My Coaching Staff

  1. The Lie that Tells the Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction by John Dufresne
  2. Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
  3. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
  4. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  5. Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott
  6. The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
  7. Finding Your Way in a Wild New World and The Joy Diet by Martha Beck
  8. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies Writing courses – where I found the encouragement of editor and teacher Laurie Scheer
  9. Writer’s Relief – a literary journal and agent submission agency. Lifesavers. Timesavers. Cheerleaders. Reliable. Dependable. Nice.
  10. Beth Herman, coach extraordinaire, with more tricks up her sleeve than you could ever hope for to soothe your wounds and perk up your soul.  
  11. Proofreader of brilliance, Natalie Karst.

 

 

Writers who give me permission to explore my universe 

Writers who give me permission to explore my universe 

Six Books That Blow My Mind

If these writers can manipulate your imagination and place you in Tahiti (Gilbert), Brahmpur (Seth), a walled town with beasts of gold (Murakami), a Toronto asylum for the insane (Atwood), the Cherokee Nation (Frazier) and playing piano in a Mississippi steamboat dance band (Gautreaux), all while taking liberties with time, love, class, fantasy and history, then I want to do that too.

This stack of novels leaves me quaking, ricocheting between profound pleasure and incredulity. I’m incredulous because I realize, while deep in the fictional universe these novels create, that this is allowed and that writers are allowed to do it to all of us.

So much of writing is about feeling that I have permission to make something from nothing; these books embolden my writing practice. These writers are brave, innovative, intense and possess such confident and bold storytelling acumen that the pages feel like a miracle.

It’s critical for writers to be reading as much as possible. If nothing else, the insights a writer gains by reading something so thrilling it sticks with you like a cold that just won’t go away, is invaluable. On top of that, reading is much cheaper than a writing course or a master’s degree in creative writing.

Click on the title to visit some of my favorite bookstores and purchase this stack. I’ve included reviews for your reading pleasure. But trust me. These novels are so mind-blowingly good they will slay your sense of what a book is supposed to do to you. Yes, a writer can do that.  

1.     The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Review here.

2.     Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier. Review here.

3.     A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Review here.

4.     Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. Review here.

5.     Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. Review here.

6.     The Missing by Tim Gautreaux. Review here

 

Advice, words of wisdom and inspiration to get going with your own writing practice

This is the practice school of writing. Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration and a deep desire to run. It’ll never happen, especially if you are out of shape and have been avoiding it. But if you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. You just do it. And in the middle of the run, you love it. When you come to the end, you never want to stop. And you stop, hungry for the next time.

That’s how writing is, too. Once you’re deep into it, you wonder what took you so long to finally settle down at the desk. Through practice you actually do get better. You learn to trust your deep self more and not give in to your voice that wants to avoid writing. It is odd that we never question the feasibility of a football team practicing long hours for one game; yet in writing we rarely give ourselves the space for practice.
— Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
 
THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL IN A CREATIVE PERSON’S LIFE…

Dear Ones,

Do you want to be a writer? A musician? An artist? A maker of any sort or variety whatsoever?

Do you long to express yourself, to create, to innovate, to (as Kurt Vonnegut taught us yesterday) “experience becoming”?

Well, then. Today I introduce you to the most important tool in your arsenal: The humble kitchen timer.

Do you own one of these? If you don’t own one, can you afford to go out and buy one? Do you maybe have a more modern interpretation of this device already on your smartphone?

Good.

Now here is what you do. At some point today, you sit down and set that timer for 30 minutes. Work on your craft or your project without interruption or distraction. Doesn’t have to be major work — just has to be focused work. Don’t get up from your seat until the timer dings. Then do the same thing tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. And the next day...

The immortal John Updike once said, “Some of the best books in the world were written in an hour a day.”

I disagree. You can do it in 30 minutes.

And I’m telling you — you HAVE 30 minutes a day. For some reason, an hour seems impossible to most of us, but 30 minutes is in reach.

You don’t need to quit your job to be an artist. You don’t need to take out a heart-stopping loan in order to get an advance degree in creativity. You don’t need to move to Paris. You don’t need to change your life.

You just need to bow down before the humble kitchen timer, every single day.

I bring this up because this week somebody asked me how to learn discipline, and I remembered the way my mom taught it to me. My whole life as a child was determined by her little white kitchen timer. And I seem to remember that it was always set to 30 minutes.

30 minutes for piano practice. 30 minutes for math homework. 30 minutes to study French verbs. 30 minutes to write thank you notes after Christmas. 30 minutes to finish that goddamn diorama for 5th grade social studies class of Hannibal crossing the alps in a shoebox. 30 minutes to practice hitting balls around in the backyard in preparation for softball season. 30 minutes to clean your bedroom.

Do you have any idea how much you can get done when you focus your attention on something for 30 minutes a day?

Can you imagine the shape you would be in, if you exercised seriously for 30 minutes a day? Can you imagine the languages you could learn in that little block of time, if you kept it up? How much your drawing would improve? How much better your garden would be? Your guitar playing? How much ANYTHING improves, in 30 minutes a day, honored consistently?

Is it glamorous? Nope. Is it dramatic? Nope. Is it effective? THE MOST.

I am 44 years old and I am working on my seventh book right now. I am busy with other things. I don’t have the hours I long for to devote myself completely to researching and writing this story. I may have those hours at some point in 2015, but I don’t have them now. My inbox is filled with emails. My desk is covered with mail. I am behind on a hundred promises. I have not unpacked my suitcase this whole year. But fuck it. I’m not waiting around for life to be perfect before I work on my vocation. And 30 minutes isn’t going to make or break anything.

So I set the timer on my iPhone for a half hour every single day and I work on that novel. I’ve been doing this for months now. I do it in airports, in hotel rooms, in taxis, between interviews, backstage at the TED conference, whenever I can find that little humble block of time. It is not the ideal working environment. It is not the ideal block of time. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. My new book is GROWING LIKE A WEED.

Don’t wait for the world to clear out time and space for your dreams and your art. It doesn’t happen that way. The world rushes in, and always will. Wait for things to be perfect and you’ll die waiting. Push back a bit. You go get yourself a kitchen timer and clear out your own little space. You’ll be amazed what happens.

Every single day. 30 minutes. I’m serious.

Heart,
LG
— Liz Gilbert