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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Generate Ideas

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s been awhile since I posted on creativity. But it’s one of those things that I think about all the time. I’m fascinated by how creative people relate to their work, how they structure their days, and how they access their creative “space.”

In my own case, I’ve been trying to pay attention to how and when I come up with ideas – for blog posts, for feature articles, for possible future novels. And what I’ve noticed is that a lot of my ideas seem to come when I’m doing something *other than* sitting at the computer typing. So today, I thought that I’d share some of my own techniques for coming up with ideas, with the hope that these may prove interesting – as well as useful – to others. While I focus on writing, I imagine that some of these same strategies may be pertinent to other fields as well.

1.Exercise. When I’m confused about an idea, not sure how to spin it or just wondering if there’s even a “there there,” it’s amazing how often a simple run will solve my problem. I may not go out on the run intending to think about that issue. But if there’s something kicking around the back of my mind, I often find that the combination of forward motion, exertion and fresh air allow everything to fall in place. A friend of mine who’s a novelist does the same thing with bike rides. He has a summer house in France and he tells me that he spends the afternoons taking long bike rides and by the next morning, he’s got loads of fresh material. The trick is to rush inside right after you’re done and jot down the main ideas.

2. Take a Thinking Shower. This one comes from grad school. During my first few years in graduate school, we were required to take a series of exams in order to qualify in various fields. They were called “field exams” and in my department, at least, they consisted of a series of essays which you research and wrote over the course of a weekend. Needless to say, I don’t think any of us got much sleep during those weekends. But I did have one friend who always seemed to be in the shower when I’d phone to see how she was getting on with her exams. “The shower?” I’d ask, perplexed, wondering who could possibly bathe regularly when they had so little time to get these things done. “It’s a thinking shower,” she’d respond. She found that burst of hot water on her face actually enabled her to outline her essays. So I tried it. So should you.

3. Figure out what’s distinctive about your perspective. This is actually something I’ve used quite a bit since moving overseas because I find that so much of what I think about various issues – whether it’s health care reform, therapy or the BBC – has changed dramatically simply by virtue of living somewhere else. But it doesn’t have to be a geographic niche that motivates you. Just this morning I was mulling over a feature I’m writing on the outcome of the British elections when I realized exactly what was different about my take:  I was approaching them as a political scientist rather than a journalist. And that was both distinctive – and useful. (I was buying coffee when I had that realization, BTW. Which again underscores how often our brains are working even when we don’t think they are.)

4. Ask yourself what’s the most striking thing someone said to you in the last week. Very often for blog posts – and even for posts about politics – I find that when I want to come up with an idea, I just think about the most striking or unusual thing something’s said to me in the past week. Often that person is one of my children. (“Why is God so famous?“) But sometimes it’s someone I just happen to run into. Like the friend I saw on election day who’d just joined the Labour party after living here for 20 years – even though she knew they’d lose – because she wanted to have a say in the party’s future. Or the dad at school drop-off this morning who told me why pink was a color historically associated with boys. Or the guy I met at a dinner party who told me that he picks what movies he sees based solely on the poster. (Whaaaa???) Whenever this happens, I grab my pen and scribble it down.

5. Go outside for a walk. This suggestion comes from one of my all-time favorite creative people:  writer, singer and radio-show host Garrison Keillor. In an oped for the International Herald Tribune a few years back, Keillor gave this advice to aspiring writers: “A long walk also brings you into contact with the world, which is basic journalism, which most writing is. It isn’t about you and your feelings so much as about what people wear and how they talk. The superficial is never to be overlooked.” Simply put, when you go outside you notice things. And that’s what it’s all about.

OK, now it’s your turn. How do you generate ideas for your work?

Image: Take A Shower by .m for matthijs via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Living With Mess: Radical Acceptance

Christina Katz has a great post over on her Prosperous Writer E-zine this week about what she calls “clarity.” She defines clarity as “lucidity…exactness…simplicity.”

It’s about figuring out what you need and what you want as a writer and paring down your obligations and responsibilities so that you can really zero in on what’s important. (Note: you must subscribe to her free e-zine to read this post, which I heartily recommend.)

This is great advice for both writing and life, and something I continually have to remind myself to do when I start feeling overwhelmed. “Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity,” as the man said.

The problem is that isn’t always that…well…simple. Sometimes you can’t achieve clarity because there are too many loose ends in your life and you have to accept that some of these just aren’t going to get tied up in short order.

Which is where I’m at right now with – oh – just about everything in my life. You see, I’ve just moved house. So everywhere I look I see unopened boxes.

There are the real boxes, those last stubborn few that simply refuse to empty themselves because – if you cared to tackle them – they’d require you to scratch your head and say: Now where does that plug go? Which cannister is that the top to? And why, again, did we decide to save that yarmulke from that bar mitzvah five years ago?

Then there are the metaphorical boxes:  The stack of New Yorkers that lie unread. The emails that began to pile up the day of the move and some of which sit still – unopened – in the dark recesses of my inbox. Those last few changes of address that haven’t yet happened because it turns out that you actually need to call the pension fund in the U.S. where you still have some pocket of retirement savings during (its) business hours because they can’t process an overseas address on-line.

And then there are all those technological boxes that can’t be opened because this is the U.K. where the customer comes last. So the internet provider lost track of your account and now you have to wait another 10 days for them to come to your neighborhood to set it up. Or the bank forgot to update your address so your credit card keeps getting rejected. Or – my personal favorite – the satellite dish for the TV can’t be installed because you live on the third floor and their ladders don’t go that high. (Um…no offense, but isn’t this what you do for a living?)

It drives me insane, all this mess. Because I hate things that are un-finished. I’m the lady who sometimes adds things to my to-do list *after* I’ve done them just to feel the satisfaction of crossing them off, remember?

So I’ve been feeling really unsettled lately. (It didn’t help that for the first five days of my move the U.K. didn’t have a government. I was like “C’mon, guys! Just make up your minds, would ya?“)

And then, something weird happened. Yesterday night was my monthly book group meeting. And, on top of everything, I hadn’t finished the book. This has never happened to me before. I’m one of those hard-core, unsympathetic book group types who *always* finishes the book. But this time, I just couldn’t.

But because I love my book club, I went anyway. Even though I hadn’t finished and felt wretched about that. (It helps that we were reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s marvelous Half of A Yellow Sun about the Biafran War. Speaking of learning how to live with mess…)

And you know what? It felt OK to be there, even half-read. Because it was the best I could do.

My life coach has a great phrase for moments like this. She calls it “radical acceptance.” It’s for situations where things are exactly how you’d like them *not* to be  – where you can’t, yet, achieve “clarity.”

So you force yourself to extend the parameters of what you’d normally find acceptable. And you decide to  just roll with it. Because you know that you are on the road to clarity.

And that’s O.K.

Radical Acceptance.

Image: Unopened Boxes by CDaisyM via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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In Honor Of Mothers, Daughters, and Writers: A Poem

My post last week about the birth control pill performed double-duty as a Mother’s Day tribute. I hadn’t intended it to do so, that’s just how things worked out given the 50th anniversary of the pill and all of the hullabaloo around that.

The Mother’s Day post that I intended to put up is the one I’m going to post today – a few day’s late, to be sure – but I’m going to blame my move (and the British government…or lack thereof.*)

From time to time I post poetry on this blog. Usually it’s not my own (except my recent ode to a mews house.) Instead, I look to the more inspired words of others to express what I wish I was eloquent enough to say on my own. I did it on my father’s birthday last year, I did it when some friends were going through some rocky times, and today, I’m going to do it again, with a poem that celebrates mothers, daughters and writers.

It was actually my mother who sent me this poem. She did it back in November when I took a self-imposed vacation in order to spend some time sending my novel out to agents.

My mother is a writer. She’s written plays, children’s stories and – most recently – a terrific family history. She’s also become a tireless commenter on this blog, for which I am most grateful.  Most of what I know about writing I learned from her.

As writers (and daughters), we all need support like that. So today’s poem goes out to mothers, daughters and writers everywhere in equal measure.

The Writer

by Richard Wilbur


In her room at the prow of the house

Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,

My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing

From her shut door a commotion of typewriter keys

Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff

Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy.

I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,

As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.

A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,

And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor

Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling

Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;

How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;

And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,

We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature

Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove

To the hard floor, or the desk top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,

For the wits to try it again, and how our spirits

Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,

Beating a smooth course for the right window

And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,

Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish

What I wished you before, but harder.

Happy Mother’s Day.

*For those of you who haven’t – by some miracle of modern science – been following the British elections, I’ve had my hands full with that roller coaster of events over the past few days. You can read some of my thoughts here (written the day after election day), here (written when it looked like the Lib Dems and the Tories would form an alliance) and here (when it looked like the Lib Dems might ally with Labour.) By the time you read this, we’ll probably be on Plan C…stay tuned.

Image: Red-winged Starling by Ifijay via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Parenting: Discovering How Your Kids See You

As someone who writes personal essays and blogs, I frequently use my family for material. I’ve written about my husband’s obsession with gadgetry, my son’s first exposure to sex ed and my daughter’s penchant for cross-dressing.

So I guess it was inevitable that sooner or later, the tables would be turned and I’d be the subject of something they wrote. Needless to say, this experience caught me off guard.

At the school my children attend in London, the head teacher solicits “half-term” projects from kids who want to do extra work. The kids write a report, she reads it and they get a certificate at assembly. It’s all good.

Each of my kids has jumped onboard enthusiastically with these assignments. My 8-year-old son has covered topics ranging from Tamerlane (his favorite Khan, as in Ghengis) … Team U.S.A. at the 2008 Olympics … and some of the more obscure “Star Wars” characters. (Plo Koon, anyone?)

My 5-year-old daughter’s reports have been a bit simpler: a reworking of the Cinderella narrative or a series of drawings with self-explanatory captions like “Pirate Louis Is a Pirate.”

Until now. A few days ago, my daughter declared that she’d like to do her half-term project on — wait for it — me. She asked me to download a few photographs from Picasa and then began to work in earnest.

Read the rest of this story at the New York Times Motherlode blog

Image: Writing Lesson by radioflyer007 via flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Throwing Away The Outline (In Writing And Life)

There’s a lot to be said for having an outline when you write.

It gives a structure to your story. It reminds you where you are when you wander off to embellish some minor – but important – point and then realize that you’ve wandered so far you have no idea where you started. Above all, it’s just reassuring:  it suggests that you may actually get to the end of whatever it is you’re writing.

I usually work from a sort of loose outline when I write. Occasionally, I don’t. I just sit down with a bunch of points I want to make and improvise my way towards a conclusion. Usually – about half way through that sort of writing – I figure out what I really wanted to say. And once in a while, I create a really detailed, formal outline of exactly how I’m going to proceed with a given piece.

I used this last strategy – to my own detriment – last week on a feature I’m writing for PoliticsDaily.com about the BBC (watch this space.) It’s a topic that’s obsessed me for as long as I’ve lived in the UK, and I’ve been dying to write about it for years. But I needed to wait until there was a news hook to have an excuse to write the article.

But when I finally sat down to write, I had so much material buzzing around my head – research…interviews…newsclips…my own experiences – that I was a bit overwhelmed. So I started outlining. And outlining. And outlining some more.

I thought that this would help me write the piece more quickly. But the truth was – when I actually put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys), I was so immersed in the subject matter that the points I wanted to make just flowed on their own. So I ended up tossing my outline aside and just running with it. I let the piece “write itself” as it were, rather than trying so hard to control it.

And guess what? It came out much more quickly. And I realized after a few days that I probably could have finished the whole thing much sooner if I’d just given into the creative process rather than obsessively trying to outline my way through it.

This is true in life as well. You see, I’m a planner. (Some might – ahem – say I plan too much. Darling? Is that you?) I tend to approach things that make me stressed (read: just about everything) by scheduling:  carefully planning out my time,  putting dates in the calendar, making endless to-do lists. But we all know that life is best lived in the moment, not through an outline.

I’m trying to keep this in mind as I gear up for my upcoming move which will occupy a lot of psychological real estate in my head over the next six or seven weeks. As I near the move date, my instinct will be to immerse myself in the boxes and the movers and the change-of-address forms. And, sure, those things need to happen.

But what I should really focus on is how happy I am that we are moving to a bigger space, with really nice views, right next to a gigantic park, where my kids can play football (soccer) and run around. And I can take long walks and chill. And *that’s* what this move is about.

Watch this space.

Image: Outlining by dmscvan via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Five Ways To Feel More Legitimate As A Writer

I got a check for $100 in the mail the other day. It was for an article that I wrote more than a year ago and which was published in a women’s magazine in the States. I’ve been chasing that check since last February (which was the deadline for payment according to the contract I signed) and I’ve probably (conservatively) exchanged about 25 or 30 emails on this matter since then.

So what’s the big deal about 100 bucks, you ask? Are things really that tight over here in London?

Well yes…and no. I don’t make a lot of money as a freelance writer, so every payment really does count. But not enough to relentlessly chase down 100 dollars over a nine month period. Of course, that’s not *really* why I “followed the money” (to coin a phrase.) I did it because of what the payment represented to me symbolically.

For me, you see, that check was all about legitimacy.

Feeling legitimate can be a tricky thing in the work world, especially for writers, freelancers, and – in many professions – women. (Yikes! I’m all three!) I remember when I was a kid I once went shopping with a friend and her mother and the owner of a local clothing store denied my friend’s mother a credit card on the grounds that she (a writer) was only self-employed. “I’m afraid you’ll need to bring your husband in,” the owner said. My friend’s mother burst into tears. I was eight years old and had no idea why she was crying.

Now I do.

Because writers and other self-employed people frequently lack the formal trappings of an office – e.g., business cards…a regular paycheck…a door (!), it’s often hard to feel “legitimate” in your chosen profession. Under such circumstances, we self-employeds tend to grasp at anything that offers a soupçon of legitimacy…anything…such as, say, a check for $100!

In that spirit, here are five methods I’ve devised for boosting my sense of legitimacy:

1. Call Your Writing Work. As memoirist Louise De Salvo wrote recently in a memorable post about how to find time to write when you have kids, it’s essential that you always call your writing “work” regardless of how much you’re paid for it (if anything): No one I knows cares if you’re writing.  That’s why you have to call it work.  Because that’s what it is.  Your work.  Your life’s work.” Amen, sister.

2. Call Yourself A Writer. This is a corollary of #1 but surprisingly hard to enact when you’re feeling a legitimacy deficit. I frequently find myself alternating between “journalist,” “blogger” and just plain “writer” but find the latter the hardest to actually utter because I think it sounds…[drumroll please]…illegitimate. But the more I do it, the better I feel. Like the alcoholic who must first admit the problem, I sometimes just force myself to march around the house chanting “My name is Delia and I am a writer….My name is Delia and I am a writer…”

3. Titles Help. I posted a few weeks ago on how to manage your title. Right after I did that, one of the editors at PoliticsDaily.com (where I do work…for money!…she added hastily) referred to me as their “London correspondent” when linking to an article of mine. My usual title is “contributor.” It only happened once but, boy, for the next three hours, I was walking on air. (Sadly, I’ve since then reverted to “contributor.” Oh, how the mighty have fallen.)

4. Diversify Your Portfolio. Another thing I find that really helps is to take on additional jobs or activities in spheres outside of writing – to diversify your portfolio, so to speak. Freelancers often need to do this anyway for economic reasons, but slash careers can confer legitimacy advantages as well. I spent all of yesterday afternoon selling raffle tickets at a Christmas fair to raise money for my daughter’s school. Turns out I’m pretty good at it. But in addition to the positive feelings that ensue from raising money for a good cause, it’s always a huge boost to my self-esteem to know that I’m actually good at something else (even something for which I’m not paid.)

5. Find Your Inner Compass. At the end of the day, of course, it’s all about what one therapist I know calls “finding your inner compass.” How legitimate you feel as a writer or actor or any other inherently freelance profession is really about not giving a hoot what others think (or what you imagine – or project – onto their thinking.) It’s about finding legitimacy…(yes, you guessed it)…from within.

That’s hard to do, though. And speaking of which…I’ve gotta run. I have to chase down that other $100 check from last September that they still haven’t paid me. I’ve got some emails to write…

Image: Vieja Maquina de Escribir by Gonzalo Barrientos via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: How To Make Time Off Productive

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week I took a self-imposed vacation from this blog in order to focus on marketing my novel. It was an unusual thing for me to do, but I’m so glad that I decided to do it. As the self-development guru Colleen Wainwright – a.k.a. Communicatrix – put it so well in a comment on that post:

“Hardest thing in the world, carving out time for the Not Immediately Necessary. But how else does the big stuff get done?”

How else, indeed?

So in this week’s tip list, I thought I’d share what I learned from that experience and, specifically, how to make “time off” (as in time off to carry out a specific project, as opposed to a vacation) productive:

1. Tell Other People What You Are Doing. Several people – including myself – noted that I wrote a blog post to announce that I wouldn’t be blogging for a week. Why not just…stop blogging for a week? But I did that for a reason. I knew that if I told readers what I was doing and gave myself a time-line, I’d be more inspired to hit my goal. And I did.

2. Cut Distractions. This is obvious, but it bears repeating. Much of the joy that comes from being a blogger doesn’t just come from writing posts, but from reading other people’s blogs, commenting on those blogs, sharing an interesting article on Twitter, etc. Doing all that is a big part of how I come up with my ideas. And while I didn’t stop reading my RSS feed last week (perish the thought!), I did dramatically reduce the amount of time I normally spend in the blogosphere.

3. Stay Focused. Another obvious suggestion, but which also bears repeating. Midway through the week, I realized that I could easily have devoted the entire week just to clearing out my inbox. And by “clearing out my inbox” I don’t mean deleting announcements about “What’s on at The National Theatre” or the latest cure for cancer in homeopathy.  I mean attending to really useful articles and websites I’ve flagged for myself about blogging, writing, publishing, etc. that I *really must read.* But then I reminded myself: Nope, that’s not what I’m doing this week. I”m working on the novel. But that insight did motivate me to take another, future SIV (that’s “self imposed vacation” as opposed to SUV, FYI..BTW..IMHO…ha!) that will just be about blogging best practices.

4. Recognize That You’ll Never Totally Clear Your Inbox. I think I had this fantasy that once I took this large, annoying monkey off my back (e.g. sending out the novel to agents), the sky would magically part and I’d be relaxed and in control of my to-do list. But taking time off also made me realize that, much as I’d like to, I’ll never completely reduce my “to do” list to zero. Because as soon as I take one thing off the list – like “send out novel to agents” – something else immediately moves in to take its place, like “blog promotion.” Sure, there’s all this stuff floating around out there about inbox zero and the Four Hour work week. What-ever. I think for most of us, it’s about reducing our to-do lists to a manageable level and then taking it one step at a time, accepting that whatever we prioritize comes at the expense of other things we’d also – genuinely – like to be doing. That’s just…life.

5. Remember that Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder. One of the best ways to appreciate something in your life is to take a break from it. Your feelings while your away will tell you how much you either totally love it or could actually live without it. Back when I was an academic, I took a year off to work for the United States Treasury Department, precisely in order to see whether I’d miss my life as a professor. I didn’t miss it at all and mailed in my resignation half way through the year. In a similar vein, last week while “not blogging” I realized how much I love this blog and missed both writing it and being part of this community.

And that was the best lesson of all.

*****

If you’re interested, here’s my piece in yesterday’s PoliticsDaily.com about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.K.


Image: Monkey On My Back by Mshai via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Managing Your Workload: Take a Self-Imposed Vacation

I’m taking a vacation this week.

Well, actually I’ll be right here in my home. But I’m going to pretend that I’m on vacation…with respect to this blog, at least.

You see, among the many different slashes I wear in my current life as a freelance writer, one of them is novelist. OK, that’s not quite right. Why don’t we say “aspiring novelist”? (I’ll feel better.)

You see, I have the novel written. I just that haven’t sold it. And in order to do that, I need to clear a couple of days in my schedule to send out the draft to the appropriate people. I know who those people are (some call them agents), and I know which ones I want to send it to. I even have all the materials ready. So I just need to sit down, go through the list, figure out who needs what, and then do some photocopying and stapling and standing in line at the post office. (If it isn’t on strike…).

In short: I need to put the rubber to the road and just do it, in the immortal words of Nike.

Which takes…time. And that’s something I don’t have a lot of because I’m, well, blogging. (She said, fully aware that she was blogging about not blogging. What can I say? Old habits die hard…)

It’s really hard for me to take time off from this blog, mostly because I love it, and partly because – as someone with a super-ego that even Freud would find daunting – I feel that I *should* be blogging (unless I’m on vacation).

So I decided to tell myself that I am on vacation. One of the many things I’ve learned from my beloved life coach is that in order to change your behavior, you need to change your expectations. She always gives me the example of the “sick day.” When you’re sick, you don’t expect yourself to get as much done. You go easy on yourself. Similarly, when you’re on vacation, you don’t bring work along with you (hopefully). You understand that the point of the holiday is precisely to stop working for awhile.

So I’m going to put myself on a self-imposed vacation, during which time I am going to do my very best to send my novel out to ten more agents. Because we all know that the secret of being a writer is persistence. Sometimes, that’s about forcing yourself to sit down at the computer and bang out those 1000 words. Sometimes, it’s just about sitting down, period. That’s not my problem right now. My problem is committing myself to selling the book that I wrote. And making the time to let that happen.

So good-bye. And wish me well. Feel free to imagine me wherever you’d like…Tahiti? Iceland? The Galapagos?

See you next week.


Image: My Feet in a Paradisiac Beach by Princess Cy via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways to Establish A Tone

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

As a writer, I think a lot about tone. Does any given essay/blog post/tweet that I write convey not just the meaning – but the attitude – that I’m after?

Setting a tone in writing is no less important than setting a tone in person. How we speak to other people and the verbal and non-verbal message we communicate to them often determines whether they want to listen to us, befriend us, or – dare I say it – be our children/siblings/parents/spouses.

With this in mind, I’ve chosen five bloggers I regularly follow whom I think have mastered  “tone” in their writing, which in turn makes them very inviting as people. In each case, I highlight what they bring to their blogs to cultivate this tone:

1. Curiosity. Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project is a must for anyone out there looking for concrete, practical steps to leading a happier life. Sometimes this means cleaning out a closet; sometimes reading more Virginia Woolf. But the main thing Gretchen communicates on her blog  is a deep and abiding curiosity about the world around her. From the diverse range of articles and blogs that she recommends on a daily basis to her willingness to try pretty much anything  – like singing in the morning – in order to see if it actually makes her happier, you get the sense that she is, at all times, drinking in life.

2. Community. Another hugely practical site is the Freelance Writing Jobs blog network, founded and managed by Deb Ng. A lot of people come to this blog for its diverse set of writing tips, as well as its amazing daily listings of freelance jobs. I come because Deb’s passion for building community is almost irresistible. It shines through her daily tweets which always begin with “Good Morning World” (usually followed by an observation about D.C. weather), as well as the way in which all of her posts are infused with an appreciation for- and commitment to – the community of writers she’s gathered around her.

3. Introspection. You’d be hard-pressed to read a single post on Colleen Wainwright’s glorious Communicatrix and not come away feeling that this was a person who was putting herself out there, for all to see, day in and day out. Laugh-out-loud funny – but also brutally honest – this is a “self-development” blog that succeeds in making you feel like you are accompanying the author on the journey, not just listening to her ex-post musings. Check out her trademark 21-day Salutes. (She’s in the midst of one right now.) They will convince you – if you needed convincing – that the examined life is definitely the one worth living.

4. Enthusiasm. Christina Katz’ Writer Mama blog brims with enthusiasm. Written by a team of “writer mamas,”  this blog offers writing tips, links to online writing classes as well as observations on the writing life. But what most stands out about the blog is the indefatigable Christina Katz herself, who sounds so genuinely enthusiastic about writing, parenting, networking and – above all – platform building, that it’s infectious. To Christina’s credit, she not only promotes her own work on the blog. She is also extremely generous about highlighting the success of her co-bloggers and former students.

5. Wisdom. It’s really tough to try and offer advice to other authors while being sincere and funny at the same time. But Nicola Morgan’s Help! I Need A Publisher! blog does just that. Nicola manages to somehow combine a strong dose of wit and “telling it like it is” with a lot of really smart advice. Read this post where Nicola reacts to the self-doubts of a struggling writer and see if you don’t find yourself laughing while also nodding your head in agreement.

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Image: Tone by Passetti via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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The Two Faces of Delia: Adopting A Nom de Plume In Adulthood

I have a confession to make:  Delia Lloyd is not my real name.

I felt like I needed to come clean because I joined Facebook yesterday. (Yes, I’m one of those octogenarians driving up the average user’s age.)

And because for me, Facebook is primarily a personal social networking tool (at least for now), I decided to join under my legal name – which is….drum roll please…Delia Boylan. So just in case you cyber-stalked me in the last 24 hours and noticed the same head shot, same bio, same appallingly bad taste in music:  yes, it’s me.

And the whole process of coming to that decision made me think, again, about my name.

I’ve always hated my given name. For starters, it makes me sound like an Irish scullery maid. And then there’s the small problem that no one – in the U.S. at least – can seem to remember it. I’ve grown accustomed to answering to pretty much anything that begins with a D, including “Dee.”

When I was a kid, I disliked my name so much that once – during a high school production of Dames At Sea – I was given the chance to make up my own name for my part (I was in the chorus.) While the other girls eagerly chose things like “Tiffany” and “Sparkle,” I chose – wait for it – Ann. That’s right. Ann. I was dying to have a normal name.

Later on, when I got married and had made my peace with Delia, I still had the (easy) opportunity to change my last name. And while all kinds of different friends weighed in on the politics of whether or not to take my husband’s name, that was an easy one for me. I didn’t like his surname either. So I stuck with Delia Boylan.

But then, round about 2001, I changed careers and decided that as part of the psychological move out of academia and into journalism, I would take on an entirely new persona. And whether because of an inspired moment or because I simply lacked much imagination, I chose my husband’s first name – Lloyd – to use as my last name professionally. (I like to tell people that it’s post-post-feminist…no one knows what to do with that).

My old boss once asked me how it felt to use the name Delia Lloyd, to which I responded: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” She looked a bit puzzled. So I sheepishly added: “I mean, next to having my two kids and marrying my lovely husband and all that.”

But it’s true. Whereas once I felt a little pang every time I had to utter my real name, once I started using “Delia Lloyd” on a regular basis, I found that I loved it. (And as a producer for a daily talk show I spent eight hours a day on the phone, so I quickly got a lot of practice…)

There aren’t all that many things you can change about yourself once you grow up. You’re pretty much stuck with your hair, eye color, stature, what have you.  But adopting a new name – even if it’s a nom de plume – can be really liberating. It’s like changing careers. You get to reinvent yourself and that very fact introduces a little frisson into your life.

I realize that there may be professional drawbacks and confusions with this down the line. Penelope Trunk maintains that you should only blog under your legal name. (She would know. She ended up changing her legal name to match her blogging “handle.”)  But other people – like Colleen Wainwright, a.k.a. the Communicatrix – seem happy to move between the two.

As for me, right now I’m really loving the opportunity to move between the two faces of Eve Delia. Its just one more variant on slash careers!

*****

Speaking of slashes, I’m also loving my new blogging job over at PoliticsDaily.com. Have a look at this week’s posts, one on the G8 Summit and the other on the evolving Murdoch media scandal in the U.K.

Two-Faced Tasha 1 by sethrt via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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