Archive for the 'Writing Roots' Category

Writing Roots: Writing is the Best Revenge

Christina Katz By Christina Katz
Beginning writers often struggle with permission issues. We may wonder, Who do we think we are to choose a path like writing? We may feel that writing is selfish or self-indulgent. We may struggle with negative internalized voices that tell us our work stinks or our efforts and energy are a waste of time. We may feel like we can’t write because it’s not practical, profitable or likely that we will succeed.

For anyone who has ever had any of this kind of stinkin’ thinkin’, I’d offer this: write anyway. Write because the mere act of writing is an act of self-expression and is therefore radical. Write because writing can move you from immobilized-by-self-doubt into empowered by self-confidence.

I should know. This is what writing has done for me. I use the word “empowered” purposely. It means to “give power to” and “to make powerful.” From my own experience, the power to put words on the page cannot come from anywhere else. Real power can only come from within. Empowerment comes from doing, even when you feel just the opposite of powerful-even when your own resistance bogs you down and threatens to drown you.

The more you dare to do, the more you fight the lure of entropy, the more empowered you will feel. Therefore:

No matter how impractical, you must write.
No matter how unlikely that you will succeed, you must write.
No matter how many other folks look at you askance, or question the devotion of your time, or even scowl or frown or ask if you are crazy, you still must write.

I say to hell with practicality. Show me a person who has said yes to his- or herself, and I see an empowered person. I can’t think of anything more refreshing than a person in touch with her expression in the world.

The world is full of no. The world is full of shadows and fear and dread. Real power comes from the inside. When you let yourself act on who you think you are, you can go from shackled to liberated. You can open the door to any prison you’ve formerly chosen to live inside and walk right out the door.

The word yes is like a magic elixir. Try it out for yourself. Just for one day, say yes to yourself all day. You feel like taking a break from work? Do it. You feel like screaming into a pillow while you pound on the bed with all your might. Do it. You feel like cranking up the music and dancing around wildly? Do. It. You feel like doing nothing? Do nothing.

Do you feel like writing?

I think you can probably see where I’m going with this.

If you want to write, write.

And take note. Deprivation, especially the kind that becomes monotonous, is a form of self-abuse and many have made an art form of it. Deprivation creates misery, which is a contagious disease.

By the way, don’t try to rescue miserable people. Save yourself instead. At the very least, put on your own air mask first.

Back to today. What’s it going to be? Do you want to take twenty minutes to let yourself write today? It sure beats being miserable.

I say, let yourself write. Let your words rip and roar. It really is the best revenge and it just might save your life.

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Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). She started her platform “for fun” seven years ago and ended up on Good Morning America. She teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.

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Writing Roots: Books as Friends

Christina Katz By Christina Katz

I picked up a book called The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood (a fellow Writer’s Digest author) and took it to Starbucks for a date. Over an afternoon Americano, I fell in love. The combination of truth and encouragement was exactly what I’d needed at the moment. I’d found a new friend.

Books have always been friends to me, and inspirational writing books have always held a special place in my heart. I’m sure many other writers feel the same way. In real life, I haven’t always had a pal saying to me, “You can be a writer, if that’s what you really want to do.” I did not personally have the chance to know E.B. White, who said, “Writing is an act of faith and nothing else.” (Though I would challenge him on that, since it strikes me as a somewhat romanticized oversimplification.)

What I’m getting at is that any person who feels called to write deserves to hear the same encouraging voices I heard, at least and until real, live encouraging voices of writer-friends can be acquainted. Maybe you can’t pick up the phone and get a writing friend on the other end of the line. Maybe you can’t Skype your old writing buddy overseas and talk screen-to-screen about the current exciting developments in your careers. Maybe you don’t have writing students who have become friends.

Therefore if the first encouraging voice you hear comes from inanimate objects (books), what of it? Books may not be alive; yet they sometimes seem to be. They live on the shelf always within arm’s reach and are there when you need them. People may or may not always be this consistent. Certainly if the people in your life are not, I hope you will avail yourself of the lovely encouraging voices that encouraged me.

So take a look at my home office bookshelf, and meet the books that have withstood the test of time and many house cleanings. Quite possibly, they are among your favorites, as well:

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Before life coaches were popular, Natalie Goldberg had a spiritual teacher and the world was ripe for that perspective. Writing Down the Bones is not just a book about Goldberg’s philosophy and teaching tools on the writing life, it’s the story of a woman struggling to transform her life. Because of this, she’s always besides you, and she never talks down to you.

What is Natalie Goldberg up to now? I had to find out. See for yourself.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
It’s no surprise that another one of my favorites is about the struggle to become a writer despite the challenges we are dealt in life. How can a writer succeed? It’s all in the title – bird by bird and word by word. There really isn’t any other way. Readers, myself included, love Lamott for her transparency, her humor and her willingness to tackle tough subjects and then turn them into poetry. My only regret is that she doesn’t, and has never to my knowledge had, a website.

Want to learn more about Anne Lamott? Check out her Wikipedia entry.

The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write by Julia Cameron
Julia Cameron was my matchmaker. Because of The Artist’s Way, I met my husband. I also learned sustainable creative habits I still rely on today. But The Right to Write will also always have a special place in my heart. My copy is signed. It’s punctuated with condensed truth and wisdom, just like everything that Julia writes. I consider her a pioneer and champion of the creative spirit. Cynics can find their own heroes.

What’s Julia up to now? Here’s her official website.

It is no coincidence that the first books I’ve written have ended up on the writing reference shelves in bookstores — that’s where I discovered some of my earliest writing friends. If you care to share yours, I’d be happy to hear about them.

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Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). She started her platform “for fun” seven years ago and ended up on Good Morning America. She teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.

Writing Roots: I (heart) Steve Jobs

Christina KatzBy Christina Katz

1984, besides being the title of a once futuristic book by George Orwell, is the year I matriculated college. Thanks to the generosity of my parents and the technological acumen of Steve Jobs, I received a brand new 128 K Macintosh computer complete with floppy disk drive. What seventeen-year-old kid from western Massachusetts wouldn’t have been thrilled? Cutting open that gigantic, white box and carefully lifting out the Styrofoam-encrusted tan-colored computer, mouse and keyboard with the curlicue cord was one of the most promise-laden moments in my seventeen-year-old life.

Looking back, I became pretty attached to that rectangular plastic box of chips and gizmos. Not only was my Mac cute, it was user-friendly like a little R2D2 buddy. My first Mac spared many a professor my atrocious handwriting. More importantly, it prepared me for the current Internet age. And thank goodness for that.

While many people avoid computers most of the time, writers and authors cannot afford such luxuries. Besides, who would want to miss out on all that the Internet has to offer? It is not only a powerful tool for distributing content, sharing ideas, and promoting visibility, it’s also just plain fun to explore and diddle around with new technology. Today I’ve become a writer who can: build a website, manage a blog and distribute an e-zine without a floppy disk drive in sight.

I’m typically a late adopter, allowing others to work the bugs out and prove or disprove the worthiness of the latest, greatest technological advances. But, I stay current with what’s going on online and stay abreast of the latest technological breakthroughs and what they mean to me as a professional communicator. In the meantime, I meet people online every day I would not otherwise meet. I use the World Wide Web to spread the word about my books and classes. I catch up on my friends’ and former students’ lives via their blogs. I keep in closer touch with friends and family thanks to email.

And while I would be the first to admit that there is a lot more to life than the Internet, I would be hard-pressed to imagine my life without it. Today, we are a four-Mac family. My daughter plays on PBSkids.org on the old eMac for limited amounts of time. My husband swears he didn’t twist the screen off of my old iBook (even though I know he did). I still gave him the free iPod that accompanied my purchase of “Mabel,” my new laptop. For the majority of my workday, I sit at the desktop iMac in my home office much the same way I used to sit in my college dorm room tapping away on my first Mac’s keyboard twenty-four years ago.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for getting me my first Mac. And thank you, Steve Jobs. If I had to use a PC, life just wouldn’t be the same.

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Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, is working on her second book for Writer’s Digest Books, Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (now available for pre-order at Amazon!). She has also written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on Good Morning America. Christina is a popular writing instructor who has taught hundreds of writers over the past seven years. She blogs daily at The Writer Mama Riffs and is publisher and editor of two zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. More at http://www.thewritermama.com/.

Writing Roots: People First

Christina Katz By Christina Katz

I credit Bertrand Goldberg for helping me learn that writing is about people, not words.

Bertrand Goldberg (1913-1997) remains an icon in American architecture even after his death. He understood that form should follow function in the most humanitarian way. He is best known for designing Marina City, a building complex that soars in two gigantic, corn-cob-shaped cylinders above the Chicago River and has been featured in movies including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Blues Brothers.

According to Wikipedia, “Goldberg was known for innovative structural solutions to complex problems, particularly for residential, institutional, and industrial design projects.”

Goldberg also designed and built Raymond Hilliard Homes, a lesser-known public housing project in Chicago. Completed close to the same time as Marina City, this project put the best ideas from his private structure to use for the public good. When I interviewed Goldberg, I was touched that it was this project–not the one that had brought him the most press– that he was most excited about.

He discussed the way the shape of each unit’s interior could allow a single mother simultaneously make dinner and keep an eye on her kids in the living room. I tear up still, remembering how much he cared about that particular aspect of the form following the function. He wanted to use his own genius for the benefit of others in need.

I interviewed Goldberg just a few years before his death. Since I was a fiction MFA student, I was completely out of my comfort zone. I’d been selected by one of my professors to write an article for the journalism department at Columbia College Chicago. I arrived at his home in Chicago’s Gold Coast as a starving writing student in my twenties, bumbling with my hand-held tape recorder, nervous, and not wanting my inexperience to show–which of course it did. Quite frankly, I was a mess. That day was my first real interview. And that’s when my education in journalism began.

When the final article was published in Chicago Arts and Communications Magazine, it became abundantly clear that I had no idea how to be a decent journalist. I still wince when I re-read the article. But I learned a lesson that was worth every bit of the discomfort of doing something new for the first time.

The day I interviewed Bertrand Goldberg, one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, is the day I realized that writing was not about me, locked away from the world in a room, composing genius on paper, but about the impact my words would ultimately have on others. From that day forward, the fantasy that had previously loomed so large — the same one that has become such a writer stereotype: Tortured Writer Seeks Greatness Through Creation of Literary Masterpiece — became obsolete.

And that was a good thing.

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Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, is working on her second book for Writer’s Digest Books, Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (now available for pre-order at Amazon!). She has also written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on Good Morning America. Christina is a popular writing instructor who has taught hundreds of writers over the past seven years. She blogs daily at The Writer Mama Riffs and is publisher and editor of two zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. More at http://www.thewritermama.com/.
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Writing Roots: Learning Shakespearese

Christina KatzBy Christina Katz

Remember when you were in high school, probably a freshman, and you were introduced to the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet? How many of you dutifully toted home your Shakespeare readers and tried to puzzle through the iambic pentameter and other poetic meters?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know what the heck this Shakespeare fella was trying to say, which only made all the hoopla about how great he was more frustrating.

Through the remaining four years of high school, I tried to hide how the masterpieces of the bard plagued me, carrying my frustration along with me when I matriculated into the hallowed halls of the Ivy League. Though the campus was familiar (I attended the same college as my father), I felt intimidated by the lay of the intellectual landscape. My teachers were revered professors in historic classrooms, and anything worth reading had to be “Literary (with a capital “L”), and all the Literature was to be approached in a decidedly analytical and critical manner. Which brings us to the illuminated professor who finally cracked the Shakespearean code for me.

“Here are the assigned plays for the quarter,” announced a petite, bustling blond on the first day of class. Professor Boose looked the polar opposite of my typically male, fairly monotone, slack-shouldered professors wearing tweed. Professor Boose wore skirts in bright colors and blouses with frills. And she was practically on fire about the dead English playwright. Up until this point in my college career, I doubted whether I would survive the English major I had dragged my feet to declare. But then, Professor Boose handed me the key that would unlock the mysteries of the written word. “If you have trouble keeping up with the reading, at least listen to the recordings I’ve placed on reserve in Sanborn Library.”

Sitting in Sanborn later that week in an overstuffed chair wearing over-sized, padded headphones, I listened to a scratchy recording of “Measure by Measure.” And for the first time, I heard. A door in my mind that had previously remained closed opened, and I finally got Shakespeare. Not only did I hear the words that brought the play in full glorious pageantry to life in my imagination, I could actually enter that world in my mind’s eye and explore it. And so I did in a paper for Professor Boose entitled, Coining Imagery in “Measure by Measure.”

Okay, so the title was a bit dull. But the paper was energetic, fueled by my recent breakthrough that words coming in through my ears, not just my eyes, could instantly manifest a world. For the first time since I’d been in college, I enjoyed writing a paper. And that imaginary world that existed in my mind, the one I’d heard on the recording and entered, the one I could move around in and explore, was the same world I wrote that paper from and the same world I write from today. It’s a realm of the imagination where “experience” can be heard, seen, touched, tasted and smelled-and then recorded onto the page. I can go there. You can go there. We can all go there. And bring back what we notice to share.

I will never forget Professor Boose’s response, written in blue ink on the title page of my paper. It said, “Thank you, I really learned a lot from you.” I was both shocked and pleased. She’d learned from me? That was nothing compared to what I’d learned from her. For her excellent example of inspired teaching, I owe Professor Lynda Boose a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you, wherever you are.

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Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, is working on her second book for Writer’s Digest Books, Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (now available for pre-order at Amazon!). She has also written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on Good Morning America. Christina is a popular writing instructor who has taught hundreds of writers over the past seven years. She blogs daily at The Writer Mama Riffs and is publisher and editor of two zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. More at http://www.thewritermama.com/.
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Writing Roots: Literary Lust

By Christina Katz

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawerence. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Any of these might spring to mind in an adult discussion about lust and literature. But when you’re a tween, not so much.

When I was growing up, parents didn’t talk to their kids about sensitive subjects much, never mind sex. Or maybe they did on the West Coast, but not in New England, where I grew up. I also doubt there were as many articles and books about how and when to have such conversations with your kids as there are today. Parents probably just hoped someone else would take care of it, so they would be off the hook.

But what kid’s curiosity wasn’t spurred by those little blue booklets that were handed out in health class in seventh grade? Or was it sixth? I really can’t remember. But I do remember that it was really poor timing. Worse, the information in those little blue books was so scant that it was just enough to spark a much larger curiosity that would inevitably run its own course.

In my tween years, I took my curiosity to the library where I began to explore my lust for, ahem, literature with titles like Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? Of course, Margaret’s dilemmas seem pretty tame by today’s standards, but they were good enough for me. I blazed through the entire Judy Blume collection, concluding with Forever, of course.

Since my mother was an avid reader, I easily borrowed tomes like The Thorn Birds or plastic-covered gothic romances from her book trove. But that just left me in search of more provocative stuff. And I found it, in a home where I babysat. The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort-how could I resist? I didn’t.

Appetite partially satisfied, I began trolling the adult aisles at the library. Clearly, the adults were keeping all the good stuff to themselves. In the Romance aisle, I discovered authors like Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins and we became secret friends for several years.

When it comes to good old-fashioned lust, I don’t think books are such a bad place for young people to explore. If more resources on steamy subjects had been available in my own home, say on a low shelf in plain sight, perhaps I would not have felt compelled to seek the information elsewhere. But then again, healthy curiosity is not easily contained. And isn’t that what libraries are for? To satisfy a lust for literature no matter what the reader’s age?

And thank goodness for that.

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Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, is working on her second book for Writer’s Digest Books, Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (now available for pre-order at Amazon!). She has also written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on Good Morning America. Christina is a popular writing instructor who has taught hundreds of writers over the past seven years. She blogs daily at The Writer Mama Riffs and is publisher and editor of two zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. More at http://www.thewritermama.com/.

Writing Roots: The Economics of Willingness

Christina Katz

By Christina Katz

Many a literary icon has stood before a crowd at a writing conference counseling young or new writers on how to develop a “thick skin” and persevere. They typically draw on an old file of rejection letters as an example of hard-wrought experience accumulated in their greener years.

The promise goes: if you submit your writing often, eventually someone will recognize your literary talent and you will finally be “in.” Success, like that of your literary icons, presumably follows. But only if you are ambitious about submitting work until you break through — or break down.

Unfortunately, such old-school advice is prone to wearing out eager writers with overwork, discouragement and repeated rejection before they have a chance to find their footing in an extremely competitive and increasingly complicated literary marketplace.

In the past, writers might have been able to justify time invested in aiming high, in hopes of direct feedback from an editor on the quality of their writing. But busy as editors are today, with job descriptions expanding and coworkers disappearing all around them, rejections more often come to a writer as silence, not a handwritten note. So accumulating rejections has little short- or long-term career-growth value for the writer.

The person who broke this spell for me about eight years ago is a writing mentor of mine, Wendy Burt. She gave me refreshing advice that was news to me at the time. What she suggested was simple, yet radical: Aim lower. Even better, she suggested, aim for targets I might actually be able to hit on the first try.

I’d never heard such common sense coming out of the mouth of a writer before. But come to think of it, I didn’t personally know many actual, working writers back then. I mostly had a line up of literary icons I worshipped from afar. So, instead of aiming high and going for a “nice” rejection, I should aim lower and actually hope to hit the mark? It sounded just crazy enough to try.

Turns out the advice Wendy gave me was not only practical but constructive. I could stop aiming absurdly far and high for my level of experience, and I could start, humbly, hoping to finally hit my marks and gain some real writer experience.

I started submitting to publications that were looking for submissions by writers of my level. At the same time, I stopped waiting to break into publications that were swarmed with unseasoned writers like me. Big projects like writing a nonfiction book (a leap quite a bit beyond my experience level at the time) were abandoned. And small, doable projects were embraced, one at a time, one after the other.

Not surprisingly, when my aim became more appropriate, I started accumulating clips at a rapid rate, which led to publication in higher-quality and wider-reaching publications. My career, formerly stalled, started to take flight. I was leaving a trail of bull’s eyes in my wake. The transition was complete. I embraced writing simply as a job, not as part of a quest for literary greatness.

With this block removed from my mind, I started to feel like a modest success, which echoed reality. I was a modest success. I found that there were a lot of things I could do with my modest success beyond writing–practical things that also earned money and helped me become better known.

Over time, I found that little successes could be leveraged into bigger successes. I started to develop increasingly professional habits. I accepted that some habits I’d formerly eschewed needed to become part of my routine, like market research and pitching my work. These were skills that I’d formerly looked down on, but soon the tasks of “lesser writers” were coming in handy. Using them consistently over time, I eventually landed and wrote a nonfiction book as a natural extension of the professional momentum I’d created.

This is actually an attitude that works for anyone in any creative field. Get off your high horse, if you happen to sitting on one. Roll up your sleeves and get to work with the common folk. Lofty goals, no matter how dreamy and real they feel in the shower, might actually be getting in the way of real progress.

Once I stopped aspiring to a literary fantasy, I wasn’t waiting for my due greatness any longer. And I wasn’t suffering gobs of rejection to get it, either. I was just a working writer racking up bylines and paychecks.

What has become apparent to me in the process is that my writing success actually has had more to do with the economics of willingness, and less to do with my impossible dreams of eventual greatness.

If you can relate, perhaps forget about accumulating rejections you can share like so many battle scars and go for likely successes instead. You’ll land them when you use appropriate aim.

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Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, is working on her second book for Writer’s Digest Books. She has also written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on Good Morning America. Christina is a popular writing instructor who has taught hundreds of writers over the past seven years. She blogs daily at The Writer Mama Riffs and is publisher and editor of two zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. More at http://www.thewritermama.com/.


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  • This Blog Moving to ChristinaKatz.com as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: http://christinakatz.com. And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
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