Crossing over …. to the writer zombie zone

I’m working on  a unique book project for a client in the Managed Print Services industry.  The book is replete with leopard undertones (you’ll have to read it to find out why) and the deadline for the first draft is looming closer.  November 9th…9th…9th….(the echo is getting louder in my head, or maybe I have a bad case of tinnitus).  In any event, I’ve officially entered into what I refer to as the writer zombie zone.  And it’s Halloween. Coincidence? I think not. 

The countdown has begun, and the midnight oil is burning. If or when I manage to sleep for a few hours or so, I’ll probably have psychedelic dreams of leopard spots.  And very revealing leopard outfits (don’t ask).

Oddly enough, I enjoy the pressure.  It fuels me. 

What is less than thrilling is having to stare at a computer screen for hours and hours on end. Especially when my eyes start to play tricks on me. And when the lights keep flickering on and off, due to the incessant thunderstorm activity here in South Florida (it’s still hurricane season).

So, to all the zombie writers out there, I commiserate. 

Hark! IT is beckoning to me….. gotta get back to the zone.

Images via scalliwags.co.za and flipside.theiet.org.

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This one’s for you, Ro

Today’s post is not about writers, writing, or anything relating to the business of writing.

It’s about Faith, old friends, and the trials and tribulations that we’re forced to deal with from time to time. 

So, to that dear, old friend of mine who is going into surgery tomorrow morning:  You will ace it!  You’ve got loads of family and friends rooting for you, a great surgical team, and – for sure – a little divine intervention!

Xewqat sbieħ! (“good luck” in Maltese) ….. from Heather

 

 

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

— Isaiah 41:10

 

 

Image via minimomist.com.

 

Everyone’s a critic …

“A critic is a bundle of biases held loosely together by a sense of taste.”

Whitney Balliett

Writing is subjective.  And, we can’t please everybody.  Nor should we try, because that would be an exercise in futility.

That being said, criticism can really sting.  Inevitably, the immediate reaction is to be defensive − because it hurts our feelings and,  if we’re really honest, our ego.  Sometimes it makes us angry, especially when the criticism is either unfounded or, worse, mean-spirited. 

Conversely, constructive criticism can be a good thing. After all, we should always strive to write better and if we determine that there is merit to the criticism, why not apply it?  

Whether the criticism is useless, biased, well-informed, helpful, or downright nasty − the important thing to remember is: always respond with grace.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. No need to crawl under the covers or curl up in the fetal position.  Remember the old childhood chant “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”  Now, keep repeating that one hundred times and maybe you’ll believe it!  Seriously, though, they are only words.  Try to develop a thicker skin because, as a writer, you will always be subject to criticism. Get used to it. It’s how you handle it that counts.
  2. Bite your tongue (not a literal suggestion, folks!). Sit on the criticism for awhile. Your first reaction may not be your best. Digest the information, formulate your thoughts and respond − logically, and with grace.
  3. Whatever you do don’t lash out at the critic!  You may be inclined to tell them to  #$@%  &##!   Not a good idea.  You may be tempted to criticize them right back. Not a graceful approach. You’re better than that.  And, you don’t want to appear defensive.
  4. Just say “thank you.”  And then either apply the criticism (i.e. learn from it) or move on.
  5. Look at it as an opportunity to improve.  After all, isn’t that the goal?

Don’t let criticism paralyze you. Keep writing. Keep learning. And, hold your head up high. Just don’t trip over yourself.

h.f.t.g.

Image via guardian.co.uk.

All roads travelled lead to Inspiration

“I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”

William Faulkner, Novelist (b.1897 – d.1962)

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

If we, as writers, keep waiting for inspiration to strike,  we may well find ourselves in the same predicament as the two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot − drowning in immobility.  Neither Faulkner nor Beckett  sat idly, waiting for light bulb moments to magically appear.  No, they wrote, wrote, and wrote some more.  Sure, they may have had an inkling of what to write about, but it was while going about the daily business of writing that the inspiration began to flow − from mind to pen.  It was their perseverance (and, of course, their brilliant writing) which awarded each of them a Nobel Prize in Literature (Faulkner, in 1949 and Beckett, in 1969).

It is true that inspiration may come to us when we least expect it. In a dream. On a train. Or, while enjoying a dinner with family and friends.  Believe it or not, we all have at least twenty-five stories in us. At least!  Think about all the people who have come into our lives  − either to stay or just passing through.  And the events we’ve experienced, the observations we’ve made, as well as all the anecdotes we could tell (humorous, ironic, sad, and sometimes even tragic). 

All the roads we’ve travelled lead to Inspiration. We really don’t have to look much further.  We just need to sit down and write.

So, let’s get on with it.

h.f.t.g.

Image via jcshakespeare.wordpress.com.

Freedom and Individualism, as expressed by three creative geniuses: Thelonious Monk, Khalil Gibran, and Ayn Rand

In the mid-1970’s, three uniquely brilliant people came into my life. 

The first was American jazz pianist and composer, Thelonious Monk (b.1917 – d.1982).  His improvisational style set him apart from the traditional jazz musicians of the time.  In the 1940’s, the music genre known as jazz was experiencing a cultural revolution of sorts, with Thelonious Monk as its revolutionary leader. A new style of jazz – be-bop – was born. Considered jazz for intellectuals, the be-bop sound was all about intricate melodies, complex harmonies – and fast tempos. Thelonious Monk once said: “If you really understand the meaning of be-bop, you understand the meaning of freedom.”   

Freedom –  in my opinion  – is the most beautiful  word in the dictionary.  The meaning and experience of freedom is unique to each and every one of us.  What tastes like freedom to me may be radically different than anyone else. Some savour it as a private, spiritual experience, while others view freedom on a global scale. There is no right or wrong answer.  It is in the eye of the beholder.

I love to listen to the discordant sounds of Thelonius Monk. I never met the man. Nevertheless, I owe him a debt of gratitude because when I listen to improvisational jazz, I feel  free –  and vibrantly alive.

The second visionary genius was the Lebanese-American poet, philosopher, and artist  – Khalil Gibran (b.1883 – d.1931).  His works (The Prophet became an iconic favorite) were notably influential in American popular culture during the tumultuous 1960’s. On the subject of Freedom, Khalil Gibran’s eloquent poetry always strikes a chord with me –regardless of the number of times I read and reread his words:

“…Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape.

These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling. And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light. And thus your freedom when it loses its fetters becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom.”

Finally, there is my muse.  Her name, Ayn Rand.  Ayn is pronounced “Ein” (which means “one” in German).  In my study, there are at least three long bookshelves devoted to Ayn Rand  (her novels, essays, philosophical treatises, biographies, and virtually everything I could find that has been written about her).  If I ever choose to go back to do my PhD in Philosophy, the subject of my dissertation would most definitely be Ayn Rand.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1905, Ayn witnessed the Bolshevik Revolution firsthand and despised the collectivism that was so entrenched in Russian culture at the time.  Her family lost everything in Communist Russia and this intelligent student of philosophy and history  decided that the American model of freedom was the path she wanted to pursue. In 1926, she went to visit relatives in Chicago, then traveled to Hollywood … and never looked back.  Her first novel, We the Living (1936), was inspired by her earlier exposure to Russian tyranny.  In her novels, Ayn understood that in order to create the wonderfully heroic fictional characters, she would have to articulate the philosophical principles which- in her view – made these characters truly heroic.  As such, her novels were interwoven with politics, philosophy, economics, metaphysics, ethics and epistemology. And sex.  In 1957, her last work of fiction – Atlas Shrugged – was considered her greatest achievement. 

However, my personal favorite of hers is The Fountainhead (1943). It was the masterpiece that solidified Ayn Rand as the champion of Individualism.  And this is why I am so inspired by this brilliant intellectual who, incidentally, died in 1982.

For me, individualism is freedom. It’s at the core of everything I believe in.  Individual thought, choice, and actions.  Our journey into this world is a singular experience. As is our journey out of this world.  And our lives are made up of a series of individual choices, reactions and experiences that we (and no one else) are accountable for. For every action, there is a reaction.  For every choice we make, there is a consequence. Good and bad.  (preferably more good , than bad!).

I know, these are pretty heavy thoughts on a Friday evening.  So, I’ll leave you with some words that resonate deeply with me.  In The Fountainhead, the hero – architect Howard Roark – passionately explains the essence of individualism:

“… Man cannot survive except through his mind. He comes on earth unarmed. His brain is his only weapon. Animals obtain food by force. Man has no claws, no fangs, no horns, no great strength of muscle. He must plant his food or hunt it. To plant, he needs a process of thought. To hunt, he needs weapons, and to make weapons—a process of thought. From this simplest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from a single attribute of man—the function of his reasoning mind.

But the mind is an attribute of the individual.
There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement reached by a group of men is only a compromise or an average drawn upon many individual thoughts. It is a secondary consequence. The primary act—the process of reason—must be performed by each man alone. We can divide a meal among many men. We cannot digest it in a collective stomach. No man can use his lungs to breathe for another man. No man can use his brain to think for another. All the functions of body and spirit are private. They cannot be shared or transferred…” 

I’ve just given you just a snippet of this courtroom speech. It is riveting and worth reading in its entirety.

Here’s to Freedom!

Cheers,

h.f.t.g.

Images via karabess.wordpress.com, wikipedia.org, and civilclothing.com.

When Low-tech meets High-tech: a Writer’s Inferno

I always hated my typewriter (back in the stone age that was my youth).  It was awkward to handle, the keys skipped, and the letters were uneven (which irritated the living hell out of me). The only redeeming feature was that I could yank the paper out of the typewriter in a fit of temper (this was a time when anger management workshops were non-existent).

I do, however, have a deep affinity (passion, even) for paper and pen. Fountain pens, especially. And Moleskine® notebooks. And index cards, post-it notes, yellow highlighters, Sharpies®, and storyboards.

Did you know that the wonderful black  Moleskine® notebooks have been used by writers, poets and artists for over two centuries?  Yes, Picasso and Hemingway carried these notebooks everywhere.  Imagine what it would be like to catch a glimpse of the creative genius penned on each well-worn, hand-stitched page!  These infamous notebooks were their very own Holy Grail … of a simpler time.

They even have Moleskine®Storyboard notebooks ….  I use them, myself – specifically for novel writing.  They help me to organize the characters, chapters, plot lines, dialogue, and book flow.  I just jot down my thoughts – wherever I am (my pocket Moleskine fits easily into my purse).

Okay, this is where low-tech meets high-tech.  I transpose my “jottings” from paper to digital.  Yessssss, I know that seems like an unnecessary step but it actually helps me –to either reinforce (in my mind) what I’ve written or edit/delete.  I look at it as another stage in the quality control process.

Now, for those of you who do not want to carry a notebook (Moleskine or otherwise) around, there’s a product called Index Card – a writing tool designed specifically for the Apple iPad. It allows you to capture and store your ideas and notes in your own virtual storyboard.

There’s a French saying which goes something like this:  “Chacun à son goût” (each to his taste).

Low-tech, high-tech, or a hybrid of the two – you be the judge.

As for me, I need to go and buy some ink refill.

You know where I stand.

Here’s to simpler times.

h.f.t.g.

Images via writewritingwritten.blogspot.com, moleskineus.com, and appsforipad.net.

eBooks versus Print: do I have to take sides?

I cannot begin to tell you how many heated discussions I’ve had (with fellow writers, academics, and business clients) on the subject of  “eBooks versus Print.”  

There are many eBook naysayers who will insist that eBooks are not “real” books, that the quality control for eBooks is minimal – if at all, and that you cannot really claim to have written a book if the book is not in print form.  I concur – to a certain degree – with the second point.  Quality control is an issue. Anyone can put out an eBook, however, if it’s not well-written and interesting …. well, who will buy it?  I should point out that many published print books could also use a little QC!

Where do I stand?  Look, I’ve been a bookworm all of my life.  As a child, my friends would knock on the door and ask my mother whether I could come out to play.  My response (to my mother’s questioning look) usually went something like this: “I’m in the middle of a really good chapter. When I’m finished, I’ll come out.  Won’t be too long.”  Then, about five chapters later, I’d remember that I’d promised to go out and join my friends.

I’ve always loved libraries. I feel at home there. The musty smell of books, the hushed silence, the volumes neatly arranged according to the Dewey Decimal System,  the sheer opulence of printed matter –  bring me a quiet joy and sense of peace.  I love the feel of a book in my hand and am a voracious reader. That will never change.  My study is my sanctuary and my books are my friends. I cherish and value them more than any other possessions I own. I prefer books to diamonds — kid you not!

That being said, I look at eBooks as an opportunity to read more – wherever I may be.  It’s not always practical to carry around a heavy, bulky hardcover.  A Kindle (for example) is compact and light.

So, I embrace change because, in doing so, it offers me more accessibility to the written word. But – and this is a big But (no pun intended!) – I will still always prefer curling up with a good hardcover book.

Not surprisingly, I still have all of my old record albums and tape cassettes – from back in the day.  Yet, I also own an iPod. You see where I’m going with this?

Now, there’s probably lots more that should be said about the advantages of eBooks (from a writer’s perspective) – such as no distribution or printing costs.  I’ll leave that discussion for another day.  Right now I have to get back to reading this fabulous book I just picked up at Barnes and Noble.  I’m in the middle of a really good chapter …..

Later,

h.f.t.g.

Image via bethrevis.blogspot.com.

The perils of procrastination …….

Do you know how easy it would be to succumb to the temptation of relaxing on the beach?Especially here in South Florida, for heaven’s sake!  Just five minutes away from the ocean.  Yet, here I sit in my study – at least ten hours a day (5 hours a day on the weekend).  Believe it or not, I have been battling procrastination all of my life.  But the clock is ticking. Time is breathing down my neck, egging me on.  That’s why I’m so über-organized.  I need Structure:  outlines, lists, schedules, index cards, storyboards —whatever it takes. Without it, I might as well put a “Gone Fishing” sign on my door.

Why, oh why do writers continuously “suffer the slings and arrows” (certainly not of “outrageous fortune!”) of Procrastination?  We like to call it  “writer’s block.”  That’s a more palatable term for the “condition.”  Call it whatever you want.

According to psychologists, one of the root causes of procrastination is fear —  fear of failure or success.  The price of success is responsibility and recognition.  Procrastinators who fear success are essentially afraid of the fallout. Which brings us to the subject of perfectionism.  Procrastinators tend to be perfectionists (although perfectionists are not necessarily always procrastinators) – anxious for everything to be perfect. And since it’s virtually impossible to be perfect, why bother trying?

Okay, let’s presume that we understand the reasons why we do what we do.  The more salient question would be “how do we overcome procrastination?”  Here are some of the steps that have worked for me:

  1. Set a timeframe for yourself, with a beginning and an end.
  2. Visualize the end result you want.
  3. Set realistic goals and tackle them, one at a time.
  4. Pace yourself.  This is not a marathon. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that “haste makes waste?”
  5. Break up your writing time into segments, so that you allocate time to do non-sedentary activities like walking, gardening, swimming , or whatever you enjoy doing.
  6. Talk about your writing with friends, family and colleagues. Brainstorming always helps.
  7. Yes, write outlines, lists, index cards – whatever structure works for you. Like it or not, structure helps. A lot.
  8. Make a public commitment.  This is not for everybody. As you may have noticed (see the lower right side of this blog site), I have committed – publicly – to completing my non-fiction book (When the Child Becomes the Parent) and my novel (Finding Grace)  by 2013 and December 2012, respectively.  I did this purposely because I know that – come hell or high water – I will do it.
  9. Make commitments to others. In addition to my own work, I have committed to ghostwriting two client book projects (one is in progress, due for completion just before Thanksgiving) and the other is tentatively set to commence in January.
  10. Laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy the ride. Presumably, we write because we enjoy it. When you love what you do, nine times out of ten – you’re good at what you do. So, chillax.
  11. Breathe. Not the type of breathing they teach in Lamaze class. I’m talking about Zen breathing techniques.  They work.
  12. Eat light, healthy snacks.  They give you energy.
  13. Hydrate yourself.  Whatever libation works for you.  Despite my many tongue-in-cheek jokes about single malt scotch and fine red wine, I actually drink tons of Earl Grey tea while writing for hours on end.  Getting up to put the kettle on is a great way to stretch your legs.

Hope this helps!

Best of luck,                                                                                                                                    

h.f.t.g.

Image via Itsasmartdecision.com.