Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Heather Waxman on "Why I Write"

One of my favorite bloggers, Heather Waxman, recently published a post titled "Why Do You Write?" As you might imagine, the title intrigued me a lot. I always love reading about other writers and their habits and thought processes. The four questions Heather answered were:
  • What am I working on?
  • How does my writing differ from others in its genre?
  • Why do I write?
  • How does my writing process work?
(Why don't we all take a few minutes to answer those questions for ourselves right now... either in your head or on paper in your journal...)

I thought Heather's answer to the last question was especially spot-on and helpful for other writers:

Three words: I show up. 
That’s it. I show up. When the urge to write comes up, I sit down and I let my fingers flow or I let the pen glide. Sometimes, I set the stage with a prayer or intention and say, “May all Divine guidance flow through me now.” But that’s it. 80% of the work is showing up to write. The rest is the technical stuff like editing and spell checking. “Just show up, babe,” I tell myself. And I do. And it flows. And then it works. When I’m writing a larger piece (like my book), I make it a non-negotiable appointment with myself. For one full hour, I write. No ifs, ands, or buts. And usually, the juices are flowing so much that I want to keep going. Try it. 
I really liked the way she phrased that: I make it a non-negotiable appointment with myself. So often, we drag our feet about writing because it's hard and scary and maybe we don't feel inspired or we don't particularly want to write in that moment. We'd rather watch TV or read a book or bake something yummy or eat something yummy. 
But life is full of things we don't particularly want to do, yet we do them anyway because we know they are the best thing for us. When you schedule a dentist appointment, you don't blow it off or not show up just because you don't feel particularly excited to go to the dentist. Nobody feels excited to go to the dentist. But it's an appointment, so you keep it. You show up, you do it, and before you know it you're done. And that's a great feeling.
So now I have a question for you: 
What would your writing life look like if you treated your writing time the same way you treat a dentist appointment?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Wisdom from Anna Deveare Smith: on acting and writing

In an interview about her groundbreaking play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, playwright and actress Anna Deveare Smith says, "You're not the character, and you're not yourself. You're in the 'not not' -- which is a positive. I think this is the most we can hope for. I don't think we can really 'be' anybody else. The actor is a vehicle of consciousness, projected through a fictional character, and the fiction displays great truth."

I think this sentiment applies to writing as well as to acting -- actually, I think it apples to any creative art. When I write a piece of fiction, I am simultaneously myself and the characters I create. I give pieces of myself to my characters, but as the story progresses something magical happens: they become their own individual selves, with their own identities and desires.

Often when I set out to write a story, I have a specific ending in mind, but sometimes the main character will decide to take the action in a different direction, or a minor character will pop up and demand attention. It's as if I am merely the vehicle for expressing these various voices.

Here's a writing prompt that you might try: When I'm stuck or the writing becomes stagnant, I place two characters in a situation and let them talk to each other on the page. Often the story takes form in ways I never would have guessed before I began writing.

I also love something that Anna Deveare Smith says about the actor: he or she has "a deep desire to connect and people come to the theater because they too want to connect. The actor does not produce the connection alone, the audience has to push forward also; the two have to meet in the middle." This is true for all types of art.

One of my favorite things about the medium of writing is that once a piece is published and unleashed upon the world, it is open for interpretation from all different perspectives. The meaning of a piece of writing can shift and morph as the times change and society's needs for sustenance and meaning through literature changes.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guest Post: Motivate Yourself to Write

How to motivate yourself for an academic piece of writing

a guest post by Eileen Archer

Most of us do it wrong: we sit down at our desks about a day or two beforehand thinking that we’re going to be able to write a first-class essay without having done any preparation. Especially if it’s the first time writing an important academic piece, this is a disastrous strategy. Here is a quick guide to show you the most important skills for essay writing, how to perfect them and how to get motivated.

Practice makes perfect

Keep a journal to document your life! Do it with music! Find some joy in writing! Then, when it comes to writing academically and trying to express complicated theories or discussing your opinion, it should be a lot easier for you. If you do find it difficult to write then maybe joining a writing group will help. Try also reading related papers to help you analyze the ideas and writing of others.

Organization is key

Make timetables for every complicated aspect of your life, for example: household chores, studying, writing, being productive, and hanging with friends. Attach themes or pictures to each hence turning it into something proactive, fun and interesting, not a chore! Stick them up on your walls, or give them to your parents in case you get lazy with it. Organizing your life to this extent will serve you well for any future work you have to do, both inside and outside of academia.

Reading from the same page

Surround yourself with books -- read, read and read more. There’s nothing like curling up with a good book. But, be wise about it. Reading chick lit or trashy magazines is all well and good, but if you don’t have several books on the go at once you’ll lose that writing knowledge. The ideal book selection is obviously something light-hearted that you enjoy and don’t have to think too much about, but more importantly you should be reading something that is well-written and certainly something attached to your work. So, on your night stand and desk, even before you do some academic writing, make sure there lays an academic journal or a classroom book too. And make sure you spread the time between the books evenly, rather than just staring at it dumbly from behind your top ten apps article.

Research – no pain no gain

You’re not alone, most everyone detests research. This is why you have to do it early. If you’re going to procrastinate in any part of your life or writing work, don’t do it here. Imagine a big pile of books and papers and links to references you’ve used. That’s what you’ll end up with; a big unorganized mess in front of you that will take forever to deal with. So, the key here is once you’ve used a reference, type it in a document, fully. Use the correct referencing style and make sure it’s 100% correct and all you’ll have to do at the end is click one button to arrange them alphabetically.

Bio: Eileen Archer is currently a resident blogger and a chief writer at After obtaining a Masters in English language she decided to dedicate her time to creative writing as well as providing assistance to students. She spends her free time reading, writing poetry and studying for a PhD in an art-related field.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bay Area writers: call for submissions

Hi, friends! I just received this call for submissions and wanted to share ... looks like a neat opportunity if you're in the Bay Area!

Peninsula Literary Call for Submissions
We're now accepting submissions for our September reading. See details below.

Peninsula Literary will present the next reading on Friday, September 12, at 7:00 p.m. David Roderick and Alice LaPlante will be featured.

Readings will take place at Gallery House in Palo Alto. You can also visit our Facebook page at Peninsula Literary or view our website

To round out our lineup, we're now accepting fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry submissions for 5-7 minute guest reading slots.  The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, August 12, 2014.
Submission Guidelines:

1.  Original poetry or prose – please include all submitted materials, along with your bio, in the body of your email. Submissions may additionally include pdf or Word attachments, but all pieces must appear in the main email message or they will be returned. 

2.  No more than 7 minutes total reading time (2-4 poems or 3-3.5 pages of double-spaced prose, 12 pt. text).

3.  Include your name, phone number, and preferred email.

4.  Please send all submissions via email to Carrie and Jean at

Thanks for your support – we look forward to seeing you on September 12!

Carrie Hechtman & Jean Znidarsic, Peninsula Literary

Visit us on Facebook!/PeninsulaLiterary?fref=ts

Monday, March 24, 2014

Interview with James Patterson, author of "Living with the Bully of Crohn's Disease"

James Patterson is the author of the just-released book Living with the Bully of Crohn's Disease, which is available on Amazon here. James is a native Southern Californian who grew up enjoying the wonderful weather, the beach and surfing. He did his undergraduate work at UC Riverside and received his MS in Biochemistry from Michigan State. He migrated back to California and, after spending time in the San Francisco Bay area, settled in Ventura County thirty years ago. His initial career focus was the research lab but his interest in interacting with people led to various sales and marketing roles in medical companies. This evolved further as he became a medical recruiter over twenty years ago. James says, "It is perfect blend of working with high-technology medical companies and people. I thoroughly enjoy the counseling aspects of my work as I interact with others and help them find meaningful work that is nourishing and rewarding." James has recently become an author with the publication of his book Living with the Bully of Crohn's Disease. He was kind enough to take a few minutes of his time to answer some questions for the blog. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about your book. What was your inspiration behind it?

I was impacted by Crohn's disease at the age of thirteen and never knew it. I recognized that something was wrong with me but it took almost four decades to identify the issue. Crohn's is a disease that waxes and wanes and makes life difficult; not understanding that you have it only makes it worse. have met and read about many people, especially young adults, who have been devastated by this ailment and I observed that while the physical elements of the disease were challenging, the emotional issues of sadness, grief, fear and anger were even more pronounced. I recognized that my almost fifty years of experience with Crohn's gives me a wealth of knowledge that I can share with others in the hope that they can benefit from my mistakes and the mental and emotional processes I used to manage this disease and build health. My hope is that other patients will recognize their lives can continue to be full and rich, even with a disease likes Crohn's.

How do you balance writing with all the other things going on in your life, like your work, family, health?

Once I made a decision to write this book, it took about a year. Just like we take time to eat and sleep, writing became a requirement and a part of my regular process. While the project was large, I recognized that the best way to manage it was to work on a consistent basis. Some days I did more than others and there were periods when work and family did not allow time for writing. I think my motivation to write about a topic that would help others was a major driver for me to complete the task. I felt the message of the book would be medicine for people with Crohn's to help cool their inflamed and distressed minds and I wanted it to be available to those who need it.  

What is your writing process like? 

I try to write during the morning when I feel most alert, rested and creative. I use a PC and rarely take written notes because I cannot read my handwriting! If I have the time, I prefer to write in 2-4 hour bursts. I work off of an outline but once I start to write I do not pay much attention to the outline, grammar or exactly where I am going. I tend to get large chunks of ideas that come forth and I continue to write until they stop. This can go on for some time and the ideas and thought trails take me in various directions. During these times, I am not so concerned about the exact content of my thoughts but want to get things down on paper. I will go back later and clean it up but these creative thought bursts contain the best ideas and I allow them to continue unabated and I don't get in their way with too much concrete thinking. 

What is your biggest advice for other writers, particularly young writers just starting out?

I think it begins with having something meaningful to say. I never considered writing a book during the first five decades of my life. I started writing this book when a number of people told time that I had something that could help others and this serviced as my motivation to start writing. Once I made the commitment to write, the next issue for me was organization. I spent time outlining the main themes and points and did this before I did any writing. I wanted to have the bullet points in mind and then build out the rest of the story. I had forty pages of outline before I wrote my first sentence.

What are some of your favorite books? 

I love science fiction and read a lot of the old books byArthur C. Clarke, Lester Del Rey and Ray Bradbury, among others. I also read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy when they first came out and thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter. I have many interests in nonfiction as well and enjoy authors like Caroline Myss, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Robert Leichtman. 

What's next for you? 

I have started outlining two more books, one on how companies can hire and retain great people while creating a culture of excellence and support. The other is about how people can find meaning and nourishment in their life's work. Both of these relate to what I have done for over twenty years and I think I can add value in writing these books. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Writing is a wonderful opportunity to go into detail on issues and ideas that can impact people's lives. As the writer, you have control over your message and do not need to be concerned about brevity. You can take the time to develop the idea and then express it in its fullness. 

You can connect with James Patterson online here:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Seventh Annual Summer Writing Camp is Open for Registration!

This year is the SEVENTH ANNUAL Write On! Summer Writing Camp!
What: Students will have FUN while learning how to improve central components of their writing, including dialogue, characterization, plot and setting, through various creativity-inducing writing exercises.
Who: Students ages 8-18. Poets, playwrights, short-story writers, future novelists – all are encouraged and welcome to join!
When: The weekends of July 19 & 20, 26 & 27. There are two time sessions available: mornings from 10 am-noon or afternoons from 1-3 pm. It is perfectly all right if you can only make one of the weekends, or even just one day — I’d love to have you join us!
Where: In the conference room of Jensen Design & Survey in Ventura at 1672 Donlon Street (near Target).
How: If you’re interested in getting signed up, simply download, print and send in the PDF of the registration form (link below). There are early-registration and sibling discounts available! Proceeds benefit Write On! For Literacy, my organization that empowers youth through reading & writing projects including an annual Holiday Book Drive for underprivileged kids.
Download the registration form here
Price breakdown: SPACE IS LIMITED!
Early Registration Special (before June 30)
All four sessions: $125.00 – BEST VALUE!
Three sessions: $100.00
Two sessions: $80.00
One session: $40.00
Regular Registration (after June 30)
All four sessions: $150.00 – BEST VALUE!
Three sessions: $125.00
Two sessions: $100.00
One session: $50.00
Hope to see you there!! 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Terrific Writing Prompt from William Lychack

William Lychack is a fantastic writer, and an extremely generous and kindhearted person -- I had the pleasure of meeting him when I was a student at Purdue and he came to give a reading as part of the Visiting Writers Series. His short story collection The Architect of Flowers is simply marvelous!

I recently came across this writing prompt from William, who now teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Pittsburgh, and I wanted to share it with you because I think it is terrific!

Choose a piece of your writing that you particularly like or need to think about in some way. Rewrite the piece by copying down the opposite of each word in the excerpt (except, perhaps, for "little words" like articles and prepositions). Because most words don't have exact opposites, the possibilities are endless, and that's the point. Your story or poem or letter or postcard probably won't make much sense at first, but continue writing your inversion until you have your own draft. Work quickly on this first draft, letting your unconscious decide the antonyms. Now put the original away and see what you can make of your draft. Look for a sense of place, character, or subject to develop. Cut out what you can't make work. Alter details as much as you wish. 

Isn't that a neat exercise? I am going to try it for myself today! Will you join me?