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July 2013

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"?