Writing Archives

I just finished reading a book that I never expected to read — Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It was recommended by one of my guest bloggers, Joanne Lozar Glenn. If I saw that book in a bookstore, I would not have picked it up. But it turned out to be very interesting and inspiring.

Writing Down the Bones — Freeing the Writer Within — was first published in 1986, then expanded in 2005. What I really like about the book is how her Zen meditation practice is just like writing. Like everything else, to become a good writer takes practice. However, she also opens your eyes to life, to everything around you. Suddenly you might get a different perspective of what you thought was not very good and you can look at your writing from a different angle.

She quotes her Zen master, Katagiri Roshi, often such as:

Katagiri Roshi once said to me, “We are all Buddha. I can see you are Buddha. You don’t believe me. When you see you are Buddha, you will be awake. That’s what enlightenment is.”

One chapter that resonated with me is called, “Trust Yourself.” (It’s something my Cellular Response mentor is always telling me). She says you should listen to what other people have to say about your writing, but it’s your writing so make your own decision. Your relationship with yourself is so important. She ends that chapter by writing:

Don’t worry if you come back six months later and the piece you weren’t sure of turns out to be terrible. The good parts are already decomposing in your compost pile. Something good will come out. Have patience.

Do you think that as seniors we have more patience now than in our pre-senior years? I do.

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Coping with Bereavement through Writing

Urmilla Khana, left, and workshop leader Joanne Glenn talk about writing. (Photo courtesy of Betty Baumgartner)

Here, retired pediatrician and former caregiver Urmilla Khana shares what writing means to her. Urmilla took to writing after being the primary caregiver to her husband Kris, who had Parkinson’s Disease for fourteen years and died from a massive heart attack in 2003, when they were taking a cruise. At first, her writing was mostly about her life growing up in India. Later, her thoughts fixated upon her life with Kris …and her writing took another direction.

I had led such a busy life, even after I was retired, taking care of Kris, doing all the things we wanted and loved to do. When he passed away, there was such a void. I was looking for something to fill up my life—knitting, watercolor, movie clubs. One day, when I was visiting my cousin in England, playing around on the computer and practicing how to type, I started writing. It felt good, and somehow I got stuck on the word “word painting.” Word painting was better than painting—which would have taken too much room, too much space, too much equipment.

At the time I did not think of writing as a coping strategy. When Kris was sick, there was no time for writing, that’s not your priority. I feel that as a caretaker you’ve just got to enjoy every moment with that person. But I did record events and get things down—maybe that was the extent of my writing for coping. You may not have time to write, but putting memories down is another matter.

I started writing about PD later. It helped me settle my thoughts. When I’m sitting gathering all the details and thinking of the words to write, and what aspects of the story to write, it hits me again and again that I wouldn’t do anything differently. That gives me a lot of comfort. Sometimes I feel that maybe if I can write or express my story properly, maybe it would help other people. For example, it’s only in hindsight that I’m developing an awakening about my husband’s initial mental symptoms being a forerunner of Parkinson’s.

I am being more comforted by writing now than by not writing at all. If I didn’t write our story, how would I get it out of my system? Now, by writing, I can reminisce in a pleasant way. And it helps me understand my own life, and our life together.

If you are interested in giving yourself the gift of sanity—the chance to make sense of your life, to write, alone and with others—consider attending the “Writing Workshop for Caregivers” on February 20, 2010, from 10 A.M. – 2 P.M. We’ll meet in the welcoming environs of the Fireplace Room in Hollin Hall, a lovely historic home on the grounds of Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, VA. Or share this information with another caregiver, someone who may need or want a chance to write her story. For details, please email Joanne Glenn or call 703.721.2088.

Happy New Year from noranagatani.com!

Happy New YearCan you believe another year has flown by? Happy New Year! Here at noranagatani.com it was an incredible year of awesome experiences. I hope it was full of wonderful memories for you as well. For my husband and me, it was always the anticipation of seeing and being with our now 16-month old granddaughter. She flew in with her parents on Christmas night and it was the best gift anyone could ask for. Together with my younger son and his wife, we are currently enjoying our holiday family reunion.IMG_6773

Are you living your life’s purpose? I had a hand analysis done this year and found that I am a gifted healer. It validated my wanting to learn and practice Cellular Response, an energy healing modality founded in California by Dan Yamaguchi of Silicon Valley Health and Wellbeing. It gives me immense pleasure to help people with their pain (and as seniors, don’t our bodies pop up with pain here and there all the time?) I am very excited about continuing my education in this area.

I hope you enjoyed Joanne Lozar Glenn’s series on writing. I am inviting more senior guest bloggers to join me on this blog to share their expertise with you. I’ve met many of them through the Women’s Network of Springfield, a women’s networking group that I co-founded. If you have a Facebook account, you can visit us here.

Take good care of yourself. Remember, the gift of health is the best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones. Happy New Year!

How to Evaluate a Writing Class

JG teaching

Joanne Lozar Glenn teaching a writing class

Taking a writing class is one way to develop your writing skills and move forward on your writing project. But how do you know if the class is worth your time? Today, in the sixth and last post of this series, guest blogger Joanne Lozar Glenn addresses that question: “How to Evaluate a Writing Class.”

Writing classes are a great way to give yourself deadlines for your writing project and become a more skillful storyteller.

But if you’ve never taken a writing class before, how do you know if it’s a good one?

First, check out the instructor’s personality, background, and focus. If you talk to the program director, consider asking what kind of feedback the instructor tends to get.

Once you’re enrolled, use these questions to decide if the class is a good educational experience:

• Does the class inspire you to write?
• Is the instructor encouraging? Does s/he show respect for all participants’ work?
• Has s/he emphasized confidentiality with respect to the writing everyone shares?
• Is class content customized to participants’ needs?
• Are you encouraged to discover and stay true to your own voice, even while learning techniques for honing and clarifying that voice?
• Does the instructor provide examples of how to apply a particular writing technique?
• Can the instructor explain a concept in more than one way? Do the explanations and examples make sense?
• Does s/he find and comment on your strengths as a writer?
• Does s/he have you improve one or two things at a time, rather than redlining everything in your story?
• Can you feel your writing changing?
• Do you feel safe enough to explore challenging subjects?
• Has the instructor set ground rules for responding to others’ work, and modeled appropriate and inappropriate responses?
• Has s/he clarified the differences between responses that are appropriate for first drafts versus those for revised drafts?
• Does the instructor admit that her response is only one opinion… and encourage you to trust what resonates?
• Are you learning from the other class participants as well as from the instructor?

If you can answer “yes” to most of the questions, then you’ve got a winner.

Where can find writing classes? Here are a few opportunities in metropolitan Washington, DC:
Fairfax County Adult and Community Education
Vienna Community Center (see p. 28)
The Writers Center

Happy New Year, happy writing!

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picture out of focusTo hold your audience’s attention, keep your writing focused, writes guest blogger Joanne Lozar Glenn in today’s post.

Focus: One Key to Writing Text that Readers Want to Read

Think of the last fuzzy photograph you took. Did you keep it? Or did you throw it away? I’m betting you threw it away, probably because the fuzziness made it hard to know what the photo was really about.

There’s a metaphor here. Readers don’t get into fuzzy writing either.
Bonnie Hearn Focus your Writing
Bonnie Hearn’s written a classic on this topic: Focus Your Writing. Her key message: Decide if you want your piece to entertain, explain, instruct, or inform. Then you can shape the parts to meet the overall goal.

Though Hearn was talking about journalism, her advice also makes sense for life stories. How do you apply it?

Here’s a technique some successful writers use:  they write a sentence about what they want the story to do—for example, to let people experience how it felt to be nineteen in a foreign country, by myself, not knowing the language, with $20 in my pocket—then they tape this sentence to their computer screen (or to the draft when they’re ready to revise). Everything that goes in the piece must further their purpose. If it doesn’t, then they delete it (or save it for another story).

It may seem harsh (as William Faulkner put it, you “kill your darlings,”) but I’ve seen his advice make a huge difference in creating work that others want to read. How about you? What works when you’re trying to stay on topic? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Do you dream of writing a book? Do you wonder — will it sell? Go for it—it’s a great feeling of accomplishment. Then when you’re ready, check out these tips on how to determine if your book is marketable, so you can decide whether and/or how to pursue publication, writes guest blogger (and published author) Joanne Lozar Glenn in today’s post.

So you’ve got this idea for a book . . .
… and you’re wondering if it’s “publishable.”*

This is a real question lots of would-be authors have—in fact, it came from a friend just today. Here’s what I told her.

First, understand that you’re really asking “What’s marketable?” and not “What’s publishable?” Big difference.

Lots of things are “publishable,” especially through “print on demand” publishers. You write your book, you pay for printing, you get your copy.

But to be marketable, your idea must be so compelling that people will buy your book.

How do you know if your book will sell? Basic market research:

1. Find out how many and what kind of books on your topic have been published—check publishers’ catalogs, Amazon.com (www.amazon.com), and Books in Print (at your local library).

2. Next, check Amazon rankings to see if these books are selling well. Yes? That’s good…it means people are interested in your topic.

3. Figure out how your book is different from what’s out there. What does it offer that’s missing in the market?

Larsen_Book_ProposalAt this point it would be good to consult Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal and Susan Page’s The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book to decide next steps.Page_Shortest_Distance

Even if your book isn’t marketable, it may still be of great interest to friends, families, even local libraries or historical societies. So don’t get discouraged. Write the book you want to write. After all, only you can make your dream come true.

*I know that when you ask “Is this publishable?” you’re really asking “Am I a good writer?”—but that’s another topic for another time. 🙂

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How to Keep a Writer’s Notebook


Use a writer’s notebook and you’ll never run out of things to write about, notes guest blogger Joanne Lozar Glenn in today’s post.

So you’ve decided to write your life story, and now you’re sitting in front of a blank page or computer screen. How do you get started? Lots of writers keep notebooks. No, not a diary or journal, but a place to record what they notice and react to. These observations are the seeds of writing ideas that they harvest later.

Writers’ notebooks can be small, spiral-bound “idea catchers.” They can be manila folders, for holding all the scraps of paper that have ideas jotted on them. They can even be index cards or post-it notes, kept in a zipped pouch for easy retrieval and sorting. The important thing: to write down ideas as they come to you, so you can pick one to play with later.

Ralph FletcherWhat kinds of ideas should you keep in your writer’s notebook? Ralph Fletcher, author of  A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You, suggests jotting down

•    mind pictures

•    snatches of conversation

•    unforgettable stories or images

•    memories, photographs, and doodles

•    lists of people to contact and interview

•    facts that are important to the story you want to tell

•    things you wonder about

•    prompts to get you started, like “I remember…” or “The truth is….” or “There is the moment when everything changes” or “I was seven then, and …”

•    even steps to remind you of your writing goal(s).

With a writer’s notebook, Fletcher says, you’ve got “a powerful tool for writing and one of the best ways I know of to live a writing kind of life.”

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How to make your dream of writing your life stories come true. Joanne Lozar Glenn continues her six-week series on sharing one’s life stories.

Your Mark of Genius: Start with a Bold First Step
Many seniors dream of writing their life stories …so that their children and grandchildren get a sense of who they were, how they lived their lives, and what was important to them. But it’s hard to start what seems like such a huge project.

Jim Ball, president of The Goals Institute, recommends an easy technique for accomplishing any dream: start everything with a strong, bold, first step. Ball says that people who begin boldly and with enthusiasm are more likely to end strong and with success than those who start with only half-hearted efforts.

What bold first step can you take today to create a written record of your life? Maybe it’s clearing this week’s calendar and scheduling ten minutes a day to brainstorm and then list what you want to write about—then in the weeks that follow, write one memory, as fast as you can, during each ten-minute time period you’ve set aside.

Write one memory in ten minutes, you say? Yes, you can, if you give yourself permission to just get the story down on paper and worry about “perfecting” it later. I use (and teach) this technique myself. In ten weeks, writing two days a week for ten minutes each day, I created twenty stories. Ten of them are good enough to keep and file for later revision.

I’ll ask it again—what bold first step can you take today to create a written record of your life? As Goethe said, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

Writers Read Revelations of the Heart

Guest blogger Joanne Lozar Glenn writes about sharing one’s life stories. She will be my guest for the next six Wednesdays. Enjoy!

Last Friday, about 80 people came to Borders Bookstore in Tysons Corner, Va., to hear nine local writers reveal how everyday events—a shopping trip, a bracelet, a failed crop—shaped how they later came to view love, loss, life itself.

Kathy Nutt

Kathy Nutt

Who are these writers? They are people—like you, perhaps?—who wanted to create a written record of their life in a way that is interesting for others to read. So they enrolled in writing classes—mine and those of my colleagues, Kathy Nutt (that’s Kathy in the photo) and Louise Gibney. The writers’ work earned them an invitation to participate in the “Writers Read” program, now in its second year.

Some of their stories, like Chuck Klee’s “The Busboy,” were funny. Some, like Susan Rich’s “Up the Hill,” were stunning. And some, like Mary Lucas’ “Legs,” and Maria-Mercedes Torres’ “Monologues with Julia,” had that perfect blend of humor and pathos. All of the stories were heartfelt in how they aspired to understanding, forgiveness, transformation—and in the process, inspired us, the audience, to see others, and ourselves, a little differently.

It’s not easy to do this kind of writing, to craft a story so well that it’s as compelling as a novel—and harder still to put that story into the world. But these writers did it, through lots of hard work and courage. I salute them for sharing their revelations of the heart.

If you’ve been thinking about writing your life stories, here are two resources for getting started in the Washington, DC, metro area:

  1. Classes at Fairfax County’s Adult and Community Education Program
  2. Frank Milligan’s Time to Write: Discovering the Writer within After 50

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