Guess what?

So many people walk around this earth with no idea
how to communicate their gifts to the world.

But you, dear writer, have already found your language.
Now it’s simply time to trust YOUR voice.

With love and total belief in you,
Marni Freedman

Welcome to The Feisty Writer!

Ummm, what is it exactly…

A New Blog for Feisty Writers Everywhere

What does it mean to be a feisty writer? Is it for me?

Well…

  • Are you ready to take your career into your own hands?
  • Are you looking for ways to improve your craft without being bored out of your mind?
  • Are you looking for new techniques that will actually get you to the page?
  • Are you seeking a writer-tested-and-approved method to complete your novel, memoir, screenplay, or play?
  • Are you a severe procrastinator with a fierce inner critic?

 

Guess what?

We are your tribe.

Curiosity Cures the Cat . . . and the Writer

Cats, Bubba and Spaz on Window SeatMy husband and I often joke about our cats’ reverence for routine. The more predictably their days unfold, the straighter their tails stand at attention (a sign of confidence) and the narrower their eyes squint (a sign of affection).

Writers find comfort in routine, too. I see it when I ask the college students I teach to reflect on when, where, and how they write best. And I see it in myself. I drink Caribou Daybreak Blend coffee from the same stainless-steel travel mug every morning. I water our houseplants on Sundays and follow an identical pattern each time I vacuum our house. I begin writing projects—whether creative, academic, or utilitarian—by generating bulleted lists.

But too much routine stifles creativity. Even cats are inherently curious, as their Internet fame can attest. I’ve found that channeling their ability to see fleeing mice in stuffed toys nudged down a staircase and snakes in yarn dragged across a carpet acts like catnip in my hunt for inspiration.

Here are some recent—and unexpected—discoveries:

Books

Kayla Rae Whitaker’s The Animators. This novel puts the creative process under a microscope. Two writer-artists forge a path from obscurity to ubiquity, hitting signposts along the way that nearly every writer will recognize:

  • The discomfort of mining one’s life for material to put on display.
  • The tide of inspiration that drags a lull in its wake.
  • The pendulum of emotion that propels progress.
  • The spinning plates of daily life that interrupt project momentum.
  • The intoxication of creating art that reveals a sum greater than its parts.
  • The excitement of publishing a work that has been a labor of love.
  • The pain of fissures that crack open when relationships are depicted as art.
  • The void of purpose that follows a completed project.

Ultimately, however, Whitaker’s book confirms that no writer toils in isolation.

Joshilyn Jackson’s Almost Sisters. Readers accompany a writer as she untangles her identity from her protagonist’s while also convincing her family to accept her unplanned pregnancy. The novel examines creators’ art-imitates-life-imitates-art conundrum in fascinating detail.

Podcasts

Invisibilia, 99% Invisible, Radiolab and Ear Hustle. All four shows take a familiar concept (anything from parenthood to concrete and memory to lightning bugs) and twist it just enough to make listeners perceive it anew. Radiolab’s Placebo” (season 3, episode 1) is among my favorite episodes because of its relevance for writers: The hosts set out to examine the placebo effect and discover just how integral narrative is to our human brain’s functioning.

Heavyweight and This Is Actually Happening. These podcasts offer listeners a glimpse into one real-life event per episode. Happening serves as a study in voice because individuals describe an experience, such as getting stranded on a mountain or witnessing a mass shooting, in their own words. Their telling is organic but edited flawlessly by the show’s creator to eliminate the linguistic gear-grinding inherent in speech. The result is a sense that I’m inside the speaker’s head, observing as she processes what happened.

Ironically, Happening is the weightier of the two podcasts. Heavyweight garnishes its poignancy with wry humor. The host turns a spotlight on his life, narrating in real time and then reflecting in hindsight.

Both podcasts remind me that moments big and small can produce rich content.

New (or Borrowed) Toys

Last summer, my sister lent me a high-end camera she’d purchased to document her kids’ milestones. Playing with it proved, well . . . eye-opening. Searching for shots drew my attention to things I’d looked past and made me see them. The digital format meant I could experiment without getting stuck developing 100 unwanted photos for every keeper. Looking through a lens changed the way my eyes viewed and my brain processed the world, which sparked ideas I turned into blog posts.

Other Writers

Recently, I’ve met writers who have published a book while parenting and working full-time. One woman composed her memoir solely during lunch breaks. Another wrote his YA novel during his son’s hockey practices. These reminders perk me up when I’m feeling deflated (See? Anything is possible if you stick with it.) and kick me in the butt when I’m lagging (You have no children and a flexible work schedule, so no excuses!).

The most important thing I’ve learned from hunting inspiration is that its sources are endless when I remain open to possibility.

 

Photo courtesy of Lisa Whalen

4 Things I Learned From Self-Publishing

A person choosing a book from a large selectionIn the world of authors, no other subject is more mysterious, nebulous, and insane than self-publishing. It’s so nuts, there are a host of gurus out there with courses you can take (for only $59!) which will unfold the mysteries so you can claim the bag o’cash awaiting you on the other side. Well, I tried self-publishing, and I’m here to tell you what I learned, for better or worse.

  1. Edit, edit, edit. Since there is no one out there in self-publishing land who will automatically keep watch for misspelled words and grammatical errors, you have to make sure you edit. And then edit again. And then edit some more. Probably four more times. Then hire a professional. Then go through it one more time. It never fails that once you’ve hit the ‘Publish’ button, you find the typo on page three that says IF instead of IT, and you face-palm yourself, wondering how many people saw it, and how many other times you did that in this manuscript. The upside? You can re-upload content after you fix errors. Can’t do that with traditional publishing.
  2. You have to do ALL the work. There is no one to help you figure out how things work. No one is mounting a huge marketing campaign, or booking book tours for you, or hiring editors, cover designers, and so on. It’s allllll YOU. It’s time consuming and can be frustrating. Here, patience is key. Make sure you give yourself enough time, and don’t rush into anything. The book will still be there tomorrow. Chill out.
  3. You get ALL the rewards. The reason self-publishing is so attractive? Royalties. You get to keep anywhere from 35% to 70% of the money your book makes (depending on how you publish and with whom), and that is a significant amount. You also have full transparency—you see exactly how many copies sell, and in what format, so you can track what you are owed. It’s awesome. Publishing houses take most of the money your book makes to pay for things like marketing and book tours, while self-publishing leaves these costs to you.
  4. It doesn’t end after you hit ‘Publish’. That is only the beginning. You have to continue to market your book and find your audience, and keep at it. You also have to find time to write more stuff so you can publish more stuff so you can write more stuff so you can….you get the idea.  It’s a constant circle: write, publish, market, market, market, write, repeat. You will be married to this project for a long time.

There are a shit-ton of books in the world. What else happens when you hit ‘Publish’? Nothing. Abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Why? Because no one knows who the hell you are or what your book is! You must get out there and scream from the mountaintops that you have a book that people MUST read or their lives will be incomplete, and you have to get people to believe it. And this has to be true, so they tell other people. There are more and more books being self-published each year, so it’s noisy out there. But if you can be heard, then jump right in!

 

Photo Credit: Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

If Meditating Pisses You Off, Try Connecting

meditating, a flower floating in a pondMeditating pisses me off. Mostly because I feel like I’m failing every time I go to quiet my endlessly active monkey brain.

However, I know that getting quiet and accessing that meditative state is one of the most fruitful and rewarding experiences we writers can have.

The other day, while wandering through the Huffington Post, I came upon this quote:

“Mindfulness meditation is a great technique to help improve creativity. It … reduces the reactivity of the reptilian brain, increases resilience, stimulates the neocortex, as well as improves emotional intelligence. All these assist in getting ideas flowing directly to your best creative thinking brain: the neocortex.”—Bianca Rothschild, Huffington Post

Let me be clear: I have deep respect for successful meditators. I aspire to be one of those awesome people who can sit on a cushion with legs crossed, palms up and go deep for twenty minutes or more a day. But somehow when I’m on my second inhale of breathing deeply my cat always seems to puke or a pipe burst.

Why Is It Essential to Connect to That Meditative State?

Artists and writers have long attributed their creative inspiration from being able to access this state. Many look to it as a form of otherworldly guide. Some call it the hypnagogic state, which is the realm between sleep and wakefulness, where both the theta and the alpha waves are present. (Hypnagogia comes from the Greek words for “sleep” and “guide”). During this state, it seems that the brain is more open to finding unique connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. Many studies have shown a strong link between the waking-dream state and improved problem solving and increased creativity.

The Beatles shared that many melodies from their songs, including ‘Yesterday,’ came to them in that state or in their dreams. Mary Shelly described the story Frankenstein as having come to her in a waking dream. The Disney Company adopted meditation in the workplace early on. After employees meditated, they noticed a marked increase in creativity. The painter, Salvador Dali, described that his surreal paintings came directly from his dreams. Dali called this state “the slumber with a key.”

Finding a Way to Connect

So, suffice it to say that getting quiet and accessing this realm is chock full of good stuff for artists and writers. But what if you are like me, and sitting down to mediate only pisses you off? How do you connect, download and access that state of infinite possibilities?

For me, I noticed that at certain times in my daily routine, a steady flow of ideas would show up. As I investigated further, I realized that the ideas would most often flow while gardening, taking a long walk, or making a slow-cook soup.

What was happening?

In time, I found that when I was going about the more calming activities of my daily life, I had unconsciously taken the pressure off. A level of peace was traveling through my motions. I was garden-meditating. I was cooking-meditating.

I was connecting.

If traditional meditation feels just a little beyond your reach right now, don’t give up on accessing that magical realm.

A Path to Connecting:

  • Pick an activity that you find calming. See if you can perform it just a little slower than usual. Allow moments of complete stillness within that activity.
  • While you are performing that calming task, ask to connect. Ask for the information you are seeking to be downloaded.
  • Allow the information to drop in. No matter how kooky or wild the information might seem. Just take pen to paper and allow it into your consciousness.

Other ideas:

  • Stay a little longer in bed. Juice that time between sleep and wakefulness. (Permission to sleep late.)
  • Check in with the sky. Cloud watch or star gaze. (Permission to look like an idiot on the street.)
  • Connect your body to nature with ongoing nature dates. Stick your feet in the sand, get wet in the ocean or hold gardening soil. (Permission to hug a tree.)

Connecting, going within, meditating, accessing the hypnagogic state—call your practice whatever you want, but do it regularly. For me, calling it connecting took the pressure off. It also allowed me to understand that I didn’t have to perform some magical ritual to experience that that rich realm of creativity. That realm was never very far.

If you want to try gaining some juicy tidbits from the slumber with the key:

Slow down, pay attention and ask the stars. And keep your notebook handy.

 

Photo by J A N U P R A S A D on Unsplash

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