress. Planning on passing it along to my agent at the end of November.

File this under “I wish I would have said this.” It’s Margaret Atwood speaking at the Whiting Foundation which was honoring the new winners. Here are several paragraphs from this wise and witty writer:
“On this occasion it seems that I’m to act as a kind of symbolic dignitary – writers can’t be actual dignitaries, as they are by nature too undignified – and wield a virtual wand of blessing, like the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, or wave a banner from a casement window as the young troops ride out to do battle. Gird on your word-swords, I must say to them! Buckle up those adjectives! Make sure your plots are tight, your epigrams sharp and pointed, your lyrical intervals lacking in bathos. Be vigilant – there are ambushes everywhere. On one side lurk the critics, getting ready to sneer and denounce, or worse, to praise for the wrong reasons; on the other side your parent figures, who always wanted you to be doctors, and who have furnished themselves with a list of writers such as Checkhov who were writers, yes, but doctors too: why can’t YOU do that? This is not helpful.

And on the third side is a stack of bills – bills for things like the rent – that whisper in their papery voices about the impossibility of making a living doing what you most wish to do. Alas, there is no inevitable connection, positive or negative, between talent and money. A bad book can make piles of money, a good book none. Or else a lot. It does happen. But nothing can be foreseen, because writing is among other things a form of gambling. You can win in one throw. You can lose disastrously. Fortune is a notoriously cruel goddess.

This is the moment for a bracing quote from Tennyson: “Doubt Not, Go Forward – If thou doubt’st, The Beasts will tear thee piecemeal.” Fare well, I will say to the anointed ten – the fate of our language is in your hands, and it is a crucial fate – for if these the future guardians of it should falter or disappear, and if even our human language should fail us –should it become a rusty and untrustworthy tool – where will that leave us?”

And by the way, Atwood’s newest book is Year of the Flood. Haven’t read it yet, but sounds intriguing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Human beings can't live without the illusion of meaning, the apprehension of confluence, the endless debate concerning the fault in the stars or in ourselves. The writer is just the messenger, the moving target. Inside culture, the writer is the talking self. Through history, the writing that lasts is the whisper of conscience. The guild of writers is essentially a medieval guild existing in a continual Dark Age, shaman, monks, witches, nuns, working in isolation, playing with fire.

When the first illuminated manuscripts were created, few people could read. Now that people are bombarded with image and information and the World Wide Web is an open vein, few people can read. Reading with sustained attention, reading for understanding, reading to cut through random meaninglessness - such reading becomes a subversive act. The writer's first affinity is not to a loyalty, a tradition, a morality, a religion, but to life itself, and to its representation in language. Ego enters in, but writing is far too hard and solitary to be sustained by ego. The writer is compelled to write. The writer writes for love. The writer lives in spiritual debt to language, the gold key in the palm of meaning. Awake, asleep, in every moment of being, the writer stands at the gate.
The gate may open.
The gate may not.
Regardless, the writer can see straight through it
- Jayne Anne Phillips

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The sky has lots of blue showing at the moment, but yesterday at this time it was raining, make that, thundering buckets from the sky, then breaking into mist with a few brief glimpses of washed-out blue. I was out of town for a few days and am surprised at how far behind I am in things, including the sky.

I was teaching up in Snohomish County, Washington which seems populated by a lot of engineers and people who work at Boeing or Microsoft. The town I was in lies north of Seattle, east of the glorious Puget Sound, dotted with forests and suburbs, and abuts the northern Cascades. Rolling foothills and mountains in the distance, hillsides dusted with copper and gold and russet. Named after the Snohomish tribe, it seems to be a fast-growing place where towns stretch into the countryside, eating up the farmland.

I haven’t traveled much in the past year since I’ve been recovering from a car accident, so it was delicious to meet new people, and to be on a train again. I was working on a manuscript as I traveled along, the weaving car and countryside rolling past were dreamlike and cozy. I also ending up chatting with passengers and met an older woman, Sally.

Sally is newly widowed after 53 years of marriage and it was the first time she’d traveled alone. She was nervous, so we hung out for part of the trip, chatting about our lives, and I made sure she landed in the correct seat and stowed her suitcase when we left Seattle. And she was so grateful she was weeping. She was shaking with nerves as we headed down the tracks, teeming with travelers and bustle. I soothed her to like I do six-year old Paige when she’s scared of what’s coming next. It seemed like such a small thing to help her, and I cannot get her out of my mind.

I often joke that train travel is romantic, with the far-off-and lonely-sounding whistle and the sense that an adventure or encounter lies around the next bend. It feels like Cary Grant or an exciting stranger can end up sitting next to you. When I left Portland a group of travelers were dressed in Victorian travel garb and they looked so appropriate in their sumptuous coats and feathered hats that I longed for a costume of my own. So it wasn’t Cary this time, but a frightened woman with a big heart trying to find her way and courage in a new landscape.

But enough about the trip—I want to tell you about this amazing essay by Andrew Chee about learning from Annie Dillard. And I just have to mention that it warms my heart that another writing teacher cringes at the word soul.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The sky is the color of doom and the drumming rain would make a perfect background for a horror flick. Last Saturday I took part in panel at Marylhurst University about how to sustain your creativity. It was fascinating listening to the other panelists talk about their writing backgrounds and to note that we all had an interest in science.We were asked about our first influences and interest in writing and I talked about growing up in a small, northern town and spending lots of time outdoors. Of snow piled up in winter, frost gracing the windows, summers spent under an endless blue sky. And then there was the eavesdropping part of childhood. We lived in big old farmhouse and the upstairs floors had metal grates in them so heat could rise from below.

Because my parents had six kids and we had the biggest house, often on Saturday nights my mother's family would gather for a party. My brother and I would hang out near the grates as cigarette smoke rose from below along with laughter and the songs they sang together, practicing harmonies. I've been an eavesdropper ever since and believe that the habit of awareness is the best tool for writing.

I started writing as soon as I learned how to form letters and words, mostly poems. But my interest in being a writer was firmly launched in fifth grade because of our strange teacher named Mr. Becker. We were all afraid of him because he walked around with a pained look on his face as if he was about to burst into tears. He was emotional and high strung and the church organist and choir director and he wore baggy wool suits from an earlier era and a crew cut and thick rimmed glasses.

In his classroom once a week he tuned into a radio program. There was an old, oversized radio in the back of the room in a walnut cabinet. An ancient woman with a voice scratchy with age would assign a weekly writing project. Then we'd complete them and read them in front of the class. And although I had been playing make-believe for years, it was one of the first times I fashioned stories.

I also talked about other writerly habits I've added over the years--my writing notebooks, keeping a word list, and walking. What first made you a writer?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sky a pearly color this morning but it’s supposed to be sunny later. Colors here have not yet peaked and the palette is magical. Here’s the first paragraph from a terrific piece by Emily St John Mandal at The Millions, Working the Double Shift. In it she muses about how to keep writing while you need a day job that demands your time and energy. It’s a topic my friends and I have long discussed.

It begins: “Most novelists have day jobs, even the published ones whose books get good reviews. Writing is my second career, and one of the very few things that it has in common with my first career—contemporary dance—is the necessity of maintaining secondary employment. I’ve been supporting myself since I was eighteen years old: I’ve made sandwiches and cocktails and uncountable lattés, put price stickers on wine glasses, supervised the unloading of trucks at 7am on Montreal winter mornings, sold everything from clothing to furniture to vases in three cities, run errands for architects, scheduled meetings, designed and coded websites, written reports and managed offices; all the strangely varied occupations that a person accumulates when the primary objective is not to establish a career, per se, but just to pay the rent while they’re working on a novel.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A steady drum of rain coming down. Last night I was up past midnight and needed to get up early because a new stove was delivered. The old one was lousy for baking so I'm happy to have this small area of life solved. But I'm sort of bleary-eyed this morning and already longing for a nap. I've been having this fantasy of creating a writing prompt from the jumble of crazy emails that end up in my spam file. This means writers would need to include luxury watches, diplomas, Viagra, or some form of penis enhancer, and speaking of enhancement, larger bosoms, software updates, vitamins, lottery winnings, in a single story......
Here's another fabulous quote:
“Are you born a writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.
Do it or don’t do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human reach one millimeter farther alone its path back to God.
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, Winning the Inner Creative Battle

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

“I learned... that 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.” Brenda Ueland

Monday, October 19, 2009

Trying to name the color of the sky--it's a silvery pewter,with a bit of quartz blended in. Busy weekend and so much fun including the heated and prolonged debate last night over the themes and ending of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle among my book group members. Brain is still reeling this morning and I had to go to www.absoluteshakespeare.com to review the plot and ending of Hamlet. You need to read this book.

But on to another book that sounds intriguing and fun and complicated. Last summer I met Melissa Hart at the Willamette Writers Conference. And was immediately taken with her --she's the sort of stylish, spunky, hip type that makes you wonder what is happening inside her head and of course, makes you want to read her writing. She teaches journalism at the University of Oregon and now her memoir Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood Girl is in print. She's going to be at Powells on Hawthorne in Portland on Thursday at 7:30 and at Elliott Bay Book Co.in Seattle on Friday at 7:00. Here is a link to a review which should whet your appetite:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

If I could name the color of the sky I'd call it Introspective Autumn Afternoon or Sky in Flux or When the Heck will the Next Storm Roll In? or Greyscale Done Right or I WISH I WAS A POET. It looks like a far-away train whistle sounds---both broody and sad, but still full of promise. So it's bold and sort of wild and I like it. But then fall is so gorgeous I can hardly stand it. Fall makes me want to write. A lot. I'm in the midst of a really busy weekend, and am heading off to several gatherings in a bit, so tomorrow I'll check in and tell you about the oh-so interesting panel I was part of yesterday at Marylhurst University. The topic was how do you sustain creativity and it was aimed at graduates of the writing program. So more to come...And oh yeah, THE PACKERS WON!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This is a reminder that there is still time to register for my Power Writing and The Plot Thickens workshops in Monroe, Washington on October 24th.

I've been teaching since 1991 and over the years have developed a lot of classes and workshops. The Power Writing workshop is one I’ve taught all over the country to fiction writers, memoirists, editors, and journalists. It’s a workshop I’m especially proud of because it will change your approach to writing as the day progresses. Lots of hands-on exercises that will help you energize your sentences, boost your powers of observation, and prove the powers of figurative language. There will be a special focus on nailing sensory descriptions and details.

Then in the afternoon we’re going to talk about plot. You’ll learn about the three-act structure on which stories are based, the underpinnings of fiction, with an emphasis on plot points so that you’ll see stories, including films, in a new light. The information is also relevant to memoir writers. Let’s not forget and subplots, because we’ll discuss those too—how many you need, why you need them, and how to braid the whole plot together.

And, of course, you’ll be able to apply these insights to your own stories. As a developmental editor I’ve learned that most writers have great ideas. However writers too often blow the deal with plots that don’t launch with enough pizazz, or have enough twists, reversals, and surprises, or endings that conclude the story with resonance.

Besides the fact that the information is helpful, we're going to have fun. Generous handouts will be included.

Cost is $80.00 for both workshops and your response would be much appreciated. To Register: Contact Lisa Stowe at 425-923-3844 or email lmstowe@yahoo.com. Mail checks and contact information to PO Box 213, Index, WA 98256. Space is limited and pre-registration is required.
Gloomy skies. Someone asked me on Facebook about we talked about last night at Blackbird Wines. We talked about the practical aspects of the writing life--that you need to be tough, because it's a tough business, that you need to dip into the river of language every day, and that if your writing is bogged down, you probably aren't having fun with it. The writing part of you isn't the accountant part of your personality--it's the part of you that remembers what it's like to jump in the ocean waves or sail homemade boats in a puddle. Now, are all aspects of writing fun? Goodness no, of course not--not revising and not waiting for a publisher to give you a go-ahead on your manuscript....but the main aspects are.

"Writing is one of the most easy, pain-free, and happy ways to pass the time in all the arts. For example, right now I am sitting in my rose garden and typing on my new computer. Each rose represents a story, so I'm never at a loss for what to write. I just look deep into the heart of the rose and read its story and write it down through typing, which I enjoy anyway. I could be typing "kjfiu joewmv jiw" and would enjoy it as much as typing words that actually make sense. I simply relish the movement of my fingers on the keys. Sometimes, it is true, agony visits the head of a writer. At these moments, I stop writing and relax with a coffee at my favorite restaurant, knowing that words can be changed, rethought, fiddled with, and, of course, ultimately denied. Painters don't have that luxury. If they go to a coffee shop, their paint dries into a hard mass."
- Steve Martin

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"The question authors get asked more than any other is 'Where do you get your ideas from?" And we all find a way of answering which we hope isn't arrogant or discouraging. What I usually say is "I don't know where they come from, but I know where they come to: they come to my desk, and if I'm not there, they go away again.'"
-Philip Pullman
Sky still dark here and I'm up early, working on my book proposal. Just wanted to remind people living in Portland that I'm going to be speaking tonight at Blackbird Wine Shop at 4323 N.E. Fremont at 7 p.m. I'm going to talk about avoiding rejection and keeping your sanity and sense of humor while writing. As I just typed this I realize what a tall order this is....
Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Clouds are breaking up, heater in my office is on, feet are covered, and the seasons they go round and round. Just spent 3 hours working on my book proposal and I'm still so excited about this book.

Just a little gripe for a moment, then I promise to be charming....or something not grumpy. I was looking up some info and ran across a review of my new book in which the reviewer complained about my use of gender as in I used Man vs. Man to describe a common plot structure. Now, I've been a feminist for a loooonggg time, probably longer than the reviewer. Attended many Women Studies classes and believe in women/chick/girl power equality in all its permutations. But when it comes to copyediting and style standards, often the publisher weighs in on how they want gender to be depicted. Four of my publishers did not want me to use "he or she" type references because they're simply awkward. In fact, in one book in the introduction I expressly told readers I was using "he" as a shorthand for both male and female. But in this the 21st century is this all still necessary? Can't we understand that we don't need to think in terms of gender, but instead in terms of humanity and not get our hackles up about every little thing?

Here's today's writing tip: Commit on a daily basis

A first draft of a memoir or novel runs about 80,000-100,000 words. So do the math. Then come up with a daily or weekly number of words that is meausurable, doable, but at the same time stretches your abilities. And here is where the math is irrefutable: the more words you commit to each day, the faster your story will get written. National Novel Writing Month happens each November and thousands of writers sign on to commit to 50,000 pages in a month. And they pull it off.

But back to you. If you write 1000 words a day, 7 days a week, it will take you about 100 days to write a novel. If you write 1000 words, Monday through Friday [or five days total] it will take you 140 days. 500 words a day, five days a week and it will take 280 days. A page a day [250 words] will take you about 400 days to write a novel. Then comes editing and rewriting. Do the math and commit.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm up before dawn working on a new book. I was in Manzanita over the weekend teaching a workshop and basking in the glories of autumn and hanging out with writers. I drove home yesterday from the coast and the day was so golden and fine that it still lives in me and I'm filled with the colors of this season, scarlet, gold,russet,pumpkin, amber, lemon, persimmon.

Writing can take you to the deepest parts of yourself and along roads of discovery that you never dared imagine. Writing is also is a wonderful occupation, but in all honesty, it’s scary as hell. I suspect that all writers are afraid. Of sitting in a room, alone, with a cold-eyed computer screen blinking as accusation, “What are you doing here?” Then there are the maddening times when you’re wrestling with a poem or story, and you can’t describe a thing, and it’s flat and vapid and stupid. You swear you’re going to lose your mind before you get it right and decide that you must be crazy to write at all. Crazy because you spend hours struggling to find perfect words to fit perfect places, while you fight off your doubts and grapple with your need to be flawless.

So you sit down to write and find that you’re scared. Of starting, of trying, of putting your bruised heart on the line and words on a page. But I believe that we can quell this fear, put it beside us like a sleeping dog, and write despite our fears, our doubts, our cowardliness.

You must be wondering, if writing is such a pain, why bother? The answer is easy: because writing is good for us. It deepens us, strengthens us, teaches us how to be honest and patient and loving. Writing is both a practical skill and a way of connecting to ourselves and a bigger source. Becoming a writer will unleash our creativity, and in turn, creativity brings meaning to our lives. It all adds up to something wonderful. . . . .

I’ve been teaching writing and creativity classes for years, and I’ve watched my students apply writing to their simplest or noblest desires and seen the transformation that follows. I’ve heard hundreds of students read a piece of their history or some precious invention for the first time in front of the class. My students begin by apologizing, explaining that what they’re about to read isn’t good, that they’re new to writing, that they haven’t had enough time to work out the kinds. Sometimes I think if I could collect all these apologies, they’d be tall enough to topple a skyscraper. The class is forced to sit patiently, squirming through their stumbling confessions, and then the room becomes still and church-like and words start spilling into the air. There’s a sort of collective that follows when they finish reading and something subtle shifts inside all of us. I wasn’t raised Catholic but I imagine that the absolution that follows these readings is a little like going to confession. Good for the soul. Cleansing. Revealing. I’ve noticed that even if we hate the student’s writing, we like that he or she had the courage to write it anyway.

Writing makes your life better because you get to speak your truth and turn a discriminating eye at this weird planet and tell other people just how you see things. Most people who write regularly, who make writing a crucial component in their existence, like themselves better than when they’re not writing. It’s really pretty simple. I know it words because it worked for me. If you write regularly—not matter what the subject or format—you’ll shift your muddled worries to clarity, your vague hopes to reality, and your denial to crystal truth….

But how do we get out of bed each day, calling ourselves writers and settling ourselves into that sacred spot where words come forth? Instead of putting off our dream, we write anyway. We write no matter what’s going on in our lives. We write despite our cowardly heart rattling loud enough to shake our bones. We write despite distractions and agonies. We write when our family or the ghost of Mrs. Schultz, our third-grade teacher, looms at our shoulder and whispers that we’re no damn good.

Then we write some more. Then we set some goals and eventually stuff our precious words into an envelope and mail it to a cold-hearted stranger. And return home from the post office and do it all over again. Until we die. Because writing feels so good when it flows, when you’re on a roll. And it brings meaning into our lives. Really. Because once we conquer our fears, writing is about the best legal fun there is. It’s right up there with sex and dancing, standing high on a mountain, or playing with children who belong to someone else. From Writing Out the Storm, Jessica Page Morrell

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Glorious blue skies again and I'm feeling virtuous since I vacuumed and washed my car and then dropped it off for minor repairs and maintenance. As I was walking home I spotted little white flags marking off a neighbor's lawn. They said "Invisible Fence." So here's the writing prompt: What is the invisible fence in your life? What about your character's life?

Be well, keep writing.