Tag Archives: Writes of Life

15 Common Points Between Writing & Running Marathons (part 2)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the conclusion of my two-part series that compares 15 points in common between the writing process – particularly book and extensive projects – and running marathons. Actually, it’s 18 points in common, but who’s counting?)

“The race begins at 20 miles”: Years ago, a friend, journalist and veteran marathoner said this to me. While most people might crash and burn at 20 miles (or before), serious marathon racers dig in the final 10K. So it is with book writing. The last leg is often the hardest. You’re tired, you’ve lived with the subject for months or years, and you want to be finished. But this is the most vital part of the book, next to the first chapter. Focus more intently than ever, tap emotional and creative reserves, and power through to the finish.

Enjoy the solitude: If ever four groups of people know and understand solitude better than the rest of the population, they would be runners, writers, artists and monks. We spend countless hours alone with our words. Enjoy the quiet time; enjoy the ideal atmosphere it provides you to create, think deeply, and work. Not everyone gets this chance. Ask someone who works in a cubicle or workstation all day. The material percolates in solitude. The more you can enjoy it and immerse in it, the more you can produce – and the more cohesive it will be.

Push the hills: One of the best road racing strategies is to push hills hard – and then surge for 30 meters or so at the top. All authors know there are many uphill climbs in the long course of writing a book – struggles with scenes, characters, getting the right information, fluid narrative description, etc. Some days, we feel like we can write anything; on others, our sentences feel like back roads clunkers. We all hit them; we all wonder how we’re going to get to the top. The answer: one word at a time. Push past the obstacles, while holding to the greater vision for your work. Write hard to keep the momentum going.

Increase focus as the race progresses: The same thing has happened in every marathon I’ve raced. For the first eight miles or so, runners talk to each other, compare strategies, talk about favorite runs they’ve ever taken, maybe shoot photos of the crowd (if they carry smartphones, which many do — not me!) and truly enjoy being out there. For the next eight miles, the focus tightens, paces become locked in, and the talking lessens. For the final ten miles, there is very little talking and very deep focus. Good authors take us deeper and deeper into their stories, a reflection of their increased focus as they deliver the goods. Focus, focus, focus.

Don’t hit too many aid stations: One of the myths (and, actually, physical dangers) of long races is that it is important to drink at every aid station. NOT SO. When I run marathons, I only drink six times – roughly once every 4½ miles. Everyone has their number, but point is: don’t take too many breaks. This applies directly to writing. Momentum and rhythm are everything; when you’re on a roll, stay on it. If you must, take only small breaks when writing books to recharge, but never more than a week or two. Long breaks are a no-no, unless you’re between drafts.

There will be pain: To borrow from a surfwear manufacturer’s 1980s ad campaign, Every marathoner knows the feeling. It starts at about 15 miles, hits fully at 18 to 20 miles, and envelops you the final 6 miles. PAIN. We know it’s coming when we toe the starting line, but we know how to handle it – by reaching down and taking the race one stride at a time. Likewise, book writing can be (and often is) emotionally painful and mentally taxing, especially tell-all memoirs and novels with characters exhibiting emotions that grab you from the page. When you read scenes like this, you know the writer is feeling it. Embrace the pain, and turn it into your ally. Use it to drive more deeply within yourself, opening new thresholds of possibility for your writing – and greater perspective as a person. The more you can work with writing pain in all its forms, the more deeply touched readers will be.

Head down; one step at a time: This extends from the last comment. I ran the 2009 Boston Marathon with moderate plantar fasciitis. In other words, the last five miles were hell. However, I nearly held my earlier race pace because I pulled my cap over my eyes like I was in the ‘hood, looked down at my toes, and took it one step at a time. That’s exactly how I write books; by adopting that technique, I’ve gone from being a good starter to a good finisher. Keep your head down and write one chapter at a time, one paragraph at a time – and one sentence at a time. This approach becomes especially important when revising and self-editing, when you make sure every word fits and every word counts.

Finish strong: One of the best ways to ensure good race results is to finish strong in each training run, picking up the pace at the end. Likewise with book writing. Good final chapters sew up the story or subject, and leave readers feeling: a) like they want more; b) wholly satisfied; or c) Googling you for more books, or for more perspectives based upon the great book you have given them. Reach down and give it everything you’ve got in the last chapter – just like a good racer.

Celebrate!: When we finish something as monumental as a book, or a marathon, it’s time to celebrate! Then take at least a week off from writing of any kind … your batteries will definitely need to be recharged.

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Filed under Adult Literacy, Books, Creativity, Education, Featured Websites, Fiction, Journalism, literature, Memoir, Reading, travelogue, Writing, Writing Education, Young Writers

Back in the Saddle

For a host of reasons, we’ve been quiet this summer with the Word Journeys Blog. But now we’re back with a new and improved blog, designed to give you specific insight, tips and ideas from our many years of experience in the journalism, non-fiction, fiction, poetry and business writing worlds.

The Word Journeys Blog will focus on the practice and business of writing, and on the works of our clients and the print and online publications that we edit or to which we contribute. We’ll also showcase new services provided by our sister company, Millennium Media Masters. We will post two to three times per week. Our sister blog, 366 Writing, will feature my newest writing and excerpts from my books and e-books, hopefully posted daily. If you’d like, check out today’s piece, “Morning Prayer,” which I wrote the other day while driving through eastern Utah’s majestic Capitol Reef area.

The Word Journeys blogs will primarily concentrate on six areas:

1) Innovative ways to promote your work and build your promotional platform — and ways we can help you do it. We’ll also discuss innovative approaches taken by our clients and other writers.

2) Strategies for presenting manuscripts to agents and publishers – or taking the self-publishing route, which actually works better for more and more people these days.

3) Writing activities and exercises, based on my books, The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, and Writes of Life: Using Personal Experiences In Everything You Write.

4) Excerpts and back stories from future books and e-books from our clients. This also includes occasional interviews and excerpts of interviews with working authors.

5) Blogs on techniques, strategies and approaches that can help you with every writing challenge you face — and give you greater flexibility and voice in your work.

6) Information on writers conferences and workshops at which we will be presenting seminars and classes.

So sharpen your pencil (or fire up your computer), and let’s get ready for a busy autumn and winter of writing, promoting and publishing – in any and every print and online media that suits your work!

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Filed under Adult Literacy, Author Platform, Books, E-books, Editing, Featured Websites, Journalism, literature, Marketing, poetry, Promotion, Promotions, travelogue, workshops, writers conferences, Writing, Young Writers

Set Your Nets, Capture Your Moments: 10 Tips

To order The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life

To order Writes of Life: Using Personal Experiences in Everything You Write

The rains poured down, flooding roads, soaking fields. Then they lifted—and a magical new world appeared on the steep forested hills of my property. Suddenly, eight streams rushed forth, the water pitching over waterfalls that, hours ago, were dry stones and bluff rock. The streams chattered loudly, their fluid voices rising over a land that, not a week before, was locked in a deep freeze.

I raced to my home office, grabbed a pen and notepad, ran up to the hillsides, and quickly scribbled out images. I rushed to describe the way the land looked and sounded as it happened, finding words to show the land’s arterial system coming alive in the dead of winter. I jotted images, scribbled a couple of stanzas, and fleshed out an inspired sentence or two. That was it.

The purpose: to collect raw material to use later. How will I use it? I have no idea, but there are plenty of options: a new poem; an essay; a scene description within a story or novel; an observation from a fictional character; for my next book on writing; a song lyric; maybe as part of a memoir twenty years from now. When I captured these images a few days ago, I never thought of putting them in a blog—but here they are.

Point is, I set my nets to capture the moment. I worry about the writing form later. By capturing the moment as it happens, I forever emblazon that experience on paper, which causes me to recall it vividly when I sit down to write a piece. It all feeds my purpose: to place my readers in the moment with everything I write.

As working writers, it is essential that we capture the moment — all the time. Personal experience provides the most authentic material for our stories, books, essays and poems, because we know it best. It teems with the resonance of being, requires complete presence, and often compels us to make decisions on the fly—all part of what drives characters in novels, for example. We need to become like newspaper reporters, ready for that next lead, “tip,” observation, piece of a dream, experience or recollection that can find a place into something we will write. The more we consciously practice “getting the news,” as we called it in my newspaper days, the better observers we become — and the more raw material we gather. It’s like mining for gold and storing away the nuggets for future use.

Setting your nets to capture life’s moments begins with discipline and commitment. Here are 10 tips on how to cast those nets and fill them up in your daily writing practice:

1. Set lots of nets. I have a journal in my bedroom, notebooks in the living room and office, tape recorders in both locations, and notepads in the kitchen and bathroom. My digital camera is always nearby. So is my phone — to record messages if I have no means of writing down a moment. These are my nets.

2. Cast widely. All you see, hear or do is the potential basis for a piece of writing. Record thoughts, observations, experiences, perceptions, conversations and dreams.

3. Don’t censor yourself. When you see something that captures your eye or fancy, write it down. Don’t grill it with your inner censor. In 99% of the cases, you don’t yet know how and where you will use this material—just that you want to have it available to you. Let it in.

4. Record at the speed of life. As a reporter, I often scribbled down interviewees’ comments as fast as they spoke. Only once in seven years was I accused of misquoting someone. I learned to be deadly accurate. Scribble down the moment as fast as you can while retaining enough legibility to read it. Try to write as it’s happening. Convey the speed of life.

5. Write in notes and images, not sentences. Unless inspired sentences or lines of poetry roll through you during the moment (which they sometimes do—recognize them for the gifts they are!), jot your notes in images and broken sentences. Use keywords and buzzwords; they will return you to the moment.

6. Sit and simmer … and circle back. After you’ve landed the “catch of the day,” sit with it for a few minutes, then circle back and add any images or observations you might have missed. Stay in the moment; don’t be reflective.

7. Organize your notes. Every week, I spend one to two hours gathering all the nets and decoding them, putting my scribble on the computer. I type rapidly, still not reflecting on the material. Then I put date, time and location on the entries.

8. Create a logbook. Gather your organized notes and create a logbook, whether paperless or in a binder. Along with your journal, these logbooks are the most important “research” materials you will keep long-term as a working writer.

9. Get back to your notes — soon. Within a day or two, return to your notes and see if something inspires you to write a poem, essay or vignette. Try to build out your observation in your journal. If nothing comes, don’t worry about it: The material will find its way into your work.

10. Keep casting. Never stop observing, fishing, seeking new moments or ways of looking at things. Allow these moments to visit you. When you set the intention to receive these moments, two things happen: a) Your mind becomes more creative and pliable, able to connect moments and convert them into fine sentences, paragraphs or stanzas; and b) The moments visit you in droves … liquid gold.

Cast your nets and turn every day into a life-gathering and experiencing mission. Then get it down on paper.

REMEMBER: The Write Time Writing Contest is now underway! $500 in cash prizes, plus publishing opportunities. Deadline is April 15. Check the Word Journeys Website – or the January 22 entry of this blog – for complete details.

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Filed under Books, Editing, Journaling, poetry, travelogue, Uncategorized, Writing, Young Writers

Twelve Days of Christmas…in Writing

For those who celebrate Christmas, today marks the first of the Twelve Days of Christmas, a measure immortalized in our culture by 12 pipers piping, 11 drummers drumming…and a partridge in a pear tree.

This is a time of family get-togethers, gift giving and receiving, traveling to meet friends and relatives, dealing with snowy and icy road conditions, drinking egg nog, and other observances of the season. It’s also a time of heightened emotions, poignant feelings, remembering those we’ve lost, appreciating and honoring more fully those who may not be with us much longer, and luxuriating in the feeling of a new love kindled.

Because of the heightened emotion and sense of presence the holiday season often brings, the time can also be ideal for writers, artists and musicians to lay down new stories, poems, paintings, sculptures, drawings and lyrics. It’s always such a joy to chronicle the season, to find nuances, angles or relationships, match them with setting and write your own Christmas or holiday stories.

I’ll be teaching a Christmas story-writing workshop Tuesday night, always an enjoyable occasion. In advance of that event, I’d like to share 12 prompts for writing Christmas stories:

1. What moves you this season?
2. What event, person or circumstance stirs you and reminds you of the most important values and virtues of the season?
3. Ask an older relative about his/her first Christmas that he/she remembers—and create a short story around that setting
4. Take your older relative’s memory and compare it with a modern-day Christmas. Note the differences … but also the similarities.
5. What is the most surprising Christmas present you’ve ever received—and how did it change your day, week, year or life?
6. Who is the craziest person ever invited to a Christmas event you attended? What made them crazy? What did they add to the day? Characterize them as they interacted with you?
7. What was (is) your favorite Christmas dream or fantasy? Hanging on the North Pole with Santa? Building toys? Hijacking the reindeer? Become childlike for a couple of hours and write a fantasical story
8. Spend the next two weeks capturing specific images of this particular season in your journal — settings, faces, moods, storms, twinkling lights. Write little vignettes or poems, then string them together into a commemorative chapbook of your holiday season.
9. Where is the coolest place you’ve ever spent Christmas? Deep in a snowbound New Hampshire forest? Rubbing your toes in Hawaiian sand? Take yourself back there and write a Christmas travelogue.
10. We all seek to extend helping hands to the less fortunate during this season. Remember the person who needed your help the most—and received it? What was his/her story? Recount the story, with your interaction as the plot line. Show the dance of giving and receiving in its most significant form.
11. During which holiday season were you immersed in the deepest love of your life? This season? Or another? Take your lover by the hand (literally or in words), walk to a fireplace, sit or lie with each other, and write as if you’re staring into your lover’s eyes and every word is a beat of your heart. Go deep. Feel all. Be smoking hot. Embrace the love.
12. Dig into your stocking of ideas, pull out some of them, and treat yourself to the special gift of storying out these ideas, either entirely or in preparation for a fast start to the 2008 writing season.

See what you can write during these Twelve Days of Christmas … and I look forward to hearing all about the collection you put together!

Buy Now!
Writes of Life: Using Personal Experiences In Everything You Write — $10.95
Coyotes in Broad Daylight: New Poetry & Essays — $11.95
Shades of Green: Selected Poetry & Essays — $11.95
Freedom of Vision, edited by Stephen Gladish and Robert Yehling — $15.95

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Filed under Books, Christmas, Editing, literature, poetry, Writing

How I Know I’m Writing In Authentic Voice

I facilitated a great salon-style writing workshop in Tucson Thursday night, “Writing Well-Sung: Your Authentic Voice”. It pertained to lyrical-musical writing, and reaching so deep into the mind and soul to find the universal truths behind our experiences that, when we write them out, our voice carries the page and the reader can “hear” the words hitting them in the heart. Any writer who does that has won the reader!

Very wonderful cast of characters at the workshop: Barbara Stahura, the hostess and my long-time friend, a fine essayist and former public radio station writer whose book, “What I Thought I Knew,” is being published by Aisling Press in May; dear friend Stephen Gladish, professor at Pima College and author of two novels, “Moonlight, Missiles & Moana” and “Mustang Fever” (Aisling Press); Carol Krone, a historian working on a piece about the Manhattan Project; Valarie James, a fine Southern Arizona sculptress who was featured in the newest issue of “Sculpture Today” magazine (see her website at http://www.losmadresprojects.org); Barbara MacNicol, a self-help and business book editor and writer; and Sally, a high school creative writing teacher.

We wrote and talked for three hours about voice and how to use it in fiction and non-fiction works. I could even teach a workshop about it! Towards the end, I jotted down a list of ways in which you KNOW your writing is true to your voice, true to your essential self, and therefore is likely to connect big-time with the reader. Thought I’d share them right now—see if this happens to you:

1) I feel my body literally pulsate and vibrate with the power and truth of the words pouring through.
2) My word choices and sentence structure seem effortless, flawless and completely relevant to the subject, like a piece of music that hits home perfectly.
3) Time stands still. Hours on the clock pass without notice. The movement of time feels inconsequential.
4) All similes and metaphors feel natural and connect with the theme and plot, regardless of how disparate they might seem at first.
5) Every word that comes out feels true, essential, vital — life-giving, triggering mind and heart.
6) I feel the satisfaction of knowing it came out right.
7) I can HEAR and FEEL the words as they move through me, not just visualize them.
8) I am confident the theme, or message, will resonate with readers by the way it has made an impact on me.

Put your essays, poems, lyrics, stories, articles, novels or books to this list. See what you think — and let me know! Email me direct at bob@wordjourneys.com or post through here.

Off to another workshop today — “Writes of Life,” based on my book. Talk with you tomorrow!

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Filed under Books, Editing, Journalism, literature, poetry, Writing