The Practice–5 Ways to Get Unstuck

 

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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.

Write it–5 Reasons to come up with the Bucks to Attend a Writers Conference

DSCN4865In 2013, I attended the Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham. I had attended book conferences while I lived in Seattle, and I had fond memories of networking with authors and taking workshops.

I discovered many benefits from attending the conference from attending workshops which kicked me into gear to pitching a novel to an agent (which left me with a case of nerves despite a successful pitch). However, my favorite part of the festival was networking with other authors as well as, rubbing elbows with successfully published authors. Garth Stein (Racing with the Rain) was teaching at that conference.

On the downside, conferences are pricey, especially if you are traveling to the conference from out-of-town and you also need to book a hotel room. And you must set aside two or three days to focus on your writing career and clear away all distractions (leave your laptop at home unless you plan on using it for actual writing). And it’s best to take advantage of the other events that occur during the evenings such as participating in open mics. This means that you will get little sleep the weekend of the conference.

So, here are my 5 reasons to attend a regional or national writers conference:

  1. Writing really is a collaborative art even if we feel like we do most of the writing alone on a chair facing a computer screen. Authors require editors, agents, writing groups (for some writers), and the companionship of other authors. After all, writers who isolate themselves, I would imagine, have less chance of landing a publishing deal, simply because they get stuck in their own minds.
  2. Building networks are crucial especially for writers who don’t live in a major publishing city such as Manhattan. So, conferences provide authors with opportunities to network with agents, editors, and other publishing industry professionals. This opportunity is priceless, especially if you pay the extra fee to pitch your work to agents and editors. (Some agents will only read unsolicited work from writers they met at conferences).
  3. Learning about the latest trends and other publishing news occurs at writers conferences. We often learn about the latest buzz too or any economic hardships affecting the publishing industry–such as mergers, or publishing going online instead of in print.
  4. Meeting established authors and attending their workshops reaps gold. Stay after the workshop is over and ask the authors questions that are burning in your mind. Ask them how they landed their publishing deal, but don’t expect them to pass your name on to their agents. (It would be rude to even bring that up).
  5. Learn new writing skills at the hands-on workshops and cram in as many workshops as possible. Take notes and keep the teachers’ handouts for future use.

I’m sure there are many other reasons to attend a writing conference. And if you feel no desire to even attend a writer conference, then you might want to ask yourself why you are pursuing a career as a published author. Authorship is never just about writing. It also includes learning the business of publishing and networking like crazy.

I’m an author and astrologer branching out into coaching writers. If you would like to have an astrology chart drawn up to see what your strengths and weaknesses are as an author, sign up for a Skype session at Whole Astrology. I look forward to working with you.

Write It–5 Ways to Get to Know Your Characters

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As writers, we deal with constant challenges developing characters, constructing workable plots, and keeping our readers engaged as they travel through 300 plus pages. For this post, I’m focusing on developing fleshed out characters.

  1. Create vision boards with your characters in the center. I prefer to create one vision board per character. However, you can create a vision board for up to three main characters of your novel. Cut out images from magazines that reflect the personality traits and passions of your characters. Make sure you include their occupation, marital status, and dreams on the board.
  2. Pretend you are a journalist and interview your characters. Ask them what motivates them to get out of bed each morning. What do they desire most? And how will they strategize to reach their goals?
  3.  Design a chart with your characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Make sure that you include their blind spots such as weaknesses seen and witnessed by the other characters. We all have blind spots. And these blind spots help us develop our stories.
  4. Write lists of the characters’ physical attributes. This includes hair color, eye color, body type, and their clothing style.
  5. Write a chapter in the first person so that you can get into the character’s head. You can continue writing your novel in the first person or return to writing in the third person.

Creating fleshed out characters means that we step outside of our own minds and hearts. We birth characters from our imagination and yet, they are separate entities from us. Characters should surprise and shock us instead of coming across as navel-gazing. Just like a parent must let their children find their own way in the world through making mistakes and taking risks, so must our characters. It’s only our job to create worlds, experiences, and problems for our characters to experience.

I’m available for coaching you on your artistic and personal journey. I use astrology, channeling, and other metaphysical skills with my coaching practice. Sign up at Whole Astrology. I am also available to teach workshops.

Write It–Using Mercury for a Writer’s Advantage

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The planet Mercury is either a writer’s best friend or worst enemy. What I mean by that is this small personal planet rules communication and technology. When Mercury goes retrograde three or four times a year for around three weeks, technology breaks down, computers slow down and freeze and people don’t make sense. Emails get lost and communication seems garbled at best. It’s as if the planet plays tricks on us. And Mercury is known as a trickster anyway.

As a practicing astrologer (and writer), I have learned how to use Mercury retrograde to my advantage. When any planet goes backward or is in retrograde motion, we naturally turn inward. We seek clarification for happenings of the previous three months. We return to edit or proofread work we wrote during those past three months. We can rewrite speeches, polish presentations, or go on a book tour for a book we published in the past, such as a new edition of a previously touted title.  However, don’t expect travel plans to go smoothly since Mercury rules travel too.

Mercury retrograde asks us to revisit, edit, rewrite and rethink previous work. It’s not a good time to start on a new project. We can use this time to clean up blogs, websites, manuscripts and other written work. We can also use this time for research for new projects, especially if we are doing historic research or reflecting on our past for a memoir or autobiography. Read old journals, letters and sort through old photographs.

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Journalism suffers under the Mercury retrograde unless we are revisiting an old story. We don’t have our heads on straight. Mercury rules the brain too and the thinking process. However, we might discover clues or make corrections to work we did in the past or had errors in our thinking about various topics that are cleared up during the Mercury retrograde. We might even go back and fix spelling and grammar errors in our work that we didn’t see previously. However, editors and writers born under the Sign Virgo catch those errors even when Mercury is transiting direct.

If you are a Gemini Sun or Virgo Sun working as a writer or editor, the Mercury Retrograde literally gives you tension and headaches. Gemini and Virgo co-rule Mercury. Your thoughts seem cloudy at best (Pisces) or exaggerated (Sagittarius). And during the summer of 2016 when Saturn in Sagittarius was in a square with Neptune in Pisces and Mercury was retrograde, anything we wrote during that time required major rewrites and rethinking, not to mention restructuring. Anything we wrote during that time if we could write at all now seems muddled in confusion or a Neptune fog.

If you are a Virgo or Gemini Sun or (Sagittarius or Pisces), sign up for a personal astrology reading or coaching session. I will teach you how to work with the cycles of Mercury. When you tame this planet and work with its cycles, your writing and editing skills will improve tremendously. You will know when to pitch to agents and editors, when to rewrite, and when to hold back and rest.

And don’t write a blog post on Word Press when Mercury is RX unless you want to run into glitches, lol…

Mercury is RX in 2017:

December 2016 to January 5, 2017

April 9 to May 3

August 13 to September 4

December 1 – 21, 2017

Sign up for an astrology reading at Whole Astrology

Write it–Crafting Dynamic Sentences

While we can write usable and adequate sentences, why not raise the stakes and craft a vivid sentence that also gets to the point? Here is an example.

Her skin was the color of milk.  Or her skin was milky white.

This sentence is adequate and we understand that this woman has white skin. I find the sentence flat and too passive. My eyes want to skim over it as opposed to seeing the image.

Here’s a better sentence using a metaphor.

The skin on her arms was like milk.

This sentence seems cliche to me even if it gets its point across.

This next sentence gives us more vivid details and has a photographic effect. This is what I aim for in my own writing, at least in theory, if not in practice.

The vendor reached out her arms to grab the bagels on the table–her milky flesh highlighted by the July sunrays.

True, the sentence is a bit longer. This is because it is a complex sentence with concrete details. The readers don’t have to think too hard as they see a woman vendor with a paler complexion. (Of course, she could have skin the color of chocolate milk too!)

I hope my suggestions prove helpful for you or inspire you to write sentences that pop off the page. I think that my job as a writer is to provide visuals as well as, fodder to seduce all the senses. Don’t we wish to engage our readers?

Check out my narrated stories on YouTube. And feel free to leave vivid sentences in the comments below. Thank you for stopping by Belle Author and for following this blog. I am also on Facebook.

 

Write it–What Rejection Does Not Mean

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Photo by Patricia Herlevi

For us sensitive types, rejection feels like someone slamming the door on our fingers. It hurts so badly that we wallow in shame and sometimes the guilt that comes when we feel like we made sacrifices for no good reason. As a writer (and as a human being), I have experienced the worst kinds of rejection–the kind that contains no constructive criticism and is so vague that it leaves too much room for interpretation. This type of criticism is death to the soul (or so it seems).

During the past week, despite kind comments people have left on my YouTube videos and Facebook posts, I received two rejections laced with shame. I felt like authority figures were sending poison arrows at me and those arrows were penetrating my skin leading to the slow death of my creative spirit. These situations reminded me too much of scathing criticism I experienced as an innocent child. It’s that message of “How dare you to think that you are better than anyone else. Or how dare you express yourself creatively when we don’t condone your type of creative talent.”

So the first rejection I experience was the good folks at YouTube slapping an age restriction on one of my astrology videos. The shaming part came with a description of why a viewer flagged my video. Where there is absolutely no violence or pornography or sex in my astrology video. I produced the video to educate my subscribers (whatever their age), to interpret a particular moon transit. True, I included images of the painting of Venus di Milo in my video–which shows a nude Venus rising from the ocean with men dancing around her. This image comes from a Classic Greek myth and anyone taking an ancient art history class will view this photo as art.

Still, YouTube thought it was in their best interest to shame me even though that particular video received over 35,000 visits–people of which saw ads on YouTube and probably purchased a product or service based on the ads they saw. And the message YouTube gave me was to make sure that my videos never become too visible or people will attack me for showing up authentically in the world. I’m expected to live my life by someone’s moral standards based on religions I don’t practice and never will practice.

This rejection as far as I’m concerned does not mean that I’m a wicked person because I know I’m not. I am not a violent person nor am I peddling harmful material to anyone. If people feel offended by the paintings featured in my videos (which are tame compared to modern art paintings), then no one is forcing them to watch my videos. And if this is the beginning of a witch hunt, look no further than the US government and major corporations where you’ll find Reptilian people performing the darkest kind of magic and brainwashing on the populace. So YouTube can go sniffing for evil elsewhere.

The second rejection I experienced was from the Artist Trust out of Seattle. Last year I applied for a storytelling grant. When I received the rejection letter and announcement of the winner in January, there was a passage in the rejection letter that said I could request notes for my submission. So, I requested the notes and waited several months to find out that my application wasn’t worthy of notes or suggestions because two of the three judges decided that my writing wasn’t valuable or viable to ever producing an income for me.

Now, I could make that mean that I’m an unworthy person and that I suck as a writer. But I’m not going to do that. I have worked as a freelance journalist since the age of 22 and I have earned money as a writer in many respects. The writing sample I sent to the Artist’s Trust was a passage from a memoir I wrote about living in between homes for several months due to a housing crisis that no one wants to address. Or perhaps, I had sent a writing sample from a novel that started out with a short story that was almost published by the Missouri Review several years ago. I don’t remember what I had sent.

But I know this. I’m not an unsuccessful writer even if I have not graduated with an MFA from any prestigious school or because I haven’t studied with a decorated person. I don’t require permission from the Artist’s Trust judges to write or to succeed as a writer. And when we feel like getting revenge, the best revenge to rejection is to keep on plugging away until we experience glorious success.

Rejection from publishers, editors, agents or other writers does not mean we suck as people. It does not mean we should throw in the towel to make them feel better. It does not mean that we have to shove ourselves into a square hole when we are a round peg. It does not mean we have to accept snobby behavior from others who believe that they are the authorities of our career or life path. It just means we have yet to find our tribe.

Most of the time other people’s rejection is their problem. Sometimes rejection happens because our work is premature and needs work. Sometimes rejection happens because those rejecting us feel overwhelmed with entries, applications, and proposals. And sometimes rejection happens because we’re from outside their circle of colleagues and friends. And sometimes rejection happens by people who enjoy shaming others because they are narcissistic. We’ll never know. And if the judges can’t give us criteria for us to improve our work, then their rejection is worthless and just plain cruel. Let us reject their rejection of us.

And if you have suffered grief from rejection recently, watch this scene from “Flash Dance” and you will feel uplifted. Success is the best revenge. (Sorry, it’s not in English).

Write It–It’s a Process

375px-KushanmapI love that scene in the movie, “Under a Tuscan Sun” when the character Frances talks about her writing process. First, she says that she tortures herself through procrastination and then she is a writing machine. However, there is a difference between procrastination and a germination process. Stories, similar to fetuses, go through a gestation phase. Stories happen as authors absorb their surroundings and they endure life experiences.

For instance, I started panicking recently because I hadn’t written any literary pieces since last year. Granted, I was living in between homes for 9 months and the last thing I wanted to do was work on a novel. Yet, I completed rewrites for a memoir (still not satisfied with it) and I completed my fifth novel. And after that ordeal, I felt that my muse had run for the hills. Yet, I needed a vacation from writing fiction.

In the past few months, I’ve mainly been blogging and working as a contract journalist. And this leaves me feeling like a ghost of a writer. Instead, of creating stories from my imagination, I’ve been writing stories that promote the successes of other people. I experience satisfaction from journalism but I still miss playing with characters and creating scenarios.

And then, a young sassy voice showed up which launched my next short story which I’m currently writing. I titled the story, “Lately, Queen Mamadou” and the story features young ballet students from a private girls’ school and a mother who channels an entity from colonial West Africa. That’s all I’m going to say about this middle-grade comedy.

As writers, we practice patience. The best stories take the time to appear. And then we structure our days to pour these stories onto the pages. We have many excuses for not sitting our butts in the chair. But in the end, a true writer will face the blank page and muster the courage to explore new worlds we call stories.

What is your writing process? Please share in the comment section.