Happy Independence Day – Liberate Yourself from Writer’s Block!

All writers suffer from the occasional bout of writer’s block. It’s our common demon, our scourge, and sometimes it even feels like a curse. But I’m here to help! In honor of our nation’s birthday, I challenge you to push through that impasse into the blue sky of freedom. Ahh!

In addition to providing 5 block-busting tips in the July column that I write for Women on Writing, I also interview my writing teacher and New York Times bestselling author Susan Shapiro, about her new memoir, The Forgiveness Tour: How to Find the Perfect Apology. Susan epitomizes talent and persistence, and you’ll be inspired by her humor and words of wisdom.

Liberate yourself from writer’s block by trying one (or more) of these handy tips:

1. Stop! An empty page is where all good stories start. But if you find yourself paralyzed by writer’s block, just stop. Don’t force yourself to write. You won’t like the result, and you may even, ahem, start to hate the work and beat yourself up. Before this happens, walk away. In fact, forbid yourself from writing for the next 12 hours. When I take a forced break, I end up missing it so badly that I often sneak back before my self-imposed suspension is over! The late Toni Morrison offered these wise words: “I tell my students there is such a thing as ‘writer’s block,’ and they should respect it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.”

2. Regress. Try to recover that same state of mind that sparked your imagination at the outset. When I struggled with a recent essay, I found myself flipping through a 1859 beekeeping treatise that inspired me in the beginning. The author and his charming prose reminded me of why I wanted to write this essay. If you reach an impasse, think back to the original inspiration for your idea—whether it was written by someone else or words from your journal. Stepping back into the past may actually help you go forward.

3. Read. If you’re working on a novel, pick up a nonfiction book. If you’re working on a nonfiction book, try reading a poem or short story. I actually have a shelf of reference books on everything from sailing to sewing that I’ll thumb through when I reach a concrete wall. It’s very liberating to read Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs when I’m working on something very different. Transporting myself mentally to a lavender field soothes my spirit and rejuvenates my writing mind.

4. Impose a Deadline. This sounds harsh I know, but nothing concentrates your mind like a looming deadline. If you’re floundering on a loose-ended project, get out the calendar and give yourself an official “due date.” Writer Jodi Picoult puts it more bluntly. “I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it – when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands.”

5. Say Adios to the Perfectionist! Quash that inner critic who tells you that every word must be flawless. Let your writing flow without interruption. If necessary, start with the main idea and express it in baby words. This is what I do. There’s plenty of time to come back later and smooth it out. Jennifer Egan says it better. “I haven’t had writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly.”

Another way to conquer writer’s block is to read through the vast list of markets actively seeking your work. In fact, without your contributions, these magazines, websites and other publications would face a “publishing block”! Help them out—and crush your own deadlock—by using one of these dynamic listings as a springboard for your imagination.

Good luck with your writing this month, and here’s hoping that your July simply sparkles, with both inspiration and productivity.

Scooting Through the World of Submission

Today I revised and bundled up three short humorous essays, took a deep breath, and submitted them for publication. Who knows what will happen, but it always feels so liberating to take the initiative. Submitting also helps keep hope alive. For this reason, I made a promise to myself long ago that whenever I hear back from a submission, good or bad, I immediately send something else out.

Rejections can sting, and many of you, I’m sure, like me, have had your heart broken before. You may also have A BIG REJECTION THAT STILL CANNOT BE DISCUSSED. But that’s just like life. C’est la vie. The good news is that for every rejection or two, there is bound to be an acceptance just around the corner. And you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t take a chance in the first place.

Wednesday was a nutty day for me, one that found me mired in muck while trying to plant grass, getting a humdinger of a spider bite, and accidentally tossing my smart phone into the burn barrel (thank goodness for Google’s Droid “My Device” locator). I sure needed some good news!

And wasn’t I thrilled to hear from Debra Simon, esteemed publisher and editor of Carolina Woman. She called to tell me that I won “1st Place” in their annual writing contest for my essay, A Tale of Two Tumbles. A prize that came not only with publication but a Razor E Prime premium electric scooter! Can you believe it? A scooter is not something I would have ever thought to ask for, but as serendipity goes, it turns out to be exactly what I needed! It was also thrilling to see (and read work) by my other writer friends, Jane Rockwell, Ruth Moose, Carol Phillips, Alice Osborn, and more who also placed in the contest. And many of these friends, I’m so proud to say, came from my long association with the Central Carolina Community College Creative Writing Program.

Carolina Woman has been connecting women like us for 27 years now–publishing articles of interest and other quality content on food, pets, fashion and more for women in the Triangle and beyond. And their Annual Writing Contest is a “must-enter” for any serious writer for both the prizes and the recognition. I have entered many contests in my life but this is one of the best! NO ENTRY FEE and REAL PRIZES. If you like Carolina Woman as much as I do, please, please “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. You’ll be glad you did!

As for me, I’ll be “scooting” back into my growing sea of works-in-progress. This little whoosh — like the childhood friend pushing you on the swing to get momentum — is even more incentive to jump back in. And it all starts with the courage it takes to get those words on paper. You can do it!

Wishing you all the best as you write and delight!

Clacking Away in the COVID-19 Quarantine….

Typos? No problem! Just keep writing…..(Pictured: A 1957 Smith-Corona Electric Portable typewriter)

How are you spending your time these days? If you’re like me, you’re alternating between enjoying brief moments in the sun and trying to write your way through this pandemic.

Today, a terrific advocacy group dedicated to redefining narratives around disability, mental health, and chronic illness kindly published “How a Writer with Multiple Sclerosis Finds Unexpected Gratitude with an Antique Typewriter,” which is my story of how I’m using the extra time to find new ways to think, and hopefully improve my writing.

I’ve set a goal of writing two new poems each day on an old typewriter, and I have to say, it’s very refreshing to just clack away and not worry about typos or grammatical lapses. The kind of things best left to my inner critic, who takes an extended coffee break during these times.

In other news, I was recently honored to be asked to write a monthly marketing column for Women on Writing, my favorite writing community. This column is focused on writing inspiration and market listings for writers of all genres, from poetry to fiction to memoir. The newsletter is free, and if you’d like to start receiving it, you can easily subscribe by entering your email address into the box on the right at the top of the website.

Additionally, I’m taking a training course on the technicalities of teaching online classes, something I’d like to try in the future. As much as I adore leading in-person classes at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, these times cry out for a new way for people to learn from the safety of their homes. And I’m all for that. It might be a stretch for me, but as I’ve learned by experimenting with my typewriters, it’s always good to branch out in some way.

Please stay safe (and sane), and of course, keep telling your story!

Celebrating National Poetry Month!

If we must be home bound during any month of the year, I’m grateful that it’s April. Not just because the dogwoods are in bloom, not just because our baby spinach is unfurling, and not just because our new bees are settling in and falling more in love with their queen every day….

I’m also grateful to be home for National Poetry Month. A friend is sending me a new poem to read every day, and even in this time of COVID-19 inspiration abounds along Whale Tail Road.

Today I’m honored to be Poet of the Day for Gyroscope Review. Fitting, the subject is beauty (orchids) and gratitude.

Mark Your Calendar for the Creative Writing Expo on November 14!

Join us for the First Annual Creative Writing Expo!

Thursday, November 14, 2019, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Central Carolina Community College, Pittsboro
Building 42, Multi-Purpose Room

writingDo you dream of seeing your writing appear in print one day?

Would you like to learn more about the one and only Creative Writing Certificate offered by Central Carolina Community College?

If so, please join us on November 14!

INSPIRATION * FUN * FELLOWSHIP

    • 6:30 – 7:15 p.m. – FREE Workshop on the Flash Essay. Due to the popularity of memoir, the short-form (or flash) essay is popping up everywhere. Instructor Ashley Memory, whose work has appeared in O. Henry, Women on Writing, Romantic Homes, Raleigh News and Observer and more, will share what you need to know to pen your own short essays, including THE ONE TIP no serious writer can afford to miss!
    • 7:15 – 8 p.m. – Meet our champion, CCCC Associate Dean Felicia Crittenden and our instructors, hear success stories of current students, and learn about our Spring 2020 Course Offerings, including how you can earn the Creative Writing Certificate!
    • 8 – 8:30 p.m. – Enjoy refreshments and spend one-on-one time with instructors and students. Door Prizes! 🎁

 

The Expo is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is not required, but we encourage you to RSVP by calling the Continuing Education Office at 919-545-8044.

“A true piece of writing is a dangerous thing; it can change your life.” – Tobias Wolff

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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.

Hello July: Berries, Weeds…and a Lunar Eclipse!

blackberrySummer is here. No question. The dog days of August arrived early this year. Trust me. With two canines lying flat on their sides on the cool concrete of the porch, too enervated to even wag their tails at me, I know it’s true.

I can’t complain too much. After all, July is my birthday month (the 6th!) AND our anniversary month (the 7th!) and…. the month of berries and freestone peaches. Hurray! July also brings back that cherished, although awkward, memory of the lunar eclipse of 1982. Anybody else remember that? I boiled down that long-ago experience into an ultrashort flash essay that Mental Papercuts just kindly published in their Issue 1.5, Weird Summer Vibes. If you’re hankering for wildly creative, off-the-wall summer stories that may bring back memories of your own, please check it out.

Three poems of mine also appeared today, more writing inspired by the summer. “What the Weeds in My Yard Taught Me About Social Justice” and “September Raspberry” bloomed in the Summer 2019 issue of Gyroscope Review. And “Pulling Up the Wild Blackberry Bushes” just unfurled in the July issues of the gorgeous O.Henry and Pinestraw magazines, both of which are distributed in locations across the state.

As a reminder to all my writer friends, July also marks the halfway point for what we hope will be a productive year of writing. Now’s the time to start penning, gulp, other seasonal pieces (think: Halloween and Christmas) and most importantly, setting goals to improve.

Chinese fortune cookies are fun, not always prescient, but they can be surprisingly profound. Here’s one just for you. Of all our human resources, the most precious is our desire to improve.

So what are you doing to get better? For me, it means leading two workshops this summer at The Joyful Jewel because I learn as much, if not more, from my fellow workshop participants as they do from me! It also means taking a memoir class led by Dorit Sasson through Women on Writing, my favorite space for online writing classes.

I’m a little nervous because I’m new to the field of memoir (and a beginner in the world of creative nonfiction) but the good news is that I’ve got lots to learn. This means I’ll never be bored!

Stay cool, eat your berries, and set your own improvement goals!

Ashley

 

 

Where Do You Write?

desk
Melville wrote from a bedroom in his Arrowhead home in Pittsfield, MA.

Where do you write? It’s a question that emerges frequently among writers. Next to the imagination, our own personal space is often the most sacred thing we have.

And the answer varies tremendously. Like Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor wrote from a desk in her bedroom. And although the Mount included a sumptuous library, Edith Wharton wrote from bed, with her little dogs curled up at her feet!

The ultimate introvert, Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote standing up from a podium in front of a blank wall, eschewing the distractions of the outside world. And although Carl Sandburg’s family ceded a front room with an expansive window to him at Connemara, he, too, preferred a smaller interior room at a desk turned away from the window.

As for me, I have tried numerous locations, including a little study in the front of the house, surrounded by the books of my favorite authors. As you can see from the picture below, however, Huckleberry Finn quickly appropriated this space for his own watch tower. And in spite of his literary name, he and I have very different job descriptions.

finnatwindowdog/dôɡ/: a domesticated carnivorous mammal that typically has a long snout, an acute sense of smell, and a barking, howling, or whining voice. It is widely kept as a pet or for work or field sports, unless that work includes writing.

writer/rahy-ter: 1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist. 2) Unlike you are Edith Wharton, a writer’s work space rarely includes a dog.

The same barking and whining that makes our dogs so charming does often, regrettably, interfere with the reflection needed to write. In spite of this fact, many a writer owned a dog (Dickinson, Lord Byron, and Wharton, to name just a few) and these canine friends enrich our lives tremendously. But that is the subject of another post, I am sure.

As for me, I prefer to write at our kitchen table overlooking a north window. Being a bit of a literary hoarder, I find it useful to have plenty of space to spread out notes, reference books, index cards, and the like. I write primarily from my laptop, and I appreciate the occasional glance at the natural world, and the little dark-eyed junco skittering across the fall leaves.

From where I’m sitting, I can hear the comforting hum of the dishwasher or clothes dryer, which reminds me that the “other” work of the day is nearly done. And of course, because writing requires much brain power and therefore frequent sustenance, being close to the pantry is always a good thing.

In addition to having a semi-permanent writing space, I also carry a little notebook wherever I go so that I can scribble notes as the spirit moves me. I’m currently consolidating all of these notebooks, cards, etc., into one bigger notebook so that I can more easily draw connections among assorted scribblings.

What about you? Where do you write?

finn at my feet
Despite our different job descriptions, we always manage to end up in the same space, however.

 

 

What’s On My Bookshelf: Part 2

As promised, I’m following up with the final great book on my summer reading list.

Ever wondered what goes on in the right side of your brain? If so, you must read Imagine by Rhodes Scholar Jonah Lehrer. If you’ve ever thought that creativity was held hostage by the gods, this book is for you. By breaking down the long-held mystery of creativity, Lehrer shows us that this power is within the reach of everyone.

He also shows that cultivating creativity takes work (and frequently, collaboration), but the examples he provides (from the invention of the Swiffer Wetjet to the songs of Bob Dylan) are compelling and inspirational.

Stumped? Take a warm shower or take your dog for a walk. Lehrer convincingly argues that taking a break from the issues that are puzzling you gives you the opportunity to let your right hemisphere do the heavy lifting, and presto, you may just hit upon a solution.

This book was a gift from Tonya, my childhood friend-muse-fellow artist. It was so good that she didn’t just pass along her own book; she saved her own copy for herself and bought me my own (bless her.) Although this book is filled with literary examples, this book isn’t just for writers. It’s for anyone who needs a fresh look at life. And the great news is that the secrets to life and the dilemmas that puzzle us all might just be in our heads!