Are You Looking for a Writer’s Group?

One of the basic rules of writing seems self evident. Don’t confuse your reader.

But how do you know if your writing is clear?  Your characters relatable?  The pace fast enough to hold a reader’s attention? 

How do we identify  personal writing quirks that drag down our sentences? Like using very, almost, began to, kind of, a bit, just, in order to.  

Is our writing less direct because we use filter words like, “He saw the woman cross the street”  instead of “The woman crossed the street.”

Are our tenses consistent?  Is it clear who’s speaking?  Are paragraphs so long they become cumbersome to read?

Errors and misunderstandings about what makes prose clear and inviting can be hard to pinpoint in our own work.  Grammar programs can help, and so can other writers willing to be honest and supportive.

Finding the right feedback group is important.  You may want a genre-specific group, or one with writers who have about the same amount of experience you have. Try to be clear about your intention and what you hope to offer and gain from participation.

For in-person groups, try Southwest Writers, our local organization of writers helping writers. They have regular meetings, speakers, workshops, publishing opportunities and contests in addition to information about local groups.

Meetup is another option for those who want in-person meetings.  And, if you don’t find what your looking for, consider starting a group. Local bookstores are a good way to find book clubs and meet other writers. 

There are lots of online groups and communities. Here are some links to get you started.

https://www.clevergirlauthor.com/online-writing-groups

https://iimskills.com/online-writing-communities

Students have asked me if I teach in-person feedback groups. The answer is yes, I have in the past, and am considering starting another group for people ready to give and receive honest feedback to improve their craft.

If you are currently working on fiction or memoir and are interested in joining a group, contact me at carol@carolhollandmarch.com

Include your name, contact info, what you are writing, and why you think a group would help you improve.

Are You Waiting for Inspiration?

My students often talk about “waiting for inspiration.”

They’re right. There’s nothing better than a thunderbolt from the blue—the perfect idea, the fully formed story, the image of the painting that drops into your mind. You can’t wait to get it down. The rush carries you through a creative session. An hour. A whole day. Maybe a week. Very exciting.

But after a while, you feel different. The rush has trickled away. The inspiration has faded. You look at what you produced. Maybe you like it, maybe not. You decide to keep going, but that rush of adrenalin does not return. The work feels like drudgery. You decide to wait until inspiration strikes again.

A common misconception is that creativity is separate from you. A visitation. A blessing. It can feel that way, and those sudden flashes may be a wake-up call. Maybe your Creative Self is trying to shake you out of your routine.

I had those experiences like that when I was working on my first novel. Ideas, characters, and scenes would pop into my mind when I was at my job or walking on the beach. I would rush home to write them down. When I was inspired, I wrote and wrote. But when the excitement faded, I avoided my desk, fearful of the practical aspects of writing a novel, the hard work of slogging through the difficult parts, learning how to make the parts fit together.

Being a writer is more than inspiration. There is re-writing, editing, polishing and research. The more I work, the more my Creative Self whispers in my ear. She seems to like constancy and commitment. She likes that I am keeping faith by practicing, learning, and preparing.

Commitment

Committing to a regular work schedule tells the universe you’re serious about your creative work. Make your schedule manageable. A one-hour session three times a week is plenty to start. Make it a habit and notice how it helps deal with any resistance you encounter. After you feel more confident about your commitment, you can re-visit your schedule.

Loosening the Chains

Measuring productivity can be helpful and motivating. When I (reluctantly) started counting the number of words I produced in each writing session, my productivity skyrocketed. I was amazed. Writing produced more writing. I learned to write faster without editing or second-guessing myself. The pages piled up. That method still works. First draft fast and furious. Second draft slower, third draft slower yet.

Some writers have rituals for how to begin their creative time. They light a candle or say a prayer to invoke the Muse. Some need to do the dishes before they can start, or walk the dog, or make coffee for the rest of the family. These are not time wasters, but preparatory steps.

Down time is not unproductive. Artists need time for their ideas to percolate. They spend time noticing how evenly the grass is growing and how the shadows of clouds move across a landscape. They notice the faint tracks where a snake slid down a sand dune, a lizard nearly invisible on a rock, how the elderly man next door waits every morning at his mailbox for the postman. Just out of sight, the wheels are turning, the juices flowing and moving, about to burst into consciousness.

As creatives, we set our own boundaries. We define our goals and how to reach them. We find our rhythm. We choose the time of day when we are most productive. We choose our priorities.

We respect inspiration but don’t wait around for it to show up. We commit and do our work, and when inspiration does tap us on the shoulder, it’s that much sweeter.

My next writing class, From Inspiration to Publication, starts on June 7, 4-6 PM. Live on Zoom. For anyone with an idea.

Creative at Work–No Repair Needed!

To move forward in collaboration with your Creative Self, you may need to re-arrange some priorities. I sure did.

When I decided that finishing my novel was my top priority, I forged ahead, without gaining more confidence or even believing that my efforts would be successful.

The fear of not embodying my Creative Self—finishing my stories and putting them into the world–outweighed my fear of rejection. I was still scared, but with the encouragement of mentors, friends, and writing teachers, I kept my eye on the ball and moved forward anyway.

As I worked on the novel, I finished and polished the short stories languishing in my computer. I learned about the markets for the type of fiction I wrote. Turned out there were levels. I did not have to compete with the the top names in the field. Other options existed, and I went to work learning about them.

After the rush of excitement with my first publication, I was on a roll. Accepting rejection as part of the game, I developed a thicker skin. I also made a rule. Every time a piece was rejected by one magazine, I sent it out again within 24 hours. This required a list of potential markets, which I kept in a folder along with any comments I received from editors. I ignored the disdainful comments of my inner critic and sent out my work over and over until it was accepted.

After deleting from my programming the erroneous idea that I am my writing, I fortified my boundaries. Gained objectivity. Kept learning. Stayed focused on the task. Write. Edit. Revise. Learn. Submit. Repeat.

Eventually, the light dawned: I did not have to be perfect, happy, rich, younger or thinner to do my work.Even though still riddled with self-doubt,  I did the work. And so can you.

Take half an hour out of your day and start. If you wait until you have enough time, the inner critic will pile on more tasks.

Be willing to start with a simple project you can complete in one session. Write a short poem, a character sketch for a story, or a pencil drawing of the painting you see in your mind. Do it fast, without thinking, and show it to NO ONE. When you’re learning, you don’t need criticism. We don’t improve our craft by thinking about it but by doing. With practice, you’ll get better.

The impulse to create comes from an inner tension. Something wants to come forth. To be made real in the world of time.The real question is whether you love your potential creation enough to bring it into the world. If the answer is yes, then make a plan. How will you find the resources you need? The time? The place?

As you set and reach your own creative goals, you change yourself. You become more confident, more resilient, and more inner directed. You start to trust the intuitive hunches offered by your Creative Self.

You don’t have to fix yourself.

Start now. Don’t think. Just start.

NO WAITING

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Listen! Something is Stirring!

It wants your attention. It wants to be free. Have you heard it whisper?

You know what it is. It dances through your dreams. It causes you to be late because you’re mesmerized by a cloud formation that looks exactly like the city in a story you want to write. In a rare moment of silence, it says, Come, follow me, I have a story only you can tell. An image only you can paint.

It offers impractical ideas, suggesting you compose a poem or a symphony. A ludicrous idea. After all, you’re a busy person. Who has the time for frivolities? Ridiculous. But, is it?

The call of the Creative Self is real. It means that something inside you wants to be born into the world of time and the light of day.

The seeds of inspiration reside within us. Often just beneath the level of awareness. It takes a receptive attitude to invite those seeds into our lives so we can shape them by creative acts into a poem, a story, a drawing, a clay pot.

Children have unfettered access to the messages of their Creative Self. They draw on walls, paint on their toes, and sing at the top of their small lungs, simply for the joy of it.

As we grow, we learn what pleases our parents, teachers, and friends. We want to fit in, to be loved and praised, so we learn to follow the rules. We don’t fingerpaint when we’re supposed to be studying. We don’t eat dessert before the meal. We don’t spend nearly as much time watching clouds drift by.

Even though we learn to ignore its subversive messages, the Creative Self does not disappear. It is always waiting.

When it makes itself known, it can burst out like thunder, impossible to ignore. Or it may whisper, faintly, its voice only discernible in the vague moments between sleep and waking. Don’t be fooled by volume. The faint voice may have more to say.

Humans create biologically. We also create the conditions of our lives, with our choices, our willingness to learn, observe, and investigate what lies beyond our immediate surroundings.

  • Every explorer wonders what waits beyond the horizon.
  • Every athlete imagines the heights of skill she can achieve.
  • Every artist practices her art to faithfully reproduce the images of the imagination.

People who perform at the highest levels of their sport, art, craft, or profession have an inner drive urging them on. They might call it inspiration or ambition. The words don’t matter. The vision that urges us to keep us moving forward comes from the Creative Self.

You can do it, the Creative Self notes, because it knows you can.

No matter how loud or soft, how often it comes, or how clear its message, the voice of the Creative Self is what you are waiting for.

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”

                                                                                                                 Rumi

 

 

Is the Story of Your Life Changing?

The stories of our daily lives have changed. We had no choice. We’re working at home. Not working. Home schooling the kids. Can’t travel. No baseball games, concerts, movies, or parties. We learned to operate on Zoom and discovered you can order anything, literally anything, on Amazon.

The changes were abrupt and startling. We adjusted and asked a lot of questions.

  • When will it be over?
  • Am I safe?
  • Is any of this true?
  • When will life go back to normal?

For answers, there’s no lack of stories.

  • It will end in the summer.
  • The virus will run its course like the flu.
  • Only old people are at risk, so don’t worry about it.
  • We don’t know what’s going to happen.
  • The way the story ends depends on how we behave.

We find ourselves in the role of protagonist.

But is that anything new?

There are so many stories to choose from. As much as humans love inventing stories, then repeating and elaborating on them to entertain each other, this is different, isn’t it?

Yes, and no.

Before written language, people told stories. They relayed what plant was safe to eat, what trail led away from the lion’s den and which one to follow for water.

Stories based on facts won.

When the story is about our health, safety, how we work, and how we provide for our families, we want a story based on the best facts available.

But when the story is about how we respond to abrupt cultural change and how we feel about it, that’s different. It’s about our lives. We get to make it up.

We tell a story about how we’re doing. What adjustments we’ve made. What’s going to happen. What it all means. It’s how our brains work. They want to know the next step. An unfinished story makes them squirm.

We tell the story of our lives all the time. To friends, to colleagues, when we’re interviewing for a job, or talking to a realtor about buying a house. The stories may be snippets, short stories, or in some cases, novels. This is who I am. This is what I did. This is what happened. This is what I’m going to do.

Our story makes up our personal myth.

  • I’m the kind of person who always . . .
  • I love a challenge.
  • Nothing stops me from reaching my goals.
  • If my family had been supportive, I could have . . .
  • Relationships never worked out for me.
  • Boredom is the worst, so I go where the adventure is.

Now that life has changed, are you changing your story? Developing a new plot? Inviting new characters into it?

In fiction the hero’s journey is a familiar plot. The protagonist ventures forth, meets allies, vanquishes enemies, and after conflict and difficulty, seizes the prize. Whether the prize is a princess to love, treasure, or hard-won knowledge, he meets his destiny. He was brave and developed skills.

Another journey is that of the heroine, taken by both men and women. It does not require a quest, but instead follows an inner path where memories, feelings, and beliefs are examined. The goal is to be authentic. The heroine examines her values, decides how much of the common wisdom applies, and who she will be in the future.

This time seems perfect for the inner journey, a pause to examine our lives, notice our reactions to the changes we’ve had to make, and decide what can be left behind. As we move forward, we may need a new perspective. New plans. A new attitude.

If you’ve thought about writing the story of your life, for personal development, legacy, or memoir, this may be the time. Especially if that story is changing. Writing helps sort things out so you can become the conscious narrator of who you are and who you will become.

I offer a class on Writing the Story of Your Life through UNM Continuing Education. Contact me to learn more about it.

Now Is The Time

Well, here we are. It’s been a month since I’ve attended a meeting outside my home. A month since I’ve taught in a classroom. Since I’ve had lunch with a friend, gone to a movie or stood in line at the grocery store. Even for an introverted writer who loves solitude, staying home this much gets weird.

Every day I bike through my neighborhood with my dog. She’s well over a hundred in people years, so we don’t go far. Lots of stopping and sniffing. I want her to keep her muscle strength as long as possible, so I persuade her even when she’s reluctant. She gains enthusiasm as we progress and on our way home, she trots along beside me, wagging and smiling. I put her inside and go out for a longer, harder ride. Sometimes I walk a Bosque trail. Most days I visit the local park to sit under a Ramada and watch people playing with their dogs and kids.

Everywhere I go, people greet me. They wave from cars and porches. We exchange anecdotes about our dogs, our shopping challenges, the weather. I know twice as many of my neighbors as before the pandemic. Maybe because more people are home. Maybe because community is our only bulwark against the waves of tragedy and fear sweeping our land.

It’s so odd that now we express our love for each other by keeping our distance.

I’m one of the lucky ones who can work at home and order what I need. And suddenly there was plenty of time. The perennial excuse evaporated overnight. Without appointments, errands, and classes, I could be wildly productive.

But it’s a month in and I’m just beginning to settle down. I have written. I always do. But my productivity did not escalate with the additional time. I found myself dithering, staring into space, watching shows on Netflix I didn’t even like.

My old responses to stress—procrastination, obsessing on unimportant details—re-appeared. My thoughts and fears about the pain and suffering hovering over the world like a black cloud was the culprit.

I meditated and prayed about it. Took the practical steps feasible for me. Reminded myself that I am safe. I am healthy. At this moment, I have a place to live, food to eat, beautiful animals to keep me company, friends to call and zoom with. And now, I’ve started offering writing workshops via zoom. Why not? Virtual training may be the new normal.

Finally, it occurred. This is the time. To stop making excuses. To look at my reactions to the changes in our world without flinching. To walk the talk. Be honest. The reason I’m not working on my new book for six hours a day is because I’m nervous!

When I’m nervous, I procrastinate. I read every email, news reports, the latest statistics. Being informed is fine, but knowing all the details doesn’t help.

So what does? What helps us live with uncertainty? This is what I came up with

  • Acknowledge feelings. It’s okay to feel anxious, stressed, impatient, depressed. Feelings denied only pop up later. Now is the time to admit that I’m human. I’m upset. I don’t like this. I want it to end.
  • Make self-care a priority. A walk, a bike ride, a yoga tape, an online exercise class. Deep breathing, meditation, stretching, dancing around the living room. Now is the time to move—bodies and emotions so those negative thoughts don’t dig in
  • Keep in touch. Call, skype, email, zoom, wave from the porch. Make a new friend while out walking the neighborhood.
  • Help someone. What can I do? Who needs help?
  • Tolerate uncertainty. There’s no telling how any creative project will turn out, so that’s nothing new for a writer. It’s a good skill to master. Now is the time to let go of trying to control things. It was mostly an illusion anyway.
  • Take small steps. Now is the time to say, I don’t know, and move forward. The best cure for paralysis is action. One foot in front of the other.
  • And most important, notice negative thoughts. The what if’s. The it might’s. None of them are real. They’re just thoughts. And thoughts can be changed. Dissolved. Replaced.

I am safe.

I am healthy.

I have what I need.

I can adapt.

I can create.

I can do my work.

I can love.

Believe in Miracles

Do you believe in miracles? 

Sure, you might say. I’ve seen miracles. And I expect to see them again

Or, There are no such things. Science has explanations for everything.

Actually, both perspectives are right. Miracles are prayers answered, hope fulfilled, stories of the seemingly impossible, inspirations that change lives, the melting of hardened hearts, personal transformation. But how do these things happen?

Contrary to what our senses tell us, science informs us that everything is energy. The observer affects the observed. Our thoughts influence what we perceive, how we feel, and whether we are joyful or depressed.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A man is a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”

Traditionally, a miracle is an event we don’t expect and didn’t foresee. It comes out of the blue, full of meaning, an object of wonder so marvelous it points to a reality beyond our reach. In a religious context, we can see this as God, the ground of being, or as manifestations of supernatural powers.

What is miraculous in one culture may be ordinary in another.

In the west, people interpret spontaneous recovery from serious illness as a miracle, and persons with unusual healing powers as miraculous beings. In some earth-based cultures, thunder and lightning are considered messengers of the divine, while recovery from serious afflictions is the result of energetic interventions by a shaman or spiritual healer. And perfectly ordinary

Saint Augustine said, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, only to what we know about nature.”

Another view is that the miraculous shows itself in the everyday world—in nature, in the love between people, in a child’s smile.

The miraculous may simply be something we do not yet understand. When we use the power of intention, affirmation, gratitude, or prayer, we are harnessing energy in the living field that connects us all. We do it to change our lives, which means we acknowledge our connectedness in the field of life. Nothing is really separate. If I love you, I love myself. If I hurt you, I hurt myself.

When we understand this, we notice that our thoughts and words change our perception of reality. If we persevere with those new thoughts, our actual reality changes too.

If I pray for healing for my friend, and my friend recovers from his illness, is that a miracle? Or the effect of intention on the web of consciousness that binds us together

You decide, according to what you believe.

For 101 stories of everyday miracles, check out the new anthology, Believe in Miracles, by Chicken Soup for the Soul, available now for pre-order. My essay, Please Pass the Holy Water, is one of the stories. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Change Your Life, Reduce Your Stress

Meditation is an easy, simple way to calm down, reduce mental chatter, and take more pleasure in life. For many years, my meditation practice has formed the foundation of my creative work. It helps me listen better, understand what my body needs, and stay present for the inevitable setbacks of life.

My friend, Caroline Orcutt, teaches Mindful-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at UNM Continuing Education. I attended her last class and found it helpful even for an experienced meditator. Taking the time to learn to slow down and breathe mindfully is a wonderful gift to give yourself. It may even rewire the brain to improve decision making!

Mindfulness helps us to tap into our own inner wisdom to cultivate a different relationship to our challenges. With this practice, we develop the ability to respond consciously rather than react automatically to situations, even stressful ones. Many who participate in the program report that the experience has helped them not only with stress and challenges, but with all aspects of their lives.

The MBSR program was developed in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, professor of medicine and long-time meditator. He wanted to see if mindfulness practices would help patients with chronic pain who did not respond to medication. The results exceeded all expectations. Since then, interest in MBSR has grown over the years and is now offered in hundreds of locations across the country and the world.

Benefits of MBSR include increased awareness and concentration, an ability to cope better with stress, a changed relationship to problems and pain, improvement in health, and a greater enjoyment of life. Devote some time to yourself this fall and join us for a potentially transforming experience.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
FREE Orientation/Information Session: Mon, Sep 23, 6–7:30pm
Fall 2019 / 8-week class / $275

Mon, Sep 30–Nov 18, 6–8:30pm and Sat, Nov 9, 9am–3pm

Instructor: Caroline Orcutt, MA, Qualified MBSR Teacher, UCSD MBPTI

Call 505-277-0077 or go to ce.unm.edu to register.

Discounts for seniors, students, Agora, groups. UNM tuition remission accepted.

 

 

Healing Broken Hearts


Our hearts are amazing organs of light and matter. On one level they pump blood to keep us alive. On another, they are the seat of empathy, of love for self and others. On a third, they bridge the gap between thoughts and emotions. The heart mediates conflicts and allows us to find the middle ground.

When a heart is open and free, it reconciles disparate energies from our bodies and spirits. An open heart feels soft and powerful. It is willing to trust and can make appropriate boundaries.

When judgment, fear, trauma, or over-reliance on rationality interferes with the free flow of energy in the heart, it starts to close. It can’t fulfill its function and loses flexibility. A heart of stone is not just a metaphor. A closed heart is judgmental, unforgiving, jealous, and often gives itself up for crumbs.

Most people living in our fast-paced, confusing world experience some level of heartbreak. Some symptoms are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Fixated on the future or past
  • Eating disorders
  • Abuse of drugs/alcohol
  • Physical symptoms of stress like worry, problems sleeping, unable to focus, hopelessness, low energy, headaches, frequent colds, muscle tension.

We know we’re supposed to eat right, exercise, control our emotions and not get caught up in the daily drama, but it’s hard. One reason is that our minds and emotions are not communicating with each other. The body is not getting the mental message that this difficult situation will pass, and the mind is not hearing the body say it’s scared and needs reassurance. Without healing, the broken heart cannot bridge the gap between what we think and how we feel.

In ancient Greece, the goddess Themis served as a bridge between the older Titans, who were all sound and fury, and the more rational Olympians. The child of Ouranos and Gaia, she represented the heart between spirit and earth, and her ancient function is being remembered today as a symbol of inner healing.

Her image is used as a symbol for justice and appears on the buildings of many courts. She carries the scale of justice and a sword, which reminds us that when justice is not served, there is a price to pay.

To reconcile opposites is to gain wisdom and consciousness. On a conscious level, this means we search for what connects the opposites. Subjectively, we allow ourselves to perceive, without judgment, the feelings and emotions that arise in response to our thoughts and actions.

Instead of listening to the culture or the common wisdom of family, clan, and country, Themis energy points to another way. We can make our own decisions based on discrimination informed by our feelings. Instead of bouncing from mind to emotion, from reason to gut, we can marry these aspects in the heart. We can learn to listen to Psyche, the spirit soul, and to Thymos, the passionate life of the body.

In the west, we have lost the idea of the body having intelligence and the ability to communicate, but new research in neurophysiology presents us with information that echoes the wisdom of Themis.

The Heart Math Institute offers research on how the heart mediates between our minds and emotions and how to reduce stress, gain balance and feel more at one with ourselves.

A great way to start on this journey is to practice a simple technique you can download at Heartmath.org. The Quick Coherence technique for adults is free at this link:

https://www.heartmath.org/resources/heartmath-tools/quick-coherence-technique-for-adults/

In future posts, I’ll be talking about how to make friends with the mind of the body and the practical things you can do to find heart balance. I teach a simple method of using journaling to reach heart integration in my Writing for Healing course which starts on April 18.

 

How to Organize, Publish and Sell Your Nonfiction Book

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How to Organize, publish and sell your Nonficion book

A new class for anyone writing or considering writing a nonfiction book.  Memoir, how-to, history, travel, whatever you’re working on.  I will cover how to organize your content, how to find readers, and how to research what sells in today’s marketplace.  We will also cover the many publishing options and how to choose what’s best for you. You’ll get resources, organizational tools and lots of tips.  Register for How to Organize, Publish and Sell Your Nonfiction Book.

June 6, 13, 20., 3 consecutive Monday evenings, 6-8 PM. Through OSHER program at UNM Continuing Education.  Class fee is only $39.

To register, call 505-277-0077

Contact me for more information.  Carol March   In Albuquerque, 505-235-9753

 

 

 

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All content copyright © 2023 by Carol Holland March. All rights reserved.