Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle

What if we did not view writing our stories as a luxury, something we were only allowed to do when we didn't have the house to clean, the children to tend, the job demands to fulfill?

 In her book Writing As A Way Of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, Louise DeSalvo writes: "What if writing were a simple, significant, yet necessary way to achieve spiritual, emotional, and psychic wholeness?"

Writing about past traumatic events in our lives is like uncorking the bottle - out pops the Genie with all its mystical and magical power.

As DeSalvo notes, many of the great writers - Virginia Woolf and Henry Miller, to name but two - were depressed and stymied in the writing process until they began writing about past traumatic events. In Woolf's case, it was being sexually assaulted by her half-brother; in Miller's about the loss of his wife who left him for another woman. Once they had reflected on the pent-up emotion of their trauma, they were able to move on to a richer, more textured life.

This month's "assignment" in the Circle is an invitation to explore a past traumatic event.  Try writing about the event and the emotion at the same time. Engage with your writing in a way that allows you to achieve energy, depth, power and soulfulness - in other words, to claim your voice.

As always, if this is not what you care to do or if you are working on a piece of fiction, short story, or poem, please bring that to the Circle.

The Women’s Writing Circle meets at 9 a.m. on Saturday, September 11 in the Wellington Square Bookshop in Exton.  See you there.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Traveling the Sacred Journey Together

The stories I most like to read are about women who suddenly find themselves confidantes and compatriots on this journey we call womanhood. They may never have met before, but a spark of conversation is all it takes to kindle a kinship.

I will never forget The Women's Room, a novel by Marilyn French, first published in 1977.  In the book women offered each other humor, insight and comfort at a time when they needed it most.

So it was in the Circle yesterday. We come together, virtual strangers, and quickly develop a caring place of laughter and sharing.  We sense we are forming possible friendships for life as we travel the sacred journey of the feminine.

The healing power of storytelling is the glue that binds us. We heard from Jan Backes who when she came to the Circle three months ago held a poem. The second time, she came bearing a 100-word essay and yesterday, her third visit to the Circle, read what is unarguably the start of a fascinating memoir.Way to go, Jan!

We heard another incredibly beautiful piece from Robyn. Her haunting voice in a story about being a single mother reminded me of author Alice Sebold, author of Lucky, her memoir, and The Lovely Bones.  Sebold  graduated from Great Valley High School, right here in Chester County.

We also had a special visit yesterday from the Daily Local News, Chester County's daily newspaper.  The paper is writing a feature story about the Circle and our upcoming workshop, "The Art and Practice of Memoir."  Storyteller and childrens' author, Maureen Barry of Malvern, will be featured in the video portion of the story reading from her memoir, tentatively titled My Rearview Mirror. That's Maureen on the left of this page and writer Robyn Wood of Chester Springs, top right.   Maureen's website is:

Such is the power of the Circle and the read-around . . . coming together as a community of women and writers is a precious gift.  August may be a languorous month, but it teemed with energy yesterday at Wellington Square Bookshop.

All the best to my Sisters in the Writing Circle,

Friday, August 13, 2010

It Comes Down to the Writing

Writing can sometimes be like wandering through the wilderness searching for the clearing and the sunlight.You have to hack away at the first draft, the second draft. Someone once told me that nothing is any good until the 8th draft.  Cut through the verbiage, slice out the side trips that meander from the heart of your story. In other words, don't waste your readers' time.  They deserve the best. They hunger for a good story. Great books promote themselves.  The rewards are many.

Some of the elements of good writing are:
  • Omit needless words 
  • Have a clear purpose in mind when writing a scene 
  • Think about your audience and how you want to connect
  • Pay attention to the finer details; "the frosting on the cake"  
  • Proceed with organization and clarity   
I had three editors for my book, each adding an ingredient to the mix; each mining this scene, that piece of dialogue, that sentence and then adding her inimitable touch.  My editors were not there to stroke my ego.  But they didn't cut me to shreds either.  Feedback and rewrite are the next logical steps to writing anything.

Some of the most invaluable critique I received came from people in writing groups I participated in over the last several years.  It was one of the reasons I started the Circle.  No one can or should have to write in a vacuum.

No matter how good the story, if the writing isn't there to back it up, you might as well hang up your notebook, your laptop, your pens and pencils and call it a day.  My writing was honed over decades of professional writing experience - but experience takes you only so far -  and then you need an editor to lead you out of the darkness into the sunlight.  

All the best,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Our Story Is a Palimpsest

Gore Vidal, in his memoir Palimpsest, ( a palimpsest is a manuscript page from a scroll or book that has been scraped off and used again) notes the difference separating memoir from autobiography.

"A memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked," Vidal writes.

As we have talked about in the Circle, memoir shows what we have gleaned from one section of our lives, rather than commentating on the outcome of our lives as a whole.

We write in memoir about some "battle" we have enjoined; one that teaches and offers larger meaning without the power to defeat.  We write about loss and grief.  We write about how we deal with and conquer illness and addiction.  We write about those who sabotaged us before we had the tools or the wisdom to fight back.

Most palimpsests were written on parchment, which is prepared from animal hides and more durable than paper or papyrus. Like a palimpsest, our story offers the lasting truth of memory - then it can be scraped clean and used to write yet again.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

August 14 Read-Around

The Women's Writing Circle meets at 9 a.m. Saturday, August 14 at Wellington Square Bookshop in the Eagleview Town Center in Exton, Chester County.  Join us in a read-around. Together, we explore our voices, our memories and support each other in a commitment to a writing routine. 

For those of you who regularly come to the Circle, please consider bringing a friend or tell them about the Circle.  My hope is to start a second Circle, which would meet on the 4th Saturday of the month in another location in Chester County.  Our Exton Circle always meets the second Saturday of the month. 

This month's exercise was to write about a haunting or pivotal moment in your childhood. Drawing out important moments in your life can then be expanded to a larger piece, if you choose.  Or if this doesn't appeal to you, bring whatever your muse inspires.

I hope to see you at the Circle.

All the best to my Sisters in the Writing Circle.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Five Days In the Author's Jungle

Well, its been five days since my book became available and I am doing what all the marketing "experts" tell you to do: shamelessly self-promote!  This is not an easy task for a former reporter who enjoyed her anonymity for years while she revealed everyone else's lives and decided whose story got play and whose pitch ended up in the circular file. 

In fact, this is downright painful.  

I have exhausted myself, linking this website with details on how to order Again in a Heartbeat, contacting family members, friends, Facebook "friends," college and graduate school alma maters, local bookstores and writing groups.  I even talked up the book at my local "Curves"  for weeks before publication where everyone smilingly assured me they wanted to read it. As soon as my first shipment of books arrives, I plan on plunking copies down on the table for purchase. Let them put their money where their mouth is!

I have contacted the local newspaper and they say they will do a story on the Writing Circle and our upcoming Art and Practice of Memoir workshop, but as for the local author slant, well the book will get a mention, "but we don't do local author stories."  No matter.  I am grateful for any and all publicity here in the book publishing jungle.

After reading all the "tips" on marketing, I feel like a walking encyclopedia on the dos and don'ts of author marketing.  Of course, it all started months ago:

  • let people know you are writing
  • come up with an eye-catching cover
  • comment on blogs with similar topics and interests
  • schedule book signings (for which you will again have to do your own publicity)
  • tweet until you're blue in the face

Another Golden Rule of  author marketing: Ask others to review your book.  This is easier said than done.  A well-known women's memoir group might do that after my book is linked to Amazon (this should be the case in about 14 business days); a social networking blogger extraordinaire on widowhood says "remind her" to get to the book if I don't hear from her in a while (this after an email and attached PDF file). And I am  waiting to hear from a workshop facilitator whether she is willing to review it (another email and attached PDF file of the book sent late Sunday night when I would much rather have been reading another Jodi Picoult novel).

Are we having fun yet?  If hard-pressed, I would say this is not as fun as writing.  Ah yes.  Writing.  How I long to get back to that.  Should I start another book, feel that energy again when I head to the computer to write instead of network, network, network?  But another book means another probable foray into the jungle. It means more tweeting and retweeting. Help! But for now, I'd better log onto that Twitter account and tweet this.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Lesson of Michael Jackson

Has it been just over a year since he's been gone? It feels longer. His genius always lay in his originality, his total oblivion to what people thought or expected.  His artistry shone like a blinding light even after all the scandalous dust had settled and the media had chewed him up and spit him out.  As he moved to the beat of "Billie Jean" in a satin black jacket, heels on edge, his hips and shoulders swaying, he was the epitome of free expression. 

Michael Jackson is an example for writers, for artists everywhere.  Let it flow, let your creativity spring forth as you snap to your music. His ageless grace and his rhythm inspire us to create our own rock and roll on the page. Twirl around, grab your crotch if you want, and let it fly. Make it happen. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Book

Like Bette Midler in "Hocus Pocus," I need my Book.  "Oh, Book," she cries in ecstasy.  This is the book of potions, spells and enchantment.  As you sail across a moon of possibility, hold close the Book whose pages contain your stories, your magic, your life.

Writing entrances me. Writing lets me fly to places I only dreamed of going. I hold my Book close against the night.

 Believe in your story and you believe in yourself.  Don't let anyone convince you that your story is not worth telling. Don't sabotage yourself.  Be like a witch in the night, flying high as the moon casts its glow.