Start Right Where You Are and Get It Done

A Review of a New Book by Sam Bennett

“When you decide that, you want something and you move toward it physically, emotionally or s84434piritually, then your movement opens up new pathways by which things can appear in your life,” writes Sam Bennett in her new book, Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists (New World Library, No
vember 15, 2016). “Even a very small step can cause a radical change in your relationship to the thing you want. Even a small shift in perspective can allow you to see new opportunities.”

Bennett’s mission is to help people get unstuck, focused and moving forward to achieve their goals. Nineteen years ago, she was stuck herself: couch-bound and depressed and not in the mood for a famous self-help book her friends gave her to cheer her up. But when she applied its ideas, she became a believer and now offers readers in this book 66 easy, doable changes they can make to reach their dreams.

These shifts can support you to amp up your intuition, get over fear of success, choose the right project for you, and build your “tribe” of like-minded people who will support, celebrate and cherish their involvement in your life

The book includes steps like getting your cell phone out of your bedroom, turning complaints into requests and releasing what no longer serves you, all small enough to prevent overwhelm. Other exercises center around embracing selfishness, hearing your heart rather than your obsessing mind and noticing the good, even if its just the leftover pizza in the fridge.

“No matter how long you’ve been dreaming your dreams, they are still alive, still possible,” writes Bennett. “Just because they haven’t happened up to now doesn’t mean they won’t happen. And just because your life, career, or projects haven’t gone the way you may have wanted doesn’t mean they are not going well. No matter what has happened to you up to now, you have an opportunity to create a new story, beginning right now.”

And that story can be one of joy. “That’s what this book is for: to help you make the little changes that will lead to big joy,” writes Bennett. “And big joy can make a big difference.”

Sam Bennett created The Organized Artist Company to help creative people move forward on their dreams and goals. She is a writer, actor, teacher and creativity/productivity specialist who has counseled thousands of artists and entrepreneurs on their way to success. Visit her online at:
http://www.startrightwhereyouare.com

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Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion can Free You From Your Inner Critic by Mark Coleman

A Review

Many writers are well acquainted with the “Inner Critic.” It is the voice that makes us second-guess our writing 84304by saying “not enough,” “not good enough,” or sometimes “too much.” No matter how brilliant the writing, the Inner Critic would have us believe it belongs on the trash.

But the Inner Critic is not invincible, though at times it may seem so, promises Mark Coleman in his new book, Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic (New World Library, November 15, 2016).

It offers readers practical tools for developing awareness and compassion necessary to make a radical shift in the way we think and feel about ourselves. It explores the big picture of the critic and self judgment. And it offers the skills needed to work with the critic, including the power of love to move past its negative impact.

Coleman speaks from personal experience. In his late teens, he was a punk rocker with a lot of rage, whose mind was full of self-flagellation. From his Inner Critic’s point of view, every decision he made was wrong, stupid or hopeless. Then he discovered mindfulness meditation and began the slow process of uprooting those critical voices. Now a renowned meditation teacher, Coleman learned the value of compassion and awareness to “navigate life’s inner and outer storms.”

“There is so much pain in life. And it is sad to watch people needlessly add to that by beating themselves up,” writes Coleman. “It is the love in our hearts that allows us to be vulnerable enough to recognize the burdens we carry. Love gives us a quiet strength that enables us to keep the critic at bay, hold our pain tenderly, and begin the journey of healing.”

Mark Coleman is the founder of the Mindfulness Institute and has guided students on five continents as a corporate consultant, counselor, meditation teacher and wilderness guide. Visit him online at: http://www.MarkColeman.org

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Jeff Herman’s Revised 2017 Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents

If your writer’s dream remains to get published using an agent and working with a small or mainstream publisher, you need guidance on how to get past the slush pile and into the hands of the jh-guide-2017-front-242x300people who have the power to accomplish your publishing goals. And the best guide book to support those goals is Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents: Who They Are, What They Want, How to Win Them Over.

I use it myself to check out insider information on agents and publishing trends. However, this book is not only about traditional publishers and agents. It includes insights into the future of both traditional and self-publishing and social media. It’s one of the “must have” reference books I recommend to writing clients and in my writing courses for writers who want to get published. Many successful writers call it a writer’s best friend (just read some of the testimonials).

A new, fully revised 2017 edition has just come out that provides up-to-date information about editors, agents, publishers, self-publishing, ebooks and even more resources in an ever-fluctuating book market. You will learn not only what those agents and publishers want — but what they don’t want, so you can get that book you’ve probably spent years writing read and published. Jeff Herman has himself been a literary agent for over 30 years.

Now in its 24th edition, the Jeff Herman Guide includes:

  • Information about U.S. and Canadian publishers and imprints, including preferences, names and addresses
  • Interviews, addresses and preferences of agents, including invaluable tips from 170 of the most powerful agents
  • Insider tips on how to approach agents and editors
  • Latest information on self-publsihing, ebooks and digital publishing
  • Insights on preparing a book proposal and writing the perfect query letter
  • Scams and what to look out for from predatory agents and editors

Herman’s agency has ushered nearly 1000 books into publication. He is also the coauthor of the acclaimed Write the Perfect Book Proposal and is often featured as an expert in print and broadcast media. His website is http://www.JeffHerman.com.

 

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An interview with Kim Schneiderman, author of Step Out of Your Story

What does it mean to “step out of your story?” and how does one do that?kim-schneiderman

As I write in the opening chapter of my book,every life is an unfolding story, a dynamic, unique, purposeful, and potentially heroic story with bright spots, turning points, and abounding opportunities for personal growth and transformation.” Most people, when I present this idea to them, accept this to be true. And yet, many people don’t think about what that means. Until something happens that challenges their outlook on life, few take the time to explore the character they’re playing, what their story is about, who’s writing their script, and how the challenges they face can help them develop the insights and skills they need to move to the next chapter.

Stepping out of your story means being able to step outside your life to view it from a novel perspective, both literally and figuratively. That means seeing yourself as the hero of your story, and understanding how all of the classic story elements, especially your antagonists, might be conspiring to help you grow, as many protagonists do over the course of the narrative. Looking at your life this way can also help you embrace plot twists as opportunities to change your life.

Does how we tell our story matter? And if there are infinite ways to tell our stories, is there a best way?

Absolutely. Telling our story is a fundamental way that we come to know ourselves and make meaning of our live. We are constantly sifting through various competing narratives to make sense of our world for ourselves and others. Whether you consider yourself a heroic figure overcoming obstacles or a tragic victim of destiny often depends on how you choose to read the text of your life and the way that you tell your story. We might even describe suffering, in part, as the result of a storytelling deficit, a failure to find a good filing system that organizes the details of one’s life into a meaningful cause-and-effect narrative, which results in an incoherent or distorted story.

While there may not be a best way, there are certainly better ways to tell your story than others. My book proposes telling your story as a personal growth adventure, using the classic story structure to reframe challenges as stepping-stones to a more authentic self and richer life. The classic story elements – protagonist, antagonist, plot, climax, etc. – serve as the architecture of a story. Once we understand how each element of the story scaffolding supports directs and supports the protagonist’s character development, we can use “the story lens on life” to reconstruct a powerful, coherent narrative from the raw materials of our lives.

What does it mean to become a good reader of the text of our lives and how can that help us?

How we “read,” or rather interpret, our story affects how we feel about ourselves, which can influence how our lives unfold. For example, reframing the story of a cancer diagnosis as a tale of finding new sources of resilience and deeper connections with loved ones feels very different from telling the story as one of divine punishment or meaningless misery. In fact, studies show that a positive narrative, and the feelings they engender, can influence prognosis. Similarly, seeing a failed relationship as a lesson in intimacy, resilience, and humility will make us feel a whole lot better, and emotionally ready for our next relationship, than shaping the story as one of self-sabotage and personal worthlessness.

This interpretative lens implies that we value character development in ourselves as much as we value it in the books we read and movies we watch. It entails seeing every person and situation that shows up in your narrative as a personal growth opportunity and recognizing the subtle, often unrecognized personal victories that build character — such as facing a fear, changing an attitude, or kicking a bad habit. This is not necessarily how society traditionally measures success. But or psychotherapists and writers, these kinds of changes mark meaningful progress in someone’s lifelong development, whether that person is a client or an imagined character.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re unemployed, and you tell yourself the story that this is just another crappy situation that defines your very difficult life. You ask yourself, “Why does this always happen to me?” Then you finally land a job interview. What happens? If you haven’t eradicated your victim story, it may unintentionally seep out during your interview through your tone and word choice, or you may secretly sabatoge yourself. This may lead you to botch the interview, which causes more suffering and only confirms your negative story.

However, what if you saw the antagonist (in this case, unemployment) of the current chapter in your life (a chapter you might entitle “A Thousand Resumes”) as the necessary force that is pushing you to grow in new ways: perhaps that you are in fact ambivalent about this career path or that you tend to get easily discouraged. In a way, this antagonist is like a personal trainer, and this conflict is the force challenging you to develop your confidence or to become clear about your career direction.

Suddenly, as you exercise control over how you view your situation, the time between jobs becomes an invitation to work on yourself and build your muscles. Through this lens, you might say to yourself, “If I were reading this chapter in a book about the story of my life, I might appreciate that unemployment is nudging me — the protagonist — to get more organized and keep persevering in the face of adversity. I can choose to embrace that challenge, and forge ahead, or drain myself of valuable energy by sinking into discouragement.” Cast in this light, the power of interpretation via the story lens on life offers a powerful elixir for heartbreaks, disappointments, and existential angst.

Does putting a positive spin on your story make it less truthful?

We spin our stories all the time. Every time we open our mouths we make choices about how to tell a tale. Depending on your audience, we may emphasize certain aspects of the story over others, or omit certain details that seem irrelevant, inappropriate, or too complicated to explain. As we tell it over and over, we might remember certain parts we had forgotten initially, or new insights might lead us to spin the story in a totally different direction.

Is one version more truthful than another? Who’s to say? And how does one define truth? Is the objective experience of the things that happen – what I call the “outer story” any more truthful than the feelings we have about what happens – what I call the “inner story?” Some people tend to favor one of these two storytelling styles. But both are “true,” as far as they are meaningful, when it comes to understanding the totality of a person’s experience. That’s why for me, it’s less important whether a story is truthful, than whether it’s personally constructive.

Finally, there are ways to find the redemptive storyline without whitewashing over unpleasant circumstances, repressing feelings, or discounting important life lessons. By reframing your story as a personal growth adventure that identifies the ways you’ve grown as the protagonist of your narrative, there is room for all manner of feelings and experiences, which imbue the story with richness and texture. And the fuller the story, the more it approximates something resembling the truth.

Is there any research to support the efficacy of the third-person storytelling exercises in Step Out of Your Story?

A number of psychological studies in recent years illustrate that recalling past events or thinking about yourself in the third person helps you see yourself through kinder, more compassionate eyes. The reason is that the third person voice creates emotional distance between you and the circumstances of your life, enabling you to see the larger story with greater objectivity. For example, University of California and University of Michigan researchers used a psychologically distancing vantage point when asking participants to reflect on negative memories. Not only did participants report less emotional pain, less rumination, improved problem solving, and greater life satisfaction when discussing matters in the third person, they also gained new insights into those memories without feeling as emotionally overwhelmed. Similarly, in a Columbia University study, students were asked to describe recently upsetting thoughts or feelings, and these bad memories were recalled with less hostility by those using the third-person perspective. In an Ohio State University study, students who recalled humiliating moments in high school in the third-person narrative were more likely to describe themselves as having overcome obstacles than those who recalled similarly embarrassing moments from a first-person perspective. The study concluded that feeling like you’ve changed gives you the confidence and momentum to act in ways that support a perceived new and improved self.

It’s also worth noting that all of this research is aligned with narrative therapy technique known as “externalization,” which uses psychological distancing techniques to prevent people from over-identifying with their problems.

Do people need to be good writers to do the exercises you offer in your book?

No. As I tell my students, your masterpiece of living doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of writing. The exercises are designed for anyone who can compose a simple sentence. The goal is not writing well; the goal is self-discovery. The goal is to write powerfully and authentically. In my experience facilitating workshops, I’ve noticed that the written equivalent of stick-figure drawings may actually teach us more about ourselves than carefully crafted (and controlled) adult sentences. Words-smithing can be about the ego, which I’m trying to help people transcend via the third person narrative. That being said, people for whom writing comes naturally sometimes use the exercises as prompts to get really creative, and have subsequently written some beautiful pieces.

Obviously, no one can predict the future. How then is it possible to predict your own character arc?

One of the ways I help readers get a sense of their character arc is by completing a character sketch of themselves in the third person narrative, assuming the role of both author and protagonist. A character sketch is a technique that helps authors flesh out the personalities and interior world of the protagonist before embarking on a novel. It involves answering a series of imaginative questions that paint a holographic picture of how the protagonist might evolve over the course of the plotline. The character sketch presumes that the protagonist is the soul of every narrative and the engine that runs the story. So, too, I want my readers to understand more deeply who they are as evolving protagonists. The more they understand about who they are, what they’re made of, and what’s driving them, the more they’ll get a sense of where they’re heading.

How can the antagonists of our stories help us grow? Can’t they also bring us down?

Many of us don’t think twice about pushing ourselves to the point of pain and exhaustion at the gym. Yet when life pushes us to exercise our emotional, spiritual, and mental muscles, we often would prefer lighter, gentler, no-impact routines. However, until we are willing to build these character development muscles, we will remain somewhat stunted in our growth, unable to actualize the full strength of what we are capable of, whether in our career, relationships, or communities.

That’s why antagonists are an important part of our story. They are like the personal trainers who push us beyond our perceived limitations to develop our flabby, underutilized emotional muscles. As with a personal trainer, we might openly swear or grin through gritted teeth. We might assign the person sadistic aspirations, thinking the trainer wants to harm or destroy us. But if we read between the lines, whether we like it or not, our antagonist can help us strengthen the underdeveloped areas within ourselves. By definition, they force us to stretch beyond our perceived limitations to discover the true depth of our own capacity to love, succeed, and overcome obstacles.

That’s not to say that we should seek out conflict for personal growth’s sake or use character development as an excuse to endure chronically painful or unpleasant circumstances. Constant pain is a sign that something is amiss. Yet any workout should include a little discomfort so we increase our flexibility to handle more intense situations with greater degrees of ease. It reminds me of something a dance teacher once told me: “Sometimes, when you begin to stretch, your muscles scream ‘no, no, no’ — they don’t think they can handle the tension because it’s never been asked of them before. But as you gradually ease into the pose, they relax and discover an untapped capacity for elasticity.”

Why do you ask readers to focus on the current chapter, rather than asking them to reframe something that happened in the past or look at their whole life?

While exploring the influence of the past on the present can help us understand ourselves better, we can also get bogged down in old storylines — instead of visiting the past, we might pitch camp there or continue to circle the same old beaten tracks.

The present, however, is the place where change becomes possible. It is the precise moment in the story when you, as the protagonist of your story, can take action and grow. One of the foundational exercises I ask readers to complete is to name and describe the current chapter. From there, I help them reconstruct their story element by element. Eventually, they reassemble these pieces into an empowering new narrative about where they are and where they’re heading. And here is the beauty of this process: once we name our current chapter, distinguishing it from previous chapters within our larger narrative, we may see how the present moment offers possibilities to embrace a new reality and further develop our character. This new awareness can help us get a fresh perspective on areas where we might feel stuck, reframing life’s inevitable trials and tribulations as purposeful experiences that won’t last forever.

 

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Step Out Of Your Story: A Review

    From the day we’re born, we become the star and spin-doctor of our own life story in progress with all the trappings of what makes a story readable and worth sharing — turning points, bright spots, plot twists, cliffhangers, conflicts, and important life lessons. Yet, few of us take time to figure out what our story is about, who is writing our script, why we’ve selected our chosen roles, orStep-Out-of-Your-Story how the challenges that we face can help us develop the strengths we need to move to the next chapter.
     STEP OUT OF YOUR STORY is a self-help writing program designed to help anyone who can compose a simple sentence get a fresh perspective on a familiar story— their own. Psychotherapist and freelance journalist Kim Schneiderman utilizes research-inspired methods to help people who are stuck — in a dead-end job, relationship, or stage of life — imagine themselves as the star of their own stories with the power to reframe and reclaim their personal narratives.
    Drawing on the elements of a story that many of us learned in grade school, she helps readers assign titles to different chapters of their lives, observe recurring themes, identify supporting characters, and explore how the inevitable tensions of life create opportunities for personal transformation.
    Schneiderman encourages readers not to be concerned about the quality of their writing. “Your masterpiece of living does not have to be, and isn’t meant to be, a masterpiece of writing,” she writes. “In this case, writing is meant to serve as a tool for self-discovery, not self-torture or eventual publication. All you need is a pen (or a keyboard) and a sense of adventure. So put on your story glasses, shift your perspective, and enjoy the journey!”
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What’s Your Character Arc?

Whether you are writing a memoir or examining your life, you can view yourself as the star of your own story. Kim fire-firework-light-5076Schneiderman offers us the opportunity to take a conscious approach to this exercise in her new book, Step Out of Your Story. She offers us a way to look at the character arc of our own lives in this excerpt from her book.

An excerpt from Step Out of Your Story by Kim Schneiderman

Now that you’ve put on your story glasses and changed your perspective to the third person, it’s time to get better acquainted with the star of your story — you. Every human story is also a journey of transformation. We start out in one place, with a particular outlook, and end up in another. Yet rarely do we explore who we are as evolving characters with the same gusto and curiosity that we reserve for foreign travel — that is, until something forces us to take a closer look at the person behind the passport.

While you can’t predict your future, you can take charge of the direction of your character arc if you’re willing to explore your protagonist’s terrain with the same sense of adventure and awe you would bring to a trek through the Himalayas.

Every protagonist has a character arc, a particular way he or she matures and develops in response to the shifting tides of the story. This area of growth is the threshold between the hero’s present self and his or her aspirational self; some call this a person’s “growing edge,” a term I like and use in Step Out of Your Story. At the outset of every narrative, the protagonist possesses certain viewpoints and capabilities that have gotten the character by until now. Inevitably, situations arise that challenge these perspectives or demand other skills the hero doesn’t yet possess, thus creating the main conflict of the narrative. After all, if the character already possessed the necessary skills or a broader perspective, there would be no challenge and no conflict in the story. Ultimately, the protagonist faces an opportunity to change in some way. The degree to which the protagonist embraces this challenge, and his or her growing edge, or tries to avoid the challenge determines who he or she becomes, for better or for worse.

Similarly, you are an ever-evolving protagonist on a journey of self-discovery with choices to make about how to respond to the stuff that happens in your life. As an ever-evolving protagonist, not only do you possess the power to adapt to plot twists, but you can view these unexpected difficulties as opportunities for personal growth and transformation. In fact, you can coauthor your own story by regarding every person and situation that shows up in your narrative as an invitation to further hone a different aspect of your character, or one of your growing edges.

That, of course, includes antagonists — the so-called villains and foils that make life challenging — as well as supporting characters and any life events, welcome and unwelcome. After all, just because your life is a story doesn’t mean it’s supposed to be a fairy tale. In fact, even fairy tales aren’t joy rides. If you study them carefully, you’ll notice that serious difficulties always beset the main characters before they get to their happy ending. Cinderella may meet her prince and become transformed, but she has to sweep a whole bunch of chimneys, and endure much humiliation, before she gets there. Jack has to outrun a homicidally hungry giant to capture his treasure in the sky. We not only expect that the main characters of stories will be challenged in some essential way, but we anticipate it.

In stories, the status quo is not just boring, it’s unacceptable. Whether we consciously recognize it or not, could it be that deep down we understand that something needs to happen to the main character for his or her own good or, dare I say, growth? If so, then why is it that it’s so easy to lose this perspective when it comes to telling the story of our own life, when our own status quo is shaken? As the protagonist of our own heroic narrative, doesn’t it seem silly not to recognize that the things that happen to us are what offer opportunities to actualize our potential, calling forth perhaps dormant aspects of our personality that we need to resolve the situation?

Life constantly presents us with challenges. Should we choose to meet them, these keep us growing and evolving from chapter to chapter. Sure, you may not have a wicked witch chasing you like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but chances are you’ve had to contend with being lost, dealing with difficult people, and accepting that the authority figures you counted on did not deserve your trust.

Unlike some of the heroes from fairy tales and popular fiction, however, you don’t necessarily need to vanquish your nemesis — you simply need to explore who you are as an evolving character and understand your narrative.

Kim Schneiderman, LCSW, MSW, is the author of Step Out of Your Story. She counsels in private practice and teaches as a professor and guest lecturer at venues including New York University. She also writes a biweekly advice column for Metro Newspapers and blogs for Psychology Today. Visit her online at http://www.stepoutofyourstory.com.

Excerpted from the book Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life ©2015 by Kim Schneiderman.  Published with permission of New World Library http://www.newworldlibrary.com

 

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A Talk with Judy Reeves, author of Wild Women, Wild Voices

Judy Reeves is a writer, teacher, and writing practice provocateur who has written four books on writing, including the award-winning A Writer’s Book of Days. In addition to leading private writing groups, Judy teaches at UC San Diego Extension and at San Diego Writers, Ink, a nonprofit literary organization she cofounded. More information at JudyReevesWriter.com.

What is meant by the “wild” in Wild Women?

When I first began gathering material for the book, I scribbled down a list of words that came to me in a spontaneous writing session: something in the body, the color red; smells earthy; fierce in love, in caring, in connection; deep dreaming, farsighted; body knowing, heart singing, love making; the poetry of breathing; hears ancient echoes; solitude and community in equal measure; cycles moon-shaped, nature connected; feels blessed by the sunrise, anointed by the moon. All of these words, phrases, and images speak of wild woman to me.

When I asked other women what was conjured in them with the words “wild” and “woman,” they responded with: “Freedom, curiosity, a great capacity for delight and feeling at home in one’s skin.” Creative was a word used often by other women. They used words such as free and strong, natural and fierce, boundlessness, energy, risk-taking, brave, wise. One woman said, “Sometimes this fierceness deep inside … amazes me.”

Wild in Wild Women is linked through memory and experience to our authentic selves.

What is “Wild Voice” and how is it different from other writing voices?  

As its name implies, wild voice is untamed and unbounded and holds the possibility of great beauty. It goes deep, like roots. It is not domesticated or restrained. Wild voice can be dangerous; it can be outrageous. Wild voice is what gives a writer the sentence or phrase that seems to come out of nowhere. Language erupts spontaneously with wild voice. Wild voice is writing that surprises both the writer and the reader. Wild voice is when the writing comes freely and easily, intuitively. The language is of the writer’s own making and the rhythm is the beat of her own drummer.

Other writing voices (and I’m referring to process rather than end product) may be more restrained, more hesitant; there may be more thinking or planning going on before the words get to the page. Some writers edit as they write; they consider what should come next, rather than getting out of the way and letting the writing find its own form. There may be much scratching out and rewriting in the process of writing.

Not that our writing shouldn’t be edited; it certainly should be, but for wild voice to have its say, the editing should come after the words are on the page, not as they go (or don’t go) down.

The word “authentic” gets used often these days, how do you use it in the book? What is “authentic wildness?”

Many of us live our daily lives doing the next thing, rather than being present in the Now moment. We follow “shoulds” and “ought-tos” rather than making choices based on an internal, intuitive knowing of our true nature. Instead of living and speaking and writing according to this deep knowing, we allow ourselves to be defined and shaped by our culture, our family, our religion, and other rule-making, limit-setting entities.

When I write about our authentic wildness, I don’t mean breaking all the rules and living rebelliously outside society, I’m referring to the deep, innermost, vibrant, responsive, creative self that we may have lost touch with or set aside in our efforts to be liked or accepted or to “get along.”

How is “writing from your authentic wildness” different than, say, taking a writing class or studying creative writing?

Wild Women, Wild Voices invites anyone — experienced writers, journal writers, non-writers — to respond in her own language and her own voice to what wants to be expressed in whatever form it wants to take. Studying writing means following the directives of someone else — a teacher, a workshop facilitator, exercises in a book — to learn the craft. I believe in writing classes; I teach writing. I think if you want to become a better writer, you do study the craft, take classes if you can, join workshops and learn from others. But this book isn’t about teaching the craft, although some tips and guidelines are included. It’s about inviting writers to write from a deep, free and wild voice.

Instead of writing exercises, you invite writers to go on “Explorations.” How do the Explorations differ from writing exercises?

These explorations refer to following a path laid out by the voice and the language to a destination that isn’t fore-planned. One of the ways of being authentic is to maintain an ongoing dialogue with oneself. Ask a question, follow a memory, explore an image and respond from that place of deep, intuitive knowing. So we don’t write to learn a certain method or technique; we write to discover our story.

In the book, you write that “story,” can be anything from a long-ago memory to a grocery list. How are you defining story?

Story has more to do with sense-making or understanding than with structure. A grocery list can tell a story about an individual at a certain time and in a certain place as well as a more thought-out narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. Story is the bones, the skeleton, the dots we connect to find shape and meaning.

What’s the importance of writing our stories?

 We tell stories to give shape to experiences, to entertain, to process, to grieve, to heal, and to share our perspective on the world. Telling stories is how we relate a memory and how we identify ourselves. Stories show us the consequences of our actions, they reveal ourselves to ourselves and can lead to deeper understanding of who we are and our place in the world. Stories are a way of connecting, one human being to another and enlarging our world.

One of the early chapters is “Claiming Wild Woman.” What does this mean for the reader/writer?

For many of us, our kinship with the wild feminine has become, in the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, “ghosty from neglect, buried by overdomestication,” and “outlawed by the surrounding culture.”

Wild Woman and wild voice are deeply connected; consequently, writing in the authentic wild voice doesn’t come easily. We may need to brush away the dust and cobwebs that have muffled that voice to a whisper. So we go to the source to affirm the qualities of our wild self. We do this through a series of explorations that take us back to a time we felt our most authentic. We write phrases and images that speak to our vision of our true nature. We look into what nourishes us on a soul level and what we want and need to feel whole. By claiming our own wild woman, we can write, and live, more authentically.

You suggest keeping a special notebook or journal and having a regular writing practice. What can writers gain from such a practice? Is it important to write every day?

Though it’s not necessary to write every day to experience the benefits of having a regular writing practice, like any practice — yoga, meditation, tai chi — the more regular our attendance, the greater the rewards. Words come easier and are less forced, we become less self-conscious and as a result the writing becomes freer; we learn our rhythms as a writer and to trust the cycles of ups and downs.

I’ve found that writers take more risks when they have a regular writing practice, they trust their writing more and are become willing to go deeper, to brush against their shadows, to reveal their secrets and become more honest. Writing regularly, we discover what matters to us and what we want to write about. A daily, or almost-daily writing practice enhances our self-esteem: we can say, “I’m a writer,” with no hesitation or doubt because, after all, we’re doing it. Notebooks get filled, stories get written, characters appear, memories find voice — and our writing improves. These are only a few of the benefits.

You also suggest writers create a special place for their work; you even suggest they light a candle during each writing session. Can’t writers just write anywhere?

I think every writer dreams of that converted cabin in the woods, or the serene room with a view of the lake or the river or the ocean. “A room of her own,” Virginia Woolf famously said. Whether it’s a folding table behind a screen in the bedroom or a separate studio with a desk, computer, and a napping couch, we writers need a place to call our own where we can feel safe and comfortable enough to lose ourselves in the worlds we’re creating on paper.

Of course many writers can and do write just anywhere, or they have a favorite location — a café where the barista knows their favorite drink, a library where quiet is honored and enforced. Writers write on the subway, on trains (Amtrak offers a “writer’s residency”) and planes and in cars. I’ve written in laundromats, tents, and ferries going from here to there. Anywhere will do so long as we’re able to enter into that place of sustained contact with our deeper self.

As for the candle, lighting one is a symbolic gesture that reminds us we are crossing the threshold into a time out of time. Lighting a candle as we begin writing is another away to signify we are creating a special time and place and that our work deserves this attention.

The book has such chapter titles as “Wild Child, Wild Girl: Initiation and Forgetting;” “Family: Fact and Fiction, Myth and Mystery;” “Where the Wild Things Are: Illuminating the Shadow;” and “Death, Loss, and Legacies: Wise Woman.” These titles sound like writers might be exploring some pretty deep subjects. Is this the focus of the book?

Wild woman is deep; exploring and expressing thoughtful responses to our lives takes us into soul territory. Our values, our standards, our morals, what we believe in, what we love, our heartbreaks and wounds and losses — all these shape us and shape our experiences. It’s important to give them voice. But this is not to say the focus of the book is always serious. Oh no! There’s no sound in the world like a gathering of women laughing that laugh that has the power and the energy to break down doors and lift buildings off their foundations

We look at our lives with reverence and humility and, thank goodness, a sense of humor.

There’s also a chapter titled “Artist/Creator: The Authentic Work of Wild Woman.” Do you believe every woman (or man) is creative?

I do. Creativity is a natural part of all human beings, like love and hope. Being creative doesn’t mean we all are artists in the common sense of that word; it means we are responsive to the world. For some it’s the way we prepare and serve meals; for others it’s the way we remodel our kitchens. Throw a party, paint a wall, knit a scarf. Open a business, write a proposal, write a poem. Take a photo, take a trip, give a handmade gift. Dance to the light of the moon. We may not call ourselves creative, we may not acknowledge our creative responses to the world, but nonetheless, it is an inalienable part of our very beings. By exploring the ways in which we are creative, recognizing and acknowledging this in ourselves, we enrich our lives and the world around us. There is great joy in creativity. We connect with our higher spirit and our deepest soul.

What can a woman/writer expect to gain from the book?

Wild Women, Wild Voices is a journey book, written and constructed as an invitation for women to explore her experiences, her beliefs, her memories, and her stories. The chapters are opportunities to remember and experience her connection with her authentic self and to express herself in her wild, authentic voice. It’s a book for memory gathering and story-making. For acknowledging and honoring the wild woman that is part of every one of us.

My hope is that women who read the book will be motivated to write and tell their stories, and to realize how valuable they are. Maybe some will write a memoir as a result of the work done here. Maybe poetry will be created. Or essays or plays or story collections or memory books for family. I would love to learn of Wild Women writing groups formed across the country and throughout the world as a result of women joining together to share the intimacy of their stories and the power of their experiences. I hope each woman who reads this book sends out to the world, her wild and authentic howl.

We love your comments. Please let us know what you think about this talk with Judy Reeves and writing from your own wild voices.

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Wild Voice — Writing with Authentic Expression

Guest Article By Judy Reeves, author of Wild Women, Wild Voices JudyReeves

Every writer has a beautiful, authentic, wild voice. This is where we start early on, using our imagination and our natural wildness to express the stories our creative minds conjure. Then something happens; we’re taught the correct way to make a sentence, we learn the rules of grammar, which, of course, we do need to know, and slowly all that correctness begins to outweigh imagination. We learn what others (teachers, parents, authorities) want to hear and, over time, allow our wild voice to be tamed. We become cautious and self-conscious and writing doesn’t hold the magic it had once upon a time.

But we can get it back. We haven’t lost our wild voice; we’ve just allowed it to be domesticated.

What is wild voice?

As its name implies, wild voice is untamed and unbounded and holds the possibility of great natural beauty. It goes deep, like roots; it sings because it can. Wild voice can be dangerous; it can be outrageous. It is passionate, exuberant, and eager for life. It is turbulent and stormy, often arriving as unexpectedly as a summer squall. Wild voice can be a lazy river or a soft summer breeze. But even a lazy river is not tame and just try to capture a summer breeze and hold it in your hand.

Language erupts spontaneously with wild voice. It’s what gives a writer the sentence or phrase that seems to come out of nowhere. It is what wants to be expressed. It tells you what you intuitively know and what matters most. Wild voice speaks its own truth.

What happens when we lose touch with our wild voice?

We play by the rules and write only what feels safe. We censor ourselves and edit before we really begin. We second-guess ourselves. We make “nice” stories and poems, and essays and write only the “good” memories. We leave things out and look for happy endings. Our language is tame, our images predictable.

If we’re writing fiction, our characters never do anything dangerous, or if they do, it’s dangerous only in a physical way, no soul-risk, no emotional risk. We shy away from the psychological. And while we may not out-and-out lie, we tiptoe around the truth, especially if we think it would be harmful to someone else, or make waves or be sensational.

Some other ways we know we’ve lost touch with wild voice: we’re bored by our own writing. We don’t believe we’re creative; we don’t trust our voice or our experiences. We don’t believe we have anything important or valuable to say and we apologize for our work.

Please don’t do that.

How do you know when you’re writing with your wild voice?

When your writing surprises you. When you say, “I don’t know where that came from.” When what you read back to yourself resonates deep inside. You know when you’re writing with wild voice when realize you’re telling the truth, maybe a truth you didn’t know before or hadn’t given language to.

You’re in wild voice when you’re excited by what you’re writing, when you’re having fun, when you’re not “trying.” When your ego has stepped aside and you’re writing freely and easily, intuitively. When the language you’re using is of your own making and the rhythm of your sentences is the beat of your own drummer. When your writing still feels honest and true when you read it weeks, months, even years later.

How do you access wild voice?

First, you must get yourself out of the way. That is, don’t think. Often when we try to think of what to write, nothing appears. Or rather, too much appears and our thinking mind gets busy doing what it’s supposed to do: judging, evaluating, comparing. Consequently, ideas jam together, get bottlenecked, and none is the “right” one and there we are, paralyzed by infinite choice.

Instead of trying to think of the “right” word or idea or beginning, breathe and allow an image to come to mind, let a detail be the starting place — a color, a sound, a texture — and follow where it leads. Let the pen or your fingers on the keyboard be the guide. Listen to your intuition and write from there. Trust yourself. Trust your pen. Trust your ideas. It’s OK to not know where you’re going, or if you do know where you’re going, to not know how to get there.

Listen to your body when you write and when you read back what you’ve written. Pay attention to your voice, breath, heartbeat, gut. Listen for the thrill of “yes!”

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be as messy as you need to be. Risk embarrassment, banish shame, and write from your passion. Explore with an open mind and an open heart. Give your beautiful, original, authentic wild voice free rein.

Let’s do it.

Right now. Take just 15 minutes and see what happens.

Here’s the prompt, use it to write from your own perspective or from a character’s:

It’s raining. You’re not at home.

After you’ve written, read your work aloud and let us know if you find traces of wild voice in your piece. Please share with us in the comment section below and/or send to Judy Reeves. (judy@judyreeveswriter.com)

Based on the book Wild Women, Wild Voices. © Copyright 2015 by Judy Reeves. Printed with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.

Judy Reeves is a writer, teacher, and writing practice provocateur who has written four books on writing, including the award-winning A Writer’s Book of Days. In addition to leading private writing groups, Judy teaches at UC San Diego Extension and at San Diego Writers, Ink, a nonprofit literary organization she cofounded. More information at JudyReevesWriter.com.

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Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents: Who They Are, What They Want, How to Win Them Over

A Review

Writers, agents and editors agree that Jeff Herman’s Guide is the go-to reference for authors who want to publish with a traditional publisher. It helps you get past the slush pile and into the hands of the pros who have the power to publish your book. The latest edition, which is its 24th, also includes the latest information about self-publishing, ebooks and digital publishing.

I used it myself when I was looking for an agent and publisher for my memoir, Riding Grace. It was the one must-have reference every author I knew agreed was the reference book to use — if this is your first, second or twentieth book. And I agree.

What I discovered is it not only made my job easier, but Herman’s guide was filled with insider information on what you need to do to (and not to do) to get past the gatekeepers to the people who can say “yes” to publishing your book and make your book proposal or synopsis and cover letters stand out from the thousands of other submissions. It also included editors and agents names, addresses, preferences and personal details.

That’s why it is now in its 24th edition. The guide has been updated with the latest on what you need, including:

  • Information about agents and over 300 U.S. and Canadian publishers and imprints
  • Insider tips on how to approach them, including invaluable pointers from 150 of the most powerful literary agents.
  • A comprehensive index broken down by subject and category for finding the perfect agent or imprint
  • Guidelines for creating a book proposal and writing a standout query letter
  • Scams and what to look for from predatory agents and editors
  • current publishing trends
  • “How-to” essays on the future of publishing, self-publishing trends, social media and more.

Jeff Herman’s own literary agency has ushered nearly 1000 books into publication. He is also the coauthor of Write the Perfect Book Proposal. His website is www.JeffHerman.com

 

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Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion — a Review

A Review of a New Book by Gregg LevoyVital Signs

When was the last time you felt truly in love with your life, awed by the world  around you?

For many of you, as writers, one of those times was most likely when you were in the throes of creating. Yet numerous clients of mine and other members of this writing community  have also expressed frustration to me about not having enough time to write or not  having completed that book that calls to them. Some of you have felt the discontent of putting most of their energy into life’s responsibilities: work, family, friends  and more. Or, some have let fear stop you in whatever form that shows up, including  a desire to take risks but feeling held back by the need for security.

I was experiencing that kind of discontent with writing before I committed to writing my memoir, Riding Grace. One of the books that helped inspire me to say “yes”  to my memoir and my creative writing was Gregg Levoy’s earlier book, Callings. Later  on, I had the opportunity to interview him about callings for my nonprofit website. Part of that  interview is now on the Transformational Writers blog.

Now, Gregg Levoy has written an inspirational and insightful new book: Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of  Passion (Tarcher/Penguin). In it, he says one skill to cultivate that will support  you on your quest to complete your book is what probably drew you to your writing  project in the first place: Passion. A passion to write and a passion for your  subject matter or idea.

Vital Signs is all about how to do this, discussing the  endlesss tug-of-war between freedom and domestication. It is about the wild in us  and the tame, our natural selves and our conditioned selves.

Each chapter in the book contains a core sample, an intimate biography of one of the strategies you can employ to gain or regain your passion for writing or another area of your life. The book affirms the importance of courageous inquiry into our dis-passion–where we’re numb, depressed, stuck, bored–so that we can recognize and change these tendencies in our lives.

Author Gregg Levoy is a former columnist and reporter for USA Today and has written for many publications including The New York Times Magazine and Psychology Today. He is  also a frequent guest at many prestigious writers conferences. Read more about him and the book at his website: www.gregglevoy.com.

 

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