Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It Might As Well Be Spring

The last arctic blast of the season sweeps through Northeast WA, but I remember the promise of prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil. I also favor The Law of Attraction and the power of positive thinking. So I've replaced the snowman I'd placed last November aside my front door with my chirpy spring ornament, even as the snow piles up. My crocus will be crunching up soon, followed by twirls of tulips and dazzles of daffodils. It won't be long now. It won't be long!

In the meantime, here's what I'm writing as February dissolves into March:
  • A new holiday tale about how my late husband, Ken, carried on with Christmas preparations after I tripped over a cat on the stairs, and fractured my left shoulder.
  • An essay about how baton twirling and psychologist Albert Ellis helped me overcome a longstanding anxiety disorder.
  • A piece on common grammar, punctuation and language usage errors that even experienced writers and editors let slip by.
  • A story about Grandma Gertie's Brown Betty, a baked pudding I adored as a child.,.and think I'll prepare this afternoon...nothing like a cinnamon scent to warm up a house on a bitterly cold last-gasp-of-winter afternoon.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pink Teas, Travel Shares, Oscar Contenders...and Writing

After all, I have a choice. I can sit down at my laptop, toss the cats aside when they jump on the desk and curl their tails around the monitor, shove Natty's snout away when he tries to lift my wrist from the keyboard, and get my story about an anxiety disorder written.

Or I can:
  • Don a hat that once was worn (not by me) in a local community theater production of The Music Man, and relive the days of the suffragettes at an AAUW "Pink Tea" in Spokane.
  • See all five movies nominated for Academy Award Best Director.
  • Browse Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites and order the books on the mandatory reading lists for my upcoming University of Cambridge history courses: The Triumphant Reign of Henry VIII, The Spanish Civil War, Napoleon and His Enemies.
  • Write a tribute to Peter S. Beagle for the spring issue of Uncle Jam.
  • Write a story about Ken's reluctance to read maps and submit it to Chicken Soup for the Soul.
  • Edit some "side trip" copy for an upcoming Wine Wherever book on the wineries of California's Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Monterey Counties.
  • Dust and vacuum my house and host a "travel share" party for Colville Branch AAUW.
  • Attend a Horizons retreat to plan coming attractions.
  • Go to two book group discussions...Kingsolver's The Lacuna and Wolfe's A Man in Full. Oh, and read both books, totaling 1500 pages.
  • Review complaints and cases for the Medical Quality Assurance Commission.
  • Read and answer e-mails.
  • Watch the Lakers win some and lose some.
  • Shop for reasonable airfares to Heathrow.
  • Apply lemon oil to the bathroom cabinets and louvered doors.
  • Watch DVDs starring William Hurt: "The Yellow Handkerchief" and "The History of Violence," with "Beautiful Ohio" to arrive Tuesday.
  • Clean out an underwear drawer.
  • Keep up my daily correspondence with my writing partner, Annie.
  • Take Tsunami outdoors for combing since she's shedding yet again.
  • Water the 25 house plants.
But now that I'm beginning to feel anxious about getting the anxiety disorder story written, I think I'd better write it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Carpal Brain Syndrome?

For the past few days I've been plagued with writer's block. Each time I sit down at my laptop I'm distracted by how I can't stop shivering, how my fingers tingle with what my doc and I suspect might be the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome, and how sick to death I am of this winter. While these cheerful thoughts invade my brain, my numb fingers have been trying to type away at a story I'm calling "Creature Comforts." But I haven't made much progress, flooded as I am with negativity.

Then this morning I read Wordstrumpet Charlotte Rains Dixon's column on clearing your mind for writing. It's easy, she claims. Just rage on for ten minutes and then shift gears. Now, refreshed, I'm back to finishing "Creature Comforts."

Great column, and here it is, with her permission:

Clear Your Mind for Writing
By Charlotte Rains Dixon

In the last issue of this newsletter, I talked about the importance of creating a regular writing practice. But what do you do if you carve out that time, sit down at your desk, and find your mind encumbered by so much crap you can't write? Happens all the time, the trick is to have a tool-kit of ways to deal with this problem handy. Here are some suggestions:

1. Clear it Out. It is really important to cultivate some way to clear your mind. Meditate, pray, write in your journal for a few minutes to get your yas-yas out, take a quick walk, whatever helps you to clear your brain. Even taking a few deep breaths when you sit down to write can really help.

2. Set an Intention. You probably have some sort of goals for your writing, such as, finish a novel, write a screenplay whatever. Take that goal, chunk it down into a doable task, and then set an intention. For instance, I am going to write 3 pages today. Or, I will finish the rewrite of chapter 10. Then, when you sit down to write, remind yourself of this intention by closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and repeating it several times out loud.

3. Ask for Help. And I don't mean from your family. Ask whatever higher power you might believe in to guide you and help you to stay focused. If you don't believe in a higher power, ask your higher self. Because we all have one.

4. Use Your Subconscious. This falls into the Be Prepared category. Take the time to look at whatever it is you want to write about the day before. I know, I know, you don't have time. Listen, everyone has five minutes. Forget about the first five minutes of American Idol (it's just Ryan blabbering anyway), open your file, scan it quickly, ponder what you need to do next, close the file, go watch TV. This helps way more than the time it takes to do it. You'll get your brain engaged and ready to work and be focused, which makes it easier to turn off the worry faucet.

5. Keep a Notebook Handy. Keep a small notebook or scratch pad right next to your computer. If you get one of those distracting worry thoughts, pause for one minute and write it down. You need bread at the store? Write it down. You remembered an appointment? Write it down. Then make a habit of checking over these notes at the end of your writing session and dealing with them accordingly. Note the appointment on your calendar, make your grocery list, whatever.

6. Keep An Idea Notebook Nearby. Same theory as above, only for ideas. Many creative types start working on one project, only to think of 20 others. To control this, use an idea file as a way to harness all your brilliance without losing your train of thought. I used to keep an idea journal, but I'm so visual, if I don't see something, its gone from my mind, and all my ideas got buried. Now I use a cool open-topped wooden file box that came from my Dad's long-defunct printing plant. Added bonus is that I think of him every time I put in or pull out an idea.

7. Start With Negativity. I know, sounds counter-intuitive. But the idea is to just give into it. Rant and rave. Complain about how over-worked you are and how wretched your children are. Wail about how much you don't want to do everything on your to-do list. Write all your negative thoughts down, or think them, or shout them, whatever you want. Set a timer and limit it to five minutes. There. Now all the bad stuff is out of your brain, freeing you to write.

So there you have them, my best ideas to keep your brain clear while writing. Keep this list near your writing desk and add to it when you figure out more. Then remember to use them!

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Writer, mentor, and coach Charlotte Rains Dixon is passionate about helping writers, coaches, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals succeed, achieve, and profit in their careers and lives through writing. Visit her for more tips and techniques on writing—and living—at

Ten-Minute Tip: Get Your Ya-Yas Out

Set a timer and write for 15 minutes about how awful the world is. It is unfair, stupid, upsetting crazy, violent, etc., etc. Go on, and on, and on about the horribleness of it all. Whatever you do, do not write anything positive, because that's cheating. Life's a bitch and then you die, so write it all out. When the timer goes off, go to your regular writing. See how much easier it all flows?