Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Photo-A-Day: October

"Potpourri--(n) a collection of dried flower petals, leaves, herbs, and spices that is used to scent the air; a mixture of miscellaneous things."

Photo courtesy of
Whimsy, beauty, reflection, anticipation. October offered all these things and more, represented in this month's photo-a-day project, a challenge I started--can it be true?--ten months ago. And what a mix of images unfolded from the month's beginning to the end--a potpourri of colors, textures, smells, and surprises. Each day offered something different including walks in the height of autumn, a photography exhibit, a stroll across a university campus, a book fair. New skills to learn, trips to plan, ideas to explore, words to write.  A hodepodge, assortment, collection, odds and ends, miscellany (synonyms for potpourri courtesy of askdefine ); "a combination of incongruous things" (Free Online Dictionary). In other words, random stuff--which is always good for the imagination. Where will it all end up? Who knows. A new story or two? One would hope.

What helped fill your potpourri bowl of experiences/inspiration this past month?

p.s.To those who will embark on Nanowrimo starting tomorrow (the annual "write a novel in a month" challenge), good luck! 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

5 Skills Writers Might Not Know They Possess

"The ability to relate and to connect, sometimes in odd and yet striking fashion, lies at the very heart of any creative use of the mind, no matter in what field or discipline." --George J. Seidel

photo courtesy of
My mom is a quilter. I'm a knitter. Neither of us are welders, electricians, or ditchdiggers. But there's a possibility that writers have similar skills to all of the above. How so? Consider five skills that writers might not know they possess.


1. Quilt. Quilters choose patterns to express their artistic endeavors. Writers seek patterns, too--in words, sentence structure, story flow, insight, and imagination. Bruce Ballenger, author of Discovering the Writer Within, notes: "First there is uncertainty and confusion, and then a pattern emerges that begins to make sense. First we plunge into the sea of experience and then tentatively climb the ziggurat of perception, reflecting on what we have seen, and plunge back in again with our new knowledge to see even more."

2. Knit. Knitters produce a knitted project much like a writer fills a blank page, one stitch/word at a time. Along the way both have to deal with the inevitable tangled threads: "Writing fiction has developed in me an abiding respect for the unknown in a human lifetime and a sense of where to look for the threads, how to follow, how to connect, find in the thick of the tangle what clear line persists." --Eudora Welty

3. Weld. Welders specialize in joining, linking, forging things together--especially metals, plastics, polymers. Writers join, link and forge, too--in their heads and through their keyboards. Marilyn Ferguson inspired this thought with her observations: "Making mental connections is our most crucial learning tool, the essence of human intelligence; to forge links; to go beyond the given; to see patterns, relationships, context."

4. Wire. What do electricians do? Make connections. So do writers. And we have to train ourselves--wire our brains--to see connections and follow them to their conclusions. Right-brain exercises designed to spark creativity help in this way, as does freewriting, journaling, and writing poetry. Dean Kamen reminds us: "Some broad themes brought me where I am today. At a very young age, my hobby became thinking and finding connections."

5. Excavate. Ah, this might be a stretch. I might fall into a hole here. But excavators are ditchdiggers and earth movers who uncover--reveal--that which lies beneath. Writers are word movers, seeking to uncover and reveal a story's meaning. Ballenger again: "Writers do that, moving back and forth between the seeming chaos of information collected and then reflecting on its significance, looking for connections, contradictions, questions, or even specific details...that will reveal meaning."

What's the value in learning all these skills--to be a jack-of-all trades, master of none? On the contrary, these skills help foster a long-term goal, that of enjoying what we do. One more time, Mr. Ballenger: "I find that moment of recognition--of making sense out of something that seemed to make no sense--is one of writing's greatest joys."

Do you find yourself doubting you can take on all five skills? See yourself mastering only one or two? Then consider this. "A typical neuron makes about ten thousand connections to neighboring neurons. Given the billions of neurons, this means there are as many connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy." --David Eagleman

Wow. The brain power is there. All we have to do is tap into it. What other unusual skills do you think a writer possesses--or maybe should develop?

Friday, October 19, 2012

On Beauty, October-Style

as seen on an October walk 2012
"In every man's heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the 
vibration of beauty."--from "A Slice of Sunlight" by Christopher Morley, 1928

How's the autumn color in your neck of the woods?

Hope you're getting some great snapshots :-)

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Gift of a Writer's Eye

I came across the following story in an old Highlights Foundation publication squirreled away in my files from way back in 1996 and, I think, worthy of sharing. It's a quote from Patricia Broderick. It goes like this:

"...I submit to you that writers see differently. They see the everyday world differently than do others...This is a story from the Chicago Daily News:

I've heard of the problems newly retired men and their wives face when confronted by too much togetherness, and I was always amused at the way they so often get on with each other's nerves. I never thought I'd face such a problem, but it's been two months now and matters around here are pretty bad. I ran out of patience that first Monday. There we were, the two of us. Dave busied himself by following me around, inquiring into my household routines. I tried to be pleasant, but my surly nature surfaced when he asked, 'Why don't you vacuum all the way under the bed?'

I've tried to interest him in any number of activities with little success. I've even shouted the merits of daytime TV. 'What you really need is a job,' I told him, knowing he'd never be able to find one at his age. Yesterday was typical. Dave and I spent the morning together as always now. He sat looking out the window for a while, sighing intermittently. Then he came into the kitchen. 'What are we having for lunch?' he wanted to know. This was at 8:30. We went lockstep to the bedrooms, where he watched me make the beds. To his query, 'What should we do now?' I snarled, 'How about a duel with sabers?' A lengthy discussion followed of my system of sorting wash. I don't like to sort wash, much less talk about it. The situation is getting to me. You'd think someone with so much intelligence, someone I truly love, would not be so totally annoying when faced with a change in routine. Oh, well, my problem won't last forever. Next fall Dave will be in kindergarten.

"My wish for each of you is that you view the world with the gift of a writer's eye every day of your life."--Patricia Broderick

Have a great weekend! May we all nurture the gift of the writer's eye as we go...

p.s. Speaking of viewing the world with the gift of a writer's eye, here's a link to a great writing opportunity. Ladies' Home Journal is sponsoring a Personal Essay Contest (here), "Tell Us About The Day That Changed Your Life." They say, "Ladies' Home Journal is a community that shares stories--and we're dying to hear yours. For our second annual Personal Essay Contest, we want to hear about a memorable moment in your life--the day, or the hour, or the second that changed everything. We urge you to be poignant, reflective, funny. Make us howl with laughter. Make us blubber in our cubicles (we can take it!)." Top prize is $3000 and the chance to have your essay published in the Journal. Deadline: Dec. 7, 2012.

(Thanks to my friend Lanita who passed this along.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Story's Roots

"All of literature comes out of the family--Oedipus, Hamlet--even Genesis is a family story. Storytellers always revert to the family--the people we're born from and the people born to us. It's impossible to exhaust." --Irwin Shaw

I can think of a few families whose life's journey would make a good story, can you?

Do you agree that all of literature comes out of the family? Or might there be other story roots?

Just wonderin'...