Making the Time to be Quiet and Write

You write by sitting down
and writing.
Bernard Malamud

Sounds easy enough, but those of us who write know there’s more to it than that.  Endless distractions can pull us away from our writing.  Then a few days, turn into weeks, months, or more of not writing, and our initial excitement turns to dread.

The only way to break that cycle is to follow Mr. Malamud’s advice:

Sit down and write.

If you have a hard time motivating yourself to do that, join The Silent Writer’s Collective for a Silent Write-In, a weekly online writing retreat that helps writers put aside distractions and write.

By committing to a group effort, (think Weight Watchers or NaNoWriMo) many writers find it’s easier to stay motivated and reach goals.  Writing, as we’ve heard ad nauseum, is a solitary endeavor, but sharing our efforts with a group makes it easier, and can help us reach our writing goals.

Our next retreat is tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 17, at 9 PM EST (US), if there’s interest, we’ll also meet at 9 PM PST.  We start on time with a minute or two of hellos, then the “buzzer” sounds and we start writing.  You can work on your own writing project, or use one of the provided writing prompts or exercises to get started.

We meet via Twitter using the hashtag #SilentWriters. If you aren’t on Twitter, we have a group on Facebook. If you don’t have either, just join in on your own at 9, and know you’re not working out there on your own.

For more information, check out the SWC FAQs.

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Monday Motivator: Philip Roth

“I turn sentences around.
That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around.
Then I look at it and turn it around again…”

— E.I. Lonoff
in “The Ghost Writer” by Philip Roth

That’s the glamorous life of a writer.  Writing, revising, repeating.  It’s also what I’ve been caught up in for the past five or so months … turning sentences around, then around again.  I like to think I’m making  progress, but sometimes I  wonder.  That’s another part of the glamorous life of a writer: Uncertainty.

The Monday Motivator is meant to motivate and inspire, but my commentary doesn’t seem very inspiring does it.  In fact, it feels pretty negative.  Maybe that’s why I turned to my blog today for the first time in months.  This writer is in need of some blogosphere love.   How about it folks?  Lay it on me! Share a tip or trick you use to keep going when the words have turned you inside, outside and upside down?

♦ ♦ ♦

The Monday Motivator is a quote posted on Mondays to encourage, inspire, and motivate writers of all skill levels and across genres.  If you have a favorite quote you’d like to share, let me know and I’ll post it here.  Click here to see past Monday Motivators.

 

Getting Ready for an Hour of Silent Writing

If you’re a writer finding it difficult to make time for writing, think about joining the Silent Writers Collective tonight for its weekly online writing retreat.  All writers are welcome to join in at 9 EST  and commit an hour (or more) to their craft.  Starting tonight, the sessions will be unmoderated.

You can work on your own project or use one of the exercises provided below.

  1. From PW.org:Fiction and Poetry prompts
  2. From Verbal VerbosityThe 100 Words Challenge Prompt
  3. From me: A photo prompt, “Totally Wow”
  4. From Mama’s Losin’ ItFive Writing Prompts
  5. From @Selorian on Twitter:#storystarters
  6. From Plinky: Quickie questions to ponder

For more information on tonight’s retreat, visit the Silent Writers Collective.

Resources: The Daily Post

A Thousand Words: Totally Wow!

Creative Commons image by Ben Ferenchak on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

A Thousand Words is a photo prompt posted every Sunday.  Maybe the image will inspire you to write a short story, a poem, or a blog post.  Maybe it will inspire you to get happy and excited, really, really excited about something. Whatever your response, I hope the picture inspires you to some sort of creative zen, and that you enjoy the hell out of it.

If you write something based on the image, feel free to share a link in the comments section.   Also feel free to use the photo on your blog, just be sure to give proper credit, which I will always include in the post or the caption.

Resources: Creative Commons, Flickr, The Daily Post

Baths, Books, Rules: Authors Share Their Inspiration

Writers Recommend is an online exclusive at Poets & Writers that asks authors:

“What Inspires You?”

For Heather Sellers, author of “You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know” (Riverhead Books, 2010), it’s a bath, a pile of magazines, lavender oil, and as much time as she needs.

Aimee Bender, author of “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” (Doubleday, 2010) says, “Rules. I’m a big believer in structure, and the idea that creativity loosens up when constrained a bit.

Stuart O’Nan, author of 14 novels, reads pages from his favorite book.

With responses from more than 100 authors, the answers are as varied as these three examples, yet there are a lot of similarities, too.  To read all the responses, and find some inspiration of your own, read  Writers Recommend from Poets & Writers.

Resources: Poets & Writers, The Daily Post.

Silent Writers’ Prompts and 67 Reminders

The weekly Silent Writers online writing retreat will be held tonight at 9 pm EST.  All writers are invited to participate, but those who find it difficult to put distractions aside and make the time to write will find it especially useful.  Writing for a specific and set amount of time on a consistent basis is not only satisfying, it improves skills and helps build a rewarding writing life.

To participate,  join in tonight at 9 EST on Twitter or Facebook.  You can work on your own project or use one of the writing exercises below.

If you can’t join in, but need a motivation boost to take with you, read 67 Things to Remember When Writing by Cristin Terrill on her blog Incidents & Accidents. She says, it’s a “small checklist of common advice to keep in mind when writing a novel so that you don’t make a total mess of things.”  The list is a semi-serious, semi-jokey compilation with an important message at the end.

Now, on to the prompts:

  1. From PW.org:Fiction and Poetry prompts
  2. From Verbal VerbosityThe 100 Words Challenge Prompt
  3. From me: A photo prompt, “Free Realms”
  4. From Mama’s Losin’ ItFive Writing Prompts
  5. From @Selorian on Twitter:#storystarters
  6. From Plinky: Quickie questions to ponder

For more information on tonight’s retreat, visit the Silent Writers Collective.

Resources: Incidents & Accidents. Simon Howden portfolio, The Daily Post

Monday Motivator: Steve Wozniak’s Apple I

“Even if you do something
that others might consider wrong,
you should at least be willing to talk about it
and tell your parents what you’re doing
because you believe it’s right.”
— Steve “Woz” Wozniak
Designed and hand-built the first Apple computer

Apple I On display at the Smithsonian
Apple I computer, created April 11, 1976.

The Apple I Computer was Apple’s first product.  It was designed and hand-built by Steve Wozniak, and sold by his friend Steve Jobs.

Woz and Jobs initially built 50 computers and sold them at a local computer store for $666.66 each.  They sold every one.  In total, about 200 Apple I Computers were built, but they quickly became obsolete.

Inspired by their success, Woz designed the Apple II less than a year later, and it went on to become one of the great computer successes of all time.

The Apple I still fares pretty well, though.  In November 2010, an Apple I sold for $212,267 at Christie’s auction house in London.  It is the highest price paid for this model so far.

◊ ◊ ◊

The Monday Motivator is a quote posted each week to encourage, inspire, and motivate writers of all skill levels and across genres.  If you have a favorite quote to share, let me know and I’ll post it here.  Click here to see past Monday Motivators.

Resources: Apple, The Daily Post

A Thousand Words: Free Realms

Creative Commons image by Christopher Cornelius on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

A Thousand Words is a photo prompt posted every Sunday.  Maybe the image will inspire you to write a short story, a poem, or a blog post.  Whatever your response, I hope the picture inspires you to some sort of creative zen.

If you write something based on the image, feel free to share a link in the comments section.   Also feel free to use the photo on your blog, just be sure to give proper credit, which I will always include in the post or the caption.

Resources: Creative Commons, Flickr, The Daily Post

True or False: Steinbeck and the Roads Not Taken

When journalist Bill Steigerwald set out to follow John Steinbeck’s route in “Travels with Charley in Search of America,” he did it as a kind of tribute to the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

Fifty years after the first publication of “Travels with Charley,” Mr. Steigerwald said, “I simply wanted to go exactly where Steinbeck went in 1960, to see what he saw on the Steinbeck Highway, and then to write a book about the way America has and has not changed in the last 50 years.”

He didn’t find what he set out to find.  After nine months and more than 11,000 miles, Mr. Steigerwald conclusively determined that “Travels With Charley” is “not just full of fiction; it’s also a dishonest account of [Steinbeck’s] iconic journey and what he really thought about America.”

That’s disappointing, isn’t it?

I first read about this in A Reality Check for Steinbeck and Charley in last Sunday’s New York Times, and I felt incredibly let down, even kind of heart-broken about it.  “Travels with Charley” meant something to me. When I first read it, I believed I was reading a true story by and about Steinbeck who wanted to see his country a final time before dying.

I knew it was written by Steinbeck, a fiction writer, and I knew some of it came off as a little too perfect to be completely true, but to find out that it’s mostly fabrication just felt wrong.

It felt so wrong I had to research further.  I never heard of Bill Steigerwald.  For all I knew he was some kind of publicity seeking conspiracy theorist who found his magic bullet in “Travels with Charley.”  After reading his blog, Travels without Charley, in particular the post announcing his trip, I knew that wasn’t the case.  His early posts are so filled with excitement about the road ahead of him, it’s hard not to be taken with the sincerity of it.  But I held on to my skepticism because I was, after all, exploring dishonesty in writing.  As I read later posts and all the details, it became clear that Mr. Steigerwald was documenting facts.  Facts, not fiction.

James Frey’s false memoir, “A Million Little Pieces” and the whole Oprah incident comes to mind, but that doesn’t begin to compare with this.  Who’s James Frey, right?

This is John Steinbeck.  “Of Mice and Men” Steinbeck.  “Grapes of Wrath” Steinbeck.   “East of Eden” Steinbeck!  If “Travels with Charley” was fiction, it should have been labeled and sold as fiction.  That it wasn’t, diminishes John Steinbeck.  At least it does for me.

When asked about the authenticity of characters, Susan Shillinglaw, scholar in residence at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, said, “Does it really matter that much?”

Ignoring the astonishing arrogance of that response, I will volunteer an answer to the rhetorical question.  The answer is yes.  It really does matter that much.

It’s a question of trust and the integrity of words.

Steinbeck knew it, too.  He said so himself in the final words of his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in 1962.

“Having taken God-like power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have. Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope. So that today, saint John the Apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the word, and the word is man, and the word is with man.”

Resources: Travels without Charley, The New York Times, The Daily Post

On the Path to “Beautifully Written”

Yesterday at Writer Unboxed, the title of a post by author and literary agent Donald Maass caught my attention.

“Beautifully Written.”

When I worked at a literary agency, we used those two words to describe many of the books we represented, both fiction and non-fiction.  Though it may sound cliché, it wasn’t.  In order to represent a book, we had to feel that it truly was beautifully written.

Defining something as subjective as beautifully written makes me think of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s now famous quote on pornography.  He said he could never intelligibly define it, but “I know it when I see it.”

That’s how I feel about beautiful writing.  I have a hard time defining it, but I know it when I see it.  Mr. Maass does better.  He says, “For me, beautifully written has come to be not just a nice extra (when you get it) but a critical component of high-impact fiction.”

In my comment on the post, I wrote that my writing goals are 1) To complete my novel, and 2) Finish with a completed novel that is beautifully written.  Sometimes it feels like those goals clash and my frustration builds. When that happens, I need to pull back and remember that “finished” and “beautifully written” are one in the same for me.

Guidance like that found in Mr. Maass’s post will help in reaching my goals.  In his new series on Writer Unboxed, he will be discussing the ways in which novels can be beautifully written, starting with creating parallels.

To read the post, visit Writer Unboxed » Beautifully Written.

Resources: Writer Unboxed, Donald Maass, The Daily Post