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The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Lucky Number Thirteen

Let’s talk luck.

Serendipity is a fickle and chaos driven goddess. Sometimes she saves us from that random bus only to drop us into an elevator shaft while we’re reveling in our good fortune. As a writer, it can often feel like some guys (and gals) have all of her attention and the rest of us are left, toiling in the trenches for even a kind rejection letter.

But most self-earned successful people will tell you its not so much about being in the right place (or write place?) at the right time, so much as creating the right place consistently.

How do we create an open door for “luck” in our lives? It’s not too difficult, but it does require patience, perseverance, and consistency.

“Damn it! I knew there was a catch! This is bullshit! I want overnight success!” 

Don’t we all, skippy…but unless you’re planning to marry a train wreck of a Kardashian you’re gonna have to do it the old fashioned way.

1.) Just like the lottery, your chances of winning increase by how much and how often you play.

You can’t expect to get that six-figure deal with one query letter to one big agent. Think of querying like a giant firecracker filled with the sparkly goodness of your novel, not a single-tipped arrow. That doesn’t mean you don’t bother aiming the damn thing, but you find the publishers and publications who take your kind of crazy, you follow their guidelines, and then you fire that baby off into the universe.

Wile-E-Coyote
Don’t singe yourself

 

2.) Make the chances you get work for you

Okay, you’re not always going to get the acceptance letters you were hoping for, you’re not always going to get the speaking gig or to meet with the agent you’d planned on at a conference. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing but a blank slate out there. Serendipity  exist in the overlooked opportunities.

Maybe they’re in things that you feel are beneath you, maybe they’re in jobs or gigs that you feel you aren’t exactly qualified for, maybe they’re unpaid or paltry in payback. But part of building your platform is taking risks, chances, and putting out there what you do have.

Volunteer to teach a writing class to an elementary school, offer up your book for free or discounted to book clubs that may be interested, try selling it at local coffee shops, be a beta reader for a fellow writer, guest speak at conferences or writing group meetings. It’s not just about marketing, its about seeing where the world can use your talent and opening your arms to offer it. Sometimes when we do this, Serendipity takes our hand.

two person hold hands
Gosh, I hope she washed it first. (Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on Pexels.com)

Disclaimer: When I started out as a writer, it was a non-negotiable fact that you took any guest blog, free article, un-paid ad copy you could to build your resume and presence. But you can’t work for free forever, and please don’t. You should reach a point where you request and follow leads that will compensate you for what you’re worth. If they don’t, load that shotgun, and take a new aim.

3.) Finally, luck is made, not stumbled upon, by those who look for it, work for it, and build their lives and routines around the openness and willingness to jump at the chances that come their way.

Saying yes. Especially when it scares you. Saying yes, even when you might stumble down that elevator shaft. Saying yes even if you’re not sure you’re good enough or bright enough. Saying yes, even if it means stepping off your life-path for a glint of time.

Yes, I’ll send my novel out to three agents today. Yes, I will write that article. Yes, I will stand up in front of a crowd (well, a ZOOM meeting these days) and talk about what’s worked for me in plotting my sci/fi/cowboy/romance/horror trilogy (hint: its probably a lot of post-its and some mind-altering substance).

Serendipity is a seedling. She might show up randomly in our garden, in a burst of color. But we increase our odds of seeing her if we tend the ground, water and feed her, and give her plenty of light.

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

How will you make your own luck today?

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #12: It Can’t Rain All The Time

I used to consider myself an optimist.

But if you’ve been following me lately, you’ve probably seen a shift in demeanor. Let’s face it, nothing is normal in the new ‘now’ and I am no exception. You see, I’m a creature of routine. I’m an early-rising, mile-running, kettle-ball-swinging, lunch-packing, 1,000-word-before breakfast machine. I live my life by the beat of the day and the rolling pace of a full life. I’m going to school. I started an internship. I was in the process of finishing books and starting a new blog series.

Then…well. You know.

Life stole my beat. Circumstances started to peel away the fullness of my life. Tasks dropped off like over-ripe fruit, destined to waste on the ground.

And all I could do was watch. All any of us could do was watch.

And half the world shouted to get up and do something with this opportunity but I don’t think many of us felt the drive in our heart to listen. The other half shouted to self-care ourselves into a state of zen-like enlightenment, unicorn pajamas or Netflix binges.

But the paralysis settled, a blocked river swelling the banks with murky and stagnant water.

We were not given the time to grieve the loss of the life we were building. We have no assurances that it will ever come back, only the knowledge that nothing will ever be the same.

And maybe we feel guilty that we don’t want to let go, and we feel morally responsible to accept the change, and we feel angry, and we fell regret, and we feel lethargy, and we feel our pants get tighter and our morning’s wasted with a paralyzing sense of not knowing what will come from this. Or even what we should do in the present hour.

And the voices from all around shout well-intended advice about all of our spare time and howling at the moon, but to some, spare time means no job and rent coming due. Some don’t get spare time, they get understaffed and over worked in under prepared hospitals, fighting governments that horde supplies for what purpose I don’t know (except I’m sure there’s a profit in it for those who need the profits the least). And howling together isn’t as effective at showing solidarity by voting for someone who would have actually taken care of our neighbors four years ago with better health care, or one who would have listened to science and helped to prevent the worst yet to come.

But this morning, I got up early.

I got up early, and though my gym is closed and I miss the familiar faces that I never really talked to before, I got on the Peloton and listened to some size-two Brit tell me to take back my day. And I had a quiet cup of coffee with my cat resting on my shoulders and I wrote. I listened to Hozier and sang back-up to the words

‘I came in from the outside, burned out from a joyride”

And I made my own normal in a time that is not normal.

I miss my job. I miss my routine. And though everyone touts that we’re in this together, the truth is that we are all in this alone. We all may be experiencing the tsunami, but no one else is in your life-preserver.

So, here’s my advice to you;

Grieve as long as you need. Pajama all you want. Cry and scream and be a pessimist for as long as you feel it, and get the hate and frustration off of your chest. But do, eventually, get it off your chest. Because the world will have to reemerge sometime, and we’ll need to come out with it. And when we do, rather than have a false sense of hope that someone else guilted you into feeling, come out with a heart that has been made stronger by the process of loss. One that chose to come back in its own time, and in staying true to itself, can do the work needed without a fluffy layer of guilt to drive it. One that knows the work lies in the painful changes of growth that mean fighting some big fights to protect everyone in this country, not just the shareholders.

Because right now it’s dark, and that darkness isn’t going to go away when we’re all allowed to ‘go back’ to the life left outside. We don’t need false sunshine and social-media guru’s, we need our own resilience to look at the world as a realist does. Accepting there will be clouds. Choosing to fight the man-made shade that still seeks to darken our collective sky. Knowing there is light behind it.

After all, it can’t rain all the time.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #11: Nothing But Time (and a few expletives)

Hello writers and readers…so by today…wait, what day is it?

Fuck if I know.

I don’t know the last time I took a shower, or ate something that wasn’t in the carb family. I do know that this debacle has taught me I can’t have bourbon on an empty stomach without severe physical, emotional, and social consequences.

So, what day is it?

It’s today.

Today you may have some time on your hands. Or…on the other hand (ha–see what I did there? Clever girl) you may not have a concept of time anymore so that last sentence is moot point. In any case, you have time to read this, ergo, you may have time to write a little bit and if there’s one thing you should definitely be doing these days, it’s writing.

So let’s be like frogs and hop to it…

(Yep…I said that. Shit, dude, I don’t know, I’m in a weird place, I think it comes from not wearing real pants for three weeks and giving up alcohol…)

Last week I encouraged you to journal throughout this strange, disconnected/connected world we’re in.

Example:

(Sometimes I think it would be easier to be all the way disconnected. Enough of this social teasing and lamenting not getting to hang out. (Introverts are adjusting well, except that all the people who normally leave our lairs during the day for school and work are now part…of…our…lairs…permanently. Thus the pajamas, and carbs, and sparkling water). And while we’re breaking apart some falsehoods about the benevolent humanity bandied about on-line, a pox on the trolls that come out on NextDoor to shame neighbors they no longer have to face in person for walking past them momentarily, within five feet instead of six. They’re just trying to get out of their lairs with their lair-lings before someone ends up in a shower curtain, so chill the fuck out)

Ahem…back on topic.

Assuming you are journaling, keep at it.

Every day on this wild ride is a different day and the elation and hope of one moment are just as important as the desolation and dark of the next. Write it all down.

But if you find you have some of ‘today’ left this week, I want you to write a short fiction piece and here are your topics to choose from:

1.) Write about the first year following an epidemic. If you’re a non-fiction writer, fill it with facts and likelihoods. Inspirational/psychological/self-help, write what you think the world will have learned (if anything). Dystopian/pirate/sci-fi–this is your moment to shine, baby. The point of view can be from one character, a country, or even from the perspective of a tree, street, animal…whatever paints your wagon.

2.) If you’re tired as fuck of thinking about epidemics, and fear, and empty toilet paper shelves, and the loud shouting voices on every screen you turn on… write a short story about a person who decides to spend a year of their life alone in the woods (a la Walden, if you will) What magic can be found in that solitude? What darkness? What does lonely mean to your character? Is it peaceful or is it exile? Write it from your POV, or pick a character you’re already working with…whatever slays your dragon.

I’m not talking long here, 5,000 words tops.

Happy Writing.

It’s Thursday.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: #10

I know it’s been a couple of weeks and I don’t expect this blog post is going to wow anyone or cause massive social change. It may not even get read, after all, I’m not here to give you the latest updates and numbers and calamity that’s been shouting, ceaselessly, in our faces for the last few weeks.

I’m here to tell you I’m not ok. As my friend sid says, my “give-a-shitter” is effectively broken and I haven’t been able to write much of anything. I swing from anxiety for my parents and at-risk loved ones to rebellious trips to the grocery store for an onion and a bottle of shampoo.

It shouldn’t make sense that I’m not writing, I have so much time, right? So much freedom to not go out and just hang in my pajamas. An introvert should be ecstatic that she no longer has to find excuses to not attend social obligations. But this introvert is also distrustful of the institution that has so easily taken the choice. This introvert has gone from someone who had at least a few hours alone time in the day for free-thinking, to someone who is a full-time-stay-at-home-mom-teacher-comforter-researcher-scientist-gym teacher-housekeeper-spanish teacher-stoic-source-of-calm who feels inadequate at all of it and obligated to keep being the ideal citizen. I should be able to thrive under any condition you put me in and raise a fine bunch of kids while doing it.

But I’m not thriving. Not creatively. Not in any way.

I sit down, in front of screen or page and the ideas that I know are bundled up inside feel trapped, covered by a very particular sense of gray and a heavy blanket of anxiety. I don’t have the luxury of this time. Shouldn’t I be planning a lesson or getting my kids out for a walk, or writing some cheery optimistic chalk bullshit on my neighborhood sidewalks so we don’t forget ‘we’re in this together!” Of course we’re in this together, we’ve got no other choice. It’s like walking into a prison and have some lemon-sunshine blond smile with perfect teeth and giggling “Welcome to Camp! We’re gonna have loads of fun! Just go with it! Oh, and if you complain you’re a vile piece of shit who doesn’t care about your neighbors! Here’s your pajamas and a set of sidewalk chalk!”

Overall, its as if my mind is holding in all of this beautiful stuff, interesting threads of story and plot in its sweaty, clenched hands and it looks at the world shouting the same repetitive rhetoric around, shrugs and says, “why bother?” Then pretty soon those ideas fade under the weight of gray around them. Until they disappear completely and all that’s left is the repetitive rhetoric.

So this lesson has no title. It has no direction. Except to say this, these are strange and harrowing times. You can argue there is hope in the social solidarity we are forming from six-feet away. But something feels off about this and I don’t know how the history of it will be written. So, I’m journaling every day. Words others will probably never see. Thoughts that can be as dark and complex or stupid and shallow as I need them to be on that particular day.

So that’s your assignment for the remaining weeks of this thing. Journal. The thoughts, fears, anxieties, joys (if you can find them good for your sunshine-blond soul), that change in every moment with the wobble of this event. Someday you may come back to it, read and remember. Or you may chose to burn it and hope never to go back to the person you were in those moments of dark. History is going to be written from these events, don’t let theirs be the only version.

Oh, and get outside. Its the only thing that’s saved me from some severe physical/mental damages (minor ones are still fair game). It’s actually quite pleasant when you can catch nature on her own.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #9: Mental Floss

My daughter and I recently had an interesting discussion due to a class assignment on mental health concerning OCD, depression, and various other mental challenges. Trying to explain some of the behaviors and levels of severity made me think about my own quirks and habits that can be both positive and bordering on detrimental.

 

Creativity comes with certain mental “flourishes” that often translate into some pretty tortured souls out there, creating brilliant works of art, whether it be through paint, words, sculpture or music. In fact, I think society tends to think one almost must be tortured in some way to create.

I was listening to an interesting podcast with Florence, from Florence and The Machine, and along with her brilliant Scottish accent I was captivated by her story of alcoholism and how she used to think she had to drink to be creative. That she had to suffer, and to be spiraling down to really get to the good stuff of the soul and write music that mattered.

But then she sobered up and realized that it actually got easier to write without the heavy chained idea that suffering is the only way to make meaningful art.

It got me to thinking about how we can turn the chaos inside, into something beautiful by not fearing it. By not suppressing it or numbing it. By accepting the quirk that is you.

It’s like the person with OCD who uses their energies to post-it the hell out of an outline instead of writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” five-hundred times.

It’s all about how we use our quirks.

This week’s workshop is about finding your quirk. I don’t just want the strange dance you do when you walk through a spiderweb kind of quirk. I want the chronic kind. The one that makes you desperate for a piece of wood to knock on when the slightest terrifying thought crosses your mind. Or that makes you have to park in the same spot at the grocery store, every time.

Write a bit about your quirk, then go a level deeper and see what comes up. Why do you think you do it? Do you remember when it started? What fear drives it? What desire does it fulfill or captivate inside of you?

How can you shift it to work towards your advantage in your life and in your writing?

If you can’t think of anything, can you use your quirk IN writing as a character trait and follow how it changes your character’s life, behavior, and relationships. Write a poem about it and get past the grizzle and into the bone, or find the ridiculous humor of it to laugh at.

Self-reflection isn’t always easy and we often discover things we didn’t know were hiding in there. You aren’t required to share, but allow yourself to hurdle over the fear and discomfort to know thyself a bit better. Turn your downward spirals into whirlwind of thought and brilliance. See you next week.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #8: I Made You a Mixed Tape

Hello beautiful writers, how are we wordsmithing this week? (heck yes wordsmithing is a verb). Were you able to come up with some inspiration from the well of words that is Merriam-Webster?

On this installment of the workshop we’re going to shift our focus from the power of words to the power of music and what it means for our creativity.

Now, I think I’ve written on this topic before so I may be borrowing from some past inspiration, but I think it bears repeating that music has a very influential role on all of us as humans and how we make neurological connections in the process of creativity.

As a writer, I’ve met the broad spectrum of those who couldn’t possibly have the distraction of sound and voice beside them while composing their stories to those who couldn’t bear to have the room silent. You know your own style and needs best and you aren’t required to practice any of these methods I give you, but I encourage you to try a few things to see if it affects your ability to create.

If you write to music, what do you prefer? 

In my experience, it depends greatly on what I’m writing. Sometimes I chose the music based on the scene I’m trying to create, or the mood that I want to convey. Sometimes the music is based solely on the character whose perspective I’m writing from, and what I think the soundtrack of their life looks like.

(ahem, in case you weren’t aware: we all have a soundtrack of our life, it’s what plays in our heads as the day progresses and during those times of elation or sadness…don’t believe me? Sit still with your thoughts for a couple of hours and see what little dittys pop up.)

When I write poetry I listen to something more instrumental and flowing, because the words in my head can’t be confused with any other words outside of it, When I write essays for my classes, classical music is fine but I have to stay away from rock because it breaks my focus and makes me randomly use my highlighter for a mic while I stand on my desk and belt out “My Sharona”. I once spent a few months embroiled in the genre of country, waist deep in Kenny Chesney and George Strait tracks, writing a romance novel about a country star trying to start his life over. This certainly helped: Tip of my tongue

Remember, singers and songwriters are creatives, people who understand emotion and the depth of lyrical effect. They are poets and expansive to our own work.

So this week’s assignment is to explore music as a way to get in touch with the mood of your scenes, the background and feelings of your characters, and inspire you to create more flowing and free works of art. I’ve listed a few of my favorite albums, artists and songs to write by lately, and remember I’m a romance novelist so…these aren’t going to be everyone’s jam.

The Pride and Prejudice Soundtrack: Pride and Prejudice

Brandi Carlile’s Bear Creek Album

Hozier (anything by that beautiful Irish, nature-jesus is golden by me)

The Head and the Heart “Down in the Valley” and “Rivers and Roads”

A Fine Frenzy

Ray LaMontagne

Jason Isbell (former front singer of The Drive By Truckers)

The Civil Wars

First Aid Kit

Kina Grannis’ cover of “Iris” Iris

Ruston Kelly

Anderson East

This one from Ashley Monroe is a favorite ‘mood’ song: Hands on You

Ruth B.

Wow, I could go on all day, but I DO have other things to get to. I hope you have a musically inspired day.

Good luck out there, and let me know what you prefer to write to. Even if it’s silence.

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #7

Hello!

 

With all of the excitement of last week’s book release (oh my god, here’s a link! Go buy it, it’s fantastic! Impress all your friends with the cultured look of carrying around a poetry book–classy my friend, very classy: No Small Things: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2019-2020) and a very personally busy week, I missed last Thursday’s lesson.

That’s probably going to happen from time to time in the next few months. I am in a strange season in my life and coping with some heavy changes. Add to that work, kids, parents, and school and I’m lucky I even remember to put on pants in the morning.

So–there may be some weeks that come and go without my lovely presence streaming across the ‘universe’ at you, but rest assured, I’ll always come back. And here I am. So let us commence.

This weeks creative exercise is really short and easy so I’m asking that you do it twice.

1.) Pull out the dictionary

*Don’t have one? What? Shut the front door! Every household should have a dictionary. Fine. Ugh. Go online if you must toWho Doesn’t Own a Dictionary?

2.) If you’re an actual writer with a dictionary (yeah, I said that…I don’t cut often but when I do, I cut deep) blow the dust off. If you’re using the internet, order a dictionary then continue on (free snark given to those not owning a dictionary)

3.) Flip to a random page and chose a random word. Read all about it, and then…

4.) Take that word, and the one before it and after it and compose a 500-1000-word short story using those three words.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

If you want a little something more, do it again (or use the same three) and write a poem using those words.

Okay, there you go. I’d better go put my old nose back to the grindstone. Happy Writing.

It’s Here, It’s Here! It’s Finally Here!

Hey ya’ll.

I know I’ve made a lot of empty promises and delays in this project, which is misleading because it is something so dear to my heart. But there have been life hiccups and unexpected formatting issues (one just last night that came to my attention and pushed back the release by a day!)

Needless to say, this project has been on the drawing board far longer than I anticipated.

But like all good things…sometimes you just have to love it (warts and all) and let it go. So, without further fanfare, I invite you to purchase and peruse “No Small Things: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2019-2020”, available later today at Amazon.

Here is the link:

No Small Things Poetry Anthology

Thank you so much for your patience and support for all of the great poets who contributed. Share this around and help spread the love for artistic endeavor. Sometimes this life can be so ugly and harsh, we have to nurture the beautiful no matter how small.

If you are interested in purchasing a signed copy directly from me, please feel free to contact me via The Beautiful Stuff contact page or at sereichert@comcast.net

Until then, Happy Reading.

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week #6 Character Development

 

Good Morning! Quick announcement for those of you following such things. The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology of 2019-2020, “No Small Things” will be released this coming Monday the 17th of February! Appropriately just past Valentine’s Day. That means you can buy it for a belated gift, because everyone knows the actual day is just a commercial driven, chocolate and sex-fest. (if it were just a chocolate and sex-fest, without the commercialism, I’d be totally for it.)

But a stunning book of poetry is the gift that keeps on giving.

Stay tuned for pictures, samples, and book giveaways happening this month and thru March. Also, be on the lookout for a book signing to happen this Spring in Fort Collins. I will let you know the date and place as it solidifies.

AND NOW THIS:

First off, where in the hell are your haiku’s?

None? Psh…cowards.

Okay, here’s a few from some brave souls out there.

Miss. Elliana Byrne from Boulder, Colorado sent me this lovely and thought worthy collaboration of five.

He said, I can’t help

With all your mental raving

You’ll have to sort it

 

He said, I was sweet

A juicy peach to bite, hard

But I talk too much

 

He said, breathe deeply

When I’m not so insecure,

He might give a fuck.

 

He said, I wouldn’t

Not with you, and your baggage

Stacked higher than sin.

 

They all want to taste

But none want to swallow me.

Jagged edge sweetness

 

 

Here are a few of my own in “honor” of the upcoming holiday.

 

1.

Silence stole my heart

You are gone, and I am lost

You were my constant.

 

2.

February lies

In drifts of heart-shaped candy

All love is false hope.

 

3.

Mechanical heart

Pumping without feeling love

Empty valves digress.

 

4.

She carried it well

Cancer of melancholy

consumed heart tissue.

 

There’s no time limit on these exercises and no order so if you want to send me anything from The Beautiful Writer Workshop, feel free.

 

NOW, ON TO THIS WEEK’S BEAUTIFUL STUFF:

This week’s exercise is short and sweet (not 17 syllables short, you’ll need some time on this one.)

Take ten to thirty minutes (together or in pieces) and pick either one of your favorite characters from a work in progress OR a favorite character from an already published book.

Write their backstory.

Where were they born? What was the name of the hospital? What time of day was it? What were they like in kindergarten? Did they run track or dole out drugs in high school? What’s their most defining internal characteristic? What strange thing do they do when they think they’re alone? What’s the worst thing about them, external or internal? What’s the best?

If you’ve already done this, then kudos to you. The writer that knows their character will have a much easier time telling their story. If you haven’t done it, get on it!

If you don’t have a character of your own, pick one of your favorite characters from literature (or dime-store novels, it doesn’t matter) and rewrite them as the anti-hero/opposite and be sure to have the backstory of why they turned out that way.

What defining moment in their life changed it all?

Okay. Go. You don’t have to send anything in on this one, but keep in it your file for your WIP. If you like it and find it helpful, do a similar exercise with the other characters in your book/novel/short story. Even the “sidekicks”. Everybody’s got a story.

Until next week, Happy Writing.