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 askedto 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.
Anne Lamott is an amazing writer and is about to turn 61. She wrote a piece about what she has learned about life and a couple of items had to do with being a successful writer. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Grace (Eventually), Plan B, Traveling Mercies, Bird by Bird and Operating Instructions, as well as seven novels, including Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. She is a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and is a premier example of writing from the heart with humor, with depth, and with flat-out courage.
Here is what Anne offers up to those of us who craft our words and send them out into the world as seeds never knowing what garden will spring up as a result.
“Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.”
“Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and sometimes nearly evil men I have known were all writers who’d had bestsellers. Yet, it is also a miracle to get your work published (see #1.). Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesy holes. It won’t, it can’t. But writing can. So can singing.”
“E.L. Doctorow said about writing: “It’s like driving at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.”
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.
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.
“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
“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.
A 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.
A 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!
“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”
This was a frequent phrase around my home growing up: “Holy Moly, story of my life”. If I got a collections letter in the mail, or I hear that a great guy has a secret wife, that my brand new shiny car needs a transmission or that in fact I really didn’t win the lottery after all…” story of my life”. A handy phrase to describe something quite familiar. But what’s in a phrase?
We each have one story that repeats itself over and over again throughout our lifetime. It is like we got handed a script upon leaving heaven and incarnating that acts like a blueprint for our lives. I promise you, one central ever-present and every changing “story of our lives”. The casts of characters change but they fundamentally play the same role in our lives, year after year. Every new love, new boss or new dog is just like a mother, brother, father, betrayer, helper, teacher and is the best of ourselves or the worst of ourselves. The place, the reasons, the motives, the fears, and the outcomes seem to remain similar as well.
So, if you were to just pluck out of the sky a scenario that you recognize as so familiar that it is a “repeat story” in your life, what would it be? Would the themes be endless hope, deep despair, betrayal, running away, lost love and fighting for what is right, or would it be, men leave, women love you but die, or maybe the all too often, am I good enough, can I prove myself, or that there is never enough money or time or money or love or money or food, nourishment or support? Could you be in Groundhog Day like Bill Murray where over or over again you love the wrong person, you lose everything you have and need to start again, you never feel smart enough or have enough, or ultimately are loved enough? Does the white knight turn into the villain or are you the one who rescues and heals the world? We all have one story. The trick is identifying what the story is.
If we take the time to identify this story, which repeats itself over and over again for our learning and growth, then we have abundant power to change the story, but not before we look it square in the eye and say “Yes” this is MY story. For most authors who are seized with a story line and write until the days are a blur and who forget to eat or take a shower, most likely the book or story being written is a mirror of the writer’s psyche. The soul gets wind that there is a supreme opportunity to work out some kinks in life if only the writer would hop too it and let it rip, fantasy or no fantasy.
Most writers have to cop to the fact that writing is therapy. Writing is sanity. Expiation. Transformation and atonement. Most writers on a good and honest day will say that the story they think is pure fantasy is really from their own life, their own fear, their own desire to be a hero or heroine and to rewrite what went so wrong, so long ago. It is a powerful moment when you can write a fictitious character that is not you in reality, so that this character can do all the things that you only wish to have done or said or experienced in your life. Why else do we write?
And when we can fess up that our own story is driving the bus, we can not only heal our lives but we can write a story that touches the collective nerve. That is what makes a bestseller.
In the end….the story will write you.
“Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, “’Listen to me.’”—Jhumpa Lahiri
I think the part of Christmas that has stayed with me since childhood, are the Christmas Carols that seem to live in me at a cellular level. All the music from oldies with Bing Crosby and White Christmas to Mannheim Steamroller can conjure place, people and moments that I have no need of a camera to instantly recall.
Each song has a story attached to it from my life. And whether is was a Christmas meltdown at the dinner table over some disappointment regarding presents, or the first Christmas with my daughters bright eyes wide open as they tip-toed down the stairs of our farmhouse in Maine to see what Santa had brought and whether the Reindeer had been well fed, I can recall the Technicolor of the moment as soon as Nate King Cole starts in with “chestnuts roasting by an open fire”.
I listened to these songs over and over, year after year. And in the listening I hear new things each time. Songs are story. Songs are assembled with tune, voice and words to transport. And for a writer, the story on the page is no different. Every amazing book we read or write and every extraordinary story we tell has a magic ingredient which makes the magic stand out: That magic ingredient lies in our capacity to listen.
I know that most of what I talk to writers about is how to tell the story, about great characters, tension, payoff and honesty. But none of this happens at the level that is possible for a writer without the deep capacity to listen. Listening takes pausing. Breathing. Waiting for the muse.
First and foremost, as a writer, I need to listen to my own intuition if I stumble on the direction of my story. I need to pause to listen to my characters whisper in my ear how they want to be developed. I need to listen to my own desire for what I want to say and what I don’t want to say. Every day. I need to be willing to listen to everything.
But, listening comes in layers. We can hear ourselves say “Oh that won’t be interesting”, or “I cannot share that much, be that vulnerable in my writing”. When this ultimately happens, oh pretty much every day, we have a goldmine moment to listen at a deeper level. Our unconscious selves long to be given a stage on which to express itself and when any one of us decides to write a story all the voices that we have silenced will try spill out onto the page.
If we can stay with what we are resisting and get to the bottom of why we are saying “no”, “I cannot do that”, “I am afraid”, then we can unearth parts of our stories, our characters and ourselves that become the magic and the real juice of our writing. Many of us as writers struggle to stay ruthlessly honest with ourselves and truly listen beyond our fears of being literarily naked.
The other part of listening as a writer is to make sure you have someone read your writing out loud and you listen to the story you are writing unfold. Hearing your words, the words of your characters and absorbing the writing as if you are the reader is a powerful way to tune up your writing style and to hear the places you need to improve.
And at the end of the day whether you are a writer or not, listening and hearing from a deep heartfelt level of awareness and presence is what we need in all our relationships, friendships, marriages, workplaces and schools. The gift of listening is transformative.