The Life Saving Properties of the Hallmark Christmas Movie

A coulle ice skating while holding handsI met my first Hallmark Christmas movie in November of last year. It was far from love at first sight. I was staying with my friend Laurie in Atlanta. Back then, I was traveling every other week for work and she was kind enough to host me for most of my visits. We’d settled into our nightly routine, after dinner, climbing the stairs to the TV room with either a large glass of red wine or a mug of decaf in hand.

It had been a rough month. The elections had just passed. Work was absolutely insane. My family was going through a lot. My body and my brain were exhausted from the constant travel, the stress, and the drama.

We each settled into our overstuffed armchairs, propped our feet up on ottomons and turned on the TV. We made a full pass through our usual stations, HGTV, the Food Network, DIY, BBC, and the major networks and found nothing of interest. I watched as Laurie stopped on the Hallmark Channel on the channel guide.

I looked over my shoulder at her with one eyebrow up.

“Seriously?”

“You’ve never seen a Hallmark Christmas movie?” Her North Carolina drawl made her sound even more incredulous.

“You say that like I’ve committed some sort of Christmas crime.”

“I’m just surprised. Are you up for trying it?”

“I’d like to insert the ‘cheesy exit clause.’ If this gets ridiculous, we’ll change it, right?”

“Deal. I’ll warn you, we’re definitely not going to get any smarter watching one of these, but oh my word, they are fun!”

We settled on Christmas Incorporated, a story about an attractive, perpetual bachelor, William, who lives in New York city and inherits his father’s toy factory in a small town in New Hampshire. He is tasked with shutting it down. Riley, the female lead, enters the story when she lands a job as a personal assistant to the rich, bad boy, possible-factory-closer in a case of mistaken identity.

The movie had just started and I’d already rolled my eyes so many times, it was like I was trying to do some sort of yoga eye-therapy.  After I was done rolling my eyes at the possibility of a toy factory existing in rural New Hampshire, I rolled my eyes again at the circumstances under which Riley is hired. Even the most mediocre of HR departments wouldn’t offer a job to the wrong “Riley” (because there are a ton of female Rileys running around applying to be personal assistants—insert third eye roll).

The Hallmark Christmas movie was not making a good impression so far, but with few other options, I hunkered down, took a swig of wine, and half watched while I attempted to answer the emails my boss loved to send after his fourth bourbon every night after 8 p.m.

In the movie, Riley convinces Will to visit the town prior to shutting down the factory. There are lots of red plaids, twinkling white lights, and fresh baked cookies. Riley falls into her boss’ arms as they ice skate. They decide to decorate Christmas trees together as a very G-rated sexual tension builds between them. All of the townspeople are very kind and offer lots of unsolicited relationship advice.

I stopped answering work emails on my phone and watched as Riley and Will went with Santa to deliver toys.  I almost cheered when Will decides not to shut down the toy factory and my eyes watered when Riley and Will kiss for the first time just before the movie ends.

“So, what’d you think?”

“Oh my god, I loved it.”

“Wanna watch another one?”

“Hell yes.”

It was almost identical to the first one. Girl meets boy. They have the hots for each other (in a very Disney kind of way). They visit a small town in which everyone wears perfectly matching hats, mittens and scarves. The couple does some sort of Christmas decorating interspersed with an ice skating scene or a flirtatious snowball fight where the girl “accidentally” lands in the boy’s arms. The couple is delirously swooning over one another until they have a miscommunication and all is lost. Enter elderly person who drops a wisdom bomb. The clouds part and the couple then has a conversation no dating couple has ever had in the history of dating about how much they love each other and then they kiss as the snow falls and the camera zooms out. I love them. I watch one movie, after the next, after the next.

The beauty of these movies is in their predictable happy endings. And sometimes, I need a little happy. The stress of the holidays. The sadness of missing my mom, Captain Christmas. Something to escape from the politics, the violence, and the fear that seems to have become so pervasive.

If you need a little pick me up this holiday season, might I suggest a very innocent rendezvous with a Hallmark Christmas movie?

 

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/575095/

The Holiday Gift Guide for Feisty Writers

Do you ever wonder what to give your favorite feisty writer? It’s that time of year, and some of our awesome contributors have made gift suggestions any scribe is sure to love:

Marni’s Writer Gift Ideas:

the cover of Novel & Short Story Writers Market1. Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2018 is the only resource you need to get your short stories, novellas, and novels published. This edition of NSSWM features hundreds of updated listings for book publishers, literary agents, fiction publications, contests, and more, and each listing includes contact information, submission guidelines, and other essential tips.

Inside Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, you’ll find valuable tips for:

  • How to take your readers on a roller-coaster ride by mastering the art of the unexpected
  • Weaving foreshadowing and echoing into your story
  • Discovering the DNA—dialogue, narrative, and action—dwelling inside all memorable characters
  • Gaining insight from best-selling and award-winning authors, including Steve Berry, Liane Moriarty, Junot Díaz, and more

Why I love it:  I love this gift because it answers the age old question, “But where should I send my work?”  This is the gift that keeps your work from ending up in a shoe box.  Buy one for yourself while you’re at it.  Truly worth it.

https://www.writersdigestshop.com/novel-and-short-story-writers-market-2018

2. Inspirational Book

Book Cover for Juicy Pens Thirsty PaperWrite and share what’s in your heart! Let SARK show you how. Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper is your non-judgmental witness, resoundingly supportive friend, and practical guide to the craft of writing and storytelling. For anyone who knows that a writer lives within them but doesn’t know how or where to start; for writers who need new ways to work past their blocks and be reinspired; for anyone who loves SARK’s wise words and art, Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper will help start the ink flowing and keep it going.

 

 

 

 

Why I love it:  Well, truth be told, I love every book by Sark.  She is the queen of giving you permission to loosen up, to play, to love the messy, juicy and joyful process that writing can be.  If you become a fan here are a few more: Eat Mangoes Naked, Succulent Wild Woman and Inspiration Sandwich

3. The Editor’s Tote by Dooney and Bourke

For those who want luxurious toting of their notebooks, papers and laptops…

The Editor's Tote by Dooney & BourkeThe Editor’s Tote by Dooney and Bourke

H 7.5″ x W 4.5″ x L 8.75″ One inside zip pocket. Two inside pockets. Cell phone pocket. Inside key hook. Buckle closure. Handle drop length 4.5″. Detachable strap. Strap drop length 13.5″. Lined.

https://www.dooney.com/pebble-editors-travel-tote-BSHTL0326.html?dwvar_BSHTL0326_color=2LCAPATN#q=editors+&start=1&cgid=dooney-bags-style-tote

 

 

Why I love it:  Well if you know me, you know I can be greatly cheered up with purses and totes.  I don’t know why but when I carry around my notebooks in this it makes me happy.  If you have a writer in your life who is equally delighted by pretty containers with straps, this is a lovely gift.  And guess what, it is ON SALE for the next 4 days!

4. Bonus Gift – Just for Fun

fun wall clock for writers

The Writer’s Clock at Café Press

Why I Love it:  It only allows you an hour to panic, then back to writing.

http://www.cafepress.com/+writers_clock_wall_clock,1160095998

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa’s Writer Gift Idea:

book cover for The Anatomy of Story

 

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

 

This is the most comprehensive and practical how-to book for narrative writing that I’ve ever come across. It explores story from conception through execution, delving into character development, world building, thematic through line, plot, and scene construction. Truby’s concepts build upon one another, helping the writer understand their story from many different perspectives and thus giving them the tools to weave an intricate and cohesive web that will satisfy readers. And the best part is, this isn’t just for fiction writers—it’s useful to anyone who incorporates narrative into their writing, be it journalism, memoir, or non-fiction. While this book could be mulled over from time to time as ideas develop, it also includes a workbook format where the writer can do the work as they progress through each chapter. The writer(s) in your life will be forever indebted to you for this gift and—let’s be honest—there’s no shame in treating yourself to this one too!

https://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Story-Becoming-Master-Storyteller/dp/0865479933

Karen’s Writer Gift Idea:

an index card that says the gift of 5 hours for writing

 

The gift of time to write.

That’s all I want in this crazy season. My shelves are full of books on how to write, I have very nice bags to carry 10 copies of my latest, a laptop, pens, three spare unfilled composition books. There’s one thing missing…

 

 

Paula’s Writer Gift Idea:

book cover for Big Magic

 

Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear 

Here’s why I recommend it:

Big Magic grants authors and artists permission to create free of fear (or maybe in concert with it). I especially liked the early sections on the distinction between being a genius and having genius pour through you (the latter reflects the true nature of the artist) and how ideas can get sidetracked and, if they’re set aside too long, lost (been there myself recently). But, Gilbert argues, even if these ideas go away from you, they often appear elsewhere, pursued by others in a concept known as multiple discovery.

Fascinating and liberating, this book celebrates the joy of creating and gifts all authors and artistic types with the knowledge that it’s okay to just do the work, no matter the experience level or eventual outcome. Highly recommended, not just for authors, but for all who yearn to be creative explorers.

Marijke’s Writer Gift Ideas:

an open moleskine journal with drawings and writing in it1. Moleskin Journals

https://www.amazon.com/Moleskine-Cahier-Journal-Large-Ruled/dp/8883704983/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1512416238&sr=8-3&keywords=moleskin+journals+set+of+3

I’ve tried a LOT of journals and finally settled on the plain moleskin journals.  They are the perfect size to carry with me.  I have taken them on all my retreats and now have a collection, one for each retreat I’ve been to.  These are marvelous to mine for content later.

 

2. Watercolor pencils

water color pencils

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000J6EVZK/ref=twister_B076PK1CZC?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

These are so fun for adding pictures to my journals.  I find that it helps me relax and pay attention to my surroundings when I add a little color to my journal notes

 

 

 

 

 

3. The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg.

book cover for The True Secret of Writing

 

https://www.amazon.com/True-Secret-Writing-Connecting-Language-ebook/dp/B008J4RQD8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512417133&sr=8-1&keywords=the+true+secret+of+writing

This book captures what I think are essential components of my own writing practice, which Natalie distills as this: Sit. Write. Walk. It encourages us to dig a little deeper to “mine the rich awareness in your life, and to ground and empower yourself.”

 

 

 

 

Danielle’s Writer Gift Ideas:

  1. Out of print clothing

old t-shirt

https://www.outofprintclothing.com/

I wear a lot of t-shirts. They are part of my personality and feature anything from interesting designs, to bands that I love. Lately I’ve started to add both bookstore and book t-shirts to my collection. This site has a whole host of book-themed gifts, whether it be a t-shirt with Frederick the Mouse or a scarf with Edgar Allen Poe-ka dots.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Book darts

book darts

https://www.amazon.com/Book-Darts-Bronze-Line-Markers/dp/B0030J1J30/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1512428855&sr=8-2&keywords=book+darts

I choose to read physical books simply because I spend most of my days and nights in front of a screen. I have also attempted to curb my book spending, so I’ve also been borrowing a lot of books from the library. Book darts are the absolutely perfect way to mark specific passages in books. If you’re reading a book you borrowed for the library for book club, you can “dart” your way though it and remove them all prior to returning the book. Book darts are thin, neat looking, and removable. I’ve already blown through two tins. So worth it.

3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art book cover

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/War-Art-Through-Creative-Battles/dp/1936891026/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512428569&sr=1-1&keywords=the+war+of+art

The War of Art is my writing bible. Pressfield tackles one of the greatest nemesis of writers around the world – resistance. When I’m wrestling with the demons of resistance I reread the final paragraph of this book (which is marked with a book dart in case you were wondering) “Creative work is not a selfish act or a need for attention. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us all you’ve got.”

 

 

Lisa’s Writer Gift Ideas:

  1. 1. Book Map

book map

https://laughingsquid.com/street-maps-of-book-and-tv-show-titles-by-dorothy-collective/

These are fun, beautiful pieces of artwork featuring landmarks from literature in a single city map. Fun to stare at during those brainstorming sessions! They also have TV and movie maps, for those who don’t just love books…

 

 

 

 

 

2. Storymatic:

picture of storymatic game

https://thestorymatic.com/collections/frontpage/products/the-storymatic-classic

Literally a box of writing prompts. These have gotten me out of many a writer’s block jam, and there is a booklet of fun group games, too!

 

 

 

 

3. Dragon:

dragon software box

https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-NaturallySpeaking-Home-13-0-English/dp/B00LX4BZAQ/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1481404642&sr=8-1&keywords=speech+to+text+software&linkCode=sl1&tag=bookfox-20&linkId=989cb992faf4df717d127e4fe36aecd5

This is a software program for taking dictation, which is the fastest way to get words on the page, whether they are notes, prose, blogs, or whatever pops into your brain. It also learns to recognize words and spellings you use often, including proper names. Think of all the brilliance you’ll be able to get out when the words move as quickly as your imagination! (Note: this is the PC version. They have it for Mac as well, but it’s more expensive for some reason.)

The Ups and Downs of NaNoWriMo by Danielle Baldwin

an archery target with grass in the backgroundNovember is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. During November, participants are encouraged to write an entire 50,000-word novel in thirty days. With just shy of 400,000 people participating last year, it’s become more and more popular.

November, as described by most writing coaches, is also every writer’s favorite freak out month. Inevitably, writers that participate in NaNoWriMo feel the pressure to churn out word count. This often leads to a crappy first draft. Not normal crappy first drafts that all of us write. Like super crappy—think crappy but with a cape. On December 1st, writers sit down to look at their 50,000-word novel and experience a NaNoWriMo hangover. The late-night caffeine-infused writing sessions that fueled their 50,000-word bender felt good at the time. But then they open their draft to find it isn’t organized. It’s full of character inconsistencies, odd word choices, and flat writing. The prospect of fixing these 50,000 words is overwhelming, but the thought of tossing it is equally inconceivable. Depression sets in and writing coaches spend weeks trying to shake their writers out of a funk.

Despite all of this, NaNoWriMo is still a great idea. That’s right, despite your lasting mental image of NaNoWriMo as a flying poop emoji, there are a lot of benefits to participation. Here are a few good reasons:

Discipline and Focus

We’ve all heard that it takes 21 days to make a habit.  As it turns out, it actually takes 60+ days. Considering I can be weaker willed when it comes to writing, I still hang on to that 21-day myth.

While scientifically speaking I may not be building a new habit (or breaking one for that matter), I am making a routine, and once I build a routine, I’m far more likely to stick to it.

Everyone has different writing habits that work for them. There is no magical key to success. With that said, the majority of “successful” writers will tell you that you need to write every day. I’ll share an example:

A few years ago, I heard Salman Rushdie speak. As often happens during the Q&A session, someone stood up and warbled the question, “What advice do you have for budding writers?”

Rushdie tented his eyes with his hands so he could see the young man standing with the microphone in the audience of 800 people from his spot on the stage.

“Well,” he said, “being a writer is all about your time in the chair.”
The young man nodded vigorously.

“So the more time you spend in the chair, the more writing you’ll get done.”

More bobblehead nodding action from the man at the microphone. He continued to stare at Rushdie, not yet satisfied.

Rushdie realized the young man was still standing. He sighed and reached over to sip water from his glass on the stool next to him. The room was quiet. He cleared his throat and leaned into the microphone.

“So my best advice to you, young man, is to sit the f@#$ down.”

And there you have it. Why participate in Nanowrimo? Because it gets you in the habit of sitting the f@#$ down every day.

SMART Goals

I know the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in a month. I’d encourage you to start by throwing that goal right out the window.

A SMART goal is one that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. To craft a smart goal, the key is in the “r” for realistic. Setting a word count goal does NOT need to be based on the 50,000 goal for NaNoWriMo. Figure out what your average word count is per hour and set your goals accordingly.

I prefer weekly goals. This gives me some flexibility. So instead of saying “I’m going to write 1,000 words per day,” you can set your goal at 7,000 words for the week (or whatever works for you). Some days you’re going to come home after a long day of work to a broken refrigerator, dog puke on the carpet, and your longest-winded neighbor trapping you at your mailbox with a diatribe about people speeding in the neighborhood. When you’ve extracted yourself thirty minutes later, sitting down for an hour or two to write feels impossible. So don’t. Sit down for 45 minutes. Maybe half an hour. Fifteen minutes if you’re dying, but you know what? It’s 100 more words than you would have gotten normally. Or 200, or 500. And you can still make it up on another day when you’ve got more time and energy to put towards your writing.

Build Your Writing Tribe

NaNoWriMo is well organized. In addition to a website to track your progress and earn badges, there are pop up groups across town you can join to write in solidarity. I’ve even been a part of virtual groups where we wrote via Google Hangouts.

NaNoWriMo meet-ups, both in person and virtual, are a great way to build your writing tribe. If you haven’t had the opportunity to sit in a room with a bunch of other writers and write, I highly recommend it. These are your people. They understand the pain of sitting down and getting words on the page. Their encouragement feels real because they know the pitfalls. You’re also less likely to jack around on social media. You’re part of a writing collective, and it feels amazing.

So don’t give up on NaNoWriMo just yet. While you may not write a 50,000-word novel, you may finish the one that you’ve been working on, bang out some great short stories, or even try your hand at poetry. Good luck and happy writing.

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/472932/

My New Narrative by Danielle Baldwin

A group holding their hands in solidarity in the center of a circle“Hi, I’m Danielle. I work in new business and strategy,” I would say, balancing my tiny spear of Swedish meatballs in one hand while I extended the other at a networking event. The person I was introducing myself to would nod, acknowledging my role, recognizing the large company I worked for. We’d sip cheap red wine and talk about our industry. I felt confident in my place in the world and in my “story” as a corporate executive.

I never introduced myself as a writer. It was a subplot to the “story of Danielle,” written into casual conversations about hobbies, somewhere between “brussels sprouts connoisseur” and “die-hard dog person.”

Two weeks ago, I attended a small business expo. This was my first time introducing myself as a writer in a professional setting. I felt shaky, worried that as I uttered the words, someone might laugh. They might tilt their head, the way my dog Nala does when she hears a sound she doesn’t recognize. Would people recognize me as a writer when it was hard enough for me to recognize myself?

Fear pushed aside, I pulled my shoulders back and for several hours of networking, introduced myself as a writer. Generally speaking, I heard these three responses over the course of the event:

  1. “Ohhhhh, that’s interesting,” they’d say, eyes sweeping the horizon for an escape route, looking as though they’d just swallowed a live chicken. As we continued our conversation in halting phrases, one of their body parts would begin to bounce or twitch. They’d see “someone they know” at the farthest corner of the room, and were gone so fast I was surprised they didn’t leave smoke trails.
  2. “That’s so cool, I write, too! I’ve got a great idea for a book, it’s about this guy who’s a sloth keeper on a frozen planet…(fast forward several minutes) do you do any ghostwriting?” Their eyes bright and I’d smile, mentally taking inventory of my own partially edited manuscript, all my unwritten blogs posts, the deadline for an article, which I was now counting down in hours instead of days. Our conversation would pitter-patter back and forth, until they realized I was not going to write their book for them, and then they were off to refill their drink.
  3. “Interesting. What kind of writing do you do and what are you currently working on?” A book person, I’d think to myself, thank you, Jesus. I’d list the different types of freelance projects I have in the works and mention I’m in the process of editing my manuscript.

“What type of manuscript? Fiction?” they’d ask.

“No, memoir actually,” I’d say.

Here is where the conversation would hit a pivotal moment and I’d watch them curiously, knowing our casual chatter would abruptly end or shift to a deeper level of dialogue.

If it started with an awkward silence, then I knew the rest of the conversation was going to flop around like a dying fish on a dock. They would avoid asking me questions about my project or joke about how I’m neither old enough nor have the life experience to write a memoir. I’d laugh and ask them a question about their line of work, watching the worry lines between their eyebrows soften, and knew the conversation was not veering anywhere near writing again—not memoir, not freelance, not writing of any kind.

Those who were brave maintained eye contact and asked about the subject matter of my memoir. When I’d tell them it is a story about motherhood and my journey through the fertility process while losing my mom to cancer, I’d carefully watch their face, high-fiving them in my mind for hanging on for the ride. To the man (or woman), they’d smile, and I’d let out the breath I was holding in. Then we’d talk about the challenge they’d had having kids or about how hard it is when your parents are aging, or about writing, or something else entirely. These were the folks who asked me for my business card and gave me theirs in return.

This was a chance for me to learn how to tell my new narrative. Without fear. Without judgment. And while it may take me some time to get used to it, I like this new story, and I’m excited to tell it.

 

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash