Writing Is a Business

You see that title? Do you believe it? I do, I do, but I have not always acted on that belief. Well, this week I got fed up with the helter-skelter nature of my work and decided to do something about the practical side of life.  Not the writing side. I’m compulsive about that, as my regular readers know. I write morning pages 365 days a year. Five days a week I shoot for 500 words a day on the novel in progress, a new poem every week and a memoir piece every two weeks. This in addition to prepping for my coaching groups and the research that I mentioned in my last blog.

So while I was doing all that, who did the marketing, the financials, the day-to-day stuff that any small business needs to keep it breathing? Mine was more like gasping. Oh, no! I meant to renew that membership, to send off those submissions, to pay that bill. Well, we all know where good intentions get us.

Someone had to take control of this chaos and when I looked around my little office, no one was there but me and the dog, who cannot sign checks or type. He cannot remember passwords or count to ten. Duncan tells time, but he cannot use a calendar. I did a Winnie the Pooh “think, think” thing and came up with two solutions. One, I hired Mary Walewski of Buy the Book Marketing and spent two hours with her this week creating a marketing plan. Whew! It’s organized and doable. And I marked my planner every Wednesday morning as “Business Morning.” On Wednesday, I put my derriere in the chair and in three hours I had clipped off most of the frayed ends. I still have to get back to those submissions next Wednesday, but it’s only the first of the month, so the deadlines are not closing in on me yet. Now, excuse me for one second. I must see if I pushed send on those first of the month bills. (I never said I’d be perfect at this business.) Yup, so now I’m off to write. That’s the fun part of my busy, crazy life.

Truffle Hounds & Writers

Lagotto_RomagnoloAn Italian truffle hound digs up only ripe truffles. Its nose is that fine tuned. I don’t claim to find only ripe, valuable details when I collect data. Sometimes I have no immediate use for a detail that catches my attention. Like knowing about truffle hounds. Turns out that they come from a long line of retrievers from a lake district in Italy and are called Lagotto Romagnolos. Of what possible use is this information? Well, I just used it to get myself primed for this blog entry.

Often I feel that information comes to me via some vibe in the universe that has me in mind and wafts an image or idea in front of me, says “Notice this.” But I suspect that I have primed myself to accept the unexpected. I read a lot, and not just what I should read. This week I read three novellas by Jim Harrison under the title of The Beast God Forgot to Invent. I read I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. I read several items online about a weather phenomenon called a gray swan storm–one of great rarity and power, hard to predict. Add in a number of Richard Hugo’s poems and several pieces of short fiction from Crab Orchard Review. No disciplined research here, right?

But I need that diversity as a writer. I’ll not use all of the stuff I stuffed into my head, but it’s there in my curio cabinet just in case. And that thing about serendipitous deliveries? “Chance favors the prepared mind” (Pasteur). Writing is not about the self, but about the self in connection with the world and its horrors and wonders. Go ahead, snuffle around in the dirt. Be a truffle hound.  Who knows what rare, succulent things you’ll find?

Know What You Write

You’ve heard the advice, “Write what you know”? Dull stuff if you don’t know much. I turned that around last week by visiting Providence, RI, in which I have set the novel I’m struggling to write. I went there, parked the rental car, walked the sidewalks, had coffee, visited a book store and bought a guide book. And read it. I no longer have to invent every detail of the setting. I can envision much of it. I see the errors I would have committed without that site visit. An ailing character could not have walked up that hill. For one thing the old sidewalks are cracked and treacherous in spots. He could not have passed out on an isolated part of the college campus because the campus in question is busy, busy and someone besides his companion would have noticed, would have seen him recover and sneak away while his son’s back was turned.

The park where my characters linger is real, has a name and a convenient bench, just as I had hoped. The houses are clear in my mind, despite my plan to use an non-existent address. There’s the athletic field where the boy plays basketball. There’s a school that will one day be converted into a shelter. It’s there and now my job is to select the details that will anchor the story and give me a clear map on which to trace the action. In one day’s exploration, I’ve stashed enough detail to orient the whole book. It was worth the cost and the discomfort of air travel to be there. What I didn’t know without the trip would have made a fool of me. Don’t be content with what you think you know. Book a flight, drive the streets, walk and look and fix it in your mind.

Map That Story

412GVJBWRJL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_Bill Roorbach’s craft book Writing Life Stories recommends mapping a once-familiar neighborhood in order to spark memories. That works very well. On Friday, over breakfast, a writer friend and I talked about a memoir project she has going and thinking about the streets where she and her brother played cranked up her imagination and focused her point of view.

I am using a similar technique in writing my current novel (working title Providence). I stumbled on–serendipity at work–a map of the College Hill area of Providence RI on Face Book yesterday. This map  will help me put  imaginary toads in real gardens. (I think poet Marianne Moore had it the other way around, the gardens imagined and the toads real, but I’m me, not Moore.) And guess what, the athletic field I need is real. The park I want for my characters need not be invented. It’s there, Blackstone Park. Will my Providence be 100% factual? No, but it will be solid enough to ground my story.

I look forward to a trip east this month, in part because I will explore and photograph College Hill. I need not reinvent Providence as it is now or as it was when I was a student there, but I have to invent its future, and given my treasure map, the inventing will be plausible and reassuring.

A Writer’s Prayer

Whether you pray to an old man in the sky, a saintly woman in blue, a statue, or a light pole, it won’t hurt to think about praying like this:

May I be well enough to get to my writing place;
May I be safe from the critics in my head;
May I know the joy of finding the right words;
May I be free to write what I want.

Adapt this as you will. Say it often, be happy.

Makeup for TV

Writing is not, I repeat not, a solitary process. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I hang out with a lot of other writers, many of them I meet over coffee or in critiques or for free writing. I love these personal and up close meetings, especially in our high-tech world were too often we are avatars, mere head shots or invisible hands on  invisible keyboards. Yesterday I added another form of contact–television.

Stacy McKenzie is the host for a program called Off the Page, tag line, “where we get the story behind the story.” I don’t watch much television and have never been on TV, so I was curious and a little apprehensive. Television itself has prepared me for a chaotic crew of technicians and a round of retakes to make it perfect. What happened was much more comfortable.

In preparation, Stacy sent me a list of likely interview questions, so I would not be challenged by the unexpected. I talked with a friend who has had a lot of theater experience and Judy advised me to wear makeup because of the bright lights used in filming. What? Makeup? My cosmetics comprise a dried-up tube of mascara and a tinted Berts Bees lip gloss. Sigh, so I took her advice and called a local salon. Oh, excitement! “TV? Yes, we have an esthetician/makeup artist. We can fit you in at 1:15.” I didn’t have to be at the library where Stacy does the filming until 4:30, so I figured I had time to come home and wash my face if I couldn’t live with the results. But Tiffany at Centre Salon in Westminster listened to me and went with “a natural palette.” It felt odd, but I did not look like a clown. In the mirror I saw a face resembling my own, but just a little unfamiliar.

The film crew consisted of two men, both casual, friendly and undemanding. Stacy and I were miked with unobtrusive wires and all I had to do was smile, talk, and keep my tote bag out of sight. We talked about writing, about writing communities, about my books, and Stacy asked me to read a bit of poetry. Well, I read poems almost as often as I eat. The only retakes were for Stacy. She does so many of these interviews that she works at keeping the routine bits, her intros and outros and questions, fresh. So, now I can add TV experience to my list of things I never imagined doing.

The interview will be visible in September on the The Broomfield Channel-You Tube, the Mamie Doud Eisenhower Library website and Broomfield Cable Channel 8. Stay tuned and I’ll post the link. Now, excuse me. I want to go buy a new tube of mascara. Just in case, you know?

My Three Suns

Last week I confessed my intermittent fear of writing. Today I want to tell you how I combat that fear, should you want to know. Three writers/teachers help keep me sane when  despair sidelines me.

One is Julia Cameron, as I’ve mentioned before, especially her book The Right to Write. My daily habit of morning pages comes from Julia. Sometimes I use her as my audience and it helps.

A second but no less important book is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which reminds me to chunk the big projects. As in, I’m not writing a novel, oh, no. I’m just writing two or three pages a day that might gel into a novel


And then there’s Natalie Goldberg, who appears in my notebook as Nat, I feel that friendly toward her. I’ve just reread Wild Mind like I’m deficient in Vitamin D and need sunshine and nourishment. At times like that, I needed to hear her say, “Shut up and write. Fill a notebook a month. Keep your hand moving.”

wild mind

right to write



bird by birdMy copies of these books are underlined in different colors because I’ve grabbed  a different color pen with each reading. With these three mentors in the same room with me, failure is not an option because failure has little to do with money or prestige. Failure would be to stop writing.