Last Day of FEARS Workshop

Today is the last day of my FEARS workshop.  Did you miss it?  No worries.  You can still check it out on the Forum.

You can continue to ask questions and I’ll ask them as they come through.

Hope to see you there,


Happy New Year! What’s new in the Garden?


Happy New Year, Gardeners!  It’s a great time to be in the Writer Zen Garden.

Inside this blog:

  1. Prompt Circles are back – next one is Jan 21st from 2-4 at Open Books
  2. Walking In This World online workshop, Jan 22nd through April 22nd
  3. F.E.A.R.S. Workshop – Finish, Edit, Analyze, Research and Submit, Feb 5th to Mar 4th
  4. Dialog – Who Says What To Whom, March 12th to March 25th
  5. A to Z Blog Challenge is coming in April
  6. Camp NaNoWriMo is coming in April

Check it out:

The Prompt Circles are back!  After a longer than expected hiatus, we’re excited to report that we are ready to start these up again.  Our venue is Open Books, an awesome place centrally located downtown near parking, transit, Metra, and those blue bicycle things.  Not that you’d want to bike in the dead of winter, but hey.  They’re there if you want ’em.  It’s on Saturday, January 21st from 2-4.

We have several online offerings, all of which are free but require a membership on the forum.  How do you get to the forum, you ask?  Visit here!

Did you know that the Writer Zen Garden has a calendar?  If you prefer getting your information visually, click over to Our Calendar and check it out.

On the Artist’s Way track: Walking In This World.  This is a 13-week workshop running from Sunday, Jan 22nd, through Saturday, April 22nd.  You will need a copy of the book by Julia Cameron, Walking In This World, which is available from your favorite bookseller or public library.  This is a participant-led workshop facilitated by A. Catherine Noon; if you’d like to lead a week’s discussion, please let me know.

The workshop will be conducted online through website; you will need a user account to participate. There is no cost to join.

On the Author track: F.E.A.R.S. Online Workshop – Finish, Edit, Analyze, Research, and Submit.  Join author Tina Holland for her popular F.E.A.R.S. workshop, where she will help you Finish your manuscript, Edit it, Analyze it for its best fit in the marketplace, Research homes for it – traditional publishing? digital-first/small press? indie? blog?, and Submit.

It will run for four weeks starting Sunday, February 5th and concluding Saturday, March 4th.

Tina is past President of RWA Online Chapter #136 and author of ten romance novels. She is a sought-after speaker at regional writing conferences and a founding Board Member of Writer Zen Garden. We are super stoked to have her present for us and for her to offer her popular workshop for free to WZG members.

You need to be a member of the Writer Zen Garden online forum.  Membership is free.

For more information about Tina Holland, please visit her website. While you’re there, check out her popular author interview series (and authors, sign up to be interviewed!).

On the Writer track:  Online workshop – Dialog, Who Says What to Whom, March 12th through March 25th.

Join A. Catherine Noon and Tina Holland for a free online two-week workshop on dialog. We will have examples, discuss proper punctuation, (where DOES that pesky comma go? or is it a period?), and have lots and lots of practice exercises. Think of it as the March boot camp to get in shape for April’s Camp NaNoWriMo and the A to Z Blog Challenge.

You will need a free account on the Writer Zen Garden Forum.

April is a busy month in the Garden: We have not one but TWO web-based events for you.

April is the month for the international A to Z Blog Challenge! Find out more, and sign up on the main website.

We’re looking for Writer Zen Gardeners to participate on our blog this year, so if you’re interested, please contact your organizers A. Catherine Noon or Tina Holland.

Also, April is Camp NaNoWriMo!  From the folks that bring you National Novel Writing Month in November comes a fun event called Camp NaNoWriMo. You can set your own word count goal; it doesn’t have to be the full 50,000 like in November. Participants are arranged in cabins for mutual support and encouragement.

Find out more, and sign up, at the website.

If you haven’t joined the discussion on Facebook, you’re missing out.  Click over to the Writer Zen Garden Facebook Group and check it out.

Writer Wednesday – The Dangers of the Echo Chamber and Why Handwriting Is Important


We are surrounded more and more by media – social media, augmented reality games, television commercials at gas stations; the list goes on.  I’m the first to admit that the internet can bring people together – I am, after all, writing this on  blog I started with some friends, all of whom are geographically scattered.

But I have noticed the echo chamber can have an unhealthy effect.  Psychologists call behavior that pushes against another person “impinging,” and it’s my belief that, if we’re not careful about our inflow, that can happen.  I noticed, for example, that when I had Facebook on my phone, the constant dings or buzzes of incoming alerts would break my train of thought.  As I checked in, I would get drawn into whatever was trending:  racist politics, cop shootings, and cats.  Lots of cats.

I don’t mind cats.  I like them, as it happiness.  But I’m a novelist, and the first casualty in the war for attention is sustained train of thought.

As a social experiment, I took Facebook off my phone.  My daily round got calmer.  I stopped drinking as much coffee and focused more on my journal.  I noticed a couple of things:

  1. Writing by hand disciplines my mind to hold a train of thought, since I don’t write as fast as I think.
  2. It felt like I woke up from a collective hallucination.  I don’t need strangers’ opinions in my daily round.
  3. I started writing more – always good news for a novelist.
  4. I started thinking more deeply about issues like politics, body image, feminism, and philosophy.

This Writer Wednesday, I invite you to try it:  turn off the inflow and let your own thoughts loose on the page.  Nanowrimo’s coming.  Let’s be ready.

Write on!

Darla’s Writer Wednesday – Inspiration

Dear friend and gifted writer Nicole Gordon once gifted me an inspirational book. It’s called “Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing” and offers all sorts of open-ended writing experiments, encouragement from writers and poets, and enough blank pages to let your words roam.

That’s taken from the cover, by the way, and fittingly descriptive. Karen Benke and company clearly wish to instill a love of words in children, a worthy endeavor, while also entertaining this adult with some very clever suggestions.

One involves quirky phrases which Ms. Benke suggests we cut apart and put into a little container. Then, when a writer wants something to get creative juices flowing, he or she simply pulls out a slip.

So that’s what I did today. My phrase ended up being “It’s like a slow collapse of words”. That curious imagery resulted in a bittersweet ficlet to be posted on my Darla M. Sands blog.

What inspires you? I’d enjoy reading your suggestions in the comments.

Whatever fires your creativity, I hope you build a bonfire. Happy writing!

The Writer Zen Garden – Tools From A to Zen: Reflections on the A-Z Challenge

2016-05-09 A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

Wow.  It’s hard to believe it’s already well into the second week of May already.  It feels like it should still be April.  Or, if I’m being honest, January.

Of 2010.

But I digress.

We all know that time seems to whizz by.  No sooner do we put away the holiday decorations and it’s time to take them out again.  So, too, for writing groups.  I’ve noticed small groups tend to wax and wane, some succeeding and thriving, others burning brightly for a short time and then fizzling.  There’s an old adage about groups, that they have several phases:  “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.”  It’s an idea that a guy by the name of Bruce Tuckman proposed way back in 1965 and it’s still true today.  Some folks add “Adjourning” at the end, to signify that not all groups survive through the performing state to continue.

That’s why I’m so pleased about Writer Zen Garden.  The group as it is today is the merging of two different groups; the original Writer’s Retreat that started in March of 2008, and the local Meetup group and international online forum of Writer Zen Garden.  We’re still going, and we launched this new website, where you’re reading this post, in March of 2016.

One reason I keep coming back to the A to Z Blog Challenge, is that I find it pulls the team together.  Even if we’ve slacked off from posting on the blog, by doing the challenge, we come together as a group and gather ideas and write.  Since on of the central missions of the Writer Zen Garden is to Help Writers Get On the Page, this is all to the good, as far as I’m concerned.  Next year, we might even come up with a joint theme ahead of time – we’re still noodling ideas for what to post for this year, so it’s definitely a work in progress.

I want to thank you, Dear Reader, for visiting us and leaving comments for the various authors of the Garden.  We sure appreciate your interaction.  We invite you to join the discussion in other ways, if you’ve a mind; we have a Facebook group; a live in-person Meetup group in Chicago, if you’re in the area;  a Twitter stream; and an international writers forum.  We’re glad you’re here!

Write on!

The Writer Zen Garden Facebook Group

The Chicago Area Meetup



*Note: if you’re interested in joining the forum, please let me know in the comments or PM me on Facebook, and I’ll reach out to you by email.

For your reading pleasure, here are the posts for the challenge:

The Writer Zen Garden, From A To Zen

A:  A is for Artist’s Way…, by Tina Holland

B:  B is for Blogging!, by Darla Sands

C:  “C” is for Crayon, by Evey Brown

D: D is for Day Dreaming, by Grace Kahlo

E:  E is for Emergency, by Rachel Wilder

F:  The F Word, by A. Catherine Noon

G:  G is for Goals, by Tina Holland

H:  H is for Hens, by Darla Sands

I:  Is It Inspiration, Invention or Insight? or, Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas?, by Evey Brown

J:  J Is For Just in Case, by Rachel Wilder

K:  K Is For Using Krav Maga To Kick the Inner Evil Critique Away, by Grace Kahlo

L:  For the Love of a Library, by A. Catherine Noon

M:  M is for Man-titty, by Tina Holland

N:  N is for Nice Girls Writing Naughty, by Darla Sands

O:  Things My Grandpa Taught Me – O for Orion, by Evey Brown

P:  P Is For Prepper, by Rachel Wilder

Q:  Q is for Writing Quotes, by Grace Kahlo

R:  Whoops! R Is For I Gotta wRite Something Quick!, by A. Catherine Noon

S:  S is for Sex Scenes and Story, by Tina Holland

T:  T is for Tastiness, by Darla Sands

U:  How to Create an Oral History for your Family; or Unforgettable and Unfortunate Things my Kids have Done, by Evey Brown

V:  V is for Viking Swords & Fantasy World-Building, by Grace Kahlo

W:  W is for Why Do I Prep?, by Rachel Wilder

X:  An Alternative to Xanax, by A. Catherine Noon

Y:  Y is for Yoga, by Tina Holland

Z:  Zen, by A. Catherine Noon

Thank you for joining us for the A-Z Blog Challenge.  If you’re blogging in the challenge, please leave us a link so I can come visit you too.  If you have a moment, please check out these other fine blogs:

The theme on my main blog, Explore the Worlds of A. Catherine Noon, is The A To Z of the Zoo.  Join me as I explore Brookfield Zoo and finds animals, birds, and insects from A to Z.

My theme on my Knoontime Knitting craft blog is Letterforms In Nature and the Built Environment.

The theme at Noon & Wilder is The A To Z of Chicago.  Since I live here in the city and we have our Chicagoland Shifters based here, I figured I’d share a window into the city, Noon & Wilder style.

The Nice Girls Writing Naughty have a new home, and we’re blogging in the challenge again this year.  Throughout the month you’ll be hearing from each of the Nice Girls, and during the RT Booklovers Convention from April 12th to the 17th, you’ll be getting live convention reports.  Join the conversation!


2016-04-30 Pic 1

End mind, beginner’s mind?  We’re at the end of our challenge for this month, the April A to Z Blog Challenge.  Six of the WZG crew participated this month, and we’ve brought you all sorts of content from, well, A to Zen.  Thank you for coming along on this journey with us.

Why Zen?  Why Writer Zen Garden?

zen garden symplicity and harmony form a background for meditation and relaxation, for balance and health

One of the central ideas of Zen Buddhism is to be in the now.  By being fully in the moment, we let go anger about the past and fears about the future, and truly live as we are meant to live.  The Zen rock gardens, like the one pictured above, are a visual representation of what being in the flow, or the now, looks like.  The rock is seen as a metaphorical obstacle, something we must acknowledge and move around.  It causes eddies in our energy, which is represented by the flowing lines in the sand.  The more we make peace with that, the more smooth our metaphorical sand becomes and we are at peace.

Writing is a little like that.  When we talk about writing, we aren’t being fully in the moment and writing.  We’re not existing in the now.  By learning to sit down and apply the pen to the page or the fingers to the keyboard, we teach ourselves how to get into the flow and to produce.  It’s a lesson we must consistently relearn, which is reminiscent of the quote, “Zen mind, beginner’s mind.”  Author Natalie Goldberg, who wrote, among other things, Writing Down the Bones, relates a story of speaking with her meditation master.  She lamented that she was spending all her time writing, and not meditating.  He told her to keep writing, that her writing was meditating.

When I decided to start Writer Zen Garden, I wanted a name that embodied this idea of being in the moment while writing.  It seemed natural to include Garden, because we are all growing, and we are all living beings.  Connecting the three ideas of writing, Zen, and gardening made sense to me.

However you found us, I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay here.  There are additional resources in the top menu navbar, and we blog regularly.  Hope to see you again!

Remember, May 9th is the A to Z Reflections Post Day, and the Linky List is open from May 9 to May 13.  Keep an eye on the main A to Z Blog Challenge page for more info and updates, and of course come back here on the 9th for our reflections on our collective experience.  We do regular Writer Wednesday features here and will be coming up with some other regular features, so keep your eyes peeled.  And if you’re a blogger, and interested in contributing, please let us know in the comments.

Thank you for joining us for the A-Z Blog Challenge.  If you’re blogging in the challenge, please leave us a link so I can come visit you too.  If you have a moment, please check out these other fine blogs:


The theme on my main blog, Explore the Worlds of A. Catherine Noon, is The A To Z of the Zoo.  Join me as I explore Brookfield Zoo and finds animals, birds, and insects from A to Z.

My theme on my Knoontime Knitting craft blog is Letterforms In Nature and the Built Environment.

The theme at Noon & Wilder is The A To Z of Chicago.  Since I live here in the city and we have our Chicagoland Shifters based here, I figured I’d share a window into the city, Noon & Wilder style.

The Nice Girls Writing Naughty have a new home, and we’re blogging in the challenge again this year.  Throughout the month you’ll be hearing from each of the Nice Girls, and during the RT Booklovers Convention from April 12th to the 17th, you’ll be getting live convention reports.  Join the conversation!

The Writer Zen Garden’s brand new website is up and running, and we’re bringing you posts from me, Noony; my partner in crime, Rachel Wilder (the Wilder half of Noon & Wilder); the talented Darla M. Sands – a blogger in her own right, see below; as well as Grace Kahlo, Evey Brown, and author Tina Holland.  Check it out!

My friends who are participating in the challenge (and if you’re not on this list, tell me and I’ll add you!):

Write on, and Happy Blogging!



Y is for Yoga

YogaSome of the benefits of Yoga are:

  • Increased flexibility.
  • Increased muscle strength and tone.
  • Improved respiration, energy and vitality.
  • Maintaining balance.
  • Weight reduction.
  • Cardio and circulatory health.
  • Improved athletic performance.
  • Protection from injury

While I love Yoga…I really do, in this instance I’m using it as a metaphor for writing. Now how can you apply these wonderful benefits to your writing.

Increased Flexibility – Whether you are trying to finish a book or trying to find a home for a manuscript.  Its important to be flexible.  Life interrupts the writing process.  Sometimes your dream publisher doesn’t accept your manuscript.  It is important to be flexible, remember the important thing is to try again, to be stronger and not break.

Increased Muscle, strength and tone – Have you heard the phrase “Use it or Lose it”?  Writing frequently, dare I say daily, increases your muscles.  If you type on a keyboard, you will type faster due to muscle memory.  If your write daily in a journal, or on a manuscript, poetry, etc., your process is strengthened,  and the tone of your work improved.

Improved Respiration, energy and vitality – Just Breathe.  When you are blocked or your just not feeling it, take a break; A breath if you will, and work on another creative project.  Often times when I “scrapbook” or when I’m cooking, I get ideas for my story.  Writing without other creative outlets can drain your energy.  You need to fill your creative mind.  This will give you vitality, and passion for all your creative works.

Maintaining Balance – As with all things in life, writing is also a balancing act.  When you are an Aspiring Writer, you are balancing work, writing, and whatever life throws at  you.  These same things apply when your are published as well, and then you get to add in promotions, book signings, blog tours, etc.  It’s important to try and balance to the best of your abilities, and what is important to you.  I still work full time so my priorities are Family, Work, Writing.  I know, writing is in there last, but it is where it fits today in my life and I still manage to find balance.

Weight Reduction – Okay writing won’t make you thinner.   But you may need to think about making your book thinner before sending off for publication. 🙂  Basically, “Cut the Fat”.  You want your book to be a lean, mean, selling machine.   Not to say you should write short stories, but make sure your 155,000 word novel doesn’t have redundancies in it.  Be sure you are using strong vs. passive language, and it is the very best it can be before you publish.

Cardio and circulatory health – Go with the flow.  When life throws you an obstacle, handle it and then get back on track.  In my opinion – not all writers can deal with life crisis and write.   I’m one of those writers…life’s challenges often derail my writing.  However, some authors excel at it – Using their writing as a tool to deal with life’s issues, or utlizing it as a means of escape.  Whatever writer you are – Go with the flow.  There is no right or wrong answer to how, or when you write.

Improved athletic performance – Over time all writers seems to innately learn things about craft, genre, editing, publishing, and other business items.   Not all writers will be good at all things, and some writers can zero in on one thing.   We learn to spot passive voice, or what genre a book falls into.  We can craft perfect prose, or create a list of potential publishers with ease.  What we don’t know, we learn from others.  The point is…we improve over time and not just at putting words on a page. We become literary athletes and excel in our performance of specific tasks.

Protection from Injury – Remember that rejection letter, horrible review or jealous writer who made it personal?    Writing doesn’t protect you from these initial injuries,  but writing groups and fellow authors often support those who fall down.  I belong to three groups, and all are very supportive.  RWA – Romance Writer’s of America Online Chapter, F-M Word Weavers – A local writing group and this group Writer Zen Garden.  For any of my rejection letters, bad reviews or other slight I may have felt, there was a support group for me.  They helped heal my wounds, cherish my soul and free my creative spirit to move past the hurt.

Yep, I love Yoga, I think I’ll go do some poses to get some of the benefits.





An Alternative to Xanax

2016-04-28 Pic 1

Writing can serve as a path to the self.  In troubled or stressful times, we need this more than anything, but our society’s advice is to avoid the problem – take a pill, a powder, and do anything but face it head on.  As news of Prince’s death trickles out, and his possible addiction to prescription medication, it’s become even more apparent to me that we are a nation addicted to drugs – legal and prescription drugs are just as bad, in some cases, as the street variety.  There were over 25,000 deaths from prescription medications in 2014 alone, according to Drug (1).

I am not a doctor.  I’m aware that if someone requires medication for their life, then by all means, take it.  But there are alternatives that we can use to supplement medications and, in some cases, supplant them.  For me, writing has provided some of the best psychological assistance in dealing with childhood trauma that I have found in my arsenal.  So, too, has qualified psychological care by a licensed provider; exercise; and a steady, healthy diet.  But it’s writing that I wanted to talk about today.

When we write, we begin a dialog with ourselves in a way that we cannot in other mediums.  And by “write,” I mean literally putting pen to paper.  Studies have shown we access different parts of the brain when we handwrite vs. use a keyboard, and some theorize that using a keyboard is “cross-hemispheric,” meaning using both sides of the brain simultaneously, and therefore is fundamentally different than using just one side of the brain by using the right or left hand to write.

I have kept up a pretty constant journal since about 1986, and in bits and pieces before that.  It’s safe to say I’ve written all my life.  I wrote my first story at the age of nine.  But I didn’t truly encounter my own story, for myself and by myself, until after forty.  This is not uncommon, I’m told, for child abuse survivors, because our stories are coopted by our abusers.  In my case, family complicity and tolerance compounded the problem, because if I tried to speak about what was happening, I was punished for being “mean,” or told that I didn’t understand how much my parents loved me and how hard they worked for me.  And when it came time to talk about me and the family, the narrative was always the same.

In journaling, though, I gradually began to hear glimmers of truth from myself.  I’d seen them my whole life, but was scared of them.  This, too, is common to trauma survivors.  Sometimes the truth is too terrifying to admit, too terrifying to even speak much less write.  But as I began to tell my own story, and to realize the official story was a lie, an interesting thing started to happen:  my PTSD symptoms lessened.  PTSD doesn’t go away entirely, not ever; it fundamentally changes the person who has it.  But we can learn to cope with it, and to develop mechanisms that help us to minimize stress and normalize our daily round.  For me, writing served as a gateway to that new self.

What startled me was the fact I was terrified of this new self.  I’m told this, too, is normal among trauma survivors.  We’re taught that our selves are scary, bad, or any of a number of other things; none of which are accurate but to a child’s mind, they take on the weight of Truth.  We learn to internalize this abuse and become self-abusers as we become adults, perpetuating what was done to us as children.  Journaling serves as a kind of mirror for this behavior, allowing us to peel away those layers and to reveal the self within.  In my case, that process has taken forty years.  I’m not done yet.  But what I’ve learned is this:

Keep writing.  Trust the words.  Trust time.  Tell your truth, if to no one else than yourself.  Write what you See.  Story is God.

Write on.



“Overdose Death Rates,” National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse; December 2015, from the following link, accessed 04/28/2016.

Your Life As Story, Tristine Rainer

The New Diary, Tristine Rainer

Life’s Companion:  Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest, Christina Baldwin

What It Is, Lynda Barry

W is for Why Do I Prep?

I grew up in Florida. On the coastline. Not sure If I really need to say more. I loved storms, watching the clouds roll over the waves and the lighting dance and crack in the sky. But then, I was a kid. I also remember my parents being a lot more worried about tropical storms. Especially ones that grew into Hurricanes and got to be named.

2016-04-27 W pic 1

Now I grew up in the years before we had males names and I know that dates me, but boy were those hurricanes real bitches. I would sit on the floor in front of the television and watch the weather forecast with my siblings on each side of me.

2016-04-27 W pic 2

I distinctly remember at least three times we had to evacuate further inland. We would have to get our backpacks that we used for camping. It was always half full, some camping supplies wrapped in a drysack sitting in the bottom. I thought my parent didn’t want to empty it and lose anything. Now I realize that probably held stuff more important than my polka dotted pajamas and favorite teddy. Mom had a big blue Rubbermaid tote with food that she’d take with us. Dad would have a tan plastic file box he’d carry as well. We never had to go to a public shelter, but a friend’s ranch so it was always an adventure.

We were lucky and never got caught in one or lost our home. Many couldn’t claim the same. So yes I prep and watch the weather and worry a bit like my parents did. I guess that’s all part of growing up.

2016-04-27 W pic 3