Saturday, December 3, 2016

Dear Me: A Writer's Wish (Irene Latham)

My father in a book store -
one of his favorite places to be!
So our topic for the month is "Dear Me - what I wish I'd known at the beginning of the year."

Well, I puzzled over this for a while. So much happened this year! Not just in my writing life, but in my life-life. My father died June 8, 2016.

Do I wish I would have known what that was going to be like?

No, no and no. I have learned so much about myself and my father and love and life and how we carry on... but no, I don't wish I'd known any sooner.

For me, it's like these great lyrics from Bob Seger's song "Against the Wind," of which my husband, whose mind is a jukebox, reminded me:

 "Wish I didn't know now 
what I didn't know then." 

And there is a lesson in there for my writing as well: I am exactly where I need to be. I may have stalled out on that novel, not knowing how to "fix" it. I may have "missed" a promotional opportunity. I may have spent days/hours/weeks on a project that will never sell.

But that's okay. All of it. I am exactly where I need to be.


Wishing you all great things as we wind down 2016 and welcome a brand-new year. xo

IreneLatham wouldn't be a writer if not for the father who read to her and taught her to love words. An award winning author of two novels for children LEAVING GEE'S BEND and DON'T FEED THE BOY, she was named the winner of the 2016 International Literary Association-Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award. Her poetry titles for children include DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, FRESH DELICIOUS, and WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA.

Monday, November 28, 2016


We hear often about how empowering it can be to say no to other people. To stop people-pleasing to the point that you've run yourself ragged and granting favors feels like a burden rather than a pleasure.

It's hard to say no to others. Really hard. Inevitably that feeling creeps in--that awful feeling of letting someone down or hurting their feelings.

But so often, it seems easy to say no to yourself. We all get those new ideas--that desire to do something a little outside of the box. Try a new genre, maybe. Indie publish. Illustrate our work. Try a screenplay. But doubts start creeping in: we worry about how branching out will be received. Or we wonder if all the time spent will result in a project that winds up in a drawer, never to see the light of day.

 No, we wind up telling ourselves, I could never do that. (Whatever "that" is.)

But here's the thing--the obvious thing: by never attempting, the project winds up in a drawer anyway. And more importantly, by not empowering yourself with a Yes! I can--I'll figure out a way to make that work!, you wind up digging away at your own self-confidence. Doubt has been invited in to sit on the couch beside you. And for anyone involved in a creative pursuit, doubt is a total dream-killer.

So give yourself permission. Make it your early 2017 resolution to tell yourself yes to that thing (whatever it is) that's been floating around in your head for a while. Do it. Jump in headfirst, without a life jacket. Make yourself figure out how to make it work. One yes leads to another...another. It becomes every bit as confidence building as nos can be confidence destroyers.

Do it: say yes to yourself.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Smack Dab in the Classroom: Stack of Butter, Stack of Books by Dia Calhoun

When I was ten to twelve years old, sometimes I'd go with my Dad to his shop on Capitol Hill in Seattle. I'd hang out there until my ballet lesson at Cornish. He'd give me a dollar, and I'd walk around the corner to a cafe. As soon as the waitress saw me coming, she'd yell back to the cook, "Stack of Butter!" Those three beautiful words meant toast.

I sat at the counter under her watchful eye and pulled out my book. Toast and a good book--what more could you want? I've always loved to eat while I read. Kids today are glued to their phones during meals. I was glued to my book. (Now some would say this is not "mindful" eating. I would say their is more to the experience of eating than the food that goes into your mouth.)

So in this holiday time of delicious foods, I ask you this: What book would you read at Thanksgiving dinner (if your parents or spouse or family would let you!) and why? Or perhaps break your meal and books into courses, like pairing wine with food. What book would you read with the stuffing? Which with the pumpkin pie?

This would be a fun assignment for kids.

Wishing you a Thanksgiving surrounded by everything you love--family, food, and books of course,

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NO!vember by Laurie Calkhoven

I had a powerful reminder about the importance of saying no not to long ago. I do a lot of freelance writing and ghostwriting in addition to writing “my” books. Some of these projects have my name on them, some of them don’t. Some pay a royalty, and some don’t. I’d rather be writing these books than working in the corporate world, but my income can be unpredictable. There can also be uncomfortably long gaps between assignments. And that’s when I get into trouble.

An educational publisher – actually a vendor working for an educational publisher – was putting together a new line of hi/lo readers. I was in one of those uncomfortable dry spells, and they were looking for authors for lots of books. I said yes. I should have said no. The pay wasn’t high enough, there were too many moving parts (multiple stories, multiple authors, too many cooks in the kitchen at the vendor/publisher), and the dates kept shifting. Of course, right after I signed on to write two novels for them, I got a much more lucrative and more interesting offer from a trade publisher.

I was able to use their shifting dates as an excuse to leave the project (and happily they were gracious) and take on the book I wanted to write.  But first I went through quite a bit of angst. I had never quit a freelance job before, and I didn’t want to appear like a flake. But it was a relief when it was all over.

And the thing is, I knew from the beginning that I should say no. A few years ago I put together a list of four freelance “musts” – things I absolutely had to have in order to take a job on. Then I added a list of four “very importants” – things that weren’t essential but would go a long way to tipping the scale.  That educational publisher job had only one of my musts and none of my very importants. The only thing it had going for it was a much too low paycheck.

So I am reminded again not to say yes just because someone asks. Saying no can be much more powerful, and make room for better, more interesting work to come my way.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Default Setting of YES by Claudia Mills

When my boys were little, I desperately devoured parenting magazines each month. There was one article I've remembered forever. I don't recall the title. I don't recall the author. But I've never forgotten the central point. It said that too many parents, in their interactions with their kids, make their default setting NO. "Can I go outside to play?" "No, not now." "Can we get out the Play-Doh?" "No, not now." Then, if (actually, when) the child screams and begs enough, perhaps hurling himself onto the floor for extra effect, the parent relents: "Oh, well, okay." Of course, all this behavior ends up doing is teaching the child that parental no's are lazy automatic replies ripe for reconsideration. The article suggested that parents lead with "yes" more often, keeping "no" for refusals that will then be non-negotiable.

I thought, and continue to think, this is excellent advice. 

These days my default setting is YES.

After all, 100 percent of my biggest life regrets are not for things I did, but for things I didn't do. I regret not having studied abroad when I was in college. I regret never having uprooted my family for a sabbatical in, say, Budapest, when I was a professor. I regret not spending the money and time to visit a music librarian friend who had a work-exchange for a year in Edinburgh. (Hmm, I'm seeing a pattern here...)

I don't find myself regretting the (many) things I did that turned out badly. Despite hideous outcomes, I'm basically glad I did all of them.

John Lennon shares the story of how he fell in love with Yoko Ono. He saw an art installation of hers in London, where one work required the viewer to climb a ladder to peer, through a spyglass, at a seemingly empty black canvas affixed to the ceiling. But when he looked through the spyglass, he discovered that in little tiny letters, he could read the single word "YES." 

So, I'll close with this quote from Molly Bloom's famous soliloquy in Ulysses: "yes I said yes I will Yes."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

When No is a Beautiful Word

by Naomi Kinsman

As an improviser, I've been trained in the art of saying "yes, and ..." If you've taken acting classes (most of us have at one time or another) you have seen the power of "yes, and ..." and the disaster of no.

No blocks.
No embarrasses.
No shuts people down.
No stops the scene.

One doesn't even have to say "no" to bring the full power of "no" into a scene. A dismissive look, a side-step that ignores what has been offered, or a snarky comment can all dissolve a possibility into a dead end.

So, no is obviously a bad word, correct? All evidence points that way, yes, but ...

Gretchen Rubin points out that the opposite of a great truth is also true. I believe her claim is true in many cases, and particularly when it comes to yes and no.

Yes is a powerful word. With yes comes possibility and options and movement.

However, no is a powerful word too. With no comes focus and decision and the ability to stop and take stock.

As a writer, learning to say yes was absolutely essential to my growth. Now, after an extended season of growth, I'm finding that resisting my immediate yes is also important. Yes has started to lose some of its oomph. I say "yes," but I really mean "I'm not sure," or "I hope I can," and my forward momentum doesn't have its original spark. Now, "no" is my more powerful word. When I say "no" to opportunities or to ideas, a little more wind stays in my sails. The wind doesn't take long to collect, and soon I've built up the oomph for a real yes, a yes with strength and enthusiasm.

Yes to the offers and ideas that fit.
No to the ones that distract.
Yes to my dreams and goals.
No to the desire to make everyone happy all the time.
Yes to communicating kindly, honestly, and up front rather than stringing people along.
No to allowing requests from others to become my daily to-do list.

In order for my yes to have strength, my no must be strong too.
No is a beautiful word.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I’ve Got Problems by Bob Krech

Sticking with the NOvember theme, I started thinking about how “No” relates to problems and how problems are often at the heart of many stories. Here are a few example “NO’s” from stories I know:

No clues
No suspect
No murder weapon
No evidence
No alibi
No parents
No friends
No escape
No one to play with
No money
No confidence
No direction
No love

A fun way to utilize “NO’s” to generate a story is to pick a scenario, for example, a child planning on going out trick or treating on Halloween. Now we use our “NO’s” to create some problems to give our character. For example:

No costume
No one to trick or treat with
No permission to go out
No where to go trick or treating
No time to go out (too much homework, have to take care of a baby sister, etc.)
No good weather

It’s fun to help a character figure out ways to overcome these “NO’s.” In the end, if we are successful, and find interesting ways to effectively defeat these problems, we  remove the “NO’s” and leave our character and the reade, with a big… “YES!” instead.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Three "NO'S" Writers Should Say Yes To: by Darlene Beck Jacobson

If we writers take every negative comment obstacle in our path to heart, many of us would never have our books out in the world.  Sure, there are times when NO means, "maybe I need to try something else".  But, there are three instances where NO should be changed into YES.

1. Don't write of things you know nothing about: I wouldn't attempt to write about a character who is proficient in quantum physics, but as a writer of historical fiction, there is much I don't know about the past.  Research fills in the gaps and makes me an expert on the era I'm writing about.

2. This story is NOT what we're looking for: Repeated by editors and agents over and over again, this litany can derail a writer and make you question the integrity of your work.  Should I give up?  In my case, after 36 no's, one said YES.  It only takes one.

3. Quiet stories are a hard sell:   Really?  Then why are so many so called "quiet stories" nominated for awards?  A good story, well told,  is what matters more than whether the narrative is fast paced and action packed.  If we make our characters relate able and their quests real, we'll find an audience.

Takes these NO's and use them to make your next story the best one yet.