Five Ways Writers Can Deal with Depression

If you see this guy in the neighborhood, tell him to take the day off

If you see this guy in the neighborhood, tell him to take the day off

A little bit back, the brother of one of my old friends committed suicide. He’d been depressed for a while; I’m uncertain if he’d expressed any dramatic intentions about ending his life before his death. Not long after that, the brother of a woman who works with my girlfriend Alice killed himself. Again, a man who struggled with depression. Most recently, one of Alice’s friends, a woman who has suffered depression and other anxiety issues, was found dead, under puzzling circumstances that are yet to be explained.

That’s a lot of death, and a lot of suffering that preceded it. The people I mention above weren’t writers, but I want to turn the discussion to writers and depression, because it’s a subject that’s been explored by medical professionals and by other writers. There’s some contention with the notion that writers and artists in general are more sensitive to depression and associated conditions, but the list of well-known authorial depressives is broad: Sylvia Plath, Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.K. Rowling, Tennessee Williams, Stephen King, and my shining guide, Mark Twain—and lots more. The famous names suggest that there’s a wider carnival of sad writers, but their lack of fame hasn’t let us peer into their dank mental grottoes.

Writers have a peculiar set of traits that can lend themselves to dark thoughts. Stereotypes can often trip up facts, and exceptions are everywhere, but writers are often inward, reflective sorts. Many are introverted, and spend less time in jolly social engagement than other people. Many are frustrated and thwarted by the impossible demands of language—no piece of writing ever seems good enough. Many are frustrated by the demands and rejections—and right now, the everything-changes-everyday—of the publishing world.

Hey, Isn’t That My Face?
I have known a number of writers that had depressive tendencies, but the one I know best is me. My own mild (and less often, moderate) depression has followed me from adolescence into my adult life. Its face has morphed from “There is no meaning” to “I have no meaning” and back again, over and over. Sometimes the face is just an old photograph in one of my rooms, forgotten until I look, but sometimes it’s the only face I see in the mirror.

When you are depressed, the knowledge that “this will pass” means little. It’s like being softly smothered, or encased in a shell of dullness where sight, hearing and thinking are subdued. Contrarily for me, the state also carries a bit of a malevolent energy—I can feel it coming on, a tingle in the soul. And often it’s not precipitated by any event. However, when you’re in it, the key of “Hey, at a fundamental level, you are OK,” doesn’t fit into any slot of belief.

But I’m grateful that I don’t have full-blown depression, which renders some people near catatonic or incapable of action. I have dark thoughts indeed, and they go places they shouldn’t, but I’ve found that these foul possessions rarely last more than three or four days, a week at most, and then, blessedly, they lift.

There are so many people with tremendously more challenging lives than me, but the depressive state of mind remains a real and a serious thing. I’ve found a few helpful ways to fight it:

Five Anti-Depressants That Don’t Require a Doctor
1. Regular exercise. Even a half-hour walk a day is beneficial. The body moves, the blood circulates, the mind can look at the passing scenery and not fold in on itself.

2. Meditation: I’ve been meditating in the mornings, between 10-20 minutes, for more than a year now. It has been grounding for me; though my mediations can be fitful, because the brain is a spastic ping-pong ball, there is a calming solace in just sitting, breathing and watching the brain ponging.

3. St. John’s Wort: I don’t want to become another one of the pharmaceutical industry’s minions, so I’ve chosen an herbal supplement that many feel offers relief. And many people don’t. For severe depression, prescription anti-depressives can be life-saving, but that route doesn’t feel right to me. But placebo or not, I’ve taken St. John’s Wort on and off for years, and think there is a mild benefit: fewer episodes of depression and fewer episodes of longer-lasting depression. Your mileage may vary.

4. Writing: I often duck, sidestep or back away from my creative writing (hey, all you marketing-writing or editing clients: I always do the work, and with full attention, mopey or not) when I’m feeling low, and that seems to reinforce or exacerbate the soul-drain. Writing anything—essay, fiction, travel piece, haiku—gives the sad face more lift.

5. A person who believes in you: I’m grateful that Alice is around to tell me to stop moping. I don’t stop moping, but I appreciate her efforts. She has watched my struggles in these areas for years, and has stuck around to help. She is a dear creature, even if she has funny hair.

And one I didn’t list as my own, because I’ve yet to try it, but I’m considering it: a SAD therapy lamp. Winters do seem harder for me than other seasons.

And if none of those help, there’s always dropping a little acid. I saw that Tim Ferriss is underwriting (and crowdfunding) a Johns Hopkins study on the efficacy of psychedelics in treating depression and PTSD. The initial research is very promising. And the mushrooms might be good in pasta.

Seriously though, the pain of the families that I mentioned above is unimaginable. If you are habitually down, and it doesn’t feel like there’s a way out, get help. There is a way out, and it’s not by taking your life. There’s a National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800 273-8255, and here’s their associated website.

Better days ahead.

Guest Posting? Wipe Your Feet at Your Host’s Door Before Entering

You're a Guest: Behave—But Be Interesting!

You’re a Guest: Behave—But Be Interesting!

Guest posting on well-trafficked sites can be an effective way for freelancers to drive awareness of their blog, their services or a product that the freelancer is hoping to give potential clients/customers a peek at. Many site owners are happy to host a relevant post from an outside writer because it can give the site’s writer a break from their posting routines, expand on topics that are still relevant to the site’s audience, but that might be out of the purview of the site owner, and can spark renewed engagement for the site.

Guest posters can also bring a portion of their existing audience to the host site, which also holds some appeal for the site owner. There are some obvious basics you need to pay attention to when you solicit a site owner for a guest post, prominent among them whether your post serves that site’s audience, whether it’s written in the site’s style, format and tone, and whether it expands or breaks new ground with the site’s mission and message.

Take a look at this Why You Suck at Guest Blogging (and What The Pros Do Differently) post on Jon Morrow’s helpful Boost Blog Traffic site. The post goes over what makes a lousy and what makes a lively guest post, and also supplies a link list, vetted by topic, of sites that accept guest posts, those links going to site guidelines. This BBT post is over a year old, so not all of the linked sites may still be accepting guest posts, but a good many of them will still be active. Morrow’s site has a rich vein of info on guest blogging, which ties in well to his guest blogging courses.

Wither Guest Posting?
And why, you slyly ask, am I blithering on about guest posting? Oh, with motives so ulterior: I recently published my book on finding and cultivating your writing voice, Think Like a Writer: How to Write the Stories You See. Before I published, I contacted the owners of a number of sites about posting some adapted material from my book as a guest post. Most of the site owners were people I have had favorable contact with in the past, which at least gets your post in the door in the first place.

Some of the hosts were from sites I’d tweeted about regularly, because they offered great material for freelancers, or were people I’d written to directly about topics in their post or newsletters, or were from sites where I’d commented regularly, and was known to the host. It’s always great to have some personal connection with the site host to be considered for a post, though of course you still need to provide them with good material, and to follow the guidelines.

I did sent pitches out to several sites I was moderately familiar with, but at which I hadn’t developed the personal relationship described above. Those pitches were reviewed and graciously declined, for various reasons. And some of my closer contacts declined as well, again for various reasons, all of them legitimate. And two of my posts won’t go live for a while, because of the host site’s guest backlog.

Posting for the Long Tail
All that is no problem for me: I want to keep incrementally putting out word about my book, and guest posting is a helpful method, especially when I was able to use (with occasional modification) the direct material of my book. Below is the list of posts that are now active at various sites. The list includes places like LinkedIn and Medium, where I posted under my own accounts; obviously they aren’t vetted by a site host, but you shouldn’t post there either if you material isn’t up to snuff.

Check any of these out if the feeling strikes. There’s useful writing info in all, and it’s even amusing at times. As you might have guessed, I got the most sales from the highly trafficked Writer’s Digest post (seen in my Kindle Direct reports the day of and day after the post), but also some fair attention from the others, and increased traffic to my site in general. The Make a Living Writing post just went live, so we’ll see what happens there.

Try some guest posting where you might find a receptive audience—it’s a good exercise to stretch your writing, and could get you useful attention.

Making Some Rounds on the Web

Writer’s Digest

Don’t Muzzle (or Muffle) Your Writing Voice

Make a Living Writing

Why Super-Short Articles Can Build a Big Writing Career

Writing World

Pedal Your Bike to Pedal Your Mind

Writer Unboxed

A Writer’s Eyes Are Always Open

Medium

Here’s to the Oddballs
When the Writing Grind Seems to Shave the Soul

LinkedIn

How to Write After Midnight
Stick in Your Readers’ Heads: Use Words That Work
Typing with Another Writer’s Hands

Help—My Character Stole My Car Keys!

Car Keys
You know that feeling while walking when you come to an unseen or unanticipated step or curb, and your foot, rather than landing on the expected solid ground going forward, instead free-falls downward in a body-lurching lunge? Your senses and your system were geared to the expectation of solidity and firm footing; when the rug of expectations is pulled out from under our feet, we lose our balance. And that loss illustrates that odd sense of innocent trust in that what’s gone before will continue ever onward.

I want to discuss expectation and the breaking thereof in the context of writing, but first, two stories: this week I’m going down to Southern California to help move my mom out of her house—the house I grew up in—and into assisted living. She really doesn’t want to go. She’s had costly 24-hour care at home for a long while, but there’s no money left, so the house has to go on the market. That rips me up.

So, here we have my mother, who has declared for years that she’s going to die in that house, and expected that nothing would change that. But she also never expected to live into her 90s, and she never expected that the money would run out—she trusted in time’s justice, and in the gentle flow of days, one much like the last. So now she’s stepped off a high curb, and since she’s almost blind, she couldn’t see the fall ahead. Neither did our family: we expected everything to be fine. Our mom, in our house, forever.

No.

When Your Mac Goes on the Attack
And the next story, less wrenching of my emotions than my mother’s troubles, and more the exasperation that can come from dull expectation being jostled. I bought my girlfriend Alice’s Macbook Pro about seven months ago, after Apple replaced its logic board due to a known flaw. Because that’s the higher cortex of a computer, and because it had been replaced so recently, I expected that Mac would sing brightly in the shower for some years to come.

No.

Seven months of calm computing set my expectation rug firmly in the center of the room. So when the logic board failed again, a month ago, that rug’s sharp slippage to the corner tossed me off balance. And when the then-recent backup I had made corrupted some files of mine, so that I couldn’t fully restore the backup to the new machine, my clean new computing experience was clouded. Expectations, they’re two-faced tricksters.

So, I have no advice at all on how to combat the artificial security of expectation in your life, other than by saying expect the worst, and what kind of advice is that? I know I’ll fall off that curb again, because life’s rhythms work that way. But what might be useful in your writing world is knowing how to use both a character’s and a reader’s expectations to your advantage.

Curb-Dropping Your Characters
I’m cribbing a bit from something I’d published elsewhere, but if you’ve written a character in a story that’s perceived a certain way by all the other characters in the story, having that character behave in a contrary or contradictory way can give zing a bolt of electricity into the tale. Of course you can’t use this as a machination that puts a false or newly contrived face on your characters—readers would then be more annoyed than attracted. Character roads shouldn’t precipitously go off cliffs or wrenchingly veer back without some road signs, however subtle, that give the driving reader a shot at surviving (and enjoying!) the story.

I’m talking about turns in a tale so that any presumed character deviations and tilts can seem to be a reasonable (or if unreasonable, at least credible in context) expression of that character. There’s dramatic value in both torquing the presumptions of your readers, and in warping those of your characters in your story. Regarding pulling the rug on your reader’s presumptions, I’m not talking about something heavy-handedly overt, like revealing a most unlikely character as the murderer late in a mystery, or having it found out that a brain tumor was the reason your protagonist was a kleptomaniac.

If only late in a tale we read that rampaging Godzilla has a soft spot in his heart for rabbits and spares only them from vaporization with his habanero breath, that’s not tilting at presumption’s windmills, but more like manipulating the wind.

I’m suggesting that every character persona has layers, hidden motivations, checked dreams, such that a staid accountant in your novel might be shown later to work nightly on carving an exquisite chess set of fantasy figures from The Hobbit. Breaking character expectations can push a story off a curb for both the other characters—reacting to that push—in the tale, and for readers as well.

My Character Dry-Cleaned My Purse
Many writers have expressed surprise when one of their characters makes decisions or takes action in a tale that the writer hadn’t quite foreseen—if it works for the story, it’s gratifying when your characters dumbfound you. It’s never enlightening when we only work with the surface, superficial, or expected elements and themes. This same mechanism can work in business writing as well, and it’s often seen in a humorous context: humor does flip a pizza at you when you expected a pancake. Or maybe flips a penguin at you. Surprising the reader in a way that deepens the spices of the story—whether novel or advertisement—is a good thing.

I’ll be wrestling with my presumptions and prejudices about people all of my life (and lulling myself to sleep with my own expectations), but when you can do it purposefully and perceptively on a page, it might end up being called art.

Stories, the Bread and Cheese of the Brain

Well, it looks like a ruckus, but the story I heard is that it's a picnic

Well, it looks like a ruckus, but the story I heard is that it’s a picnic

There are so many great things about being a freelance writer working out of the home. For instance, consider all of the unusual facial hair experiments you can conduct. (And to my women writer friends, I don’t want to be exclusive—you’ve just got to concentrate.) But working from home or not, the greatest of writerly wonders is that you get to regularly think of, ponder, listen to—and write!—stories.

Stories, the bread and cheese of the brain. Whether one year old or one hundred, we are wired for stories—there is an electric trap-door that snaps open when the brain senses a story: drop it in, will process immediately! That’s why working with stories, whether fiction or nonfiction (or the clasped-hands circle that often entwines the two) is the highest privilege of being a writer.

A prime example from my recent writing life: my brother and sister-in-law recently visited the Rosie the Riveter World War II Homefront National Historical Park. Besides having a name you have to take a taxi around, the park is host to Betty Reid Soskin, a full-time interpretive ranger. My relatives went to one of Betty’s presentations and told me about her.

Taking the Long View

Besides her five-days-a-week gig at the park, Betty also gives presentations to other groups. She’s also been blogging regularly for more than 10 years, often on civil rights issues honed through a long perspective. Long as in, Betty is 93 years old. A blogging ranger, with all kinds of outside interests and activities, at 93. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a story. My brain tingled.

Stories come together from curiosity, observation, and attention to language. When you think like a writer, you realize that you don’t have to hunt in the piney woods for a story—the dang things are everywhere. I’ve been writing short pieces for The American Scholar magazine for a while, and my editor there agreed that Betty’s story rang all necessary bells, so she’ll grace a page in the next issue.

But hers is a story that deserves a more rounded telling—she is a primary source, a living history and an engaging one at that—so I’m querying a few other publications to see if they are lucky enough to publish something about her. In the brief time we’ve been corresponding, it’s been so much fun, because she is both witty and wise. I hope I can meet her in person soon. But in the meantime, you might like to meet her on the pages of her blog—they are well worth the reading.

Book Update

I’ve essentially finished my book on writing, tentatively titled Opening Your Writer’s Eyes: A Guidebook to Go from Perception to Page. It’s likely I’ll self-publish it, though I am going to check with a couple of publishing connections to see if there’s interest. If self-pubbed, lots to do still, like work with a cover artist and a crunch of formatting for ebook needs. But I’ll keep you informed on where it’s at, and where it will be.

In the meantime, sniff out some stories. (Hint: they smell of fresh-baked bread.)

Warm Applause for Writers Who Give Generously

'Writing Home In Calling Lake Alberta' photo (c) 2011, Mennonite Church USA Archives - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

I spend entirely too much time reading about writing and reading about writers rather than writing myself, but when I am reading, I want to be provoked, challenged, stimulated and amused. Over the course of 2013, many writers I read have done these things, and some of them consistently do them all. Here’s a list of writers who through their blogs, podcasts, newsletters and ululating cries from the tops of (non-ivory) towers give generously of their time and talents to the benefit of other writers (and readers of every stripe, of course). To all of you, a hearty thanks!

Carol Tice is a long-time freelancer and author who is the brains behind the great Make a Living Writing blog. She founded the equally great Freelance Writers Den, which is a rich resource for support and education for all levels of freelancers. She knows her stuff—and is willing to share.

Linda Formichelli is the head renegade at the Renegade Writer blog, and one of the helpful “Den Mothers” at the Freelance Writers Den mentioned above. She sends out to her email list daily (and juicy) “Morning Motivations for Writers.” She recently published Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race … and Step Into a Career You Love, which I recommend to those weary of rat-racing.

Ed Gandia is an exemplary freelance copywriter, author, speaker and coach—and a great guy (at least from seeing, reading, and hearing him online). His The High-Income Business Writing podcast hosts informative writers talking on practical freelancing topics. He’s the co-author of the bestselling and award-winning book The Wealthy Freelancer, as well as the founder of the International Freelancers Academy.

Peter Bowerman is another great writer, strong writer’s counselor, and also a great guy, one whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet in person. His The Well-Fed Writer and The Well-Fed Self-Publisher are essential books on the freelancing life. Check out his Well-Fed Writer blog.

Joanna Penn is one of the standout voices in the maelstrom that is the publishing world. She provides an always perceptive take on what’s what in publishing, and how to take the reins of your writing career in firm hand. Get her fine counsel at The Creative Penn and check out her novels and nonfiction too.

Jon Morrow is the agent provocateur who regularly kicks writer’s butts with his posts on not just thinking or talking about writing but actually taking risks and getting real writing work done. He was the associate editor of Copyblogger (a marketing/copywriting site I can’t recommend enough), and now throws lightning bolts from his site at Boost Blog Traffic.

Jonathan Fields is a guy who almost seems like a data-delighted high priest of writing, and you’ll often see on his blog a winning blend of logic, science and especially the human touch to plumb and understand the depths of communication. His Good Life Project is a probing, reflective series of interviews with people who have struggled in their work and personal lives and gained great (and instructive) ground in understanding and elaborating on the human condition through work and play. And how to live richly and well within that humanness. Fields is a fine author as well.

Hope Clark has long sent out a writing newsletter that’s been chockablock filled with writing tips, grants and other publishing opportunities for writers. I’ve subscribed for years, and am always delighted, particularly with her thoughtful editorials. She’s also a mystery novelist of some acclaim.

Chris Brogan is an author, entrepreneur, and genial gadabout who runs Human Business Works and other ventures to help other entrepreneurs and businesses make their fully realized and authentic way in the world. His weekly newsletter supplies great motivational tools—and he will answer every reply.

Porter Anderson is one smart cookie, who writes with insight and wry wonder at the crazy minefield of the publishing industry. He blogs seemingly all over the durn place, but prominently at Publishing Perspectives, Jane Friedman’s (see below) site and (see below again, if you dare) Writer Unboxed.

Jane Friedman’s site, magazine and general work examine with an analytical but empathetic eye the windings of many writing roads, from individual authorship to self- and traditional publishing to diverse matters of writing craft and business. She is on top of the latest developments—and offers clear interpretations from that peak.

Writer Unboxed is not a single writer, but a site that hosts daily posts on issues of writing craft, writing business and the vagaries of the writing life. The posters run the range from aspiring writers to authors with decades of experience and decades of publishing success. And the spirit of the site is open, generous and deep. (And they’ve even let me post a few times, despite my hairdo.)

And I wasn’t going to include any of my personal friends in this list because I don’t want you to think I can be bought off (I can, but send fifties), but I’m compelled to salute Joel Canfield, who counsels authors looking to self-publish at his Someday Box site, guiding them from the starting of sentences to the polishings for print (and wiggling electrons too). He’s a mighty nice fellow as well.

Thanks to all these writing stalwarts, and great success to all in 2014!

Mark Twain’s 10-Sentence Course on Branding and Marketing

Tom's Twain Tattoo

Yeah it’s real, and it’s on my bicep. Lucky that cigar isn’t lit.

I’ve discovered the secret of good writing: write about a famous writer, and use his actual words to build all the basic layers—and the frosting—of the essay cake. I don’t even have to attempt to be lamely clever if I can steal the cleverness of others.

There’s a reason why this guy’s face is tattooed on my arm.

Thus, my post at Marketing Profs today: Mark Twain’s 10-Sentence Course on Branding and Marketing.

Without An Address, You Can’t Go Home

Howdy Pardner Vegas Cowboy

Photo by Kevin Connors

When I lived in Las Vegas, my title at United Parcel Service was “Bad Address Clerk.” Because Vegas is a town of drifters, grifters and shifters of identity, packages would continually go astray, paralleled by the wanderings of their addressees, who in a month’s time in Vegas might have changed their residence—and their jobs, spouses and perhaps even their sex—two or three times. And then disappeared. So my shelves were filled with boxes large and small, for which the drivers could find no recipients.

Thus, if I exhausted every means of trying to locate these souls-on-the-wing (this being the 70s, many phone calls and phone book scratchings later), I would get to OPEN the packages, and, CSI-like, try to ascertain the whereabouts of the recipient by something in their contents. Guess what? People send very interesting things in the mail. Tear gas, for example. Firearms. Naughty things (I kept those). Jewelry. It was a diverting job, for a while; too bad it didn’t keep me out of the casinos.

Vicious tease that I am, I won’t let you see this tale fully unfold here. But know that it culminates in me stealing a car from a stripper, and having a cop remove me from my college classroom.

Well, at least that’s how it went down on paper. Check out the full article at Dave’s Travel Corner.

(What happens in Vegas—stays in your mind for years to come.)

All the News That’s Fit to Squint At

I have an ongoing battle with myself (damn, every time I get on top, I’m on the bottom too) about reading and listening to the daily news. It can be such a litany of woe and strife: so many deaths, so many injustices that I become inured to the actual screaming pain of it and instead numbly click on to the next article. The drive to drink more news swill is partially due to me wanting to be a journalist for so many years, and for thinking that if I stay current with global currents, I’ll know what’s happening.

But often, what’s happening is just as real under the radar, on the other side of the insistent NOW. Life works its odd ways in the road-not-taken nooks and crannies of not-news and not-hot-news. So, while I continue to battle with whether I’ll lap up the blood-soaked headlines of today, I also subscribe to a number of email newsletters, some of them writing-related, some not, that take a different perspective on what’s interesting and important. (Note: do not point out that reading yet more digests of information doesn’t really address the prescription that it might be time to wean oneself off the news entirely. Bah! Resolutions are for New Year’s.)

So, some offbeat compendiums of not-quite-news:

Next Draft
A daily digest of the provocative, the crazed and the head-scratching (and sometimes it does include top-of-the-news stories, though often from a different angle). The guy behind this, Dave Pell, usually has some wry or deadpan take on the articles he lists, before you click through to the madness.

Brain Pickings
Often centering around writers and literature, this is a weekly digest of the old, the new and the odd. Let them explain: “Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.”

Work in Progress
A weekly (though not always) newsletter from the Farrar, Strauss Giroux publishing company, it will often have oddments from the byways of literature and literary types, sometimes with snippets from interviews of famed authors long dead, or snipings from unruly authors quite alive. Some promo of their own publications here, but not obnoxious.

Shelf Awareness
And if you want to find out which of your favorite bookstores are closing this week, this newsletter’s for you. Well, that’s not all they do—from their About: Shelf Awareness publishes two newsletters, one for general readers and one for people in the book business.
Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers, our new newsletter, appears Tuesdays and Fridays and helps readers discover the 25 best books of the week, as chosen by our industry experts. We also have news about books and authors, author interviews and more.
Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade, which we’ve been publishing since June 2005, provides booksellers and librarians the information they need to sell and lend books. It appears every business day and is read by people throughout the book industry.

Writing on the Ether
And if you need to read about which publishing industry maven is trashing Amazon today (but it’s funny, really), you can do no better than to go to Jane Friedman’s fine blog and read the Thursday edition of Writing on the Ether. There’s more than just Amazon trashing going on, with all the publishing industry in a constant froth about pretty much everything. Porter Anderson surveys and curates sharp commentary from every whichaway.

Extry, Extry, Man and Dog Both Bite Reporter

And a bit of my own news: Men With Pens put up a post of mine about “Why I Write.” Go there and tell me why you write as well. Or why not.

And I was a finalist in the Gotham Writer’s Workshop 50-word monologue contest, which solicited 50-word monologues on growing up in the suburban 60s. Guilty. I won two tickets to a Broadway revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” which I would dearly love to attend, but it being on the Right Coast, I can’t. I’ll be finding some backbiting, caustic, alcoholic NY friends of mine to give them to instead.

The Year of Magical Writing

Writers’ funks are funny: sometimes it’s a single botched sentence that can send them into a tizzy. Or maybe reading about the success of something like 50 Shades of Grey turns them 50 Shades of Green. My own writer’s funk is restlessness. I do OK as a freelancer, both in writing for businesses and getting my stuff into magazines and other publications. I’m a long ways from writing for content mills or leaving a bleeding kidney on the doorstep of an editor that ignored my query. I’m two-thirds of the way through a second novel, and I know I won’t abandon it to die hungry in a cave.

But my attentions are scattered, and my discipline needs disciplining. I’ve been in the muse stew lately, paddling about the chunks of “why spend time writing that?” and “aren’t you just repeating yourself?” and “yeah, but you have to make a living, right?” A lot of the stewing has to do with thinking I’ve been writing at the same level for a while. I’ve become a bit too comfortable with both my professional and my personal writing—though god knows they’re still six stars short of stellar.

You see, I fear I’m the proprietor of Ye Olde Writer’s Junque Shoppe, where you can find a case-study plate with a little bit of food still stuck on it, another coffee-stained press release, a short story wearing worn shorts. I’m hungry for a challenge to my complacency.

Get Your Red-Hot Writing Wisdom (And There Might Be Cookies Too)
That’s why I’d be thrilled to win a free year of Carol Tice’s Freelance Writer’s Den. Carol is the den mother (along with the formidable Linda Formichelli), and the big brains behind the Make a Living Writing blog, which I’ve read for a long while. The level of practical writing (and writing-career) advice on the blog is consistently high—imagine what it might be in the close confines of the Den, where there are in-depth discussions on the nuts and bolts of writing for a living, and writing as an art. And besides the year in the Den, there are more perks galore to the winning writer.

The Den gives you access to webinars with guests like Peter Bowerman, Sean Platt and Chris Brogan. You learn juicy stuff like how to negotiate with clients, setting rates, knowing your audience, dealing with billing, and scads more. At least I hear you learn all those things, because I’m on the outside, looking in. But I know a big part of being a Den member is the electric exchange of ideas with fellow writers, who understand the struggles of freelancing. And who would likely prod someone suffering from Midlife Writer’s Crisis with a swift and deserved keyboard kick. Or an electronic hanky, if need be.

So, admission to the Den wouldn’t be a retreat, but an expedition to new writing territories, a Lewis and Clark unfolding of a new writing map.

Besides, I suspect there are chocolate chip cookies there too, and I’m hungry.

How to Find Your Why

One of my most esteemed, smart, good-guy writerly pals, Joel D Canfield (don’t you dare punctuate that “D”) is stepping out on a limb to offer his services and counsel in a new enterprise-cum-enchantment called Finding Why. I suppose this venture is not really stepping out on a limb for Joel, because he has built this philosophical tree of his over time, and this latest branching is sound. Here’s how Joel might have explained it in his own words. (Actually, these are Joel’s own words, pre-trademark violation):

“Too many people spend life stuck, going through the motions; believing they know what to do and how to do it, but never really clear on why. Finding ‘why’ makes ‘what’ and ‘how’ become clear. I want to help folks who are stuck being what the world expected to find their why, to find meaning and joy in life, and show the world who they really are.”

Joel proclaims that there are already 10,000 ringing words on the site. (Joel, these words weren’t selected at random, were they?) There’s also, “… hundreds of thousands to come. Free downloads. Room for conversation. A little insanity.” That “little” is Joel’s first effort at understatement ever. Well done, man!

I do suggest you hie on over to FindingWhy and find out why. Joel’s broad shoulders can bear the weight of the “Renaissance Man” title (while at the same time, I can see him well-fitted for jester’s shoes. But a canny, giving jester at that). He likes good beer, laughs freely and makes excellent pancakes. He will give you good Why.