Mojo Monday: The Big Secret in Life (Writing)

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


Oprah puts it like this: “The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.”

Here’s my take: “The big secret in writing is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you work your arse off.”

And it’s true. You can.

Sure, in the “working” period there’s little recognition, few pats on the back, zero minutes of fame, moments of self-doubt, zero minutes in the limelight, etc.

And yes, the working period can (and most likely will) go on for a long time. Weeks, months, years, decades.

And all of that can feel like crap once in a while.

But (and here’s the hard part), too bad.

If you want it (you know, the big IT), you must do the work.

So go…work your arse off this week. Let nothing deter you.

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Image: ntwowe / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Expat Sat: The Crazy, Busy Noggin

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


Geesh, I’ve got so much bubbling through this noggin of mine that I can’t focus on one thing. So…instead of torturing myself a minute longer about it, I’m going to stop trying and instead give you a list. (Don’t ever underestimate the power of a list.) Here goes:

1. I started a new job this week. A part-time writing/editing gig at a nearby private school. A cool opportunity that is allowing me to defrag my life and (hopefully) write more while having a delightful coterie of smart, worldly colleagues.

2. I’ve got this crazy-ass eye thing going on–corneal infiltrates–(there are two of you right now!) and it’s making me value my eyesight in a way I never really have before. Eat your damn carrots! (I know, I know…carrots don’t have a thing to do with corneal infiltrates but it’s more fun to say, “Eat your damn carrots!” than to say, “Make sure your contact lenses are fit properly.”)

3. Twitter’s new censorship policy. Good? Not good? Good enough? Terrible? Pros? Cons?

4. Someone needs to create a digital photo database that can be searched more creatively and organically…so that when I search via the term “crazy-busy noggin,” relevant photos show up, not just “There were no images found that match your search term.”

5. Letters. The Rumpus just started a cool thing. You can subscribe to receive a letter (yes! in the mail!) from an author. How cool is this?!

6. Do you write letters, expats? Do you?

7. The lone wolf that has made his way into California…the first in 88 years! (Go, wolf, go!) He’s now an expat in his own land. (A familiar experience…)

See what I mean? Crazy-busy noggin.

How’s your noggin today?

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Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Rachel Bertsche

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


This week’s brilliant, charming, remarkable author is Rachel Bertsche who penned MWF Seeking BFF, a hilarious memoir that tells the story of Rachel’s search for a new best friend and shares a good bit of wisdom about friendship. If you’ve visited this blog before, you know I like funny. MWF Seeking BFF is right up my alley. Check out what Rachel has to say about her writerhead.

But remember, sssshhhhh! You do not want Rachel wagging her “hold on a minute” finger at you, do you?

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

Frustratingly, I often feel writerhead when I’m not computer-accessible. In the shower, in the car, on the treadmill. It’s those times when my mind is free to wander that sentences coming flooding into my brain. So I try to hold onto bits of description, arrangements of words, pieces of dialogue, just long enough to get them down. That happens to various degrees of success.

On days when I can get into writerhead while I’m actually at the computer, it’s usually in the afternoon. When I’ve done EVERYTHING I CAN POSSIBLE THINK OF to procrastinate my work. Usually around 3 pm, when I feel like everything else is out of my brain and there’s nothing I want to do but sit and write. I’m a night person, so I’m perfectly happy to let this last forever, but I feel like I usually hit a wall after 90 minutes and need to at least go for a quick walk around the block or stand up from the computer. But from, say, 3-4:30 the words come pouring out. There is no music playing. I’m at my desk and no one is in the house. I am very easily distracted. But there is always, always, Diet Coke.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

I ignore it if at all possible. Emails and phone calls don’t get answered. Husbands (well, just the one) calling from the other room get “Hold ON!” Writerhead is so hard to find and so easy to lose. That’s why if I feel an idea coming on, if I feel that state creeping in, and run for the word document. I’ve been known to stop on the sidewalk, take out my iPhone, and jot down the words of a scene on the “notes” program. If someone interrupts, they often get a “hold on a minute” pointer finger. Which I know is rude. I do. But when you’re in the zone, you gotta do what you can to stay there!

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

For me, writerhead is like watching a movie. I’m not thinking about what I’m writing, particularly, but instead almost watching it play like a film in my head. I remember working in this state during one scene of MWF Seeking BFF. I had finished a chapter, and in rereading it, I realized I needed to fill out some of the sections. My husband had a friend over, and a memory dawned on me. It hit me that this is exactly what I needed to communicate in the chapter. I stood up from the couch where we were all watching TV and walked away without saying anything. For the next hour (maybe even 45 minutes) I just wrote—sitting in our second bedroom/office, door closed, no music—and I probably put 1000 words on the page, when sometimes it takes me three days to write that much. It came flooding out as I relived this memory and watched the book scene play out in the screening room of my mind. I stopped, only, because I had dinner plans. But I had such a feeling of satisfaction as I headed to dinner that night. I knew I’d gotten what I wanted on the page, and as my “readers” read the chapter, that was the scene each pointed out, because they too could really SEE it.

BIO: Rachel Bertsche is a journalist in Chicago, where she lives with her husband. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, More, Teen Vogue, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Fitness, Women’s Health, CNN.com, and more. Before leaving New York (and all her friends) for the Midwest, Bertsche was an editor at O: The Oprah Magazine.

If you’d like to know more, scooch on over to Rachel’s web site and blog. Or say hidy-ho on Twitter (@rberch) or Facebook.

Writerhead: You Had Me At “Ocular Lavage”

Today begins “Writerhead,” an ongoing series in which I post about various things that send me into writerhead. No set days. Just whenever wondrous writerhead hits. Please share your writerhead moments, too!


Late last week, a lecture from my eye doctor punted me into writerhead. There I was, discovering (finally!) that my eye problems were not a figment of my imagination but a result of “corneal infiltrates,” when the good doc began describing my treatment regimen and used the term ocular lavage.

Ocular lavage.

What a glorious term!

Ocular lavage. (say it with me!)

It’s lovely, isn’t it? Smooth on the tongue. Strangely sensuous.

As the good doc continued to describe my treatment, I disappeared into writerhead…penning a poem about eyes and seeing and long “ellllllll” sounds.

And then suddenly, I dipped even deeper and realized something about a character’s ability (or perhaps inability) to see in the novel I’m working on.

Ocular lavage. That’s what did it.

Of course, I had to get the doc to repeat most of his advice, but it was worth it. The writerhead moments were divine.

(Don’t worry…my eyes are on the mend. I’m “lavaging” regularly, as instructed.)

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Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mojo Monday: Chúc mừng năm mới! (Happy New Year!)

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


This week in my house, we’re celebrating both Vietnamese Tet and Chinese Spring Festival. As mom to a Vietnamese daughter, Tet means a lot to our family. It connects us with our daughter’s history and culture. It bonds us to her birthplace. It reminds us how far-reaching our family is and gives us a special opportunity to tend and honor those ties.

Also as a family that spent nearly five years in Shanghai, China, Chinese Spring Festival is part of our tradition now.

So to you, I say both:

Chúc mừng năm mới!

and

Gong xi fa cai!

 

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Image: Tevatron

Expat Sat: Speeding Around the World (Really, Really Fast)

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


Inspired by the world? Travel? Hopping out of your comfort zone? Getting to know folks around the globe?

Me, too.

Check this out.

Writerhead Wednesday: Salinger on Writerhead

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


From an article at Salon.com: “For a time, Salinger seriously considered abandoning writing altogether and devoting his life to Eastern religion, a choice that would likely have involved joining a monastic order. Salinger reconsidered. He found ‘the chase’ of pinning down a good story more enticing than a lifetime of meditation.”

Haven’t most of us writers been there? Seriously considering abandoning writing altogether and devoting our lives to…to…something…anything…anything other than writing?

Dentistry?

Parenthood?

Gardening?

A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G that doesn’t involve a blank page?

But like Mr. Salinger, we persevere. We, too, love the chase of pinning down a good story.

Nothing like it.

Now stop hemming and hawing around here and get thee to writerhead!

 

Mojo Monday: Break a Rule Today

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


Today’s mojo magic is simple…

break a rule

Write a run-on sentence.

Jaywalk.

Be late for an appointment.

Mix a metaphor.

Walk backwards to the mailbox.

Start a story slowly instead of making something happen in the first sentence.

Eat pancakes for dinner.

Make up a word. Use it.

Shop at a different convenient store.

Write short if you usually write long.

And vice versa.

Paint purple grass.

And no, no, no, I’m not saying “Break a rule” so that others look at you with awe and say, “Oh, she’s a rule breaker.” I’m saying “Break a rule” because when you do, you will discover something important and profound about yourself and/or your story.

So today, take the damn deck chair beyond that point.

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Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Expat Sat: Carrots, Microwave Ovens & the Art of Remembering

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


In Mandarin, carrot is húluóbo (胡萝卜). Microwave oven is wēibōlú (微波炉).

When I was just learning to speak Chinese in Shanghai, I couldn’t keep these two words straight. Sometimes I would tell our ayi (the woman who worked for us) that I wanted chicken with a microwave oven for dinner. Other times, I would ask her to heat leftovers in the carrot.

Each time, our ayi would laugh, shake her head, then patiently correct me. I was sure she thought I was brave for trying, but basically hopeless.

After each lesson, I would stare at the microwave, repeating wēibōlú, wēibōlú, wēibōlú a gazillion times, sure that the repetition would seal the word forever in my brain.

And then a week later, I’d flub it again.

“Please steam the microwave oven with broccoli,” I’d say.

Or, “The rice is in the carrot.”

Yesterday I quizzed myself as I prepared dinner. I cleaned a pile of carrots. “Húluóbo,” I said.

I put the carrots in the microwave. “Wēibōlú.”

And that was that.

 

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Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Dylan Landis

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I became smitten with how Dylan Landis talks about her work when I read this interview with her at The Rumpus. As soon as I read about what the “egg and spoon assignment” in her tenth-grade art class taught her about lyricism and her voice, I knew I needed to hear more about her writerhead.

I wrote to Dylan immediately. She responded promptly. And here we are, lucky us, privy to a sneak peek at her writerhead.

Bio: Dylan Landis is the author of Normal People Don’t Live Like This, a debut novel-in-stories that made Newsday‘s Ten Best Books of 2009 and More magazine’s Top 100 Books Every Woman Should Read. She has recent Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Norman Mailer Center, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is working on a novel. To learn more, visit her web site.

Now…let’s go.

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

Fiction flows only one way—brain, fingers, keyboard—and the conduits, the nerves, are damaged. So my writerhead starts with a physical ritual.

First I put on little rubber fingercots, and snippets of gel-filled tubing on the pinkies. These babies cause typos, but they dull the sensation of electrical shock when I type. The laptop goes on a stand, and a wireless keyboard sits on my lap. That compels me to sit straight, which also helps. A trackball saves my right forefinger.

Now, only now, can I enter a prolonged state of writerhead.

My friend Natalie Baszile, whose debut novel Queen Sugar just got taken by Viking Penguin, heard a Gustave Flaubert quote on The Writer’s Almanac that explains writerhead so much better than I could:

“It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.”

I can attempt that delicious thing anywhere I have a laptop, but looking up and seeing a friend deep in concentration always deepens my own writerhead. I love working across the table from Susan Coll (Beach Season), Natalie Baszile, Pia Ehrhardt (Famous Fathers) and Ellis Avery (The Last Nude). Normally I read aloud as I write, but I’ll postpone that for a good three-hour writing date. I can also achieve writerhead while my husband reads near me, or working silently near other writers at the Center for Fiction in New York.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

I’m jumpy. I interrupt my own writerhead to check my email. There. I confessed.

But many interruptions intensify writerhead by the very act of my shutting them out. I can write for four hours on an airplane with people yammering across the aisle. Ignoring the music in Starbucks creates a bubble of concentration.

Three things throttle my writerhead. A neighbor’s TV (mine’s never on.) The bass of a neighbor’s stereo (ditto.) And the lingering of a child too young to drive. Motherhead and writerhead are both marvelous, but it’s hard to be in two places at once.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

Writerhead begins with imagined strains of music, representing the perfect but not-yet-written book, drifting far above my desk. In the state of grace that you call writerhead, I can snatch whole streams of notes out of the air, and transpose them onto the page as sentences.