Introduction to Vital Writer Services and Elizabeth Herman

Elizabeth Herman has been helping and supporting writers of various backgrounds and ages and in all stages of the writing process since 1998. She completed her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition in December of 2008. Vital Writer Services is her new business offering coaching, tutoring, editing and proofreading to writers in various genres and with a variety of possible issues. Five percent of each fee will be  donated to non-profit educational service projects around the world, which are described on the ‘supporting others‘ page of this blog. Contact her at 618-559-1641 (cell phone) or for more information.

When Mistakes Actually Work

Even though we don’t intend something that happens, that “happening” may not turn out to be wrong, or a “mistake.”

A mistake not only must be unintended, it must cause some harm to the world or our sense of order in some way. But often, what we perceive as harm may be necessary in order to help others grow and learn.

We may only need to look at the “mistake” from a different angle in order to see how fantastic it is, how it helped someone that never could have predicted it would.

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Why Writing Groups Matter

Any ability humans nurture cannot exist in isolation. For new parents, there are birthing groups and La Leche League to help bring healthy babies into the world and feed them in the best ways.

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For individuals coping with almost any problem, there are Twelve Step groups that apply basic healing principles specifically to someone’s issues, like co-dependency, alcoholism, survivors of mental, emotional and/or physical traumas, and the like.

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Reasons for support groups have multiplied over the years, and it makes sense that many groups address positive aspirations as well as pathological problems.

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The author that I love to quote so much in this blog, Natalie Goldberg, describes how it is better to filter others’ voices, rather “than to be a cloistered being trying to find one peanut of truth in our own individual mind.”

She encourages readers to “become big and write with the whole world in your arms.”

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This inspirational quote echoes the old spiritual song, about having the whole world in your hands. Holding the world makes us feel safer, more confident and secure.

Imagine that you hold the world you create, and as author, you become that safety and solid, reassuring presence that allows your written world to thrive and grow for your ever-widening audience.

Publishing as a Way of Claiming Your Writing

When you publish a piece of writing, you claim that writing as worthwhile. You own it because your byline has your name in it. You stand by, behind and in it as an author who relates to a readership.

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Natalie Goldberg states in her essay, “Claim Your Writing,” from Writing Down the Bones, “In the process of claiming our own good writing, we are chipping away at the blind gap between our own true nature and our conscious ability to see it. We learn to embrace ourselves as the fine creative human beings we are in the present.”

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You have a great writer inside you. The perseverance that it takes to continue to revise and polish your craft would not exist without some inner belief in your own greatness.

Every time your work gets accepted constitutes another piece of evidence that you can claim as your own magnificence.

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In order to continue to get better as a writer, it is important to consider your true nature, the unlimited potential you have for doing wonderful work that will last for generations to come. Estimate your infinite self with peace, confidence and the dynamism of shining forth with a new, bright light on the horizon.

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Who knows, like Jack Canfield and so many others, you may save someone’s life by reaching out with your talent for expressing infinite truth in words.

Places, places, places: Bring your reader into your world.

Extraordinary details occur not only in events but also most generously in places.

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How many places have you visited in your life? Have you stopped to count them? What sense of place do you bring into your writing?

Place constitutes a crucial element of setting, which makes for vital and energetic prose when developed with vivid detail. This applies just as well to fiction, poetry and non-fiction alike.

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As a reader, I find that worlds open up when an author brings me into a specific, particular place.

Recently I moved from Illinois to North Carolina. Living in a different landscape, the details of my life have changed in extraordinary ways. Someday, I hope to have time to bring this experience alive on the page. For now, I only wish to encourage you to write about the places you see, feel, smell and love.

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Northwestern North Carolina is full of mountains. The land in Illinois is largely flat. You can imagine how textures and contours of land shape the way we spend our time.

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Natalie Goldberg says it this way: “We think of detail as small, not the realm of the cosmic mind or these big hills of New Mexico. That isn’t true. No matter how large a thing is, how fantastic, it is also ordinary. We think of details as daily and mundane. Even miracles are mundane happenings that an awakened mind can see in a fantastic way.”

I love this as it pertains to a writer’s life. These big hills of Appalachia that I now call home hold extraordinary, mystical power for me, even though I see them every day now and realize how ordinary the physical elements of particular places are when they live with us.

Extraordinary Details: Is it New to Your Reader?

Only the reader of a detail can answer questions about the ordinary or extraordinary qualities of that detail. Your readers have experienced plenty of opportunities to become familiar with the human form. Writing leaves the challenge of making human appearances new and amazing up to you!

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Only your innovative description of the details involved in any topic or subject can make your writing extraordinary.

You may conceive of a detail as something very small and specific. Yet, the smallness and specificity of details can make a picture of anything larger.

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If I tell you about a whale, and only speak in vague generalities, describing the whale as a big fish, how much of the whale will capture your imagination? You probably will not see much in my picture of that whale. But if I go into more detail, and tell you about the colors and shapes on the whale’s skin, and the attributes and functions of each of its body parts, you will have a bigger picture.

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A detail can seem ordinary or extraordinary, depending on the uniqueness of the description to the audiences who read such word pictures. If I have never imagined what a whale looks like up close, the patterns on a humpback’s tail fin may appear extraordinary to me.

A scientist who studies whales, however, may find a tail fin pattern description quite routine, and ordinary, in the sense that he has seen so many varieties of such patterns already.

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Natalie Goldberg offers another example, saying how watching a snake dance seemed to her as an audience member both “unfathomable and fantastic because it was new and foreign,” as well as “ordinary and had been done for hundreds of years.”

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For writers, it helps to be aware of what your readers have already seen. You can guess when your descriptions will come across as ordinary or extraordinary, based on what you know about your readers’ histories with your subject matter.

Surrender as an Assumption not an Act

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I recently heard a wisdom quote about how surrender works. The wise teacher stated that surrender is not an act, but an assumption. Once you assume that you are loved fully by the divine, surrender simply happens.

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Many years ago in college, I participated in an open mic poetry reading where I read an essay by Richard Hugo about assumptions. The essay consisted mostly of a list of possible assumptions that a writer could make about a particular place in which a story might take place.

I enjoy reading this essay because it points to particular jumping off places that could fire one’s imagination in infinite directions. The first assumption about the town in Hugo’s essay is “The name of the town is significant and must appear in the title.”

What is it about names that imply meanings about the person, thing or place in question? Is the implication about the object’s history? What does that history say about the present moment in regards to that object? What does the town’s name say about the characters in the story?

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Many of the assumptions also have a subject within them, in other words a person referred to by the first person pronoun, “I.” Assumptions about a town have a bearing on the attitude or position of the first person narrator, who might easily become a third person main character.

In other words, a relationship must exist between the objects in the assumption and the characters who either hold the assumption or feel its impact. If the divine fully loves you, it sets the stage for your ability to surrender without having to do anything.

And if I spelled out the particulars of a story of surrender, what would it look like? Where would it take place, and what is the name of that place and the meaning of that name? Questions about assumptions in a writer’s mind, and the relationships between the assumptions and the characters, can help to generate valuable material for the development of a written work.

The Specific and the Big: Natalie Goldberg’s “Big Concentration”

In a later essay in “Writing Down the Bones,” Natalie Goldberg discusses a process of combining specificity in your writing with a sense of a broader perspective.

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This essay, called “Big Concentration,” asks writers to remember “that the universe moves with us,” when at the same time using the principle of vivid, specific imagery, also known as “show, don’t tell.”

This “tricky balance,” as she calls it, involves the realization that each baby step may seem to stand on its own but really does not exist in isolation.

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So if you write a poem about a rose, for example, there might be a place for images of the garden in which that rose thrives, and the sky, trees, and landscape beyond that garden.

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The rose cannot simply be there without a point of view that encompasses a larger train of thought. As writers, we benefit from processes that allow us to progress in stages, and at the same time we add a greater dimension to our expression by incorporating those stages into a bigger world.


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