All posts tagged: Writing

And Still I Rise: Answering the Midnight Muse

3:27 a.m. That’s what time she woke me up this morning. Two days ago, she woke me up at 3:49 a.m. Today? Tomorrow? Who knows. I’m talking about the writing muse — that seductive voice that whispers in my ear when an idea strikes me, and I’m compelled to jot it down, explore it. My Muse comes in many forms: a memory, a feeling, a longing, a joke  As a non-fiction writer working on a memoir, I welcome my muse. I need her.  I love her. Just not at 3 a.m. in the morning. At first I would fight her. Wait it out. Lie in bed, unable to go back to sleep but refusing to move. Or I’d turn on the television; its bluish glare illuminating my darkened bedroom. Now I know better. Now I give in. Now I know that nothing will satisfy the early morning mystery except my writing. So I’m prepared. Before I go to bed I make sure I know where my laptop is. Or my legal pad and pen. Or my journal. …

Am I Allowed to Be Happy Even If My Kids Are Not?

I was raised to believe that happiness and motherhood were inherently incompatible, if not irreconcilable. I learned from my mother’s example. Mothers did not live to be happy. Mothers lived to be useful. Mothers lived to be productive. I don’t remember my mother ever talking about being happy. I do remember her always working, laboring, being useful to others. My mother’s hands seemed like they never stopped moving. If she wasn’t pulling strings off string beans or picking worms off tomatoes in her garden, she was peeling apples for a pie or peaches for a cobbler. Or, she was sewing us or herself a new outfit, or turning our old outgrown clothes into quilts. Over time, arthritis made sewing too difficult, but she kept cooking and gardening until the day she took her last breath. As infants, my children were born pushy, in that way that is socially acceptable only for babies and cats. My daughter came out stubborn, demanding and unapologetic. My son, on the other hand, used his fat cheeks, bright eyes and …

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In Praise of the Midlife Crisis — on a Motorcycle

We should avoid excess risk as we age. So says conventional wisdom. After all, it takes longer to heal a bone broken learning to ski in our 50s than in our 20s. There won’t be time to regain a financial loss suffered past our early 40s if we become too aggressive with our investments. Going back to school later in life to embark on a new career seems a waste of time and energy. And don’t get me started on those folks who leave long-term marriages for the greener pastures of a new relationship. I believed all these things. Until, at age 48, I fell in love with a matte black, brawny beast of a machine. I took a motorcycle safety class as research for a book I was writing and surprised myself with the depth of feeling that burbled up. My father was dying at the time and I felt entombed in a marriage that, after 25 years, had lost all its verve. I had raised three on-the-cusp-of-adulthood children, served as a professor of …

The Public Intimacy of Private Ink

Spring came late this year, but I can tell it’s here because all of a sudden people are commenting on my tattoo. I live on the Canadian Shield; I spend at least nine — often 10 — months wrapped in multiple layers. Each year, when it finally gets warm enough to wear a tank top, I forget that much of the general public hasn’t yet seen the typewriter inked onto my right upper arm. It’s like seeing the first robin of the season. “Hey, cool! I love your typewriter!” someone will say at a bar or restaurant or on the street, usually followed up with: “Are you a writer?” And I nod and smile and say, “Thank you” and “Yes.” And then there is a bit more smiling, and I pray inwardly that they won’t next ask, “What do you write?” If you write, then you know there’s no worse question than “What do you write?” Particularly if you happen to be, say, the kind of writer who writes first-person essays about intense emotional moments …

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Why I’m Throwing My Own Damn Retirement Party

At 38, and soon to be 39, I am nowhere close to receiving social security checks or living off a cushy pension or a seven-figure Roth IRA. But financial security hasn’t stopped me from declaring my retirement at the end of 2016. That’s right. I said retirement. This is retirement in the tradition of the thirty-something-year-old NBA basketball player who retires from the hustle of the game. (Except I’m neither as rich nor as famous as Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan.) I have been writing professionally for 15 years, and most of that time I’ve been a freelancer. That means that I’ve been floating from assignment to assignment without an employer to call my own. But this year, I am retiring from that writer-for-hire life. I have not made a lot of money, I have not made an indelible mark (whatever that means) and I have not achieved all that I’d hoped to accomplish in my professional writing life. Having written my way to mediocre success, I am choosing now to say to myself, “Good …

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More (and More) Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Another one bites the dust. The recent announcement that More would cease publication was just the latest blow to loyal magazine fans who still enjoy flipping through their favorite glossies. The women’s lifestyle magazine, which aimed at older, affluent “women of style and substance with articles on style, health, work, spirituality and relationships,” garnered both publicity and favor by featuring celebs ages 40 and up, including cover stars Diane Lane, Rachel Weiz and Jennifer Connelly. In 2002, Jamie Lee Curtis made news by appearing on the cover in only a sports bra and underwear, minus makeup or photoshopping. The magazine aimed to go more upscale and a little younger in the past year – Katie Holmes, a mere 37, ditched her makeup for the February cover – but the move failed to nab advertisers. Publisher Meredith Corporation forced it into early retirement after nearly 19 years of publication, making it the first magazine casualty of 2016; the last issue will appear this April. And with up to 15 reported layoffs in November, some predict that …

I Hit My Breaking Point and Asked for Help

I flipped my hood up and started walking, on my way to buy beer at midnight on a work night. I had gotten up from my desk back in the apartment when the panic set in that I wouldn’t have enough of what I called “my medicine” to get me through the assignment I was working on and then carry me on to maybe four hours of passed-out sleep. Where writing was concerned, I was sure I was much more productive then. Fueled by wine, adrenaline and a liberal shot of rage, words flowed out of the space between sober and drunk, a space where I spent a lot of my time. Whether the words were good or not is debatable, but I thought they were better — and only possible — with a few drinks in me. It’s a writer’s ego that values output over possible self-annihilation. Can’t do it if you’re dead or incapacitated, but what’s that small detail? Bless our hearts. That night, dwelling on my bullshit logic, I put on my shoes and …

She Quit Corporate America to Become a Beauty Blogger — That Was Only The First Challenge

Beauty blogging is very different than it was when I started in 2007. In fact, everything about beauty blogging and my life in general has changed. Back then, I was living an entirely different life: a 15-year career in corporate America as a human resources executive, living in the South, with no real creative outlet. I started out creative (I went to school for art,) but my father put the pressure on my sophomore year to “get a degree you can eat on.” So, I switched to Business. The need for approval had been established when I was young. Interestingly enough, it would come back to haunt me almost my entire life. Once on the winding ladder to company success, I blindly kept climbing. Externally, I became a very successful HR professional — but inside I was dying. Over 100 pounds overweight, I drank myself into a stupor at happy hours and was utterly miserable. I wanted — I NEEDED — to do something different. It was during that time that I decided to follow …

How I Became a Professional Cat Lady

My college roommate and I met our cats at side-by-side animal shelters in San Francisco. Her tabby, Zeke, went home with her that very day, and my black cat, Chuck, also went home with her, as I was still scrambling to get into an apartment. (Here’s to you, Jen, for letting my cat crash with you for a month; thank you for keeping your cool that time he peed on your duvet.) Thus began 15 years (and counting) of what my husband calls “My Cat Goes Mrow” — that is, long conversations in which Jen and I mostly swap Zeke and Chuck stories. You could argue, and I do, that they’re the beast-shaped filters through which we tell each other about all aspects of our lives, but I can admit that they tend to follow the format he identified (“My cat goes ‘mrow’!” “My cat goes ‘mrow’!”). My Cat Goes Mrow is having a moment — call it a decade, really — right now, as you may have noticed. (Robert De Niro certainly noticed when …

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Retiring the “R” Word

Once upon a time in a mid-sized accounting firm in suburban New Jersey, a teenage girl sat in a windowless conference room performing a mind-numbing task. This task entailed removing outdated pages from a massive set of tax code binders (about 40 volumes, each weighing five pounds) and replacing those pages with updated versions. The sheets were tissue-thin, impossible to separate without tearing and capable of inflicting the wickedest of paper cuts. That was my first paying job and the first time I could officially be labeled a “working person.” Now, nearly four decades and a few career changes later, a new label might better describe my status as a working person: Retired. [pullquote]If I’m not between projects and I’m not retired, what am I? [/pullquote] Ugh. I don’t like that word and I’m not the only one I know struggling with it. Several contemporaries have recently bid goodbye to long-term careers on their way to the unknown next chapter in their working life. They seem as confused as I am as to how to …

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The TueDo List: Yoga for Writers, the Echo and Dude Flicks You’ll Dig

This week’s issue was all about—and mostly by—men. There are lots of things to do this weekend made by or featuring guys that we can all enjoy. So have at it, ladies and gents. And whatever men you happen to hang out with this weekend, may they be of the enlightened variety (and even more so after they hang out with you.) Yoga—for Writers I love San Francisco, and nothing makes me want to book a last minute ticket from DC (you know, if I were a millionaire) than Chronicle columnist Mark Morford’s Yoga for Writers class at Yoga Tree on Sunday from 1:15-4:15. “One part hotly energized yoga class, one part fearless creative writing workshop, taking turns with each, blurring the edges of both. What will emerge? How will your voice change? Can a good backbend scandalize your boring syntax?” Oh yeah. Mark promises dynamic asana sequences interspersed with bursts of creative writing exercises, and the opportunity to fulfill the dream I didn’t know I had of showing up to yoga with a fully charged laptop …

Hello, It’s Me. The Writer’s Voice

A friend called last week to shoot the breeze. After we caught up, the conversation turned to our respective writing projects and he confided that he wished he were more literary.  This man is the author of several books and currently writes a thought-provoking column for a national newspaper. Yet with all his success, here he was expressing dissatisfaction with his writing voice at a fundamental level. I thought about his statement for a moment and tried it on to see how it felt. Did I wish my writing were more literary? In a word: nope. I’m no stranger to self-criticism. But when it comes to my writing voice, I feel solid. I felt even better after reading Delia Ephron’s mini-memoir, Sister Husband Mother Dog: (etc.) It was the first time I’d read anything by her and from the first paragraph, I was hooked. This wasn’t because her writing was particularly beautiful. In fact, her voice is similar to mine, only ten times more experienced and assured. Like Ephron, I often write one word sentences. …

On Becoming a Writer Who Writes

Until about a month ago, I was a writer who didn’t write. That may seem like a strange admission from someone who has made her living as a writer for the past 25 years, but it’s true in a fundamental way. Yes, I’ve edited thousands of articles and written a couple of hundred during my years at Time Inc., Worth and Working Mother magazines. I’ve created pages upon pages of content for dozens of websites and written countless pieces of marketing materials over the past couple of decades. But until recently, I never shared a real piece of myself with a reader. I rarely wrote about things that moved me at my core and even when I did, in my head, there was too much at stake to share those personal reflections. There are many, many writers in the writers-who-don’t-write club (you know who you are), some with a modicum of talent, some with an extraordinary amount. Whatever our skill level, we may as well have zero aptitude and not a thing to say if …

Day Job: Novelist, Former Network Exec Lindy DeKoven

Primetime Princess, Lindy DeKoven’s debut novel, centers on Alexa Ross, a female network executive trying to make it in a very male-dominated industry. If anyone would have the background to sink their teeth into this storyline, it would be DeKoven, who spent years as an executive at NBC Entertainment, Paramount/CBS and Walt Disney Television. At one point in her career, she was the only woman with the authority to green-light movies and miniseries. DeKoven has taken her experiences and twisted them into a Devil Wears Prada-esque story that is so enthralling you most likely won’t put the book down until you’re finished. On top of being an accomplished business woman and author, she has served as chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women. Previously, she served on the boards of Women in Film, the AFI Women’s Directing Workshop, and the Hollywood Radio & Television Society. What inspired you to write Primetime Princess? I wrote Primetime Princess because I had a story to tell. That subtext is about sexism in the workplace. I hope it’s …

My System: Gretchen Rubin on Her “Power Hour”

Who: Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. System:  At 6 a.m. Gretchen has a “power hour” of solitude and focus where she can write, catch up on emails, tweet, before her day “officially starts.” ”At 7 a.m. I have to get my children up, get them fed, get them to school. So, I have this precious early morning hour when everything is quiet and I don’t have any distractions. It’s just for me.” What prompted the idea? “I realized that our family mornings were hectic and unpleasant, because I was racing around trying to get too much accomplished at once. It finally dawned on me that if I got up an hour early, I’d be able to get a good start on my day.” Do you consider yourself a morning person?  ”I think some people are larks and some people are owls and you really have to know where you are. And so for an owl I don’t think that would work at all to get up early, to fight their nature. But …

When 750 Words Are Enough: A Q&A with Buster Benson (Part 2)

Here’s part II of my interview with Buster Benson. It is more than 750 words, thank you very much. (Here was Part 1)   How did you get started in the habit mapping concept? Does this track back to something you did as a kid? I would write in my journal every single day as a kid. It wasn’t until I graduated from college and learned how to build websites that I got more interested in [habit tracking] though. The first web-related habit I did was back in 2002 or 2003 called Moblogging — these days that’s just called taking photos with your phone. I’d take these 640×480 tiny little pictures but there was no site to really capture the photo so I built a service that would capture tag and add it to my blog. From there I started tracking my mood.  Along with the photo, I would add a +1 or -1 and that got pulled into my “morale-o-meter” which was supposed to check whether I was interacting with things that were uplifting my mood …

My System: I Think of My Ideal Reader

Who: David Cole, sleepoversf Job: Web designer. Makes Tumblr templates (like this one) System:  To create great stuff (for his blog, a design or a website), Cole imagines whether or not his favorite people or heroes would dig it. Simply, he envisions creating things for his ideal reader, and that’s his filter. When have you used this system? For this post on Sleepover SF, Cole wrote about clever containers and designed his post as a clever container. He says when he wrote it, he thought about people like San Francisco writer and “media inventor” Robin Sloan. Did he read it?  Yup. Check it out. Modeled system after: This talk that Merlin Mann and John Gruber delivered at South by Southwest 2009. Mann says, “Ask yourself, who do I want to delight?’ Can you think about one face behind your monitor that you see when you’re making something?… The truth is once you figure out who those faces are it gets a lot easier to make something you’re really, really proud of.” Mann, in turn, was inspired by Stephen King’s …