Tomorrow I’m leaving for a few days of visiting family. I’d originally planned to continue blogging by scheduling posts while I’m gone but decided at the last minute to take a full hiatus until Monday. The blog series will resume June 19. Until then… 🙂


The Best Year of Your Writing Life

My friend Mariam—whom I’ve met only once in person but who feels like someone I’ve known since childhood—shared a social media post* last year on her birthday that began like this:

I’ve had the very best year of my life.

Reading that sentence then, as it does now, gave me chills.

She continued:

For brief moments, I got to peek behind the curtains of this thing I do called life and was invited to go deeper by throwing off the shackles of ideas, opinions, and preferences I may have about the way this thing goes.

It is beautiful and it will more beautiful and then it will be more beautiful and then it will be more beautiful. And, that’s all there is left for my living.

I’m going to live my year ahead in a personal way, in a BIG way, with the most kindness and love that I can possibly muster in every single moment.

All is well, all is well, all manner of things shall be well. This is my life. I love you.

Photo by Mark Strobl, "2011 04 10 Treedom XII watching Taunus in the spring" (CC BY 2.0)
Photo by Mark Strobl, “2011 04 10 Treedom XII watching Taunus in the spring” (CC BY 2.0)

For days, weeks, months afterward, I thought about Mariam and her words. I was lightened by the happiness I felt for her and intrigued by what seemed such a big change in her life. And I wondered: What would have to happen—or, more to the point, what would I have to do/think/change/be—to have the same experience?

As 2017 began, I made no grand resolutions, yet the idea of the best year of one’s life knocked quietly but firmly on every door of my inner space with an insistence I could not ignore. I’m still figuring out what exactly it means, but I do know two things for sure that I’m guessing are also true for many others:

  1. My writing life is inseparable from the rest of my life. When words are a part of my days, everything else is better; when they are missing, life feels incomplete. At the same time, personal growth supports and helps to prioritize creativity.
  2. Whatever changes I need to make are as much about what I think and how I react inside as about what anyone sees on the outside. This quest is not about public accomplishment. It is about lived experience.

So, thanks to Mariam, and after a couple of false starts, I’ve settled on a new combination of blog name and tagline that finally feels just right and provides focus for the next several months:

If not now, when?
Make this the best year of your writing life

[Note May 8, 2017: As you’ll see, the website name and tagline are back to something simpler, but the sentiment remains.]

To that end, I’ll be posting more frequently with resources, ideas, and my own experiences (such as what I’m learning about starting a small publishing company, the upcoming publication of Family Stories from the Attic, and a visit in a couple of weeks to the London Book Fair). I do hope you join in, comment, and share your own thoughts and journeys.

Like me, you may wonder if such lofty aspirations are a waste of time and energy. Who do we think we are, anyway? How can one reconcile a mindfulness approach of acceptance with a pressing desire for more?

Those are the kinds of questions I hope to untangle, but one response comes from Mariam’s most recent birthday message, twelve months after her words above. What did she post this year?

I totally killed it! I got SO personal & pushed myself into uncomfortable corners in the past year. I said no thank you, when I meant it, and I said yes thank you, even when it seemed irrational. I got it right, and I got it wrong. I told people to come closer, and I drew boundaries when circumstances weren’t for me.

I got better at taking care of myself. I got better at empowering others to do the same by not enabling or rescuing circumstances that are not my business.

My human game was upleveled big time by the end of this year. The challenge & the imperative to live in an authentic, happy, & peaceful way takes more courage, and the observable reality of being aligned with that is clearer than ever.

The year ahead I’m getting personal about my body, my human suit. I’m going on the journey for unimaginable health & adventure in my body. This is going to be so good.

This is indeed going to be good, dear readers and writers. If not now, when?

* Thank you to Mariam for permission to use her words here.

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Writers: Stop pretending to yourselves to be anything but what you are

Why do we write?

It’s a question I’ve thought about a lot and one I’ve asked here before. I always come back to the same answer:

I write because life is more meaningful when I do.

As August begins—and on a Monday (!), which adds an extra oomph to the feeling of starting anew—we can pay attention this month to how we feel 1) when we write, 2) when we have written, and, perhaps most important, 2) when we have not written. This summer I’m working on strengthening my commitment to a life spent writing, with a goal to write 500 new words per day, and here’s what I’m finding: On those days when I don’t write, I go to bed feeling worse than on the days when I do, regardless of what else happens during the day.

Photo credit: Denise Krebs, 2012-259 A Writing Six-Word Story, (CC BY 2.0)
Photo credit: Denise Krebs,2012-259 A Writing Six-Word Story, (CC BY 2.0)

This is the part that has surprised me the most: the feeling of well-being (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with what I’ve written, what genre or topic, whether it is for publication or just for myself, or even whether what I wrote was any good. It depends only on accepting the challenge of the blank page. Somehow the very act of writing makes me feel more myself, more authentic, more grounded, and better able to tackle the rest of what life offers.

J. K. Rowling offers a clue as to why this may be the case in her 2008 Harvard Commencement speech (video at end of post):

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” ~ J. K. Rowling [emphasis added]

In order to grasp fully Rowling’s decision at that point in her life, we need to allow our imaginations to go back in time before the world had heard the words “Harry Potter” (difficult, I know). When she committed herself to writing as a way to be who she was and to do work that mattered to her, it was not with the guarantee or perhaps even dream that she would create a cast of characters and books that would define a generation. That wasn’t the point at all—the success was only a byproduct. The turning point was that she fully accepted that she was born to be a writer and changed her life to be more in line with that realization.

What will it take for us to stop pretending to be anything but who we are, and to start directing energy into what really matters to us? What does that mean for your daily life?

The topic for Wednesday’s post will be social media, especially the idea of taking a social media sabbatical. Until then, I’d love to hear why you write.

See also

The Purpose of Your Writing Life

Call for Submissions: New Family Stories Anthology (deadline extended to Sept. 1)

I am thrilled with the response so far to the call for submissions for a new anthology of family narratives (see below for details). Christi Craig and I have had several inquiries and some excellent submissions so far, and we are extending the deadline to September 1, 2016, to give writers time during busy summer months to polish up essays, creative nonfiction pieces, and poems. Please pass along the information to anyone you know who writes about family historical letters, diaries, and other documents.

Call for Submissions for Anthology of Family Narratives:  Bringing diaries and letters alive for present and future generations

Deadline: August 1, 2016 September 1, 2016
Publisher: Hidden Timber Books
Editors: Lisa Rivero and Christi Craig
Printable pdf of Guidelines

Theme, Genres, and Lengths

This new anthology in print and ebook will focus on creative nonfiction, found poetry and other poetry, and essays inspired by diaries and letters, genealogical records, gravestones, and so on.

Our goal is to publish a volume that showcases the telling of historical family narratives for present and future generations, both for our own families and for other readers. We encourage submissions from all cultures and backgrounds. In general, we suggest that the family papers/records be at least 50 years old but will consider all submissions that convey historical, cultural,  intergenerational, or other meaning.

We will consider short pieces of creative nonfiction from 500 to 4000 words (suggested length), found poetry no longer than 200 lines each or 500 words for each prose poem (up to 5 poems), and essays of 1000 to 5000 words (suggested length).

We are seeking new (not previously published) works, the only exception being works that have been published on authors’ personal blogs, in which case authors will agree to remove the works from their blogs upon acceptance.

Learn More about Creative Nonfiction and Found Poetry

Submission Requirements

Submit works through Submittable only. Acceptable formats are .pdf, .txt, docx, and .doc, formatted with 1” margins, double-spaced, and 12 point font. Please include your name on the submission and a cover letter that clearly identifies the title of your piece, word count, the family papers you are using and how they are incorporated into your submission, whether the work is being submitted simultaneously elsewhere, and your contact information. Do not submit the family papers or records themselves—only your original works on which they are based. While simultaneous submissions are permitted, please notify us of acceptance elsewhere and withdraw your entry as soon as possible. Each submitter may submit up to three pieces (each a separate Submittable submission—note that each poetry submission can be up to five poems).

Reading Period and Notification of Acceptance

Deadline for submissions is August 1, 2016 September 1, 2016. All submitters will be notified of the chosen works before September 15, 2016 October 15, 2016, at which point accepted authors will work with editors to make revisions for a planned publication date in late 2016 or early 2017. Editors reserve the right to decline all submissions should there not be enough acceptable material for a full-length anthology, in which case submitters will be notified as soon as possible.

Payment and Rights

Payment will be in contributors’ copies, and contributors will be able to purchase print copies of the anthology at a 40% discount. Author bios will be published in the anthology, and Hidden Timber Books will include the bios and social media links on its website.

Contracts will give Hidden Timber Books permission to publish in paperback and ebook, and translations of both formats and exclusive rights for the first six months after publication. Authors will retain all other rights and are free to re-publish their works six months after the publication date.

Legal Considerations

Note that copyright of diaries and letters is retained by the author of such papers and his or her heirs (or transferred from said owners), who may or may not be the person in possession of the papers. For this reason, please quote only from primary sources for which you have the copyright (or can obtain the copyright) and/or transform the original work using creative nonfiction or poetry or other literary means. Also, please disguise names of any persons still living or for any situations that are potentially libelous.

Please direct any questions to the publisher at lisa [@] hiddentimberbooks [.] com

Submit here.

On daily writing quotas, a life spent writing, and reversing destiny

My husband recently forwarded the essay “10 Rules of Writing” by Amitava Kumar that is too good not to share:

“If you have read this essay so far, you are probably a writer. That is what you should write in the blank space where you are asked to identify your occupation. I say this also for another reason. Annie Dillard wrote, ‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.’ Those words scared the living daylights out of me. I thought of the days passing, days filled with my wanting to write, but not actually writing. I had wasted years.

Each day is a struggle, and the outcome is always uncertain, but I feel as if I have reversed destiny when I have sat down and written my quota for the day. Once that work is done, it seems okay to assume that I will spend my life writing.”

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