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Getting it Done

So on Monday, I spent the afternoon revising an essay on leadership, which is to appear in an anthology on pedagogy. The due date for the essay was … let’s just say, earlier. Much earlier.

I drafted the piece in February and spent weeks writing and rewriting, researching and rewriting, straying from the point and coming back.

I submitted the essay (late) and was asked to revise it. I left it on my desk for several days –many, many days! – thinking about how to approach this phase of revision. I re-read the essay and re-wrote it, confident that I had conveyed the points I was trying to make.

The editor asked me to revise the essay again.

When I submitted the draft on Monday, I was oh so tempted to add a plaintive note: “This is all I’ve got. If this version isn’t what you are looking for, I understand (Wah, wah, wah!). I’m sure I can get it published elsewhere” (Someone else will appreciate my writing).

I did not write the note. I discourage my students from offering such disclaimers before they read their pieces to an audience. “Let the work speak for itself,” I say.

Sometimes I follow my own advice.

Showing up

If you are like me, one of your favorite things to do is to reflect on the textures and colors of the world (literally and figuratively).

An important part of my day – perhaps the most important part – is the time I spend writing. Sometimes I write personal reflections; sometimes I write fiction or poems.

What matters is that I show up. Even when the words don’t flow easily, I value the time spent expressing myself.

***

In my upcoming teleseminar, I share some techniques I use to keep the writing process fresh.

Join me on Wednesday, September 14 at 7:00pm Eastern for Joyful Writing: 3 Ways to Gain a Fresh Perspective on Your Prose & Poetry.

Email me if you would like me to send you a link to the teleseminar: rfarmer@gmavt.net

Keep writing!

Ruth

Every Story Has Value

An important principle by which I live is that everyone has value. We are all created by a Higher Power, and we are all here on this Earth for a reason. As an educator, I put this fundamental principle into action through the practice of paying attention to individuals. Attending to another person seems easy. However, it can be challenging if you don’t believe everyone has value.

Believing that everyone has value does not mean that everything that everyone does is perfect. Seeing a person separately from their actions is essential, so that judgment doesn’t get in the way of accepting their essential value.

For me, paying attention entails listening, literally and figuratively. Listening means more than not speaking. It means beaming attention, hearing from the heart, moving your focus from your expectations of what the person might say, or should say, to hearing what they are saying, and accepting that there is worth in what has transpired.

This principle is a foundation of my work as a writing coach. Every person, every story has value. In helping writers complete a novel, memoir, academic essays, poetry, or other form of expression, I pay close attention to the writer. By doing so, I can help individuals discover the heart of their work, their authentic voice, and support them in creating a publishable manuscript.

That’s why I’ve just created my new 90-day Write To Publish coaching program, where I take writers through a three-step process to draft, revise, and edit their manuscripts. If you would like to talk with me about my program, email me at rfarmer@gmavt.net and I’ll tell you more about it.

A Writer Reads

I love to read. As a writer, reading is enjoyable and educational. Here are three books I’m in the midst of reading. I may provide an update once I’ve finished them.

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield: In the first few pages, Pressfield offers valuable advice:

“The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you.”

“develop empathy”

“switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer.”

       I have just finished chapter 61, in which he explores the distinctly “American” story principles of Hollywood movies. Pressfield also talks about making a living. This book is a worthwhile read for anyone serious about building a career through artistic expression.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear: Elizabeth Gilbert’s perspective on creativity won’t appeal to a lot of folks. I find it refreshing. I just finished the chapter on permission, in which Gilbert explores the paradox of art as “absolutely meaningless” and “deeply meaningful.” Her basic premise (so far) is to lighten up and play. Works for me.

The Bones of Paris: I love mysteries. Laurie R. King’s lush narrative set in 1929 Paris seemed promising when I thumbed through the book. Private investigator Harris Stuyvesant is looking for a missing woman. So far the book is big on atmosphere and low on dramatic tension. Also, I really don’t care about any of the characters. Having stalled at chapter 17, the book has become an assignment: What techniques does King use to draw in the reader? When does atmospheric charm get in the way of the story? As a writer, I want to understand why I find such a well-written book so dull.

By switching between the perspectives of a writer and a reader, I can discover what works and what doesn’t, while indulging in one of my primary pleasures, reading.

What are you reading?

Editor or Coach? Which do you need?

I talk with a lot of writers in my daily life as a teacher and director of a graduate program. Writers are among my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues; many of them derive some or all of their income from working with corporations, community organizations, educational institutions, or as freelancers. Others write for pleasure or to work through a problem. This latter group may or may not be interested in sharing their words with others; i.e., publication. Those who are so moved want to communicate clearly, whether they are composing marketing emails, blogs, reports, academic papers, poems, novels, essays, or books.

Sometimes a writer needs support. That support could be an editor or a coach. How does a writer know which to hire?

An editor’s focus is the writing project; for example:

•Refining an essay’s concepts
•Helping to organize a manuscript
•Reviewing grammar and usage

A writing coach focuses on the writer. A coach might help a writer:

•Understand reasons for writing or not writing
•Get to know characters’ motivations
•Explore emotions that emerge when writing about family or friends

Do you need an editor or a coach?

Let’s talk about how to answer to that question. Contact me at rfarmer@gmavt.net 802-377-3001. Or complete this form:

I have no war poems

I stopped writing poems many years ago. I could explain why, but I won’t. I found this poem on my computer today. I was tempted to update it, then decided I would leave it as is.
***

I have no war poems, no sermonizing about
the inhumanity of man to fellow man we have
heard enough of this, and we have not learned so
why waste words and time?

Last night I looked in the western sky, the television
mumbling behind me late night news without information
the stars stood out white against the blue-black infinite
the streetlight across the road could not dim the brilliance

though like the blare of voices commercialized to nothingness
the competition was strong. I know so much about Iraq and America
and terrorists and patriotism I have grown ignorant of everything
human and so I look to the sky which isn’t

we are waiting for Isabel’s remnants, we heard of her fury
we are reminded every day that we are not central, not even peripheral
we are unimportant and ephemeral our only immortality is the serial
continuation of genes that mate and mutate and become what was not

clouds buffeted by gusts whiten turn purple release rain and let
the sun brillantine the waiting land and the trees know but their
whispering voices make no sense to our arrogant ears wars are as
permanent as trees as prevalent as genes and as constant as the stars

but I have no words to express their meanings, so I look to the sky
and the blue-black infinity sparkles and calms.

Ruth Farmer
9/19/03

On Independence Day I think of words

Independence
Freedom
Liberty
Autonomy
Self-government
Sovereignty

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, these words are synonymous, but do they mean the same thing? For me, they have different connotations.

When I think of independence, I think of being able to take care of myself, especially physically and financially. Freedom connotes the ability to do what I want, fearlessly. Liberty reminds me of chains unbound. Autonomy and independence have similar connotations, though the former makes me think of business, as in having the skills and creativity to go it alone if you have to.

Self-government takes the conversation to a public, political forum, although I can see that individuals who can govern themselves are probably motivated by internal goals and objectives rather than those pressed upon them by others. They are probably successful because they define success for themselves, like individuals who are autonomous and free.

Sovereignty? The term feels archaic, reminding me of royalty, the kind that often leads to power over others on a massive scale.

Now, I am not saying that these are proper definitions. I am speaking of what the words suggest.

On this Fourth of July, independence, freedom, liberty, and autonomy resonate for me and I feel grateful and lucky. There are many places where women have none of these, except in their imaginations and dreams. That is why writing, music, dance, painting, gardening, and other creative endeavors are so essential. They make it possible to express ideas, overtly or covertly. During moments of creation, the artist can be free.

Ten Writing Prompts from Everyday Life

Fireworks

Often our favorite stories have an extraordinary impact on us, like fireworks. Yet those stories frequently build upon fairly ordinary events. Knowing this, we may still think that our writing should amaze our readers. At the draft phase, this can dampen our authentic voice and the narratives that are uniquely ours. Try one or more of the prompts below, all of which emerge from everyday life.

1. When I woke up this morning, I thought
2. From my bed, I could see
3. This morning, I heard
4. Yesterday as I was eating breakfast
5. My neighbor is
6. I was at work for one hour when
7. Looking down at my newly dry-cleaned pants, I saw
8. The trip home from work was uneventful until
9. It was the end of the day and I
10. As I drifted off to sleep, I remembered that

If you use one of the prompts, I would love to read an excerpt from your writing.

Happy Writing!

Ruth
Need a coach or editor? Contact me at rfarmer@gmavt.net or call 802-377-3001.

Pearls and Hair

During a poetry workshop, the instructor gave the group a tip that I have always valued: Save phrases you delete in a file labeled “Pearls.” A writing workshop inevitably turns to a discussion of what to do with those precious – even brilliant – phrases that just don’t fit. Writers have fairly consistent rationales for holding onto awkward expressions:

Sentimentality (“That’s how it happened!”)
Aesthetics (“I really like the sound of that word.”)
Fear (“What would I put in its place!?”)
Emotional attachment (“I can’t imagine any other words that would work here.)

What does this have to do with hair?

I removed my dreadlocks a week or so ago. I’ve had locks for 30 years. I’ve been intending to go lock-free for at least five years. Why did I hang onto my butt-length hair when I really wanted a different look? Sentimentality, aesthetics, fear, and emotional attachment. I knew what I would do with my hair every morning. I knew how to care for it. People recognized me – and probably described me – by my locks.

pre-revision
pre-revision

Two things I knew about my dreadlocks: They were beautiful. Their length and style no longer suited me. Additionally, I believe that hair carries energy and my locks held the energy of my past. Still, I wondered: What would I look like? Would I like my new look? If I didn’t like short hair, then what? I took a deep breath and got to work. Now I have a bag filled with hair so soft I could sleep on it. I still haven’t figured out what to do with that basket of curls.

For several post-dreadlock days, my head felt buoyant as a balloon. I said

hair-in-progress
hair-in-progress

to a friend, “You don’t realize how heavy something is until you no longer have it.” She responded, “That’s true with many things in life.” She’s right, of course.

I’m making a rather obvious correlation between cutting hair and revision. As a piece progresses, I find the core of what I am thinking and how to best evoke those ideas by excising, restating, changing directions. Depositing deleted phrases into a pearl file frees me to explore, and gives me starting points for other pieces.

As I wrote an essay about leadership for an anthology on Goddard College pedagogy, I deposited into a file titled “pearls from leadership essay” quotes and viewpoints that are perceptive and thought-provoking but not pertinent. Because I am fascinated by leadership/followership dynamics, I may incorporate some of those ideas in another, more broadly conceived piece.

As I write this blog, the term “pack rat” pops into my mind. Is holding onto words and hair (and books and papers and…) a form of the hording syndrome that has haunted me all my life? Maybe. But that is a conversation for another time.

How do you handle revisions? Would the pearl technique work for you?

You Never Know

When I attended the Launch Your Business Boot Camp in Atlanta (see my May 16 blog post), I had many wonderful encounters. The most amazing one came when a young woman let me know how I impacted her life.

Several years ago, I was an admissions officer for a private secondary school. One of my responsibilities was to talk with students of color about their educational options. This woman remembered me from a visit to her NYC middle school. She told me that visiting secondary schools changed her life, as did attending the school that she chose (not the one I recruited for). I was amazed that she remembered me, including my name, after so many years. That brief encounter broadened her perspectives and led to personal and professional paths she may not have chosen if it hadn’t happened.

You never know how actions that you take for granted impact others. I have been an educator for many years. I sometimes run into students who tell me that lessons I taught, readings I assigned, or conversations we had clarified their understanding of themselves or their purpose in life. I am grateful for such revelations and humbled because I know that I did not seek to make an impact. If there was any seeking at all, it was to connect, to communicate.

Like most people, I wonder what it would mean to make a big splash or grand gesture that transforms people’s lives. Meeting the young woman in Atlanta reminded me that in our everyday encounters we touch others in meaningful and unexpected ways. No splashing. No grandiosity. Just everyday amazing.