A Scary Leap: Writing Group with Bestselling Author Laura Davis

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Laura Davis

This Thursday I’m taking an emotional and financial risk, but it feels right & I’m excited!

(And scared.)

After winning a scholarship for the Catamaran Writing Conference, I participated in a creative nonfiction workshop in August. The twelve-hour-long class was taught by Frances Lefkowitz, author of the acclaimed memoir To Have Not. As helpful as the class was, it wasn’t enough!

I wanted more…I craved more of the teacher’s wisdom, I wanted more feedback from her and from my classmates.

I learned that listening to others’ feedback they received from our teacher and the class was valuable unto itself.

So to sum up, I wanted the ongoing guidance and the encouragement of a master teacher, and feedback from a group of likeminded writers, but I didn’t think it could happen in my hometown.

Then I got a sign from the Universe!

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The sign occurred at Coffee 9, one of my favorite places. Coffee 9 is where I’ve imbibed countless extra-chocolate, triple shot mochas and gotten to know some colorful locals like “Writing Matt”. 

A few weeks ago while stumbling, uncaffeinated, into Coffee 9 I spotted local bestselling author Laura Davis’ writing class flyer on their bulletin board.

Almost a decade ago, I bought Laura’s bestselling book Becoming the Parent You Want to Be (co-authored with Janis Keyser) back when my little girls couldn’t talk back to me. Ah, those were the days.

Little did I know I’d be speaking with this famous author years later after I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder  – and it wasn’t a meet n’ greet at one of her packed book signings  but about singing up for her writing course.

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During the two decades I’ve lived in this area, I’ve noticed Laura’s flyers posted at different coffee shops. (As you probably know by now, I love supporting local business if caffeine and chocolate are involved!) Sometimes I looked at her flyer wistfully, but deep down I never thought a writing class was for me for various reasons.

Laziness.

Bipolar depression.

I didn’t think I was “worth” the money necessary to join such an extravagant-sounding class, even though my freelance articles had been published regionally and nationally, and I had landed my first book deal.

In any case, I believed that I needed to tough it out by writing alone.

I resigned myself to continue feeling mediocre about my writing, and that constantly bugged me.

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Although I suspected I had the potential to be a better writer, I didn’t think I was worth the investment. Now that I have a deadline for my second book deal (and I don’t want it to go south like the first one did), I think I’m worth the investment.

After speaking with Laura, I liked what she said and how she said it. (As the daughter of a speech pathologist, voices are especially significant to me.) I was also impressed and moved with what Laura had to say on the YouTube clip I include here. I also listened to Laura’s free, one-hour-long writing teleseminar (you can sign up for it on her website) and I found it helpful and inspiring.

Laura Davis’ Statement #1

 

My first class is tomorrow, and I’ll let you know how it goes!!  As Laura asks all attendees to respect the confidentiality of group members & their writing, I’ll only write about my own experience…I’d never want to break that rule!

Have a great weekend & I’ll see you next Thursday.

XoXO Dyane

p.s. some tidbits

Dyane’s Class Description: Feedback Class on Writing Projects of Your Choice

(It’s not too late to join me!)

These ongoing classes, designed for students who are already deeply grounded in writing practice, gives writers a chance to make progress on a focused project of their choice. Each week, the writers in Laura’s feedback classes sign up to get the suggestions and support from the group, whose role is to respond to the writing with editing and encouragement, to hold “each other’s feet to the fire,” and to help everyone in the group reach their personal writing goals. Some group members are working on articles, others on memoirs, novels, short stories, or non-fiction books.

Ira Progroff calls writing, “this solitary work we cannot do alone.” These classes provide the support necessary to persevere in creative work.

Students wanting to move into one of these classes must have a personal consultation with Laura to discuss their writing goals. Prior writing practice experience required. Admission to these classes occurs whenever there is an opening; admissions are on a rolling basis. Contact Laura to ask about openings and to agree on a start date.  

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If you can’t join me here in Santa Cruz for Laura’s class, she has a free, weekly writing prompt you can sign up for – please visit:

http://lauradavis.net/category/prompts/

http://lauradavis.net

Follow Laura Davis on Twitter: @laurasaridavis

Other groundbreaking Laura Davis books include:

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Dyane’s  book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder  with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma of Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press next year.

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My 1st Fellowship Award! The Catamaran Writing Conference

 

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On Tuesday I was awarded a Fellowship to study Creative Nonfiction and Memoir with Frances Lefkowitz at the 2015 Catamaran Writing Conference. 

I still can’t believe it!

A little backstory: in 2012 I read about the new, local Catamaran Literary Reader. Each issue was filled with first-rate writers. Many of them had received the highest writing accolades possible. I never dreamed of submitting my writing to the editors, especially since my unrelenting bipolar depression got in the way.

In 2013 after a seven-year-long search, I finally found a medication combination that alleviated my paralyzing depression: lithium and an MAOI. I started this blog and returned to work on my partially written memoir Birth of a New Brain.

Fast forward to last month. I wanted to attend a writing workshop that could help me improve my first draft. Through a Google search I found the Catamaran Writing Conference. This annual event is held at a beautiful Pebble Beach campus complete with field trips. It sounded like a glorious summer camp for writers!

I looked at the cost and gulped. No way, I thought. Ain’t gonna happen. 

However, I couldn’t get the conference out of my mind. After three cups of Steve’s Smooth French coffee (for the record, the coffee mug was small!) I wondered if scholarships were available  I emailed an inquiry to the Catamaran office and got on with my day. Within hours the conference coordinator emailed me,”Yes, we offer several fellowships, and here’s the link to apply.” 

Why the hell not? I thought.

Some of you know I’ve been through plenty of literary rejection that brought up slight 😉 anger and insecurity issues. See this link for the gory details: https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/lets-play-the-schadenfreude-game-a-writers-1st-rejection/

 

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To get fired up to write my application, I re-read the description of the Nonfiction Workshop I wanted to take. The teacher, renowned writer Frances Lefkowitz (author of To Have Not, a highly acclaimed memoir about growing up poor in San Francisco), seemed like she’d be an ideal guide. Lefkowitz has led numerous memoir workshops. She won a grant to teach free memoir workshops at libraries – how cool is that? (I’ve worked for the Santa Cruz Libraries and Friends of the Santa Cruz Libraries; I’m a bit of a library fan.) Participating in her workshop would be a unique opportunity, bar none.

Moreover, Frances Lefkowitz has the same first name as my beloved Granny who was also a gifted teacher. I blogged about my remarkable grandmother for the first time last week. The name coincidence and timing seemed like a good omen that tickled me in the face.

Still, I knew that it was highly unlikely I’d be awarded a fellowship. Surely the staff received a gazillion entries from outstanding writers with talents far superior to mine – writers who were destined to win oodles of Pushcart Prizes and PEN Literary Awards. 

On Tuesday morning I sat in front of my laptop, perplexed. The past month I’ve gone through an awful writing block. I’ve worked on my book here and there instead of during every precious child-free opportunity that I’ve had. (I suspect that my Seroquel withdrawal has had something to do with my struggle.)

My dog Lucy sat on my foot, her warm, furry flank reassuring me of her affection. I began to sob with frustration. Lucy immediately jumped up in alarm and licked my face. As soon as I dried my tears, I noticed a new email had popped up in my in-box.

It was from the Catamaran Literary Reader.

I stared at my in-box. I felt slightly sick to my stomach. I wanted this fellowship. Ever since I emailed my application I wrote nightly affirmations stating I’d receive the award. I furtively placed these slips of paper under my pillow. (This is hippie-dippie Santa Cruz after all, and in twenty-seven years of living here, I’ve never written positive affirmations!)

Despite my pillow plea to the Universe, I knew that the email was likely to be a rejection. Before opening it I braced myself. I took a deep breath. I opened the email and read, ” The editors have chosen you to receive a Fellowship Award to study Creative Nonfiction and Memoir with Frances Lefkowitz during the 2015 conference.”

I let out an enormous, happy scream. Poor Lucy. She barked madly while I danced around in circles like a freak. I’m so grateful for this beautiful award, and I’m honored that the Catamaran editors were “impressed” with my submission!

Since then, I’ve been absorbed with reading my teacher’s memoir; it’s not required, but after reading its rave reviews and spotting its $2.99 cost on Kindle, I was compelled to buy it. I’ve read the first few chapters and it’s incredible. My good friend/blogger Kitt O’Malley (http://kittomalley.com) noticed my enthusiastic tweet about this book and she also bought it. I know she’ll find it a riveting read as well. 

I’ve checked out Lufkowitz’s blog Paper in My Shoe and some of her interviews to get a sense of her teaching style and philosophy. All of these interviews contained excellent writing advice.

Here’s one piece of wisdom she shared on the Fictionaut blog that many of us bloggers/writers can utilize. 

http://fictionaut.com/blog/2012/04/11/fictionaut-five-frances-lefkowitz/

What’s the best writer’s advice you ever got?

Frances Lefkowitz: When submitting stories to publications, always keep several pieces in circulation, so when one comes back rejected, you still have the others keeping hope alive. Also, for the same reason, send that rejected one out immediately to another journal. This advice came from the wonderful Pamela Painter, who taught me fiction at Harvard’s night school.

It’s not too late to sign up for the conference! Details are posted below. 

I’ll be back next week with an update on the Seroquel withdrawal blues, which was meant to be today’s original topic until I got this lovely conference news. 🙂 

take care, and have a wonderful weekend!

love, Dyane

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To buy To Have Not go to :http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003GDIA32/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=0434WR0JN7PNWSVJ7ACW&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=2079475242&pf_rd_i=desktop

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@YesFrances
Frances Lufkowtiz’s cool website/blog Paper In My Shoe 

http://www.franceslefkowitz.net/blog/

 

For information about the 2015 Catamaran Conference in Pebble Beach this August, visit:

http://catamaranliteraryreader.com/conference-2015/

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Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in Fall, 2016. 

Heeding Madeleine L’Engle’s Advice Yet Again!

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As I write this post, I watch a Life Flight helicopter land on the field situated less than 1000 yards away from my bed.  I spot paramedics transferring a person hovering between life and death over to the Life Flight team. I’ve seen this scenario many times over the years we’ve lived here.  The roar of an idling copter never fails to put my problems into perspective.  I’ve just been given a “reality check”.

For various reasons, I’ve struggled more than usual the past week, but as the gifted blogger Kitt O’Malley gently reminded me, “this too shall pass”.  I must remember that just because life is more difficult, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to crash into the depths of despair.

For some people who have bipolar one disorder and are stable, dreading a relapse is ever-present. Fortunately, fear of bottoming out doesn’t mean that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Still, unless some kind of miracle occurs, I’ll always be afraid of relapsing.

Last week I deliberately stopped my daily blogging habit, which I had kept up for over four months.  I still can’t believe I didn’t miss a single day.  If sometime told me that a writer/mom with bipolar was keeping up such a demanding writing routine, I’d wonder (perhaps a tad jealously) if that person was hypomanic or manic.  I most definitely was not in either of those states. (thank God!)

Anyway, I ceased writing my minimum of thirty minutes a day, whether it was for this blog, for my book or for freelance articles.  Writing at least thirty minutes a day was a famous rule created by my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle.  I’ve discussed L’Engle’s writing advice in prior posts, and if you’re familiar with my blog you probably know how much I revere L’Engle.

Today I came across an interview with L’Engle about writing that I found to be affirming and fascinating.  She was asked by Scholastic students for the advice she’d give to aspiring writers.  L’Engle told the students:

“I would give the same advice to writers of any age – and that’s keep an honest, unpublishable journal that you don’t show to anyone.  You dump things into it – it’s your private garbage can. Also, you have to read to be a writer. You have to write every day – not necessarily in your journal.  But you have to do it every day. It’s like practicing a musical instrument – you have to practice and stick with it.  I love every bit of it.  I love getting the ideas, and I live with the ideas for a long time before I write them – I may write two or three other books while thinking about an idea.  And I love sitting down to work at the computer and just starting.

L’Engle wrote the Newberry Award-winning, bestselling A Wrinkle In Time and many other amazing books. This prolific writer knew what she was talking about.  I especially appreciated her comparison of writing to practicing a musical instrument.  One of my fondest childhood memories was listening to my Juilliard-trained, Fulbright Award-winning Dad practice on his Stradivarius or his Guadagnini violin almost every single day.  (Yep, I’m gonna namedrop!  And he had bipolar one!)  Dad’s Irish setters Tanya and Amber hung out in this practice room listening to his world-class performances seven days a week, those lucky hounds.  I didn’t realize how disciplined Dad was until much later.  If I had an iota of his work ethic, I’d be stoked.

Oh well.  I thought that the time I freed up from reducing my writing schedule would refresh and perhaps inspire me to write more and that my writing might even improve.  I was dead wrong.  I’ve found myself feeling blah instead of the usual rah regarding writing. This SUCKS!

A few days ago it was my father’s birthday.  He passed away five years ago, and I’ve missed him ever since. The anniversary of his birthday drained me emotionally, but I don’t think that was the main reason I haven’t been gung-ho about writing.  At least I haven’t been depressed, but I’m definitely not where I want to be, and I need to take care of myself.  I’m convinced that part of “taking care of myself” includes scheduling writing time every day unless I’m really sick or there’s an emergency.

Thirty minutes is not that long a time to write!  It’s the length of one “Full House” or “The Nanny” episode, now, isn’t it?  And those episodes roll by in a flash.  I’m guessing that the very act of writing has been like my own version of Lumosity.  My theory? Writing stimulates and exercises certain areas of my brain that are usually not in use.  Furthermore, I’m guessing that consistent writing is serving as a mood stabilizer! How I wish that Madeleine L’Engle was alive today so I could run that supposition by her and hear her opinion.  After participating in two writer’s workshops with her, I learned firsthand that she would tell you exactly what she thought.

So yes, I’m missing my “writer’s high”.  The cardio exercise I’ve been faithfully doing on my NordicTrack gives me a different kind of high – actually, it doesn’t feel like a high, but more of a grounding of my jangled nerves.

For the time being, I’ve decided to give myself the gift of daily writing, and not feel guilty about making it a priority.  I used to journal all the time, and I stopped when the bipolar depression became too much.  Now I’ll either create a private blog for my use as a journal, or buy a blank book.  (Most definitely not for publication, as L’Engle instructs!)  I’m looking forward to feeling better and clearing my brain out, Madeleine L’Engle-style!

Kitt O’Malley’s blog (Life with Bipolar Disorder and Thoughts about God)  is: http://www.kittomalley.com

This link leads to the entire transcript of Madeleine L’Engle’s interview with the Scholastic students and I love it! ;

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/madeleine-l39engle-interview-transcript

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Madeleine in her office at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City – probably sometime in the 60’s with those groovy glasses!

Dy and L'Engle 2Dyane & Madeleine at the Mount Calvary Retreat in Santa Barbara, California, 1997

 

Madeleine L’Engle Inspiration on Writing and Marriage

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The author of A Wrinkle In Time Madeleine L’Engle with her devotee Dyane Harwood at the Mount Calvary Benedictine Monastery in Santa Barbara, California.  I love this picture even though I have a triple chin.  I got that chin in part from eating lots of the delectable, freshly baked cookies made by the monks each day – it was all their fault.

 

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” 

― Madeleine L’Engle

Writing, writers and books are on my mind much of this week while I’ve been primarily homebound with my two sick little girls. (They are getting much better, by the way!)  While I’ve been used to the luxury of being alone while my girls are in school, this week I was faced with the challenge of writing with extra distractions, i.e. the Spongebob Squarepants oeuvre, that set my teeth on edge.

Despite Spongebob’s maniacal laughs, I’ve plowed forth with daily writing because writing has become an ingrained habit.  I feel better when I just do it.  (Ah, Nike, I blame you for planting your smug, little tagline in my brain!)

There have been periods in my life when I wrote all the time, such as my four years majoring in English/American literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz.  Conversely, there were many months in which my bipolar depression prevented me from writing a single word.  While daily writing can seem rather extreme, my rule is that as long as I enjoy it and I pay attention to the other key areas of my life (kids, husband, laundry, and the like) it’s fine.

I also take comfort in the fact that I’m following the advice of Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors.  She asserted, “Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.”  (hmmm, perhaps I could get that tattooed on my writing hand to remind me!)

During my most severe bipolar depressions, one of the few things that took my mind off my mind were the Madeleine L’Engle’s books.  I continue to read her books periodically without experiencing any boredom.  With each re-reading I notice details that slipped by me in the past, which is always fun.

Her books give me a satisfaction akin to easing into a warm, fragrant bath, and I share my appreciation of her work with millions of her other fans of all ages.  It truly amazes me that L’Engle’s classic, Newberry Award-winning book A Wrinkle In Time was rejected so many times by publishers before it made the big-time.

In some of her non-fiction books  L’Engle recounted her decade of writing rejection in which she felt so down that she contemplated giving up writing altogether.  But when she came to the brink of carrying out that momentous decision, her heart and faith (she was highly religious) kicked in.

This revealing quote explains her perspective when she wasn’t a famous writer:

“If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.  I’m glad I made this decision in a moment of failure.  It’s easy to say you’re a writer when things are going well.  When the decision is made in the abyss, then it is quite clear that it is not one’s own decision at all.”

― Madeleine L’EngleA Circle of Quiet

Apart from her writing advice, L’Engle’s marriage to her husband Hugh Franklin as depicted in her book Two-Part Invention has influenced me deeply.  Two-Part Invention is one of my favorite L’Engle books, and I have probably read it at least twenty times!  The structure of the book starts with present day, in which L’Engle’s husband of forty years is dying from cancer, and shifts to the past revealing how they met and developed their relationship.

Back and forth the narrative flows, in a seamless, beautiful way.  Their marriage most definitely wasn’t without numerous terrible times, many of which were not included in the book, such as the death of their son Bion.  If you haven’t read this book yet, you are in for a treat.  Her “story of a marriage” will make you appreciate your own relationship whether you are married or not, and it will allow you to observe love in action during one of the most difficult times of life: witnessing the death of a beloved.

If you’ve never read one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books before, I strongly encourage you to do so!  A Wrinkle In Time is a great start (billed as a children’s book, but appropriate for all ages) and aside from Two-Part Invention I highly recommend A Small Rain (the first of L’Engle’s books, and semi-autobiographical) and A Live Coal in the Sea.

Happy Reading!

 

“The growth of love is not a straight line, but a series of hills and valleys.”

― Madeleine L’EngleTwo-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

“Love of music, of sunsets and sea; a liking for the same kind of people; political opinions that are not radically divergent; a similar stance as we look at the stars and think of the marvelous strangeness of the universe – these are what build a marriage. And it is never to be taken for granted.”

― Madeleine L’EngleTwo-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

 

This blog post is dedicated to my husband, the author Craig S. Harwood, pictured on the left with his co-author Gary Fogel.  Together they wrote the award-winning book Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West.  I am fortunate to have a husband who encourages me to write and gives me writing/publishing advice when I ask for it.  (And sometimes when I don’t!)

Barnes-Noble book signing copy

 

 

 

To read more Madeleine L’Engle quotes about a wide range of topics, visit: 

395 Quotes of Madeleine https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/106.Madeleine_L_Engle

I Don’t Know How Madeleine L’Engle Did It

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Dyane with Madeleine L’Engle, the bestselling author of A Wrinkle In Time

Santa Barbara, California, 1997

 

I’ve always had concentration challenges when it comes to writing.

I need quiet, quiet, and more quiet.  Sometimes I can write with mellow music in the background; lately I’ve listened to the Pandora Channel’s Hawaiian or Snatam Kaur stations.  I write my best when all I hear is the faint rush of traffic on the mountain highway below our home.

The topic of concentration is on my mind while I’ve been housebound for the past four days with my little girls.  They each caught a nasty bug.  I’ve spent time with them reading one-on-one, doing homework that was sent home by their teachers, and cuddling with them.  Coldy cuddles?  Yeah, that’s crazy, I know, since I don’t want to pick up their colds!  But I’m one foolish gal.

Apart from interacting with my congested kids, I’ve been able to write while they’ve watched Despicable Me 2 and Frozen, or playing the highly educational  Littlest Pet Shop game on my Kindle.  However, I can’t go in another room away from them to write because they want me nearby.  I can’t blame them for wanting me within eyesight when they are feeling so awful.

So I write in a noisy, interruption-filled room, because I’d rather write and make plenty of typos and syntax errors than not write at all.  Which brings me to Madeleine L’Engle.   I’ve always been intrigued by the writing method of Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors for over thirty-five years.

L’Engle said that she learned how to write virtually anywhere, with all kinds of distractions.  She cultivated the habit while growing up in a girl’s boarding school.  L’Engle was a loner, and while her classmates listened to records or gossiped away, she was able to tune out their chatter.

L’Engle further developed this extraordinary ability when she became a Broadway actress and assistant to the star/director Eva LeGalliene.  The lengthy amounts of time that L’Engle spent backstage provided her with ample opportunity to write.  She also took advantage of writing time on trains when LeGalliene’s theater productions toured the country.  L’Engle didn’t wear ear plugs, either!

Neal Porter worked with L’Engle during his tenure at her longtime publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  He remembered her in a Publisher’s Weekly tribute after the bestselling author died in 2007.  Porter remarked, “When we were on the road together, she would agree to meet me in our hotel lobby at such and such hour.  When I found her, she invariably had a notebook in hand and was scribbling away.”  I would give my eyeteeth for the ability to write well in hectic locations!

I don’t want to slap another label on myself, i.e. ADD, or blame my meds for making me unable to focus.  I’ve had this challenge for decades before I was diagnosed.  I think I can do just fine by continuing to carve out blocks of writing time while the girls are at school.  I also think it’s fine to use headphones and music as a way to tune out distractions as long as I don’t put my children in harm’s way.

Apart from my writing environment, I have another writing-related dilemma that has developed over the past six months. This quandary happens whether I’m in a silent room or a in house full of chainsaws.  (Or in a room where a truck seems about to run into me at my writing desk – see my post “Almost” for more details on that one.)

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I’ve developed a habit I call “Facebook/Twitter hopping”.  You can probably guess where this is going.

Here’s an example: I’m working feverishly on an essay.  Then I become frustrated or bored with what I’m writing about, so I hop over to my perpetually open Facebook and Twitter pages to take a peek.  My peek becomes an extended break, and my writing subject is a distant memory.  Finally I hop back to the writing, sometimes refreshed and able to re-connect with the material, but usually my focus is blurrier.

This “back and forthing” is a guilty pleasure, and it’s so tempting to do!  Hopping is not always such a bad thing, if done in moderation.  That’s where I get into trouble, for I’m often not great with moderation when it concerns Facebook surfing or chocolate inhalation, for that matter.  I’m attempting to cut down on the internet hopping.

We shall see if I stick to my hopping resolution – I don’t want to be eighty when I finish my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder!  Thanks for reading, and please, if you like to write too, tell me what your challenges are and what helps you as well.  I’d love to know about it!

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Madeleine’s granddaughter, the writer Lena Roy, writes a brief-but-entertaining blog post about her writing process. Here’s the link:

http://writeplacewritetime.tumblr.com/post/18496071594/lena-roy

Two Awesome Madeleine L’Engle Quotes about Writing

“Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle

“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle

If you like these L’Engle writing quotes, there are 32 more of them at Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=writing%2C+L%27Engle&commit=Search

 

 

Economy and Restraint

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When I first started blogging, I was concerned I would have nothing much to write about, and that my posts would be too short.  Ha ha!  Little did I know that I’d have the opposite problem.  It turns out with every post I want to go on and on.

I usually write over 1000 words a post, which seems more like writing an essay rather than a blog post.  A quick Internet search of “ideal blog post length” yields a website suggesting 500 words.  Another website claims that it doesn’t matter how long your blog post is as long as it’s well written.  Go figure!

I’ve been having a field day following blogs on WordPress.  There’s a multitude of talented writers out there, and I keep following more blogs.  According to About.com “Most people who read blogs don’t have a lot of time or patience to read thousands of words of content.  They’re looking for quick access to information or entertainment.”  I must confess that lately I’ve found it easier to concentrate on shorter blog post lengths rather than longer ones, and that makes me feel like a hypocrite.  So I’m going to try to shoot for writing more concise pieces, although it will be a challenge…

We are all writers in this blogosphere, and we can certainly learn from bestselling authors – especially those whose works have been bestsellers spanning across many decades.  The writer I have in mind is one of my favorites: L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and many other books as well.  Montgomery created an internationally known protagonist in Anne Shirley.  However, I find Montgomery’s lesser known character Emily Byrd Starr more intriguing to me than the lovable Anne because I share more in common with her.

Emily is depicted as a passionate writer from a very early age in Emily of New Moon.   Emily’s writing mentor is her school teacher Mr. Carpenter.  Mr. Carpenter is a gruff, charismatic man who “could have been a contender” in any profession he chose, yet his alcoholism played a key part in his being an unfulfilled, frustrated country schoolteacher.  Mr. Carpenter bonds with the sensitive Emily and is ruthless in his criticism of her writing assignments.  Emily has nothing but respect for Mr. Carpenter’s opinions of her work, and she aims to earn his praise because she knows, in her rather otherworldly way, that he will tell her the truth.

I’ve read Emily of New Moon and the other two Emily books: Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest numerous times. Emily of New Moon is one of my most beloved books and it’s particularly meaningful to me since, like Emily, I see myself as a writer to the core.  I never had my own “Mr. Carpenter” to motivate and challenge me to write better, and I wish I did.  Carpenter’s colorful turns of phrase regarding Emily’s writing never fail to entertain me, and I’ve recognized a profound truth to all of his remarks.

Mr. Carpenter nicknames Emily “Jade” and he tells her,

“You waste words, Jade–you spill them about too lavishly.  Economy and restraint–that’s what you need.”  

I need economy and restraint in my writing as well.  Many bloggers do.  When I write a post and wait a day to proofread and edit it, I find so many things that I need to correct or delete.  I can’t believe I didn’t figure out my mistakes after immediately re-reading my first draft, but that’s the nature of writing for many authors.

We learn of Emily’s authentic devotion to writing when Mr. Carpenter asks her,

“Tell me this–if you knew you would be poor as a church mouse all your life–if you knew you’d never have a line published–would you still go on writing–would you?’

‘Of course I would,’ said Emily disdainfully. ‘Why, I have to write–I can’t help it at times–I’ve just got to.” 

(I love that exchange.)

The piece de resistance of Mr. Carpenter’s advice that takes place when Emily is only thirteen years old.  She has given him some of her writing to see if he thinks she has a future as a writer.  Emily awaits his decision with bated breath.  He tells her,

“Ten good lines out of four hundred, Emily—comparatively good, that is—and all the rest balderdash—balderdash, Emily.”
“I—suppose so,” said Emily faintly.
Her eyes brimmed with tears—her lips quivered. She could not help it. Pride was hopelessly submerged in the bitterness of her disappointment. She felt exactly like a candle that somebody had blown out.
“What are you crying for? demanded Mr. Carpenter.
Emily blinked away tears and tried to laugh.
“I—I’m sorry—you think it’s no good—” she said.
Mr. Carpenter gave the desk a mighty thump.
“No good!  Didn’t I tell you there were ten good lines? Jade, for ten righteous men Sodom had been spared.”
“Do you mean—that—after all—”  The candle was being relighted again.
“Of course, I mean.  If at thirteen you can write ten good lines, at twenty you’ll write ten times ten—if the gods are kind…and don’t imagine you’re a genius, either, if you have written ten decent lines.  I think there’s something trying to speak through you—but you’ll have to make yourself a fit instrument for it.  You’ve got to work hard and sacrifice—by gad, girl, you’ve chosen a jealous goddess.  And she never lets her votaries go—not even when she shuts her ears forever to their plea.”

After experiencing tragedy and heartbreak, Emily stops writing after falling into a deep depression.  (Boy, I can relate to that!)  However, Emily ultimately accomplishes her dream of writing her book.  It is published and achieves a modest success.  She also marries Teddy Kent, the love of her life.  While I’ve found my partner, and I’ve endured deep depression, the book I wish to have published is not yet complete.  I won’t give up, though.  Even if I knew my book would never be published, I would still keep writing it for my own sake.  Like Emily, I have to write.  I know that all of you bloggers feel the same way as Emily and I do.  I think that writing affects a certain part of our brains in a unique way, and it’s healthy for us to keep at it.

I wish you many productive and fulfilling hours of writing and I look forward to reading your blogs – as long as your posts aren’t as long as The Illiad!

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