Sunday, November 29, 2009

Crushing, Shaving, Breaking, Beating, Cutting, Whipping and Baking

Baking has the illusion of being a cozy pastime. There is nothing so welcoming, in my mind, as walking into a house full of freshly baked goods. Therefore, the false connotation is one of comfort and ease. But as I was baking cookies today, I stopped to consider the directions I was following so blithely. They are, in truth, somewhat violent:
Crush the cereal until it is "roughly ground."
Shave the chocolate before mixing.
Break the eggs and add to the bowl.
Beat until creamy.
Cut in the butter.
Whip at highest speed for 2 minutes.
Bake until tops are slightly browned.
The ingredients must go through trials and tribulation before their full flavor and potential are realized. I tried to sit and think of how this truth applied to living and writing well, so that my flavor might be discovered. I came up with the following instructions:
Crush up all your expectations and previous assumptions. You may need to change the texture of your work before its essence can be used.
Shave off all unnecessary words and ideas. Thick chunks of musings will not be accessible to readers.
Break your shell of pride and add something personal, something real and alive.
Beat out any lies, fears and apathy that will affect the work until everything flows smoothly.
Cut in qualities you admire in other writers. This adds the richness that would otherwise be lacking.
Whip up all the support, encouragement, and inspiration you need. Motivation is crucial in getting a work to hold together from start to finish.
Bake your work, submit it to high temperatures where it will be refined and melted. Its consistency may change but the taste will only improve.
The result should be delicious.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Writers must be brave. We must. Polls generally claim that people’s main fears are rejection and public speaking. Writers are required to face the former of the two.
Rejection is something I dread. I have yet to find a writer who does not harbor the secret notion that there may be an awful moment in the lives when they are exposed as a fraud, a fool or a fiend. And what is perhaps most disturbing is that this is not an irrational fear.
It is very likely, in fact, it is highly probably that if you or I submit a piece of writing to be published it will be rejected. Even if we strike gold as a writer and publish we risk facing a scathing review.
So I wonder how professional writers do it. How do they overcome the fear?
This is crucial information for fear hinders my writing more than anything else. I know there will be a day that I have to face rejection, not just criticism or constructive feedback but wholesale rejection. That scares me.
Worst of all, I suspect that I sometimes sabotage my own chances of success just so I won’t have to face such a mortifying day. I do not want to be a coward. Here are some of my musings on overcoming my fears:
  1. I must face the good and the bad of who I am as a writer. I cannot live in a delusional world that claims everything I do and write is good. It is not. Neither can I hinder myself with negative self-talk and self-fulfilling prophesies of doom.
  2. I must continue to write in the face of the worst anxiety and fear. I must grit my teeth and remind myself that I can do this. This is the time I usually seek out those words of comfort and truth that bring such life to my heart. The blogging community has totally transformed this aspect of my writing.
  3. I must not give to much credence to excessive praise or excessive criticism, gleaning what is helpful and leaving the rest. My value does not lie in the estimation of others and for that I am grateful.
So lets do something brave this week, let’s write! And please let me know: How do you deal with fear? How do you help others to deal with it?

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Someone I respect deeply once said that wholeness is far more important than balance. Wholeness indicates a peace and satisfaction that few are familiar with; whereas balance can feel fragmented and similar to a juggling act.

I have been thinking lately that I need to find a balance between writing for myself and writing to be published. However, that quotation emerged from my memory today and struck me with new force.

It is not that I need to find balance in my writing. On the contrary, my writing must be irresistibly whole. When you read confident, healthy, and hearty writing, are you not drawn to it? Even if on the surface it may not be your style, isn’t it attractive?

That is the sort of writing I want to create.

There is an archetype of writers, forged in the likeness of Hemingway, that insists creative minds must be tormented and unsatisfied. I believed this for a long time and used it to avoid confronting my own battle against depression. However, I now see that becoming healthy is my best bet for becoming a better writer.

It takes courage to stop juggling all of the worries in our lives and seek wholeness. Still, it is undoubtedly a quest that is worth each and every challenge.

This week, think about how your emotional state impacts your writing. I would love to hear what you discover (or perhaps what you already knew.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I baked a cake tonight. Just a plain golden cake with chocolate frosting.

As it was baking I read Rachelle Gardner’s blog about sharing surprising facts readers might not know about us. I thought that most readers probably have no idea that I was a cake decorator before I became a teacher and I loved it.

I had never thought that decorating cakes had anything to do with writing. In my mind baking is a physical job using a part of my brain that controls movement, counting, measuring and often surprising strength. Writing on the other hand, takes flight of the mind, the part of the brain reserved for words, symbolism and narrative. However, tonight as I constructed this basic golden cake for my husband I began to contemplate how baking has shaped me as a writer. I came up with the following 3 lessons:

1. You can’t ignore the customers. One of my greatest weaknesses in the bakery was staying hidden in the back kitchen and avoiding the more difficult demands of disgruntled, picky and inquiring patrons. I wanted to exist in a world all my own; just me and my craft. Often, I feel that way about writing too, but there are two things you miss out on without customers. First, you never make any money without customers and second you never get any better. As a baker and a writer you need impartial people to evaluate your work and decide whether its worth buying or not.

2. You have to make every stage excellent. The first step in cake decorating is to make the cake bases. They have to be made with the finest ingredients, mixed in exact proportions, and cooked at the right temperature for the right amount of time. I think this is an interesting parallel to writing a first draft. It takes the finest ingredients of great plot, complex characters, a dash of symbolism and powerful meaning. But those ingredients don’t make have to get them in the correct proportions, at the right time with the right amount of intensity. Then, you have to let it cool. Then you put the filling in and the base coat of frosting. In writing I see this as the revision to a draft. Once that is done you can begin to decorate, adding your own flair, making it beautiful and marketable. You could have an absolutely delicious cake but if the decorations are not enticing it will never sell-- much like writing.

3. You have to practice. Baking is not really that difficult. It may seem daunting when you only look at the final product but in reality almost anybody can do it. The trick is trial and error. It may not come out right the first time and it definitely won’t come out right every time. However, the more you practice the better your craft becomes.

And so here I sit, enjoying a moist slice of cake and working on the layers of my writing.

My challenge for the week is to think about yourself this week, examine the unexpected aspects of your day to day life and think about how that has shaped you as a writer.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I was wondering today if perhaps “Not Penned Nor Published” would be a better name for this blog. It was a musing brought on by my admission to myself that after 5 weeks, I really thought that I would be further.

I thought I would be able to quantify my progress in pages, completions, or submissions. But, I cannot. The thing I have realized is how much I have to learn and how much I have to write. I cannot continue my pattern of half-finished character sketches and various scenes scribbled in my notebook or hastily typed out. This is going to take time.

I like the rush of starting a project and the satisfaction of meeting a goal but I dread the grind in between. And you can sense that dread in my writing. The tone is strained, the ideas trail off and the vivacity fades.

So, I have been asking myself, “How do I get my creative juices going and keep momentum on a WIP?” I found the following regime to be helpful. It is very obvious and perhaps redundant but it has stretched me personally:

First of all, I need to set a time. A daily routine gets my whole body in gear. I am still in midst of this step, trying out different times and locations. I am a morning person but teaching starts early and so I usually write before I go to bed at night.
Next, I read a few blogs. I stress the words, “a few.” And I don’t read the feel good blogs, the encouraging blogs or the inspirational blogs. I save those for weekend and really bad days. No, I read the kick in the pants, get moving blogs that remind me that I have writing to do and I better get to it.

Then, I read over what I last wrote, try to get into that mindset. I make some changes, spice up any sections that began to lag, check any facts I think may need reexamining.

Finally, I write. I write for at least 45 minutes. I try for an hour. I try to get at least two good pages a day. Sometimes, it flows and I do much more. Some days, it is sheer determination and the results are sub-par. But either way, I write.

As an addendum: when I am done writing, I jot a few notes of where I think things should go next.

Then, I turn off my computer with a sigh. I allow what I have written and what I want to write to marinate in my mind until next time.