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.

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.

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.

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!

 

Happy New Year 2019! Member News from the WNBA-SF Chapter Members

 

As we celebrate the New Year, it is a perfect time to reflect on all the books, events, articles, awards, and celebrations across our community. Sharing successes helps support the WNBA’s mission of empowering women in writing.

We closed out 2018 with the Holiday Showcase at the Book Passage, a celebration of the immense talent of WNBA-SF Chapter with readings from our published member authors. Megan Clancy kicked off the event by reading her book (The Burden of a Daughter; A Novel – https://amzn.to/2CKe1fI), while holding her well-behaved baby. Lynn Dow read from, Nightingale Tales: Stories from My Life as a Nurse (https://amzn.to/2F3DYIL), and entertained us with her story of Jimmy Hoffa coming to the hospital, a memorable event from a 50-plus year nursing career. The fun continued with poems and stories read about veterinarianhouse calls for a pig; the excitement of Paris after dark; mittens on the run; and so much more. The other readings included topics ranging from super agers, feminism, healing through yoga and diet, writing career advice, and getting married for the first time at sixty-two.


In 2018 several members were recognized for their work:

 Judy Bebelaar (And Then They Were Gone: Teenagers of Peoples Temple from High School to Jonestown – https://amzn.to/2Vqcy5K) is a 2019 San Francisco Library Laureate. Judy also won a first prize, two third place prizes, and the Grand Prize in the Ina Coolbrith Poetry Contest.

Long-time member, Renate Stendhal’s, Kiss Me Again, Paris: A Memoir (https://amzn.to/2H0hQSu) was a finalist at both Lambda Literary Awards and Best Book Awards, and a winner at International Book Awards, in the LGBTQ Non-Fiction/Memoir category.

Barbara Ridley made her debut as an author with the book, When It’s Over (https://amzn.to/2TlYyYP ). She was honored as a finalist for six different awards this year, including Silver Medal in the IBPA Ben Franklin Award, the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and the American Fiction Awards.

Mary Mackey’s ­­new collection of poetry The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams was published by Marsh Hawk Press. Jaguars won the California Institute of Integral Studies Women’s Spirituality Book Award and made the Small Press Distribution Bestseller List. Voetica.com recorded 26 of the poems.


This year we added many new members, including Vivien Zielen who recently published Eyeballing Big Croc: Chasing Dreams Around the World. Her book was recently reviewed by JWeekly in October (https://www.jweekly.com/2018/10/17/new-memoir-nepalese-royalty-the-six-day-way-and-passover-in-japan/).

Another new member, Saeeda Hafiz, whose book, The Healing: One Woman’s Journey from Poverty to Inner Riches, has been reviewed multiple times (http://www.saeedahafiz.com/new-page/).


Whether it’s being published for the first time or seeking an award for a published work, the new year brings a new set of goals for many of our members.

Whether you are a new or long-standing member, it is important to remember that community is critical to achieving your goals. “Community is the sacred ground of the twenty-first century,” former President Joan Gelfand writes in her book, You Can Be a Winning Writer (https://amzn.to/2BVR4Vk.)

For all members, but especially new members, we encourage you to join Joan at her upcoming workshops. The events are based on her new book and will cover the 4 C’s of successful authors: Craft, Commitment, Community and Confidence, in Oaxaca, Mexico (January 14th), at the San Francisco Writers Conference Poetry Summitt (February 16th) and will be featured on a teleseminar hosted by Non-Fiction Writers Association (February 6th).

As Bookwoman Correspondent, it is my mission to share your literary triumphs, small and large, with our local and national communities. As an emerging writer myself, I understand that writing is a career built word by word or bird by bird, as Anne Lammot writes.

For your Bookwoman mentions, please mark your calendars to send me your monthly news for Bookwoman National by the 15th of every month. Also, if you are looking to get articles published, Editor Nicole Ayers encourages all members to send in blog post ideas to newsletter@wnba-books.org. I will continue to publish local WNBA-SF news each quarter on our site, as well.

Looking forward to seeing you for our upcoming events the Holiday Mixer on January 13, 2019 (https://wnba-sfchapter.org/celebrate-the-new-year-at-the-wnba-sf-holiday-mixer-2/) and Pitch-O-Rama on March 23, 2019 (https://wnba-sfchapter.org/pitch-o-rama-2019/).

Happy New Year!

About the Author:

WNBA-SF BookWoman Correspondent Jennifer Griffith is an emerging writer in the process of finishing her first book, Both Sides of Then. She is a blogger, memoirist, and has a new podcast launching in 2019 focused on the topics she often writes about – motherhood, careers, connections, and the meaning of family. 

 

www.jgriffithwriter.com

Twitter: https://bit.ly/2AJvhkv

IG: https://bit.ly/2AKccP7

What Are You Afraid Of? How a Writing Retreat Saved Me

By Joan Gelfand

At one point in my career, I was convinced that my writing life was over. If it hadn’t been for a writing retreat, I would not have finished my next two books.

When I quit my corporate job to write full-time, I worked at home. I showed up at my desk at 9 AM just as I had for my job. I wrote my second novel, three poetry collections and a book of short stories.

And then, one autumn, the wind went out of my well-honed, self-disciplined, super productive sails. I lost my mojo. I felt isolated and uninspired. I found myself lolling, writing emails until well after 10 AM. I was easily distracted. Was it time to investigate another career?

While I was struggling with this question, I signed up for a 10-day writer’s retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico. I had never participated in an organized retreat, but I knew I had at least a few projects that were floundering.

Every day after breakfast we eight writers retired to our private rooms to write. And write I did. I wrote new poems and started a new book. The floodgates opened. In the afternoon we met to discuss our work, listen to a teaching by our instructor and share work.

What had changed? It wasn’t until the end of the retreat that I figured out that being around other writers invigorated me. I was motivated again. Many writers have historically needed the company of others to stay productive. Virginia Woolf lived in a house with other artists and writers, and today, the Grotto, a San Francisco institution, houses writers in all genres.

When I returned home to San Francisco, I realized that I too needed to start working around other people. I joined EcoSystms, a co-working space downtown. Although the folks there are not all writers, simply being around other people in a professional environment made all the difference.


About Joan Gelfand:

The author of You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s of Successful Authors (Mango Press, 2018) and three volumes of poetry, Joan has also written an award-winning chapbook of short fiction and a novel set in a Silicon Valley startup.
The recipient of numerous awards, nominations and honors, Joan’s work appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, Kalliope, The Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, the Toronto Review, Marsh Hawk Review, Levure Litteraire,  Chicken Soup for the Soul and over 100 anthologies, lit mags and journals.

Joan coaches writers on their publication journey by Skype and Zoom.  http://joangelfand.com