Friday, July 29, 2011

Pleasure vs. Work

I’ve never really looked into what a writing coach does. It never crossed my mind to inquire. A couple of years ago when I got really serious about writing, I had a well-published writer with whom I was acquainted tell me that I should be a coach.

That was the first time I heard of such a position and I certainly didn’t feel qualified for it. I’d just started in this crazy business that so many of us struggle with. I couldn’t believe that what I’d been doing during our association was anything other than friendly encouragement and suggestions.
I'm one of those who gets a high from brainstorming some one's plot, or creating characters from thin air, or floating ideas that may never come to fruition, but sound  good in that moment. Let my imagination run wild and I'm a happy camper.

And no, I haven’t taken the title of Writing Coach for the shingle hanging outside my office.

I guess what I’m feeling my way toward is the fact that what seems only common courtesy and helpful information sharing also seems to be the activities that designate an actual professional job.

Case in point: when I’m looking at markets for possible sales for my own work, I carry with me a mental image of those writers whose work I know and whose talents I admire. These are writers whom I’ve been associated with for a few years; some may still be struggling toward publication, others may have sold numerous pieces.

If I come across a market that could mean a sale for one of these other writers, I take note of the link and the market needs and send the writer an email to that effect. Most of the writers I converse with on a regular basis are children’s writers. Sometimes finding a market can be devilishly difficult in a shrinking marketplace and it helps to have more than one pair of eyes scanning submission guidelines for possible matches.

It always takes me aback when the recipient of my email replies with profuse thanks as to my thoughtfulness. It makes me wonder if I’m the only one who does this. I’m not a fairy godmother dispensing markets to starving writers willy-nilly. I’m passing on information to friends who might be able to use it.

It makes me feel good to be appreciated, but that appreciation wasn’t my motivation. I just can’t understand why anyone would squirrel away a market in hopes no other writer will come across it and thereby elevate her own chances of making a sale. That is simple greed to my thinking.

I suppose I got spoiled when I began writing in earnest because my first pond of endeavor was children’s writing. And those I came to respect, appreciate, and associate with as friends were children’s writers. The group I fell in with, at ICL’s Writer’s Retreat, holds some of the most generous and caring individuals I’ve ever had the privilege of spending time with.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to play on the Retreat right now. I have too many projects in flames, on burners, drowning, or otherwise needing my attention. It’s all I can do to find some concentration time to create new poetry, which has become another passion for me.

Those dear friends of near every age and experience level over at the Retreat still sit in the background of my days. I can hear their imaginary conversations and satirical asides as I work at the keyboard. I smile when I think of the family they’ve created at that little cafĂ© along Main Street in a small town that floats on the dreams and aspirations of its patrons.

Writing coach? I don’t think so. I don’t feel I’ve been in the business long enough to really have that much to contribute to such a position. Encouraging writing friend? You betcha. If I can help, I take time for it. If I have information, I pass it on to someone who might be able to use it.

And there you have my writing philosophy for today. It’s as simple as: if you’re willing to allow others to read your words, you should also be willing to help others get their words out. One person’s view makes for a very narrow and lifeless picture. Help create the biggest picture you can.

Until later, peeps,


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stepping Out

In the past several weeks I’ve found myself standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the rushing possibilities of my life.

I know that I night fall down and skin my knee, but it’s better than ramming my head against a stone wall.

I could paint my nails after a good shower. Then I could dress in my best color and go out to smell the flowers.
 I could find a cool spot to reflect on my future and perhaps come to see the path that I must take from here.

There is a light to guide me, one which can illuminate the mundane and create art.

I’ll take the high road, though I may flounder a bit, and I’ll scale the walls of opportunity.

The mountains of work before me feel as if they could fill a valley.

Yet, at the end of the day I will have accomplished something, even if small, and that’s what counts when I sleep.

At last the day is done. Until later folks, have a good end of the week. Try something new. You never know when inspiration will strike. Whether it works the way you anticipated doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you tried something different by stepping out.

All photos are with permission of BJ Jones Photography

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why Does It Make Us Crazy?

Those of us who live much of our day on a computer know the kind of frustration that comes with the inability to get on it and work.

This morning BJ and I were working away on our computers after putting our time in on laundry.
We had one of those “blink of an eye” power glitches” that’s so fast a person isn’t really sure if it happened. I was on me wee laptop. BJ was on her desktop. I had no problem with mine. She came up with major problems on hers.

She rebooted and knew that all was moving along, except for one thing. The monitor didn’t return to its former colorful glory. Its blank screen stared at her from across the desk, daring her to fix it. She thought it had blown its power cord and had no spare for it in the house. All the spare cords are in storage in the garage.

She turned to her laptop for solace. It came humming to life, awaiting her every whim. Her first whim was connection to the net. Alas, she was doomed to yet more frustration. Her laptop couldn’t find a server, a link, a connection, or the driving software that had been there for over 18 months. The software programs had mysteriously disappeared.

I downloaded the software from my desktop onto a flash drive. We uploaded it to her hard drive, and waited. No dice. It didn’t recognize any kind of authorization. We’d slid back behind the starting line yet again.

Speed dial still worked on my cell phone and before three rings had passed I had Best Buy on the line to enquire as to the price of a new power cord for her desktop. We could pick one up­--we had to go to the store anyway later—for a mere $15-30.
By now we were used to that slide back to square one. Sorry, there is no budget for a cord. Another doomed attempt with the laptop gained no ground for her. We sat in the living room, individually thinking through where to begin again.

A bright shining glow formed above BJ’s head. “I’ve got one more thing I can try,” she said as she rose and headed for her bedroom. Naturally I followed.

When I got there, she beamed at me. “It worked.”

I looked at the monitor and saw a colored patch in the center of the screen. “I plugged it into a different socket in the power strip,” she said with enthusiasm. “The power surge must have blown just that one socket.  It’s all better now.”

She works as I write this. Two pieces of advice from this new experience of ours:

1.      Surge protection strips can lose a single socket from a small power glitch, so try another socket before beginning to pull out your hair, and

2.      Never get between a photographer and her access to Photoshop when she’s working.

Most of us have encountered such days. Ours had a happy ending, fortunately. It didn’t cost any money—also a good thing. In all we lost nearly three hours of working time because of it. And blood pressure pills take time to work. Mine should be kicking in sometime soon. We can finally concentrate on productivity.

That’s been our day here in the North Country. I wish all of you a cool evening. We were supposed to get to 82 deg. today, but I don’t know if we’ve made it. We had a slight cool front come through this afternoon. We might make 85 deg. one day by the end of the week. It’s in the 40’s and 50’s at night. We did have a t-storm about 4 am this morning.

So, why does such an experience with our computers make us crazy? Is it the frustration of no long being the master of the machine? Is it the fear that BIG BUCKS are going to be needed to fix it? You tell me what you think it is.
Until later,

Monday, July 4, 2011

Freedom and Our Right to Choose

Many people are taking the time today to write about freedom. The Fourth of July tends to spark our need to be patriotic. We’ll rail against this or that policy from our government’s offering plate throughout the year, but come July, patriotism sails ahead of other concerns to act as the flagship for our lives.

Me, not so much. From the time I was a child I considered myself a citizen of the world. I’ve never truly understood the need to wave flags, banners, and rhetoric about national patriotism.

It’s not that I have anything against it. I just don’t understand it and probably never will. But then, I don’t understand why any two or more groups of people find it necessary to kill thousands of others to prove a point. It’s always been my philosophy that some tribes had it right. Choose one or two champions for each group and let them have at it. The champion(s) that comes out on top wins, everyone agrees that the matter’s closed and has a feast to celebrate the end of the disagreement. Now, that’s civilized.

I wanted to talk for a bit about a different kind of freedom, though. It’s the freedom we have to CHOOSE.

Come on now, you say. That’s what Fourth of July is all about. And that’s where everyone makes their mistake.

Our forefathers had the right to choose whether they wanted to be under the thumb of King George, and they made their choice: rebellion. They chose to fight for their independence. They chose not to back down. They chose the kind of government—a republic rather than monarchy—that would rule the country.

Those are all choices they made. Those that came after chose to continue the tradition until the Civil War era. Then a few chose to leave the “Union” and become their own people. That idea got squashed because those in Washington D.C. chose to retaliate and teach the South a lesson.

Besides, there was that unsavory little social habit the South fostered called slavery. It seemed far better to eliminate both problems at once.

You see what I mean. All those choices made those events possible.

Each day we choose what words we use and what actions we take. We each have that freedom, given to us when Free Will was passed out. We all know where that came from.

For myself, I choose to watch the fireworks displays and think about how we got where we are and who made sure that I get to keep my freedom to choose. I also think about all of those choices that still lie ahead of us and speculate on which ones will float to the top for use.

My wish for everyone is that they enjoy this day. It represents more hard choices made by more people than we can wrap our heads around. Pay whatever homage is your choice and reflect on how you will use your freedom in the future.

Until later,


Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Art of Taking Lessons

For those who don’t read Glimmer Train on even a semi-regular basis, you might consider at least subscribing to their online newsletter.

Oh, I know they have monthly contests that you swear you’d never win, and there’s a fee to enter. It’s so tempting, too. Yet, in their newsletter is a wealth of reading and writing encouragement, exercise, and plenty of practical lessons in the form of the essays by prize-winning writers.

Take the newsletter that arrived in my inbox today. One essay talked about overlaying history with fiction while another spoke to using one’s deeply  personal memories to capture the essence of a piece of fiction. The third told of one writer’s journey to learning how to use words precisely within their definitions but also by stretching those same definitions to cover more territory.

Each essay was short and sweet and left behind a special flavor on the tongue, forcing the reader to think about her own ways of choosing words and making each letter within them work overtime, or about how the funeral home smelled and sounded when a loved one lay in eternal sleep at the front of the room.

In a very real sense all things involve history. We decide how to present it to the world. Whether we think about it or not, all of history has colored how we think, what we feel is important, and how we choose to express our fiction.

It makes no difference whether we write for children or adults, young or old. Our own lives, as we know, get wrapped around our arms for the entire world to see the second we write a piece of fiction.

Here’s an example for you that some may not have thought of in many years. Most of us watch television on a regular basis. We have our favorite programs, whether fiction or documentary. Here are some memories of old--and not so old--programs which were fiction surrounding reality that got in your face and left you panting for another dose.

Quincy blasted into our homes for years with his crusade against ignorance and injustice. He allowed us to vent our own sense of intolerance toward those practices and issues that were reported in headlines across the country.

Marcus Welby, MD brought us knowledge of medical conditions that could endanger our lives. House took over for him a while back. The bedside manners are vastly different, but the information is no less real. And here’s something else about this comparison.  Dr. Welby represented the comfortable family physician who loves his patients as family--the one we knew as children. Dr. House represents the impersonal, and many times arrogant, specimen we call “Specialist” today.
There are lessons in the simplest of places. We get to choose which ones to pay attention to and which to disregard. If we're looking for education, it's out there waiting for us. How much time we wish to spend on it is also our choice.
And if you find yourself with extra time on your hands, you could consider subscribing to John Rember’s MFA in a Box website newsletter. This long-time professor of creative writing gives the same information here as in his book by the same name.

It’s astounding the kinds of info you can get for free on the information highway should you stop long enough to read the signs. Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve run out of time. And I so wanted to tell you about the great FREE writing courses you can take from universities around the country. And they’re online, too. I'm going for a few of the ones fron MIT. I guess I’ll just have to clue you all in on that next time around.

Have a safe and fantastic holiday weekend, all. See the sparklies on the Fourth and thank a serviceman when you see hin/her.

Until later,