Friday, April 23, 2010


I apologize for the gap between posts. Our household had a cluster of misfortune recently, including not just a funeral, but a lack of Internet connection, a sick cat and a sick me. That, though, leads to the topic of this post.


It’s a small word, but a difficult feat…and it means so much to both your personal and writing lives (if you manage to separate the two!).

One of my clients recently emailed me and asked about copywriting versus editing, and if I’d be willing to look at a half-and-half kind of job. “Just wanted to know specifically what you do and do not do,” she finished.

Did I tell my client to go jump in the lake unless she could clearly define the perameters of her current project? Of course not. So, what did I tell my client?

“I’m flexible!”

I don’t talk much on this blog about the editing and writer-for-hire sides of my career. Hey, they help pay the bills, but they’re not glamorous. At times, the work is deadly dull. Working with clients, though, has helped hone the same professionalism I need when dealing with, say, editors. Flexibility is one of the traits that comes in handy. When a client, or an editor, comes to me and says, “This piece is okay, but it’s not what I’m looking for,” do I stand my ground and insist that my way is best?

Only if I want to end my career as a bitter writer grandma whose blog is her only writing gig.

Or, do I say, “What changes do you want? I can have them to you by Friday!”

Heck, yeah, that’s the way to do it!

If you’re a member of a family—especially if you’re the mother of that family—you’re probably already good at flexibility. Certainly, Baby M has taught me loads about flexibility. Life also has a way of throwing fast pitches at you to see if you can either catch them or be flexible enough to dodge. Here are some personal examples from my past week:

  • You've maxed out your bandwidth allotment by spending too much time blogging, so the Internet at your house is down indefinitely. Is it:

    “Bummer! Guess I’m off to the library!” or

    “Darn, a whole week lost!”

  • You get a severe stomach something in the middle of an already-hectic week. When you recover, you’re weak as water. Is it:

    A day snapping at your family because you’re angry at how weak and unproductive you are, or

    “Now I have an excuse to sit and cuddle my daughter!”

There’s a place for rigidity…in your morals, in the values you hold dear, in supporting and defending your loved ones. The trick is to separate those moments that call for the strength of the oak from the much more common moments that require the elasticity of a reed. Try to stand firm at the wrong moments, and you may find yourself snapping instead. Try it in your career, and you’ll be snapping without a paycheck!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Personal Perspective: Amazement

The word of the week is "amazement."

I've been thinking of amazement for a couple of reasons. First, I pondered it as I watched the awe with which Baby M approaches life. She finds limitless wonder in everything around her. A blade of grass is as marvelous to her as a tulip in full bloom. A wasp is as fascinating as a box full of baby chicks. Her new discoveries excite her so much, she wants to share them all with whoever happens to be near her.

Second, I realized last night how quickly life can be snuffed out. I'd been pondering the topic of amazement for a couple of days. When I heard of the death of a family friend last night--she was only in her forties--I realized again that death can visit anyone at any time and invite them to take the journey to the other side. If death can come at a moment's notice, we have all the more reason to live every moment of life with a spirit of amazement.

It's a life lesson. I'm posting it here because it's also a writing lesson. How often does our writing become stale because our perceptions become stale? Does your writing carry with it a sense of awe at new discoveries, or is it, "Just the facts, Ma'am"?

So, this post is accompanied by a challenge. Try, just for this week, to view everything around you through the eyes of a toddler. Imagine how it looks to someone seeing it for the first time. Experience the amazement. I'll do it too.

Let's see if we can imbue our writing with a sense of amazement.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Jane Kirkpatrick on "Hardiness"

Last night I had a chance to listen to writer Jane Kirkpatrick at a local women’s dinner. For those who don’t know, Jane is a Christian novelist who writes about the lives of historical women. She’s also “local” to Eastern Oregon…she and her husband have a ranch out of Moro, in the brakes of the John Day River. Jane has published 19 books and has two more getting ready for publication.

Because of the crowd, I didn’t have time to do more than introduce myself and drop a business card, so I didn’t have time to ask her some of the questions I’d prepared. I did draw many gems from her presentation, though, and I’ll share a few here. Even though Kirkpatrick was speaking generally, much of what she said can be applied straight to the writing life. Go figure…she’s written 21 books!

One of the things Jane does in her writing is look at people who have undergone difficulties and dig into the difference between those who let the difficulties shape them into something better and those who simply become cranky. The quality she uses to describe the admirable people is hardiness. According to Kirkpatrick, hardy people understand:

A hardy person makes a commitment and sticks to it. To make a commitment is to make a promise, but it’s also an old banking term that means, “To make a deposit against which you can later draw.” When a person—whether a pioneer woman or a writer—makes a commitment, then Providence moves.

Hardy people understand what they can and cannot control. We often can’t control our environment, but we can control our attitudes. People who control their attitudes do so by getting clear on what matters, having the courage to act, increasing their curiosity about what works and what doesn’t, and increasing their compassion toward themselves and others.

Everyone faces challenges at some time in their lives, but hardy people face their challenges and look for ways to make the worst possible into the best possible. To draw the strength to do this, they return to their goal…their commitment.

Hardy people understand that they can’t do it alone. They need each other. A point that struck me was how often we forget that when we allow family, friends and colleagues to do something for us, we aren’t the only ones being served. We give when we allow others to do for us. So why are we so afraid to ask for help?

Kirkpatrick had a wonderful metaphor for this. If you’re as tool-challenged as I am, you have no idea what a coping saw is. Jane had one with her and showed us how it works. A coping saw is used to fit things into tight places. The blade is both strong and flexible, and can change direction quickly without a lot of friction. The blade can also be removed from the handle, put through a hole, and then reattached on the other side. That is, it can go through, not just around.

Aren’t those wonderful gems? I hope you can take something away today and apply it to your own writing life. And, if it gets too difficult, remember something else from Jane.

“You don’t have to write a novel [today]; just pen the first paragraph.”

Thursday, April 01, 2010


Earlier this week I made the time to take a walk with my daughter. It was a wonderful bonding experience, wandering down a dusty cow trail in Eastern Oregon and picking spring wildflowers. It also reminded me of an important aspect in the life of a writer…stillness.

Sometimes we forget the need for stillness in the writing life. When you take the leap from hobby writing to professional writing, quiet time is often the first thing to go. If you have kids, or some other full-time job, you’re even less likely to make room for stillness in your life. People and pets demand your attention, deadlines loom large, and a myriad of professional and private commitments pull you away from any semblance of personal time.

It’s a mistake to let it happen, though. There are a couple of reasons.

First, sanity. If you’re an extrovert, you may be able to go long stretches without needing quiet space to recharge. If you’re an introvert like many writers, though, that periodic space bubble is a necessity. It keeps you balanced. It keeps you from biting off the heads of your friends and family. Make room for stillness and not only will your feel better, your loved ones will be ecstatic.

Second, creativity. When you make a living from writing, it’s tempting to feel the pressure to keep the pen on the paper constantly. That’s not always a good thing. Sometimes you get so busy writing that you don’t take time to think about what you’re writing. A little space and quiet, without focusing on your current projects, may provide you with fresh insights. Yes, a little stillness can inspire breakthroughs when you least expect them.

Everyone’s needs are different. Five minutes of quiet may suffice, or you may be so burned out that you need an entire day without voices in your ear. Decide what works for you. Don’t consider it an indulgence. Consider it an investment in peace of mind and creativity.

Today I challenge you to find some time for stillness. Take a walk, pick some wildflowers, go window shopping. Take some time to recharge your batteries. Your family and your writing will thank you.