writing tools

Last week I gave a toastmaster’s speech on how to write a book. I laid out how to organize the information and how to work at it until it is done.

It was a great speech and it was well received. But I did not address strategies on how to get the actual writing done.

When people ask me how I have written a book, they often ask, “Do you have a time that you sit down and concentrate on writing? Do you get up first thing and write? How many hours a day do you spend writing?”

That’s the story, isn’t it? Getting to work, writing form 9-5 like it’s a job?

But that’s now how I work. Not usually. It’s way too much pressure to write for 8 hours a day. And also, the ideas don’t come like that for me.

I have heard of authors that do something like that. I figured I was the strange one. Aren’t I always the odd duck?

Because I find the most inspiring times to write are in the margins of my day job. Having a set of rather dull tasks to do all day leaves a portion of my brain ready to compose a story.

I just picked up Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. He spends a whole bunch of time at the start talking about his job.

His government job that he got after spending a bunch of his life hanging out with all the Transcendentalists. He illustrates beautifully how this work is extremely unchallenging, and it takes almost no thought to get it done. He was ready for mindless creature comforts after his time with Emerson, Thoreau and Alcott.

The conceit of the book is that the “finds” the story of Hester Prynne in the storage room of his job at the custom house. But he wrote it. Of course he wrote it.

And he wrote it while he was utterly secure in his life. He had lunch and dinner every day. He had a regular routine and he could have sunk into a life of napping. His coworkers certainly did.

But whatever it was that caused him to seek out Emerson in the first place kept him awake in the warm afternoons at his customs house.

His mind was not quiet. And in the gaps of his routine, out squeezed his creative work.

That makes perfect sense to me. I am not very creative when I’m worried about how my bills will get paid.

either way

what’s the story this time? And if I tell myself the wrong story will it come true?

Like those horrible be-careful-what-you-wish-for stories?

I am thinking about a bunch of things that might happen. And I wnt them to but I’m afriad to get excited about them.

I have gotten excited before.

I remember telling one person about a job I was sure to get. I’d been on three interviews and it looked very promising. And i told her I was afraid to be excited but I WAS!

She said “It’s okay to be excited. Whatever happens will happen and if you aren’t excited now, you might miss the chance.”

taking steps


When Chris and I first met, one of the things I liked best about him was that he could make up his mind. I have loved that more and more about him as we have spent our lives together.


Life is full of choices we have to make. Some of them are big and scary. Most of them are annoying and waste my time. How many hours of my life would I get back if I never had to discuss what we all wanted to eat for dinner again?


Choices. What is the best choice of the options available? And how do I determine what best means in any given setting?


More than almost anything I love taking an action. Beautifully, life gives me chances to take action all the time.


For the smaller things, my actions follow a set of rubrics. I wake up when I commit to, I wash my face, I care for my set of dependents–dog, cat, daughter. These choices were decided long ago.


Then there are the times I am presented with new situations. That requires me to analyze what is the what.


What do I want out of the situation?

What are my choices to get what I want?

What are the costs of each of those choices?


It takes time to figure each of those things out.


I’ve learned that when I take the time to understand what I want and look at the choices available, I still might not want any of the options


I’ve been able to analyze further and come up with better choices from time to time. A longer search on the Internet, a shuffling of this and that and a more acceptable option is available.


That new choice came at the cost of effort and attention. But a choice could be made.


Like I said, there are always a few choices.


One of the choices is to not choose. Even the choice of doing nothing.


I can spend a bit more time in researching what might be possible. At a certain point, that’s just delaying the decision.


Take the action.


Start moving. It may be a terrible set of choices, but if I pick one, and start moving more choices could appear. Or unseen advantages of the current choice will be revealed.


I have seen this happen many times. Start moving and the next set of choices appear. That gives optimism to making the hard choice. It gets better. Take the first step.

the day the sky turned blue

The moment Dorothy stepped out of the house into Oz, everything was in color. Her dingy gray dress turned blue.

This was one time that the movie was better than the book.

I’ve known those time. Scales fall from the eyes. The big


How did I never see that before? I’m NOT in Kansas anymore.

Oprah would call it an Ah Ha! moment


Oprah seems to have them every week. And so…How different are things really?

Dorothy was a lot less excited about her red slippers when the flying monkeys were attacking.

It’s the return to the mean.

I get distracted by the everyday. Most people do. We return to our normal way of being. I have a habit of being happy or bummed, or pessimistic, or irritated with everybody.

That habit doesn’t change with a trip to Oz.

Habits take a lot to change. One way or another, they stick.



Changing Possibilities

For our anniversary this weekend, my husband gave me perfume.
I asked for this kind of perfume, but I didn’t really expect him to get it.

So a fancy little box that was heavier than I expected was presented on the day of our anniversary. I could not guess what it was, until the box slid into my hand

Chanel No. 5

It smelled even better than I remembered. And so, for the rest of our meal, we did one of the things we do best.

With the help of our phone browsers we learned all about Coco Chanel and her perfume and fashion empire.

This perfume is from 1921, almost a hundred years ago.

I remember reading in old regency romance type novels, how women who were invited to balls were often told what perfume to wear. This was to keep the scents from becoming confused.

Eau de cologne was popular before. And scents were a message about what kind of woman you were.

Which is what Coco Chanel wanted to change. She chose a signature scent, which was different from all the others, and let a woman be what she chose to be.

And she didn’t stop there. She created a whole new kind of suit for women.

I had an idea in my mind of what a Chanel suit looked like, from photos of Jackie Kennedy in the 60s. Tailored, kind of tweedy, but very proper.

The first Chanel suit was very different. Taking a big step away from the corsets of the Victorian era, this suit was slouchy and made out of knit fabric. There was about as much shape as a bathroom.

I could never imagine Jackie Kennedy in an original Chanel suit.

But I could also imagine the women taking off their corsets to be more comfortable and active in these loose suits. What a big change! Just by creating a new option, women could renegotiate their place in the world.

Chanel lived through two world wars, and even famously collaborated with the Nazis when Paris was occupied. I do not admire that part of her story.

I do admire her ability to take her life out of the very humble beginnings and imagine new possibilities for everyone. That’s a nice thought on my 12th anniversary, as I smell this historic perfume on my wrist.

Long Way

It’s easy to see the problems. That is where my attention is focused on.

But I’m learning not to lead with the problems when I’m working with other people. It’s a rookie move.

When I am climbing a mountain and I am tired and giving up, nothing picks me up like turning around and seeing how far I’ve come. That backward glance puts the trail ahead in perspective.

So for the times when I have to gather up a group of people to talk about what’s going on–when the problem is as loud and glaring as a repeating emergency alert




I gather my thoughts and state out loud what’s been done.

What we’ve accomplished so far

The road we’ve travelled together successfully


Before addressing the current problem to be surmounted.

I start by reminding every one that once upon a time, not so very long ago we had other problems and that today those problems are conquered.

So let’s get together and overcome a few more problems.

We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.

This is what I know.

I’ve been reading feminist books lately. And some of the problems have been sounding the glaring emergency alert in my mind.

I did what I do. Read more; learn more, go back to read the older books.

Today I picked up a real oldie: Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women

She wrote this to the French during their famous revolution. Remember that one? Right after the American Revolution?

She was pushing them to give women the right to a better education and the right to vote.

She described how women were not considered human.

And that is a cold dark look up the long trail ahead. That lands in my gut like a punch. And I am only in chapter one.

Oh Mary. Mary. Mary.

Deep breath.

Look at what we’ve done together. Women are educated in record numbers in America. Women have been able to vote for 99 years in America. We can own property, have bank accounts and borrow money.

That’s a lot. That’s a lot of trail we’ve covered.

This is no time to lose heart. There is a still a long way to go. Like I said, it’s only chapter one.

Stores of Stories

He’d told me that I could ask to borrow the Walkman. She was our friend and friends lend you things, he said.

I had barely turned 20 and my same-age boyfriend and I hung out at this older married couple’s house all the time. Mostly because they would let us, and they would feed us.

Yes, they were friends but I was not used to borrowing things from friends.

Especially adults.

She was nice about it, when I asked her if I could borrow it. She told me that her boyfriend from years ago had bought it for her. She had memories and stories about this music player.

I was grateful that she lent it, but even more fascinated by the stories. This house that I spent my spare time in was full of things with stories.

I didn’t have that. I didn’t have things, for starters. But I also didn’t have stories.

I hadn’t lived enough to collect them. Either of them.

That has changed.

Now my home is full of things that have storied memories. I have so many things, with so many more stories that likely no one else is interested in.

A friend of mine is selling his home, where all his children grew up. His real estate agent blew through giving him advice on how to make the house appealing to strangers.

“Oh THAT picture has to go!”

Philistines. Can’t they appreciate the beauty of my precious thing?

My own things. My own stories. My beloved items with their memories and exquisite arrangements are gray fog to others.

Maybe they are the shibboleths that help me recognize other people who would understand my stories.

Or maybe things are just things. I broke my adult friend’s Walkman after all. I felt terrible but she was cool about it. She still had the story.


I knew a woman who had lived in one town for decades. Then she moved to a new address 10miles away. She drove past more than one grocery store to shop at the old store she was used to.

Familiar is so nice. How does it get better than that?

Wanting something better means I have to go outside what’s familiar and try something new.

Years ago me and a friend tried out the neighborhood tennis court. She said she’d played once, and I never had. We found some rackets at a thrift store and some tennis balls and set to it.

I knew what tennis was supposed to look like. Toss up a bouncy green ball in the air. Swat it with a round racket, and the ball sails over the net. The other person runs, swats it back over and a swanlike game ensues.

So I threw the ball up, swung my racket and watched the ball bounce at my feet.


This time throw the ball higher.

I was not good at this. We began to lower our sights from playing a game to just returning a serve.

It was Hard! And I was not good at it.

I never played tennis again.

But that is still one of my favorite memories.

I can try new things. And I can be not very good at it. But I can have a lot of fun and move on.

I might move on to something comfortable and familiar. But I’m willing to try something less convenient too.


“I have learned I can trust fairy tales.”

I’d found an old favorite book, and was reading it to Veronica. I was teasing her “What do you think will happen? What is going on?”

She can only tolerate a certain amount of tension. This was a lot of pressure!

So she deflected to a safe place:

“I have learned I can trust fairy tales. Think about it, Mommy. There will be terrible things happening, but it will all come out happily ever after.”

Fairy tales give us this promise:
if you are the good guy
if you are the hero
things will come out in your favor

This is the promise. And I love them for it.

A few years ago, a spiritual-but-not-religious person presented me with a similar idea:
We live in a friendly universe.

At the time, I was convinced that the world I lived in required constant vigilance. There were people out to get me, and I had to watch out. Not only that, but it took striving to get ahead. It was folly to think I could rely on a friendly hand up.

But I liked the idea.

I had heard it before from my childish seat in church “all things work together for good to those who love God”

It sounds nice, but when I am looking at a situation that seems anything but good it is accusation. What’s the problem? Don’t I love God enough for things to work out to the good?

It’s pretty easy to get pessimistic fast when things don’t seem to be working out. And I had gotten into the dark side, pretty sure that things just didn’t work out.

But the idea of a friendly universe carried less obligation. I didn’t believe it, but I liked the idea.

Whatever is going to happen will happen. So why not imagine it will turn out well?

It might. It might not. But if I could trust it, I’d have a lot better life.

My daughter has the right idea. We can learn to trust the fairy tales.