When a Story Won't Let You Go: Where to start and how to come home.

When a Story Won't Let You Go:  Where to start and how to come home.

If you write long enough or live long enough, you’ll meet a story that won’t let you go. I’ve met a few of my own. And in conversations with other writers, I’ve heard this murmured again and again: there are stories that nag at us, tug us with a near gravitational pull. Stories that won’t let us ignore them. Sometimes we welcome them and begin the process of scribbling them down like there was nothing else we could imagine doing.

And there are those other stories too.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about rewriting those stories—and my life.

Mindful Art and the Art of Mindfulness: a feedback loop.

Mindful Art and the Art of Mindfulness: a feedback loop.

On creative play and having a personal renaissance.

Imagine yourself indulging in one of your favorite creative pursuits, losing track of time. I think you know what I mean. If life has had you on high speed lately, you may have to think back a bit. So give yourself a little space to remember the last time you lost yourself in what you were doing and just be in that moment.

What are you doing? Noodling around with a poem? Doodling? Coloring? Are you wrist deep in clay?

You know the way you feel--the beautiful focus where nothing else exists and you are ‘in’ your creative process? Or maybe you ‘are’ your creative process. Where you sort of ‘become’ what you’re doing? Where work and play seem to merge and everything else drops away?

The stillness of being sucked in by a creative pursuit is the reason my living room is held hostage by the ‘art table.’

The Real Reason You Should Capture Your Moments

The Real Reason You Should Capture Your Moments

When you set out to change your writing, sometimes you rewrite your life.

In your quest to be a better writer, do you ever find yourself haunted by scenes in books you’ve read?  I’m thinking of a chapter entitled “Heaven” from the novel All the Light We Cannot See.  Read it and you find yourself lying in wildflowers during wartime to contemplate heaven, experiencing the way a blind girl ‘knows’ bees.

To sweep your reader off the page and into the story like Anthony Doerr, you need a simple kind of magic that any of us could possess--if only. You need to be able to observe and capture the details that hold us to the story--and to life itself.

That’s where I get stuck. The time I spend in my head leads me astray.  I worry and plan. I have goals, the personal, the professional, the immediate. Sometimes the sum of my existence is a race to school in the morning: noses wiped, teeth brushed, catastrophe and mud puddles averted.

We all have our ‘to-do’ lists to juggle, fears that quicken the pulse and goals that deserve our intensity.  That’s just life, whirling around us. But if you don’t pay attention? You’ll find yourself down the rabbit hole--in a dark, tight place. Worry, preoccupation, and the fast life can contract your imagination and powers of observation down to something like a pinprick. Believe me, I’ve tested it for you.   

Why you should write something no one will read.

Why you should write something no one will read.

As much as I need to send the hopeful, green shoots of my writing into the world, I never forget this: even in the best of times, some of my writing has to take place underground.

Writing only for myself changed me (and my writing) forever.

Writing in public is like shuffling barefoot over loose, black earth. As delicious and all-consuming as it feels, you’re not really all-in. You’re still on the surface. An entire world is wriggling, pulsing and expanding just under your toes--and if you only write for others, you’ll tread on in oblivion.

The world opens up under your feet when you start writing alone. When you keep some of your writing only for you. When you reserve even a small part of your writing for your eyes only--without publishing, sharing or showing.

Don't find time to read. Read to take back your time.

Don't find time to read.  Read to take back your time.

I can't tell you how to find time to read. 

Time won't churn up like change between the cushions. 

You won't find it peeking out of your mailbox like a refund check.

And, despite what the life hackers say, you can't make more.

There are moments when life is beyond your control. When crisis knocks on your door, and you have to adjust your reading habits for a while.

But sometimes crisis moves in and starts sleeping on your couch. 'Crazy-busy' becomes a main character in your story. 

I'll just speak for myself: it happens more than I care to admit. It's too easy to slip from dealing with small crises, to simply living in crisis mode.

And here's what I've learned--one 'busy' person to another:

When your time doesn't seem to belong to you anymore, finding time to read is a fool's errand.  

It's the other way around. You're going to have to read to take back your time.   

When life takes you for a spin, READ.

When life takes you for a spin, READ.

You're going about your day--loosing your car keys, drinking your coffee, all the usual stuff of life, when life decides "Not today."

She sweeps you up in her fingers, tosses you into the wash--for a spin in the suds. The lid of the machine snaps down over your head. And now your life is churning and frothing.

All your plans cancelled for today; you wonder which way to swim. You try keep perspective. It's nothing personal, right? We'll all end up in the wash sooner or later.

Of course, you have your own own story.

My own trip through the wash includes includes a loved one, a car accident, months navigating hospitals, a new baby (that never slept!), moving in and out of a series of apartments all over the South of France, life as an immigrant...

And yours?

Constraints, blessings, chaos...bubbles. How's a human being to read in these conditions?

Then again, how do you make it through the wash without books to carry you through?

Special Edition--Curl up with a great...film. An interview with Cara Leopold

Special Edition--Curl up with a great...film.  An interview with Cara Leopold

After a long week, there's nothing better than putting on a pair of fuzzy socks and diving into a comfortable couch with a great book.  But you know what's not far behind?  

Diving into the couch knowing that, tonight, a great film awaits you! 

Because there's a certain magic in films (and series).  Maybe it's a magic not too far off from books.  

  • First of all, there's the chance to see a great book in another light when it gets made into a great movie. 

  • Then there's the fact that films are like single serving adventures.  You get the whole story, condensed down into one sitting.  (Well, sure you can read a book in a single sitting, but it takes just a bit longer!) 

  • If you're a writer you can get some unexpected inspiration from films and series (the good and the bad...) 

  • And if you're passionate about languages and cultures? Learning while you explore the creative expression of people around the world? Well, films, like books, are a beautiful way of joining in the fun.. 

Today at the blog, we'll focus on one exciting area of the film, language odyssey: 

Why we should read, write, and create together--as if our humanity depended on it.

Why we should read, write, and create together--as if our humanity depended on it.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you value creativity.  How do I know? It may be a big world out there, but Vagabond English is a tiny community. Maybe, you and I have had the chance to ‘meet’ for a chat--about your reading, your writing, your quest for something a little different.  

That’s how I know you’ll understand when I tell you that often--too often--I can’t help but think that the biggest problems we face today boil down to a crisis of creativity.

Think about it.  When faced with today’s challenges, how many times do we see the same fearful reactions, watch our societies reach for thoughtless solutions or frame problems without even pausing to understand them fully?

If you watch the news once in a while, I bet you can think of some examples.  If you’ve stopped watching--well, it may be because of what I’ve just mentioned.

All of this makes me wonder--is watching and reacting enough? 

Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves that small question that is the beginning of any creative endeavor: ‘what if?’ 

Vagabond English Literary Edition--and Celebration!

Vagabond English Literary Edition--and Celebration!

Maybe you didn't realize I was inviting you to a celebration today, but thanks for coming!

Thanks for joining me on a year of reading and writing adventures.  (Yes! our blog and book club have just hit the one year mark.)

And after this year of reading books and stories, journaling, and slowing down the pace of life in general (or at least trying!) we've got our very first literary edition.   

Your fellow vagabonds--your fellow adventurers of the written word--are here to share a part of their writing journey with you.  

The stories, poems and personal essays you'll read in this very first literary edition are a collection of work inspired by the Slice of Life Creative Writing Program, the Short Story Series, or the Tiny Story Challenge we recently held at our Book Club on Facebook. 

5 Writers: 5 Meaningful Ways to Share Your Writing

5 Writers: 5 Meaningful Ways to Share Your Writing

When I think of my most meaningful writing (and reading) experiences, you know what they are? Two simple yet precious occasions where I was part of small, meaningful writing communities:

  • Where I could see by my reader’s comments (or the look on their faces)--that they ‘got it,’ that my story was their story too. 
  • Where I had the privilege of reading inspiring stories and then having one of those conversations with the author--the kind that Holden Caulfield dreamed of.

My time spent in small writing communities has taught me that sharing your work is maybe as important to the writing process as the hours you spend pounding they keys, or scribbling into your notebook. 

That finding other writers who 'get you,' and forging a relationship with them, is worth the work.

And that it all starts by being willing to share--at first with people you don't know that well--yet.

Why you should share what you write. (And why it shouldn't look like reality TV.)

Why you should share what you write. (And why it shouldn't look like reality TV.)

Writing--it's such a gift.  

Think about it:

  • Your writing is there for you in an unending supply--whenever you need it.
  • You can't use it up.
  • On the contrary, the more you write, the more the words seem to want to pour out of you.
  • And it's such a generous pastime! Share your writing with others, give something to your readers, and you don't have less, you have more--a stronger voice, better writing, even more to say.

How long have you known the writer in you? Did you meet her during childhood? Or maker her acquaintance more recently?

No matter.

Sharing your writing is one of the best ways you can grow--whether you're starting out or whether you've been at it for decades.

Today, we'll talk about WHY sharing your writing matters to your writing, and your writing habit.

But first, let's make sure we all understand what I mean when I say you should share your writing.  And maybe talk a bit about what I don't mean. 

Why you should read (and write!) short fiction.

Why you should read (and write!) short fiction.

Why should you read (and write) short fiction?

We're a multilingual community here at Vagabond English.  This is a place where you can read and discuss books and stories with people all over the world.

It's also a place to find your voice with a little writing and reading of your own. (No matter what language(s) you grew up speaking!)

So why should you read and write short fiction? 


  • Your reading leaves its footprints all over your writing.  
  • Because you want to read high quality writing...but you're busy!
  • Because reading great writing immerses you in the experience, and you learn lessons about writing. (how to craft a great story, how to write more beautiful prose)
  • Because reading and writing in a language you're learning helps immerse you in that language and 'think on your feet' so you become more fluent and flexible.  

And since everyone in our community has a different relationship to English, let me give you two ways you can work on your reading and writing habit today:

Uncharted territory: When your journal takes you on a new writing adventure.

Uncharted territory: When your journal takes you on a new writing adventure.

Do you know the most exciting thing about undertaking a writing project, a writing habit...a writing adventure? 

It's that moment after weeks, months, years of writing of covering uncharted territory, spilling miles of ink, when you look over your work.

And you see that you are someone new. A different person, a different writer. 

And in that moment, you realize: you have changed--and so have the goals and purposes of your writing.

And you find yourself contemplating new possibilities--a larger writing project, perhaps.

Like I said, your writing habit is an end in itself.  But writing habits also have a way of taking us to places we never expected.  

Your slice of life journal: A collection of your moments.

Your slice of life journal: A collection of your moments.

You've been using the slice of life journaling technique --the act of capturing the moments of your life on the page.  It's a tool you can use to sharpen your writing, to start thinking like a writer, to start noticing the details you'll need and saving them for later.

It's a practice that will change your writing...and your life as you take notice of what's going on around you. As you choose your focus.

Last week we talked about your journal--and how just keeping a journal is an end in itself. 

But sometimes, after you write for a while...you realize you've got something in there...

  • Something you want to keep.

  • Something you want to explore.

  • Something you want to pass on. 

  • The beginning of a story...

This week, I'd like to invite you to start seeing your slice of life journal as a collection...even organizing it that way.  Is this for you?

Read on to find out...

Your Journal--an end in itself or just the beginning?

Your Journal--an end in itself or just the beginning?

Last time on the blog we talked about writing slices of life: Capturing the moments of your life--past and present and writing them down in your journal. The next three blog posts will focus on what direction you can take when writing these slices of life.  Briefly they are:

  1. Your journal: when the journey is your destination. (today's topic)

  2. A curated collection of your moments, for you, for your children, for the future... (up next!)

  3. A writing project of your own? When your collection of short and sweet journal entries brings you somewhere unexpected. (the final post in this series).

Which one is for you, right now?  Only you can answer that--and here are two things to keep in mind:

  • The answer might surprise you.  

  • The answer will change--because writing changes you.

Slice of Life Journal Technique: How to get started--and why you should.

Slice of Life Journal Technique: How to get started--and why you should.

Recently, I've been taking our conversation deeper into your journaling habit.  Today I'm going to focus in on a specific skill that I call writing 'Slices of Life.'  Here's what we'll talk about today

  • Why capturing and writing slices of life is an essential writing technique that your favorite novelists use.  A technique you can learn with practice.  
  • How capturing your moments and translating them to the page is not just a writing technique, but a way of life.  
  • How you can start practicing this super-easy technique on your own, at home in a way that's simple, fun...and life-changing.  


Write about Your Life: 3 Lessons, 3 Writing Prompts

Write about Your Life: 3 Lessons, 3 Writing Prompts

Over at the Vagabond English Book Club we've been talking about why you should write about your life.   And that discussion has driven home a few lessons for me:  

Writing about your experience will not only change your writing...it will change your life.  

Which means...the way you write, the way you come to the page, the choices you make, the way you frame your experience--it really matters.

And you're going to have to make decisions about what's important.  If you want to keep going--if you want to keep yourself (and your readers?) interested. 

Today's post is about three lessons that will make your writing about your life more compelling, more life-changing.

These are the lessons I keep coming back to--whether it's in discussion with you, when I'm writing, or when I'm awake at night thinking over 'the big stuff...'

Oh, and for each lesson, there's a journal mission.  Enjoy.  

Why you should write about your life.

Why you should write about your life.

The start of the New Year...a time to reflect, to write.

The time of year where, after a winter slump, I begin to wake up early again, and reach for my notebooks, my keyboard. To write.

And you know what I write about in these early hours of the morning?

My life--

  • what matters,
  • moments and memories I want to capture,
  • what I need to think through, get over...or reach for. 

Towards the end of my writing session, my thoughts turn to work, to the day...to my blog posts or a short story I want to write.  But only after I've settled the most fundamental questions.

Finding your way in the dark: 4 lessons in writing feedback.

Finding your way in the dark: 4 lessons in writing feedback.

Sometimes writing can feel like a stumble through the shadows...

You take your truths, your stories and you weave them into word--words you hope will reach across continents, culture, time.  And deliver your message, your meaning to someone you may never meet, speak to or hear from.

We spend so much time in solitude, walking an unfamiliar landscape with little light to guide us.   

We may write and read alone.   But we do it to connect with other people.   

And when we travel too long without answer or feedback, we wonder where we are going...

And we ask ourselves:

  • Will anyone understand this?
  • Did I make my point?
  • Does anyone care?
  • Is my voice strong enough to carry my message?
  • Am I evolving as a writer...or just moving in circles, making the same missteps again and again?

Why writing on your own isn't always enough.

Why writing on your own isn't always enough.

You're out there, on your own, doing all the right things:

These are the first steps--the steps you must take to finding your voice and your confidence as a writer.

No one else can take them for you.