Abundance Everywhere

I love the word “abundance” – it feels full and rich, doesn’t it? My trusty Century Dictionary says it all, defining abundance as: “overflowing plenty, copious or ample sufficiency, profusion, affluence, also abounding or rich in something.” Its root, translated from Latin, means to “rise up in waves.” So when we think and cultivate abundance, we are stimulating good things to rise up and flow toward us, to pour out.

As writers, abundance is all around us. We may focus on lack – lack of time, lack of experience, lack of contacts — but we are really richly endowed with all that we need to craft and create the work we feel called to do. Abundance abounds: It constantly invites us to share in the plenty it offers. Consider all we have at our command to give and receive:

An abundance of words: As wordsmiths, how lucky we are! Words, the tools of our trade, are infinitely rich and easily available. Pick up a dictionary and hold it: Every word within it is ours to play with. As wordsmiths, we are rich beyond measure.

An abundance of ideas: Some people believe that ideas are hard to come by and genuinely original ones are rare and precious. And yet, ideas also abound. They are floating in the ether, just waiting to be summoned and nurtured into grand and exciting ventures. Who would have thought a musical about Alexander Hamilton was a great idea? Or a story about a man’s obsession with a whale? Or another biography of Washington or Lincoln?

An abundance of effort: Sure, we all have a lot to learn – and, hopefully, we are all striving to grow and to improve our craft. Yet, even now, today, in this moment, we have so much to offer! By putting in the time and effort: by working steadily and purposefully, we can enrich our skill.

An abundance of persistence: Whatever we are working on, we are free to bring plenty of stick-to-it-ive-ness to the table—in fact, we won’t get anywhere without it. And yet it’s abundantly available to all of us: No one can give it to us or take it from us — it’s ours. Let’s use it!

How rich we each are in all we need to grow and prosper and create. Write on!

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Washington’s Wisdom

In honor of George Washington’s birthday, also my wonderful husband David’s birthday, some words of wisdom from our Founding Father to ponder and apply:

“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Make sure you are doing what God wants you to do–then do it with all your strength.”

“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to appellation. ”

“In politics as in religion, my tenets are few and simple. The leading one of which, and indeed that which embraces most others, is to be honest and just ourselves and to exact it from others, meddling as little as possible in their affairs where our own are not involved. If this maxim was generally adopted, wars would cease and our swords would soon be converted into reap hooks and our harvests be more peaceful, abundant, and happy.”

Let’s take inspiration and fortitude from George — and write on!

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Something Wonderful

Try, Try Again

‘This a lesson you should heed,

Try, try again;

If at first you don’t succeed

Try, try again;

Then your courage should appear.

For, if you will persevere,

You will conquer, never fear;

Try, try again.

— T.H. Palmer

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“Well Done!”

“Well done is better than well said.” Benjamin Franklin

Turning to our friend Ben for wit and a bit of wisdom is always a good idea! Writer and Renaissance man, he knew a thing or two about getting things done. He also knew all too well that it’s often easier to talk about doing things than to actually get them done.

How many of us find ourselves talking instead of doing? Talking about a project we’re planning and how excited we are and then letting all the energy we need to tackle it fritter away in wordy wisps?

And yet, there’s so much power in actually doing, isn’t there? When we quiet ourselves and just get down to work, it’s satisfying isn’t it? Even if we hit rough patches, we still feel we’re on the right track and fighting the good fight: We’re wrestling with our work to make it stronger.

So let’s consider the power of being able to sit back after working hard and saying to ourselves, “Well done!”

“Well done!” — This quiets our inner critic — the one who’s always yammering on about how we’re making a mess of things. When we give ourselves a mental pat on the back, our critic slinks away.

“Well done!” — These words of praise acknowledge to ourselves the fact that we’ve made progress. We’ve pushed past whatever potholes we found in our way and gotten further down the road to completion.

“Well done!” — How empowering this phrase can be! It’s like rocket fuel, giving us a boost and the energy to keep our eye on the prize.

“Well done!” — These words set us up for a future that’s bright and shining. They prove to us that we have what it takes to tackle whatever our writing life hands us. They give us the wings to keep flying.

“Well done!” I love these two words! Let’s find a way today to move beyond saying to doing, so that when the day ends we can say to ourselves with gusto and good cheer, Well done!” Write on!

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Toni Teaches

Novelist, editor, essayist, and teacher, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, Toni Morrison is a beloved writer who frequently shared her thoughts on writing. In a story called, “You Don’t Know Anything,” for Lit Hub, Emily Temple gathered some of her thoughts, which I share here since today, February 18, is Toni’s birthday:

Write what you want to read:

I wrote the first book because I wanted to read it. I thought that
kind of book, with that subject—those most vulnerable, most
undescribed, not taken seriously little black girls—had never existed
seriously in literature. No one had ever written about them except as
props. Since I couldn’t find a book that did that, I thought, “Well,
I’ll write it and then I’ll read it.” — from a 2014 NEA Arts Magazine

Figure out how you work best.

I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know
is when they are their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves,
What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence?
Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in
order to release my imagination — from a 1993 Paris Review interview

Use the world around you.

Everything I see or do, the weather and the water, buildings . . .
everything actual is an advantage when I am writing. It is like a
menu, or a giant tool box, and I can pick and choose what I want. When
I am not writing, or more important, when I have nothing on my mind
for a book, then I see chaos, confusion, disorder — from O Magazine

Let characters speak for themselves.

I try really hard, even if there’s a minor character, to hear their
memorable lines. They really do float over your head when you’re
writing them, like ghosts or living people. I don’t describe them very
much, just broad strokes. You don’t know necessarily how tall they
are, because I don’t want to force the reader into seeing what I see.
It’s like listening to the radio as a kid. I had to help, as a
listener, put in all of the details. — from a 2014 NEA Arts Magazine

Be open.

It’s that being open—not scratching for it, not digging for it, not
constructing something but being open to the situation and trusting
that what you don’t know will be available to you. It is bigger than
your overt consciousness or your intelligence or even your gifts; it
is out there somewhere and you have to let it in. — from O Magazine

Don’t read your work out loud until it’s finished.

The difficulty for me in writing—among the difficulties—is to write language that can work quietly on a page for a reader who doesn’t hear anything. Now for that, one has to work very carefully with what is in between the words. What is not said. Which is measure, which is rhythm, and so on. So, it is what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power — from a 1993 Paris Review

Beware of overworking.

Those [paragraphs] that need reworking I do as long as I can. I mean
I’ve revised six times, seven times, thirteen times. But there’s a
line between revision and fretting, just working it to death. It is
important to know when you are fretting it; when you are fretting it
because it is not working, it needs to be scrapped. — from Paris Review

Embrace failure.

As a writer, a failure is just information. It’s something that I’ve
done wrong in writing, or is inaccurate or unclear. I recognize
failure—which is important; some people don’t—and fix it, because it
is data, it is information, knowledge of what does not work. That’s
rewriting and editing.

Bravo, Toni! Great advice as we all write on!

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“Master Yourself”

Don’t be afraid if things seem difficult in the beginning. That’s only the initial impression. The important thing is not to retreat; you have to master yourself.” Olga Korbut, Olympic gold medalist

I know, I know. No one’s going to the gym these days and even if we were, we’re not going to be winning four gold medals like the legendary gymnast Olga Korbut! Yet this pint-sized dynamo has a lot of wisdom to share with us about staying strong and persevering in the face of obstacles that seem overwhelming. Let’s unpack her advice:

“Don’t be afraid if things seem difficult in the beginning.” How often do we think about launching a new writing project and feel unequal to the task? We feel afraid that we won’t be able to pull it off and so we put it off. We forget that there’s enormous power in just starting. A body in motion tends to stay in motion — it’s a law of physics and it applies to writing, too. As Olga says so well, the difficulties we see at the beginning of a project are “only the initial impression.” Once we get going, we tend to keep going and the initial difficulties seem to melt away. Haven’t you found that to be true? “It’s the start that stops most people” according to my good friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert. Just start!

“The important thing is not to retreat.” Retreating is easy, isn’t it? Stepping back and saying to yourself, “this is too much for me, I can’t do it,” doesn’t take much energy or creativity. Yet there’s a big prize to be paid, because every time we retreat, we make it easier to do it again — and soon, we’re walking backwards instead of forwards. Not to retreat takes grit and brio. It takes intention and commitment. But when we fight through something difficult, we grow stronger. Don’t retreat!

“You have to master yourself.” Sounds simple. But it’s not easy, is it? Mastering yourself means you won’t give in to the feelings that wash over you when you tackle something tough — that you’ll push past them until you come out on the other side. Mastering yourself may take grit and determination. But what’s the alternative to mastering yourself? It’s letting yourself be overmastered. It’s letting yourself be overcome by feelings that may be fleeting and beliefs that may be baggage you’ve been carrying around and forgotten to leave behind. Why let them stop you? Master yourself!

Ok, here’s what we need to do: Just start. Don’t retreat. Master ourselves. A great recipe for success as we all write on!

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Scene Setting

“Writing a great scene is like juggling. You need to ground your scenes first in place and time and build them by creating that particular moment in time…”
Linda Joy Myers

Scenes are the building blocks of short stories, plays, and novels. A well-crafted scene transports readers into your world, immersing them in its sights, sounds, and feelings. If you use sensual details effectively, according to neuroscience research, your readers will experience them in the moment — as if they are actually happening. How can you help your readers sink into the world you’ve summoned up for them?

Linda Joy Myers, the author of Don’t Call Me Mother and The Power of Memoir, offers some helpful suggestions on powerful scene writing gleaned from well-written memoirs. Here’s her “Checklist for creating scenes:”

Place, setting: Ground your reader in their new reality by describing the landscape, the weather, buildings, cityscapes, and natural landmarks — whatever is most helpful in evoking a sense of time and the atmosphere you want your readers to absorb.

Characters: Focus on revealing who they are through their actions and dialogue. Use reflection and physical actions to help sketch a portrait of your characters. Weave in details that show your characters fully engaged in your scenes by giving their thoughts and reactions to what they say and hear — reveal their behavior through what they say and use details, such as their body language, to clue the reader in to how they say it and how they react to others.

Situation
: What is the central problem in the scene? What do the characters want?

Action: How do different people in the scene move through the space they inhabit and react physically to what’s happening to them and around them?

Dialogue: How do people speak and engage each other verbally? What is the cadence, the rhythm of their words? What does their body language reveal about how they are actually feeling? What do their reflections about what they hear — their inner dialogue — reveal to the reader?

Conflict: How do the people in the scene express their differences? How do they interact with the goal of getting what they want?

Context: When does the story occur in time? How can you indicate this through telling details that the reader will register?

Sensual environment: How can you help your readers experience your world through their senses? Moving beyond what they see, how does the world you’re building for them smell, taste, and sound like? Is it harsh and hot like parts of Strayed’s Wild, or wet and cold, like McCourt’s miserable Irish childhood captured so vividly in Angela’s Ashes?

Scenes well crafted transport and engage our readers. Let’s create them with care as we all write on!

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“No Force”

“Why does Resistance yield to our turning pro? Because Resistance is a bully. Resistance has no strength of its own; its power derives entirely from our fear of it. A bully will back down before the runniest twerp who stands his ground.

“The essence of professionalism is the focus upon the work and its demands, while we are doing it, to the exclusion of all else. The ancient Spartans schooled themselves to regard the enemy, any enemy, as nameless and faceless. In other words, they believed that if they did their work, no force on earth could stand against them.“

From Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art

The War of Art: Break Though the Blocks and Win your Inner Creative Battles is one of my all-time favorite guides because of its no-nonsense attitude toward writing. Every page offers tough-love advice on how to break through the barriers that keep us from getting our work done.

“Resistance” — isn’t hard to decode, is it? It’s anything that gets in the way of our creativity — and most of the time it comes down to excuses about why we can’t our work done: we don’t have time, we’re tired, we can’t get published, we don’t have enough experience.

How do we overcome Resistance? We do it “turning pro” — by being professional — by focusing on our work and seeing anything that’s in our way as the enemy. And how to we vanquish the enemies we face every day — whatever they are? By being relentless in our pursuit of our writing goals.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? When we face up to Resistance — whatever wants to keep us from writing — it melts away. Why? Because Resistance really has no strength of its own — it depends on the strength we give it. When we simply focus on our work — on the job at hand — then whatever self-imposed barriers we’ve erected fall away.

“No force” — no enemy, real or imagined — can stand against us if we see ourselves as pros and just keep working every day — what an inspiring jolt of energy this can give us as we all write on!

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Something Wonderful

The Sea Gipsy

I am fevered with the sunset,
I am fretful with the bay,
For the wander-thirst is on me
And my soul is in Cathay.

There’s a schooner in the offing
With her topsails shot with fire,
And my heart has gone aboard her
For the Islands of Desire.

I must forth again tomorrow,
With the sunset I must be,
Hull down on the rail of rapture
In the wonder of the sea.

— Richard Hovey

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Lincoln’s Lessons

As we honor his birthday today, it’s worth remembering that Abraham Lincoln had his share of setbacks, personal and political — he knew what it felt like to fail and have to fight another day. We’ve all had them — and some of us bounce back more quickly than others. But whatever we’re experiencing, considering the following:

Lincoln “Failures” List

Lost job in 1832.
Defeated for state legislature in 1832.
Failed in business in 1833.
Elected to state legislature in 1834.
Sweetheart died in 1835.
Had nervous breakdown in 1836.
Defeated for Speaker in 1838.
Defeated for nomination for Congress in 1843.
Elected to Congress in 1846.
Lost renomination in 1848.
Rejected for land officer in 1849.
Defeated for U.S. Senate in 1854.
Defeated for nomination for Vice President in 1856.
Again defeated for U.S. Senate in 1858.
Elected President in 1860.

And now, a few quotes from a brilliant wordsmith to inspirit and inspire us:

Whatever you are, be a good one.

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important
than any one thing.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.

I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser than he was yesterday.

If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Abe really knew how to turn a phrase, didn’t he? Let’s do the same — and write on!

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