A #WeekendCoffeeShare in writing mode and in-laws

If we were having coffee….

Hey, glad you could join me here outside Philly. Hope you didn’t hit too much holiday traffic. It’s a cozy Starbucks, isn’t it? I’m chillin’ with a Café Vanilla Frapp. The baristas know how to make a good one, sweet and thick. Of the two Starbucks in the area, I like this store best, and not just because this is where my husband and I have farewell coffee with his folks when we leave. But we don’t leave like we used to anymore.

We’re down here in North Wales to visiting my in-laws. Much shorter than our drive from Michigan. *smiles* No turnpike, just a zip down Rt. 202 through antiquey towns of Lambertville and New Hope, with a toll at the New Jersey bridge, of course. The weather was perfect for last night’s drive, and it looks to be the same for today’s barbeque. His dad is grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, and at my suggestion, he’s also throwing some veggies on there. I adore grilled carrots and zucchini, brushed with olive oil, smoky and crunchy.

I know, I’m still wearing my boot. My fractured ankle is healing delightfully, and my physical therapist says I don’t need to wear this all day anymore. I have it on now because Lucky is here, the rambunctious, three year old puppy, who has been known to jump on me. A lot. It’s best I keep my ankle supported rather than risk injuring the fractured ankle.

Back in New Jersey, Comcast cable finally set up. First program I watched? Law & Order Criminal Intent. It’s calming to have familiar programs as background noise again. I can’t write in silence. The nothingness creeps me out.

I’m in a new critique group, by the way. It’s still with the Montclair Write Group, just Memoir1 instead of Memoir2. There’s a lot of people on vacation and a lot of new people interested. A bit of shuffling was needed to keep the groups balanced, and it never hurts to have a new set of eyes reviewing my work.

The 4th Thursday of every month, the Write Group hosts their “Free-for-alls for Writers” event. This week, memoir author Lorraine Ash presented her workshop on The Four A’s of Memoir. Those elements are Assault, Abyss, Awareness and Action. She read examples from published memoirs, but the examples rambled on an on, and they were books I’d never read anyway. Lorraine was dynamic when she spoke, and those moments were educational and valuable. Eight of us went out afterwards to Manny’s Diner, and the discussions over dinner were much more intriguing. I was surprised how happenin’ downtown Montclair is on a Thursday evening.

All this talk of memoir and writing makes me think of the upcoming Round 3 of Round of Words in 80 Days. What do I want to accomplish in my writing life for the third quarter of 2017?

How are you getting ready for this July 4th weekend and the second half of 2017?

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Do you know how to critique a writer’s writing?

“You must not confuse being good with being liked.”~Paul Arden, American author

Tomorrow, Wednesday, is my second official Memoir2 meeting, and apparently I don’t know how to critique.

By official, I mean the second meeting where I present my work to the group for critique. Let me say, as before, the feedback is tough and just what I need to improve. However, feedback from my feedback is that I need to improve my critiquing skills.

“You’re line editing,” was the recurring comment from our moderator. I have no idea what that means. I know what line editing is, but I don’t know how that applies to my critiquing. When I offer feedback, I note any part of the work that is confusing to me as a reader, be that sentence flow, a lack of detail or an unexplored idea. I believe my comments are helpful, but what am I really supposed to notice?

I’m spoiled by my structured Michigan critique group, Deadwood Writers. An author who wants a piece reviewed at the biweekly meeting emails a piece of writing with three specific questions for feedback. On the night of the living critique:

1–Start by mentioning something positive, something you like about the piece.

This is important. This can be difficult.

2–During the meeting, speak only about the three questions the author wants feedback on.

Members ask about the flow of a piece, the voice of the writer or if a particular idea clearly conveyed. That last one is what I’m tripping on in New Jersey.

3–Write any additional comments on the paper for the author to read later.

Did you notice spelling errors? Maybe you saw capitalization issues, tense shifting or info dumps. Write that down and don’t clutter the critique time with that stuff. The author asked for specific feedback, so give that.

Here at the Montclair Write Group, things are less formal. We go around the room, and one by one offer our overall impressions on the piece. No formal structure, no guidelines–except, apparently, verbal line editing.

What a free environment. It’s so hippie-free that it’s downright scary. There’s no structure, no guidance, just immediacy. There should be time for reflection, I think. Then I realize, A reader’s reaction is immediate. You need that instant feedback because a reader stops reading in a heartbeat. They don’t have the luxury of critique background, and neither should you.

Or should you?

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A first writing #WeekendCoffeeShare in New Jersey

If we were having coffee…

Hey, I’m glad you could meet me here. It’s my first time at the Chatham Starbucks. What do you think? It’s super crazy busy, and I guess it’s like this every weekend. It’s one of two Clover stores in this area. Franco the barista described all the Reserved coffees. I have no idea what’s new. The last Clover store I was at was back in the winter when we still lived in Michigan. Franco suggested the Peru San Ignacio, a lemon-lime-cocoa coffee. Seriously, I was skeptical, too, but it’s a smooth coffee, not biting at all. When I told him I wanted it in a grande for-here mug, like I always do, he gave me an approving nod and a “Very nice” comment.

I like this place.

But then, I’m liking New Jersey.

My past life in New Jersey wasn’t overall positive. The best parts were meeting my husband here and establishing my freelance writing career. That was fun. I detail all the good and the bad in my memoir I’m working on (*wink, wink*), but all that made me who I am today–I know, so cliché–and it’s the reason I’m back.

I hope I can re-establish a freelance career. My old editor said to contact him, but I let contacting a new editor lapse. Doesn’t make me appear reliable. All I can say is that buying a house is a lot more strenuous than we expected, and I’m hoping I get a second chance.

It’s nice to be out with Internet. Cable gets hooked up tomorrow, and my husband set up my computer and printer yesterday. Sweet. My home office is still swallowed up by boxes, but with a purpose, I will make time for this room. Wait ’til you see it. Natural light looking out onto scenic areas of our house and neighborhood. It is inspirational for writing.

It’s good that I’m out writing. Have you ever missed something so much that you’re itching to do that thing? I denied myself writing, and that’s cruel. I can’t believe I did that–voluntarily!– but I feel invigorated, like taking a break was needed. I’m behind in edits and rewrites and all that, but it’s weird: I don’t feel behind. I feel excited. My memoir critique group probably helps with that. They offered great feedback, commenting on sections that none of my other critique groups did. It’s fascinating to hear from people who have never read my writing. And this is a hard-ass, honest feedback group, which is just what I’ve been looking for.

Well, me Pokémon items bag is almost full and mu mug is almost empty. Tell me about your week before we go. What’s new and exciting, or old and exciting, in your life?

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On writing, not writing and buying a house

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”~Benjamin Franklin, American inventor

My life has been unsettled chaos: we bought a house!

All I will say here about the experience is thank goodness New Jersey requires lawyers to negotiate the buying and selling process.

My life is a maze of large cardboard boxes that smothers every needs-to-be-cleaned room. I know where most of my writing stuff is in my soon-to-be office. I know where most of my computer stuff is. I think I know where my printer and monitor are. All of this doesn’t matter much because we don’t have Internet.

It’s easy to use external factors as an excuse for not writing. Could I be writing? Of course. I have printed drafts I took with me to Temporary Housing where my husband and I lived for three months while buying our house. I know where that paperwork is. The hotel room’s atmosphere was stifling and uninspiring, and there were plenty of places nearby that I could go to. I did, and then life buying a house got busy and chaotic. Which brings me to The Now.

Have you tried life without Internet? We haven’t had service in over a week. It took longer to schedule installation than we expected. I’m actually excited that I fell on the sidewalk last week and had to see a specialist this week. Because of that, I found an adorable coffeeshop located near the doctor’s office, a coffeeshop that has WiFi. Sighhhhhh….

I’m sitting by the open window at The Coffee Mill Roasters in Millburn, NJ. My weather app shows that it’s 77-degrees, yet just breezy enough to feel cool and refreshed. Because of the welcoming open space with free WiFi, I feel the endorphin release of writing and blogging. That feels good. I’m drinking a blend of light and medium roast coffees. I snagged the last slice of Balthazar’s coffee cake, which the owner said is his favorite. Always go with staff recommendations, especially your first time in a new place. From here, I can also spin at the Starbucks PokeStop three doors away to fill my items bag. Bonus! Oh, and there’s free parking on Fridays and Saturdays in June. I’ll be back, even after we have cable and Internet.

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A family #WeekendCoffeeShare with writing organization tips

If we were having coffee…

It’s quiet in here, isn’t it?

Barnes & Noble cafés are usually subdued, but the Easter holiday must be why it’s extra quiet in here. They’re proudly brewing Verona, which is one of my go-to Starbucks coffees. The barista is super friendly, so you’ll get a smile with your cup of tea or coffee. Oh, I have a B&N account–well, my husband does–so let’s get you that 10% discount.

We’re down here visiting his folks, and right now, he’s visiting the music department. He’s hoping not to be disappointed by the pitiful CD music selection, but he’s sure he will be.

The move back to New Jersey continues to be, let’s say, challenging to find a house. Being this close to family and friends again is a delight. If we get the house we’re negotiating, we’ll be about 2 hours away from here, which is a lot better than the 12-hour drive from Michigan. We get to do casual weekends like this, Easter dinner or random visits whenever we feel like it.

The last part of the house inspection came back favorable, which is a relief. We have one more set of hoops to hip-hop through. I think. After that, I guess all we do is wait for the closing date. I hope.

I went to the Montclair Write Group’s free write on Monday. I’m trying something new with my writing format or approach. I bought the Michaels version of a Travelers Notebook last year intending to use it in a specific way to organize my writing. I have three inserts. The first one is for my regular journaling. The second one is for writing notes or interview transcriptions from freelance writing assignments. I’m looking for work once we get settled in our house, and this setup will be perfect based on my past writing experiences in New Jersey those many years ago. The third insert is exclusively for my creative writing and story ideas.

In the past, everything dumped into my regular journal. I would have needed to index each one to properly find everything, and that is not going to happen. What a great idea to keep my writing segmented.

The problem is that this whole contraption is too big for any of my purses. It’s even bulky in my writing bags, but I can squeeze it in. If I’m out on a casual day, I can’t implement this great idea because my travelers notebook doesn’t travel well in everyday life. After about 3 days, I took the first insert out to use as my journal since it’s a size I typically use. I kept the other two inserts in the snap binder. I’ve only taken the whole thing out in public to those Montclair write meetings to use the third insert for the creative writing prompts.

I’m brewing another idea for journaling and writing that’s inspired by two books I saw last year. It seems such an obvious experiment, but it’s unconventional enough to never consider it. I’m thinking when to put it into action. It’s not intuitive, but it could be. Maybe when this current journal is filled.

What about you this week? Any creative ideas bursting forth? Spending time with family or friends this weekend? Happy Easter or Chag Sameach, however you celebrate.

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Celebrating 3 must-read writing bloggers

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”~Abraham Lincoln, American president

Today, l celebrate bloggers.

We’re all in this together, whatever our reasons for writing, whatever our topics or motivation. Supporting each other is what we should all do, but it can seem daunting. After all, when do we write our blog and read other blogs and comment on them and then comment on comments and then reply to the comments on our blog?

Let’s break it down together. Make a schedule, a small, definable, specific one. One YouTuber I follow writes in her description: “I reply to comments twice a week on Monday and Thursday.” How perfect is that? Everyone knows what to expect when–even her. This is an ideal thing for bloggers. She is my hero.

Then there’s writing. You know your schedule or are figuring it out. Whatever you do, be consistent. On those times that you’re not consistent, do NOT apologize. It irks me when I see that in blogs, like that person’s job is to entertain or inform me. Your life is your own, and your followers will understand. They’ll be extra super-duper excited to see you return.

What makes this whole beautiful community is created by commenting on blog posts and forming relationships. You don’t have to respond immediately to everything in real time, but everyone who comments deserves a reply. Don’t underestimate the power of “Thank you” or “Glad you enjoyed this. A comment is a compliment; acknowledge it as such.

I don’t have a schedule yet, so I have nothing to maintain. My life is abnormal and unstructured at this moment as we finalize the house buying process. My blogging schedule remains constant–publishing on odd-numbered dates–but discovering new blogs is difficult right now. Carving out time to read seems trivial, but where do we start? Let me share three bloggers I always make time to drop in on:

In no particular order:

1–Jeanette A. at Deadwood Writers Voices

This writers group blog features posts on a wide range of topics. Jeanette writes about video games. I have precious memories of Atari and I currently enjoy Nintendo games and the WiiFit experience, but reading her detailed First Person Shooter experiences makes me want to expand my horizons and play. I can’t play FPS because the character’s point of view gives me a dizzy headache, so I live vicariously through her. I love her detail about the atmosphere and the glitches and all the subtleties of gameplay. Her latest post about the Sims games is a short, tragic memoir-esque read that reminds us to never give us the classic games of our youth.

2–Marcie Hill at Marcie Writes

If you need blogging inspiration or want to learn the business side of writing, she’s one to follow. Her blog has a strong selection of links under her Resources tab. Her book, 62 Blog Posts to Overcome Blogger’s Block, got me out of my blogging funk with unexpected and creative prompts and ideas to write about. If you’re stuck for ideas, you won’t be after this.

3–Haiku Horizons

This site posts a poem prompt every Sunday night. Haiku a short form poem, traditionally three lines in 5-7-5 syllables. Some poets, myself included, have taken it beyond the nature-season inspired topics and morphed in into describing elements of our days. I actively participate in this weekly challenge, and I have discovered other bloggers to follow by clicking on the Link button. Not everyone who posts is a poet, so don’t be intimidated by that aspect. Haiku is one way these bloggers express themselves and their interests.

Happy reading! If you have any other sites that inspire you, leave the links below so we can all discover new awesomeness.

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A #WeekendCoffeeShare returning from Miami

If we were having coffee…

Hi there. Grab a seat. The couches in our hotel room are surprisingly comfy. I’m going to brew a cup of Starbucks Veranda in the Keurig. What would you like? I can microwave water for tea if you prefer. There’s only so much I can do in this extended-stay hotel, but we’re moving towards a house, so we may not be here much longer.

I focused on my writing this week. I was poolside at a Miami resort with no plans or appointments. I indulged myself in rare sun–you know I have sensitive skin–and I wrote two blog posts. I thought about the atmosphere I was in and the atmosphere I like writing in. Poolside is not a bad atmosphere to write in. Water and lounge chairs are soothing. Beware the indirect sunlight reflection off the pool. You can catch a sunburn even while under a large beach umbrella.

There are some little complications with the house hunting process that are turning into large complications. Everything is more time consuming than I expected. There are attorneys and inspectors and unexpected issues. our closing date looms almost a month away and things are still…tweaking.

I made time to examine my ROW80 Round 2 goals. I didn’t do that before the official start date last Sunday, and I feel better taking time now to focus on what I want to accomplish. So far there’s no progress, but I defined my goals two days ago.

The good, the bad, the frustrating. How about you? What exciting things have you been up to?

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Boldly stating my #ROW80 goals, Round 2

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that, in the process, he does not become a monster.”~Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher

Welcome to Round 2 of A Round of Words in 80 Days, running April 2 – June 22, 2017.

This round overlaps the hopeful finality of our house purchase and moving, so I have to be realistic here.

I miss writing. I haven’t made time to work on my memoir or any short stories. I focused on blog posts, catching up on what I’m behind with. A binder clip full of half-written or almost-edited pieces fill my writing bag. Writing these days feels like work, yet I enjoy writing. Do you feel the same push-pull of productivity?

A Round of Words helps brings things into focus, wrangling a few key tasks, I see people who post updates that are monumental: write this story; edit that book; edit this blog piece; budget personal finances; plot this story; exercise 5x week; outline story ideas; and so on. I’ve seen more than one person list ALL THAT as their ROW80 quarterly goals. Impressive, admirable and insane. I couldn’t do all that. When would I breathe? Looking back, my Round 1 Goals were achievable, but I did not follow through on them. These are my focus areas for April through June:

1–Buy a house.

Easier said than done, but it’s Priority One. In the spare time I have between house hunting details are these goals:

2–Catch up on social media, not catch ’em all.

Set up a schedule for posting and replying. Make it a ritual somehow. I don’t want it to feel like work. I want it to be light, a celebration. I could go very deep with this philosophical outlook and examine what I want each social media presence to present, but right now, I want to maintain current connections. Let’s take it from there.

3–Establish a blog post schedule and keep up.

For every new post I write, I will write/revise an older one. This will keep me focused since I’m behind in my post-every-odd-numbered-day blogging. I will maintain that schedule, but I need to control the madness.

4–Create a blog focus/direction/editorial calendar

This is something I have been cloying with for some time. I began this blog to have an Internet presence to showcase my past published articles and demonstrate my current writing style. This would eventually showcase my published books, and I would become a world-famous, best-selling author. I never had a focus, so my ideas muddle together in an unfocused mess. What do I want to do? What service am I providing? Some people write just to write. I write with a purpose, which has changed over the years. This goal ties into Goals #2 and #3, so it seems that my blog is the key focus this quarter. Completing that/this/these tasks will set me, I can set myself up for a strong Round 3.

6–Work on my memoir.

Edit chapters. Write new chapters. Organize chapters. Learn Scrivener. This is a rambling goal, listed here to remind myself what I’m working on.

7–Play around with short stories.

I’m writing snippets of stuff based on intriguing prompts from Montclair Write Group’s monthly “Penny University” Free Write Workshop. I have them organized in a special, separate journal, so I can easily refer to them anytime. Some of these I can see turning into stories. Some are just fun exercises.

8–Read books.

I actually made time to read while I was in Miami this week. I chose a light YA book that has been on my TBR list for a few years. I don’t want to make reading a defined goal like “one book a week” or “10 books each month.” That sets expectations and guilt if the challenge is not met. I don’t need that stress in my life. I want to read more now than I have been, which has been none. This is a time luxury I have not made for myself.

That’s the best for me right now. It’s not a bad list to work from to break down into good tasks. Gotta get started.e

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A writing #WeekendCoffeeShare

If we were having coffee…

Hey, I’m glad you could make it to Starbucks. Hope the traffic on Rt. 22 wasn’t bad. Sit down, let’s chat. I’m not sure if my Frappuccino is a Celebratory Frappuccino or not.

We just came from out potential-house inspection. One of the last things our inspector found could be a show-stopper. Underground oil tanks can leak and contaminate the soil, se we excluded all houses that had one listed in the description. No one mentioned an oil tank here until today when our inspector discovered the pipes. That kinda shocked everyone, including our real estate agent. The rest of the house shows well, but this…this…. We’re waiting for the inspection report which we’ll receive tonight or tomorrow.

For that reason and so many more, I need a break. Turns out I got the opportunity to travel with my husband to Miami next week. Florida in April? The weather’s gotta be gorgeous. It’s supposed to be a gorgeous resort, so I am properly attired with a new, fitted bathing suit and my summer nails. I’m not a pink person, but don’t these Pompeii Purple gel nails shout “poolside”?!?

How’s your writing coming along? This writing group I found, Montclair Write Group, they really do about 30 events a month as the coordinator, Carl, touts. I’m invited to observe one of the memoir critique groups the first week of May. The weekly Writing Support Group met Tuesday at 10am. That’s way, way early for me, but I want to see what all the hype is about. I expected more practical advice and people sharing real struggles about writing and freelancing, but the group obviously knows each other because there was a lot of overlapping cross-talk. I took notes, but no one else did. I’ll check back sometime to see if the format is different on another day. The coffee shop I found in downtown Montclair, Trend, is alone worth the visit. A converted house, wooden floors, comfy chairs, sturdy tables and homemade pastries. Yeah.

I’m also leaping into the Write On challenge to write 30 letters in 30 days. April is National Letter Writing Month in addition to being National Poetry Month. I’ve been mailing dollar store notecards to one of my college friends for months, just because. Now I have this new kit, plus I discovered last year’s kit. Yeah, shows I didn’t write a lot last year. Maybe this year will be different.

Enough about me. What’s been going on in your life these days?

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Let’s write letters in April

“The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement.”~Billy Collins, American poet

Have you written a letter lately?

April is National Letter Writing Month. I was ahead of the game last year when I started writing random letters to one friend after I picked up some colorful notecards from the $1 section of a craft store. Time to use those fun items I constantly buy, and it’s a distraction from writing real work stuff. It felt like uninteresting rambling, me writing about the strange-looking person who just walked into the coffee shop or what my to-do list was for the week. Would she even care about this stuff?

I did this with childhood penpals: what the cute guy I had a crush on was wearing; my thoughts on the book review homework assignment; the latest gossip from so-n-so classmate; past and upcoming weekend plans; describing my Prom dress; what Mom made for dinner; whether my chemistry teacher still picked his nose; and always how are you doing, my friend?

This was the dinosaur age before online accounts and personal safety concerns. The joy and surprise of receiving a personal letter in a physical envelope never ends, whatever your age. I have a good list of friends in my address book, but the whole act scared me for no particular reason. I chose my most trusted friend and started there. That felt safe. Not that she wouldn’t keep my scribble-scrabble private, but that if I seemed foolish, she’d be the kindest to forgive me.

Writing letters got easier after that first one. She never wrote back, but getting return mail isn’t why I did it. It’s a form of journaling, I guess, or a way to share thoughts with a far-away friend I missed talking to. We’d chit chat about stuff like this if we met to see a movie and lunch afterwards, so why not pretend that we were sitting next to each other? It reminded both of us that I was thinking of her.

Her one casual statement sticks with me forever. I wrote to her in my post-college days when I had gobdoodles of free time, and I often took a marker and sketched dragons and unicorns on the envelope. I stopped doing that at some point, and she commented once, “I miss the drawings you did on your envelopes.” I remember thinking that I was doing a disservice and disappointing her. Never again! These days, I occasionally create a Zentangle in a corner on the front of the envelope. Her mail carrier should see that she has a creative friend who loves her enough to create personal art. Or I’ll fill up the front and back of the envelope with stickers from my piles of scrapbook supplies. Glitter mermaids and metallic unicorns are recent $1 store purchases that make me happy to look at. I want someone to send me stickers like that! I share these with her to make her and the postal clerks smile.

Okay, the postal clerks may find this a tad annoying rather than fun, but someone along the way will take note of it.

I branched out and wrote letters to a few other safe friends in the same this-is-my-day tone. I thanked one friend who said a kind word to me years upon years ago and how I was thinking about that today. These past few months, I haven’t done much letter writing to anyone. I’m busy. I’m not inspired. I don’t have a regular schedule. I’d rather be napping. Whatever my reason or excuse, I miss writing letters. I don’t feel guilty or ashamed for not keeping up the routine; I just miss it.

April is the perfect inspiration time. Want to share the love of letters? Let the April write_on campaign inspire you. This month celebrates poetry and letters. Not everyone is a poet, but anyone can scribble a short note. Even if you type a letter, Happy Mail with a stamp brings a smile to anyone. It stirs the soul. Think about it: any envelope that doesn’t contain a bill, legal action or advertisements is fun.

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