16 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write

cropped-fi-mt-rainier.jpgIn my blog posts up to this point, I’ve discussed my reading and writing. (If you scroll back in time, you’ll find several posts on books – “On reading 100 memoirs in order to write one.”)  I’ll  twist here to discuss teaching. One of my favorite classes is Jumpstart Your Writing. I love to help students who are stuck, either because they lost their mojo or because they were too afraid to start their writer’s life. Here are 15 tips that help me and I hope my students as well.

15 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write
1.) Set your alarm for 45 minutes. Anyone can write for 45 minutes. Almost always, I keep writing long after the alarm sounds
2.) Believe in the power of revision. We can’t begin to revise until we have something down on paper. From there, our job is to revise and revise and revise. Jennifer Egan said she revised A Visit from the Goon Squad 57 times. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.
3.) Turn off your inner critic. When your mind says, “This is trash. This is horrid, say to yourself, “It doesn’t matter how good it is now, because I’ll rewrite and rewrite.”
4.) Only show your writing to someone you’re comfortable with –who may or may not be your partner, your spouse, your child.
5.) Connect to a writing group, either in person or on-line

Gig Harbor Library 1

Gig Harbor Library, Gig Harbor, Washington

6.) Read 100 books of your genre
7.) Figure out your own writing bio-rhythm. Are you a night writer or a morning writer? Do you prefer writing at home or writing at the library or coffee shop? Do you need to write one hour a day (more or less) or do you prefer to write hours and hours at a time?
8.) Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer? Or both? The more you know about your personal writing style, the easier it will be to write.
9.) Schedule writing time on your calendar.
10.) Learn as much you can about writing well. Takes classes, go to conferences, go to workshops, watch instructional or author panel You Tube videos.
11.) Develop a tough skin. Realize everyone gets rejections. Share your rejections with supportive people. When you receive a comment in a rejection (as opposed to a form letter) consider it a success. Respond to the comment and resend the query or manuscript.
12.) Participate in Nanowrimo in November through your library, Richard Hugo House, or other locations around the Sound.

Camel Riding 2

Outside of Urulu, Australia

13.) Make a personal commitment. How do you do that? Decide your own manner of making the commitment.
14.) Throughout the day, write notes on your phone with writing ideas for stories, scenes that you’ve watched on the bus, street or wherever. Write each of the scents you notice throughout the day.
15.) Write affirmations and post them around the house. “I finished my book. I published my book. I have an agent. I won the Pulitzer prize.”
16.) Watch other artists—singers, comedians, painters, in their struggle. Being an artist is a brutal business, so we all need to support each other. Be a good literary citizen: attend author and poet events, write reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, read interviews and learn about resources on http://www.writersconnection.org, and drop a note to a favorite author. Believe in yourself. If these artists can do it, you can, too.

Photos from Scenes in A Long Way from Paris

Camille

Water “tank” used before the water froze

The “Source”

To get water, we pulled a stick from this rock on the hillside 1/2 mile from home

Our House

Our house. Note the overhang with corrugated metal: the toilet (1/2 wine barrel covered with two planks)

Herd

Ay_liz_a_bet_a with Baby, her favorite goat

Cleaning the mess in front of the house

Ricky and Jacques

Beauty

The hanging sausages: “like bells”

My herd

Illusive and others with Mon Rosa in the background

Ay-liz-a-bet-a

With sheep as well as goats and cow. Eating at the barn means a day humans are celebrating  at the house.

Twenty years later (2000)

Twenty years later (2000): The land and beautiful Camargue horse look the same. My daughter in foreground.

Twenty years later (2000)

Twenty years later (2000): No goats, but land is still beautiful. My niece, daughter, me, and Jacques.

 

Teacher, Speaker

E.C. Murray teaches Creative Writing at both Seattle Central College and Tacoma Community College. Her writing format focuses on three central areas from which all writing flows: character, plot and prose. Additionally, she speaks at writing workshops and forums from libraries to colleges as well as service clubs and community functions.  To book an event, contact her publicist C.R. Wissmann at crwissmann@gmail.com.

Teaching 2 2017

Students and audiences say:

I loved your teaching style and was amazed at how much information was imparted in a fun, lively and open environment. DG

Thank you so much Elizabeth.  I greatly appreciate the instruction you gave us and the encouragement you gave me.

I’m energized to continue. JD

I really enjoyed your class. Although I have no plans to pursue writing as a career I did get a lot of pointers that will improve my essays. Thank you for your encouraging words regarding my work. CB

I … think you are such a great instructor who really shows your passion for what you do.  I was inspired when I took your first class and this class was such an excellent way to learn this wonderful craft of writing.  I now feel like I am on my way to writing my first book or memoir and I look forward to reading your next book! CJ

Gig Harbor Library 1

Up Coming Signings and Presentations

ECM_w_goats photo

2018

February 24, 2018 Liberty Bay Books, 409 Pacific Ave., Bremerton, Wa. 2:00-3:00 P.M.

March 22, 2018 Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave. S, Seattle, Wa. 98118

2016

May 24, 2016 Gig Harbor Library, Gig Harbor, WA. 6:30 – 8:00 P.M.

May 28, 2016, Bellevue Barnes and Noble, Crossroads, Bellevue, WA. 1:00 – 3:00 P.M.

June 7, 2016, Holyoke Public Library, Holyoke, MA., 1:30 – 2:30 P.M.

June 21, 2016, 6:30 P.M. Kiwanas, 7445 S. Homer St., Tacoma, WA.

June 28, 2016, 1:00 P.M., Bonney Lake Library, Bonney Lake, WA.

 

 

Event Calendar April-June 2016

April 9, Sat. 9:00 AM Book Signing; Barnes and Noble; Alderwood Mall

April 14, Thurs., 7:00 P.M. Morso’s –with other writers, Gig  Harbor

April 21, Tuesday, 6:30 PM Island Books, Mercer Island “April in Paris” event with other authors

April 29, Friday, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM, KSER radio, 90.7 Everett, Snohomish

May 7, Saturday, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Barnes and Noble, Bellevue

May 24, Tuesday, 6:30 – 8:00 PM, Gig Harbor Library, Gig Harbor, Wa.

June 7, Tuesday, 1:30 – 2:30, Holyoke Public Library, Holyoke, Ma.

The Intimacy of Memoirs…and Beyond

Thanks to you who’ve written thoughtful notes about A Long Way from Paris. I’ve loved the goat photos,  the stories of travels in France, some stretching back to World War II, and the honesty of those  who relate to feeling “less than,” not up to par, not good enough. That’s what memoirs are about: resonating with others’ hearts and souls, revealing the parts of ourselves we often prefer to stay buried.

A student of mine recently committed suicide. She didn’t know many others in our small class, but writing memoir is an intimate process in which strangers feel strangely connected. A knot grew in my stomach, puffed like yeasty bread, and I realized I’d denied dealing with her death—truly wrestled with and accepted it—until I had to face my other students. That’s what memoir is about. Saying aloud that which we’d rather hide away; confronting our emotions that aren’t actually demons, but difficult, often painful tugs on our heart that we’d prefer not see the light of day. And yet, by speaking out loud–and here’s where the cliché comes in –by speaking our truths—we become deeper, clearer, more empathetic beings and so, too, our stories. We become models for the people we touch.

Cape Cod Pochet boardwalkMy next book is actually not a memoir. It is a mystery; a fairly light one indeed. Do you remember hearing about when Dylan was booed off the stage in Newport for switching from folk music to electric? Well, grandiose as it may sound, I feel a bit of kinship. Memoir is excruciatingly difficult to write. Next, I wanted something lighter. After all, Harriet the Spy was my favorite book growing up, I read every Nancy Drew book in fourth grade, and in college, if I felt depressed, I turned to Rex Stout. So forgive me as I switch to lighter fare. Soon you will meet Lori Orondo who’s at her wits end with her wayward son, Austin, and Amanda Perkins, a former rival from college, and Nicole Whryrll, the volatile friend and neighbor, all of whom are wrapped in the shooting of Scott, the charming pharmacy tech with a questionable past.

We all need relief now and then. You never know from whom you’ll find wisdom, but Mel Gibson (I know. Really??) said, movies should 1.) Entertain 2.) Educate 3.) Elevate. I hope the same for my books. And yes, they can even be a little fun.

Much gratitude to all. EC Murray

Why would anyone write a memoir?

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I sometimes wonder why on earth I wanted to write a memoir. Why would anyone want to delve into personal tragedies, pain, struggles. Or, be honest. Be vulnerable. Who wants that?

When I first pitched my story about living off the grid in the mountains of southern France, an agent said, “Oh no. It must be more – how you grew; what you learned from your experience; what it meant to you. So I dug and I dug and today, six years later I am so sick of this f***memoir.

So, again, why write a memoir? Purging is no reason. Information dump is not a memoir. At the very least, hopefully, one can grow from another’s experiences, learn from other’s mistakes, and feel a sense of empathy from another’s words. And aren’t we all figuring out that empathizing, the “walking a mile in another’s shoes,” is about as important as anything we can do?

“Was it worth it?” my friend Pam asked. “Reading one hundred memoirs in one big surge?”

Absolutely. Mostly, because the project led me to stories I’d never have read otherwise. Take, Tobias Wolff’s Pharoahs of the Army, a collection about war. But, actually, it’s not about war; it’s about people. People who react humanely in an otherwise inhumane setting. It’s about people with war all around them.

Like every school child who grew up during Vietnam, I watched the nightly television news and saw gruesome images of severed arms, bloodied legs, napalmed children. I did not wish to read about war. Any yet, I can’t recommend Pharoahs more strongly.

  1. The Voices in My Head by Emma Forest
  2. The House of Sky by Ivan Doig
  3. My Life with My Brother by Nicholas Sparks
  4. Finding Grace by Donna Van Liere666
  5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
  6. The Road to Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam
  7. Boys in My Youth by JoAnn Beard
  8. I’m All Over That by Shirley McClaine
  9. Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See by Mike May
  10. The Sparkled Eye Boy by Amy Benson
  11. My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
  12. A House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  13. Drinking by Caroline Knapp

One Year Later

self portrait 2flowers on side     I’ve reflected on the most powerful memoirs, the ones that stick like oatmeal, those memoirs I’ll always remember.  I loved discovering new books for this project, like my new favorite author, Geoff Dyer. His memoir, which only loosely fits the genre, is Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with DH Lawrence. I like Dyers wit, and in fact, his wit and insight carry the reader, since he often skips over silly devices like genre and plot.

I wouldn’t have read The Jaycee Dugard Story, the gut wrenching saga of a young woman raped and kidnapped, and then freed because of a keen eyed security guard at UC Berkeley. The story cried tabloid press to me, fodder for voyeurs reading her story in People magazine at the checkout line at Safeway. But I read it, skipping most of the rape, and finally, I understood that this tragedy, being stolen off the streets, could happen to anyone, at anytime. Anyone of us can intercede as well, if we look sharply enough at a situation which seems “off.” That’s all the security guard had for evidence to start the investigation: “Things looked off.”

A more poetic memoir, The Sparkling-eyed Boy by Amy Benson, moved me. Awarded at the Breadloaf Writers conference, this lyrical story tells of a girl who becomes a woman, entwined with summer friendship, summer romance, summer confusion. It’s beautifully written, and I felt myself rise and fall with the narrator who tries to understand what was and is her life.

But when it comes to beautifully written and gut wrenching, no one compares to Joan Didion. Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking is unequaled in its brilliance as Didion figures out how to accept the sudden death of her husband and the illness of her only child. We, readers, befriend her in her grief, and yet, keep just enough distance to breathe, plow through, and feel empathy, yet not get bogged down in it. I know of no memoirist who surpasses Joan Didion.

  1. Hippie Boy by Ingrid Ricks
  2. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by bill Bryson
  3. There is Nothing in the Book I Meant to Say by Paula Poundstone
  4. Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck
  5. The Olive Farm by Carol Drinkwater
  6. A Piano in the Pyrenees by Tony Hawks
  7. Hell or High Water by Peter Heller
  8. Life with Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley
  9. The wilder Life by Wendy McClure
  10. Seriously, Just Kidding by Ellen de Generis
  11. Plan B by Ann LaMott

Stepping into the Morass: MFA vs. non-MFA

Cape Cod Pochet boardwalkMemoirists in blog: Nestor, Sparks, King, Conroy, Patchett, Grealy, Beard

Now that I’ve  Read 100 Memoirs in order to write one, I’ve begun to understand the range of memoirs in America’s literary world. I’ve also seen divisions, a blurred definition of “literary,” and people asking if memoir has any value as a genre at all.

Some cite St. Augustine’s Confessions as the first true memoir. My own introduction was Theo Nestor’s hopeful How to Sleep Alone in King-Sized Bed, which begins when she puts a chicken in the oven for a traditional family dinner. By the time she takes it out, her world has turned upside down. Not only is King-Size Bed  a must for anyone going through a divorce, it engages readers with its easy slippage through time. We’re  moved by Nestor’s life, but also inspired, that we can overcome our own challenges and crisis’ in a topsy-turvy world. This, I believe, is what the best memoirs should do.

Though Nestor has an Masters of Fine Arts , she writes a compelling story. “Though?” My premise is that many writers walk away with their MFA not knowing how to write a story. There is a split in the literary world between MFA and non-MFA. The question, does a writer need to earn an MFA  to write compelling stories, has been covered in a slough of articles – (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2010/11/mfa_vs_nyc.html by Chad Harbach; http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/mfa-or-not-mfa-question Robin Black; http://dismagazine.com/discussion/32434/brad-troemel-mfa-critiques/ Brad Troemel, for example. Many articles were written in 2010. Is that when people woke up with a jerk, realizing they were $40,000 in debt with no job in sight? And that the $40,000 wouldn’t go away? It would grow over time?

Anelise Chen compared–again, in 2010 –the authors admired versus those who actually sold books. http://therumpus.net/2010/10/on-blowing-my-load-thoughts-from-inside-the-mfa-ponzi-scheme/ Anelise Chen

New York Times Hardcover Fiction Top Five -2010-Week not identified

  1. SAFE HAVEN,      Nicholas Sparks — No MFA
  2. FREEDOM,      Jonathan Franzen — No MFA
  3. WICKED      APPETITE, by Janet Evanovich — No MFA
  4. THE GIRL      WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson — Swedish, therefore, No      MFA
  5. THE HELP,      by Kathryn Stockett — No MFA

Versus New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 List with Age and MFA Breakdown

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32 — Johns Hopkins
Chris Adrian, 39 — Iowa
Daniel Alarcón, 33 — Iowa
David Bezmozgis, 37 — No Writing MFA
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38 — Iowa
Joshua Ferris, 35 — UCI
Jonathan Safran Foer, 33  — No MFA
Nell Freudenberger, 35  — NYU
Rivka Galchen, 34 — Columbia
Nicole Krauss, 35 — No MFA
Yiyun Li, 37 — Iowa
Dinaw Mengestu, 31 — Columbia
Philipp Meyer, 36 — Michener Center
C. E. Morgan, 33  — No MFA
Téa Obreht, 24 — Cornell
Z Z Packer, 37 — Iowa
Karen Russell, 28 — Columbia
Salvatore Scibona, 35 — Iowa
Gary Shteyngart, 37 — Hunter
Wells Tower, 37 — Columbia
My own addition: Tao Lin, 27 — Disowned by NYU

Clearly, the literati are drawn to MFA’s and Iowa and Columbia in particular, while the general population prefers something else.

As a result of my Don Quixote quest to Read 100 Memoirs, I read many books I wouldn’t have glanced at ordinarily. Takes, Nicholas Sparks, #1 on this list. I read Sparks memoir, Three Weeks with My Brother, having never actually read a Nicholas Sparks novels in my life.

Besides being entertained and moved, I learned of Spark’s his absent professor dad –absent  first, because of night school and work, and second, absent staying late grading papers. I also discovered how Sparks succeeded as a writer. He worked at his meaningless day job to pay for food, rent, shoes for the kids, as well as therapy for his child with a disability. And he wrote at night. Like most writers, his first book landed in the garbage. His second book was a collaboration, and his third book, his first published with sole authorship, hit the big time. The Notebook  became Sparks first published book.

Consider Stephen King. Again, I don’t read his books ordinarily, or the horror genre, but I devoured his memoir, Memoir on the Craft of Writing.  I’d recommend Sparks and King’s memoirs as inspiring for writers as well as interesting reads. How did Sparks and King become best-selling authors? They wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote, and read, read, read, read. They fed their kids. They did not get an MFA

Why discuss MFA versus non-MFA? Because many of the memoirs I read scream MFA in that they don’t have a story. One of my favorite writers, Pat Conroy, wrote in his memoir, My Reading Life, that we live in an era where books do not need to have “story.”

I hate to dis any authors because we have all worked so hard and many of us have failed to write the book we wish we’d written. A moving voice does not a story make. If the purpose of a memoir is to like the author, to empathize with her, to feel her feelings, I am left cold. I like Pat Conroy’s stories “better.”

Am I saying I like men’s memoirs better than women’s? I hope not! I loved Ann Patchett’s story of her relationship with Lucy Grealy in Truth and Beauty. And Lucy Grealy’s memoir about her own disfigurement in The Autobiography of Face. Patchet and Grealy were both roommates at –yes, Iowa! The MIT of writers. So I’m not against either women memoirists or MFA’s or the best of them all, Iowa. I’d just like to keep “story” in my books. You know—wonder what’s going to happen next? Be emotionally aroused? Laugh, cry, think deeply. And for that, you need to write well-not earn an MFA.