Monday, July 14, 2014

New Directions

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say
 a hearty yes to your adventure.
—Joseph Campbell

I've just returned from a grand adventure, and it was absolutely fabulous!

But here’s the rub —

Adventure invites change.

And it is up to us to decide whether we allow that change to work its magic.

Well, I say bring it on!

Thus, for a while I’ll be exploring some new paths…

just to say a hearty YES to more of my adventure.

So, I’ll be taking a sabbatical of sorts from the good ship Elbow.

Until we sail again…

Au revoir!

Waste not your Hour…
— Omar Khayyam

And as always — 

Write on!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Just a Word

Ah, Oxford!

I’m pretty sure that it’s is where geeky people go when they die (well, at least that’s my plan).

I mean, what’s not heavenly about a collection of 38 colleges in a beautiful setting?

And then, of course, it includes the mega-nerd bonus…

Yep, that’s Logic Lane.

Anyway, for over a century All Souls (ahem, geeky souls… see above) College of Oxford had a very special test to help them choose which student would receive a 7-year fellowship.

It was an exam created to bring the most brilliant minds to their metaphorical knees 

The one-word essay.

Students seated for this task would have an envelope placed into their trembling hands. Within that envelope (gulp!) was a single white card. And on that card (gasp!) was just one word.

The students would then be asked to write coherently, creatively, and brilliantly about that word for three solid hours.

Each year, THE WORD was a closely guarded secret that everyone wanted to know. In fact, THE WORD held such allure that even the townsfolk couldn't wait to find out. 

Crowds would gather outside the exam hall just so they could be the first ones to roll THE WORD off their tongues. Americans, think Black Friday and a Talking Elmo special  yeah, it was THAT big.

Alas, that is all part of the past now. It was a sad day in 2010 when All Souls College discontinued the practice. Apparently they ran out of words

These days, the students write essays about the classics, politics, and philosophy. As for the townsfolk  they remain in front of their tellies, never missing the latest advert for Talking Elmo.

But to think, for over a century that essay actually determined the future of a whole lot of… well… souls.

Never underestimate the power…

of just one word.

PROMPT: Take your own All Souls College exam to test your mettle today. Here are a few of the famous last words used over the years: POSSESSIONS, MERCY, STYLE, NOVELTY, WATER, MIRACLES. Pick one and go!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blinded by Science… Fiction!

Do you prefer ray guns to Rachel Ray?

When I say wormhole, do your thoughts have nothing to do with burrowing insect larva?

Do you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation are NOT the names of the three straight Teletubbies?

If you answered yes to all three questions, then you may be a sci-fi fanatic. And if you are a sci-fi fanatic, I suggest that you get your mutant android self to a local library or newsstand to pick up a Popular Science magazine.

I checked out one of these bad boys last week, and it was chock-full of plot potential. However, some of the plots I found would probably NOT make for pleasant bedtime reading… Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

One article featured NYU bioethics professor S. Matthew Liao who suggested that we reengineer humans so they’re less of a burden for old Mama Earth. 

He proposed that doctors use in-vitro fertilization to select only embryos with genes for short stature  because tiny folks leave tinier carbon footprints. 

Gee, I guess Randy Newman was dead wrong back in 1977  Short People DO have a reason to live, after all (thanks global warming!).

Dr. Liao also recommended the development of special drugs to induce meat allergies. That way, the inconvenience of anaphylaxis would reduce all that little people lust for big, bad carbon-intensive beef.

These approaches, reported Dr Liao (with a maniacal grin, I’m sure), would “encourage people to make the eco-friendly choices that they seem to have trouble making on their own.”


That’s really encouraging 

in the sci-fi department.

Well, sleep tight!

PROMPT: Give your imagination a good stretch — pick up a Popular Science magazine and fictionalize one of their features... 

What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Typical Day on the Funny Farm… er… Ranch

Ridin’ the range in search of that elusive…
Red Delicious

Back when I was a psych. intern, I had a discussion with a coworker who knew everything and was never afraid to show it. Somehow we landed on the topic of “folks who grow apples.”
That’s when I said something like, “Yadda yadda yadda… apple farmers.”

“Ranchers,” he interrupted.
“Excuse me?”

“They are apple ranchers, not farmers,” he said with the authority of someone who grew up in Wenatchee, Washington  AKA the center of the apple lovin’ universe.
“You've got to be kidding.”

He was not. In fact, he looked at me like he couldn't believe that I’d managed to live so long, given my obvious brain impairment.
Well, growing up as an East Coaster, I was always under the impression that ranching usually involved a whole lot of ridin’ and ropin’ and such. Then again, I had never been to a real live apple harvest  it was quite possible that those Galas and Ida Reds were a lot feistier than I’d ever imagined.

But I’m open-minded about these things, so whenever my know-it-all friend was around, I went above and beyond when speaking of those “folks who grow apples” …
Yep, they were apple jolly ranchers from then on.

‘Cause I’m pretty sure they were all really happy that I no longer called them farmers.

PROMPT: There are two ways to go with this one. First off, we've got the annoying know-it-all who is always a fun character to work with (On the page. Real life? Not so much). Then there’s the topsy-turvy world of ranching. I mean, if you can ranch apples, you can ranch anything  poodles, turnips, penguins, pens…

Monday, July 7, 2014

The POWER of Positive!

Sara Blakely is the creator of Spanx. Yeah, she’s the one who created herself into the world’s youngest female billionaire.

Well, I recently listened to an interview of Miss Blakely, and WOW! It was chock-full of positive news that you might want to use.

When asked about the secret to her amazing success, Sara said that when she was 16 years old, her dad gave her a set of Wayne Dyer tapes (audio, not duct — for those of you younger than dirt) called How to Be a No-Limit Person.

Sara reports that she listened to those recordings until she had ALL TEN TAPES memorized. She said that she ALWAYS had the tapes going as she drove. In fact, her friends refused to ride with her because they couldn't 
bear to hear Wayne’s No-Limit yammering over and over and over again.

Hmmm… I wonder if they’d ride with her now.

Anyway, Sara said that all of those positive recordings retrained her brain.

Through them she learned how to deal with any and all of life’s obstacles by asking two questions —

Where is the blessing in this?

Where is the opportunity?

Fast-forward about 10 years, and Miss Blakely found herself cutting the feet off of a pair of pantyhose so that she could make her butt look smaller under her jeans…


At that moment, did Miss Blakely ask —

Will a new ThighMaster help me get rid of this butt?


Will the papaya diet help me get rid of this butt?


Should I break down and just buy bigger jeans made to fit this bigger butt?

No, no, and NO!

She asked —

Where is the blessing?

To which she probably answered —

There is absolutely, positively NOTHING blessed about a big butt.

But then she asked —

Where is the opportunity?

To which she answered —

I bet other women have the very same big butt bind.

You got that right, Sister!

The rest is billionaire history.

Now, if you've been around the sun a few times, you know that every single day of the year comes complete with at least one obstacle. What wonderful things might happen in your life, if you embraced those Sara Blakely questions?

I mean, come on! If those questions can defeat a big butt —

They can do ANYTHING!

PROMPT: Test out those questions with some of the obstacles that get tossed your way today. And while you’re at it, start feeding your brain some positive messages the way Sara did back when she was a wicked-smart teen. Some folks go for the almighty affirmation, some use visualization, and some look to books or recordings for inspiration. Whatever gives you a positive hit – try to fit it into each and every day. And if your first thoughts of “positive” involve the words “evening news” or “reality” TV — WE NEED TO TALK.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day

Today is a great day to declare your independence…

from adulthood.

Come on, just for today.

Trust me, there is no better way to boost your creativity…

Just ask any kid about his or her missing homework, and you’ll be blown away by imagination and inventiveness!

So get out the hula hoops, beach balls, and super soakers 

It’s a great day to PLAY!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Don’t Show, Don’t Tell

Yes, you read that right — DON’T Show, DON’T Tell. 

This is not to be confused with the Show Don’t Tell rule we've talked about before, or the military’s former Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

This has to do with those incredible stories that live inside of you. 

Yeah, you know the ones...

If you place your hand on your chest you might feel their thump-wump, thump-wump as they beat against your rib cage.

Sure, physicians will tell you that you’re actually feeling the beat of your heart, but what do they know? Go ask a neurosurgeon if he or she has ever found the thought generator while poking around in a brain…

Actually, don’t do that. It’s just mean.

Anyway, those captive and captivating stories will thump, knock, beg, plead, and pound until you let them out.

But here’s the rub —

If you want to be a writer, you must be sure to let them out the “write” way. Otherwise they’ll fly from that cage faster than you can say doughnut jar.

You see, if you tell that great plot idea to a best friend, sibling, or spouse, it is as good as gone. And then when you finally set a date with your laptop, you might find that you’re left with nothing but a pile of feathers.

I made this mistake plenty of times when I was younger. Now that I’m older, wiser, and think a lot more about bone density and bifocals, I won’t tell a thing.

Trust me, it works.

So the next time those well-meaning friends ask you what you’re working on, practice the art of being vague —

even if they offer you chocolate...

a pony…

or a doughnut jar.

Be fuzzy with friends and family, but very clear with your tales…

Tell them that there is only one way out —

And that is on the page.

PROMPT: DON’T show, DON’T tell until it’s DONE. Put it on the page today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


What if you eliminated your but?
That’s BUT, not butt.
If you want to eliminate your butt, you’ll have to check out my sister’s company, Fit School.
What I’m talking about is this kind of BUT
Yeah, I’d like to ____________ (fill in blank with your big creative project), BUT
I have a lot of other stuff to do.
I have kids.
I have parents.
I have pets.
I have plants.
I have a hangnail.
What if you pitched that word out of your vocabulary for a week?
Surely, you can go a week without a BUT.

PROMPT: Start projects! Complete them! Look 20 years younger AND 10 pounds thinner with the fabulous BUT diet!  Don’t delay! Try it today!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Mission in Two or Three Editions

Are you trying to build a writing habit?

Do you want to be a writer who gets things DONE?

Well, look no further.

Have I got a super-secret, never-fail motivational method just for you.

All you need is…


No, I’m not talking about the Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love Elvis.

I’m talking about THIS Elvis 

The one who just gave you your new mantra.

Download it from iTunes, program it into your morning alarm, blast it in your car, use it for your workout…

Every day, every day, every day, every day you’ll write the book.


PROMPT: Whatcha gonna do today? Yeah, I thought so.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Book

June 30, 1997
That’s the date that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published in the UK.
A book that, indeed, seemed magical 
taking on a life of its own and providing the inspiration for
Fan clubs
A line of (apparently) defective wands
The unprecedented sale of vomit and booger flavored candy
Video games
Action figures like Ron Weasley with detachable broomstick
Books about the books of the series and their profound meaning for feminists, Christians, Muggles, etc. (The U.S. Library of Congress currently lists over 100).
And an entire theme park!

Now that’s a LOT of inspiration…
And a lot of Galleon.
The estimated worth of the Harry Potter Franchise as of January 1, 2014 is well over 24 Billion dollars (yes, that’s BILLION with a B).

And then there’s something simple and free 
In King’s Cross Station of London, I waited in line for 20 minutes just so I could do this:

Yep, pose with half a shopping cart…

Just like the kids from Japan,
those students from Norway,
that family from Brazil 
and all the other folks who laughed in different languages.
But laugh we did,
understanding one another perfectly…
Humble Muggles of the world
enjoying our moment
of magic.

Never underestimate the power of a book.

PROMPT: How will your book change the world?
Oh, yes it will.
Never doubt that for an instant.

Friday, June 27, 2014


“Why, sometimes I've believed 
as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

~The White Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

This quote reminds me of an exchange I had back when my now-taller-than-me son was only three.

“Mama, what’s a mature?”

“A what?”

“A mature.”

“Honey, mature isn't a thing… it’s, uh, a state of being — like being grown up.”

“No it isn't.” He scowled, then hiked up his big boy pants and stomped away.

5 minutes later —

“Mama, what’s a mature?”

“I thought we went over this. Here, I’ll get out the big dictionary (back in the day when it was actually a book) and show you.” I carefully read Webster’s take. “Of or relating to a condition of full development… Satisfied?”

“No WAY.” More scowling, more hiking up, more stomping.

5 minutes later —

“Mama, what’s a mature?”

“I think we've been over this.”

The scowl deepened, and I was gripped by the fear that I’d be responsible for putting another curmudgeon into the world. So, I threw up my hands and sighed. “Okay, okay, I give up. I’ll confess. You see, a mature is REALLY a glowing worm that lives in Antarctica and only eats square snowflakes.”

Everything stopped.

His lips quivered, his eyes widened, and then an enormous sunrise of a grin spread over his face. “I KNEW it!” he squealed and scampered off scowl-free.

Goodness, I love that boy.

And the lesson I learned that day has helped me with my craft — 

If you want to write for children, you've got to believe in the possibility of impossible things…

But, hey, are they really impossible?

Heck, my great grandfather’s impossibilities are my realities today.

PROMPT: Indulge in the world of impossible possibilities. What wondrous things did you once believe? On the flipside — what fantastical thing did you think could never happen, that actually, amazingly did? What glorious impossibility would you love to make real today? Write, paint, create about it.

Ditch the scowl. Embrace the grin.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Write Fast – Edit…

Ahem…slowly, that is.

Remember all of that super-fast writing we did last week?

Well, it’s time to channel your inner tortoise and rework those wild words.

So, brew a cup of tea and put on some slippers.

Then edit like you've got all day…

·         Read your work out loud
·         Read it backwards
·         Sing it
·         Slice it up and rearrange it
·         Eat chocolate
·         Read it upside down
·         Put it in teeny tiny font and focus
·         Eat chocolate
·         Feeling brave? Give it to another pair of eyes.
·         Eat more chocolate

And here are few bonus tips from the experts (in their own “colorful” words):

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
~Stephen King

“I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”
~Tom Clancy

“I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living sh*t out of it.”
~Don Roff

And remember 

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
~Nathaniel Hawthorne

PROMPT: You know what to do. Well, besides eat chocolate and swear.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fear Knots

What if you were not afraid?

Would you…
Ask for a raise?
Ask for a date?
Go on a daring adventure?

Well, grab yourself some courage and do those scary things anyway.
Because as Mark Twain once said –
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

So there.

PROMPT: Need a little bravery boost? Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers is a classic read that rocks!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jiggety Ever After

“Everything will be all right in the end… If it’s not all right
then it’s not the end.”
~ Sonny in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Everybody loves a happy ending. Come on, admit it  you know it’s true.
Shakespeare knew it, too.
Sure, he wrote a bunch of tragedies  about a dozen of them, in fact.
And hmmmm… let’s see, the body count ranges from one to four in the final scene for most.
I've recently had the opportunity to see one of them  Julius Caesar. Now, that’s a bloody mess if ever there was one! And when all was said and done, the play ended with one body and a blackout of the stage lights.
That’s what it felt like…
However, back in Shakespeare’s day, things were done a little differently. In the Globe, where most of his plays were premiered, there was no curtain to close and no fancy blackouts, so those final scenes were nothing but slaughter on the stage.
What to do? What to do?
The answer 
A jig!
Yes, jig… as in lively, happy dance!
If I had experienced Julius Caesar at the Globe, Brutus would have leaped up and danced a merry jig with Antony and Octavius. Romeo and Juliet would have done the same. And all four bodies from Hamlet would have resurrected in a jolly way to the sounds of a happy tune.
And so, whenever a play ended  no matter how gory  the audience smiled! The audience laughed! The audience clapped and danced along!
What’s more 
The audience went home happy…
and more than willing to return
to shell out shillings for another good time.

You were a shrewd one, Willy… wickedly shrewd.

PROMPT: Create a happy ending today. Perhaps you could rewrite a few tragedies just for a bit of cheery fun. However, if you wish to keep your blue funk, then I suggest you learn to jig. Remember bawling your eyes out to Toy Story 3? Well, err… maybe that was just me. Anyway, I’m sure you remember Jessie and Spanish-mode Buzz’s paso doble to Hay Un Amigo En Mi during the end credits. Well, that is what dried my tears and sent me home smiling.
Trust me, the jig still works.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Two-step

Here is a fantabulous two-step method for writing a great novel —

Step 1: Pick an awesome protagonist.

Step 2: Get him or her into and out of a whole heap of trouble.

Step 3: There is no step 3 — it’s a two-step process. The end.

Anyway, the real life and times of Thomas Edison works as a great example of this formula.

First off, Tom is born a really sickly kid.

Bad news, huh?

Not really. His mom, who has already been through the hellish untimely deaths of three of her children, decides to homeschool the little guy. She builds him a science lab in their basement.

All of those infections in the age before antibiotics makes little Tom very hard of hearing.

Terrible, huh?

Not really, according to the man himself. He often credited his deafness for his ability to think and work for long hours without distraction.

As a teen, Tom works for the railroad. He builds a lab in an old boxcar, which works out just fine until he spills some chemicals and torches the place. He is fired.


No, YAY! Because he is fired from his old job, Tom is dumped off at the next train station. There he saves the station master’s 2-year-old son from being squashed by a freight train. The station master is so grateful, that he teaches Tom how to work a telegraph so that he’ll always be gainfully employed.

Tom works as a telegraph operator, but being scientifically minded he just can’t help himself  he decides to perfect the system. Tom develops the quadruplex telegraph and offers it to Western Union. He’s thinking that he would love to get $2000 for it, but when they ask him how much he wants, he can’t seem to form the words.

Uh oh.

Okay, I know you’re on to this little game by now, so it won’t surprise you to learn that Western Union offered him $40,000 on the spot... And those are 1869 dollars.

After Tom puts his eyeballs back into their sockets, he uses the cash to build his dream lab. Now I could say that the rest is history, but that would be horribly cliché, and you’re thinking it anyway, so I’ll just stop.

PROMPT: Try the two-step on your novel today. No dance moves required. And always, always, always remember this while you’re putting those words to the page…

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.
~Thomas A. Edison