Monday, January 30, 2006


Balance. That’s a really tough challenge for many writers—especially women. We have so many other things in our lives that claim our attention. It might be a day job, it might be family responsibilities, it might be that we put our own needs last, including the need to write.

I said in my last post that society often doesn’t seem to value the work of writers. That can be true of people close to us as well. It can be hard to persevere if we’re not getting published and those we love keep complaining that we are spending too much time writing instead of with them.

So how can we achieve balance? First we need to affirm for ourselves that writing is important. It’s important to us whether or not we ever publish, though getting published is obviously often going to be the goal. If we know it in our hearts and value it for ourselves, it will be much easier to insist that others value it as well, even if they don’t understand why it matters to us.

Everyone is entitled to something they love! And deep in our hearts, we love writing or we wouldn’t be writers. It is a fundamental part of who we are. We NEED to write.

So. We know we need to write. We know it matters. At the same time, we need to meet other obligations in our lives. How do we do that? How do we achieve balance?

Begin with a plan. Think about your week. Where could you find half an hour a day to write? Where could you find a short block of time that is your own? Maybe it means getting up early. Maybe it means writing while your children nap. (If they nap—mine never did.) Maybe it means writing when you would otherwise watch television or talk with a friend on the phone. Maybe it means writing during your lunch hour at work instead of going out to eat with friends. The key is to figure out when you can fit in that short block of time. (Note: It’s great if you can carve out even longer blocks of time but even half hours of writing time will add up.)

Next figure out how you can maximize that writing time. For me, when my kids were little, it meant carrying notebook and pen everywhere I went. If I was at the doctor’s office, I would be making notes. I might jot down notes over coffee or in the brief five minutes my kids were playing with each other or watching television. The key was to do the brainstorming and plotting in those odd spare moments so that when I could sit down to write I was ready to do so.

Another key is to find someone who supports your dream. Find someone who cheers you on as you write and encourages you to keep doing so. If you show your work to anyone, make sure you choose someone who will tell you what’s good about it as well as what they think could be improved. And if you can’t or don’t want to show it to anyone know that plenty of successful writers never show their work to anyone before it goes to an editor or agent.

It’s not always easy to balance life and writing. At the same time, finding a way to do so is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, if we are writers. And, even if they don’t realize it, it is also one of the greatest gifts we can give those we love. When we follow our dreams, we show our children by example that they can honor and go after their dreams as well. When we write and fill that well inside ourselves, we have more to offer those around us. When we nourish that creative spirit with our writing, we are nourishing a creativity we can bring to all aspects of our lives.

Note: Everything I’ve said here applies to any talent or gift you may have.

I wish for all of you the joy that comes from cherishing the gifts unique to you. You will never regret making time for them in your life.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Writers--More Alike Than Different

I gave my workshop on Sunday in Sunnyvale, CA, to a wonderful group of writers. It was sponsored by the Southbay branch of California Writers Club and there was incredible energy in that room!

As I spoke and listened to comments and questions, I found myself thinking how we, as writers, no matter what we write, are more alike than different.

All of the issues surrounding characters in fiction apply to people featured in nonfiction.

All the issues of structure apply across the board.

All the issues of connecting with readers are important to every writer, fiction or nonfiction.

All of the issues of juggling writing time vs. the rest of our lives apply to every writer.

All of the struggles with self-doubt apply across the board.

If we are writers, we need to write. No matter what else we do with our lives, we will find ourselves writing. In our society, very often we aren’t rewarded for doing so or not rewarded well. Often others don’t understand what we do or why or just how difficult the process can be. Nor do they understand that incredible joy and satisfaction we feel when the words flow and we are able to put into words the images and stories and ideas in our minds.

Words have power. Like many published authors, I have letters and email written by readers whose lives I have touched. Some readers told me that my words, my book got them through some crisis in their life and made them smile at a time when they didn’t think they could. I have the memory of being called by an organization in Alberta, Canada to ask if they could give a copy of my article in Children Today about my son with Down Syndrome to every family in their program for small children with disabilities. I have the memory of people thanking me because they recognized, in one or another of my books, questions and struggles they had dealt with in their own lives.

One of the reasons I give these workshops is because I am passionate about the power of words. I am passionate about the difference we can make in our own lives and in the lives of others when we write. I also believe that if we are writers, then when we write we create a wellspring of something that we can draw on to cope with the challenges in our every day lives. When we write, we are building up our own resilience and creativity and ability to see the world in new ways and discover new solutions to whatever we face.

No matter what we write, if we are writers, fiction or nonfiction, literary or popular, we are more alike than different. Let us believe in each other and share our discoveries and challenges. Every success helps all of us and we never lose by cheering on others who share our love of words.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Writing Heart to Heart

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing this week. Part of that is because I’ve been hosting Book in a Week on two email loops. Part of it is because I’m giving an all day writing workshop on Sunday in Sunnyvale, CA.

We write to connect with other people. Any discussion of writing has to begin with that. What is it we most want to share and why is it important to us to do so? What is it we want the other person to know or understand or be able to imagine? How can we best connect so that we can achieve those goals?

Even if we are writing for ourselves, if we feel the need to put it in writing at all, it’s because we are trying to connect with some part of ourselves or understand something in a new way. Again, how can we best achieve that?

I’ll be talking about all of this in much greater detail on Sunday. A few quick thoughts, though, for all of you who are writers reading this.

¨ Who are you writing this for?
¨ What connects you—or could connect you—to these readers? (What do you have in common?)
¨ What tone will best accomplish your goals?
¨ What style will best accomplish your goals?
¨ What sentence and paragraph structure best suits each part of your story?

As I said, I’ll be talking about each of these things on Sunday in detail. I post these questions here because I know that we are far more likely to achieve our goals if we know what they are.

If all of this sounds intimidating, remember that a writer who connects heart to heart with readers will always win out over one who technically has better writing skills but lacks that heart.

Happy writing everyone!


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Unclog a Toilet with Dishwashing Liquid

Okay, so how do you unclog a toilet without a plunger and an auger using dishwashing soap? Well, first, this won’t work if it’s clogged with a solid object such as one of your child’s toys. But if it’s excess paper or something like that, this works remarkably well.

Why not use a plunger and auger? Well, a plunger can damage the seal that keeps your toilet from flooding the floor. An auger is not the easiest thing in the world to figure out and it’s messy. So....

Dishwashing liquid. I’m talking about the kind you use to hand wash dishes. Squirt a generous amount into the clogged toilet bowl. Wait until the water level goes down a bit. Then fill a bucket (or empty wastebasket) with water and pour in from about waist high. You may need to repeat this 2 or 3 times but odds are that even the first or second time you’ll hear something starting to happen.

No mess, no broken seals, no overflow (assuming you stop pouring from the bucket before it goes over the top).

Your Resourceful Problem Solver,

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Problem Solver

The Problem Solver

I realized that’s what I would love to be—The Problem Solver. Someone people can call when they want advice or help with anything from how to give an effective presentation to how to survive a divorce to how to unclog a toilet without a plunger or auger using dishwashing liquid.

I love coming up with solutions to things and what I can’t figure out, I know how to research. My mind works in quirky ways and I think of things most people wouldn’t. People will be able to email me questions and if I can help, we set up a time to talk and the fee would be based on the length of that call.

One suggestion, by the way--always pay attention to statements from your insurance company. I was able to get an $85 refund by doing so. (Oh, and always have copies of those statements that you can give a doctor or dentist’s office, if necessary.)

This doesn’t mean I'll stop writing or coaching and teaching writing workshops—I love doing all those things. This is just an additional way to help people.

Well, back to working on my manuscript in progress. I am, after all, hosting a Book In A Week challenge for two email loops this week and I always write along with everyone else!


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Trust, pt. 2

I’ve been thinking some more about trust. A big part of trust is listening to that voice inside, that gut instinct that tells us when a situation feels right or wrong. A big part of trust is knowing that we will stand firmly on the side of that voice, even when other people get upset because we are not doing what they think we should do.

In every circumstance where we have gotten hurt, odds are there was a moment when our gut instinct told us something was wrong—and we didn’t listen. Maybe we didn’t listen because to listen and act on that instinct would have meant doing something we’d been raised not to do or we felt it would contradict our values or we ignored it because it didn’t seem logical.

But if we listen to and trust those instincts, then it is far easier to trust because we know we will pay attention if things start to go wrong. We know we will have some warning. And, to the extent that our actions play into what goes wrong that gets us hurt, listening to that instinct means that maybe we won’t make the mistakes that got us hurt in the past.

Truly, if you think about times you got hurt and people who hurt you, odds are you can recall a moment when you wondered if this was how things should be or that perhaps this person shouldn’t be in your life—or maybe even that you should do something in a different way than you ended up doing them. If you had listened, how might things have been different?

We cannot always prevent being hurt, but learning to listen to that voice inside and to honor those instincts we all have, can be a powerful way to keep from being hurt.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Canoes and Cafes, Trust and Joy

The last day my daughter and her college roommate were in Austin we went canoeing. How lovely to have a place to do that right inside a city! Then we went to Austin Java, a café right near Barton Springs. Austin Java has fabulous food and organic coffees and wonderful iced teas. Then we hit Book People, a fabulous bookstore, right next to Whole Foods in downtown Austin.

I loved that time with my daughter and missed her when she left. I’ll grant you, I kind of liked the peace and quiet but I missed her, too. I really missed her two days later when I realized I’d come down with a stomach virus! I found myself thinking how important our social networks are. I have friends all over this country, but when I got sick, I realized I hadn’t yet had a chance to connect with anyone here well enough that I could call them. So that will be one of my priorities in 2006—to really become a part of the community and get to know people and get to know them well.

Which fits in with something I did New Year’s Day. There is something in Unity called a white stone ceremony. On a piece of white slate one writes a word to represent where one wants one’s life to go in the coming year. For me, I had to write two words. One of those words was Joy. Because I truly believe that when we let ourselves see and embrace the moments and possibilities of joy in our lives, more and more such moments appear. The other word I wrote was TRUST. I wrote trust because for much of my life I couldn’t trust. It’s far easier for me than it once was, but it still doesn’t always come easily. So I decided to make trust a goal this year: trust in myself, trust in the future, trust in people around me. Not blind trust, but reasonable trust.

Trust begins with trust in ourselves. If we trust ourselves to be able to cope, to be able to set healthy boundaries, to allow our wants and needs to be important, then we can trust others.

So....canoes and cafes and bookstores make me aware of the blessings in my life and add to those moments of joy I embrace and the people I have been meeting help me to move forward toward a path of trust.

I wish for all of you moments of joy and the ability to trust in healthy ways. If you haven’t chosen a word to signify what you want to focus on this year, it might be something you would like to do. This is the second year I have done so and I fully expect it to be as powerful as it was last year.