Curiosity Counts

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.

“Curiosity has its own reason for existence.

“One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.

“It. Is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little more of this mystery every day.

“Never lose a holy curiosity.”

Albert Einstein

Someone once asked Albert Einstein where all his ideas came from. Einstein looked puzzled and replied that he’d really had only one idea. And what an idea! It was curiosity that kept him transfixed by the laws of matter and curiosity which ultimately led him to the Theory of Relativity. Curiosity counts!

And how about the amazing Thomas Edison. Someone once asked him what it was like to experience 10,000 failures as he searched for the key to making light last. His reply? I didn’t fail 10,000 times—I learned 10,000 ways how not to make a lightbulb. What incredible curiosity he must have brought to that challenge day after day. Curiosity counts!

The same is true for us as writers.

Curiosity fuels creativity.

When we’re curious, we chase down ideas that others might let slip away and play with them until they grow and become almost real.

When we’re curious, instead of getting frustrated when we hit a thorny plot point, we get fascinated—we come up with ingenious ways to get over, around, or through it to make our stories stronger.

When we’re curious, we create characters and give them a life of their own, and then see where they lead us. Sometimes, the results surprise even us!

When we’re curious, we’re open to what our stories want to become. We’re willing to shape and reshape them until we finally reach the point where they feel whole and true.

Let’s be like Einstein—let’s “never lose a holy curiosity.” Write on!

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Sitting Awhile

At home thinking,” John Adams, Diary entry

Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” Lorraine Hansberry

Let’s face it: Thinking is hard work. As Hercule Poirot might say, exercising our “little gray cells” can be a strain. And yet, so much of what we do is invisible — it takes place not on the page or in cyberspace, but in our heads.

David McCullough is a literary hero of mine — what a gifted storyteller he is! During a speech he once gave at the opening of the American Writers Museum, he made a point that really caught my attention: people always ask him how much time he spends researching and writing, but no one ever asks him how much time he spends thinking.

Sometimes, as Lorraine Hansberry, author of the classic play “A Raisin in the Sun,” said so well, we need to “sit awhile and think” — to stop the flow of writing and revising and simply ponder the next plot point we’re heading toward or even rethink fundamental ideas behind a project we’re working on, or the next.

When we take time to do this, we can reap some rich benefits:

Slowing the pace of revision can reveal gaps and flaws.

Disrupting the writing process lets new ideas bubble up.

Pausing can refresh us and rekindle our enthusiasm.

Pondering aspects of our story can lead to deeper truths.

When we take time to slow down, we give our work the time to catch up with us and to reveal its hidden treasures. Taking time gives us the freedom to revisit, rethink and re-envision. Often, there’s something deeper, better, and truer hidden inside it that we can discover only if we stop and look for it with patient eyes.

So wherever we are in the flow of our work, let’s always be bold enough to stop and think awhile whenever we need to. Have you found bouts of simply thinking to be fruitful? If so, I’d love to hear from you as we all write on!

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New Day

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” Marcus Aurelius

What wonderful words of wisdom floating down to us from long ago and far away! They remind us to be grateful, always, for the blessings we enjoy! As writers, we not only think, enjoy, and love—through our words, like Marcus himself, we are able to share what we now and what we’ve learned. Consider how wonderful this is:

We can share what we think: As writers, we have the gift of conveying our thoughts and beliefs through stories. Whether we write fiction or nonfiction, we create narratives that give life shape and meaning.

We can share what we’ve learned: Just living teaches us so much, doesn’t it? There are lessons we’ve learned through joy and hardship that light the way for others who travel with us and after us.

We can share what we enjoy and love: What ignites your passion and sparks your enthusiasm? Whatever it is, you can pass it on by bringing it to the page and to readers who may catch that same spark!

There are so many things in life that are waiting to be explored and shared! The heart itself is a territory that can never be fully mapped and charted. “Love is time and distance measured by the heart.” Proust said it, and how true it is.

Writing lets us conquer time and distance—just as Marcus did when he set his words down on paper and passed them on to us. What gifts we bring the world. Let’s share them on this bright new day as we all write on!

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Something Wonderful

Nurse’s Song

When the voices of the children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast
And everything else is still.

‘Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down
‘And the dews of night arise;
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away
‘Till morning appears in the skies.’

‘No, no, let us play, for it is yet day
‘And we cannot go to sleep;
‘Besides, in the sky the little birds fly
‘And the hills are all covered with sheep.’

‘Well, well, go & play till the light fades away
‘And then go home to bed.’
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d
And all the hills echoed.

William Blake, from Songs of Innocence

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Daphne Dazzles

“Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.” Daphne Du Maurer

Today, May 13, is Daphne Du Maurier’s birthday—she was born in 1907. Perhaps best known for her amazing novel, Rebecca, she also penned other well-known novels and short stories that have stood the test of time. Reading Rebecca after seeing the classic movie, was quite an experience. A few thoughts on it that might spark your own muse.

The story begins at the end: The novel begins with several pages of description just dripping with decay. Du Maurer describes Manderley, not in its glory, but in its decline. Naturally as readers, we want to know what happened. Why is Nature encroaching on a place that was once alive with human activity?

Place becomes a character: As we are taken back in time and visit Manderley in its heyday, it quickly becomes clear that it is not just a setting, but also a character in the novel. It seems to live and breathe and have a life on its own, and to affect the people who live there in strange and unexpected ways.

A sense of foreboding creates confusion: From the very beginning of the novel, people begin doing and saying things that seem jarring and disquieting. They seem to be living on the surface of life, while all sorts of emotions roil around just below the surface. This keeps you as the reader, fascinated and engaged. Who are they really? What do they really want? Why aren’t they being honest? As a reader, these are some of the questions you ask yourself. Naturally, you keep on reading.

Everyone has something to hide: As the story unfolds, you realize that everything, even the naive heroine, has something to hide. Nothing is really as it seems. You begin to wonder when the truth will surface, when what’s really happening will be revealed. This keeps you off balance as a reader, which is both enticing and unsettling.

The plot twist at the end is earned: When the story shifts at the end and we see more clearly what’s really going on, we don’t feel cheated. We feel as if the writer earned that ending, because she stopped clues all along the way. And now, as we look back, we see everything in a different light. We see what we didn’t see before. A masterful plotting job, to be sure!

It’s so much fun to read the novels of a masterful writer! There’s so much to admire and to learn. Check out Rebecca—what an amazing, atmospheric novel. Write on!

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Write Away

“I write every day. I don’t know what I’m doing a lot of the time, but I’m always happy to be in a story and playing around inside of it.” Alice Elliott Dark

Alice Elliott Dark is a beloved writer and teacher. Her first novel, Think of England, was published in 2002. Her newest novel, Fellowship Point, will be published this year. In between, she’s written several books of short stories. One story, “In the Gloaming,“ has been widely praised for its emotional strength and craft, and was turned into a film.

In a recent interview,* Alice offered some pithy writing advice:

Let your imagination guide you: Write about what captures your enthusiasm and interest, whatever the genre.

Go with your energy flow: Take time to analyze the natural flow of your writing—your natural rhythm. Organize your writing time around this flow so you can take advantage of your creative energy.

Start a writer’s notebook: Use it to explore interesting craft techniques you might apply, ideas and phrases you want to capture, and to track what you accomplish each day.

Take your time: Don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t judge a first draft as if it should be polished. Don’t rush to finish a piece. Resist the temptation to see it as done if it’s not.

Make a writing plan: Decide what you want to do in your daily writing session; afterward, note how it played out.

Read actively: Take time to analyze what you read. Why did a paragraph or sentence affect you? How does it work? Then try it.

Practice plotting and point of view: Play around with point of view. Describe places objectively and then with emotional depth.

Be yourself: Don’t compare yourself to other writers. No one can write the way you can. Your voice is unique. Enjoy it!

Wonderful advice to ponder and apply as we all write on!

* Montclair Magazine, May 2022.

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True Gold

“If you look closely at all great organizations, all great teams, all great people, the one common denominator that runs through them is a second-to-none work ethic. The intense effort to achieve is always there. This is the one given if you want to be successful. When it comes to work ethic, there can be no compromises. Any other promise of achievement is fool’s gold.

“We can see the evidence of fool’s gold around us every day. It’s the people looking for the quick fix. The easy way to lose weight. The pain-free way to have a bette body. The instant way to get rich. The easy, no-assembly-required way to feel better about yourself, as if all you had to do is to follow some simple directions and your problems will disappear like frost in the noonday sun.

“But shortcuts fail.

The bottom line: Nothing meaningful or lasting comes without working hard at it…” Success Is a Choice, Rick Patino

There’s so much wisdom in these words, isn’t there? We all know the satisfaction that comes from working hard—really stretching our minds and our imaginations. We all know what it feels like when we put in a good day’s work with our writing or other creative endeavors. We feel we’ve made progress, moved forward, made something work that didn’t work before we started.

In the end, there’s nothing more satisfying than grappling with something difficult that we really care about. It’s hard work, but it pays off in the way we feel about ourselves and the projects we’re shepherding to completion.

And isn’t it wonderful that hard work is the key to making things happen? Hard work is a choice. It’s something that’s available to us each and every day.

“When you have the attitude and the effort, the skill is not far behind.” I have this quote by an unknown author on a piece of paper where I see it every day. It reminds me that if I put in the time with joy and enthusiasm and energy, then anything is possible.

So let’s forget the fool’s gold! Let’s go for the true gold—the gold we mine when we dig deep and hard. Write on!

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Contest Alerts

Here, courtesy of the Authors Guild, are a gathering of contests for May:

Raymond Carver Short Story Contest
Eligibility: All writers
Prize: $2,000 + publication
Entry fee: $17
Deadline: May 16, 2022

Masters Review Flash Fiction Contest
Eligibility: Emerging writers
Prize: $3,000 + publication
Entry fee: $20 (for up to 2 stories)
Deadline: May 31, 2022

BOA Short Fiction Prize
Eligibility: Writers who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or have DACA status, TPS or LPS
Prize: $1,000 + publication
Entry fee: $25
Deadline: May 31, 2022

Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction
Eligibility: All writers
Prize: $1,000 + publication
Entry fee: $30
Deadline: May 31, 2022

Aura Estrada Short Story Contest
Eligibility: All writers
Prize: $1,000 + publication
Entry fee: $20
Deadline: May 31, 2022 (free global/hardship entries); June 30, 2022 (paid entries)

POETRY CONTESTS

Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize
Eligibility: Poets under 40 years of age
Prize: $1,000
Entry fee: $15
Deadline: May 15, 2022

James Laughlin Award
Eligibility: Poets with 2nd full-length book of poetry coming out in the following calendar year
Prize: $5,000 + 1 week, all expenses paid stay at the Betsy Hotel in Miami
Deadline: May 15, 2022

Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
Eligibility: Poets with a full-length book of poetry published in the previous calendar year
Prize: $25,000
Entry fee: $75
Deadline: May 15, 2022

Max Ritvo Poetry Prize
Eligibility: Poets without a published collection
Prize: $10,000 + publication
Entry fee: $25
Deadline: May 31, 2022

Guy Owen Prize
Eligibility: All poets
Prize: $1,000 + publication
Entry fee: $20
Deadline: May 31, 2022

Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest
Eligibility: All Poets
Prize: $1,000 and publication
Entry Fee: $20
Deadline: May 31, 2022 (free global/hardship entries); June 30, 2022 (paid entries)

MULTI-GENRE CONTESTS

Ploughshares Emerging Writers Contest
Eligibility: Writers who have not published a book or a book coming out before April 2023
Prize: $2,000 + publication + review from Aevitas Creative Management
Entry fee: $24
Deadline: May 15, 2022

Contests are a great way to get your creative engine in gear. If you have poetry or prose that you’ve polished until it shines, why not let it sparkle for all the world to see and submit it? Write on!

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Optimists Unite!

There’s plenty of evidence that staying positive and choosing to travel on the sunny side of the street can have a lasting impact on our health, our ability to bounce back from setbacks, and even on our longevity.

The Optimist Creed was authored in 1912 by Chistian D. Larson and appeared in his book Your Forces and How to Use Them. It was adopted as Optimist International’s creed in 1922. It’s been used by healthcare givers to motivate their patients and by coaches to motivate their athletes. Let’s use it to motivate ourselves as writers:

The Optimist’s Creed by Christian D. Larson

Promise Yourself…

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature you meet.

To give so much time to improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud word, but in great deeds.

To live in the faith that the whole world is on your side, so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

What simple, powerful words! Let’s take them to heart as we all write on!

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Mother’s Day

A beautiful bouquet of words full of hope and love:

“All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother.”
Abraham Lincoln

“Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love and fearlessness.
If love is sweet as a flower, then my mother is that sweet flower of love.”
Stevie Wonder

“This heart, my own dear mother, bends, with love’s true instinct, back to thee!”
Thomas Moore

God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.

Twilight
Winifred Sackville Stoner, Jr.

Of all the hours of day or night
Give me the twilight hour,
When little birds hide out of sight
And every sylvan bower
Is filled with their sweet good night song,
While darkness creeps apace
O’er all the bright blue sky along
And hides the sun’s gold face.

That is the hour when Mother dear
Says, “Come, sweetheart,” to me,
“And of the earth’s great heroes hear
While sitting on my knee.”
Upon her arm I rest my hand
And wondrous stories hear,
Until it’s time to go to bed,
Tucked in by Mother dear.

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