Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie


Just Do It

If you’re a blogger, you’re bound to hit The Wall sooner or later.  If you’re reading this, you know what I mean: the “blank screen” bloggers hit when they’re fresh out of ideas.

It’s not unusual.  Skim the blogosphere for any length of time and you’re bound to snag posts like, 20 topic suggestions for writing blog posts, or 10 ideas for awesome blog posts.  A lot of people spill considerable ink telling other people how to come up with fresh ink.

Keeping up a blog is hard work.  Let’s face it: sometimes the well runs dry.

So rather than regale you with more brilliant ideas or suggestions for writing winning blog posts, let me offer a suggestion you don’t hear much:

Take a break.

Take a Vacation

That’s right.  Take a blogging vacation.  Let your readers know that while you appreciate their loyalty, you need some time to recharge the ‘ole creative batteries.  You might let them know how long you plan to be away and when you plan to return.  Then disconnect.  Really.

Instead of blogging, go for a walk.  Play with your kids.  Eat a banana split.  Take up line-dancing, a watercolor class, or wood carving.  Find a new author.  Make a new friend.  Change the oil in your car.  Quit stressing about your next blog post or series.  There’s something therapeutic and bracing about shifting gears, trying something novel, exploring new territory.  Whatever it takes to replenish the well.

Productive ‘Down Time’

I know, I know.  This may seem counter-intuitive for some, especially you Type-A personalities.  Trust me on this.  You’d be surprised at how productive “down time” can be, or how a chance of pace, fresh perspective, or renewed energy pays off in the long run.  I’ve found then when a “rested” mind is a more creative mind.  Some of my best ideas and creative bursts have come after I’ve turned off the computer and gone “on vacation.”

How long should your blogging vacation last?  That’s up to you.  Running on fumes isn’t doing you or your readers any favors.  You’ll both be better off when you can hit the blogosphere fresh.  When you start feeling like blogging is fun again, you’re on the right track.

So turn off the computer and take Nike’s advice: Just do it.

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How Do You Know?

How do you know if you’re a writer?   Do you know when someone says, “Hey! I saw your byline in Barnes & Noble the other day! Good work!”?  Or when you say to yourself, “I’m a writer.  I am. I am. I am”?  Do you know when you land that first publishing contract or take part in your very own book signing?

I think a writer is someone who writes because he or she can’t not write.

I majored in Communication/Print Media.  Worked in public relations and marketing.  Wrote press releases, news articles and feature stories by the boatload.  Ditto short stories, novellas, historical fiction and devotionals.  Even dabbled in a little poetry here and there when no one was lookin’.  Some of my work has “seen the light.”  Some not.

Much More

Know what?  It doesn’t matter. Because writing is more than a profession.  Much more.  It’s a calling.  Something you were born to do. That’s not to say that writing will always come easily, effortlessly, like falling off a chair.  Writing is work.  But for real writers, there’s nothing more satisfying than… writing.

Something to Say

If you’re a writer, you have something to say.  A part of yourself to give.  A story to clawing at your guts, bellowing to be let out and dribbled onto paper or keyboard.  Trying to bottle up a story in a writer is like trying to cork a Tyrannosaurus Rex into a pint-sized milk carton.

Let it out. Say it. Give it.  Share it.

Keep at It

Whether or not you land a publishing contract doesn’t really matter.  You’ll get better with practice and persistence.  If you’re a real writer, you won’t quit.  Even in the face of rejection letters.  (Don’t let that curmudgeonly editor discourage you.  Learn from his criticism and improve.)

If you’re a real writer, you can’t not write.  It’s who you are.  With or without an audience.  Whether people are listening or not. Writing is something you were born to do, a craft under constant revision.  It’s something you need…  Like fish need water.  Birds need air.

What matters is that you start.  Today.  Be prepared to learn, grow, explore and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.  You can do it!

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Skipping the Tiramisu

How many times have you heard, What are you writing? … Working on? …  Have in the pipeline?

How many times are you asked, “Why?”  As in, Why are you a writer?  Why do you write?  Why do you invest so much time, energy and passion into word-smithing and story-spinning?

“Why?” isn’t a trivial question.  In fact, Why? may be a lot more important than what, where, how, or even who.

Possible response to “Why?” that I’ve heard:

  • To make money
  • I want to get my message out
  • To become famous
  • Because I have a story to tell

Notice a common thread?  These are all “me-isms.”  In other words, it’s all about me.

Part of what makes great writing great is that it moves us beyond ourselves.  Expands our horizons.  Draws new paradigms. Explores an old topic from a new angle.  Moves us to tears.  Sends us into gales of laughter.  Breaks the mold.  Challenges, educates, dares, inspires.  You know you’ve come across truly great writing when you happily skip a luscious plate of tiramisu to finish the next chapter.

Yes, I know we all find ourselves fascinating.  But if our writing consists solely and wholly of me-isms without connecting to something bigger – family, faith, nature, tiramisu – then we’re just cranking out a commercial.

We can do better.  Dig digger.  Fly higher.  Stretch.  Explore.  Grow. The tiramisu will wait.

Which of your favorite authors writes “bigger than yourself”?

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Review of ‘Angela’s Ashes’

Angela’s Ashes

By Frank McCourt

Touchstone (Simon & Schuster), 1996

“Not for the faint-hearted” is perhaps over-used, but in the case of Frank McCourt’s memoir of his growing up years, Angela’s Ashes, it is apt.  (“Angela” is his mother’s name.)

The son of an alcoholic Irish man, McCourt paints a gritty picture without a brush of self-pity.  The prose is genuine and so gritty you can almost hear McCourt’s brogue singing through each page as he recounts life in a tumbledown shack on “the lane” in Ireland that floods and freezes in winter and swarms with fleas and stink in the summer.

His story begins in America, but soon high-tails it back to Ireland, where he details a professional unemployed father, grim family members, the loss of a baby sister, two twin boys, “the hunger” as well as the “Angel on the Seventh Step.”      It’s all there – the almost unbelievable poverty, hunger, filth, disease, despair, religious superstition.

In spite of a childhood chockfull of incredible hardship, deprivation, cruelty and misery, there’s something transcendent and luminescent about McCourt’s story.  Even with typhoid fever, “the shame,” and his father’s habit of “drinking his wages on the pint,”  McCourt refuses to sink into a slough of despond or bitterness.  Plucky Frank (short for Francis, “after the saint”) pulls himself up by own bootstraps and does so in an engaging, almost lyrical manner that’ll have you cheering – and perhaps shedding a tear or two – by the end of this remarkable, heart-breakingly heroic Pulitzer Prize Winner.

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Review of ‘No Ordinary Day’

No Ordinary Day

By Deborah Ellis

“The best day of my life was the day I found out I was not alone in the world” begins this slim, no-nonsense tome by Deborah Ellis, followed by, “This is how it happened.”  Easily read in a day or two, No Ordinary Day is narrated by the protagonist, Valli, a young orphan girl who escapes the coal pits of Jharia, India to roam the highways and byways of Kolkata, India.  The story unfolds through Valli’s eyes, ears, and feet.  Yes, feet.  Feet that have been burnt, cut, and injured without an “Ouch!”

Through a series of circumstances like “washing” in the filthy Ganges River near a funeral pyre, Valli meets Dr. Indra as the doc reads an English Bible.  Noticing how Valli steps into burning coals to escape a bee without any subsequent reaction, Dr. Indra offers, “I’d like you to come with me.  My name is Indra.  I’m a doctor and I can fix your feet.”

Easier said than done.  Overcoming ignorance, apathy, fear, poverty and prejudice is no small feat.  But Valli is not alone.

No Ordinary Day is no ordinary book.  Ellis skillfully weaves science, medicine, socio-economics, class and caste disparities, hunger, alcoholism, poverty, abandonment, stereotypes, education and kindness into a seamless story of hope. No Ordinary packs a wallop while treating its audience with respect, allowing readers to form their own opinions and conclusions.

Includes an Author’s Note debunking common myths about leprosy and a Glossary of commonly used Indian words.  Also the statement, “Royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to The Leprosy Mission.”