Tag Archives: Essays

How Embracing “Rest” Helps Us “Work” Better

Today, as I observed the tender new shoots of grass emerging from red clay, I was reminded of the day I sowed the seed. Two weeks ago, I experienced one of the most productive days of my working life as a full-time writer. Not only did I rewrite the troublesome ending of a long-form essay, I drafted a completely new flash creative nonfiction piece, and I reviewed a short essay by a friend. Knowing the next day would bring rain, I also planted a patch of new grass and later, journeyed to the grocery store for a week’s worth of essentials.

How in the world did I manage to accomplish so much writing while doing so much else? I’ve devoted entire days to writing before and didn’t accomplish even half that much! What I remember most about that day was how I felt as I worked. Never have I felt such brio, such vigor and passion for my writing. It wasn’t until I started reading “Rest” by Alexander Soojung-Kim Pang that I understood why.

Here’s what was different about that day:

1) I got an early start. Rising early in the morning and getting to work first thing was a practice of the most accomplished writers, says Soojung-Kim Pang, from Anthony Trollope to Edna O’Brien.

2) I limited my writing time. I knew I needed to plant grass before the rain, so I had only two hours to write. Therefore, instead of scrolling through email and Twitter, I had to set to work immediately. As Soojung-Kim Pang says, this focused concentration is also something that distinguishes the masters, especially Olympic athletes.

3) I engaged in sustained physical activity. Planting grass and working in the yard for a few hours wasn’t heavy labor, but it gave my active mind a “rest” and let my subconscious mind noodle around the revision questions on my mind. The powerful connection between physical activity and mental exertions is long supported by scientific research, says Soojung-Kim Payne.

4) I returned to my writing later that afternoon excited and motivated. There was no drudgery this time, as my earlier sustained effort rewarded me with something worth coming back to. I accomplished all of the writing tasks on my list!

5) I slept soundly that night. Although this wasn’t one of my goals for the day itself, a side benefit was how I slept that night. Because of the combination of mental concentration AND physical exertions, I slept better than I had in a long time. This rest, in turn, helped me write better the next day.

In a nutshell, and this was before I read “Rest,” I had accidentally engaged in all of the activities recommended by the author. I “layered” periods of work and rest, detached myself from distractions and when I did work, whether it was sowing grass seed or writing, I immersed myself fully in my work. Now that I’ve discovered this wonderful book, I’m learning even more about how this “accidental discovery” can improve my writing as well as my life. For one thing, the grass is much greener over here!

“A life that focuses on what matters most,” concludes Soojung-Kim Payne, “makes time for rest, and declines distractions may look simple on the outside but from the inside it is rich and fulfilling….Deliberate rest helps you live a good life.”

A Writer’s Guide to Managing COVID-19

At Whale Tail, the dogwoods tremble with nascent blooms on the cusp of unfurling. For me, especially now, in the face of coronavirus news that has gone from sobering to frightening, these trees symbolize hope and faith. Even as the Black Plague devastated Europe in the 14th century, the “whipple-trees” (as dogwoods were known back then) continued to bloom, reminding us that there is a greater power at work in the world.

As we struggle to cope with what this pandemic means for our daily lives and future, it’s more important than ever that we writers dive deep into our souls and pull out insights that can help ourselves and others cope and heal.

1.  Keep writing! We are so fortunate that the nature of our work – which requires its own form of self-isolation – means we can do it without worrying about making others sick. In fact, you could argue that it is nothing less than our job as writers to do our very best to lift each other up. And we don’t need computers. A pen and paper are just fine.

2. Send your words out into the world. There are so many ways to do this. There are countless markets advertised through the N.C. Writer’s Network, Submittable and Freedom with Writing (three of my favorite sources) seeking your work right now. And they need your words more than ever. Even if you don’t formally submit, you can still update your blog, text a poem, or mail a letter to a friend, just as I did today.

3. Read, read, read. I’m currently reading (and re-reading!) my favorite essays from America’s Best Essays series and online essays posted through Memoir Monday). I’m also savoring poetry – Jane Kenyon, Mary Oliver and the lighter work of Billy Collins are currently helping me cope. Reading is sustenance, every bit as powerful as food and water.

4. Stay connected with each other. Being solitary by nature, we writers naturally limit social events, but this crisis makes our few gatherings all the more precious. I have a number of traditional workshops listed on my Events page that are on hold right now, out of necessity. But this doesn’t mean we can’t convene through phone, postal mail, email and other online connections such as social media. By the way, I’m investigating the possibility of offering online classes in the future. As a student, I’m a big fan of these classes myself, so it makes sense to explore this option.

5. Try this writing prompt. Having trouble finding something to write about? Choose the smallest thing in your life that brings you joy right now. Is it the ladybug you saw this morning climbing up the deck chair? Is it last summer’s Gerbera daisies that somehow survived the winter and are now emerging from the pot? Maybe it’s the sight of your dog sunning himself on the porch…. in short, write about whatever it is that makes you happy right now! You might have more blessings than you know. 🙂

Biscuits Help Each Other Rise!

biscuit1On Saturday, I had the pleasure of spending my morning with an enthusiastic and especially curious group of women writers at Charlotte Lit. What a vibrant organization! I can’t say enough about the leadership and students at Charlotte Lit. They have built an enviable powerhouse of writing, and are truly dedicated to helping each other succeed.

The topic of our discussion was how to share your writing with the world. While self-publishing continues to be a vital force in the writing world, no question, I believe it’s still worthwhile to submit your writing for publication by others–whether to contests, commercial or literary magazines.

Why? First, you’ll get to know so many other wonderful people, whether at public readings or just by getting to know them by reading their work. You’ll also meet talented editors, who will happily help your shape your work and promote your writing. And among all your new writing friends (at Charlotte Lit and beyond), you can help each other. As Martha Stewart once said, quoting another baker whose name escapes me, the reason we put biscuits together in a pan is because they help each other rise.

Second, and equally important, is that when you write for publications and contests, you also grow as a writer. Yes, you have to be brave enough to stand the occasional rejection, but you can learn so much about yourself and the wider world of writing, that it’s well worth it. The motivation to improve will invariably result in acceptances, I promise, and by sharing your words and experiences with the world, you’ll expand your community that much more. And, ahem, at the risk of repeating myself too much, we know that biscuits help each other rise, right? 🙂

Have you submitted yet? If you haven’t, give yourself a New Year’s goal of submitting one piece of writing at least once every month in 2020. And remember, in the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe: “Never give up. Because that is just the place and time where the tide will turn.”

In the meantime, I encourage you to lean on each other for help and accountability. Choose a “submission buddy” and check in with that person regularly just to make sure you’re meeting your goals, if nothing else. Share your writing with each other and ask for suggestions on where you might submit your work. Most importantly, celebrate each other’s successes.

And if you missed Saturday’s workshop, no fear, I’ll be offering an extended version of the same one (with even more writing time and new markets for publications!) at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on April 25.

Remember, I am rooting for you. Because, okay, last time, I promise. Biscuits help each other rise. 😊

 

Creative Writing Events Near You!

Are you wriwritingting short stories? How about creative nonfiction or true-life essays? And let’s not forget about the third leg of this literary stool — poetry! Are you ready to submit your work?

No matter what you’re writing, revising or preparing to submit, you’re bound to find a local special event that may help you in your creative endeavors, from readings to classes, talks, and more! And some events are free! By attending, you’ll also meet other like-minded writers who can help you in your journey. Writing is by nature a solitary act, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one.

As a special note, in addition to teaching a class at Central Carolina Community College this fall, I’m also honored to be presenting two workshops at Charlotte Center for Literary Arts, Inc. later this fall and in January. I look forward to working with and meeting writers in the Charlotte metro area.

Hope to see you at one of these events. In the meantime, keep writing and delighting!

Click here to view the latest list of Upcoming Events.

“Pfull” House at Pfeiffer and WOW!

phoenix2Last night I had the pleasure of reading my poem “I Like My Bagel Toasted” at the special launch celebration of The Phoenix at Pfeiffer University, and it was a blast. First off, it’s a rarity to see more than 20 people at a literary event but at this wonderful occasion, there was at least 100–a “pfull” house by anybody’s standards! And anytime I get to see my friend Ruth Moose (and Pfeiffer alumna!) is always a special occasion.

Wonderful food, a great mixture of art (poems, stories, essays and photography!) and fabulous music made for an entertaining evening. The editors, staff, and advisors did a terrific job of making all attendees and authors feel appreciated.

bagelHats off to the editors who read and considered the nearly 1,000 submissions they received for this issue! My “bagel” and I were indeed lucky to be included. It’s taken a lot of courage to write about my multiple sclerosis so this has been a big step for me.

All in all, the day itself couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather alone was magnificent, sunny and dry with a gentle breeze. Amazing. And not only did my little bare-rooted Mara des Bois strawberry plants arrive from the nursery, I found out I won first place in the WOW Q2 Essay Contest for “How to Chop an Onion Without Crying.”

Isn’t it funny how life turns out? We writers work so hard, day in, day out, and the rewards are mostly internal–the joy you get from finding just the right word, putting your words to paper and sharing what you write with family and friends. But once in a while, the world surprises you with a little recognition and how sweet it is!

Wishing you strawberries, onions, bagels (and more) as you plow ahead and make your own writing dreams come true.