black and white image of neon sign says "do what you love"

How a Tribe Can Make You a Better Writer

 

By Darryl Bollinger

I recently celebrated a birthday and received a wonderful card from dear friends. On the cover, with pictures of Dorothy and her three traveling companions in The Wizard of Oz, was the inscription It’s not WHERE you go . . . It’s WHO you meet along the way. How appropriate. All of us have the innate desire for tribal affiliation. While an anthropologist could do a far better job of explaining that longing, my simple perspective is from a writer’s view.

All of us have the innate desire for tribal affiliation. While an anthropologist could do a far better job of explaining that longing, my simple perspective is from a writer’s view. Click To Tweet

It is also a subject foremost in my mind these days, having relocated from Florida to North Carolina in the past year.

black and white image of neon sign says "do what you love"What a joy to spend a week surrounded by my writing tribe in beautiful Fernandina Beach, Florida for the Amelia Island Book Festival, a “family” reunion. We stayed with close friends who live there, one of whom is writer Dr. J Author. We reunited with long-time “relatives” including Andrea Patten, Nancy Blanton, Samuel Staley, my editor, Heather Whitaker, and discovered new ones, such as Amelia Indie Authors. The subject of a writing family led to this post. How does a writing tribe make one a better writer?

It is both comforting and selfish. It is relaxing to be in the company of people who love and accept you without reservation. A place where you can be yourself and lower the guardrails. Where it is okay to make a mistake, where you don’t have to constantly be on guard parsing your responses and comments. While writing may be the one common link, I am amazed at the diversity within the circle. There may be other common elements we sometimes share, but there are also areas within which we can respectfully disagree.

It is both comforting and selfish. It is relaxing to be in the company of people who love and accept you without reservation. A place where you can be yourself and lower the guardrails Click To Tweet

Selfishly, it is an opportunity to gather something of great value. I always leave feeling that I am leaving with more than I came with. My mind is racing to the point of insomnia, flooding my brain with thoughts and ideas triggered by lively conversation, helpful suggestions, and insightful commentary.

It is an opportunity to share and to give back to my tribal community. To help others benefit from my mistakes. A testing ground and sounding board for thoughts and dreams. To laugh together and share unique life experiences and the benefit of acquired knowledge and wisdom. Prompts, motivation, and challenges abound.

It is an opportunity to learn. The stimulation and mind-expanding are tangible. The writers in the family bring their significant others into the tent, with even more experiences to add to the stew. I never cease to walk away from these gatherings invigorated and challenged beyond my wildest expectations.

What do you look for? In the words of my motorcycle riding friends, If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand. As I search for my tribe in my new residence, I am asked, “What are you looking for?” and I don’t know how to answer. It’s like asking what you look for in a friend. Certainly, fundamental traits such as honesty and loyalty are important, but it goes far beyond that. I think of close friends, several of whom were there and how on our initial meeting, we instantly bonded. Why? I can’t explain. If I could, I’d write a book on that subject and probably be set for life. All I can offer is to try on different groups and you’ll know when you find it.

I hear people say that writing is a solitary endeavor. While it may be true that the actual task of sitting down at a keyboard and putting words on paper is solitary, writing is very much a collaborative effort. Family is important. Find your tribe. It is a gratifying experience for the soul. 

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Find Darryl on his website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Goodreads!

Traveling with the Luck of the Irish

OK, OK… We know everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s day but we’ve got announcements that may extend that for you. First off, we hope that all local folks know about today’s party at the BookLoft featuring Nancy Blanton and her new release The Earl in Black Armor.

Are you Irish enough... oops... we meant lucky enough to travel to Ireland with author Nancy Blanton? Click To Tweet

But besides that? Readers everywhere will want to know about Nancy’s latest adventure: she’s leading a trip to Ireland. An intimate group of about 16 adventurers will wind through many of the sites featured in Nancy’s delicious historical fiction — and she’ll be on board to talk to you about them.

Click the link below to get all the details.

BLANTON Ireland TOUR

Writers on Writing: Some Favorite Quotes

There are infinite shades of grey. Writing often appears so black and white. – Rebecca Solnit

The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary. – J.K. Rowling

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.  – Ray Bradbury

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – E.B. White

 

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.  – Stephen King

Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence. – Alice Walker

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. – Harper Lee

A word after a word after a word is power. – Margaret Atwood

You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. – Octavia E. Butler

 

When Inspiration Eludes: Finding Your Muse

CAROL K. WALSH

This morning I took my usual walk around our little local lake. I love my morning walk because it helps me connect with my inner muse and energizes my creative juices. There is no better way for me to trigger inspiring ideas.

Today as I walked, I realized how much I hate feeling creatively stuck. During those moments inspiration feels as stubborn as a two-year-old boy, whose first response is “no,” and as reticent as a pre-teen girl in her bedroom. Neither wants to listen to our needs. Both children need to be tricked into showing up for us. Our task is to find ways to entice him or her to do what we are asking – in this case, provide us with some inspiration.

Inspiration (which comes from the word inhale) is the most frustrating, unpredictable part of the creative process. Even if an inspiring idea shows up, it doesn’t mean I’ll like it, or that it solves my problem. As an artist and author I can desperately wish to be inspired about something I am writing — like this blog post — and instead, ideas will flood my brain for works of art. Sometimes I do lose patience. 

Just Let Go

Bringing forth inspiration requires us to repress our natural tendency to force it to happen. Instead, we need to let go of control and make the emotional, energetic, physical and intellectual space for inspiration to appear.

Today after my extra-long walk I entered my studio, a sacred space, which automatically sets the creative stage. (We all need a sacred space, even if it’s a corner of a room.) Once in my studio, I can more easily shift into a state of self-awareness that helps me focus and connect with my inner self. While I need to trust the process, I must also do the footwork. That includes: 

  • Engaging in a ritual of mental, emotional and physical readiness. 
  • Emotionally trusting the process — knowing that something good will come of my efforts. 
  • Shutting the door on negativity, self-doubt and the external world. 

Remember, we cannot force inspiration, but only create the space for it to occur. 

 The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. ~ Julia Cameron, The Artists’ Way Click To Tweet

Tricks to Tickle Your Muse

When inspiration continues to hide, I have a few other helpful tricks:

  • Change your medium. For example, if you are a writer, then doodle or paint.  
  • Move your body. Dance, walk or go to a yoga class. 
  • Brainstorm with creative friends.
  • Do a guided imagery. With closed eyes, begin with your stuck spot and visualize five different outcomes. Be as ridiculous as you can. 
  • Think of three or four unrelated words and put them in a sentence, i.e. toaster, red, couch, clouds. Then, take one of those words – like the color red – and write about everything you associate with that word. 
  • Go to a gathering place (store, coffee shop, park) and notice what you see, hear and think. What draws your attention? Write about your reaction. 
  • Take a one-day creative vacation. Do something playful without expectations. 
  • Watch for synchronicities. Carl Jung defined synchronicity as a “simultaneous occurrence with meaning.” For example, when I was writing my memoir I needed a scene demonstrating my mother’s temperament. In one afternoon I saw ads for candy, someone talked about fudge, and I was given a piece of candy. I went back to my studio and wrote scenes containing my mother and candy. 

In Andrea Patten’s inspired book, The Inner Critic Advantage, she suggests naming our self-shaming inner voice. Likewise, I suggest naming your imaginary muse and call on her when you need help. For example, before you go to sleep at night ask your muse to give you an idea. When you wake up, stay still for two minutes, which allows you to stay in that hypnagogic state, when ideas more readily float up into your consciousness.  

Finally, whenever an inspiration arrives, greet it with gratitude and express confidence that more creative ideas will come. 

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Carol Walsh LCSW-C   is the author of  Painting Life: My Creative Journey Through Trauma

                                                  

                                                                     

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The Art Connection -- Part 1

The Art Connection — Part 1

SPECIAL GUEST POST: Not long ago, Writers by the Sea, the local chapter of the Florida Writers Association, was treated to a talk by Linda Hart Green, a member of the Shady Ladies art co-operative. She spoke about the connections between creating visual art and writing. She graciously agreed to share her thoughts with us.

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Naomi Shihab Nye is a Palestinian-American poet who began writing her own poems at the age of 6! She is often asked how she became a writer. She put her response into a poem entitled, “Please describe how you became a writer:”

“Possibly I began writing as a refuge from our insulting first-grade textbook. “Come, Jane, come. Look, Dick, look.” Were there ever duller people in the world? You had to tell them to look at things? Why weren’t they looking to begin with?” ”

My guess about you is that no one has to tell YOU to look at things! My guess is that you have been looking all of your lives. You know no other way to be in the world. Looking brings you both joy and pain. But you will not turn away. Feeling the need to look and to record what you see is why you write and why I paint! Those of us who are compelled to look wish we could take a break from it. Turn it off for a while. But we know that price of NOT looking is too high. We want to see the world in all its beauty, diversity, humor, irony and pain.

Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at but what you see.” What is the difference between looking and seeing? When you see, are you fully present in mind, body, and spirit? When you look, are your eyes working, but your mind is several steps behind or several steps ahead of where you are?

For artists and writers, that just won’t do. Poets and artists need to be fully present to what they see so that they can be awake to connections, analogies, and metaphors that help explain and to give meaning to life’s journey. This kind of seeing can bring needed insight to a difficult situation or it can take something simple and see in it a thing of transcendent beauty.

A poet who is a well-practiced seer is Mary Oliver. In her book of essays, “Upstream,” she recounts her lonely and difficult childhood. She took refuge in nature and in the world of literature and writing. Her lifetime of quiet and patient observation in nature has opened deep insights that ring true.

In her poem, “When death comes…” she sums up her life’s goal: “when it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.” Writing and the visual arts connect in their creators’ desire to be married to amazement! To not take a single thing or a single day for granted. We want to see those things that bring us an “aha” moment or cause us to draw in our breath.

If we allow cynicism, anger or indifference to what we see dull our amazement and shut us down, then we forego the opportunity to contribute an insight, observation or story or image that the world can have only through us and only if we share it. Only if we share it. It is one thing to see. It is another thing to put what we see “out there.”

Here is another point of commonality between artists and writers. We desire to put what we see “out there.” “Out there” can be very scary. Self-disclosure involves risk. We have to detach from our desire for approval, recognition, and credit and become immune to rejection. We have to validate our own vision and learn to accept constructive criticism. That is so difficult! When you have a drawer full of pink slips or a closet full of paintings that were not accepted to shows, it is tempting to withdraw into a cocoon of self-protection.

NOT giving voice or vision to what we see is also scary. We risk squelching that spark that makes us each uniquely who we are. When the temptation to withdraw comes as it will, we can tackle it by focusing on process over product. Process over product. We can find enjoyment in the act of creating not just the results. Morning pages, doodles, poems in the margins, sketches and silly rhymes are all part of the process.

In 1995, after twenty years in the professional church ministry, I came to a point in mid-life and mid-career where I really felt the need to do something radically different. Sure, I had put myself out there as a woman in a profession traditionally dominated by men, but I had not given my artistic desires any room to breathe and grow. I had always loved art and had always drawn and done creative projects but I had not fully blessed those inclinations with devoted time and practice. As happens with many, I had let my career take over my life.

After a year of contemplation and planning, I resigned my job which at the time was as a regional consultant for our denomination with the 300 Baptist churches in Massachusetts. I took an unpaid personal sabbatical and returned home to New Jersey with my former husband.

All but my closest friends were shocked. “What about your career track? You will have a gap in your resume,” they warned. All those voices wanting me to change back were very loud. You have heard them too. I needed to heal from my overwork and begin to correct the perfectionist tendencies that constantly told me I needed to do MORE. Instead, I needed to listen to my deepest inner voice that said, “You are enough.”

I left my unopened moving boxes and practically ran to sign up for my first art class. At that first class, I got out my new supplies, put my paper on my easel and FROZE. I just sat there immobile, staring at that blank pad of drawing paper. I imagine all of you know exactly how I felt.

I will never forget the kindness of that first teacher. My fragile new art self could have been dead in the water at that moment in the hands of the wrong person. That kind of life-draining teachers or “shadow artists” as Julia Cameron calls them in The Artist’s Way are out there and we have all run into them. But this teacher did not scold or scoff or berate.

After giving our instructions, he casually walked around the class. He saw my dilemma and came up behind me and quietly whispered in my ear, “Start.” What a gift! And…I did! Of course what I drew was tight and didn’t nearly fill the page. And I erased a lot. Over the next weeks and months, as I did the exercises he taught and started to feel less self-conscious, I could relax more, take more risks and start feeling the freedom of learning new ways to record what I see.

As writers and artists, we need to overcome our hesitancy and simply start! We can’t feel worse than we already do! I got better at seeing and recording what I saw, too. I had doubted my ability to make my hands create what my eyes saw. My vision in my left eye is poor due to a birth defect and I have terrible depth perception. I felt embarrassed about it as a child who wasn’t good at sports and ashamed when I was a klutzy teenager. How could I be an artist? We all have internal messages of self-doubt that we mentally rehearse. We can let them hold us back and define us or we can put mental brackets around them and stop listening to the negativity.

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Linda Hart Green is the Shady Lady pictured on the far right. Part 2 of her article will be published here soon.

 

More Than Ever

More Than Ever

“What author inspired you the most while growing up?” This question was posed to me by a critically-acclaimed writer and professor on my first day of graduate school. I was sitting in an old classroom in an old college in an old Southern town. The other students all responded to the question with very “literary” answers: William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen.

I answered with, “Judy Blume“.

In the world of literary fiction, writing for and about teenagers can often result in a steadfast stigma, labeling you forever as “the one who writes the teen stuff.” For some reason, our work is often not taken as seriously as our grown-up, elite counterparts. We get grouped in with other categories muttered with similar lowly disdain such as “chick lit”, “beach books”, and “anything written by that Nora Roberts woman”.

I’m often quick to point out 27 books by Nora Roberts are sold every minute. And Judy Blume’s books have been translated into 31 languages and over 80 million copies have been sold…and counting.

Not bad company to be in if you ask me.

Yet, selling a gazillion copies is not my driving force as a young adult author. I write for teenagers simply because I love to.

I write for teenagers because when I was 13 years old, a woman named Norma Fox Mazer changed my life.

Just weeks after experiencing my first kiss with a Latin boy named Pedro (after he slipped me a crumpled note that read, “Meet me after school because I like your stories”), my eighth grade world was lit on fire when it was announced Norma Fox Mazer – one of my favorite authors – would be making a guest appearance at our school.

After some serious campaigning to the junior high powers that be, I was one of the few students selected to have lunch with her in the library. I was beyond thrilled, having read every book she’d written. Although I was terribly star struck, I bravely showed her a section of a short story I was working on at the time and told her how much I wanted to be a writer.

Norma Fox Mazer scanned the first page and informed me, “You already are.”

Two years later, I published my first short story. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But I never would have become a young adult author without first being a young adult reader.

Norma Fox Mazer was my best friend, without even realizing it. Each step of the way, she was there for me, guiding me through the field of adolescent landmines. She helped me cope with my parent’s divorce with Taking Terri Mueller. She taught me about death and grieving in After the Rain. She let me know that it was okay to not live like the rich kids in Silver. And she answered the questions I was too embarrassed to ask in Up in Seth’s Room.

Similarly, I learned valuable life lessons in every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on (particularly Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t). I devoured every volume in the Nancy Drew series. I hung on every suspenseful word written by Lois Duncan, and later, Christopher Pike.

Yet, as much as I read and loved each book by these authors, I could never find a true version of myself in them: a young gay boy growing up in the conservative 80s in northern California.

My first young adult novel, (set in 1986 in Sacramento), has just been published by Bold Strokes Books. While the novel explores a very timely and important topic (the life of a young girl is deeply affected by the murder of her gay older brother), the book is truly a literary tribute to the young adult authors who made me the writer I am today. Without them – and their beautiful words – I never would have sat down and taught myself to type at the age of 13.

I wouldn’t be able to recognize how much weight our words as writers carry, especially when read by young people.

Teenagers need us now, more than ever. They want us to be their best friend, their older brother or sister, their confidant. They want our experiences: the choices we made or didn’t, the decisions we’ve never second-guessed, the regrets we’ll always have. It is imperative that we share our lives with young people – not just through our words, but also by example.

After hearing Norma Fox Mazer had passed away last October, I reached out to her daughter, Anne, who is a successful writer. In a letter, I recalled my eighth-grade memory of her mother in my junior high library, and of the tremendous influence she’d had on my career since.

In her response, Anne shared with me, “I was touched to hear the story about how you met my mother. She would have been so happy to hear from you again and to learn about your novel.”

In my heart, I will always carry Anne’s words, right beside her mother’s. Right next to Judy Blume’s, and Lois Duncan’s and Christopher Pike’s. Next to the characters and the stories that helped to shape my youth.

In my lifetime, I only hope my own words will one day resonate with a 13-year-old who has yet to be told, “You already are.”

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This article was originally published here.

 

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Clutter and the Lizard Brain

Clutter and the Lizard Brain

Once upon a time, I was a single mother. I worked in human services (not the biggest ticket salary out there) and received almost none of the child support that had been ordered by the court. (Yes,  I could have taken all sort of steps to collect but, at the time, he wasn’t around  and that made life much safer and more peaceful for all concerned.)

Maybe Someone Will Need This

Unfortunately, I got really good at worrying about money. I developed a highly trained scarcity mentality. PhD-level. Despite changed circumstances, sometimes it’s still hard to get rid of “stuff” without thinking “maybe someone will need this someday.” (Not even “maybe I will need it” but “someone.”) Those thoughts were particularly loud and obnoxious when I got married and merged two complete households. They cropped up again when we sold our home and prepared to move to the other end of the country.

At the risk of sounding like a hoarder, I’ve learned to turn down the volume of those thoughts.  The simplest, least stressful strategy I’ve found is a multi-step process. First, I put “stuff” into a big storage box. Then I close it up and notice whether or not I go looking for any of its contents. Most of the time the answer is “no” and I am grateful to drop it off at the thrift store that supports our local domestic violence shelter.

Those thoughts were particularly obnoxious when I got married... Click To Tweet

Not long ago, I was on the phone with a friend, talking a little about this process. He’s much better at it than I am and had an observation about why it can be so difficult for people to start the process of off-loading excess.

“Your lizard brain hates loss. It loves stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.”

Your Lizard Hates Loss

Duh.  I know this.  Hanging on to excess stuff is about survival… about having “enough” to live. And it doesn’t matter that the “need” doesn’t exist. It’s only a perception.  An important part of clearing clutter is to make sure we’re not seeing it as a loss.

It doesn't matter that the need isn't real. Click To Tweet

Living better with less is a mindset… and sometimes we need to remind that little lizard between our ears that our survival is not at stake. Take small steps. There is no end. Gratitude for the abundance in our lives. There’s no hurry… it’s a way of life.

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This post originally appeared here.

Love and.... the Inner Critic

Love and…. the Inner Critic

How’s your self-love level? If you’ve struggled to love and approve of yourself, chances are you’ve created a list of personal qualities you like, love or approve of.  They may be physical: eyes, smile, height, weight, physical conditioning. Or, perhaps they’re spiritual or emotional qualities that influence the way you move through the world. It’s easy to love your loyalty, your compassion, or your enthusiasm, but what about the rest of you? What about your talent? Your writing or other creative endeavors?

How's your self-love level? Click To Tweet

Sometimes making (or even reading) those lists can make us cringe, bringing up concerns about being “stuck up,” selfish, or self-centered. Those thoughts can make it difficult to stay enthusiastic about your list… especially the ones that tell us we’re imposters or talentless hacks. That’s when we really need to send some love to that inner editor.

What is healthy self-love? It requires a level of honesty and humility that allows us to see and accept our positive traits and the ones we don’t enjoy so much. We’ve learned that some of our yuckier traits can be an invitation to grow and change, an idea that works pretty well… until we bump into that critical voice inside. You know, the one that tells us we’re somehow less than others? The Inner Critic. The Inner Editor. The Bully in Your Brain. Yeah. That one.

What is healthy self-love? Click To Tweet

 

That’s when we start zooming around the web, reading up on the most popular Inner Critic management techniques: coach after coach, author after author offering tips and tactics to silence that inner voice. Get rid of it, kill it off, once and for all.

And, if you’ve followed that advice, you’ve probably had yet another interesting discovery: with most those strategies is, if they work at all, it’s not for long, is it? Efforts to silence the Inner Critic simply bring it back, stronger than it was before.

So what’s the answer? What does it take to get that voice to behave? Love. Unconditional love and radical self-acceptance. Excellent self-care. Support from trusted friends.

It’s true. As much as that naggy voice doesn’t feel good? It’s an important part of us, an inner warning system. To get to a comfortable level of self-love and self-acceptance means we’ve got to find a way to love that voice, too.

 

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The Greenway

 

We are fortunate to have several miles of wild trails winding through the heart of the island. Dog walking. Biking. Watching the turtles and the birds. There are bunnies galore and the occasional gator. It’s a great place for island authors to come and recharge. It’s part of what makes the lifestyle here so conducive to growth.

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