March 07 Newsletter
January 1, 1970In this newsletter you'll find:
1. THE WRITER'S LIFE – Beyond the Iron Curtain
2. PUBLISHING NEWS – Hear my new short story free on the web.
3. BIG SKY WRITING WORKSHOPS – Long distance and in New Mexico
4. GOOD NEWS FROM YOU – Congrats to writers from our online groups. *** Tell us your writing news
5. WRITING AGAINST THE ODDS: Article by Sean ***Win a book
1. THE WRITER'S LIFE 2006 had an international flavor to it... as a fan of Russian literature I was honored when the Ruskies produced their own edition of my novel The Time of New Weather. The title translates as Время новой погоды, of course, but I'm not even going to attempt my Russian name, except to say my first name has become WOH. (Woh is me…) If anyone out there reads Russian let me know – first Russian reader to respond gets a free copy (but you have to give me a report on how they did with the translation!). Of course, you can still read The Time of New Weather in English - order it at your local bookstore or write me for a signed first edition, or request a copy at your local library. (It's nice if you ask your library to order it anyway!)
Then Tania and I led a writing workshop at the Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland, followed by a long-awaited honeymoon in Italy. We're still swooning.
On the writing front, in addition to the new publications below, I've completed rewrites on my screenplay and am waiting for my agent's response. Wish me luck! I'm also just about finished with my short story collection, Pinocchio South, and I've started a new novel, tentatively titled Wilson's Way.
I hope this Spring finds you well, and the Spring weather finds you soon. And for those of you buried under snow, as we've been, I hope you got a lot of writing done!
2. PUBLISHING NEWS
Tania and I contributed to Now Write: Fiction Writing Exercises from Today's Best Writers and Teachers (Tarcher/Penguin). Some great writers in here, with lots of useful exercises, from Robert Olen Butler to Steve Almond.
You can read my short story: Tale of The in You Are Not Here, a collection of Buddhist Fiction (Wisdom Publications). I recently performed this story with musical improvisation from Taos Pueblo flautist Patrick Shendo-Mirabal and electro-cellist Michael Kott – it was a wonderful experience to work with musicians and the audience seemed to like it too! A live recording of this reading will soon be free to hear on the web – If you'd like to listen, email me and I'll send the link when it's online.
My article The Beatles and Buddhism: The Fab Four Noble Truths, appeared in this Winter's edition of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Subscribers can download or you can sign up for the e-version, at Tricycle. Also I have articles in 2007 Writer's Market and the 2007 Guide to Literary Agents, both by Writers Digest Books.
3. BIG SKY WRITING WORKSHOPS: With Sean Murphy and Tania Casselle
WRITE TO THE FINISH: Starts April 21, 2007 – all locations
A 9-month, long-distance course for writers working on a book-length project. We work by email and phone, so you can take part wherever you are. Includes a full manuscript critique.
Nobody can write your book for you, but Write to the Finish supports you with craft, community, focus and feedback. Start a first draft, finish a manuscript in progress, tackle revisions/polishing, or work on submission materials for a publisher/agent if you are at that stage and are pursuing publishing. This is our 3rd year of this popular course. Spaces limited. email me for full details.
STRAIGHT TO THE HEART: ONLINE SHORT FICTION/FLASH FICTION WORKSHOP
Starts: April 10, 2007. Eight weekly sessions over ten weeks.
Short fiction craft lessons, plus workshopping/personal critiques of your stories, guidance on publishing and more. Maximum 10 in the group, and all communications are by email, so you can take part wherever you are, and at the times that suit you. email me for full details. (See below for some publications by writers who took this workshop.)
WRITING FROM THE GROUND UP - Taos, New Mexico - August 3-5, 2007
A 3-day intensive, writing in various evocative locations around Taos. Our guest author in 2006 was John Nichols, this year's speaker to be confirmed. (Reduced hotel rates available for out-of-town participants.) email me for full details.
WRITING GROUPS - We also offer workshops tailored to the needs of existing writing groups, either in person here in Taos or at your location, or long-distance by email/phone conference. If your group is interested in working with us, get in touch and we'll talk about it.
Tania and I will also lead a fiction workshop for Wordharvest in Santa Fe on July 13-15, 2007. I will be teaching at the
Taos Summers Writers Conference July 7-8.
4. GOOD NEWS FROM YOU
Announcing publishing successes from 3 writers who workshopped these stories in our Straight to the Heart online group. Their diligence and talent paid off, so kudos to them, and thanks also to the other writers in their various groups who gave such generous feedback. Big congrats to:
* Joanna Gardner (NM) – her vivid and intriguing story Tia Trementinawas a finalist in the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Contest for imaginative fiction and was subsequently published in Rosebud magazine. It was Joanna's first fiction publication although she's cracked ahead with more since…
* Jessica de Voe (CA) – her Cup of Judgment, a witty but touching story, will be published in the June issue of Thema lit journal. It's Jessica's debut fiction publication, and the first of many, we're sure.
* Kay Calkins (OK) – her sensuously evocative Eliza's Story was published by Rosebud magazine.
*** Tell us your writing news - To share with this extended family of writers and readers, drop us an email and say it's for the newsletter.
5. WRITING AGAINST THE ODDS: How to Keep on Keeping On – Article by Sean, with input from Tania.
Everyone probably knows that my first novel, The Hope Valley Hubcap King , took me 12 years to finish. Part of the reason was that I hadn't yet learned a basic lesson every writer must know: how to keep going.
Every time I hit a life problem, or a creative challenge on Hubcap King, I put the manuscript away for several months. On my next two novels, however, I had very tight deadlines, which meant I didn't have the time or mental space to entertain thoughts of stopping. Although I'd always thought that working under a deadline would be hellish (and it was, at times) I discovered something of great value: when there's no option of backing out, it's possible to find the strength to continue, despite whatever doubts and practical difficulties arise.
All of us have experienced this in some other dimension of life -- for instance, when we move house. No matter how tired or discouraged you might feel, what are you going to do, just sleep on the sidewalk with your boxes strewn around you? You have to do it, so you do it. Or how about parenting? Changing a job? We all know how to keep on keeping on. When we have no option of giving up we find inner resources we didn't know we had. This is why commitment works, and why a marriage is different from a weekend fling... (well, for most of us!)
So what would happen if we decided to make that same commitment to our writing regardless of external circumstances, even if we’re not on deadline and nobody is waiting to read our pages? What if we decided we HAVE to do it, no matter what? Then we'd carry on, just like when we're facing some other challenge. After all, how useful would it be if in the middle of moving house, we started thinking "I'll never be able to do this." Or "The fact is, I'm just not good enough to move house." Or "So many people have moved house before, what can I possibly contribute to house moving that's of any value?"
When we have no choice, when we have to plug on despite our situation, our doubts and resistances tend to lose their power. We find some way to put them aside, in a way we may not when we're engaged in a voluntary activity like writing – in which case many of us invite them in for tea and a chat instead!
This seems to be a nearly universal human tendency. But if we can let go of negative voices, fatigue, discouragement and resistance when we really need to, this means we must be able to also do this when we really want to. We have more power over our barriers than we think we do.
The monastery where I practice Zen asks students who cannot attend intensive training periods to sign an agreement in writing, stating how much extra home practice they will do over that period instead. I don't think anyone ever checks up on these contracts, but it's a way of focusing one's internal commitment, and making it conscious. Some people find that making an actual formal vow helps. This is something anyone can do, perhaps with a friend who wants to make a similar commitment.
Of course our barriers aren't always personal or internal. Sometimes we face a real, solid challenge in our writing that we simply don't know how to address. This has often happened to me in the middle of a deadline, when I don't have the luxury to set the project aside until a solution arises. I've come to realize that painful though it may be, this blockage is normal, especially when one is pushing an 'edge' in one's craft. Often it occurs when a writer is on the very point of breaking through. Still, I have to be creative in approaching the barrier. I may have to backtrack, brainstorm with other writers or ask for feedback, or find an activity that inspires new ideas, such as walking or listening to music. One of my favorite tactics is to study authors I admire (once I spent a week in the middle of a deadline on The Finished Man, tearing apart The Great Gatsby in hopes of finding a solution for a structural knot I was encountering – which I did find in the end, saving me several weeks of wasted work experimenting with blind alleys).
I find that if I don't back away, and keep tussling with the problem no matter how uncomfortable it gets, a solution eventually appears. The truth is that although writing can be joyous, it is also hard, and avoiding a difficult challenge does not necessarily make it easier. As I discovered with Hubcap King, often the difficulty waits there patiently for our return, every bit as difficult six months later as it was in the first place. So mostly now I say to myself, "Why not just get on with it? At least the pain will be over more quickly!" Of course, there are no absolute rules; the muse is a fickle creature, and sometimes the right thing is to set the work aside for a time until it clarifies. But in my experience this impulse often comes out of some sort of resistance, and it's important to be alert for when we may be avoiding or procrastinating.
A little desperation can be a powerful motivator. Telling myself that if I don't follow my true calling, my soul will wither away and I'll have wasted my life is a tactic that has always spurred me on (I'm not kidding!). It makes me feel as though I have no choice but to proceed. Of course, we can never know what outcome our efforts will yield, and we may even fail in our original vision, which is part of the reason we tend to shy away in the first place. But it's better to fail and move forward with the satisfaction of knowledge gained, than to suffer the regret of never attempting at all. Stepping forward through both failure and success is the only way to learn.
I don't feel we can go fundamentally wrong if we are following our true calling. It's important to realize that every writer hits a point where they want to back off from the page, where life tugs us away, or we lose confidence in our vision, or simply don’t know what to do next. This all comes with the job description, regardless of whether we hope to publish one day, or write simply for our own pleasure, edification, and sanity. The temptation to opt out is great, but it's liberating to understand that we are not alone. If we really want to write, then the only way to beat the odds and live our lives as writers is to commit to the task one word at a time, and keep on keeping on.
Even if, for the time being, we all decide to keep our day jobs.
***WIN A BOOK! email me a few lines / brief para on how you persevere with your writing, the ways you trick yourself to keep on keeping on, what makes you continue when you're tempted to opt out. We'll feature some responses in the next newsletter to encourage others, and one person will win a signed copy of one of my novels (your choice).
Wishing you a happy, healthy, and creative 2007! Sean www.murphyzen.com
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