Newsletter – May 2009

‘Tis like the birthday of the world,
When earth was born in bloom;
The light is made of many dyes,
The air is all perfume:
There’s crimson buds, and white and blue,
The very rainbow showers
Have turned to blossoms where they fell,
And sown the earth with flowers.”
–Thomas Hood

May–A month of endings and beginnings

tulipfieldThe first burst of roses have come to an end, but in my imagination they are still there, full and glittering in their splendor and beauty. Already I mourn for that first flush of spring that has passed, but I know that the season will bring more flowers–in California all the way through December! I have faith in this ongoing conversation the earth has with the sun and the possibilities that have not yet flowered.

And our creative work has these cycles as well. We must endure the times when the petals are ragged and the new blooms are not yet in bud, when what will appear seems only a dream or a wish. As I teach my classes, I repeat the words of hope and faith to my writers. I see in their eyes sometimes the weariness of writing on and on about memories, family, and events that at first they were motivated to write. Now when the pen encounters the paper, a jittery doubt sets in and silence comes over them. I diagnose this malaise as an attack by the inner critic.

The inner critic can all too often unloads a bunch of new diatribes that all too often stop writers from writing:

  • This is boring
  • You have no right to write about other people
  • No one else will care about this No one in your family will speak to you again
  • You can’t really write, so why bother
  • Can’t you stop living in the past? Just forget all this.

A helpful technique:

Part one: Write down what your inner critic has to say. I know, it seems terrible, but it’s important to get those voices out of your head and onto the page where you can see them more objectively. Keep track of what the inner critic has to say and keep a running list. If the voices really get in the way, stop writing and make your list.

Part two: Answer the critic with a positive affirmation. For instance, if it says, “this is boring,” your affirmation might be: “People have told me that my stories were interesting; for now, I will write and allow them to come out.” From, “No one will care about this” to “I care about my life and what happened. I give myself permission to simply write my stories. I refuse to give in to the negative voice.”

From, “Can’t you stop living in the past?”to “I’m living in the present as I write the powerful stories that shaped who I am. I am going to write my view of my life and come to a deeper understanding of myself.”

This technique of getting out the “poison” and infusing your mind with positive affirmations is one of the most powerful psychological and spiritual techniques you can use. It is a tired and true way of healing and overcoming internal barriers. I’ve seen it work with many people, and it really worked for me. I had one of the worst, nastiest inner critics on the planet, but gradually I began to control it instead of it controlling me. I struggled for a long time with it, so know that you are not alone. This issue is one of the most common ones that comes up with all my students and in my coaching work.

Keep writing! Be Brave–Write Your Stories!

Writing as Healing Virtual Conference links

In April, the National Association of Memoir Writers presented a free virtual conference about the subject of writing as healing. We were so pleased to have many callers on the line, and great energy about the subject and the presenters. Dr. James Pennebaker, the premier researcher about writing as healing told us the newest developments in the field, while Kay Adams gave a seminar on how to use writing to calm your inner chaos. Dr. Lucia Capacchione was eager to share her work about using the non-dominant hand to heal the inner child, and Christina Baldwin, author of Storycatcher, told us all how to become storycatchers. We ended the day with a powerful talk by Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner of Tehran, who talked about how she healed the trauma of her imprisonment in the Evin prison in Tehran by writing.

The audios are available for you to listen here:

Summer Classes in Berkeley

42-15189590Saturday Memoir and Spiritual Autobiography group
June 27 – August 8, 2009
Registration fee: $290.00
10-1 Berkeley, CA

We begin a new session June, and have room for one more! As a group, we write about the important moments in our lives–childhood memories, careers, love and family, and spiritual quests. Some writers use poetry and prose to capture memories and to explore the richness of life. We write about important turning points–the lighter, humorous moments along with the dark nights of the soul. There is laughter and a few tears, and most of all the witnessing of our stories, an important part of transformational writing. People of every age learn from each other’s experiences and inspires each other to keep writing insightful and thoughtful true stories. You will learn how to choose your scenes, how to use fictional tools, and ways to keep the inner critic at bay. We write during class, and share our work in a supportive atmosphere.

To register, click here or you can call Linda at 510-524-3898.

memoir-writing-treeEulogy for a Veteran

Author Unknown
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the mornings hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.

This time of year many of us welcome Memorial Day as a much needed vacation, but in communities all across the United States, a solemn ritual occurs. Relatives, friends, and close family members place flowers on graves and whisper prayers about their loved ones. For some, there is the raw grief of someone who has just left the world, for others, they want to honor and remember someone they loved. It is a time to reflect, to appreciate life, and to remember.

  • One way to do this is to write a brief poem for the person as a remembrance.
  • Another way to honor someone is to write a character sketch of the person–in action, talking, walking, waving their arms, or whatever they did that was unique and special in the way they carried themselves.
  • Let the voice of the person you are honoring come through in dialogue. Put their words on the page as they discuss, rant, debate or teach you how to make pie.
  • Create a scene in which they come alive. Be sure to include sensual details to help us enter your world completely.

Newsletter – March 2009

Everything is blooming most recklessly;
if it were voices
instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable
shrieking into the heart of the night.
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke

memoir-writing-treeThis weekend I traveled across seasons, beginning in the voluptuous almond groves near Ripon, CA. In the middle of the grove, bees are buzzing and things are indeed blooming recklessly. Then, a lovely drive through the green, luscious foothills into the snow.

Children and dogs were running and playing, and at dusk I enjoyed a winter’s walk along semi-frozen paths leading to misty clouds and bubbling streams etched against fluffy snow drifts. Back down the mountain, we returned to spring, flowers and warmth.

It is the time of awakening, of longer sunlit hours, where we are reminded of the cycle of seasons. The weather and the season is like our creativity–inner seeds that have been resting and quiet in the long dark winter come into flower. In the darkness of our unconscious, we are feeding ever so gently the stories, poems, songs, and images that we will draw on in the light.

This is a great time to buy a new journal with a pretty cover, and recommit yourself to your writing and creative life.

Make a list of the stories that are calling to you. Create a timeline of your life; write with a fresh new voice. Even the stories you have written in the past can be dusted off and given a fresh new perspective.

Enjoy the spring, and revel in the season!

Writing about Spring

All of us have memories and feelings about the seasons. Feeling the experience of a changing season is a sensual experience, and it is sensual details that make us and our readers feel what we feel. It is this feeling experience that helps us write vivid stories. You can write poetry or glimpses of imagery and feeling, as in the poem above. Or you can write a story or vignette (a small story fragment). Enjoy finding the words to express your feelings about spring.

  • Write about spring smells, colors, and sounds. What does spring feel like on your skin?
  • What rituals did your family partake of in the spring? Easter eggs, Passover, spring cleaning.
  • What is your favorite story of a special day in spring? How old were you? Where were you? What happened that changed you?
  • What does spring mean to you now?

Body and Soul Retreat, Calistoga, CA

April 17 – 19, 2009 (Friday to Sunday)
Rate: $390.00
$25.00 Discount for NAMW members. Members can view discount code here.

In April tiny grapes burst from vines that have been resting during winter rains. Pink flowering plum, white almond, apple, and blossoms of pear trees burst forth. Calistoga: steam arises from ancient pools of mineral water inviting busy urban souls to relax into healing waters, to find silence in nature, to spend time with the self that is often forgotten. Join us in this bounteous place for a writing retreat. ┬╗Read more

Shaping Your Professional Writing Career

The San Francisco Writing Conference 2009

What an enjoyable creativity-inspiring scene at the San Francisco Writing Conference held at the Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill. There were uniformed doormen, crystal chandeliers, and 400 writers, authors, and agents, milling about. What a scene of excited and happy writers! There were so many workshops, and such energy as people worked on their ideas, pitches, and learned new writing tips.

I enjoyed speaking at the Memoir Panel, where Signe Pike of Penguin/Plume publishers in New York joined me. We talked about the importance of memoir writing and some of the best ways to complete a memoir and get to the next stage. Later, a panel of New York publishers spoke about the current health of publishing–which is not all doom and gloom despite the economy.

On Saturday I coached writers at the Book Doctor event. Every 5 minutes for three hours, a new person sat down to tell me about their idea, and I helped shape their pitch for the Speed Dating with Agents the next day.

What I learned from the conference:

  1. Most memoirists struggle with plot and structure.
  2. I love the passion that memoirists have for their stories.
  3. Defining the focus and writing in scenes are especially challenging for most memoirists.
  4. Agents and publishers are still looking!
  5. The way to get something written is to write frequently–though not necessarily every day.
  6. The writing world is alive and well, despite rumors of doom and gloom.
  7. The NY scene is much more open to self-published works, esp. if they have done well, than it used to be.
  8. Creative things are being done in NY to get books published.
  9. Building a platform is really needed to help the author get recognized.
  10. Platform is:
    • Joining organizations.
    • Blogging your ideas
    • Getting published in small magazines
    • Taking risks to send things out no matter what
    • Networking at conferences
    • Going to conferences to build skill at pitching and learning about the writing world.

To focus your ideas:

  1. Write a list of the next 5 scenes you plan to write for your project–whatever it is.
  2. List the title of the next chapters or topics you want to write about
  3. Think about your writing schedule. Can you find one more time to write?
  4. Spring: what does your character(s) do when spring begins–rituals, prayers, crazy things.

Newsletter – January 2009

Happy New Year! Most of us think of the New Year as a time of new beginnings. We have been hibernating against long cold nights, or days of wind, snow, and rain. Even in California, our winter, though mild, invites contemplation. The stark emptiness of landscapes without leaves is striking. We can learn from this paring away of excess, a revelation of the bare structure of trees and shrubs. As D. H. Lawrence expresses in the above quote, we confront our own deepest nature and questioning as we look at the naked trees. In the simplicity of a bare tree, we find assurance that even our simplest ideas will burst forth into bloom in the spring.

As writers, we find ourselves searching for a central idea, kernel of wisdom or transformation, the revelation residing at the heart of our stories. We write ourselves into the core of the story, exploring the branches of our ideas, characters, and settings. This kind of wandering and exploration is necessary as we traverse our mental landscapes. Editing is like pruning, as we take away the unnecessary ideas and words, but at the beginning of our writing, we need to have the freedom of writing everything down before we know what needs to be pruned. We need permission to wander, to muse, contemplate. I hope the darker days and long nights are a fertile time for your creativity.

This is a good time to make your Writer’s New Year’s Resolutions:

  • I will be brave with my writing.
  • I will write for 10 minutes a day.
  • I will read good literature to stimulate my creativity.
  • I will focus on the positive aspects of my writing and not listen to that pesky inner critic.
  • I will join a community of writers and creative people to feed my writing soul.

Musings by Linda–The Journey of Memoir Writing

During the last year, I have marveled at how much power there is in memoir writing. In my workshops and coaching, I observe amazing and breathtaking changes, often quite surprising to the writers.

Many come to writing saying, “I’m not really a writer,” or “I don’t plan to write much, I just want to try a few things,” but find themselves drawn to giving free rein to thoughts, memories, and feelings not shared or even known before. The writing shifts into surprising discoveries, as if following a path made of silver stones to see where they lead. Sometimes the writing seems like magic, coming from nowhere, taking off in directions the writer couldn’t predict.

Many writers put pen on paper with an idea or intention only to find ourselves writing something else. Writing can seem slightly scary, like a semi-wild animal on the page, ready to rush into trouble, dark forests or dangerous caves without warning. That’s the pleasure of writing–you discover that nothing bad can really happen to you, and you begin your writing journey with a frisson of excitement.

Writing is a journey into the unknown with the only danger of pen on paper, into an unknown territory that is ourselves and our memories. We journey into the magic realms of who we are, who we have been, and where we are going. All hero or heroine journeys lead to the unknown, contain elements that are unexplainable, and require guides and companions to help find the way. Your writing group, your mentors, and fellow authors are your guides.

I hope your New Year is full of many rich and creative journeys.

Begin now with Memoir Story Openers

Write for 5-20 minutes on each idea. Save the vignettes to assemble later.

  1. What spiritual ritual do you have for this time of year?
  2. Write about January–your favorite activities now and in the past. Your feelings, memories, associations with this time of year.
  3. Describe the town you grew up in during winter. What did it look like, smell like, feel like? Any special events or happenings that you remember?
  4. Write five New Year’s goals or resolutions that will help you focus your life for the future.
  5. Write a story about who you were, what your favorite objects, toys, and people when you were ten years old.
  6. Reflect upon the political scenarios you have been witness to and how each of them changed your life.

Save these stories/vignettes safely in a file to draw upon them for your longer memoir stories collection.