Category Archives: Writing

Are you making a resolution to write?

Since I published my first novel, several people have told me they’d also like to publish a novel or memoir.  I think this is great, but in some cases it’s surprised me because I didn’t know these folks were interested in writing.  Maybe–in some cases–they didn’t know it either.

            If there’s anybody out there who is inspired by my example to pick up a pen, I say, Yes!  Go for it!  But now here comes the unsolicited advice.

            If you haven’t been doing a lot of writing, but now you’re wondering “Shall I write a novel or a memoir?”–well, I have to say I think you’re asking the wrong question.  Here’s the right question:  Do you like to write?—because if you want to write a novel, it helps if you like to write.

            Try this:  set aside some time to write.  I suggest 30 to 60 minutes, three to five days a week.  I think it’s best to aim for the same time every day (e.g. right after breakfast, during your lunch hour), but I’ve heard some people schedule blocks of time in their calendars every week, wherever it fits.

            The idea is to develop a Writing Practice.  You’re like a musician practicing scales or an athlete doing warm-up drills.  Writing every day helps you develop a habit so when you sit down to write, the words spill out and you actually write, rather than thinking about writing.

            Now when you first start this practice, don’t try to write your novel or memoir out of the gate.  At this point just write.  Write fast.  Write whatever comes into your head.  You’re practicing.  You’re learning how to get into a flow, a rhythm.  Write silly stuff, write angry stuff, doesn’t matter, just write.

            DO NOT spend three or four hours writing everything you’ve been holding inside for years and years in one giant cathartic rush that you just can’t wait to get onto the page, and wow, it feels so good to finally do this, yes, yes, I can write and I can write a lot for a long time, all right, and now I’m done.  You read it over, it sounds brilliant!! You feel great about it–but you don’t pick up a pen or sit down at the keyboard again for four months, because you’re waiting to feel inspired like that again.

            Yeah, sure, you can do that if you want, and probably somewhere there’s a successful novelist or two who writes books this way.  But I’m here to tell you that most people who write novels sit down and work on it day after day after day.

            So when you want to develop a practice, on Monday you write for an hour and it’s trash.  On Tuesday, you write for an hour and it’s trash.  On Wednesday you start to write a cool story about your Mom leading the Girl Scout troop in fourth grade, and the hour is up but you’re not done.  That’s great.  You stop anyway and the unfinished story rides around with you for the next 23 hours and when you start on Thursday you waste no time. You get right into it, and the story is richer in detail and complexity because it’s been cooking in your subconscious.  Maybe you don’t finish it till Friday, or maybe not even till a week from Friday.  That’s fine.  But the day after you finish that story, you come back and start again.  And maybe it’s trash again.  That’s okay, it’s all part of the process.  But now you know that, because the practice gives you the confidence that you can stay with it for the long haul.

            I suggest you try this for a month or so, just to see how it goes.  I know it’s not easy to stick to a schedule.  If you need to skip a day now and then, that’s okay, just start up again the next day.  The main thing you want to find out is this:  is it fun?  When you’re actually writing, is it fun?  Is it satisfying?  Are you enjoying putting the words on the page?  If the answer is yes, then you’re going to write that novel.  You will.  You’ll figure out when and what and how.  But if you don’t enjoy it, well, maybe you’ll want to re-think this novel-writing goal.  But if you’re determined to write even if it’s not so fun, I do have another idea.  Join a writing group.  Not a critiquing group—that’s for later.  No, join a group of people who actually writes together.  Because we writers are so much fun, we’ll guarantee you a good time.

            Here’s a link to an earlier post about books I’ve loved that have helped me with my writing:

 https://nancyschoellkopf.com/2013/06/09/my-writing-life/

  And here’s a link to a post about writing groups:

 https://nancyschoellkopf.com/2013/06/09/writing-the-amherst-way/

Good luck, have fun, and drop me a line if you’ve got any questions!  Happy New Year!

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Yellow-Billed Magpie Goes on Tour!

Now that the Yellow-Billed Magpie Launch Party is successfully behind me, my new novel is going on a virtual tour! Laura Fabiani, the wonderful tour coordinator at iRead Book Tours, has arranged for Yellow-Billed Magpie to make appearances on seventeen blogs in three different countries during the month of October. Fourteen bloggers will post reviews (I’m holding my breath!) On other blogs I will do guest posts or Q&A interviews. Check out the schedule here:

http://www.ireadbooktours.com/blog—current-tours/book-tour-yellow-billed-magpie-by-nancy-schoellkopf

The tour will also include opportunities to enter a free raffle to win copies of my book as well as Amazon gift cards. The grand prize will be a turquoise-colored ceramic Fiesta pie plate along with some decorative paper napkins in honor of take-charge businesswoman Anna Victoria who runs an expanding chain of popular pie shops in the novel. Stay tuned: details to follow.

I am very excited but also a little nervous about this tour, but I trust that these fellow bloggers, who are also avid readers and writers, will be kind to my debut novel.

I don’t write because I have a message to impart. I write because I’m a writer: it’s what I love to do. I only hope my story touches your heart.

Thank you for all your good wishes and support!

Celebrating the Rain

We’re celebrating a rare and wonderful rainy day here in parched Northern California—complete with deliciously heavy downpours, lentil-sized hail, lightning and big time thunder. I was blessed this afternoon to get home before the big show started, but here’s a journal piece I wrote after driving home in a powerful rain last fall—back when we all had high hopes that one rainy month was going to stretch into a rainy season and heal our drought woes. Thanks for reading:

Driving home from Placerville in the rain, mesmerized by the sound of the storm pounding like dried beans poured in a metal bowl, like pebbles striking. Suddenly I’m distracted by a high pitched rain drop, a maverick who wants to stand out, a small single dried pea that slips through the colander and pings on the floor. The noise is coming from the window by my left ear and I wonder if I will get to the valley and discover a leak and water puddled on the floor by my seat belt. No matter, I can’t turn now to check, can’t take my eyes off the wet road and the clutch of traffic. The car ahead of me is driving without his headlights on—a violation of a recent state law—and when I notice how grey and colorless his car is, I’m grateful for the high-pitched, pinging rain drop at my left ear. The steady pound of the storm on my windshield and roof is hypnotic; it’s the ping ping ping that’s keeping me awake. I think about getting home to my notebook so I can write all this down, and I berate myself that I haven’t written much lately. When I write every day the images and the words rise up out of the horizon like birds and airplanes and large animals, eager to appear in my poems and stories. It’s the habit that summons them. When I don’t write regularly I am stuck with the specter of dead friends and relatives, bullying bosses, and lovers who deserted me:  they come to tease at my frustration, my loneliness, my vulnerability. Specters who disappear like the rain.

 

Wherever you are today, I hope you’re enjoying your weather.

Why I Left My Job

I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon yesterday, eating, walking, gossiping and sharing projects with Sister Writers, June Gillam and Leslie Rose.  For some reason I got started venting about an incident that happened a few years back–all part of the ongoing healing process, I guess.  So today I thought I would share a poem I wrote at the time.  It’s called:

Why I Left My Job

 The other driver and I

retreated to neutral corners

to wait for the police.

 

I had a cell phone

the size of a shoe box.

The other driver had a newer,

tinier model

that fit in the palm

of her hand. She stood

on her corner, talking,

talking, staring

at me, and flapping

her free hand.

 

My boyfriend didn’t

have a cell phone

so I couldn’t call him.

I called my Mom

on my shoe box.

She said she’d come

but I told her, no,

don’t be silly;

I was okay.

Neither of us mentioned

it was the anniversary

of my father’s death.

But each of us knew

the other was thinking

about it.

 

A police officer arrived

alone in a patrol car.

The other driver and I

both ventured toward him.

He said he’d speak to each

of us separately.

The other driver

stepped forward quickly

with narrowed eyes

glaring at me, clutching

her purse, as if

she expected me

to snatch it.

They went to her corner.

 

A man from the house

on my corner

came out and asked

if I was okay.

He had a spiked

dog collar

around his neck

and a ring

through his nose—

a big ring, like

the brass ring

on a merry-go-round.

I’m okay, I said.

Do you want a Pepsi?

he asked.

No, I’m okay, I repeated.

But it was nice of you

to ask.

 

The police officer came

to talk to me. He asked

my name and I gave him

my driver’s license.

He spent some time

writing on a pad.

He asked me what happened,

and I told him she’d run the stop sign.

I swerved, I said, I tried to miss her

but she pulled right out in front of me.

 

Just then the other driver sauntered over.

I called a tow truck, she said.

Her voice was cheerful,

almost lyrical.

“I can’t believe it, you know,

twenty years with a spotless

record, twenty years, and now this,

twenty years, what can I say?”

 

She laughed, shaking her head

so her long dark hair swayed

like in a shampoo commercial,

and in that moment I hated her.

She was at a dance club

or a country club,

coquettish and flirtatious,

on a sunny

patio drinking sangria.

Worse than that:

she was just like me,

seeking some kind of approval

as if the officer should tell her

it was okay that she pulled out in front of me,

no big deal, don’t worry

about it, Ma’am, happens all the time.

 

I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly through my nose.

 

The police officer turned to her.

“We need some privacy, Ma’am.

You had your turn.”

 

“Oh. Of course.” She sashayed away.

 

“How fast were you going?” he asked me.

 

“I don’t know,” I said, “but

I couldn’t have been going

more than 15 or 20 miles an hour.

This is my neighborhood.

This is where I live.

I wouldn’t speed in my own neighborhood.”

 

The officer nodded and smiled a little.

“You should know: the other lady

admitted she was in the wrong.”

 

“She did?” I was stunned.

“She didn’t say anything to me.”

I was batting back tears now.

I didn’t tell him she’d been rude

to me; had demanded to see

my license, had even reached into

my wallet trying to grab

my insurance card.

I looked down

at my hands, fingering the zipper

on my purse. “I wanted her

to apologize,” I admitted.

 

He looked down at his pad.

“She’s not going to apologize,”

he said curtly.

 

He had me sign his report,

told me I could go.

So I did; I didn’t call

a tow truck. My car

looked fine. But it wasn’t fine.

The damage was

so extensive

the insurance company

refused to fix it.

The car was totaled.

 

This happened well over a decade ago.

But what happened this year

at my work place—the circumstances

were very similar:

it was my own neighborhood.

My classroom was totaled.

No one apologized to me.

 

 

What do you write about?

I write about all the crap floating around inside my brain, the ghosts of school bullies and nuns in black habits, wielding rulers and sharp tongues.  I write about my favorite teachers from high school when the nuns abandoned their veils and wore peasant blouses and sandals and read Kahlil Gibran to us in religion class.  I write about how shy I’ve always been around boys, how I let my first boyfriend verbally abuse me and then when I’d try to please him he’d tell me I was a bad feminist and that he had so much more respect for the lesbians of our acquaintance.  I write about the kids I used to work with, how I wrote and wrote and wrote about them for a decade and a half and it always sounded sad, but they weren’t sad, they were some of the most joyful people I’d ever met.  I write about the one who died of leukemia and the one who drowned in a swimming pool and the one who died when a tree fell on the golf cart she was sitting in with her dad, and the one who died of a brain tumor and the one whose father beat her with an electric cord and the ones who were born in refugee camps whose parents would bow to me and send me hand made ornaments and charms and needlepoint squares. “Thank you for taking care of our mental child,” they’d say.

I write about mysticism and synchronicity, meeting a man at a bus stop who later showed up at my door who went out and dug in the dirt behind my classroom with my students, how good he was with Jeremy and G, how Mannix and Rico loved him so much.  The boys without fathers at home thought he was a rock star and I wrote a dozen love poems and he left a hundred dollar bill for me pressed between the sticky leaves of a calla lily plant in my back yard.  “He’s a gift to a writer,” I’d tell my friends.

 I write about baseball and dancing and religion and politics and mythology.  I write about Celtic heroes like Finn MacUail and his son Oisin and I write about Catholic saints like Claire and Bridget.  I write about Craig, the mystic/custodian who wiped down the chalkboards in my classroom and vacuumed the rugs and told me I was special.  “Don’t listen to anybody else,” he said.  “I’m here now.  This is not subtle.  You. Are. Special.”

 I write about people who have dropped dead and abandoned me, and how it pisses me off something awful, and of course I’m not really angry at them.  Not really.  Am I?  Did they go someplace better?  Are they hanging out without me?

 After Craig died I happened to come across a beautiful bookmark my friend Judy gave me a decade and a half ago.  It was just stuck in some random book.  She’d written on the back, “Thank you for being here.”  At the time she wrote that we were working with one of the meanest, least ethical people I’ve ever known—and he was stupid too.  She was thanking me—as I often thanked her—for hanging in there, to face him together.  But now I look at it, now that she is gone and Craig is gone, and I think she’s saying to me, “Thank you for being here–” here, on planet Earth, still doing whatever it is I’m doing that for some reason still needs to be done.  And when I found this bookmark again, right after losing Craig, right when I’d been wondering why I was still here, I thought, well, Judy’s telling me it’s good and she’s grateful and I guess I’ll believe her.

 And that’s what I write about.

(written with my beloved Thursday night writing group at John’s house)

Let’s Go!

I’ve been filling up notebooks writing like crazy for over forty years. A lot of it was venting and whining—or to be kinder to myself, I’ll call it “therapeutic.” I am happy to brag that over the years I’ve had several poems published, usually in local newsletters and chapbooks, but twice in nationally distributed anthologies.

Not too bad, I think, for a shy woman who spent most of her energy teaching children with special needs every day.

Now retired, I continue to write most days, and I joyfully spend one evening a week writing with companions at the home of John Crandall, using the Amherst Writers and Artists writing method. We have so much fun writing together! But whenever John or another friend suggest I might post a piece I’ve written minutes earlier, either here or on John’s blog, I’ve invariably pleaded that sure, I’ll do that, but at some future date, after I’ve done a spot of editing, or when I need to promote some future project, whatever. In other words, I’ll publish when the time is RIGHT, and the writing is PERFECT.

The other day, my inner guide said to me: Give It Up!! Your blog is not the New Yorker. It’s not even the Sacramento Bee. Nobody will sue you if you ramble (as I tend to do). You don’t even know if anybody’s reading this blog of yours!

Well, if you are reading, brace yourself because this blog is about to get MESSY!

In her book, The Wisdom Jesus, Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault posits that Jesus taught us a very untraditional path to enlightenment. She says St. Paul calls it kenosis, a Greek word meaning “to let go” or “to empty one’s self.” Bourgeault explains:

Over and over, Jesus lays this path before us. There is nothing to be renounced or resisted. Everything can be embraced, but the catch is to cling to nothing. You let it go. You go through life like a knife goes through a done cake, picking up nothing, clinging to nothing, sticking to nothing. And grounded in that fundamental chastity of your being, you can then throw yourself out, pour yourself out, being able to give it all back, even giving back life itself. That’s the kenotic path in a nutshell. Very, very simple. It only costs everything.

 Well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure where an attitude like that leads. I’m not sure I’m ready for it. But putting more of my writing out here more often is going to be step one. And check me out on Twitter too (@nanschoellkopf) because I plan to show up there more often as well.

Thanks for reading. Invite your friends next time! I promise to make it fun.

Please Join Our Email List!

Dear Family, Friends, and Fellow Writers,

I spent 2014 working like crazy to revise and edit my first four novels. 2015 will be my year to promote and publish my writing—and then promote it some more.

Toward that end, I am asking all of you to sign up for my email list. This list serves two purposes:

#1. Direct promotion. This is obvious. Less obvious is

#2. Evidence that my writing has a following—evidence I may then show to prospective agents, editors and publishers so they might see that I have a “platform,” i.e. the means to market my books.

So to sign up for the list, just look over to the top of the right hand column and you will see a widget that says “Join Our Mailing List.” Click there and the rest is easy.

Now let me tell you a little bit about this list. It is powered by MailChimp (the free version!), and will make it easy for me to generate and send out letters and notices. Plus it presents a much more professional appearance to those aforementioned publishing folk.

Now this part is important!!!

MailChimp wisely uses a “double opt-in” system. As soon as you sign up, MailChimp will send you an email asking you to confirm that you want to be on the list by clicking on a consent button. This ensures that the list is genuine and filled with people who really want to be on the list. Again this is more professional than a group name in my gmail address book.

Please be assured that your inclusion on this list will not expose you to spam from MailChimp or anybody else. I myself will never sell or share the list. In fact, at this point I don’t anticipate using the list that often. I will use it to let you know when I intend to publish my first novel and also about promotional events.

I will NOT be sending notices to this list every time I post on the blog! So if you want to follow the blog, please go to the second widget on the right hand side. It says “Follow Blog Via Email.” If you sign up there, Word Press will send you an email every time I post on the blog.

Okay, so if you’ve been so kind to have read this far, and you haven’t already done so, please click on “Join Our Mailing List” at the top right hand side. Please remember to “opt in” when you receive the follow-up email.

And thank you so much for supporting me as I launch my new career!