A few months ago, soon after I’d finished writing my memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness, I had the opportunity to share five minutes of my work at a reading. While combing through my manuscript for excerpts, I found myself thinking, Hmm, maybe this writing isn’t as strong as I thought. The writing felt flabby and slow. I found myself tinkering with passages so they’d read better in a shorter timeframe, and wondered if that was okay. In past readings, I’ve mostly read my poems, complete works, each one featuring a beginning, middle, and end.
But my memoir is different. It took time to develop stories in that longer format—time I wouldn’t have in a five-minute reading. I wanted to give my audience the best bang for their buck, to make my reading worth their while. I wanted them with me from the first word to the last. I have been to too many readings where restless audience members pick cuticles, scrimmage inside purses, check iPhones, or stare out windows, all overt cues that they’re desperate for the reader to just finish already. This sucks for writers, but it also means it’s our responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Every time you stand up and read your work, you’re pitching it. If you don’t grab your audience, and keep them with you, they will not buy your book. I’ve given several readings from my memoir since that first one and here’s what I’ve learned: presenting an edited excerpt of your novel or memoir is a gift for your audience as well as your book! In order to most effectively share part of a long-form story in a short-form (time) venue, you will need to compress, collapse, or cut. You may also need to compose transitions, connections, or endings to create a satisfying, standalone experience.
The key is to view a time “constraint” as a container. Make it work for you in the same way specific poetry forms, such as the villanelle, shape a poem. If you honor the requirements of your reading venue and deliver a complete experience, if you craft your work with a particular reading in mind, you have a much better shot of connecting with and entertaining your audience. If you leave them laughing, crying, or nodding their head, they are with you.
I have a three-ring binder with ten edited excerpts from my memoir, along with a list of others I want to develop. At the top of each page I’ve jotted down how long the excerpt takes to read. Please note: read slower than you think you should. Take your time. Plant your feet on the floor. Let your voice rise from your belly.
Edited excerpts will serve you well even if you’re giving a featured reading and have thirty or forty minutes. Remember to consider your audience when choosing passages. Your excerpt filled with sex and “colorful” language, however well edited, might not go over so well at a conservative ladies’ luncheon. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen authors fall into this trap. You may want to share several edited excerpts that feature different flavors of your story, rather than one or two longer selections. Sadly, attention spans are shorter than they’ve ever been, and while a passage might be perfectly paced in your book, it might not hold a listener’s attention. Consider crafting ten or twenty excerpts of different lengths before it’s time to promote your book. You will be surprised what you can do with five minutes, or less. Being ready to go with as many great, edited clips as possible will make the reading part of your job successful and fun!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Have you grappled with the problem of reading a passage intended to unfold more slowly in your novel or memoir? Were you resistant, as I was in the beginning, to edit your excerpts? Did you do it anyway? If so, what was the result?
This post is being featured today on She Writes, an international online organization serving over 20,000 writers.
A couple weeks ago I posted “How I Attracted 800 Facebook Fans in Two Months.” I’ve since picked up 535 fans. I’ve also counseled a writer friend who’d been stuck at 100 fans, and now, three weeks later, has over 2,000! I’m not sure how much what I shared with my friend contributed to her success, but we spoke about the importance of showing up as “me” on my author page and approaching status updates as original bits of creative writing. In my post I mentioned using all the instruments in my writer’s tool box, which I listed but didn’t discuss. I promised to do so in my next post. So here you go.
She Writes, an international online organization serving over 20,000 writers, featured this post this week. They rank their “Top Content” from 1-20. This post has been in their #1 slot all week! I hope you find it helpful.
Last Friday I reached a milestone: 1,000 Facebook “likes.” Back in November, an agent told me my book proposal was excellent, but my platform wasn’t big enough. “If you build your platform,” she said, “I’d be happy to take another look.” When I asked her how many Facebook fans would constitute a decent following, she said “one thousand.” At the time, that number seemed impossible. I’d been stagnating at 200 for months.
Social media had me completely stumped. Not only did it seem overwhelming, I was conflicted about how to show up. I knew my posts needed to be relevant and on-topic, but I felt conflicted about my subject matter. Since I’m writing a memoir that deals in part with how I used raw food to help cure chronic stomach problems, agents wanted to pigeonhole me as a raw food expert. I respected their opinions and understood the importance of positioning in publishing, but this advice felt like a shoe that didn’t fit; I couldn’t walk without it rubbing me the wrong way. There were lots of great raw food educators out there, and I’d never aspired to be one of them. My subject, I felt, was broader. I’d been living a raw foods lifestyle for eight years, but I’d been practicing my art and craft as a writer for thirty.
When it came to social media, the writer in me saw an opportunity for status updates to be “the newest literary genre,” but I wasn’t sure what to do with this awareness, or how to take advantage of whatever these opportunities might be.
In December my mom had a heart attack. I put aside my social media angst, quit working on my memoir, packed my bags, and flew from Los Angeles to Florida, where for three weeks my sisters and I ministered our mom before and after her quadruple bypass surgery. It was a sacred, tender time. Aside from writing in my journal, my only writing was profile page posts, which I wrote every few days to keep family and friends updated on my mother’s condition. I relished that writing, and received many responses and lots of support.
Then my mom died. There’s nothing like the death of a loved one to put things into perspective. Time passes. Life is short. The time to act is NOW!
I realized that rivaling my passion for writing has been my life-long commitment to conscious, creative living, personal transformation, and growth. I understood this was the larger context of my memoir, which, at its core, is about a writer’s midlife quest for health and happiness. I’d gone from being sick, miserable, and thinking my life was a failure, to living the life I’d always dreamed of having but never dared to live—until now. I realized I was writing about what it takes to choose love over fear, to take personal responsibility for one’s life, to live and work in a state of conscious creativity, and to experience enough personal empowerment to heal myself.
All this crystalized after my mom died. So did an inner clarity about not wasting another second of my life in doubt or fear.
I quit worrying about doing things “right” on my fan page and showed up as ME, sharing from my heart the way I had when I’d been taking care of my mom and posting on my profile page.
I approached many of my status updates as if they were mini-stories or poems, sketching them on a word document and tinkering with each one until it felt whole.
I used all the instruments in my writer’s toolbox: brevity, details, honesty, transparency, muscular language, imagery, metaphors, accessibility, first-person narration, story arcs, and more. My next post will cover these in detail.
I also decided to put my money where my mouth was by taking out an ad and promoting my posts, which I saw as original bits of creative writing. Without realizing it, I’d put my “status updates as the newest literary genre” idea into practice!
The results were staggering: I received 800 likes in two-and-a-half months and my “people talking about this” figure climbed from 64 to over 400. But these are only numbers. The remarkable thing that happened was that something crucial had changed inside. Finally, at 53, I knew who I was and why I was here. I was ready to honor my purpose and be of service. This inner shift was reflected back to me through my Facebook activity. I have been challenged over the years to love, approve of, and appreciate myself—and my writing. My 1,000 fans “out there” are physical world manifestations of the one, ever-important fan “in here” who finally decided to show up and trust what she knows and who she is.
To celebrate this awareness, as well as my 1,000-fan milestone, which only six months ago seemed impossible, I created a “1,000 Fabulous Fans” poster upon which I signed the names of as many of my FB fans as possible. Since Facebook only shows 500 fans, I had to comb through comments, likes, and shares, and consult my profile page “friends” list. I was careful to check the spelling of every name, to look at each person’s photo, and to connect in spirit with every person who has liked my page and offered support of one kind or another.
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m enjoying social media. It’s wonderful connecting with like-minded souls, and Facebook gives me an opportunity to meet with them daily. Who knew building a writer’s platform could be fun! Six months ago it seemed like an onerous chore—and though at times I still get overwhelmed, I now experience social media as another of life’s wondrous, creative opportunities!
P.S. Thanks to Brooke Warner for recommending me to her Warner Coaching fans and posting a link to my page, which accounted for at least fifty of my new “likes.”
She Writes, an international online organization serving over 20,000 writers, featured this post last week. It was #4 on their “Top Content” rating, which lists their top 20 posts.
Last week I posted this on my facebook fan page: “If I’d realized as a child that stars were never scolded for shinning, I might not have been embarrassed by—or ashamed of—my own light.”
Thirty-five people “liked” the post, a couple thanked me for it, and one person had this to say: “If you’re going to pay for a post to be featured on the walls of people who don’t know you, effectively spamming them, and tell them what a great resource you are for writers, you might want to spell-check it first. I’m just sayin’. Shinning?”
My heartbeat accelerated. I googled the word “shinning” and realized I’d meant to write, “shining.” At first I felt embarrassed, offended, and defensive. Then I centered myself and connected with my core, where I know who I am and what I have to offer writers.
I recalled another post I’d written earlier in the week on my fan page about inner gremlins trying to sabotage my writing. Fifty people had liked that post and three had shared it. The attention that post received had surprised me. I almost didn’t post it because I was afraid to show my weakness and appear less than perfect. I mentioned this on my page, and then added, “Who wants to read anything—or spend time with a ‘perfect’ person. The more transparency I allow, the higher my chances of connecting deeply.”
Grounded in this awareness, I understood that the heated energy of the post I’d received had less to do with me, and more to do with the person writing it. I consciously chose to release all feelings of shame and defensiveness. From this place I penned my response:
“Thanks for catching that. Wish I could say it was a typo, but it was an error, and since ‘shinning’ is the present participle of ‘shin,’ spell-check didn’t catch it. I apologize for the eyesore. I never thought of promoted posts as spam. My intention is to be of service. I’m a midwife of stories, not a copyeditor. I’m sure you know the art and craft of writing consists of much more than spelling. I help people reach into deep, dark places. Still, I understand your frustration, and as a fellow lover of words, I don’t enjoy seeing them mangled either. So again, thank you.”
Soon after, I received this private message from the woman who’d sent that comment: “I appreciate you taking it without offense. As a former newspaper copyeditor, I cringe when I see errors like that, particularly when it’s someone promoting writing! I almost didn’t post because I didn’t want to be snarky, and I should have been kinder about it. I’ll have to check out your site. I’m working on a book and might need some help!”
The point of this post is not to suggest spelling and grammar don’t matter. They do. I’m meticulous about having my work copyedited before sending it to journals, agents, and editors. My spelling has improved over the years, a result of my love for reading, which blossomed as a young adult. I’ve grown to enjoy grammar, too, tools of my trade. A recent article, “Ten Mistakes Writers Make,” inspired me to buy The Chicago Manual of Style, which I’m looking forward to reading—for fun! But not all writers are great spellers or grammarians. Last week in class two of my most imaginative storytellers felt embarrassed for not knowing what a “gerund” was. I’ve also worked with people who never finished, or even attended, college, and don’t have a strong command of the language, but can still tell a wicked story! So don’t think if you can’t spell, if you’re dyslexic, or if you don’t know the rules of grammar that you can’t write. Learn everything you can about your art and craft, have your work proofread by a pro, and never be ashamed of what you don’t know.
I rarely get much writing done in December. This year I completely ruled out writing the next chapter of my book during this busy month. On top of decorating, shopping, wrapping, and other holiday tasks—not to mention my husband’s birthday the week before Christmas—my father-in-law died in November and his memorial was scheduled for December 10th. This meant not only an out-of-town trip, but also an unexpected visitor: grief. I wanted to comfort my husband. Listen. Prepare food. I told him I’d take care of all our holiday needs, and was determined to make the season as warm and bright as possible. Under the circumstances, I was certain I’d have neither the time nor mental space to write my chapter. Plus I wanted to review old journal entries and scan the diet and nutrition books I’d read seven years ago prior to going raw. I told my writing coach not to expect my chapter until the end of January.
One Saturday evening, I reclined in my comfy Relax-the-Back chair beside a pile of books. I read for a couple hours. At midnight, I picked up my laptop. The opening of the chapter trickled, and then poured out. I couldn’t stop writing. When I finally looked at the clock it was 4:00 a.m. Yikes, I thought. I’m going to be toast tomorrow. I’d planned to do our east coast Christmas shopping that Sunday. Hopefully I could sleep in, and get it done in the afternoon. I didn’t get to sleep until five a.m., and awakened at eight. I got up and wrote more, and then my daughter needed to be picked up from a sleepover.
I went from one thing to the next: the pick up, church, lunch, the sprint store, and the mall—after having decided to eat raw all day, which I hoped would sustain me. I’d become lazy with my diet lately and had been eating cooked foods. But the previous night’s reading had inspired me. I made myself a kale smoothie for breakfast, ate a raw veggie burger at Sun Café, and nibbled goji berries at the mall. To my amazement, I got all our Christmas shopping done and didn’t feel tired. I kept taking everything one step at a time. When at church my daughter asked, “Can we go out to lunch?” I said, “We’ll see how I feel after the service.” When at lunch she asked, “Can we go to the Sprint store and look at the iphone 4S?” I said, “Let’s see how I feel after we eat.” I kept expecting fatigue to grab me by my sweater and slam my back against the wall. But it never did.
I wouldn’t recommend three hour’s sleep as a healthy lifestyle choice, but raw food is premium fuel. By Monday evening, I’d completed my shopping, wrapped twenty gifts, shipped packages, started working on Christmas cards—and never felt the hours of sleep I’d missed. That might not have been such a big deal twenty-five years ago, but today it feels like a miracle. No doubt in my mind: raw food energizes. Try it. Up your raw food intake today. Go for greens, sprouts, and super foods, such as goji berries, which not only nourish more than any other foods on the planet, but also eliminate sugar cravings. Eating fewer cookies and more salad this holiday season is a gift you may want to add to your list. Who knows what you might be able to accomplish that perhaps you thought impossible.
My high school choir teacher used to tell us not to eat two things before a concert: dairy products and nuts. “They coat the throat,” he said. I could understand milk and cheese, because those products were obviously creamy, but nuts? That didn’t make sense. I couldn’t see the cream in nuts. But have you ever tried blending nuts with water?
Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, cutting back on dairy products is a healthy dietary choice. In Health Concerns about Diary Products, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) links the consumption of dairy products to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and more.
Nuts and seeds make excellent dairy substitutes that are nutritious and delicious! Here’s a simple recipe for two of my favorite nut milks:
ALMOND OR BRAZIL NUT MILK
Blend the following:
1 cup Almond or Brazil nuts
(soaked–if possible–overnight in filtered water)
3-4 cups water (to taste)
1 Tb. Agave Nectar (or other sweetener, such as honey. Optional.)
Pour through nut milk bag or fine mesh strainer.
Use on cereal, drink as a snack, blend into your favorite hot beverage, add cacao to make a chocolate nut-milkshake, supplement smoothies, or pour into raw vegetable soups to make them creamy. Yum!
Almond meal makes a wonderful base for cookies and cream sauces, and it freezes well.
I’ll be posting nut cheese, nut-cream sauce and soup recipes soon.
When I’m writing, I’m like a dog with a bone, except I don’t drag it around--it drags me—straight to my office chair where I sit for hours. And days. Sometimes weeks. I find it difficult to switch gears and move my body. I want to stretch or dance or practice yoga, but I don’t want to take time away from my desk. Getting to my Rising Lotus Yoga or Body Freedom movement class seems impossible. I don’t want to change my clothes, drive anywhere, or talk to anybody. I just want to write.
The other day, after not having stretched my body over the course of a long, busy week, I noticed my dog, Katie, sprawled on the back deck. I walked outside, stood beside her, closed my eyes, raised my arms and faced the sun. Slowly, I started moving, “listening” to the sun on my skin, allowing its warmth to direct my movement. I rolled my head. My neck hurt. I hadn’t noticed before. I think of my neck as a bridge between my body and head, and since there hadn’t been any two-way traffic lately, the road had shut down.
I worked with the stiffness in my neck, allowed myself to receive whatever movement came. For a while I stood circling my head slowly, tilting into the pain. Can you bring some love to this kink? I asked myself. This thought loosened it and the pain subsided. What else needs attention? I scanned my body.
Bending forward at the waist relieved my lower back. Hunched forward like an ape, I swung my arms and torso while taking large, lumbering steps. Katie watched. She was used to such sights, but I wonder how many humans she’s seen move this way. I let out a few deep “Ha” sounds, vigorously shook my head and hands, and then slowly rolled up my spine stacking one vertebrate upon another, imagining space between the bones. I felt taller, relaxed, energized.
If you’re an all-or-nothing-type-person like me, you can relate to how easy it can be to ignore your body—especially when life gets busy. Is there something small you can do for your body today? Something that’ll take five or ten minutes? Does your lower back ache? How about lying on the floor with your feet propped against a wall? Try stretching your arms over your head, then folding your knees against your chest. Or for those who practice yoga, how about hunkering down into child’s pose for five minutes and gently wagging your butt from side-to-side? I like hugging a pillow or bolster in this position, placing one ear down for a few minutes and then turning my head to the other side, which is a great neck stretch.
Your five-minute body break might include jumping, running up and down stairs, or shaking your torso and limbs to get energy moving. Or you can simply allow ordinary movements to grow into larger ones. Sometimes, while scrubbing a pot in the sink, I’ll let the movement expand in my body and before I know it, I’m shimmying my hips like a belly dancer—another great low back loosener!
What type of five-minute body breaks work for you? I’d love to hear about them!
My sister sent beautiful Harry & David pears for Christmas, but they all ripened at about the same time and the three of us couldn’t eat them fast enough. That’s when I remembered that once, when my daughter was younger and had a friend visiting, we invented a yummy pear smoothie. I dug out my old raw notebook, found the recipe, and updated it to include greens, which don’t affect flavor, but add nutrition. If you can’t find the micro greens listed here, spinach works because of its mild flavor. You’d never guess gorgeous, health-promoting-anti-sugar-craving-greens lurk in this sweet treat! For tips on picking pears visit The City Cook.
Blend the following in a high speed blender, such as a Vita Mix:
2 Royal Rivera Pears
2 Medjool dates
3/4 cup Trader Joe’s Organic Micro Greens
1-2 cups water depending on desired thickness
Blend, drink, enjoy and prosper!