Saturday, June 24, 2006

Characters and Families

One of the things both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day has done is remind me how important it is, as we create our characters, to ask what their relationships are with their families. Good or bad, those relationships will have profoundly shaped how our characters see themselves and how they interact with others, though always in ways that are unique to who they are.

So....when you create a character, ask yourself how they got along—or didn’t!—with their mothers and fathers. Ask yourself about their siblings. Do they have any? Did they get along?

Everything we encounter in our own lives becomes fodder for the writing. At the same time, we can recognize that someone else might react differently than we have to a given situation or relationship. That’s part of the fun of writing, isn’t it—to imagine how else it might have been or what else we could have done?

And if someone isn’t a writer, it’s still a useful exercise to ask oneself how else one could look at those primary relationships in our lives. How might we have interpreted things differently? What might have motivated those other people in our lives? What would it have been like if things had been different?

It is the relationships and assumptions and expectations we never stop to question that trip us up and hold us back. But we don’t have to let ourselves be limited. Writers or not, we can use our imaginations to wonder and perhaps discover new possibilities and new ways to look at the world and the people around us.

Happy writing and imagining!


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day

I hope that for you this is a day to remember a wonderful man who made you feel loved and valued and safe and he is still part of your life. If so, cherish that gift!

This is for everyone else.

This is for those who have lost a loving father. I encourage you to remember those wonderful times you had with him and maybe write a letter to him telling him what it has meant for you that he was your father and how he helped to shape the person you are.

This is also for all of you who didn’t have a wonderful father.
1) Remember any moments when he was loving—and do it for YOU because remembering those moments helps YOU.
2) Remember and value any men in your life who have ever helped you feel loved and valued and safe.
3) Write a letter to your father, a letter YOU WILL NEVER SEND! This is for YOU. Write it out on PAPER—there’s a reason that’s important. Write out all the hurt and anger and love you feel and have felt for him. Give yourself a good 15 minutes to do so. Then, when you are done, if you have a safe place to do so, crumple up the paper, put it in a bowl and burn it. As it burns, let go of the hurt and anger as much as you can. (If you can’t burn it, rip it into tiny pieces and flush it down the toilet!)
4) Write down all the reasons your father SHOULD have loved and valued you and how a loving father would have treated you. Keep that paper. Read it and remind yourself often that this is what all children deserve—including the child you were.
5) Celebrate all that is good in your life and the wonderful person you have become.

I wish all of you could be celebrating a wonderful, loving father, still a part of your life. But know that if you are not, you are not alone today.


Saturday, June 17, 2006


What do you do when you hit a road block in the writing? First off, odds are you read. And the great thing about that is as writers we learn from everything we read. If it’s poorly written, we see what doesn’t work. If it’s written well we learn. Even when we don’t consciously analyze what we’re reading, on some level the brain seems to take it in.

Or we do research. Lots of us love research—sometimes too much.

What else do you do? Is it something creative? Over the years I’ve learned that if I do something creative—whether it’s knitting or sewing or artwork or whatever—it seems to help. For example, at one point, when I was stuck on a manuscript, I started knitting a sweater—one of my own experiments in design. Trouble was, I’d barely knit a row and suddenly an answer would pop into my head for what to do with the story I was writing. Took forever to get that sweater finished but it sure helped with the writing!

In a way, it’s as if by doing something relaxing and fun, the brain lets go of the anxiety about finishing the writing. And if the activity is creative, the brain seems to be able to draw on that creativity to work on the writing at the same time.

So...the next time you get stuck on a manuscript, do something else creative and see if it works for you as well as it works for me!


Monday, June 05, 2006

New and Different

What will you do today that’s new or different from your usual routine? What will you try that you’ve never tried before?

Studies suggest that doing new things helps keep us mentally alert. My own observation is that doing new things has other benefits as well.

1) If we’re always doing new things, we’re less likely to get bored.

2) If we’re always doing new things, we’re always having the opportunity to discover new things we love.

3) If we’re always doing new things, we have more opportunities for success.

Does that last one surprise you? Do you cling to what you know because you figure that those are the things you can do? Does it feel safer that way?

My experience is that that sense of safety is an illusion. What if things change and we have to do something new? If that’s a rare experience for us—doing something new—then each new situation will feel scary. On the other hand, if we are always doing new things then we will have had enough experiences of liking the new food or activity or enough success at trying some new activity that change won’t scare us. We’ll know the odds are good that we can cope with this challenge, too.

There is also this: I say all the time that it is the assumptions we never think to challenge that trip us up the most often. Are there things you assume you can’t do? WHAT IF YOU’RE WRONG?

I grew up believing I was tone deaf. That’s what everyone told me and heaven knows my experience trying to play the cello in high school would seem to have proven it! And yet....and yet....about three years ago a little voice inside challenged me to let go of all my beliefs about myself and just experiment. See what I could do that I didn’t know I could do. Among other things I tried, I bought a violin. To my astonishment, I discovered I could hear whether or not the strings were in tune. To my astonishment, within 24 hours of beginning to play, I could play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in perfect tune. (And yes, I used an electronic tuner to verify that I was.)

We grow up taking in all kinds of messages about ourselves and about the world around us. Only when we try things we didn’t think we could do or experiment with new foods and activities can we realize how mistaken some of those messages were.

So I encourage each of you, today—and every day—to do something new or different. It can be a little thing and you may not like it. But what if you do? What if there is a whole world of experiences out there waiting for you that will enrich your life?

Happy experimenting!