Four Tips to Improve Your Writing Life

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January is a time for resolutions and diets. I love resolutions. Diets, not so much. If one of your new year’s resolutions is to start a journal, complete a rough draft or begin a blog, I’ve put together four of the best pieces of writing advice that I’ve ever heard, read or stolen.

1. Feel the Fear and Create Anyway

Making art is scary. In fact it’s so frightening that most people aren’t able to muster the courage to begin. How many cocktail parties conversations have include the phrase “I would love write a book but I don’t have the time, talent etc…”?

Contrary to common belief, everyone has a creative capacity within them.  Yes, even you. And if that creativity goes unused for any reason, who know the masterpieces the world will unknowingly miss?

Once you accept that the art of creation comes with a wheelbarrow of fear and terror, somehow that nasty monster under the bed becomes a little less scary.

2. First Draft = Trash 

Or to quote the wonderful Anne Lamott, “the only way I can get anything written is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” No one sits down to the computer and writes anything that without revision and editing should see the light of day. Instead, sit with the fear and write whatever comes out. Don’t judge it. Just continue. Put one word down after the other. Turn off the inner critic or at least drown it out with loud music, prayer or your family’s pleas for attention. You have to teach yourself how to get down word after word on the page, screen or tablet until a sentence finally appears on the page. That’s the only way the next War and Peace or even 50 Shades of Grey will be written, one word, sentence, paragraph at a time.

3. Regular Practice with Small Goals

I used to fantasize about living in a writers’ colony. In my mind it would be a cross between a spa and a meditation center, where meals would be delivered to my door and my living quarters scoured daily by invisible elves.  But the truth is that art is made by ordinary people and our writing lives are not lived in writers’ colonies, no matter how pleasant the fantasy. We live amongst loud telephone calls, banging pots and quarreling children.

With chaos as a constant, you must set a time everyday to write. I like to work early in the morning before everyone wakes up. Others work late at night. Whatever time you choose, make your daily goal small. If you miss a day, forgive yourself and restart the next day. Don’t try to make up your lost time, it won’t happen. Instead you will find yourself frustrated and even more afraid of the double word count in front of you. Shrug off your missed time and continue. Remember, if you write only 150 words a day you will have written a novel in one year. Small efforts daily add up to much more than the occasional Herculean effort.

4. Finish Your Project

It is easy to give up. You say to yourself, “if this project was really meant to be then it would be easier to write…” In fact, nothing is further from the truth. To quote the award winning author Neil Gaiman, “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” Sometimes it is right after things get tough, that things get right.

Wishing you all a new year full of projects completed and dreams realized!

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Last Minute Gift Ideas for Everyone on Your List…..

There is no better time than the holidays to give books. Ten times better than a gift card, a well-chosen book is a gift that entertains, inspires and can even change a life.

Here are my favorite books to give:

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The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

If you have a middle school girl in your family, this is the perfect girl for her. Charlotte starts off as prim and proper young lady and ends the novel as a kick-butt wonder woman.

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Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachan

MacLachan’s sparse and eloquent prose makes this short novel a perfect choice for readers from grade second through fifth. It would also make a wonderful read-aloud as long as you aren’t prone to weeping during MacLachan’s many poignant passages.

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Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Although published almost over twenty years ago, this Newbery winner is a favorite I re-read every year. Creech weaves together two separate stories which unite for a surprises and satisfying ending. Be sure to have a box of tissues near-by while reading this treasure.

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Bird by Bird by Anne Lament

One of the best books about writing I have ever had the luck to read, Bird by Bird offers no nonsense common sense to those of us (aka everyone) who struggle with the fear and anguish of writing. Lamott’s self-depreciating voice guarantees many laugh out-loud as well as inspirational moments.

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Kiss, Kiss by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo

Baby Hippo is dismayed to discover that he has forgotten to kiss his mother good-bye! The simple text and adorable illustrations make this board book an important part of any young child’s library.

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Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

I love all of Diana Wynne Jones’ books, but I have to admit this is my favorite. A fantastical story set in modern day London, Polly has two sets of memories. In one set, she has a strictly normal and boring life. In her second set of memories, she is entangled in the life of the eccentric Thomas Lynn. Only when she begins to forget her second set of memories does she realize that magic, which endangers the life of Thomas, is the reason for her memory loss. A wonderful story for grades sixth through adult.

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Half-Magic by Edgar Eager

I was beyond happy to discover this book a few years ago. Originally published in 1954, the novel is a surprisingly modern read. When four siblings discover a magic coin that grants half-wishes, adventures and hilarity ensue. Perfect for boys and girls from 8-12 years old.

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The Chocolat Series by Joanne Harris

Three books follow the adventures of chocolate and magic maker Vianne through battles with priests, radicals and small minded people. A wonderful gift who anyone who loves France, magic and especially chocolate!

All of these books can be purchased online or at your favorite indie bookstore. Wishing you  all a new year full of happiness, good health and many, many books!