'Bullet Journaling' could be your thing/by Icess Fernandez Rojas

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Let’s face it. Organizing the writing life is probably not your strong point. You’ve probably Google calendared and Day Planned your life within an inch of itself and yet that book or project is not done.

There’s a reason for that. You haven’t found your “thing” yet.

By thing I mean you system, your process, how things are getting done – other than at the last minute.

A year ago, I found out about this thing called Bullet Journal. If you’ve seen this before on social media, you’ve probably seen the colorful art projects of some very talented people. Seriously, their journals are beautiful. And when you’ve seen them, you probably thought that that system wasn’t for you.

What you didn’t see was the original way of doing things, the get-er-done lists and system of keeping track of your life that gets lost in pen type and marker color.

Let’s take this bullet journal thing down to the studs.

Bullet journaling is a system that incorporates lists, appointments, trackers, and notes all in one notebook. It’s like putting your brain on a page and keeping track of it. It can incorporate your Google calendar that you love so much and your grocery list. It can be a place where you keep track of your novel or where you’ve sent out work for publication.

Yes, bullet journaling is all this. And what’s great is all you need is a pen and a notebook. That’s it. The pen you use and the notebook you want is up to you. The best part of this system is that it’s individual to the user. What you need is what you’ll create in this journal.

For a quick primer, go to bulletjournal.com. For ideas on how to use bullet journaling for writing, keep reading.

Keep a writing to-do list.

Rapid logging is going to be helpful for this. I know if I’m working on a long project, like a novel, there are quick notes that I want to make to myself to make sure I do. Things like, make sure that this character’s eyes stay the same color or revise the scene where the monster eats the princess.  For me, those things are as important as a grocery list. Once they are on paper, they exist in the world and they must be acknowledged.

You can also organize a longer project using a Rapid Logging list.

A brain dump is awesome

So, what about those ideas that you have in the middle of the meeting? Or that plot twist that’s so good you don’t want to lose it?  The Brain Dump section is brilliant. It’s literally what the names says it is, a place to dump things from your brain. Its items that don’t really belong any other place in your journal so you dump them there.

This page can be as organized as you want or as messy as you need it to be. It’s whatever you need.

Future Log/ Monthly Log

Think of the future and monthly logs as the actual calendar part of this system. It has dates and next to those dates are things you need to keep track of like when your book needs to be sent out to your agent or when you need the draft of that story done for a revision.

And yes…if you need to remember birthdays you can do that too.

Habit tracker

I find the habit tracker probably the most useful thing. It’s literally how I keep track of habits I want to create or excel at, like, I don’t know, writing. If my goal is to write for 45 minutes a day, it’s on my tracker and I check it off when I’ve done the thing.

You can also create a habit tracker for your writing process. For example, if you write one chapter in the morning and revise in the evening, that can be on your tracker.

Other habits to track – reading, researching, journaling, submitting, and exercising. Yes, you can chug coffee all day and not think that would impact you somehow.

Books I Want to Read List

This one is simple. It’s a list of books you want to read. Yes, we have books on our nightstand or Kindle, but when you write them down and really focus on why you are reading what you’re reading – research, entertainment, curiosity, etc, then you are using the book list as a focused activity rather than listing your personal library.

But can you journal in this thing?

Yes, you can use it to journal. If you’re into Morning Pages, this is a great spot to write everything in.

You can also write notes from writing workshops as well. It all goes in the same spot.

The next thing you’re thinking is probably whether you should have a separate bullet journal for your writing vs your life. It depends. I personally like everything together so I can avoid conflicts. It also helps me protect my writing time.

Hope this helps you organize your writing life. Happy bullet journaling.

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Icess is a writer, professor, and blogger. She is a graduate of Goddard College's MFA program. Her work has been published in Rabble Lit, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, and the Feminine Collective's anthology Love Notes from Humanity. Her nonfiction has appeared in Dear Hope, NBCNews.com, HuffPost and the Guardian. She is a recipient of the Owl of Minerva Award, a VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation alum, and is also a Kimbilio Fellow. She's currently working on her first novel.

 

The Time I "Lived" in Pantelleria

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What do you call something that comes from Pantelleria, that tiny Italian island closer to Africa than Italy?

 

Pantesco.

  1. Of or from Pantelleria.

 

That’s one of the first things I learned when I lived there.  

 

Did I just type “lived”?  The word flew out of my fingers like a truth my mouth hasn’t caught up to telling.  I’m not going to erase it, though.  I’ll keep it because, actually, now that I think of it, it’s true.  I lived on that volcanic, simmering thermal rock of an island for a brief but wondrous four days.  In October, I went on a whim, a last second attempt to catch the final weekend of the summer season before everything closed for winter.  I wanted to get the lay of the land for our upcoming retreat this spring.  After furiously foraging for flights -- six separate tickets: London-Rome, Rome-Palermo, Palermo-Pantelleria and back again I was on my way.  I arrived and promptly decided it was easier to fly from New York.  I hear New York has direct flights to Palermo.  And from Palermo it’s just a forty-five minute puddle jumper.  But for however tricky it might be to get there, it’s well worth it.  

Specchio di Venere

Specchio di Venere

 

Totally off the radar, Pantelleria is one of those paradoxical places that feel unreal because it is precisely that: real.  Almost completely devoid of traditional tourism, there are no mega resorts, no chains or franchises and even shops are hard to come by.  When you arrive and rent a car, they’ll make it sound like they’re doing you a favor and hand you the keys to their “newer” model Fiat Seicento which turns out to be a banged up old gray clunker, ratty tatty from roads that aren’t kind to cars, full bladders or people who have a problem with heights.  

 

That’s what strikes me first aside from the landing: the roads.  They’re the only tangible thing you’ll find tethering you to Earth or whatever you once thought of as reality.  Being on the island made me feel like I’d suddenly grown taller than the whole wide world.  Its landscape of lowly pruned grapevines and the way the earth’s surface seems to swirl off into nowhere left me feeling teetering and unbalanced and curiously delighted.  From the second the plane lands on a sweeping plateau just above the island’s mythical blue-green lake, Specchio di Venere or the Mirror of Venus -- I won’t tell you the details so you can experience the oddness for yourself -- the place catches you off guard.  Near, far, up, down: all points of reference are up for grabs.  It’s a willy-nilly wild place, not at all manicured yet always holding your attention.  

 

Day One I feel totally on edge, because I am.  I have to remind myself to breathe as I make my way down between what are beyond being classified as potholes -- mostly in first, trying not to think about the absent guardrail -- to the island’s most ‘accessible’ rocky “beach” from which to fling my snorkel-wearing self into the shimmering emerald green blue water.  While the rest of the Mediterraneans were mourning the end of summer, Pantelleria was relishing in the season’s last borrowed hours of golden warmth.  I was one of less than ten other lucky humans toasting themselves like lizards on the warm, black rocks that slide off into the sea.  

 

Day Two I’m still edgy with the newness of the island, a place so unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.  I’m electrified by the quiet, lulled by the multicolored sunsets, intrigued by the orange sliver of land marking Tunisia forty kilometers away in the distance.  Not far from the Tenuta, I decided to mosey on down to another beach, the closest to the villa.  I had heard it was a schlep to get down to but I was up for a hike so I drove down what would be considered a cliff in most parts of the world, parked then set off in my Birkenstocks.  I’m not normally afraid of heights and I like a good hike and yet still...had I known, I probably wouldn’t have gone.  When the path before me disappeared and air was all that separated me from the rocky beach hundreds of feet below, I figured I’d gone off course until I spotted a rope.  I clambered down clumsily, startled that in some places there was nothing to hold onto at all.  The path wasn't below me, it was either above me or at eye level.  At various points I held onto twigs from scrubby shrubs that seemed more rooted than I was.  Once safe on the rocks below, I snagged a spot to sit, secured my snorkel, perched myself on a rock and dove in.  Just before I did, a local man hoisting himself back up the rocks gave me a tip. “Swim back into that cove,” he said, “and you’ll get the warmth of the thermal pockets.”  He was right, the warmth against the regular water temperature made the regular temperature turn icy against my skin.  I was mystified by the blurry heat that could be seen seeping from hidden vents underwater.  Like everything else on this island, it was all as pleasant as it was strangely unsettling in its uniqueness.     

The precarious path down to the "beach."

The precarious path down to the "beach."

Hot pocket

Hot pocket

 


My last day some of the locals who had adopted me took me to the place to be on a Sunday for lunch.  A hip, hodge-podge white washed wooden porch overlooking the small port of Scauri.  They served local specialties with sardines, cold local beer and I was the only one who didn’t know everyone.  I quickly learned that even the Italian-speaking locals weren’t native but implants -- they touted the island as their own but like me, they’d also come from elsewhere: Milan, Palermo, Venice.  As you do when you fall in love with a rare, little-known treasure, they scoffed at each other behind one another’s backs, each feeling an entitled sense of propriety to their beloved Pantelleria.  It made me chuckle because I was no different.  No one is immune to this island's magic.  Pantelleria knows what she’s doing.  She makes you feel special and chosen as if she has saved everything she has to offer for you and only you.  The island invites you to enter into a relationship with the landscape.  An invitation that feels precious, precarious and unpredictable, one which elicits all kinds of opportunities for surrender.  Here, I discover there's nowhere to hide because it is the hiding place.  No wonder Giorgio Armani bought a chunk of her hillside and carved out a home for himself here.  I hesitate to tell you that because it implies that the island is like that, only it isn’t.  Pantelleria is the epitome of unassuming beauty, the only thing tethering you between sky, air and sea, a place that’s very much the only thing it can be: itself.  Pantesca.  I part consoled only by the fact that I’ll soon be back.

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6am, 11pm, Whose Fault is It? /by Natasha Oliver

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How changing my relationship with sleep helped my anger.

The school year is underway, and 6am and I are getting reaquainted. I’m not a fan of 6am or anything that happens at that time. And because I’ve told him as much, 6am doesn’t like me either. I’m convinced he arrives early just so I can begin my day cursing him.

I didn’t always hate 6am. There was a time when I didn’t even know he existed. Well, I’m sure our paths crossed once or twice. I mean, we must’ve attended the same party at some point — after all, I am a mother — but I’m certain we never spoke or acknowledged one another’s existence. And I was happy that away, and I think he was too.

But then my second child was born a “morning” person, and I started to notice him. I want to tell you that 6am is evil — the way he just pops up when you least expect or how he’s always there even though you’re actively trying to avoid him — but I’m told there are some who don’t mind his company. I actually know a very successful person who begins his day with 5am! He and 5am meditate and exercise together. Because this person is someone I admire, I wondered if 5am was different than 6am, and decided that I should try to get to know her.

After 21 days of hanging out with her, I must say that 5am is a real bitch. Look, I was the one who approached her, and so you should know that I went into that relationship committed to making it work. Think of all the writing I could get done with her! I could finally finish the edits to my novel. And if we exercised together, I would shed those last 5kg (11lbs) that are just sorta hanging around, literally. It would also mean that I wouldn’t start my day nagging my kids to get out of bed. But it takes two to tango, and she wanted nothing to do with me. I could tell by her attitude.

5am was abrupt. She woke me up from a deep sleep and forced me to get going whether my brain liked it or not. She didn’t care what kind of night I had, whether my kids were sick or if I had a bad dream. She wasn’t interested in my sob story about how from 6am onwards my day was full or how I needed this relationship to work because I was feeling lonely ever since I ended things with 11pm. She just watched me whine and cry and drift back to sleep at my desk until it was 6am.

I know you’re thinking I went about this all wrong. First of all, 5am is a hard core, intense kinda friend, and so if I couldn’t handle 6am, what on Earth made me think I could cope with 5am. Not to mention that I just ended things with 6am, and I shoud’ve spent some time getting to know myself, perhaps train in 15-min intervals because one has to work up to a 5amlifestyle. Well, I realized the same thing, albeit 10 days later. So I started hanging out with 5:45am, and while she wasn’t as bad as 5am, I realized I didn’t like her anymore than I did 6am.

So, like many who are in a bad relationship they’re thinking of ending, I turned to the internet to find out what to do. I can’t begin to tell you the weight that was lifted off my shoulders when I came across this article, “There’s a Scientific Explanation for Why You’re a Morning Person […]”. It showed me that there was a good reason why I disliked 6am. And 5:45am. And 5am. Basically all the ams.

After reading it, I took the rest of the day off and napped. And I didn’t feel guilty about it. I was tired and that was okay. After I woke up, I was able to think about this entire thing rationally for the first time in a month. I had to accept I was not a morning person. I enjoy the evenings. I was, afterall, genetically programmed that way, and then also, my lifestyle supported that.

I realized that my problem wasn’t with 6am. My problem, all along, had been with 11pm. He and I had a lot in common, but when we got together, it always resulted in a disastrous next day. Recognizing that he had been sabotaging all my other relationships was an eye opener.

Ending it with him took time. We did the whole dwindling thing, you know, break up, but then get back together only to break up once more. Then we slept together, which brought us closer until I realized that I was only falling into the same destructive pattern. 11pm wasn’t going to change. If I wanted things to be different, I had to change.

And so I did. But if I’m honest, he’s not completely out of my system yet; I still yearn for him some nights. But I’m keeping strong and starting new habits. I now set a bedtime alarm so that I don’t lose track of time. I have two hours in the evening to relax and handle household necessities. I’m more accepting of that time limitation than being angered by it.

I recently pulled 6am to the side and apologized. I was honest. I told him that I seriously doubted we’d ever be true friends, but I was committed to being civil and would stop cursing him. He didn’t make any promises to me, but that was fair enough. Time is consistent, and I need to accept that.

Since then, things have been… well, they are what they are. My alarm goes off to remind me it’s time to go to bed. I’m tired anyway, and I’ve stopped fighting it. Besides, whatever I’m doing can wait.

My alarm goes off again at 6am, and I get out of my bed to start the day. I’m not happy per se, but I’m definitely not angry anymore. And that’s a huge improvement.

Natasha Oliver grew up reading, and so writing seemed like the obvious next step, until it wasn’t. Like many people fresh out of college, Natasha had no idea what she wanted to do. So, she accepted the highest-paying job offer and journaled on the side. She wrote short stories because there was something in her that demanded to be expressed in unspoken words. For many years, she made her living in Human Resources, working throughout Asia and “trying out” the various HR specialties until she could no longer deny her desire to write. After earning her MFA in Writing, she moved (again), switched careers and gave birth to two children. Natasha currently resides in Singapore and is a freelance ghostwriter and editor. Her short stories fall into the fantastical realm, and she’s currently working on a novel about the challenges a middle-aged woman faces when seeking her true identity. You can follow her on medium and twitter (@natashaoliver) and www.peaceandcenter.com

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Wrote a book? Hang on, you're not done yet/ by Suzy Soro

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Did you write a book or are you thinking about it? Whether you’re published by the Big 5, an indie publisher, or self-published, there is more work to do after you release it into the wild. Work that is much more tedious than writing it, which is already incredibly tedious. Writing a book turns out to be the easy part.

Let’s review your pre-publication checklist:

1. Make sure your cover, when it’s thumbnail size on all your social media accounts, is readable. Unless Tom Thumb or a Lilliputian is looking at it, no one will be able to decipher your thumbnail except the people in the movie Downsizing. I’ve ignored this directive on both my books and will continue to disregard it because if people are staring at my thumbnail rather than reading my book, I’ve got larger problems.

2. Try and increase your social media accounts. I can hear most of you groaning, but it needs to be done. Publishers are reluctant to take on books if the author doesn’t have a substantial social media presence. Twitter is where I sold the majority of my indie-published book, Celebrity sTalker, and Facebook is where I sold most of my second book, Mommy Tried to Kill Me, which I self-published. While I still post links on Tumblr and Ello, I had to drop LinkedIn when they sent me a notice that my friend Steve had died and asked me to “Congratulate Steve.” I’m guessing their algorithm is stitched together with alcohol and sleeping pills.

3. A great editor is a key to your book’s success. But editors cost money and while you’re waiting for the Prize Patrol to show up at your door with your first check from Publisher’s Clearinghouse, find some beta readers who either teach English, have a Ph.D. in English, or are just know-it-alls. But beware of the know-it-alls as they might try to tell you that you spelled your name wrong. Do not use family, close friends, or people who owe you favors as beta readers. They thought your ugly Christmas sweater was pretty, remember?  I use people I interact with on social media that I’ve never met in real life. I ask them to be brutal and not to spare my feelings, which sometime during the writing of the book have vanished anyway.  

4. Run your manuscript through the online app Grammarly.com. It’s free, but you can update it to a more vigorous and painful version. The painful version may flash these words: 13 critical errors, 21 advanced errors. And while this may also refer to your love life, it will show you where the mistakes in your work stand out. It will also find unoriginal text by checking against a database of over eight billion web pages. The updated Grammarly, at $59 for three months, is a bargain. Say it with me, “Commas are not my friend.”

5. Climb Mount Everest. It’s the same as trying to browbeat people into reviewing your book. You need reviews if you want more sales so begin the quid pro quo with your friends’ books now so that you can hit them up when you publish. Good luck, Sisyphus.

6. Read your manuscript out loud and backward. According to some, it’s easier to catch mistakes this way. I was once stopped for speeding, and the cop asked me to count back from 100 by seven. I laughed because I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t.

7. Keep your day job.

 

Suzy Soro is a writer, standup comedian, and actress. You might have seen her on Seinfeld, in the episode where she got the last chocolate babka, ranked 25 out of all 169 episodes of Seinfeld. Or you might have seen her on Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry David calls her an asshole because she refuses to take off her sunglasses when we're inside eating lunch. Suzy has traveled the world doing standup comedy, working for both the USO and MWR, and she toured the United States and Canada with her own comedy group, Single, Married & Divorced. Her first memoir, Celebrity sTalker is about all the Hollywood celebrities she has annoyed over the years. Mommy Tried to Kill Me is her second memoir. Her work also appears in four anthologies, available on Amazon. Follow Suzy on Medium.

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Awakening/ by Dawn Brockett

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Quiet morning solitude is sacred.  I rise immediately upon waking, press grind/brew on the coffee maker and fire up the burner under the tea pot that was filled with water the night before. Bent neatly into the corner of the couch, my sleeping dog indulges scores of morning kisses, barely stirring her maple-syrup scented head from her bolster pillow.  Then a quick trip to the bathroom to freshen up, to rinse the sleep from my eyes.  Scalding hot water heats the stoneware cup, embossed with a testament of my love for my dog, to prepare it for the brew that will rinse the sleep from my mind.  One flick of the wrist of cream, and I am onto my mat with my first cup and my laptop for morning writing.  One page per day.  Little enough to feel always possible, yet enough to add up to something substantial over time.  A series of early-morning, dark room processes eventually developing into the big picture:  coffee, yoga, writing, doggie, the cornerstones of my creativity.  Unrelenting focus on the minutiae sends me spiraling, erratically.  Simple, meaningful and productive routines ground me and eventually get me to where I am going.  In the quiet, I remember.

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When we were children, mom had the unpleasant task of waking us for church.  The one we attended believed in daily ecclesiastical edification.  Whether Sunday school or evening service, worship service, youth service or revival, it was a rare day that we did not spend some time on the church grounds.  Once per week, after school, the bus dropped us three kids on the grassy grounds of the front lawn to clean the sanctuary.  When our work was complete, my brother Daniel and I would mimic baptisms, that all-critical moment of dedication in one’s spiritual life in the evangelical tradition.  Mom caught us once and was hardly amused.  The baptismal font is drained in between pageants, so there had been no previous evidence of dripping clothes to tip her off.  I imagine that I have been baptized hundreds of times.  Alas, to no avail.

Coffee became the method of choice to stir three children out of their beds, once again, to re-up their contracts with the divine.  The Southern tradition of coffee awakening runs deeply.  Perhaps the heavy early exposure to the religious brew overwhelmed my receptors, or perhaps my tolerance is just incredibly high, like the children of Afghan women who are soothed with opium and the difficulty our medics had during the conflicts there in treating their pain with anything short of what would be a lethal dose to an average man.  At any rate, coffee is ritual- soothing, comforting, luxurious— but it is not quickening.  It is solitude that wakes me properly.  In the quiet stillness of the morning, before outside voices intrude, I can hear my own mind, my self that shrinks throughout the day.  She is loudest and strongest when not fighting for space, not reacting to challenge or contorting in order to appease.  She can speak in the morning, before the world wakes up with its sound and light and questions.  With its expectations and need for explanations.  In solitude, I am strong and clear and able to soften within my skin.

Dawn lives in Boise, Idaho, with her beautiful wife, Lisa Marie, a musician and multi-media artist.  Their angel doggie, Coco, an Australian Shepherd-Border Collie mix, encourages them to spend all of their free time in the mountains and foothills--on foot, skis, bikes or snowshoes.  Coco, for the record, is always on foot. Four, in fact. Until recently, Dawn contained her writing to her academic pursuits.  After six degrees and graduate certificates, including one from La Sorbonne: Université de Paris, in the footsteps of her idol, Victor Hugo, she decided to finally write something that was not assigned.  She is working now on her first book, a memoir titled Content(e):  The Woman I (was) Meant to Be.  

Dawn lives in Boise, Idaho, with her beautiful wife, Lisa Marie, a musician and multi-media artist.  Their angel doggie, Coco, an Australian Shepherd-Border Collie mix, encourages them to spend all of their free time in the mountains and foothills--on foot, skis, bikes or snowshoes.  Coco, for the record, is always on foot. Four, in fact. Until recently, Dawn contained her writing to her academic pursuits.  After six degrees and graduate certificates, including one from La Sorbonne: Université de Paris, in the footsteps of her idol, Victor Hugo, she decided to finally write something that was not assigned.  She is working now on her first book, a memoir titled Content(e):  The Woman I (was) Meant to Be.  

Seeing with our hearts/ by Julie Rubini

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“Oh, Betty, you’ve just got to see it with your heart and your eyes!”

These words stuck with me throughout our recent incredible trip to The Last Frontier, Alaska.

They came from a 75-year-old adventurer, Sally, to her 85-year-old friend, as she struggled to get her camera working properly while we were up on a glacier near Denali.

Yep, Betty and Sally flew up with us on a de Havilland Otter, a turboprop plane operated out of Talkeetna by K2 Aviation. As eight of us loaded into the plane, Brad and another taller gentleman were instructed that they could sit anywhere but the back. My assumption was that even though the aircraft is the quintessential bush plane, and has incredible STOL (Short takeoff and landing. Good in case moose happen to be on the runway. Seriously. It happens there), a heavy tail doesn’t help.

As I strapped on my seat belt, I got a little nervous seeing that the plane was manufactured in my birth year. Granted their turbo props had been upgraded, but I was still a bit anxious, knowing at this age sometimes my body doesn’t want to fully cooperate. I said a silent prayer, hoping that today this plane’s systems were all in working order for our flight.

As I was untangling the cable to my headphones, I heard my daughter Kyle’s voice behind me.

“You just press the headphones in at the top to make them fit,” she said.

I turned around to see that she was helping Betty and Sally. It both warmed my heart to see Kyle assisting them, and to see their gratitude in their eyes.

Take-off was quick and easy. It was a beautiful, sunny day, so we didn’t experience any turbulence from heavy, low-lying clouds. We flew up from the base at Talkeetna, the launching pad for many of Denali’s climbers.

We were flying a popular route, both for drop-off of hikers at base camp, as well as for those of us ultimately landing on a glacier. I’m grateful I didn’t discover this information from an FAA Denali flight information guide until just now: This can be a very high volume route during May and June. Aircraft are leaving Talkeetna and flying the most direct route to “base camp” on the Kahiltna Glacier. Watch for “One Shot Gap”: minimum altitudes 8500 ft MSL, listen, stay right, watch diligently for opposite direction traffic, listen for reports of downdrafts and turbulence. Don’t get caught with no way out.

I’m sure Betty and Sally were glad not to read this before our trip as well. Kyle might have been helping them with more than their headphones.

The Denali peak, at 20,320 feet, was clearly visible throughout our flight. It is majestic, snow covered, incredible and almost beyond words. As we flew around the mountain, it gave me an even greater appreciation for those who scale the monster. Over 100 climbers had reached the summit the week we were visiting.

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We flew through a section called the “747 Pass.” The name was reassuring, because from my perspective, it seemed as though it was just wide enough for our small plane to fly through.

The pilot brought us down a few thousand feet before landing on Ruth Glacier, in an area known as the Mountain House. Yep, there is a small cabin, built by a famous pioneer aviator, Donald Sheldon in 1966. We could see the house on the rock outcropping, with the outhouse nearby, seemingly on the edge. Wouldn’t want to take a wrong turn on that early morning trip.

We unloaded from the plane, one at a time, carefully on to the softened snow below. We all stumbled over the tracks from other plane landings, our sun-protected eyes still blinded by the glaring sun and bright blue sky.

Kyle and our son Ian threw snowballs at each other, Brad and I hugged, simply in awe.

And Betty and Sally tried to take pictures with their camera. I felt sorry for them, knowing that for all of us, this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

That’s when Sally offered her sage advice.

So true.

We should take in everything with our eyes and keep it embedded in our hearts.

Our time on the glacier was up entirely too soon. Our pilot ushered us back into the plane. Betty was having a bit of a challenge walking across the snow back to the plane, so I offered her an arm. Then, with an apology for getting a bit too personal, I pushed on her backside to help her up into the plane. She giggled at my comment. Or maybe at my goose, I’m not sure which.

Before we took off, Brad gave Sally one of his business cards, suggesting she email him, and he would be happy to send her pictures he had taken up on the glacier. Her eyes glistened as she accepted his card and offer.

Our flight back was smooth, no apparent downdrafts or turbulence and certainly didn’t experience the “no way out.”

We landed safely, and the adorable ladies, gushing with their gratitude, were kind enough to grant my request of taking a picture with them before we went our separate ways.

This Alaskan trip was symbolically our last frontier, as it was our 50th State to visit with our children. It was the completion of a mission we began in earnest after losing our daughter, Claire, in 2000.

I know I will hold on to all the big and small memories of all our journeys forever in my heart.

And just maybe I’ll share them all with you some day.

This piece originally appeared on Julie’s blog

Julie and her husband established Claire’s Day, a children’s book festival in honor of their daughter. This celebration of Claire’s love for reading has grown to a multiple date celebration, impacting over 20,000 children and family members. Julie’s latest work is Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller, a biography of America’s most honored author of children’s literature, published by Ohio University Press Biographies for Young Readers series. She has also written Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist, for the series, and Hidden Ohio, a picture book. She is a huge literacy advocate, and enjoys reading to kindergartners weekly. But most of all, she cherishes her roles as wife to Brad and mother to daughter Kyle and son Ian. Julie is the recipient of the Toledo area Jefferson Award (2015) and the YWCA Milestones Award (2016).

Julie and her husband established Claire’s Day, a children’s book festival in honor of their daughter. This celebration of Claire’s love for reading has grown to a multiple date celebration, impacting over 20,000 children and family members. Julie’s latest work is Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller, a biography of America’s most honored author of children’s literature, published by Ohio University Press Biographies for Young Readers series. She has also written Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist, for the series, and Hidden Ohio, a picture book. She is a huge literacy advocate, and enjoys reading to kindergartners weekly. But most of all, she cherishes her roles as wife to Brad and mother to daughter Kyle and son Ian. Julie is the recipient of the Toledo area Jefferson Award (2015) and the YWCA Milestones Award (2016).

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Gratitude & discovery/ by Debbie Brosten

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It’s around 10 and we’ve done yoga with Nancy leading us on a stone patio where we look out on the vineyards in the hills, where we breathe in the fresh Tuscan air and wake our bodies slowly and luxuriously.

Breakfast, too, is done. One which we as a group have chosen to eat in silence. A buffet overflowing with fresh fruit, bread and croissants, sliced meats and cheeses, and always fresh cucumber slices and whole red tomatoes. Yogurt and granola, butter and jam, country fresh hard boiled eggs in their brown speckled shells await us along with juices and coffee and tea. The possibility of leaving hungry disappears, along with the rest of our cares.

We carry the silence into our free time before the first writing session of the day. A time to continue the introspection begun in yoga, enhanced by the setting.  I breathe in “I am” before exhaling “here now.”

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Dulcie apologizes to the virgin writing retreat members for now having the expectation of this amazing villa, estate, trattoria to live up to, but I think she is being harsh. For me the magic of the writing retreat is the words silently written only to later come alive as they are read aloud in voices confident and sure or tremulous and tentative. Hearts are splayed open before our fellow writers as we intuitively trust the people who have entered our lives so deeply, so quickly. Strangers really, but not. Kindred spirits who we hadn’t chanced to meet earlier.

I am so grateful to be here, to have a life which allows for the possibility of greatness – of openness, of digging ever deeper, plunging down the rabbit hole, tossing aside long misused protective layers as I continue my search to uncover me – my authentic self. A self who is strengthened and honed can then stand strong on the Earth to open to your needs, and more importantly, your love.

September 16, 2014

                                                Voltrona, San Gimignano, Tuscany

Debbie Brosten relocated to Bellingham after retiring from a career in education. She delights in the serendipity of life as she fills her days with travel, writing, friends, and laughter. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies including; Whatcom Writes, Give Yourself Permission, Memory into Memoir and Unmasked: Women Write about Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. Wide Open Writing Tuscany 2018 registration is now open. Check our "Retreats" page for more information.

Debbie Brosten relocated to Bellingham after retiring from a career in education. She delights in the serendipity of life as she fills her days with travel, writing, friends, and laughter. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies including; Whatcom Writes, Give Yourself Permission, Memory into Memoir and Unmasked: Women Write about Sex and Intimacy After Fifty.

Wide Open Writing Tuscany 2018 registration is now open. Check our "Retreats" page for more information.

Publishing: Get rich quick? Nope, but there are rewards/ by Carolyn Porter

My book has been out for four months. I’d tell you to envision me sitting poolside at my new fancy mansion, checking an ever-increasing bank balance, but that would be a disservice to both of us. My editor is delighted with sales, and the book has gotten good reviews, but here’s the truth: I didn’t turn into an overnight bajillionaire. Quitting my full-time job is not an option. 

But I have reason to suspect people think otherwise. “Are you going to move?” both my husband and I have been asked. Repeatedly. “You still work?” someone remarked with surprise at a bookstore reading. A half-dozen book clubs have made the assumption I would be available any weekday for a leisurely afternoon gathering. And I’ve received cross-country invitations to speaking events, though the organizations expected me to cover airfare and hotel. It’s as if people believe I am equally flush with cash and free time.

I try to give them slack, though, and answer questions with kindness and transparency. I probably harbored some of those same perceptions before learning the realities of publishing. 

So, let me share a few things I’ve learned these last few months:

Publishing a book is a numbers game. 

In 2015, 338,990 books were published in the United States (new titles or re-editions).* That’s 928 new books every single day of the year. 38.7 new books every hour. One new book every minute and a half. By the time you’ve finished reading this blog post, two more books will have been published. Consider that fact with kindness because each new book represents years of work. Each new book represents an author’s total commitment to that project. It’s tough to compete with so many other titles on the market.

Publishing a book might not change your financial life. In fact, it probably won’t. 

Even in traditional publishing, there are expenses to bringing a book to life. I paid thousands of dollars to a developmental editor, thousands more for promotion, and spent countless hours writing and editing—time that could have been spent pursuing paying client work. And I did all that fully aware of this frightful statistic: the average U.S. nonfiction book sells less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.**

Publishing a book requires fierce dedication, commitment and sacrifice. 

The writing process, especially while holding a full-time job, requires a complete, give-it-everything commitment to the project. Ready to give up television, time with friends, time working out, cooking for fun, or whatever it is you do for recreation? Writing a book requires hundreds—if not thousands—of hours of time at your desk (and inside your own thoughts) when you might otherwise be doing or focusing on something else.

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Publishing a book requires thick skin. 

I’m still trying to find the vitamin that will help me grow it. Ready for rejection? Multiple rejections in a single day? Ready for every single person you meet to have an opinion about the book’s structure/pace/ending/tone/content/language or cover design? Ready to read breezy reviews written by people who only seem to have a marginal comprehension of the facts of the story? Or those who judge the book against criteria of a different genre? It will happen. But if you keep in mind the reason that compelled you to write the book in the first place, the harsh opinions seem to sting less.

So, if publishing is financially unrewarding and emotionally taxing, why did I write “Marcel’s Letters”? It was important to tell Marcel’s story. I chose to commit time, energy, and money to the project to ensure his story wasn’t lost to time. Even if I never break even on the project, I will tell you it was worth every dollar, every ounce of effort.

Publishing a book has unexpected and delightful rewards.

Along the way, I’ve befriended other writers who are equally committed to telling their stories. I’ve launched myself far outside of my comfort zone. I’ve met passionate readers. I’ve seen both tears and joy (and tears of joy) on people’s faces as they talk about the book. I even received a handwritten note from my Kindergarten teacher congratulating me on writing a book. I’ve been buoyed by unexpected cheerleaders. I’ve gained a sense of satisfaction knowing for a few hours I transported people to a different time and place. I’ve been told I’ve inspired people to write, to design, to pay attention to typography, to think big. 

Do you have a story important to tell? Tell it! Start writing today. Go work on it now. Seriously. Right now. If that story inside of you is so big, so strong, so full of life that it is going to gnaw its way out of you with or without your help, figure out how to make time to write it down. Start crafting a work of literature, not just a number. Start cultivating thick skin. Start believing you can.

*. https://www.statista.com/statistics/248335/number-of-new-titles-and-re-editions-in-selected-countries-worldwide/

**. https://www.bkconnection.com/the-10-awful-truths-about-book-publishing

Carolyn Porter is a graphic designer and self-professed typography geek who designed the font P22 Marcel Script. Released in 2014, the font has garnered four international honors, including juried selections for the 2015 Project Passion exhibition, typeface competitions by Communication Arts and Print magazines, and the prestigious Certificate for Typographic Excellence from the New York Type Director’s Club. The book, “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate,” recounts Carolyn’s obsessive search to learn whether Marcel Heuzé, a Frenchman conscripted into forced labor during World War II—and whose handwriting provided the inspiration for the font—survived to be reunited with his beloved wife and daughters. Carolyn lives in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Carolyn Porter is a graphic designer and self-professed typography geek who designed the font P22 Marcel Script. Released in 2014, the font has garnered four international honors, including juried selections for the 2015 Project Passion exhibition, typeface competitions by Communication Arts and Print magazines, and the prestigious Certificate for Typographic Excellence from the New York Type Director’s Club. The book, “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate,” recounts Carolyn’s obsessive search to learn whether Marcel Heuzé, a Frenchman conscripted into forced labor during World War II—and whose handwriting provided the inspiration for the font—survived to be reunited with his beloved wife and daughters. Carolyn lives in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Tearing away the layers/ by Kate Brown

"This is Kate. She's from Australia. She just hitchhiked here and was attacked by a dog." The dark-haired goddess said to the table filled with women that I had never met.

Each fragment of her statement was true, just not in that order. I am Kate. I am from Australia. But, I didn't hitchhike from Australia to Tuscany, although that would have been something I could have spent the next few days writing about. I'd hitched a ride from the nearest town of San Gimmy - shortened from San Gimingnano because Aussies abbreviate just about everything. What had happened was that the hostel in Pisa messed up and told me that I could get a bus from some end-of-the-line, butt-fuck nowhere station to San Gimmy when, in fact, I couldn't. Luckily, I found a couple that agreed to share a "taxi", otherwise known as a local in an unmarked car preying on tourists, and I sure as shit wasn't getting in one of those alone. 

Being me, and dressed like a teenage mutant ninja turtle with my 15kg rucksack, I had figured I would walk the remaining seven kilometres to the farmhouse from San Gimmy. I reckon I got about 100 metres before sticking my thumb out. 

The photo was I think a follow up appointment, and I didn't need the wheelchair but it speeds up the process if you look like you do. Getting a lollipop was a clear highlight.

The photo was I think a follow up appointment, and I didn't need the wheelchair but it speeds up the process if you look like you do. Getting a lollipop was a clear highlight.

In my pigeon Italian and with almost as many hand gestures as the average Italian, my driver and saviour wanted to join the retreat in the two minutes it took to arrive. I quickly said thanks and left her with Regina.

Regina was also right about the dog attack, but it didn't happen on the 100 metre walk and two minute drive. It happened in a Belgian backyard about six weeks earlier, but I was still wearing a bandage to protect the newly forming scars from the sunlight. This is a familiar story to many of my friends and family, and to some of you WOWers.

In short, I was bitten twice by a golden retriever; once on my elbow and once on my ribs. I got seven stitches while Benji just got put down. For some reason, even though I was travelling for a whole year, this attack (along with the retreat of course) was a highlight. Although, I don't go around saying this because, well, that shit just sounds masochistic and let's-stay-away-from-her level of weird.

In the immediate weeks after the attack, I hit my lowest point; one of the lowest of my life. I couldn't wash my hair. I had to learn to brush my teeth and wipe my arse with my left hand - obviously not at the same time! I couldn't write about it and most of the time I couldn't even talk to anyone at home because of the time difference. All the while still living in the house of Benji's owners.

Before I had begun the trip eight months earlier, without the much of a plan, I felt privileged and loathed the spoilt manner from which my fellow citizens could act or speak. I wanted to tear away every layer that I had grown up believing, imposed by a culture without thought. I wanted to cut the skin away from my own flesh like separating the thick hide layer from a leg of ham. 

But, here all I really needed was a dog. 

Currently residing in Sydney, Australia, Kate has spent most of her life in Darwin, Northern Territory, and has worked in finance, aviation and hospitality. Writing is a hobby and part of her current studies at Edith Cowan University, which draws on her unique upbringing, diverse travels, and distinct wit. Kate's style is exploratory and experimental, yet tackles social dilemmas while incorporating the subtle humor and ironies of every day life. She's shown here in Florence 2014 with fellow traveler Debbie Brosten.

Currently residing in Sydney, Australia, Kate has spent most of her life in Darwin, Northern Territory, and has worked in finance, aviation and hospitality. Writing is a hobby and part of her current studies at Edith Cowan University, which draws on her unique upbringing, diverse travels, and distinct wit. Kate's style is exploratory and experimental, yet tackles social dilemmas while incorporating the subtle humor and ironies of every day life. She's shown here in Florence 2014 with fellow traveler Debbie Brosten.

Finding success as a published writer/ by Crystal Barnes

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For those who write, whose goal it is to be an author of any sort, and who believe it is their calling, I believe they will never give up on making it their career. There will be no point to because they will never stop writing regardless of outcome; it is simply what they do.

While the writing part—whether it be essay, poetry, article, or fiction—often comes easy and is joyful to a writer, the other part—getting written work noticed—doesn’t always come easy, and isn’t always joyful to a writer, such as myself. The following are four values that I have come to learn are necessary for any writer to succeed in getting published and establishing a writing career.

Passion.

First, one must have passion. A writer must naturally have an interest—a joy in writing and want to do write whether or not they become published, receive recognition, or earn income from it. Passion will prevent or eliminate any discouragement that tries to set in when goals are not reached or hopes fall through. Passion is the driving force that picks writers up and encourages them to reestablish goals, ultimately pushing them to try again. 

Patience.

Second, a writer must have patience. Patience will allow writers to cultivate works that can stand on their own for years to come, much like a garden. If a writer lacks patience, most, if not all actions and decisions will be impulsive and poorly made, thus likely leading to failure. Patience makes a significant difference in areas such as self-publishing, which requires creating a clean and polished body of written work. It also means developing a solid and strong marketing strategy, including established professional connections, and a significant and active audience. Establishing those things alone take time—even obtaining the right resources and finances to create a professional body of work. Although some writers have found publishing success with a small audience or few resources, if you look deeper into their stories, they still exercised patience to market their work well.

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Fearlessness.

Third, one must not fear what lies ahead, or fear the unknown. Writers can’t be afraid to share their work with the world, including making financial sacrifices, especially in the area of self-publishing where writers benefit by creating something that looks professional and stands out. Writers also shouldn’t be afraid to invest in travelling to events, such as writing conferences. Of course, writers should take well-thought-out and purposeful actions. If one feels in their mind, and even heart, that they must do something in order to reach their goals, fear of letting go, fear of what others think, or fear of the unknown, should not get in the way.

Humbleness.

Fourth, writers should develop humbleness. Learning to accept and hear feedback is not always easy, especially when negative. However, that skill is essential to developing fearlessness. Being humble means being able to accept criticism or negative responses of your work without being defensive or giving up. Some criticism is good because it can bring to light aspects of writing that may not be connecting with others. Humble writers are able to open their mind to see things that may not have been obvious early on. Of course, all this is useful when you receive constructive criticism and not vague criticism, such as “I don’t like this.”

Another point—negative feedback is inevitable, especially as your audience grows and your work becomes more known. Some may even provide constructive criticism that you may not agree with. But at the end of the day, it’s best to take this feedback with a grain of salt and move on. You as a writer know your work best. Decide what to do with the feedback you receive. But anticipate these things, don’t take them personally, and use this feedback to build fearlessness and grow as a writer.

In Conclusion…

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Building an audience and getting your work read by others takes time—it doesn’t happen overnight. I learned to never forget, to never lose the reason why I began writing in the first place—because I enjoy it. To me, writing is my outlet to set my mind free and express how I feel about others, things, and myself. It is my chance to create a world—a life that I don’t necessarily have or live, but envisioned myself to. It is a chance for me to face challenges that even as I write, I don’t know how those challenges will pan out. Your writing should be genuine—you should have fun. If you don’t have that, then nothing else will surface. Don’t see your audience as a number—a goal to obtain. See them as an important community to interact with, get to know, and learn from. Any successful audience is one that is responding to what the writer does, whether that audience is big or small.

But quite possibly, the most important thing I have come to realize is this: writing (especially creative) is more of an art form than that of a technical form, which must meet certain criteria and follow guidelines in order to be adequate enough to be presented to the audience. When writers focus more on the business side of writing, such as seeking agents and publishers, writing can lose its art and start to be tedious work, as it once became for me. There is no wrong or right way to write a story or poem, as long as it’s readable and free of grammar errors. To me, there is no such thing as an unintentional silly story or poem because you never know what readers will like. Who knows, your off-trend and unique story could start a new trend as others have done before.

Crystal Barnes is a writer and blogger on her website, Writer’s Bounty (www.writersbounty.wordpress.com). She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association and a book reviewer for Bethany House Publishers. She is seeking representation for her contemporary fiction stories and lives in Saint Paul, MN.