Shooting Stars and the Promise of Hope

starI saw a shooting star when I was out running this dark, early morning. That’s exciting for many reasons, but primarily because 1) I was out running this dark, early morning, and 2) I saw a shooting star!

That bright solitary shooter lifted my mood in the way shooting stars do, and it helped me finish a tough run with unexpected oomph.  It also reminded me that the Geminid Meteor Shower is this week, Thursday and Friday.  I’ll be out there watching, bundled up against the cold, mug of hot chocolate in hand, perhaps something harder.  I’ll take the quiet time as a chance to look at the past year.

2012.  It’s been a dilly and it’s not over yet  There’s the Geminid this week, the end of the world on the 21st (as if!), Christmas on the 25th, and a New Year’s Eve 5K run on the 31st. It’s a busy few days wrapping up a busy year.

In Madame Bovary, Gustav Flaubert wrote of Emma:

She did not believe that things could remain the same in different places, and since the portion of her life that lay behind her had been bad, no doubt that which remained to be lived would be better.

If you know much about Emma Bovary, you know things didn’t turn out to be better for her.  But I’m going to ignore her end for now and think about her hope instead, especially as the new year approaches. For me, 2012 was manic.  Heart-pumping highs, heart-breaking lows.  As 2013 gets ready to chime in, remnants of the highs and lows linger. It’s going to be a year of decisions and changes. I’m not a fan of decisions and changes.  I like static; it’s easier.  But new years hold the promise of new hope, new oomph, new excitement. Even after welcoming in 50 of them, I still feel that way.

So, with a wit more wisdom and a smidge less naivete than Madame Bovary, I’m keeping the promise of hope and looking forward to 2013 with the thought that no doubt that which remains to be lived will be better. Not that it’s been all bad. It certainly hasn’t. I’ve enjoyed far more than my share of heart-pumping highs and I’m going to do my part to make sure that continues. I’m going to keep running, I’m going to keep writing, and I’m going to keep looking for shooting stars.

PS: Happy birthday, Gustav Flaubert


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.

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.


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

Persistence Pays Off for Writers

Dani Shapiro says writers’ tenacity reminds her of a terrier with a bone, but it has its benefits.

In an essay posted on The Inner Writer, bestselling author Dani Shapiro writes about how difficult it has become for new writers to succeed in the publishing world today.  With a focus on blockbusters and bestsellers, she wonders how writers will be able to take the time and put in the effort needed “to create  something original and resonant and true?”

For most writers, the writing life is not the red carpet life.  There are no lush scenes of privilege and excess.  What writers get instead, she writes “is this miserable trifecta: uncertainty, rejection, disappointment.”

Woo hoo! Where do I sign up?

Ms. Shapiro’s insight is discouraging, but it’s also realistic.  It’s a tough door to break through, but there is still room in the market for the newcomers.  By focusing on the writing itself, and not on publishing, perhaps we can we can find the courage and the dogged tenacity to keep going when the rejections and doubts start piling up.  That’s when we’ll find that the risks are worth the rewards.

To read the essay, please visit:  A writing career becomes harder to scale.

◊ ◊ ◊

Your Brain on Write is a series of posts
exploring scientific, psychological
and cognitive aspects of writing and creativity.
Click here to see additional posts in the series.

Resources:  The Inner Writer, Dani Shapiro, The Daily Post

Ralph Waldo Emerson Was a Silent Writer

Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s often hard, sometimes it feels impossible, to pull away from the noisy chaos of daily life to make time for the creative life.

The Silent Writers Collective was created in response to that challenge and we meet online every Tuesday at 9 pm EST for an online writing retreat.  The retreat is open to all writers, especially those who find it hard to put aside distractions and find the time to write.

You can work on your own project or the writing prompts below will help you get started if you don’t have a project to work on.

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

The Silent Writers online writing retreat welcomes any writer who wants to commit a minimum of one hour to writing.  If you’re interested in participating, join us tonight at 9 EST on Twitter or Facebook.

For more information, visit the Silent Writers Collective.

Resources:  The Daily Post

7 Ways to Be A Writer (or not)

As an aspiring novelist, I’m often drawn to articles and blog posts offering advice on:

How to be …

  • … a writer
  • … a better writer
  • … a more prolific writer
  • … a published writer
  • … a writer with a following
  • … a writer who tweets
  • … a multi-layered writer
  • … a writer who Facebooks
  • … a writer who researches
  • … a writer who …

Shall I go on?

Some of these articles offer sound useful advice, others seem to be exercises in ego inflation.  That’s why I really enjoyed this article from The Faster Times.  It’s a little of both.

Read more …  How to Be a Writer (Although You Probably Shouldn’t Be One) | The Faster Times.

Big Project Looming? Take a Break!

Have you ever felt like you needed to take a break to keep your attention? And, have you often fought the urge thinking that you needed to concentrate harder — only to end up losing your focus?

New research suggests you should have listened to you inner self and taken a break.

Read more …

Resources:  Psych Central, The Daily Post

Six Block-Busting Writers’ Prompts

The Silent Writers Collective holds its weekly online writing retreat tonight at 9 EST and PST.

The retreat is free and open to all writers, especially those who find it hard to put aside distractions and find the time to write.

You can work on your own project or the writing prompts below will help you get started if you don’t have a project to work on.

  1. From Fiction and Poetry prompts
  2. From Writerly Life: A photo prompt, “Untitled”
  3. From Verbal VerbosityThe 100 Words Challenge Prompt
  4. From me: A photo prompt, “Daddy’s Home”
  5. From @Selorian on Twitter: #storystarters
  6. From Plinky: Quickie questions to ponder

The Silent Writers online writing retreat is open to all writers who want to commit a minimum of one hour to writing.  If you’re interested in participating, join us tonight at 9 EST and PST on Twitter or Facebook.

For more information, visit the Silent Writers Collective.

Resources:  The Daily Post