111 Off-the-Beaten-Path Quotes for Writers

Writer at table

In this post, 111 Quotes for Writers, I’ve culled encouraging, motivating, inspiring and instructional passages from over 100 authors, all from source material; that is, print books, magazines and eBooks (not copy and pasted from online). While there are a dozen or two pithy quotes here, most passages are around 60-100 words…meaty chunks for you to contemplate and apply to your writing life.

Most of the quotes below address the nuts-and-bolts of writing life, both non-fiction and fiction: how we write, why we write, where we get ideas, what we read and what it takes to make it as a working writer, as well as how we deal with anxiety, fear, guilt, envy, shame, perfectionism and other gremlins that accompany the creative temperament. Some quotes capture the emotional urgency and authenticity that needs to be present to elevate our fiction from “Who gives a damn?” to “I can’t stop reading this book!”, as well as the need for discipline, perseverance and courage. After all, writing isn’t for sissies!

So dive in at any point when you need inspired, encouraged or motivated in your writing life.

111 Quotes for Writers

1. Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do. – Stephen King (On Writing)

2. Read those authors who write the way you hope to write, those who think he way you would like to think. But also read those who do not think as you think or write as you want to write, and so be stimulated in directions you might not take for many years. – Ray Bradbury (Zen in the Art of Writing)

3. Overwriting is irritating to read because oftentimes it’s a way a writer has of showing off, and of making herself too much present in her own material. Most readers want a kind of intimacy only between themselves and what’s being written about, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. – Elizabeth Berg (Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True)

4. The well-made sentence transcends time and genre. A beautiful sentence is a beautiful sentence, regardless of when it was written, or whether it appears in a play or a magazine article. Which is just one of the many reasons why it’s pleasurable and useful to read outside of one’s own genre. – Francine Prose (Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them)

5. A pro views her work as craft, not art. Not because she believes art is devoid of a mystical dimension. On the contrary. She understands that all creative endeavor is holy, but she doesn’t dwell on it. She knows if she thinks about that too much, it will paralyze her. So she concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods. – Steven Pressfield (The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles)

6. In writing, or any creative endeavor, removing yourself from the process for a while can have great benefits. Your brain literally gets an opportunity to make new neurological connections, which are going to take the form of new, inventive ideas, and writing that is very inspired. – Joseph Sestito (Write for Your Lives: Inspire Your Creative Writing with Buddhist Wisdom)

7. Your life will teach you which stories to tell and which details to notice. If you are faithful to the story, if you develop your intuition, prick up your ears, look for the telling details, the detail worth telling, you will be able to condense it all down into wabi sabi words filled with beauty. Then your reader will love you for telling what is real and authentic and moving. – Richard R. Powell (Wabi Sabi for Writers)

8. Too many writers avoid their own strongest feelings because they are afraid of them, or because they are afraid of being sentimental. Yet these are the very things that will make beginning work ring true and affect us. Your stories have to matter to you the writer before they matter to the reader; your story has to affect you, before it can affect us. – Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter (What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers)

9. Good criticism is necessary to any art form, but the unsolicited, negative variety is poison. If comments are unhelpful, ignore them and boldly warp into the next galaxy. – Anne R. Allen (How to Be a Writer in the E-Age…and Keep Your E-Sanity!)

10. In fiction and memoir, the writer’s main responsibilities are to write a thick, juicy steak of a story, and make the readers care, bring us to tears or outrage or heart-thumping worry. Stories with emotional power engage the reader’s intellect, senses, and emotions as he sees and hears the unfolding action. – Jessica Page Morrell (Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us)

11. Writers—all writers, at all ages and all stages—must realize all they have is the now. Just this moment. There’s not another “time” that’s better for you to write. A certain age when it’s all going to click. You haven’t missed anything, and you haven’t started too early or too late. – Heather Sellers (Chapter after Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams)

12. Quoting Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Allen Ginsberg reminded us, “first thought, best thought”. This first thought comes from your intuitive mind, where the creative process finds its foothold and the ego holds no sway. This is the place of rich images and deep thoughts. Grasp your pen lightly and let come what wants to come. – Judy Reeves (A Writer’s Book of Days)

13. The metaphor is the strongest imagistic intimate in the writer’s bag of tricks. – Walter Mosley (This Year You Write Your Novel)

14. Like fiction, nonfiction accomplishes its purpose better when it evokes emotion in the reader. We might prefer everyone on earth to be rational, but the fact is that people are moved more by what they feel than by what they understand. – Sol Stein (Stein on Writing)

15. Don’t wait for anything to guide your work. Dig deep inside of yourself. You are the collective memory of your culture. – N.M. Kelby (The Constant Art of Being a Writer)

16. On the surface, it appears that as the author you are the dominant person in your relationship with your reader, for, after all, the book would not exist without you. But rest assured that readers are quite capable of chucking your book in the trash if they don’t feel you are speaking to them—that somehow you have listened to them, have heard their wants and needs. – Hal Zina Bennett (Write Starts: Prompts, Quotes, and Exercises to Jumpstart Your Creativity)

17. While the blank page and the lack of time are both obstacles to writing, there’s another, more insidious, threat to the beginning writer: perfectionism. – Barbara DeMarco-Barrett (Pen on Fire)

18. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing. – Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones)

19. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but impatience is definitely the most lethal attitude for a writer. – Sage Cohen (The Productive Writer)

20. Above all else, believe in your abilities to become successful as a writer. Let your love of writing and the joy you find in it carry you toward your dreams. If you keep at it, you will get there. – Kelly L. Stone (Time to Write)

21. As you craft your story, make it a point to experiment with opposites and seek out surprise: publicly fastidious lawyer has a messy closet; pious church deacon has a gay lover; bucolic setting becomes the home of a serial killer. – Nancy Lamb (The Art and Craft of Storytelling)

22. When in doubt, or wherever possible, tell the whole story of the novel in the first sentence. – John Irving

23. The writers of deep and beautiful works spend real time gathering words. They learn the names of words and tools and types of roof. They make lists of color words (ruby, scarlet, cranberry, brick). They savor not only the meanings, but also the musicality of words. They are hunting neither big words nor pompous words nor Latinate words but mainly words they like. – Priscilla Long (The Writer’s Portable Mentor)

24. Make yourself your intended reader. By writing to you as your reader, you get closer than at any other time to getting your real voice on the page. You write naturally. – Les Edgerton (Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing)

25. Writing is about honesty. It is almost impossible to be honest and boring at the same time. – Julia Cameron

26. No matter what is going on in your life, know that ideal situations are not necessary for finishing a book. People who succeed in life do so because they have grit—the ability to work toward their goals whether they feel like it or not. Laura Hillenbrand, the best-selling author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. At times, she could only write a paragraph or two a day. She had to perch her laptop on books because looking down at the screen made the room spin. Yet she stuck with it. Her grit—anchored in her passion for the topic—kept her writing. – Rochelle Melander (Write-a-Thon)

27. As a young writer, I don’t think I really understood that you need to prepare for writing; I figured you could just sit down and begin. But I’ve come to see that I need to be warmed up. I need to have something gestating in my head, even it’s just a little niggling idea, unformed and unknowable until I start to lure it out. – Brenda Miller and Holly J. Hughes (The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World)

28. If you want to engage in a vibrant conversation with the wisdom that dwells just a hair below your conscious awareness, write. – Janet Connor (Writing Down Your Soul)

29. Getting a novel written consists not of joyous rapture but of applying your bottom to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard and grinding things out word by word, sentence by sentence. You can whine or you can write, but you can’t do both. – Todd A. Stone (Novelist’s Boot Camp)

30. The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best—write the story you want to read. – Austin Kleon (Steal Like an Artist)

31. People who are “ready” give off a different vibe from people who aren’t. Animals can smell fear. And the lack thereof. The minute you become ready is the minute you stop dreaming. Suddenly it’s no longer about “becoming”. It’s about “doing”. You don’t get the dream job because you walk into the editor’s office for the first time and go, “Hi, I would really like to be a sportswriter one day, please.” You get the job because you walk into the editor’s office and go, “Hi, I’m the best frickin’ sportswriter on the planet.” And somehow the editor can tell you aren’t lying, either. You didn’t go in there, asking the editor to give you power. You went in there and politely informed the editor that you already have the power. That’s what being “ready” means. That’s what “taking power” means. Not needing anything from another person in order to be the best in the world. – Hugh MacLeod (Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity)

32. Take the essence of your story and amp it. Add characters and pile on the emotion. Playwrights used to limit the number of characters in their stories, not wanting to crowd the stage. But when Williams crams six or eight people onto the scene at once and sets them all at one another’s throats, we get a chance to feel their emotional claustrophobia and unwanted interdependence. Amp up your action by adding cunning, vindictiveness, jealousy, fear of exposure, stupidity, even death. – Elizabeth Sims (Writer’s Digest November/December 2012)

33. If you want to be any kind of artist, you’ve got to have that tenacity to keep beating your head against the wall…The idea of the impossible is an illusion, and it will look very different on the other side. It’s a matter of persevering. – Dave Cullen (Writer’s Digest October 2011)

34. “I don’t have enough time/people/experience”. Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative. Ever seen the weapons prisoners make out of soap or a spoon? They make do with what they’ve got. Now we’re not saying that you should go out and shank somebody—but get creative and you’ll be amazed at what you can make with just a little. Shakespeare reveled in the limitations of sonnets (fourteen-line lyric poems in iambic pentameter with a specific rhyme scheme). Haiku and limericks also have strict rules that lead to creative results. Writers like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver found that forcing themselves to use simple, clear language helped them deliver maximum impact. – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (Rework)

35. No one says you have to write your book in strict chronological order. Some writers start at the end and write their way back to the beginning. Or they write one complete plot strand, getting completely immersed in all its possibilities and the personalities involved. When that’s done, they write another complete strand, and another. Then they chop them all together like rough-cutting a movie. – Roz Morris (Nail Your Novel)

36. Each piece you complete is an act of faith in the process and value of creativity, a great big Molly Bloom yes to your curious, creative, courageous side. – Bonni Goldberg

37. Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder. – Raymond Chandler

38. I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within. – Eudora Welty

39. Bam. Bam. Bam. That’s what this writing thing feels like sometimes. But you get up and keep hitting back. You have to know, going in, that you need to develop rhino skin to survive. The good news is you can develop it. Every time you come back from a setback and write some more, you create a little more of that protective coating, that inner strength. So if you can look at the big picture, with all the odds stacked against you…if you can understand full well that you will be taking hit after hit…if you can understand all that and still have that inner ferret that says, “write, dang you!”—then no, you shouldn’t quit. – James Scott Bell (Writing Fiction for All Your Worth)

40. Once we have begun it, we continue reading a novel largely because we care about what happens to the character. But for us actually to care about these actors in the drama on these printed pages, they must become real people to us. An event alone cannot hold a story together. Nor can a series of events. Only characters effecting events and events affecting characters can do that. – Elizabeth George (Write Away: One Writer’s Approach to the Novel)

41. A story must have the ability to engender a sense of urgency from the first sentence. Everything else—fabulous characters, great dialogue, vivid imagery, luscious language—is gravy. This is not to disparage great writing in any way. I love a beautifully crafted sentence as much as the next person. But make no mistake: learning to “write well” is not synonymous with learning to write a story. And of the two, writing well is secondary. Because if the reader doesn’t want to know what happens next, so what if it’s well written? In the trade, such exquisitely rendered, story-less novels are often referred to as a beautifully written “Who cares?” – Lisa Cron (Wired for Story)

42. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. There’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space. – Joan Didion (The New York Times Book Review)

43. I write to make peace with the things I cannot control. I write to create fabric in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change. – Terry Tempest Williams (Northern Lights magazine)

44. To create a novel’s emotional landscape you must first open yourself to your own. That’s hard to do. If it’s difficult to confide your feelings to those close to you, consider how much more fearful it is to do with strangers. But that’s what you’re doing whether you’re aware of it or not. There is wired inside you a terror of exposing yourself to embarrassment, shame, and ridicule. But here you are writing fiction. Are you nuts? Or, more to the point, is that what people will think of you when they read your work? The inhibiting effect of shame cannot be overstated. It explains why some writers slide into genre clichés or literary imitation. To put authentic emotions on the page, you need to own them. When you do, readers will respect you. Its’ when you hide that readers feel shortchanged, cheated, and only minimally involved. – Donald Maass (Writing 21st Century Fiction)

45. As a man who has knocked about the arts for some time, I can only say that in the presence of a poet I am struck with awe that I should behold so courageous a man. I never felt that way about generals or admirals, for our society is organized to protect the warrior. – James A. Michener

46. Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, or hope: death on the highway caused by a badly worded road sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expecting to be met at a railroad station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram. – William Strunk and E.B. White (The Elements of Style)

47. Writers kid themselves—about themselves and other people. Take the talk about writing methods. Writing is just work—there’s no secret. If you dictate or use a pen or type with your toes—it is just work. – Sinclair Lewis

48. Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human condition. –Graham Greene

49. The art of writing cannot be taught, but the craft of writing can. No one can teach you how to tap inspiration, how to gain vision and sensibility, but you can be taught to write lucidly, to present what you say in the most articulate and forceful way. Vision itself is useless without the technical means to record it. – Noah Lukeman (The First Five Pages)

50. Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. If it all feels hopeless, if that famous “inspiration” will not come, write. If you are a genius, you’ll make your own rules, but if not—and the odds are against it—go to your desk, not matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper—write. – J.B. Priestly

51. The idea of “inspiration”, as it’s commonly understood, does a great deal of damage to writers. For one thing, it devalues craft, which I think is the most important part of writing. It also, as I’ve cautioned before, reinforces the notion that the writer himself or herself is somehow not enough. That some special talent or knowledge or divine gift—something outside of the writer—is necessary. – Dennis Palumbo (Writing from the Inside Out)

52. Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy. – Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird)

53. This is the ultimate magic trick of language: to evoke in the reader not just an understanding of the thing described but the sensation of it. It’s not enough just to tell a reader the thing exists and ask him to take its existence on faith; you must allow him to experience it for himself. – Joseph Bates (The Nighttime Novelist)

54. When the conditions are right, live things creep up. The author does not need to airlift them in. No need to insert a reptile here, something symbolic over there. The most potent meaning arises indigenously. It looks like earth, like mud, like a log. The more your eyes discern the particulars of the physical world and its inhabitants, the more meaningful your work becomes. This is the meaning that, when it’s laid dormant in the sun long enough, strikes with a devouring force…To write well, we must sink into the silt of this world. – Bonnie Friedman (Writing Past Dark)

55. Every day you are afraid. Every day you move through fear to your desk, and as soon as you pick up your pen, or read the sentence left over from the night before, incomplete, needing an adjustment in rhythm—a stronger verb, a slash of color or the taste of bitter herbs—in that moment of solving the problems, all fear dissolves. You are writing again. – Sophy Burnham (For Writers Only)

56. The best time for planning a book is while you are doing the dishes. – Agatha Christie

57. In his ambrosial book Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury answers the pestering questions he gets about the origins of his ideas emphasizing the daily need to move forward. “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces back together”. He does this in a surprisingly simple fashion, by venturing into his museum-like writing studio and fingering one of his thousands of travel souvenirs, or opening a dictionary and choosing a single world. He then seizes the memory, emotion, or word and, as Klee said, takes it out for a walk—which invariably results in a story he didn’t even know he had in him. The operative word, again, is seize, as in the moment, our destiny as creative souls. – Phil Cousineau (Stoking the Creative Fires)

58. The place of stillness that you have to go to write, but also to read seriously, is the point where you can actually make responsible decisions, where you can actually engage productively with an otherwise scary and unmanageable world. – Jonathan Franzen

59. Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn. – Gore Vidal

60. I’m not sure if it takes deep denial or courage to sit at one’s desk day after day doing this. In the middle of my writing career, I once studied to go into a different profession; the main lure was having a desk out of the house and coworkers. Not to mention a regular paycheck. I studied for two years and had a good time doing this job, but I couldn’t get over the sense of not being in my own skin and had to quit. – Barbara Abercrombie (A Year of Writing Dangerously)

61. Remember, nobody is born a professional. So this stuff has to be learned and practiced. Stephen King used to be some guy who had a traumatic experience in his childhood. Janet Evanovich did not always have her face plastered across a bus. There was a time when no one knew what a muggle was, not even J.K. Rowling. These writers and, indeed, all writers, were once simply somebody’s baby—a mother’s son, a father’s daughter, and then, eventually, they became writers. At some point thereafter, they became darn good writers, and then even farther down the road they became the writers we know and love today. Writing is work, just like many other kinds of work that require a certain amount of artfulness and intuition. And the more willingly you acknowledge the more well-rounded qualities of the writing life, the better you will far. – Christina Katz (The Writer’s Workout)

62. A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down… If it is a good book, nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book, nothing can help him. – Edna St. Vincent Millay

63. When a reader fully believes our story, both intellectually and emotionally, he moves in and unpacks his bags. No longer a tourist living out of a suitcase, ordering room service and watching suspiciously from his hotel window as the natives bustle on the street below, he has become, for the moment at least, a native himself. He changes into comfortable clothes, strolls the avenues, eats in open-air cafes, even tries the local catch-of-the-day. He turns another page in the book. Anything is possible. Who knows? He might even fall in love. – Rebecca McClanahan (Word Painting)

64. If you won’t enjoy reading it, you won’t enjoy writing it. – Chris Baty (No Plot? No Problem!)

65. There’s a certain charm in what is spontaneous. I want the reader to feel that I’m telling the story to him or her in particular. When you tell a story in the kitchen to a friend, it’s full of mistakes and repetitions. I try to avoid that in literature, but I still want it to be a conversation, like storytelling usually is. It’s not a lecture. – Isabel Allende (Why We Write)

66. You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly. You can’t write regularly and well. One should accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well. – Jennifer Egan (Why We Write)

67. Writers make their way toward intensity via soul-jarring themes, stories awash in peril, characters on the edge, smoldering conflict, manic introspection, inflamed dialogue, and other such strategies. But the foot soldiers along the march are words and their style of delivery: words that advance steadily until, at key moments, they gather force to penetrate the reader’s armored resistance. – Arthur Plotnik (The Elements of Expression)

68. If you feel comfortable telling people about your novel in advance, more power to you, but be aware that you might be affected by their responses. If they give you too much praise, will you feel the weight of trying to live up to their expectations? Will this energize your writing or give you writer’s block? If the response is reserved or negative, will you doubt the value of your story? Will a cool response diminish your own love for the idea? If you think the work might be damaged by poor reactions and if you can live without the instant gratification of advertising your novel before it is written, protect the process of writing your book by keeping it to yourself. – Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb (Your First Novel)

69. Seeing sharply and accurately is part of the contract the author makes with the reader. When we talk about a writer’s vision, we’re usually talking metaphorically…but we’re most persuaded by an author who literally has an acuity of vision. – Tony Eprile (Poets & Writers, March/April 2013)

70. It is an immutable law of the universe that humans simply cannot, under any circumstances, no matter how hard they try, be completely objective about what they’ve written. That’s why, once you finish a draft of your proposal or manuscript, it’s important to let it sit and ferment, marinate and settle. Move away from your work for a bit. This will help you with your objectivity. In fact, there’s a direct correlation between the amount of objectivity you can achieve and the time you spend away from your material. – Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published)

71. Every writer aims to immerse the reader so deeply into the story, to so hypnotize the reader with the details and the writing, that she continues turning the pages. You want your reader to feel like she’s literally present in your fictional world, running right alongside your characters as they get swept up in the action of the story. This is, after all, one of the reasons people read: to lose themselves in a world more interesting than their own. – Sarah Domet (90 Days to Your Novel)

72. Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. habit is persistence in practice. – Octavia Butler

73. I warm up and break through the ice called writer’s block by writing poetry. If I can’t come up with a topic for a poem, I’ll look at the headlines in newspapers or magazines and find something to write a poem about. Once I write the poem, I’m ready to return to the longer work like a short story or novel. – Lloyd Lofthouse

74. Only kings, editors, and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial “we”. – Mark Twain

75. Forget the boring old dictum “write what you know”. Instead, seek out an unknown yet knowable area of experience that’s going to enhance your understanding of the world and write about that. – Rose Tremain

76. I type in one place, but I write all over the house. – Toni Morrison

77. What to do with your dreams? Some of us mumble them to our families over breakfast or dinner. Others write them down in a dream journal. Jacquelyn Mitchard took one of her dreams and molded it into the best-selling novel The Deep End of the Ocean. Author Stephanie Meyer was a mom and a homemaker when she had a dream that became the basis for her best-selling Twilight series. – Rochelle Melander (Write-a-Thon)

78. A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives us the right to dream. – Gaston Bachelard

79. Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it. – Jesse Stuart

80. What works for one writer becomes paralyzing for the next. – Karen E. Peterson

81. One telling detail will take you further than a page of description. – Michael Connelly

82. Most beginning writers (and I was the same) are like chefs trying to cook great dishes that they’ve never tasted themselves. How can you make a great (or even adequate) bouillabaisse if you’ve never had any? If you don’t really understand why people read mysteries (or romances or literary novels or thrillers or whatever), then there’s no way in the world you’re going to write one that anyone wants to publish. – Daniel Quinn

83. Stories move people to think and act. Anais Nin said, “What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see new meanings in it.” Art, in the form of a story well told, may literally transform the reader and the culture from the inside out. “A book ought to be an ice pick to beak up the frozen sea within us”, said Franz Kafka. Stories hold the power to transform the very society they are said to reflect, making storytelling among the highest of callings. – Elizabeth Lyon (A Writer’s Guide to Fiction)

84. I’m a full-time believer in writing habits. You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away. – Flannery O’Connor

85. Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. – Elie Wiesel

86. Writing longhand will help you experience your writing in a different way. Your mind will think in a different manner, both because writing longhand is a slower process and also because you won’t have the opportunity to backspace and erase the words you’ve just written. Writing in longhand is a more deliberate act. There is an elegant simplicity to writing longhand: it takes writing back to a primal and pleasing place. As an added incentive, there’s also a sense of instant gratification. The moment you make a mark, it is real. Unlike the sometimes dicey business of storing your writing on a computer’s hard drive, the handwritten page won’t disappear into a mysterious Ethernet void. – Amy Peters (The Writer’s Devotional)

87. I believe more in scissors than I do in the pencil. – Truman Capote

88. Mining the places you have lived can be a great way to unearth ideas. Too often we feel that the places we were born and raised lack the sort of exoticism that will attract readers. We think this because the places are not exotic to us. We take them for granted. I was born and raised in Ohio, which is synonymous with, even symbolic of, bland America. Of course, what is ordinary to us can be exotic to someone else. The key is being able to truly see the world around you, finding the details that evoke it. A world that is keenly evoked will be exotic to those who don’t know it well and will allow those who do know it well to see it with fresh eyes. – Jack Heffron (The Writer’s Idea Book)

89. Everything that I have written has the closest possible connection with what I have lived through inwardly. – Henrik Ibsen

90. First, there is the writing, then the exhilaration from feeling good about writing, then the guilt for the time spent writing when there are a dozen other obligations that should be met. So what’s the appeal? Why torture yourself? The appeal is that you are burning to say something, to express yourself, to make someone feel happy or sad or angry or just laugh. The appeal is that you believe what you have to say can make a difference in someone’s life, and you just might reach a bigger audience and impact several lives. You are the only one who can say what you have to say in just your way. And if it’s something powerful, something that can improve humanity or bring insights or change the world, or make people think or laugh—then why feel guilty? What are you waiting for? Get busy writing. – Nancy Ellen Dodd (The Writer’s Compass)

91. I don’t necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I just start with the part of the story that’s most vivid in my imagination and work forward and backward from there. – Beverly Cleary

92. Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph. Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about quality. Do feel anxiety—it’s the job. – Roddy Doyle

93. It’s necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. – Vita Sackville-West

94. If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster. – Isaac Asimov

95. Even with descriptions that have nothing to do with character emotion, there are ways you can show rather than tell. Rather than telling your readers that your hero’s car is an old broken down wreck, you can show him twisting two bare wires together to turn on the headlights, or driving through a puddle and being sprayed from the holes on the floor. That way your readers can draw their own conclusions about the car’s condition for themselves. – Renni Browne and Dave King (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers)

96. In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it. – Alex Haley

97. One of my theories about writing is that the process involves an ongoing interchange between Left Brain and Right. The journal provides a testing ground where the two can engage. Left Brain is analytical, linear, the timekeeper, the bean counter, the critic and editor, a valuable ally in the shaping of the mystery novel or any piece of writing for that matter. Right Brain is creative, spatial, playful, disorganized, dazzling, nonlinear, the source of the Aha! or imaginative leap. Without Right Brain, there would be no material for Left Brain to refine. Without Left Brain, the jumbled brilliance of Right Brain would never coalesce into a satisfactory whole. – Sue Grafton (Writing the Private Eye Novel)

98. If your whole reason for writing is to pontificate on, for example, the dangers of certain habits or lifestyles, you risk sounding preaching…If your theme is the danger of alcoholism, simply tell a story in which an alcoholic suffers because of his bad decisions and give the reader credit. If your story is powerful enough, your theme will come through. – Jerry B. Jenkins (Writer’s Digest, August 2006)

99. I know writers who write only when inspiration comes. How would Isaac Stern play if he played the violin only when he felt like it? He would be lousy. – Madeleine L’Engle

100. Writing genre fiction is a calling more prone to humiliation than most fields of creative endeavor. Yes, we face the same rejections from agents and publishers, the mortification of being asked if we write under our own names, the shame of events where only two people turn up. But we also face the indignity of being one of a bunch in the review section’s crime round up. And possible worst of all, the perennial question: “Have you ever thought of writing a proper novel?” – Val McDermid (Motification: Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame)

101. I never had any doubts about my abilities. I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this. – Cormac McCarthy

102. I never knew what was meant by “finding your voice”. Not for ages. I think I now know. I believe it means finding a way to write what is comfortable for you. It’s finding the method to tell your story that seems natural and unaffected. That way you’re not going to get caught out all the time trying to keep up with some kind of style that you think may be appropriate. – Maeve Binchy (The Mave Binchy Writer’s Club)

103. And writing a book may take you the same amount of time as it does to build a house. Having a long project that will need to transpire over time has its own advantages: as it goes along, it will become a measure of your capacity to stick to this often-thankless-feeling work. It will also continually teach you new things. Your novel will tell you things you never knew about your own soul, these being those truths known so far by no one else but you. – Jane Vandenburgh (Architecture of the Novel 

104. Good writing is remembering detail most people want to forget. Don’t forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth. – Paula Danzinger

105. Carry a heavy rock around with you (in your purse, backpack, or briefcase) to represent your barriers, fears, or problems in your writing. Carry it for several days until you become really annoyed with the burden. Then—without getting caught—place the rock in the garden of someone who annoys you. Or, on a more positive note, throw the rock in a lake and enjoy watching your fears symbolically sink out of sight. – Bill O’Hanlon (Write is a Verb)

106. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. – Harper Lee

107. You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, “This is me, this is what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can—buy me or not—but this is who I am as a writer.” – David Morrell

108. We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. If we can’t make up stories about ordinary people, who can we make them up about? …Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting. – John Updike

109. You better make them care about what you think. It had better be quirky or perverse or thoughtful enough so that you hit some chord in them. Otherwise it doesn’t work. I mean we’ve all read pieces where we thought, “Oh, who gives a damn”. – Nora Ephron

110. In truth, I never consider the audience for whom I’m writing. I just write what I want to write. – J. K. Rowling

111. The most important thing is you can’t write what you wouldn’t read for pleasure. It’s a mistake to analyze the market thinking you can write whatever is hot. You can’t say you’re going to write romance when you don’t even like it. You need to write what you would read if you expect anybody else to read it. – Nora Roberts

-- Janet

Why I Write - Jenny Milchman

I'm thrilled to have the talented suspense writer Jenny Milchman share Why She Writes! I don't know anyone more dedicated to books and helping fellow authors than Jenny. And she writes darn good books, too!

Jenny Pic

I write because the stories are a whitewater river that sweeps me away.

I write because I always have, from before I knew how to, when I’d dictate bedtime stories to my mom, and she would copy them down.

So maybe it’s not just writing we’re talking about—it’s storytelling.

I tell stories to leave one life and live another.

I tell stories to conquer fear. In becoming my heroine, I do things I hope I never have to, in ways I could only hope to.

I tell stories to weave a bridge between you and me, reader and writer, connections I may never know exist, transmitting messages across a powerful network of invisible cables.

What about the metaphors we use for writing? Spinning webs, weaving yarns, scattering fairy dust.

Giant, gripping arms wrapping themselves around me, sinking their claws into my brain.

I write because the story takes hold and won’t let go, a King Kong’s fist shaking me until I have to tell it so it will finally put me down, breathless and gasping.

I write because there are characters who appear and I owe them life.

I write because presents amass, as if under some great Christmas tree, and who can not unwrap a present? Inside is a story that has to be told.

I write because it’s a privilege, a gift that offers me a hint of the divine.

I write because it’s the closest I come to making magic.

I write because I love to.

I write because I love. -- Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman is a novelist from New York State, who lived for eleven months on the road with her family on what Shelf Awareness called “the world’s longest book tour.”

Jenny’s debut novel, COVER OF SNOW, won the Mary Higgins Clark award, was praised by the New York Times, AP, and many other publications, and chosen as an Indie Next and Target Pick. RUIN FALLS, published the following year, landed on many bookstore Best Of lists, was chosen as an Indie Next Pick and a Top Ten of 2014 by Suspense Magazine. Jenny’s third novel, AS NIGHT FALLS, also an Indie Next Pick, came out this summer.

Jenny speaks nationwide about the publishing industry and the importance of sticking to a dream. She is Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, and the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is celebrated in all 50 states and 6 foreign countries. Jenny teaches writing and publishing for New York Writers Workshop.

Why I Write - S.G. Browne

I'm super excited that the very first contributor to the Writespiration Why We Write section is none other than S.G. Browne. ::insert screaming crowd::

I've only read Breathers (OMG, best zombie novel EVAR), but we own everything S.G. has ever written (and hubby has read, and loves, them ALL). In fact, he just finished Less Than Hero just today (see cheesy pic at bottom).

Once I get my 3rd Tarot book written, I'm starting on Fated (Ron's always bugging me "Have you read it yet? Have you read it yet?"). 

OK, enough gushing! It's time to find out why S.G. Browne writes...

Author Pic SGBrowne 600

Ask a room full of writers why they write and you’re likely to get a room full of answers.

To tell a story. To be read by others. To make sense of the world. To make money. To maintain their sanity.

While I can’t speak for other writers, it’s rarely been just one or another reason for me but a combination of several reasons. And over the years, those reasons have shifted.

Thirty years ago, while reading The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, I became so caught up in the adventure unfolding on the pages that the world outside of the book ceased to exist. And I thought: I want to make someone feel like this.

That was the first time I realized I wanted to be a writer. So when I started writing on a steady basis, my motivation was to not only be read by others but to make them feel the same way I felt when I read a good book. I also wrote because I wanted to become a published writer. More than that, I wanted to make a living as a writer. While I wasn’t writing for the money (because let’s face it, most writers don’t make enough to live on), I was writing toward the goal of supporting myself as a full-time writer. It wasn’t purely financial motivation, but more a goal of being financially independent doing something that I loved.

To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau: I wanted to go confidently in the direction of my dreams and live the life I imagined.

For the better part of twenty years, this remained one of the major driving forces behind why I wrote. But I also had stories I wanted to tell. I wanted to make sense of the world around me through my writing. And I wanted to share my literary vision with others. That’s what got me up at six in the morning to write for two hours each day before going to work and it’s what put me at my desk for another two hours every night before I went to sleep.

When I first started writing, I wrote straight supernatural horror. But in 2002 something shifted and I started writing dark comedy and social satire. So rather than writing to scare myself and others, I wrote to make commentary on our society in a way that was darkly humorous. I wrote to make myself and others laugh while thinking about the world in which we live. And I still do.

After I sold my first novel, Breathers, in 2008, my motivation for becoming a published author and full-time writer were realized, so those motivations took a back seat to my other reasons for writing—primarily creating stories that mattered to me. That’s not to say creating stories that mattered to me was ever a lesser reason for writing than any of my other reasons. It was always one of the main driving forces behind my writing. After all, if the story doesn’t matter to me, then why should I expect it to matter to anyone else?

The funny thing is, once you start to earn a living as a writer, you realize there are now other people out there who are reading your novels and who have expectations. So once I published a second novel and then a third, while I was still writing to tell the stories I wanted to tell, I was also writing for an audience.

So there are a lot of reasons why I write.

I write to tell stories. I write to make commentary on society. I write to make myself and readers who share my sense of humor laugh. I write to make others feel the way I do when I read a good story. I write to make sense of the world. But I also write because I’m happier when I’m writing than when I’m not. Writing nourishes my soul. It also provides a respite from reality.

Ray Bradbury once said: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

Based on that advice, I plan to stay drunk for as long as I can.

-- S.G. Browne

S.G. Browne is the author of the novels Less Than Hero, Big Egos, Lucky Bastard, Fated, and Breathers, as well as the eBook short story collection Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel and the heartwarming holiday novella I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus. He lives in San Francisco. You can learn more about his writing at www.sgbrowne.com or follow him on Twitter at @s_g_browne.


Note from Janet: Also see S.G.'s piece The Writing Life: You Are Not Alone on Medium here. Below, my awesome husband giving a thumb's up to S.G.'s latest! Big thanks to S.G. for taking the time to share why he writes with us. 

Ron Less Hero 600

Introducing Why We Write

Why We Write 600

I’m pleased to present another new feature on Writespiration: Why We Write.

Inspired by the book of the same name (have it, love it), I realized that many writers often stop and ask themselves “Why do I write?” Let’s face it: hundreds of jobs are oh-so-much easier than writing.

This question usually surfaces during times of discouragement or weariness—or after some type of criticism or (perceived) rejection.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself the same question.

A lot.

Not only is it beneficial to ask “Why do I write?”—but it also helps to read why other writers “keep on keepin’ on”.

What motivates writers? Why do we slog on year after year after year—even in the face of poverty, a required “day job”, parenthood (read: sleepless nights), multiple rejections, negative reviews or (gasp) stalking?

Or, despite accolades, rave reviews and continued book deals—why do writers sometimes feel unfulfilled, cynical, misanthropic—yet, can’t stop writing?

In Why We Write, you’ll get an intimate view of writers sharing their hearts and motivations for showing up at the keyboard or moleskin notebook—day after day after day.

Perhaps their journeys and reasons for writing will help you stay on the path.

Or, maybe, give you a sensible reason to (finally) hang it up for good...

Location, Location, Location

I have an African Violet plant that hasn't flowered for years. 

Despite good care, the plant only grew lush, fuzzy green leaves.

Until now.

Three purple blossoms with bright yellow centers bloomed on top the plant. Six more await unfurlment.

What happened?


I moved the plant a mere 25 feet, from a northerly window indirect sun to an easterly window with a few hours of direct sunlight.

In our writing life, sometimes we need to change locations in order to blossom.

This could mean changing our mental orientation--for example, from discouraged to hopeful--or it may mean an actual, physical change in where we write.

If you're stuck on uninspired, try writing:

  • In the bathtub
  • On a park bench
  • At the library
  • In a cafe
  • On a step
  • In the care (not while driving!)
  • On a grassy lawn
  • In a shopping mall
  • Poolside
  • In a cemetery
  • At a ski lodge
  • On the bus
  • Under a tree
  • At the beach
  • In bed
  • At your dining room table
  • In the basement
  • At a friend's house

A change of location brings a different perspective--as well as varied sights, sounds and smells--providing fresh grist for the creative mill.

How has a change of location helped your writing life? Do tell!

Word of the Day - Hoary

Hoary textAlthough today's word sounds like it's describing a brothel, it means something far different (and much more benign!).

The word hoary simply means gray or white with age.

For example:

My paternal grandpa wears a blue-black toupee rivaling Wayne Newton's hair, while my maternal grandpa sports a standard hoary coiffure.


Commonly Confused Words Part 3

Q MarkIt's time for another edition of Commonly Confused Words!

Prophecy vs. Prophesy

I see these two confused in New Age and Christian books, as well as paranormal fiction.

Prophecy: Pronounced proffa-SEE, prophecy is a noun. It's the message a prophet declares.

Nancy heard the prophecy about the apocalypse from the oracle in the woods.

Prophesy: Pronounced proffa-SYE, prophesy is a verb. It's the act of giving a prophecy.

In the middle of the woods, Nancy heard the oracle prophesy at the top of her lungs.

Callus vs. Callous

Callus: Noun. Hardened or thickened area on the skin.

The farmer had a callus on his thumb.

Callous: Adjective. Indifferent, hardened, unsympathetic.

The teacher's treatment of the grieving student was callous. 

Advise vs. Advice

Advise: Verb. To offer counsel. (ad-VIZE)

"I advise you to stay silent", said the lawyer.

Advice: Noun. Opinion or recommendation. (ad-VICE)

You want my advice? Walk away.

Feel vs. Fill

Feel: Verb. Awareness of touch. To have a sensation.

I feel ill.

Fill: Verb. To make full.

Allow me to fill your glass with water.

Site vs. Sight

Site: Noun. Position or location. Or, short for website.

The construction site is on the north end of the campus.

Sight: Noun. Vision. Act of seeing.

Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes!

Horde vs. Hoard

Horde: Noun. A group or swarm.

Stella was chased by a horde of bees.

Hoard: Verb. To stockpile.

What a packrat! She hoards every piece of junk she can find.

Hoard: Noun. A guarded supply.

The dragon guarded her hoard of jewels. 

Secrete vs. Secret 

Secrete: Verb. To discharge by secretion. (sa-KREET)

The pimple secreted yellow pus.

Secrete: Verb. To conceal. (sa-KREET)

The dog secreted dozens of bones in the back yard.

Secret: Noun. A mystery. Something hidden. (SEE-krit)

Tom has a secret and he's not telling.

Secret: Adjective. Secluded, sheltered, withdrawn. Done without the knowledge of others. (SEE-krit)

The superhero lived in a secret location.

i.e. vs. e.g.

i.e. Latin id est. That is. (Interchangeable with in other words).

The lead singer of Iron Maiden is a gorgeous renaissance man (i.e., Bruce Dickinson).

e.g. Latin exempli gratia. For example.

I love 80s metal bands (e.g. Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Judas Priest).

What's So Great About the Truth?

After watching an episode titled "Back to Nature" on The Andy Griffith Show where Andy deceives Barney into thinking he has pioneer skills, I was offended. "It's a total lie", I said to my son, who was watching the show with me.

Noah then asked me a rather profound question: "What's so great about the truth?"

Back to nature 300I sputtered, "Being true to yourself! Being authentic!"

But as I thought about my obsession with striving for authenticity and honesty on social media--and where it's got me (don't ask--it's the liars and ass-kissers that get ahead)--I had to wonder if my child had a point.

Then, I happened to read James Frey's interview in the book Why We Write. You know, the James Frey that was burned at the stake by Oprah and the world for writing a fictional memoir (a book, by the way, that Frey tried to convince his publishers to sell as fiction--but they refused and went with memoir). 

Frey loves making up pseudonyms, saying:

Being a writer is about creating a public mythology, creating a writerly persona, as much as it's about what you write.

On Hemingway, Kerouac and others, Frey notes:

[They] had big public personas, and their public personas almost destroyed them. They got lost. They forgot that there's a line between who you are at home and who you are in public.

After reading this, I realized that there's one letter separating "public" and "pubic".

But I digress...

Compared to losing a kid, losing a friend, having your heart broken--those horrific experiences as a writer are just bad days at work.

Frey should know; he and his wife lost their son Leo 11 days after he was born.

I had an epiphany after reading Frey's insightful interview. 

Wow, I thought, maybe instead of striving for authenticity online--which always backfires--maybe I should strive for public artifice (otherwise known as "business as usual" for most other writers). 

Instead of closing the gap between the "real me" and the "public me", I should widen it like a canyon--never allowing the two to touch, let alone overlap.

Maybe it's the "artist's life" (or "artist's illusion") that destroys so many writers.

Maybe writers are better off regarding writing as "punching the clock", while research, daydreaming and germinating are nothing but overtime.

When I'm at the machine, when I'm James Frey the writer, that evaporates. I have no fear. Nobody can hurt me, nobody can say shit that means anything to me. When I'm in the act of writing that's not ego, it's just work, just struggle and challenge. I keep a pretty strict wall between those things. People get into trouble when that wall falls down.

Wise words. More writers, including myself, would benefit from building a thick, high wall between their personal Self and public Self.

That's the beauty of it: all the bullshit in the world, and all that really matters to me, to readers, to history, is are the books good enough.

Isn't that the million dollar question? Are our books good enough?

Writer Quirks - Anne R. Allen

In the latest installment of Writer Quirks (and Advice!), I'm pleased as punch to introduce you to my colleague and friend, Anne R. Allen. I met Anne through Twitter, subsequently discovering her fabulous writing blog. In fact, her writing blog is so good, Writer's Digest just named it one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers in their May/June 2013 issue! Without further ado, here's Anne...

AnneI think I might be one of the world’s unquirkiest writers. Unless being boring is a quirk. I sit down at the keyboard every day at 8:30 AM with my tea and almond milk. I check email, listen to Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac at 9:00, turn off the radio at 9:05 and get to work.

I always go over the pages from yesterday before going on. I try to write 3 pages, but sometimes it’s 10 and sometimes it’s a half a page I delete the next day. But I always aim for those 3 pages.

I take a break at exactly 12:30 and get back to work about an hour later. In the afternoon I mostly work on social media and my blog, guest blogposts and promotions. Mondays I go to Farmer’s Market and do errands. Saturdays I take off and go to the beach or go out and listen to live music if I can. Even if I have a big deadline. I’ve learned if I don’t take at least a couple of afternoons off a week, my muse gets cranky.

On regular writing days, I go for a walk at 4:30, then come back to prepare dinner—I try to cook everything from scratch—and I eat in front of the hokey local TV news. (Great fodder for stories. Way better than national news.)

Then back to the keyboard at 6:30 if I’ve got a project going, or sometimes I sit down to read. 

That life might sound like hellish boredom to some people, and it would have to my younger, wilder and crazier self, but it’s an idyllic life for me right now. I guess I feel I’ve had my share of adventures, and now it’s time for me to stay put and write about them.

My advice to writers is remember only you can write your book. Trust your muse. Listen carefully to feedback, but never change anything just to please somebody else if it doesn’t resonate with you.

You’ll end up with a Frankenbook written by committee. 

I spent way too much time with my first novel incorporating feedback from critique groups, workshops, beta-readers, etc., and I ended up with a cobbled-together mess of genres and styles. My current editor is trying to make sense of it now. But I think even he is stumped. It has some of my best writing, but the plot goes off in too many directions.

E age 300Catherine Ryan Hyde and I have written a lot about how to deal with critique in our book How to be a Writer in the E-Age...and Keep Your E-Sanity!. It’s important to remember critiquers all come to your page with their own agendas. If they’re self-involved beginners, they’ll try to rewrite your book to be about them. If they’re rule-bound “old hands” they’ll try to get you to write a cookie-cutter book that’s just like everything else out there. The trick is to nod politely, say “duly noted” and forget everything they said.

My favorite quote happens to be from my eBook: “People are always asking me ‘how do I know I’m a real writer?’ and I say, “If you write—and you’re not a wooden puppet carved by an old Italian guy named Gepetto—you’re a real writer…. Don’t give up because you don’t have an agent yet, or your mother-in-law calls you a slacker who ‘sits around on your butt all day,’ or your mechanic keeps asking why you don't have the money to replace that clunker. You’re a writer. Go write.” 

Bio: Anne R. Allen is a former actress and stage director who lives on the Central Coast of California. She’s the author of six romantic-comedy mysteries. Her newest is No Place Like Home. She has written a guidebook for authors with Catherine Ryan Hyde (author of the iconic novel Pay it Forward.) How to be a Writer in the E-Age...and Keep Your E-Sanity! She shares an award-winning blog with NYT bestselling author Ruth Harris at Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris named one of the Best 101 Sites for Writers by Writers Digest.

My Life is Not an Apology - Ralph Waldo Emerson

My life is not an apology, but a life. It is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

What do you feel Emerson meant by this quote? How might it apply to the writing life?

What is the difference between writing that is "genuine and equal" versus "glittering and unsteady"?

Writer Quirks - Rachel Thompson

It's always lovely to run into a fellow smart-mouthed red head (yeah, yeah...I know I'm a blonde underneath!), especially one so big hearted and supportive of fellow writers (especially indies). 

RachelYou know who I'm talkin' about, right? None other than Rachel in the OC herself, Rachel Thompson! ::throws confetti, opens a bottle of vodka and passes the Nutella::

Rachel kindly answered my nosy questions about her writer quirks, and tossed in some great writing advice, to boot. Take it away, Rachel!

Thanks for asking me, sweet Janet!

Okay, writing quirks:

1) I cannot write a thing without drinking coffee first thing in the morning.

2) I listen to moody music for inspiration when I write, primarily women. My favorites are Poe's HAUNTED, Fisher's WATER (stunning album BTW), Jonatha Brooke, Imogen Heap, Heart, Grace Potter, Tori Amos (Little Earthquakes), and the quieter songs by Sheryl Crow and Madonna. That's good for now. :)

3) I'm always in black. What. I lived in NYC. It's how I roll. Bright colors distract me.

4) I like all the blinds closed when I write. If it's rainy outside, I'm happy. Gloomy is good for my writing soul.

BrokenPieces 400As for writing advice: trust your vision. lots of people will have lots to say about your writing, and I encourage you to be brave and show it (via guest posts, your own blog, sharing in critique groups, whatever). But ultimately your name goes on it. It's YOUR book. Be true to your vision.

Also, give yourself permission to write the hard stuff. Don't self-edit. Get in that headspace and just go. You're a grown up. Write like it.

Gah, I need to work on that self-editing thing. Comes in handy for non-fiction writing but, geez, it sure is a pain in the ass when it comes to fiction writing. Le sigh. I'm working on it!

Thanks heaps, Rachel, for sharing your writing quirks and advice with us!

Readers, Rachel is out with a brand new book called Broken Pieces. It's a raw, unflinching look into Rachel's soul and the effects of abuse. I'm about twenty pages into these essays and, admittedly, I had to put it down...only because I was feeling a bit raw, myself. When I'm stronger, I will pick it back up to read. The prose and authentic emotion is exquisite.

If you're more in the mood for snarktastic humor, check out Rachel's other bestselling books A Walk in the Snark and The Mancode: Exposed.

You can find Rachel on the web at rachelintheoc.com and 
BadRedheadMedia.com, as well as on Twitter (@RachelintheOC and @BadRedheadMedia).

Writer Quirks - Shannon MacLeod

ShannonI had the pleasures of meeting Shannon as Jennifer ShadowFox (her pseudonym) through our mutual non-fiction Tarot work. She, too, writes Tarot books and creates decks.

But Shannon is also a fiction writer! (A feat I'm trying to balance, myself). I asked Shannon if she'd share some of her writing quirks and advice with my blog readers and I'm thrilled she said yes! Without further ado, here's Shannon:

I’m by nature somewhat…ah…quirky, so normal is a real relative term. These are the things that immediately come to mind:

1. I read all my dialogue aloud with the corresponding accents. Normally that’s not a bad thing, but I have occasional bouts of “wandering mind” and the folks in line with me at Walmart get a taste of what’s going on in my head. Makes for some interesting looks. I’ve taken to wearing my Bluetooth whenever I’m out in public so at least it looks like I’m talking to someone other than myself.

2. There must be rain. I love rainy days, overcast and stormy. If there’s no rain, I pipe it in. Yes, Virginia – there’s an app for that. If I’m editing, I keep the TV on low in the background. I usually put the “movie du jour” on and keep track of how long I’ve been working by how many times I’ve restarted it. Right now, Wreck It Ralph is on the second showing of the night. If I’m actually writing, it’s rain only. Anything else is distracting. I prefer writing at night to day.

Celtic3. I listen to music to help me get in the mood – during the writing of The Celtic Knot: Suit of Cups and Rogue on the Rollaway, I listened to a lot of Loreena McKennitt and Gaelic Storm. For The Gypsy Ribbon: Suit of Wands, it was all Def Leppard, Winger, Bon Jovi and 80s hair bands. I’m now working on The French Twist: Suit of Swords and I’m listening to a lot of…you guessed it…country music. *cue evil laugh*

4. I write books on Tarot in addition to paranormal romance, but my worlds collide from time to time. You may have noticed a pattern in the romances…it’s a different type of discipline writing nonfiction, but no less demanding. It may be a left/right brain thing. Either way, working on Tarot requires Lord of the Rings or something equally epic in the background.

5. I carry a notebook with me almost everywhere to jot things down. If I find a phrase I like in a book, I write it down. Witty lines, snappy comebacks, cool words that I don’t normally use…anything that might be useful later goes into the book. That serves two purposes – it commits to memory what I like and provides a jumpstart if I get stuck later. When I have a case of “whitescreenitis” I just flip open the book and look for something that fits.

6. I find I write longer and better with a cat on my lap. There’s so much guilt involved with disturbing a snoring cat, I will sit until my legs go numb before I’ll move her.

GypsyAdvice for writers: I never participated in critique groups where people you don’t know tell you how good/bad your work is, so I can’t really tell you how effective that is. I’m astonished at the number of books that tell you how to write. Hell, if I read even a third of those I wouldn’t have time to write at all. Reading books on how to write is like reading books on how to fish or bowl – the only way you’re going to learn to do either is by doing it.

That being said, I have two books that I do highly recommend – Stephen King’s On Writing (one of the best books ever written – ought to be required reading, so it should) and The Writer’s Little Helper by James V. Smith Jr.

And I just have to share my favorite writing tip ever. I struggled with active vs. passive voice until I read this: If you can insert “by/from zombies” after the verb, it is passive voice:

She was running (from zombies) = passive voice

Zombies chased (from zombies) her = active voice

(Thanks to Professor Rebecca Johnson for this great tip.)

RogueOverall I love the process and even the quirks make it more interesting. I’m not quite at the “having to wear my lucky socks to create” stage, but I suspect it’s not far off. I’ve got the perfect pair all picked out.

About Shannon: In between writing and daydreaming about sexy Celts, Shannon MacLeod lives a life of servitude to two spoiled cats. She enjoys pondering the mysteries of Tarot, rainy days, good music, lively craic and spending long hours staring at her beloved ocean. An avid wearer of dangerously high heels, she watches Lord of the Rings more than any sane person should and can, in fact, reenact entire battle scenes using interpretive dance. Shannon is the author of two paranormal romances from Lyrical Press: The Celtic Knot: Suit of Cups (Arcana Love Volume 1), Rogue on the Rollaway (coming 10/01/13) and The Gypsy Ribbon: Suit of Wands (Arcana Love Volume 2, coming 2014).

Shannon is also a proud member of Romance Writers of America and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. Visit her online at ShannonMacLeod.com.

Interview with Gayle Trent

It's my pleasure to be able to interview one of my favorite cozy mystery authors (who has now become a wonderful friend), Gayle Trent! Gayle is the author of the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mysteries, as well as the Marcy Singer Embroidery Shop Mysteries (written under the pseudonym Amanda Lee).

Gayle 3

Janet: MURDER TAKES THE CAKE via Bell Bridge Books is how I discovered your fantastic writing, Gayle. So, tell me, what writers/books did you cut your teeth on?

Gayle: I loved Nancy Drew, of course. Later it was Victoria Holt. 

Janet: So many of us adored (and still adore!) the Nancy Drew mysteries! When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Gayle: I wanted to be a writer for much longer than I thought it was actually feasible to be one. In my rural community, fiction writing was not a practical career choice. So I became a secretary and wrote as a hobby.

Janet: What's your writing/publishing background?

Gayle: My first novel, PHOTO FINISH, was published by Neighborhood Press in 1991. The company subsequently went out of business. Hope there was no correlation! After that, I was published by a couple of small presses and then, for a few years, I operated my own small publishing company and published not only my own work but the novels of other writers as well. The company was called Grace Abraham Publishing (my children’s middle names), and our mystery fiction was printed under the imprint Dark-n-Stormies. One of my crowning achievements with Dark-n-Stormies was getting the books featured in Woman’s Day Magazine in October of 2005.

It was too hard to operate a publishing business and continue to write, however, so I closed up shop on Grace Abraham Publishing and began writing again full-time. Some of my Dark-N-Stormies books live on in Kindle form—BETWEEN A CLUTCH AND A HARD PLACE , WHEN GOOD BRAS GO BAD and THE PERFECT WOMAN. All are available for .99 each. 

Gayle smallerJanet:
How many books have you written?

Gayle: 18

Janet: Who's been your favorite character to write?

Gayle: I have the most fun with the off-the-wall characters like Myrtle and Myra. 

Janet: Myra from the Cake Decorating Mysteries is hilarious! Speaking of that series, how do you come up with such clever names like the musical-themed family from those books?

Gayle: Sometimes I really do things tongue-in-cheek expecting the editor to make me delete them, and the musical-themed family names was one of those things! But the editor loved it and let it go through.  When I let myself go, I can be pretty creative. When I worry about what the editor will do with what I’ve written, it sometimes stifles me. I’ve learned to try not to worry about it. I was so close with Deborah Smith (who edited MURDER TAKES THE CAKE) that I really let myself go on that one. She’s the queen of clever! She came up with the EIEIO acronym for KILLER SWEET TOOTH.

Janet: What writer/s do you most admire? Why?

Gayle: I love Jeffrey Deaver because his books usually have a make-you-gasp ending that you never saw coming. I enjoy Mary Higgins Clark’s books because she’s simply a master of suspense. I rediscovered Jude Deveraux recently. I’d read several of her books and then began concentrating solely on mysteries when I began writing in the genre. I did myself a disservice. Jude Deveraux is such an excellent writer—seamlessly weaving together her stories (I stayed up late two nights in a row reading LAVENDER MORNING)—that no matter what the genre, any author could learn a lot about writing from her. 

Janet: I've not read Deaver nor Deveraux! Now, tell me, what's the hardest part about being an author? Writing? Easiest?

Pen paper smallerGayle: Sometimes the hardest part about being an author is the loneliness. My family teases me (and I also joke) about the amount of time I spend with my dog Cooper. But he really IS my best buddy! He’s lying at my feet right this minute. On Facebook someone posted, you begin to act like the five people you spend the most time with. One day during the Halloween season, I went into the “seasonal” aisle of the grocery store, stopped, raised my head, and sniffed the candy-scented air. That’s when it struck me, “I’m beginning to act like Cooper!” LOL 

One of the hardest parts of writing is making myself work through the hard spots where the writing has stopped flowing and I’m stumped as to how to transition from one thing to the next. The other hardest part is submitting to revisions. It’s often hard to go back and retool something you thought was really good. “This was sheer genius!” you might think when writing a scene. “This scene is extraneous and needs to go,” your editor might say. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

Third hardest part – bad reviews. Everybody gets them, and they hurt like crazy. I can get five excellent reviews and one bad review all in the same day, and I’ll focus on the bad one. 

The easiest part is always when someone read what you wrote and enjoyed it. That’s why we all do what we do, and that’s wonderful.

Janet: Gayle, what's the best piece of writing advice you ever received? Worst? 

Gayle: I think the best—not necessarily advice, but certainly words of wisdom—I received was from romance author Teresa Medeiros at a writing conference. We were in the signing area. I was sitting there with my one book—PHOTO FINISH—and she was sitting beside me with her many books with their beautiful covers. She took a photo of me sitting at my table and said, “I want to buy one of your books.” I asked, “Why?” She laughed and said, “Because I want to read it! Never forget, Gayle, we’ve all been where you are.” 

CollaboratingThe worst thing I ever heard an author say was at a local library event. I’d tell you his name, but I’d be shocked if any of you had heard of him. No one among us was a best-selling author. Anyway, I asked this guy if he’d be interested in joining our writers’ group, and he said, “No. I’m an established author. I don’t need to belong to a group.” Uh…okay…. Didn’t want him in our group after that anyway. And, although I didn’t say this to him, I was thinking, “Pal, you need a group more than you could possibly realize.”

Janet: What advice would you give aspiring authors?

Gayle: Hang in there. Writing ain’t for sissies! 

Janet: What are the next two books in both series and when are they coming out?

Gayle: Embroidery Shop series: CROSS STITCH BEFORE DYING - August 6, 2013. Cake Decorating series: BATTERED TO DEATH - Release date has not yet been set.

Janet: Gayle, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my nosy questions! It's been a pleasure. 

For more information about Gayle and her books, please visit her website at GayleTrent.com.

Writer Quirks - Janet Boyer

Since I’ve put Hugh HoweyChris Brogan, and Jenny Milchman through the writer quirk wringer, I figure it’s about time for me to expose my own bizarre writing quirks (and dispense some dubious writing advice at the end).

UnplugThose of you who follow me on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) may have noticed me saying, “I’ll post it when I’m back at my PC” or “Offline for a few days!” or “If you’ve emailed, I’ll get to you when I get back online”.

Friends and fans know exactly what this means, but I’ve not shared my sordid secret publicly until now: in order to get any writing done (not to mention homeschooling, domestic duties and spousal mandated relaxation), I have my husband hide the broadband modem at work. And my old school Kindle.

That’s right: I’m so pathetic, so lacking self-control, that my husband totes the square, black device—as well as my Kindle in it’s purple leather case—to work with him. To hide in his locker at work. Until I tell him to bring them home.

Sometimes, he’s carrying so much with him to work (packages to be mailed, his lunchbox, mp3 player, cell phone, etc.), that he tries to hide it here at home.

Thing is, I’m psychic. Honest to God psychic. As in, I can zero in on the freakin’ thing—even if it’s hidden in the basement, atop the ceiling beams where I can’t see it and need a plastic step stool (that I retrieve from the second floor) to reach it.

Now that our 14-year-old son is taller than his Dad, I can get him to reach up to feel for it! Ha! And, of course, dear husband is amazed that I can find it.

Most days, Ron good humoredly goes along with my antics by taking my stash to work in a plastic shopping bag. Some days, he even insists on it (“that internet is nothing but trouble!”). Once in awhile, though, he gets tired of carrying my shameful, addictive burden with him (“can’t you just self-regulate?”).

Which he knows damn well that I cannot.

I know some of you are shaking your heads right now, and a few are even laughing (you see yourself in this, don’t you?).

But it gets worse.

Kindle holding smallSee, I also have a Kindle Fire. Now, I have hubby hide the regular Kindle at work because the 3G capabilities can still allow for internet access. Kindle Fire, however, is WiFi only. So if the broadband modem isn’t here, I can’t access the internet.

Except, my neighbor two doors down programmed her WiFi password into my Fire last week. So, some days, I’ll stroll down the road (in my PJs, at times) to ask—like the pathetic Ethernet beggar that I am—to use her WiFi. We catch up on neighborhood gossip as I check email and admire her latest horticultural acquisitions (she’s got a major green thumb!). I also get a bonus prize: mad lickings from her adorable Chihuahua (Roxy Girl!). Eventually, I leave.

A few weeks ago, I got the idea that I may just be able to pick up her WiFi from my yard so I don’t have to waltz down there at 10 PM like some kind of addict looking to score her next fix (she works afternoon shift, and doesn’t mind me hanging out on her cozy porch).

Lo and behold, if I get right up next to the fence bordering my property, I can access her WiFi! Fortunately, it works when I’m far away from the road so that onlookers don’t wonder what the hell some lady is doing standing close to her fence in broad daylight, huddled over some kind of device.

Wifi smaller
Silly husband made a sign!

But addicts don’t just operate in the day. Oh no, they lurk and lurch around in the cloak of darkness.

So the last few nights, I go outside in the pitch black, jonesing for my device to pick up her WiFi (instead of trying to log into my WiFi, which is a no-go since the broadband—which is at my husband’s work—needs to complete the connection). In my pajamas. With my crocs on. After a rain.

I almost slip into the edge of our garden-to-be. Getting my footing, trying to use the glow of the Fire screen to navigate my path to the fence, my feet finally find purchase. Until I step in a @#$%*&! gopher hole and almost break my ankle!

I did say I was pathetic, right?

And it’s not like I’m major cyber slut; I’m lucky I visit ten sites on a regular basis!

Le sigh.

Writing by handMy other writing quirk is much tamer: despite having severe tendonitis/CTS in both hands, I must write longhand when it comes to my non-fiction writing (read: 70% of what I write). Reviews and blog posts I can compose just fine on my PC with my handy dandy ergonomic keyboard. I’ve even trained my brain to work on my cozy mystery novel-in-progress via PC.

But not my eBooks or non-fiction books.

Why? Well, I think author Amy Peters sums it up nicely in her book The Writer’s Devotional):

Writing longhand will help you experience your writing in a different way. Your mind will think in a different manner, both because writing longhand is a slower process and also because you won’t have the opportunity to backspace and erase the words you’ve just written. Writing in longhand is a more deliberate act. There is an elegant simplicity to writing longhand: it takes writing back to a primal and pleasing place. As an added incentive, there’s also a sense of instant gratification. The moment you make a mark, it is real. Unlike the sometimes dicey business of storing your writing on a computer’s hard drive, the handwritten page won’t disappear into a mysterious Ethernet void.

 Hell, I’m not even allowed to do dishes because my hands are so wracked by numbness and pain. (After the fifth broken glass, hubby and son took over dish duty. We’ve since switched to almost all plastic glasses, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to point that out! After all, there’s still the Pyrex measuring cup, glass baking pans, porcelain casserole dishes to consider…)


So there ya have it. Two crazy writing quirks from yours truly.

Now, about the writing advice.

Gosh, I don’t feel qualified to give much out, since I’ll still muck my way around despite being a traditionally published author x3 and having various other writing “successes”.

SherbetBut as a reader, Amazon.com Hall of Fame Reviewer and despiser of BS, I will say this: the most important piece of writing advice I can give you is to be an original.

Despite appearing as glib advice, it’s not as easy as it looks, especially if your original voice happens to be controversial, polarizing, illuminating and raw. In case you haven’t watched TV lately (I haven’t—been without TV programming for over five years, in fact) or noticed magazine covers in the supermarket, “fakeness” sells.

Think about it: magazine models are photoshopped. Wrinkles, blemishes and discoloration? Magically wiped away. Open the inside of the magazine, and women are told we need makeup to be beautiful, skin cream to look younger, perfume to smell better and designer break-your-damn-neck stilettos to be sexy.

If you’re a man, you need a newer car to exude achievement, the latest electronic device to seem “hip” and a pretty girl on your arm to appear virile.

“Reality” TV? Ain’t nothing real about it.

And what about well-meaning advice from religious leaders, New Age gurus and social media experts saying that we all must “play nice”? Smile at everyone, never be negative, always be complimentary, be happy, vibrate quicker, sing Kumbaya and don’t rock the boat.

In other words, stifle urges coming anywhere near uncomfortable emotions, unvarnished truths or authentic ideas.

So writer’s self-censor—on social media, in their relationships, and, perhaps most damaging, on the page.

The result? Books filled with bland writing, cardboard characters and a “who gives a shit?” plot. Which are the types of books that are, sadly, even published by the Big Four. (It’s Four now, right?)

So there you have it, dear reader. My embarrassing writer quirks. And some advice lobbed your way, to boot.

Are you a writer with some writing quirks? By all means share them here in the comments! Your writing advice is most welcome, as well. 

-- Janet

3 Ways to Bust Through Writer's Block

I love my creative friends.

Writers, painters, fashion designers, bloggers, hair stylists, chefs, illustrators, jewelry makers…their life and work inspires me.

Yet, even among the most talented and productive, a bubble of unease and discontent
often rises to the surface. Troubling bubbles containing questions like:

Girl Q
How do I come up with ideas?

How do I keep things fresh?

How can I write about a topic in new, interesting ways?

How can I stay inspired?

How can I break out of a creative rut?

Without further ado, here are three ways to bust through writer's block: 

1. Describe What You See.

It seems almost too simple…but have you tried it? Wherever you are, STOP. Get out your notebook and pen (you do carry them with you, right?), and begin writing down what you see. (If you’re not old-school like I am, yes, by all means, use your glowing box to jot down your impressions). Describe what you smell, what you hear, what you feel. Take it all in, capturing your experience with words. Don’t censor, don’t judge and don't stop until you’ve written for at least 15 minutes.

2. Make a Magazine Collage.

Scissors CupI could write an entire blog post on what you can do with old magazines. For now, we’ll focus on an image collage. Flip through the magazine, scissors in hand (wait, put those down while flipping…safety first!), and choose images that intrigue, inspire or delight you. Heck, maybe even pick a picture or two that ticks you off. Cut them out. On a piece of sturdy paper like poster board, tape or glue those images. Notice if themes seem to jump out to you—ideas that you can develop into a story or poem.

Alternatively, you can start your collage with a theme already in mind, and then treasure hunt through the magazine for related images. Examples can include My Protagonist’s Life, What I Find Beautiful, Color Riot, How Alone Looks and so on. No magazines around? Try Pinterest, which is a virtual corkboard that you can use in the same way. 

You can even make a Life Map by cutting out empowering, inspiring images and phrases encapsulating the creative life you desire.

3. Get a MagPo set.

What is MagPo? Why, it’s Magnetic Poetry! I’ve been using MagPo for over a decade and it’s super fun…especially if you use the fridge for making poetry and stories. My husband eventually grew tired of having hundreds of tiles covering the refrigerator (and, no doubt, standing in front of it for many minutes creating word wizardry!), so I agreed to take them all off (le sigh).

Mag po zombie SmallHowever, I discovered a better way to use MagPo, especially since it’s portable: cookie sheets. Yes, you read right. You can buy a cheapo cookie sheet from the dollar store and have a shiny new canvas for serious word painting. Best of all, you can carry it from room to room! (Or, if you have a sizable backpack or tote, from place to place!).

No worries if you don’t have a cookie sheet handy: you can arrange the words on a table top or other flat surface, and then write your creation down for posterity. And, really, no worries if you don't get a MagPo set ASAP because the creators allow you to make Magnetic Poems at their site!

The MagPo empire has expanded exponentially beyond the original kit and magnetic wall calendar. Below are but a few of the themed word kits you can get in MagPo.

Question: Are you in a creative rut now? What are you doing to help get you back on the road to artistic expression? What's worked for you in the past? I'd love to hear about your experience!

Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg

Wild mind cover My very first book on writing was Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. It gave me the confidence to write wild and free, without self-judgement or self-consciousness.

I'm happy to share the Introduction to the eBook version of Natalie's Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life, published by Open Road Media. Stay tuned after this excerpt for short video featuring Natalie describing herself, her surroundings and the writing life. Enjoy!

LIFE IS NOT ORDERLY. No matter how we try to make life so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce. In summer, we work hard to make a tidy garden, bordered by pansies with rows or clumps of columbine, petunias, bleeding hearts. Then we find ourselves longing for the forest, where everything has the appearance of disorder; yet, we feel peaceful there.

What writing practice, like Zen practice, does is bring you back to the natural state of mind, the wilderness of your mind where there are no refined rows of gladiolas. The mind is raw, full of energy, alive and hungry. It does not think in the way we were brought up to think—well-mannered, congenial.

When I finished Writing Down the Bones and people in my workshops read it, I thought I would not have to say anything else. I felt embarrassed to say, “Steve, you ought to be more specific there.” I thought he would retort, “We know. You already told us in chapter eight.” I thought I would be redundant, but reading a book about writing is different from actually getting down and doing writing. I was naïve. I should have remembered that after I read the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I was still afraid to die.

Natalie 250 A book about writing isn’t enough. Being a writer is a whole way of life, a way of seeing, thinking, being. It’s the passing on of a lineage. Writers hand on what they know. Most of what I learned about Zen was transmitted to me through being in the presence of Katagiri Roshi, the Zen master with whom I studied.

I will give you an example. I had just moved to Minneapolis and I wanted to study Buddhism. Before I moved there, I lived in Boulder and studied with a Tibetan teacher. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance in this Tibetan tradition. It was a big center; we had to wait several months to have an interview with the teacher and we dressed up to see him.

In Minneapolis, I called the Zen center and asked if I could schedule an interview with the Zen master there. The man on the other end of the phone had a heavy Japanese accent. He told me to come right over. I realized he was the Zen master. I dressed up and ran over. Katagiri Roshi came down the stairs in jeans and a green T-shirt that said Marcy School Is Purr-feet. There was a picture of a cat on the T-shirt. His younger son went to Marcy Elementary School. We talked for ten minutes. It was very ordinary. I left, unimpressed.

About a month later, someone called from the Zen newsletter staff, asking me if I would interview Roshi for the fall issue. I said yes. The morning of the interview, I woke up obsessed with the problem of what color material I should buy for curtains. This was 1978 and I had just gotten married. I drove to the Zen center to interview Roshi with that curtain obsession blazing in my mind. I planned to get the interview over with and then rush to the fabric store.

Orchid candle I parked in front of the Zen center and dashed out of the car. I was a few minutes late. I was halfway up the walk when I realized I’d left my notebook on the front car seat. I dashed back to the car, grabbed the notebook and ran to the back entrance of the Zen center. I flung open the door, spun around the corner and came to a dead stop: Roshi was standing in the kitchen by the sink in his black robes, watering a pink orchid. That orchid had been given to him three weeks before. Someone had brought it from Hawaii for a Buddhist wedding I had attended. It was still fully alive.

“Roshi,” I said in astonishment and pointed at the orchid.

“Yes.” He turned and smiled. I felt the presence of every cell in his body. “When you take care of something, it lives a long time.”

That was the beginning of my true relationship with him. I learned a lot from Katagiri Roshi. I learned about my own ignorance, arrogance, stubborness, also about kindness and compassion. I didn’t learn these through criticism or praise. He used neither. He was present with his life and he waited patiently for an eternity for me to become present with my life and to wake up.

Writers are not available for teaching in the way a Zen master is available. We can take a class from a writer but it is not enough. In class, we don’t see how a writer organizes her day or dreams up writing ideas. We sit in class and learn what narrative is but we can’t figure out how to do it. A does not lead to B. We can’t make that kamikaze leap. So writing is always over there in the novels on the shelves or discussed on class blackboards and we are over here in our seats. I know many people who are aching to be writers and have no idea how to begin. There is a great gap like an open wound.

Writing bones 250 A successful lawyer in Santa Fe decided he wanted to be a writer. He quit his job and the next Monday he began a novel, cold turkey, page one. He’d never written a word before that except for law briefs. He thought he could apply his lawyer’s mind to his creative writing. He couldn’t. Two years later, he was still struggling. I told him, “Bruce, you have to see the world differently, move through it differently. You’ve entered a different path. You can’t just leap into the lake of writing in a three-piece suit. You need a different outfit to swim in.”

Cecil Dawkins, a fine Southern novelist, said to me in a slow drawl one afternoon after she’d read Writing Down the Bones when it first came out, “Why, Naa-da-lee, this book should be very successful. When you are done with it, you know the author better. That’s all a reader really wants”—she nodded her head—“to know the author better. Even if it’s a novel, they want to know the author.”

Human isolation is terrible. We want to connect and figure out what it means to write. “How do you live? What do you think?” we ask the author. We all look for hints, stories, examples.

It is my hope that in sharing what I do, I have helped my readers along the writing path.

To purchase Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life at Open Road Media, click here. To purchase via Amazon for Kindle, click here. Natalie's official website is NatalieGoldberg.com.

You can visit Natalie Goldberg's page on Open Road Media at this link, where you can also find other wonderful titles from the publisher penned by this beloved author.

Mastering Creative Anxiety

A few years ago, I took an online course via DailyOm from creativity coach and psychologist Dr. Eric Maisel called Creative Anxiety. Fortunately, the wonderful folks at New World Library have published them all in the handy book Mastering Creative Anxiety. Here's an excerpt below, from the chapter titled "The Anxiety of Individuality":

Mastering Creativity is an expression of individuality, an expression of a person’s desire to manifest her potential, to speak in her own voice, to have her opinions, and to do her own work. What distinguishes the creative person from other people is her felt sense of individuality. Many people are born conventional and find it easy to follow the crowd; only some people are born with a strong desire to assert their individuality. All the personality traits that creative manifest, from a risk-taking orientation to a need for solitude—the more than seventy-five traits that have been described in the creativity literature—flow from this single core quality: the need to assert individuality.

A person born individual will, within a few years of her birth, feel that difference as she looks around her and is unable to understand why the people she sees are acting so conventionally. As a result she is likely to feel alienated, out of place, like a stranger in a strange land. Even if she trains herself to hold her tongue and engage in conventional work, and individual of this sort will already know as a young child that she can’t really conform and that she wasn’t built to conform.

To purchase Mastering Creative Anxiety from Amazon, click here. To visit the author's website, click here. To visit the publisher's website, click here.

When Is It Time to Quit Social Media?

Many publishing “experts” admonish writers and authors to establish a platform, maintain a Facebook page, gaggle on Google+, chirp on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn and blog until your eyes bleed.

Some even advocate ingratiating on Goodreads, lollygagging at LibraryThing or swimming down the deep, dark Amazon Forums.

But once you have one or two books under your belt, with others under contract, do you really need to “do” social media? What about if you pen a column, sell a steady stream of articles or publish stories on a regular basis?

In all honesty, it depends.

TypeIt depends on four things, as I see it:

1. Your goals as an author
2. The health of your writing life
3. The state of your personal life
4. The condition of your emotional life 

If your authorial goals involve networking with other writers, hobnobbing with industry pros (if they’ll even talk to you), securing an agent and (trying) to stay current with publishing trends, remaining active in social media may very well be beneficial to you.

However, you can get a similar experience (arguably, a better one) by choosing to opt out of real-time socializing and, instead, subscribing to informative blogs and industry mags, as well as joining supportive, professional groups organized by genre, topic or skill. In addition, some authors swear by writing conferences.

And if you’re trying to reach more readers, allow me to let you in on a secret: you attract more (and better quality) readers by continuing to publish great work. Another way to attract more readers? Getting interviewed on radio shows or podcasts. Go to BlogTalkRadio.com, for example, and search topics relevant to your writing, books and expertise.

Twitter Egg eyesOn Twitter, for example, what you mostly find are other authors clamoring for readers, many who sound like carnival barkers. Good luck being “heard” above the herd.

If your authorial goals tend towards writing more books and publishing more articles or stories, then beware of the social media time suck. Do you really want to be spending your time chatting about what you had for dinner, the latest internet meme, your mile-high TBR list or some smoke-and-mirrors scandal?

If you’re spending more time on social media than you are actual butt-in-chair writing (that is, writing towards publication), the health of your writing life may be flat lining. Some signs that your writing life needs attention STAT include:

  • Lack of focus
  • Unclear writing goals
  • Absence of regular writing practice
  • Unsubmitted queries or proposals
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Procrastination
  • Dry creative well
  • Indecision

The very act of unplugging your computer and avoiding internet access for at least a week (yes, it’s doable) can be enough to refocus your attention, recharge your batteries and resuscitate your writing life. The question is, do you have the courage to do so? Is your writing life worth it? Or would you be hunky dory with keeping things exactly as they are?

While our writing life is important, our personal life is just as important (arguably, for many, it’s more important). Some of us are wives, husbands, mothers and fathers. Others are taking care of aging parents or disabled siblings. Some have enjoyable “day jobs” with no intention of quitting despite publication success. Then there’s volunteering, spiritual/religious involvement, homeschooling/school-related events, domestic duties, close relationships, hobbies and so on.

For many writers, these enriching “personal” aspects of our life trump writing success every time. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice, unless something interferes with our happiness.

If you feel “torn” between a satisfying personal life and a rewarding writing life (especially if, for some reason, you’re finding it difficult to have both), then it’s time to do a values clarification inventory. You must ask yourself these hard questions:

  • Decisions manWhat is important to me?
  • What part of my personal life needs attention?
  • What can I afford to “let go”?
  • What is non-negotiable?
  • What am I not willing to sacrifice?
  • What would I regret neglecting?
  • What am I after?
  • How do I define success?
  • How do I want my life to look 10 years from now? 20? 30?

Nothing sharpens our focus faster than clarifying values. (If you don’t even know what your values are, how do you expect to maintain them? Or live a satisfying life? In this case, take the time to discover and determine your values, then take steps to live in alignment with them. One of the biggest causes of personal dissatisfaction is living out of alignment with deeply held values.)

For example, if you say your kids are a priority, but you spend 5 hours a day on social media—and lay your head down every night wracked with guilt for neglecting to spend time with them—then your personal life is suffering. In this case, you do not value your kids as you say (we spend both time and money on what we truly value), or you value social media more than you value your kids or you’re caught up with internet addiction and can use some professional help.

Lastly, there’s the issue of our emotional life. If you think about it, every goal and ambition we have is—at core—the desire to feel something. As Tony Robbins points out, men don’t really want a shiny new red Ferrari. What they want is to feel virile and youthful. The Ferrari is merely a symbol or catalyst for that feelings state.

Authors want book deals, syndication and sold articles in order to feel successful, accomplished, smart, worthy, productive [fill in the blank]. Writers write for various reasons, and seek publication for a host of (sometimes) different ones.

If your desired emotional “bottom line” involves feeling the following on a regular basis—and social media cuts into or thwarts that—then it may be time to walk away:

  • Peace
  • Harmony
  • Support
  • Encouragement
  • Positivism
  • Optimism
  • Acceptance

Thus, if hanging around on social media distracts, irritates, upsets, discourages, bores or angers you, then you need to ask yourself if spending time tweeting or +ing is worth the time and aggravation.

After all, no one is guaranteed another minute of life, let alone another day or year.

OutstretchedDo you really want to spend your valuable time on social media, especially if the negatives outweigh the positives? If it’s contributing to living out of alignment with your core values? If it’s taking time from creating, writing and publishing? If it’s making you miserable?

Only you can answer these questions—not an industry expert, a social media guru, an internet marketer or a well-meaning fellow author. After all, they’re not living your life…you are.

And, let’s face it, 99% of the virtual people in your life right now sure as hell aren’t going to be with you on your deathbed where you’ll either be proud of who you are, how you lived and what you accomplished…or end up regretting all the mindless time sucks, stupid flamewars, jockeying for position and flailing for attention you’ve participated in online.

Writer Quirks - Hugh Howey

I am extremely pleased and honored to have Hugh Howey visit Writespiration!

Hugh smallerIn case you've been living under a rock, Hugh Howey is the self-publishing sensation and inspiration between the sci-fi book Wool. I'm happy to say that I was one of those readers who bought installments of the Wool series while it was becoming a smash hit. 

And, it was very cool to see Hugh on the cover of the May/June 2013 issue of Writer's Digest magazine, too!

Hugh was kind enough to take some time to answer my nosy questions about his writer quirks (yes, he has them!), as well as advice to his fellow scribes. Take it away, Hugh!

The quirkiest thing I do as a writer is probably the programs I use and my crazy workflow. Two years ago, I started using Pages for my writing, and I fell in love with the all-black screen with just my word count and page number on the bottom. Once I got used to writing like this, I couldn't switch to anything else. I tried Word's fullscreen mode, but it could no longer cut it. I tried Scrivener, and that didn't work. Which leaves me writing in a program the developer has stopped supporting and which exports abysmally into every file format imaginable.

Wool 300In order to get an e-book out of my Pages document, I used to copy and paste the entire thing into notepad to remove the formatting, and then paste it into Word. And then go through and re-italicize every word that needed it. A major pain. I eventually found I could export to an .rtf and have a pro format the e-book for me. I'm sure there are a dozen other solutions, but I never found any that worked.

Is that too geeky and technical a quirk?

I also write in my underwear a lot, but I imagine that's quite normal. The only other weird stuff I do are the things I stick in my rough drafts. I write BOOKMARK anywhere that I leave off and need to come back and write more. This makes it annoying when I use the actual word "bookmark" in a story, and have to sort through these to find my space. I also type XXX anywhere that I forget a proper noun, like a name or place that I'll need to fact-check later. I've sent rough drafts to my wife and mom with these weird notes to myself. They probably just assume I'm off my rocker.

Dust hugh 300The best writing advice I ever got was from the mother half of the Charles Todd writing duo. At the Virginia Festival of the Book, she became very animated and told those of us in the audience to stop dreaming of becoming a writer, stop talking about coming a writer, stop thinking about becoming a writer, and go home and write! It motivated me to go home and write my first novel. I've been writing nonstop ever since.

Thank you so much for spending some of your valuable time with us, Hugh! Best wishes for your continued success--and thanks for being such an inspiration to fellow writers, as well as a hugely entertaining author. 

You can visit Hugh online at his brand-spanking new website, HughHowey.com

Dust, Hugh's latest installment in the Silo Saga, descends upon the world August 17, 2013. 


Writer Quirks - Chris Brogan

Chris roarChris Brogan is one of the most entertaining, accessible, generous and media savvy people I've ever encountered.

I adore him.

In case you don't know Chris, he's the president & CEO of Human Business Works, a media and education company providing tools and smarts so professionals can do the work they want, only better. He is also the New York Times bestselling author of four books.

When I asked Chris if he had any writer quirks he'd like to share with my blog readers, the guy shot back an email within a minute (as he always has). 

I did say "accessible" and "generous", right?

Oh, and funny! My God, how could I forget that.

Without further ado, I give you Chris Brogan...sharing not only his writer quirks, but also some fantastic writing advice:

Quirks, she says. Janet wants my quirks.

Okay. Here's a list, in no particular order:

* I must edit while I write. I can't do what smart writers do and edit later. It just doesn't work. I MUST (MUST!) go back and fix typos and rewrite while I'm in the first draft.

* In fact, there's never a second draft.

Trust Agents 300* When Julien Smith and I wrote Trust Agents, we wrote about 130 pages, and then threw it away when we realized we wanted to write the book a different way. Julien wanted to save the pages. I can't do that. In my life and in my writing, I must start fresh when the mistake is too big.

* I write about 4000 words a day. Where they go depends on what I'm doing: a book, a course, some newsletter stuff. It goes all over. But I keep the habit going, so that I can produce when I have to.

* You can't wait for the Muse. Write and she'll show up when she's ready. But if you wait for her, you're not an author. You're a hopeful. You can't wait for the muse.

* Learn grammar. Then forget it.

* Look for your quirky repetitive bits and remove them. I use "things" a lot when I don't really know which word to use. That becomes like a stutter or an "um" in the larger story.

* Write a strong beginning, middle, and end. People mess up on the ends. All the time.

* Never mistake the value of storytelling. It is huge. Never leave it behind for other temptations.

* I dress pretty much like a fat Mark Zuckerberg. I wear a hoodie and jeans and a tee shirt most every day that I don't have a speech or some other reason to dress like a grown-up.

* The best book ever on writing is who cares? Write. You'll never get it from a book. (Well, King's On Writing is the best of that kind, but it's because he says what I said, only maybe nicer.) 

Impact equationUm, wow. Is this fabulous advice or what, dear readers? (Hey, Chris, I wear pajama pants and T-shirts every day! But I'm not divulging my writer quirks until a later date...) 

In case you live under a rock, Chris is out with a brand new book that's sure to help writers (and anyone trying to affect or influence an audience). I bought my copy months ago, in fact. It's called The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise

And, seriously? Considering what I witness on social media every day, I really think many of you need this book. Not trying to be rude or anything, honest. Like Chris, I want you to create, thrive and make an impact.

Not be a pain-in-the-ass carnival barker lacking substance, passion or relevance. You don't want that either, right?

So don't just get yourself a copy of The Impact Equation, but also visit ChrisBrogan.com. Remember that generosity I mentioned? Chris freely gives helpful, sometimes life-changing, advice on his website, podcast and via his newsletter. 

He makes an impact. And I'm grateful.

-- Janet

Commonly Confused Words Part 2

Hello fearless writers! It’s time for another episode of Commonly Confused Words. Believe it or not, I come up with each episode’s words based on reading incorrect usage on the web or in print. Especially egregious when the fallacious swap out occurs in print, in my opinion, but it happens.

Without further ado, let’s dive into nine sets of words that are commonly confused:

Chord vs. Cord

The most common misuse of this set occurs with the phrase “struck a chord”, when the correct “chord” is swapped out for the incorrect “cord”.

Chord: Two or more musical notes struck or sung together producing a pleasing harmony. Thus, when something “strikes a chord”, it resonates.

Since my kitty just died, the author’s memoir on pet loss struck a deep chord.

Cord: A thick string, thin rope or cable.

If I set the lamp on this table, the electrical cord won’t reach the outlet.

College vs. Collage

Unless you’re pursuing higher education in scrapbooking or found art, you’re not going to collage (pronounced cole-LAHJ)…you’re going to college (COL-lehj).

College: Institute for higher learning.

After High School, Jen is going to college.

Collage: Sticking a hodgepodge of photos, paper, found art and other items together to form a picture.

I’m collecting old newspapers and vintage photos to make a collage piece.

Moot vs. Mute

Unless your plea is falling upon deaf ears, your point is moot—not mute.

Moot: Doubtful, debatable, unresolved or unlikely.

Arguing whether reptilian creatures are guised as political leaders seems a moot point in reasonable debate.

Mute: Unwilling or unable to make a sound or speak.

Helen Keller was born both blind and mute.

Roll vs. Role

If you’re listing your favorite sites on your blog, it’s a Blog Roll—not a Blog Role. Unless, of course, your favorite sites are vying for some kind of acting award…

Roll: An official list (in this case)

Excellent grades secured her place on the Honor Roll.

Role: A specific function or acting part.

It’s probably easy for Meryl Streep to get choice movie roles.

Alley vs. Ally

If you’re walking down a dark alley (owl-LEE), you had better hope you run into an ally (owl-LYE). But don’t walk through an ally, lest you lose the friendship.

Alley: A narrow passageway.

Don took a shortcut down the alley on his way home.

Ally: A mutually supportive person or group.

In WWII, EnglandFrance and America were allies against Germany.

Perk vs. Perq

I’ve seen this confusion a lot. In fact, I’ve seen it in a both book about writing and a novel! In short, I’ve seen this confusion from writers who should know better. Writers don’t get “perks” unless they’re females walking out into frigid temperatures or males running into bodacious babes.

Perk: To stick up or become lively. Or, short for percolate (to drip or filter).

When she heard the name of her favorite band mentioned, her ears perked up.

Perq: Short for perquisite. A bonus, extra, freebie or advantage.

One of the perqs of being a baker is sampling raw cookie dough.

Two vs. To vs. Too

Most people use “two” correctly. It’s to vs. too that gets confused the most. To remember which is which, consider the extra “o” in too as a hint to the word’s meaning: “in addition to”.

Two: The number 2

Joe thought he danced as if he had two left feet.

To: A preposition indicating direction, destination or position.

Mary needed to walk to the market to get some milk.

Too: As well. Extremely.

Tina, if you’d like, Katy can come, too.

You’re vs. Your

This is a sneaky pair. More than once, I’ve caught myself typing the wrong word, especially posting on Facebook when I’m in a hurry—even though I know better. So keep an eye out for this easy-to-do switcheroo! If you’re not sure which is correct, see if you can substitute “you are” for the word. If you can, and it still makes sense, you’re is the correct word. If not, use your. NB: Do not trust MS Word grammar check to catch mistakes when it comes to “you’re” vs. “your”! There have been times when Word suggested the wrong word for this pair.

You’re: Contraction of “you” and “are”.

You’re such a kidder, Jack!

Your: Belonging or relating to someone.

Don’t forget your coat, Linda!

Pseudo Name vs. Pseudonym

OK, this is a crazy one…but I saw it on a blog recently and thought I’d set the record straight. Since “pseudo” means false or fake, calling a pseudonym and Pseudo Name is, I guess, technically correct (even if it’s not really a word). But if the blogger meant to use the word pseudonym, another word for nom de plume or penname, then it’s a faux pas.

Pseudonym comes from the Greek pseudōnumon ("false name") and the French pseudonyme.

Alrighty, kiddos, I hope you enjoyed Commonly Confused Words Part 2. If you have any questions about proper usage or notice some confused words in the wild, by all means take a moment to comment here or email me at synerjay (at) atlanticcbb (dot) net.

-- Janet

Writer Quirks - Jenny Milchman

I'm super duper happy to introduce a new segment to my blog, one that's been brewing in my head for a long time. What is it? Why, Writer Quirks (and Advice)!

I knew I had writing quirks, so I suspected fellow writers did, too. And guess what? They do! They really do. 

Without further ado, here's the first one...

Jenny Milchman 2I met Jenny Milchman on Twitter, and found her engaging, witty and sweet. Turns out that Jenny happens to teach at the NY Writers Workshop, co-hosts the literary series Writing Matters, and chairs the of International Thriller Writers' Debut Authors Program. She's also the author of the suspense novel Cover of Snow, now out from Ballantine

Anyway! I asked Jenny if she happened to have any writer quirks. She does. Here's our back-and-forth emails (reproduced because I think she's so darn funny):

JanetI'm doing a blog post about Weird Writing Quirks of Writers. Do you happen to have any to share? (Don't lie.)

JennyI touch a tiny glass pink elephant each day before I sit down to write a first draft. Can explain why if you want :)

Janet: Of course you must explain! Geez...

Jenny: You mean you don't understand?

Janet: LOL :oP

Elephant jennyJennyOK, short version...my husband and I met in college in a philosophy club where we debated the burden of proof. Do I have to prove a pink elephant is in the room, or do you have to prove it's not there? So pink elephants have ever since been lucky, and now I have a teensy glass one I touch every morning before I begin writing a new book...

So there ya go, dear readers. An adorable writer quirk from a very talented author. 

Cover of snow smallerBy the way, writers, if you've ever felt like giving up, you must read this post by Jenny on She Writes. Not only did it take her thirteen years for Cover of Snow to see publication (yes, you read right--13), but she also endured rejection, discouragement, loss of an agent and more. She even decided to give up a psychotherapy practice to stay home to write (while having children, too). 

To learn more about Jenny and her writing, visit JennyMilchman.com. (P.S. It was her husband who did such a fab job designing her rockin' site).

So what about you? How many of you authors out there have writing-specific quirks? Feel free to share your writing quirk here in the comments section or email it to me at synerjay (at) atlanticbb (dot) net for possible inclusion in the Writer Quirks series. 

-- Janet

Commonly Confused Words

Recently, I've come across these six word groups used incorrectly. They are commonly confused words, so I thought I'd shed some light on their correct usage. 

Pouring vs. Poring


Unless you plan on pouring coffee or some other drink over your client's "business plan" (which I don't recommend), you will, instead, be poring over their business plan.

Pouring - To send liquid or loose particles falling or flowing. The waitress poured me another glass of sweet tea.

Poring - To read or study with earnest attention. I'm poring over my checkbook, looking for mistakes.

Peek vs. Peak vs. Pique

Often, I come across magazines and blogs promising a "sneak peak". Well, unless you're going to unveil a secret mountain top, you mean "sneak peek". 

Peek: To sneak a look. Imagine the two "e"s are eyes looking at you. The boy peeked in the closet, looking for his Christmas presents.

Peak: Top of the mountain or the highest point. My energy peaks around 10 PM.

Pique: To excite, arouse or sharply irritate. When her husband promised a surprise, Linda's curiosity was piqued.

Heres's another commonly confused pair:

Edition vs. Addition

Edition: A version of something. Rhonda bought a first edition copy of Stephen King's Salem's Lot.

Addition: The process or act of adding. 2 + 2 isn't 5. You need to check your addition.

Raise vs. Raze

Raised: To lift up or elevate. The partygoers raised  their glass in a toast.

Razed: To tear down or demolish. Because of the fire, I'm not sure if the entire home will need to be razed.

Threw vs. Through

Threw: Past tense of "throw". The quarterback threw the football.

Through: To go in one end and out the other. Robert Frost famously said "The only way out is through."

This last example (below) is courtesy my adorable husband. Yeah, he rocks. Seriously. Even when he mixes up big words.

Permutation vs. Permeation

Permutation: To alter, transform, change or rearrange. Mash-ups are permutations.

Permeation: To penetrate or saturate. Grammar faux pas and rife misspellings permeate Facebook feeds.

-- Janet