Forever memories are those that stay with you for…well, forever. In conversation with others, forever memories trigger a certain response from you. You want to share the excitement, the reactions you felt, the way the memory has lasted. Almost as if whatever happened was yesterday.
A decade or so ago we took a vacation that has become a forever memory. And if you’ve read William Least Heat-Moon’sBlue Highways, you know what blue highways are. If not, the answer is simple. Older Rand McNally road atlases and maps identified the various types of roadways with color. Major highways appeared in red. Out-of-the-way highways running through small, almost unknown, rural towns appeared in blue.
Our trip was not as long as Heat-Moon’s nor was it circular as his was. But we did have certain restrictions that forced the use of blue highways:
The direction in which we traveled remained unknown until our morning of departure. This part of our trip was decided over breakfast. We would pull a direction—north, south, east or west—from a hat. Bob drew north.
A hard and almost fast rule depended on one condition. Travel had to be via blue highways unless there was no access between Points A and B other than a major highway.This forced a sense of nostalgia and relaxation as a major component of our travel.
We confirmed no reservations for overnight accommodations. And only once had a difficult time finding availability.
No time schedule was set for each day. Serendipitous activities awaited us. We visited attractions we’d never heard of and visited parks we’d never passed. Meals took place in some of the greatest eateries along the way.
As we headed out of Portland north on Highway 30, we had no idea where we’d end up that night or what we’d see along the way. By lunchtime, we found ourselves at Mt. St. Helen’s and enjoyed a brief visit there as well as had a picnic lunch we’d brought along. The rest of the day we wandered along blue highways. The casual drive presented beautiful farms with old barns and outbuildings. Another bonus was the beauty of the world around us, the peace and quiet of rural Washington state.
By dusk, we started searching for a place to stay. A look at the map showed we were not far from Centralia, WA. Centralia is 90.8 miles and 1.5 hours from Portland. It is clear we didn’t make it very far that first day. Yet, our plan was to relax and enjoy this trip, not worry about a schedule.
Over the next 10 days or so, we spent our time the same way. We visited interesting towns and places we’d never thought about or heard of. Our travel took us as far north as the Northern Cascade Mountains where we saw snowfall during June.
Our memories of this trip are quite memorable. Their uniqueness makes them unforgettable. We have talked many times about how much we enjoyed this trip and how we’d like to do it again.
We haven’t yet, but there is always tomorrow. And there are plenty of blue highways we haven’t hit.
On February 16th I announced my intention to honor the Lenten Season by stepping away from social media. I began my “leave-taking” on February 18th. I returned last week having been away for a total of seven weeks. Here’s what I can share with you:
I do not regret one minute away from social media.
I breathed easier, wrote more, spent more time with my family, and found rich blessings in everything I saw and heard.
I missed my social media connections, and I found myself thinking about taking a “peek.”
Together, Bob and I focused on the Lenten message in our morning devotionals.
Bottom line, I relaxed a lot.
And then one day I stepped outside my usual box called “Comfort Zone” and emailed my friend (and probably yours too), Frances Caballo, the mastermind behind Social Media Just for Writers. My email had one purpose behind it. Ask Frances to help me!
I have always stumbled along creating my blog, creating accounts on several social media sites, attempting to understand what I’m doing on each of those sites, and questioning if my blog was as user-friendly as possible. One of Frances’s many talents and services is analyzing social media profiles and pages and providing you with a written assessment and the next steps you should take. I knew I needed Frances to work with me to improve.
Frances looked at each of my social media accounts and my website, within several days provided me a typewritten assessment with suggestions about social media and my site. Her tips were outlined with clarity and the benefit of technological experience I don’t have. I am a happy social media camper and blogger now. Because of Frances, I’m moving through my postings to each account with ease, scheduling using HootSuite and Buffer, and I’ve updated my blog. Here’s a testimonial from me on Frances’s site.
And now here’s a word from Frances:
I can take a more in-depth look at your social media. For $297, I will examine your social media profiles and pages closely and write an assessment and next steps for you to take.
Your audit will include a complete review of:
Your Facebook page posts and About Section
Keyword placement on your LinkedIn profile and a general review
Analysis of your tweets and tips to improve engagement
Suggestions on how you can get more out of Google+
A review of your Pinterest account with suggestions for new boards
A review of your website and blog with ideas for improving them
Perhaps you already have someone like Frances working with you on these issues. However, I am so pleased with the work Frances did I could not help giving her a shout out on my blog.
Winter has been too kind to the populous of the Pacific NW, and the season overlooked us in favor of other parts of the country. But in place of unkind and unending blistering cold, freezing precipitation, snow depths unbelievable to most of us, the lack of same at our end of the country allowed germs to blossom, multiply, and infect.
My husband and I must have passed someone stricken with respiratory issues with the instinct that “paying it forward” meant anything and everything. If we could find the kind soul, we’d gladly pay back the germs shared. However, we’ve had some good reading time as we rested, drank lots of liquids, and healed.
According to Stephen King, we must read to write so I gladly read these past couple of weeks. Today I want to share some stellar books specifically written for writers. Excellent tools to have at hand or at least in your library. Here are thumbnail sketches of them:
Everybody Writes by Ann Handley is an easy to read guidebook on writing and publishing good content. Not only is it suited to writers and bloggers, anyone who writes and/or markets in today’s fast-paced Internet markets will find Ann Handley’s advice well-tested and palatable.
Helen Sedwick’sSelf-Publisher’s Legal Handbook provides a step-by-step guide to the ins and outs of self-publishing. The legal issues inherent in any business undertaking are presented in lay terms for ease of understanding and use. Helen Sedwick is not only an author but also an attorney with 30 years experience.
Writing Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon shares the story of the journey involved in writing Blue Highways. Heat-Moon wrote of a 14,000 mile, 38-state trip he made, and now he shares the four-years spent writing Blue Highways. He shares not only his success along the way, but also the rejections and other stumbling blocks writers face. Numerous drafts, unending revisions, balancing personal life and the writing life, and much more bring to light what every writer must understand–“the tricky balance of intuitive creation and self-discipline required for any artistic endeavor.”
Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers is part memoir and part intellectual journey. Powers is a brilliant writer drawing on not only the constant question faced by today’s digitized person, “Where’s the rest of my life?,” but also dropping back quietly to past technologies and the likes of Shakespeare and Thoreau. At times, I found myself laughing out loud and/or giggling at how ridiculous we’ve allowed the digital world to become. Remember when we were told computers would save us time? I still need to learn how that works. Enter Powers’ book.
Recently, I had the pleasure and opportunity to hear Gigi Rosenberg speak to a writers’ group here in Portland. My husband just happened to win a copy of Rosenberg’s latest book, The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing. Rosenberg has written a transformational guidebook to take starving artists of any art form to a driven researcher of grants, fellowships, residencies, and yes, grant writing. The money is out there, waiting to be spent on the creative arts, if we only ask. Finding it is key, and Rosenberg’s book holds the key to unlock the treasure.
As an adolescent, teen, and young adult, I was always late to the party, and so I am in reading Lee Gutkind’s book, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up. Lee Gutkind, also editor of Creative Nonfiction, has been called the “godfather of creative nonfiction.” His book breaks the genre of creative nonfiction down into an understandable, easy to grasp slice of writing education. I don’t know why I waited so long to read this handy tool, but I’ve not been able to let it out of my sight since finishing. It’s worth every penny I paid for it!
I have added these six books to my list of resources found under the menu tab, “Resources | General Writing Resources.”
Over the last four months, productive writing in my “writing cave” has been predominantly lacking. A variety of reasons, too boring to bother you with, has been the cause of this downturn. Instead of writing, circumstances have allowed me to read more and different books than I usually read. My husband has even opened up new realms of reading for me.
To assuage my guilt as I sat and read more than I was writing, I focused on this quote from Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:
Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
So, having had the time to do a bit of reading lately, here are the tips I garnered and want to share with you:
1. Vocabulary Expansion.
Even the most accomplished of writers can always come across a new word. Expanding one’s vocabulary is essential to writing in order to bring to our readers the gift of words perhaps they don’t know. Additionally, new words enhance a writer’s speaking vocabulary. The skill of being articulate and well-spoken is a benefit to any writer when speaking or engaging with agents, editors, and readers. If there are foreign language words in the text, you begin to learn another language. The increasing diversity in our population makes this another added benefit to reading.
2. Improved Writing Skills.
Increased vocabulary influences your creativity and imagination, thus improving your ability to write a great short story, fiction or nonfiction, or essay. Likewise, while reading another’s writing, your mind likely absorbs the style of the writer. The editor-in-chief at Pick the Brain explains in a post, 10 Ways to Improve Your Mind by Reading the Classics:
Reading the classics is the easiest way to improve your writing. While reading you unconsciously absorb the grammar and style of the author. Why not learn from the best? Great authors have a tendency to take over your mind. After reading, I’ve observed that my thoughts begin to mirror the writer’s style. This influence carries over to writing, helping form clear, rhythmic sentences.
In much the same way musicians influence other musicians and the masters other painters , writers learn from reading the works of other writers.
3. Boost to Your Creativity.
Reading fiction especially transports you to another time and place and generally, your mind floats freely to visualize “where” the book is taking you. The kind of creative process you sense in your reading also enhances the ability to business problems, write books and music, and for some, even research and create advancements to aid humanitarian needs. A boost in creativity also allows the reader and the writer to step into the emotions a character is feeling or experiencing. Imagination is not all about reality; it is also about becoming the character you are empathizing with. Remember as a child when you pretended you were someone else? As we grow older, we tend to lose that imaginative process but reading can sharpen it once again as we identify with characters. Reading books of other authors allows you to experience how they develop characters, paint the scenes, and imbue their characters with emotions.
4. Learn More About Yourself.
These last few weeks have broadened my reading horizon. My husband and I don’t always read the same genre. Lately, he has read works by John McPhee, famed The New Yorkercontributor and author of many books, and William Least Heat-Moon, author of several nonfiction works, including Blue Highways. Occasionally, my husband would come to me to read a passage that he had enjoyed. The writing would be of such quality and nuance that I couldn’t resist reading a whole page and truthfully I wanted to take the book away from him. I have now started reading these two authors and others who write good narrative nonfiction. What I’m finding is an enjoyment of a genre I had rarely picked up before. I’m seeing the crafting of beautiful sentences turning into amazing landscapes, characters into living and breathing souls, and an array of subjects written about so creatively that I enjoyed them more than I thought I would. This often happens when you read something different, something outside your usual reading box.
5. Learn New Organizational Schemes.
Reading the works of others lets us in on how the writer organizes fiction, nonfiction, memoir, biography, and more. Reading a book or article gathered into the whole by a schematic pattern we’d never considered before may impact our current project or the next one in line. We literally learn a new method or pattern of writing. Whether we use it right away or not, it is a new organizational skill set that is available in our writing if we file it away somewhere so it is easily found again.
6. Discovery of New Ideas and Improved Analytical Skills.
I read a lot of memoir books as a general rule because that is the genre I am writing in currently. I want to see what others are doing in the writing and publishing of their stories because it triggers new ideas for me in my writing. As I read memoir, I gain insight into why a writer uses a certain method. This new knowledge then blends with my past knowledge which in turn corrects my misunderstanding of certain forms of writing, broadens my interests, and improves my problem solving skills. Because of these new ideas and skills, my reasoning improves and my analytical skill set is also enhanced allowing me to write solid and convincing material.
7. Improved Focus and Concentration.
Have you ever thought about all that you carry out within a five-minute span while on the Internet? In our Internet-crazed world, we multitask as if we were whirling dervishes! Likely you can in a single five-minute span to divide your time between a writing project, checking email, Skyping with a friend or two, watching your Twitter account, and monitoring your Smartphone. This type of fragmented behavior causes stress levels to rise and lowers your productivity. But when reading a book, your mind focuses solely on the story. Everything around you falls away and you are immersed in the finite details of your book. A sense of tranquility enters your world and your stress levels drop and when you resume your writing, you are more productive.
It is my hope that within this list of seven benefits you have found something new and helpful to you as a writer, or perhaps to you as a reader.
Don’t forget what the good Dr. Seuss says about reading. It applies to all of us–young and old, writers and non-writers:
What about you? Does reading help in your writing? If you have a specific example of how reading a book, essay or short story revealed something about your writing, please share it with the rest of us in comment below.
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