Mixing It Up at the Mechanics Institute Library: August 16th WNBA-SF Gala

top view looking down spiral staircase at Mechanics Institute Library, San FranciscoFriday, August 16, 2019, 2pm to 4 pm
57 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94104 
4th Floor, Chess Room (Free to Public, refreshments available)

Please join WNBA-SF members and friends for a get together at the beautiful beaux arts building in downtown San Francisco. Start the weekend of right with members of both our Women’s National Book Association Chapter as well as Mechanics Institute Library, and more!

It’s a MIXER, so bring a literary friend or two to join the fun. We appreciate our members and would love for you to join us so we can hear your about how 2019 is going so far for you. We’d love to hear about books you have read, articles you are writing, books you are publishing, events you are promoting, or libraries and literary causes you support.

This event will take place right after the lecture “A Novel Plan,” https://wnba-sfchapter.org/author-lunch-art-of-outlining-fiction/ where WNBA-SF writers share tips and inspiration on crafting fiction. We’ll offer librations and snacks to share and, in addition to the novelists, you can meet some of the judges of our writing contest! https://wnba-sfchapter.org/2019-bay-area-writers-contest/

Let us know if you’re coming and if you’re bringing guests by filling out this short RSVP form. Carpools and rides arranged upon request.

How Personal is Too Personal?

An extract from Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness By by Greta Solomon

The lowdown on online sharing 

Whether you resonate with the term or not, the fact is that we’re living in the age of authenticity. And personal sharing, in some form or another, has become a prerequisite for writers and authors. However, it can be a minefield when it comes to sharing personal stories online. 

It can be difficult to know how much to share. And many of us end up in a push-pull dance of being seen and unseen – we can alternately share too much and too little. My philosophy is that we need to resist the temptation to overshare. We can connect without putting all the pieces of ourselves OUT THERE. And in doing so, we prevent ourselves from becoming addicted to trading fear, pain and suffering for likes, comments, shares and follows. 

If a story makes you cry while you’re telling it, then I believe it’s too soon to tell it publicly. This is quite different from feeling all the feelings while writing and releasing tears through catharsis. And it’s also different from feeling nervous to hit publish because you feel vulnerable. ONLY YOU truly know what’s right for you and your wellbeing. 

Once a client came to me for a mini writing coaching session, where we explored her personal story. She wanted to use it in a talk she was giving to an organisation the following week. She told me an incredibly personal story, that moved her to tears. And then she admitted that she hadn’t told it to anyone before – not even her husband. But yet, she was willing to share it with a group of strangers. I explained to her that I thought the story was too raw to be shared publicly, and that she needed to properly process it. And if, in the future, she did decide to share it publicly, she needed to first tell her husband and those closest to her, as it was so sensitive and personal. 

And that’s the thing with intimacy. Sometimes it can be easier to talk to a stranger than the people closest to us. Usually a (non-therapist) stranger who won’t hold you accountable. They won’t really unpick the issues, and there’s virtually no chance of them now viewing you in a different light.  A stranger doesn’t know you anyway, and so judgement is often suspended. 

Once, at a blogging conference, I saw two women read out blog posts that made them cry. Their emotions were incredibly powerful, and they filled the room. But afterwards, I felt sad for them. I worried for their mental health, and what kind of support they had then and there, when they had just unpicked the scabs that were over their temporary healing. Their reading session was the last item on the agenda before everyone departed for a boat party. And I wondered how safe-footed they would feel, literally floating the night away when they were so ungrounded in their own personal power. 

This freeing feeling can become addictive. But it’s not real, and I don’t believe that it’s the true purpose of creative self-expression. We’ve got more work to do than that. Our stories need to be grounded in our lives, because we want to use them to make changes in our lives, not as an escape mechanism before we return to the same humdrum existence. 

The criteria for sharing isn’t just about the topic; or how personal it is; or who it involves. It’s also about whether you are sufficiently healed to tell it without wincing–so that you don’t have to pull off the plaster at all because the skin is healed. There may be a scar, maybe even an angry, red, raw one. But a scar indicates healing and for me that’s a great barometer for protecting yourself online.

So, what should you write about? 

The first thing to remember is that personal stories can be both light and dark. And don’t over-think or fall into analysis paralysis over what to write. You can and ought to write about anything and everything. It’s not an exam, and you don’t have to pick a niche, or make a business case for what you post. Just write. And make it as trivial or as serious as you like. Can’t think of anything? What was the last conversation you had with your hairdresser, best friend, or the lady on the checkout at the supermarket? Write about that. The things you think and talk about are the things you need to write about. 

When should you write? 

The key thing to know here is that you don’t need to be ‘in the mood’, and you don’t have to always rely on creative inspiration. Writing can be true and heartfelt, even when it’s carefully crafted and not divined from the skies. 

Creative inspiration is just one way to write a blog, or social media post. This is about getting yourself into an inspired state by walking, showering, chopping vegetables and doing other activities to switch off your conscious brain and activate your artist’s brain. 

For instance, a couple of years ago, I went to Vogue House in London to meet the new editor-in-chief of British Vogue, Edward Enninful. He had agreed to meet 100 people to do a meet-and-greet and sign special hardback copies of his inaugural issue of Vogue. For a magazine junkie like me, it was an incredibly exciting experience. That night, buoyed by the amazing day I’d had, a blog post, which I later published in the Huffington Post just flowed out of me. I was in the right ‘state’ to write an entire piece, which I only edited for typos and minor style later. 

A couple of weeks later, a friend asked me what I thought Meghan Markle’s then-engagement to Prince Harry meant for black people. She asked me this via email, and by answering her questions, I saw I had the germ of a blog post. 

This is another way you can write. By getting someone to ask you questions and by writing down your answers and then piecing them together. You don’t even need another person to question you, in fact. Write down the questions that spark your curiosity and then answer them. 

The third way of writing is to piece together all the information, thoughts and ideas you have–a little bit like a jigsaw puzzle. In this method, you write down everything you can think of, in any order and then get a pair of scissors and cut up all the sections. And then you piece them together based on how you think they best fit. Get some sticky tape and play around with this. You can also colour code all the similar sections. So that you find it easier to find which bits need to go where. So, if you were writing about leadership at work, you could colour code all the facts in orange and all the examples in green and then the quotes in blue–and, so on.  

The act of putting your personal words out there is amazingly transformative. Each time you share, you grow just a little bit more. And if you’re a professional writer, having a personal blog can support your career.

For me, a blog is a boat that a writer can rest in as they charter the choppy seas. Magazine pieces may be killed, or that amazing start-up you wrote for may suddenly go under, leaving your invoice unpaid. But if you have a personal creative blog–essentially, it’ll be for you. Sure, people will read it but it’s your agenda, free from editorial guidelines or style guidelines. You are the editor-in-chief, the publisher and content creator. And as a writer it’s liberating to have a vehicle that puts you in charge of your creative destiny. 

If you liked this extract, you’ll love Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness. It’s full of writing exercises, tips, techniques and food for thought to inspire you to fully express yourself in writing, and in life.


Greta Solomon is a British journalist turned writing coach and the author of two books about writing. Her latest book is Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness. In 2006, she discovered a talent for helping people overcome the blocks, fears and shame that stops them from fully expressing themselves. Through talks, workshops and online programs, she teaches real-world writing techniques and inspires others to live rich, full lives. Her work has been featured in Forbes.com, Writers Digest, Kindred Spirit and The Numinous. She is a published poet and songwriter, a psychology graduate, certified life coach, trained lifelong learning teacher and holds a specialist certificate in lyric writing from Berklee College of Music. She lives in London with her husband and their daughter. Visit www.gretasolomon.com to find out more.

The Practice and Potential of Journaling

By Bridgitte Jackson-Buckley, author of The Gift of Crisis​ (October 2018)

I have been writing in journals since I was in the fourth grade. 

Now years later, every once in a while, I re-read entries from my elementary, middle and high school years. It is nothing less than comical to read about the petty trivialities which consumed my thoughts. However, it is also refreshing to know that writing was (and continues to be) the invaluable practice through which I cultivated a rich inner world of self-reflection and inquiry through the simple act of writing down my observations, concerns and aspirations in journals.

From childhood journals, travel, pregnancy, gratitude, meditation and daily thought journals, I have gained tremendous insight into my beliefs and emotional patterns — good and not so good.

Journaling has been instrumental in my life. 

Here are a few ways the benefits of journaling can be instrumental in your life and possibly lead to unexpected an outcome:

1. Clarify intentions

When you use your journal to write down your goals, you can revisit your intentions — your why’s: 

  • Why do you want something? 
  • Why are you doing what you’re doing? 
  • Why is this the thing you must do beyond other things?

2. Witness progress and personal growth

If you make journaling a regular habit, you can see how much progress or growth you’ve made by revisiting previous entries. You can see patterns — behavioral, mental and emotional — to glean insight.

Reading through journal entries provides valuable insight into your thought process and emotional life. You can look back and see how you’ve dealt with important decisions and challenging situations to feel more confident in your ability to do so again.

3. Gain self-confidence

You can feel proud looking back at the challenges you faced and seeing how far you’ve come.

4. Improve writing and communication skills

“Writing, like anything, improves with practice. When you journal every day, you’re practicing the art of writing. And if you use a journal to express your thoughts and ideas, it’ll help improve your overall communication skills.”

5. Reduce negative rumination

When things happens that we don’t like, there is a tendency to constantly replay or obsess over negative situations. Even when things go well, we tend to ruminate on the one negative thing that happened. 

Rumination rarely offers new insights. It can even make the present situation feel worse. But if you take some time to write out how you’re feeling, it can help you relinquish the attachment to ruminating over what was said or done. Writing down how you feel provides an opportunity for you to be honest with yourself. It provides a safe and private space to reveal something to yourself that you may not be ready to reveal to someone else.

6. Mindfulness

In 2005, during a disturbing turn of events, my husband was hospitalized due to the onset of symptoms for a stroke. He was 33 years-old. In every way imaginable we were unprepared to deal with the long term effects of the challenges that lie ahead. The financial distress, parental responsibility, unexamined emotional wounds, blame, resentment, fear and anger unearthed elements of our psyche that nearly destroyed us and our marriage. 

The loss of his ability to work propelled us into the beginning stage of what became the most prolonged and difficult period of our lives. For the next several years, we experienced the devastating loss of our home through foreclosure, ruptured familial relationships, job loss and a steady decline of our marriage.
 
Throughout this period there were times when I believed myself to be the victim. It wasn’t until I turned to meditation, prayer and journaling to make it through each day and began sincere self-examination, that I was ready to understand the circumstances provided an invitation for growth.

For more than one year, I sat down in a meditative state to ask questions to help me mentally and emotionally navigate the difficult and uncertain times I faced. 
 
During meditation, in addition to periods of silence after prayer, I began to ask questions to solicit clarity and guidance into my awareness. The more I posed questions during a meditative state, I began to notice answers would indeed come into my awareness. However, as soon as the meditation session was over, I forgot the guidance which came into my awareness. The only way to remember was to write it down. It was at that time I decided to bring a journal to my meditation sessions. 

In the midst of this silent struggle, I turned within to for at least 20 minutes per day to be able to make it through each day. I continued to meditate and write in my journal. Meditation grew to become the most practical, accessible and effective way I found to calm myself of the anxiety-ridden thoughts that propelled me.

At the time, I had no idea the journals I kept would become a book almost seven years later. 

7. Strengthen memory

Even the simple act of writing something down lets your brain know you want to remember it. That’s why note-taking is such an effective practice when learning something new.

Here are a few different types of journaling options to consider:

Stream of consciousness: 

Write down your thoughts as they happen. The words and thoughts don’t need to make sense, you’re simply writing them down to “empty them out.” 

I used this with my son when he had difficulty writing a poem for homework. He was so worried about writing the poem that I suggested first writing down everything that was in his mind at the time. He didn’t know what to do with my suggestion as it felt foreign to him. I repeated it at least three times until it was clear — no grammar, spelling or concerns about ideas, just get the words onto the paper and out of your head to release what’s inside.

Afterwards he threw the paper away without letting me looking at it, which was perfectly fine. Then, he was able to relax around the idea of writing the poem.

This is similar to Julia Cameron’s exercise The Morning Pages as outlined in The Artists Way.

“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

Dream journal: 

This is one of my favorite journaling practices because the dream state offers incredible insight into the subconscious. 

“Dreams are one of the few ways we have to see into our unconscious, to understand what is beneath the surface of our limited outer consciousness. The subconscious mind is like a bird high above the road we are traveling, it can see more than our outer mind. The more we learn to recall and understand dreams, the better we understand our deeper motivations, fears, desires, and unconscious knowing. Edgar Cayce once said that nothing occurs in our lives that is not first foreshadowed in our dreams!”

Gratitude journal: 

Before going to sleep, make a list of everything you were thankful for that day, week, or month. 

In Wishes Fulfilled the late Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote about the importance of the last five minutes of the day, just prior to going into a long restful sleep. 

“These precious pre-sleep moments can be utilized by either reviewing all of the things in your life which make you unhappy, frustrated and anxious, or they can be used to program your subconscious mind with thoughts of joy, kindness, gratitude and anticipation of having your wishes fulfilled.”

Sketch journal: 

Express your feelings, thoughts, and ideas through illustrations, doodles, or sketches. Michel Rae Varisco’s artwork is a wonderful example of the power of sketch journaling. 

Here is an excerpt of Michel’s story:

“In 2011, my husband, Steve Gleason, was diagnosed with ALS. We were both 34. It’s a paralyzing, terminal illness with 2–5 year life expectancy. Yet, with the choice of ventilation (a trache), a person can continue living for years, with 24 hour care.

The months surrounding the ‘trache’ surgery began a period in my life I call ‘the dark ages.’ The grief was relentless. Fear, anxiety, confusion all consumed me. The idea of tomorrow frightened and depressed me. I felt such sadness for the loss of a life that was supposed to be. I felt mental and physical exhaustion, heartbreak, guilt, shame, resentment. 

At one point during this time I came across an old sketch pad with a single drawing on it (called One). I brought it along with some pencils to the hospital during one of the surgeries. 

There it began. 

Drawing provided an escape for the pain. It enabled me to sit in one place for hours and feel contentment and peace for the first time in a long time. And it was exciting that I liked what I was drawing. It felt so good to feel proud of something again. The momentary relief of the crazy mind was exhilarating. My drawings started changing into things I didn’t understand. Like a different language. I feel like what I couldn’t express verbally was coming out of me in these little forms.”

No matter which type of journal you decide to keep, there is no right or wrong approach.

The simple act of taking the time to get in touch with your mind, body, and spirit is what’s truly important.


Bridgitte Jackson Buckley is a freelance writer, author and ghostwriter whose focus includes spirituality, transformational documentaries, and in-depth interviews. She is a former contributor to General Religion on the National circuit of Examiner.com as the National Spirituality Examiner. She’s interviewed many New Thought luminaries including Eckhart Tolle, Iyanla Vanzant, Deepak Chopra, and Elizabeth Gilbert. As a freelance writer, she has written online articles for Examiner, Tiny Buddha, Recreate Your Life Story, Thrive Global, Medium, Gaia and Patheos’ Spirituality Itself. She is a fluent Spanish speaker and has traveled extensively throughout Central America including Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Additional travels also include Hong Kong, Malaysia and (her favorite adventure) Thailand. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, three children and Miniature Schnauzer.

Author Lunch – A Novel Plan: The Art of Outlining Your Fiction

Author Lunch, Mechanics Institute Library
Friday, August 16, 2019, 12:00 Noon
57 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94104 
4th Floor, Chess Room (Free to Public, refreshments available)

 

What are the secrets to success for novels? At least one of them is structure and our esteemed WNBA-SF member authors will share the approaches that have garnered them bestseller status, awards and rave reviews. Learn what role planning and research play and how to make your scenes, settings, and characters realistic and compulsively readable from beginning to end. The Women’s National Book Association’s San Francisco Chapter is thrilled to present three examplar writers for in-depth explanations of the strategies that inform their craft.

A Novel Plan will be moderated by WNBA-SF President Brenda Knight. There will be Q&A followed by book signings; bring your notebooks and plenty of questions!

Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte is an Oakland multidisciplinary writer whose works artfully succeed in getting across deeper meanings about life and the politics of race and economics without breaking out of the narrative, with Oakland often serving as the backdrop for her touching and often hilarious works. Her first book, A Dollar Five-Stories From A Baby Boomer’s Ongoing Journey (2014) has been described as “ rich in vivid imagery”, and “incredible.” Her second book, All That and More’s Wedding (2016), a collection of fictional mystery/crime short stories, is praised as “imaginative with colorful and likeable characters that draw you in to each story and leave you wanting more.”  Her latest book, Running for the 2:10 (2017), a follow-on to A Dollar Five, delves deeper into her coming of age in Oakland and the embedded issues of race and skin color with one reviewer calling it “… a great contribution to literature.” Her fictional story, “Uncle Martin” will be published by Medusa’s Laugh Press Summer 2019. She currently has a novel in progress titled “Betrayal on the Bayou,” slated for publication in early 2020. She is also a contributor to award winning author Kate Farrell’s upcoming book “Story Power,” an anthology on how writers build and create their stories.

Mary Mackey

Mary Mackey is The New York Times bestselling author of fourteen novels, including The Earthsong Series—four novels which describe how the peaceful Goddess-worshiping people of Prehistoric Europe fought off patriarchal nomad invaders (The Village of Bones, The Year The Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring). Mary’s novels have been praised by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Pat Conroy, Thomas Moore, Marija Gimbutas, Maxine Hong Kingston, Marge Piercy, and Theodore Roszak for their historical accuracy, inventiveness, literary grace, vividness, and storytelling magic. They have made The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller Lists, been translated into twelve foreign languages and sold over a million and a half copies. Mary has also written eight collections of poetry including The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1974 to 2018, winner of the 2019 Eric Hoffer Award for Best Book Published by a Small Press and a 2018 CIIS Women’s Spirituality Book Award. An earlier collection of Mary’s poetry, Sugar Zone, won the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence. At marymackey.com, you can get the latest news about Mary’s books and public appearances, sample her work, sign up for her newsletter, and get writing advice. You can also find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @MMackeyAuthor.

Joan Gelfand’s reviews, stories and poetry have appeared in over 100 national and international literary journals and magazines including Rattle, Prairie Schooner, Kalliope, California Quarterly, the Toronto Review, Marsh Hawk Review and Levure Litteraire. Joan has been a featured reader at numerous venues in the United States and Mexico  including Bowery Poetry Club, the Southern Festival of Books, The Public Library of New York, and Litquake. Development Chair of the Women’s National Book Association, a member of the National Book Critics Circle and a juror for the Northern California Book Awards, Joan blogs for the Huffington Post and coaches writers. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Adam Hertz and two beatnik kitties – Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Tapping the creative current

An extract from Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness

by Greta Solomon

When I run workshops and online programmes, I always ask the participants why they’ve come and what they want to get out of the workshop or programme. The answers ALWAYS involve blocks or fears. Here are some of the responses I’ve heard:

  • “I work in communications for a management consultancy. I write articles and do a lot of ghostwriting for people in the company. I feel that my own voice is becoming lost. I’m trying to write a novel and want to start a blog. But I haven’t got a clue about what I would blog about.
  • “Most of my career has revolved around writing, but mostly other people’s writing–editing and translating their work so they can get published. I finally want to prioritise MY work.”
  • “I have been writing professionally for about 10 years, mostly journalism, plus two non-fiction books. I would love to explore a more creative way of writing. This is something I have wanted for a long time but simply haven’t ‘allowed’ myself the time to do.”
  • “When it comes to my writing, I feel like a washed-up actor, as though my best work behind me.”
  • “I’ve spent so much time and energy raising my kids that I need to do something for myself. I want to be the writer I know I can be–before it’s too late.”

Do you recognise any of these responses in yourself?
Knowing what you want and your intentions before you start writing is super powerful. It helps you to anchor your writing, because you’re clear on exactly which blocks, or behaviour patterns you want to break through.
For all my clients, writing is such an intricate part of their lives. Most have a longing to make their writing more formal. They feel a need to put a stake in the ground and accept that their thoughts and feelings deserve to be put in writing. Yet, their fears and negative emotions are getting in the way. There’s a push-and-pull between wanting to share and being scared to share.
Now, it’s time to put an end to that.

Begin by creating your joy list
A Joy List is a list of objects that spark joy in you. The idea is to curate this list, and then use it to tap into your self-expression. You’ll use your objects to master the tool of object writing. This is where you take an object and write about it using your seven senses. These senses are seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, feeling and moving. Object writing is a powerful tool by itself. But by using your joy list, you get a double-workout. You practise your writing skills and harness your joy.

My challenge to you: spend five days writing for joy
Why five days? Because five days feels joyful. It’s long enough to feel like a daily practice and short enough to commit to–even amidst our daily pressures and strains. Especially so, in fact. When there are too many demands on your time, your needs, wants, likes and desires can get ignored. Your inner voice can diminish daily, little-by-little. That’s why you need to write. It’s a quiet protest, a quiet power.

How to create your joy list
Now, this is simple – so don’t overthink it. Simply go through your house or apartment and collect the objects that spark joy within you. Start by choosing just five. Don’t simply choose ones that are fashionable, or expensive, or desirable to others. Choose the ones that mean something to you, even if they’re rusty, old and in need of some love. You’ll give them that through your object writing. This ‘spark joy’ process has been made popular by Marie Kondo, the famous face of the Japanese art of tidying up. You don’t have to tidy-up, you just need to feel, and trust your instincts.

To help inspire you, here is one of my joy lists (meaning that the list you create doesn’t have to be THE definitive one)

  1. Wedding picture
  2. Hard copy of the December 2017 issue of British Vogue
  3. ‘Woody’ piggy bank
  4. Miranda perfume from French perfumery, Fragonard
  5. Our turquoise sofa

So, what exactly is object writing?

Object writing was invented by Pat Pattison (a Professor at Berklee College of Music) to help songwriters get raw material for their songs. It’s likely that some of your favourite songwriters and recording artists rocked up to the studio one day and followed the steps that I’ll outline below. But this technique isn’t just for songwriters–it can completely transform anyone’s writing skills.

Object writing can:

  • Get you started (it kicks your writing muscles into gear)
  • Bring your writing to life
  • Increase your powers of description
  • Improve your ability to give quick stories, examples and analogies
  • Build your confidence to tackle more difficult pieces of writing

It’s easy to master, fun and gives fast results. When we do it in my workshops people often want more. They want to re-experience the freedom they felt while writing from the heart–not the mind.

How to do it

Take an object from your Joy List and write about it–with a pen and a piece of paper–using only your seven senses. So, you look at the object and focus on what you see, hear, touch, taste and smell, the movement of the object and how you feel about it. You do this in a short burst of either 10 minutes, five minutes or 90 seconds. Having a limited amount of time makes you laser-focused and stops your mind from jabbering and getting in the way.

It helps to think more about the seven senses before you get started. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the first five senses, but it can take a little extra practice to describe objects in terms of feeling and movement. Think about feeling as being more than your emotions. For example, does an object (or your associations with it) make your heart beat faster or your muscles tense up? When it comes to movement, don’t just think of the obvious movement an object makes. Instead, also think about your internal movement when interacting with an object. Think about the strange sensation when getting back on solid land after a boat trip. Is your body moving in response to the object?

Object writing in seven steps:

  1. Write the following headings at the top of the page to remind you of the senses you need to focus on: 
    See • Hear • Touch • Taste • Smell • Feel • Move
  2. Set a stopwatch for 10 minutes, 5 minutes or 90 seconds.
  3. Spontaneously write down whatever comes to mind about the object. Write with excitement and interest. Be as specific as possible with your descriptions and images.
  4. You don’t need to stay completely focused on the object, so don’t worry if random words and sentences tumble out. Just go wherever your seven senses lead you.
  5. Write in full sentences if you can, but don’t worry if it’s easier not to.
  6. Keep your hand moving across the page and don’t stop to cross out words or correct spelling mistakes.
  7. Only amend spellings, grammar errors or other mistakes when you’ve finished. Yep, this is hard. But resist the temptation to stop and judge. Keep your flow and don’t worry if what you write looks clunky or disorganised.

Here’s an example of a 10-minute object writing session on a bottle of perfume (Miranda by Fragonard)
Disclaimer: I wrote this freehand while in Starbucks one evening but did a few minor edits while typing it up (to make it publication ready!)

Cool, silver, stainless steel containing such rich warmth and beauty. Burnt oak, sandalwood and cedar with the heady smell of freedom and summer days. The glug of champagne and flowers and life – a life on the precipice of earth, and air, and water, and rain. I hear the beat of bees, of rivers flowing and pulsing. So warm and inviting, enveloping me in a chocolate kiss. Beaconing to me like freshly baked cookies, warm with promise and crumbly with pleasure. And the stink, stink, stink of heady summer bliss.
The bottle feels cool and fresh to the touch. The juxtaposition of cold with the delicious drops inside. Each one like a bubble of soap that contains the whole rainbow in one drop. Knowing that I can be a different person when I step into this scent. One who eats croissants, no, not eats but nibbles them between delicate blood-red lips. And drinks red wine and coffee in the cafés of Paris, and cuddles by the fire in winter. While the noses are at work in the factory churning out scents of such pure delight.
The taste of vanilla, not ordinary, not normal, but rich and succulent on the tongue. I feel warm and bright, and earthy. I feel like I can plant my feet firmly on the ground and spin my mind to new dimensions like a kaleidoscope, or a maze in a secret garden. Like the key to the door of another world.
The bottle is a burgeoning promise, of a summer on the edge of reason when I didn’t know what to feel or think. When I had been betrayed.
Seeing the golden liquid slosh in a container that doesn’t belie its beauty, I see that truth and beauty isn’t always on show. That tin of temptation, makes me feel alive whenever I spray it. I am intoxicated and drunk with delight. I feel enlivened and bold as I carry around a secret. Like going to the cinema in the afternoon and seeing a film just for me. Like taking a bubble bath and spritzing on perfume just for me. For my ears and eyes only. I feel untouchable and touchable all at once and endorsed by love, and by happiness. By me and Fragonard and the secrets of my scent.

My challenge to you: spend five days writing for joy

Why five days? Because five days feels joyful. It’s long enough to feel like a daily practice and short enough to commit to – even amidst our daily pressures and strains. Especially so, in fact. When there are too many demands on your time, your needs, wants, likes and desires can get ignored. Your inner voice can diminish daily, little-by-little. That’s why you need to write. It’s a quiet protest, a quiet power.

If you liked this extract, you’ll love Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness. It’s full of writing exercises, tips, techniques and food for thought to inspire you to fully express yourself in writing, and in life.


Greta Solomon is a British journalist turned writing coach and the author of two books about writing. Her latest book is Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness. In 2006, she discovered a talent for helping people overcome the blocks, fears and shame that stops them from fully expressing themselves. Through talks, workshops and online programs, she teaches real-world writing techniques and inspires others to live rich, full lives. Her work has been featured in Forbes.com, Writers Digest, Kindred Spirit and The Numinous. She is a published poet and songwriter, a psychology graduate, certified life coach, trained lifelong learning teacher and holds a specialist certificate in lyric writing from Berklee College of Music. She lives in London with her husband and their daughter. Visit www.gretasolomon.com to find out more.

2019 Bay Area Writer’s Contest

WNBA logo

Join our writing contest for awards and cash prizes!

The Women’s National Book Association is a 100+ year old venerated organization of women and men across the broad spectrum of writing and publishing. Our membership includes Editors, Publishers, Literary Agents, Professors, Academics, Librarians, Authors, Book Marketers and many others involved in the world of books. We honor and celebrate woman authors and diverse writers and hope to include YOU with our 2019 Bay Area WNBA Writer’s Contest, launching June 1st and running through October 31st, 2019. 

Genres include: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry.

Fiction and Nonfiction should be 500-2500 words. Poetry should be no more than 40 lines. 

Fees are: WNBA members $14.00 per submission, non-members $20.00 per submission. Participants may submit up to 3 pieces but must pay a separate fee for each submission.

We prefer unpublished work, though we do accept stand-alone excerpts from works seeking a publisher or agent. We accept simultaneous submissions, but if you are published elsewhere, please notify us immediately.

PRIZES: First Place earns $200; Second Place earns $100; Third Place earns $50.  Winners also get publication on the San Francisco WNBA website for 90 days. After 90 days the rights revert to the author, though if you publish it elsewhere please identify WNBA as the original publisher. If we publish your work, the rights still belong to you, though we ask you not to resubmit until 90 days after it appears on WNBA-SF and give us credit if it is published elsewhere.

You own the copyright. If we publish your work, the rights still belong to you, though we ask you not to resubmit until 90 days after it appears on Writer Advice and give us credit if it is published elsewhere.

Click here to enter your work…

Judges:

Amy Agigian, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Sociology at Suffolk University, where she directs the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights. Trained in the sociology of women, gender, sexuality and health, she is pursuing her feminist dreams with a big project: Our Bodies Ourselves Today. She is the author of Baby Steps: How Lesbian Artificial Insemination is Changing the World as well as articles, book reviews, talks, and encyclopedia entries. Still a Californian at heart, Amy lives in Massachusetts with her partner and their sweet, towering son. 

Alice K Boatwright Alice K. Boatwright is the author of Collateral Damage (Standing Stone Books, 2012); Under an English Heaven (Cozy Cat Press, 2014); What Child Is This? (Cozy Cat Press, 2017); and Sea, Sky, Islands (Noontime Books, 2019), as well as stories published in journals such as CALYX, Parentheses, and Stone Canoe. She was awarded the bronze medal for literary fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards in 2013 and won the 2016 Mystery and Mayhem Grand Prize for best mystery. She holds an M.F.A. from Columbia and has taught writing at the University of New Hampshire, UC Berkeley Extension, and the American School of Paris.

 

Cheryl DumesnilCheryl Dumesnil is a poet, memoirist, editor, and writing coach. Her books include two poetry collections, Showtime at the Ministry of Lost Causes and In Praise of Falling; a memoir, Love Song for Baby X; and the anthologies We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor and Dorothy Parker’s Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos. To learn more about her work, visit cheryldumesnil.com.

 

 

Rebecca Fish Ewan is a poet/cartoonist/founder of Plankton Press. Her hybrid-form work appears in After the Art, Brevity, Crab Fat, Hip Mama, Mutha, Not Very Quiet, TNB, Punctuate & Under the Gum Tree. At Arizona State University, where she earned her MFA in creative writing, she teaches landscape design with focus on hybrid-form storytelling, human/nature connections and place-based writing. She is the Books with Pictures columnist for DIY MFA and book reviewer for Split Rock Review. Hybrid chapbook and zines: Water Marks and Tiny Joys. CNF books: A Land Between and her new cartoon/poetry memoir By the Forces of Gravity. www.rebeccafishewan.com

 

Eva Hagberg Fisher

 

B. Lynn Goodwin is an author, editor, teacher, and manuscript coach who owns Writer Advice, www.writeradvice.com. She’s written Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62, which won National Indie Excellence, Human Relations Indie Book, and Pinnacle Book Awards as well as a couple Honorable Mentions. Talent won a bronze medal from Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, was a finalist for a Sarton Women’s Book Award and was short listed for the Literary Lightbox Award. You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers is still used by caregivers. Shorter works appeared in Hip Mama, The Sun, Good Housekeeping.com, Purple Clover.com, Flashquake and elsewhere.

 

Kate Farrell Kate Farrell storyteller, author, librarian, founded the Word Weaving Storytelling Project and published numerous educational materials on storytelling. She has contributed to and edited award-winning anthologies of personal narrative: Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother; co-edited Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the ’60s &’70s; co-edited Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence. She recently published a YA novella, Strange Beauty, and is currently writing a how-to guide for adults, Story Power: How the Art of Storytelling Can Change Your Life, Work, Relationships, and Legacy. Farrell is Past President of Women’s National Book Association, SF Chapter.

 

Sybil LockhartSybil Lockhart, PhD is a caregiver, parent, workshop leader, scientist, and editor. She is co-creator of literarymama.com, and creator of the Street Words 7 Questions Project. Her memoir, Mother in the Middle: A Biologist’s Story of Caring for Parent and Child (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster), tells a deeply personal story through a neuroscientific lens.

 

 

Erika LutzEricka Lutz’s eight books include the novel The Edge of Maybe, and her fiction and creative non-fiction is widely anthologized. She’s currently completing a memoir/cookbook, podcasts at Licking the Bowl, and provides book mentoring to writers and organizations (erickalutz.com). She lives in the Secret Undisclosed Location deep in the forests of the Sierra Nevada foothills where she raises chickens and manages her local farmers markets.

 

 

Bev ScottBev Scott had long desired to explore the whispered story about my grandfather. As my thirty-eight-year organization consulting career wound down, at the top of my list of goals and aspirations not yet pursued was to uncover these family secrets. After genealogy research did not reveal the full story, I concluded the story needed to be told as fiction using the facts as I knew them for a framework. Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness is the result. My previous work focused on non-fiction including Consulting on the Inside. I blog at “The Writing Life” on www.bevscott.com.

 

 

Annie StenzelAnnie Stenzel was born in Illinois, but has lived on both coasts of the U.S. and on other continents at various times in her life. Her book-length collection is The First Home Air After Absence, Big Table Publishing, released in 2017. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in print and online journals in the U.S. and the U.K., from Ambit to Willawaw Journal with stops at Allegro, Catamaran, Eclectica, Gargoyle, Kestrel, The Lake, and Whale Road, among others. She lives within sight of the San Francisco Bay. For more, visit www.anniestenzel.com.

 

Bridging: A One-Day Writing Retreat

with Keynote Speaker Elizabeth Rosner

Hedgebrook and the SMC MFA in Creative Writing program at Saint Mary’s College are collaborating to offer a one-day writing retreat for woman-identified, non-binary and genderqueer writers.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

9:00 am – 9:00 pm 

Location:
Saint Mary’s College of California
1928 Saint Mary’s Road
Moraga, CA 94575

Cost includes:

  • Food (three meals, happy hour, and evening cake and coffee)
    Vegan and gluten-free options available
  • Networking opportunities with Bay Area women writers’ groups
  • An evening keynote by Elizabeth Rosner, author of the novels The Speed of LightElectric City and Blue Nude, poetry collection, Gravity and nonfiction book, SURVIVOR CAFÉ: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory 
  • Your choice of two out of four afternoon workshops 

Funds raised from the retreat benefit Hedgebrook and the newly established Hedgebrook scholarship for a St. Mary’s MFA student.

For more information, please visit their event page. 

Our very own Brenda Knight will be on the publishing panel in the afternoon!

 

 

Writing When It Hurts

4 Perspectives to Make the Process Easier

by Sara B. Hart

How do you write about a difficult thing you’re going through?  And why would anyone want to do that anyway? When I was going through a major downsizing of my home last year, I found I longed to write about it as it was happening.  I thought it might help me get through the stickiest parts. And at some point I decided I wanted to make the writing pubic because I thought it might help others going through the same thing.  The result was my book “The Upside of Downsizing: Getting to Enough.” All of this has happened, and it is gratifying, but it wasn’t always easy. Here are the 4 things I found most difficult, and how I dealt with them:

Some of the feelings involved extremely personal things.  

For example I realized that some of the fear I was feeling was very similar to the fear I felt while I was going through treatment for a life-threatening illness.  Did I really want to make that previous experience public? I had decided I wanted the book to be as authentic as possible, so I did include that experience, but with a broad description and few specific facts.

Did I really want to live through the current experience again by describing it?  

Some of my downsizing moments were painful enough without having to do it all over again. Although I anticipated these difficult writing moments, I actually found that writing about them helped make them less painful.  To my surprise what was painful was reading the description again after the writing was completed.

How could I write about those times and not offend someone if they read what I’d written? 

A few of the things I wanted to write about involved other people who were doing and saying things that were definitely not helpful, and in some cases were hurtful.  Again, I leaned toward authenticity while choosing my words carefully. I also said over and over how cranky I was during this time, trying to blunt the impact of my words by taking responsibility for how I was feeling and behaving at the time.  That said, I discovered later that at least one person was offended. I think you just need to know that may happen if you want an honest description of what you were going through.

Often there were so many difficult things going on at the same time, I wondered what I should write about.  

As many of us often do, I just sat down and started writing, and found that what most needed to be said, came out.  This worked for me. You will have your own way, but as a writing teacher often says to us when we feel overwhelmed or stuck, “What CAN you do?”  And that would be my suggestion to you for those times when you’re feeling overwhelmed with feelings and just don’t know where to start.

Writing about difficult things as you’re going through them can be hard.  It also can be therapeutic and liberating and helpful to others who may be experiencing similar situations.  A crucial decision up front is, “How honest do I want to be?” The answer to that will guide much of what you say and how you say it.


About Sara B. Hart

“How will I know when I have enough?”  That is the question Sara Hart asks audiences when talking about her special project called Sign of Enough.  She began her project in the mid 1990’s, and recently her passion has been refueled as the results of our over consumption and greed become more and more obvious.  The idea also became the watch word for her as she completed a major downsizing of her home.  Sara focuses on the emotional side of this process in her book The Upside of Downsizing: Getting to Enough. See her website www.signofenough.com  for more information.

Dr. Hart has been involved in helping to develop leaders and effective teams inside organizations for 30+ years.  Prior to founding her own management consulting company, Hartcom, Sara was in charge of Training and Development for the research division of Pfizer both in the US and the UK.  She has facilitated hundreds of groups and presented to scores of meetings.  Sara loves to go on bike rides, walks, and to attend concerts, opera, theatre, and especially to have dinner with friends.  She lives with her cat, Mr. Bu, in Los Altos, CA.

Tips for World Building Your Memoir

Tips for World Building Your Memoir

by Nita Sweeney

It might seem odd to see “world building” and “memoir” side-by-side. Many writers think of world building as a tool used only in science fiction and fantasy. The red scarves in The Night Circus or light sabers in Star Wars come to mind. But a compelling story, regardless of genre, should be set in a specific world, a world the writer must build.

Like the novelist, a memoir writer can shape and mold the world the reader experiences. The main difference between world building in memoir and fiction is that the memoirist builds the world from known things, details chosen from the memoirist’s life. Memoirists are limited by reality, but the options are still plentiful. The memoirist carves from reality what the reader sees, feels, hears, tastes, and smells using what already exists.

In nonfiction, world building is sometimes referred to as creating a sense of place. But thinking of it as world building reminds the writer that the process is a series of choices, the same decisions novelists make. A fictional world might include magic, space ships, or time travel, but even in those worlds, the writer chooses which elements to emphasize. No matter how far in love a writer falls with the world she creates, she can’t include every detail.

How shall the writer choose?

Phases of World Building in Memoir:

In Bird by Bird, Anne LaMott referred to an unnamed friend when she explained her process:

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”

World building follows the same phases.

The Down Draft:

Some writers outline and plan before attempting a first draft. As a “pantser,” someone who writes by the seat of her pants, outlining and planning equals stalling. I head right to the page.

Like LaMott, my first draft is the “down draft.” Using “writing practice,” a term coined by best-selling author Natalie Goldberg, I set a timer and “go” for a specific amount of time. The world that appears in early drafts arises from what Goldberg might call “first thoughts,” the initial detail I remember as I tell the story to myself. I don’t worry about setting the scene. I just get the story on paper. If I get caught up in describing the pattern of bark on the sycamore, the reader may never find out whether I finished that twenty-mile run. It’s more important to finish the initial draft.

As I write, I make notes in the text. I use two “at symbol” marks (@@) to note places where I have forgotten something or if the backdrop feels shallow. Later, I can search for “@@” and fill in the detail. I repeat the timed writing until I have a full first draft.

I trust this organic “down draft” process for three reasons. First, there’s science behind it. A brain structure called the reticular activating system (R.A.S.), filters out the details I don’t need and focuses on the ones that have meaning. The R.A.S. is at work when you buy a new car. You choose the power blue Pinto because it’s special and different. Then, when you pull out of the lot, you see powder blue Pintos on every street. Did they appear out of nowhere? Of course not. Your RAS had filtered them out. Not intentionally. You just didn’t need to see them yet. Our minds cannot handle the number of sensory stimuli we actually receive. When you are creating the world for your memoir, your R.A.S. is also at work. Start with what you automatically notice and easily remember. The result often surprises me. I didn’t know what I remembered until I wrote it down.

The second reason to trust this seemingly random process is because it taps into each writer’s unique take on the world. The lens through which she sees the story is what makes the book special. That writer’s filter will separate her book from the flood of similar works in the market. Head to the memoir section of your local bookstore. Scan the titles. How many books trace the author surviving childhood? The fact that Mary Karr wrote about harrowing family circumstance in The Liar’s Club didn’t stop ‎Jeannette Walls from penning The Glass Castle. While these two memoirs contain similar themes, each book describes a vastly different world, the world each author lived. These sensory images are ripe fruit just waiting for the writer to pluck them off the branches.

The third and most important reason to do a “down draft” is that you can’t edit a blank page. Before I discovered this process, my perfectionistic, anxious mind made writing nearly impossible.

The Up Draft

In the revision phase, I start by searching for the “@@s” and filling in what I thought was missing. Next, I read the entire work with an eye solely for building my world. I ask questions: Where am I? Who am I with? What am I eating, wearing, talking about, thinking about? Was I aware of any tastes, smells, sounds, or feelings? What matters to me? I also think about what else was going on in the world. This could be as complex as the international political scene or as simple as a neighbor child’s bake sale. I ask what is happening outside my world. If I don’t know the name of something, this is the time to look it up.

The following tools help bring memories to the surface:

  1. Eyes Closed: I put myself in the scene again and imagine walking or running or driving through.
  2. Eyes Open: Since I can’t remember everything, I open the laptop or head to the library and research. Again, I trust my gut. Skimming an article about the Olentangy River might remind me of a day the water was so high we couldn’t cross the trail.
  3. Go: If I can, I visit the place. When I was writing a memoir about the last year my father was alive, I couldn’t remember details about a raptor sanctuary I visited. Research gave me an excuse to make the pleasant drive to Yellow Springs where it is located.
  4. Perk Time: I let it percolate. I take the dog for a walk, go for a run, or go to a movie with my husband. If I can distract myself enough to let go of the scene, the best image will often pop into my head.

Using this new information, I weave and polish and add and subtract to transport the reader into my world.

The Dental Draft

Now it’s time to make sure the world serves the story. No matter how lovely, if my “darling” images do not convey meaning, show character, or move the plot forward, they must die. The world I’ve created must put the reader exactly where I want the reader to be.

For example, in one scene in an early draft of my running memoir, I wrote in great detail about the lush vegetation along the Olentangy Trail. I adore the trail, spend hours there, and practically breathe in the green. After many revisions, I mention only the poison ivy. Eighteen miles into a twenty-two-mile run, I could only see the scarlet leaves. When I pointed those out to my running partner, she reminded me not to touch them. I’d forgotten about the rash and itching that would result if I did. Narrowing the focus in this way shows the reader how fuzzy my mind gets on a long run. This choice creates the world I want the reader to experience.

We each have our own writing process and world building is no different. I’ve given you a glimpse of mine. It might sound inefficient, but I afford myself a lot of breathing room to do it the way that works for me. I hope you’ll allow yourself the same space to discover the best method for you.


About Nita Sweeney

Nita Sweeney’s articles and essays have appeared in magazines, journals, and books including Buddhist America, Dog World, Dog Fancy, Writer’s Journal, Country Living, Pitkin Review and in several newspapers and newsletters. She writes the blog, BumGlue and publishes a monthly e-newsletter, Write Now Newsletter, which features a short essay, a schedule of the classes she teaches, and a list of central Ohio writing events. Her forth-coming memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, was short-listed for the 2018 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award. She was recently interviewed for the radio show and podcast Word Carver. When she’s not writing, Nita is running and racing. She has run three full marathons, twenty-six half marathons (in eighteen states), and more than sixty shorter races. Nita lives in central Ohio with her husband and biggest fan, Ed, and her future running partner, the yellow Labrador puppy, Scarlet (aka #ninetyninepercentgooddog).

Mother Nature is My Writing Mentor

Drawing Inspiration From the Natural World

by Cheryl Leutjen

My office mate, a muscular, gray cat named Handsome, slumps over my left hand, purring. I sit at my desk in the attic, which I like to call the “garret” because it connects me with my childhood hero, Jo of Little Women. Here I can pretend to toil away at the craft, just like Jo, slaves to our art. Except that I’m tapping away, instead of dipping pen into an inkwell. Also, my garret is heated, well lit, and features an espresso maker. And, oh, yes, Jo is a fictional character about a third my age. Except for all that, we’re like twins.

The garret is where Handsome and I hole up most mornings, squabbling like a couple of old fusspots every morning about who controls the keyboard—and who needs to go find all the lost rubber bands. But today, we’re mesmerized by the sight outside our window. After months of drought, water pours from the sky, and glistening droplets blur our view. Handsome puzzles over the strange howling sound and jumps as the old window bangs in the wind. As the storm rages outside, I’m thrilled to cozy up here in the garret with my furry familiar. Every excuse to stay in, off the streets clogged by Angelenos struggling to remember how to drive in the Wet Stuff. As a writer prone to wax poetic, this is as good as it gets. Why would I want to go anywhere? 

And yet, one day later, the deluge has ended, and I tear myself away from the garret. I pack up my old kit bag and drive to Arlington Garden in Pasadena. This Mediterranean-style oasis is the living expression of redemption. Countless volunteers have teased its beauty from a dusty, vacant lot, set aside long ago for a stalled freeway construction project. Surrounded by stately Pasadena homes, the park attracts birds, bees, butterflies, and urban dwellers seeking respite. Considering all the eco-guilt I’m carrying, I welcome the opportunity to steep in Redemption.

I’m meeting here with my tribe, those valiant enough to brave the damp and the winter chill. Of  50-some degrees, that is. We’re members of a Meetup I facilitate called the “Natural Muse.” We gather in various green spaces in LA—yes, there are some sprinkled in among all our concrete—sometimes at picnic tables and sometimes perched on creek-side banks. Defying all notions of “nobody-walks-in-LA” stereotypes, we plucky pilgrims sometimes hike to a vista point or hop on a train to gain a different perspective. What devoted artisans we are; just like Jo, obeying our muses, for the craft.

Since beginning the Natural Muse Meetup nearly six years ago, many writers have come and gone. Some come once and scurry back to their own version of the garret. Some pop in periodically while others attend religiously. Occasionally, I’m the only human who attends. Regardless the turnout, I keep this Meetup going because it’s the crowbar that pries me out the comfort of the garret.

Nature herself is an unnamed member of our coterie; we never know what critters will join us.  Right now, a brown bird I can’t identify does a sort of hopping shuffle with her feet, to clear the fallen leaves so she can peck for seeds. I am trying, quite unsuccessfully, not to laugh at her comical efforts to produce a meal. Then I recall some of my own laughable antics in the kitchen, and humility squelches my mirth. At another gathering, some Canadian geese made me guffaw until I feared the white coats would come for me. Since beginning the Meetup, squirrels, crows, coots, ducks, geese, an Irish Setter, pigeons, rats, coyotes, songbirds, jacarandas, a dying sagebrush and more have joined us. Each critter encounter opens new gateways in my imagination.

Though the garret is an ideal spot for editing, providing that all-essential WiFi for research, my book, Love Earth Now, could never have been written there. Every insight that has produced my most creative work has come out of my experiences with the flora and fauna, few of which reside in my home (thankfully). Not that there haven’t been pest infestations in my kitchen that I prefer not to recall.

When I plant my fuming-about-phone books self under a blossoming pomegranate tree and discover a buzzing swarm of bees overhead, I’m rapt. I’m blissfully free of the seemingly nonstop tide of Bad News for Life on Earth. I’m simply witnessing these busy creatures, whose industry makes possible a good chunk of the human food supply, hard at work, not bemoaning the fate of their kind, with so many dying in droves. Each of them showed up to do what bees do, employing all the skills and abilities that Nature has given them. The bees remind me that I have the skills and abilities to do my own work and surrender the travesties that are not mine to address. 

I suppose time outdoors sounds like a no-brainer for someone like me who writes about learning from Nature. But why do other writers do it? Why leave the comfort of their own version of the garret or the local coffee shop to sit on hard benches, squint through the glare of sunlight and let’s face it, deal with the scourge of park bathrooms?

I pose the question to Reni who is writing an autobiographical piece about gifts. For her, creative time in Nature “opens something in me. Every sense is touched, and I become more aware.” Christy is crafting blog posts. Writing in nature reduces her stress about getting the work done. “I can think, feel and write from a place of calm and enjoyment, instead of frustration.” Aliete is developing a memoir of her struggles with mental illness. “Writing outdoors engages all the senses. The sounds, the colors, the smells, the touch. . . even the silence inspires me,” she says. “There are so many unexpected moments,” she continues, causing me an involuntary shudder as I recall that time when a squirrel spat green flesh at me.

However our time in this garden impacts us individually, we share a sense that we are better for it. We’re not alone in this assessment. Recent studies evidence that time in Nature can provide measurable benefits. An intentionally mindful experience in a natural setting— not a sprint around the park while I’m reading my Twitter feed—may lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve sleep and increase energy levels. There’s even evidence that exposure to certain chemicals that trees emit increase the human body’s ability to fight off cancer. That’s some powerful therapy, no prescriptions or co-pays required. I pause for a word of gratitude for the enclave of crepe myrtle trees, dressed in striped stockings and leaflets of red and gold, which surrounds me.

Thinking of how humans evolved in a world with trees and plants and a myriad of microbes already in it, it’s no surprise to me that the natural world stimulates creativity not found indoors. Our ancestors lived eons seeing, hearing, smelling, sensing and relating with a panoply of flora and fauna that few of us know today. Locked into our sterile cubicles, we’re cut off from so many of the cues to which we evolved to respond. Perhaps steeping in our natural surroundings brings us back into a fuller experience of what it means to be human, which opens new portals for receiving fresh inspiration.

None of us sitting around this picnic table are aware of any of this, not on a conscious level, anyway. I can’t tell you if new neural pathways are forming or ancient collective memories have been awakened by this garden. I do know that a little bird gave me a chuckle, and I saw something of myself in her dance. That moment of connection inspired an essay, one that could not have been written in the garret. If you’re looking for fresh inspiration, consider packing up your own kit bag and walking out that front door.  


About Cheryl Leutjen

Cheryl Leutjen is the author of Love Earth Now, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Mango Publishing.

Cheryl Leutjen’s deep love of Earth, as well as her hope for a bright future for her children, fuel her passion for responding to the challenges of our time with heart, hope, humor, and spiritual practice. Cheryl writes to share her experiences about on the razor’s edge between Earth-mindfulness and eco-madness, not because she’s got it all figured out, but in solidarity with anyone else who’s fumbling along the path of more conscientious living.

She draws from her experience as a geologist, attorney, small business owner, spiritual practitioner, over-analyzing-everything Gemini, Midwestern childhood, Los Angeles transplant, wife and mother to claw her way out of the abyss of eco-despair. She seeks solace from the sages in Nature who reveal the wisdom she needs to navigate a more Earth-loving path.

She resides in Los Angeles, where she takes copious yoga classes, digs up the yard and throws a lot of darts as therapy. She lives with her husband (aka her Sanity Supervisor), two children, her muse Atlas Cedar, and three cats who care not one whit about any of her credentials.