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 thewww.writerzengarden.com/forums 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.

D is for Day Dreaming

D is for Day Dreaming

My favorite pastime in the world is day dreaming. I love it! No matter where I am, with whom, and despite what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m always day dreaming. It’s like magic…best during dedicated slots of time when I can day dream without any interruptions. 🙂

For an ADD girl, day dreaming is part of my nature, but it doesn’t mean that I always have it easy. I need to let go in order to tune into the world of inspiration and listen. Walks help me on days when I feel as removed from inspiration as my dog, Dobbi (named after the cute house elf from Harry Potter) from having the common sense not to snack from the cat’s litter box.

A head full of fears has no space for dreamsThe other day I returned home after work with so many things crowding my brain, my temples throbbed. So instead of answering the call of comfort food and TV, I took Julia Cameron’s advice and stormed out with Dobbi by my side.

It’s hard, at first, to let go and clear my head of all the messy clutter. But with every step I take, I feel lighter, as if I left some of the burdens down on the floor…and on some I even stomped. Then, at some point, without noticing, I forget all of the tasks and burdens and start being in the moment. I notice the things around me, and as I look, I’m rewarded with day dreams and inspiration.

Suddenly, birds chirping, cars honking, construction workers drilling…aren’t an annoying noise anymore. I hear music. The wind rustles tree branches, and I see them dancing along with the tune. I see the world with layers of imagination. Trees have faces, splatters of mold on the wall have fantasy creature’s shapes. Dust twinkles under a ray of sun and transforms into a fairy. And all of this, everything around me, the silliest things, really—it all turns into inspiration for my stories.

I often wonder what other people see and hear. Do you see regular trees with regular branches? Do you hear construction drills? Cars driving by? What do you see when you look at a tree leaf? Maybe it’s in the shape of a heart? Is it big enough to hold a fairy? Do you even take the time to look at the things around you? If not, please try, because maybe you’ll discover new worlds, new mysteries to explore…right here next to you in the puddle of mud that would have ruined your new shoes if you hadn’t noticed it. As you move toward a dream, the dream moves toward you

There’s a kind of magic in taking a first look at the things around you, and a gift in making the time to take a second look. It’s in the second look that I usually get lost in a day dream. Don’t get distracted by where you need to be or where you’d rather go. That’s too easy. Let what’s around you, or what’s stuck in your path, lead you through a different twist in the road. The world around us is the biggest art gallery ever made, just waiting to be explored. There’s no need to chase inspiration. It’s right here next to you, waiting to be noticed.

Have fun day dreaming.

And if you need help getting into a walking routine, check out Julia Cameron’s Finding Water. All of my walking poetics are inspired by her awesome book!

Just Do the Next Right Thing

I have shamelessly borrowed today’s blog post idea from Corinne Rodrigues. She quoted my blog’s title from a book by Matthew Kelly while I, interestingly, first heard the advice from Julia Cameron.

Just do the next right thing. Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? And therein lies the beauty.

We can easily bog ourselves down with overly ambitious goals. They often pile on the emotional weight until the whole thing collapses like a house of cards with us smothering underneath.

What can we do when an impossible deadline looms or the in-laws are due to arrive soon and the house is a mess? The next right thing. Maybe it’s asking for an extension from our editor with a realistic and reasonable alternative date. Or you should perhaps shut off the social media, get out of those pajamas, and hang up the jackets piled in your entryway.

Then do the next right thing even if it’s only for the next fifteen minutes. It’s amazing what can be achieved in that amount of time. Now reward yourself. Have a cup of tea and pet the dog or the cat or, heck, watch your aquarium fish for a spell. After a fifteen minute breather, dig back into the writing, the cleaning, or whatever else needs doing.

On that note, I need to head to the gym. After that, I’ll work toward my day’s novel writing objective. The key is to take it all in bite-sized chunks.

So, what’s your goal for the day?

Alan Watt’s “The 90 Day Novel”

I’ve been fortunate to have a warm, safe place to share both my writing successes and frustrations in The Writer Zen Garden forum. And now my friends there have welcomed me to host a workshop based on Alan Watt’s “The 90 Day Novel”.

A local writer introduced me to the idea. I resisted at first, not wanting anyone telling me what and when to write. That’s how I initially saw this process despite her enthusiasm.

Now, I feel totally different.

The fact Mr. Watt quoted Julia Cameron near the very beginning of his book decided me that this is the right time for me to embark on such a quest. Alan Watt truly shares Ms. Cameron’s gentle approach to getting folks creatively working. Granted, he wants his students writing two hours a day minimum, but I feel comfortable with “The Artist’s Way” approach of just doing what I can.

We shall see how I fare as the next three months come to a close. Right now, it’s getting me on the page daily. And that alone is worth the price of the book.

Is there anything getting your creative juices flowing these days? Please tell us in the comments.

Darla’s Path to Enlightenment – Another Small Step

Traditional Chinese dance, instrumentation, costumes, and storytelling all fascinate me. This attraction is one of my earliest memories. As a very small child I actually snuck into my mother’s bedroom and borrowed her Mandarin collared satin pajama top. Too short for the sleep pants, I eschewed them for the look of a Cheongsam style dress.
(Not that I knew that word then, mind you. Nonetheless, my family still recalls their amusement upon seeing my fashionista strut, long sleeves bunched at the elbows so my little hands were not engulfed.)
Decades after that incident, the Shen Yun Performing Arts touring company began visiting my part of the United States each winter. Formed in 2006, their group and solo presentations comprise twenty vignettes over some two and a half hours. The posters alone capture my imagination.
But in the past I could not justify spending the money. Then an idea struck. My birthday celebration traditionally involves a rather expensive gourmet meal. Why not invest in something much more enriching? So instead of anticipating an overpriced meal, I possess two balcony seat tickets for the 2015 production.
This seemed worth sharing as I cannot help thinking of Julia Cameron’s “Artist’s Way” sensibilities. As Ms. Cameron might say, this cultural extravaganza will surely refill my artistic well.
Of course, a little research seemed in order. And some quick findings shocked me. Please forgive this downturn, but I already knew Shen Yun does not perform in mainland China. Additionally, the Chinese government has attempted show cancellations via political pressure. Chinese diplomats even lobby Western elected officials to shun what they term propaganda intended to smear China’s image.
Further reading led me even further down the proverbial rabbit hole. Apparently Shen Yun founders adhere to the spiritual discipline Falun Gong, which literally translates as “Dharma Wheel Practice”. Main focuses center upon morality and virtue. Elements include a mixture from the Buddhist school of thought and Taoist tradition. All this stirred my interest, even my very soul.
Yet the Communist Party of China persecutes these cultivators. How could anyone oppose truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance? Well, the answer is anyone who believes religious tenets and independence from the state threaten the party line. Reading the reported human rights abuses against uncounted practitioners raised the hair on the back of my neck.
I sometimes miss being that naïve little girl playing dress up.
That said, learning all this only makes me more intrigued about the upcoming show. However fervent any sponsoring Falun Dafa Association may be, I do not anticipate some pushy (or even subtle) sort of recruitment before, during, or after the program. At the same time I’m curious if a regional association does exist.
Quite frankly, I think meditative movements such as the Falun Gong adherents employ are greatly beneficial to both body and mind even without deep spiritual exploration. To my chagrin, I must now admit total reluctance to abandon human desires. Sexy stories are my favored artistic outlet, after all.
I can certainly respect those willing to rise above earthly attachments they perceive detrimental. In the meantime there exist more elementary outlets through which to explore qigong exercises. Most importantly, I find myself grateful yet again for the incredible freedoms into which this humble soul was born.
Now that you’ve learned my latest revelation, what recent internet research most surprised you?

Darla’s NaNoWriMo Update

Now that National Novel Writing Month has begun, I’m really finding my stride.
No, I’m not a horse.  ~rolls eyes~  But I am writing.  My word count is in a range I haven’t produced since last November.  Quite frankly, NaNo inspires me.
And inspiration is what I’d like to spread today.  I read a terrific pep talk on the NaNoWriMo website.  Author Chuck Wendig shared ideas very much like Julia Cameron with her creative workshops.  He essentially encourages writers to let loose their creative inner child.  Here is his amusing and perceptive insight garnered from observing his own toddler:
“…He’ll grab a Transformers toy and half-transform it into some lumbering robot-car monstrosity—and when an adult might say, “No, no, it’s like this or it’s like that; it’s a robot or it’s a car,” he’s like, “Uh, yeah, no. Go back to your tax forms and your HGTV, stupid adult, I’ve just created a Frankencarbot and you can go hide your head in the sand-swept banality of grown-up life, sucker.”
I’m all for creating a Frankencarbot.  What about you?  Has the NaNo bug bitten this fall?

Darla’s Day of Synchronicity

The Bisque on my Wishlist
Today I visited a pottery painting studio, wanting to do something relaxing yet creative. It fit in perfectly as an artist’s date for the Julia Cameron “Walking in This World” workshop in which I’m participating. Also, it wouldn’t cost a lot.

I ended up painting two discounted Halloween pieces. As I relaxed over my projects, the shopkeeper unpacked her Christmas collection. She just happened to be doing that earlier than usual because an empty storefront serving as her rent-free storage has been leased.

No big deal so far, right?

Well, she started wondering aloud how she would ever have time to paint samples.  Then she asked if I would be interested in painting one for her.

“Sure!” I exclaimed, having debated making the suggestion myself.

Then things get even more interesting.

“You said you have cats, right?”


So she hands me a cat shaped ornament. Though she has seen me add extensive detail to my paintings, she chose this one because of its simple design.  That way, she explained, I need not spend a lot of time. The next thing I knew, I was modeling the design upon my cat Luna who passed away on August 5th. I even included her name.

The gal praised my effort, which I considered diplomacy by a benevolent businessperson. Then, to my surprise, she offered to give me the ornament after the season is over. In retrospect I suppose my personalization had something to do with that.

But still, how cool is that?

When I pick up my purchased pottery, I may offer to paint another sample or two, making clear I don’t expect to be gifted every piece. It would just be a fun way to create without doling out cash.

In addition, if I decide to buy the big special order bisque monster pictured above, my technique will be that much better. We shall see.  It’s a pricey item.

Anyway, the universe was really good to me today. I’ll have to remember to take my camera and photograph Luna’s ornament next week after it’s been glazed and fired.

Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo

Wow!  Is it really October eighth?  In another month we’ll be through the first week of National Novel Writing Month.
I’m attempting to stoke the artistic fire with activities like those mentioned in my previous post.  Likewise, I’ve joined a “Walking in this World” workshop.  There is a great group of folks delving into this Julia Cameron book together, so I’m excited about everyone’s potential.
Meanwhile, I have no firm idea what I’ll write for NaNoWriMo, but I am writing.  A little travel (for pure pleasure – good times!) seemed to boost my moral and give new perspective, kicking off this creativity.  In fact, yesterday was the first day I haven’t produced at least a few hundred words of fiction since returning home.
My WIP is actually a rewrite.  I felt the finished but un-submitted manuscript deserved a fresh take.  Maybe, come November, I’ll just keep going on it and count toward that 50,000 word count goal starting with whatever hits the page on the first.
What about you?  I hope you’ll join in the NaNoWriMo challenge.

Pictures and Pottery

Today, I had some ridiculous fun.  Hopefully, as “Artist’s Way” author Julian Cameron suggests, the activity will refill my artistic well.
My adventure started with a visit to my favorite art framer.  All-around gifted, this photographer is working with me to recreate some damaged wedding photos.  I usually bring him something more eclectic, but I feel certain he and his wife will help me create something unique from my cheaply framed ruins.
After leaving his studio, I visited a pottery store.  There I picked a paint-able piece with a reasonable, all-inclusive price.  Alone on a rainy afternoon, just as I like it, I had my pick of paints and tools.
What a blast!  A week from now, I anticipate picking up my zombie candy dish.  Flaws and all, the fired and glazed piece should be a cute addition to my extensive Halloween collection.
Anything fun taking your interest these days?  I’d enjoy reading what you’re up to.

Writer Wednesday – Our Artistic Inner Child

In her multiple books and workshops, Julia Cameron repeatedly affirms that artists must let themselves play.  Her logic?  Our creative selves are much like children.  Her various interpretations make a great deal of sense to me, especially considering how modern Western civilization discourages both artistic endeavor and play in its adults.
Grown-ups are dissuaded from doing things considered silly or worthless, which is how many people would define play.  The message is that we shouldn’t be goofing off, or doing much of anything society doesn’t find redeeming.  This usually equals monetary gain, though I think anything dubbed as social networking has become acceptable, however mind numbing are some of those Facebook games.
Personally, I think doodling in a notebook is redeeming.  So is writing a poem or reimagining characters from a book.  Quite literally, play is a form of redemption, its many glorious forms saving sanity and giving this short existence value.  Whether making something with my own two hands or enjoying what others have created, these things improve my perception and very quality of life.
I’m not saying anything new or profound here.  But today I perused “The Artist’s Way” to read quotes set in the page margins and one in particular stood out.  None other than Pablo Picasso supports these views.
In his words:
Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
I couldn’t agree more.  Will you join me in some creative fun?  How might you let yourself play this week?