The Writing Life



The New Normal with COVID19

Posted by on Apr 1, 2020 in Writing | 0 comments

Two weeks ago, on March 16, I began self-isolation. I was not sick; I had no symptoms of this horrible virus. My first lesson about COVD19 was via the red circles on an interactive world map that got bigger and more widespread. I heard a news interview from BBC clarifying epidemic and pandemic. More lessons: Photos of people lying in hospital beds. First responders looking like something I had only seen in NASA photos or science fiction films. It scared the hell out of me.

 

Stay Safe

Safety phrases entered my daily newsfeed and conversation. “Use caution” became “an abundance of caution,” then “extreme caution,” “isolation,” “shelter at home,” “self-quarantine,” “quarantine,” “lock down.” I looked at risk factors like medications and past illnesses. I came to the reluctant conclusion: I’m in that risk factor of older people. And so self-isolation.

Being me, I read voraciously–online, my nutrition books, emergency safety tips, how to prepare for COVID19 when it seeped into the US. About three days into being home, my husband said, “We can’t always be talking about this, or reading about this, or thinking of this virus. We need to live too.”

And so began our search for the new normal.

 

Change is Difficult

Especially change I didn’t ask for. Today, even in our state-ordered stay-at-home, I feel fortunate. I am healthy; I have a solid and safe roof over my head. I live in a lovely neighborhood where I can easily walk out to the foothills and at most see three or four other people. I’m sticking to routines I had before COVID19. Like my morning routine of meditation, stretching, and yoga. My husband and I still do a daily spiritual reading and talk. We eat three meals a day, sitting together. We get outside, hike, or bike, sit in the sun (the newly appreciated antiseptic).

 

Learning a New Habit

In this new normal, I have committed to keep to my daily routines as strictly as possible. Because I know, like New Year’s resolutions or a new food plan or other promises to self, boundary lines can get wavy. It’s tempting to not do the exercise or eat whatever is handy from the cabinet. Especially when negative stress is present.

 

An Example

When I taught kindergarten and first graders about writing, the steps to print letters were pretty strict. We started them writing top to bottom. Left to write. “Make it a habit-do it this way. A habit is something you do a lot–so much that after a while you don’t have to think about it. It becomes a habit by practicing. Like brushing your teeth, or tying your shoe. In the beginning you have to remind yourself how to do it or have someone else remind you to do this new thing. You can say what you’re doing. ‘Top to bottom. Left to right.’”

Whew, I was tough in the beginning. Because I knew after a while individual personalities would slant the letters, some forwards, some backwards, that little dot over an “i” would become a circle or, more precious, a heart. And that’s okay as long as the foundation of the routine was still there.

 

Our New Normal

We adhere to the AZ stay-at-home order. We don’t hug people (a hard habit to break but… consider the consequences). We wear gloves outside and enter the house through the garage, disposing of junk mail right away in a container that gets closed and wiping down other mail before opening. We wash everything (soap and hot water) that comes from the store. We have outside shoes and inside shoes. I do not go to someone else’s house and no one comes into ours. Today I will work on crafting a mask to wear when I do have to go out for food. I dance at home instead of going shopping. I look through still-pristine pages of cookbooks to find new ways to prepare sea bass or what to do with carrots instead of “Let’s go out to eat.”

I will do this. Because I have read or seen on TV that these new habits to stay safe – have an added incentive for compliance – to stay healthy… and alive. And that could scare the hell out of me.

 

Suggestions to Balance Anxiety with Hope and Humor

Surrounding these new routines, I added the practice of gratitude, Facebook posts that are humorous. Check out Bored Panda, Electric Lit, Lit Hub, Brain Pickings, photos that poke fun at ourselves, words that inspire, music, parodies, free shows online from London National Theater, virtual meetings with writing groups and family, and neighbors who give a thumbs up as they walk by my window and see all the pink and purple hearts I’ve taped up with “We love our neighbors.” (Thank you, MM for this idea).

Some Thoughts

It’s a good thing to be negative today. (COVID19 test)

“No hugs” gets a reward.

“Keep in touch” has a certain irony.

And

Love is still the answer.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it.

Writing and Ambivalence

Posted by on Mar 31, 2020 in Writing | 0 comments

I JUST CAN’T WRITE TODAY

Tuesday is the Eastside Writing Room time. These days it’s virtual. Today some of us wrote, one writer took a bike ride, another did Qigong, another a meditation, I did some major staring out my patio window, did a doc dump for a blog, and then wrote this after our official writing time had ended.   

LIT HUB

Earlier this morning I read an article by C Pam Zhang  in Lit Hub about writing and grief. It kind of addressed the ambivalence I felt about writing the other day and what some of my colleagues felt today. I ended up not writing but reading a luscious book Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje. His use of language had me almost drooling. I kept thinking of words I love. That reading time sparked my desire to write. Anyway this Lit hub article focuses on how grief can freeze our writing. But writing is so much more than putting words on “paper.”
 
“Walking is writing. Crying is writing. Talking to a parent whose health you fear for is writing. Cooking is writing. Lying prostrate on the rug and watching sun stripe the wall is writing. Your lover’s hand on yours is writing. Your dog is writing. I have had years in which I could not see the shape of my life or string together a good sentence; and I have had a summer in which, three years late, the fog lifted in a different climate and suddenly I could write about my father. Don’t force the words. They will come, like old friends. You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles. If you are grieving, then I give you permission to write in the best way you can—which is to say, to live.” ~ C Pam Zhang
 

IT’S OK

Each of us today chose our way to do our writing. How cool is that! I too am grateful for my group and our precious time. It’s my Tuesday Special.
 
Thanks for checking in.
Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay home.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to connect with folks, and for the fun of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling Tucson Tellers of Tales, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

We’re Still Writing

Posted by on Mar 24, 2020 in Writing | 0 comments

My Eastside Writing Room group is not meeting in person these days. Sheltering at home because of the coronavirus, we have lost the energy of collective writing together around a table. But we have committed to continue to write. We write at the same time as we would be meeting. Being a people person, I miss the physical and emotional connection that comes with being in a group. So  visualizing us writing at the same time is an amazing and helpful concept for me.

We of writing groups in this time of the virus are not simply writers in isolation; we are writers-in-solitary-residence. It’s just that our residence is not a cozy cabin up in the woods, or out among pine trees by a lake, or on the edge of a red rock in Sedona, but in our own living room or dining room or at a desk or on the patio in Tucson. If it’s Tuesday 11:30 AM-1:30 PM MST, we’ll be writing. Feel free to write with us. Contact me with your intention of what you will write about and then email again to let me know how you did.

( With thanks to Pat Bean for this clever transformation of isolation to residence association in her recent blog. )

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs and workshops after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to connect with folks, and for the fun of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling Tucson Tellers of Tales, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

Words are Still Powerful

Posted by on Mar 19, 2020 in Writing | 0 comments

Thursday, March 19, 2020. 10:00 AM. Tucson AZ. I’m sitting at my desk. Looking out my office window I see a few patches of blue sky as dark clouds and low fog roll eastward.

 

Inspiring words- You are the blue clear sky.

You are the vast blue clear sky.

The clouds are like your thoughts.

Sometimes the clouds are big, puffy and exciting.

Sometimes the clouds are dull and gray.

Sometimes the clouds are dark and ominous.

Sometimes the clouds are so full of moisture they rain down tears.

But … you are not the clouds.

You are the vast blue clear sky.

I can’t remember where or who sent me these words, but I know I first used them after 9/11. The parallel message was that when panic threatened- stop, recognize, and quiet the emotions first. Then measured and careful action had more of a chance to be taken, resulting in a higher percentage of safety.

 

Caution in the days of COVID19

I’m thinking of this poem today. I’m thinking of the messages I read online and in emails that advise “caution.”

Caution signs on the highway mean slow down, look around. Pretty much the same today on and off the road. Slow down, look around. This is not a new reminder for me. For folks like me who are really enthusiastic, very social, huggers and lovers of many things, and aspire to just say yes (to almost anything), the flip side of this coin of personality can be impulsiveness, foolhardy decisions, and resistance to moderation. That, my friends, is part of my nature.

 

Impulsiveness vs. caution

For many years I had a t-shirt that had OTT across the front – all caps, bold, and italics. OVER THE TOP. My energy could move people to commit to being more honest, stop stealing, be willing to forgive. I could also move groups of people to sing, dance, laugh, and let the endorphins fly. But the negative extreme of my temperament sometimes meant my emotions could plunge me into huge anxiety, anger, exhaustion, or danger. Gradually I saw my words and actions could also be tempered with pre-thought and, oh gosh, some planning.

 

Caution in the face of COVID19

Today the bombardment of info and misinformation about COVID19 can wreak havoc with my emotions. This COVID19 is powerful, but so am I. I remind myself, or Hank my National Treasure reminds me, that I am not those dark clouds of anxiety, worry or fear. I can take action with a calm and refreshed mind. I can influence and inspire myself and others to not only take care for ourselves in the midst of this world catastrophe. I think calm clear blue-sky actions can inspire us to travel along this new learning curve and live with the very real awareness that our actions affect everyone around us.

 

Mindfulness as a tool against COVID19 fear

Have the recent years of mindfulness trends been preparing me for this shift in our world? Studies show that meditation for a few minutes each day in a regular disciplined routine can improve mental and physical performance.

I read the tragic stories of those ill with COVID19 with no medical help available. Or they see caring behind the extreme tiredness in the eyes of or an exhausted doctor or nurse or ER driver leaning over them. I react in a way that’s human and very emotional. I feel horrified and a sense of dread.

“Be mindful you are the clear blue sky. Feel those emotions.” I acknowledge my accelerated heartbeat, the constriction of anxiety in my heart, and the slight pain in my abdomen. I take ten slow exhales and inhales, releasing most of the tightness. My actions after the emotions calm down are responses, not impulsive reactions. The clouds of fear that this virus layers around us do not have to rule my life. I am trying to be the clear blue sky. Sometimes, I am the clear blue sky.

 

You are the vast blue clear sky

You are the vast blue clear sky.

The clouds are like your thoughts.

Sometimes the clouds are big, puffy and exciting.

Sometimes the clouds are dull and gray.

Sometimes the clouds are dark and ominous.

Sometimes the clouds are so full of moisture they rain down tears.

But … you are not the clouds.

You are the vast blue clear sky.

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to connect with folks, and for the fun of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling Tucson Tellers of Tales, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

Eastside Writing Room- Virtual

Posted by on Mar 17, 2020 in Writing | 0 comments

laptop with writing and coffee mugEastside Writing Room – A New Plan for Tuesdays 11:30 AM-1:30 PM

The Eastside Writing Room is staying connected. We may have to unlearn hugging while we conquer physical distancing, but we can stay socially connected. I will send out an email every Tuesday morning @10:30 AM to prompt you to write at home for our usual 11:30 AM-1:30 PM time. Email your writing intention with “reply all” to the group. In place of telling each other what we did at 11:30, check in with an email. I’m using this at home writing to keep to some of my routines during this time of restricted activities. Contact Ethel if you want to receive that Tuesday morning email. 

How We Did So Far

We started this past Tuesday, March 16. I reorganized and wrote text for my website update. 
H.M. did his “musings.” 
B.M. was sidetracked by home office stuff but has completed the manuscript for her memoir. 
P.B. sent in 4 submissions (there’s an overachiever in every group).  
R.S. sent a link to one of her stories that was printed online. 
B.B. sent greetings from the West Coast.
As an avowed group joiner junkie, I do miss being with my Eastside Writers, Tellers of Tales, Odyssey, Quiddlerettes, Sabino Springs Travel Group and more. So on to Plan B. Take it online. Come on. You can only clean out some many closets and shelves. Organize your 1000’s of .jpg photos later. Write “with us” Tuesday or Thursday. Or both. Until we can really meet again.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing just for the fun of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling Tucson Tellers of Tales, and anywhere there’s a mic

The Next Adventure

Posted by on Mar 6, 2020 in Writing | 14 comments

When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take a step into the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen: there will be something solid for us to stand on or… we will be taught to fly. ~ Patrick Overton

Quotes like that make my stomach do flips. Not always fear flips, mostly anticipation flips. I’ve had those times in my life where I took that step into the unknown. Eventually, I flew. Have you thought about some edges you’ve been at? Scared? Clueless? But you took that step anyway?

 

Changes

Changing careers has been like that for me. I’ve been an elementary school teacher. Counselor with families, working with teens. Life skills coach with women in transition, empty nesters, people who found themselves at the edge of the light. Public speaker, writer, editor, writing coach, storyteller. I took the steps into each “unknown” new career. Many of you have been with me on one or several of these paths.

The “edge” in my career changes was not for lack of training or certification. It was from the heart of the career change. Could I really do it? Would I succeed? And yet, for each, I believed, or someone helped me believe, that I could fly.

I’ve been having a love affair… with words, for decades. I love the sound and meaning of words … and the power of words. I’ve been fortunate to share this love with emerging writers, readers, and listeners, with senior citizens, a population as rich in imagination as the young children I taught and with many decades of experiences to choose from. My most recent flight, storytelling with adults, brings a richness to words as they are lifted from the page to the stage.  Organizations like Tucson Tellers of Tales and Odyssey Storytelling are now an exciting part of my known world.

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult. ~ E. B. White

 

The Next Adventure – Retirement

In the last year, I’ve felt the magnetic pull to roll up my sleeves, go out and do “just one more workshop.” But then I’m pulled to the other magnetic pole and need to laugh, dance, go on a hike, and like E. B. White, “…have a hell of a good time.” And so I’m going to retire. This is definitely an unknown. I’ve been in the workforce since I was a senior in college. There’s no flight plan other than continuing to follow who I have become, living my values in this phase of life called retirement. No writing workshops, public speaking presentations, how-to seminars, or programs will fill my calendar. I’ll spend time with friends and family, and travel, two miles or two hundred, to meet new friends.

I will write for the pure enjoyment of it. The occasional blog or ELM newsletter will get posted and arrive in your mailbox with ideas and stories about life and relationships because I still appreciate the power of words.

My husband of thirty years has been my true North, offering guidance through each of my career adventures. My twin has helped me immensely in my writing endeavors. They both have waited, mostly with patience, as I’ve looked at retirement. At first I did this reluctantly, then with curiosity, and now with confidence. Hank heard me speak of retirement as “semi-retirement,” then the “R-word. I’m not sure he believes me when I say I will no longer teach about writing or public speaking. In time, he will. There are so many knowledgeable, passionate people who love words as I do and have time, talent, and innovative ways to teach, present workshops and retreats, and have far better skills in the digital world.

 

Gratitude

I’m pausing here to offer a huge and sincere thank-you to the many special people who trusted me to share in their child’s education, or to hear their sorrow, insecurities, and then joys, or to see into their hearts, marriages, or crumpled selves. Thank you to people who came to workshops and shared whole-heartedly. Thank you to writers who sent me their manuscripts with the accompanying questions, dreams, and desires. Thank you to readers, writers, and storytellers. I hope you will continue to connect with me. It’s been an honor to be welcomed in your life.

March 15 is my 73rd birthday. One of my most treasured gifts will be to retire. I know I can fly.

I know I can fly!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, relationships and the writing life. Her life has been enhanced through multiple careers that have all held planned and unplanned adventures.  She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She’s sure retirement will offer more incredible adventures.

Playing with Time and Clustering for Short Stories

Posted by on Mar 3, 2020 in Writing | 0 comments

I’ve been musing about jobs. I’ve had more than a few part-time jobs. Some to make extra money. Some to get experience in a specific field. Some out of curiosity. Some were very entertaining; some even adventurous. Each one has a story. A story worth writing.

How to Start

created a list based on my memory. This covers quite a span of years so I feel freed from blame for any omissions. From the time I was thirteen until I was fifty I held about twenty different part-time jobs, many during years when I also had a full-time career.

List of jobs: Babysitter, mother’s helper, housecleaner, library aide, factory assembly line worker, secretary, file clerk (in Manhattan during the ‘60s-adventurous), personal assistant, office manager (the “office” was the boss, his wife, and me), department store (manager in the women’s clothes department), tutor, telemarketer, pharmacy sales clerk, hat check “girl” (the entertaining one), folk and Middle Eastern dance teacher, Middle Eastern dancer (the very entertaining one), typist.

Make your list and read on for story organization ideas. I’ve used jobs as the example. Fill in with your own topic.

An Organizing Theme

Clusters of jobs could be a story. Compare the bland ones, or the adventurous ones. With mine, the adventurous ones were mostly because of the cast of characters involved in the work place. Other cluster stories: short term ones and why (less than a day to a month), Long term ones and what kept you there? Ones that paid well; ones that paid a pittance, but were fun.

The job that could have become a career: Did it? Why? Why not?

Ex.: There were two part-time jobs I had for years, which tempted me to make a career change. Personal assistant to an executive at an international industry headquarters in NYC- $$$ and my boss was very smart and fair. Sales rep for an import company- the lure of travel perks.

There are distinct differences between jobs and careers, and there are shared characteristics. Careers have been touted as having the distinction of “providing experiences that fuel your future.” I’d have to say careers and jobs provided vast “fuel” experiences, especially useful in dealing with people.

Duration of the job. Longest held and why. Shortest held and why.

Use time to create an organized arc for your story: 4 ways to play with time in a story

  1. Make a Timeline

    Bee Bloeser’s timeline for Vaccines and Bayonets

Break down the chronological order from beginning to end of one particular job. Or just looking for the job. Who helped you get the job? Did they help or hinder the process? How long from application to start date? What was the shortest application time? Longest?

Ex.: My shortest time application was my pharmacy job. I walked into the local drugstore to inquire of the manager if they needed holiday help. The manager said, “Look there,” and nodded his head in the direction of the checkout counter. “Can you work that cash register?”

“Yes.”

“You know how to do lottery tickets?”

Hmm. Truth or lie?  “Yep.”

“Can you stay for a couple of hours tonight ’til we close?”

“Sure.”

How long did you have the job?

Ex.: I worked at the drugstore from December ‘til the spring when days were longer, the weather got warmer, and I could be inline skating at the park. What was the fuel of the story? It started a lifelong habit of dealing with people directly if possible rather than over the phone or via email. Also find out quickly who the real boss is. It’s not necessarily the manager. In the case of the drugstore, the manager turned out to also be the owner/boss/security/accounting dept.

That might be a microscopic story because the timeline closed in on only getting the job. The job itself could be another story. Or a chapter in my soon-to-be mega-seller book, Selling Drugs,or some other very misleading title.

Ex.: My job list at the beginning of this piece is a timeline, chronologically from high school babysitting to the last part-time job I had. The last one was typing a very senior citizen’s notes for his autobiography. The fuel of that one: appreciating different ages and stages of life; being aware of and developing compassion and patience for changes with aging. The loneliness of aging.

  1. Flashback

Begin the story at the end.

Ex.: This would work for the telemarketing job I had for a short while. Start with the story’s end: When I quit, I exited with quite a bit of drama out the front door where my boyfriend was waiting, parked by the door, not in the parking lot, his weightlifting-enhanced arms crossed, leaning against his black Trans Am. He was ready to go in and do battle for me after the boss had chased me around his desk one too many times. I decided I wanted to deal with it myself but bf could be back-up.

  1. Big Sweeps of Time

Write the story in two sentences. That might be fun!

Ex.: A hundred books to reshelve at the XXX Library. Only twenty got shelved before someone pulled the fire alarm for real and no one knew where the fire extinguishers were.

  1. Slow Motion

Focus in on details. Include dialogue. The old “show, don’t tell.” This kind of playing with time started me using sensory musing with my writing and falling in love with words. It’s like doing a slow panoramic sweep of description and action.

What works for you?

  1. Timeline
  2. Flashback
  3. Big Sweep
  4. Slow Motion

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s been immersed in writing for over 30 years, teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

10 Ways to Break That Writing Procrastination Funk

Posted by on Feb 28, 2020 in Writing | 0 comments

Several years ago I wrote to a colleague who just couldn’t seem to “get back to writing.” Unlike here, where I am offering unsolicited advice in my blog, she did ask for advice. I did a stream of consciousness about what helped me to resume writing after a hiatus.

Most of it still holds true today when I find I’ve been procrastinating or downright into denial. One key for me is to use the word resume rather than begin. Beginnings can be so daunting. Where to start? What to write about? When to write? But resuming means I already have some knowledge, maybe even a few tools to pick up again and see how they feel.

10 Ways to Break That Procrastination Funk:

 

1. What’s on your plate? buffet table dishes of vegetables, salads

If you’ve been reminded that teaching/work/the kids/housekeeping is just a slice of the pie of life or of the “what’s on your plate” image, take a brief look at what else is actually on your plate. Caring for children, grandchildren, your partner, going to the job that pays the rent, getting to the gym, housework, shopping, friends, healthcare? They do take time. So be realistic. Then again, occasionally the other slices can seem overly important. Sometimes I found doing for other people took over the plate. Crazy as it seemed to someone who views herself as an independent, assertive woman, but there it was. Completing the book can get pushed to the side of the plate. Is it important to figure out why? Maybe. Also, maybe not. (See #8).

 

2. What moved you to write in the first place?

Who were your cheerleaders for that? How does it feel when you are in the zone with writing? Visualize that feeling each day. Pick up the utensils (tools, attitude) that you had when you were writing earlier. Get in touch with your cheerleaders. Ask for help. But not too much. Remember, you are the best cheerleader for yourself. You are the only person who can write this piece, essay, or book. Why should you keep your ideas to yourself? Many people will love, and I mean it, love to read your work.

 

3. Keep your head where your feet are.

If you are looking ahead in this “meal” (to keep with the plate metaphor), are you concerned about dessert? For now, stay with the main course. Save the full dessert for later. Once your writing habit is re-established, then look ahead. How will you market your book? Find people who are actively publishing and marketing the way you will. Since I read Jay Conrad Levinson’s first edition of Guerrilla Marketing for Writers in 2000, guerrilla-marketing writers have come out of hiding. Social media is a great aid to find like-minded writers, and marketers. Go to local open mics and readings. Watch, ask questions, get up and read your work.

 

4. Create a comfortable warm place where you can write.

Write daily for short periods, or a few days a week for several hours. Or go on a home writing retreat. Go to your office or writing place (You do have a special place to write, yes?) every day without fail for 3 days, or 4, or 5. Write, or scribble writing ideas, plans, and writing dreams for three hours. Take a break to eat, walk, stretch. Then back to writing. Stock up beforehand on healthy food, beverages, and snacks. Tell your partner/family you are in a Do Not Disturb Zone. Don’t answer your phone. Good grief, that’s why we have answering machines.

Too many distractions at home? Go to the library and write in one of those lovely quiet work/study areas or an “own your zone” area.

Some coffee shops seem to exist filled with people hunched over laptops, and taking sips of that highly popular and legal psychoactive drug – caffeine. Join a writing group that meets regularly just to write. I love the concept of “Shut up and write.”

 

 

If you can afford it, find a retreat house/center/B&B, and go off by yourself. Whatever works for you.

 

 

 

5. Cheerleaders. Who’s on your side- unconditionally? Who’s got your back?

When I was working on finishing Thinking of Miller Place, my Scriveners weekly writing group in New Jersey was a great touchstone to keep me going. The same held true here in Tucson, Arizona when I was working on Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. The Eastside Writing Room writers were the ones I complained to, shared with, but mainly wrote with. To my writing community at large, when they asked how the book was going, I replied, “GREAT!” That kept me going too.

Lazy summer conversation about writing with Littlestar

I talk “writing” with different writing colleagues each week to share what’s going on. Lucky me, my husband has been writing for three years now and we share drafts, revisions, and ideas.

 

6. Write about writing.

Writing this blog is motivating me to complete snippets of essays that have been left in the first or second draft stage. Journal what you think about writing. What writers do you admire? What authors do you read? Write a fan email to an author.

 

7. Create a sacred writing space in your house.

Put some photos of your vision or earlier successes on a table or shelf. Print out a mock book cover to display. Keep taking the next right step.

 

8. G.O.Y.A.

See Feb. 25 blog. “G.O.Y.A. An Antidote to Procrastination” 

 

9. Commit to it.

Even if you think you don’t know what you will write that day. “Pen to paper” to paraphrase Natalie Goldberg. It still works.

 

10. Take time to relax.

Do something you enjoy.

Man and woman in chef outfit in kitchen

 

 

four women laughing outside with arms linked

 

 

 

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s been immersed in writing for over 30 years, teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

G.O.Y.A., An Antidote to Procrastination

Posted by on Feb 25, 2020 in Writing | 0 comments

Delaying action, putting something off, not dealing with “it” has gotten a bad rap in my life. It came under the heading of “Procrastination,” which was a really big word with big negative connotations ever since I was a young girl.

“You’re just procrastinating!” delivered with a scowl and disapproving tone defined my action or non-action as less than worthy. Well yeah, if it was something I didn’t like, didn’t volunteer for, or plain out was told to do. Heck no, I was going to avoid it anyway I could.
“I don’t feel good.” “I’m scared.”  “I don’t wanna.” And the brushfire that could start and deflect the necessary action, “You can’t make me.” Yes, I had some authority issues. Those childhood messages did get explored and defined and the sting lessened but the equation where delay = procrastination still had an overly negative vibe.

During a sad and shaky time in my life when I had to, really had to, take a look at how I was approaching life situations, a dear friend told me not to think too much about what I had to do. “Don’t think. You know what you have to do. Just go ahead and do it.” This was kind of an early Zen-like approach to “drop the story line” and take action. Wise friend gave me a visual for this too.

“Go to the supermarket, get any Goya product, one you like, or don’t like is also OK, bring it home, and place it on a shelf where you will see it every day. G.O.Y.A.”

“Huh?’

“G.O.Y.A. It’s a visual reminder to Get Off Your Ass!”

Of all the short and trendy admonishments I’d heard, the post-it notes that went ignored, the over-due notices that came in the mail, this one worked. Over the years my GOYA product got me writing, called the dentist, got a lawyer to help me with a will, called the insurance company, wrote that apology letter, did the boring tedious edits for my first, and second book, took the car for inspection- before the expiration date.

GOYA, my faithful companion! I have to acknowledge the relief when the above tasks were done. I took care of my self. The reminders in my head that kept looping – Call. Write. Go- they stopped. I still use G.O.Y.A. After a GOYA session, there’s space to chill out, take a break and do nothing for a bit. And that kind of doing nothing is not procrastinating.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s been immersed in writing for over 30 years, teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Ready to Read Part II- Venue, Voice, Vocal Variety

Posted by on Jan 22, 2020 in Writing | 0 comments

Since presenting “From the Page to The Stage” folks have asked for tips to bring their writing to life at public reading events. I’m more than happy to comply.

What to Read? What will you read? What is the purpose? Who is your audience? Choose/edit/revise your piece to be entertaining, informative, motivating, or educational.

 Get Ready! The Venue

  • Visualize the room: Where are you comfortable sitting? Who is the contact person? Who is the tech person? If the lights, mic or temp goes, who’s the fixer? Who else is on the agenda? How much time is set aside for you? If it’s an 8-minute limit, respect that. Who is introducing you? Send them 3-5 sentences about you. Bring a copy to the event also.
  • Size- big room, big gestures and v. v. What is the layout?
  • Practice! Go over your reading/speech out loud. Time it. Do it again. And again. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in front of real people.
  • You’ve got this! Avoid looking like you are clutching your book. Know if there will be steps/stage. Approach from the left holding book in left hand. Do not lean or tap on the podium. If you have a tendency to do this, move two steps away from it.

Contact me if you are interested in my detailed Event Intake .docx – a one-pager that will help you organize for any event. Get the demographics and other info on that sheet, and then focus on your reading.

10 Ideas Specific to Readings/Keynotes/Presentations.  You

  1. Do not drink: Ice water (constricts vocal cords), coffee with cream (can create mucus & throat-clearing). YES: Room temperature liquids. Save alcohol for later.
  2. Breathe.
  3. Things to remember: “People are coming to be entertained and have a good time. You can too.” “You have a piece of great value that no one else has written.”
  4. Use your voice and body to convey ideas, emotions, attitudes, and intentions of the piece. To some degree, it’s like acting. Your vocal and body cues will allow listeners to recreate the characters and concepts in their mind.
  5. If you read directly from your book, hold it in the palm of one hand to avoid looking like you are clutching. (Here’s where Bill’s idea in Ready to Read Part I is brilliant!)
  6. Will there be a podium, table, or raised surface in front of you to use? Hold material low enough so your face is not hidden. Will you be standing, sitting, both?
  7. Look up occasionally at the audience. Familiarity with your material means you will not lose your place when you gaze up and then back at your book.
  8. Your style: Written work may need editing/condensing/word substitutions for reading aloud. A reading event is so different from reading at home. Listeners cannot go back a few pages to clarify. Make it clear the first time.
  9. Use facial expressions according to the mood. Smiles, grimaces, frowns, sadness. Body language–shiver, shrink, take a bold stance. Match your style to the mood and the character.
  10. Turn the words in your book into a reading with emotional impact!

Voice Characteristics

Analyze your piece: What is the most important part? Build to it with volume, pace, inflection, and pauses. Underline or highlight words that will get emphasis. Use different voice characteristics, especially if you’re reading dialogue. Then eliminate the dialogue tags.

  • Tempo: The speed at which you read. The average rate of speaking in most Western societies is 120-150 words a minute. This varies according to the mood. Dramatize by slowing down or speeding up. If you are a fast talker when you are jittery, slow down even more. If you speak slowly when nervous, keep an even pace in mind.
  • Volume: For effect–softer/louder.
  • Pitch: Low or high. Low often indicates gloom or foreboding; high indicates excitement.
  • Inflection: Upward inflection carries the listener forward and adds tension. Downward indicates finality.
  • Pause: A pause is one of the most valuable tools in public speaking. Use pauses at the beginning, during, and ending a reading or presentation. Pausing before you begin settles you and attracts the audience’s attention. Pauses generate anticipation, or allow the audience to reflect on a point just made. Longer pauses indicate emotion. When finished, pause to allow the audience to applaud, and give you that standing ovation.
  • Punctuation gives clues: Comma= pause. Period= slighter longer pause. Exclamation point= usually more volume. Question mark= changed inflection.

You’re ready!

©From the Page to the Stage 2019 Ethel Lee-Miller  www.etheleemiller.com   etheleemiller@me.com

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s been immersed in writing for over 30 years, teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic.