Wave Riders

We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it — but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”   Oliver Wendell Holmes

October 12, is the traditional Columbus Day — and a nautical theme seems apt. When I found Oliver’s quote, it ushered in the feeling that we are meant to ponder the four paths he described:

Sailing with the wind: When we sail with the wind, we make progress quickly and easily. The wind works in harmony with our vessel and we know the joys of speed and the satisfaction of feeling that we are moving in the right direction. We are unencumbered and free. These moments may be rare, but we’ve all experienced them: We’re in a state of flow — everything sails along as if we are gliding on glass. The ocean of words yields its treasures and we experience a joyful freedom.

Sailing against the wind: The ocean batters our frail bark and we fear we may sink and disappear, never to be heard from again. There are obstacles, there is friction, there is energy-sapping fatigue as we struggle against forces that seem to challenge our very right to do what we are doing. These are tough moments: whatever we’re writing seems to defy us and invite us to give up, give in, and let ourselves down.

Drifting: When we sail against the wind, we know our opponent — we have something to battle. It can be fatigue or lack of confidence or external circumstances that buffet us and threaten to blow us off course. But when we drift, there’s no friction and no progress. We wander aimlessly and often stray off course.

Lying at anchor: When we lie at anchor, we’re not even in the game. We’re not under sail and on our way somewhere. We’re not honing our gifts or charting our path or battling the elements. We’re safe and secure. We haven’t left our comfort zone and so nothing’s going to happen. When it comes to putting pen to paper or fingers to the keys, there’s something holding us back. We never weigh anchor and sail.

“We must sail,” Oliver tells us: We’re either riding with the wind or sailing against it. So let’s ride the waves! Sometimes, they’ll carry us along with the wind at our back: We’ll have a great few hours or even days on the page. And sometimes, we’ll be sailing against the wind, struggling to keep ourselves on course. But these moments of struggle create movement Conflict creates change and change opens the door to fresh ideas and invention. Let’s be wave riders — and write on!

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Quiet Listening

“Anyone who puts pen to paper can have a prose style. In almost ever case, that style will be quiet, sometimes so quiet as to be detectable only by you, the writer.

“In the quiet, you can listen to your sound in various manifestations; then you can start to shape it and develop it. That project can last as long as you keep writing, and it never gets old.” Ben Yagoda

Here’s what Dinty W. Moore says about listening in his brief, but illuminating guide, “The Mindful Writer:”

“Writing is very much about listening.

“First you listen to the world around you.

“Then you listen to your own reactions to that world. Not the easy, cliche’ reactions, but the honest ones, the contradictory ones, the unexpected ones, the reactions that take time to even recognize.

“And then you listen to how you express those reactions. Where is the ‘you’ in what you have seen, said, and thought? Is that ‘you’ so quiet that maybe only you can detect it?

“Maybe it is, but as Yagoda suggests, part of your work is to shape and develop your voice—starting with that quiet whisper.”

With all the noise around us, and all the distractions, it can be hard to hear that “quiet whisper” that’s the seed of something we want or need to say in our own distinctive way. But if we give ourselves time and space to create, and if we listen deeply, ideas and a voice that’s ours alone will emerge.

Quiet listening, abiding in emptiness and seeing what arises. That’s one way we can write dangerously. Let’s listen, learn, and write on.

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Something Wonderful


Who is in love with loveliness,

Need not shake with cold;

For he may tear a star in two,

And frock himself in gold.

Who holds her first within his heart,

In certain favor goes;

If his roof tumbles, he may find

Harbor in a rose.

— Lizatte Woolworth Reese

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Worldly Wisdom

“You have to believe. Otherwise, it will never happen.” Neil Gaiman

A gathering of more wise words from peak performers in a range of fields:

“Every day is another opportunity to start again and to be better.” Misty Copeland, Principal ballet dancer

“As long as I can believe it, I can achieve it.” Grant Holloway, Olympic athlete

“Do something that ignites your soul.” Mammie Wada

“Most people have attained their greatest success one step beyond their greatest failure.” Napoleon Hill

“[We were] not the most talented team, but the one that fought the hardest, showed the most grit.”

“I poured my heart and soul into this team.”

“Take away the lessons that you can reflect on and use to continue to grow.”

“[My goal:] Being the best version of myself every day.” Carli Lloyd, Olympic athlete

“We assume that being successful creates fun, but that’s backwards. By having fun, we free up our best resources. So the truth is, it’s fun that creates success.” Clifford C. Kuhn, M.D., “The Laugh Doctor”

“You’ve achieve success in your field when you don’t know whether what you are doing is work or play.” Warren Beatty, Actor/producer

“I try to do the right thing at the right time. They may just be little things, but usually they make the difference between winning and losing.” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Basketball player

“You do not have to be superhuman to do what you believe in.” Debbie Fields, Founder, Mrs. Field’s Cookies

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

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Freedom, Flowers

With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” Oscar Wilde

Oscar is among my favorite writers. There’s something about his incredible range that inspires me: He wrote witty plays, glorious fairytales, a wildly original novel, and moving poetry. His wonderful words shared here, surely written before his days darkened, are worth remembering.

Their message: as writers and creatives, we always have access to everything we need to be happy and fruitfully productive.

How simple life can be when we remember that it can be simple!

We have the freedom to let our writing take us wherever it wants us to go. When we follow our hearts and our intuition, we open ourselves to unexpected ideas and trains of thought. We are free to explore, to create.

We have books to inspire and guide us. We have other writers we admire whose books can give us a glimpse of other worlds and other lives. When we delve closely into their work, we can begin to see how they’ve constructed their stories and kept us on the page.

We have flowers and all of nature to bring beauty into our lives. With all the time we put into our work, we also have time to refresh ourselves, to step outside and enjoy trees, and flowers, snowfalls and summer days. What a glorious gift!

We have the moon to remind us of the mysteries of life. When we gaze at its cool, distant loveliness, it reminds us that we are part of something larger than ourselves. That we are lucky to be alive.

“With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” Let’s remember these words as we all write on!

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Mastery Motivates

“Mastery is the mysterious process during which what is at first difficult becomes progressively easier and more pleasurable through practice.”

I found these words on the back of an envelope where I’d jotted them down. They may be from the wonderful book, “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-term Fulfillment” by George Leonard, a favorite writing guide of mine. Or they may be from somewhere else. It’s the message that counts: mastery matters.

Mastery is about long-term dedication to the journey itself rather than quick, easy results. It’s essentially more about who you become and what you learn along the way than it is about reaching a goal. It’s really a form of long-term learning.

Today’s world really conspires against mastery—it’s all about distraction, instant success, and the temporary relief of whatever is ailing us. In contrast, the master’s journey is slow, demanding, exhilarating, and often invisible. We take that journey day after day on our own, often invisibly and without fanfare.

Mastery is something we commit to for ourselves and our craft. It has nothing to do with what other people think or what they’re doing. It offers unexpected heartaches when our progress seems slow or when it stalls. But it also offers unexpected rewards, when something difficult finally yields to our steady commitment and practice.

And here’s something wonderful about mastery: It isn’t the most talented who make it their own—it’s those who persevere, who set an intention and work consistently to turn something challenging into something they can do with ease and pleasure.

If this sounds appealing, then you might want to check out George Leonard’s book, “Mastery.” It’s a short, pithy guide I treasure and often turn to on my own writer’s journey.

How might greater mastery of a challenging skill enrich your writing? Something to ponder and tackle as we all write on.

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Self-care Counts

We are never satisfied. How difficult it is to write something decent.” Paul Auster

“Be kind to yourself. Writing is hard work.” Juno Diaz

How true! I thought to myself when I heard Paul Auster discuss his new book on Stephen Crane, called “Burning Boy” in an online interview. We writers and all creatives in the arts are never satisfied, always yearning to convey our visions to the page. So often, we fall short.

And yet, there was a note of chronic disappointment and a touch of self-flagellation in Auster’s voice that sent up a red flag in my head.

Yes, writing is challenging. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it’s tough to write.

And yet, writing is also a gift, a pleasure, and a joy. Sometimes we find just the words we need and write something we really love. And as we grow in our craft, self-doubt gives way to confidence.

All of which brings me to my theme: self-care counts! Here’s a fruitful way of looking at this important skill: “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”

When we’re in the throes of writing and it’s proving thorny instead of thrilling, it’s easy to beat up on ourselves. All the old tapes kick in: “I’m not good enough.” “This isn’t working.” I’ll never get it right.”

When this happens, we go into fight or flight mode and stress kicks in. As writers, one of the skills we really need to cultivate is the art of self-care. To my mind, this means being kind to ourselves: Taking frequent breaks. Adopting a work-play approach to our writing day. Getting the exercise and sleep we need so we can focus and concentrate. Spending time in nature. Refilling our creative wells so we can come to the page brimming with ideas instead of sapped and stuck.

How about you? What self-care techniques do you find most helpful? I’d love to hear form you as we all write on!

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Edison Endeavors

Thomas Edison is widely considered the world’s greatest inventor. He brought enormous energy and discipline to all his ventures. When he spoke about his success, he said, “The most important factors of inventions can be described in a few words:

1. They must consist of definite knowledge as to what one wishes to achieve.

2. One must fix one’s mind on that purpose with persistence and begin searching for that which one seeks.

3. One must keep on searching, no matter how many times one may meet with disappointment.

4. One must refuse to be influenced by the fact that somebody else may have tried the same idea without success.

5. One must keep oneself sold on the idea that the solution of the problem exists somewhere and that he will find it.”

What better advice can there be for us as writers? We must have a clear idea of what we want to achieve. We must embrace our purpose with intention and persistence and begin writing. We must keep on searching for what we want to say, no matter how many times we “meet with disappointment” and feel we fall short. We must refuse to be influenced by what anyone else has done. We must continue to believe that the right approach, the right solution to our writing problems, whatever they are, is out there waiting to be discovered — and that we will find it one way or another.

All of this can be summed up in three words: purpose, persistence, and belief. If we can keep these three stones in our pocket, then just like David, we can slay our own Goliaths — whatever obstacles loom in our paths. Write on!

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Something Wonderful

Mountain Air

Tell me of Progress if you will

But give me sunshine on a hill–

The grey rocks aspiring to the blue,

The scent of larches, pinks and dew,

And summer sighing In the trees,

And snowy breath on every breeze.

Take the towns and all that you find there,

And leave me sun and mountain air!

–John Galsworthy

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Wise Words

A gathering of wisdom to spark our enjoyment and creativity! These words of wisdom come to us from Sarajane Giere, a cherished KWD reader and the award-winning author of “My Pilot,” a memoir:

“Aim at heaven and you get the earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” C.C. Lewis

“We live not by things, but by the meanings of things. It is needful to transmit the passwords from generation to generation.” Antoine de St. Exupery

“With a child’s imagination, you can own half the world.” Neil Simon

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” Molders

“When friends failed or full palled or spirits flagged, there was my typewriter and there was my world, my oyster.” Edna Ferber

“Put your hero in a lake and every time he comes up for air, take your foot and shove him under again—wait until the end when you rescue him, unless it’s a tragedy, in which case, you hold him under for good.” Sinclair Lewis

“What takes place between reader and writer is ‘the exchange of dreams.’ A writer writes memories, dreams and lies. It makes no difference if it’s true—what matters most are the emotions.” Lois Lowry

“…characters, once conceived, have a willful habit of jumping the reservation and must be herded back into the boundaries of the story.” A.B. Guthrie

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

“Style is the self, escaping into the pen.” E.B. White

Thank you, Sarajane! And now, inspired and emboldened, let’s all write on!

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