The Writer’s Talismans

I come from a long line of people who regularly consult coffee grinds and confer with the dead, so I suppose that my accumulation of talismans, through the years, was inevitable.  Most I’ve collected, but some have been given to me. I could list them, even explain them, the eye of God, the yin/yang rattle, the Marino Marini coin, but they wouldn’t hold much meaning for you. You have your own to contemplate.

Some tokens might be meant to cheer, or to provide focus or encouragement. Others might serve as a physical reminder of story. Some may be part of a writing ritual. Some might even figure into the stories.

Somehow, for decades even, we keep up with these objects.  For the memory maybe of the circumstances of their acquisition. For the promise they hold perhaps to ward off evil or bring good fortune, even if we don’t quite believe in the promise, or maybe we do. There is, as well, a welcome physicality to them that we writers, so used to plucking things from midair and trying to pin them to the page, might find reassuring.  Certainly, reassurance and hope are at the heart of the whole endeavor.

In some parts of the world, providing talismans, like fortunetelling or witch doctoring, is a profession. In my part of the world, each person finds his way. Me? I’ve got a dried horse chestnut in my pocket as we speak. You?

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credit:

Close, but no Cigar?

Pete Best – recognize the name?

How about Ronald Wayne? Ring a bell?

I thought not.

But John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—these are names you know. And Steve Jobs and Steve “Woz” Wozniak—you know them, too.

Put simply, these are people who remade the world, who divided time into before and after.

Pete Best, on the other hand, lost his chance at this kind of super brilliant productivity. He played only two years with the band—’60 through ’62—before he was fired and replaced by Ringo.  The closest history has put him, then, to the nexus of creative genius is as one of the “Fifth Beatles,” a phrase that has come to embrace a coterie of the people who shaped the early band. Volkswagon, in a clever ad campaign, has also claimed kinship.

And Ronald Wayne, for his part, was also close but missed the mark, forever. History has recorded him as the third founder of Apple computers formed on April Fool’s Day, 1976. Ronald Wayne left after less than two weeks, and the other two ushered in a new age.

What’s this have to do with you, a writer?

Some might read it as a cautionary tale: lose or leave your dream job, and you’ve missed your future—ouch!  Move over Fifth Beatle, third Apple: we have a new arrival on the bench, and his story is a doozy.

And yet, a more compassionate, more realistic reading of the situation  points up the familiar, for who hasn’t misjudged something critical?

Turn left instead of right? Blow it big time, open palm smacked to your forehead? What’s next? That’s the only question that matters. Everything else is something yet to happen or spilt milk. Call in the cat, and move on.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: Beatle Cariolet 2010 by; apple by

11 Ways to Improve your Writing

1. Writers tell stories. That’s what the job requires. Self-expression, money, acceptance, fame, catharsis, purpose, might supply your inner drive, but they aren’t essential to the job of writing.

2. Don’t use twenty words when ten will do. Not sure what to take out? Ask yourself if a word, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter is necessary to the story. By editing what’s redundant, unclear, pedantic, or digressive, you’ll improve the work.

3. Set your insecurities aside. Personal problems, anxiety, doubt, resentment, jealousy and all the other demons that might plague you function as static. Turn them off at least during writing time—I know, not easy, but necessary—and embrace the silence.

4. Set a reasonable goal.  Stories come together scene by scene, sentence by sentence. Having a daily, tough but attainable goal will advance the story. Track your productivity and give yourself rewards.

5. Know where you’ll pick up the next day. Try to leave off a writing day with something dangling. This will ease your passage back into the work the next day.

6. If you’re struggling to get the muck out of your work, visualize a small child  in front of you and explain the story, step-by-step, scene by scene.

7. Recognize that writing is not, contrary to public impression, a glamorous undertaking. Writers (even poets) are regular people occupied with the challenging task of putting words on a page to advance a story. If some also fit the stereotype of brilliant, lonely, faintly tragic solitary, romantic, sexy people with forgivable addictions and mood swings, well, fine. But they still have to do the work.

8. It’s not enough to fill a page with vivid metaphors and figures of speech. Focus and purpose matter. Your words have to be cogent, advance the discussion, move the story along, make sense, soothe, and above all engage.

9. Work is work. The idea of writing, is not writing. Networking is not writing. Research is not writing. Excessive pondering is not writing. Posing in the café or cocktail party as a writer is not writing. Talking about writing is not writing. Writing is an action. It’s showing up, sitting down, establishing your focus, noting your daily goal, and cranking it out.

10. Recognize that vision rarely matches output. The idea of something is always better than its execution.  Rather than be defeated by this notion, consider it the reason to take on the next thing, and the next, each time coming closer, perhaps, to what you hope to achieve.

11. If writing is what you truly love, then make it happen. No excuses. No interference. Just write.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: pens by Keith Williamson; Mac user by Failed Guide Dog Photography