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December 2020

The Perfect Word

Hope 2Happy New Year, insanely interesting Writerly Women! The only thing I like better than starting a fresh season is starting it with all of you. I'm serious about that. Even just your comments to each other regarding the last post about "Borrowing Faith" proved that we ARE a community and we can make a difference to each other. That doesn't even require a Resolution. It's simply a fact. 

Speaking of resolutions ... only 9% of people who make them on January 1 actually keep them. That's actually a higher percentage than I suspected, to tell you the truth. However, having one word that guides you through the year has been shown to be pretty darn effective, and that makes sense. Seriously which is more compelling:

    * I'm going to lose fifteen pounds, write 100,000 words and read my Bible twice a day?

OR

    * I'm going to attach myself to HOPE this year?

And here's the deal: if you focus on HOPE and do only those things that express or reflect that hope, you will probably believe you can lose needed weight, write your best stuff and deepen your relationship with the sacred text of your faith. That's because, having just one word as your frame of reference:

    * Takes away any possibility of failure. Really, how do you measure how much HOPE you have? And if you can't measure it, you can't fall short. 

    * Widens your range of opportunities. You aren't just tied to working out in your basement and giving up sugar. HOPE gives you the courage to try some new foods, take up Wonder Walking, look for a style that looks good on YOUR body. 

    * Makes your outlook more positive. Resolutions like the ones we're using as examples suggest that we have been lacking. A guiding word speaks to what we want more of. 

ThankfulThis approach is perfect for us. We are wordsmiths. We know how to choose the perfect word that precisely fits our meaning. Why not put that gift, that skill to work for ourselves and, ultimately, everyone around us. I mean, who doesn't want to be around a person who is moved by HOPE or Spring loveLOVE or HONESTY or GRATITUDE or VISION?

 

And because words are our forte, we can be even more precise in our choices than our accountant and engineer friends. My word for 2021 is ESSENTIAL. I want to attach myself to those things that are authentic to my essential nature -- the people I'm with, the work I do, the personal passions I pursue, even in the way I shape my home. 

  ESSENTIALWhen my almost-ten-year-old granddaughter and I were trying to discover her word for the coming year, I asked her some questions which might be helpful to you too in case no marvelous piece of vocabulary pops immediately to mind.

  • What do you want to do MORE of this year?
  • What do you want to be like at the end of 2021?
  • What are you dreaming of or hoping for right now?
  • What perfect word describes the essence of you?
  •  (We can add, of course, what word comes to mind when you meditate on this with God?)

(Incidentally, her answer to all of those questions was an honest, "I don't know." She pointed out that she is pretty happy right NOW, so that became her word.)

That's not all. Because we are creative women, why wouldn't we turn our chosen word into a visual of some kind that we can envision, especially when supporting that concept becomes challenging? It doesn't have to be a work of art.  Keep it realIt just needs to reflect you and what you're about this year.

2020 has been a difficult year for the entire world, and we can't count on the fact that when we wake up tomorrow morning, all the remnants of the last ten months will have disappeared. Even on Inauguration Day or when we all get vaccines we won't see a dramatic change at once. But each of us, as Gandhi so wisely said, can be the change we want to see in the world.

One word at a time.

Your challenge: pray, meditate, ponder, write and discover your word. Share it with us, and if you really want to commit, create a visual, take a picture and email it to me -- nnrue@att.net. I can think of few things more encouraging than a gallery of the lexicon that will take us into 2021.

Again, Happy New Year, Ladies. Happy New Year.

 

Blessings,

Nancy Rue 

 


Treatment Plan #7: Borrowing Faith

Jim and me in Santa hats      Hey, Writerly Women! I'm loving seeing the progress you're making in our Treatment Plans as evidenced by your comments. Colleen, Emii, Margie, Natasha, Pam and Skeli have all weighed in recently on seeing what it's like to do what you WANT instead of trying to WILL yourself to ________ (fill in the blank.) That has led you to --

  • letting go of the notion of productivity
  • discovering a new, more authentic story idea
  • going for the "Juice" in every scene
  • focusing on developing a website

If you haven't read the Treatment Plan #6 post, you might want to click here to check it out and join in the doing-what-you-want challenge. It's as freeing as it sounds. And if it sounds like cutting class to go have a hot chocolate, you're on the right track.

Of course, simply going for what your soul desires takes confidence in that desire as good and godly and right and all those things that tend to drive the bus. They're good drivers, no question, as long as we also allow what compels us and makes us want to get out of bed in the morning to take the wheel as well. Being able to say to yourself, "This is what I'm supposed to do on a soul level," takes a kind of certainty that isn't always easy to come by.

At least not alone.

Which brings me to the above picture.

Jim and I hit some speed bumps last week, as so many of us are experiencing right now in this CoVid Christmas season. We had to tell a dear friend who always joins us from out of town for the holidays that air travel wasn't safe for any of us and he'd have to say home. Alone. We realized several of the people we love will be celebrating solo this year. Some have become ill. Our spirits were sagging.

And then we received a box in the mail from Jim's mom (she's 95!) and sister containing two zany Santa hats, a Christmas lights necklace, a set of holiday stampers and a Christmas activity book for each of us. (How long has it been since YOU did dot-to-dots?) As if that weren't enough delight, we found out that the other two sisters and their spouses had also received such care packages. We all sent pictures and howled. Seriously, we are everyone of us in our sixties and seventies, yet we instantly became children in all the best ways and gained the perspective that usually only the youngest among us can attain in the face of crisis. Ten minutes before we opened the box, we didn't have faith in the joy the season usually brings. Ten minutes after, we were making hot toddies and baking ready-made dough cookies and planning a Feliz Navidad supper for Christmas Eve.  How did it happen?

We borrowed some faith.

It IS possible to do that, you know. You probably think of it as "being encouraged", and you're not wrong. The word "encourage" comes from the Old French "encoragier", which means to make strong, to hearten. It's a passive as well as an active verb. You can both encourage and be encouraged. In this case, let's focus on the passive. If we don't have the courage, the strength, the heart for something, we can receive that from someone else. Contrary to the American principle of independence and self-reliance and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (I don't even know what the heck those ARE ...), it is impossible for human beings to ALWAYS maintain confidence in their abilities or their choices or even what they think they hear their hearts telling them ALL BY THEMSELVES. We. Need. Each. Other. Gloria at retreat

That is not to say that we need to be seeking affirmation and permission at every turn. What is does say is that when we're DIScouraged -- when we feel stuck -- when we are riddled with self-doubt -- one of the many things we can do to be restored to balance is borrow some faith from someone who believes in us. Who has been where we are and knows whereof she speaks. Who can say, "You can totally do this. You've got it in you."

Here is what that does NOT mean:

    * that you are a wimp and have to have someone else tell you're good all the time, or you can't write a word

    * that you are needy and whiny and wallowing in self-doubt

    * that you're a narcissist looking for constant approbation

This is what it DOES look like, and what I'm challenging you to incorporate into your Treatment Plan:

    * Seek out at least one person who believes in your gifts AND knows what he or she is talking about (not necessarily your significant other who kind of has to tell you that you're great) Because only honest feedback is going to help you restore your flagging confidence, be sure you trust this person. Someone who is a blocked writer himself, or who is notoriously blunt, or who has a jealous nature may do your confidence more harm than good. 

    * Ask an honest, specific question, something you particularly need to know the answer to in order to move forward right now. "Is my protagonist sympathetic?"  "Is my prose too esoteric?" "Does it sound like I'm talking down to my kid readers?" "Did you ever feel like totally giving up on a writing project even though you love it?" "Am I nuts to keep pursuing this?" Not, "Am I a good writer?" or "Do you think I'll ever get published?" The first one you already know. The second no one can answer.

    * Accept the encouragement. If you've ever been around me for more than, like, ten minutes, you know that I am on a personal mission to get every woman to learn how to accept a dadgum compliment. When I tell someone she looks great or she's a delight to be around, nine times out of ten she'll come back with something like, "Thank you but I could stand to lose ten pounds" or "You haven't seen me with my kids at 4:00 p.m." Yeah, and why don't you take that gift I just gave you and rip it up in front of me? Why can't we receive genuine praise and authentic positive insights and the very real assurance that we are pretty dang awesome? Just believe it, for Pete's sake.

    * Take it to heart (be heartened) and get back to it. Renewed faith leads to action.

Donald-Maass-1-AI'll give you two examples:

    #1. When I had my one-on-one with Donald Maass -- whose opinion I value very highly -- I asked him point blank, "Do I have the chops for the general market?" He said, "Yes, you have a good, strong commercial fiction voice. Just make the story bigger -- Jodi Piccoult big."  That's what I'm doing.

    #2. Recently I had a conversation with a dear friend who is opening a new literary agency in January and I asked him if I was too old for him to take me on as a client if he liked my new project. He said, "You are on my list of people to approach about signing on with me." He'll be hearing from me when the novel is done

Do I need to keep going back to these two guys and saying, "Did you mean that? Are you sure?" Uh, no. What they said is enough to keep me moving forward when I realize I'm stalling. That and my nine-year-old granddaughter who is writing a chapter book -- she really is -- and looks up every now and then and says, "I'm have ______ words now. How many do you have?" She is always impressed with my answer.  Mae and me writing

Be encouraged, insanely interesting writerly women. Your challenge this week is clear. In order to get you loosened up and free, will you post one specific question you'd like to ask  a trusted someone who might be able to boost your confidence? Let the queries abound! Some of them I might even be able to respond to.

Because I believe in you.

 

Blessings,

Nancy Rue   

P.S. Is my husband not ADORABLE?

     

                 


Treatment Plan #6: What would if feel like to ________

Mae writing 1Hey, insanely interesting Writerly Women. I try to limit my granddaughter stories to one per conversation. Otherwise I would be even more insufferable than I am now. But, I mean, seriously, it does not get cooler than this in my world. (Even with the kitchen reno still in progress around us.)

Maeryn is writing a chapter book for her parents for Christmas as part of our homeschooling for writing in M&N Studio (Maeryn and Nanny). With the story board done, she writes a chapter or two in each session and is now up to 1100 words, an achievement of which she is understandably proud. My new favorite question coming out of her mouth: Do you want to hear what I have so far? That usually means going all the way back to the beginning every time, but who am I to argue with that?

The project has evolved. It started off as a short story, and the more she added to the story board,  the more it became apparent that that container wasn't big enough to hold everything. When I asked her if she wanted to give a chapter book a go, she was all over it. She wanted to see what it felt like to write a book. 

So far, it seems to feel pretty good. ADHD makes some forms of concentration a challenge, but when Maeryn is plugged into writing this piece of fiction, she can sit for 30 to 40 minutes, typing, re-reading, editing and, of course, sharing with me. When she really gets into it, she starts abandoning articles of clothing and changing position so she can keep going.  I act like I'm also working on my novel beside her, when in truth I'm simply basking. Bask. Ing. Mae writing 2

My nine-year-old granddaughter is  sticking with her project by experiencing what it feels like to write something she loves.  It feels good, satisfying, confidence-building, so she wants to do it some more. She reflects what I have come to know as a truth: if we allow ourselves to do something that makes us feel positive and fulfilled, we'll want to repeat that experience. It won't feel like self-discipline to clean the house if the end result is some pretty smug satisfaction. It won't require an act of will to practice yoga or Pilates if you come out of a session feeling energized. Who needs accountability to stay on a healthy eating plan when those jeans you couldn't squeeze into last winter now zip up without your having to hyperventilate in the process? We do what brings us into the zone that feels most like us, in our True Nature.

The same applies to "finding time to write." If we're "making ourselves" sit in front of the computer and write 500 words before we're allowed to get up for a coffee, we're not going to stay with that regimen for very long, as we talked about in a previous post. But what if it felt GOOD to create a scene? What if finding just the right word or image made you grin, earring to earring? What if putting in 90 minutes without interruption was right up there with savoring a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream? Actually, if that isn't the feeling we get, why are we writing in the first place?

I've shared with you that I was fooling myself into thinking I was writing when in truth I was sort of afraid to.  So I tried an experiment. What if I did just turn off my phone, close down the email, fix myself the perfect cup of tea and luxuriate in writing a chapter of my novel? How would I feel? That involved shedding the Donald-Maass voice in my head -- the wails of fellow writers about the market -- the tape that turns on and says, Isn't it a little late to be starting down a new writing path? It involved composing at the keyboard for the sheer joy of it. Writing at Walden POndI gave me permission to stop if I started to feel anxious -- if I began questioning my work, my abilities -- basically if it ceased to be a joy.

I never had to. Because the better I felt about my creative session, the more delicious the experience turned out to be, the more I wanted to do it. I'm not suggesting that writing is always sheer Nirvana. It's called a WORK of literature for a reason. But I'm thinking that if we always dread it -- if we find ourselves grinding our teeth in front of the screen -- if we can't wait for it to be over so we can, oh, I don't know, go clean the toilet -- we need to ask ourselves if this is really how we want to spend our time. 

I'm betting that giving up completely and getting into origami or something isn't an option for you, or you wouldn't be here. So, let's try an experiment, yes? Here's your challenge:

        * Name your favorite part of the writing experience. Maybe it's tapping out a first draft with abandon (like Emii). Could be it's doing the research or journaling with the characters. Very possibly you like coming up with great dialogue or precise images or writing fight scenes. 

        * Set aside time and space -- at least an hour -- and do THAT part of writing. Even if that's not where you are with your current project, you can adapt or focus on a new work. Savor. Make it delicious. Do it like you're already a published author in demand and have nothing to worry about from editors or agents. Let. It. Be. FUN.

        * Share with us how that felt. Tell us if you want to do it again. And again and again and again. Can you just do that part of writing all the time? Um, no. But if you have a positive experience in front of that laptop or with that legal pad in this one area, that will translate into the rest of the process. It's that good, satisfied feeling that keeps us going -- not stick-to-it-ive-ness -- not grit -- not guilt. Hannah doing research

I'm here to tell ya, if you feel great while you write, someone holding your book in her hand at some future time is going to feel great while she reads. I have it on the best authority.

Can't wait to hear from you -- ALL of you. Even if you've been lurking in the shadows, come into the light and for Pete's sake have some FUN!      

 

Blessings,

Nancy Rue           


Some Inspiration: Joyce Hollyday

Joyce Hollyday  (2),Hey, Writerly Women. If this looks like someone you'd find insanely interesting, you'd be right. Meet Joyce Hollyday, former editor of  Sojourners, author of a number of powerful works of non-fiction, genuine activist in the most meaningful sense of the word and, most recently, the creator of a wonderful historical novel Pillar of Fire, based on the medieval mystics known as the Beguines. 

I'll tell you why I bring her to you as one of us.

I met Joyce when I was a student at the Academy for Spiritual Formation. She was one of our presenters, and I spent five days studying under her, sharing some meals, becoming acquainted as spiritual women. I fell in love with her authenticity. After serving as a pastor on death row, working as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence and as an ally for immigrant women, there was no call for pulling punches. Having traveled extensively to cover faith-based efforts for justice and peace in the U.S., Nicaragua and apartheid-era South Africa, she was very much at home with herself and with what is real. Basically, you don't spend nights in jail with prostitutes and fellow protestors without becoming strong enough to use your voice without fear of what people will think. 

But it was with vulnerability that Joyce came to me and asked me to walk her through writing a draft of her first novel. She'd collaborated on and solo-written successful non-fiction books -- including Then Shall Your Light Rise, Clothed With the Sun and On the Heels of Freedom -- but true to her nature she had no problem saying she wasn't sure what she was doing when it came to fiction. The story had been stirring in her soul for some time (sound familiar?). She couldn't not write it (sound even more familiar?). But she wasn't entirely sure how to go about it (sound most familiar of all?) That courage so characteristic of this woman kicked in, though, and she was willing to go for it.

With no promise of representation or publication.

No guarantee that it would ever go anywhere.

No assurance that she might spend her time on more of a sure thing.

Do I need to mention that she was right where you are? Where we all are?

We worked together through the drafts, and I became attached to Clarissa and the other characters -- and found myself crying, becoming righteously angry, realizing the story was changing me.  This novel was a slam dunk in my opinion.

Too bad my opinion couldn't get her an agent or a publisher. You would think that having that strong platform everybody wants and an impressive list of publishing credits already she'd be a literary dream for someone. But rejections piled up. One possibility looked really promising, and then fell through because "nobody's reading epics right now." (That's the gist of it, anyway -- that isn't an exact quote). I didn't hear from Joyce for a while, and I was afraid she'd given up. 

She hadn't. She did other things in the interim -- you know, got married, moved into a genuinely spiritual community with like-minded people in Vermont, continued to lead retreats. If the time wasn't right for this novel, so be it. 

And then suddenly, she was emailing me asking me for an endorsement because Pillar of Fire was being published -- eight years after she said to me, "I'm trying to write a novel." Pillar of Fire cover

So what happened?

For one thing, though discouraged Joyce didn't question herself as a writer. The market wasn't biting, but that didn't mean what she was offering was, well, crap. She knew that.

She was willing to bide her time. To abide doesn't mean to sit around gnawing at our nails and bewailing the cluelessness of the publishing world. Joyce continued to move forward with what she believed in. Her book was one part of that, but everything didn't hinge on it, least of all her view of own self worth.

And she remained connected. This publication offer didn't appear in her inbox. It came through talking with people, showing up where those who believe in working for the same things she does hang out. 

We can all do that.

    *  Rather than questioning and doubting ourselves as writers, we can continue to align ourselves with the whole truth of what we're writing about. Remember that exercise we did this fall in which we listed what we know to be true? Maybe it's time for each of us to revisit those lists.

    * While we're writing and/or sending out submissions, we can keep living full, creative lives. We've spent a great deal of time discussing and naming our Dream and Soul Space. Are we actually taking that space?

    * Instead of becoming increasingly discouraged about the state of the market, we can show up where those who might help us hang out. Does an author you respect and admire have an interactive blog or on-line classes?  SKELI recommends a cool course on Creativelive.com called "The Power of Habits" by "a guy who actually studies" things like getting a practical handle on changing habits. As Jennifer G. said during our Zoom session, we can gather more writing tools in our kit. There is also our own BookShelf which I'm going to add to later this week. Once you've read a book or listened to a podcast that changes things for you, don't hesitate to contact the author/speaker with praise. That won't directly get your foot in the publishing door, but the more your name comes up, the chances of an editor or agent thinking, "I've heard of this person" rise. That's how successful Christian fantasy writer Mary Christine Weber made her presence felt before she was published. ALA with Mary

Right now we're looking at the patterns that keep us from doing the above. Getting to the roots. Doing the opposite. Discovering new, positive patterns. Let's allow insanely interesting women like Joyce Hollyday and M. Christine Weber and each other to inspire us in that direction.

Blessings,

Nancy Rue

For more about Joyce, check out her website, www.joycehollyday.com