Guest Post: Cut the Cord, Writers!

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 at 9:40 AM | Category: Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 6 comments
Writing ball keyboard
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Writers tend to be  an insular lot. Let’s face it, we work on our own, stuck in our own headspace, most of the time. We sit in front of our computer, or if we’re particularly old school, typewriter, and venture nary a toe into the outside world. (Sometimes all day, sometimes all week!) As a result, we also tend to rank pretty high on the pasty scale (oh, sunshine, how we miss your warm embrace and supply of vitamin D).

Most of us choose to work from home because we think it will give us freedom to lunch with friends, go grocery shopping early, hit daytime classes at the gym and so on. But how many of us do these things? If you’re like me,that would be zero. I find that writing from home has only allowed me the freedom to shower (much) later than I used to. I now sit in front of my computer all day long, waiting for the next job to come in. I even got a laptop so I could work outdoors, but I never do. So what’s the problem?

Thou Shalt Be Creative… NOW

As writers, we are, by necessity, creative. In fact, we often need to be creative on command. This grows tough over time. After all, we don’t often inspire ourselves. The things that make us creative usually come from an outside source and if you’re stuck playing the me-and-my-computer game, you are going to hit the limits of your ingenuity. You may counter, as I have, that you can get all the outside help you need on the internet, but it’s not true. Writers need to get out of the house, not only to improve the quality of their work, but to improve the quality of their lives.

For one, you can only focus on a task for so long before you need to reboot your brain with a break. The brain suffers from energy drain just like a battery. Sitting in front of a computer for hours leads to work that is boring, repetitive and sloppy. I know, I’ve done it. And it’s usually followed by a request for a rewrite.  A simple grabbing coffee (or insert beverage of choice) with a friend or reading the paper in the park rejuvenates your mental facilities and ready to work again.

Humanity Demands Social Interactions

Besides that, we are social creatures. Even the most introspective people crave human contact and interaction, so don’t let yourself fall into a funk and neglect your social yearnings. Join a class or make ongoing dates to meet with friends, and do not cancel! Look at the time away as your reward for hard work and make every effort to enjoy it to the fullest. Freedom is the best reason to work from home, so take advantage of it. Do you know how many people would love to set their own schedule instead of feeling caged like a cubicle-monkey?

As a freelance writer, you have the flexibility to develop an active social life, so don’t let yourself become isolated. It not only affects your work, but also it has a negative impact on your mental and physical health (not to mention your relationships). Creativity demands a variety of sensory input, so leave the old ball and chain (and keyboard) at home and take a zumba class at the gym, meet your friends for lunch or go see that awful movie that you can’t get anyone to go see (et tu, MacGruber?).

Your work (and your well-being) depends on it!

About the guest author: Alexis Montgomery is a content writer for Online Colleges who gives advice on the pursuit of higher education and living a healthy life. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends.

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Guest Post: How Writing Helps to Heal

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 at 8:53 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 12 comments

Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Linda Joy Myers‘ WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour.

About Linda Joy Myers Ph.D. She’s president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and a practicing psychotherapist. She is the author of The Power of Memoir and Don’t Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother Daughter Abandonment, which won the Gold Medal Award from the Bay Area Independent Publishing Association in 2007.

How Writing Helps to Heal by Linda Joy Myers

Most of us intuitively know that writing our thoughts and feelings helps us to feel better, but now research shows that writing helps to heal both the mind and the body. In 1999, the first studies came out about studies done by Dr. James Pennebaker and other that writing helps to heal such physical ailments as arthritis and asthma. Since then other studies have shown immune system improvements when a person writes about traumatic or upsetting events for only a few minutes. Traumas can include events such as war, natural disasters but many of us have suffered traumas from within the home through some kind of abuse or abandonment, or betrayal by a loved one.

Whether a trauma occurs at home or out in the world, it remains part of body memory and could even return in a flashback. During the last few years, a lot of new research has been done on the chemistry of the brain in regards to trauma and strong negative emotions such as rage and fear. Traumatic memories are stored differently than regular memories, which means that it’s harder to put them to rest and move forward. You might have recurring dreams or get stuck in a memory that repeats over and over again like a stuck record.

Writing your stories helps to put the past to rest, but some people are afraid of what they might encounter. I’ve learned that you can come at your writing indirectly, not confronting all the memories head on, by writing the light and positive stories as well. Pennebaker told his subjects that if a topic was too painful, they should write about something else, and the research shows that writing positive stories is about as healing as writing darker stories. You need to decide what path is better for you, and it’s important to take good care of yourself.

One way that writing heals is the weaving between being the narrator and the main character in a memoir story. This dual consciousness is part of the healing process, as the narrator helps us to develop a perspective on what happened, and the character “I” gets inside who we were then. When we write scenes using full sensual details, we take a small hypnotic trip to the past and live in our own skin for a while, then return to “now.” The process of writing and telling stories, especially if they are shared helps to heal and to change our perceptions of who we were and who we are now.

Interweaving Dark and Light Stories

It helps to weave back and forth between your dark and light memories to explore your healing stories and keep your emotional balance. Choose either the lighter or the darker topics. You may need to write a story several times to get through all the layers of your feelings.

The darker topics

Pain Rejection
Loss Despair
Vulnerability Depression
Fear Jealousy
Longing Death
Abuse Illness

Freewrite about one of the topics for 15-30 minutes. See if your feelings, thoughts, and reflections shift after writing.  Journal about your observations. It always helps to keep an ongoing writing journal about your work.

Choose a memory that includes a positive quality and write that story.

Qualities of light

Peace Love
Vulnerability Trust
Joy Forgiveness
Generosity Empathy
Serenity Courage

Further Reflections

  • What happened during the writing, and afterward?
  • Write a story where the beginning is darkness and the end is light, or the reverse.
  • Balance your memoir writing sessions between dark and light stories to keep an emotional balance.

The path of emotional healing is often like cleaning out an old wound: it hurts while we are cleaning it out, but we feel so much better afterward. It helps to have an ongoing practice that keeps the healing progressing. Here are some suggestions for your regular writing sessions.

  • Make a list of the darker memories that trouble you from time to time.
  • Write down the age you were when these difficult times happened.
  • Write down what you did to cope with the event at the time.
  • How do you feel now about the incident?
  • What would you have liked to happen differently?

Honor yourself during the process. Because the goal of this kind of writing is healing, give yourself permission to listen to the stories that arise naturally from within, stories that have an emotional punch for you. If you get stuck writing the same story, consider therapy or other emotional support.

Write about yourself at different ages and in new voices, you will be writing and witnessing from multiple perspectives, weaving a larger, more integrated story of your life.

Dark memories or trauma are resolved if you are no longer troubled by them. Resolution means that your life is not governed by your fears and you’re not disturbed when you remember the event. In other words, you remember it, but no longer have the emotional reaction that you had before. It’s become an event that happened, part of your life story, among many others.

Writing Tips

  1. Protect your vulnerable self by distancing in the writing. First, write about what happened in the third person: “she” or “he” instead of “I.” Write as if you are watching the event in a movie.
  2. Write a scene about a difficult incident, but make it turn out the way you would have wanted it to. Change the incident so it ends more pleasantly and positively.
  3. Tell what happened before and after a difficult incident. Write around it, but not about the event itself.
  4. Make a bare-bones list of what happened in the difficult incident and put it aside. Notice your feelings as you make the list.
  5. Make a list of the dark topics or stories that you aren’t ready to write. List them by title or theme.
  6. Make a list of the light stories, stories that bring you a feeling of well being, happiness, contentment, and safety. They may include memories about love, spiritual experiences, and miracles.
  7. When you are ready, choose from the “light” list to write a story.
  8. When you feel ready, write one of the dark stories.
  9. Alternate as needed so you write your memoir in a way that feels balanced and safe.
  10. Be brave — write your healing stories.

If you’re interested in writing to heal, check out Linda’s book, The Power of Memoir.

How does writing help you?

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Guest Post: The Supplies You Need to Build a Writer’s Platform

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 at 11:40 AM | Category: Books, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 10 comments

Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Laura Cross’ WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re giving away a prize. Read on to see what you can win.

About Laura Cross: She is an author, screenwriter, ghostwriter, freelance book editor, and writing coach specializing in nonfiction books and script adaptation (book-to-film projects). She writes two popular blogs, www.NonfictionInk.com and www.AboutAScreenplay.com, and teaches online writing workshops. Her latest book is The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent: Everything You Need To Know To Become Successfully Published. You can download a free chapter, view the book trailer, read the full table of contents and purchase the eBook at www.GetALiteraryAgent.com.

The Supplies You Need to Build a Writer’s Platform by Laura Cross

Literary agents and publishers are looking for nonfiction writers with established platforms. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to land a book deal or acquire an agent without one. A platform encompasses the ways you are visible and attracting potential readers. It conveys your expertise and influence. Every author’s platform strategy will be unique to him or her. One size does not fit all. You must follow a path that is natural for you and your writing. However, there are five essential components or supplies you need to build a writer’s platform:

1. Understand Your Brand Image: Establish an author identity and use it consistently throughout your material. Your personal brand is how you package and present yourself to readers to distinguish and differentiate yourself from other writers.

2. Develop and Promote Your Expertise: Are you the go-to expert in your field? You can establish your expertise through:

  • Professional credentials
  • Writing articles
  • Being featured on radio and television, and in print media
  • Testimonials and endorsements
  • Speaking engagements
  • Teaching workshops, seminars, teleclasses, and webinars
  • Hosting your own online radio show or podcast
  • Creating informational products
  • Being a resource for reporters, journalists, and television producers
  • Sending out press and news releases
  • Creating and distributing online informational videos
  • Answering questions via LinkedIn groups and YahooAnswers
  • Blogging and guest posts

3. Have an Internet Presence: Every potential author needs a website or blog. If you already have a web presence when you begin approaching media you will have an edge over other writers. A blog can add to your credibility, help you establish your expertise, and provide a means to capture potential readers for your database.

4. Build A List of Contacts: Publishers want to know just how many potential readers there are for your book. The number of fans you have from Facebook, followers on Twitter, connects on LinkedIn, and subscribers to your blog provide tangible figures. Producing a weekly or monthly e-zine or newsletter is an effective way to grow your list of contacts. Your website and blog can include an opt-in page to capture subscribers.

5. Engage In Community: You can network through local and regional events, national conferences and conventions, and online social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Online networking sites give you access to connections and a platform to share your writing and expertise.

Your turn: What are you doing to establish and grow your author platform?

Win: You can win a class (choose from any of the classes — Meryl is jealous because she doesn’t qualify!) or a digital copy of her book. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at least 50 words long answering her question. Or write about your favorite character in a book. You have until 11:59pm on February 16, 2010 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic Random.org has the honor of picking the winner.

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Top 25 Books for Writers and Writing-related Topics

Monday, February 8th, 2010 at 8:39 AM | Category: Books, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 33 comments

Thank you to all that nominated and voted for the top 25 books for writers on writing. The list is in order beginning with the book that received the most votes. It’s a great list as I’ve read or heard great things about many of the books.

  1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B.White: “Though I’ve read two other great books on writing, this one really got me rolling down my writing journey, so it stands out in my mind. I also give it points for being so concise and as a result not very intimidating. For those starting out on their writing path, this is a good bet. It’s basic and effective.” – Bamboo Forest
  2. On Writing by Stephen King: “Simply the best.” – Craig Cardimon
  3. On Writing Well by William Zinsser: “I’ve re-read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well every year since I first read it in high school. Excellent book.” – Will Sansbury
  4. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: “Wonderfully sincere, funny and helpful. Just made so much sense to me – loved it!” – Amy Palko
  5. Chicago Manual of Style: “It’s huge, thorough, honest, authoritative, entertaining, and always there to refer to. Knocks Strunk and White into a cocked hat.” – Katy Evans-Bush.
  6. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg: “The one I gift the most to writers.” – Mike Sansone
  7. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron: “For a different kind of direction, certainly. And it is early yet in my focused writing.” – Karen Hohman Almeida
  8. Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose: “It has given me the ability to break down why a piece of writing is good, and there’s no better way to learn.” – MeiLin Miranda
  9. If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland: “Great for inspiration.” – Joanne aka soulsprite
  10. Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
  11. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  12. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
  13. Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande: “For inspirational and ‘pull-your-socks-up.'” – Katy Evans-Bush
  14. The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell: “…because I’m always one for breaking the rules!” – Mary
  15. The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters that Rock by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell
  16. 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing (Mentor) by Gary Provost
  17. Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams
  18. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass: “One of the best I’ve read.” – Dawn Herring
  19. Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
  20. Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell – “The knowledge that Morrell imparts is educational and constructive.” – Meryl
  21. Between the Lines: The Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing by Jessica Page Morrell
  22. The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman
  23. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
  24. The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law by Norm Goldstein
  25. The Art and Craft of Feature Writing: Based on The Wall Street Journal Guide by William E. Blundell

I’m going to try to always be reading at least one book on writing at any given time. (I have two or three books I read at a time.) This list will make it easier to decide which one to read next as I own some that I haven’t read.

What books have you read? What did you like most about them or what did you learn?

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