It’s not the critic

As writers, we have to deal with a certain amount of criticism of our work. On those days when it’s hard to keep going in the face of harsh feedback, it might help to keep these words in mind:

Theodore Roosevelt quote It's not the critic

For more information on this quote: Mental Floss


My Tiny Tribe


“Belonging,” Nancy Woods, acrylic, 9×12 inches

With this blog post, I honor my students’ anthology, “BeLonging,” because who doesn’t want to fit in?

In my imagination, I belong to a small group of people exactly like me—writers and artists who, according to at least one study, make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. workforce.* To make my group even more select, I belong to the chapter of right-handed, left-wing writers and artists—solitude-seeking people who long for country roads, blackberry bushes and crumbling fences.

The members of my tiny like-minded tribe—which exists only in my dreams— are known for being complacent. How complacent, you ask? We’re so complacent we don’t even decide which books we’ll read. Instead, when we need some literary input, we walk into the nearest library, grab the first “staff pick” off the shelf and walk out, well, after checking the book out.

This make-believe army of mine and I are psychologically unable to experience the moment. Instead, we must write a poem about it, paint it or take a photo of it. Unwilling or incapable of simply living life, we document every exquisite event. To us, my herd of duplicators, life is so tender and vulnerable, so flimsy and fleeting, so painfully precious that we’re forced to continually capture it with words, on film and on canvas.

Hear that bird? Quick. Write a song about it.

See that forest log smothered with ivy? Snap with your camera.

Fall in love? Turn it into flash fiction.

To us, the members of my clutch, life is so sweet, so fragile and irreplaceable, so diaphanous and dying, that just living it is never enough. We’re compelled to gather it, hold it, harbor it, seize it, save it, so we can savor it over and over again. More than one of us has taken a photo of a painting of a photo of a painting. No distance from reality is too far to be traveled.

Highly excitable as children and proud of it, my people and I were the class clowns, the sit-down comics sent to the principal’s office to calm down and shut up. At family dinners, we laughed at our own jokes while snorting milk out our nose. Equal-opportunity insulters, we find humor in everything, including ourselves.

Diversity-relishing nap takers, my cohorts and I also are death-, dog- and phone-fearing note takers. We’re tree-needy, coffee-slurping, near-sighted, frizzy-haired joke meisters. We’re PC-using, Apple-wary goofballs. We’re road-tripping, list-making, understated-English-drama-binging, out-the-window-staring caretakers of cats.

My miniscule group imposes no dues, performs no rituals. The only requirement for membership is that you must think, feel, act, look, taste and smell exactly like us. You must enjoy food but decline to cook. You must drive a car but wish you didn’t. You must love everyone, if just in the abstract.

If the local chapter of my assemblage ever got together (which is doubtful because we hate meetings), the event could be held in my living room, which seats six. If you want, you can apply to become a member of my group. But I must warn you, we have a reputation for not getting back.


Born funny

(What follows is an excerpt from Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales From a Pacific Northwest Writer.)

Some of us are born funny. Some of us aren’t. I have a relative (Let’s call her Ms. Grim) who once told me she’d lost her sense of humor Where? Along the side of the road? She was wrong. How can you lose something you never had?

My mother didn’t have a sense of humor, either, bless her serious heart. Why? Because she was a genuinely nice person who always had a smile on her face. In contrast, humorists can be just a little bit mean, whether they’re making fun of the government, a friend or themselves. Me, I’m an equal-opportunity insulter. I make fun of myself and everyone else.

When I was a kid, I was always cracking myself up. I’d make silly jokes at the dinner table until I snorted milk out my nose or I’d jump up and perform a silly sketch, then end up rolling on the floor. My mother, a gentile woman who deserved better, would look down at me with a How-did-I-give-birth-to-this person? look on her face.

I don’t know where I got my sense of humor. Like I said, I don’t come from particularly funny folks. My mom’s side of the family is rife with responsible adults — highly paid professionals (accountants, attorneys and airline pilots). Not people you want to be cutting up.

My father’s side of the family is a bit of a mystery, which gives me hope. Other people may dream about being rich and famous. I dream about being Jewish. Some of the best humorists are or were Jewish (Think Dorothy Parker and Jerry Seinfeld), although there are plenty of non-Jewish humorists, too (including Mark Twain and E. B. White).

All I know is that I enjoy being funny, whether I’m telling a ridiculous story or writing a silly rant. It just feels so good to let it all out, like a sneeze, only less wet. To me, being funny is part of being human, and telling jokes is a high art — one that deserves federal support.

Author’s bio: Nancy Woods is an author and writing coach.

Hooked on Antifreeze front cover only from amazonUnder the Influence front cover only from amazon




52 Books in 52 Weeks, Week 26: The Halfway Mark

From the Huffington Post:
By Catherine McKenzie
Posted: 07/07/2013 12:57 pm

Twenty-six weeks ago I set myself a task: I would read a New York Times Bestseller a week and blog about it in the hopes of re-connecting myself to popular book culture and (hopefully) read some great books.

It hasn’t quite worked out as I planned.

First off I didn’t account for the fact that books often stay in the number 1 spot for more than a week (the original plan was to read the #1 book each week). That was easy enough to adjust for: I could just take a book off another list (the New York Times now has a lot of bestseller lists, from e-books to YA, etc.), and sometimes I threw in a wildcard book just to mix it up.

As the weeks went on, though, I began to encounter a few deeper problems: books I couldn’t finish, books I wish I didn’t have to read, books whose popularity I couldn’t understand. What was this crazy task I had assigned myself, I wondered, and how was I going to keep it up all year?

On the other hand, I encountered several books that I absolutely loved and might not otherwise have read. And it’s those books that keep me going. It’s those books that make this project worth it, and if you haven’t read these books, you really, really should:

Week 1: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn I’ve read this book three times in the last year, and if that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is. The premise is simple – a wife disappears on her 5th wedding anniversary and the husband is the prime suspect – but the execution is anything but. A must read.

Week 4: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan . The story of the Van Goethem sisters, one of whom was Degas’ inspiration for his sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, it is set in Belle Époque Paris and is a mix of true details of about the sisters — all ballet dancers of varying success — and a true-life murder mystery that existed in Paris at the same time. Well written, evocative. It has stayed with me.

Week 7: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This book made me ugly cry and I’ve read it three times as well. I can still quote many, many lines from it. Brilliant.

Week 16: The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison. A book I called “perfect” in my review, this is a poignant (and funny) exploration of the importance of family set against a very possible reality: a popular high school teacher finds himself the subject of a (false?) YouTube video that shows him assaulting a student. Written with amazing (and enviable) assurance, The Banks of Certain Rivers explores themes of memory, loss and redemption with grace. My favorite book so far this year.

Week 20: Divergent by Veronica Roth. A book I never would have read if not for this project, I actually it better now than when I initially reviewed it, perhaps because I read the second book and am now eagerly awaiting for the third in the series. Dystopian YA might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want to give it a chance, this is a good place to start.

On so, onwards. I got mired in Week 26’s pick (Dan Brown’s Inferno, another DNF, and lost a week climbing the Grand Teton in Wyoming (yes, for reals), so week 27 and 28’s pick are Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book, Sisterland.

Back to work. I mean, reading.

What I’m reading: Sober Play

I’ve just started reading Sober Play: Using Creativity for a More Joyful Recovery by Jill Kelly with Bridget Benton. Here’s an excerpt:

Select a difficult moment from your past. Write about that moment as a scene in a novel or play just as it happened. To take it deeper: Rewrite the scene with a different ending.

Film shoot: The New Big Shot

“Can you find my thumb?” Nancy MacLaren asked me.
Nancy — one of the actors in a short film called The New Big Shot being shot in Portland, Oregon — was referring to the red, stick-on fingernail she’d dropped in the dark.
She and I were taking part in the 24 Hour Film Race 2013.
The international competition invites filmmakers to create the best four-minute film they can in 24 hours. The winners take home some money and camera equipment but I was there for another reason — to get outside my writer box. I wanted to find out how cinematographers, directors, and actors work.
During the film shoot I functioned as an associate producer because I chipped in the grand sum of $13 as part of the contest entry free. It was the first film shoot I’d taken part in. In addition to me, the crew included:
  • Aaron Nelson (cinematographer, editor)
  • Rosalind Malin (producer/writer/director)
  • Mark Lysgaard (writer/director/actor)
  • Audi Bixel (assistant director)
  • John Gamboa (actor)
  • Colin Keating (actor)
  • Peter Field (actor)
  • Diane Kay (actor)
  • Mitch Rofsky (actor)
  • Nancy MacLaren (actor)
  • CT Pantugo (art department)
  • Margo Logan (associate producer)
  • Alarie Lopez (boom boy)
Earlier that evening, before Nancy lost her thumbnail, she and I and the rest of the crew spent two hours deciding what script to use. The contest rules required that we include three elements: a prop (egg), theme (time travel) and action (crumpling of paper). We considered several scripts. One included a chicken in a cage. Another required two boats. We settled on a story about two thugs-in-training who take part in a reality show.
We then met at the Island Café where the filming was to take place. Sean McMurray, the owner of the restaurant, hung around to watch the shoot.
On the way to the Island Café, I got lost. What can I say? It was a dark and rainy night and I was alone and had never been to the location before. Fortunately, Margo had given me her phone number so I could call for directions. When I arrived on site, the restaurant staff was closing up for the night. They were nice enough to set some coffee out for us and make sandwiches for some of the crew. Then, for a couple of hours, nothing appeared to be happening.
“This is typical,” Roz told me.
Later I learned that Aaron and Audi were using that time to go over the script and determine each shot. Meanwhile, the actors practiced their lines and CT applied makeup. I gathered signatures on contracts, helped Diane remove glue from her hair, moved lights, and located electrical outlets.
At 11 p.m., the shooting began.
“Lights, camera, action!” Mark shouted.
“Bring attitude!” Roz insisted.
The actors impressed me with their ability to instantly be in character, over and over again. At one point Aaron briefly halted the shooting while Sean figured out how to turn off the smoothie machine, which had started creating a lot of noise. More than once I was politely asked to “get out of the shot.”
“Make sure you’re standing under the boom before you say your line,” Aaron told Diane, who played a waitress and good humouredly accepted her new names of Doll Face and Toots.
Eventually, I did find Nancy’s red stick-on nail. It had somehow ended up on top of the bar. The hours passed. It wasn’t until 4 a.m. that the shoot wrapped up. By then I was getting a bit dingy. As a result of my low blood sugar and the fact that my bedtime had come and gone, I called at least one person by the wrong name and, when asked to carry some supplies back to a car, said I would and then left the bags on the floor.
Blearily driving home in the dark, I felt fortunate that it was Aaron who would be editing the film. I could sleep in the next day and reflect on the experience.
Shooting a film, even a short film I had learned, requires a lot more than a script. It also requires stick-on fingernails, baby wipes (for cleaning make-up brushes), hair spray, fake blood, fake guns, long hours, teamwork, and patience.
View The New Big Shot here.