Promoting One’s Writing without Losing One’s Head, Completing a Book and More

If—

BY RUDYARD KIPLING

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

 

I was introduced to this poem in high school English, and I never forgot it.  While I am not a poetry lover per se (sorry, sorry, I know that’s going to offend some of you!) there are some poems I love, and Kipling’s “If” has some amazing language in it.  The first two lines have always stayed with me, and I thought of them while writing this post today.

Lately when I’ve queried editors regarding submitting my articles for their consideration, it has been difficult for me to fully promote my work and “keep my head” as Kipling so eloquently states.  Of course good writing speaks for itself, but the writer behind the writing has to present well too!  I’ve been caring for two sick little ones over the past couple weeks, and that situation has not only distracted me; it has gotten me out of my writing groove and my writing confidence has been zapped as well.

Now my girls are well, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to return to my regular writing schedule.  But I’ve been procrastinating on certain projects and I’ve grown lackluster in promoting my writing to various outlets. I haven’t lost all hope about returning to “zestful writing” as the awesome author Elizabeth Sims calls it  - I’ve been through this dilemma before, and I know I’ll get back to where I want to be.  It’s just going to take more time than I’d like – time I hate to lose, because I’ve lost enough time since my 2007 bipolar diagnosis when my writing career stalled for oh, eight years.

Ironically, it’s much easier for me to promote others’ work.  Promotion was a skill I learned in my first “grown-up” job working at a special event production company.  We produced on average ten large-scale annual events in Silicon Valley.  I started out as the office manager and then was put in charge of more challenging projects, such as working with the media, talent agents, and vendors.  Our publicity consultant taught me how to write press releases, and I was interviewed about our events by prestigious newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury News.  My boss had very high standards, and he had established a great reputation.  Before creating his company, he had founded the highly acclaimed Paul Masson Mountain Winery Concert Series and he worked with the greatest names in music.  Fortunately I was able to represent his company in a professional manner over the phone, in person and in writing, and while it was a stressful job, it taught me a great deal.

So yes, to reiterate, the bottom line is that when it comes to promoting my writing these days, I’m not as gung-ho as I’d like to be.   One thing I know for sure is that enthusiasm about one’s work (in moderate doses) is a wonderful quality, and I want to cultivate it to the best of my ability.

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As most of you reading this piece are also bloggers, I’m sure some of you know a thing or two when it comes to promoting your blog or anything else that you believe in, for that matter!  Recently I pushed past my comfort zone and asked an authority figure to publish my essay.  While I didn’t expect a resounding “no”, I didn’t exactly expect a “yes” either, as worthy as my article seemed in my eyes.  Well, that question, which literally took me less than ninety seconds to formulate, type out and email, paid off.  My essay was published and I got a strong response from readers that felt very validating.  As far as I was concerned, that incident was a sign that I must keep plugging away with my writing and don’t let the turkeys get me down.  (What a great phrase, eh?)

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I shouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket with any one contact, project or dream.  Believe me, at age forty-four, apart from my first job, I’ve dealt with promotion-related issues throughout my work history.  After I left the special event production company, I became a certified personal trainer.  I built up my own business at a popular gym whose members included the founder of Netflix and the editor of our biggest local newspaper – these people could afford personal trainers!  I advertised myself and my training services to prospective clients, and I was able to achieve a modest success.  After working in fitness for a couple years, I worked at three different non-profits:  Friends of the Santa Cruz Libraries, COBHA/The College of Botanical Healing Arts, and Friends of the Santa Cruz State Parks.

My jobs focused on administration and development, and I was required to help promote their numerous special events.   I was expected to be knowledgable and enthusiastic about each non-profit’s mission.  While I loved the public library system, botanical healing products, and our gorgeous local state parks, none of these worthy organizations captured my heart.  At these three workplaces I suffered from chronic depression and I wouldn’t be diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder until years later.

Even if I hadn’t been depressed when I worked with these groups of dedicated, talented people, I still would have been less than fired-up working with them because I wasn’t truly passionate about the causes – yes, even the libraries!

During my pre-bipolar diagnosis years, I always thought that if I could find the right job that inspired me, I’d give it my all and I would be successful.  Well, ever since I left the University of California at Santa Cruz when I was twenty-one, I’ve been writing, mostly without pay, because I love to do it.  (I know I’m preaching to the choir here.)  When I reached my late twenties and I achieved my dream to have my articles published in national magazines and I actually got paid for them, I realized that I could be a writer, but I still didn’t go for it and make writing my “real” job.

Now I finally do have the opportunity to “go for it” and complete my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder.   I’ve written eighty pages so far, and I’m at an impasse of sorts.  I’m scared that I won’t achieve my dream to finish writing this book and I’m worried I’ll fall short of my two goals: for it to be interesting and #2) It will help people.  But, the old cliche rings true here – if I don’t give it a shot, I’ll never know.

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What matters is keeping up my habit of typing regularly (or putting pen to paper for some of you) and not giving up.  When it comes to writing, I’ve proved to myself that I am a slow-but-steady writer.  Slow is not always a negative trait – I witnessed my husband Craig Harwood complete his award-winning book Quest for Flight – John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West and have it published by University of Oklahoma.  It took him seven years to write his book, but who cares – he did it.  I’ve also been inspired by my friend the author Rebecca Moore, who wrote Moorestorms: A Guide for the Bipolar Parent and four other books.  She has the gift, along with my favorite authors Madeleine L’Engle and L.M. Montgomery, of being a prolific writer.

Moore, L’Engle and Montgomery were able to keep their noses to the grindstone and complete numerous books in a timely fashion.  I wish they could bottle their talent and fortitude up because I’d be the first to buy it!

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When I do complete my book, I’ll promote the heck out of it.  I consider completing a book similar to having a child, and it’s an enormous accomplishment.  I have respect for anyone who finishes writing a book, whether or not it wins the National Book Award.  Just call me Dyane “Turtle” Harwood, because I will be crossing the finish line of completing Birth of a New Brain someday , and when I do, I’ll become a P.R. whiz.  Just wait and see! ;)

I’d love to read about how you promote yourself , your blog and your books – feel free to comment below…

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Bears, Shrinks & Mindfulness


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Yesterday I blogged that I’m following a new “negativity diet” and I declared:

“I’m going to be more circumspect with what I surround myself with such as social media, my inner-dialogues, and my environment.  Less Facebook, more time with my girls.  Less worry about what others think of me, more nature excursions.  Less obsession with the future, more present-moment focus.”

Well, when I began following my new credo, it didn’t go so well.

While I felt optimistic in the morning (and a bit happily wired on my coffee), the day turned out to be difficult.  I faced a few situations that tested my new-and-improved attitude, most of which I failed.  I won’t give up after one disappointing day, but I was daunted by the time evening came.

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, our daughters were still on the tail-ends of their colds.  In retrospect, I’m sure their colds were partly responsible for their peevishness and disobedience.  They, like me, had been cooped up for days and we were all out of sorts.

One day while watching the Disney channel with my girls, a preview for Disney’s new Bears movie was shown.  Since our entire family likes bears (from a distance)  I suggested that we go to the Bears matinee on Easter.  We seldom go to the movies, so the girls definitely wanted to go and my husband did too.  I  liked the idea of a nature-oriented film rather than a blaring, violent, “kids’ film” ,and the Bears movie featured real-life bears in their natural Alaskan habitat over a course of a year in a mom and her cubs’ life.

Off we went!

We arrived at the theater on the early side and we found some good seats.  A woman and her male companion arrived close to the start time, and she sat next to me.  When the previews started running, the lady gave a running commentary about everything she saw that made me want to yell, “Shut the *&%$ up!”

So much for lightness!  So much for compassion and positivity!

Thankfully she stopped talking when Bears began.  It’s good that she silenced herself, because  I have “talking during the movie rage”.  I shouldn’t joke about that, really, as I recently read about a man who had honest-to-God movie rage and he shot a fellow movie goer because the guy was texting someone.

The movie was spectacular, entertaining, and heartwarming without being too saccharine.  It wasn’t too long either (78 minutes) although come to think of it, when the previews were added in, the overall time we spent there was close to two hours. That was a long time for me to sit still and focus while alongside my two children, one of whom was being a super-squirmy worm.

I found myself becoming impatient while watching Bears, as much as I liked it.  I felt the uncomfortable sensation of wanting it to end so we could go do the next task.  In a weird way I felt like I was meditating as I had to keep bringing my mind back to noticing all the details of the film.  My mind wandered off again and again and I kept bringing it back.  (Does this sound familiar to anyone?)

I realized it was a nice change to watch a movie that had absolutely nothing to do with human behavior, namely bipolar disorder.  At one point my mind wandered off (pretty far, and pretty wackily, I’ll admit) and I thought, “How nice that bears don’t, as far as we can tell, have shrinks!”  How refreshing!

Despite the fact that bears didn’t take meds or go to hospitals, they certainly did not have it easy, as the film made that fact crystal-clear.  I wasn’t wistfully wishing that I was a bear instead of a human as the end credits rolled.  But it was cool to view life from an entirely different perspective.  (The preview we saw for the upcoming Disney Imax documentary Island of Lemurs Madagascar looks like it will be incredible as well.)

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As we exited the cool theater into the blinding sun, Craig and I reminisced about our two personal bear memories, which were very vivid, with our girls.  Years ago Craig, an avid backpacker, camped in Yosemite.   He made the foolish mistake of keeping some peanuts in his tent in bear country, and a bear paid a little visit.  This bear wasn’t there to sell Avon products.  He/she stepped on Craig’s foot, through the tent, resulting in unbelievable pain.  Things could have been much worse, obviously – the bear could have come inside the tent, and I shudder to think what the end of that story could have been.

Our family had a bear experience in Tahoe that I will never forget.   We found a beautiful Alpine Meadows rental on Craigslist, and the owner gave us an affordable rate.  The house was stunning, set on a steep hillside in bear territory.  The first time we visited the “Munchkin House” we noticed some prominent bear claw scratches on the wooden dinner table and on the windowsills inside the kitchen.  The rental owner made sure we were well aware of all the bear safety rules to follow.

One afternoon while hanging out at the Munchkin, Craig napped upstairs while I showered.  The girls were in the downstairs living room watching a video.  Earlier in the day Craig stopped at the market and he brought a bunch of groceries into the kitchen, accidentally leaving the front door cracked open. He never left that door open before; out of all four of us, he was the most careful in following the bear rules.  I came out of the shower and walked downstairs in a robe, drying my hair with towel, relaxed.  At the base of the stairs I looked straight across the room out the picture window facing a hillside, and there was a big bear looking right back at me.

I freaked and started yelling, and the bear ambled up the hill behind the house and disappeared.

I went to the front door and I saw garbage scattered all over doorway area,a spot that couldn’t be seen from the living room.  At first we thought a dog had made the mess, but then after my sighting it was clear that the bear, quiet as a mouse, came into the house with the girls in the other room, dug through the garbage, and then took off.  The bear easily could have come into the main part of the house where the girls were hanging out.  Once again, some Harwoods were spared bear agony.

Ah, da bears.

Yesterday, the day after Easter, went much more smoothly.  I practiced each section of my negativity diet better than I did on Sunday.  I stayed away from my computer for most of the day ,and I spent time with my daughters as they had the day off from school.  I tried my best to stay in the moment as much as I could.  We spent several hours outside together in the redwoods surrounding our house.  I sat on our entry steps leisurely painting my toenails electric blue while Avi and Rilla played with our three chickens.

Watching my girls laugh together in the warm air, I felt so thankful to see them get along after their spats over the previous week.  Even though I sat less than ten feet away from where a truck bashed through our fence (see my “Almost” post), I felt safe.  We weren’t in danger of bears popping up at our front door and I had my own little “cubs” close to me under my protection.  During moments like this, I don’t pine for riches or accolades of any sort.  I am more content than I ever thought would be possible.

After being hospitalized numerous times for bipolar disorder, and my not having been taken outside by staff even once during those dark times (something I’ll never understand) I have an unusually strong appreciation for being in a beautiful outdoor setting.  Alongside my happy girls and our slightly freaked-out chickens in the warm spring air, I was in the moment, and I found myself in the best place, literally and figuratively, that I could imagine.

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Keepin’ It Light

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Over the past few days I’ve griped about being cooped up indoors with my beloved sick ones.  Sticking to my daily routine, I used my Sunbox bright light every morning.  As a longtime sun-worshipper, I made a beeline for our deck when the afternoon sun graced it briefly.  Despite using my Sunbox and sunbathing (with SPF and a hat) I’ve still felt overwhelmed by our house’s darkness and coldness.

I rented rooms for fifteen years, so I’m ever-grateful to own a home, but this particular abode is very dim and it’s very, brrrr, cold, even in the summer!   We use a wood stove for heat, but we stopped using it it when we ran out of wood a few weeks ago, and we won’t be purchasing more wood until the fall.  I’ve lived in this area for twenty-seven years, and one would think I’d be acclimated to the climate by now.  I’m not – I grew up in Los Angeles in a home blessed with central heating, and my inner-thermostat is firmly set in place for warmth!

Apart from the spring chill permeating my bones, my attitude has been focusing on the negative side of life lately more than I have been comfortable with.  I can’t blame anyone else for why my perspective has been this way.  So today I’m taking full responsibility for making an attitude adjustment and that’s starting now.

That means staying away as much as possible from certain topics, people and situations that don’t make me feel good.  I’m going to pay greater attention to what lifts me up in body, mind and spirit, and immerse myself in those things.

Today is Easter Sunday.  Technically I’m Jewish, but I don’t observe any religion.  I wasn’t brought up in a religious household.  While I’ve explored different religions over the years, nothing “took”.  In any case, I respect others’ religious beliefs, and I find beauty in how people celebrate their religious traditions.

All I know about Easter (apart from egg hunts, candy and the like) is that it’s a celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  Easter seems like a fitting day to create my own sort of resurrection.  I don’t mean to use “resurrection” in a blasphemous way, but as it’s defined on Dictionary.com as a a rising again, as from decay, disuse, etc.; revival.”  

To that end, I’m beginning my “negativity diet”.  (It’s calorie-free!)  I won’t bury my head under the sand about our world events or anything like that.  However, I’m going to be more circumspect with what I surround myself with such as social media, my inner-dialogues, and my environment.  Less Facebook, more time with my girls.  Less worry about what others think of me, more nature excursions.  Less obsession with the future, more present-moment focus.  

I’ll have ample opportunity to practice my new anti-negativity credo.  Our household is athrill with the anticipation of a little life joining our family .  We are adopting a friend’s puppy in the coming month!  Twenty years ago I raised two puppies by myself, so I know that a puppy is not easy to care for.  There will be frustrations a plenty.  Moreover, there will be times that I’m anything but positive when I step in an “accident” or find something cherished chewed up to bits.

So yes, there will be difficulties.  But I’m going to do my utmost to keep it all light ‘ sunshiny in between the challenges to the very best of my ability!  Our family has been through the fire over the past eight years because of my illness.  Now I’m in a position to be proactive in making life better.  I feel a sense of resurrection as I type these words, and I don’t even think it’s the extra-strong French Roast coffee that’s causing that to happen.  (Well, maybe just a little bit.)

Here’s wishing you some uplifting renewal that’s all your own, and appreciation for what you already have right in front of your eyes.

Dyane

p.s.What keeps it light for you?

Let me know what lifts you up – I’d love to read about it!

 

 

 

Sisters & Cupcakes – A Sweet & Salty Tale

Image Big and little sis: Avonlea & Marilla, 2014

Over the past year, my daughter Avonlea and I developed a love (a.k.a. an obsession) for the cupcake world of Georgetown Cupcakes.  It all began with the TLC reality show DC Cupcakes which Avonlea discovered while browsing through Netflix listings.

The show features sisters/business partners Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis Berman running their Georgetown Cupcake shop in Washington, D.C.  A more fitting name for the cupcakery could be “Dysfunction Cupcake Junction”, as there are baking and staffing hijinks galore.

DC Cupcakes became a hit for TLC; it was renewed for two more seasons and the sisters’ business grew from one store to six.  As their success grew, the Kallinis sisters appeared on the the Martha Stewart Show, Today, and the holy mecca of shows, Oprah.  They’ve had two books published, The Cupcake Diaries and Sweet Celebrations, and Avonlea owns both of them.  She has thumbed through them so many times that many of the pages are coming out.

Avonlea reveres these two sisters, and she has gotten a big kick out of analyzing their contentious and loving interactions on the show.  Avonlea has one sister, and sometimes they play together beautifully and sometimes, oh boy, they do not.  When the lovely moments between the girls happen, I gaze at them feeling that all is right in the world.  But when they travel to the dark side together with their yelling matches resulting in time-outs, I want to pull out my hair and scream right along with them.  Although the Kallinis sisters are several decades older than my girls, they have similar sisterly dynamics.

To some extent, “DC Cupcakes” has been surprisingly educational for both me and Avonlea.  We’ve learned the value of baking precision, decorating techniques, and we’ve been entertained along the way by the colorful Georgetown Cupcake staff members.  (My favorite one is Andres, the lead baker – he always makes me laugh.) The often ridiculous dilemmas dreamed up by the TLC production company are fun to watch and the sisters often bake projects that benefit worthy charities.

To add icing to the cupcake, the Kallinis sisters have their mother, who everyone in the store calls “Mommy”, come work for them.  I’ll just say that Mommy is lovable, but more-than-a-bit spacey and sometimes annoying. She has a loving, respectful relationship with her two daughters, and I think it’s healthy for Avonlea to watch the depiction of a (mostly) positive mother-daughter relationship.  (But no one walks on water in this show!  Otherwise it would be a snooze-fest.)

Ever since Avonlea was given the Kallinis sisters’ cupcake books, she has gotten into the habit of reading them before bedtime and sleeping with them under her pillow.  This nightly tradition has moved me deeply.  I love that my daughter, the child of two writers, insists not only on bedtime reading but putting both books under the pillow as a talisman.  No tattered teddy bears, or baby blankets for her – she has full-size, hardback books.

Marilla is now asking to read one of the cupcake books before bedtime, and it’s touching for me to see how one sister influences the other.  While I don’t harbor dreams of my daughters opening a business together unless they choose too, I hope that they have a close relationship in the years to come.  Craig and I will do everything that we can to foster such a bond.

God forbid, if either of our girls inherit a genetic predisposition for bipolar, I want them to be there for one another in a big, big way.  (As much as is possible without either of them becoming too codependent, that is.) I’m still hoping that a bipolar disorder cure happens in their lifetime.  They’ve already been through enough bipolar-related agony as it is with me.

When they are older, I want to teach them that if anything ever happens to either of them mental-health-wise, the only choice to make is to show up for one’s sibling while protecting one’s own mental wellness as much as possible.

This tale started out sweet, and then it became salty when I brought up bipolar disorder.  (I couldn’t help it!) But I want to end on a more optimistic note…

It’s amazing to watch two smart, sweet-toothed young girls who I (with the help of my husband) brought into this world.  Now that I’m stable, I can bear witness to their growing up, while before when I was stuck in a hopeless, insidious bipolar-depression, I couldn’t make much sense of anything, or stand up for very long.

I’m thankful that I can notice my girls’ ever-changing behavior.  I love being a fly on the wall when I listen to their interactions with one another – even their  furious “You twits!” and “I hate you’s!” and the “I wish you weren’t my sisters!”  (They always apologize to one another after uttering such atrocious words – they don’t have a choice!)  I’m grateful I can spend time in the kitchen with Avonlea making caramel (OMG: who knew how good mixing cream, sugar, vanilla, butter on a stove would taste?)  and baking cupcakes.  After being depressed in the past for so long, unable to function, baking cupcakes with my daughter is as sweet as it gets.

 

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Look – soooooo delectably tasty and only two million calories!

 

Our Home’s Holy Grails

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For more information about DC Cupcakes

http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/dc-cupcakes   http://www.georgetowncupcake.com/

Readers, I adore you! (Yep, another thank you.)

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This week I was way more isolated than usual since I’ve been holed up at home caring for my two sick little girls.  Thankfully, today they are doing much better, and I’m surprised and grateful that I haven’t picked up their nasty bug yet.  (I pray that I don’t!)

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Last week my blogging served as a verrrry welcome break from wiping runny noses, administering cough medicine, and mediating fights.  (Two cranky girls with misery-inducing colds do not make for a peaceful household!)

Ever since I started blogging, I’ve loved reading comments submitted by readers expressing how they’ve appreciated my sharing my experience with bipolar disorder.  When someone writes that he has been inspired by my post, or that she feels less alone with her struggles, I eat up these words as if they were a double chocolate brownie.

I don’t require loads of appreciative remarks - one juicy line or two will keep me floating for a while.  Sometimes I get such a thrill that I practically morph into Julie Andrews singing as Maria in “The Sound of Music”.

 

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Last fall, I thought the ultimate blogging prize would be having a huge readership, getting forty comments a post, and making money from blogging.  Then I realized as fabulous as those things may sound, if it all happened to me, I’d feel completely overwhelmed.  I enjoy responding to comments, and if my blog became uber-popular, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the unique give-and-take between blogger and reader that I find so gratifying.  From this point on, I’ll be happy to gain a few followers a month, but there’s no need for me to be greedy by aggressively seeking more followers.  Fixating on numbers would rob the fun out of blogging – at least it would for me.

To make a blog into a job has never been my goal, but  I’ve been tempted by the allure of making money from blogging.  I live close to Silicon Valley where the first BlogHer conference occurred ten years ago.  I’ve watched the blog craze take off over the past decade, and I can see why the blogging phenomenon took off the way it did.  I’ve read some of the success stories.

Out of curiosity, I visited the BlogHer website.  A full conference pass for the July 2014 BlogHer conference costs $400. Wow!  I’m sure that BlogHer will offer its attendees a wonderful,valuable experience, but even if I did have that kind of money to spare, I’d rather invest it into a writer’s workshop or a perinatal conference.  My top priority is completing my book about postpartum bipolar disorder, not (sniff, sniff) my beloved blog.

It’s not late November, but I’m in a thankful mood this month.  Also spring has cheered me up, although it hasn’t propelled me into hypomania or mania like it does for some people with bipolar disorder.  Recently I wrote another post of thanks containing a few of the topics that I discuss in this post; if you want to take a peek, here’s the link:

http://proudlybipolar.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/a-heartfelt-thanks-a-writers-retrospective/

I’m being a bit repetitive today, but it’s all sincere, and it’s all good.

Thanks for reading this, and have a wonderful weekend!

Dyane :)

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Madeleine L’Engle Inspiration on Writing and Marriage

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The author of A Wrinkle In Time Madeleine L’Engle with her devotee Dyane Harwood at the Mount Calvary Benedictine Monastery in Santa Barbara, California.  I love this picture even though I have a triple chin.  I got that chin in part from eating lots of the delectable, freshly baked cookies made by the monks each day – it was all their fault.

 

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” 

― Madeleine L’Engle

Writing, writers and books are on my mind much of this week while I’ve been primarily homebound with my two sick little girls. (They are getting much better, by the way!)  While I’ve been used to the luxury of being alone while my girls are in school, this week I was faced with the challenge of writing with extra distractions, i.e. the Spongebob Squarepants oeuvre, that set my teeth on edge.

Despite Spongebob’s maniacal laughs, I’ve plowed forth with daily writing because writing has become an ingrained habit.  I feel better when I just do it.  (Ah, Nike, I blame you for planting your smug, little tagline in my brain!)

There have been periods in my life when I wrote all the time, such as my four years majoring in English/American literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz.  Conversely, there were many months in which my bipolar depression prevented me from writing a single word.  While daily writing can seem rather extreme, my rule is that as long as I enjoy it and I pay attention to the other key areas of my life (kids, husband, laundry, and the like) it’s fine.

I also take comfort in the fact that I’m following the advice of Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors.  She asserted, “Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.”  (hmmm, perhaps I could get that tattooed on my writing hand to remind me!)

During my most severe bipolar depressions, one of the few things that took my mind off my mind were the Madeleine L’Engle’s books.  I continue to read her books periodically without experiencing any boredom.  With each re-reading I notice details that slipped by me in the past, which is always fun.

Her books give me a satisfaction akin to easing into a warm, fragrant bath, and I share my appreciation of her work with millions of her other fans of all ages.  It truly amazes me that L’Engle’s classic, Newberry Award-winning book A Wrinkle In Time was rejected so many times by publishers before it made the big-time.

In some of her non-fiction books  L’Engle recounted her decade of writing rejection in which she felt so down that she contemplated giving up writing altogether.  But when she came to the brink of carrying out that momentous decision, her heart and faith (she was highly religious) kicked in.

This revealing quote explains her perspective when she wasn’t a famous writer:

“If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.  I’m glad I made this decision in a moment of failure.  It’s easy to say you’re a writer when things are going well.  When the decision is made in the abyss, then it is quite clear that it is not one’s own decision at all.”

― Madeleine L’EngleA Circle of Quiet

Apart from her writing advice, L’Engle’s marriage to her husband Hugh Franklin as depicted in her book Two-Part Invention has influenced me deeply.  Two-Part Invention is one of my favorite L’Engle books, and I have probably read it at least twenty times!  The structure of the book starts with present day, in which L’Engle’s husband of forty years is dying from cancer, and shifts to the past revealing how they met and developed their relationship.

Back and forth the narrative flows, in a seamless, beautiful way.  Their marriage most definitely wasn’t without numerous terrible times, many of which were not included in the book, such as the death of their son Bion.  If you haven’t read this book yet, you are in for a treat.  Her “story of a marriage” will make you appreciate your own relationship whether you are married or not, and it will allow you to observe love in action during one of the most difficult times of life: witnessing the death of a beloved.

If you’ve never read one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books before, I strongly encourage you to do so!  A Wrinkle In Time is a great start (billed as a children’s book, but appropriate for all ages) and aside from Two-Part Invention I highly recommend A Small Rain (the first of L’Engle’s books, and semi-autobiographical) and A Live Coal in the Sea.

Happy Reading!

 

“The growth of love is not a straight line, but a series of hills and valleys.”

― Madeleine L’EngleTwo-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

“Love of music, of sunsets and sea; a liking for the same kind of people; political opinions that are not radically divergent; a similar stance as we look at the stars and think of the marvelous strangeness of the universe – these are what build a marriage. And it is never to be taken for granted.”

― Madeleine L’EngleTwo-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

 

This blog post is dedicated to my husband, the author Craig S. Harwood, pictured on the left with his co-author Gary Fogel.  Together they wrote the award-winning book Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West.  I am fortunate to have a husband who encourages me to write and gives me writing/publishing advice when I ask for it.  (And sometimes when I don’t!)

Barnes-Noble book signing copy

 

 

 

To read more Madeleine L’Engle quotes about a wide range of topics, visit: 

395 Quotes of Madeleine https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/106.Madeleine_L_Engle

I Don’t Know How Madeleine L’Engle Did It

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Dyane with Madeleine L’Engle, the bestselling author of A Wrinkle In Time

Santa Barbara, California, 1997

 

I’ve always had concentration challenges when it comes to writing.

I need quiet, quiet, and more quiet.  Sometimes I can write with mellow music in the background; lately I’ve listened to the Pandora Channel’s Hawaiian or Snatam Kaur stations.  I write my best when all I hear is the faint rush of traffic on the mountain highway below our home.

The topic of concentration is on my mind while I’ve been housebound for the past four days with my little girls.  They each caught a nasty bug.  I’ve spent time with them reading one-on-one, doing homework that was sent home by their teachers, and cuddling with them.  Coldy cuddles?  Yeah, that’s crazy, I know, since I don’t want to pick up their colds!  But I’m one foolish gal.

Apart from interacting with my congested kids, I’ve been able to write while they’ve watched Despicable Me 2 and Frozen, or playing the highly educational  Littlest Pet Shop game on my Kindle.  However, I can’t go in another room away from them to write because they want me nearby.  I can’t blame them for wanting me within eyesight when they are feeling so awful.

So I write in a noisy, interruption-filled room, because I’d rather write and make plenty of typos and syntax errors than not write at all.  Which brings me to Madeleine L’Engle.   I’ve always been intrigued by the writing method of Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors for over thirty-five years.

L’Engle said that she learned how to write virtually anywhere, with all kinds of distractions.  She cultivated the habit while growing up in a girl’s boarding school.  L’Engle was a loner, and while her classmates listened to records or gossiped away, she was able to tune out their chatter.

L’Engle further developed this extraordinary ability when she became a Broadway actress and assistant to the star/director Eva LeGalliene.  The lengthy amounts of time that L’Engle spent backstage provided her with ample opportunity to write.  She also took advantage of writing time on trains when LeGalliene’s theater productions toured the country.  L’Engle didn’t wear ear plugs, either!

Neal Porter worked with L’Engle during his tenure at her longtime publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  He remembered her in a Publisher’s Weekly tribute after the bestselling author died in 2007.  Porter remarked, “When we were on the road together, she would agree to meet me in our hotel lobby at such and such hour.  When I found her, she invariably had a notebook in hand and was scribbling away.”  I would give my eyeteeth for the ability to write well in hectic locations!

I don’t want to slap another label on myself, i.e. ADD, or blame my meds for making me unable to focus.  I’ve had this challenge for decades before I was diagnosed.  I think I can do just fine by continuing to carve out blocks of writing time while the girls are at school.  I also think it’s fine to use headphones and music as a way to tune out distractions as long as I don’t put my children in harm’s way.

Apart from my writing environment, I have another writing-related dilemma that has developed over the past six months. This quandary happens whether I’m in a silent room or a in house full of chainsaws.  (Or in a room where a truck seems about to run into me at my writing desk – see my post “Almost” for more details on that one.)

Almost

I’ve developed a habit I call “Facebook/Twitter hopping”.  You can probably guess where this is going.

Here’s an example: I’m working feverishly on an essay.  Then I become frustrated or bored with what I’m writing about, so I hop over to my perpetually open Facebook and Twitter pages to take a peek.  My peek becomes an extended break, and my writing subject is a distant memory.  Finally I hop back to the writing, sometimes refreshed and able to re-connect with the material, but usually my focus is blurrier.

This “back and forthing” is a guilty pleasure, and it’s so tempting to do!  Hopping is not always such a bad thing, if done in moderation.  That’s where I get into trouble, for I’m often not great with moderation when it concerns Facebook surfing or chocolate inhalation, for that matter.  I’m attempting to cut down on the internet hopping.

We shall see if I stick to my hopping resolution – I don’t want to be eighty when I finish my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder!  Thanks for reading, and please, if you like to write too, tell me what your challenges are and what helps you as well.  I’d love to know about it!

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Madeleine’s granddaughter, the writer Lena Roy, writes a brief-but-entertaining blog post about her writing process. Here’s the link:

http://writeplacewritetime.tumblr.com/post/18496071594/lena-roy

Two Awesome Madeleine L’Engle Quotes about Writing

“Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle

“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle

If you like these L’Engle writing quotes, there are 32 more of them at Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=writing%2C+L%27Engle&commit=Search