Monday, December 10, 2007

New Thing

Almost as soon as I started teaching writing online, I also started looking for additional tools to help writers unblock. One day while I was waiting to get my eyebrows waxed, I noticed that the office across the hall from the esthetician was a hypnotherapist. I thought, "That's what I need to learn!" Within about two weeks, I'd enrolled in a course. Pretty soon, I was a Certified Clinical and Medical Hypnotherapist. Lucky for me, hypnotherapy turned out to be a great way to move people (including me) forward in their writing. But it turns out that hypnotherapy is useful for all kind of other things, besides creative blocks, including weight loss, stress reduction, confidence building, and, well, you name it. The list goes on and on. If you have a goal with an obstacle between you and it, chances are hypnosis will help you find a way over, under, around, or through that obstacle. Hypnotherapy has become my main interest lately. Now I even have my own office, where I see clients on Sundays. I also treat them over the phone and through downloads and CDs. I've got a new web site devoted entirely to my hypnotherapy, complete with testimonials. Check it out here: Who would've thought?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Channeling a Character

I borrowed the exercise for my very last class at the conference from my study of intuition. Ever heard of psychometry? That's when you hold an object, and receive information about its owner from it. So I thought we could do something like that to get info about a new character. I collected a bunch of items (some of them came from the Humane Society Thrift Store), and I gave one item each to my students. I instructed them to hold the items in their non-dominant hands and write in the first person about a new character. I added, "We're just pretending." I didn't want them to think I actually expected them to channel a character.

For the first exercise, a student named Dennis asked for an object that would belong to a girl. I gave him an earring with a picture of a baby on it. In his piece, writing as a teenage girl, he explained the awkwardness of only having only one pierced ear, attributing it to a keloid. His girl character added that on the plus side of having a single piercing was the fact that if she lost one earring, she could still use the remaining one.

The baby earring was one of the objects that belonged to me. When I was 18, I developed a keloid on my left ear. I had it removed, but that's why I only have one pierced ear. Most people don't notice this, as my hair is longish. And I only have one of those baby earrings; I lost the other one.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Writing Assignments

Yesterday at the conference, I did my Jumpstarts class, which I thought went rather well. So I'm going to share with you the Jumpstarts I used on my class. Get your timer and write something!

Use this sentence somewhere in your piece:
Unfortunately, things fell apart almost immediately.

Write a piece that includes this combination of things (I let them choose from a couple on this list):
A wet suit and a fax machine.
Housework and a war
Movie candy and a clairvoyant
A Blackberry, a hunting knife, and dirty socks
A pumpkin pie and a flat tire

Write about:
Someone wearing absolutely the wrong clothes.
The eleventh day of a journey.
Someone moving painfully slowly in a situation requiring speed

I had never tried the juxtapositions before, and the results were excellent. The writers came up with original pieces, all quite different from one another.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Today at the La Jolla Writer's Conference, I am teaching "Jumpstarts" (prompts) and "Turning up the Flow," which is about increasing productivity. Tomorrow, I do a class on essay and memoir (not sure how I agreed to that one) and three critique sessions. Sunday afternoon, if anyone is still there, I'll do a class on developing a new character.

I'll try to post some updates and let you know how it's going!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


A few weeks ago, when the Bruce Springsteen tickets went on sale for the "Magic" tour's shows at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, I was poised at my computer, ready to scoop up 3 tickets (for myself, my husband, and our son) the second, the very instant they were available. My credit card number already saved. I knew my password. I was so ready click "Find Tickets!" So were a few other people apparently, because I could not buy 3 tickets to save my life. Panic! What if we couldn't go?! What if all the tickets got sold to other people! Well, that just couldn't happen. Absolutely not. Precious moments were ticking by. I tried for 2 tickets. Again the message came back that no tickets were available. So I tried for 1. I got it! I did that two more times, and I had 3 seats, albeit singles in different sections. But fine, we could watch the show and compare notes on the way home. "Thank God!" our son said. "I don't want to sit with you guys."

Yesterday was the big day. We zoomed up to LA after my son and husband got home from school and work, respectively. We found a meeting place in front of the West Entrance near some pictures of people playing some sport or other. (Hockey? Basketball? Not important.) Then we all went to find our seats. After I found mine, I went to my son's. I said, "See that big red 15 on the wall over there? I'm sitting right in front of that." A searing glare hit me like a radioactive laser beam. "OK, then, I'll just be off to my seat now, shall I?" I didn't wait for an answer.

I was in seat 11. In seat 10 was a man with white hair. An old dude. Oh, wait. I guess I had some hair that color before I had it done on Sunday. The man asked me if I was one of Larry's friends, too. I said, "No, I don't believe I have had the pleasure of meeting Larry." Apparently, Larry had bought quite a number of seats in this row and in some other rows too. And he had also flown to New York for two other Bruce shows. I said, "I can understand that." So the man next to me--let's just call him "John" or "Mike" or "Bill" to keep it simple, OK? I didn't get his name--"Bill" said, "Years ago, this was waaaaay back in the seventies, I went to another Bruce show next door here at the Colisseum. That's a huge place. Too big."

I said to "Bill," "I think you're talking about The River tour. That was in '81. Good show. I was there, too." That was the first time I saw Bruce hold the mic for the audience, who sang together,

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride, and I never went back.
Like a river that don't know where's flowing,
I took a wrong turn, and I just kept going.

Now lots of people let the audience sing their songs--Bon Jovi, Tom Petty--but that was the first time I'd seen that happen.

"Great show," "Bill" agreed. "You're right. It was '81." We chatted. "Bill"'s wife doesn't like Bruce. "Too much hype, back when--"

"Born to Run came out."

"Exactly," "Bill" said. He'd missed the shows at The Staples Center. (My husband and I went to two of those.) He'd been to a couple of others that he told me about. And I told him about some. The County Bowl in Santa Barbara. Madison Square Garden. The show in Atlanta--I drove 18 hours to get there--that was canceled because Bruce had a sore throat. Lots of shows over lots of years. "He's great," "Bill" said. "He just keeps changing and evolving and growing. You gotta love him for that."

"You do," I agreed. "You sure do."

A lot of seats were still empty and the house lights were still on, even though it was past the official start time. There was no sign of Larry, either. We watched roadies tune guitars on stage. One of them let fly with the opening licks of "Radio Nowhere," probably setting off a wave of panic in the hot-dog line.

"And the lyrics!" "Bill" put a hand to his heart.

"Killer," I said, shaking my head in admiration.

"Layers of meaning," said "Bill."

"You're so right," I agreed. I didn't get into the unexplained mystery of how lyrics about misery, despair, and the gaping space between the way things were supposed to be and the way they actually turned out can elevate thousands of people to simultaneous euphoria. That's just too hard to put into words, indefinable, like intuition, or, well, magic.

"Bill" is a programmer, he told me. Freelance, I take it, because right now, he's working at home in a desert community in eastern San Diego County, but last year, he commuted to LA. His wife takes care of an elderly person. He didn't ask what I did. "Hey, what's taking so long?" "Bill" looked at his watch, then at the empty stage. His friend still hadn't materialized, either. "I can't call Larry and find out where they are," he said, "because they're, you know, sort of opposed to cell phones, so they don't have one." He shook his head. "I guess I'll get a beer. You want one?"

"I'm good," I said. "Thanks, though."

"Bill" had just made it back with his beer when the lights went down, and the place exploded. The first song was "Radio Nowhere." "Bill" and I and most of the other old people remained on our feet and in motion for the next 2 1/2 hours. My fist pumped to the words, "No retreat, baby, no surrender!" I held my lighted cell phone aloft when called upon to do so. It was a good thing that the music was about as loud as an airplane taking off in the same room, because the noise made it hard for people to hear me singing. And I was singing. A lot. But so were "Bill" and a lot of other people. By the time they got to "Born to Run" during the encore, I could feel the building moving under my feet.

After the show, I found my husband and son, and we began our long, slow journey out of the parking lot. "Did you love it?" I asked our son. I got the radioactive laser glare. "Did you dance?" I asked my husband. "Did you sing and everything?"

My husband shook his head emphatically. "I don't do that." He loves Bruce as much as the next guy, but dancing and singing and pumping his fist in the air? That's downright undignified.

I can't tell you how happy I was about scoring those 3 single tickets in 3 different sections, which allowed us to enjoy 3 separate but perfect concert experiences.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Moving Forward

As most of you know, we are back in our house, which was untouched by the recent fires. Thank you all for the good thoughts sent our way. And now we all have to send more good thoughts and other forms of help to the many who will have a much bigger task of putting their homes and lives back together.

Moving on, we are going to a Bruce Springsteen concert tonight, which is sure to lift our spirits. I can't wait!!

It is almost time for the La Jolla Writers Conference. I am teaching a LOT of classes. I better figure our what I'm going to say, don't you think? That will be my focus for this week. Looking forward to seeing some of you at the conference.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mandatory Evacuation

As you may know, our house is located in the area of about 12 raging wild fires. Humidity: 0. Wind: 30-60 mph. Luckily, we are all fine. I am very grateful.

Now apparently some people have trouble with the term "Mandatory Evacuation." So let's break it down, OK? First, it means, you have to, no choice, this decision has been made for you. It doesn't mean "Maybe other people should, but not you, unless you feel like it." Second, it means, "Go! Now!" It does not mean "Hang out. Wait. See what happens." You guys, I can't tell you how much resistance I encountered to this seemingly self-explanatory term and in my own house.

So I'm here in a lovely air-conditioned Mariott TownePlace Suites with our son (who is not happy to be here), the two cats, and the dog. Our daughter is at school nearby. My husband? He went to work.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cell Phone Soup

Our daughter moved into her university apartment over the weekend. The place looks like a resort. Never mind that her dad and I would gladly trade places with her. The complex has a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi; basketball courts; and tree-lined, brick streets. The unit has two bright bedrooms with adjoining bathrooms; a living room; and a small, uncluttered kitchen. Sorry, I said never mind, didn't I? Forgot.

Last year, our daughter was not at all pleased with the cafeteria meals in the dorm. This year, she is determined that things will be different. She has a plan: She is going to cook for herself, even though all she can remember making in her 19 years are two batches of brownies from mix.

We bought her a Crock-Pot and a food processor. Like her mother, she's a vegetarian. Yesterday was her first cooking adventure, lentil soup, and I got to participate over the phone. It started with this:

"OK, I'm in the store. What should I buy?"
"Onion, garlic, celery--"
"Wait! Hold it. I'll call you back after I find the celery."

Somewhere in the middle of the tutorial was this:

"I can't close the food processor."
"The slicing part of the blade is supposed to be at the top with the stem down. Like an umbrella. Is that how you have it?"
"Oh. Whoops. OK, got it."

At the end of the day, scores of calls later, we had this exchange:

"How was the soup?"
"Kind of dry."
"So you added more water?"
"Oh. No. But it tasted good. I was pretty impressed with myself."

With a cell phone and a Crock-Pot, this independence thing is a snap.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Intuition Practice

I have been reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychic Awareness by Lynn A. Robinson and Katherine A. Gleason. Right after I bought this book, a couple of years ago, I decided it was way too basic, so I didn't really read much of it. (I am not a complete idiot, after all, maybe just a partial one.) But all of a sudden this week, I decided that this was the book I needed right now. It is pretty basic, but it has a LOT of good practice exercises. So I've been predicting what the main picture on the New York Times web site home page will be, whether the stock market will be up or down, and what my friends will say before I talk to them.

The way intuition practice helps my writing is that it allows me to be comfortable with not knowing the right answer but choosing something anyway. And it helps me to learn to "feel" what's happening before I can see it. Intuition and creativity are closely related in my mind, so it's good for me to practice both every day.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Up Side of Falling Down

One more post on this topic, and then I'm done (I think).

Not only was there a profound message in the experience, but also actual good things happened because I fell on my face. Here they are.

1. Due to dental issues, I can't chew; I am losing weight! Woohoo!
2. People have been so nice to me! Take my husband, for instance. All last week, he shopped, he cooked, and he called multiple times from work to find out if I was OK! (I was.)
3. I got presents. My two-houses-down neighbor Julie, who only has to wait until Sunday, and then she is leaving home for UCLA, has brought me homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies TWICE. (I can't chew them, but we all know there are ways around that.) My next-door-neighbor Sumita brought over some really yummy Indian red lentils.
4. Bad experiences make great fiction. I'll use this somewhere.

Even taking the up side into account, it was a rough week. So it was a real treat for me to speak to a wonderful book group yesterday about The Answer Is Yes. (If I had a picture of them, I'd post it, but they were in Maryland, and I was in San Diego.) Whenever I talk to a group like this--smart, funny women, who truly get my books--it makes all the headaches of writing worth it. I was encouraged, touched, and grateful! Thanks for inviting me, Lisa!

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Cosmic Meaning of Falling on My Face

I'd like you to meet Dr. Ellen Miyashiro. We started seeing her when we moved to San Diego in 1990. Lately, Dr. Miyashiro and I have been spending more time together. Today, for example, we hung out all morning, even though she doesn't normally work on Fridays. She came in specially for me. Dr. Miyashiro is exactly the kind of dentist you want to have following an arse-over-teakettle adventure. Here, she's standing next to Jessie, her intrepid assistant. Jessie is holding baggies containing my broken teeth that the oral surgeon sent over.

After a morning with these two fine women, I'm all set with two shiny new temporary crowns. This afternoon, I got the stitches taken out of my chin, and all is well.

Student of intuition that I am, I believe there's a message in the things that happen, especially the big things, like seeing a guilder (see post below). Sometimes it's hard to figure out what the message is, though. Have you noticed that?

Since Monday, I have wondering about the meaning of falling on my face. I took it that the universe didn't like something I was doing. But what? At the time I fell, I was getting my cardio-vascular workout with our dog. That's good, isn't it? And I completed a book not long ago. I've been doing hypnotherapy in my new office; the people I've worked with seem really pleased. Those are all good things, right? Do I have bad karma left over from a past life or something? I couldn't figure it out at all. Maybe I should consult a professional psychic for the answer to this cosmic puzzle, I thought. But then right away I had this thought: You can figure this out yourself.

So yesterday, I took my pen and notebook, and I wrote, "What's my message from this fall?" I was talking to my intuition. You're probably going to laugh at what I wrote as the answer, because it's so obvious. I wrote, "Slow down and pay attention." Oh. Then I thought, Nah, that's just way too simple.

So I phoned into a psychic radio show. I told the psychic that I fell down while walking my dog and cut my chin and broke some teeth. The psychic said that teeth represent the family of origin. "You must be going through some kind of upheaval with your family now." Nope. She was taken aback. "Are you sure?" I am really sure. "OK, well, the dog means loyalty." She was fishing, I could tell. Finally, she said, "You need to slow down and pay attention."

OK, I think I got it. I know it's simple and obvious. I bet if I'd asked the dog, he would have told me the same thing. But that's the answer that came, so that's what I'm going to do, starting now: Slow down and pay attention.

I've come to agree with Laura Day, who says that everything that comes into your consciousness means something. Most of the time, the meanings of events are simple and obvious. But if you want to know what they are, you have to do two things:

1. ask
2. listen for the answer.

Sometimes I forget those two parts.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Arse over Teakettle: In which I See a Guilder

Yesterday, I was having such a good day. I wrote some new stuff AND I did some laundry AND I had dinner organized. I was walking the dog (for the second time--see how well this was going?) at a little after 1. We were just charging along at a really good clip, when all of a sudden, I found myself sprawled on the sidewalk, my glasses at some distance from my face. I had tripped over an uneven part of the sidewalk. I still had Sammy's leash in one hand, and my clip-on sunglasses were still attached to my glasses. Good, I thought, everything's fine. Then I noticed the blood--quite a lot of it--and I started spitting out pieces of teeth. So Sammy, who didn't seem at all fazed by my plight, accompanied me back home, where I inspected the damage. Lots of teeth (in the back, thank goodness) were broken. I was a bloody mess. When I called the doctor's office, they said to go straight to urgent care. Do not waste a moment--just go right now, they said. I called my husband, and he came right home to drive me--really fast--to the place where injured people go when they need treatment right away.

Four hours later, I said to the nice doctor who sewed up my chin, "I have never been treated in an emergency room before."

He said, "How old are you?"

I said, "53."

He said, "Then you're really, really lucky." He's right, isn't he?

Today, I went to two dentists, my regular one and an oral surgeon. (It would have been three, but the root canal guy is out of town.) Over the next eight months, I'll get some crowns, one or two root canals, some bonding, and an implant. We already got the ball rolling with an early morning extraction.

Things can change so fast. One minute I'm breezing along the street feeling smug and--how ironic is this?--in control. And the next minute, I'm face down on the sidewalk. In Dutch, when someone falls down, people often say, "Did you see a guilder?" (Only now they probably say, "Did you see a Euro?") Mean, I know, but even so, that line has made me laugh a couple of times. Another expression for falling down is going "arse over teakettle." I Googled it and found this picture. I'm sure I looked even less graceful.

This afternoon, I was sitting here with ice bags on my face. The phone rang. When a cheerful voice said, "Hi, it's Kate," I paused for a second, thinking, Kate? Now which dentist's office does she work in? But it was my wonderful writing student Kate, calling for her weekly chat about her work! Sorry about the pause before the recognition, Kate. I hope you understand. You see, yesterday, I saw a guilder!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Will Write for Bubble Bath

On another blog recently, I read about how a writer punished herself for not completing her daily word quota. She didn't allow herself to do something she really enjoyed and had looked forward to all week. Sometimes people feel that the way to writing success is to force themselves to write and to punish themselves if they don't. If that worked, we wouldn't have a thing to worry about. Most of us are pretty good at being mean to ourselves for not producing. But it doesn't work, as you may have noticed. If you took psychology in college, you may remember that as a behavior reinforcer, reward is many times more powerful than punishment. This holds for teaching a pigeon to press a lever right on up to training yourself to complete a novel. I advocate being kind to yourself every time you write. Take bubble baths and watch movies you love. Give yourself treats. Make a list of nice things you can have or do for yourself for writing and reward yourself frequently. Develop an association between writing and pleasure, instead of between not writing and deprivation. Nurture and encourage the writer in you.

And another thing. Pushing yourself hard isn't the way to get out your best material. Sometimes in classes, I use the metaphor of trying to catch a cat. If you're trying to grab a cat, it doesn't help to run fast and grab hard. The cat will always be able to scoot faster and jump higher than you can. Instead, you've got to sit quietly and let the cat come to you. When it jumps into your lap, make it feel welcome and give it affection. It's the same with writing. Be there every day for it and love it (and yourself) when it comes.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Does My Dog Look Fat?

When we adopted our dog, Sammy, he was overweight. I might have mentioned that he was an only pet of an elderly woman before we got him. She had to move to a nursing home. Otherwise, I'm sure she never would have given him up. One thing we noticed about Sammy immediately was that he did not seem familiar with dog food. When I'd put his bowl of food on the floor, he'd sniff at it and walk away. But when we sat down at the table for our dinner, Sammy would come over to the table and sit, looking up at us as if expecting a reward for his awesome behavior.

The first time I took him to the vet, the doctor brought out an illustrated chart titled "Canine Obesity." The skinniest possible dog was labeled 1, and the fattest possible dog was labeled 5. "Sammy is 4.5," the vet informed me. "He has probably been living on table scraps." I pictured lasagna and Oreos. He outlined the dangers of obesity in dogs: diabetes, heart disease, and shortened life span were among them. Sammy weighed 33 pounds; he should weigh 28, according to the vet.

(That's my mom, drawing a portrait of one of our cats, as Sammy strolls by--on his way to the kitchen, of course.)

Five pounds are no biggie, right? Sammy went on a strict diet and exercise program. I measured his food meticulously, and we never EVER gave him human food. I walked him twice a day. This was more complicated than it seems. He had never walked on a leash before. At first, about every half block, he stopped, lowered his head, and planted his splayed feet firmly on the sidewalk. "Aww," passersby would comment, "Puppy wants to go home. Puppy's tired." I'd snap the leash and say "Ch!" just like Cesar Millan on The Dog Whisperer, and eventually, Sammy would follow me . . . for 20 yards until he stopped again. When we got home, even if we'd only managed half a mile, Sammy would pant and puff for several minutes. I kept it up, though. I was relentless. At first, it wasn't much fun for either of us. Diabetes, heart disease, shortened life span, I reminded myself, forcing us both out the front door.

There were a couple of diet setbacks. Once I found him standing on my son's bed, devouring a left-behind chocolate chip muffin. Another time, I caught him trotting down the hall carrying a white MacDonald's bag in his teeth. But for the most part, he stuck with the program. He had no choice.

After a month, he had to go back to he vet again (ear infection), and I worried that I'd find out I was starving and overexercising him. The weight drop would be dramatic, I imagined, after all of my hard work, and the vet would admonish me to ease off. Sammy was down by half a pound. "Good job, Sammy!" the vet said, high-fiving his paw. "Keep it up!" Half a pound?! I thought. Is that all?

As more time passed, Sammy's walks improved. After 3 months, he actually got used to walking on the leash. Now I could easily take him 2.5 miles twice a day. (Note that this took considerably longer than the 5 minutes it takes Cesar with even the most difficult dog on TV. What's up with that? Must be my pronunciation of "Ch!") On the weekends, my husband walked Sammy 3 miles in the morning and the kids each took him on a shorter walk during the day. He ate dog food and lay down in another room while we ate dinner. We started to see a slight indentation between his ribs and his hips at his "waist." After 6 months, he had lost 3 pounds. We were all so proud!


(That's my daughter out for a coffee with Sammy.)

Then we went on vacation. A very kind friend allowed Sammy to stay at her house. I gave her his leash, his bed, and his food with strict instructions: "Sammy gets 1 1/4 C. dog food per day ONLY." I got emails about Sammy's vacation: "Sammy's enjoying his daily social time with all the doggies in the neighborhood!" and "We're taking him to Mammoth for the weekend!" Life was good.

Maybe it wasn't all good. He chewed up a pair of underpants and the handle of a suitcase, and he made a couple of "mistakes" in my friend's beautiful, clean house. And when I picked him up, he looked different. "Did you get him shampooed?" I asked. "He looks so fluffy." My kind friend had had him washed. I was so grateful.

Unfortunately, the shampoo wasn't all that made Sammy look fluffy. He had gained weight. Another friend stopped by to visit. "Whoa!" she said. "Is that the same dog? How did he get so fat?" I know we were only gone two weeks, but in that time a lot can happen. His "waist" was gone again. And now, when we sit down to eat dinner, Sammy rushes to the table and sits, looking up at us expectantly. When I put his dog dish down for him, he walks away, disgusted. After just a short walk, he huffs and puffs a long time.

Back to Before again:
OK, I guess we all know what to do.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Ring in the New!

Happy New Year! I 'm saying that because my son is going back to school today, so it feels like a fresh start for new things. Yesterday, I cleared my desk of anything that didn't contribute to writing progress. (To be completely honest, though, my pencil jar is still badly cluttered.) Today, I'm starting a new project.

The last time I started a new project was January. Are you seeing a pattern here? I have several new students this month too, because they also feel that it's a good time for a fresh start. We keep each other going; it's a beautiful thing.

Obviously, moving forward with writing projects has a lot to do with our psychology. Over these many years that I've been writing, I've found out that progress has more to do with psychology than anything else. That's why it's so important to stay fired up about the work. I'd say that feeling motivated is the most important thing--way more important than whether or not you have an MFA or who your agent is, for example. Since I've been doing hypnotherapy (over the phone and in person), most of my clients are coming to improve their writing focus and motivation and to overcome creative blocks. (Weight loss is a popular goal, too, but that's another post.)

So today, I'm using the fact that it's the first day of a new school year to get me scribbling with renewed energy and motivation. Here's wishing you all good things in the New Year!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Perfect Party

Even though I have debilitating jet lag, I did not go to bed early last night. Instead, I went to a party of 15 women writers from the San Diego area. Now, this doesn't happen very often, but when it does it's just very cool. At Patty Santana's house, a whole gaggle of us came together to eat, talk, and laugh. My friends Amy Wallen, Judy Reeves and Drusilla Campbell were all there, and I met some writers who were new to me, including Sylvia Mendoza and Gerri Brooks. Amy brought spinach salad, and Gail brought lasagne. There was pasta salad, chicken, and rice. Victoria brought a fabulous chocolate cake for dessert. And I don't know who brought the hummus and bread, but it was fab. Best of all was the conversation. We took turns talking about our work. How refreshing to be in a social situation where a whole bunch of women are talking about their writing! I was in heaven! I noticed the descriptions got longer and funnier with each writer. Just being in the company of all those writers of different ages, genres, and backgrounds was empowering. This is the way it's supposed to be. Thank you, Patty!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Back to Intuitive Writing School

We're on vacation, which means that for once all four of us are together for two weeks in a row. Granted there have been some tense moments over weird food and too many hours in the car. But now that we've had some time to relax and settle into the unstructured, slower pace of family travel, we're having a good time.

Meanwhile, as much as I'm enjoying my family and time off from work, at least part of my brain is busy gearing up for a new project. You know what I mean, don't you? Maybe it has something to do with the time of year--that back-to-school, fresh-start kind of feeling that seems to come over me as Labor Day approaches. Now as my family sleeps late in the mornings, I am scribbling away in my notebook. I have ideas about characters, setting, and plot. I write every morning--nothing major, just a few handwritten pages. But it's enough so that throughout the day, as we drive to scenic spots, family visits, restaurants, and museums, my ideas keep developing, growing, and picking up steam. I'm getting excited about getting home and devoting more time to this project and allowing it to take on a life of its own.

You're probably working on something, too, maybe every day in your notebook and computer, or maybe just in your head. I know that some of you are planning to enroll in Intuitive Writing to begin after Labor Day. Personally, I can't wait. We're going to write every day. I'll be talking to you in daily emails, and individually on the phone. We'll do some Intuitive Writing Marathons, just like last year, to power out those pages. Some of us have finished whole books the Intuitive Writing way, and I'm looking forward to experiencing that with you all again.

Some of you have not tried Intuitive Writing yet, and maybe also some of you have yet to try writing fiction. All this trusting-your-intuition business can seem a little scary. It might feel like I'm asking you to skydive, and first you want to make sure it's safe. So while you're still in the plane you think it would be a good idea to open your parachute and make sure it works. You know what, though? The parachute only works after you jump. But the great thing is, if you're willing to make that leap, it works every single time. It's the same with writing. You aren't going to be able to get it all figured out ahead of time. There's no way to test your plot before you write. But I promise that if you start writing, even without a solid idea, the project will show up to meet you.

To join us in Intuitive Writing (either as a new student or as a returning student), just go to my web site and send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

And a Giant Woohoo Was Heard Throughout the Land . . .

I have an inspiring story for you. On May 30, 2007, a new student (friend of Cindy, one of my first Intuitive Writing students) emailed to say she wanted to sign up for my online writing course. I always have a phone conversation with new students to find out where they are with their writing at the moment. In our first phone call, my new student, Beth, told me that she had been stuck in her current novel for a long time. She'd started it in November 2005. She was hoping to get unstuck and finish the draft by September. Or she might just have to give up on this book. Maybe it wasn't going to work out.

Now, it's a huge bummer to be stuck, as I'm sure we can all appreciate. But my feeling is that being stuck is neither serious nor permanent. I told her Beth she was closer to being finished than she thought, weeks away, not months. I remember that at this point, she sounded a bit frustrated by my lack of understanding. Maybe she hadn't explained the situation correctly; I didn't seem to get it. No, I told her, I got it. I sent her the Intuitive Writing course materials. Beth was skeptical but willing, and she started June 1. She pieced together lots of drafts of the novel to make a coherent whole. She wrote some some new parts, smoothed transitions between old ones, and moved parts around. Looking back at her emails, she comments that this process is "SLOW" (in all caps). I'd have to disagree with that description, because 2 1/2 weeks after she started, she reached the end of the draft. She sent it to Cindy to read. Cindy gave Beth some helpful comments. By July 2, Beth had made changes per those suggestions and sent the manuscript to a publisher.

While she was waiting for the publisher, Beth thought it might be helpful to have an agent. She found a good candidate, queried, and submitted. On Thursday, that agent declined to represent the novel. That's really too bad for the agent, because on Friday (yesterday), the publisher bought the novel, and today a contract is on its way to Beth.

Just in case you ever feel stuck, remember it's not serious or permanent.

Friday, August 3, 2007

At Long Last

Oh, my goodness, I can't believe you're even still checking--I've been gone so long! First there was a lot of fatigue and a messy house, due to that shiny new thing I mentioned below. Then my sister was coming (I don't think she'll mind if I blame some of my slowness on her, do you?), so I had to clean some more. And then we all went to my mom's for a few days . . . I'm sure you know how this old song goes, right? Life happens, and there you are a couple of weeks later with no new post! The horror! Now I'm scheming about a new book. I have an idea, and I'm scribbling away in my notebook. See how that works? Ideas are infinite. They just keep flowing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Shiny New Thing

When you finish a new story or novel, it's like having a shiny new thing. You wake up in the morning knowing that you have something new, something really good that's making you feel happy. What is it? You check. "Is there a brand-new car in my garage?" you ask yourself. But no, that's not it. "Have I received a ruby-and-diamond tiara recently?" You find it's not that either. "Oh!" you say, remembering. "I have a new book (story, poem, essay, memoir, etc.). That's my shiny new thing."

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Here's a wonderful essay by Haruki Murakami in which he says, "Practically everything I know about writing, then, I learned from music." The same is true for me. While he learned from jazz, I learned from rock and roll.

Live Earth

Did you watch the Live Earth concert yesterday? We did. Too bad we can't watch an all-day concert every Saturday. Like AFI and a few other bands, I'm vegan. But do they hang their laundry on a clothesline to dry or recycle their jeans to make purses?

I went to the Live Earth web site and took a survey to determine my ECP score. It asked me how many miles per year I drive, how many hours I fly, what kind of light bulbs I use, whether I bring my own grocery bags to the store, and lots of other things. I got an "average" score. Average? But I am trying so hard! They never asked me about my diet, my laundry, or my purse. Do you think that would have made a difference in my final score? Either way, I have a long way to go apparently. I guess we all do.

Friday, July 6, 2007


As you know, I listen to a lot of podcasts. Through iTunes, I subscribe to Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR. A lot of these interviews have to do with the war, the Supreme Court, and politics. Very valuable information, to be sure, but the ones I care most about are the interviews with actors, comedians, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and other artists. I always get something inspiring, heartening, or instructive from these people, even if they are working in a completely different medium. Yesterday, I heard something that reinforced my belief about how good it is for us artists to listen to other artists. Gross was interviewing Mary Weiss, former lead singer of the Shangi-Las, who has just come out with her first solo CD. Gross asked what it was that brought Weiss out of her 40-year "hiatus" from the music industry. And you know what Weiss said inspired her to sing on record again? It was something she heard Iggy Pop say on another Fresh Air interview! See? When we artists listen to each other, wonderful things can happen.

Later, I was in a traffic jam, and I listened to another Fresh Air interview on the radio. This time the subject was Carol Muske-Dukes, author of the semi-autobiographical novel Channeling Mark Twain, which is about a young woman who established a creative writing program for women prisoners on Riker's Island. Maybe you heard it. It's a good one with a lot of insight on writing and why it's important. A particularly moving part of the interview was when Muske-Dukes talked about what she'd learned from her own experience of teaching writing to the prisoners. She describes how writing became necessary for these prisoners' survival. I know you can relate to that. Today I'll get the download, and I'll listen to it again. I'm sure I'll get even more out of it the second time around.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


I had a short hiatus while my friend was reading my novel, and I made this purse out of some old jeans. I got the basic pattern here. But I added pockets inside and out; used batting; reversed the back, so it was lining-side out; and used denim, instead of corduroy. The back is the best part.

You can't see it here, but I took all the stitching out of the pocket and replaced it with pink stitching.

Now if any artists and/or crafters happen to drop by here, just remember as you look at this that I am writer. Oh, and that reminds me, I need to get to my revisions. I'll just read something good to get in the mood.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

More Time-Management Food

Is it hot where you are? It's pretty warm here. Here's a hot-weather alternative to the Crock-Pot. I make this salad in the morning, and it hangs out improving itself in the refrigerator all day.

Black Bean Salad

3 cups cooked black beans (canned beans are fine, just reduce salt accordingly)
1 cup cooked corn kernels
5 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 purple onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving. (Feel free to add two tablespoons of olive oil, if you're so inclined.)

Serve as a main dish, wrapping bean salad in lettuce leaves, burrito style, or as a side dish. This salad also tastes really good wrapped in a warm flour tortilla. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

I Dreamed about a Dog and a Car

I notice that a lot of people put pictures of flowers in their blogs. These people are often skilled gardeners, recording and displaying the fruits (or blooms) of their labor. So I took a picture of some flowers too. I did absolutely nothing to nurture them. I have no gardening knowledge or ability. They were here when we bought the house 16 years ago, and they bloom every year. But they're pretty, so here you go.

Last night I dreamed I was dog-sitting and also driving across country (east to west) in a car that didn't work very well. I wasn't sure I was going to make it in this funky car. About halfway there, the car kind of spluttered, and I had to pull over. I let the dog out to pee, get a drink, and walk around. We were in the middle of an open dirt lot in a prairie, and--wouldn't you know?--the dog got away from me! I called and called, and he wouldn't come back. Finally, I was so upset, I had to wake up. So, what do you think it means?

Day before yesterday, I sent my new book to a friend to read. I'm waiting to hear what she has to say. I'm so nervous. I keep thinking of all these things I should have--

What's that you say? Loss of control? Me? What about my dream?

Unreliable car + disobedient dog=feeling out of control=my book in someone else's hands?

Huh? Do you really think so? I suppose it's remotely possible . . .

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Things I Can't Tell You!

I read other writers' blogs, and they tell such great stories about their families. You know, the funny things their kids do, for example, is a great subject for a blog post. Horrible, messy, and disturbing things kids do is also wonderful blog material. Husbands provide a lot of good stuff, too. I love to read about the personal, family details, don't you?

My kids give me great material too. Every day. And I love them all the more for it! But here's the thing. They don't like it when I use their lives as writing material. I don't know how these other writers do it, but my kids do not appreciate hearing about themselves in my work. I'll say, "You know that time you ____, would you mind if wrote a little piece about that?" "Yes!" they say. "I would mind! Don't even think about it!" These kids today, I'm telling you! Selfish! Ungrateful! Why, in my day, when my mother told funny stories to her friends about my capers and antics, I--well, I hated it, too. And I made sure everyone knew that it didn't happen that way at all!

Now, if I asked my husband a similar question about whether he would mind being the subject of a blog post about oh, let's say his unwillingness to learn to use a certain modern, pocket-sized communication device, he would not be pleased. I can just hear him saying, "Why don't you write about something else?" What's up with that?

Much as I respect my family's privacy rights, I refuse to waste good material! I have written a bunch of essays that I'm storing away in a vault (my computer) to use at a less emotionally sensitive time. Wait. When is that going to be? When is my family going to come to me and say, "You are a such a witty, insightful writer! Use my life! I'd be honored!"? I'm getting a feeling that this might never happen.

I have a few ideas for coping with the restrictions on my use of family material for blog posts. Let me know what you think.

Option A: Write about our pets, the house, the cars, writing, and myself.
Option B: Make up a fictitious family of four, who "lives on our street." Call them the Vandersomethings (the husband, like mine, is Dutch, and the wife, like me, is American). Use some real stuff and some made-up stuff so that real events are indistinguishable from made-up ones.
Option C: A + B

Monday, June 18, 2007

Getting Unstuck

I did a little sewing over the weekend. It wasn't the blissful escape I had been craving. Maybe that's because what I made didn't turn out all that well; maybe it's because sewing, even when it works out well, doesn't really help you to finish a book. I keep discovering that. Fortunately for me, two Intuitive Writing students helped me get unstuck and move on. They didn't know that's what they were doing, but they were very effective anyway. First, in our weekly phone call, Tammy reported something she's found out recently, which is that having an appointment to write with a friend in a cafe can boost her productivity. A cafe? Hey! I thought, maybe getting out of the house would help me. Then Beth emailed to say that her characters were doing and saying so much so quickly that she could barely type fast enough. She sounded happy and excited. Hey! I wanted to be happy and excited about writing too!

So I got my Crock-Pot dinner all prepped last night. (Can you believe the pre-planning here? I must have been desperate.) This morning, I walked the dog and made breakfast. I drove my daughter to her new job, but I didn't drive home. I went to a coffee place, pulled out my laptop, and restarted my novel revisions. I didn't go home until I'd finished a predetermined number of pages. Beth and I talked today about being stuck. We agreed that everybody gets stuck sometimes, and it's miserable. The trick is to have systems in place to get unstuck as quickly as possible.

I feel better! Thanks, you guys!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

My Battle with Addiction

Hi, my name is Sara, and I'm a sew-aholic. I've been sewing-abstinent for six months. Well, mostly abstinent. I fell off the wagon briefly in April to make my daughter a quilt for her dorm room. And then, I admit, I started a table runner for my mother-in-law's birthday. But for the most part, my sewing machine has been locked in its case, all my fabric shut in a cupboard out of sight. I've kept away from my regular Tuesday night class, where I know my old quilting crowd will only draw me right back in to that old life of one consuming sewing project after another. I know that sewing abstinence has been the key to almost finishing a new novel. I do know that. But I'm stuck on the novel, and I hear my sewing machine calling me back in that seductive way she has. "Just make a little purse out of those old jeans you have out in the garage," my machine whispers to me in a voice that sounds so reassuring and comforting. "This will only take you a couple of hours. You don't even have to buy anything. What can it hurt?" She's good. She's led me down this slippery path so many times before that she knows exactly where to push me and just when to pull back.

"No," I say, resolute and firm. "It won't work this time! First, it's just one cute little denim bag, then it's a set of placemats. Before you know it, I'm picking out fabric for a queen-size quilt!" Not taking that first stitch is key to my abstinence; I'm quite clear about that.

But my sewing machine is relentless, and oh, she can be wily! "You need a break," she says. "No wonder you're stuck! You need to stimulate another part of your brain! Do something tactile and non-verbal. And where's your joy? Aren't you always telling people how important joy is? What good is a novel without joy? Just one simple project, and you'll be right back into that book, more focused than ever before." She knows she's got me. She's seen me checking out crafters' web sites, telling myself I'm doing "research for the book." She knows what I'm really doing: I'm sliding slowly but surely back into the arms of sewing temptation.

I admit it. I'm a weak-willed addict. But this time, I'm just going to make one denim bag, and then I promise I'll stop! No, really, I promise.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Power Tools

Pictured above are two tools I consider critical to my work. First, let's talk about my personal savior, the Crock-Pot. You guys, I could write a book about the ways this little appliance has allowed me to write my books! In fact, I'm considering dedicating my next book to it: "To my darling Crock-Pot, who always bubbled faithfully away, silently and without complaint, allowing me to concentrate for hours on end without the slightest thought about what I was giving everyone for dinner." My current favorite book of recipes is by Judith Finlayson. The book I'm using is 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes. I love this book! I'm a vegetarian, but she's got plenty of excellent choices for everybody. So if you don't have a Crock-Pot, get one, and if you haven't used yours for a while, pull that baby out of the cupboard and plug it in! It will free you to concentrate on your primary purpose--your writing--while at the same time taking care of yourself and your family with good meals. Yikes! That's way yummier, healthier, and cheaper than take-out!

My second empowerment tool is the iPod. I walk every day. I drive too. Occasionally, I even do housework. At these times, I use my iPod to listen to empowering audio. This can be inspiring music. Or it can be an audio program for empowerment, such as one of Summer McStravick's. Her CD, Flowdreaming for Enhanced Creativity and Success, is particularly good. On iTunes, you can subscribe to lots and lots of empowering podcasts, many of which come from Hay House Radio. From my own web site, you can download my Transformation Meditations, specifically written to help keep your writing flowing. Or you can listen to interviews with all manner of artists, such as those on Fresh Air, to remind yourself that you are one of them. When you're an artist working alone, it's a good idea to keep the soundtrack that constantly runs through your brain as positive as possible. I don't know about you, but my own personal soundtrack gets a little pessimistic and whiny if I'm not careful. Motivational, inspirational boosts from the outside world, which are abundantly available, can provide that attitude adjustment I seem to need so often. My iPod is the key to keeping myself positively programmed.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Having Control, Losing Control

In the middle of our party this weekend, I noticed that books and parties have a lot in common: You get everything set up beforehand, but once the guests (or characters) arrive, you have to let go of control over how it proceeds. You think you know what to expect, but a party (or a story) really has a life of its own, doesn't it? The best you can do is to have all the supplies ready, stand by, and try to accommodate where it's going.

Sometimes, experience helps; other times, not so much. Here are a few of the unpredictable party elements and how they went this time.

Guests per square inch. At the last party for my husband's lab, the guests spread out all over the downstairs. Some were eating in the kitchen, some were on the couch in the living room, some sat on the floor and put their plates on the coffee table, some sat on the couch in the family room. Getting ready on Saturday, I made the dining room table just big enough to hold the food everyone was bringing; I didn't plan for anyone to sit there. Early in the party, though, a lot of people sat down at the dining room table. Other people came and joined them there. Before long, the dining room table became party's center. Once they sat, people tended to remain planted. As more guests arrived, we ran out of chairs. The boyfriend of one of the graduate students and I collected additional ones from the rest of the house. The guests seemed happy to be squished tightly around the too-small table, so I didn't even try to spread them out.

Coffee. At a party a long time ago, lots of people wanted coffee and tea. So for the next one I bought two heavy-duty Thermoses and made the coffee and tea beforehand. For the next several years, no one has wanted either. This time, I forgot all about it. Naturally, 8 people wanted coffee. So all righty then, I gathered some mugs on a tray and made a huge pot.

The dog. This was our first party since getting the dog. I was worried that some people might have a problem with the dog, or that the dog would get freaked out by all the people. I had a plan in place, and I briefed all family members in advance. If Sammy misbehaved or got hyper, we would put him in his crate with a treat. We did not have to activate the plan. Sammy loved everybody; everybody loved Sammy. At one point I looked into the living room, and our dog was snuggled happily between a brother and sister, ages 10 and 12, who were lolling on the floor with their Gameboys.

Duration. Some parties are shorter than others. This time, a group of guests stayed seated around our dining room table for 5 1/2 hours. You just never know.

We're hosts to our stories too. Our job is to have the discipline and control to show up every day at the notebook or computer and write. Once we're there, though, we have to be willing to lose control and go in any crazy, unexpected direction the writing takes us.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Footsteps on Grass

Once I was a speaker at a book festival in South Carolina, where I met Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club, which was about to come out. Karen told me that to write the book, she had gone to a writers' colony. She said, "They leave your lunch in a basket outside your cabin door." My eyes widened, and my mouth fell open. She went on, "They don't even knock; they don't want to disturb you." I shook my head in amazement.

Here, there's no lunch left by my door. Not even close. I have a goal for the completion of this book, and it's just a few days away. So I decided that I'd just let the laundry pile up and not go grocery shopping. We can recycle our jeans and live on takeouts. I had my priorities straight. Writing comes first! I did not even see the trash piling up in the wastebaskets or the dishes collecting in the sink. But my plan fell apart when we ran out of clean underpants. I had to do laundry--many, many loads of it. And it seems that I forgot all about the party. What party? The party at our house tomorrow night for my husband's lab, preparation for which will involve cleaning the whole house, buying paper goods, and making two entrees for about 20 people. Oh, that party!

Meanwhile, the book? It was all set a couple of weeks ago. It really didn't even need me very much anymore. It was practically ready to dismiss me. It just needed a couple of more chapter breaks and some transition smoothing, easy stuff. But a funny thing happened when I was fixing up my chapter openers. The point of the book changed. Yeah, it's different now, which means a bunch of scenes that were going one way are going to have to turn around and come back. The whole idea is a little more subtle now, a little more complex, and it will take a little more time. It's that shape shifting thing books do when you think you've got them figured out and then they turn into something else. But that's OK. That's cool. I'm good. I'm just following my intuition here, as I get up a little earlier and stay up a little later.

Sometimes, not every day or anything, but just every once in a while, I think longingly about footsteps approaching silently on grass, a basket being placed in front of my door, followed by footsteps silently retreating.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Magic 8 Ball

Do you remember the Magic 8 Ball? It's a fortune telling toy. You ask a question, turn the ball, and the answer appears in a window. (These are still available, in case you need one. There's even a web site with a virtual Magic 8 Ball, if you have a question you need to ask right now.) Of course you know that before you even ask the question, the answer is already there inside the ball. Answers are printed on a many-sided plastic thing floating in blue fluid and packed inside the ball before you even get the idea to buy one. You might also know that it doesn't help to shake the Magic 8 Ball really hard before you turn it over to read the answer. Some people do this, apparently thinking that the right answer will require work and effort on their part. The shaking creates bubbles in the fluid, which makes the answer hard or impossible to read. So all that shaking is not such a good idea.

The way I think about intuition and stories is that they are like the answers in the Magic 8 Ball. Both are already there, ready to go whenever we ask for them. The more we trust that the material is within us, the easier it is to access. No need to shake or struggle. It's right there within reach right now. Just ask your question, and let the answer float to the surface.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Becoming Your Characters

When you're writing fiction, you become your characters in the same way that an actor becomes the character she or he plays in a movie or play. That's how you make your fiction convincing. You think and feel as your character while you're working. Sometimes the character's thoughts and feelings stick with you even after you've stopped writing for the day. This works out great if your character happens to be happy, funny, empowered, smart, and/or lead a charmed life. Often this is not the case, though, right? Maybe you're writing about a character whose story is pretty dark. In that case, you don't want the character to move in with you for the duration of the writing. But you don't want to avoid unpleasant subjects, either, because sometimes the gnarliest of stories are the best ones! (To the right, I've chosen a still from the most depressing movie I could think of, Midnight Cowboy. I saw it at 15 or 16, and although I recognized its greatness, I was bummed for days afterward. Imagine what it must have been like to write the novel or the film or to act in it!)

Yesterday, a student asked me how to shake a character's darkness after the writing session is over. These are my recommendations:

1. Use music to lift your spirits. Before you write, think of several songs or pieces of music that always make you feel happy and empowered. After you write, play those songs and dance.
2. Exercise. Work out or go for a run or walk (even better, listen to uplifting music with an upbeat tempo at the same time.) Can't beat those endorphins!
3. Use positive, guided meditations to change your vibe from "down" to "up."
4. Watch a funny movie with a happy ending.

If you have any suggestions for shaking loose a character or situation after the writing stops, leave a comment or send me an email!

Sunday, June 3, 2007


Last night as I was walking the dog, I listened to a podcast of an interview with a fiction author. Now, as you probably know, my goal for my own writing is for the process to be joyful, effortless, and fast. But you know what dawned on me last night as I listened to this interview? Not all writers regard joyful, effortless, and fast as the best way to write! I'm not sure why that is, but do you know what's important about realizing this fact? I'll tell you. The way we experience writing is a choice. We can choose slow, deliberate, and effortful. Or we can choose quick, easy, and full of pleasant surprises. I didn't always know this, but now that I do, I'm never going back.

Here's another great reason to have a dog: Walking him gives me more time to listen to podcasts and think about big stuff!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The End

I thought I had the ending to my new novel all worked out. It seemed right, but every time I started writing it, I got stuck after about a paragraph and couldn't go on. For some reason, everything seemed stiff and awkward. My characters' dialogue was making me cringe. Not a good sign. This went on for a couple of days. I kept writing, getting stuck, and trying again.

So what do we Intuitive Writers do in situations like this? We ask our intuition, of course! Why didn't I think of that sooner?! Yesterday morning first thing, I sat down at my desk and just closed my eyes. I asked my characters, "OK, what do you want to do?" Then I waited. You should have been there! It was so cool. It was like a little mind movie. My main character walked out her front door, and--oh, wait--I can't tell you the ending! What am I thinking? Anyway, I watched my characters, and I listened to them talk to each other. Of course, they didn't do what I thought they were going to do. That was my problem. They do what they want, not what I want. The important thing is, I finally got that ending. Phew! I feel better now!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Is My Real Life Based on My Fiction?

In January, I started a short story. As it opened, the main character was grieving about the recent death of her beloved dog. I don't think I've ever had a dog in one of my stories before, because I'm not a dog person. We have two wonderful cats that have always been everything we could want in pets and then some. Though I have never paid much attention to dogs, to my surprise, when I wrote about this dog, she came to me vividly, as if I had already known her for a long time. In my mind, I could not only see her curly black fur, but I also felt her placid, agreeable, affectionate nature. I had the sense of her always there in the background, a patient, good-natured companion as my main character worked, ate, slept, and drove around in her car. I went with the dog thing, of course, because it seemed convincing to me and expressed the heart of the story. A few weeks after I'd finished the story, I discovered it had more to say. In fact, the short story was just the beginning of bigger story, a novel about the woman whose dog had died. At first, the dog thing was only important in the opening scenes, and as I wrote more, I sort of forgot about her.

About a month and a half after I started that short story, our family decided to get--guess what--a dog! Honestly, I didn't really want a dog, but for a number of reasons, I felt it was the right thing to do. I knew I was going to be the one to take care of the dog. I knew it would take time and trouble that I could not imagine in advance. I knew all that, and still I went to the Humane Society with my family and adopted a dog. The dog is male and mostly white, but after a few weeks, it hit me that in all other regards, we had adopted the dog from my story. Just like my character's dog, ours has curly fur and a mellow, pleasant personality. He sleeps in my office while I work. When I go out, he rides around in the car with me.

Often I've written about a character doing something in a story, only to find myself doing it later in my life. The dog thing is yet another example. In one of my books, Second Draft of My Life, the main character, a writer, comments that people always ask her if her fiction is based on her life, but no one ever wonders if her life is based on her fiction. In my experience, the latter is more often true. I always wonder if other writers have this experience, or is it just me?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Welcome to my new blog, which explores the intersection of intuition and creativity. That sounds pretty fancy doesn't it? Yeah, I thought so. We'll see if that's the way it turns out, because if I follow my intuition as I blog, who knows where we'll end up?

Right now, I am working on several things at once, of course. I'm finishing a new novel, working with other writers on developing their writing, and I'm about to teach a 6-week course here in San Diego.

A few years ago, at a daunting juncture in my writing life, I decided I needed career help. So what did I do to reboot? Enroll in an MFA program? Not me. Hire a coach? Nope. Ask my elders for sage advice? Nah! I decided to develop my intuition. My reasoning was that if I had stronger intuition, I could figure what to do next. You know what? It worked! So I'm going to use this blog to tell you what I've found out, and I hope to hear what you have to say too.