To Blog or Not to Blog

too blog

“My blog is a collection of answers people don’t want to hear to questions they didn’t ask.”
― Sebastyne Young

Disclaimer: This post has not one thing to do with blogs for marketing, sales, self-aggrandizement, having a pity-party or even using a blog for therapeutic expression. So turn back now if this is what you are looking for.

I just wandered through Google pages looking at what has been written on the Power of Blogging. You see, I think blogs can be powerful. But, most are not.  The only useful tip I found was one that had to do with statistics proving that more people trust a blog post and its writer than mainstream journalists. I find that very interesting and totally in keeping with why I think blogging is power and a great avenue for creativity and expression.

So, you can find a score of articles on positioning yourself, gaining marketing email lists, branding and sales but what I want to talk about is the almighty sword of the written word. The world of blogging is usually focused on a goal, driven by getting viewers to sell a product, idea, book, work of some sort. But on the other end of the spectrum are vanity blogs, blogs that just throw open the windows to someone’s life who is a stranger and can range from journal entries to rants.

It made me sad when I caught myself pretending that everybody out there in cyberspace cared about what I thought, when really nobody gives a shit. And when I multiplied that sad feeling by all the millions of people in their lonely little rooms, furiously writing and posting to their lonely little pages that nobody has time to read because they’re all so busy writing and posting, it kind of broke my heart.”  Ruth OzekiA Tale for the Time Being

After wading through blogs that are like reading your daughter’s diary and then wanting to put it back in the nightstand drawer wishing you didn’t know that her heart is broken, what she thinks about my cooking, her rant on rules and being totally misunderstood, I feel like a bit of voyeur into people lives I don’t even know. So I don’t move in either of those directions when reading or writing a blog.

With our freedom of speech indeed becoming less free Blogs that are well written and have clear, good words to convey are a gift to many. Bloggers have a chance to wield words that can change thinking, change hearts and minds and anchor important truths that never see the light of day in mainstream media. Having a voice and making it heard is what blogging can be all about. And with every clear voice that wants to add awareness or good to our world, there is a ready-made audience of people waiting to hear you.

This kind of blogging as a change agent is not about followers or revenue even though after reading, Julie and Julia and seeing how one blog driven by one woman’s passion created an entire new life for Julie, you can see the possibilities. Julie did not have the mindset that she in fact was going to change the world of cooking, meet Meryl Streep, write a book, be cast in her own movie and become a writer, she simply told the truth.   Then truth-telling took on a life of it’s own.

Blogging can simply be something that inspires you, allows you to write without restraint, expands your creative repertoire and only needs one very essential ingredient: Honesty, down to the bone.

I think that blogging is about transparency, showing up fully and saying it all with the deepest awareness that there is at least one human being out there that will be affected by what you write. Knowing this keeps you writing with integrity. When you write this way, those without a firm grasp on their own voices find you, are inspired as well and if you have a subject matter that is timely, your blog is energy being cast out into a hopeless world.

I have stumbled “accidentally” on voices of people who are blogging where just one sentence changed me, opened some part of me and moved me. If you think that you have nothing to say, think again. All you have is something to say, all you have are your feelings, your ideas, your intentions and your own unique way of saying whatever moves you. Someone is simply waiting for you to say it. That’s power.

“Every time you post something online, you have a choice. You can either make it something that adds to the happiness levels in the world—or you can make it something that takes away.” Zoe Sugg

blg to change the world

 

 

 

Writer’s Block Demystified

garfield

Writer’s block “is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which a writer loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.”

Now that I read this it sounds like some category found in the diagnostic manual for psychologists to refer to, like paranoia or phobias. Is writer’ block some condition that they just might be coming out with a new drug for? Surely not. But writer’s everywhere have a fear of the dreaded WB anyway.

I hear from countless writers that they struggle with writer’s block, wait for the moment it strikes like a migraine headache or simply live in fear that one day they will be in the final stretch of writing a novel or a story and be stricken down by the an inexplicable moment when there are simply no words. So I thought I would take a few minutes to debunk this mystery and myth.

I am not saying that this does not occur for many writers. But the writers it does not ever occur for are those who write from inspiration and passion. When a writer is not engaged with the subject or the story, then writer’s block may become an inevitability, just like boredom. Staring at the page with no words coming and then getting sweaty palmed is only a symptom that there is no creative edge happening, no inner fire pushing the words out onto the paper and that instead the mind is in analytical mode.

Writer’s who never experience writer’s block are those who are inside of their writing, channeling the words, the characters and the stories in ways they don’t even know where the words come from, with little concern for editing till the final draft. And the key being that the writing they are doing is not a brain job it is a heart song. Now that may feel foreign to those who write for a living and for other people as part of a paid job. There is little room for being personally inspired when you are critiquing a medical journal article or court reporting. But when you sit at the page simply because you are busting with energy to see what will happen, what scene will write itself, you anticipate which muse will take control and you allow expression to be the goal.  That is when writer’s block is not an issue.

Yet, for a writer to commit at this level, to allow intuition, passion and story to run the show and allow the mind to go on vacation for a little while, or at least till the final edit, miracles happen. Writer’s block is about only one thing: Not knowing what you are inspired and moved to write. When you locate that in your own intuition and act on it no matter whether you know the destination of your writing or not, you will write like the wind.

writers block

Do You Have a Writer’s Heart?

heartbrken writers

“A writer’s heart, a poet’s heart, an artist’s heart, a musician’s heart is always breaking. It is through that broken window that we see the world…”― Alice Walker

Author, Alice Walker changed the way I see my animals in life, especially my cats in her groundbreaking book, The Temple of My Familiar. That was back in 1989 when we were all enamored with polyester and pleather and she was weaving magic with words and pulling us into subjects that would change how we see the world. The Temple of My Familiar was an ambitious and multi-narrative novel containing the over-leaved stories of Arveyda, a musician in search of his past; Carlotta, his Latin American wife who lived in exile from hers; Suwelo, a black professor of American History who realizes that his generation of men had failed women; Fanny, his ex-wife about to meet her father for the first time; and Lissie, a vibrant creature with a thousand pasts. And, her quote lingers with me still.

norman rush

Mark Nepo, author of The Exquisite Risk writes about the same thing. About how the heart is the most critical part of writing. “Very quickly, when the heart is broken open, we are exhausted of our differences. We don’t try so hard to keep up needless boundaries and are forced to realize we are all the same, and this allows us to touch and be touched more directly. Things we thought that mattered don’t. I know once my heart is opened, I can find the courage to lean into the place where I am broken, to lean into that opening, letting life rush in and touch me there, even though that place is incredibly tender. I’ve discovered over time that the rush of life into the tender place where we are broken is the beginning of resilience.” It is also the beginning of an exceptional writer.

And it is just this relentless courage to write from our broken places that makes a writer stand out from the crowded writer’s circle. Those books, articles, poems and memoirs that stop you in your tracks and make you want to read one sentence, one page over and over again are not always about the writers talent to craft words. It is usually that they have taken a candle and allowed themselves to go deep into their own stories, feel their wounds, compile their learning and relive the pain. The very definition of courage for an artist.  They illuminate all of their own truth right there on the page for everyone to read. To write from these places assures the writer that they are listening to the most powerful muse: Themselves. This level of honesty and raw writing is a challenge for many writers. But without it, we skim over life on the page, we water down truth to something that mirrors our culture at a superficial level and do not allow for the mystery of our own lives and our broken hearts to lead the way for us as writers. When we can, each of us will feel the palpable difference in what words we craft, the depth of the stories we chose to tell and we find that once the plunge into the crack of our own hearts has occurred, we become the bravest writers possible.

sylvia plath

 

 

 

Costs of Self Publishing

self publishing
I am getting a lot of questions about self-publishing.  The blog http://www.thewritelife.com published a piece that covers the nuts and bolts of self publishing which I think is very comprehensive. Check it out.

How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book? 4 Authors Share Their Numbers

You want to self-publish your book, but budgeting for the process is more challenging that it looks. The numbers you’re hearing from experts regarding the costs of self-publishing are all over the board.  Are authors really managing to release quality books without paying for professional editing, design, marketing and other services? Or are you going to have to dig into your savings and fork over thousands of dollars to make sure you release a great book? How much does it cost to publish a book?

To assuage these common concerns, we spoke with several top self-published authors about what they spent to release one of their books. They’ve shared real numbers, as well as why they chose to invest in certain services, to help you decide how best to allocate your investment during every stage of self-publishing.

Ready to learn what it really costs to self-publish?

The self-published authors we’ve interviewed

In addition to her freelance writing expertise and two traditionally-publishedmystery series, C. Hope Clark is the author of the self-published non-fiction book The Shy Writer Reborn.

Catherine Ryan Howard is author of two travel memoirs, Mousetrapped andBackpacked, and a guide to self-publishing, Self-Printed. She blogs about self-publishing and more at Catherine, Caffeinated.

Since she quit her corporate job and published her first book about the experience, Joanna Penn has been a self-publishing powerhouse. She’s built a career as an author-entrepreneur, sharing resources for other authors at The Creative Penn and self-publishing New York Times and USA Today best-selling thriller novels as author J.F. Penn.

And there’s me, Dana Sitar. I share resources, tips and tools for writers atWritersBucketList.com, and I have self-published two collections of essays, a variety of infoproducts and the Amazon Bestselling ebook A Writer’s Bucket List.

Remember to think of the cost of self-publishing as an investment, not a cost. [A book is] an asset that earns you money long-term. – Joanna Penn

How did we do it? Here’s the breakdown of costs for Hope’s nonfiction book The Shy Writer Reborn; Catherine’s second memoir Backpacked; Joanna’s first novel, Pentecost; and my ebook A Writer’s Bucket List. All dollar amounts are listed in USD.

How much does it cost to publish a book?

How much does editing cost?

Editing — which includes developmental editing, content editing, copyediting and proofreading — can make the difference between a good book and great one. For a quality, impactful book, you need more than a proofread or spell-check of a first draft.

Beta readers and/or experienced developmental and content editors will help ensure your book shares your message or story coherently, and a strong copyeditor will help you make every sentence pop off the page.

To keep costs low, think outside the box and reach into your network. Make the most of your money, effort and time by working with a genre-specific editor who understands your voice and brand. Not all editors are created equal!

Hope:

I used beta readers from my critique group and authors I knew. I had one author dislike the book, suggesting I write it in the format used by Writer’s Digest books (she published with Writer’s Digest Books), and [I] just rescinded my request because I did not want [that look].

Catherine:

It was nonfiction so I felt developmental editing wasn’t worth it (the events really happened, so I thought I was safe enough relaying real events while leaving out the boring bits!) and then I hired a copyeditor. She went through it line by line and then she did a proofread afterwards. I also asked a couple of friends to proofread it.

Approximate cost: $600

Joanna:

Even avid readers of fiction don’t know how to structure a book, so for the first book,  [it’s a good idea to use a] structural editor. I also rewrote later on with feedback from more editors after publication. For Pentecost, I used five different editors [multiple structural editors, a line-editor and a copyeditor], so that cost the most of all the books.

[On the sixth in the ARKANE series now the process is:] Get to a good second draft myself, then send to my editor for structural and line edits, two passes by the editor, rewrites, then send to the proofreader before publication.

Cost: $1500 per book for one editor and one proofreader

Dana:

I first shared the book with beta readers from the Writer’s Bucket List community for structural feedback.

For proofreading and copyediting, I hired new writers who would benefit from the editing experience and offered pay plus a mention at the blog and in the book.

Cost: $60

The costs of cover design

To develop an author brand, you want your cover to not only sell your book but to make readers immediately think of you. Book cover design is a unique craft – it takes more than InDesign skills and knowledge of fonts and colors to create a cover that achieves your goals.

As if that wasn’t enough, you also want your cover to stand out and be legible in crowded pages of tiny thumbnail images. It’s a tall order!

Look for quality designers who are just getting started in their careers and develop a relationship early on (the top recommended designers are usually booked quite far in advance!) The Book Designer’s Monthly Ebook Cover Design Awards are a great resource for cover design tips and finding designers who specialize in your genre.

Hope:

I hired a book cover designer (who happened to be my web designer) to design two covers: ebook and print.

Cost: $250

Catherine:

I used Andrew Brown of Design for Writers, who I had used before. I was one of Andrew’s first clients, so I always get a good deal from him. His prices now are, I think, around [$240] for ebook only and [$360] for the ebook “front” cover and a full CreateSpace paperback cover as well.

Joanna:

This is my other big expense [after editing]. I met Joel Friedlander of The Book Designer and paid him as a pro for book cover design for my first book, but he doesn’t do it anymore. I met Derek Murphy at CreativIndie when he was starting out and developed a relationship because of my platform [at TheCreativePenn.com].

Dana:

I DIYed! I had a big learning curve to overcome, and I went through three iterations of the PDF cover before landing on one I was comfortable with. Then I changed it again later when I published the Kindle edition (with great feedback from the Ebook Cover Design Awards).

I design all my covers in Photoshop, which I owned previously, so I don’t consider it a publishing cost.

Adding illustrations, photography and graphics

While it’s easy to disregard these additions to save money and time, custom images on your cover or throughout your book add a unique touch that gets readers talking. Forging a relationship with an artist is also a cool way to give your brand its own flair throughout your career.

We’ve recommended 99designs in the past for affordable, quality cover design, but Joanna points out that the site is also a great resource for custom illustrations!

Dana:

I hired a cartoonist friend to do illustrations for the book, and it’s one of the best decisions I made! The illustrations have always gotten great feedback from reviewers.

Cost: I paid her $50 down and share 10 percent of direct sales (about $1 per book).

Handling inner layout, formatting and ebook conversion

Second to cover design, a conventionally formatted book interior (print or ebook) is your key to avoiding a sloppy DIY look.

Many small details (that you might not think of) will red-flag your book as amateurish and sully the reader’s experience, so you want to do your research (or hire a pro who’s already done theirs) on the standards of book interior design.

To DIY typesetting for print, try one of the free templates from CreateSpace, or a paid option from Book Design Templates.

Hope:

I did the print layout myself after much research and study of formatting guides. I queried my Facebook fans when I reached one impasse, and they fixed me right up.

As for ebook [conversion], I turned that over to BookBaby. I bartered advertising for publication/preparation of my ebook.

Typical cost for ebook publishing package: $299

Catherine:

I did [inner layout] myself, using Microsoft Word and the templates you can download from CreateSpace. If you have a straightforward interior layout, I think this is a good place to save some money by doing the work yourself.

I did [conversion] myself for this book, but I’ve since started usingeBookPartnership.com.

Cost for standard ebook conversion: From $299

Joanna:

I format ebooks on Scrivener. I hate [print] formatting, so I pay for that.

Cost: $150 for print formatter for full-length book; $40-45 one-time for Scrivener software (available for both Mac and Windows)

Dana:

I did these myself. It was another learning curve, as this was the first book I’d published with illustrations and the first I published in fixed (PDF) format.

I designed the PDF version in OpenOffice Writer and converted directly to PDF. I also did the layout for the Kindle edition through OpenOffice, which creates an MS Word .doc. To sell the ebook at Amazon, I just uploaded that doc through KDP.

Cost: Free

What does printing a book cost?

Even in a digital age, readers will still ask for a print copy of your book. Print-on-demand services make it possible for you to offer this without the expense or headache of managing and storing a print run. If you do speaking gigs or host author events, you’ll also want the option to keep print copies in stock for back-of-room sales.

Across the board, we all use, have used, or plan to use Amazon’s CreateSpacefor print-on-demand books. Choosing this route saves you money because you only print books as readers buy them. You’ll pay manufacturing and shipping costs if you want to approve a proof before listing the book for sale, which is highly recommended.

If you do want to order a print run of your books — which isn’t recommended unless you have a proven distribution method — you’ll also pay manufacturing and shipping costs to receive them.

Publishing through CreateSpace is free, and they will keep between 20 and 60 percent of book sales, depending on the sales channel.

Joanna also recommends IngramSpark for non-Amazon print-on-demand sales.

Sales and distribution costs

Self-publishing an ebook comes with the benefit of not needing to seek bookstores to stock your book. Selling your ebook through online retailers is relatively simple.

Most popular ebook distributors (e.g. Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc.) charge no upfront costs to publish, but keep a percentage of book sales. Publishers Weekly put together a great breakdown of royalty rates, pros and cons for each platform.

Hope:

I used Kindle Direct Publishing to sell through Amazon. For other ebook outlets I used BookBaby. For print I used Amazon and Barnes & Noble. No costs.

Catherine:

KDP and Smashwords, so all free.

Joanna:

I upload directly to ebook stores [e.g. Amazon, iBooks, NOOK, Kobo] as well as using Smashwords for smaller markets. I was selling direct through selz.comuntil the EU VAT tax laws came in January 1, 2015.

Dana:

I used E-junkie for direct distribution of the PDF edition and payments via PayPal. I published the Kindle edition to sell on Amazon using KDP. Later, I made the PDF edition a freebie to email subscribers, so I used MailChimp to distribute it.

Cost: $5 per month for E-junkie

Launch and marketing costs

As a self-published author, your relationships are your greatest assets. In addition to tapping into your network for self-publishing services, you also rely on your community to buy and promote your books.

Building and nurturing these relationships shouldn’t come with direct costs, but this is where you need to budget a huge portion of your (non-writing) time as an author.

Hope:

I used Facebook, my newsletters with FundsforWriters.com, Twitter and a lot ofguest blog posting. I feature [the book] at conferences and speaking engagements.

Also, I keep swag for all my books. Usually rack cards or postcards, business cards and stickers. I have a sticker for each of my books so that people can immediately see what’s in the envelope when it comes in the mail.

I use Vistaprint for postcards and rackcards, and I use Moo.com for business cards and the stickers. Moo is more expensive, but the quality is astounding.

Catherine:

I didn’t spend any money on [marketing]. I used my blog, Twitter account and Facebook page, and Goodreads for running giveaways [of print books].

Joanna:

I do all the marketing/launch [myself], and collaborate with other authors. I pay for BookBub and other email list advertising after launch once the book has good reviews. This is usually the most effective paid advertising for fiction authors in particular.

Cost: BookBub advertising varies by genre and list price.

Dana:

My strongest launch effort was my Launch Team. Beyond that, all promotion has cost is my time and effort: I guest blog, run social media promotions, do ebook giveaways, host online events, etc. to engage readers and get my name out there.

What about miscellaneous costs?

Indirect costs like travel, promotional swag, contest fees, audiobook recording and website hosting can help sell books as well as promote your entire business or brand, so consider these items part of your marketing budget.

Hope:

[When traveling to promote a book], I do not travel outside my state without being compensated for room, board, travel and an honorarium. I make appearances in conjunction with personal travel as well.

I did submit Shy to the EPIC awards for ebooks, and it made finalist in the nonfiction category in early 2014. But keep in mind that I use this book for back-of-the-room sales, to have a tool when I speak. It’s one of several tools I have, so it’s difficult to define individual expenses.

Catherine:

My domain name costs $18 a year (my blog is free on WordPress.com). I do regularly have travel costs to events but this are offset by the speaking fees.

For my first book, Mousetrapped, I had a bookstore launch but I’d never do it again. I had to buy the stock, print flyers [and] invites, buy an outfit to wear, etc., and while it was fun I didn’t make any money that I wouldn’t have made without it.

I since avoid stock at all costs — if I’m holding a physical edition of my book, I’ve lost money.

The totals: How much does it cost to publish a book?

It’s tough to nail down a final cost because of the number of indirect and one-time expenditures. With that in mind, here are approximate costs for one book from each of our authors:

Hope:

$250 for cover design

Greatest cost: cover design

Saves by: building relationships for bartering, tapping her network

DIYs: print layout, marketing, sales and distribution

Catherine:

$1,250 (less bartering for cover design) for ebook conversion, cover design and editing

Greatest cost: ebook conversion

Saves by: promoting online, limiting print stock, building relationships for bartering

DIYs: formatting, marketing, sales and distribution

Joanna:

$1,650 for editing and print formatting, bartering for cover design, plus BookBub ad fees

Greatest cost: editing

Saves by: building relationships for bartering

DIYs: marketing, ebook formatting and conversion, sales and distribution

Dana:

$150 for editing and illustrations, plus $5 per month for distribution

Greatest cost: illustrations

Saves by: bartering for editing and illustrations

DIYs: cover design, formatting and conversion, marketing, sales and distribution

Key takeaways

  • Look into your network to see how you can trade or barter services, experience, influence or exposure to offset the costs of self-publishing services.
  • Editors and cover designers you hire should know your voice and understand your genre — these aren’t one-size-fits-all services!
  • All stages and costs of self-publishing differ significantly from nonfiction to fiction.
  • Expect the greatest portion of your budget to go toward editing and cover design.
  • Very little (or none) of your budget should go toward paid advertising, other promotional services or print runs of the book.
  • To save money without sacrificing quality, you can DIY formatting and conversion with a little research and practice, if you’re willing to put in the time. Here’s a guide to formatting and converting an ebook for Kindle from TWL Assistant Editor Heather van der Hoop.
  • You’ll make a number of one-time investments early on, like purchasing software for word processing and design or taking courses in self-publishing and marketing. Your first self-publishing project is likely to be the biggest hit to your wallet — and the greatest investment in your writing career.

Are you ready to self-publish your book?

Stop fretting about those costs, and start planning. Self-publishing is all about innovation and creativity. Now that you’ve created a product or work of art (or both!), flip the switch and use your creativity on the business side of things.

Successful self-publishers are ambitious entrepreneurs who learn to wear several hats and display a variety of talents. To understand and cover the costs of self-publishing your book, dig into your network, do your research and plan ahead how you’ll allocate your time and money.

 

30 Books to Read by 30

 

books

Some books are best read at a certain age. Even the novels and memoirs you might consider timeless — Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye or Joan Didion’sThe Year of Magical Thinking — can serve a special purpose if consumed during a particular phase in your life. That particular phase is, of course, your 20s.

The much celebrated, sometimes maligned, decade is an undeniably impressionable one. You’ve happily exited your teens, slowly freeing yourself of the weighty angst you carried throughout high school. You might have one foot in college and the other in a career, even if you’re well beyond graduation, nestled comfortably in a new job — maybe even a relationship. But you’re probably not settled — financially, emotionally, spiritually, artistically. You’re aching for a philosophy, for a template for adulthood; anything that will anchor your constantly evolving life to solid ground.

Cue the 30 books you should read before you turn 30! From Alice Munro to Ralph Ellison, these are the books that are best read in your 20s, when you’re restless and hungry for new ideas. Whether you’re just starting the decade or about to leave it, you’ve still got time to put a dent in this literary bucket list. Enjoy:

1. Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munro

At long last, Munro’s short stories have been given their due acknowledgment as some of the best crafted by a living writer. Her characters are humble, witty, relatable; her tales read like conversations with an old, self-aware friend. Her novel, too, is among the best coming-of-age stories. Following young Del Jordan on adolescent adventures with her Encyclopedia-selling mother and her best friend Naomi, the interwoven tales are set in a small town, but will remind almost any reader of their own first encounters with isolation, lust and ambition. -Maddie Crum

munro

2. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

In this hauntingly elegiac book, Woolf evokes the painful inevitability of time’s passage. The Ramsays are enjoying a summer on the Isle of Skye; the children, husband and guests are all effortlessly entertained by the bewitching Mrs. Ramsay. Time passes, and we revisit the house, but it’s empty and left open to the elements. Losses have been suffered that could not have been foreseen in the idyllic days documented in the first section. To the Lighthouse captures the agony of loss contained in growing up, and reminds us all, hopefully, to be grateful for the blessings we may often overlook when we’re feeling young and invincible. -Claire Fallon

lightouse

3. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

Didion’s memoir begins when, one evening, just before dinner, her husband unexpectedly suffers a heart attack and dies. What follows is an honest and impassioned story of the author’s first year without him, from the fallacious thoughts saying he’ll return, to the small daily rituals that will never be the same. Grief is not often talked about in detail, but this book captures its essence. -Priscilla Frank

did

4. In Persuasion Nation, George Saunders

Saunders packages together satire and sci-fi so adeptly, in short and digestible spurts, approaching everything from contagion to commercialism. And he doesn’t shy away from the horrific future he seems to feel is just a stone’s throw from our own era. It’s a dose of unreality everyone under 30 (and over, for that matter) should experience. -Katherine Brooks

saunders

5. Ulysses, James Joyce

This hefty, heady masterpiece about a single day in Dublin revolutionized the modernist literary scene. Read it to ruminate on perception, to relate to the father-searching angst of young artist Stephen Dedalus, or just to remember how much you experience in 24 hours. Investing in a companion book (or college course) would not go amiss. -Colton Valentine

ulysses

6. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Ah, the catastrophic voyage from youth to adulthood. Nobody seems to capture it as accurately, if sarcastically, as Franzen. Three siblings each attempt to navigate the rough waters beyond their hometown, where things aren’t so stable lately, either. Egotistical middle kid Chip has dismayingly been barred from academia; career-driven Denise is caught up in affair (or two); seemingly stable Gary has been feeling drearier than his pristine home will have you believe. At the very least, The Corrections is a smart, funny break from your own quarter-life or midlife crisis. -Maddie Crum

corrections

7. Middlemarch, George Eliot

Eliot’s great gift as a novelist was her breadth of empathy, which stretched wide enough to cover spoiled society brats and humble farmers alike. In Middlemarch, we see the emotional education of a varied cast of young people — naively idealistic Dorothea, selfish Rosamond, ambitious Dr. Lydgate, goodhearted rake Fred Vincy, and more — as they take the first steps toward shaping the rest of their lives. Eliot deftly impresses on readers the need for personal maturation, and the possible consequences of making poor choices early in life, but all with a warm understanding that acts as a balm to those of us still struggling toward adulthood. -Claire Fallon

eliot

8. The Sabbath, AJ Heschel

Heschel’s compact gem explores the history and significance of the Jewish tradition of Shabbat. Yet even for the non-religious reader, the book offers a gripping and timely meditation on the holiness of time, as relevant as ever in today’s space-dominated world. Whether or not you’re practicing or Jewish at all, this book will show the immense import of a day of rest. -Priscilla Frank

sabbath

9. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

On the surface, Yanagihara’s prose follows four friends fresh out of university, fitted with romanticized character arcs that intersect and detach in familiar, post-collegiate ways. But beyond the glamour of making it to — and flourishing within — the fantasy world that is Manhattan, the author picks away at our ability to understand grief and depression, challenging the reader to be more and more empathetic. And your 20s is a better time than any to hone the oft-overlooked trait of empathy. (Bonus: The books is physically hefty at over 700 pages, but ravenously readable.) -Katherine Brooks

life

10. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

A wake-up call for any young adult on how race and gender burrow deeply into (adolescent) psychology. The novel’s treatment of endemic prejudice is frighteningly applicable to 2015, and it hones your ability to pick apart the ways that prejudice manifests in our supposedly pure sense of beauty. At the same time, Morrison manages to coat even the most appalling actions in impossibility gorgeous words. Her style is purple prose done to perfection. -Colton Valentine

41

11. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

The first in a mysterious Italian author’s series about the intertwined lives of two female friends, this novel not only brings to life the pleasures and difficulties of intimacy, but also the stubborn nature of fate. As narrator Elena and her childhood comrade Lila attempt to escape the violent, patriarchal strictures of Neapolitan life through education and romance respectively, they learn that doing so would require much more than objective success. -Maddie Crum

elena

12. White Teeth, Zadie Smith

White Teeth crosses generations, following two war buddies, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, and the cultural struggles faced by them and their families in a rapidly changing England. Jones’ biracial, brilliant daughter and Iqbal’s rebellious sons form close friendships and blossom in different strengths, but their paths to adulthood are strewn with pitfalls — like a profound longing for acceptance that any young person, and any immigrant, can likely relate to. Adolescence is awkward for most of us — even girls, so often presented as nubile and lovely in art — and Smith takes the fumbling insecurity, physical self-consciousness and shifting identity and unflinchingly lays it all on the page. -Claire Fallon

whiteteeth

13. I Love Dick, Chris Kraus

I Love Dick is part diary, part theory, part fiction, part autobiography, part confession, part manifesto. Kraus’ story begins when she and her husband embark on the strange, erotic exercise of sending love letters to the man Kraus wants desperately to sleep with. Kraus’ book urges women to be exposed, paradoxical, desirous, even destructive — anything but quiet. -Priscilla Frank

dick

14. Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, ed. Dan Wakefield

Reading a compilation of letters so specific and intimate, spanning decades of one person’s life, gives a 20-something (or me, at least) a sense of the passing of time. Vonnegut’s collected correspondence offers readers a glimpse of the rougher sides of his experience as a professional writer; the balancing game of maintaining relationships with loved ones and friends, colleagues and critics. Most importantly, it proves in one way or another that real life, the stuff of nonfiction, propels forward, even after the most unmanageable moments of anguish. -Katherine Brooks

kurt

15. The Symposium, Plato

A gorgeous examination of beauty, love, and education told in a series of speeches (“encomia”) by Greeks who become increasingly intoxicated as the night goes on. It’s both a dose of idealism and a reminder to never take anyone, even Plato, too seriously. Recommendation: read in one Starbucks sitting, then walk outside and prepare for transcendence. You might just enter the world of forms. -Colton Valentine

plato

16. Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

On its face, Offill’s slim novel is a sparse reflection on infidelity — the forces that bring people together, and the forces that wedge them apart. But the author’s magical command of language infuses her story with scientific metaphors, lyrical observations about what it is to be human, and hilarious anecdotes about yoga pants. -Maddie Crum

offill

17. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Every now and then, you’ll read a book that will pick up your worldview and shake it like a Boggle board, leaving everything in a somewhat different position that before. Invisible Man is one of those books. And it’s great to shake up your worldview as soon as possible rather than go through your life playing the same letters. (Right?) Invisible Man excavates the psychological damage inflicted by racism, as well as the economic and physical toll, as its increasingly bitter narrator endures countless betrayals and indignities both in his native South and in Harlem, where he ultimately moves. The unseen trauma festers into a rage that saturates his every fiber, leaving us questioning the structures of our society and the hidden causes of seemingly inexplicable pain. -Claire Fallon

ralph

18. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a love story, following two teenagers in Nigeria as they grow up and leave their country of origin. But more importantly, it’s a sharp and raw portrait of contemporary race relations, depicting just how different an experience it is to be African in America and to be an African-American. Adichie’s hilarious, sparkling prose make her characters so true to life you’ll learn big lessons about relationships and gender dynamics without even trying. -Priscilla Frank

americanah

19. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

In the moment, Ng’s book is a thriller, one that tells the story of a high-school girl’s abrupt death amidst the rumor mill of a 1970s-era college town in Ohio. The story lingers as a familial portrait, though, one that reflects on the roles our parents, siblings and children reluctantly play in order to keep the nuclear unit afloat — and the impact of the secrets we all keep from each other. While the novel is just over 300 pages, it packs a punch, spanning the early murmurs of feminism as well as the racial biases of 20th-century White America. Overall, it’s a stunning glimpse into the generation that preceded Millennials. -Katherine Brooks

everything

20. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

“To understand just one life you have to swallow the world,” says protagonist Saleem Sinai. The novel charts a group of children endowed with magical powers who were born just before midnight on the eve of India and Pakistan’s division. Its scope is massive — reaching through generations and decades of political intrigue — but it focuses the telling of history in the tragedy of individual lives. Rushdie’s novel is an exceptional introduction to postcolonial writing. It asks us why we tell stories the way we do, and then proposes a some fantastical alternatives. Be prepared to swallow its world. -Colton Valentine

salman

21. The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

Barnes’s Booker-winning novel is a short, emotionally demanding read about nostalgia, and how we process and make sense of our wending memories. Middle-aged protagonist Tony has allowed himself to become comfortable with his life as a cordial divorced man, until an unexpected letter forces him to rethink his friendships of yore, especially his connection with the intellectually serious Adrian Finn. In doing so, Tony — and Barnes — sheds light on the relative nature of time, and how we determine what we value most. -Maddie Crum

barnes

22. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

Every reading list should have some Robinson on it. The pre-30 years are a particularly apt time to read Housekeeping, her first novel and the only one not set in Gilead, Iowa. The tale is narrated by Ruthie, a young girl who, along with her sister Lucille, is left with an itinerant aunt after their mother takes her own life. An aura of the uncanny hovers over the lives of the threesome, as their aunt struggles to stay in town to care for the girls despite her wanderlust and obvious disconnect from society. Housekeeping makes vivid a sense of displacement and identity confusion that will cut right to your soul. -Claire Fallon

house

23. Delta of Venus, Anais Nin

Nin’s collection of short erotica is one of the first from a female perspective. They were originally written for a private collector, who directed Nin to leave out the poetic language and focus on the sex. However, Nin’s evocative voice sparkles throughout in the bewitching and nasty tales touching on themes from masculinity to incest. -Priscilla Frank

nin

24. Lesabéndio: An Asteroid Novel, Paul Scheerbart

Written in 1913, Lesabéndio is equal parts philosophy and science fiction that mines an eternal debate: what is more valuable, construction in the name of science or creation in the name of art? For those pondering a professional future beyond their humanities educations, Scheerbart weighs the importance of technical discovery, aesthetic progress, and collaboration between artists and scientists. Bonus: Lesabéndio is one of the most original alien characters out there. -Katherine Brooks

lesa

25. On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche

Perhaps the most polarizing philosopher on record, Nietzsche outlines a controversial ethical theory that will leave you well-equipped to spar with pseudo-intellectuals. His writings inspired a great deal of 20th-century thought — and a lot of late-night dorm conversations. So even if you hate him, it’s worth working through his ideas to articulate why. Spoiler: it’s actually far more complicated than “God is dead” nihilism. -Colton Valentine

niet

26. Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner

Lerner, most recently of 10:04 fame, forayed into novel-writing from poem-crafting (much to the delight of story lovers!) with Leaving the Atocha Station. Narrator Adam is a poet living in Spain on a fellowship, but more than writing he spends his time wandering around museums, smoking, and pursuing women. Comically self-effacing, Adam is restless youth personified. Aware of his flaws and shortcomings but unable to correct them, he instead invites the reader to witness his wanderings and musings firsthand and unfiltered. Lerner manages to make a potentially self-indulgent story a delicate portrayal of youthful idealism. -Maddie Crum

lerner

27. Persuasion, Jane Austen

If you get to 30 and haven’t read any Austen… well, for shame. One of the creators of the modern novel, Austen isn’t just historically important; she’s acutely observant, laugh-out-loud funny, and full of timeless truths. Any of her major novels would be valuable reading, but don’t miss Persuasion. Her final completed novel, it lacks some of the vibrant hilarity of her earlier hits but makes up for it with its hopeful spirit. It’s a quiet story of youthful impressionability, living with regret, and finding second chances, full of wisdom for those of us suffering life’s first knocks and looking back on our first big mistakes. -Claire Fallon

persuasion

28. The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe

If you hate modern art, you will love this book. Even if you love modern art, you’ll probably love it. Wolfe’s irreverent takedown of art-world bullshit will make you feel so much better about your lukewarm feelings for Damien Hirst. Even if you disagree with Wolfe’s overall cranky message, it’s the best way to learn a lot about art while also laughing very hard. -Priscilla Frank

wolfe

29. Girls to the Front, Sara Marcus

Music nerds, assemble. No one should leave their 20s without understanding the impact of riot grrrls on contemporary culture, be it art, music, or feminism in general. Read this book, listen to every band mentioned, and relish in the DIY, “Rebel Girl” ethos of Kathleen Hanna and her ilk. -Katherine Brooks

girls

30. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

A stark tragicomedy featuring two characters that wait and wait and wait some more. Language and relationships break down, hope fades, and we’re left wondering whether Godot is a mere symbol for the absence of modern spiritual salvation. Beckett may not offer much hope for your 20-something uncertainty, but at least his work reminds you that the rest of the world is also waiting for something miraculous to happen. -Colton Valentine

beckett

A Little Word Humor

word soup
The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.  Personally my favorite is Karmageddon.

Here are some of the contestants: 

1.  Cashtration (n.):  The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus:  A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxicaton:  Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4.  Reintarnation:  Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer,
unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6.  Foreploy:  Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7. Giraffiti:  Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm:  The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
9. Inoculatte:  To take coffee intravenously when you are running late..
10.  Osteopornosis:  A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon:  It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right?  And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
12.  Decafalon (n.):  The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13. Glibido:  All talk and no action.
14.  Dopeler Effect:  The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.):  The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
16.  Beelzebug (n.):  Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor (n.):  The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.
The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked
to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:  

1.  Coffee, n.  The person upon whom one coughs.
2.  Flabbergasted, adj.  Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
3.  Abdicate, v.  To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade, v.  To attempt an explanation while drunk.
5.  Willy-nilly, adj.  impotent.
6. Negligent, adj.  Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
7. Lymph, v.  To walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle, n.  Olive-flavored mouthwash.
9.  Flatulence, n.  Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash, n.  A rapidly receding hairline.
11.  Testicle, n.  A humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude, n.  The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13.  Pokemon, n.  A Rastafarian proctologist.
14.  Oyster, n.  A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15.  Circumvent, n.  An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
If you have anything to add of your own please feel free to post it in a comment.

The End of Books?

books on the street

The End of Books
By ROBERT COOVER, NYTimes, 1992

“In the real world nowadays, that is to say, in the world of video transmissions, cellular phones, fax machines, computer networks, and in particular out in the humming digitalized precincts of avant-garde computer hackers, cyberpunks and hyperspace freaks, you will often hear it said that the print medium is a doomed and outdated technology, a mere curiosity of bygone days destined soon to be consigned forever to those dusty unattended museums we now call libraries. Indeed, the very proliferation of books and other print-based media, so prevalent in this forest-harvesting, paper-wasting age, is held to be a sign of its feverish moribundity, the last futile gasp of a once vital form before it finally passes away forever, dead as God.

Which would mean of course that the novel, too, as we know it, has come to its end. Not that those announcing its demise are grieving. For all its passing charm, the traditional novel, which took center stage at the same time that industrial mercantile democracies arose — and which Hegel called “the epic of the middle-class world” — is perceived by its would-be executioners as the virulent carrier of the patriarchal, colonial, canonical, proprietary, hierarchical and authoritarian values of a past that is no longer with us.” Published in the New York Times 1992

You might think that this article above was written recently but look again. The debate over books becoming obsolete began when my daughters were seven years old and the computer had just become a household option.

Now, 23 years after this article was written by Mr. Coover, much of what he says is true, but what is even truer is that the function of the book, the memoir, the novel and the poetry collection has been given new delivery systems and in small sound bites to fit our changing brains and lifestyles. As with the web series which is rapidly replacing the movie, texting that is replacing most of our oral tradition (like calling and having a long chat with your mother on Mother’s Day), E-Cards replacing that Hallmark cry your eyes card with a personal signature from your loved one, who may have taken the time to compose a poem or say something personal, now we let technology speak for us.
There is something very specific about a physical book and the story it contains. Books are like a treasure chest full of secrets as you move  from one page to another and even the font can be a thing of beauty. A book is something that is irreplaceable. There is a bit of magic in perusing Barnes and Nobel, even if most of the books are geared to romantically starved women and coming of age teens who cannot get enough vampire literature. The dimensionality of a physical book, the texture, the smell of the pages, the graphics, turning pages until the book slumps down on your chest before the night light is out, is brain food that technology cannot replace. Brain Food!

Much like writing with a pen or pencil verses typing on a computer, our brain needs proprioceptive input to fully function and to retain what we are reading or writing. Sensory data is necessary for our imaginative centers of the brain to light up. When we type on a computer there is minimal sensory data and we can simply zone out and skim life. As a result, our attention span withers and is not only shortened but so is retention and general interest: enter the need for the “soundbite. With texting, three-min videos, web series, and even Kindle, being fully engaged in writing or reading a book or story is reduced significantly.

Another perfect example is the sand box.  Or should I say the absence of the proverbial sand box.  It used to be that the sand box was a canvas for the imagination.  Tunnels and towns, wet-scaped mountains, Tonka Trucks and little plastic figures made stories unfold and engaged the body the mind and the spirit.  Building and creating was the mission of the sand box.  Now we have video games.  Enough said.

A story is interactive, and a book should be a relationship you are having for several hundred pages. When did you last have a 500 page barn burner and not even get out of your Jammies or comb your hair all day? Please don’t say Fifty Shades of Grey!

The advent of the television series in the 1950’s, whether it was a half hour sitcom or a one hour crime drama like Dragnet is how we have become accustomed to a story one a piece at a time. Most of the time we are cooking, eating or texting all the while the story is unfolding on the TV. What we miss, what we are not giving ourselves by sitting with a real book, a well written and imaginative story, is priceless. But more than that it is essential for health. No longer indulging in the pricelessness of reading a book, finding that perfect story at the bookstore, and savoring our own imagination is part of why there is so much illness in our country. We fail to take downtime, to focus our creative energy, the have sensory input by writing with a pen or by turning pages. We fail to really read with our whole being and allow our imagination to take us into…the depths of ourselves.

We have replaced this essential relationship between reader and author with a hurried technological life that in fact may be more efficient and more can in fact get done in a day but we have traded a kind of neuro-stimulation of our brains, our eye hand connection, our imagination and creative centers for….expediency.
That is a costly trade since our body depends on all the brain firing that goes on when we are fully engaged. Not only fully engaged with ourselves, our book, our writing project, our characters but with each other and not our phones or Xbox. It is time to rethink how in fact technology is dumbing us down and freezing our brain from our own limitless passion and imagination.

Essay Guidelines and Your Red Mittens

vision can change the world

I promised to post some guidelines for those who are writing an essay to win a contest, especially the Inn in Maine.  Although I will be personally working with ten people on this contest I have had so many inquiries that I thought to help the best I could by including on my blog some thoughts for writing a 200 word essay.  There is wisdom included in the guidelines below from writers other than myself who have learned a few things about writing a short essay of this kind.

Feel free to post questions and please feel free to send me a bit about your story to share with my readers.  We can all use inspiration.

Dreaming big is what we should all be doing and without restraint.  I hope this helps to dream even bigger.

Essay Writing Information From Maya Christobel

Here are some tips on approaching writing your essay. Over the years I have gathered lots of great advice and experience, which I will jot down for you to help you launch your essay.

 

  • Short is all that much harder than long, but don’t worry. Write as much as you want and then you will slash a burn what is not essential.
  • Do not hurry. Allow the muse to whisper in your ear. If you hurry your mid will be in the driver seat and that will not make for a great essay.
  • Pay attention to what you might be afraid to say, what you were dreaming the night before you work on your essay, pay attention to your intuition and instinct and particularly pay attention to the visual images you have in your mind.
  • This is not a test. Write instinctively first, not like an English major taking a test. Thinking you need to do it “right” will never help you “write”.

 

Tell a story about you and about your dream: Be specific: The more personal the better. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Find the unique points of your dream and focus on them. Instead of saying something about loving your parents and wanting to help them run a B+B, say more than that: Say why you love them, what makes them so special and the perfect people to realize their dream. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut wrenching—it can even be funny—but it has to be real.

 

Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. I recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak. In fact take your iPhone or a recorder and simply tell your story and then play it back many times. This will help you focus on what feels right, what stands out and what may not fit.  Tell your story first to a best friend and see what she or he is moved by.

 

Consult your Heart: When you are limited to 200 words, which is not quite one page you will be doing a lot of thinking about what you need or want to write. My advice is to please write from your heart first. Do not focus on grammar or spelling or word count. Make sure you are answering the following questions:

 

  • Why does owning this Inn inspire you?
  • How would it change your life AND others.
  • What particular experience do you have that helps you run an Inn.
  • Why are you the best candidate? What makes you Unique?

 

Then Lead Your Essay with a Good Hook, this is most important.

When it’s time to start writing your essay contest entry, remember that the first sentence is the most important of all. If you can start with a powerful, intriguing, moving, or hilarious first sentence, you’ll hook your readers’ interest and stick in their memory when it is time to pick winners. Remember you are competing against 7500 other dreamers so that first sentence needs to stand out.

Write Your First Draft Essay

Now is the time to get all of your thoughts down. At this stage, it’s not necessary for everything to be perfectly polished; you’re just setting down the bones of your final essay contest entry. Try to hit the points you most want to communicate. If your essay is running longer than the word count limit, don’t worry about it at this stage, I will help you trim the fat.

 red mittens

Keep an Eye Out for “Red Mittens”

This is something I learned along the way that has been indispensable. The “red mittens” idea has to do with making sure you have something so unique and visual in the essay that they will remember you out of the crowd. It is like planting an Easter egg in the bushes. Here is a great piece of information.

Excerpt from Sandra Grauschopf: Contests & Sweepstakes Expert

“In her fantastic book, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Terry Ryan talked about how her mother used “Red Mittens” to help her be even more successful with contest entries. To quote from the book:

“The purpose of the Red Mitten was almost self-explanatory — it made an entry stand out from the rest. In a basket of mittens, a red one will be noticed.”

Among the Red Mitten tricks that Evelyn Ryan used were rhyme, alliteration, inner rhyme, puns, and coined words.

While Evelyn Ryan mostly entered jingle and ad-type contests, the Red Mitten theory can be used to make any essay contest entry stand out. Your Red Mitten might be a clever play on words, a dash of humor, or a heart-tugging poignancy that sticks in the judges’ minds.”

 

Then Revise Your Essay for Flow 

Once you have written the first draft of your essay contest entry, look it over to ensure that it flows smoothly. I will be helping you all along the way to make sure that you say what you need in compelling ways and that it flows. Is your point well made and clear? Does the essay flow smoothly from one point to another? Do the transitions make sense? Does it sound good when you read it aloud? Remember this is a final piece of writing and at the beginning you just need to get all your feelings and thoughts on paper even if it is five pages.

At this point you and I will cut out extraneous words and make sure that you’ve come in under the word count limit.

In Stephen King’s book which I believe is one of the best out there, On Writing, he talks about a rejection notice he once received that read: “Formula for success: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.” In other words, the first draft can always use some trimming to make the best parts shine.

 

Now Put Your Writing Away

When you have a fairly polished first draft of your essay contest entry, put it aside and don’t look at it for a little while. If you have time before the contest ends, put your essay away for at least a week. Let your mind mull over the idea subconsciously for a little while and see what else bubbles up.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sent in an entry and then thought of something that I should have added to make it perfect. Letting your entry simmer in your mind and heart gives you the time to come up with these great ideas before it’s too late.

 

Finally, Revise Your Essay Again and Again

Now is the time to put the final polish on your essay contest entry. Have you said everything you wanted to say? Have you made your point? Does the essay still sound good when you read it aloud? Can you tighten up the prose by making any additional cuts in the word count? And let people you know read it. They will have great ideas. You don’t have to use them but you may want to.

If possible, this is a good time to enlist the help of friends or family members. Read your essay aloud to them and check their reactions. Did they smile in the right parts? Did it make sense to them?

And ask a friend to double-check your spelling and grammar. Even your computer’s spell check programs make mistakes sometimes, so it’s helpful to have another person read it over. I will do that with you but you will want to have another person in the wings that is great at this sort of thing.

The Magic Bullet: The Power of Your Intention

What I encourage you to do is to not focus on winning but focus on learning more about yourself, your dream, more about listening to your “deep voice” and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and honest. You can do that with a tiny story, with humor or with a quote.

And I encourage you to do the envisioning that will make your intention to win the Inn a reality. Cut out a photo of the Inn, paste it above where you write. Do a daily visualization of you owning the Inn, people coming, joy happening, you feeling successful and happy. This is your most powerful writing tool

Happy writing!

I have a dream

Procrastination is the Name of the Game

procrastination

“The thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing.” ― Alan Dean Foster

“Like most writers, I am an inveterate procrastinator. In the course of writing this one article, I have checked my e-mail approximately 3,000 times, made and discarded multiple grocery lists, conducted a lengthy Twitter battle over whether the gold standard is actually the worst economic policy ever proposed, written Facebook messages to schoolmates I haven’t seen in at least a decade, invented a delicious new recipe for chocolate berry protein smoothies, and Googled my own name several times to make sure that I have at least once written something that someone would actually want to read. Lots of people procrastinate, of course, but for writers it is a peculiarly common occupational hazard. One book editor I talked to fondly reminisced about the first book she was assigned to work on, back in the late 1990s. It had gone under contract in 1972.” Megan Mcardle

I teach writing workshops and classes and it is inevitable to hear a writer say, under their breath and hoping no one will hear, that they in fact battle a million and one distractions in order to sit down and become a productive writer. Then whether the battle is won or lost, what the end product generates is self doubt, and self criticism. Well let’s all just stop that. The common issues regarding procrastination for writers are captured by the quote above made by Megan Mcardle.

But, the problem of procrastination can be as simple as working from home and the phone ringing and jumping up to answer it, putting that load of laundry in, having to get up and walk the dog or the most common issue being the uncertainty about what you are writing and welcoming every single little tiny distraction that exists in order to avoid the fear, the lack of clarity or the horrible feeling of being stuck.

What we use to procrastinate must serve us in some important way. Procrastination is what is called an “avoidance technique” and it is your job as a writer to look it square in the eye and fess up to what you might be avoiding. In the end, procrastination is all about being uncertain about your self as a writer. Whether it is about inspiration, self concept, constantly comparing your writing to others or the loop that is going all the time in your head that says something like this: “what the hell are you thinking writing this book?” the ultimate outcome is a kind of stalling out and waiting for a magical elixir. But, procrastination comes in many shapes and sizes.

The French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette who wrote Gigi, used her French bulldog, Souci, to procrastinate writing. She would pluck fleas from Souci’s back and hunt for them in her fur until the grooming ritual prepared her to move on to other procrastination techniques like cuddling with Souci and swatting flies. Only then would Colette begin to work.

Graham Greene, who wrote The Quiet American, needed a sign from above to begin working on a piece. Obsessed with numbers, the English playwright and novelist needed to see a certain combination of numbers by accident in order to write a single word. He would spend long periods of time by the side of the road looking at license plates and waiting for the hallowed number to appear.  Now that is navigating by the sigs and by coincidence.

Wherever he traveled, Charles Dickens decorated his desk with nine objects. The bronze toads, green vase, and the statuette of an eccentric dog salesman surrounded by his pups comforted Dickens when he hit a mental block, and helped him feel comfortable enough to work anywhere.  Now this is bordering on being Obsessive Compulsive but OCD has its place in history with a slew of famous writers.

Victor Hugo, who wrote novels like Les Miserables, did more than buy a new bottle of ink in preparation to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame. With a deadline looming, Hugo locked himself inside his house with nothing on but a knitted gray shawl that reached down to his toes. The uniform suited his productivity, and he completed the novel weeks ahead of the deadline.

Some people dream of lounging all day, but Truman Capote really did. His workday began in bed or on a couch where he would write on a notebook rested against his knees. He always kept cigarettes and whichever drink was appropriate for the time of day—coffee, tea, or sherry. Boy do I relate to this. Not the cigarettes and Martinis at the crack of dawn, but I get out of bed and put on my favorite tea at 6:30 am and then crawl back in bed with my laptop on my knees and write until 10am every morning. If I do not do this I am a basket case and cannot get my barring’s for the whole day. I put music on every time and listen to soundtracks of my favorite movies while I write. The theme from Bourne Legacy gets me every time.

So you are in good company. You are not odd or unusual in your procrastination. And in the end you need to make friends with a pattern that is one of the most frequent issues for a writer. Know that procrastination is just part of the job. Get over it when you can and then laugh at yourself the rest of the time. You will get to writing, you will finish and you will be done in your own good time.

“We are so scared of being judged that we look for every excuse to procrastinate.” ― Erica JongSeducing the Demon: Writing for My Life

My Modern Day Parable

parable

parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters.

parable is a type of analogy.

A Modern Day Parable

By Maya Christobel

I was at the usual bus stop staring at my watch and impatient to get to work. “Crap, I won’t have time to get a coffee”, I thought. Then she caught my attention. Her unruly and disheveled hair flew behind her in the wind as she bolted past me. Her green eyes were wild with expectation and her gate was long and certain. She was on a mission. She pulled me out of my worry and I set my briefcase on the bench. I could not help but follow her as she weaved in and out of unfamiliar streets as her long sky blue robe swayed behind her, threatening to get snagged on a lamp-post or caught in a passing bicycle spoke. Her arms pumped fiercely as if she were in a race.

 

When she passed a dog tied tightly to a bicycle rack on the corner of Park Street she stopped momentarily and slipped off the chain collar, then scooped up the brown-eyed beagle into her arms and continuing on as if she had expected him. I could not keep up with her and began to fall behind as she continued to rush somewhere I imagined to be very important.

Suddenly, a boy with his skateboard and then a large blackbird and some strange old man sitting near the park joined her and now there were many people following her. She turned down an alley where a homeless man living in a cardboard box watched her come near. She stopped, her face a breath from his startled eyes as she smiled a smile that nearly knocked him to his feet. Then she took his hand and pulled him up and without a word he joined the growing crowd of children and old people and animals that become a wave of energy pulsing through the streets. The growing mob of unlikely people started climbing up to the top of the small clearing overlooking the city.

By the time I could catch up I was breathless. There she was perched out on an outcropping of cinder blocks that rimmed a small off-road parking area, the city carpet below her. She was deathly still, standing quietly overlooking the smog and hazy hidden buildings below. Everyone became quiet, waiting for her to speak, to say something important, to tell them what to do, to levitate, to combust, to break down weeping. Suddenly she turned as if surprised by the throng and with a deep and haunting laugh said,

‘What fun life is. Thank you for joining me”.

 

A short story can pack a punch. There is not need for long chapters, details or perfect prose. A parable is rich with imagery, with feeling and with a great outcome: It leaves us pondering life. This is what a good story should do if it doesn’t make us weep or laugh or want to punch the door out first.

Jesus was said to be one of the best storytellers around and through his parables, whether you are Christian or not, lessons on living have seeped into the culture of everyone’s life in one-way or another. He told parables which always had an “Aha” to be learned. He told parables about the ten virgins, the Good Samaritan, the lost sheep and the Prodigal Son. We’ve all heard about the mustard seed and a grain of sand or hiding your light under a bushel. In the end these short, visual, descriptive lessons on life can be a great way to start writing your story.

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Perhaps,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “What great luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Perhaps,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Perhaps,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Perhaps,” said the farmer…

From a Zen Koan

Most writers are crippled and start sweating at the white, empty page staring back at them like a challenge. Most of the time there is a book to be written, all 300 uncertain pages. When a book is looking over your shoulder it is typical to simply say…”oh I will write ten pages today” and then start sweating all over again. Oh the pressure we put ourselves under.

I have been writing what I call “morning pages” for ten or more years. Just a free-flowing stream of consciousness that starts without any intention and always ends up somewhere I never intended to go: A poem, a confession, a rant. Lots of times I rant. But, more often than not, it is a story in the making. A little seed of an idea that I can come back to. It is in this uncharted territory of unexpected words where a story is born.

When I was living up in Crested Butte, Colorado in my “let’s open an art gallery and sell contemporary art to people who want cowboys and buffalos”, I was watching the news about a couple stranded in a snowstorm and living in their car for several days. I was seized by the need to make that into a great movie. I researched the couple, outlined the story idea, and then sat down to start writing a heartwarming screenplay about love, loss and redemption (since that’s what all movies are about in the end). By page 12 the story demanded to go in another direction and no matter how hard I tried to pull the story back into formation it wandered outside the lines of my own psyche and turned itself into a 120 page paranormal thriller with Jeremy Irons and Jodi Foster. I was captive to the story…it would not let me go and in the end the screenplay won several screenwriting awards. But it was not even close to what I had set out to write.

What did I do wrong? What did I do right? How did my idea morph into something so totally a product of my relentless imagination? Or was it that the story itself is energy that exists outside of my idea of time and space and was just waiting to be born?  I have learned that this is truer than you might think.

The story was able to take me somewhere unexpected simply because I was not attached to the outcome and I just showed up each day, punched on the computer, got my cup of tea, put on my headphones to listen to movie soundtracks while I wrote and in the end allowed the muse to take the characters where they needed to go.

Working this way is exciting and is a bit like tracking an animal in the woods. Most of the time you think you are following a deer and in the end you find out that it is Bigfoot.

So start with a seed. With a sentence from how you feel about a photo, use a line of a poem and take off…see where it leads you. You just might have a whole lot of fun!

 

leap and don't look down
leap and don’t look down