Monday, November 29, 2010

Coming Up at

Hi All,

I've moved over to , and I hope you'll make the switch.  I've got a great line up for December including:

An interview with Laurie David, author of The Family Dinner.  Laurie (who was one of the producers of An Inconvenient Truth) will be talking with me about her writing process.

An interview with the founders of Junk, a new literary mag with a focus on addiction.

An interview with interviewer extraordinaire and Globe and Mail columnist Tom Hawthorn about the art of interviewing (that's right an interview about interviewing).

Theo's review of Nora Ephron's new book

and much much come over!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Giveaway at!

Come over to my blog's new home and follow the author interview series that will run till Thanksgiving.  And enter for a chance to win a pile of great books. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Come visit new address!!

It's bye-bye, Blogger; Hello, WordPress! It's the same obsessive talk about writing at a new address.
Check it out: WritingIsMyDrink.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Checking Facebook during Writing Time? Five Ideas for Busting the Block

1. Start noticing the times when you stop working. Is it when you get stuck on something? When the writing starts to feel “too hard”? Is it when you get thrown off your routine because something unexpected came up? Is it when you’re on the verge of taking your story to a deeper level? Keep track of your sticking points. You might even want to take a few notes about your stopping patterns.

2. Use the information you’ve collected against yourself. If you’re a writer who stops when the writing gets tough, keep a timer by your desk and set it for five minutes when you feel like stopping. Tell yourself you only need to write for the five extra minutes (but of course, here’s to hoping you keep going past that). If the unexpected throws you off, keep a notebook in your purse or backpack, tell yourself you need to find five minutes in your day to write—whether it’s waiting at the DMV or at your kid’s soccer practice (I’ve written in the Costco parking lot with a baby asleep beside me. I’ve also not written when I’ve had all the time and quiet needed). I know you’re thinking five minutes? What on earth can you write in five minutes? You might be surprised. You can write a few sentences, maybe a paragraph and it might be just the paragraph you’ve been waiting for.

3. Read Virginia Valian’s essay "Learning to Work":

4. Commit to writing fifteen minutes a day for the next two weeks. Keep a log. The log can be as simple as a check mark to a few notes about how the writing went. When I did this, I kept a log (I’m not much of a “keeping track” sort of person) only because I told my students that I would be keeping the log. Most days I wrote something terse like “did it” but some days I did take notes and I was stunned to see how many reasons I had for not writing. I love writing, I love having written, I have written a book, I have published writing, I make a living as a writer and a writing teacher. All this would indicate to me that I would not resist writing for 15 paltry minutes, but there it was chronicled in grisly detail “too tired,” “don’t want to!” “tired” “too much to do.” Do I spend fifteen minutes every day checking email? Yes, do I ever say I’m too tired or don’t have time? No. But checking email is a passive activity. I do nothing but click and see what others have sent me, how others want me to use my time, my energy, my life. Writing is active. Writing is me forging my own meaning.

Now why am I avoiding that again?

5. Do what Johnathan Franzen does. Disable your Internet capabilities on your writing computer. Or write on an old laptop with no wireless. Or do what I do most of the time: Hand write. There’s nowhere to click on my yellow legal pad to get to Facebook. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve also clicked the Unlock button on my car keys when approaching the front door of my house. I’ve also clapped my hands when my kids were doing something I didn’t like, which was once a signal to our long passed away dog to go to her bed and lie down.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hello, Rejection, my old friend

I hate rejection just as much as anyone else. I mean what's to like, right?  But I'm sometimes surprised how much writers' fear of rejection can chart the course of their careers. I've met many talented writers who talk about publication wistfully, but when I ask where they've submitted, they're sort of taken aback and say something like, "Well, I sent something to the Atlantic Monthly but after they shot me down, I thought what's the point."

The Atlantic Monthly? Yes, it would be exciting to publish there.   But, in the meantime, why not bring the bar down just a tiny, tiny bit and consider some of the zillions of other place that just might publish your work.  But then again, they might not. I sometimes tell my students (I love to make up numbers and statistics, so bear with me): Expect to be rejected 50 times for every acceptance. The number is probably high, but I've always been a part of the lets-just-be-braced-for-the-worst school of thought.  But never mind the number--the truth is if you're going to be published, you're most likely going to experience a good deal of rejection between now and then.  And, yes, it is a special sort of misery. And, yes, I think it's miserable in a very special way when you're writing about your own life.  But, avoiding that misery means most definitely avoiding the joy of acceptance and publication.

Someone recently told me that the most profound sentence they ever heard in any therapy session was this: "You can't go through life avoiding heartbreak. Heartbreak is part of life." And heartbreak is most definitely part of a writer's life. But so what? Yes, you'll be sad when your work is rejected and--if you're like me-- sob into the sofa for a while. But then you'll get up and make yourself a cup of tea and get to work again.  There's no rejection you can't make it through. But, the not trying-- that's the thing I don't think we can make it through. That's where your spirit really can be broken.

"What we anticipate seldom occurs: but what we least expect generally happens."
----Benjamin Disraeli

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Falling off the Writing Wagon

Who thought there could be so much to say about having nothing to say? Or maybe, it's having too much to say?  Either way: it's one more post about block.

Early this past summer, I came to the conclusion that most of my writing students could do really great work if only, they would..well, just do it. But, most of them were writing far less than the amount they reported  that they wanted to write. When I'd run into an individual student, there would be the inevitable moment when her voice would drop to whisper and say something like, "I haven't been writing," in the remorseful tone normally reserved for confessing a murder.

And, I wish I could say that I was the teacher who was writing the amount she wanted to write who could lead her students by example out of the darkness.  I'd just come out of a period of six months of writing routinely and regularly, but then something happened and I was off my routine. Once off my routine, it's as if I've never written before, like I wouldn't even know where to begin.  It's the same with yoga. As much as I report that I love yoga if I miss a class, I might not be back there for months. And, in fact, during that time, there will be nary a stretch on the living room floor. By the time I decide I must go back to yoga, i will go back to yoga, here I am going back to yoga any minute now, I've been rendered into a hunched, crooked figure something like a medieval version of the Grim Reaper.

So, of course it occurred to me that while I was helping my students get to the page, I could also be helping myself.  I remembered the Valian essay (I wrote about this essay in the three posts titled Once Upon a Block), and was happy to find it had survived and was still on my shelf. I read it hungrily and the message made as much sense to me as it had 20 years earlier.  I also went back to all my it's-safe-to-write books: Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, Julia Cameron's The Right to Write  and How to Avoid Making Art and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. From these readings, I developed a two-week program for getting writers back to the page and did it with three groups of students who mostly reported exhilarating results.  The cornerstone of the program--writing a little everyday-- is not astonishing or complex just like it's not surprising that eating less and exercising more will cause weight loss. But, it's always the simple stuff we get snagged up on.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Part 3 Once Upon a Block: How I Got Through My Worst Block Ever

So, fifteen minutes. What had I stumbled upon? I felt like I had just been given the permission I'd be waiting for all my life--the permission to work on something for a very tiny amount of time and then to walk away.  Ideally, of course, I would eventually not need to walk away after fifteen minutes. But, I didn't dare to get too far ahead of myself, but of course, I hoped that if not today, one day soon, the allotted fifteen minutes would be the gateway into a reverie of work from which I would lift my head only to realize that hours had elapsed and a snowbank of pristine, finished pages had risen around me.

But, even though I did not have children at that point, I was still very aware of The Power of Jinx (kids drill repeated and urgent warnings about Jinx into you, for fear that you will ruin their lives by getting too far ahead of yourself and counting their chickens before they're hatched.). And, as excited as I was becoming about the 15 minute formula (and then I will rule the world!  15 minutes at a time!), I held it as tightly in check as I could, for as I made abundantly clear in my last two posts so very much was riding on the completion of this ef-fing (say it with a British accent) thesis.

I was excited to read the section of Valian's essay titled "Rules and Rationales of the Program" (It was a program! and it had rules! it would work!). The first rule was "that the fifteen-minute period had to be spent solely on working." Good, agreed. I could do it. But then, a few lines later I read something that stopped me short:  "I also had to learn that losing myself in my work was not dangerous." I'd never thought of this before, but I definitely knew what this meant.  It was sort of scary to think of being absorbed into a long project, something like falling into a well. There was more to think about here, but for now I had to press on.

I was eager to start my first fifteen minutes. I got the kitchen timer ready.  But I knew that if I went into the fifteen minutes without a plan, I could choke and I was--I hate to admit it--afraid to use my first 15 minutes for actual writing on my thesis, so before I set the timer, I reassured  myself that the first fifteen minutes would be spent on brainstorming a plan for completing the thesis.  I won't bore you with the blow by blow of this fifteen minutes, but I will say that I settled in quickly and used the time making a list of 15 minute tasks--look up this and that, write a paragraph explaining x, read this source.  When the first 15 was over, I was satisfied, but I also knew that if I didn't do a writing task that day, I would still be doomed, that I would be using my new program as a very elaborate form of procrastination.  So, not long after (knowing me there was probably snacks, tea, some heavy sighing), I set the timer again and valiantly chose a writing task from the list.

Reader, I wrote. I wrote for 15 minutes.

You'd think it was a lunar landing the way I boast, but I knew after that fifteen minutes that the worst was over and that I would continue and soon the 15 minutes would turn into longer periods.  And by the end of the week, that's exactly what happened. I was now working for, gulp, several hours a day. Probably four hours. And the pages were piling up.  Two months from that first 15-minute session, I entered a small classroom and defended my thesis. I passed. I think everyone passes, but it was still glorious. But the most fabulous moment was a few days earlier when my desk jet printer spat out the last page of that thesis.  It was then that I did my Rock the Casbah victory dance.   

Read all of Valian's essay here: