Dream On

Robert Louis Stevenson came up with the plot for the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde during a dream.

Paul McCartney discovered the tune for his hit song “Yesterday” in a dream.

Mary Shelley’s dream at Lord Byron’s villa inspired her Gothic tale, Frankenstein.

Dreams have always been a powerful creative tool in artist’s arsenal. And studies confirming the importance of sleep to our long-term health continue to pour out: They’ve determined that our neurons fire almost as often when we’re sleeping as they do when we’re awake. But here are a few findings about sleep and creativity that may surprise and stimulate you:

There’s growing evidence that our minds tend to be most creative just as we are emerging from sleep: During the half-waking, half-dreaming state known as “sleep inertia,” our creativity seems to surge. This is why coming up with ideas and writing them down as soon as we wake is a proven technique for enhancing creativity that’s been used by everyone from writers and poets to Ben Franklin.

The theory behind this: When we’re in a post-sleep, dream-like mental state, we can bridge the gap between sleep and wakefulness, and bring insights and inspiration from our sleep state into our consciousness. Once we’re fully alert, our waking consciousness assumes total control, making plans and doing things — and we pass out of the more fluid, expansive state we enjoy when we’re just emerging from our rest.

Sleep can also be a powerful creativity booster because the mind, in an unconscious resting state, can forge surprising and innovative new connections that it might not make in a conscious, waking state. In fact, a study by the University of California at Berkeley found that sleep can foster “remote associates” or unusual connections in the brain. And these connections can lead to exciting “a-Ha” moments upon waking. According to the study, upon emerging from sleep, people are 33 percent more like to make connections between ideas that seem only distantly related.

So why not test this all out and give your creativity a helping hand by having a paper and pen by your bedside, so you can jot down any hot ideas before they slip away? Write on!

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Persistence Pays

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.” Calvin Coolidge

Here’s how Barry Farber, an author and motivational speaker, describes persistence:

“Things are rarely accomplished in one great burst of energy; success comes when we continue to work day after day, tirelessly putting in the effort even if it takes far longer than we’d ever imagined.

“Persistence pays off. Those who steadily pursue a course of action despite any obstacle along the way have a far greater chance of success that those who get fired up — and then quickly burn out and lose energy and interest.

“In fact, persistence is one of the most powerful traits shared by successful people. Successful people do not give up. They’ll try over and over again and do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. When they meet rejection, they use it to motivate them even more to move forward, coming up with new ideas and approaches. When they meet obstacles, they find ways around them. When they get tired, they find a way to rejuvenate. Successful people don’t quit; if they stumble, they always start again.”

Whatever it takes — WIT — that’s what persistence is all about. When we hit an obstacle, we need to go over, under, or through it to realize our dreams.

According to Barry Farber, there are two ingredients to persistence:

“…the first is having a goal — and the second is moving toward it. Once a goal is etched in your heart, you dream about it, believe in it, livid it … and you’ll do anything to reach it.”

Getting there, takes time. It also requires constant improvement. As Barry says so well, “If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, in just the same way, you’ll always get the same results. Instead, learn from every step you take — and find shortcuts or make other changes as needed. Then, as you continue your efforts, you‘lol increase your efficiency and every action will become more meaningful than the one before.

“Develop these traits of persistence, and in time you will find success. Step by step, you may even achieve greatness.”

Persistence pays off. Success takes time. Great advice as we all write on!

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“Three Writers”

You know the feeling: Sometimes you come across something someone else says, a way of looking at things, that enriches yours own. That’s how I felt when I came across a description by the gifted memoirist and writing coach, Lorraine Ash. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Lorraine speak at several Write Group events, as she’s a blessing to us all — a kind, compassionate guide whose mission it is to help other writers unlock their own writing power and share their stories: http://lorraineash.com/services.htm.

In a nutshell, here’s how Lorraine described “the three writers inside every writer” — an intriguing and fruitful concept:

“The Artistic Self” — This is the writer who wants to share experience and deep lessons learned from life. This writer feels called to find his or her unique voice and to channel it in the form of stories through a variety of mediums — from memoir to short stories and novels.

“The Genius Self” — This is the writer who emerges when we put aside our conscious, thinking mind and realize that there’s a deeper, truer story within us. When we find the tools to tap our subconscious, from dreaming to journeys of the imagination, we can delve into this part of our writing self and mine the gold it offers.

“The Business Self” — This is the writer who is willing and able to understand and work with the realities of the publishing industry. Work can be shared through many different channels and finding the best, most fruitful path to publication is part of the author’s journey.

As Lorraine says so well, we need to “strengthen our knowledge of the three writers for a couple of essential reasons. One, only when we understand their various roles will we become completely conscious and in command of our own creative process. Two, when their respective roles are clearly delineated in our mind, each can enhance and protect the others instead of interfering with them.”

What a valuable way to approach depending our craft as we all write on! Bravo, Lorraine!

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Labor Day

Let’s launch this Labor Day Weekend early with a lovely meditation on work. Kahlil Gibran said that “work is love made visible,”and to help us make the most of each day’s labor, let’s keep in mind his powerful poem “On Work,” which I quote in part:

On Work
Kahlil Gibran

“You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,
and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and
proud submission towards the infinite.

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours
turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret…”

Wishing you and yours a peaceful, fruitful Labor Day weekend as we all write on!

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Query Contest

Can you craft an exciting back-cover blurb for an imaginary book? If so, then why not get your creative, compelling juices flowing by entering QueryLetter.com’s writing contest? The best blurb will win a cash prize of $500. Deadline: Noon (U. S. Standard Time) on September 15.

Here’s the contest description:

“This writing contest is all about book blurbs. The twist? We want blurbs about completely made-up, non-existent books. Get creative!

“Write and submit a back-cover blurb of 100 words or fewer that sets the stage for a novel, establishes the characters, and raises the stakes in a way that makes readers want to find out more.

Let your imagination go wild — and who knows? You may be inspired to turn your blurb into a novel of your own one day.”

“The submitted blurbs will be judged by our team of query letter writers based on how effectively they hook readers, taking into account the writing style and the overall impression.

Details:

Your blurb must be original and previously unpublished.

Submissions must be 100 words or fewer.

Multiple entries may be submitted — each completely unique.

Submission grants the QueryLetter.com blog permission to publish your entry.

To submit your entry, visit: https://www.queryletter.com/contest

Sounds like a fun way to kick off the fall as we all write on!

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Timely Tips

Along with consistent practice, getting expert advice from seasoned writers is one of the keys to honing our craft: a few pithy words on the writing process may be the only spark we need to push us to the next level. With this in mind, sparks of help:

“Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.”
(Lillian Hellman)

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly: sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”  Ernest Hemingway

“Writing is just work–there’s no secret. If you dictate or use a pen or type or write with your toes– it’s still just work.”  Sinclair Lewis

“When I finish a first draft, it’s always just as much of a mess as it’s always been. I still make the same mistakes every time.”  Michael Chabon)

“Real writers are those who want to write, need to write, have to write.”
Robert Penn Warren

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. . . .Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. . . .   E. L. Doctorow

“You fail only if you stop writing.”  Ray Bradbury

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English–it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”  Mark Twain

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”  James Michener

“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.  Samuel Johnson

“Don’t get it right, just get it written.”  James Thurber

And now, energized and emboldened, let’s all write on!

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At Bat

“To some people, I am a kind of Merlin who takes lots of crazy chances, but rarely makes mistakes. I’ve made some bad ones, but fortunately, the successes have come along fast enough to cover up the mistakes. When you go to bat as many times as I do, you’re bound to get a good average.” Walt Disney

Walt had his share of flops along the way to building his dream, but like the great Babe Ruth, he never let his strikeouts discourage him. What mattered was getting up to bat again because every at bat held the promise of something wonderful — a stunning success.

As writers, our field of play is the page. And we have our hits and our misses. But the misses don’t matter and the hits only come our way if we’re up at the plate and swinging. We’re at bat when we:

Start writing even when we don’t feel like it — we push past our feelings and find the gold on the other side.

Keep writing even when we feel like quitting — pushing ourselves to write one more word, one more sentence, one more paragraph or page.

Keep submitting, even when we’re rejected — it’s tough having our work passed on, but resubmitting increases our chances of success.

Keep improving our craft — doing whatever it takes to push our writing to the next level, knowing that better writing leads to better results.

Whenever Babe Ruth got up to bat, he gave a full effort. Whether the crowd cheered him or jeered him, he kept on swinging, always aiming for a home run. He once told a reporter, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Let’s remember his words as we all write on!

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Mining Mistakes

“Mistakes don’t mean failure. Mistakes are a sign that you are trying something new. You might think you have to perfect, but life is not about comparing yourself to anyone else; it’s about measuring yourself compared to who you were yesterday. When you learn from your mistakes, they have the power to turn you into something better than you were before.” From Limitless by Jim Kwik

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein

Mistakes aren’t usually something we enjoy talking about. We’re taught as kids to be embarrassed or even ashamed about them. We’re judged on how many right answers we arrive at on tests and in class, and as time goes on, we tend to accept the idea that a mistake is something “incorrect” — to be avoided whenever possible.

All of this ignores the fact the reality of life: Life is full of mistakes and if we’re not making them, then we’re not learning from them. What if we rejected the old notion of a mistake and came up with a new, more positive spin? What if we saw mistakes not as missteps but as stepping stones? Wouldn’t that make us bolder? Wouldn’t it help us write more dangerously if we weren’t afraid of mistakes? If we found the courage to put out the welcome mat for them, instead of trying to shut the door?

Here’s what might happen if we invited our mistakes to support us:

We’d get more creative: If we weren’t afraid of messing up we’d be more likely to try something new, to experiment and play with different openings for a story, different character descriptions, different endings.

We’d leave our comfort zones: We’d stretch ourselves and let more fresh, exciting ideas find their way into our work and germinate there. We’d be more likely to try a new genre or medium: poetry, a play,

We’d mine our mistakes: We’d chase them down the rabbit hole and see where they led us. Just as many scientific breakthroughs are the result of serendipitous mistakes, so many wonderful writers have found that mistakes they’ve made — detours, false plot threads, and unworkable characters have actually sharpened and deepened their work.

We’d ask for help: When we get stuck and feel like we’re on the wrong path, one of the smartest things we can do is to ask for help — to find someone who’ll be a sounding board, or take a workshop to spark up our dialogue or find a sharp, insightful editor. Any and all of these steps can help us improve our craft.

Mistakes — let’s welcome and use them as we all write on!

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Something Wonderful

In honor of Indie Bookstore Day:

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –

Emily Dickinson

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Indies Inspire!

“I love indie bookstores because I love the safe and inclusive spaces that they create for the people in their communities. They’re more than just places to shop. They are community centers that promote and host important events about issues that impact their communities. They promote authors and give them a space to promote their works and further their careers. They provide good jobs. They pay taxes (looking at you Amazon). But most importantly, indie bookstores provide really unique spaces that capture the spirit of their communities to promote reading.”

— Sean Doolittle, 2020 Independent Bookstore Day Ambassador

Saturday, August 29th is Independent Bookstore Day and all across the country more than 600 indie bookstores will take part in the celebration. This year, we absolutely, positively need it more than ever!

Some indies will host safe, fun in-store events and some will take part via a host of on-line events. Either way, there is something for everyone — kids’ events, author panels, fun giveaways. You can check it all out here and join any of the on-line events you choose to: http://www.indiebookstoreday.com/

Not surprisingly, indie bookstores have come to our rescue while we’ve all been sheltering at home — and we as readers, writers, and book lovers have helped keep them going. A mutually empowering and fruitful love affair — what better kind can there be?

Just consider all that indies bookstores do for us:

•  They give us safe, soothing places to explore the world.

•  They love and support both debut and established authors.

•  They help foster a life-long love of reading in kids.

•  They provide forums for discussing issues that matter to us.

I could go on and on. Indies are the best! This year, I’m going to show my wonderful local indie, Watchung Booksellers, some love in my hometown of Montclair, NJ and order books and a gift card for the holidays. How about you? Indies support authors, so let’s support them back as we all write on!

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