Apologies

I must apologise to those of you who read my post, Meet the Crew last week; I’m sorry I had a menopausal mental blip and put Emerson instead of Whitman as the author of ‘Song of Myself’ in the header quote. A dear friend pointed it out in an email. On a wordlover’s blog, it’s not just embarrassing but mortifying.

It happens every week now…the names Dawn and Gail, Fiona and Heather; in December it was kitchen and Christmas; on Friday it was Musketeers and Mohicans. Somewhere in my brain, they become lexically interlinked and sometimes, frighteningly – for a linguist – interchangeable.

I wonder if word brain cells can get used up? Over the years, I’ve been fluent  – lived – in several languages not my own and studied four others for school and university level exams; so many words for every thought, every stick of furniture, every change of the wind, emotion and morsel of food; so many songs, emotions and colours… the names of hundreds of students over the years. Songs learned by heart, poems and extracts for exams, coaching Proficiencies and Masteries, conjugations, declensions, plants and spices, a word-obsessed life that thrives on details and will choose squirm over wriggle for an embarrassed adult on a sofa…. The cracks are showing now, and words – whole memories – are slipping through, getting stuck in my brain’s filing cabinets, fouled up between brain and fingers, thought and voice. Cruel, really, that plummeting hormones can cause such crevasses, such crises and earthquakes of self.

Or maybe it’s hearing my ninety year old dad telling me the same stories over and over and over again, every day, every phone call, every visit, watching him fade like a photograph, pixel by pixel as he clings on to his dignity, his humour, his independence and sense of self… maybe it’s seeing his multitudes thin out, pack up and wander slowly home that’s frightening me more than Whitman and Emerson, my crippling perfectionism and my bouts of word loss.

Who would we be without the words that frame our thoughts? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

How to Write like Adam Lambert (revisited)

Sorry I haven’t been writing or visiting blogs for a while. The volcano in Iceland turned a spur of the moment week away into an expensive and traumatic travel saga! We were very lucky; hundreds of thousands of people were stranded further afield in much more difficult circumstances, but the two day journey across France, the English Channel, England and Scotland was exhausting and we’re still a bit disorientated from the effects of sleep deprivation. It’s chastening to remember that most of the planet’s inhabitants are this tired all of the time and never have the luxury of a holiday in the first place.

We did have a fantastic time on the actual holiday, though, and I hope to share some highlights with you, but posting will have to wait while I decimate dust bunnies and catch up on email, laundry and sleep…

In the meantime, for those of you who are enjoying my blog-birthday wanderings through the archives, here’s another post from my first month of blogging in April last year. It’s one of the best pieces of advice to blogwriters I’ve ever written. Coincidentally,  Adam Lambert was recently a mentor to this year’s hopefuls on American Idol, and he gave some excellent advice. He’s a consummate performer and his voice thrills me, really hits the spot.

See you soon. ~ Janice

 

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adam lambert

How to Write like Adam Lambert.

We watch American Idol every season, a small nuclear family sitting in a Scottish living room, eating pizza, my husband and I drinking wine, all of us enjoying not only the talent, but the stage-managed drama and entertainment of it all.  It cuts across the age gap and gives us common ground to discuss.

This year, Adam Lambert has been our favourite from the start. But here’s why he got me thinking about writing the other day.

Talent alone is not enough.

Millions of people want to sing or write,  to touch hearts with their voices. Millions would love to make masses of money from doing it, too.  But what makes some people stand out?

Adam Lambert started young, that’s clear to see, and I reckon he’s had the support of his loved ones since the moment he figured out what he was born to do. I loved when his dad pointed out, against a backdrop of childhood photos of Adam dressing up and performing, that he was never much into sports.

He’s not a new phenomenon. He’s put in hard graft, earning a living from delivering Broadway performances every night, week in, week out. Maybe he even failed a few auditions along the way and learned from those, too.

He’s honed his talent with hard work and determination, and has learned how to command a stage, create presence and connect with an audience.

He chose to go the American Idol route, confident that the time was right. Impeccable timing and choosing the right platform are crucial for all artists who want to take their work to a wider audience.

He came to the show, daring not only to be different, but to be himself and different. The hair, the earrings, the painted nails, they’re simply symbols that say I’m not afraid to be me.

And just when we were getting used to that, the hair got slicked back and the image changed, just to mix things up.

He’s been versatile, experimenting with a variety of styles yet always, always letting his unique brilliance shine through.

Sometimes understated, sometimes over the top entertaining. That clear, haunting, passionate voice, that core of self-belief and keen sense of what he wants to do, where he wants to go and who he wants to connect with – it comes out in everything he does.

My teenage daughter sings, writes and acts. Some Idol performances get her ranting or raving, others leave her indifferent.  But Adam Lambert’s performance of ‘Mad World’ – a song that she herself sings – stunned her, left us all transfixed.

We felt we’d had a glimpse of genius. The pain, the passion and the experiences he distilled into every syllable connected straight to that part of the soul where empathy lives. He made an already beautiful song his own. He made it an anthem.

He sang like a part of his very soul would die if he didn’t. I wish more people would aim to do that in their writing.

Some days I feel myself wanting to scream at fellow writers that it’s not all about the money, the fame and the glory. When you’re hard-working, passionate, driven to hone your talent, your gift, your life’s work, till it’s gem-bright and brilliant, the money follows.

Make people cry. Make them smile as they sit alone reading your words. Stun them into silence. Make them say Wow! with wide open eyes and gaping mouths. Don’t settle for mediocrity or pander to the people who pay. Be brilliant. Be yourself. Be your best self.

Some Insights on Editing…

In this post, from April 5th 2009, I explore what editing – and editors – mean to me,  as a wife, columnist and life coach. I also offer some tips on writing – and editing – with authenticity.

A Faithful Hand

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor to measure words but to pour them all out, just as it is, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keeping what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away. ~ George Eliot

driftwood-heart-wreath-These words smiled up at me when I first discovered them, slipped a hand in mine, waiting to be taken home and shared with my husband.

I rarely write about him; I often refer to him, and to incidents in our family life, but to write about my love for him would be to go too deeply for comfort into the depths of my own being. After decades of devotion, it would damage something precious to try and unpick and examine the threads of the tapestry our life has become. Sometimes, words don’t go far enough.

Imagine the holy place that speaks to your soul in sacred silence, the sun, the sky, the sea, the earth, the breath of inspiration beneath your wings, a parent’s unconditional love, a child’s smiling eyes full of unquestioning faith and devotion, the way your best friend feels like home. The precious details of your day that make you rejoice to be alive.  Anything that gives you a glimpse of God and can only be expressed in a prayer of gratitude.

That’ll give you some idea of how blessed I feel.

Is there anything or anyone you feel you can’t do justice to with words?

My favourite editor…

It’s no concidence that my husband is the first person I trust if I need the pre-submission draft of a longer piece checked. There are no ceilings when it comes to his belief in me. I could get a million negative comments from others, but as long as I liked a piece and he liked it, I wouldn’t wobble and crash.

He’s  more well read than I am, and devours books on every topic without prejudice. He has a sharp eye, a longing for clarity and an ear that appreciates writing that flows effortlessly, regardless of sentence length. He likes authenticity and originality, passion and purpose.

One thing he does hate is pretentiousness. To hear him say “It’s good. You write well.” makes me feel like I’ve come home, and if he doesn’t like a word or a phrase, I just say, OK, and go to work on changing it. No fuss, no pain, no ego.

My Child Writer…

I write now like I did when I was a child. I have no cruel inner critic when it comes to my writing. I get the same pleasure when I edit as I do when I’m spring cleaning, redecorating a room, gardening or packing essentials into the smallest bag possible, ready for the simple pleasures of a beach holiday. I edit my own work like a child joyfully knocking down sandcastles, knowing the sand and the sea will still be there tomorrow. And when a piece is done, my heart knows it like a child does when a colourful crayoned picture is finished and handed over, and a sweet voice says this is for you.

My problems begin when someone else wants to edit my work.

What I need from an editor…

I can only work with editors who have talent but no egos, people who are so comfy in their own skins that they don’t need to get any gratification or power trips from suggesting changes to another person’s work. I like editors who edit for the same reason I write – because they care, and would find it impossible not to.  Coaches want to see a person become the best they can be; good editors feel the same about a piece of writing.

But that’s where personal opinions make editing a minefield for me. In most cases, if you have an editor, it means they have the power to choose whether or not one of your pieces gets published. If your main aim is to be published, then you have to accept that they’ll be superimposing their own paradigm of “the best it can be” over your work, using their preferences and their criteria.

That’s OK if they love the bulk of your work, expect even more from you and agree with you about what you consider to be the best you’ve done so far.

What works for me…

I’ve had four editors in VOICE, the coaching newsletter I write for. Three have brought their coaching talents to editing, which has both raised my game and spoiled me for other editorial styles.

As editors, they’ve had important things in common: they share their praise and support easily, they have all accepted that I hate tracking, that I freak out if they write their own suggestions all over my work and that the first thing I need to have before I’ll start re-editing a piece  is their gut feeling about it. If they don’t love an article, it’s much, much easier for me to create a new one from scratch; I hate having to make so many changes to  a piece that it no longer feels like it’s mine. I’ve been lucky enough to receive a lot of editorial  emails beginning with “I love it! There are only one or two things I was wondering if you could maybe consider changing.”

The editor who ‘fired’ me, a coach whose own edgy, sarcastic writing I didn’t enjoy, loved writing her ‘improvements’ all over my pieces with tracking, but didn’t like lyricism, long pieces, Scottish spelling or me. One of my favourite pieces, Birdsong, was published intact because I’d got to the stage where I said to her “Take it or leave it but don’t dare change a comma or a word.”

My favourite editors have discovered how I operate best. They’ve learned that I will edit happily for days for the fun and the dialogue, but that I don’t respond well to blunt criticism of my work or changes I haven’t made myself; I react like a fiercely protective parent and the stunned, hurt child whose crayon drawing  has had red pen corrections scribbled all over it.

This is why I’ll probably never be able to be a copywriter, a ghost writer or a freelancer. I know this attitude may make me look like a primadonna, but please believe me, I’m not. I love hacking my drafts to bits and trying to polish them to perfection but I stop when it’s no longer fun or when I feel like I’m ripping the heart, authenticity and spontaneity out of a piece. I know all novelists and freelancers need good editors but I think a special kind of editing is necessary when the writing is deeply personal as well as creative self expression.

That’s why I would happily adhere to a blogger’s requests for me to change something in a commissioned guest post. As a blogger, you are your site’s creative parent; you’re reponsible for whatever goes out on your site, and I respect that.

Be your own editor…

  • Before you send a piece anywhere, be your own editor, your own supportive coach who asks good questions. Editing is writing, an inextricable part of it, so find your own metaphor for helping you love it. Imagine chipping away at a sculpture like Michaelangelo, trying to reveal the work of art you know is within. Imagine it’s like gardening, or packing a small suitcase for a holiday or spring cleaning your house from basement to attic. Before we pack or garden or declutter, we need to know why we’re doing it, and what we hope to reveal or achieve.
  • Who are you? Clean up your own personal stuff. The hidden you, the real you, will be revealed through your writing, whether you want it to happen or not. Is this a person you’re happy for the world to meet?  Ask What does this piece say about me? every time you write, even when the piece is based on the needs of your reader. Remember that everything you write on the internet will be visible for all time. Write something that your grandchildren won’t cringe at.
  • Ask yourself if your writing is a vehicle for passing on useful information or if visitors enjoy the experience of being with you and your work  as much as the information they take away. If it’s the latter, don’t be too quick to edit your quirks, personality and passions out of your presentation.
  • Learn where your own lines are drawn and how far you’re willing to cross them to have a piece appear in print. Integrity is priceless.
  • Imagine that everything you write forms part of your resumé. It’s OK to see proofreading as part of your editing, but fresh eyes and ears and leaving some time and space before proofreading  is vital. I find it helps to print a piece off then go through it with a pen, pretending that it’s not my work.
  • Be clear about who your reader is; honour the bond you create with each and every individual who takes the time to read your words.
  • Love and respect yourself with the same unconditional devotion you give your loved ones.  A piece of the divine universe is trying to recreate itself through you and your writing. Scrub up and let it shine through.

How do you feel about editing and being edited?

(This was supposed to be a birthday ‘card’ for my husband, a simple quote, but as often happens, something flooded in and overflowed. He didn’t mind, though…he’s my very own Colonel Brandon.

The  current  IAC VOICE editor is Linda Dessau, a writer, creativity coach and expert on music therapy. My previous VOICE editors were Angela Spaxman, IAC President and leadership coach, and Barbra Sundquist, a respected coach certification mentor coach.)