Introducing WriteCoach365.

Introducing Writecoach365: Creative Writing Coaching.
After hearing from several former students and current writing clients, and in response to their feedback, I am happy to announce a brand new option for individual (and, individualized) creative writing training: WriteCoach365.
Find more about this program, launching March 5, 2014, at http://www.WordsMatterESW.com/writecoach365

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Thank You, and Goodnight

Applause.

It isn’t something a writer seeks. Or, at least, it isn’t something a sane writer anticipates. Ours is, most often, a very solitary craft. Few of us will ever stand in front of a throbbing throng of rabid fans and accept, graciously I hope, their thunderous applause.

But, occasionally, some of us stand in a small room or a bookstore or, perhaps, a quarter-filled auditorium where we receive some feedback for our work.

Similarly, when I teach, I do not anticipate an ovation at the end of a class, even in a class where the students have chosen to be there and are happy to be so.

Today, though, I received a warm ovation from the students in my Reading as a Writer class. We had spent Fridays together for the last eight weeks, studying Graham Greene’s classic, The End of the Affair. As class ended today—ten or fifteen minutes late, as usual, because I have been unable to limit myself to the allotted class time—I wished the students well, told them I hoped they had enjoyed our time together, and reiterated just how much fun I had had leading the class.

And, they applauded.

It is a nice feeling. I understand, a little, of why actors and athletes and performing artists do what they do.

Applause is a different kind of feedback than the writer gets used to. There is always something wrong with a written work, so sending even a very strong story or novel to our trusted first-readers is a risk. We have to gird our loins, so to speak, and wait for the hammer blows. Sending stories to editors for consideration most-often ends with a form letter rejection. When we get a personal rejection, most of us do a happy little dance that we can’t explain to non-writers. (“Yes, I’m shaking my groove thing because someone said ‘no’ to me in a kinder, more considerate way than most people reject me!”) Even when my stories are published, I rarely hear any positive feedback, and certainly no one has ever made an audio recording of themselves applauding my work.

I appreciate the feedback I received today from those kind and gracious students.

After they had all left, I stayed in the classroom and erased the whiteboard and gathered my things and sat, for just a moment, in the now-empty room, almost as one does when leaving a long-time home for the final time. It is silly, I know.

Later today, a dear friend asked me, “Do you miss it already?” She knew I had really enjoyed teaching this particular class, and she already knew the answer before she asked it. As, good reader, do you.

Hey, writers…

This is a quick post. A sort of poll question, if you will…

What service or resource have you tried to find to help you with your writing, but have been unable to find, either on-line or in person? Or, another way to ask: What is something you’ve said, “If only I could find _x_ it would help me be a better writer!” but have been unable to find?

If something comes to mind, feel free to post it below, or send me an email. Ask other writer friends to chime in. I’m curious to hear…

There are no wrong answers. 🙂

I Give Up.

“I thought you’d already given up blogging,” some of you might say. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve been actively engaged in maintaining this blog, so your reaction is justified.

No, what I mean is, I’m giving up teaching writing.

This is a tough decision, because in the last few years, I’ve seen some really amazing things with my writing students and private instruction clients.

There have been people in my Legacy of Words classes that swore to me they couldn’t write a thing, and yet they hand me these pages full of lovely words that make me laugh or cry or sigh with contentment. I’ve had fiction writers whose eyes flare wide with that moment of recognition and epiphany, then come to me and tell me they finally figured out the ending to that story that’s been bothering them, or that they started a new novel and wrote seven chapters in one week.

So, I thought I was doing a good job. I thought my words, my encouragement, my excitement for the written word was spilling forth in ways that brought people along to their “next level.”

But I found out today: I’ve been doing it all wrong.

How do I know? I stumbled across a video titled, “How to Effortlessly Write the Perfect Short Story in One Hour.”

I’ve been ripping these students and clients off, apparently. I’m a charlatan. A scam artist. Because, I was working under the wrong set of assumptions. Here’s what I believed about writing fiction, which is contradictory to this new method:

1) Writing fiction is hard. The idea of “effortlessly” writing anything is foreign to me. Drafting is hard. Revision is hard. Getting feedback is hard, and knowing just what to do with the feedback is even harder. I don’t even make a shopping list effortlessly. Practice and evaluate and revise. Repeat. Repeat. That’s what it takes. If it was easy everyone would be doing it.

2) There is no perfect story, or novel. Naeem Murr is a great writer, and one of the best teachers I’ve ever had the joy of knowing. He told me, and I believed him, that there is no perfect work. That there is always something that could be done better. That even the best story will seem, to the writer, deficient a few years later, when he or she looks back at the piece and sees how the problems of the story would be tackled differently now. Which leads to…

3) Learning the craft of fiction is an ongoing, never-ending process. The best story you can write today is not the best story you can write. Next month, next year, in twenty years, this “best thing I’ve ever written” will seem a little stale, full of holes, naive, and clumsy. That’s because the more we write, the better we get, and the more we are capable of.

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But all three of these assumptions are destroyed with a title like, “How to Effortlessly Write the Perfect Short Story in One Hour.” There is no effort needed. There is no growth in craft, because you can’t improve on perfection. You don’t need years of practice and learning and synthesizing knowledge: it only takes an hour to be set.

I hope this guy is charging at least $30,000 for this information. If he’s able to do in one hour what an MFA program only PREPARED me to do, then he deserves it.

My apologies to those of you from whom I’ve bilked money. I’m chopping my snake-oil wagon up for fire wood and shaving off my handlebar mustache and cutting my plaid-striped carnival barker’s suit into strips to be used as prayer flags for the yurt where I am planning to retire and write, effortlessly, one perfect story every day for the rest of my life. I may take the day off, occasionally, for holidays and such. There is no reason to over-burden the world with perfect stories.

Happy 2014 – And More…

According to WordPress, it’s been 182 days since I last paid attention to this blog. (If you are an agent looking to represent me, and doing your research on my social media skills, please ignore that sentence…)

And, it had been a few more months, before that, when I was last truly active as a regular blogger.

It would be easy to make a new year’s resolution, here, and promise to return to these pages and continue to provide content to this blog which has been in existence since January of 2010. I should feel compelled to keep it up… Over 300 posts and 60,000 views and comments and emails and, and, and…

And, a lot has happened in the four years since I began writing here. And, a lot has happened in the last four months.

I don’t know what 2014 will bring, and the many options are such that I won’t even pretend to promise regular blog posts or anything else. There are enough missed opportunities and broken promises in life, without adding to that with a statement I know will not bear fruit.

I do want to say, though, if you are a subscribed (or otherwise regular) reader of this blog, I have certainly appreciated your comments, input, emails, and contact through other social media. Thanks for sticking around. And please, know you are always welcome to drop me a line, no matter if this blog is active or not.

Issue 30 of Ruminate Magazine is centered around the theme of "The Body" and it features my short story, Dog Years

Issue 30 of Ruminate Magazine is centered around the theme of “The Body” and it features my short story, Dog Years

Also, if you are interested, I have two new fiction pieces out and about in the world.

Dog Years, the short story of Keith Hutcheson, a vet who is compelled to go off into the woods to weep after every pet euthanasia, is featured in the current issue of Ruminate Magazine. I’d be happy if you were able to let the kind folks at Ruminate know you appreciate seeing my story featured there. (There is some great artwork in the issue, and poetry as well.)

And, coming up in late-January or February, my story called, It’s Never Quite What it Seems, will appear in Saw Palm, Volume 8. (The link here is to their homepage, which currently still reflects the content of Volume 7, but hopefully soon that will change!) I thought this story was a perfect fit for Saw Palm, and I was very happy they agreed!

I wish you all a very prosperous new year in which you become a better version of yourself— just a little closer to the person you are meant to become. Happy writing!

12 Weeks to Me, Part Two – Tracking

Here is installment two (of three) focused on my summer scheduling and my attempts to find greater balance in my creative, spiritual-emotional, and physical lives.

Twelve Weeks to Me, Part One: Scheduling

When I started thinking about how I would make some changes in my personal and creative life, I started with the first necessary component: scheduling. I knew several things, up front, and I began to plan accordingly.

First, making changes in our lives that have measurable, positive effects almost never happen accidentally. Once I came to a point of saying, “Something’s gotta give,” then I needed to be INTENTIONAL about my actions. Further, those actions have to be a part of a PROCESS. Change is rarely a “magic wand” moment. It takes time, effort, and patience. (And, to fuel the commitment to see the process through, I have to believe in both the process and the intended outcomes.) Finally, I knew my intentions, and the resulting practices, had to be HOLISTIC. The plan I was coming up with needed to address the whole me: mind, body, and spirit.

As the public school year came to a close, and as we settled into our new living space, it seemed like a good time to hit the “reset” button and try something new. So, here’s the three-part method I used to come to terms with scheduling (or planning, or facilitating) my program. (Pick whichever word doesn’t ruffle your creative feathers…)

Identifying needs, establishing priorities, and writing it down: these are the steps I use to schedule active change and progress.

Identifying needs, establishing priorities, and writing it down: these are the steps I use to schedule active change and progress.

1. Identification – The first thing I needed to do was identify what I perceived as the deficiencies in my current plan, the ways I could remedy those deficiencies, and decide on some measurable ways to keep track of progress. For me, I knew there were some very specific areas I needed to address: creativity, time on task with writing, spiritual and psychological well-being, and physical health. I made a list of each of these areas (along with a brief description of what the “ideal” would look like) and then, within each area, a sub-list of specific actions I could take to address the identified needs. This was a brainstorm list, not just a list of things I had already decided to do.

2. Set Goals – You can call them “priorities” if the word “goal” makes you nervous. I took things from the list (such as “Daily Journal” or “Regular time for prayer and meditation” or “Go to one new place each week”) and began to quantify the frequency I wanted them to happen. For example, I wanted to finish at least one new book a week, and wanted to have a quiet time of meditation and prayer every day. It was during this phase that I also decided to commit to a twelve week plan: once I set the goals and made up a schedule for meeting the goals, I was going to stick with it for twelve weeks. (Why twelve? It’s divisible into three 4-week phases of implementation…mostly.)

3. I wrote it all down – First, by making a listing of the specific things I wanted to accomplish, and the frequency I wished to accomplish them. I wrote them out, then, I came up with a daily “ideal” calendar which would allow me time on task for each area. (Otherwise, I’m just “hoping” it happens, not making it happen.) And then, I developed tracking sheets to measure my progress.

And, that’s where I will resume this discussion, next time…

Until then, Happy Writing.

photo credit: candrews via photopin cc