Tag Archives: journaling

Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for July 11, 2010

Photo courtesy Dora Mitsonia via SXC.


Concerning the ‘Interview’ | Glassdoor.com Blog

Blog post that summarizes the best sections of a newly published manuscript by Mark Twain, who probably wrote it around 1890. It lampoons the journalistic interview, saying “True, he (the journalist conducting the interview) means well, but so does the cyclone.”

Change This – THE FASCINATION FACTOR

Mark Levy, the founder of Levy Innovation, a marketing strategy firm, publishes a very persuasive “manifesto” that argues that writers should focus on what compels them, and not just market trends, when writing books and book proposals.

Small museums provide great sources for writers « The Writing Loft

John J. Gillmore discusses the joys of tapping small, specialized museums for research projects related to articles or books.

Enhance Your Travels by Keeping an Illustrated Journal | BootsnAll Travel Articles

Cynthia Morris provides a quick list of reasons to improve your experience of your trip and the memories of it afterward by using journals to record words and images related to your travels. The post is also a good argument for why anyone, traveling or not, might want to keep this type of journal.

Live a Writer’s Life with your Kids

Guest post on Imagination Soup blog by Jennifer Cervantes, author of Tortilla Sun, on ways to engage your children in writing-type activities with you.

Nieman Reports | News-Focused Game Playing: Is It a Good Way to Engage People in an Issue?

Nora Paul and Kathleen A. Hansen, winners of a Knight News Center grant to explore new ways to help readers/viewers engage with complex news stories, discuss their pilot project that had audiences play online games and engage in other activities to better understand an issue in the news.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Holiday nano-practice for writers

Photo courtesy SXC.

It’s a week before Christmas.  We’re in the middle of Hanukkah. Yule, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve are just around the corner. If you’ve got a writing project (or projects) you’re trying to keep on track, it’s very easy to get distracted by holiday festivities and end up both frustrated at your lack of progress and sad that you couldn’t enjoy your holiday recreation fully because you were fretting about your writing in the back of your mind.

I’m just as guilty of giving into this tension and distraction as everyone else. However, I was lucky to recently come across a series of very helpful blog posts by my cyber-pal Christina Thompson, who is a trombonist, creativity coach, music teacher and author of a new book, Women Embracing Creativity.

Her 2008 “No Time To Practice?” (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4) series has a lot of good tips, broadly applicable to artists of every discipline, for maintaing a connection to our creative work. And it’s inspired me to write this short list of “nano-practice” tips for writers, who actually have more opportunity than most, I believe, to keep their skills sharp during holiday breaks.

So if you’re in the thick of your holiday preparations or celebrations right now, consider channeling your writing mojo into these activities …

1. Take your Twittering and status updates to a new level. I’ve blogged about using Twitter as a writing coach before, and in this age of social media, being able to say something rich and evocative in a few words is an even more valuable skill than ever before. The poetry of some people’s tweets or updates can make connecting with them far more than a perfunctory experience. What can you say in 140 characters or less that might move your personal network and express your feelings and observations succinctly?

2. Revive the art of correspondence. Many of us send paper or electronic greeting cards or annual family letters, but do we think about more than just providing a news report for friends and colleagues? My father used to write a family letter that placed our entire clan in a Renaissance era motif and made its readers howl with laughter. He was following in his mother’s footsteps, who played off her first name to create a yearly missive entitled “The Perils of Jewel and Pauline,” which mimicked the theme of a popular series of films during her youth.

It’s not necessary to summon literary greatness to get your Christmas cards or family letters out, but they are another place where your writing and editing skills can create a story that touches your audience and pleases your “sources,” who are those closest to you!

3. Catch up on your “craft” reading/listening. If you’re flying or riding in a car to your holiday destination, how about absorbing some good books relevant to non-fiction writing? I’m partial to Jack Hart’s A Writer’s Coach and Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools, but reading or listening to a well-written novel is also good for picking up tips on how to handle dialogue, expository passages and other writing challenges. Even if you’re only able to read a few chapters, or a few pages, you may pick up something valuable.

4. Practice one-sentence journaling. The point of journaling isn’t to meet a production quota! It’s to convey meaning in a form that will stick with you later. Early last year, I conducted an interesting interview on my creativity blog, Creative Liberty, with journaling instructor Quinn McDonald on this technique. Much like the more public tweet/status update suggestion, the length limitation on this sort of journaling encourages you to both writing something each day and choose your words very carefully.

5. Engage in intentional conversations. If you’re at a family holiday gathering and are surrounded by people, listen to them! Even if you have precious little common ground with your relatives, practicing the art of conversation sharpens your ear for dialogue and accurate quotations, allows you to understand your “subject” on a deeper level, and may improve your interviewing skills.

If you want to make use of your time with your loved ones to record some conversations for posterity, the StoryCorps program can help you get started. They have excellent interview guides, tips on managing audio recording devices and plenty of audio files on the site to hear other families reminiscing. The goal of this non-profit is to create a “nation of listeners” in 2010, and your little conversation could be a part of it, if you choose to be involved.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Begin at the Beginning: Thoughts on autobiographical material and story structure

30 years worth of diaries, 1979-2009

30 years of diaries, 1979-2009

A dear friend of mine, Rachel Hile, contributed a very insightful essay to the inaugural issue of The Revolving Floor last month—one that touches upon a number of issues that writers of nonfiction, particularly those who write about their own lives, deal with when working on a story.

The article, “Ab Ovo, or, How Not to Begin a Story,” is worth reading in full. Rachel has an interesting perspective on the personal-writing topic, as she works as an assistant professor in the Department of English & Linguistics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. She’s also has edited a collection of essays, Parenting and Professing: Balancing Family Work with an Academic Career, which, by their very nature, touch on autobiographical topics.

In her Revolving Floor essay, she begins by challenging the storytelling advice that first-century BCE poet Horace famously gave to begin in media res, in the middle of the action. For Rachel, this can present a problem, as she has a sharp interest in finding out what happened at the start (ab ovo, Latin for “from the egg”), or even before the start, a given story.

“Horace seems not even to consider that someone inquisitive like me, someone more interested in excavating beginnings than weaving an action-packed plot …

“I’m surely not alone in finding value in all this egg and pre-egg business, in believing that examining origins leads to worthwhile insights about motivations, people, as well as the ways people use religion to explain the inexplicable.”

She discusses the different literary formats and their structures in regards to how they view story beginnings.

“In what sort of alternate literary universe would starting at the beginning be prized, and what values would it express? … It didn’t take a new world, but a new genre, which Michel de Montaigne kindly invented for us at the very moment that some historians have dated as the genesis of the private self. The essai—an attempt, an effort at understanding that uses a different kind of thinking than plot-driven narratives, is well-suited to the practice of going back to the egg to try to understand oneself.”

I asked Rachel to share a couple of thoughts about autobiographical writing after the “Ab Ovo” story came out. Here’s the transcript of our (electronic) conversation.

Rachel Hile

Rachel Hile

Write Livelihood: You’ve kept your journals from the past 30 years and in your essay you address the concept of self-shame and its role in writers destroying their letters/journals. How does shame about past attempts at self-expression inhibit finding one’s narrative?
Hile: I distrust personal narratives with a triumphalist arc, and that’s what you get when you steer clear of the memories and events that give you that feeling of shame. On the other hand, I also distrust personal narratives that try to excise pride and always instead take an ironic, deprecatory stance toward the actions, thoughts, and motivations of the self.
I don’t think that the answer is for writers to attack moments of shame head-on, self-consciously and for their own sake, because memoir is not just about rehab, rock bottom, etc. I think that if you discover a memory that fills you with shame while you’re in the process of working out your ideas in writing, if you work around that memory, a note of falseness will enter the piece.
Easy to say, hard to do. This week I abandoned an essay I was writing because I remembered something that was key to the point I was trying to make, but that I am still not ready to write about publicly.

Write Livelihood: One of the things that I found interesting about “Ab Ovo” was that both your parents had a dream before you were born about who you would be. Do you think a parent’s prenatal dream about their child, if communicated to the child, shapes the young one’s narrative in the same way a culture’s “creation myth” shapes the way a society conceptualizes its beginnings?
Hile: Yes—not just dreams, but birth stories, stories from infancy, etc. My children love to hear the stories of their births, stories of how I knew (without sonograms) their genders before they were born (and I use the word “gender” advisedly, because it really was a sense of gender), stories of what I noticed first about them. I think children are hungry for details and stories that will make them feel that they know who they are. I think children need stories about identity from adults who love them. The power to shape a child’s sense of self is, of course, a responsibility that should inspire caution.

Write Livelihood: Any thoughts on the best way to mine one’s journals and letters for autobiographical  or memoir-related material to write about?
Hile:
I only sat down with my diaries one time with the idea of writing a memoir, and it was a non-starter. I was going to write about my experiences with depression, (yet) a little voice was asking me, “Don’t we have enough serious, introspective memoirs already about ‘Times When My Life Sucked’?”
I have found my diaries most helpful when I am writing about an idea, not an experience, and a memory or personal anecdote seems like it will be effective in illustrating that idea. Then I go back to read what I wrote at the time in order to strengthen my memory and create a more vivid impression.

Write Livelihood: What advice would you give to a writer interested in writing memoir?
Hile:
I myself feel more comfortable writing essays that draw upon autobiographical material than writing actual memoir, and that’s because of a basic distrust of self-revelation for the sake of self-revelation.
The memoirs I most enjoy reading are the ones in which I believe that self-revelation is in the service of illuminating important ideas that are broadly relevant: I’m thinking of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home as memoirs I’ve read recently that did a great job of finding this balance.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Tips for a Perfect Writer’s Staycation

49382_4419

Photo courtesy of SXC.

It’s a tough year for planning R & R – despite the fact that travel bargains abound – and given all the economic uncertainty, it seems foolhardy to plan a big, expensive out-of-town vacation. But what to do with your time off this summer? Isn’t there something to do that can get you out of the daily grind and not cost a fortune?

Of course there is. I’ve compiled a half-dozen tips for creating an enjoyable writer’s “staycation,” the sort of stay-at-home (or stay-close-to-home) vacation that will bring you back to the keyboard rested and ready for your next writing project without producing worry about its expense.

1. Tell a story in pictures. Whatever you choose to do with your days off, take a small digital camera with you, or use your mobile phone’s camera. Try to take enough pictures that you can create a “filmstrip” about your day, one that needs no captioning to get the message across. In addition to getting you in the habit of documenting your life photographically (which is fun and useful in and of itself), this tip also teaches you how to frame anecdotes and think scenically.

If you need some inspiration for what you can do with a cel phone camera, you might check out the My GPS Camera Phone blog. Blog owner Pete always amazes me with the photos he gets out of a humble mobile phone.

2.  Tell a story in sound. If you’re doing any driving around on your staycation—or even if you’re going on a long bike ride, run or hike—create a mix CD or a playlist on your MP3 player to honor your journey. The idea here is to create a soundtrack to your down-time that expresses your feelings, as well as give you experience in using subtle factors to set an anecdote’s mood and tone.

3. Buy 5 magazines to read for recreation. The trick here is to buy five that you don’t ordinarily buy, perhaps even five you’ve never heard of or would never even glance at otherwise. The farther the publications are from your ordinary reading, the greater the chance that they will creatively cross-pollinate your thinking about your writing projects or help you generate ideas for fresh, new works.

4. Keep a “vacation journal.” Even if all you do is stay home and weed the garden. If you look at the letters and journals kept by people before the invention of the telephone, they often described “ordinary” events in great detail—dinner parties, conversations ‘round the fire, walks they took in the woods. Deprived of other means of being intimate at a distance, writing about their day helped share it, and themselves, with readers of the journals or the recipients of their letters.

Being able to write about what you’ve done helps you see the value in how you spend your time, and also strengthens your ability to write interestingly and cogently in the first person.

5. Live like a Spaniard for a day. Or an Italian, Greek, or French person. If you’re mimicking the Spanish, you should definitely take an afternoon siesta, but the idea here is to make time for the Mediterranean ideal of “the sweet life,” one that includes plenty of good food, heart-to-heart talks over meals with friends and family, and a pace of living that doesn’t feel rushed.

The benefit to living this way is that it can free up your subconscious to incubate writing ideas with which you may be struggling. Plus, it’s fun and renews social ties that are easy to put on the back burner in the heat of a project. By focusing on your writing challenges before you go on vacation, then letting go while you’re taking time off, you may just come back to your work with solutions that work better than whatever you might have come up with by “forcing” an answer to appear.

6. Have at least one plan-free day. Most writers who are successful know how useful goal-setting tools and systems can be. However, if you can’t have a change of geographic scenery to shake you out of your routine (and thereby spark some insights about how you are living day to day), make it a point to build in at least one staycation day where schedules and planners are tucked away, and you set out (physically or mentally) with a few simple intentions: to explore public art in your city, for example, or to bike to the next town and see what there is to see. The idea is to be open to how the day develops, following one’s nose as it were, and receptive to what is experienced, rather than trying to cram it into one’s pre-planned blocks of whatever.

Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits blog and the book “The Power of Less,” recently discussed this approach as an aid to simplicity. This is what he had to say about his stepping away from excessive planning:

Don’t try to force outcomes — let them happen. Be open to what emerges.

This is a change that I’ve been trying in my life over the last year or more — slowly, gradually, because it’s not always easy. You have to learn to let go of the need to achieve certain outcomes, to embrace the flow, and that can be very difficult. So I’ve learned to embrace it slowly, and it has been wonderful.”

He asserts that this approach focuses one in the moment, and that can be very liberating.

“The lesson I learned (from my experiment): you don’t know what will happen, or what opportunities will arise, until you arrive at that moment. You can plan and plan and plan, but there is just no way to know how things will turn out…. Instead, I have forgone the need to define outcomes, and have focused on enjoying the journey. That doesn’t mean I’m not motivated to do my best … It means that I’m motivated by the work, that I enjoy the activity, not by the destination, goal or outcome.”

It’s a great lesson to learn, but as Leo points out, it can take a while to internalize it. Since vacations are the best time for most of us to experiment with new routines without the outside interference of daily pressures, why not try living a day or two by intention, instead of a strictly defined plan?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,