Write It–Memoir: Revenge versus Telling a Higher Truth

Queen Anne tub, 1995
Photo from 1995: Taken by Liz Herlevi

I never thought I would write a memoir. For the most part, I find reading memoirs tedious as writers tend to include too many details and tell their story in a linear way. Many memoirists also seem to have barbs attached to their pens.

The reason why Eat, Pray, Love enjoyed success wasn’t because Liz Gilbert struck out to get revenge on her former husband or the lifestyle she was supposed to embrace. The memoir received worldwide attention because the author stripped herself bare while allowing raw, yet universal emotions to splatter on to the pages of her book. Gilbert also chose a non-linear structure for her memoir, even though her travelogue traveled from Italy, then India, and finally, Bali. Gilbert also tells her story in a self-effacing, humorous, and relatable voice–at least familiar to middle-class American women of a certain age.

But when I was wading through manuscripts on the defunct Authonomy website years ago, most of the memorists made several mistakes in my opinion. They used too many passive verbs, they regurgitated their lifestory instead of focusing on a slice of life, and they chose macabre topics without providing some brighter moments or comic relief. Some authors would have been better off hiring a ghost writer since their writing skills were rudimentary or told in a second language. And yet, an author learns a lot by critiquing other people’s work while also reading the top memoirs on the charts.

The main question for me revolves around baring one’s soul. How many sensitive topics or secrets do I reveal in my work? And am I revealing these secrets to tell a universal story or am I seeking revenge on a subconscious level? It helps to spend time in therapy while writing material with suffering rooted in childhood situations, as is the case with my memoir, Woman Sleeping on a Couch. And the good news is that the writing process proved cathartic and I did bring up these deeper issues during therapy sessions. But I still ask myself if my story is universal or just too painful to share with others?

Determine whether or not you’re shooting from the hip or if sharing your story has the power to heal others.

  • Will telling your story divide a family or cause a rift with relatives?
  • Will your story withstand the scrutiny of critics (both professional and personal)?
  • Can you write your story in an entertaining manner where you laugh at yourself and reveal your vulnerabilities (shadows and projections)?
  • Do you take responsibility for your end of the story or act like a victim?
  • Do you discern the difference between events that serve the story and events that serve the ego?
  • Will telling your story land you in legal hot water or liberate you?
  • Does your story share an arc with fiction? Do you have a strong beginning, middle and resolution or is your story open-ended?

Writing memoirs rubs the conscious raw. Writing memoirs strips the soul bare. And not everyone wants to read about people’s personal history unless it strikes a common thread. And the most popular memoirs revolve around travel, food, love/romance, and animals. If you take a more universal approach by anchoring your story in one of those themes, you have a greater chance of hitting the literary jackpot.

My sister and I used to have a conversation where she believed that everyone has an interesting story to tell. But face it, not everyone is a storyteller. And while it’s enjoyable to sit with friends, colleauges, and family members as they spin nostalgic and revealing yarns, a memoir stretches those yarns to 300 pages, which causes some yarns to snap and break.

However, if a story has a strong beginning, middle, and end with an overarching universal theme, then it is worth telling. Just be willing to rewite the “truth” through several drafts. And then depending on the material in the story, muster the courage to weather any storms that come from secrets and situations contained in the memoir. Once we let the worms out of the can, it’s too late to put a lid on it.

I’m an author and astrologer who provides coaching for creative professionals. Go to Whole Astrology to sign up for a session.

 

Write it–Remedies for Overwriting

Vancouver 2002I hope that you’re not a writer such as me who juggles several blogs, writes for publications, squeezes in short fiction, and rewrites several novels because if I don’t have something to write, I get twisted out of shape. Even writers of this ilk require rest for an exhausted brain. So, I’m going to share some practices with you to relax your mind and body, even when you feel an urgency to keep writing.

I often wonder if a fear of death causes me to keep writing, even when the words appear blurry on my laptop screen. It’s not that I wish to immortalize myself, but I feel like I cheat death if I have a project that requires completion. Or maybe there’s something else lurking beneath the surface. And perhaps, all artists struggle with this urgency to create at all cost to the mind-body-soul.

And yet, we can’t create from a dry well. And we fill the well through rest, relaxation, and recreation. I like the word, “re-creation” because it suggests that when we enjoy ourselves we become more creative. And it doesn’t matter if recreation revolves around canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, walking, or engaging in a group sport. Photography also provides a form of recreation, if you don’t make a living as a professional photographer. And writing poetry also counts if you’re not writing poems for publication. Even, journaling provides an outlet for recreation, especially if it is combined with camping, hiking, or other outdoor activities.

Healthy Escapes from the Overwork:

  1. Stroll around a neighborhood block or take a long walk across town or a city. Go some place you haven’t been before.
  2. Travel short-distance by train or a commuter bus. Allow your mind to drift as you gaze out the window. You could bring a journal, but it’s better not to write down the thoughts. Instead, get lost in tangents.
  3. Listen to music.
  4. Play music, such as drums, guitar, flute, or jam with other musicians. Music is a good way to get back in touch with your physical body. It also entertains the creative muse.
  5. Put on music and dance.
  6. Practice yoga.
  7. Meditate.
  8. Go to lunch with friends or take yourself out to lunch at a cafe.
  9. Sit in a city park and observe others.
  10. Take the dog for a walk.
  11. Go the beach and build sand castles. It’s good sometimes to make things that have a short lifespan.
  12. Bake cookies or bread.
  13. Cook a meal for a friend.
  14. Clean house.
  15. Work with singing bowls or tuning forks to clear your aura.

Try not to:

1. Spend too much time on social media

2. Rant

3. Gossip

4. Get drunk

5. Shop for things you don’t actually need

I like the idea of recreation. And I also like the idea of delving into the subconscious mind and healing toxic beliefs and patterns that turn us into workaholics. We have nothing to prove to the world. No one really cares how many words we type each day unless we work for an editor or we are way past our publication deadline for a book.

And one last piece of advice. If you tend to overwork yourself there is no danger that anyone will ever call you lazy. You have nothing to prove to the world. And you don’t require anyone’s approval. But when you’re relaxing, you’ll discover the part of you that requires healing, which is probably a punitive parental voice in the back of your mind.

Sign up for a creative coaching session with me. I use astrology, cards, and channeling as tools to help you to show up as the best version of yourself. And also check out my metaphysical articles.

 

Write it—Choosing Your Novel’s Music Soundtrack

375px-Glenn_Gould_1
Glenn Gould informs my writing…

My writing process changed with each of my novels. When I wrote my first novel, Super-Natural Heroes, I handwrote the entire novel in two notebooks. Instead of writing my morning pages, I wrote three pages a day for my novel. Many of the chapters ended up as three page chapters. 

With my fifth novel, Enter 5-D, I wrote my plot lines and character traits on huge white sheets of paper which covered the floor of a 350 square foot apartment (really a converted garage). Both my first and fifth novels feature multiple plots and since I tend to go into a trance when I write, I needed concrete guidance which is why I drew my plot on the large sheets of paper. I also created a vision board for my novel.

The other practice I have with all my novels is that I listen to music which I would use for the movie soundtrack for my stories. When I worked on Love Quadrangle, I mainly listened to Glenn Gould performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations which does appear in my novel and in fact, provides a theme for the novel. I listened to Gregorian Chant while I worked on Super-Nature Heroes, and I listened to French cafe music (mostly French swing) when I worked on Agnes and Yves.

Since I’m currently editing my fifth novel, I’ll talk about the soundtrack music for this novel. I started listening to Nick Drake as I worked on this novel. And one song in particular, “River Man” became the theme for my Ferryman character. And the song plays in my thoughts when I am even thinking about my novel. Other Drake tunes that I associate with Enter 5-D are “Pink Moon,” and “Things Behind the Sun.”

Since my protagonist Eurydice is an opera diva who is best known for her role as the Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute), I watched Diana Damrau’s performances of this role performing “The Queen of the Night Aria”. I also include Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue in the background.

I’m a musician and have immersed myself in music my entire life. My mother even played music for me while I was still in the womb. So, music always plays a key role while I’m writing a novel. And it’s not just background music. I write from listening to tone, timbre, and rhythms. My novels have a sense of musicality in them. Silence plays a role too.

When choosing a soundtrack for a novel (and possibly the movie version later), let’s consider the following.

  • What are the characters’ dominant moods and personality traits? What songs would define each of the characters, even a phrase from a song?
  • What songs describe the landscape of the novel?
  • Songs provide melodic tension and rhythm.
  • Which songs honor the pace of the novel?
  • And which songs provide themes for the novel?

You can add other questions to this list. And don’t stick with the usual musical genres either. If you normally use pop music for your soundtracks, shake it up a bit and try classical or jazz chamber music. Why not listen to music from around the globe, especially if your story takes place in a foreign country?

If you would like a coaching session on becoming consciously aware of music or would like help coming up with a soundtrack for your novel, sign up for a coaching session. I am a music expert and I provide you with this blog Whole Music Experience which features reviews and interviews, as well as, some music examples. For world music, check out World Music Central.

Write It–5 Reasons to Write Short Fiction

330px-Isabel_Allende_-_001
A favorite author of mine, Isabel Allende

When I turned my gaze away from journalism and poetry to writing short fiction, I came across an anthology of short stories edited by Isabel Allende. In the introduction to the anthology, Allende said that if a short story did not grab her within the first few paragraphs, it would not work as short fiction.

While I don’t agree whole-heartedly with Allende’s observation, I’ll say that short fiction is condensed and requires powerful writing. When we write short stories, we don’t have the space to introduce lineages of characters or complex plots. It’s not the format for including loads of description or delving deeply into a character’s emotional palette.

The short stories that work for me have odd twist in them, especially with flash fiction, which is a story told in 500 words or less. Allende is correct in that the lead paragraph and the final paragraph must leave impressions on the reader. You don’t want to start out slow and start meandering. The character’s call to action takes place in the first or second paragraph. You want to lead the reader into the story quickly and then keep him or her nibbling until they take the Final literary bite.

This brings me to the point of my essay which is five reasons to write short stories. But first let me tell you what short fiction is not. Short fiction is not a short novel. Short fiction is not a jumping off point for novel writing per se. Short fiction is not a lazy writer’s craft. And short fiction doesn’t necessarily pay the bills unless you are lucky enough to land your stories in a bigger name literary journal that pays authors for their stories. Most agents will tell you that they don’t represent short story collections.

5 Reasons to Write Short Stories

  1. Taking up the challenge helps authors to hone into what matters for the character and the story. Authors learn how to get to the point, use less words, and create on their toes.
  2. If a writer can land publication in literary journals and anthologies on a regular basis, this helps land a contract with an agent and subsequently impresses book publishers and editors.
  3. Short stories can be transformed into podcasts and uploaded on Vimeo and YouTube then showcased on author websites and blogs.
  4. Writing shorter fiction allows a writer to exercise their chops without having to write another novel. I like to take a break from writing novels and tackle the short form because I see my results more quickly.
  5. Sometimes short story characters and situations spark the next novel or screenplay.

If you would like a coaching session for unblocking your creative genuius, sign up at Whole Astrology. I use astrology, cards, and other tools in my coaching sessions. It’s best to sign up for a package and if you do so, we can work out a discount for one of the sessions, such as $25 off, if you buy 4 sessions at $100 each.

My background is in journalism, fiction-writing, teaching workshops, astrology, and other metaphysical topics. I was an arts journalist for over 25 years.

Write it–Turning Distractions into Copy

DSCN6075Often times we think we’re going to sit down and write the Great American novel. Or we want to write the next big fantasy series. But we find that family members or elements of our life distract us from pursuing our novel-writing dream.

Sometimes life events interrupt our artistic pursuits. However, we can transform those distractions into art. Let me give you an example. While I worked on my romantic comedy novel, Love Quadrangle, I ended up living in between homes. While I had no intention of writing a memoir, my circumstances begged to be turned into a manuscript.

Then when I thought I had settled into a new home and I worked on completing my fantasy novel, Enter 5-D, I found myself living in between homes again. The scenarios I experienced with narcissistic types in my life, the peril of not knowing there I would rest my head on some given nights, and the trauma I healed in therapy sessions begged for another memoir.

And here’s the rub–I never wanted to write a memoir. I’m not the sort of person who wants to show up as a character in a book. Yet, the distractions in my life begged me to create narratives. And that’s how it works. Often times, and pardon my metaphysical exploration here, the Universe has other plans for us. We’re not supposed to be the next Harry Potter author. Instead, we are asked to tackle the big issues of our time by writing a personal story.

In fact, this is what happened to author Liz Gilbert. She published novels that didn’t really go anywhere. And then when she published her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, her writing career broke wide open. So maybe, the career move is writing the memoir about an experience with a universal appeal. That might be hard to swallow for authors who consider themselves purely fiction writers. And yet, we must travel to the place where we can mine gold and not stay stuck in a place that isn’t for us.

So here are 5 tips for turning your life events into compelling narratives:

  • Take copious notes while you are enduring a life-altering experience. If you don’t already keep a journal, start one.
  • Keep quotes handy from the people who appear on your path. And keep records of dates and locations.
  • Read how-to books on writing memoirs.
  • Join a writing group that specializes in non-fiction (if you enjoy the group support).
  • Take workshops on writing non-fiction

Another suggestion is to start a blog instead of a journal. This helps you build a platform and attract followers who you can transform into readers of your memoir in the future. And do get into social media groups of people going through similar experiences. However, do not rant in these groups as this just turns future readers off.

In the meantime, I am considering rewriting my first memoir (again) and getting started on my second one. I find that I require a distance from my experiences so that I can write from a clear head space.

If you would like astrology or metaphysical coaching advice for your writing projects, sign up for a session at Whole Astrology.

Write it–The Walking Cure

DSCN9078I’ve already mentioned several writing block cures on Belle Author. Today, we’re focusing on the walking cure. Usually, when we hit that dead end, we have caused stagnation in the flow of inspiration–in other words, we’re thinking too hard.

The analytical thought has its place when designing plots or working out strategies to get a character in the right place at the right time. However, inspiration and flow come from the opposite side of the brain than analytical thought. And when we engage with too much analytical thought, we paralyze ourselves with criticism. And often this occurs when we haven’t even completed the first draft!

Remember that the first draft is about flow and improvisation. We don’t untangle those knots from the plot or fill in the details for the characters until later drafts. So, if you find yourself struggling with moving your story forward, take a walk.

  • Go to the beach. Imagine yourself walking on the sand and watching the waves clear away your footprints. This reminds you that each moment truly matters and you begin to experience a sense of time standing still or Oneness. This allows you to get your mind off your problems and harness your imagination.
  • Walk in the woods. Listen to the birds singing in the trees, and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds dart past you. You get a sense of exhilaration. You see the creativity of the Universe in effect and know that you are part of that creativity. This is also a good time to take your characters with you and enjoy the setting together.
  • Stroll through an urban neighborhood. Notice the season, the time of day, the temperature, and the sounds around you. Dash through the lawn sprinkler if it’s a hot sunny day or if it’s an autumn day, listen to leaves crunch under your boots. Take in all the sensory and know that you’ll use those later for your novel or memoir.
  • Go to a park on a peaceful day. Sit by a pond and with your journal in hand, start writing through a stream of consciousness. Even, write a poem.
  • Go to the zoo alone. Observe the children as they discover each animal along the way. And observe the animals as they interact with zoo tourists. Observe all the colors, textures, and tones as well as, the rhythms of the animals. This will help you write with rhythm and vibrancy.

dscn3701Another suggestion if you don’t feel like engaging your two feet walking is to take a bus on a long-distance trip and instead of spending time on your laptop or phone, watch the scenery. Pay attention to patterns, colors, and movement. Soak in the moods of each place the bus passes. And notice how your emotions switch from disgust to delight; nostalgia and adventure.

Writing should never feel like a punishment. If sitting in a chair each day and staring at a blank screen compares to torture, then consider finding another creative outlet besides writing. I noticed a flurry of people wanting to write and publish books in the last ten or so years. And many of these folks want to write for the wrong reasons or maybe they remember their fifth-grade teacher telling them that they would make a good writer. Be honest with yourself. Do you want to spend your days constructing plots, creating characters and moving them through time and space?

However, having said that, we all run into blocks at times. And finding ways to get out of the analytical mind and engage with the flow helps us get back on track. Going for walks is one of the best ways to engage any creative flow. I believe this is why Julia Cameron includes daily walks in her coaching books. And it never helps to take a little notebook along with you on the walks because inspiration will come and you want to keep it at hand.

Sign up for a metaphysical coaching session with me and learn other good ideas to bring to your writing practice. I use astrology, card reading and channeling with my coaching. I look forward to meeting with you and igniting your muse. wholemusicexp at gmail.com

Photography by Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved (text and photos).

The Practice–5 Ways to Get Unstuck

 

FSCN3268
Photo by Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved

You’re staring at a blank page while your frustration mounts higher by the minute. A litany of shoulds ring through your thoughts–“I should write three pages a day.” “I should have completed this novel by now.” “I should have something ready for my writing group.” And yet, your gaze roams to the window and you would rather spend time in a kayak on a lake than torture yourself with writing expectations. So, head to the lake…

 

That’s right. When writing feels more like a chore than a passion, it’s time to take a vacation from it. And that’s not the same as procrastination. In fact, taking time off from writing allows you to get back into the flow. Our expectations cause us to jam up the flow and when there’s no flow the muse takes a hike (and in a place, you would rather be).

So, if you’re like me whipping your back with guilt because you didn’t follow a writing schedule this week, forgive yourself. Use the following tips to get you back into your groove. And realize, that if you reside in the Pacific Northwest or any place that rains most of the year, you have my permission to get outside on a sunny day and let it all hang out. Or spend a day with your characters in a rustic setting.

  1. Literally, jump in a lake or at least visit a large body of water. Muses enjoy beautiful settings and they enjoy movement such as hiking, jogging, or just roaming in nature with a camera. Get outdoors. Get fresh air and with that, you will solve your problems and figure out your characters’ motives.  And your health improves tremendously too when you get outdoors. You’ll have more energy to bring back to your writing schedule.
  2. Give up your writing schedule (if you are a workaholic). Instead, of sitting down at a particular time of day and writing a certain amount of pages or words, dis that. The problem with writing schedules is that they don’t allow for other areas of our lives to blossom. And we begin to dread having to do something at a certain time each day. (The opposite is true for people who procrastinate). They do require a schedule.
  3. Engage in one of your hobbies such as photography, painting, sculpting, or photography. When you work on something else that is creative it draws you back to your writing.
  4. Take Julia Cameron’s advice (The Artist’s Way) and write your three morning pages first thing when you wake up. This helps you clear your head from obsessions, worries, and doubts which keep you spinning your wheels. This author-teacher also advises us to go for a daily walk and to take ourselves out on an artist’s date once a week. See the book, The Artist’s Way for a full description.
  5. Go out with a friend. Go see a movie, go for a walk, or simply share a meal together and get caught up on each other’s lives. And who knows, if you discuss your book with your friend, he or she might have some good ideas to propel you forward, especially if your friend is a writer.

Do any of these five things and release yourself from writer’s bondage. I’ve been writing professionally since 1986. I’ve had my flowing days and I’ve been stuck behind the dam on other days. I know that all the above activities I mentioned bring release (so does eating dark chocolate) and help you get back in the flow. If these tips don’t work, then ask yourself if writing is really your passion or just something someone told you would be good at. Truth-telling leads you to your real calling and to a less stressful life.

I’m an astrologer-coach who specializes in sessions for creative people. Sign up for a session in-person or by Skype if you are located in the Pacific NW. I give astrology readings internationally through reports or by Skype. Also, follow me on Facebook.