Writing Resources

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We all have those things, those tools that keep us on task or inspire us or help us in the mundane, every day editing and revision process. And of course, there’s the writing.

As I was writing the Back to School Resource Guide last week, I realized that many of those same items can be used as resources for our writing process.

Currently, my first go-to is a Thesaurus. I use the online one in the previous link. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it has all the words.

Next is a new addition to anyone’s resource list: Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. I also have his Day-by-Day Calendar which gives you hints and copyediting advice all through the year that you didn’t know you needed until you read it. Both are excellent resources. He is coming out with a children’s version and a second edition is on the way.

My go-to online dictionary is Merriam-Webster, partly because of their longevity and willingness to modernize, but also their sense of humor. Follow them on Twitter.

Need to know what day someone was born on in 1873? Sunrise or sunset? Time and Date is for you.

Need a quotation? BrainyQuote.

When is National Crepe Day? Well, National Crepe Suzette Day is May 6th! Today, in fact is National Noodle Day! How do I know this? National Day Archives.

Need help jump starting your novel? Nanowrimo is for you! It runs November 1st through November 30th and gives you the resources and motivation to write 50,000 words in thirty days.

The only magazine I subscribe to is The Writer. I’ve been getting it for at least two decades, although I have more recently switched to digital only. Saves trees and space in my house.

Drawing Interior Scenes. Even as a young writer, I always drew the apartments where my characters lived. I found it a useful way to assist in the descriptive prose. This manga artist takes it to a whole new level: Manga artist [Haru Amake] shares a genius-level trick to take the headache out of drawing interior scenes

Chromebook Shortcuts

Two of my very favorite organizing tools are Evernote and Business Calendar 2. My links go to the Amazon store since I use my Kindle more than anything else, but both are available in the Google Store and if you have i-products you can check the Apple Store. Both come in a free and a paid version.

Evernote lets you keep information organized in separate “books”. A few of mine are: Quotations, Writing Prompts, A Book of Days (to track holidays), and Travel Notes for on the go.

Business Calendar 2 is the best calendar app I have ever used, and I have used more than a few. I’ve been using it for about two weeks, and it took me a couple of days to see how beneficial this calendar app is to my life!

The free version lets me do everything I absolutely need to do with a calendar/organizer with a minimum of ads. There are a few advanced features that I would like, and I plan to eventually purchase the paid version. In addition to no ads, it will let me multi-pick for deleting agenda items at the end of the day. But realistically, that’s only for my preference. It is completely usable and useful with just the free download.

Is This the End of Writing in Cafés? by Emily Temple. Full Disclosure: I’m writing this right now in a cafe, so I think you know my answer to that question.

I leave you with some inspiring words from Pulitzer Prize and Tony winner, Lin-Manuel Miranda:

Then chase a moment, not a plot.

If a moment’s too big, chase a sentence.

You just need an inch to start. GO WRITE.

Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter, circa 2016 (when you can’t find the words)

Inspire. October.

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Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

St. Francis of Assisi

I was happy to find the above quotation in my collection for today since today is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. He is well known for his love of animals; in fact, many churches do blessings of animals during this weekend of his feast including my own parish. He is the patron of animals, merchants, and ecology and is known to have set up the first live nativity scene around the year 1220.

I would recommend reading the English translation of Canticle of the Sun, which Francis composed and by the same token I’d highly recommend reading Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Laudato Si as well as the book based on that encyclical, Our Common Home by my friend, Brother Mickey McGrath.

In devotion to our common home and its care as well as his concern for the poor, Pope Francis took that name as his Papal name in 2013. It is the first time a Pope has been called Francis, and truly speaks to the heart of our current pope and brings on much inspiration to do for others in many ways.


Labyrinth at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario Public Library.
(c)2021

The above photo is of my most recent labyrinth walk. Located behind the library in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada, it is placed in serene, pastoral setting, surrounded by grass, trees, and a farm in the distance. There was the opportunity to walk it, pray the walk, and then to sit just taking in the space around me. There was a vegetable garden, a gazebo, and a court for lawn bowling. If my family wasn’t waiting for me in the car, I could have stayed there at least an additonal hour. I may plan on them dropping me off for a bit longer the next time we’re in the area.

It was a very hot day, but once I settled onto the marble bench after my walk, I was able to feel the breeze, letting it cool me off while I contemplated the bucolic area. Despite sitting relatively still, I felt energized and inspired, and all I wanted to do was to sit and write for a bit. That is one of the reasons that I always carry pen and paper, although in this case, I left it in the car bringing only my mask and my phone camera.

When I first saw the shape of this labyrinth online about two years ago it seemed an unusual shape. Upon seeing it in person, I realized that the shape itself wasn’t unusual or the design, but the way the turns were so sharp with acute angles. For me, it created the feeling of looking inside a keyhole or walking through the inside of a keyhole like a miniature person, Elves and the Shoemaker style.

As I said in yesterday’s reflection, I like falling headfirst into the photos and letting myself be inspired as if I had returned to the original place of the photo.


What inspires you?


Library Gardens. Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario Public Library.
(c)2021
I could have sat all day here, writing and looking out of the window.
(c)2021

A Writing Reflection

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A short rainstorm and now the sun is streaming through the windows of the new coffee shop I’ve brought my computer to. I don’t drink coffee, but I love coffee shops and this one is really perfect. It is the exact replica of what I would design if I were to open my own coffee shop, although perhaps not exact. It is very much themed in art: Botticelli, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe. I think I would theme mine with writing, but the walls, the delicate filigree on some chairs, the bright sofa under the window and the paper flower hanging lamp all exude ingenuity and initiates creativity; all creativity including my writing. It is very easy to get lost in thought and conceive of a vision that works.

This is my second time sitting here, at this same table. As I write this, I have a memoir workshop in about ninety minutes, and I’ve been here since 7:30. It’s now 8:44. My daughter “forced me” to drive her here to pick up an iced chai latte before school which is only up the road. Her incentive for me was that I could sit here and write or “whatever it is that I do” until the class, which is also up the road in a different direction. Her plan was that I sit here with my computer for almost three hours! What was she thinking?!

Well, her begging convinced me, although I’m not sure what the two folks behind the counter think of me nursing my drink until it’s time to pack up for class. I did buy (what I consider) an expensive breakfast – they have the most amazing crepes and worth every penny, although I’m not supposed to tell anyone about it. It’s being kept a secret so that it doesn’t attract the wrong crowd, by which she means people taking up space that are not her and her friends. Honestly, I wouldn’t even know about the place had she not needed a ride to and from.

I digress, though.

I’ve been trying to write this (in my head, at least) for the past two weeks. For the last nine years – I can’t believe it’s been that long! – I’ve attended a memoir workshop class twice a year – six weeks (although it started out at eight weeks) in the fall and then the spring. Two blissful hours of writing, reading what we’ve written, and learning new techniques, and getting writing tips. We come from all walks of life and it is equally entertaining and educational.

With the pandemic, the last three sessions were cancelled. It’s been difficult to keep up on some of my writing since the class is such an inspiration and motivator. We finally received the email from our teacher that we were on for this fall. I was so excited! I put the registration date on my calendar so I wouldn’t get shut out, and I began to prepare by buying a new notebook to write in for this semester. New, clean pages that will optimistically take me through several sessions.

Then the covid numbers began rising and kept rising. The library made the decision that they wouldn’t have people meeting inside the library building but they also didn’t want to cancel the session again.

They arranged with the next town over to use a pavilion in one of their parks to accomodate us. We’d be going until the middle of October, but we’re hardy upstaters, and half of us had been meeting in a different park for the last year through three seasons, and all the way into November. The pavilion had a roof to keep out the rain, and picnic tables and a dirt floor, and I did not care. We were meeting and connecting and writing.

On the first day, the library provided clipboards to lean on and the teacher brought a pile of cushions for the hard picnic table benches. I brought my own chair which I found more comfortable, but honestly, I may borrow one of the cushions next time.

The park was the perfect atmosphere for writing. A field of green grass, a cool breeze, an empty jungle gym, and a bridge we had to cross over a brook to get to the pavilion. It felt more like a retreat than a class. I took pictures – I always take pictures of places to share and to relive the moments. Sometimes falling headfirst into those photos and reliving those moments help to inspire a new series of writing prompts and ideas to plan for in the future. (I did the same at the coffee shop too. My family is a little tired of my Instagram life, photographing everything, getting the best angles, retakes – what can I say?)

There is also the added advantage that comes with fall. Fall is Back to School which is Back to Writing, and does sort of force me into the chair. I’ve got my writing (school) supplies, I’ve got some new prompts, some new plans for my website, some new angles for my book, and off I go. Out in the world, everything is a writing prompt. How could it not be, especially in fall. Leaves changing, pumpkins on porches, the smell of apples in the orchard, the countdown to Halloween and Thanksgiving and All Saints Day and Advent. And don’t forget the mums!

Everything is crammed into so little time, and we’re still postponing things because of covid.

Nanowrimo is just around the corner.

Election Day is in thirty days. No, it’s not an off year. There are no more off years.

Christmas shopping is short by one weekend.

What will the new year bring?

I just answered the question about my writing plans for winter, which was the first assignment from class. I’m not actually sure I answered the question as much as I skirted around it.

At the end of the WandaVision series on Disney + (spoilers), there was a meme based on Vision’s statement to Wanda: “What is grief but love persevering.” Online was a wave of substitutions for grief and love. The other day, because there is nothing I love more than a good meme, I thought:

What is writing but words persevering.

And I think that sums up writing for me. Taking a jumble of words and making them make sense. Form coherence. Form passion and inspire something, someone. The words keep persevering and the writing pushes on. And as I keep doing that – persevering, pushing on, plotting, and publishing – all that keeps me writing and titles me a writer.

Inspire. September.

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My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.  

Maya Angelou

New Writing Space for the next six weeks. (c)2021

Vacation’s over. School’s begun. The Jewish Holidays have come and gone without nary a new goal or resolution in sight. First therapy session of the new season is in the books. And what do I have to show for it?

It’s not nothing, but I honestly don’t know.

The monthly greeting: How are you doing always feels like a trick question. If I’m fine, am I fine? If I’m okay, why am I here in the first place? Will I actually say what’s really on my mind?

*shrug*

I don’t know. Somehow, I muddle through another session, sometimes wondering why I still come. I’m not suicidal. My anxiety is under control. It is more than the familiarity and routine of it. Part of it, I know, is that having it on my calendar gives me something positive to look forward to. If I have moments of struggle or lows, I see the appointment on the calendar and it gets me through; I know it will be okay until the next time. It gives me something to strive for. Could I get through the month without this one hour? Maybe. But why risk it?

It’s a safe place. We all need them. Big, small, in public or private, look around for yours.

The fall is the beginning of my year. Will it remain so when my kids are entirely finished with school? That day is sadly growing closer, and I both dread it (for me) and relish it (for them). I also have so many ideas. So much to write about. Places I’ve traveled that I want to share about, both as reflections and travel advisories, advice, and photos. I have ideas for new series, new columns, new book ideas. I have ideas to expand my Facebook page for those of you on FB. I even have a list of prayers to write.

My six week memoir class has begun again. The library is sponsoring it, and even though they won’t let us in the library (a change since we registered), they have found us a pavilion in a local park that really gives off a super creative writing vibe. We’re gathering with some people who we haven’t seen in two years. We’re missing a long time friend who died last year (not Covid related). Hopefully, it remains warm enough for the six weeks we’ll be outside, but cool enough to keep the mosquitoes dormant. For those of us who’ve been meeting in the park for the last year, this weather is a piece of cake. The library provided clipboards and the teacher brought cushions for the picnic tables. I brought my own chair but I may swipe one of those cushions next week.

Our ongoing park-meeting group has a new inside place to meet – the local fire house!

I’m hoping all of these writing groups with assignments will inspire me for the rest of the fall and into the new year to come.

Gratitude – Writing

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First echo plus Mary Oliver’s Gratitude: Pandemic Thoughts

Everything is either pandemic or pre-pandemic. I’m not sure I can even see many changes in a post pandemic world. My first attempt at echoing Mary Oliver’s poem, Gratitude was focused on the pandemic.

For this second attempt, I thought I’d think about the past year or so of writing. Most of that time has been a solo experience with sporadic online meetings and eventually group meetings in the park. This fall, after an eighteen month absence we will finally return to the library for a six week workshop series.

My meager offering inspired by Mary Oliver:

Continue reading

World Press Freedom Day

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On this World Press Freedom Day, I’d like to share with you three links:

UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day Commemoration and Activities

The Committee to Protect Journalists Website

ACLU: Freedom of the Press

I’d also encourage you to familarize yourself with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which holds the freedom of the press as one of the most important tenets of our democratic beliefs.

Gratitude by Mary Oliver

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Mary Oliver’s Gratitude Poem came to my notice while I was searching for quotations on gratitude for another project. I am only familiar with Mary Oliver from one of her famous quotations that many religious people use in their meditations and artwork: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” and a short book that I borrowed from the library (Upstream: Selected Essays).

As I read this poem, and then read through it again I was distracted how each of Oliver’s stanzas answered a question. It was thought-provoking and contemplative and I immediately thought this would make a great writing exercise; a way to stretch myself whether as poetry or prose. A push like the daffodils poking through the soil.

I still don’t know for sure if her poem should be read prior to the answering of the questions, but I would suggest doing whatever feels right for you at the moment. Obviously you can’t unread the poem so make your choice with care.

I suppose you could answer the questions and then read the poem and perhaps go back a few days later with the questions again. It may be a nice exercise on its own to see if the original answers changed in the ensuing days along with another reading.

For me, I will read the poem and savor it and then I will continue the writing exercise. I plan to come back to the questions next month from a different perspective, perhaps on an outing or after church services. There are many ways to approach something as profound as Mary Oliver’s writings.

Mary Oliver’s poem appears below the highlighted questions and my answers to the questions appear below that.

In doing this exercise, I sat in the quiet, in the stillness and let the questions speak to me. What do you hear them speaking to you?

What did you notice?
What did you hear?
When did you admire?
What astonished you?
What would you like to see again?
What was most tender?
What was most wonderful?
What did you think was happening?


Mary Oliver – Gratitude Poem

What did you notice?

The dew-snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod.

What did you hear?

The thrush greeting the morning;
the little bluebirds in their hot box;
the salty talk of the wren,
then the deep cup of the hour of silence.

When did you admire?

The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;
the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;
the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the pale green wand;
at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid beauty of the flowers;
then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.

What astonished you?

The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.

What would you like to see again?

My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,
her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue,
her recklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness,
her strong legs, her curled black lip, her snap.

What was most tender?

Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;
the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;
the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;
the tall, blank banks of sand;
the clam, clamped down.

What was most wonderful?

The sea, and its wide shoulders;
the sea and its triangles;
the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.

What did you think was happening?

The green beast of the hummingbird;
the eye of the pond;
the wet face of the lily;
the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;
the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;
the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeve of the first snow—

so the gods shake us from our sleep.

[Gratitude is copyrighted to Mary Oliver and her Estate and Publisher. No money is made on the use of this poem.]


I sat for some time and thought about the words in the questions. I decided to go back about one year and contemplate the pandemic in all the ways that the questions made me think about it. Some things have changed – more people out and about, masks (we weren’t wearing them a year ago or we were just starting), vaccinations. It’s good to look back as we begin the real recovery in so many ways – economically, yes, health, yes, but also emotionally. It feels like coming out of a shell or a shelter after a storm.

What did you notice?
the quiet.
my heartbeat.
no cars, no people walking, no dogs.
at the grocery, head down, everyone getting in and getting out.
tension.

What did you hear?
on my excursions to my front yard hearing the breeze,
the birds,
the church bells,
a stray car,
and one kid in a stroller says hi

When did you admire?
my kids doing their schoolwork at home.
the school district keeping it all together.
the grocery store workers.
Zoom.

What astonished you?
the incompetence.
the kindness.
the quiet of all of us at home at the same time.
how frightened I became, especially of the unknown.

What would you like to see again?
the retreat house
Canada
the inside of a Starbucks
church family

What was most tender?
my kids still cuddling just a little.
seeing Onward – the last movie I saw in theatres.
cooperation.

What was most wonderful?
not running out of toilet paper!
livestream masses,
Zoom retreats,
weekly telephone rosary.
information.
Dr. Fauci.
podcasts,
Books.

What did you think was happening?
the end of the world – just a little bit…
a reset,
a chance to re-prioritize,
re-engagement,
reflection.
expect the unexpected.
too much time and not enough.

Time to Reflect

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Ash Wednesday has arrived. It feels so early this year, but I suppose everything feels a bit jumbled during this pandemic year. As my priest said at mass this morning, things are different, but they’re also the same. Less people allowed at mass. Ashes distributed with a cotton swab (my parish) or sprinkled over your head (others). I didn’t make this morning’s mass in person although I planned to, and registered to attend. The ice on my car made different plans. I was able to watch the mass livestreamed and stopped by the church later in the afternoon to pick up a small vial of ashes. It was a do it yourself for me today.

I would have thought a year into the pandemic that I’d be an expert on reflections on any subject that came to mind, but when I went to write this on Tuesday, there was nothing. Sometimes reflections feel like journal entries, and I’ve been not great at journaling this past year. I’ve tried to keep checklists – masses attended, rosaries said, writing accomplished, but even that little bit has been a failing.

I hadn’t even decided what I’d be giving up, and then I gave myself an extension. Not anything canonical, but I think sometimes when we force ourselves to do things without the impetus of why we’re doing them, they lose something in the translation.

I spend a lot of time worrying about what I’m going to give up as if forty days without chocolate or soda is a hardship in the big picture of things, but on the other hand, I think that sacrifice should also be a sacrifice of time. What can I do to grow in my relationship with G-d? What are things that I can do for these forty days that will stay with me for the next forty? And then the next?

To begin for the readers waiting with bated breath, I’m not going to make my decision on what I”ll be offering to G-d for Lent until the first Sunday of Lent although I have a good idea what it will be and it wasn’t even on my original brainstorm list. By Sunday, I will have had some time to discern what I can accomplish from giving something up or trading it for something that is more positive and/or spiritual.

Lent is a forty day period where prayer, fasting, and almsgiving take the center of spiritual life. Despite being given dispensation from holy days and Sunday masses during the pandemic, I have still gone almost every week to the livestream mass. I was happily surprised to find it just as rewarding as going in person. In the summer, I began to attend Monday’s daily mass in person and I will continue to do that. Our church has done a great job of keeping things safe. I am very lucky with both my church and my children’s school.

In addition to the three pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving since I’ve become a Cursillista, I try to incorporate the tripod of piety, study, and action into my everyday life, but moreso during Lent when our time is spent in communion with Jesus, and of course, ourselves.

I have some tools and links that I’d like to share with you to assist with your own Lenten journey. The first three I will be doing throughout Lent.

Daily Reflections for Lent: Not By Bread Alone 2021 by Mary DeTurris Poust

A Stranger and You Welcomed Me from Clear Faith Publishing

Along the Way: A Jesuit Prayer Pod – a weekly Lenten podcast from two Jesuit brothers

The Examen with Father James Martin, SJ – daily podcast with Fr. Jim Martin, SJ

Prayer of Spiritual Communion (this is what my parish uses for communion during their livestream masses for those of us participating at home):

I wish, my Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility, and devotion with which your most holy Mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of the saints. Amen

In addition to some of these, I am also going to praying the Rosary on Mondays and the Stations of the Cross on Fridays as well as committing to submit a reflection to my Cursillo group’s weekly digest. I will also (finally) begin reading A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan. This was recommended a couple of years ago and I bought it then, but haven’t found the right time to start it. I’ve decided to make that time now.

I also intend to recommit to my writing, both spiritual and secular. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve kept consistent with this website, but my other writings have fallen on the wayside. I hope to rectify that over the next forty days.

I hope to bring you more in the coming days. Have a meaningful Lent.

Inspiration.

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Not so much.

Last weekend I attended a writing retreat. Three days of prayer and a choose your own writing adventure retreat.

It was wonderful.

This was the second year of a January weekend writing retreat, although I’ve gone to two other retreats with this director, and they are all special in their own ways. Last weekend was also very unusual. It was entirely on Zoom, and while that sounds daunting, it was nothing but fantastic all around. I think we’ve all adapted nicely to our technological advancements during these pandemic times.

On the very last morning, our subject was inspirational writing.

As it happened, prior to the weekend, I had been trying to write a reflection on the insurrection at the Capitol the week before, and it just wouldn’t come out. I’ve been told in previous writing classes that for the free write, if you can’t think of anything, just start writing. Something will come.

So that’s what I did, and I thought I would share it with you as we begin another weekend in a new era of this new full-of-potential year.

Inspiration writing is hard.

How do I conjure just the right balance of motivation, spirituality, and reflection on any given topic?

Am I supposed to inspire you?

Tell you what I find inspirational?

Be more subtle than that?

Johnny-on-the-spot and the spot is quicksand.

I made breakfast. It was terrible. Except the tea. The tea was good.

It’s cold now.