Friday, June 22, 2007

The Zen of Getting Organized

Sometimes, I'm afraid I'm turning into my aunt Johnny. My aunt Evelyn (inexplicably nicknamed "Johnny") was a school teacher, and a hoarder. I didn't know her very well; the last time I really remember seeing her was a long time ago when I won the county spelling bee. Yes, I was the first ever Columbia County, New York spelling bee champion! It was held at a school where Johnny taught, so she was there to witness my triumph!

My Dad always says, "you should put that on your writer's resume, along with the junior high essay contest you won." I won a school contest, went up to Albany, attended a banquet, and met the then Governor of NY. (I even had my work published in the New York State Library...but I don't think that's the kind of credentials Conde Nast Traveler is looking for?)

I lost at the state wide bee in Syracuse that summer. I confess, studying the dictionary on my summer vacation wasn't very exciting, and I folded like a house of cards in the first round of the spelling bee. I never saw Johnny much after that, but she was the stuff of family legend. "Don't get like Johnny!" my mother would warn me, when my clutter would start to rise. I'm told that when Johnny would have too much stuff, she'd simply rent an apartment to warehouse it. She even BOUGHT a house just to hold it all!

When Johnny died, I'm not sure what her poor daughter did with all that stuff. As Johnny got older, she would clean her Mom out, then the clutter would mysteriously reappear. As I've been focusing on writing, I seem to gather more and more research--magazines, articles from magazines, notes, clips, and all sorts of stuff. If you're a writer, I'm sure you can relate to having lots of research.

But what to do with it all? And do all the piles of clutter, have an effect on the writing? Can it really hold you back creatively? I can only answer that for me, clutter was holding me back in my writing. I'm not talking about grand scale clutter like Johnny's (or maybe the legendary Collier Brothers?)

My clutter is on a smaller scale, but pernicious just the same. About two weeks ago, I decided to go right into the belly of the beast. Attack the piles. I felt really stressed doing so. Letting things build up, them going through it all, deciding what to keep, what to toss, what to file and where to file it, was a bit nerve racking and overwhelming. But on the other side, there has been a feeling of peace and calm I wouldn't trade for anything. I know that getting more organized has definitely helped my writing this month.

I've stayed organized for these two weeks. No new piles, no new clutter. I've had to be really diligent not to let myself slip back into old ways, of gathering things and piling them up.

It's been worth it though. I was able to edit an article I wrote a while ago and submit it to the travel site Bootsnall. I started researching and writing something else, too. And I created an online portfolio at AuthorsDen. I had been feeling a little blocked when surrounded by clutter, but after the cleanout, I felt clearer, with a renewed sense of energy and purpose.

I really like Cheryl Richardson's book, "Take Time For Your Life," which I read last January. In the book, she talks about "energy drains." We all have an inner barometer, with so much energy available to live our life. It's like deposits and withdrawals to a bank account. We all, as human beings, have only just so many precious reserves. Negative things we do, like accumulating clutter, draw down on our energy reserves and make us unproductive and unwell. Positive things we do for ourselves physically and emotionally, make our energy levels rise. This seems like a pretty basic concept but one a lot of people don't think about. For me, cleaning out my clutter removed a layer of static in my life, allowing me to see what needed to be done, giving me the energy to reach my goals.

If you have a severe clutter problem, consider The National Association of Professional Organizers. Go to their website and plug your zip code into their search engine, and find a professional organizer in your area. Go to the library or browse online booksellers for some books on how to get organized. Me, I'm a do-it-yourselfer. How did I vanquish my clutter? Somewhere (and I honestly can't recall where) I remember hearing the phrase "SPACE" which stands for:


First, go mano-a-mano with your clutter, sorting it all out (music or TV, will keep you company in this lengthy, often tedious, even maddening process.) Throw out stuff you don't need, be strict with yourself too (my mantra: when in doubt throw it out!) Make up categories for what you want to keep (this is called assigning) and places to hold it all (the containerizing step.) Finally, "equalize" by staying vigilant to new clutter. On a weekly basis (or daily if you're a hardcore packrat, you know who you are!) weed out the new clutter and file away new or existing items in their containers.

With these steps I have saved myself from a life like the poor Collier Brothers (tunneling through my clutter with a hardhat and a flashlight.) Getting more organized has made me a whole lot more peaceful, I feel more creative and without the energy drains of my clutter, I feel more productive. Give clutter busting a try, and see how it affects your writing.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Monthly Writing Goals for June

My writing goals for June 2007:

1. 50 pages completed for the first draft of my Jane Austen solo show. (I've completed 34 pages already; I'd like to see that number go up to 50 by the end of the month...)

2. Getting my first article published. I wrote an article in a travel writing workshop at Writers Online Workshops. I'm submitting it to the travel website Bootsnall. It's always been a goal of mine to be published there, to see my work alongside travel writers like Jen Leo and Rolf Potts.

I'll post back at the end of the month to report my progress...

The First Rule of Writing...

To paraphrase what Richard Rhodes calls "The Knickerbocker Rule:"

Apply derriere to chair.

It's as simple as that folks. I've violated that rule all weekend. I've been out and about for a few days, with no work getting done on my projects. I've come to realize that the only way to actually be a writer, is to show up at the page, sit your toukas down in a chair and scribble or type some words. A writer must spend time putting words together, on a regular basis (ideally every day.)

Sometimes you have to find the time to write, carving it out of your busy day. Rising at dawn, staying up late or finding some time to write on weekends and days off from your job. I love the movie "American Splendor." Harvey Pekar was a medical records clerk, lamenting he was a "nobody flunky." Yet he felt driven to create, to leave his mark. So he wrote the comic "American Splendor" after work, or at his desk, whenever he could find the time, and had Bob Crumb and other artists do the drawings.

I offer as Rule Number Two of Writing: (you get that as a bonus today thrown in with Rule Number One: affixing butt to chair and typing away...)

Surround yourself with people who genuinely support your growth as a creative artist. If you don't, it could serious impede your efforts to create. I know, I've been there. You generally know who these people are, in your life. Remember the expression, "Don't go to the hardware store to buy milk?" Don't look for the dream killers in your life, to lift you up and support you. Try to surround yourself with those people who want you to succeed in your goals. Step away from those who would suck the life out of you. Make your commitment to create art, a high priority. Simple as that.

Writing can be hard, lonely, and scary work. It's a bit terrifying to look at that blank page staring back at you, wondering how to fill it up with words. It's scary to present your work for review by editors and readers. It's a lot easier to travel, gather research and talk about the writing you're going to do, than it is to actually sit down and write something.

However, nothing is more satisfying than doing the work, and completing a project. It's that satisfaction and fulfillment, that motivates me to keep writing. I'm going to be posting my writing goals for the month soon (and putting them out there for the world to see should help me stay motivated to reach them.)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

I discovered a "Travel Writing for Beginners" group on On the forums I saw a call for submissions for a new travel website called Writers guidelines are in that forum post I just mentioned, or visit the actual website for details. They are just starting up and probably need a lot of content, so this seems like a great opportunity.

In the same forum, I saw another post about the travel site Daily Shandy. Daily Shandy is looking for bloggers for various cities. Visit their website, or go to their MySpace page, for more details.

I think joining an online group for writers, like the one at MySpace, is a great idea for networking. Just do a search on Myspace Groups and you will find many group for all kinds of writers.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Westways Magazine

I must have good postal karma. Interesting magazines keep showing up in my mailbox. The other day I received my neighbor’s Westways Magazine by accident. So I had a chance to read it before I gave it back to the post office (I keep missing issues of Backstage East…it only gets delivered about half the time, what’s that about?)

Westways is the publication of the AAA of Southern California. I really enjoyed the feature article by Jennifer Moeller about her travels in Telluride. When I find an article I like, I study it for style and content. Moeller’s article is an excellent example of a personal experience piece, really well done, in my opinion. I notice she also contributed her own photographs with the article.

The June 2007 issue of Westways also has several food articles, including one by Chris Cognac, the Food Network’s “Hungry Detective.” I did not see any mention of writer’s guidelines at the site; however, there is contact information for the editor. All past issues of the magazine are archived on their website. The magazine is regional and content is heavy on the Western U.S., but looking at past issues, I did see articles on other areas of the USA, and one about India.

AAA has a number of regional publications it sends out to its members, which could be possible markets for writers. Trying to track down which AAA club publishes what seemed very confusing to me. If food or travel writing is your niche, look into AAA publications.

Check out this thread on for more info about writing for AAA magazines.

Hope your week is going great so far. Mine's been soggy, it's been pouring here all weekend. My mood: rainy, needs coffee.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

To Blog, or Not To Blog?

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”-- Anais Nin

To blog, or not to blog?…Ah, that is the question. I’ve read so many blogs about writing, and it seems like every possible topic has been covered in depth. So I ask myself, why should I blog?

I’m embarking on a new chapter in my life, and I want to record my progress towards my artistic goals. In an earlier phase of my life, I graduated with an Associates and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration/Finance, and went on to complete some credits towards an MBA. I earned my degrees, and spent time working in the corporate world, because it was the practical thing to do. But it wasn't my heart's desire.

I am a very creative person, and in my youth, I showed great promise as an actor and writer. Everyone in my life dissuaded me from those career paths, and I listened to them. The arts are a hobby, a pastime, I was told. I was discouraged at every turn from becoming an artist.

Turns out, I was always an artist. I realized my job, was not my life’s work. It was time for me to reclaim myself, to recognize my identity as an artist, and to honor that by pursuing a creative career.

I’m starting this blog in June 2007, and giving myself one year to complete a few goals. I want to finish the first draft of a solo show I’m writing about Jane Austen. I am also hoping begin a freelance writing career, and I want to get as many pieces published as I can by June 2008. I always said, when I have ten articles published, I’d feel I could call myself a writer. But I’d be happy to see myself moving along towards my goals, even if I don’t get that many pieces published. It’s as much about process, as product.

I’m starting from scratch (so to speak) as a freelance writer, and I’ll be sharing my story each step of the way towards my goals. I’ll be offering my take on writing as an art and a business, and blogging about market leads, interesting websites and writers. I hope that anyone reading who has a dream of becoming a writer will be inspired to pick up a pen. So let the adventure begin, and let’s get writing!