Dissertation Consultation

Dissertation consultation is a tailored service designed for doctoral candidates who would like assistance with their dissertation project. This may involve a variety of services including editing, writing consulting, and coaching. The purpose of this work is to assist individuals and groups in completing their dissertation on time and submitting their best work. The dissertation process can be daunting, exhausting, and stressful. The best time to involve a dissertation consultant in the process is before submitting the proposal, but consultation is advantageous at any time during the project.

It can be extremely useful and a huge relief to have someone managing the big picture while you focus on the details. There are many areas where a dissertation can go wrong. Are you struggling in any of these areas?

  • Project feels too big and overwhelming
  • Research question is too broad
  • Literature review doesn’t connect research to study/research question
  • Literature review is boring
  • Study doesn’t address research question well
  • Graphs, charts and other visuals are boring or don’t simplify complex information
  • Not making an original contribution to current research
  • Difficulty justifying use of guiding framework
  • Ideas and discussions are too abstract
  • Discussions focus only on concrete details
  • Chapters are too short
  • Dissertation lacks cohesion between chapters
  • Lacking scholarly tone/academic voice
  • Writing repeats same words and phrases throughout
  • Writing lacks credibility, clarity, or coherence

A Dissertation Consultant can get you back on track. Services are highly customized for each client depending on their needs, strengths, and weaknesses. Following are examples of the expertise that will benefit your dissertation process:

  • Assessment of writing completed to date
  • Weekly/bimonthly meetings that can include the following
    • Coaching – work on improving habits and skills while being held accountable and receiving support and encouragement
    • Consulting – enhance your writing and develop your ideas and discussions in the dissertation
    • Editing – receive ongoing reviews of writing
  • Develop a project plan, including a timeline, for the dissertation project, beginning to end
  • Learn ways to manage the challenges of life and the dissertation process
  • Receive writing consulting which will highlight problems and show how to resolve them
  • Discuss ideas and aspects of the dissertation along with resolutions to particular problems
  • Review ethics of the study including mitigation of researcher bias
  • Ensure requirements are met
  • Utilize tools to critically evaluate, brainstorm, and organize your thoughts and writing

When undertaking a project of this magnitude, it is quite helpful, even necessary, to have encouragement, support, and expertise available. Please make use of additional resources on this site including how and when to edit, writing the Literature review, working with a writing coach, and many other topics related to writing and literature in the blog. Let’s talk about what you are struggling with and come up with a plan together to get you back on track.

The Writing Life: Atomic Habits

image of Atomic Habits in Audible player

When I used to work in an office, I loved listening to non-fiction in my car during my morning and afternoon commutes. Learning is something that is very pleasurable. Driving in traffic is not. Listening to audiobooks is one way I make a tedious situation into a time that, if not enjoyable, is at least more tolerable.

One of the books I listened to was Atomic Habits by James Clear. He uses the super powerful atomic bomb, made up of minuscule atoms, as a metaphor for the substantial progress we can experience by making tiny shifts in our choices and behaviors on most days. The English geek in me loves this comparison: atom bomb is to atoms as change is to habits. Math geeks might like this too!

This is one of the best books on change I have come across so far. It is well-narrated by the author, interesting, easy to follow, and extremely practical. Clear breaks down the science of change and habit formation into his own proven system that enables us to affect significant transformations over time by taking small steps every day. He also offers many tips that will ensure our success. An example of this is habit stacking which means to piggyback a new habit onto another that is already well established making it more likely you will follow through with the new behavior. This reminds me of one of the basic laws of physics: objects in motion stay in motion. Let your momentum and/or pleasure and satisfaction from completing the previous activity carry you through the new practice you are trying to create.

This text is loaded with helpful information. I wouldn’t be able to do it justice in a single blog post and that would probably violate copyright laws, so I’ll just write about a remarkable gem called “The Habit Loop”. This concept is distinctive because it works on any behavior, negative or positive.

The Habit Loop demonstrates how some trigger causes a craving that we act upon and receive a reward for. Determining how and when this loop operates (or can operate) in our lives will help us reduce bad practices and construct new routines. We can intervene at any point in the loop. Let me illustrate how this works with an example of my own.

I am accustomed to eating certain foods when I am overly tired or particularly emotional. (I won’t mention what they are because someone reading this post, who shares this proclivity, could be triggered.) My feelings are the cue to start craving and the response is that I stop somewhere to buy those items. The reward is the feeling of anticipation at eating these tasty products and relieving my stress. I know this is not healthy and the immediate results are various discomforts such as stomach upset and headache followed by weight gain. I have several choices in how to break this cycle.

  1. I can notice when I begin to feel fatigued or emotional and chose to eat something healthy or take a break from what I’m doing to restore energy and equilibrium.
  2. I may try to resist the craving by focusing on something else such as a work task, reading, cleaning, exercising or any number of activities.
  3. I could purchase healthier versions of my “feel better” foods or select the smallest size available so as not to overindulge.
  4. I might remind myself of all the negative consequences of eating that stuff and how engaging in this behavior is contrary to many of the positive changes I am striving to make in order to be happier, healthier and feeling better.

As you can see, some are better options than others. We want to set ourselves up for success so discovering our loops, and planning ahead, will improve results. For some, early intervention in the cycle will work best and, for others, maybe multiple points of interference will do the trick. Whatever the solution, consistent application is the way to achieve outstanding results.

I highly recommend Atomic Habits. When you purchase the book, you gain access to a wealth of material on jamesclear.com, not all of which is available to the public. Some of this is in the form of worksheets to help with planning your new habits. I have found it to be a wonderfully helpful guide that offers growth in all areas of our lives. If you are looking for a simple plan for building an exceptional life, this is an excellent resource!

What do you do to inhibit undesired behaviors and to encourage advantageous actions? If you have read Atomic Habits, what did you find most useful?

Stephen Crane:  The Advance Guard of Modernist, Expressionist and Absurdist Movements

According to M.H. Abrams in A Glossary of Literary Terms, “the term modernism is widely used to identify new and distinctive features in the subjects, forms, concepts, and styles of literature and the other arts in the early decades of the twentieth century, but especially after World War I (1914-18)”. This description can certainly be applied to the writing of Stephen Crane in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets even though this novel was written more than twenty years prior to the start of World War I. There is no doubt that the story is based in naturalism due to the day-to-day depictions of human life and the underlying beliefs that humans have no soul and that there is nothing waiting for us beyond our embodied existence. Nevertheless, the use of imagery, the style of writing, the exaggerated representations of characters, and the sense of futility in this novel are indicative of later styles and periods of writing.

A special feature of modernism is avant-garde. In his Glossary, Abrams describes avant-garde as

a small, self-conscious group of artists and authors who deliberately undertake, in Ezra Pound’s phrase, to ‘make it new’. By violating the accepted conventions and proprieties, not only of art but social discourse, they set out to create ever-new artistic forms and styles and to introduce hitherto neglected, and sometimes forbidden, subject matter… a prominent aim is to shock the sensibilities of the conventional reader and to challenge the norms and pieties of the dominant bourgeois culture.

Using the stylistic and artistic forms mentioned above, Crane wrote about societal problems during a time when people still preferred escapist novels. Readers in the late 1890’s did not want to read about slum life in the city, a topic better suited to “serious literary study” (Gullason). By doing so anyway, Crane sought to wake people up to the real world – not the world they pretended to live in. In this, he foreshadowed the modernists and in particular, the group known as the avant-garde.

Coinciding with the modernist period was the expressionist movement. Expressionism can further be described as writers and artists departing “from realistic depictions of life and the world, by incorporating in their art visionary or powerfully emotional states of mind that are expressed and transmitted by means of distorted representations of the outer world” (Abrams). In Maggie, Stephen Crane does this through his use of animal symbolism and color. Crane draws analogies between characters and animals, thus exaggerating reality. He likens Maggie to “a small pursued tigress” while she is eating dinner. Jimmie “became immured like an African cow”. According to Wikipedia, “Immurement is a form of execution where a person is walled up within a building and left to die from starvation or dehydration”. Whether this passage is symbolic of his life in the tenements or symbolic of his being stuck in traffic, it is not naturalistic but rather an expressionist exaggeration of reality. The use of animal imagery by Crane is characteristic of expressionism in their provoking of powerful images and feelings and understandings in the reader by the use of distorted depictions of reality.

Additionally, “Expressionist writers of prose narratives … abandoned standard modes of characterization and plot for symbolic figures involved in an obsessive world of nightmarish events” (Abrams). In Maggie this can be seen in each of the main characters, but none more so than Maggie. Maggie is a sort of anti-heroine. She is living a life of social isolation, experiencing physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother and brother, enduring the ridicule and outcasting by the other slum tenants when Pete severs ties with her, taking up prostitution in order to survive, and ultimately in killing herself to escape the horrors of life. Her brother Jimmie is depicted as a drunken thug with delusions of grandeur and high moral standing that are in direct opposition to the reality of his existence. The mother is a drunken, abusive parent who is often in trouble with the law. Mary screams wrathfully and laughs mockingly when Maggie tries to return home after Pete is finished with her. Mary condemns and ridicules her daughter and casts her out onto the street. When Maggie commits suicide, Mary mourns as though she had never cast out Maggie. She is sorry but it is too late. Finally Pete, the despoiler of Maggie (and presumably other women), is himself taken advantage of by a prostitute with whom he is enamored, but who despises him. At the end of the story, all the characters degenerate. They all continue their pathetic, hopeless existences, while Maggie, on the other hand, is released from her horrible life. In Maggie there is no salvation for anyone.

This lack of salvation is typical of absurdism. Literature of the absurd is

works in drama and prose fiction which have in common the view that the human condition is essentially absurd, and that this condition can be adequately represented only in works of literature that are themselves absurd… The literature has its roots also in the movements of expressionism and surrealism, as well as in the fiction, written in the 1920’s of Franz Kafka (Abrams).

This movement began “as a rebellion against basic beliefs and values in traditional culture and literature (Abrams). Crane was himself a renegade and that is reflected in his writing. First, he rebelled against his strict religious upbringing and then became a bohemian and began experiencing all the things his parents preached against (Gullason). Furthermore, being a Darwinist informed a lot of Crane’s naturalist writing. However, in writing Maggie Stephen Crane “railed against the nature of things, raging against the universe which Darwin describes but raging against it as one might rage against the daily rising of the sun” (Gibson). The futility of such an action is illustrative of the absurd. Furthermore, in Maggie, Crane represented life as pre-destined. His characters were doomed. They could not change, could not improve. This is illustrated in Jimmie’s thought that Maggie could do better, be better, and at the same time he was not able to forgive her because damning her put him on a higher moral standing (Simoneaux). Furthermore, on several copies of Maggie that Crane gave to friends, he wrote “tries to show that environment is a tremendous thing and shapes lives regardless” (Gibson). This inability to change or succeed in the face of the ‘tremendous environment’ that shapes the lives of the characters is an early version of absurdism and similar to the writings of Kafka.

Abrams describes the evolution of the absurd movement.

After the 1940’s, however, there was a widespread tendency… to view a human being as an isolated existent who is cast into an alien universe; to conceive the human world as possessing no inherent truth, value, or meaning; and to represent  human life – in its fruitless search for purpose and significance, as it moves from  the nothingness when it came toward the nothingness where it must end – as an existence which is both anguished and absurd.

Maggie was very isolated. She had no one to talk to about Pete and no one to give her advice about him. If she had had someone to educate her about men like Pete she might not have ended up on the street, in an ‘alien universe’. If Maggie had not had an absent father and an alcoholic, abusive mother she might have had a different life that had some value and meaning. But she did not. She repeatedly endured pain, horrors, and suffering. There was nothing significant or purposeful about her life. The only thing she had any control over was the manner and time of her death. Rather than continue in anguish and absurdity, Maggie chose to end her life. Her ex-lover, her mother and brother continue to live their ‘anguished and absurd’ existence “as it moves from the nothingness when it came toward the nothingness where it must end” (Abrams).

Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is not simply a naturalist novel. While Crane is considered to be a naturalist, his style of writing seems to break the mold of naturalistic writing and creates something new and interesting.  His liberal lifestyle and modern beliefs gave rise to an unconventional writing style that influenced future writers.

The Writing Life: Habits

“With habits, we don’t make decisions, we don’t use self-control, we just do the thing we want ourselves to do.”

Gretchen Rubin

Life is filled with many challenges and responsibilities that sometimes place a heavy demand on our time and energy. Such things often conflict with our desires and needs. Achieving goals is not something we should leave to chance. There is contradictory evidence about will power: it’s finite, it ebbs and flows like our emotions, it is like a muscle and becomes fatigued from overuse. Whatever the case, if we foster healthy habits to create and maintain balance and know ourselves better, we will be more successful in our efforts. In order to preserve will power, we can build behaviors that enable us to accomplish more every day. Habit building requires time, focus, and energy so before undertaking this worthwhile endeavor, we should make a plan to set ourselves up for success.

The first step is to look at your various ambitions and choose one. It will be challenging enough to create one new, lasting habit. Trying to do too much can cause your preliminary progress to crumple like a house of cards. You might be wondering how you can choose just one. This exercise can help.

  • List all your goals and think about each one. Ask yourself the following questions.
    • How long have I wanted to do this?
    • How important is this?
    • Why is this important to me?
    • How difficult or easy will it be to accomplish this?
    • Will it take a longer or shorter amount of time?
    • What feelings come up when I think about this?
    • How would this fit into my life right?
  • As you ponder the level of effort against the importance and your current feelings about it, does 1 or more goals from your list rise above the rest? If it’s just one, great! That’s the one to work on now. If not, take a walk, meditate, or perform some other physical task and let one part of your mind consider what’s next while another part focuses on your exertions.

Once you have decided, it’s time to deconstruct the goal. Most ambitions involve many smaller goals. And those smaller goals are made up of many new practices. One of the keys to success when it comes to creating good habits is to break them down to the smallest steps possible. For instance, I wanted to have more energy so I could get more done. I had lots of plans such as painting my home office, decluttering, organizing the closets, but felt so tired after working that sometimes I didn’t even cook dinner. I just wanted to chill and watch Netflix.  When I thought about what would be involved in having more energy, I came up with the following list:

  • sleep better
  • eat better
  • exercise regularly
  • relax more
  • work less

When I looked at the list, I wasn’t sure if work less was very realistic. I didn’t even know how to relax in a way that would rejuvenate me. I realized that some of these would require a lot of thought, research, and trial and error. It felt a bit overwhelming, so I decided to start with just one item on the list. I decided to start with exercise. I knew from previous experience that I would start to feel good after just a few days of consistent exercise. My goal was to get on the elliptical for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week. It was a great plan, but it was still too big.

Days turned into weeks without getting on the elliptical once. I always found an excuse. I’m too tired. I’m too busy. Somedays I didn’t even think about exercising. I changed the goal to 20 minutes at least 5 days a week. When I did not use the elliptical a single time in a few more weeks, I decided on 15 minutes. I kept planning and decreasing the time until, one day, I got on for six minutes. That worked out well, so I did it again a few days later. Then, a third time in the same week! Over time, I worked my way up to getting on the elliptical 2 times a day for 10 minutes each, 5 or more days per week because I liked how I felt afterwards and those breaks throughout my day became very welcome.

This is not how I envisioned exercising would look, but it worked. I wasn’t too tired. I had more energy! I wasn’t too busy to fit in 10 minutes. In fact, I looked forward to the break from work. Often, we just have to keep breaking our goals down until they feel possible. Many experts agree that breaking down habits into the smallest steps possible will decrease resistance to the new behavior.

Once we have a plan that feels doable, we have to be consistent to make it a reliable practice. There is some disagreement on how long it takes to form habits and, in my experience, some things take longer than others. Occasionally, I’ll make a decision and never look back. Typically, though, the formation of new behaviors requires weeks or months. But it doesn’t have to be tedious. I like to learn so when I’m trying to build a new habit, I read a lot about it. I want to understand the theory behind an activity or aim and I wonder what has worked and not worked for others. I know myself and I try to engage my strengths to bolster my efforts.

My “success” in developing a habit of exercise spawned the development of additional lifestyle changes. I started stretching, sporadically at first, then daily, and then twice daily in 10-minute intervals. That seemed to be the magic number for physical activity. I didn’t feel guilty about slipping away from work for 10 minutes to do something that helped me focus better. While streaming shows in the evening, I searched for quick and healthy recipes and saved them to Pinterest. Because I like to organize things, I organized the pins into categories. Then, I developed shopping lists and planned when and what to cook. I discovered the less crowded times to grocery shop were Saturdays at 9am and Tuesdays at 2pm. I also carved out time two days a week to cook large amounts of food so there would be leftovers. Sometimes, I cooked and froze food in individual serving containers. Eating better and exercising contributed to better sleep. And I developed quite a few new habits and experienced increased energy to do more things. My closets still need organizing and my home is still cluttered but I am loving learning to play the guitar!

Developing good habits that fulfill your needs and desires is a worthwhile endeavor. Not only will you achieve your goal, but you can change your life. Next time you feel an urge to do something for yourself, give in! And don’t forget to make it fun and interesting. Enlist a friend to learn and grow with you. Engage your strengths and your senses for a fuller, richer, more invested experience. Build practices that give you a better life today. Engage with the process of habit building in a fully committed, fully participatory way. Focus on what you are doing now, in the present moment, rather than where you hope to get to tomorrow. Enjoy the journey.

The Writing Life: Meditation

image of phone with Insight Timer app

If you have been following my previous posts, you know I have written about how beneficial meditation can be for writers. It has helped me a great deal and I think it can help you too. Meditation can help you feel calm, centered, and grounded. Centered means to be fully aware of being in your body in the present moment. This can be difficult when we haven’t been taking good care of ourselves. If you are like me, you push away discomfort or pain and place your attention on other things. Grounded means to be aware of your physical body in relation to the earth under your feet (especially when your feet are on a carpet, that is on a floor, that is on a foundation, that is on the earth – it is easier to feel grounded in nature, but we can’t always go outside whenever we want.) This awareness of our connection to the planet nurtures us and allows us to feel connected to the earth and everything around us, even other people.

Being centered and grounded are powerful states because we can focus on what is most important in the moment and can respond thoughtfully to any person or situation that arises. When I am centered and grounded, I don’t worry about how I will react if something happens. In addition to feeling calm, I am confident in myself. These are not natural states for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get things done and do them to the best of my ability. This often leads to anxiety, anger, and depression when I don’t live up to my high standards. Meditation alleviates that pressure and returns me to serenity.

There is a heightened sense of wellbeing that comes when you are physically, mentally and emotionally balanced and connected to everything. I sometimes feel that life/the universe has a frequency that it resonates at and when I am very relaxed and aware of myself and my surroundings while in the meditative state, I can feel that resonating energy. I can feel my own energy vibrating at the same frequency. That feeling is transformative and restorative. And it helps me write better and more often!

Many people are daunted by meditation. But there are different ways to do it. In a previous post, I provided instructions for a simple mindfulness mediation focusing on the breath. Now, I would like to offer something more advanced. This mindfulness meditation focuses on awareness and connection and is wonderful at any time but particularly beneficial when feeling alone or isolated.

  • Sit comfortably in a quiet place (i.e., no television or music and turn the sounds off on your phone and computer) and close your eyes.  
  • Take a few slow, deep breaths, focusing your attention on breathing, and letting your breath fall back into its natural rhythm.
  • Notice any thoughts that come to your attention and let them go. Refocusing on your breathing.
  • Become aware of what you are sitting on and how it rests on the floor or the ground.
  • Scan your body from head to toe, noting any sensations in your body or coming into your body through your feet or where you are sitting.
  • Keeping your eyes closed, slowly and gently begin to notice sounds around you. There are many sounds in a home or office that we are often unaware of such as the hum of the refrigerator, the fan of the air conditioner, or electronic devices. Whatever the sounds, just notice them.
  • Then, expand your awareness to noises in the hallway, on another floor, or outside. If it is morning, you may hear birds singing. Maybe someone is mowing their lawn or there is a delivery vehicle on the street. Perhaps people are walking by, talking and laughing. Just notice what is occurring around you.
  • Sit for a few more minutes (or however long you are comfortable with or have time for), noticing your body and breath while being aware of the noises and activity around you.
  • To finish, bring your awareness back to your immediate surroundings and slowly open your eyes. Give yourself time to refocus your attention on where you are, why you are there, and what you are going to do next.

I love this meditation because it reminds me that I am not separate from the world. I am a part of the life that is happening around me. It is the same life that is within me. I feel connected to everyone and everything around me. Give it a try and post in the comments what you experienced!

Meditation is for everyone! It is very flexible and can be suited to your needs of the moment. You can meditate anytime, anywhere you feel safe, and for as little as a minute or two. You can meditate for much longer periods of time. You can meditate focusing on nothing or everything, your breath, your emotions or physical discomfort, or a myriad of other things. Try a variety and see what works for you. For beginners and people who have difficulty not thinking or stopping their brains from working, I recommend using an app to help you meditate. I like Insight Timer. It’s a meditation app that offers more than a hundred thousand free guided meditations and many music playlists, live talks, and classes (requiring a paid subscription) on a variety of topics to help people live their best life.

Beyond the free meditations and music, I enjoy using this app because it is easy to use with important features such as search, bookmarks, recommendations, and reviews. You can search by topic or how much time you have. Who can’t squeeze in 5 minutes for guided meditation to feel calm and focused? It is easy to share meditations and music with friends, even if they don’t have the app yet. The app also allows donations to Insight Timer teachers.

I cannot extoll enough the benefits of meditation. Meditation helps me feel serene and to focus on achieving my large and small goals, goals for a lifetime, goals for the day or the next hour. If, as researchers have stated, will power is finite and when we run out for the day, we won’t have any more until tomorrow, then we need another way to accomplish goals. One way is through habits and another way is through mediation. But that is a discussion for another time!

If you’ve always wondered what meditation was like, or you’ve struggled to meditate, try Insight Timer. You will notice a difference! And, if you have used a mediation app, please share your experience below.

The Benefits of Editorial Assessments

image of editorial assessment

An editorial assessment is an evaluation of your manuscript both as a whole and as individual components. If this is a dissertation, each chapter will be studied to see how well they meet the requirements. For novels, literary devices such as plot, setting, and characterization are examined. Then, feedback is sent to the client that includes a summary, thorough analysis, and recommendations for revisions. The contents of the assessment vary depending on the type of work, a client’s needs and their writing style. In an Editorial assessment, in addition to the tips, links and recommendations, I sometimes ask questions (open-ended questions, as I would in a coaching session) to help writers think more broadly or deeply about aspects of their writing. I also provide a 45-minute consultation/coaching session so my clients can ask their own questions. Most find it very valuable.

Editorial Assessment of a Dissertation

An in-depth evaluation of a dissertation is particularly helpful to a Ph.D. candidate, as long as they have enough time for revisions after receiving the report. The assessment can be done in conjunction with editing or as a standalone service. An examination is completed on each chapter: introduction, literature review (lit review), research design/methodology, findings, and discussion. The strengths and weaknesses of each chapter are described. An analysis of how well the chapter meets the requirements is given along with recommendations for how to add depth and breadth to a chapter. The following are examples of the types of feedback that might be provided for the lit review chapter.

  • Ways to better organize the lit review
  • How best to present the research and/or explain it in more detail

The dissertation as a whole is evaluated including the development and cohesiveness of the writing. Examples of feedback might involve:

  • How to present research introduced in the lit review in the research methodology, findings or discussion section
  • How to explicate the strengths and weaknesses of the researcher’s methods or bias(es) and their impact on the results
  • The importance of describing how the study and findings contribute to the current body of work
  • Defining the researcher’s own unique contribution to the field

There are good reasons to have an assessment of your dissertation. Often, a doctoral degree is a steppingstone to teaching and research positions. Those types of careers involve a lot of writing (and publishing) of books and scholarly articles. A dissertation is also the final requirement in a long, arduous process to earn your Ph.D., and it is usually published. Put your best work out into the world and learn to be a better writer with an editorial assessment!

Editorial Assessment of a Novel

Examining a novel can be beneficial to a writer because the building blocks of the novel are evaluated individually and then together, as a whole. This involves an appraisal of literary elements: setting (actual places or fantasy universes), character, conflict, point of view, theme, tone, and of course the 5 elements that make up the plot: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Additionally, based on the work itself, additional literary techniques such as pacing, foreshadowing, figurative language, or flashback will be studied. The report consists of a summary, detailed analysis of the strengths and weakness of the novel with regards to the literary elements and techniques and, of course, recommendations. Links to additional information on particular aspects of writing, based on an individual’s need, will be included. For example:

  • Sketching out the setting like you would a character
  • Where to add more sensory details
  • How to broaden or deepen a particular character

It may be difficult to take in but a critique of how and what you write can make you a better writer and help you produce better work with less revisions. It can also provide a confidence boost. Many writers aim to write two books per year. In order to do that, you need to be good and fast. An editorial assessment will help you with that!

When should you have an Editorial Assessment?

In a previous post, I mentioned how all writers should pay for an editor at least once. It is difficult to be objective about our own writing and having a manuscript edited or analyzed by a professional can help us write better. Editing and editorial assessments are not inexpensive – and many writers work a day job to cover living expenses – so pick a special or important manuscript. It could be one that you are struggling with or one where the words flowed easily. It could be a milestone such as a thesis or dissertation or a novel that a large or respected publishing house is interested in. Maybe it’s the book that made you want to become a writer. The novel you first started, or finished, but never submitted and you want to revise it and make the dream of publishing that special book come true. But it might also be the work you just finished writing and you unexpectedly came into a little extra money from a long lost relative, a lottery winning, or a bonus at your day job. Whenever or whatever the reason, be sure to have your writing evaluated by a professional at least once!

What is the Cost?

Depending on the length of your writing project and the qualifications and experience of the editor, you may pay $400 – $1000. Some editors will offer a discount when more than one service is requested.

How long does it take?

A good estimate is 2 to 4 weeks. Be sure to communicate your timeline with any prospective editor.

By now I’m sure you can see the benefits of editorial assessments and are eager to have an editor analyze your writing. I enjoy editing a lot, but I love editorial assessments. It is so interesting to deconstruct a story and very rewarding to help writers see their strengths. It can be challenging to see our own work objectively. I would be pleased to help you see your writing more objectively. Contact me today to learn more.

If you’ve already had an editorial assessment, what did you learn from it? How might this help you with a current or future writing project?

The Magic of Joanne Harris

“Magical realism relies upon the presentation of real, imagined or magical elements as if they were real…  [it has] inherent transgressive and subversive qualities [which] has led many postcolonial, feminist and cross-cultural writers to embrace it as a means of expressing their ideas.” Maggie Ann Bowers

Many writers today fall under the umbrella of magical realism. Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Laura Esquivel, Salmon Rushdie and Alice Hoffman are a few well-known magical realist writers. One of my favorite authors in this genre is Joanne Harris whose stories are particularly delicious. Her work appeals to many who love romance, comedy, fantasy, horror, magic, cooking, and stories situated in far off lands. While her stories do not speak to post-colonialism in the traditional sense, her work is subversive in nature because it illustrates the concept of the individual standing up successfully against the dominant power. Such ideas are a potent part of magical realist writing. That hope and optimism is a strong current running through most of Harris’ fantasy work. Not only can her characters change, but they do. Redemption and happiness are available and often achieved by her characters. It is an everyday sort of magic that we all need and want. And while her stories deal with things that are often brought about by the authority – be it secular or religious – or by a rival or even the individual themselves, the characters in her stories are able on their own or as a community to overcome what has been done to them and go on to lead fulfilling lives.

Where does all that strength and optimism come from? Growing up in a family of strong, superstitious French women who believed in the magic of everyday things. Growing up in small villages where everyone is like your family and spending summers running wild on a small coastal island. Like many magical realist authors, Joanne Harris is bicultural, born in England to an English father and a French mother. Her first language was French. She spent all her childhood summers on the island of Noirmoutier just off the western coast of France and the rest of the time in the English countryside. So integral were her summers on that French island that Harris has written on her website that growing up she felt “that Noirmoutier was where I really belonged.” After earning a degree in Modern and Medieval Languages from St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, she was a teacher for fifteen years. She published three novels during that time. The third was Chocolat, the one she is perhaps best known for. Harris has published twenty-two books to date, including three cookbooks, two collections of short stories, and seventeen novels. Her canon, like her short story collection Jigs and Reels, is a mixture of fantasy, horror, mystery and general fiction. Many of her novels and short stories employ magical realism. A couple of devices that she often uses to support that narrative mode are place and cookery. Many of her stories take place in rural France. Magic seems to be more believable when it’s in the country, or a foreign country, to those of us who live near the centers of scientific inquiry. Eating and drinking, with its ability to stimulate, relax, and satisfy people is one of life’s simpler pleasures and something we spend more time thinking about and preparing than we ever do consuming it. And, in the case of author Joanne Harris, writing about it. And I’m not just referring to her cookbooks.

Food has magical properties in Harris’ stories. Look at her titles. Chocolat and Blackberry Wine in which eating chocolate and drinking wine can change your life. The smell of oranges can trigger migraine headaches in Five Quarters of the Orange. In the short story, “Gastronomicon” preparing recipes in an heirloom cookbook can bring good fortune to the family or conjure demons. “Fish” is an aphrodisiac that causes a man to leave his wife on their honeymoon and hook up with the chef who becomes more beautiful and attractive with each bite of food. A special blend Japanese green tea helps a former psychiatric patient have more confidence and be more outgoing in “Tea with the Birds.”

Even in works not dedicated to gastronomy, the everyday acts of preparing food, eating, and drinking are magical. Indeed, Harris imbues the ordinary with magic. She blurs the lines between magical and real as magic is portrayed as ordinary and the ordinary is depicted as being extraordinary. In an interview after the publication of The Girl with no Shadow (published in the UK as The Lollipop Shoes), the sequel to Chocolat, Joanne Harris told a reporter, “You either believe in magic or you don’t. The occult, religion, superstition – they’re part of the same spectrum for me. I don’t distinguish. Strands of belief run through them all.” Magic infuses the novel Chocolat, a story about a mysteriously magical woman (Vianne) and her daughter who lead a nomadic existence, pulled and pushed by the wind and the spirit of her dead mother. They arrive in a small town in France during the Lenten season. The chocolate they sell in their shop, which is imbued with magic, changes people who consume it. Some people become lustier, less shy, more honest, less bitter, more relaxed while everyone gains a little more happiness in their life. Vianne’s chocolate voodoo even brings the travelling folk, who avoid townspeople, to her shop.

In another magical tale involving magical wine, a down and out English writer of second-rate pulp fiction named Jay Mackintosh, drinks from one of six bottles given to him a long time ago by a mystical man. He then buys a farm in France he’s never seen before and moves onto a happier, more meaningful life.  When he opens one of the bottles after so many years have passed, he expects it to have gone bad. But not only does the magic come alive in the bottle, all the remaining bottles wake up as well. “There was something going on in the cellar, after all. He could almost hear it, like the sounds of a distant party. Beneath his feet the bottles were in gleeful ferment. He could hear them whispering to him, singing, calling, capering. Their laughter was infectious, reckless, a call to arms. He felt a burst of raucous anticipation, a knowledge that something was on the way…” (Harris, Blackberry Wine 14).

At the same time, Harris deals with some important issues in her writing which is a significant aspect of magical realism. Chocolat exposes prejudice and shows a feminist way of mitigating the impact of the unkind and unfair treatment. When the Gypsies arrive at Lansquenet in their boats on the Tannes, the townspeople refuse to serve them. When the visitors attempt to order a few beers in a local bar, the proprietor tells them he’s closed even though there are quite a few customers inside. Roux says that the bar is “closed to us” and he is told he is not as dumb as he looks (Harris, Chocolat 95). And, Vianne’s continued association with the Gypsies further compromises her relationship with the people of Lansquenet, especially the priest, who has been trying to ruin her ever since he found out that she does not have a husband. This further illustrates how women are marginalized in a patriarchal society and the use of magical realism to expose this.

Harris also writes realistically and frighteningly about historical events in Five Quarters of the Orange. This is an enjoyable thriller set in rural France during the German occupation where, as an adult, Framboise must decode the secret, coded entries in her mother’s cookbook, in order to understand the tragedy that occurred one night of her youth that required the family to flee in the middle of the night. Magical realism is a good genre to write about such events because you need a good bit of magic to lighten things up and give people a little hope when reading about the horrors and tragedies of war.

Throughout her body of work, Harris weaves the magical in with the ordinary to make the supernatural seem commonplace. She depicts realistic and magical things side by side, depicts the magic as if it was ordinary and reality as if it was extraordinary, and writes about people and things that are themselves magical. Even when her stories are scary, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It is comforting when good conquers evil. People love stories like that, and Joanne Harris delivers.

Beyond describing how postcolonial nations have been irrevocably changed, beyond explicating the female experience in a male-dominated society, beyond showing a potential path to resistance or revolution in an oppressive situation, magical realism is a delightful narrative mode that offers people something to believe in, whether it be magic, oneself or a group of people you are part of. In our increasingly technological world, we need something to believe in, perhaps more than ever before. We need something to give us hope that we can transcend our biological natures, overcome the limitations of our personality, and prevail against tyranny and oppression.  And Joanne Harris does this really well. In her contemporary folk tales, good conquers evil and many of her characters overcome the stumbling blocks that have been placed in their way. Because the people in her stories find themselves, find love, find happiness, gain some universal truths, we readers believe that we can too. If you don’t believe that good things can happen to you, you probably won’t notice when they do. According to Joanne Harris, sometimes you make your own magic and “sometimes it happens by accident. After years of waiting – for a correct planetary alignment, a chance meeting, a sudden inspiration – the right circumstances sometimes happen of their own accord, slyly, without fanfare, without warning. Layman’s alchemy, Joe would have called it. The magic of everyday things” (Harris, Blackberry Wine 11). The magic of optimism. Or the greatest magic of all, the magic of believing in yourself.

The Writing Life: Creating Balance

Writers are not immune to the ills that plague humans. We know about tortured artists such as Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, and Sylvia Plath to name a very few. While more than 50 million Americans suffer from one form of mental illness or another, there is some evidence that highly creative people are more susceptible. I think that means we, writers, should make an even greater effort to practice healthy, positive, protective self-care. Following are some steps to take toward creating a life that will support and enhance your craft.

Maintain good health

There has been a lot of advertising around how to be healthy. All of us have a pretty good idea that the following are key to a healthy and long life:

  • eating lots of fruits and veggies
  • avoiding foods high in fat and sugar
  • drinking lots of water
  • exercising regularly
  • sleeping at least 7 ½ hours each night
  • trying new things

But like many things in life, knowing and executing are two totally different things. This is where knowing yourself, discipline, good habits, and patience will greatly help.

Journal writing

Writing in a journal has been proven to provide many benefits. One practice that I recommend is to just write out whatever is in your head every day prior to sitting down to write. For those of you who like writing prompts:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • What is on the schedule for today?
  • How are you feeling about writing later?
  • What might get in the way of your writing and what can you do about that?

You can do this first thing in the morning or whenever is convenient. This is not the kind of journal writing that you will want to save for later. There probably won’t be a lot of good ideas or well-turned phrases that you will be incorporating into your next work. That is not the purpose of this type of writing. This is similar to Julia Cameron’s “morning pages”. The idea is to give yourself a clean slate, free from all the random thoughts that seem to occupy too much of our brain. This is a practice that will help build discipline and patience as well as reap more beneficial rewards over time with increased focus. Journal writing will also help you know yourself better which, in turn, will make you a better writer.

Meditate

Meditation is very relaxing and calming. It’s a great practice that can clear your mind before and after each writing session or anytime you need to slow down and refocus on the present moment. Just 5 minutes will do wonders. A daily meditation practice offers many benefits such as

  • better sleep
  • increased focus
  • managing stress and emotions better
  • enhanced creativity

According to Harvard Medical School, meditating 10 – 20 minutes a day can lower blood pressure. But don’t try to do too much if this is new for you. Attempt 1 to 5 minutes at first. Here is a simple exercise:

  • Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
    • PRO TIP: If thoughts are intruding, you can say in your head, “breath in” and “breath out” with each inhalation and exhalation while you focus on the rising and falling of your chest.
  • Take 3 slow, deep breaths, letting each out slowly and then let your breathing return to its normal rhythm.
  • Continue to focus on your breathing, in and out. Notice how breathing feels. Notice how your body feels. Don’t judge what you observe. It is just information.
    • PRO TIP: If thoughts or judgements come up, in your head say something like “thinking” or “those are just thoughts.” Let them go and return your focus to your breathing.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to learn to maintain focus on breathing and let thoughts come and go without diverting our attention. It’s a practice, and practice makes improvement.

Walk in nature

Walking outside is like meditating if you focus on what you are seeing and experiencing in the moment. Walking helps one part of my brain focus on organizing my thoughts while another part notices the warmth of the sun, the scent of flowers, and the pleasure of movement. It fosters feelings of serenity and well-being. If you have a dog, bring them along. Be present with your pet and look at the beauty around you. Notice the air you are breathing. Is it cold or warm? Look at the colorful flowers and variety of plantings. Can you smell the freshly mown grass? What shade of blue is the sky? Is it cloudy or does sunshine brighten everything?  How loud are the birds? Practicing awareness will help you stay in the moment and improve not just your focus, but your writing as well. Engaging with the present rather than ruminating on our thoughts will be refreshing!

Spend time with loved ones

A lot of writing is done in isolation so, to create balance, we must make an effort to spend time with others. If this means arranging in advance a scheduled time, do it. And stick to it. No matter where you are in your writing or how many ideas are coming to you, keep these appointments. Spending time with people who are good to us, who accept us the way we are – true friends – is as important – or more important – than our writing. Life is about relationships and, just like writing, relationships take work. Both are worth it. When you find special people, hold on to them. They make the good times better and the difficult times a little easier.

Read                                                                                      

You can learn a lot about writing from observing how authors write. Think about the books you loved best. What did you like about them? Usually, the answer is something like the language, the characters, and the setting. Paying attention to how other writers use figurative language, create new worlds and develop characters and describe their interactions will improve your writing. Don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s how we learn and become better writers. Reading is fuel for your mind. Exposing yourself to new ideas creates connections between known and new information, firing your imagination. But it’s not only about writing. Reading is very relaxing. It’s good for you.

Despite how the tortured artist stereotype has been romanticized at times, I don’t believe we need to suffer for our art. I don’t believe in muses. I believe that our creativity is our own, to be developed or not. We don’t need alcohol, drugs, to be in love, or to be surrounded by beautiful people to write. The best way to bring out our creativity, and our best work, is by fostering our health and vitality, developing discipline, and establishing and maintaining a balanced life. It’s that simple, but not that easy.

Promoting Your Book

growing through marketing image

As you know, being a writer doesn’t mean all you do is write. There is often research that needs to be done and always editing and revision. Authors – especially those who are not well-known and who self-publish – are also responsible for promoting their books. But even well-known authors market themselves and their work. Larger publishers will help and perhaps even reimburse expenses for book tours and pay an author for their appearances. As a writer, you should be prepared to handle this aspect of being an author even when you’re famous and can pay someone to take over this part of your work.

Marketing can be time-consuming so it’s good to start before your book is even published. And, you will have plenty of time to build excitement from the time your book is accepted by a traditional publisher until your work is finally in print. Many writers have full-time jobs besides writing, so you need to determine the best avenues to target with your limited time. I’ve included some suggestions below, but this is not an exhaustive list.

Social Media

Posting about your manuscript on multiple social media sites is essential to reaching a wide audience and most authors set aside time daily to perform these tasks. There are many places where you can post updates and snippets, character sketches or links to other published stories. Many authors build and maintain a following on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook but there are other social mediums that may be as, or more, worthwhile such as TikTok, YouTube and LinkedIn. You will have to decide where to focus your efforts based on your audience, where you already have a following, and the medium you are most comfortable with. Just a few general tips for using social media:

  • Don’t post the exact same thing on multiple sites.
  • Post often but more frequently around book release and appearance dates.
  • Be yourself and post personal things that you don’t mind sharing. People like to know something about the person who writes the novels they love.

Goodreads

This site deserves special mention because it is dedicated to book lovers and provides a place to share favorite books, to review books, create quizzes about books, share quotes from favorite books and more. It is a great place for an author to engage with readers and promote their work. You can even hold a giveaway for your upcoming book, if you can afford to pay $599.00. Most readers will leave a review in exchange for a free book. You can find an audience here and readers can find out about you with Ask an Author or viewing your profile. It is a match made in heaven. Plus, Goodreads says it has 90 million members. That is a lot of readers looking for their next good read! If you are not a member, what are you waiting for?!

Medium

This is a great place to write (and read) interesting, original and topical pieces. You can post new content as often or as infrequently as you wish. There will always be many readers looking for new ideas. Medium boasts 725,000 members with as many as half of those paying for unlimited access to free and premium content. It is free to write on Medium, but you can pay for a premium account if you want to earn money from your pieces that generate a lot of interest. This site also offers the ability to collaborate with other writers and readers on your work. Sharing and discussing ideas – and coming to new meanings – is how we progress as a society. Why not join the great discussion and build an audience at the same time?

Book Reviews

Some sites, like NetGalley, connect authors and readers so that authors can get reviews and readers can read new books for free. NetGalley charges authors and publishers to use their service. So, beta reading may be a better way to go to get reviews.

Beta Readers

Using beta readers is an excellent way to get honest feedback about your writing from readers who read prolifically in the genre and, ideally, to get reviews on Amazon. For more information, including how to get beta readers, check out this post on Reedsy.

Author Website

Create a website to share about your published works and upcoming publications, appearances, interviews, reviews and more. Some companies like WordPress will let you create a free site quite easily using one of their free templates. You just add the content. The downside to this is that free websites have ads and you have no control over the ads that are displayed. For about $50.00 a year you can have a site without ads. For an even smaller annual fee, you can have your own domain name and brand your website to you. Alternatively, you can hire someone to do this for you, but it can be expensive. There are many freelance web designers and WordPress designers. You can find some on fiverr.

Amazon Author Page

How often do you pick up a book and read the description, read the first few sentences, and look for the author photo and bio? All the time! Showcase all your books in one place and let readers know who you are with an Author page.

Podcasts

You can get some publicity by doing podcasts. There are many podcasters discussing books and authors who would be happy to talk to you. If your novel takes place in a specific country or community, you most likely can find podcasters who talk about those places. If your book is on a specific topic such as history, politics, or spirituality, find someone who podcasts on those topics. Think creatively about how to get the word out about your book. You can link to the podcast from your website.

Book Tours

Even though there have not been a lot of in person book tours lately due to the pandemic, it’s still worth discussing. Sometimes it seems like you need to be a famous author to get sent out on tour. Smaller publishing houses don’t pay authors and may not even reimburse authors for expenses incurred on a book tour. But, to many writers, this is one of the fun things you get to do when you finally publish a book. Don’t be discouraged if your publisher won’t pay you to do this. You can do book readings and signings in your community without spending a lot of your own money. But it doesn’t have to stop there. If your story takes place in New York City and you live in Maryland, why not take the train up for a book signing/reading/question and answer at a bookstore or library? It wouldn’t be too expensive.  If your story focuses on a particular group of people, such as Italian Americans, go to a city near you with a large population of Italian American’s such as Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, and New York City. Focus on your audience. If your story is for middle grades, find local teachers who will arrange for you to talk to their students about your book. Here, too, a little creativity will take you a long way.

There are many ways to promote your book. Whatever ways you choose, make sure that you are getting results from your efforts. If one method is not very fruitful, try something else. It can take time to build a following on social sites and an audience of faithful readers. Be patient and kind to yourself. There is a learning curve and everything you do provides experience, so all your efforts are worthwhile. Please share in the comments how you promote your work and what you have learned from the time and energy you have spent on marketing.

Writers on Writing: Kevin Griffin

author Kevin Griffin
© Kevin Griffin – used with permission

KEVIN GRIFFIN is a Buddhist teacher and author of several books, including One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps, and his latest Buddhism & the Twelve Steps DAILY REFLECTIONS. A longtime Buddhist practitioner and 12 Step participant, he is a leader in the mindful recovery movement and one of the founders of the Buddhist Recovery Network. Kevin is a husband, father and musician. His sixth book Living Kindness: Metta Practice for the Whole of Our Lives is upcoming from Shambala Publications. 

ANGELA: Where do your ideas come from?

KEVIN: For fiction, I’m usually inspired by some experience in my own life. My first novel was about a musician on the road, which I had been. I wrote a historical novel about Buddhists in 12th century India for my daughter; that was a way to transmit Buddhism to her and other young people in an entertaining way. I should say that none of my novels have been published (I’ve written five). (If this were a text message, I’d have added “lol.”)

All six of my published books are about Buddhism. Five of them are about the intersection of Buddhism and recovery from addiction. There’s a lot of focus on explaining how you can use Buddhism to work the 12 Steps which are usually interpreted as being Christian. Each of these books has come about in response to a perceived need in the recovery community to cover a particular topic or format. I’ve self-published two books, one a workbook and the other daily reflections. The four others are with major publishers.

ANGELA: What genres do you write in (and why)?

KEVIN: See above. I love writing fiction, so I keep going back to it even though I can’t get published (so far).

ANGELA: When did you start writing (and why)?

KEVIN: After I got sober I went back to school at age 38. I’d been a high school dropout, so I was starting from scratch with English composition at Santa Monica Community College. At the end of that first semester my professor asked me if I’d ever thought about being a writer. I thought he was crazy, but I was flattered. However, I’d been a professional musician my entire adult life and had gone back to school to become a therapist (which a lot of sober people do). I didn’t want to go back into the arts. Nonetheless, he recommended a creative writing teacher, Jim Krusoe, and I signed up for his class the next semester. Jim is something of a legend in LA. He’s guided many people into writing careers. Just while I was in his class over the next two years two people got novels published. Screenwriters routinely studied with him. I immediately fell in love with writing fiction. At the end of that semester Jim ran a writing conference and I was paired up with Kem Nunn, a brilliant California novelist. Kem read a short story I’d written about a musician and suggested I write a novel about a road musician. I was somewhat stunned, and again, flattered. I couldn’t resist. Over the next three years, as I took classes, worked a day job, and continued to play with my band, I wrote that novel, entitled Ghosttown. I took it with me to UC Berkeley when I transferred out of SMC. There I asked Ishmael Reed, a legendary African-American writer, to sign me on for a semester of independent study so I could finish editing the book. Halfway through the semester I went to meet with him, and he told me he was going to give the book to his agent, another “wow!” moment. The agent couldn’t sell the book, but I used it to get into the UC Irvine MFA program. There I wrote another novel called Buzz about a whacked-out drummer. Again, I had a teacher there who believed in me, and again, it didn’t sell. When I graduated, I felt like a failure and an idiot. Here I went back to school to try to take a practical route in my life, and I’d let all the flattery and ego (and passion for writing) lead me astray. I wound up getting a job as a technical writer, which is as far away from novel writing as you can get and still be writing. It wasn’t for another seven years, by which time I’d started teaching meditation, that I got the idea for my first (published) book: One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps. It immediately sold and my career took off, both as a teacher and a writer. The lesson for me was that when I was writing fiction, it was about me; my Buddhist books are about helping others.

ANGELA: What are you currently reading?

KEVIN: I usually have a crime novel going. I just finished The Heretic by Liam McIlvanney, a Scottish author. I’m also reading The Sixth Man by the Warriors’ Andre Iguadala—amazing story that gets you into the reality of the NBA. My current writing project is on the Buddhist sutta on mindful breathing. I’m reading several books on that topic: Breathe, You Are Alive by Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindfulness with Breathing by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, and Mindfulness of Breathing by Bhikkhu Analayo. It’s fascinating to see the contrasting teachings coming from these wise and brilliant authorities.

ANGELA: What is one of your all-time favorite books and why?

KEVIN: Not a fair question. I’ll say, Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn. It combines crime fiction and California surfing. He’s got a great voice, dark and hard-edged.

ANGELA: What is your favorite literary technique/device/element to use in your writing?

KEVIN: I don’t really think in these terms. Having been a musician, someone who just picked up a guitar and played, I approach writing somewhat the same way. I sit down and start writing. I’ve often used narrative in my Buddhist books to bring different examples alive. I suppose that is a “technique,” but as a fiction writer, it’s just part of writing. Nonetheless, the thing I do that some Buddhist writers don’t is draw from my own life to illustrate my points.

ANGELA: What is your writing process?

KEVIN: When I’m working on a book (which is a lot of the time), I get up, shower, meditate, eat, and go to my office. I will typically read part or all of what I wrote last, and just pick up from there. Sometimes my meditation beforehand becomes a time when ideas percolate. But ideas can percolate at any time.

As far as I’m concerned, the most important part of my process is showing up. That’s something you learn in AA (if you didn’t learn it before). I know that if I just keep showing up day after day, eventually there will be enough words to fill a book. People get the idea that writing a book is about having this whole thing in your head that you sort of download onto the page. They think that must be really hard and requires some special genius. I don’t worry about having the whole book in my head, just the next sentence. Each sentence leads to the next sentence. Just follow the threads. If you think too far ahead or try to figure everything out, you short circuit the writing process.

All of this is to say that I try not to be over controlling about what comes out as I’m writing. I actually don’t think writing comes out of thinking. If you think too much, you block the creative flow. For me, again as a musician, it’s more like jamming on my guitar; also similar to being an athlete. In both those cases you perform in the moment. Although you prepare for the moment, when it comes you just have to be present and trust that your preparation and inherent wisdom and training will manifest in something worthwhile. After it comes out you can take a look and see if it is worth keeping.

ANGELA: How frequently (and for how long/how much) do you write?

KEVIN: Typically, I write about four to five days a week. Because the project I’m working on now takes a lot of research, there tend to be fewer days of writing and more days of reading and letting the ideas tumble around in my head.

I rarely write for more than two hours at a time. There are only a couple hours in the day when my mind is at its sharpest (which I think is true for everyone). I have to be in flow when I write; I don’t try to think a lot about what I’m doing, just let the ideas come. For that to happen, my energy has to be strong and my mind sharp and clear. The only exception is when I’m editing or copy-editing. Then I might spend more time.

ANGELA: Where do you do most of your writing (and why)?

KEVIN: Usually in my office. I’ve written all my books there.

With the pandemic I’ve gotten a little tired of my office, so sometimes I wander out to the family room or the living room if my wife is out. With our daughter grown and out of the house, there are more spaces I can use.

ANGELA: Do you already have ideas lined up so that you could immediately start the next story?

KEVIN: I often have some ideas for possible books. Right now, I’m writing one book by myself, and also collaborating on two other (possible) books with friends. Sometimes I get an idea and try it out or reflect on it for a while and realize I don’t want to or can’t write it. I also get ideas that I don’t think anyone will buy, and I pretty much only write books that I think I can sell (except my fiction, which nobody buys).

ANGELA: Do you always start the next work immediately after completing one?

KEVIN: No. But I do often have something in mind.

The last two novels I wrote were kind of palette cleansers between Buddhist books.

ANGELA: What do you do about writer’s block?

KEVIN: I don’t believe in writer’s block. In fact, I don’t really know what it is. If I have something I want to write about, I write. But I, unlike a lot of writers, don’t have very high standards. When I write something I tend to like it, at least at first. Later on I might see its failings, but at first my narcissism tends to spellbind me. The same with music; I get spellbound by my musical ideas. I fall in love with them. Later I might think they’re crap, but, at first, they’re my babies. That quality helps me to write pretty effortlessly. I know people who are criticizing themselves as they write, so I guess those are the people who get blocked. That sounds like a horrible experience. I just think writing is fun. I know that I’m lucky for that.

I’ll add that it’s quite possible that the reason my fiction hasn’t been published is that I’m not that good a writer. For Buddhist books, you don’t have to be a literary writer. You just have to be able to write clear texts (and of course, you have to know something on the subject). I’m a very straightforward writer, not flowery or using lots of metaphors. That works in spiritual books.

ANGELA: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out as a writer?

KEVIN: Maybe how hard it is to publish a novel. But if I’d have known that I might not have done it, and I learned a lot from all the failed writing that I think applies to my writing today.

When I was promoting my first book and had to read from it in public, I started to notice a particular flaw in my writing. (I’m not telling you what it was, so don’t ask.) I used that awareness in writing—and mainly in editing—my subsequent books. It’s important to watch for your ticks. I recently noticed that I was overusing the word “connected.”

author's book covers

Connecting and keeping up with Kevin Griffin
Author Website
Laughing Buddha, One Breath Music 
Buddhist Recovery Network
Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Amazon Author Page
Goodreads
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube 

Interview conducted in June 2022.