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  1. Afraid of Commitment? Join the Challenge!

    July 17, 2016 by Diane

    Yikes! Commitment.

    Yikes! Commitment.

    I have commitment issues.

    My wise friend pointed this out over lunch at the sushi place. I was forking my way through a super vegetable roll while rattling on about blogging.

    “I’ll blog when I have something to say, and not because the powers-that-be suggest that I blog to attract followers or build a writer’s platform,” I said. “I’ll blog just for the hell of it and okay, maybe I’m taking the middle road, but I don’t know if this whole blogging thing is what I want to do anymore.”

    And my friend, carefully placing a slice of pickled ginger on her salmon roll with her chopsticks, said, “What I see is, you start a project and then skid to a stop. You have a problem with commitment.”

    I allowed myself to take that in. I resisted the urge to fold my arms, gaze at the corner of the ceiling with a thoughtful frown, and zone out on the live poker-playing event on the overhead television.

    Instead, I agreed.

    I have a commitment phobia.

    From actress to dancer to writer, I reached a tipping point and then slammed on the brakes.

    I studied acting and dance, acted and danced on stage, taught others how to act and dance, and then chucked it all to write.

    I’ve written first drafts for four-and-a-half novels, and when I started to rewrite the first one, I hit the wall.

    Marriage? Forget it. Children? As long as they’re not mine. Vacations? It depends. How far, and for how long?

    I’ve been known to buy fifteen different kinds of shampoo because one smells nice and one is for curly hair and one is for dry hair and one is for fine hair, and…well, you get the point.

    Sleep? Too boring. What if I’m missing something important? What if there’s something else I should be doing?

    What if I choose the wrong guy, the wrong project, the wrong whatever?

    Driving home that day after sushi, I was sitting at a stoplight, and I thought about gravity. I thought:

    We’re spinning in space. Right now.

    I thought about how the Earth is tilted on its axis and we’re spinning ever so slowly in a vast universe.

    What if gravity decided to stop doing its job? What if it decided it didn’t want to commit to pulling everything toward it, and wanted more space?

    There would be consequences, that’s what. We’d all spin into infinite darkness and vaporize. I had a tingle of discomfort in my spine, thinking about that. I had to go home and lie down and ponder.

    And I’ve concluded that it’s a good thing, commitment. I’m grateful to gravity for its commitment to hold us to its breast.

    That’s a step in the right direction. Being grateful.

    My boss, I’m fairly certain, is grateful that I show up for work and get my job done. My muse is grateful that I allow her to play in the first draft. But my editor is knocking at the door, wanting to clear the clutter, and he’s mighty pissed that I’m lying on the bed gazing at the ceiling.

    The fact is, I can’t even commit to avoiding commitment.

    After all, I commit to watching America’s Got Talent every Tuesday night. I commit to reading an entire book, buying groceries, cleaning the shower and showing up for work.

    But something creative…that’s when the problem kicks in.

    So, here’s the deal.

    I’m going to commit to rewriting my novel. And blog about it so I’m held accountable. It might take six months, it might take a year. But I’m going to face this thing head-on, and when the fear rises, I’ll use my mindfulness training, my cognitive behavior therapy, my humor to overcome it. And I’ll let you, dearest reader, in on what transpires, in case you have commitment issues as well.

    It won’t be easy. I see roadblocks ahead: fear of failure, anxiety about feeling boxed in, agitation about all the effort involved.

    Doesn’t matter. I’ll find a way to work through those blocks, or scoot around them, or I’ll kick those suckers down. For better or worse I’m going to rewrite my novel.

    Do you want to join me in this challenge? Do you want to be my commitment phobia-busting buddy? Let me know in the comments. What will you commit to doing?

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  2. When the Small-Town Parade Passed Me By

    July 10, 2016 by Diane

    woman walking in snow

    Over four months one winter, without a job or the money to pay rent, I vacated my apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area and holed up with my father, stepmother, and sister in the tiny town of Twain Harte in the Sierras, along with their rambunctious dog, orphaned cats, and a canary that sang the Tequila Sunrise song.

    While I was immensely grateful to have a loving family who took me in and tolerated my anti-social behavior, as an introvert, being suddenly thrust into a household of people and pets, I failed miserably as a member of the tribe. I spent the days hiding in the guest room, making half-hearted attempts to write a novel.

    Carl Hogan walked downstairs with a plate of wet cat food and was never seen again.

    “What happened to Carl?” my father asked from time to time, his eagerness palpable.

    I’d mumble something unintelligible and go out for a walk in the boy’s snow boots I had purchased at the local Walmart that were a size too small, trudging down icy roads to a boulder by a ditch flowing with water, where I sat and contemplated my life.

    Occasionally, I visited the grocery store.

    On a December evening I was on one such grocery-buying escapade, when sawhorses magically appeared on the street, blocking off the one and only road out. A parade was marching in, so I stashed the groceries in my trunk and joined the crowd of onlookers.

    The tennis club led the parade, carrying their rackets and a huge banner that read “Twain Harte Tennis Club” in case there was any doubt. The Kazoo Club came next, followed by the Lion’s Club and what may have been the Dog-Walking Club, or a group of people out walking their dogs. Next up: the volunteer fire department—which is to say, the barber, the pharmacist, the newspaper editor and the taxidermist/bar owner who was also a member of the Hunting Club. A trio of girls with Shirley Temple arms rode by on their father’s shoulders—or who I assumed were their fathers but may have been the Elk’s Club. They were followed by an elderly man driving a Model T—the mayor, I guessed, and his diminutive female companion, she giving a royal wave, his more like a Texas howdy doody holler.

    I heard the marching band before I saw them, rounding the corner onto the main street led by a young man snapping his baton up and down as if he truly were leading 76 trombones to the heart of town, rather than a paltry two, along with six trumpets, three drums and a french horn striving to keep up.

    Bringing up the rear: Santa and his sleigh, with a bevy of helpers bringing up his ample rear. The float, wreathed with tiny white Christmas tree lights, played a tinny-sounding Jingle Bells from a single speaker, proving to be too much electricity for the overloaded contraption. The whole thing shorted out, and Santa froze mid-wave.

    “Ohhhhh,” wailed the crowd lining the street. They wore mufflers and snow boots and thick ski gloves, and held hot cups of cider sold by volunteers in front of the real estate office.

    A tall man standing next to me groaned and shook his head—probably one of the parade committee members who thought he had hired a jolly old Saint Nick, and not some retired bearded guy afraid of being electrocuted.

    The lights and music flickered back on.

    “Ahhhh!” said the crowd.

    Santa settled back to waving his huge white paw, and the lights flickered off.

    “Ohhhh,” said the crowd.

    And flickered on.

    “Ahhhhh!” said the crowd.

    And off.

    “Ohhhhh.”

    And on.

    “Ahhhhh!”

    And so on, until Santa disappeared around a corner, and the man next to me wiped the sweat from his brow.

    And that was that. The parade was over.

    The crowd dispersed, volunteers packed up the cider and took down the sawhorses, and I returned to my car and sat behind the wheel in the dark.

    That winter, I often felt like the parade passed me by.

    And it was that kind of parade.


  3. Free Your Voice with These Seven Rules of Writing Practice

    July 3, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    Natalie Goldberg, in Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, spells out her rules of writing practice. If you haven’t read them, do. You might want to post them where you write. Let them be your guide behind the writer’s curtain.

    Here are my seven golden rules. Use them to limber up your writing muscles, or, if you write by the seat of your pants, for first drafts. Some are variations of Natalie’s, because they’re that good.

    1. Celebrate writing badly

    Give yourself permission to write the worst stuff on earth, in case it shows up. And it will. When it does? Celebrate. Laugh, snarl, be your own bad self on the page. It’s all good! All of those cliches and disjointed sentences and half-eaten thoughts. Purge that stuff onto the page until your inner editor walks away in disgust. Be a bit manic about it. See where the energy leads. It’s like brainstorming, saying yes to every bad idea. “Bravo! Keep ‘em coming!” You’ve got to get that junk out of the way to find the gold that’s buried underneath. Don’t cross out that sentence, don’t back up on the keyboard. Forge onward!

    2. Write quickly

    Delight in the wind in your hair, the pedal to the metal, ripping down that byway, the words flying, scattering across the page. No pulling over, waiting for the right phrase, the best image. When you find yourself searching for the right word, just write any word. A string of words. And then move on. Quickly. Write in a condensed period of time. Five minutes. Fifteen. Keep the fingers moving on the keyboard, the pen flying across the page. It frees the brain, unsticks the sticky parts.

    3. Don’t make plans

    Be spontaneous on this writing journey. No baggage. An idea, that’s it. Maybe not even that. See what comes. And then riff. Improvise. Say “yes, and…” to every character, every thought, every mood that appears on the page. See the scenery. Hear the voices. Feel the feelings. Taste the tastes. Be in the experience, not in your head. See where the path leads.

    4. Surprise yourself

    It happens naturally, if you don’t make plans. You follow a character and it leads you to the 1940’s San Francisco, the Haight. You follow the sentence and it leads you to a circus in Moscow. You follow a street in Paris and it leads you to a story about how your heart broke open from loneliness. Follow, follow, follow, or you won’t get there.

    5. Be a rebel

    Set your voice free. Don’t worry so much about sentence length and active voice and all those writerly rules you’ve learned over the years. Just write whatever comes, in whatever form it takes. As author Jerry Jenkins says, get that hunk of meat down on the page so you can carve it. Chances are, if you give your voice free rein, the amount of carving needed will be minimal. Because here’s the thing: if you break the rules, you know the rules. And all great writers know their craft. It’s there, in your subconscious. You’ll be surprised how much of it bleeds through.

    6. Be a beginner in an expert’s world

    If you know your craft, there’s the expertise. Now show up with a beginner’s mind. What is beginner’s mind? It’s looking at everything new again. What does that sycamore look like? What does that bubble gum ice cream taste like? What can I explore, discover, in the topic of which I write? Fit your tiny feet in those oversize high heels and totter around pretending to be a fancy lady. As a writer, you’re always playing make-believe. Be that child again, experiencing the world for the first time.

    7. Give up, but not on your work

    I wrote this post after spending twenty minutes trying to force a piece that wasn’t working. I finally gave up, walked away. Forcing something never works. Best to let whatever wants to be born come through, slip out. And it will! Easy. When the needle is stuck on the record, playing the same thing over and over, you’ve got to jiggle it. Give it a nudge. Then the music, the ideas, flow. So, when you’re expending too much effort, stop. Walk away. But not from writing. Just from what isn’t working. Later, if the piece is meant to be, it’ll come through.