2019 Bay Area Writer’s Contest

WNBA logo

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We prefer unpublished work, though we do accept stand-alone excerpts from works seeking a publisher or agent.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.

Submit your work here, starting June 1, 2019.

Judges:

 

Amy Agigian

 

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.

 

So You Want to Be An Author: Panel at East West Bookshop

East West Bookshop
324 Castro St, Mountain View, CA

Monday, June 3, 2019  7:00pm

Have you wanted to write a book, but you don’t know how to begin? Or maybe you’re writing one now, but you don’t know what to do when it’s finished. Is the manuscript complete, and you’re wondering how to market it for sale? In the fast-changing world of e-book and printed book publishing, there’s a lot you need to know. And we have it for you. Join our panel of publishing industry experts, all members of WNBA-SF, moderated by board member and author Sue Wilhite for a lively and illuminating discussion about writing, publishing and marketing your book.

Moderator: After spending 20 years in programming and database design, Sue Wilhite knew she needed to catch up and develop her right brain. She is now a best-selling author, publisher, Law of Attraction coach, and sound healer, and is known as the “Profit Attraction Mentor.” Sue specializes in getting her clients unstuck and encouraging them to fulfill their own destinies. SweetSoundOfSuccess.com

 

Distinguished panelists:

Brenda Knight

Brenda Knight, author of Women of the Beat Generation, will read new work and a tribute to “Beat Goddess” ruth weiss. Brenda began her publishing career at HarperCollins. An author of ten books, she won the American Book Award for “Women of the Beat Generation.”  In 2015, she was named Indiefab Publisher of the Year. She is Editorial Director at Mango Publishing and is President of WNBA-SF Chapter.

 

 

Michael Larsen

Michael Larsen co-founded Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents in 1972. Over four decades, the agency sold hundreds of books to more than 100 publishers and imprints. The agency has stopped accepting new writers, but Mike loves helping all writers. He gives talks about writing and publishing, and does author coaching. He wrote How to Write a Book Proposal and How to Get a Literary Agent, and coauthored Guerrilla Marketing for Writers. Mike is co-director of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference.  larsenauthorcoaching.com/

Nina Amir, the Inspiration to Creation Coach, is an 14-times Amazon bestselling author of How to Blog a Book, The Author Training Manual, Creative Visualization for Writers, and a host of ebooks. As an Author Coach and one of 700 elite Certified High Performance Coaches world-wide—the only one working with writers—she helps her clients Achieve More Inspired Results. Nina founded the Nonfiction Writers’ University and the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge. She helps her clients get from the lightbulb moment to the realization of their dreams (without letting anything get in the way) and make a positive and meaningful difference with their words. www.ninaamir.com

 

 

Productivity Hacks for Authors

Better than Caffeine: Healthy Habits for High Energy Writing

Manage your energy for maximum productivity with tools and tricks from author/yoga teachers and holistic lifestyle experts, and WNBA-SF members Saeeda Hafiz, Elise Marie Collins, and Patti Breitman.

Friday, May 31, 2019
12:00pm to 1:00pm

 

Location:
Mechanics’ Institute
4th Floor Meeting Room
57 Post Street
San Francisco, CA  94104

To register in advance for this FREE event, and for more information, click here!

If physical pain, fatigue, depression, discouragement or lack of focus have ever affected your writing, you need this workshop. Yoga, meditation, and a healing diet can help writers balance energy, inspiration and productivity. As writers we are expected to wear many hats, sometimes balancing day jobs with writing on the side. Authors must go from introvert to extrovert at the drop of a hat and be ready for interviews and public speaking, after spending months of solitary hours at the computer. The simple tools you will learn in this workshop will help you to be more alert, alive and inspired. You will notice the difference in your writing, creative process and focus.

Panelists will discuss how to ease into a healthy lifestyle, the impact of healing foods, exercise and sleep on writing. Learn tips and practices for energy and resilience from three authors who live, teach and write about yoga and health practices for modern times.

 

 

 

 

To register in advance for this FREE event, and for more information, click here!

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).

Pitch a Publisher! Insider Secrets to Getting a Book Deal

 

Pitch a Publisher! Insider Secrets to Getting a Book Deal

Friday, April 5, 2019
12:00pm to 2:00pm

Location:

 

 

57 Post Street San Francisco, CA 94104
4th Floor Meeting Room

Admission: Mechanics Institute Members $35 Public $45

Brenda KnightFrom the outside, book publishing can seem mysterious, but from the inside it is really quite simple.

Publishing veteran Brenda Knight will teach you how to sell yourself and your book idea, who you are really selling, the importance of “comp titles,” how to craft the perfect proposal, and trend tracking.

In her own words, “I have acquired over one thousand books in my career, including a few New York Times bestsellers. One of the great joys in my life is helping authors get their work into print and published successfully.” Brenda Knight currently acquires both fiction and nonfiction and will listen to your pitches in the second half of the session. Bring your best ideas!

 

What you’ll learn from this session:

  • How publishers think
  • Who the decision makers are at any publishing house (prepare to be surprised)
  • Platform-building tips and marketing strategies that will work for you<
  • The art of the book “hook;” the one line that might sell your book
  • How to ask the right questions and the one question every editor is waiting to hear

Brenda Knight began her career at HarperCollins, working with luminaries including Paolo Coehlo, Marianne Williamson, Mark Nepo and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Knight was awarded IndieFab’s Publisher of the Year in at the American Library Association in 2014. She is the author of Wild Women and Books, Be a Good in the World, and Women of the Beat Generation, which won an American Book Award.

Knight is Editorial Director at Mango Publishing and also serves as President of the Women’s’ National Book Association, San Francisco Chapter.

 

register-now

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.

Guest Post: Every Day Creativity

By Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

When it comes to writing, inspiration can be controversial. Some people staunchly believe we shouldn’t need inspiration to write. We must sit down at our desks and get to work—whether the muse is available or not.

Others believe we need to coax, entice and nurture the muse—and if she’s away, it’s best to leave writing to another day. And still others would roll their eyes at me for using the word “muse” in the first place.

The great thing is that everyone has a different take on inspiration—opinions that can be quite inspiring. Which is why I asked various authors to share their thoughts. Below you’ll find a variety of invaluable ideas and insights.

When the muse sleeps, do something else. 

“When my muse is unresponsive, there ain’t much I can do to wake her up,” said BJ Gallagher, author of over 30 books, including the forthcoming title Your Life Is Your Prayer (out in spring 2019). So she waits, and does other things in the meantime: She mows the lawn, washes the car, walks the dog, does laundry, has coffee with a friend, takes a shower, vacuums or takes a nap.

And these are the very activities—especially the physical ones—that help her muse to return.

“When my body is on auto-pilot doing routine physical things, my mind is free to drift and wander and explore. That is usually when my muse awakens and calls to me, ‘Grab a yellow legal pad, quick!’ And I write.”

Be consistent. 

KJ Dell’Antonia, author of the book How to Be a Happier Parent and co-host of the #AmWriting podcast, writes daily—whether she feels like writing or not. Even when it’s not going so well, she still keeps writing.

“I’ll boil it down to how many paragraphs does this need? How many sentences? How many words? And then I will put those things down, no matter how sorry and sad they seem, and most of the time, they’ll spark something. I’ll write something I like. It will start to flow. And if it doesn’t, that’s OK. I’ll be here tomorrow, folks. I’ll be here all week.”

Jane Binns, an artist and author of the forthcoming memoir Broken Wholehas found the same to be true. “Writing steadily is inspiring all on its own. The ideas keep building and refining themselves and returning to this again and again is validating and self-fulfilling.”

Seek out alone time. 

Joan Gelfand, author of several poetry collections, the upcoming novel Fear to Shred and You Can Be a Winning Writer, stays inspired by ensuring she has time alone to think. “It is when I give myself unstructured time that the muse comes to visit.”

She suggested making time every week for a date with yourself. For instance, that’s when you might take a walk, sit by the lake or visit a local place you’ve never been before.

Read different kinds of books. 

Alexandra Brown, co-author of A Year Off: A Story About Traveling the World—and How to Make It Happen For You, draws inspiration from fiction. “With my writing planet generally orbiting the non-fiction sun, I am always in awe of someone’s ability to weave a truly remarkable story.”

Brown is currently re-reading—and being inspired by—The Elegance of the Hedgehog. “It reframes the way a person thinks of language. It’s so imaginative, philosophical and poetic. It also reminds you to never assume things about people because we’re all more complex than we seem.”

Binns reads novels from genres she normally wouldn’t pick up. “I like to read authors that challenge the convention of storytelling and observe how they get from point A to point Z. What devices do they use? Why do they suspend this or that detail until later? How do they keep the tension suspenseful?”

One of Binns’s favorites is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, “because I never knew who was speaking or where or when things were happening exactly. It’s almost entirely dialogue. I would think I had it figured out but then it shifted…Heart of Darkness reminded me of Ulysses which I read years ago. Both of these are written in ways I would never allow myself to do right now. I see them as examples of how to stretch into untraveled territory.”

Travel. 

This is another way Brown fills her inspiration cup. “Stepping into another culture, even if only for a day, can put you into an entirely new, often unknown, context, and there is nothing more inspiring than being witness to all the ways this world is unique, interesting and dynamic.”

You don’t have to travel to far-off places to be inspired. “Even if it’s just an hour’s drive away, there is so much to see when you get outside of your routine,” Brown said.

Paint. 

Binns also stays inspired by painting with watercolors. “It gives my mind a break from thoughts and words, and I can totally relax and muse about color, light, and shadow. I love how the proportion of water and paint mix for a certain effect. The water is messy and has a science all of its own. I love watching it drool into the nodules of cold press paper. There is only a certain amount of time that watercolor can be played with before it sets. That burden of making decisions quickly is a sharp contrast to writing where things can be revised endlessly.”

Get in the right state. 

“Inspiration comes when you stop thinking, writing and creating from a place of stress,” said Greta Solomon, a writing coach, and the author of the forthcoming book Heart, Soul & Sass: Write Your Way to a Fully-Expressed Life. She noted that the optimum state for writing is to be alert and completely relaxed, which is when our brainwaves are operating from an alpha state.

One way we can boost this alpha energy is to listen to music at 60 beats per minute (BPM), she said. “Research has shown that Baroque music can help learning, thinking and creativity because it pulses at this magic number.”

Solomon suggested doing a quick Google search or downloading a Spotify 60-BPM playlist.

In addition to listening to music, we can make our own. For instance, Binns plays the piano. “The mathematics and poetry of music opens doors in my brain that nurture sanity, allowing the world around me to make sense.”

As always, whether it has to do with writing or anything in life, the key is to find what really resonates with you—and to keep checking in with yourself to see if that idea is still relevant.

What insights on inspiration specifically speak to you?

Copyright (C) 2018 Psych Central. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from here.

Get Ready for 2019 SF Writers Conference February 14 – 19

February 14 – 19
 Intercontinental Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco

Join us and help us promote WNBA-SF at the San Francisco Writers Conference.

This will be the 16th Celebration of Craft, Commerce, and Community for all writers. Attendees will join with 100+ presenters and fellow writers from across the country and around the world at this year’s event. The SFWC events are consistently rated among the top writer’s conferences anywhere.

Presenters this year will include bestselling authors, literary agents, editors, and publishers from major publishing houses. There will be experts on self-publishing, book promotion, platform building, social media, and author websites. SFWC has one of the largest faculties of any writer’s conference.

The four day event is packed with 100+ sessions for writers–from the craft of writing to the business of publishing. There is copious networking with the very people who can advance your writing career; an opening gala; two keynote luncheons and breakfasts; lots of social interaction with other writers; and evening Open Mic readings and pitch sessions. There will be exhibitors with services and tools for writers, too.

If you are working on your book, getting ready to publish it, or looking for ways to promote an already published book, this is the event you need to attend. TO REGISTER for the 2019 San Francisco Writers Conference, CLICK HERE!

The San Francisco Writers Conference starts on Thursday with orientation classes in the afternoon and several optional Open Enrollment Classes in the evening. Then the conference runs–pretty much non-stop–through late afternoon on Sunday. If you can stay longer, there is a no-host dinner where you can keep the networking going with SFWC presenters, staff, and volunteers. On Monday there will be several post-event Open Enrollment classes, too. That’s the entire Presidents’ Day weekend..and then some!

In fact, we are proud that so many of our WNBA members will be presenters at this conference including: Brenda Knight. Joan Gelfand, Nina Amir, Linda Lee, Mary E. Knippel, Martha Conway, Kate Farrell, Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, Mary Mackey, Barbara Santos, Helen Sedwick and more!