Learning from an Art that Needs No Words
“What can an art of words take from the art that needs none? Yet I often think I’ve learned as much from watching dancers as I have from reading.”—Zadie Smith
Dance. Sculpture. Painting. Instrumental music. Art forms that do not require words inform writers at a subconscious level. We absorb them, inhale them. Movement and sound and rhythm become part of who we are.
Like many writers, I love to find a theme song for each project. Waves of music elicit a tide of emotions. The refrain and the power of repetition, move me. Informed by years as a flutist, and from hearing my mother, a pianist, organist, and singer, practice in the living room of our small house, I often feel I have music in my bones.
My unpublished novel, The Dream, stars Sarah, a pianist. A contemporary piano playlist helped me “hear” her tickling the ivories as I wrote. While I drafted, revised, and pitched my running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target, I ignored the obvious cliche and listened to the theme from Chariots of Fire—on repeat. I became one of the athletes on the beach, heart pounding, feet moving through the surf. Most of the many books I’ve written, published or not, have a musical score.
A Different Kind of Music
So it surprised me as I worked on the writing journal, You Should Be Writing, that I didn’t feel drawn to a theme song. I worked in silence adding writing quotes to those my coauthor Brenda Knight had plucked from her fabulous collection she had no doubt been compiling for decades. Stillness buoyed me while I reorganized and added to the chapters. As I drafted the introduction, conclusion, and micro-essays for Brenda to review, the only beat I longed for was the one I wondered if Brenda felt when she conceived this concept, some north star she followed in creating the early draft. I searched for the song inside what she had envisioned.
This process reminded me of high school performances with Mrs. Poe, our choir director and pianist. When she and I played together, my flute and her piano, it sometimes felt as if we read each other’s minds. I could hear the pause before it came, the way her feet shifted on the pedals, the lift of her fingers an extra second as she waited for my entrance. We were reading music, but through practice, we also read each other. At first I had to watch, see her watching me, but by the day of the recital, we could think to each other. We had melted into the music. It led us where we needed to go.
I hope the back and forth of co-authoring this writing journal with Brenda Knight created a similar melody. I hope you can hear that theme when you use it. And of course, we both hope you enjoy our song.
For more wisdom from authors like Zadie Smith, please check out You Should Be Writing, the new writing journal from Mango Publishing by Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney.
Author Interview – Debra Eckerling
In this new Bum Glue series, I interview other authors. Much gratitude to Debra Eckerling, author of Your Goal Guide and founder of Write On Online‚ and The D*E*B METHOD for being my first willing participant.
Nita Sweeney (NS): When and how did your writing journey begin?
Debra Eckerling (DE): I have been writing ever since I was a kid – I loved making up stories. Growing up and through high school, I was really drawn to fiction. I studied journalism in college, and have been focused on non-fiction for my professional career.
My high school creative writing teacher who altered the way I looked at journaling. We were required to write at least 5 pages a week. I usually did about 20. Most classmates did the bare minimum, but some filled entire books. He never looked at what we wrote. He just wanted us to get what was in our head onto the page. Who knew journaling would be the basis for so much of what I do today.
NS: Plotter or pantser?
DE: I am a pantser who plots. I like to write outlines – or brainstorms – on a legal pad before I jump into any new projects, writing or other.
As a goal coach, I often talk about the importance of having a plan: you need to find the happy medium between over-thinking and under-thinking your goals and projects. Before jumping in, it’s helpful to have an idea of what you are writing. However, the level of detail will vary, depending on the topic, medium, and ideal outcome.
That being said, I also enjoy writing in the zone. So much awesome can happen when you put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard, you start writing, and see where it goes!
NS: What’s your biggest writing struggle and how do you handle it?
DE: Finding time for my own writing projects is sometimes a challenge. This is common among writers, creative, and entrepreneurs, who make up my clients and communities. But, I practice what I teach, which means scheduling time for long-term or passion projects, even if that means calendaring appointments to write … and keeping them! Even spending a little bit of time each week on those passion projects adds up.
NS: What is one thing about writing you wish you’d learned earlier?
DE: Patience. Things happen in their own timeframe, not in the time you want them to happen.
I have been writing, speaking, and leading goal-setting and productivity groups (Write On Online) for many years. I’ve helped entrepreneurs and consultants develop their books for either self- or traditional publishing, and self-published two of my own ebooks – one on kids writing prompts and the other on blogging.
A little over two years ago, I rebranded my goal-coaching to The D*E*B Method, my system for helping people figure out what they want and how to get it. “DEB” stands for Determine Your Mission, Explore Your Options, Brainstorm Your Path. I planned to self-publish it as a workbook, when I met an agent who asked for my book proposal. I wrote a book proposal, which found its way Brenda Knight at Mango Publishing toward the end of 2018. Mango published Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals in January 2020.
Since we are living in a time where everyone needs to rethink their path and reboot their goals, the timing couldn’t be better to introduce Your Goal Guide to the world. I am thrilled my book landed at Mango and that it was released this year.
NS: What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever heard?
DE: Early in my career, when I was doing events for Barnes & Noble in Schaumberg, IL, I was invited to attend a Romance Writers of America meeting. A woman, who was reading her first chapter, was getting feedback from all over the place. People in the meeting were telling her everything from changing her characters to altering the plot. I just kept thinking, “Leave that poor woman alone.”
They had a rule about letting new guests offer critiques, so I had to seek her out after the meeting and tell her to ignore everything! Especially when you are first starting a project, you need to take the time to explore your vision for your book, before opening your work up to critique. That way, you can objectively examine any feedback, so you know what to ignore and what to embrace.
NS: Do you write by hand or on a computer?
DE: Mostly on computer, but I do like to write outlines, jot notes, and sometimes start drafts on paper.
NS: What advice would you give writers starting out?
DE: Start journaling regularly. It’s great for idea development, problem solving, and keeping track of what you see, feel, hear, experience, etc.
Journaling is also one of the best ways to develop your style and tone. When you already have content to write about – your ideas, feelings, activities, and observations, you can spend your writing time getting better at the craft of writing, while exploring who you are as a writer.
NS: Has your writing life turned out differently than you expected? If so, how?
DE: YES. When I was a teenager, I planned to write the great American novel. What young writer doesn’t? In my early 20s, I thought I might end up a successful screenwriter. Then I got my freelance writing break – for a national college-centric magazine – about a week after I finished the first draft of my first screenplay. Lifestyle and non-fiction writing really came naturally to me, so I followed that path. I am so glad I did.
NS: What’s next for you writing wise?
DE: I recently started writing more column-like articles for The D*E*B Method blog, which has been a lot of fun. I am also working on a creative semi-non-fiction project that keeps getting put on the back-burner, as well as a new podcast, called #ChangeHappens, in progress.
NS: Mermaids or Goddesses?
NS: Toast or bagels?
NS: Ocean, mountains, or forest?
NS: Leggings or jeans?
NS: Dogs, cats, fish, guinea pigs, or horses?
Debra Eckerling is the author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning, and Achieving Your Goals and founder of the D*E*B METHOD®. DEB stands for Determine Your Mission, Explore Your Options, Brainstorm Your Path.
A communications specialist and project catalyst, she works with individuals and businesses to set goals and manage their projects through one-on-one coaching, workshops, and online support. Eckerling is also the founder of Write On Online, a website and community for writers, creatives, and entrepreneurs, as well as host of the #GoalChat Twitter chat (Sundays at 7pm PT), and #GoalChatLive (Mondays at 4pm on the Mango Publishing Facebook Page). She lives in Los Angeles.
Reach out to Debra at these outlets:
YourGoalGuideBook.com or YourGoalGuideRoadmap.com
Find Debra on social media:
Your Words are Your Wings
As writers, we often feel responsible for speaking out, speaking up. In times of strife, (pandemic, revolution, both) silence signals complicity. Whether it’s a letter to the editor of a local newspaper or a book that hits the New York Times best-seller list, our words can change the world.
But our writing doesn’t just change the capital “W” world. Writing changes the lower case “w” world as well—our own world and the world of the people nearest to us. Writing can change our own attitudes and beliefs, how we think and what we feel.
For centuries, deep thinkers (and deep feelers) have put pen to paper to uncover their longings, test their theories, and prove the points they knew were true. When ideas are set forth in black and white (or brown and olive) on the blank page, they transform. We see these thoughts clearly and can ascertain whether our theories have value or should be discarded. Writing guides us to our truth.
Nigerian poet Jenim Dibie, author of The Calligraphy of God, explains:
“Silence is a cage. These words are my wings.”
She urges us to break free from whatever cage might trap us.
Take up your pen.
Spread your wings.
For more wisdom from authors like Jenim Dibie, please check out You Should Be Writing, the new writing journal from Mango Publishing by Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney.
One White Woman’s Tiny Plan of Action – Write Now Columbus – June 2020
I’m a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman who lives in an affluent central Ohio suburb. While I was in high school, growing up in rural Ohio, the first family of “colored people” moved into our district.
They were Italian.
Despite my lifelong desire to reform racism out of myself, that lack of people of color during my formative years skewed my perspective. What I don’t know and haven’t experienced could make me dangerous to the black friends I love. I’m committed to facing my white privilege and racism. Until I own it, I can’t do anything about it.
I’m ashamed to admit it took a Facebook friend calling out we “white folks” on our silence after George Floyd’s murder for me to finally, decades too late, take more specific action. I am listening to my black friends, watching black leaders, and allowing their actions to guide my steps.
This week, an article in The Columbus Dispatch explained how business owners were signing a “Letter To Columbus City Council in Support of Resolution Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis.” As the publisher of Write Now Columbus, I added my voice. It felt ridiculously small in the face of so many deaths, but I had to begin somewhere. Maybe it would help turn the tide.
As a runner, today I would normally celebrate Global Running Day. Instead, I consciously “exercised” my white privilege by running three miles without being killed. Sound harsh? A few weeks ago, 25 year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, was chased, gunned down, and killed by several white men while he was running. Today, I ran for him, used the hashtag #irunwithmaud to bring awareness, and donated to the fund set up for his mother.
I also donated to The Bail Project. Many black and impoverished people sit in jail awaiting trial because they cannot post bail. Meanwhile the white and affluent accused go home and to their jobs.
And I thought about my writing life. While some of the individuals in Depression Hates a Moving Target, are people of color, I did not point out anyone’s race. It didn’t seem to serve the story and might have been seen as gratuitous. I worry I missed an opportunity or responsibility.
I added black-owned bookstores to my lists and pledge to read more black history and books by black authors.
When my coauthor Brenda Knight and I chose author quotes to use in our new writing journal, You Should Be Writing, we carefully gathered from authors of all races. I’m especially proud of the final chapter about the role and responsibility of the writer. Words have power. May we use them wisely.
As others protest—I choose not to because of Ed’s compromised immune system—I continue to take good notes. I record my thoughts, feelings, and sensations, all things I may forget when later I want to reflect on this time.
I will add to my tiny plan as opportunities arise.
What’s your plan?
Notice I didn’t ask if you had one. We’re way beyond that.
It’s not my job to tell you want to do. But please, figure it out.
I am Your Witness – Write Now Columbus – May 2020
My old friend, impostor syndrome, has returned.
“Who do you think you are?” it chides as I try to pen this essay. It says I have nothing to offer since I have barely written all month.
Ed, my husband, continues his amazing recovery from open heart surgery, the complications of which left him unable to swallow. He left the hospital on March 26th on a feeding tube. Two weeks ago he had just begun to eat soft foods. Today, he is eating full meals and swallowing all his pills. A surgeon will remove the tube next week.
I’m darned proud of how hard he has worked to heal and just as proud of myself for how quickly I learned the home health aide duties his care required. You may have seen my #accidentalhomehealthaide tweets. They began in jest, but he and I have been in a home health care bubble since he got home. I had neither time nor energy to do anything more authorial than the occasional social media post.
But things are turning.
As mental health awareness month begins, I have a podcast recording scheduled, a mental health-related feature interview, a lovely chat with author Mag Dimond set on Facebook live during the month, and the new writing journal, You Should Be Writing, coauthored with Brenda Knight out in the world.
Still, my mind could care less.
“Who do you think you are?”
Across the room sits a statue of the Buddha in the “earth-witness” pose with his fingers touching the ground.
Legend has it, in the final hours before the Buddha’s enlightenment, Mara, the demon taunting and tempting him with all manner of things, made one final challenge: doubt.
“WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”
The Buddha touched his fingers to the ground and said, “I am here.”
The Earth responded, “I am your witness.”
We writers are all Buddhas.
When doubt arises, we touch our fingers to the keyboard or put our pens to the page.
Let’s say it together:
“I AM HERE!”
I see you. I am your witness, and you are mine.
Doubt, be gone.