"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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thought for All Hallow's Eve

"Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.

Most horrible of all sights are the little unpainted wooden houses remote from traveled ways, usually squatted upon some damp grassy slope or leaning against some gigantic outcropping of rock. Two hundred years and more they have leaned or squatted there, while the vines have crawled and the trees have swelled and spread. They are almost hidden now in lawless luxuriances of green and guardian shrouds of shadow; but the small-paned windows still stare shockingly, as if blinking through a lethal stupor which wards off madness by dulling the memory of unutterable things."
~ H. P. Lovecraft, The Picture in the House

Line by Line: How to Rewrite, Rework & Reword taught by Jessica Morrell
November 10, 9-5 Tabor Space, 5441 S.E. Belmont, Portland, OR Cost: $75
Every good writer is also an editor. The tough thing about self-editing is learning what to keep, what to lose, and what to leave well enough alone. This workshop will give you perspective on all of that.  We’ll cover the all-important level of line editing—or how to make each sentence and paragraph sing, how to choose words for potency and resonance, and how to transform clunky sentences and paragraphs into smooth beauties. You’ll learn how to tighten baggy sentences, turn weak verbs into strong ones, and use parallel construction. We’ll be line editing examples throughout the workshop including the participants’ first paragraphs since everything hinges on them. The aim is to polish so the pages are not only easy to read, but a pleasure to read. Generous handouts and cheat sheets will be supplied.  We’ll cover:
  • How to line edit for elegant, powerful sentences.
  • How to edit so that your manuscript appeals to today’s agents and editors.
  • What to leave unsaid and how context shapes our decisions about language and imagery.
  • 10 ways to give less than perfect sentences a makeover.
  • How to wrangle word usage, looking out for misused words, overused words, crutch words, and words which do not belong.
  • When to chop clutter and excess prepositions, amp up language, learn where to place emphasis and word grenades.
  • How to spot flatness, lack of variety and lack of verve.
  • How to retool the language throughout so that it’s more evocative.
  • How to correct basic grammar and punctuation problems.
Space is limited and registration is required.
Payments can be made by check or through PayPal  (below)

Meet Polly Campbell

I first met Polly about 15 years ago in a class. She's one of those people you never forget--a bright, curious, fun, yet driven, hard-working, always-trying-to-become-better writer. She was freelancing at the time and has since gone on to write for a bunch of national publications, is a blogger for Psychology Today, she teaches at the Daily Om and writes a beautiful, inspiring blog imperfectspirituality.

Polly's first book Imperfect Spirituality:Extradordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People is coming out tomorrow  and she's heading out on a book tour. For a chance to meet her, check her schedule here. Portlanders, she's going to be at Annie Bloom's Books on November 1. I've read the book and it's a winner. Full of wisdom, heart, and simple (as in elegant) ways to live a spiritual, thoughtful, and less-stressed life. And as a writer, I especially appreciated that the voice was pitch perfect and the advice so practical and doable.  There are some people who really deserve the success that comes their way. Polly is one of them.

Q: Can you talk about the process of turning your passion/interest into a how-to book?
A: For me writing has always been an exploration. As a magazine writer, I’ve intentionally picked topics that I personally want to know more about. I am passionate about spirituality and personal development because I think the better we understand our brains and our bodies and our spirits, the greater we can do in this life experience. The more fun we can have, the deeper love we’ll experience and when we are living in those states, we are able and willing to uplift those around us. As I began to find new ways of doing this myself, I wanted to explore it further, really figure out how to make it practical and  share that with my family and my friends and the others I love. The book came out of my desire to really understand this stuff and share it with others.

One of the challenges of turning this material into an accessible book for others was that I had to find a way to make many intangible things, like faith and compassion and self-acceptance, real. This stuff all creates concrete and tangible results in our lives, but they aren’t visible and often, until we practice, they can even be tough to imagine. I wanted to convey the power of these practices, but writing about faith is almost as tricky as living with it.

Q: How do you research when you're writing a nonfiction book? Your favorite sources?
A: Spirituality and personal development can seem so woo-woo and out there, that I really felt like I need to make this tangible and practical for people. That's also how I live with it in my life. It is practical, it is about helping you with the upset when some crazy driver cuts you off, or your husband forgets to call. I wanted to let people know that this isn't some book from a Guru's only perspective. So, I felt it was essential to include research from some of the world's top psychologists and thought leaders. Science people.To do that I did lots of web research, reviewed studies from universities and scientific journals, did scores of phone interviews with the experts. I also pulled from personal experience – practices that work for me --  and I talked to real people who are actively using this stuff every day to live more inspired lives. Their stories are amazing. Many of the sources came from other sources. I'd find one individual and ask who else could talk to me about a particular topic. Friends of friends turned me toward some fabulous stories and ultimately all these disparate pieces came together.

Q: Any advice for writers on balancing parenthood and writing? 
A: Both require commitment, patience, flexibility, good humor – and in my case the occasional martini. But, I really don’t think there is any such thing as ‘balance.’ I think you can feel grounded and that means the sense that you are stable and engaged and connected to the earth and the experience of living on it and in it no matter what comes. That’s what I’m going for. As far as balance, I don’t have much. My hours and energy and time swing back and forth. Sometimes my daughter needs more of what I have and I’ll have days where it’s all about helping her get over a cold, or making sure the homework gets done, or planning the class party, or making soup and planning movie night. Other times, everybody is kind of doing their own thing and my energy shifts to more of the writing work. While writing the book, I worked long hours, every day for nearly three months. My husband pitched in, my daughter was awesome and it felt great to throw myself into my writing like that. But, I wasn’t balanced. Then the book was completed and I swung back toward my family and the household demands. The only thing I know is that every day I will both write and parent and I’m grateful for both.
Q: How did you manage the consistency and authenticity of the voice in Imperfect Spirituality
A: I stayed really aware of my audience and even picked out an individual who fit in my ideal demographic -- smart women who are raising or have grown children who want to live a more meaningful, less stressed life.  Each time, I felt myself straying from my authentic voice, I imagined sitting down and talking about this stuff with her over coffee. Or, better yet, margaritas. That helped me return to my voice. I was very conscious of it. I think the voice in this book was essential to making the material accessible, down-to-earth, doable.

Q: How do you take risks with your writing? 
A: First I don’t think about taking risks, I simply consider where I want the story, information, insight to lead. The ideas I'm trying to convey are always the most important aspect to me. I want them to be understood and often that leads to the structure and anecdotes and details and research I'll need to use to make that happen.

In the beginning it's very organic, not a sit-down-at-your-desk kind of thing, but a process of feeling my way into it. But, then I do sit down and begin sometimes with a loose outline, sometimes just by jumping into the writing.

Then, I follow that beginning by freaking out a little bit, because it's almost always clear that to convey the Big Idea, I've got to share an aspect of myself and my experience, or come up with a different form or a new thought. This is risky and scary. But, I don't know another way to do it just yet.

Then, I just get busy. I trust the idea will unravel as it needs and when it feels risky or different, I feel like I'm in a place of creation and expansion. Instead of producing anxiety at this stage then, I feel excited.
Q: Your number one advice to writers in 12 words or less?
A: Stop making excuses. Do the work, be okay with wherever it leads.

Q:Pasta or sushi?
A: I’m a pasta girl. Carbs anyone?

Q: What books are on your nightstand?
A: Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

Q: What's next for you?  
A: I'm headed out on a West Coast Book Tour for Imperfect Spirituality and hope to meet real, live people. After months alone in a room with a desk and computer, it will be fun to hear what people think about the book and to hear stories of others. I'll continue working on my blog imperfectspirituality and doing my magazine pieces and speaking to groups on how to feel better about the lives we are living. And, I hope to write another book...mulling some ideas now in the backroom of my brain.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Keep a journal — not a diary, unless you want to keep a record of your daily doings, but a journal, a place where you record images, ideas, favorite passages from your reading, insights, overheard bits of conversation, drafts and random notes. The journal is your practice room and root cellar."~ Scott Russell Sanders

Monday, October 29, 2012

Quick Take: Worthy

Your characters need to be worthy of a reader's interest. No dullards allowed. No almost-fun or could-someday-become fascinating types allowed. No normals allowed. Well, maybe you can toss one or two into the cast for contrast. Bring on the quirks, the jerks, the nasties, and the vengeful. Bring on the mighty, the hormone-fueled, the full-bodied, full-throated protectors, avengers, savages,  seekers and hell raisers. Or make your protagonist Hermione Granger- smart and loyal. Or  Katniss Everdeen tactically brilliant. Or Jo March plucky, Lisbeth Salander brilliant and wily,  Huck Finn adventerous, and Olive Kitteridge prickly and feisty.
Memorable one and all. (And yes, I know that Hermione isn't officially a protagonist)

Think All Star Wrestler,  not church usher (unless he's a murderer in his spare time).  Now of course, not every protagonist needs to wrestle and shriek and save the day. But in every scene, somehow tension is beaming off the character like a weird gamma ray and all protagonists are in some way willful.

Bring on the kid characters who are so endearing and misunderstood and delightfully oddball that you're sure seventh grade will be a nightmare. So of course you need to keep reading. Bring on the misunderstood, maligned, maladjusted misfts.....we want to save/help/know/redeem them. Bring on the characters who are in so far over their heads that breathing becomes difficult. Set the odds higher than the farthest galaxy. In fact, send them to the farthest galaxy or Oz or the Capitol of Panem or the farthest reaches of the Shire. 

But a worthy protagonist is one who just won't let us sleep. He/she follows us into our dreams, invades our fantasies and slips into our hearts.

And your protagonist--your star--must be a leader. As in he can lead the troops over the Himalayas, solve the murder, stop the wedding, rob the train, lead the calvary, or escape certain hell.  He or she is likely pushy, determined, won't take no for an answer. He or she has attitude, spunk, opinions galore and most of all, an agenda.  He doesn't meander through the story, he pushes forward toward a tangible, possibly impossible goal. Now, your lead player can start out the story as a doubter, a dillydaller, a I-don't-dare-try-this type. But even when he or she doesn't seem up to the task, there will also be something fascinating or redeeming or sexy about the lead. Then before long,  the  doubts must be replaced by heroic pursuits, moral dilemmas, and growth.

Your protagonist must be worthy because when things go wrong, which is what fiction is all about, the protagonist will somehow set them right. Bring balance back to the world that became unbalanced in the first story events. Your protagonist must bring it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo Reminder

Writers--National Novel Writing Month is coming up in less than a week.
Cannot believe it's almost November and time to write our asses off. For more information go here and sign up. It's fun, it's productive and you'll be amazed, surprised, and gratified at just how many words you can produce in a single month.
Portlanders, a gathering is happening tomorrow (Saturday, October 27) at Multnomah Central Library from 2-4 in the U.S. Bank Room.

Bring nibbles. Meet new friends. Get motivated.

A Successful Author Builds a Team

I'm sitting here alone in my office. Outside my window the sky is ashy  and the tall firs at the park are like silent green towers. The house is quiet except for the occasional rumble of the furnace kicking in. I've just jotted down a list of items that need to be accomplished in the next week and taken chicken breasts out of the freezer to thaw. Next comes a shopping list because we're bringing a course to a dinner party tomorrow night. Then back to work on a memo to a client and a column I'm working on.
At moments like this, when the world is drizzly and lonely looking, I need to remember that I'm not alone. That I'm connected to a community of writers and friends. Here's some excellent advice from Dan Blank at Writer Unboxed on the topic.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thought for the day (on fiction structure):

"The real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason. In fact, more often than not, the quester fails at the stated task.So why do they go out and why do we care? They go because of the stated task, mistakenly, believing that it is their real mission. We know, however, that their quest is educational. They don't know enough about the subject that really matters: themselves. The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge. That's why questers are so often young, inexperienced, immature, sheltered. Forty-five-year-old men either have self-knowledge or they're never going to get it, while your average sixteen-to-eighteen-year old kid is likely to have a long way to in the self-knowledge department." ~ Thomas C. Foster

Monday, October 22, 2012

Add caption

Quick Take: Endings

Start with a crisis  
Plunges the protagonist into the Dark Night of the Soul which is filled with despair
And forces a decision to overcome, carry on 
Leads to action that brings on the climax 
Explodes the external (and usually internal) conflict 

And answers the story question.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Polly Campbell

The author of Imperfect Spirituality will be my guest at

All Women's Radio.

We'll be on at 8 a.m. Pacific time, Monday, October 22.
Polly is a polished, smart, full of heart writer who has become wise.
We're talking Obi Wan Kanobi stuff here.
Please join us.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thought for the day

"Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music-the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself."
~ Henry Miller

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Oregon Historical Society is sponsoring a competition for the best diary or journal kept between now and September 2013.  Prizes are $1000 in the adult category and $500 in the junior division (17 and under).  All submissions will become part of the OHS library collections.  For further details and entry forms, please see http://www.ohs.org/research/library/diary-contest.cfm
We welcome your submissions!

And Just for Fun

Listen to how authors pronounce their names here at TeachingBooks.net

What 5 Scary Books Can Teach You About Writing

Find the article here
My suggestion is that any time you read horror or suspense, note how the author is using setting and mood to increase tension. Then borrow those techniques.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
I still have a scholarship for the Deep Fiction: the Anchor Scenes workshop available. You'll learn how to include the must-have scenes in a story.
It's happening this Saturday in Manzanita---a lovely, lovely coastal town.
Contact me for details.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lidia Yuknavitch Interview

Soon. On All Women's Radio here at 8 a.m. Pacific time.
We'll be especially  talking about writing and risk taking. Also, check out her latest book, Dora a Headcase here.
You can find more Lidia here.

Keep writing, keep reading, have heart

Sunday, October 14, 2012

amazing ( in the best and old fashioned sense of the word)
LIIDIA Yuknavitch interview
Monday, October 15, 8 a. m. (Pacific time)
http://w4wn.com All Women's Radio

Join us.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Scholarship available
I have a scholarship available for the upcoming Deep Fiction: The Anchor Scenes workshop I'm teaching in Manzanita on October 20th. Please contact me for information and tell me about yourself.

Quick Take:

 Backstory is everything that happened to your character before the opening paragraphs of the book. It's a combination of upbringing, socioeconomic status, distant events and recent events. That’s a lot of baggage, but it’s vital to developing your characters, so focus on one or two key events that shaped the characters into who they are when readers meet them. Who or what has wounded your character? What secret shame do they carry? What are they struggling to overcome? What are they most afraid of? What will they fight to protect or fight to avoid?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

All that matters is what you leave on the page.  Zadie Smith

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

If You're Looking for an Agent

TWO opportunities

1. Harper Voyager, a science fiction and fantasy imprint,  is accepting unagented manuscripts for two weeks--through October 14th. You can find the submission portals (for the US, UK, and Australia) at this link.

2. Over at Miss Snark's First Victim The Third Annual Baker's Dozen Agent Auction--Dates and Guidelines. Starts October 30. Submit log line and opening and 14 agents will outbid each other.
Ready, set, go!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Tip from Art Plotnik: Word keeper extraordinaire

Every day use a new word in an email. 

He writes in The Elements of Expression, Putting Thoughts into Words: "Speaking in many voices--a trait that might have gotten one burned at the stake in earlier times--is a sweet privilege of modern Western culture and one that offers new freedom in expressing the multifacted self."
Some words gathered from Elements: pithy, awash, catharsis, snuff, snub, keen,loudmouth, courtly, guzzle, maw, goad,smoldering, fission, spur, florid, massacred, ghoulish, callously, famine, purging, wagonload, earth muffins

The heart of his advice: Read--Listen--Savor--Keep a Journal.


Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Listen in

Tomorrow morning (October 8) I'll be talking writing with the word guru himself, Art Plotnik.

8 a.m. Pacific time
Find us here at All Women's Radio: http:w4wn.com
I'm again guest hosting Susan Rich Talks.Will post the link later in the week.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Quick take: naming names

Choose names for characters with the care of first time parents who have been trying for a baby for years. Think about how Dickens and  JK Rowling collected unusual names now added to our vocabulary: Serverus Snape, Tiny Tim, Hogwarts, Scrooge, Pomona Sprout,  Pickwick, Albus Dumbledore, The Artful Dodger,  Voldemort. Names transport the reader more easily than most other device.  Names can brings thematic coherency and richness to a story. But don’t just gather a bunch of unusual names. Give them a connection to a place, time, culture, ethnicity, class to add creative depth to your story.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


If you hear voice within you  that says 'I cannot paint', then by all means paint and that voice will  be silenced. VanGogh