Posts tagged “Astoria

Writer’s Block

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Today I’m pleased to feature a post on writer’s block from friend and fellow author, Heather Douglas. Heather is a writer, illustrator, and educator based in Astoria, Oregon. She is the author of a book of poetry and was recently awarded Astoria Visual Art’s Writer in Residence. She also writes for Coast Weekend. More of her work can be found at OscarAstoria.com.

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“Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” –Charles Bukowski

Whether the phrase writers’ block conjures up an image of Jack Nicholson in The Shining obsessively typing the same phrase on his typewriter, or a romance novelist at their peaceful mountain retreat with a cup of tea waiting desperately for inspiration to come, the struggle is real for many writers.

Stephen King, a very prolific writer and America’s most famous of the horror genre once said “amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work.” While King is absolutely correct, it doesn’t hurt to have a few strategies to employ from time to time.

My relationship with writing has reflected the ebb and flow of my own creative life. In elementary school, I was encouraged and rewarded by events like the Oregon Writing Festival at Portland State University where I could meld minds with kids like me. I loved creative writing and poetry and had some of my work published in the local paper and won some school wide writing contests. Along with other kids in my neighborhood, we created a newspaper called The Tapiola Times (named after the park I grew up next door to); we wrote movie reviews, comic strips and from time to time ‘investigative’ article and features. Putting pen to paper and writing was easy back then and was a blast—I was good at it, I liked it and I could say what I wanted and think hard about it without getting flustered in everyday conversations.

Middle school began what I would call the ‘essay and book report years.’ The formulaic pattern of essay writing was stifling. I was no longer expressing my own imagination and creativity, but writing analysis about the creative work of authors who were dead and gone. It’s not that I had no love for the classics. I spent half of one summer reading Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles in a tent I had set up in my parents’ backyard—but I didn’t get to choose what classics I wanted to write about—yet, there is value in pushing through work that is difficult.

Yet, I craved a balance between expressing my own creativity and following the rules in school. I no longer loved writing, but I never suffered from writer’s block because I adapted; I began to rely on my work ethic—something I had thankfully nurtured through sports—you push through the pain, get the job done and don’t complain. I begrudgingly became friends with the essay, the book report and the worksheet. I was rewarded and encouraged by my teachers for my efforts in writing.

In college, I majored in English and was required to write copiously in the standard essay format. I wrote very little, if any creative pieces. I realized that if I was going to write about more than just famous works, I would have to write on my own. It was a tumultuous time for me emotionally, and I began to lean on writing as a form of expression and therapy; I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages of journal entries in great detail about what I was feeling at the time. I even earned a coveted compliment from a notoriously unrelentingly strict professor of James Joyce. He said I had talent and should consider getting a PhD to teach English. Although I was beyond flattered, I couldn’t imagine that the rest of my writing life would be spent centered around studying the works of a dead author—no matter how talented or epic.

While writing saved my life in a time of great existential loneliness during the college years, I went through a long phase of what I can only call tongue in cheek a phase of “creative constipation”—otherwise known as a decade of writer’s block. I stopped filling my journals and collapsed in exhaustion after my college graduation with the hopes of taking a huge break from essay writing and literary analysis.

Although I stopped writing, the ideas never stopped coming. Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic author, said about creativity, “possessing a creative mind is like having a border collie for a pet; if you don’t give it a job to do, it will find a job to do—and you might not like the job it invents.”

In the past 5 years I have found my way back to writing through blogging, journalism, poetry and the occasional non-fiction story. I also teach high school students to find their voice through writing. I want them to feel inspired and empowered to try out different genres of writing. I don’t want them to experience the frustration of having no outlet for their feelings.

It has been a difficult journey, but these days I have a healthy balance between work ethic and inspiration. If I were to give advice to my young writing self about moving through creative blocks, this is what I would say now.

You are Free to Write Crap

In Natalie Goldberg’s book Wild Mind Living the Writer’s Life, one of her bedrock rules to writing is this: “you are free to write the worst crap in America.” You have to start somewhere, and keeping the pen moving whilst writing what you may think is the worst crap is better than not writing at all. Worst case scenario: it IS crap, but that’s what multiple, successive drafts are for. Best case scenario: it actually isn’t crap and you’re just too hard on yourself.

You Are a Writer if You Write

If you run, you are a runner. If you write, you are a writer. If you’ve always “wanted to write,” or you have a plan to “write someday,” or you have “a novel in your head,” you’re a dreamer, not a writer. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. One of the lessons you learn as you mature is that work ethic nearly always beats talent.

Writing is Work

Hemingway famously said “there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Writing can be scary, emotional and terrifying. But it’s work and it’s very worthwhile work.

Smack Down the Internal Editor

What Natalie Goldberg calls the “monkey mind” is the internal critic—the monkey that sits on your shoulder and peers down on what you do. It’s your ego and the one that constantly corrects you and forces you to doubt yourself.  It’s the perfectionist side that causes you to freeze like a deer in headlights.

There Are No Hard and Fast Rules for Writing

Work with the limitations of the day, but there are not hard and fast rules for writing. Some will say “write every day at the same time.” Some will say “make sure your desk is free from clutter.” Some will say “a messy desk is a mark of a creative mind.” Writing is amazing because there very few places where you can’t write. I have yet to think of a place where you can’t write—well, maybe…don’t write while you’re driving.

Talk To Other Writers

Chances are other writers feel exactly the same struggles. Find comfort in talking to them and rekindling the reasons you love writing.

Trust Yourself

Your narrative matters. Repeat: your narrative matters. Your unique perspective matters. What someone else thinks of your ability as a writer is none of your business. Write because your voice matters. Write because you have something to say. Write because although it may be hard work, you love it.

Thank you for joining us today, Heather! Check out Heather’s work at OscarAstoria.com.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017

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Signing at Lucy’s Books

One of my favorite spots on the Oregon coast is Lucy’s Books, a jewel box of a bookstore, owned by a lovely friend, Lisa Reid. Lisa has curated an awesome collection of books and makes great recommendations. She’s been incredibly supportive of my work, even letting me include her store in my novel, Sunset Empire.

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I knew my characters would be exploring the tunnels under 12th Street, and the windows in Lucy’s provide the perfect vantage point for watching a gang of teens up to no good, sneaking across the street to enter the basement of the fictional Chinook Bar & Grill. I asked Lisa if one of my characters could work in her shop so he could observe the mischief. She said yes, and gave Phantom a job.

That’s why I’m excited to join her on Saturday, July 8, from 5-8pm for the Second Saturday Art Walk in Astoria. I’ll be signing copies of Sunset Empire and Pitcher Plant, both of which are set on the Oregon coast. I’ll also be doing a drawing for a book-themed prize, so stop by and say hello.

Here’s an excerpt from Sunset Empire, an exchange between Phantom and his boss (who may or may not be based on the real life owner of Lucy’s–you’ll have to ask Lisa).

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“I know that look, Sean Hughes.”

Phantom turned to see Lucy eyeing him from the cash register. “What look?”

Lucy smiled. “Your girl-trouble look. Who is she?”

Since the professor had lost his mind and Phantom’s mother had fallen into a chronic state of depression after his dad died, Lucy Rose was the one person in town he could count on. As his mother’s best friend, Lucy knew what he’d lost, and she’d looked out for him over the years, making sure his fridge was stocked and giving him a job at her bookstore.

Phantom spared a last look at Chinook’s, but Elyse had disappeared from view. He went back to stocking shelves. “Her name’s Elyse Pthan. She’s new at school.”

“Have you talked to her?” Lucy asked, coming over to tidy the front display.

Phantom smiled. “I bought her dinner.”

“That sounds promising. So what’s the problem?”

“We’re friends. I thought we could be more than friends, but then things got complicated.”

“How so?” Lucy asked.

“She’s a Legacy girl. And the granddaughter of Evangeline Porter, chair of the Sean Hughes Sucks Society,” Phantom said.

“That is a problem,” Lucy said, nodding. “But, you know, as much of a force of nature as Ms. Porter might be, I doubt she controls her granddaughter’s mind. Or her heart.” She reached into the box at Phantom’s feet and pulled out one of the new books. “This one will go in the window, I think.” She rearranged the books in the window to include her latest find. “Does Elyse know about Jenna?”

“I told her about the accusations against me,” Phantom replied. “Didn’t want her hearing it from someone else.”

“That’s wise,” Lucy said. “But does she know how you felt about Jenna?”

Phantom shook his head. “I don’t think I can go there yet, Lucy. Wound’s still fresh.”

Lucy put her hand on his shoulder and gave him a sad smile. “I know, sweetie. Give it time.”

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Books & Bread

What two things go well together? Artisanal breads and books! Join me and other local authors at the Blue Scorcher Bakery during the Second Saturday Art Walk in Astoria, Oregon. The event will be held on Saturday, February 11, from 5:30pm-8:30pm, at 1493 Duane Street. You can find a great new read and have it signed while you enjoy gourmet treats. This is a free event for readers of all ages.

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With multiple reading genres represented, there’s something for everyone: poetry, coloring books, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, memoir, metaphysical, mystery, self-help, young adult, and more. Featured authors include Matt Crichton, Heather Douglas, Melissa Eskue Ousley, Diana Kirk, Andrea Larson Perez, Angela Sidlo, and Deb Vanasse. Here’s a little more about each author and what they write.

Matt Crichton

21880_230476308899_4073520_n-copy I have a degree in engineering, have been a member of AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, worked at the YMCA teaching computer-based projects, and am currently pursuing a teaching (math!) certification. I like music, yoga, and cooking, and building fires on the beach. Somewhere along the way, I picked up poetry. Or maybe I should say it picked me up. Many of the poems I write come unexpectedly and I had better have a scrap of paper nearby or it will be lost to eternity. I write to express feelings, in response to lived experiences, to get the words that bug me out of my head. I write when inspired. I do not have a specific day or time I write. I wait for the lightning. I believe everyone should write if they are inspired. You never know who or how your words will affect.

Heather Douglas

img_2940-copyHeather Douglas is a writer, illustrator and educator and the author of two coloring books, That’s So Pacific Northwest Coloring Book, My Astoria Coloring Book and one book of poetry entitled Creosote and Rain. She was a Writer in Residence through Astoria Visual Arts in fall 2016 and also writes for Coast Weekend, ESL101, Medium and is creator of local blog Astoria Rain (dot) com. Writing, creativity and old growth forests keep her sane and grounded in this crazy world. More of her work can be found on Oscar Astoria (dot) com.

heather-booksMelissa Eskue Ousley

melissa-eskue-ousley-2017Melissa Eskue Ousley is an award-winning author living on the Oregon coast with her family, a neurotic dog, and a piranha. Her debut novel, Sign of the Throne, won a 2014 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award and a 2014 Eric Hoffer Book Award. Her third book, The Sower Comes, won a 2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award. Sunset Empire, a fantasy set in Astoria, debuted in the bestselling Secrets and Shadows young adult boxed set. Pitcher Plant, a mystery set in Seaside, will be released this spring. Her short stories have been included in Rain Magazine and The North Coast Squid. When she’s not writing, she can be found walking along the beach, poking dead things with a stick.

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Diana Kirk

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Diana Kirk, author of Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy has been published in Thought Catalog, Nailed, Literary Kitchen and is a regular contributor to The Psychology of It and Five 2 One Magazine. When not writing personal or feminist essays, she’s pretty busy wifing, mothering and running two investment firms from her super fancy basement office.

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Andrea Larson Perez

dsc_1126-2-copyAndrea Larson Perez, 52, relocated to the lower Columbia region in 1994. She has lived in Astoria, Oregon since 1997. A native of St. Petersburg, Florida, she is married and a mother of two sons, 26 and 23.  She graduated from California State University, Sacramento with degree in Public Relations and a minor in Journalism.

After nearly 30 years serving clients in communications capacities, Andrea decided to turn her attention to writing.  Her first book with Arcadia’s Images of America Series gave her an opportunity to dig into interesting local history at Camp Rilea where her husband, Col Dean Perez, was the Post Commander.  Her interest in history and keen research abilities helped immensely in compiling and editing  the first published history of Camp Rilea.  Many supported and encouraged the process, most notably the past and current staff at Camp Rilea and the Oregon Military Department.

Her second title is part of Arcadia’s Postcard History Series focuses on vintage postcards of Astoria, Oregon.  Having been a collector and postcard enthusiast for many years, her interest connected her to other local collectors and was a “natural” to become a book.  It has been very well received and is headed to a second printing!

Andrea is currently considering a third title with Arcadia.

When not enjoying time with family or traveling, Larson Perez spends a good deal of time researching her family tree looking for stories to tell about characters she meets.  Happy to be known as the “family historian,” she has uncovered many previously unknown facts about her ancestors who arrived in colonial America in 1630.

She enjoys membership in the Astoria Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and serves on the Board of Directors of the Astoria Co-Op Grocery and The Astoria Ferry.  She also participates in many community organizations, activities and events.

Angela Sidlo

fullsizeoutput_1fbAngela Sidlo is coauthor of the new feel-good anthology book series The Silver Linings Storybook: Successful Leaders Share Inspiring Stories of Overcoming Stormy Days in Personal and Professional Life. The Silver Linings Storybook launched in June 2016 and published, landing on two #1 Paid Best Seller categories on Amazon.com.

Sidlo coauthored in Volume 1 & 2 of the new storytelling series, to share her story of self acceptance through hormonal imbalances, depression and fibromyalgia. Through her experiences she has developed programs and products as a health coach and aromatherapist to assist women who want to lose weight, balance hormones and live the life they dream of. Sidlo believes that “Healthy Individuals Create Healthy Communities”.

Deb Vanasse

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A recent transplant from Alaska, Deb Vanasse is the author of seventeen books.  “Vanasse is talented,” says Foreword Reviews. “She can turn ordinary words into the sublime.” When she’s not at the keyboard, you’ll find Deb walking the beach with her dog, tending her vegetable garden, or immersed in a book.

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Thanks for reading. Hope to see you at the Blue Scorcher!

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017