To be or not to be….

The Newsletter Editor

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Flagpole at the entrance to our neighborhood.

Our community has a newsletter. In each issue it features an article about the latest homeowner’s association meeting, updates on city utility news like trash days are changing or when bulk pick up is scheduled. There’s always a recipe, an article about wildlife or plants and a welcome to new neighbors. It’s interesting and done by a husband and wife. ‘

For the past six months they’ve asked for a volunteer to take over the newsletter. The couple in charge have done it for more than ten years, since its inception. They are done. This current newsletter stated that if nobody volunteers — then the newsletter is over.

I thought, do I want to do this? Should I do this? I’m not a newbie to newsletters. My first job in PR, I wrote at least seven newsletters a month for various clients including a city, a realtor, a hotel and three or four for a medical center (staff, physicians, research, and a couple medical specialties.) After that job, I worked for a developer and I was in charge of newsletters for several country club developments for the members. That was before “desk top publishing.” I had to type my copy, drive it to a typesetter. I would work on a layout with a pencil on paper! I took numerous trips by car to the printer with corrections to the typesetting and real live photographs. Once I had a “blueline” I was relieved.

In my free time, I did the newsletter for the Desert Advertising Club. I was a board member and volunteered my time. While raising kids, I volunteered to do newsletters for their swim team and a charitable organization I was in.

I know I can do this newsletter, it’s in my “wheel house,” but do I want to?

I thought yes and no. The pros are it’s quarterly. Not monthly. And — this is the biggie — I moved less than a year ago and I don’t know anyone except for the realtor up the street who sold us our house and an occasional hello to next door neighbor Brad. The newsletter might help me be less isolated and more engaged in my new surroundings.

Our neighborhood has five clubs, book club, coffee club, wine club, etc. But they haven’t met because of COVID. They were supposed to start up this month, but they are holding off until 2022.

The downsides — do I want to do the newsletter? Do I want to have a deadline? Do I want to be more active in the community or do I like my quiet life more?

I texted the kids, talked it over with hubby. They all think I should do it. My kids especially think I should because they know I’m happy when I’m working in my field — even if I whine about it.

I decided to sleep on it. Two days later, I decided YES. I called the number in the newsletter of the current husband and wife editors. I got the “disconnected and no longer in service” message.

I checked the neighborhood directory and noticed there was a typo on the phone number. I dialed the correct number and once again — “disconnected and no longer in service.”

I looked up their cell phone and it went straight to voice mail. I left a message and emailed them.

That was Friday. It’s Sunday and I haven’t received a call back or an email.

So to be or not to be — Newsletter Editor? We’ll wait and see.

What are your thoughts about volunteering? Do you think it benefits the people volunteering as well as those who receive service? What do you think of people volunteering because of their own agenda or motives? Can you think of any examples?

About those to do lists….

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View from my morning walk. We had clouds, then thunder, lightening and rain yesterday.

I make myself a list each day of what I need to get done. It includes my writing tasks, bill paying, laundry — whatever is on my plate. Why do I list things like grocery shopping and laundry? Because it’s satisfying to cross items off the list with my red pen. I feel like I accomplished something when I get through my list with every single thing completed.

But last week and this week one glaring item stares back at me without a single red line through it. I must be avoiding it. Or to be honest, I feel stuck. So, I put it on the next day’s list where it then floats over to the following day.

I’m not exactly procrastinating. It’s more like I don’t know what to do. I decided to try NaNoWriMo this year.

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November.

https://nanowrimo.org/what-is-nanowrimo

I’ve heard about it for years. I have writer friends who have done it. I never have before. I’m working on NaNo Prep 101 so I can start November off and running and write 50,000 words. On my to do list is NaNo Prep. Each day. But I haven’t gotten through the task at hand.

I’m going to try a new strategy. I’m moving NaNo prep to the top of my list. Where I can’t avoid it. Also, I think if I tackle it earlier in the day, tiredness and a lack of motivation won’t take over. Maybe I’ll get it done when my energy is better. It takes energy to make decisions about what to write about and to develop characters. I have an inkling of what I want, but then I second guess myself and chicken out.

Have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? If so, how did it go? Have you written a novel? What did you find to be the easiest and hardest parts?

How many books on this list have you read?

I have never copied and posted something from Facebook on my blog before. But this popped up on a childhood friend’s page and I played. I enjoyed it and as readers and writers, I believe you might find it interesting, too.

In fact, I rarely even look at Facebook anymore. I don’t know why I did the other day, but I did. So here you go.

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One of my favorite series.

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books here. Want to play?

1 Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible –

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulkes

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife-Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

26  Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma – Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tart

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Inferno – Dante (Have it downloaded)

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell-

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Eupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Gaudy Night – Dorothy Sayersshared from Book Snoop Auctions

This list gave me ideas of what I’ve wanted to read but haven’t — yet. I scored 44. What is your score?

UPDATE: My son informed me the list is “BBC’s Top 100 Books You Need to Read Before You Die.” If you click on the link HERE you can check off the books and see where you stand compared to other readers.

Happy September first!

My mom and I had a little game where we’d try to be the first person to call and shout Happy (insert month) first! I miss those days. That was before she was in assisted living. Now it’s hard to get her to answer the phone and rare that she calls me.

Mom and me in the early 90s.

When September 1 comes around I get motivated. The long-awaited vacation days are over. It’s time for me to get on with my life and to be productive in whatever that may be. It’s almost like starting New Year’s resolutions.

Maybe it’s because the end of heat is near. After years of desert living, September can still be hot — but we’re down to a few weeks of 100 plus degree weather. Cooler weather feels good and it’s motivating to be able to go outside any time of day.

Maybe it’s because of my years as a swim mom that I’m excited for September. The calendar for swimmers begins in September. It’s a brand new year after two weeks of time off in August. It’s when swimmers may move up in their training groups and a new meet schedule comes out.

It’s the start of the school year, too. Although these days our former school district starts in early August. That would never have worked for us. As a swim family, our vacation started mid-August after the final swim meets. Thank goodness I’m not dealing with school anymore.

So what are my goals for the fall? To write more. To swim consistently at the city pool. To take a photography or drawing class.

I’m ready. Happy September first everyone!

The critters enjoying my backyard.

What are your thoughts about September? Do you like the end of summer? Do you get motivated in the fall? Why or why not?

Remembering Ray Bradbury

In honor of the great Ray Bradbury who died in June 2012, I’m reposting this story about what I learned from him.

I was looking through my book shelves for summer reading. I picked up Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing: Release the Creative Genius Within You. It’s a small paperback book that has sat on my shelf, unread. I opened the cover and on page one the autograph of the author and the date May 1996 stared me in the face.

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That’s the first time I heard Ray Bradbury speak — and the first time I asked him to sign a book. My daughter, who graduated high school last week, was three months old, and my son, a junior in college, was three years old. That’s a lot of years to have this book sitting on my bookshelf.

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Yes, I’m now reading this collection of essays and remembering how inspiring his talk was. Earlier that same day in May 1996, I recognized Ray Bradbury at Las Casuelas the Original, a small Mexican restaurant a few blocks away from the Riviera Hotel, where he was speaking later. I introduced myself to him, as he ate alone, and I said I couldn’t wait to hear his talk.

It was one of the first writer’s conferences I had attended, and I was kind of in a fog, having a newborn child and little sleep.

Ray Bradbury was amazing. He reminded me of a young child, finding wonder in the world. He had the ability to stay young at heart and observe the world as though seeing little things for the first time. I loved his story of how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA library at a rental typewriter for 10 cents for a half hour. He said he was literally a “dime novelist.” It gave me courage and the belief that we can do anything — if you want it badly enough.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” he said. He advised us to turn off the TV. Don’t watch the news. He said they were selling soap and there was little or no good news and it would rot our minds. Instead, “Read the Bible, a poem and an essay every day.”

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How I’d wish I’d listened more carefully and followed that advice 18 years ago. How different would my life be today? The good news is, it’s not too late to start. And I’m proud to say, I started down that path yesterday.

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My all time favorite Ray Bradbury book is Fahrenheit 451. My son Robert loves this book, too. I took my son to meet Ray Bradbury during another local speaking engagement years later. Robert has a signed copy of Farenheit 451 that he treasures. Ray Bradbury was a very accessible and kind man, willing to share with all of us enjoying his gift and genius — and striving to be 1/100th the writer that he was. 

“What do you love most in the world? The big and little things, I mean. A trolley car, a pair of tennis shoes? These, at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” — Zen and the Art of Writing

How Needs and Wants Apply to Writing

 

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My writing expert a few years ago.

When my kids were in Catholic elementary school, a teacher explained the difference between needs and wants to them. I remember being impressed with how the teacher brought this lesson down to their age level and it was something that I hadn’t thought about explaining to my kids. Yet, it’s such a crucial life lesson. When you’re raising kids, they often have a lot of things they “need.” They want to fit in with their peers and when one friend gets the latest whatever, they feel they need it, too.

When my kids told me they “needed” a colorful iPod mini or a deck of Pokemon cards I could answer smugly, “Is this something you need—or something you want?”

I pretty much think they still believed it was something they needed.

I had a conversation with my son two years ago about needs and wants. I was telling him how I was struggling with a rewrite of a mid-grade novel but was beginning to have a break-through. I hired an editor to review my manuscript and the main thread of advice was to add depth to my main characters. I have a “good” protagonist and an “evil” antagonist. It’s a book about friendships and growth in character, yet my characters are pretty shallow and flimsy. My son—brilliant person that he is—suggested I look at their “needs” and “wants.”

Seriously? The child who “needed” so many material things is now lecturing me on “needs and wants?” Yes, he is and in literature, he explained, needs and wants take on a subtle but different meaning. I found a good article “What your character wants versus what they need” from the Novel Factory. Here’s an excerpt:

What your character wants
We all want something. Some of us crave power, others long for heaps of cash, others want five minutes of fame. Some of us dream of having a baby, or a picture perfect wedding. Then of course there are more specific goals, like to win Countdown, to meet David Attenborough or to bake the perfect flan.

At the outset of your novel, you need to establish what it is your character wants – what it is that they are pursuing? What do they believe will give them a feeling of satisfaction?

What your character needs
However, there is something else under the surface, and that is what your character needs.

There are very few things human beings actually need, in order to be happy, and most of the things we fixate on wanting only obscure the really important things.

The things we need can usually be distilled to one thing: love.

This bit of advice from my son was eye-opening. I truly love my kids and his interest and expertise as a Lit major have helped me.

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Back when needs and wants were simple.

Have you explained to your kids about needs and wants? If you’re a writer, how do you use needs and wants to enrich your characters?

 

Tips to Rekindle Your Creative Spirit

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Inspiring view along my morning walks.

I’m reading a few pages a week from Julia Cameron’s books. Who is Julia Cameron you ask? She’s a writer, musician and artist who encourages creativity for the rest of us struggling along our jumbled paths. I read something in the book Walking in This World  that helped me out and wanted to share it.

What’s ironic is that it’s the same thing I write about in my parenting tips for SwimSwam. Why don’t I take the advice I shout out to the rest of the world? Who knows?

It’s all about performance pressure and focusing on results rather than the process. When our kids focus on times, or we add performance pressure on them, they will struggle to improve. Likewise, if we are too focused on the number of “likes” and “clicks” on our writing, we lose sight of our creative spirit. We’re more worried about what people think of our work–rather than losing ourselves in the process and creating art.

This results in writer’s block, frustration, second-guessing our work and losing passion for what we’re doing.

What is Cameron’s solution to this? In her books, she has a number of suggestions that include writing morning pages, walking and making time for an artist’s date with yourself. Also, she suggests trying something artistic outside your chosen field. For me it’s getting out a sketch book and drawing from time to time. When I was a little kid, I wasn’t worried about what people thought about my artwork. I drew for hours on end. I found it scary at first to try and sketch again, but I reminded myself that nobody is looking at it. I won’t be looking at the number of “likes” and “retweets.” It’s a creative outlet just for me.

Another suggestion of Cameron’s to rekindle the spirit of creativity, is to use your talents to help someone else. Make a gift for someone, teach, volunteer, or do something for your community. It does make you feel enthusiastic after helping someone else and getting the focus off yourself and your end product. 

Thank you to my BFF Cindy for giving me The Artist’s Way five years ago and encouraging me on my current path.

Julia Cameron has been an active artist for more than thirty years. She is the author of forty books, fiction and nonfiction, including her bestselling works on the creative process: The Artist’s Way, Walking in This World and Finding Water. Her work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages and has sold more than four million copies worldwide. Also a novelist, playwright, songwriter and poet, she has multiple credits in theater, film and television.

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I find inspiration from my view.

How do you rekindle your creativity if you’re discouraged or reached a block? Do you have any tips to share with us?