Stevenson Suggests

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson, a favorite author of mine, was born on November 13, 1850. He wrote poetry, essays, novels, and more. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is a short but haunting lesson in creating atmosphere in a thriller and A Child’s Garden’s of Verses is a delight! In his honor, some of his wise words on writing and life:

“The difficult of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect hinm precisely as you wish.

“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.”

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.”

“You can give without loving,, but you can never love without giving.”

“Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”

“The man is a success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much.”

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”

“Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to new thankful has fallen asleep in life.”

“To be wholly devoted to some intellectual exercise is to have succeeded in life.”

“All human beings are commingled out of good and evil.”

“There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.”

“If a man loves the labor of his trade, apart from any question of success or fame, the gods have called him.”

“All speech, written or spoken, is a dead language until it finds a willing and prepared hearer.”

“The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us.”

“The world is full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be happy as kings.”

“An aim in life is the only fortune worth finding.”

“To forget oneself is to be happy.”

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

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Enthusiasm Enlivens

A story: A man had passed away and a whole city mourned his loss. Members of a club were discussing him and remembering all the traits that had endeared him to those around him. 

After a time, one man said, “You know our friend hardly had a fair start. Nature did not mean to let him be a big man. She equipped him with very ordinary talents.

“I can remember the first time I heard him speak. It was a very stumbling performance. Yet, in his later years, we regarded him as one of the real orators of his generation.

“His mind was neither very original nor very profound, but he managed to build a great institution, and the imprint of his influence is on ten thousand lives.”

The speaker stopped, but those around him urged him to go on. With his modest start and abilities they asked, “How then do you account for his success?” 

“It’s simple,” the man replied. “He merely forgot himself. When he spoke, his imperfections were lost in the glory of his enthusiasm. When he organized, the fire of his faith burned away all obstacles. He abandoned himself utterly to his task; and the task molded him into greatness.” *

What an inspiring story about the power of enthusiasm! When we bring passionate ardor, zeal, and energy to our creative endeavors, what mountains we can climb! What amazing feats we can achieve — in our writing and our lives!

When we forget ourselves, when we abandon ourselves utterly to our task, when we simply get out of our own way, then like the man in this story, we can find the greatness within us. Write on!

* from Norman Vincent Peale’s Treasury of Courage and Confidence

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Unknown Soldier

In honor of Veteran’s Day, a lovely meditation on heroism:

American Hero
by Mary West Jorgensen

“Our history is studded with heroic names. These names compose a world roster from which almost every nation may choose one and say: He is ours! We produced the clan from which he sprung. See how he spells his name! That is how his family spelled their name years ago, here, in this land.

“The tale of heroism runs true from Valley Forge to Gettysburg, from the Argonne to Guadalcanal. How is it possible to select one and say of him: He is the bravest of all?

“Therefore, I choose one who lies in Arlington beneath the inscription: ‘Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier, known but to God.’

“Of him we know three things: he was an American, he died for freedom, he sleeps in the comfortable keeping of the Lord of Hosts.

“He is a symbol of heroic qualities, of the vision of Washington, of the humanity of Lincoln, of the courage of MacArthur, of the faith of Rickenbacker, of the sacrifice of Kelly. He is, moreover, a symbol of the common man who dies daily in order that freedom may not perish from the earth.”

Within the Tomb ogf the Unknown Soldier lies an unidentified American serviceman who died in battle in France during World War I. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded every minute of every hour of every day by his fellow soldiers, who consider it a great honor to protect this nameless hero. Blessings upon those who keep this silent hero safe and upon all those who have protected us and still stand watch to keep us safe. Their tales are so important to share and remember. Write on.


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“Inner Eye”

“Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

“I don’t understand writers who have to work at it. I like to play. I’m interested in having fun with ideas, throwing them up in the air like confetti and then running under them.”

“I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.’”

Ray Bradbury

Ray, Ray! What a ray of sunshine! A writer who loves writing and crows about it!

Ray Bradbury is most widely known for his jarring science fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451, but he was truly a Renaissance writer: He penned novels, plays, poems, essays, film scripts, and hundreds of short stories. Ray said he wrote every day of his life for 69 years — and loved every minute. He was a big believer in getting out of your own way as a writer and letting stories bubble up from the subconscious.

Here’s an example from his own storied life: Ray spent a very wet, lonely winter in Ireland writing a film script adapting Moby Dick. He was miserable, and vowed that his time in Ireland would never find its way into his fiction. Only a few years later, however, what he called his “subliminal eye” triggered a memory of an Irish taxi driver that led to a play. He went on to write several short stories, poems, and essays, all fueled by his brief stay on the Emerald Isle.

As Ray recalls, “I found myself blessing the secret mind,” that inner eye that had “observed when I thought I was sitting this one out. We never sit anything out. We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” Finding ways to tap inner creativity is a major theme in his wonderful guide, Zen in the Art of Writing. I had a copy once, but gave it to a writer friend. Reading his beautiful musings on writing has inspired me to get another one and share its wisdom. Stay tuned — tap your own secret mind, turn to your inner eye — and write on!

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Nearest Duty

Do the duty which lies nearest thee,” Which thou knowest to be a duty. Thy second duty will already have become clearer.” Thomas Carlyle

“Duty” — I know, I know, it’s a sort of old-fashioned word, one that sounds out of tune with our times. According to my Compact Oxford English Dictionary, it has two major meanings: 1) “a moral or legal obligation;” and 2) “a task required as part of one’s job.“ It’s origin: an old French word meaning “owed.”

What’s does all this have to do with writing? To my mind, just this:

First, writers, we have an obligation both to ourselves and our potential readers to do the work we’ve been called on to do. We owe it to ourselves and those who might enjoy and benefit from knowing what we have to say about whatever subject we’re passionate about.

And second, we have a task ahead that’s required of us as part of our job. For both you and me, the task that’s in front of us today can take many forms.

It might be pushing a story that we’re working on forward.

It might be researching a topic so we can build it into an article.

It might be rewriting a lackluster chapter to give it a shot of Adrenalin.

It might be taking a look at a tricky paragraph from a clarity angle.

Whatever we should be doing today, the point is we know what we should be doing. We know what our nearest duty is — the very task, however tough or time-consuming, that we should be tackling.

Now writing a novel or story or play can seem daunting, even overwhelming. It’s a big job, a complex job. But if we break it down into specific jobs, it seems so much more doable, doesn’t it. And most of the time, it’s easy to identify the nearest duty we need to focus on. And once we do that, Thomas tells us, the “second duty will already have become clearer” — we’ll know the next step we should take.

So, let’s keep it simple. Let’s break down the writing job at hand and find the nearest duty we owe it to ourselves to do. And let’s do it. And then the next job will jump out at us. And step by step, we’ll get where we need to go. Write on!

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Something Wonderful


The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

Emily Dickinson

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On Writing

Some words of wisdom and wit from kindred spirits to light our way:

“I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.” William Faulkner

“I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices one so.” Sydney Smith

“The best fame is a writer’s fame. It’s enough to get a table at a good restaurant, but not enough to get you interrupted when you eat.” Fran Lebowitz

“It takes hard writing to make easy reading.” Robert Louis Stevenson

“A play needs a beginning, a muddle, and an end.” Alexander Woollcott

“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” Arnold Toynbee

“When you give of yourself, you receive more than you give.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Be steady and well ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.” Gustavo Flaubert

“It’s not by doing the things we like, but by liking the things we do that we can discover life’s blessings.” Goethe

“Name the greatest of all inventors. Accident.” Mark Twain

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

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Three P’s

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

Sometimes it really helps to keep things simple. With this in mind, let’s take a look at three P’s that will help us all get wherever we want to go:

Passion: This is the fuel that lights our fire that keeps us going every day. It drives us forward. It makes the impossible happen. It energizes us and lifts us into realms of the imagination where our ideas can take flight. It’s invisible — and yet it’s not. You can see it in the way someone’s eyes light up when they talk about a project they love. You can hear it in their voice when they describe a breakthrough they’ve had. “Always be the most enthusiastic person in a room,” a dad once told his son — what great advice! And enthusiasm is contagious — when you share it, other people can catch it.

Persistence: Without this precious power, it’s easy for passion to fizzle out and fade away. However you describe it — doggedness, stick-to-it-I’ve-ness, stubbornness, perseverance, staying power — this is the track we have to run on. Our path may be rocky and ragged, but with the help of persistence, we can go over, through, under, and around any obstacle in our way. When we cultivate our persistence by consistently pushing on and keeping on, we give ourselves permission to succeed. “Don’t quit, can’t fail” — that’s one motto we can take to our hearts.

Patience: If persistence is staying power, then we could say that patience is “knowing power.” It’s the quiet strength that underlies persistence and keeps passion burning. Patience lets us take the long view — it enables us to remain calm and focused when we hit the roadblocks that threaten to derail us. It is the sense that, in the end, all will be well. If we can tap the wellspring of patience within us, then we can touch the quiet power that gives rise to creativity and commitment.

Passion, persistence, and patience — these are all within our grasp. We can reach for them any day and every day as we all write on!

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“Stormy Present”

What American president has a better way with words than the immortal Abraham Lincoln? Here are some of his timeless, well-crafted reflections to inspire us right now:

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”

“My dream is of a place and a time when America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.”

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

“This country with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it.”

“Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as a heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.”

“Let the people on both sides keep their self-possession, and just as other clouds have cleared away in due time, so will this, and this great nation shall continue to prosper as before.”

“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.”

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

“No man is good enough to govern another man without the other’s consent.”

“I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.”

“It is with your aid, as the people, that I think we shall be able to preserve — not the country, for the country will preserve itself, but the institutions of the country — those institutions which have made us free, intelligent and happy — the most free, the most intelligent, and the happiest people on the globe.”

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

May these wise words encourage and inspirit us as we all write on.

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Start Engines!

Rev your engines: NaNoWriMo just kicked off! From November 1 through 11:59 on November 30th writers of all persuasions — plotters and pantsers alike — are committing to writing 50,000 words or getting within striking distance of completing an entire novel. If you have an idea for a romance, fantasy, or thriller kicking around, you may want to consider jumping on board. Even if this sounds too ambitious, you might adopt parts of the NaNoWriMo strategy to rev up a project that’s been languishing and use this November to make some real progress.

If the idea appeals to you, some tips from Alexandra Suarez published in the “International Business Times” may prove helpful:

1. Become an official NaNoWriMo participant:  It’s free to join and it will help keep you focused and on target. When you sign up, you’ll be able to create a profile and share your experiences with fellow writers. You can also receive advice from well-established authors that may help keep you motivated and on the page.

2. Take advantage of the NaNoWriMo website:  The site offers videos and advice on story planning so you can make the most of your 30 days. There is also information on character development, story building, and plotting. Having all this information gathered in one place can be helpful and energizing.

3. Write. Write. And keep on writing:  This is the perfect time to kick your internal editor and negative self-talk out of your head. Focus on meeting the word count you’ve decided works best for you — whether you’re going for broke and planning to write 50,000 words or you’ve set another target for yourself. Whatever your ultimate goal — keep your daily word count target front and center — and strive mightily to achieve it, even if you feel that some of what you’re writing is less than Shakespearean.

4. Commit to writing at the same time each day:  This is a strategy that many established writers use and it’s one worth pursuing. Some people write early in the morning, before their “official” day begins; others write at night. Whatever time you choose, stick to it. When you make this decision, it simplifies your life considerably. By setting aside a block of time, you are making it easier for yourself to devote that time to your writing — and not to answering emails or running errands.

5. Stay connected:  Even though you may have to put in considerable time on your own to hit your word count, don’t isolate yourself. One of the key reasons that many people jump on board the NaNoWriMo is the sense of community and shared purpose they enjoy by experiencing this intense writing challenge with others. Some libraries host NaNoWriMo events and some people partner up with one or more fellow writers so they can stay motivated and feel accountable. So, take advantage of the NaNoWriMo community.

6. Keep going:  Writing an entire novel in a month is a crazy goal — but it’s not an impossible dream. Believe in your idea and keep getting your words down on paper. Some days, they’ll flow and some days, they’ll be slow. But if you keep at it by the end of the month, you’ll have the beginnings of a draft you can whip into shape over time.

NaNoWriMo-ers, unite! Get yourself in gear and let’s all write on!

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