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Words Matter: Amanda Gorman Rocks
As a longtime member of the media, I freely admit that, yes, the media at times — both camps — has weaponized words to force opinions and accusations onto others, under the guise of “analysis” or “opinion”. My grandmother would have been horrified; I remember her saying to me many times, even as an adult, “Please try to speak more like you write;” in other words, choosing words carefully and watching the tone and intent. When I was a young journalist, opinions and analyses were confined to the op-ed page, not spread across entire publications or screens — or hour after hour of TV “news” talk. AND, even though they were opinions or analyses, the principal facts behind them were fact-checked for truth and accuracy.
Words matter. So does their power, their delivery, and their truth. We were reminded of that and called to action in a very big way on Wednesday, when 23-year-old Los Angeles poet Amanda Gorman brought a suffering, divided nation to its feet with her reading of “The Hill We Climb,” the poem she wrote for the Biden Inauguration, which begins:
When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. In the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice.
And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow, we do it.
As a long-time published poet myself, I loved the urgency, power and imagery of Amanda’s poem — stark, real, right in front of our faces. It felt like the perfect poem for the moment. I also loved the way she presented, with an assuredness, expressiveness and on-stage mastery that is pretty amazing for someone who couldn’t even pronounce “r’s” with consistency until three years ago. She’s on a fast track now, though, having performed on big stages from CBS This Morning to The Library of Congress, where new First Lady Dr. Jill Biden watched her perform — and invited her back to an even bigger stage.
Right now, I feel very fortunate that, in my life, I’ve been lucky enough to hear the great Robert Frost’s “The Gift Outright,” performed at JFK’s inauguration in the waning years of his illustrious life (my mom put her then 17-month-old son in front of the TV so I could hear Frost); and “The Hill We Climb,” performed by a young poetic powerhouse as her literary career is just getting started. Or rocketing forward; in the past 24 hours, she’s probably drawn the most online attention of anyone in the world. She rocked the nation — and world.
What I’m not surprised about is a 23-year-old performing on such a big stage. Amanda is part of Generation Z, which seems serious, intent and focused on dispensing with the blame game, rolling up their sleeves, and making this country better. While I’ve never met Amanda, I’ve known about her for a few years; a group of high school poets I mentored in Southern California raved about her and told me why. She was born to be a poet — and a mentor. Her first book, due out in September, is a children’s book, Change Sings.
This morning, I heard an interview with Amanda, in which she talked about the power and purpose of words, and her relationship with words moving forward. Something she said really got to me, and reminded me of how sacred I’ve always tried to hold words and the written language. They also left me reflecting on what our conversations, journalism, TV news programs and shows, social media, books, readings and writings would look like if we could adhere, even a little, to what Amanda said:
“I want to reclaim, resanctify, and repurify the power and truth of words, because words do matter.”
Amen. As a writer, I’m taking up her challenge and working to heed her call. Words matter — never more than now.
Setting Our Writing (and Reading) Goals for 2021
I made a conscious decision to close out this discombobulated, pandemic-stricken and difficult year with the most hilarious, farcical read I could think of: Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. If Sissy and Jellybean, along with Robbins’ wild romp of a voice, can’t get you out of a funk, well, nothing can. It felt like a totally appropriate way to wind down a year that felt at times like a never-ending scene from the heart of Twister.
Which brings us to 2021 — a New Year, a fresh start for many, and hopefully, an open and healthy society for all of us (at least the second half of the year). It’s a time for writers and readers to look ahead to the books or articles they want to write or read, and also to push past anything that might get in the way of fulfilling those goals.
My reading goals for 2021 are pretty simple: besides reading clients’ novels, memoirs, YA, children’s and non-fiction titles that I’m editing, I want to continually expand the breadth of the material I read. Typically, my nightstand carries a combination of memoir, fiction, poetry, music-themed book, travel narrative, and either sports or space. I’ve been cross-reading for many years, and find it one of the best nutrients for feeding the creative mind — and diversifying my writing.
As for writing, my goals are pretty ambitious: first, to finish the two books I am currently co-writing (including Writes of Life II, the sequel to Writes of Life, to be published by Open Books Press in late August-early September.
I also plan to finish Open Mic Night at the Next Chance, my novel-in-progress; start a memoir; and perhaps even start another new novel once NaNoWriMo rolls around in November. I always circle those 30 days as prime time for starting a new book, while trying to hit the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words. It’s a great month of intense writing, which is what the most prolific novelists do every day of every week of every year.
What are your writing goals for 2021? Since it looks like we’ll be staying inside for the next few months, let it be an opportunity to write that book you’ve always talked about, finish works in progress, or start something in a new genre for you. Here are a few tips to get off to a flying start, and keep the momentum and consistency going all year long:
• Write down the goals you dream of achieving this year, the goals you’d really like to achieve, and the goals you insist on achieving. Shoot for the stars, but be sure you hit the moon.
• Fill your writing space with things that inspire you: sayings, music, paintings, books, special trinkets — and a fountain or Zen garden.
• Start each writing session with 10 minutes of journaling, at full speed. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, run-on or fragmented sentences. Just write. It’s like warming up a car engine in winter. When your 10 minutes is up, switch to your computer (or pad, if you’re a longhander). Presto! No writer’s block. You’ll be ready to go.
• The goal of a first draft is simple: To transfer the story from your head to the screen (or paper). Go where your stories and characters take you, especially in first draft. Don’t think anything too ridiculous to write. Again, you can edit it out later. Play in the sandbox, throw that sand around, and delight in the sheer creative dance of writing a free-flowing first draft.
• Don’t write until you’re exhausted. Like learning to run, or meditate, if you write to exhaustion out of the gate, you’re likely never to finish. It will feel too hard. Write until you feel like your creativity is waning.
• Finish HOT. Try to stop your writing session in the middle of a particularly juicy paragraph (or at least write the topic sentence). Save it for tomorrow. This does two things: 1) Keeps your brain wound up and thinking through the story; and 2) Ensures you’ll dive right in and kick writer’s block to the curb.
• Be sure to read plentifully when writing, preferably in a genre or subject matter other than what you’re writing (unless doing research). Keep the channel of your subject open for your writing expression.
• Take care of yourself. Walk, run, practice yoga, eat nutritiously, spend time in nature and open space. Keep feeding your mind and inspiration.
Good luck in 2021! Please let us know how you’re doing by leaving a comment — and Happy New Year to everyone from the crew at Word Journeys Literary Services!
Meet the New Word Journeys Team: Hard to Believe It’s Been 25 Years!
It’s been quite awhile since I posted on the Word Journeys Blog, but that’s about to change. We are getting ready to commemorate our 25th anniversary of serving authors, educators, publishers, agents, conferences and journalists, and we have quite a year planned. What’s going to make it even more special is that the festivities will coincide with all of us coming out of the pandemic — and back into bookstores, live signings, festivals and fairs, writer’s conferences… and so much more.
First of all, Word Journeys Literary Services has undergone quite a facelift in 2020 — or should I say, it’s been lifted by a lot of new faces. After working primarily as a one-man band, providing editing, platform building, marketing and PR services to authors and publishers from throughout the world and teaching at writer’s conferences while also writing and ghostwriting 20-plus books, I decided to take this business forward with young, super talented book lovers and media specialists.
Let’s start with my business and strategy partner, Lexa B., one of the most talented young publishing professionals in America. I first met Alexa in 2007 when she was a young teen fantasy writer attending one of my writer’s workshop series. Since then, she’s become a news journalist, book author, illustrator and designer, digital marketing, PR, book promotion and social media whiz… you get the drift. She belongs on anyone’s “Best Publishing Professionals Under Age 30” list. We will be presenting together at several events in 2021, including Digital Book World.
Right with Lexa is another superstar I first mentored as a teenager, Melissa Jenkins, one of the first people I ever hired for Word Journeys, when she did side projects for me in 1998 — and now is one of our new faces of 2020. Melissa compiled The Write Time, and worked with me in the magazine business at Faircount International. She is a book editor, writes everything from web copy to book segments, and is a feature writer and associate editor for Sustainability Today and STEM Today magazines. We are also co-authoring the sequel to Writes of Life: Using Personal Experiences in Everything You Write, due out in late August 2021.
Our master organizer, administrative manager and wearer of all hats is Erin James, who keeps this ship on track and all the traffic headed in the right direction. Erin has been a lover of children’s books, biographies and novels her entire life, and as the mother of two young daughters, has her finger on the pulse of children’s and YA literature. She also is a writer and associate editor for STEM Today magazine, and is working with Alexa on our digital marketing and social media efforts.
Let’s skip to our Gen Z crew. First is Destiny Nolan, who’s been writing for much of her young life. She has exceptional journalism and editing skills, is versatile across subjects and genres, and is our lead researcher on a wide variety of projects. The complete print and broadcast media, online media, podcast and book reviewer databases we bring to all of our PR, marketing and platform building clients are in large part due to her research. She’s compiling Writes of Life II, and is a feature writer for Sustainability Today and STEM Today magazines.
Last but not least is our newest team member, Trevor Faith, who will be producing our new podcast shows, which debut February 1 on video (available on the Word Journeys You Tube Channel; Vimeo) and audio (available on iTunes and Spotify). Trevor is a tech whiz, and also has extensive experience in online program production. Under his direction, we will be producing an excellent podcast that will feature interviews with top authors from throughout the U.S., spot segments from conferences, festivals and fairs (when we can go live again), and much more.
Add it all up, and you can see why I’m so excited for Word Journeys and for everyone we serve in our Silver Anniversary year. Looking forward to hearing from you, seeing all of you, talking story — and helping bring stories and platforms of all shapes, forms and genres to readers and listeners everywhere. Happy Reading!
Celebrating 90 years of GARY SNYDER - Robert Yehling
A very, very happy 90th birthday to my friend, writing/teaching mentor, and favorite poet — Gary Snyder. I’ve read and studied his works ever since picking up “Turtle Island” in high school; no writer has influenced my career more. I will forever treasure the three years we spent as next door neighbors in the Sierra Nevada foothills, drinking tea, chopping wood, walking the land, talking about writing, ecology, and culture, and teaching writing in a meaningful, purposeful way to younger generations.
He’s been one of the famous San Francisco Renaissance writers (we just lost another, Michael McClure, on Wednesday), the model of character Japhy Ryder in Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums”, the staunchest defender of the Sierra since John Muir, author of 25 books, and a Pulitzer Prize winner (among countless awards) whose poems, essays and interviews have touched millions since the late 1950s. Celebrate well, Gary. You’re a treasure to everyone who values nature, the wild, self-sufficency, creative expression, and the well-purposed life of integrity.
By the late 1950s, Gary Snyder had established himself as one of the major American poets of his generation. He was associated with both the Beat Generation and the regional San Francisco Renaissance. He spent much of the 1960s traveling between California and Japan, where he studied Zen. In 1966, he met Masa Uehara while in Osaka. They married the following year and had their first child, Kai, in April 1968; by December, Snyder and his new family moved to California. His return coincided with the highest crest of 1960s counterculture, as well as the nascent environmental movement. He was received as an elder statesman by both the hippies and the environmentalists, and he became a public intellectual who gave public lectures, making television appearances, and publishing new writing.