Battling the Buts

When my friend Teri was in Paris, a few years back,  I went to visit her. Paris_-_Eiffelturm_und_Marsfeld2One day she came home all a-twitter. She had been invited to a party by a guy she had seen, often, at an internet cafe. senior-man-in-beret (A handsome, Frenchman).

Later, she and I, her brother Anthony and a guy friend of his, discussed whether she should go to the party or not:

"But . . . do you think he really meant to invite me?" she said. "Maybe he was just being nice . . . "

"Did he look at you?" Anthony and friend asked.


"Then he's interested."

"But . . .

"Did he smile at you?" Anthony and friend asked.


"Then he's interested."

"But . . .

"Did he talk to you you?" Anthony and friend asked.


"Then he's interested. . . . GO TO THE PARTY!!!!"

It's the same with writing, or any creative, non time-card activity. When it comes to our definition of "working" or not, we go all middle-grade and dismiss all that goes into the process with that 3-letter word: "But . .. that doesn't count... "But . .. I'm not really...

The UNs had a "few" middle school moments at the VCFA Alumni-rez this July

To counteract those insecure boogies, I've created this litmus test. (I've used "writing" as my creative endeavor. Substitute yours for it.) Then print it out and post it prominently. The next time buts get the better of you, give yourself the test.

Am I Writing?

Are you thinking about your story?

You're writing!

Are you doing research for your story?

You're writing!

Are you reading words written by other writers, especially those you admire...or not?

You're writing!

Have you written words today? A grocery list? An email? Notes for your story? ...any at all?


--Read. Respond. When in doubt, repeat. Repeat as needed.

Written Words are a renewable resource!


Be Mindful What You Wish. . .

Adages are busting out all over. To quite Phoebe Figalilly’s theme song, “so many splendid things keep happening!” Most significantly, my children, Max and Lexi are growing—have grown—into adults! Max married Michelle this past September; Lexi is engaged to Ryan, preparations are underway for their wedding this November; and Max and Michelle recently announced that they have a baby on the way. I’m going to be a GRANDMOTHER!

Aging aside, any/all of these wondrous events are enough to keep one awake at night…hence this post which comes as part Announcement, part Revelation and part Cautionary Tale:

I’m in New York at my first ever SCBWI Mid-Winter Conference where it is all about writing and books. In yesterday’s roundtable session, I brought a picture book manuscripts I’ve been obsessing over for about a year now to be workshopped. It’s about an excited sibling awaiting the birth of a new baby in the family. Afterwards, the writer seated beside me asked about my books: “Have you written anything I’d know?” A question that is flattering. . . and humbling. “I’d know” translates as “a book that’s sold a zillion copies or won a major award.”  I was floundering wondering how to answer when my eyes fell on her baby bump. First I thought: “So that’s why you liked my story. . . “ Then an Ah hah!: If you haven’t read them, you should—and buy them, too, because you and your mother are my intended audience:

As this morning was dawning, it dawned on me that each of these joyful, life changing family events I’m enjoying now came after a “brilliant, inspired, must-write-it-right-now” story idea struck. I’m not talking about a little “oh this will be fun” idea, either. I’m talking capital letters kind of IDEA that pulls me to my chair and holds me there captive, obsessed and loving the process. Which lead me to pose the oft posed question: Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?

Stories—even picture books—take a long time. The manuscripts for Your Mommy was Just Like You and Your Daddy was Just Like You,  had to be written and revised, and then sent to my agent, and then sold to the amazing Susan Kochan, my GP Putnams' Sons editor, and then sent to David Walker who created the art, and then published—years! Back when the notion of Max being a “grown up” was just wishful thinking. As for this “little” story I had workshop, I’ve been tinkering with it for over a year, long before Max and Michelle tied the knot. It’s as though, on some cosmic level, my story IDEAS portend the future—cue Twilight Zone theme.

Which led me back to another book, one I read and worked through with the GGs, my creativity group, The Passion Test, by Janet and Chris Attwood, a guide to finding and achieving your goals based on the “Laws of Attraction.”

As anyone who knows me knows, I have song snippets in my head and these snippets, while often a source of irritation as they loop---day and night, night and day—these lyrics often also, and perhaps cosmically, point me toward the point of my ramblings. Oddly this morning, instead of song, (which is especially strange on this of all days as last night I went to bed with my noggin humming with Gershwin classics as Lexi and I had gone to Nice Work if You Can Get It with Mathew Broderick (a camp, delightful 20's style musical that have everyone in the theater smiling and humming along)  a joke came to mind:

A love-smitten little boy and girl are sitting side-by-side on the steps. With cartoon hearts swirl around his head, the boy grabs the girl. “I get what I want when I get it!” he demands, repeating words he’d heard a TV hero say. Evading his puckered lips, the little girl pulls free, telling him: “You’ll get what I got when I get it!”

Okay, maybe there’s nothing to all of this. Maybe it is just me trying to make sense of my largess and rapidly changing status (I don’t feel old enough to command the title “mother-in-law” much less “granny”). Be this as it may, it seems an excellent time to play it safe and revise another adage:

Be careful (make that mindful) what you wish [or write], you just might get it!


Hard At Work, Waiting

What Inspires: Kindred Spirits"Oftentimes writing can feel overwhelmingly lonely, a fool's errand," Daniel Alarcon wrote in THE SECRET MIRACLE; THE NOVELIST'S HANDBOOK. (Alarcon was one of the writers included in The New Yorker's "20 under 40" list).

"It's gratifying to be reminded that at any given moment, there are thousands of others, working in hundreds of languages all over the world, engaged in much the same pursuit. They, like all of us, have good days, bad days, and days where it is more useful to sit quietly and read, let the writing wait."

Community Begins With Two

What Inspires: Community We do most of the really hard work—to quote George Baily in one of my favorite Christmas movies, It’s A Wonderful Life—“most of the living and dying around here” alone.

Nothing wrong with Alone.  Alone is when I do most of my deep thinking. Alone is when I do my deep cleaning, straightening, organizing. Alone is when I write down most of those brilliant ideas.

Alone is when I falter, too.

That’s when Community makes the difference.  As  a brand-new mother in a brand-new town, I was completely lost and helpless until a neighbor, Sally, crossed the street and pulled me by the hand into hers.

With my children grown, I consider myself more of a writer than mother, so that's the community I'm thinking of now.  When I was first beginning my writing career, I belonged to a writing Community of 2:  Ronnie Davidson and me, sitting side-by-side in her attic office from 8:30 to 11:00 am Monday through Friday, her at the computer keyboard clicking away, me with a legal pad on my lap, scribbling. However small, without my Writing Community, I may well have dropped the notion of becoming a professional writer.

Mid-way through my writing career, my Community grew to include critique groups, writing organizations, such as OWFI, SCBWI, Authors’ Guild, etc. My Writing Community grew so large that its tentacles spread into almost all other areas of my life.

Then just as George’s younger brother Harry, and Sam Wainwright and even brassy Violet tried to, I left my Community. I didn’t realize what I was leaving until I faltered again…and again and didn’t have my Community--  colleagues/friends/critique buds/teachers-- to which I could turn.

  • Community are those folks who talk you off the ledge when you’re feeling like chucking it all…
  • Community keeps you honest and grounded when you’re on top, by remembering you when—and never letting you forget.
  • Community keeps you going when you hit bottom, by reminding you why you’re trying to do something “so dog gone hard in the first place” and how far you’ve come.
  • When you need advice, commiseration, support, love, Community is the place to go, because there’s sure to be someone there who has either “been there, done that” or knows someone who knows someone who might, or might not, have been.

Clarence the apprentice Angel took that icy plunge on Christmas Eve just so he’d have a chance to remind George of his Community and his role in it.

I didn’t need a Clarence to remind me; I have a Marilyn, my sister-in-law who’s battling breast cancer [for more click back on Helping Hearts blog posting]. Like George, Marilyn’s Community is huge, and rich and diverse. And just as everyone in Bedford Falls rushed over when they heard the call that “George Baily” needed help, Marilyn’s Community is rallying around her. They arrive with treats, with notes, with rides, with offers of help and support of all kinds. Soon after I arrived to support Marilyn post-surgery, she said to me, "I'm learning how to let people help. You have to keep that in mind, too. People want to help and it's important to let them."

We talk so much about giving--especially at this time of year. We don't spend so much time considering receiving. We don't want to be receivers (except on the ball field). We don't want to be in the position of needing help. But that's Community! In giving we receive; in receiving we give.

Community! A gift we  give and receive

 FYI: I Googled quotes to make sure I correctly remembered the line from “It’s A Wonderful Life.” In the process, I came across this article by Joe Carter, comparing Frank Capra and Ayn Rand. I found it worth the read. You might, too!  The Fountain Head of Bedford Falls

Want the full movie quote?

George is talking to Old Man Baily, justifying the existence of the Savings and Loan, when he says: “Well, this riffraff you’re talking about does most of the living and dying around here. Is it too much to ask for them to do it in two decent rooms and a bath?” – For more memorable lines from the movie visit Eudanomics: My Pursuit of Happiness blog 

Community: Starts With Two...

Writing vs. Cooking

What inspires: Pushing Through

“Unlike cooking, for example, where largely edible, if raw ingredients are assembled, cut, heated, and otherwise manipulated into something both digestible and palatable, writing is closer to having to reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food,” -author David Rakoff, from his essay “A Writer’s Day,” published in the spring 2011 Authors Guild Bulletin.

Rakoff shared how he procrastinates, justifies, stalls before settling in to write each day. How in most things, art, for example, one progresses, learns, becomes more adept and so the work gets easier. Conversely: “Writing—I can only really speak to writing here—always, always only starts out as shit; an infant of monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometime forever).”

Still, even with the “terrors and agitations,” Rakoff pushes through—never forgetting for a moment that his is not a life of “mining coal, waiting tables, or answering someone’s phone for a living”— beginning each writing day “suffused with this sense of privilege, shell-pink and pulsing with new hope.”


National Gallery of Writing--Open for Viewing!

October 20, 2009 was the National Day on Writing! And the day the National Gallery of Writing— “a virtual space—a website—where people who perhaps have never thought of themselves as writers—mothers, bus drivers, fathers, veterans, nurses, firefighters, sanitation workers, stockbrokers—select and post writing that is important to them,”—officially opened.

“Writing is a daily practice for millions of Americans, but few notice how integral writing has become to daily life in the 21st century,” notes the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) who established the National Gallery of Writing in an effort to “draw attention to the remarkable variety of writing we engage in and help make writers from all walks of life aware of their craft.”

The National Gallery of Writing includes three types of display spaces where writing can be found:

1. The Gallery of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) represents a broad cross-section of writing hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English.

2. National Partner Galleries include writing that corresponds to a theme or purpose identified by National Partners participating in this initiative.

3. Local Partner Galleries include works from writers in a classroom, school, club, workplace, city, or other local entity.

Add your writing to the Gallery Collection:

Writers who “would like to share their craft and find a broad and diverse audience” are encouraged to submit their writing for inclusion in the Gallery. Guidelines are posted on the website: National Gallery of Writing website

The National Gallery of Writing is open for submissions/viewing/reading through June 30, 2010.