Blog Tour: My Writing Process

solaceEllen Wade Beals at Solace in a Book invited me to join this blog tour. The idea is that I answer a few questions about my writing process and then introduce you to some new bloggers who might, next week, answer these same questions. And so it goes.

1) What am I working on?

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

  • use of bullets
  • humor
  • emoticons ;0
  • lack of proper punctuation and capitalization

I think I am known for my honesty. I have a tendency to be a little dramatic and a little funny.

I am pretty loose with my style. I believe that we should all push ourselves into dangerous terrain when we write. I’ve several times led a workshop called Dangerous Writing. I find the best essays show some break through, humiliation, self doubt, and ultimately, resilience. Yes, grit.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

I write to figure out what i think.

I write because I need a lot of attention. My husband is an actor who has Parkinson’s and well, he’s a fabulous person, and he needs attention too. And honestly, I know this is not true, but there are times I do not feel my life (or work) is as important as his.

And since I feel sidelined by my marriage or my husband’s illness, writing puts me back on the field as a star player, if only to myself. I love sports metaphors and am slightly athletic. But I love metaphors because they are visual. I am a visual thinker and a team player.

Inevitably, when I’ve felt like stopping this blog, someone tells me — at the checkout line in the grocery store or at a party for a school event — that she reads my blog and is inspired by it.

And people tell me they like my pictures (all taken with my iPhone 4S). And that keeps me going. That real life connection feeds me.

4)     How does your writing process work?

  • I journal every morning, a la Artist’s Way, before the kids get up
  • I write right after the kids leave for school
  • I use the pomodoro technique. I set the timer on my phone for 25 minutes, let nothing interrupt me, do my work, stretch for 5 minutes. Then I do that again. And again.

I learned the pomodoro technique at my fabulous coworking space, New Work City. I get a lot of support there for my business. I like being accountable to my coworkers about my goals.

my writing business

I started this coaching-of-writers biz last year. I’ve offered dozens of workshops and weekend retreats. I’m giving it a good go. But as my spring meeting with my accountant creeps up on me, I am forced to face the reality: the business has brought in very little money to our household.

Last night one of my daughters asked me, “Isn’t it time you go back to work?” The kids think that they liked when I worked, but they forget how much they complained when I traveled for work.

I told her, “I’m doing so much and making some money too — substitute teaching, tutoring, videography, corporate blogging.”
“But that’s not from your writing workshop business?”
“That’s true.”
“And you’re not making as much as you used to make?”
“That’s true,” I agreed. “But look, I went to almost every one of your swim meets. I couldn’t have done that when I worked. And it’s been priceless.”

And so there it is. I write because I need the attention. I’m trying to promote my biz. And I’m trying to entertain, inspire, learn about myself, and show my own and my family’s resilience.

– m ;b

P.S. Let me introduce you to three bloggers, who might keep this blog tour rolling next week. They are writers I know and love IRL (in real life). I love their honesty and their integrity. I love their grit.

Next stops on the blog tour might be:

Xavier Trevino – We are friends from Charles’s class. He says:

I started this blog about a year ago. I wrote one or two posts and got one or two visitors for the first four months, then I sort of lost my job and had more time (and things) to write about. In April of last year I started writing more posts and getting more readers, and I settled on writing two posts a week, Tuesdays and Saturdays. Since then I’ve written 106 posts and gotten almost 5,000 views.

Some posts do very well, some are hardly looked at. Some are shared on facebook, or reposted on other people’s blogs.

I’ve always written, and I guess I have to describe myself as a former drug abuser who works as a doorman and writes.

Wendy Karasin – We are friends from a women’s once-a-month writing group. Wendy worked in educational publishing, taught, and raised four children as a single parent. She says, “Losing my parents in relatively close proximity profoundly changed my life. And that’s the subject of my memoir, Passing Through.”

She says:

I have a distinct and hearty laugh that once heard is not soon forgotten. My mother used to say among a million people in China, she could locate me by my laugh. Curious, happy and responsible; conscientious, educated and playful – all wrapped up in a blogging, baby boomer. Love reading, writing, cats, yoga, kindness and connection.

And then, my brilliant biz partner Kelly Wallace. She has a lot of projects; here’s one:

working on a memoir tentatively titled “The Yellow Blanket” a manuscript about her experience as a child sexual abuse survivor and rejection by her entire paternal family system. The story opens with eight year old Kelly on the witness stand testifying in court against her grandfather. The focal point of the story focuses on the rejection Kelly experienced by her entire paternal family and her father’s legally aiding her grandfather’s defense team.

Excerpts from Kelly’s The Yellow Blanket are available here: http://atticinstitute.com/node/896and here: http://atticinstitute.com/node/1450

I am on Canal and Broadway - in the middle of ...
This is near New Work City, on Canal and Broadway. I’m standing in the middle of the street – looking for the M5 bus – “love me” #nyc
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Artists’ and Writers’ Weekend

I had an awesome weekend. I am writing this from the southbound Amtrak from Westport, NY to New York City. I am so high and grateful for the time to simply write and make art. I’m so happy about my (and Kelly Wallace’s) business, Boot Camp for Writers or Writers Boot Camp East and West, or whatever the hell we call it.

I’ve been offering writing workshops — sporadic, weekly, or weekend-long – since August ‘12. This weekend, May 16-19, the workshop was held at Skenewood, the Georgian manor house owned by my husband’s family on Lake Champlain, five hours north of New York City.

As in any adventure tale, this weekend had suspense, characters, details, and setting.

Suspense

Whether this weekend was going to go was a mystery. A week ago, after I came down from the high of being in the cast of Listen To Your Mother, a collective of New York city writers at Symphony Space, I wondered whether to offer the weekend retreat. The turn out was so small that I couldn’t foresee breaking even. But my passion for helping writers is bigger than my desire to make a buck (I know, I know. I have to work on this!).

My goal as a writing teacher is to make writers, skill writers up, and build their confidence.

So what if we were a smallish group? Fewer people meant fewer people to please and less dishes to do.

Characters

Every story needs some sympathetic characters. And my workshop crew — Rashida, Kathryn, Lena, Joanna —  was totally fantastic. They offered so much, so much artistry, integrity, skill.

We began on Thursday night with a candlit dinner in the dining room. On Friday we wrote in the morning, walked and made art in the afternoon. Late afternoon we hung out at Ted Cornell’s amazing art farm, populated by massive sculptures, oil paintings, Adirondack charm, intellect.

On Friday night, I invited a handful of local authors and folks to our evening salon. Several — Dan McCormick, Scott Gibbs, and Lindsay Pontius – joined us. The last two read some of their work. Brilliant. And we retreatants read some of our stuff or shared our book journals. Joanna Parson rocked us out with some guitar.

Details

On Friday and Saturday afternoons on the table in the children’s dining room, we spread images and words cut out from books, newspapers, or magazines. With Rashida Craddock’s and Kathryn Cramer’s guidance, we made collages and covers for our journals.

I got in the zone, getting lost in the details of visual art and print. Totally inspiring. I made a half dozen pages of my crazy art journal that I’ve been working on for a year.

Without diving too deeply into the waters of our writing, I can tell you we wrote about parents, grandparents, children, relationships, theater, and more. Some of our work was fiction and some non-fiction and some blurred the boundaries.

Setting

I slept so heavily over the weekend. Maybe it’s the fresh air or just the big house wrapping its arms around me.

I think the house likes it when a nice group settles in. Words fail me when I try to write about the feelings of being at Skenewood – because there are so many feelings, and so many smells and sounds.

Like the smell of the lilac bush.

Or the smell and feel of the earthy damp basement when I go barefooted for raspberry jam.

Or the crack of dry wood in the fireplace.

Thanks

The talent of my friends is not limited to words and music and art. Some of my friends are artisans with food. Thanks especially to Carolyn Ware of Ernie’s and David and Cynthia Johnston at DaCy Meadows Farm.

And Edward Cornell for the visit to the Art Farm. And Michelle Maron for the soothing, restorative morning yoga.

The thing about a literary journey is that the hero ends up in a different place than the one she set out for. But the journey makes her stronger or wiser. And that is the case with this weekend.

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Four of the five of us: Rashida, Lena, Joanna, Me
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A visit to Ted Cornell’s art farm
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We contemplated the beach.
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At the apple orchard near Kathryn’s house
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Making art journals in the children’s dining room
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with Ted on his art farm

Fixing the Problem

What problem does your business solve?

My friend Jolain told me that when she started her clothing line years ago, her goal was simply to make beautiful clothes. She said that wasn’t enough.

“A business has to solve a problem,” Jolain said.

When Kelly and I launched our new biz, we figured offering first-class writing workshops at non-luxury prices would answer a writer’s problem.

A writer’s challenge includes the need to:

  • be a part of a community
  • get published
  • find a sanctuary for dangerous writing
  • make time for writing
  • nurture creativity and beauty in a society that overlooks the arts.

Our biz does all that.

We use Field Notes to keep score when we play cards.

This morning I listened to a podcast about traveling salesmen (at Field Notes Brand, a company my brother co-founded). Ron Solberg praises the tenacity and brilliance of the early traveling salespeople who often sold books. And the customers appreciated how the salesmen delivered news, as well as products. They liked the free samples.

“The trick really was volume, the number of stops you make,” Solberg said.

And more winning advice: “Take advantage of the moment.”

In a sense, when I started the biz, I wanted to make and nurture beautiful writing the same way Jolain wanted to make beautiful clothing. But I am learning to sell as well as to create.

As a small business owner, I need to sustain my biz, so I must do both sales and art. And for both, I need to value beauty, tenacity, hard work, and being in the moment.

Blogs to Follow

I’m humble. I don’t want to brag about our awesome upcoming writing workshops. (Yes, Kelly Wallace and I are leading some workshops on blogging.) But let me brag or blog about my friends’ blogs.

Blogging is about sharing the wealth of your knowledge. I wish more of my friends would blog because it’s fun. I like finding out what my friends are thinking. Here are three recommendations from some of my besties. And these are my friends IRL (in real life!).

Kelly’s blog – check out her recent post on forgiveness. She says, in considering forgiveness and remembering some childhood shit, “Right now things are a little like my morning run: muddy.”

Linda Bloom’s blog – Linda’s an emptynester so check out her take on how Modern Family depicts the college years.

Jolain’s blog – Jolain comments on fashion. She does all the artwork herself. I love her drawings.

My friends are creative geniuses.

Jolain Bowen illustrates her fashion blog

They have stories to tell and pictures to share. They have opinions I value.

For a while, my friend Dan posted on a blog about everything he ate. It was interesting because I never realized he ate so many sardines. It got me interested in eating sardines.

Dan discovered one secret to getting readers to check out your blog — mention chocolate (not sardines!). I will try to gain readers by bragging about my friends’ blogs. And I will resort to chocolate if necessary.

How to Start a Biz

When I was little, I wanted to be an actress and a writer. But I always knew I would be a teacher. I had a hobby of making worksheets for my little sister and trying to teach her French. I was like that. I saw learning for the sake of learning as a life-long hobby.

Since I left my day job two months ago, I have learned a lot. Here are some of my take-aways:

  • Pursue your passion. If you like doing your biz, then people will like being around you when you’re doing it. Happiness is contagious. People in your sphere feel permission to pursue their passion when you pursue yours. That’s part of life’s purpose: to provide a space for people to be authentic.
  • Have accountability buddies. My buddies are my brother Brendan, my coach Mandy, my biz partner Kelly, my ex-colleague Hal, and my web developer Felicity. My experience hosting the writing weekend in the Adirondacks showed me how awesome and important it was to have empathetic and smart people in my orbit. I could lean on them, admit my doubts, and be encouraged to persevere.
  • Stay social. I need to spend solitary time to blog and to prep for teaching. I imagine every start up can be lonely. So, I am joining some MeetUps, going out to lunch with friends, staying social.
  • Wear jeans. For ten years, I dressed in business clothing almost every single working day. Enough already! I still put on a nice outfit when I teach or go out to lunch, but I am happy that every day is casual Friday.
  • my city block in the morning

    Get up and out. I have to get up and out by 8 am every day. If all I do is walk the kids to the bus stop two blocks away at 7:40 am and come right back home, that’s fine. My other favorite destination is a nearby 7:30 am meditation class. And, of course, I love the little French bistro, Margot Patisserie, for coffee and a croissant. The downside to my early mornings, I wake by 6:20, is that by 10 pm, I am wiped out and crabby and yelling at the kids, “Get to bed!”

I wrote this blog post, inspired by Don Miller’s Storyline. I especially like Miller’s advice to Be Patient. That’s not always easy, but I think it’s always worth it.

It reminds me of Rilke’s advice to:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

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the path less taken

When we thought up the idea for Writers Boot Camp.

We came up with the business only a few months ago and already we’ve hosted a few workshops and a writing weekend.

meandering

We took the noncomformist path.

Kelly and I started our business, Boot Camp For Writers because I went off track.

I was in Portland with my work for United Methodist Women. I was early to my meeting. I rented a car and drove to visit another friend named Kelly in Eugene.

Since I was early I could meander. (Note to self: be early!). On the side of the highway, I spotted a sign that said Old West Museum in Brownsville. I took that country road.

I knew it was sort of crazy to leave the direct path laid out for me by the GPS. But I thought, “Heck, I’m so rarely someone who can meander.” Besides, I was in a great western state where, almost two hundred years ago, people traveled the Oregon Trail.

A detour in Oregon.

The museum was closed but I snapped a couple of pictures, posting them to Twitter and Instagram. Kelly @kellythewriter1 replied back, “Brownsville! You are in the boonies.”

I vaguely knew Kelly as a writer. I looked up her writing. I saw a section of her amazing memoir, The Trial.

We exchanged some Twitter messages and agreed to meet a few days later in Portland to talk about writing.

After my day at Powell’s bookstore, we met in a hip neighborhood, the Southeast part of Portland. (Isn’t it all hip?).

We sat at a cafe then walked around.

Kelly asked me if I remembered how I knew her, “Um, no,” I admitted.

“We were at the IWGG weekend together last year,” Kelly said. Kelly always gets the acronym wrong and that cracks me up.

“Oh, right!” I laughed. “The International Women’s Writing Guild.” (the IWWG!) We’d met at their fall workshop and luncheon at the National Arts Club.

Kelly and I gossiped about the changes that the guild was going through.

We agreed it would be fun to start our own writing guild. We’d gear it towards helping writers get published. We’d help writers get serious about and value their work. And we are!

Although our writing workshops are intended to get writers focused, our business started because, less than four months ago, I intentionally lost my way. I took the path less traveled. And by posting the story of my journey on social media (and here on my blog), I am finding my way.

Adirondack Writing Weekend Recap

Kathryn Cramer, one of the workshop leaders called our writing weekend, “an unqualified success.” And George Davis, another leader, made this awesome video:

As you can see, we wrote, we ate, we talked, we wrote, we did yoga, we walked, we ate, and we wrote a little more.

Writers working at the Adirondack weekend retreat.

On the last day of the weekend we started writing with a prompt that began, “I weathered the storm when I…”

I weathered the storm of hosting my first writing weekend. Turns out the hardest part was not the weekend, but getting home again.

It took me a couple of days to get back to New York City from the Adirondacks due to the storm known as Sandy. My Amtrak was cancelled and I relied on friends to give me lifts along the way. (I began writing this post yesterday from a comfy Holiday Inn, half-way home in Albany. I admit I enjoyed my enforced solitude, a menage a moi!)

During the storm, my fam and I stayed in constant digital contact. On the Upper West Side, we never lost electricity. But there is no replacement for real life hugging. And real life writing. And real life family.

Joanna Parson, Kathryn Cramer, Mary Beth Coudal, workshop leaders for the writing weekend

I’m totally grateful to the family and friends (and small businesses) who helped make the writing weekend happen. While holed up in the Albany hotel yesterday, I wrote a letter to the editor thanking everyone (I hope!) who had a part.

To the editor:

In this political season, there has been a lot of talk about which political party helps small businesses the most.

After my first foray as a small business owner hosting a writing weekend in Westport, New York, I believe that no party helps a small business as much as the party of other small businesses.

Thanks to the Westport, Wadhams and Essex small business communities who fed the bodies, minds and spirits of a dozen

George Davis led a workshop on storytelling in the digital age.

writers last weekend.

Special thanks for catering to Carolyn Ware at Ernie’s for lunches of sandwiches and chili; to David and Cynthia Johnston at DaCy Meadow Farm for a quiche brunch; to Janice Hainer at Everybody’s for the groceries; to Jim and Jayne Vance at Westport Hotel and Tavern for our cozy first night’s dinner together; and to Dogwood Bakery for the artisan pizza. We’re lucky to have such tasty options. The writers loved the local foods!

Beyond the nourishment of feeding our bodies, the weekend fed our spirits. We paused to breathe, thanks to Michelle Bartz Maron at Lake Champlain Yoga Arts @ Live Well. A morning stretch allowed us to stretch as writers throughout the day.

Kathryn Cramer explains it.

The writing workshop teachers, storytellers George Davis of Essex, Kathryn Cramer of Dragon Press Bookstore in Westport, Ted Cornell at Crooked Brook Studio in Westport and Joanna Parson of Letter Perfect in New York led the writers to hone the art and craft of writing stories from real life.

Thanks to artistic director Shami McCormick of the Depot Theatre and to teacher Shoshi Satloff for their support and to the entire Jones family for the setting of Skenewood, a magical place for a writing weekend.

To reach an audience of writers for the weekend, I must thank Nathalie Thill of the Adirondack Center for Writing in Saranac Lake and Valley News columnist Colin Wells for spreading the word.

This memoir writing weekend was my maiden voyage as a small business owner. I felt lucky to set sail and discover land in Westport, New York. Because of the work of small businesses, artists and teachers in Westport’s midst, the writers at Skenewood had a meaningful and fun time at our first Adirondack Memoir Retreat.

Sincerely,

Mary Beth Coudal

Writers talking about writing at the Adirondack Memoir Retreat. (l. to r., Joanna Parson, Alex Speredelozzi, George Davis, Beckie O’Neill)

My biggest thanks go to the noble writers who attended the weekend, willing to depart on a voyage in uncharted territories.

The art of memoir requires risk, as does the art of making a writing weekend happen.

My business coach, the awesome Mandy Gresh, was the first to call this writing weekend “my maiden voyage.” I like that.

We hiked on an Adirondack road.

Turns out the journey through the woods and into the writing weekend was not as fearful a journey as it could’ve been. (Though the weather in New York City was more treacherous.)

We’re tentatively planning another Adirondack weekend retreat for Artists and Writers: Talking about Setting from May 16 to 19, 2013.

Stay tuned to our website at Boot Camp For Writers for updates on writing workshops and weekends in Portland, OR and New York, NY.  Which reminds me of two last thank you’s.

The dock at Skenewood.

Thanks to our Boot Camp web developer Felicity Fields. And special thanks to my Boot Camp biz partner, Kelly Wallace.

When I came up with the idea for the weekend, Kelly said, “Oh, yes! Good idea!” It was!