Big Magic

I’m not sure why Amazon won’t publish this review of Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic. It’s a marvelous book, one that will sell you on the dual elements of hard labor and fairy dust in bringing one’s work into being. Undeterred, I decided to post the review here in the hope that you’ll be motivated to buy the book and follow its suggestions.

A big Elizabeth Gilbert fan, there was no way I was going to pass on this book. Although I knew it would probably be filled with some of the same old/same old “you can do it” verbiage, I also knew that no one could say it in quite the way creative, fun, quirky, motivational way. I was right.

Throughout the book, the reader increasingly senses that something unseen and unknown can actually be working with people courageous and disciplined enough to say yes to an idea and then get to work. Gilbert mentions British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington’s explanation of how the universe works: “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” And then she adds, “But the best part is I don’t need to know that.”

Gilbert writes about several mentors who have assisted her along the magic path, including her parents. Like other writers and artists, at times she has been tempted to put something aside without completing it, and then she recalls the words of her mother who always said, “Done is better than good.” Gilbert concurs and says that a “good enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect one meticulously written never.”

To further encourage people to find the “big magic,” Gilbert adds that the essential ingredients for torpor and misery are laziness and perfectionism.  She goes on to quote writer Rebecca Solnit and states, “The perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.”

For those who are still a bit timid about stepping out of their comfort zones for fear of what others might say, Gilbert offers all sorts of advice. My favorite is that of W.C. Fields: “It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.” She reminds the reader that people will have their own opinions of your work. So what? Let them.

If you have an idea to share, one that just won’t leave you alone, then say yes. It’s showtime.



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When She Looked Up

One of the most valuable books I’ve read about writing is A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. It’s a compilation of advice, stories, anecdotes, and prompts-365 of them. I’ve been using those prompts for practice, and  lately I’ve submitted some results to my critique group for discussion.

The following is something I wrote to the prompt When she looked up.

My head hadn’t hit the pillow until long after midnight, and at few minutes before five, I didn’t recognize the insistent buzz of the phone.


“Jayne,” my brother Mike said. “Calling to let you know we’re in the hospital with Daddy, and if you want to see him alive, you need to come now,” my brother Mike said.

“What? I didn’t even know he was having problems again.”

“I’m just saying you need to get here as quick as you can.”

“So it’s serious?” I asked, even then knowing it was a ridiculous thing to ask.

I jumped out of bed and briskly crossed the hall to my daughter Carrie’s room. Cracking open the door, I said, “Sweetie, I need for you to get up. Granddaddy is in the hospital, and Mike says I need to come now.”

“What time is it?” Carrie asked groggily as she raised up on one elbow to stare at me, her dark wavy hair a cloud around her face.

“Around five. I’m taking a quick shower and hitting the road. I need for you to come with me.”

Twenty minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway, tired and yet strangely alert. Minds racing with what lay before us, we rode through the predawn October morning silently noting the familiar sights. There was Coastal Carolina, streetlights glowing along the still quiet avenues where sleeping students likely dreamed of happily ever after. Lucky them.

We stopped at the intersection of University Boulevard and Highway 544 and looked at Hillcrest Cemetery square in the face. I had attended numerous graveside services at Hillcrest and had even mentioned being buried there at some point in the distant future. Having traveled that stretch of 544 thousands of times, I associated the area with life and energy. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a final resting place in the hub of so much coming and going?

This morning, however, seeing the shadowy shapes of tombstones and trees filled me with dread and apprehension. Would I be standing in another such location 115 miles away before the week’s end? I squelched the thought and turned right towards Conway and Highway 501, the thoroughfare we would follow to Florence.

Stopping outside of Florence at what used to be called Jimmy Carter’s to fill up with gas, I placed the pump handle in the tank and called the hospital room for an update. My sister Ann answered on the first ring.

“We’re on our way,” I told her.

“Too late,” Ann said in a brisk, staccato tone.

“What do you mean, too late?”

“He’s gone. About five minutes ago. Mike was shaving him, and Allen was holding his head up. They felt his head drop and knew something had changed.”

“Can’t believe it,” I said.

“Mike finished the job.”she said matter-of-factly.

“What job?”

“The shaving.”

I could well imagine my brother and brother-in-law looking at each other in the moment of realization. Knowing them, I knew they had kept the knowledge private until my father looked presentable and clean-shaven.

I looked up at the predawn sky, wondering how long it would be before sunrise.

“How’s Mama?”

“Not sure. She was in the hall when it happened and is just now taking it all in.”

Leaning against the car, I could see, feel, hear the activity in the room where my father’s strong spirit had slipped away from his weakened body. My poor Mama. Why didn’t someone call me earlier?

“How far away are you?” Ann asked.

“Almost to Florence. Can’t talk anymore. Bye.” I looked up at the predawn sky, wondering how long it would be before sunrise.

I put the pump handle back in its proper place and got back in the car with Carrie. Sitting there, I tried to wrap my mind around the events that had taken place sixty-five miles down the road while I’d been speeding through the darkness.

“What’s the matter, Mama? What did Aunt Ann say?” Carrie asked.

“She said…she said Daddy died just a few minutes ago.”

“Oh Mama. I’m so sorry.”

“I know, I know. It’s too much to take in right now. Why couldn’t we have been there? Why didn’t someone let me know earlier?”

“Want me to drive?” she offered.

I looked at Carrie’s pretty young face, tear stained and weary and realized the magnitude of the moment. “You really want to? I mean, do you feel like it?” I asked.

“Yes Ma’am,” she said. We switched positions, Carrie in the driver’s seat and me as her passenger.

I looked down the road ahead. It was so dark.

The above, by the way, is after making the changes suggested by one critique. When I finish incorporating the others, it might be quite different. 

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Sales Associate, Dental Hygienist, Social Worker…….

A couple of years ago I wrote an eBook about how to succeed in a two-year college—for students, that is. Now I’m working on one about how to survive, I mean, succeed as an instructor.

First, a few words about the former book. When looking back over it this morning, I realized that the truths therein remain the same. For instance, people need to have some goals before beginning a course of study rather than drifting willy-nilly from semester to semester. Many are like a young sales associate I met recently who earned a medical office certificate and graduated with a 3.7 GPA.

“Why aren’t you working in the medical field?” I asked. “I mean, that’s not an easy certificate to earn, and well, I just thought you’d want to get a job related to your major.”

“Yeah, you’re right. You’re right. But I didn’t really feel that excited about it once I graduated. I got a new plan now.”

“Oh really? What’s that?”

“I’m going into the dental field. I hear you can always get a job doing that.”

“You mean being a dental assistant?” A hygienist?”

“Uh-huh. And I know I’d never get tired of that. I just love looking at people’s mouths.”

“Oh,” I said, suddenly conscious of my teeth. Did she think I needed to floss?

The thing is, she was clueless about her skills, interests, aptitudes and the career fields that correlated with them. She’s not alone. In fact, I was like her once upon a time. Fascinated by demographics, culture, mores, societal changes, and social institutions, I earned a degree in sociology. If someone had asked me what I planned to do with that little piece of paper, I would probably have mumbled something like “be a social worker.” I was clueless about what it took to be a social worker or what an undergraduate degree in sociology would do for me.

I’m glad the social worker position never materialized. My career would have taken a totally different trajectory, one I wouldn’t have enjoyed nearly so much. “You don’t know that for sure, Jayne,” some of you might be thinking. Believe me, I know. I’m a teacher, and there’s no profession (for me) more rewarding than that.

While the rules and guidelines haven’t changed that much since writing the student success book, many students’ attitudes have. Most understand the importance of managing time, meeting deadlines, going to class, and doing the work. Others feel more of a sense of entitlement and have a “something for nothing” attitude.

The attitudinal change is manifest in many ways. It can be an insolent manner, a brash “in your face” defiance, or an argumentative stance. While these changes are not pervasive in what I refer to as “the system,” they’re occurring frequently enough to cause teachers to stand up and take notice. A colleague recently shared an incident in which one of her students gestured for her (the teacher) to “zip it up” while the student was explaining something to a classmate. The student in question, by the way, was failing the class and had already overcut her allowed absences.

Second, a few words about the next book. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do know this, however. For teachers, knowing your subject inside out and upside down is  just part of the job, the easy part. The people issues are the ones that challenge your psyche and tax your resources. In the book I’m working on now, I’ll explore some problems and possible solutions. (I could say challenges instead of problems, but candy coating situations isn’t always the best approach.)

Somehow, successful teachers learn to change with the times and to deal with “them.” What’s your strategy?

Posted in community college teaching, teaching, teaching profession | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Learning the Craft

My writing group is becoming increasingly helpful. It’s scary to submit one’s work, yes. But if you don’t, how will you know if you’re improving? And if you don’t belong to a group and you aren’t taking classes, how are you learning?

When I first joined the group a few years ago, I wrote what I called “flat out writing,” my term for writing based primarily on an introduction, main body, and conclusion. I always started out letting the reader know what to expect, and after making sure each paragraph had a topic sentence, I’d include illustrations, explanatory phrases, and descriptive terms to get my point across. Then I’d close with some sort of summative paragraph–or sentence.

It worked but was kind of boring. (I hope no one in my writing group reads this because someone would definitely scold me about using “it.”)

I still do a good bit of “flat out writing,” but now I’ve learned to mix it up with other types. For instance, my group encouraged me to try using dialogue. And then someone suggested that if I wanted to write fiction, I could try changing the pronouns from first person to third person. I became Ellen or Lillie, whoever I wanted to be that day.

From listening to the fiction writers in the group, I discovered that name choices are very important, so I chose Ellen because that was almost my name. My mother wanted to call me Jane Ellen, but my father was against it. Apparently, there was a bratty little kid named Ellen in one of his elementary school classes who was the bane of his young existence.

And Lillie was my great aunt, one I never knew because she died at five years of age. I saw her tombstone a few years ago at a cemetery behind Racepath Baptist Church, and until that moment I never knew of her short life. The stone said “Darling Daughter Lillie,” and as silly as it might seem to readers, I feel that using her name is a way of keeping her memory alive.

It’s hard to break away from factual writing, to make the switch from nonfiction to fiction, but I’ve been experimenting with it. This summer, I wrote a piece filled with I, I, I, but after taking heed to my group’s advice, I changed I to Ellen and submitted the story to a journal. It was accepted! I think changing I to Ellen made all the difference. Plus, I used some descriptive words just like the group members recommended, something that wasn’t that hard to do once I began really focusing on the scene and characters.

The group met Thursday morning, and I was determined to have something to submit. I didn’t want them to see my BIG PROJECT yet, so I sent four short pieces that I’ve recently written to prompts. I’ve used prompts before, but it wasn’t until I heard Bob Strother, a North Carolina writer and the keynote speaker at our recent workshop, that I realized it isn’t  necessary to follow adhere strictly to the prompt.

For instance, in A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves, the prompt for September 13 is “She left a note.” A few months ago, I would have used that phrase word-for-word in whatever writing it inspired. Now I’m thinking of using the prompt for the way my protagonist (Ellen) felt when she got in her car and read the note, “Ice cream and juice.” Stay tuned. It’s going to be good.

I’m over my 500 words, the recommended word limit for blogs, but I have to include a quote from Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic. “I will fall asleep with my face in my dinner plate if someone starts discoursing to me about the academic distinction between true mastery and mere craft.” She then goes on to say many other clever and funny things that I might share in another post.

For now, I’m learning the craft and am aware that I’m a long way from mastery. But does it matter? I’m learning and having fun doing it. What about you?

Posted in critique groups, Liz Gilbert, writing, writing groups, writing prompts | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Write On!

Does it bother me that no one reads these blogs except for Laura Lilly? Not really. I’d love it, of course, if more people read and commented on my posts, but developing a readership wasn’t my primary intention for creating the blog. The purpose was to share information and insight on the things I was reading and writing. If people wanted to read them, that’d be swell. If not, it was good practice for me.

Whether anyone ever reads my ramblings or not, writing is something that I have to do. I could just keep my thoughts in a private journal, but anyone can do that, right? While there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s something else I’ve been working on (in addition to practicing the craft): being more courageous about getting it out there.

It saddens me to think of the people I know whose voices and abilities are much superior to mine but who are reluctant to let anyone see their work. They’re afraid of censure, ridicule, or rejection. Some of you who are reading this might be thinking, “Well, maybe they just want to write for therapeutic reasons and have no intention of anyone reading their work.”

Fine. That could be true. However, I know literally dozens of people who want to share their thoughts, sometimes with primarily family and close friends, but in some cases with a wider audience. An acquaintance has written a manuscript about a controversial topic and is reluctant to share his ideas, even on a blog. He’s afraid people might “hate” him and dismiss his work as rubbish. I say, “So what?” I also say, “You can count on it, Buddy.” No matter what you do or how sterling the work is, people will ridicule and criticize.

Does it matter? Not really.

Advice on dealing with criticism abounds, and here are a few of my favorite quotes from people I admire.

“To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Aristotle

While the esteemed philosopher pretty much nailed it, I have to add one little thought. Often people will criticize you even if you say nothing, do nothing, and are nothing (in the world’s estimation), for they will say you are dull or socially inept or lazy.

I wanted to include these lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson because of a conversation some friends and I recently had about weeds. Yes, weeds. The gist of the conversation was that some weeds are indeed beautiful and we wondered who it was who declared them as valueless, undesirable, or troublesome plants. Even little children are attracted to them, and I have often been the recipient of glorious yellow dandelions from my grandchildren.

“Once in a golden hour

I cast to earth a seed.

Up there came a flower,

The people said, a weed.”

And finally, Dale Carnegie’s reminder that “Nobody kicks a dead dog” is funny, short, and right on target. Be alive and moving and creating even if it makes you a subject for derision or scorn.

Encouraging other people to write and to share those stories, pieces, articles, essays, poems with others wasn’t my original intention, but evidently it’s something I feel strongly about…and perhaps something I need to pay attention to.

Write on!

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Chocolate Truffles or Chocolate Covered Cherries?

It could have been the dark chocolate truffles or chocolate covered cherries. Or maybe it was the Rice Krispy treats that Kathryn brought. Whatever the reason, our writing group was super energetic, almost wired, last night. The meeting wasn’t about critiques. It was about workshops, past and future, our next book, and some additional learning and growing opportunities that will begin in January. The discussion got so lively and rich that LaShella and I actually had to take notes to make sure we remembered it all.

Our first writing workshop was Saturday, September 26 at the downtown campus of Central Carolina Technical College, and we spent most of our time last night going over the evaluations of the attendees. The venue, food, speakers, presentations, topics, panel discussion were evidently enjoyed by all who took the time to complete an evaluation form—about 50 percent of those who attended. Had the other 50 percent taken the time to submit evaluations, the discussion last night might have been different.

High marks don’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. Although writers and wannabe writers liked the food, many were dissatisfied with lunch—specifically with the staleness of the bread and the lack of vegan choices. They enjoyed, however, the breakfast and snack items that were available throughout the day. Also, while attendees enjoyed the sessions, many wished they had been a tad longer. A couple of people also mentioned that they’d like a mix and mingle time.

Since we had more than one topic to discuss, our fearless leader and chapter president smoothly moved on to the next item on the agenda: our next anthology. Earlier this year we made the decision to publish a book one year and hold a workshop the next. Alternating years makes such projects more doable and successful. Whether hosting an event or compiling a book, we want our group projects to be quality.

This part of the evening, from my perspective, is when the discussion got revved up a notch or two. As we threw our ideas into the proverbial pot, everyone became more animated. Well, just about everyone. I think our newest member was second-guessing her decision to join our group.

Among other things, our first priority was deciding on a theme. Families, connections, universal themes of humanity, “heart” stories, or what? Did all entries have to be nonfiction as in our previous book or could a fiction piece or two be included? Should we divide the book into fiction, nonfiction, and poetry sections, or should we submit whatever we wanted to and then organize the selections according to theme and place them in appropriate chapters?

We decided the latter was the best choice for now, and I look forward to reading some good stuff soon, especially a story about men and feathers, a topic introduced by one of the members. We also decided that this time around, there would be some parameters about submission quality. Every piece would be critiqued in the group first, thus saving the editor(s) a lot of unnecessary labor. And everyone would have to follow some other guidelines about font, format, spacing, and other manuscript musts. No using the tab key to indent paragraphs!

By this time, LaShella and I had pretty much devoured all of the Rice Krispy treats, and there was still one more item on the agenda: improving the craft. We made a tentative plan to study Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way as a group, and since our newest member, Ashley, has organized such sessions in North Carolina, she agreed to be our facilitator. But that’s for January.

This evening, as I review the goings-on of last night, I wonder why more people don’t join critique groups. Do they not want to improve their writing? Don’t they want to get together with like-minded individuals that will encourage and support them?

Posted in writing, writing groups | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Rainy Days and Mondays

We’ve had quite the deluge here in South Carolina. Some people were hit much harder than others. Here on Brook Drive, we have water, power, dry floors, and reasonably clear streets. We have food too, and I’ve been practicing my culinary skills. Fortunately for us, we also have enough space to move about without bumping into each other 24/7.

Although I’m a little reluctant to admit this in view of so many others’ plights this afternoon, I’m going to risk the resentment, ire, and backlash to say that in some ways I’ve semi-enjoyed the days of being sequestered. If the roads were clear (and still there), I’d likely be traipsing off to Wal-Mart, meeting a friend for lunch, or setting out on an adventure of some sort.

As it is, however, I’m confined to the house for a bit and am determined not to harp on the horrid conditions or do what Albert Ellis refers to as “awfulizing.” It’s awful that bridges are out, homes are flooded, cars are floating, and people can’t get to work. It’s also awful that people are without power, water, and internet access. Some people have died. It’s all awful, and I don’t want to add my negativity to the already full slate of it.

That said, one of the things I’ve done to prevent cabin fever is read a lot and write a little. Yesterday I reread bits and pieces of A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically. Later today, I’ll likely write a review of it, but for now I just want to offer kudos for one of the best-written, most interesting, thought-provoking, humorous, serious, educational books I’ve read this year.

Somehow Jacobs, an agnostic, has written a book that discusses everything from polygamy to homosexuality and tithe paying to snake handling without being offensive or preachy. He reports interviews with rabbis, a Jehovah’s witness, an Amish man, fundamentalist Christians, red letter Christians, atheists, and dozens of other people, and he does so with respect. No one would be offended by this book, and every one (every open-minded one) would be better informed.

Another book I’ve revisited is An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine. The story of an older woman living in Beirut who spends her days translating books into Arabic, the novel reveals much about her beloved city and books too numerous to mention. Having worked in a bookstore for decades, the protagonist, Aaliya, has become quite learned and frequently refers to passages in books and their authors. She also mentions classical music that has moved her.

Reading the novel inspired and educated me. While reading about Aaliya’s life, I jotted down several titles, authors, and musical pieces that I plan to investigate. In fact, I’ve already begun listening to classical music playing softly in the background while reading. (Amazon Prime makes this easily possible.) There’s something profound on just about every page of Alameddine’s book. Here’s an example: “Literature gives me life, and life kills me. Well, life kills everyone.” And a page or two later, “Beginnings are pregnant with possibilities.”

Yes, Aaliya, you’re so right. The rest of the afternoon stretches out before me, pregnant with possibilities of things to experience. One of the things I realized while reading An Unnecessary Woman was that no matter how dire the situation around her, including bloodshed, bombings, attacks, and malice,Aaliya’s life went on as “normal.”

No one’s life in South Carolina is “normal” today, but like Aaliya, mine goes on. For this afternoon, I think I’ll start with tackling an ant invasion (small black ones) and then move on to some school work. After that, I’ll consider waxing a newly painted bookcase, and later, I’ll again check on my fellow South Carolinians.

Posted in A.J. Jacobs, Rabih Alameddine, reading, storms. books, writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

27 Buzzards

I got a rather cryptic message from one of my brothers yesterday. “27 buzzards” is all it said. Assuming there would be more to follow, I forgot about those old buzzards for a while and went back to recalling this past Saturday’s creative writing workshop in Camden.

Judging from our turnout, the happy faces, and several positive comments and emails, I think it was a successful event. After our local writing group meets to discuss its pluses and minuses next week, I might be singing another song, especially after looking over the evaluation forms that evening.

From today’s perspective, here’s what many seemed to like:

*The facility. Held at the downtown campus of Central Carolina Technical College, the building provided ample classroom space, up-to-date technology, and the perfect layout for moving about and for moments of conversation along the way.

*The setting in the heart of the city was perfect. Two out-of-owners stopped by Friday evening as we were setting up and asked for restaurant recommendations. We offered several in the downtown area, and they       opted for Sam Kendall’s located a skip and a hop from the campus.

*The food. We provided lunch prepared by The Everyday Gourmet, and most people seemed pleased with the three choices. While having veggie and gluten-free options might have added more satisfying options for some attendees, we had decided to abide by the KISS principle and Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. Throughout the day, we provided fruit, various breads, gluten-free crackers, granola bars and donuts.

*The classes and presenters. Although I haven’t seen the evaluations, the buzz in the hall was good, very good. And get this. A friend emailed me to say she had picked up something in the family history class that changed her life. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Because we felt that learning the craft was important, we chose to focus more on writing “first one word, then another” than on publishing. Telling stories, creating poems, writing memoirs and family histories, and revising one’s work were the topics of the four classes. The keynote speaker, Bob Strother, shared ideas about listening for the story and reminded the writers that stories are virtually everywhere.

*Panel discussion. During lunch, we had a panel discussion on topics ranging from publishing options to the value of critique groups. We were happy that participants had questions, and I particularly enjoyed the responses to inquiries about daily writing routines. One panelist, Kim Blum-Hyclak,  reminded the audience that even when she wasn’t sitting at the computer, she was still writing. Ideas can come while folding laundry and mixing salads.

*Helpful hints. Bob Strother talked about using prompts, and while  I’m familiar with this process, I’d never considered sharing a prompt with another person until Saturday. Each day someone shares a new prompt with a partner, and by day’s end they report back to each other with what they’ve written. Bob further suggested six-word stories, six-sentence stories, and a variety of other possibilities. There’s no judgment involved, just a way to get the muse mojo going.

Ah, 27 buzzards. Now I get it. That’s a prompt from my brother. Sounds like he got some valuable advice from the workshop. Now let’s see what I can do with his prompt. What would you do with 27 buzzards?

Posted in Camden Writers, family histories, memoir, writing, writing workshops | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Dreaming, Scheming, and Working

Tomorrow’s a big day for the Camden Writers. We’ve been working like Trojans for the past few months to plan a creative writing workshop, and our efforts will come to fruition tomorrow in beautiful historic Camden. The event will be held at the downtown campus of Central Carolina Techncial College, and after lunch we’ll adjourn to Books on Broad for a book signing and “meet and greet” with our three guest presenters—Bob Strother, Kim Blum-Hyclak, and Carla Damron.

Planning the event has reminded me of three things: the importance of teamwork, the abundance mentality, and the power of a dream.

Everyone in our local writing group played a part in this undertaking. Tasks involved contacting speakers, developing the agenda, planning lunch, creating postcards, handling registration, assembling gift baskets, purchasing supplies such as folders, and marketing the event. Those who weren’t as free to get involved in the preliminary jobs will make up for it tomorrow as we all work together to make the day meaningful to all present.

Looking at our lineup of presenters again this morning reminded me of Stephen Covey’s concept of the abundance mentality. There’s enough out there for everyone. We all own a piece of the pie, and just because someone seems to have a bigger wedge than you do, it doesn’t mean there’s not enough for you. There is. For instance, one of our speakers, Carla Damron, is a mystery novelist. I couldn’t write a mystery if my life depended on it, but I can write decent nonfiction pieces. She has a vivid imagination. I don’t, but it doesn’t mean there’s not a little sliver out there for me…for us.

Talent is abundant in the Carolinas. It resides not only within the speakers but also within beginning writers and writer wannabes. Some write poetry while others are wary of it—like me. I tell myself that I’m not creative enough to create a poem, that my mind doesn’t work that way, but who knows? After rubbing shoulders with Kim Blum-Hyclak, I might be able to spark a little poem.

Bob Strother, the keynote speaker, has won so many prizes and published so many stories (eighty) that some people might think, “Wow, what’s the use of trying when there’s someone like him on the scene?”  Instead think, “Wow, I know I can learn something from this writer about improving my story telling.”  It’s going to be hard to decide which of Bob’s books to buy from Books on Broad, but I’m leaning towards Shug’s Place.

Some of the Camden Writers will be presenting at the workshop too. Kathryn Etters Lovatt, Doug Wyant, and Myra Yeatts are sure to get everyone’s muse mojo going as they teach elements of story telling in “Story in a Box.” While these three are sharing tips on character development and dialogue, Brenda Remmes and Jane Gari will be teaching elements of writing family history and memoir, topics they’re both experienced in.

As I conclude this post and turn my thoughts even more towards tomorrow morning, I’m reminded of the power of an idea, a dream. After attending Rock Hill’s Intensive Writing Workshop a few times, I knew we could do something on a smaller scale. Once the seed was planted, there was no turning back. We knew there were people in and around Camden who wanted to know more about the craft of writing and wondered, “Is there anyone else out there?”

Tomorrow people with a desire to learn more about writing will have an opportunity to learn from those who are just a little farther along the path. It’s going to be an exciting, fun, educational happening, and just think: It’s taking place because a group of people with a dream worked together to share their enthusiasm for the written word.

Posted in Camden Writers, writing, Writing Workshop | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thankful for Asparagus

Since my son introduced me to the world of podcasts a few months ago, it’s become one of my favorite things to do while walking. I used to listen to my own thoughts, and then I discovered iTunes, and I couldn’t get enough of music, music, music. I tried Audible for a while too, but I’m too much of a tightwad to pay for the luxury of listening.

But those podcasts—wow! There’s something for everyone, and they’re free. My biggest challenge is in deciding what to listen to. Lately I’ve been going back and forth between Good Life Project, TEDTALKS, and Grammar Girl.

This morning I listened to an interview between Jonathan Fields and A. J. Jacobs on the Good Life Project podcast. I read Jacobs’ The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World a few years ago and was delighted to learn of his more recent books, The Year of Living Biblically and Drop Dead Healthy. Since I haven’t had the privilege of reading them yet, I’m sharing brief descriptions from Amazon.

(1) “A fascinating and timely exploration of religion and the Bible. A.J. Jacobs chronicles his hilarious and thoughtful year spent obeying―as literally as possible―the tenets of the Bible in The Year of Living Biblically….Jacobs’s extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges.”

(2) Drop Dead Healthy is “…the truly hilarious story of one person’s quest to become the healthiest man in the world….The story of his transformation is not only brilliantly entertaining, but it just may be the healthiest book ever written.”

On the podcast, Fields asked Jacobs to share one thing he’d taken away from each of his books, something he’d learned from the projects. This is where the podcast got interesting to me and when I decided to buy both books.

From writing The Year of Living Biblically, Jacobs’ primary takeaway was the importance of practicing gratitude. Today he earnestly tries to concentrate on the dozens of things that are good and that go right each day instead of the few that don’t. For instance, he’s grateful when an elevator reaches its destination instead of plummeting to the basement. When Jacobs eats asparagus, he’s thankful for the farmer who grew it, the truck driver who brought it to the store, and person who sold it to him.

In his book on health, Jacobs researched all manner of healthy practices and gave them a try. At the end of the year, his #1 takeaway was the importance of movement. Movement of some type each day benefits both body and mind; it aids in thinking and boosts mood. In case anyone thinks of exercises as a self-indulgent activity, Jacobs adds that he does it not just for himself but also for those he loves. He wants to be around for his family.

I’m not sure whether I like the idea of reading these books because of the author’s diligence in researching them, his writing skills, or his sense of humor. It could even be because these topics are right up my alley. Having taught psychology for more years than I care to remember, I know the importance of gratitude and positive thinking on mood and behavior.

And don’t get me started on movement. In Human Growth and Development, the “E” word (exercise) is discussed in every unit except infancy. Its importance in handling stress, combating the blues, and lowering blood pressure crops up in discussions on health psychology, abnormal psychology, and therapy.

Disraeli’s was onto something when he said, “My idea of an agreeable person is a person who agrees with me.” I agree with Jacobs’ findings and am looking forward to reading these two books.

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