Look To the Western Sky

A blog about single life as a parent & the dreams of a writer by Margo L. Dill

Category: Reading

Making a Commitment to Morning Pages

I’m doing it. I’m making a commitment right here and now, to anyone reading this, that I’m writing Morning Pages every single morning!

What are Morning Pages? If you have read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, then you’re familiar with Morning Pages. OR if you have ever been to just about any writing conference or creativity workshop, you have probably heard about them. If not, Morning Pages are:

 Three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.  (From Julia Cameron’s website/book)

I started today (and actually wound up with FOUR pages). Day one down. I’ve had a creativity block for a while now–although every once in a while I am inspired to write something like this post, “A Letter to a Narcissist” I wrote this week. So, today during Morning Pages, I came up with a first sentence for a short story. No idea where that will lead me, but since then, I’ve been thinking about this line and who could say it and what the conflict for the story could be.

I did a Google search for “morning pages”, and I happened upon Chris Winfield’s site. His tagline is “take back your life.” He has a free ebook (in exchange for your email address) titled How to Save 23.3 Hours Each Week. His site is all about working smarter, not harder. But he also has this amazing page about Morning Pages, which you can check out here. He starts the post by saying he never thought he’d have time in the morning to write three pages by hand, but he made a commitment to do it; and since then, he says that some of these amazing things have happened in his life:

  • I’ve come up with ideas that changed my businesses
  • I’ve worked through issues that were bothering me and seemed overwhelming
  • I’ve been better in tune with my intuition and listening to my heart
  • They have shown me what’s most important in my life and helped me to focus on that
  • and more….(check out the link above to see what else he says)

Pretty amazing, right?

So I’m making the commitment. I also recently made the commitment to read something for enjoyment EVERY SINGLE DAY. Now I read a lot. I read a lot of online articles, blog posts, unfinished manuscripts, emails, kids’ books (to my daughter), and articles about agriculture. But I haven’t been reading for myself. My creativity and writing have suffered because of this. So, since last Sunday, 11/12/2017, I said: “Enough is enough.” Katie and I went to the library. I found a novel written by an author my friend suggested. And I’m happy to say that I have read at least one chapter every day.

Surely, all these positive steps–reading and Morning Pages–will continue to feed my creativity and renew my spirit, and soon that first line I wrote during my Morning Pages will turn into something more.

By the way, for some people, journaling (which is what Morning Pages is) can give you results in your life. If you have never checked out Mari L. McCarthy’s Create Write Now site, then you should. Start with this post I did on her book–all the links you will need to find out her amazing story are in that post here

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Learning From Margaret Atwood, Author of The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood (c Jean Malek)

On Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to hear Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid’s Tale) speak and be interviewed on stage after receiving the St. Louis Literary Award, which recognizes a living writer with a substantial body of work. (If you want to read more about this award, please go here)

The whole experience was very surreal because tickets were sold out to this free event, and St. Louis (as many of you know) was in the middle of another round of violent protests over a police officer found not guilty of 1st degree murder of an African American male. As a matter of fact, three nights before, I was supposed to attend the U2 concert, which was canceled because of the protests.

If you have watched or read The Handmaid’s Tale, you know the themes are  abuse of power, feminism, sexuality, gender roles, religion, individual vs society, misogyny and more. Another huge theme is the rights of the powerful over the rights of the not.  But the funny thing about this experience, and trust me, I am not comparing myself in any way to Offred, is that people who did not request tickets (the not powerful) from SLU early enough received a ticket to sit in the Sheldon ballroom and wait. We started at a stage with a huge screen, which showed two empty chairs and two glasses of water, instead of receiving a ticket to sit in the concert hall (the powerful), where this famous author would be appearing in-person.  The idea was that if you wanted to hear Margaret Atwood, then you would be in the same building as her and view her entire speech and interview, as opposed to the segment of it, which will air on PBS sometime in October. And…if you had a golden ticket into the Sheldon concert hall, where she would be appearing live, you had rules you had to follow, or you were cast out. You had to be in your seat by 6:55pm, or they were giving it away to the hungry, feisty wolves up in the ballroom.

My friend, Lisa, and I arrived before the doors opened and received wait tickets–number 35 and 36. At first, we were told we were not allowed to even go on floor two (where the concert hall and BAR and bookstore were), but we decided to fight the establishment (HA!) and push button two on the elevator (instead of four). Believe it or not, there was no one standing there telling us to go straight to our ticketed ballroom. Yes, the Sheldon let us spend our money at the bar and at the bookstore before ushering us up to wait in the ballroom with the other lovely slackers, who also did not write SLU early enough to get two tickets to the concert hall.

While waiting in line for wine, I had decided there was no way we were getting in. Numbers 35 and 36?  How could there be that many people who didn’t show up for their concert hall seats? Yes, it was unseasonably hot and yes, we were in the middle of protests, but still…So Lisa and I would sit with the other disappointed folks, who decided too late that this wonderful, lovely, funny, humorous, important author would be amazing to hear, even if we were doing so on a big movie screen two floors above where she actually was.

And then the moment of truth came. A man with a wire in his ear and a device in his hand said, “Numbers 1 to 10 line up. You are going in.”

Lisa and I turned to each other–Oh well, we couldn’t have gotten here any earlier anyway. Traffic, work, appointments, heat. . .

And then that wired man went crazy–he started calling all kinds of numbers, including 35 and 36. We shot up from our seats, giggling and excited. We rushed down the back staircase (I am not joking about this–the people from the ballroom to the concert hall took the back staircase), and Lisa and I even found two seats together in the concert hall for the ceremony. I felt elated and lucky and shocked.

Let me tell you, Margaret Atwood did not disappoint. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, do it. I actually think that’s true for just about any author–I realize I am a writer, but I have never been disappointed about hearing any author speak. I always learn something about life and writing.

This post has already gone on long enough, but I’ll tell you that Margaret Atwood’s dedication to her craft, her career, and her life was inspiring. Her humbleness about being at the Emmy’s two nights before was refreshing. And her passion for literature and teaching were something I can only hope to show the world myself soon.

 

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Harry Potter Fans: Many of Us Need to Calm Ourselves Down (re-post)

This post originally appeared on WOW! Women On Writing. It’s a great blog/resource for writers here: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com

downloadOne of my dreams came true when J. K. Rowling co-authored the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and someone in the publishing world wanted to make money and decided to print and sell it as a book. I did not stand in line at midnight to buy it, but it is one of the only hard-cover books I’ve bought in a long time. Before I had a chance to read it, (I was finishing up another lovely book, Me Before You), I read a lot of negative tweets and Facebook posts about the story. And I’ll admit I was disappointed. I was hesitant to read the book because I didn’t want my excitement to go away.

But I did read it, and I loved it. Yes, it is a play and it is harder to read than one of the seven tomes all us Harry Potter fans love so much. But I thought it was an excellent story–it brought in all the beloved characters–even the dead ones, and one of the most heartbreaking plot events in all seven books, Cedric Diggory’s death. Also while reading, I kept thinking: I really want to see this as a play. How will they do all this magic on stage? This will be so cool!

Then those negative social media messages really started to bother me. I put a post on my own Facebook page about how I guessed I was in the minority, but I was not afraid to state that I really liked Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Shockingly, I discovered I was not alone. Several of my smartest friends (wink, wink) also loved the book and were obviously not afraid to share this fact on someone else’s Facebook wall (i.e., mine).

So this post is not for those of you who loved the book, although please put in the comments that you did or why you did, if you would be so kind. But it is for those of you who didn’t like it and feel the need to spew everywhere your negativity. I feel you need to CALM DOWN. I mean, you are entitled to your opinion, even if it’s wrong. Here’s an example of a tweet, which is negative, but on the tame side:

Look, why are you fighting this? We all know J.K. (Jo above) Rowling is a genius. Her novels brought back a passion for reading children’s and YA books. We also all know that if she writes book 9 or releases the next segment of the Harry Potter story as a series of haiku, written in Sanskrit, we are still going to buy and devour it, and shed more tears over Snape and Dumbledore. I mean, have you, personally, ever written an eight-book series worth more money than you could spend in your lifetime? I didn’t think so. Please CALM DOWN.

Take a deep breath, write your tweet/review/Facebook post in a nicer way, such as: I just finished HP8. Okay, I didn’t love it, but I did like _______________________. (Fill in the blank with something you liked.) There you go, I bet if you’re a true Harry Potter fan, you can find one thing in the play that you liked.

I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I’m just trying to convince you that as readers and writers, we owe it to other authors to perhaps offer constructive criticism, but to be respectful of the talent and time it takes to create these masterpieces, and show each other a little more love.

As for me, you’ll find me passing on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to my family members. My mom currently has it.

Margo L. Dill is a children’s author, editor, blogger, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. You can find out more about her and her books by visiting her blog at http://www.margoldill.com, where she is currently musing over the meltdowns of Kindergarten. She also teaches a novel writing class for WOW! in the WOW! classroom.

Last chance to enter the new blog contest: http://margoldill.com/share-your-sayings-with-me-1st-official-new-blog-contest/

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How I Finally Finished a Book by a Shameful Writer (re-post)

This post originally appeared on WOW! Women On Writing on September 3, 2016 at this link.  WOW! Women On Writing is a great site for writers, full of helpful articles, online classes and a quarterly flash fiction contest.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” 

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Both of those quotes are by the great Stephen King, whether you like him or not, read his books or don’t, he gives practical and sage advice to writers. I’ve had the time to read. I’ve started countless wonderful books by amazing authors, but I haven’t been able to get through them for one reason or another–mostly due to my divorce, maybe due to exhaustion from anemia (which I just discovered I had) and single parenthood. But I hadn’t finished a book in ages. It’s embarrassing. I am a writer after all, and I wasn’t reading.

I had this conversation with my neighbor one day–she loves to read. She handed me the book Me Before You, and said, “This is a great book. You will get through this. It’s a movie right now.” (I’ll admit I’m so out of touch with movies for adults that I didn’t even know this!) That night, I started it. JoJo Moyes is a very good writer. She drew me in with her quirky main character, Louisa Clark, and the surly hero, Will Traynor. But as I started reading along, and got to maybe page 100, my usual pattern took over. I was reading maybe 1 or 2 pages a night before I fell asleep or thought of a reason to check Facebook. I was sure I knew what was going to happen, and I felt disappointed, and didn’t really want to read just another love story.

But one night when I read my obligatory pages (to not feel like a total heel), there was a conversation between Lou and her sister Treena that was so well-written, I fell back in love with the book. Then I read some of the back material about why JoJo wrote the book, and I told myself: give it a chance. One day this past week, I was in bed with a cold, and I read 166 pages to finish this book. When I finished, I was so in love with the story and the ending that I rented the movie On Demand, which I have literally never done before in my life.
And I’ll have you know since then, I’ve already started two more books–a self-help book, where the author wants you to read one exercise a week, and the new Harry Potter play–on page 45 already!

So what happened? I found a good writer. I found a good writer that brought me into her story world and made me fall in love with these two characters even though things might not have ended the way I would have written the story. She made me think about life. She made me think about love. She made me think about what is really important, and she gave me back my belief that love is possible even under the worst circumstances. I know that sounds like a lot for one book, but that’s the thing about books–they really do change the world.

So even though I titled this post–by a shameful writer, I’m not as shameful about reading as I was a week ago, and I’m praying this continues because I think I’m on the road to a writing/reading recovery. I feel myself taking baby steps and it feels good.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. You can find out more about her and her books at http://www.margoldill.com and her writing class in the WOW! classroom here. 

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