The lost art of fun

When’s the last time you had fun?

What is your definition of fun? If you’re my mom, your definition of fun includes cleaning the house, which is just messed up beyond all get-out. Cleaning is not fun. Necessary, sure. Satisfying to some? Okay. Fun? No. Not in any universe. Mom also likes Sudoku, which qualifies as fun for her engineer’s mind, but gives me agita because numbers. Shudder.

Having fun requires doing something that doesn’t involve work or drudgery. Cooking can be fun. Reading, surfing the interwebs, playing games, talking with friends, knitting, sex, playing an instrument (unless that is part of your job), traveling, petting the cat or dog, napping, watching sunsets, taking photos (again, unless this is part of your job), writing (unless job), any sport or outdoor leisure activity (even mowing and weeding, if you are into gardening). The list of activities that qualify as fun extends beyond this, but you are the only one who can determine what is fun to you. Unless you say cleaning. Then you have no idea how to have fun and should try something from the above list.

Having fun, throwing caution to the wind, trying new things, having adventures, and spending time enjoying life are essential to being a writer. Because wonder. Because humor. Because experience. Without wonder, humor, and a variety of experiences, you will have nothing to write about. This is not the Victorian era and you are not Emily Dickinson, so don’t even try to pull that excuse.

This is the 21st Century, Jack. You need breadth and depth of experience in the world – your world – not necessarily the globe-trotting world. Because stories.

If you want to have ideas, you have to have experiences. If you want your brain to be open and relaxed to receive insights and inspiration, you must have fun.

Besides, why are we living if not to enjoy ourselves? My goodness, we all have to work, but learn to relax and have fun on a regular basis and you will be a much happier, more content, more relaxed, and more productive writer (and person in general). If you are “too busy” to have fun, then you need to re-think your life, much less your plans to be a writer.

Embrace fun. Go have some. You’ll thank me. :)

Join me for an Advanced Memoir Workshop this January!

Fellow writers! If you are working on a memoir-in-progress and want some feedback as well as some inspiration, please consider joining me for an Advanced Memoir Workshop this January in New Jersey.

I know, the Jersey Shore in JANUARY?! Yes. The Stockton Seaview Inn is beautiful, spacious, and warm with terrific service and good food. When I taught at this workshop weekend last year, I was so impressed with the congeniality of fellow staff and all of the writer-participants. Everyone was fully engaged in the writing process and brought a high level of enthusiasm and insight to every session.

If you want to be around like-minded writers and focus 100% on your memoir-in-progress (no matter where you are in that process), join us in New Jersey in January! It may be just the jolt you need to keep going. Hope to see you there!

 

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Web site to register: http://wintergetaway.com/workshops-and-tutorials/writing-workshops/advanced-memoir-workshop/

(Note: My workshop is limited to ten participants so that we can really dig in to everyone’s works and have super productive discussions.)

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Specific workshop details:

What Matters is Not What Happened: Advanced Memoir Workshop

Writing workshop in New Jersey
January 16-19, 2015
Led by Amanda Morris

Advanced Memoir Workshop NJ

Using Vivian Gornick’s famous line about “what matters,” we’ll investigate the best way to tell your story in this advanced memoir workshop. With your own memoir-in-progress as a springboard, you will explore the importance of seeing your first-person narrator as a character in your story, experiment with writing exercises and discuss your new work. Be ready to submit 2-3 pages on which you need feedback by Dec. 15 (or if registering after that date, submit within a week of registering). The workshop leader and participants will read each submission before the Getaway.

*Limited to just 10 participants.*

 

“As a first-time attendee, I was very impressed. The hotel was beautiful and everything was so well organized. My workshop leader, Amanda Morris, was full of energy, interesting, encouraging and inspiring. I would come back just for her, but I very much enjoyed the whole experience!”
~ Susan, Newtown, PA

 

Words don’t bleed; cut them

Tap, tap, tap. Click, click.

{Save as: My Brilliant Masterpiece in Progress}.

Print. Hold. Beam.

{Send to: Writing Group That Keeps Me in Check}.

Wait. Fret. Wait.

Phone notification: {re: My Brilliant Masterpiece in Progress.}.

Open. Read. Frown.

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If this writing/sharing/response process rings true (and you know who you are), then you are a writer who is married to her words. Revision seems anathema to impulsive creativity, passionate truthful expression, and brilliantly written passages.

“But you don’t understand! It’s perfect just the way it is! I wrote it this way for a reason! It says exactly what I want it to say in the exact way I want it to read! They just don’t understand what I’m going for!”

Honesty time. Is this you?

No, really. Is it you?

Because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to craft and mold and play with words until they are just right…and then have really smart, trusted writing friends say, “meh” or “doesn’t work” or “change this” or worst of all, “delete that section.” And “that section” is the one I liked the best.

Guess what?

My writing group is right. It’s my own pride and ego barring me from recognizing their sensible wisdom. They are not as close to the work as I am, so I’m not thinking clearly. If you can relate to this, you need to join me in reciting this valuable mantra whenever you are faced with difficult and emotionally-charged revisions: Words don’t bleed; cut them.

Say it out loud: Words don’t bleed; cut them.

One more time for the cheap seats in the back: Words don’t bleed; cut them.

Embracing and internalizing this basic truth will save you headaches, heartaches, and time. You will shorten your rejection time and reduce your rejection responses if you listen to the smart people who have your best publishing interests at heart. Yes, you are the author and have the ultimate decision…but when you rationally consider what the group says, you will most likely see that they are correct. Don’t resist, don’t get defensive, and don’t get angry that “they just don’t get it.” They DO get it. That’s why they are telling you to make those changes. They want you to succeed. And YOU want to succeed. Stop standing in your own way.

So, to review. What have we learned?

Words don’t bleed; cut them.

Pay yourself first


When you work for yourself, it is vital to pay yourself first – with money. When the money comes in, it flows to you (to your savings account, your investment account, your retirement account) first. Before the bills claim anything, you must pay yourself first. Freelancers, take note. Pay yourself first even if it means paying minimums on bills.

So how does the “pay yourself” mantra apply to those of us who write and publish for credentials and experience, but no money?

We still have to pay ourselves first – with time.

If you want to be a writer, you must carve out space and claim time for yourself to do the work. I’m not talking about the idea bursts, lightning bolt moments, and brainstorming sessions. I’m talking about revision. You know, the hard work that is required to take a draft from messy impulse to polished gem ready for an editorial review.

One of the most common excuses I hear from students of all ages, whether in my classrooms or in my workshops, is this one: “I don’t have enough time.” Another variation is: “I’m so busy.”

I’ve come to believe that this excuse is made easier to utter by the fact that no one in the writer’s inner circle (except the other writers and artists) has any idea the amount of time, mental exertion, and energy necessary to revise and rework a piece of writing until it shines. All they have ever seen is your finished work – they have no idea about – and no interest in – the revision process, which is the most extensive, time-consuming, and draining aspect of being a writer.

These same people, who may claim to be supportive and may even try to understand what you do as a writer, will also make it damn near impossible to claim space and time without a guilt trip.

“Oh, come on! We’re only in town for the weekend! You can work on that later.”

“Just do it tomorrow. Don’t you WANT to spend time with me? Don’t you value this relationship?”

“It can’t be that hard. You don’t really need all morning for a few spelling fixes.”

Variations on these statements are legion and equally misguided and annoying for the working writer. You must be strong and draw a boundary. If you know it will take you three hours to revise your latest piece and you have family coming in for the weekend, and several social events, but you want to finish that piece? You must look at your calendar and carve out three separate hours at different times for YOU and YOUR WRITING.

Pay yourself first by making your writing process and revisions a priority. And if your family balks? Let them. And if your friends protest? Let them. Smile, cheerfully say, “I’ll be back in an hour!” and leave.

Claim your space. Create the time. Pay yourself first and you WILL make progress on any given piece. Published writers are only published because we set boundaries around our own process, treat it like the work that it is, and claim the time that we know we need. Join us. :)

Midweek Writing Prompt: The Story of a Name (10/22/14)

In my classrooms and workshops, I strive to create safe, welcoming writing communities where individuals feel free to explore ideas, stories, and concepts without judgment. After all, we need those spaces to get started. The judgment – of editors, professors, critical friends – will come later. But in the beginning, we need that soft, friendly embrace where anything is possible and everyone loves you. Let’s go there together.

When my schedule allows, I will post writing prompts for you to play with. I encourage you to write something and to share those initial efforts in the comment section, or even your response to the prompt – tell us what happened when you sat down to write. After all, some of these prompts will lead you down a path toward publication – I’ve seen that happen often enough to be confident in that statement.

Give it a try! :)


 

Writing Prompt: The Story of a Name

This is my version of a prompt that was given at a writing conference I attended last year. Write down your name. Look at your name. Study it. Where did your name come from? What stories has your family told you about how you were named? Think about how your name has defined you over the years. Was your name ever used in a negative way through teasing or mocking? Have you heard admiring compliments? Have you been confused for someone else in your family who has the same name? How have those behaviors from others who encounter your name affect your self-esteem? Your confidence? Your sense of self? Write the story of your name – starting at any point.

See what happens. :)

The moment(s) to celebrate

When you write to publish, the impulse might be to celebrate the moment of publication. That’s certainly the moment your family and friends celebrate because they can SEE your writing in print or online. Tangible evidence that all those months of mysteriousnous when you said you were “working” finally has something to show for it. Hooray!

So why does that celebration feel so anti-climactic? Why, when everyone around you is exuberant about such tangible “proof” of your “success,” do you feel so deflated and unimpressed? What’s wrong with you? Why is the predominant feeling…meh?

Perhaps you have been celebrating the wrong moment(s).

As writers, we work constantly, even when we aren’t sitting in front of our computers or with journals on laps, writing until our fingers cramp. The truth is, the moment of publication is inevitable if you’ve done all of the work necessary to get to that point. In other words, it’s less of a surprise and more like an earned result. You did the work, you got accepted, you waited however many weeks or months, and now you see your words on the page or screen. Certainly there is a sense of satisfaction in that accomplishment, but the celebration moments have actually come much earlier and you may have missed them. Let’s correct that.

Here are some moments worth celebrating during the writing process:

1. The moment the idea clicks. You’ve been mulling an idea over for awhile, but nothing about it seems right. So you keep thinking and dreaming and journaling and mulling. And one day you’re on the treadmill or watching TV or playing with the cat and WHAM! Seemingly out of nowhere (but not really because mulling), your idea gels and you see a clear path – how to start, how to develop, what to include, how to end. It’s all there, laid out in your mind’s eye like a roadmap and all you have to do is follow it. Time to celebrate! Take yourself out to dinner and enjoy a good wine. Or make a date with yourself at the spa or your favorite park or coffee shop. Not to work. Just something you can do to mark the moment and celebrate your success at this stage. It’s a very important step because without the click moment, you will never be published. So take some time to celebrate right now.

2. The moment you offer your work to your writing group for feedback. This is a scary step and requires great faith and courage. You have worked intimately with your story, the characters, the places, and the ideas for days, weeks, months. You have mulled and mentally debated, struggled and made massive changes. You’ve killed your darlings, brought them back from the dead, made them zombies, and finally relegated the words that don’t work to the dustbin. And now you’re taking that first difficult step of letting others see your efforts. And they will criticize it, point out all the problems and inconsistencies, and the elements that work, but could be stronger. Celebrate this moment and your willingness to share your work in order to make it better. Lots of writers never do this – and those writers are not published. This is a worthy moment to celebrate. Do something different from your first celebration, but make sure it’s something that you will really enjoy and that doesn’t involve any work at all.

3. The moment you finish. This is a milestone worth celebrating because it is only made possible by your time, imagination, and mental and emotional effort. Be sure you get to this point. You must revise, but don’t revise the piece to death. Don’t kill the initial passion and energy that your first draft held. Part of the challenge in being a writer is having the ability to recognize the moment that you are done. The moment that the piece is finished and ready to be submitted. When you get here, you should absolutely celebrate it! Do something nice for yourself and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

4. The moment you submit. This moment quickly follows the moment you finish – or it should. I know too many writers who become stalled between finishing and submitting – they never make it to this stage because of fear, low confidence, whatever terrible things that writers say to themselves. That has to stop. You’ve done the work. You’ve earned the right to submit that work for consideration. If you can gather the nerve to pull the trigger and hit “send” on a submission to an editor, celebrate that moment. You have made it farther than many people who want to be published writers. You’ve made it past the proverbial Black Gate. Celebrate! I suggest a good craft brew. Or some Chilean wine. :)

5. The moment your work is accepted for publication. From the time you first submit your finished piece to a publication (or five) to the time you are accepted may be a long slog. It also may require you to return to the work and revise some more. Especially if you get some good feedback with your rejection letters (that “Golden Ticket” rejection I talk about here). So it may be a year or more until you get that acceptance email. Hence, once your work IS accepted and you know that now it is only a matter of copy-editing, page-proofing, and waiting until the inevitable, celebrate. THIS is the biggest celebratory moment for me. Having your work accepted is the pinnacle. The rest is just details. So make this a good celebration. Have a barbecue with friends. Have a breakfast date with friends. Shout it from the rooftops and Facebook. This is a big deal. This is the moment. Make it a good one. :)

 

 

 

Write a killer job application letter

Job letters – or the cover letters attached to your resume or CV – are your first impression with a potential employer. If it isn’t clear, specific, and well-written (read that – no spelling, punctuation, or other sentence-level mistakes), you won’t get a call. In fact, if the letter doesn’t kill the employer’s doubt, she may not even look at your resume.

Here’s how to write a job application letter that will make you competitive, as long as your credentials and experience fit the position and fit what the employer wants.

1. Customize. Research the organization and try to include some statements that you are not only aware of the job details, but also have some knowledge about the company or department. From a friend who has a background in business and is currently working on her Ph.D.: “Know about the company-it’s mission, values, etc. Demonstrate that knowledge in your letter.” For instance, if you do a Google search for the organization (hey, they’re Googling you, why not turn the tables and use this strategy to your advantage?) and discover that they recently won an award for their creative advertising campaign for robotic widgets, then mention that in your letter. But mention this tidbit in a way that connects YOU to THEM. Such as – “I was so impressed with your robotic widget award because this shows innovation and growth; just the sort of company I’m looking to join. My work in LED-driven widgets would expand the capacity of your robotic widgets and may lower the cost to the consumer.” You get the point. Some sections of your letter will be the same, but try to avoid sending a wholesale form letter. Make an effort to customize each letter as much as possible.

2. Embrace brevity. According to one of my colleagues, who is a technical writer for a corporation, “Keep it to no more than one-page, single-spaced. No one needs the Song of Myself.” Now, as I am an academic and know that other academics may be reading this, here is a reminder from one of my academic colleagues related to brevity: “If it’s academic, the 1 page rule doesn’t apply (especially if they’re not asking for a separate teaching / research statement).” This leads me to number three.

3. Know your audience. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you understand the requirements and expectations for your industry or field. If you do not, or if you are trying to enter a field that is new to you, use your network to find someone who can advise you about the specific expectations for letters in THAT industry. Otherwise, your potential reviewer won’t make it past sentence one. Know who you are writing to and what they expect to see – craft your letter accordingly, but even with longer letters, don’t give them “the Song of Myself.” Stick to the facts – credentials, experience, and only the details that are absolutely necessary and relevant to showcasing your readiness for THIS job.

4. Say why. From my tech writer friend, “You have to say why the job is interesting/the opportunity you want, and you have to explain what you’re bringing to the table. List those key strengths specifically.”

5. No mistakes. Correct spelling, punctuation, grammar (think standard American English, formal, error-free construction). Mistakes of this nature can be fatal. Yes, I know you see typos and spelling errors and misplaced commas all the time in newspapers, magazines, and on the web. Doesn’t matter. Your job letter should be PERFECT. Or damn near. You don’t have to be perfect, but this letter does or it may end up in the shredder, along with your chances.

6. Read the job ad and the requirements listed. From a friend working at a university: “My advice would be to make sure you read the position and requirements and talk about how you meet those requirements. It doesn’t have to be a direct statement, for example if the job requires an MS or PhD, in the letter you can say something like “while in graduate school..” You don’t have to write about all the requirements, but the obvious ones for that job should be addressed. It’s nice to see if someone knows what they are getting into and have the background for it.” And from a different colleague at a library: “Read the job ad and address what they are asking for in your letter. How do you fit what they want in degrees, skills, and experience? Address as many as you can or all of the criteria for a better chance at the next step. OH, and do it a one-page letter if at all possible.”

7. Highlight the best bits. From my Ph.D. -seeking friend: “Take the most important (read: impressive and relevant) points from your resume and discuss them in the cover letter. Connect your skills to the company’s needs. Tell them how you will benefit them!!” Instead of narrating your entire resume, focus on the highlights. I just had to write a bullet-point list executive summary for my tenure and promotion binders. My letter is 13 pages. My resume is five pages. And my executive summary is one single page with bullets of the most impressive bits in brief. When you think about what belongs in a job application letter, think about creating your own bullet point highlight list and focus on those facts in the letter.

8. Be a person. From a friend at a college in Atlanta: “Aside from echoing the advice about doing your research on the job and what your employer is about, I think it’s also important to highlight your own personality specifically IN RELATION TO the job. When I write cover letters, I really try to think about myself as a person – not just my skillset, but also my interests, my passions, and how they would fit into what a particular job environment seems to be offering. I think it’s important to show a prospective employer that you’re not just qualified for the job, but also someone who is excited about the prospect of being hired at a particular company/school/whatever. I suppose going along with that would be the advice to carefully consider which jobs you apply for, and only apply for ones where you feel you could really apply yourself and really put your passion into it, but I know that’s not always possible when you need to put food on the table. Practical advice in that department would be to envision how, even if this isn’t your ideal job, you could bring your energy to the table in productive ways, and tell your prospective employer about it.”

9. Say thank you. The final statement of your letter should thank the person for his/her/hir time and consideration. Politeness and courteousness should not be underestimated. Remember that this is the first impression you make with a potential employer. You want the person or hiring committee to come away from your letter feeling confident that you are not only qualified for the position, but also a decent human being with passion and enthusiasm, who understands the job, the company, and the conventions of civil discourse.

*Thank you to my friends and colleagues who responded to my crowdsource request and provided such excellent insights and advice.*

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