Archive for the ‘Balance’ Category

Five Tips to Inspire Your Creativity!

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

A few years ago after we purchased new carpet, the seller mentioned, “When you vacuum your carpet every day . . .”

I laughed.

“You don’t vacuum each day?”  She said with a voice that implied I regularly tortured babies and small animals.

“No!”  My intonation indicated she was crazier than I.

“It’s not good for your carpet,” she said, nearly shaking her finger at me.  “It won’t last very long.”

Since our old, worn carpeting was installed into our house for decades, I wasn’t about to tell her it had survived well without any obsessive cleaning.

In our busy lives it’s hard to discipline ourselves to begin a routine.  But if you feel deep in your soul it should be a priority, make it one.  Turn off your gadgets and devote twenty minutes a day for your creativity to develop and flow.


1. Train your family or roommates by posting a sign on your door.  Mine says Writer at Work.  Don’t disturb means don’t disturb.  No room to call your own?  A friend set up a small desk inside a closet in which to work.  She wrote several books this way, early in the morning before her kids were up and she went to work as a teacher.

2.  Play instrumental or movie music (without words) to inspire your writing or art.  Amy Tan plays the same music every day for the book she is working on. It trains your brain to get into the relaxed state to create.

3.  While walking, exercising, showering, washing the dishes, wonder about your story, poem, or painting.  Solutions and inspiration comes in the wondering state more than facing an empty computer screen or blank piece of paper.

4.  Motivate yourself with a star on each day you’ve made your writing goal or

5.  Motivate yourself by finding a writing friend to join you.  You can chat online or in person once a week about your goals and projects.

As author Jane Yolen commands, “Butt in chair!”  It’s the way to get your writing done. You’ll feel great once you’ve built this creative routine!

laughing baby


Why YOU should write your story!

Monday, August 31st, 2015


My mother and a few siblings overcoming their past.

Family stories are important in sharing bonds with each other and imparting family history. But for children, appreciating family stories actually increases their self-esteem. Since kids learn from our stories, it’s important to write them down while we can.  And as truthfully as we can.

From small details to larger stories, my mother’s sister revised history.

“Mother and Father?” muttered my mom after my aunt shared a story about their parents.  “They were Ma and Pa in our family.”

Suddenly, gone were the lean years.  My grandfather never drank.  All was rosy in their past lives.

Why do families change their stories?

“It sounds better,” said my mom, of her sister’s tales.  “But it’s not true.”

“Mom,” I assured her.  “It wasn’t your fault you were poor and your pa was an alcoholic.”

Understanding why people act the way they do gives more layers of meanings to family stories. But for families sharing a legacy, the Pollyanna picture rather than grim reality is easier for them to face and they won’t have to fear possible judgement.

Actually sharing the less-than-picture-perfect tales are vital for family members.  We learn from longings, wishes, and regrets.  Cautionary tales show how to learn and move beyond mistakes, sorrows, and tragedies.  People grow from these experiences and strengthen bonds perhaps more than through the happy, contented moments in our lives.

“There’s nothing to writing,” said author Red Smith.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Writing Prompts:

  1.  Write about your life from the moment of your first memories.   Use photos to jog your memory.
  2. What was going on in the world during the time?  Your community?  Neighborhood? You may begin your stories chronologically, but you don’t have to stick to this format.   What moments in your life were emotional for you?  Why?  Your favorite moments, scary times, funny anecdotes, and tragedies all should be explored.
  3. Interview others in your life as you grew up.  What is their take on the experiences you shared together?
  4. Listen to music of the time.  Remember the foods you ate.  Senses help us to recall our thoughts and actions.


Demands! Deadlines! Nine Tips to Survive

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Feel like you’re drowning in work? So many demands and deadlines you don’t know where to start? Have the urge to stick your head in the sand?

Elephant face down in surf

The same day I received edits for a book (“How fast can you do these?”), a tearful friend called me, desperate for encouragement; another sent me an email plea: How could she fix her picture book NOW? The phone and doorbell rang incessantly and an employer needed my workshop press release TODAY.

What do you do?

As much as you’d like to respond by wearing ear buds while napping in the sun, you know the pressure will only get worse by ignoring everything.

1. Make a list. What needs to be done when?

2. Prioritize.

3. Set up your workplace. Can you find what you need when you need it?

4. Begin item #1.

5. Pace yourself. Remember to take quick breaks for stretching and hydrating.

6. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s taking longer than you thought. Your process is your process. Whether you’re writing a novel, creating a painting, or planning a presentation, it takes what it will take. Rushing only makes the quality go down.

7. At the end of your work day, replenish. Eat well, meditate, and decompress.

8. Celebrate the small steps. When you finish one goal or ten, reward yourself. Take a walk in nature, read a good story, or call a friend.

9. Is there a way to prepare for the onslaught of work the next time? If so, make a plan. If not, go with the flow. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

How Maori Healers Transform You . . . And Your Writing

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Several years ago, when my ninety-year-old dad was alive, he asked me, “Elizabeth, what’s it like to have a headache?”

He had to be kidding.

“So Dad, you’ve never had a headache?”

“Never,” he said.

After I picked myself off of the floor, I explained the sensations of headaches – – throbbing, “sickishness,” sharp shooting pains – – and then I told him about migraines. Multiply the former headache sensations by 100, add nausea and dizziness and you’ve got one.    

Recently, when I heard of Maori healers’ therapeutic powers and that they’d be in my area, I made an appointment.

As a healer gazed down at me lying on the massage table, she probed my torso with her hands. “You’ve had pelvic trauma.”

“Really? Do you mean the C-section I had years ago?”

 “Earlier than that,” she said. “You had it when you were very young.”

 What could she be talking about?

 “An operation for a hernia when I was two?” I said.

 “Ah, yes. That would do it.”

 “Do what?”

 “Damage is felt in your neck and head.”

 While I lay on a bodywork table, she sang a Maori prayer while placing her hands on me. At least I assume it was a prayer. Perhaps it was a catchy Travel to New Zealand jingle?

 Then she got to work. She exerted so much pressure with her hands on my torso I thought I’d end up in China.

 “Is it supposed to hurt this much?” I asked her between gasps.  

 “Yes,” she said. “Breathe and you’ll feel better.”

 How could I since my internal organs were now in my lungs?

 At least it wasn’t a headache. In fact, my headache had gone. Was it was pain transference?

“Let go,” she advised.

 I obeyed, willing my body to relax and breathe. Closing my eyes, I discovered the pressure soon alleviated. 

Maybe I was getting used to living in China?

“Elizabeth,” said the healer.

 I opened my eyes.  Legs.  I followed the legs up . . . up . . . and saw her standing on top of me, touching the ceiling with a hand for balance.

“I don’t believe this,” I said.

An immense male Maori healer standing nearby said, “Get down and I’ll get up there.”

“She’d never let you,” said my healer.

After all, China wasn’t built in a day.

 Maori Healer 72014

Writing Prompts:

  1. During your writing, we should also let go. Too often our left brain’s structured thinking destroys or inhibits our creativity. Meditate before you begin your writing session to open up all of your possibilities.
  2. As you brainstorm possible ideas, whether they are plot prospects, character traits, or article ideas, don’t take your first one. Keep going until you know, within your intuition, it’s the right one.
  3. Got a plot problem? Stuck inside a scene? No metaphors to create theme? Keep paper and pen everywhere so you’re ready when your subconscious is.


Writing Saves the Day

Friday, May 16th, 2014


Writing to Save the Day

Why do you write?  For publication?  Money?  Fun?  Passion?  Many of us answer yes to all of those choices, but beneath it all, writing deeply nurtures our souls.  Here’s what Henri Nouwen had to say about it:

“Writing can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write.

Quite often a difficult, painful, or frustrating day can be “redeemed” by writing about it. By writing we can claim what we have lived and thus integrate it more fully into our journeys. Then writing can become lifesaving for us and sometimes for others too.”  

From the Henri Nouwen Society

Writing Prompts:

1.  When was there a time you considered writing your lifesaver?  What served as a catalyst for this feeling?  Share your emotions  through an essay or poem.

2.  Write a pro-writing essay.  Your goal?  Encourage others to write!

3.  Often our most emotional experiences offer the deepest writing subjects, as  we have lived those moments or can imagine how others may feel.   Peruse a photo album from your past.  Write an emotionally deep story using a photo as inspiration. 

4.  When were you embarrassed at the time, but later laughed about your encounter?  Humor is based on these moments.  Write a story, script, poem, or song on a funny conflict or problem in your life.   Revise by reading it aloud for comic timing.

Headline Declares: Cameron Diaz Doesn’t Believe in Using Deodorant!

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Internet Headlines:  gotta love ’em.  cameron-diaz-huntington-ny-jan-actress-signs-her-book-body-book-law-hunger-science-strength-other-ways-to-36707407

Although many people enjoy a bit of mindless entertainment, if that’s all we’re choosing, we limiting ourselves.

An aunt of mine chose to read tabloid newspapers from the supermarket.  But when she became ill and needed hours of chemotherapy, people sent her novels.  Discovering reading a different genre, she hungered for more.  When, out of habit, she bought the latest tabloid, she confessed, “I’m tired of those newspapers. Send me more books.”

Years ago as a teacher, I talked to a parent who told me, “Sam read the cereal box this morning.”  She rolled her eyes.  “Strange kid.”

“Fabulous!” I said. “Line cereal boxes up on the table for him to read.  What can he discover about the information on them?”

 “Really?” she said. 

 “All the reading and writing we’ve done in class has carried into his daily life.  Encourage it.”

If we’re reading about Cameron Diaz’s anti-deodorant stance, ask yourself what the take-away is for you.  Humor?  A statement about culture?  Or nothing more than celebrity gossip? 

Writing Prompts

  1. Use titles online, in books, movies, and from the newspaper as a source of creativity.  Write a humorous riff based on the Cameron Diaz headline.
  2. Keep a list of the books you read.  Add comments. Inspiring? Fun? Boring?  Why? 
  3. Is there a genre of material you haven’t read?  Open a well-reviewed/rated book from this category.  If you’re a fiction reader, try a nonfiction book in a subject you love.  Never read a travel book?  Go for it!  There are so many types of books, you’ll experiment for a long time.   
  4. Share your choices and book recommendations with your friends and family. 
  5. Join a reading group or participate in online or library book discussions.


How YOU Can Be A Writer!

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

“Just forty-five minutes a day,” assures the author of a book on meditation.
Of course I begin my day with this, so as not to forget to meditate. It should help me quiet my mind at night so I’ll sleep soundly.

“An hour of aerobic activity each day,” the exercise guru and well-known doctor advises.
Following my brisk walking workout, I shower and condition my hair with coconut oil.

“Leave it in for 15 minutes,” suggests the hairdresser. “Then wash, dry, and style.”
Blow-drying long hair sure takes awhile.

“Vacuum your carpet daily,” says the carpet sales associate. “It will last longer.”
What a lot of carpet we own.
I finish at last.

For breakfast, I add the recommended flax and Chia seeds to the blender with my yogurt.
“Eat this in the morning all the time,” suggests the nutritionist in her popular book for optimum health.

I down the vitamins recommended by my chiropractor.
“Drink lots of water,” he tells me.
With all the water I’m drinking, I spend more time in the bathroom.

Speaking of bathrooms, my seventeen-year-old Yorkie needs a walk and frequent trips out to the backyard. She no longer is able to get down from the chair where she sleeps and cries when she needs “off.” I race up and down stairs at least seventeen times a day.

“Avoid preservatives,” says an organic farmer.
This requires me to make all of our food from scratch, and grow what we can in our backyard.

“Create posts on Facebook, your blog, and social media,” says a well-known book publicist at a writing conference I recently attended. “Update your web site; make book trailers and your own videos.”
I must LEARN how to do these things first, which for me, takes FOREVER.

Then there’s the laundry, errands, housecleaning and gardening I must catch up on since my recent trip to the conference set me back on my multitude of chores.

I turn on the oven and prepare dinner from the basics. No time-saving remedies, as we don’t eat preservatives, remember?

“Write letters to bond with people and brighten an older person’s day,” my mother cemented in my memories and lifestyle.

I owe three elderly women letters, and get well cards to several friends. It’s flu season.
And speaking of writing . . .

“Set goals for your writing,” I read many years ago.
After three pages of those goals, my emotional energy is draining.

“Make writing your primary activity.”
Of course! It’s number one!

But wait.

Darkness settles around me. I yawn and stretch. If I write now, my mind won’t be able to shut down to sleep.
It will make my insomnia worse.

Do I have time to meditate before Zoie needs her evening walk?

<strong>Writing Prompts:</strong>

1. Set YOUR writing goals. If there are too many which may overwhelm you, create a daily or weekly “to do” list.

2. Make your writing a priority. When is your best time to write well? Carve out time within your day or week, which depends upon your goals.

3. Write! Don’t answer the phone or the door. Make sure members of your household know not to interrupt unless the house is on fire.

4. Can’t write?  Relax and wonder (NOT worry) about your project. Let your mind daydream about a character, setting, or plot problem will help you move forward.

5. Don’t be concerned about the number of words, pages, or chapters.  Some projects/chapters/poems take more time than others.

6. Writing not your best?  Rewriting is terrific! 

7. Always take time to write thank you notes. And comments on blogs. They are appreciated.


10 Tips for Winning Writing Contests, Scoring an A, or Attracting an Agent/Editor

Monday, January 27th, 2014

1. Hook your readers with a vivid scene right away. How? Read on.

2. Specific senses will get your reader to experience your story.

Example: Gary D. Schmidt’s Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy begins like this: Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for fifteen minutes shy of six hours. He had dipped his hand in its waves and licked the salt from his fingers. He had smelled the sharp resin of the pines. He had heard the low rhythm of the bells on the buoys that balanced on the ridges of the sea. He had seen the fine clapboard parsonage beside the church where he was to live, and the small house set a ways beyond it that puzzled him some. Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for almost six whole hours. He didn’t know how much longer he could stand it.

3. Show the protagonist’s problem right away. Turner’s is shown in his feelings shown in the last sentence.

4. Character dialogue must move the story forward. If it’s just talking back and forth to talk, remove it.

5. Use adverbs sparingly. Change them to verbs.
Example: He said loudly. Change to: He shouted.

6. Create suspense with tension. Author Steve Mooser employs the element of time. He says, “If the bad guys are due into town at sunset, if Friday is the day of the school play – that’s the easiest way to build tension.” In Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, the hourglass shows how much time Dorothy has to live.

David Almond created atmosphere with action verbs and specific images in Heaven Eyes:
Mud. Black, sticky, oily, stinking mud. It was January who dared to lean out of his raft first. He dipped his hand into what should have been water. He touched mud, black mud. It oozed and dribbled from his fingers. The raft settled, and mud slithered across its surface, onto our clothes. It seeped through to our skin. It seeped through the tiny gaps between the doors. I took my flashlight out, switched it on, saw the doors disappearing as they sank . . . saw that we were being slowly sucked down into the sodden earth . . . Our feet, our hells, our knees were caught in mud . . . I grunted, whimpered, groaned. I slithered forward. . . My head filled with the mist and darkness.

7. Everyone loves humor. The unexpected is funny. Two unlike characters or objects placed together can be funny.

8. Read your piece out loud. Is it balanced? Not big chunks of description or pages of pure dialogue, but evenly paced?

9. Eliminate vague words: Possibly, many, pretty, terrible . . .

10. What has the protagonist learned or how has your character changed in some small way?

After several drafts, put away your manuscript for a while. When you return, read it aloud with fresh eyes. Are you having fun? If not, rework the story until it’s just right. You’ll feel that tingle of excitement when it works!

On Writing Crappy and Writing Great (or at Least Better)

Friday, May 24th, 2013

I guess reporters don’t know which column will be published when, or else the California Writers Club Young Writers Contest article and photo just didn’t make it into my edition of the Contra Costa Times on May 23.  Next time I’ll only post it here when I see it in the paper myself. 


As I’ve been working on a project, I’ve found myself being concerned with the marketing aspect and how the publicist would  react to the story.  After the day’s work, I closed my computer and purposely didn’t re-read my words. 

The next morning, I printed out my chapter and took a clipboard to revise and work on another scene.  Reading what I had written, my jaw dropped.  Who was this stilted writer who had composed these awkward sentences?  Do I know this person?  Where did she come from? If she was in my writing class, I’d take her aside and tell her to forget the final phases of book production, and free herself by going back to the basics.  Think about character!  Relax.  Wonder about the story, don’t let the final outcome block the writing process.

I set aside my previous day’s disaster, and started over.  This time, I let my mind wander over my characters and their world.  “No worries,”  I told myself.  “Have fun with these people.  Get to know them.  You don’t have to write the very next chapter.  Just write a scene where they talk to each other. What’s the worst problem they can get into together?  What will they do?”

Writing Prompts:

1.  What is a dramatic or interesting conflict you can have your character get into?  Can it somehow be based on her greatest fear?

2.  What emotion does your scene evoke?  What do you want your reader to feel?

3.  What is the motivation for why the characters in your scene act the way they do?

4.  Write about your characters BEFORE this scene.  What is their back story?

5.  Within your writing, can you locate where you are showing and where you are telling?  Highlight the telling.  If you have too much highlighting, where can you show in a scene rather than tell?  Or where can you cut out the telling all together?  If it doesn’t move your story forward, cut it out.

The Couch IS Important

Monday, January 7th, 2013

At a recent breakfast date, a friend leaned toward me over the table and asked, “Tell me, is Mary rich?”

I had been inside her home. “Everything in her house matches,” I said.

My friend laughed. We both had grown up poor so she knew what I meant. Mary was rich in our eyes.

Every piece in Mary’s lovely home did look expensive. Colorful tapestries showing European influences decorated the floors; delicate china and glassware displayed in dark cherry cabinets. A silver teapot and tray sparkled in the sunlight. Art work on the walls had been purchased from her travels from all around the world.

I remember a few years ago I was so proud we were able to get a matching white couch and chair for our living room. But when our son, who lives on the opposite coast, came for a visit and walked into our house, his jaw dropped. “Oh no!” he said. “One of those houses! It’s white and sterile and not comfy. This is not how we are.”

He turned and walked through our kitchen into our cluttered and mismatched family room. “Ah, he said. This is us.”

Writing Prompts:

1. Does your house reflect who you are? Describe the room that best shows your personality.
2. In your most recent project, write about your main character’s bedroom or favorite place to be. Does she hang out in the forest behind her back yard? Does she love her high-rise office overlooking the Oakland Bay Bridge? Does he cherish his music room? Describe your character’s actions in this room.
3. Write a short story or poem showing how setting is important to the theme or plot of the story.
4. Write about the importance of one object in an essay, poem or story. How can it fuel the plot?
5. Does your character collect any objects? Have a special style? Does she or he fit in with his surroundings? Stand out in any way? Write a scene to show the answers to these questions.