Jennifer Brown Banks interviewed me about my life as a writer:
FROM WENDY: This blog will be on hiatus for one week (July 11 – 17). Please enjoy this guest blog post with Patricia Harman, author of “Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Journey” and “The Blue Cotton Gown.”
In your writing life, how do you keep yourself focused and productive?
Sometimes I’m asked, “So how do you do it? You have two books out and a third on the way in five years. Lot’s of us have stories that we want to tell, but writing a book is such a commitment…”
When I’m working on a book, I am compelled, obsessed. The story goes on like a movie reel in my head, while I’m biking, while I’m gardening, while I’m cleaning house. I’m a midwife, so it stops for a while when I’m at work at our women’s health clinic. Other people have stories too, and I have to listen.
Here are some things I do that move me along.
I Plan Ahead. The night before my writing day, I think about where I’ll start in the manuscript, so I don’t waste time staring at the computer screen. When I sit down at my laptop, much of the work of writing, the plot, story-line, dialogue, arc of the narrative is already in my head; I know where I’m going for the next few hours. That doesn’t mean I can’t change things at a moment of inspiration.
I work in the same spot. My computer and notes are set up next to a day bed where I can look out the window at a plum tree. Few distractions and I don’t have to mess around setting up my scene and getting comfortable.
I set time devoted to writing: I have two days a week off work each week and on those days, I get dressed, meditate and have breakfast, then write all day. I have to remind myself every few hours to move around, that’s how intense I am about it. Sometime’s I’ll throw a load of laundry in the washer or put a stew in the crockpot, but I keep myself focused. My kids are all grow and that makes a difference. When they were young, the only writing I got done was my journals or occasional poems in the middle of the night.
I don’t stop to edit until I get stuck: I don’t stop to edit until I finish what I have to say. When I run out of steam or hit a hard part and am stewing in my juices, I use that time to edit, go back a few chapters and read what I wrote. Sometimes editing will take all day, but by the time I’m done, I’m back in the zone.
If I’m down, anxious or distracted, I put those feeling on paper. Like everyone else, I’m sometimes worried or sad or in a bad mood. I’m tempted to just lie on my back and stare at the ceiling, but if I take those feelings and start writing them in the voice of one of my characters it becomes therapeutic and I just may learn something about him or her. The paragraphs written might stay as part of the story, they might be moved to another part of the book or it might be junked, but it gets me going.
I never thought I would be an author. (I was a mom, a midwife, a lover, a peacenik, an unpublished poet, for a while, a revolutionary.) The author role wasn’t in my life script. Now, I guess I am.
To contact the author go to www.patriciaharman.com
My friends Angel Smits and Karen Fox are teaching a workshop on “Novel Beginnings and Endings” on March 12. Here are the details:
Pikes Peak Writers Spring Workshop
Saturday: March 12, 2011
Workshop: 10 AM – 3 PM
Registration begins: 9:30 AM
Location: Colorado Springs Police Department – Falcon Substation (not located in the town of Falcon)
7850 Goddard Street, Colorado Springs
Lunch break from 12 – 1 PM (lunch not provided)
Presenters: Angel Smits and Karen Fox
Topic: Novel Beginnings and Endings
Workshop description: The first page of your novel sells that book. The last page sells
the next book. Spend a day with published authors Angel Smits and Karen Fox exploring how to begin and end your story. This workshop will include hands-on exercises so come prepared to
In the event of a postponement due to weather, we post change information at PikesPeakWriters.com as soon as possible. Please be sure to check the website before departing for any PPW events. Call 719.244.6220 if you are concerned about a possible weather issue and want to confirm the event is on schedule.
PPW events are open to all writers, and attendees do not need to be members of PPW. Note that attendees under the age of 18 must have written parental permission to attend–please contact PPW Executive Director Jodi Anderson at email@example.com for details.
Sasee buys essays, satire, humor, articles and personal experience pieces between 500 and 1,000 words; guidelines HERE:
Happy New Year, writers! I hope this finds you invigorated about the year ahead.
I believe that there is no better launching pad into the great, blank page of 2011 than a thorough inventory of all that went right in 2010. With this in mind, I’m going to ask a series questions to guide you in recounting your many successes this past year! I encourage you to take your time and be as thorough as you can in listing every, single thing you appreciate about yourself and what you’ve accomplished in each dimension of your writing life–even if the best you can do is admire that you stopped burning your rejection letters. Deal?
- What was most fun, exhilarating or rewarding in your writing life this year?
- What obstacles did you face and overcome?
- What relationships did you build, repair or retire, and how has this contributed to your writing life?
- What did you let go of (habits, relationships, attitudes, clutter) that was no longer serving you?
- What did you read that taught you something about your craft, your platform or how to take your writing and publishing forward?
- What did you earn or what opportunity did you land that felt prosperous?
- How has your confidence and/or craft improved?
- What have you learned about social media that is serving your writing life?
- What strategies worked best for being effective with your time?
- How did you nurture and sustain your well being–in mind, body, spirit?
- Who has praised your writing or teaching or facilitating? What did they say and how did it give you a new sense of appreciation for yourself and your work?
- What did you learn about your writing rhythms: time of day to write, managing procrastination, how and when to revise, making use of slim margins of time, etc.?
- Who did you help, and who helped you?
- What did you learn about yourself from rejection, and how has it helped your writing, your confidence or your submissions approach develop?
- What did you do that terrified you–but you did it any way? And how did that benefit your life and your writing?
- How were you patient?
- When and how were you successful at juggling the competing demands of family, writing, work, and everything else in your full life?
- Who did you forgive? Who forgave you?
Because it’s so easy to keep our minds trained to the loop of an unsolvable problem or two, you may be surprised at how many triumphs are revealed as you answer these questions. Every risk you took, skill you fortified and skin you shed in the service of your writing life is a foothold in the future you are aspiring to create. Nice work!
About Sage Cohen
Sage Cohen is the author of The Productive Writer (just released from Writer’s Digest Books); Writing the Life Poetic and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. She blogs about all that is possible in the writing life at pathofpossibility.com, where you can: Download a FREE “Productivity Power Tools” workbook companion to The Productive Writer. Get the FREE, 10-week email series, “10 Ways to Boost Writing Productivity” when you sign up to receive email updates. Sign up for the FREE, Writing the Life Poetic e-zine. Plus, check out the events page for the latest free teleclasses, scholarships and more.
*An Advice Column for Fiction Writers*
Yes, I’m going to start an advice column for you guys. It’ll be like Miss Lonelyhearts, only about writing. I will give you some ideas below:
Dear A. Victoria Mixon, Editor: I am halfway through my novel and just discovered my protagonist is a transsexual. This is going to make it very difficult to explain his mother, who has already bought his trousseau. What do I do?
Signed, Startled in Seattle
Dear Editor: When you say, “Show, Don’t Tell,” do you mean, “Everywhere she looked she saw evidence of the total, irresponsible destruction of her selfless love for that stupid bastard, and as she pondered deep in her heart whether or not to leave him and forge a new life with better love with a better moral character, she realized she would never stop wondering where he hid the steak knives”? Or something else?
Signed, P.O’d in Pittsburgh
Dear Ms. Mixon: Whenever I try to write dialog, it comes out sounding like a third-grader wrote it. How do I fix this? Or,
conversely, how do I find a fourth-grader to write it for me?
Signed, Stymed in St. Paul
I hope to unveil the Advice Column on May 1st, /oh, frabulous day./ But I need questions for the first one now.
So please send them in! Be the first to see your question—and its answer—on the new column!
You can submit questions through http://victoriamixon.com or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.