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Have you ever had so many things to do that you didn’t know where to start? Lately that’s been happening to me in terms of writing. I’ve had so many ideas swirling in my head that I just didn’t know what to write down first! I felt literally paralyzed.

Earlier this week I decided to grab my notebook and pour my brain out onto the page. It was hard. I stuttered. I strained. Finally, I had a list started. Why was that so difficult?

It is like a new breed of writer’s block. For me, in this case, it was matter of organization and worrying about capturing every little thought before it got pushed out by another. I was so afraid I’d forget something that my brain was blocked up with everything trying to get out the door at once.

Shower crayons can be a writer’s best friend.

After I took a breath and looked at my list, I started thinking of ways that might make the ‘un-blocking’ process easier.

1. Talk to a friend. If you are unsure where to start, see what idea seems to be swimming at the surface. What topic do you find yourself talking about the most?

2. Read. Read. Read. Your subconscious has a way of letting you know what is most important. Start reading and as you find your mind wandering, jot down a key word or phrase to capture that thought and get back to reading. Do this every time your mind strays from the text. After you’ve finished a couple chapters, look at your list and see what themes emerge. Pick the primary theme as your starting place.

3. Purchase shower crayons. I love these! You can often find them in the toy or stationary aisle of your local store (or on Amazon of course). The shower is often my think tank and it really helps to be able to write down ideas they second they pop into my head.

4. Go for a walk. Fresh air and blood circulation really help untangle all the ideas bumping around the brain. Bring a notebook of course and before you know it you may be perched on  the curb, jotting everything down.

5. Go somewhere. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting out. At N&C we are huge advocates of finding inspiration in all kinds of places. Check out some of our Destination Inspiration locations for ideas of where to go to unclog your brain.

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For the Love of Radio Theater

Old radio shows, love of mysteries, classic movies, over-sized cozy sweaters, drinking tea from a fine china cup, card games, knitting, a good book, antiques, an overall appreciation of vintage things…all symptoms that I might have been born in the wrong era.

It was a late night many years ago. I had the radio on and was distracting myself with channel surfing, when I stumbled upon a story. It was a captivating mystery. I can’t remember now exactly what pulled me in initially. Maybe it was the thrilling riffs between each scene, the deep voices and dramatic scuffles, the car chase or the private detective wrapping up the case into a neat little package at the end. To this day I still struggle to put my finger on what it is that I love so much about old radio shows. Perhaps it’s that they are more than just books on tape. They’re amazing productions with sound effects and a full cast of characters in all their vocal glory. This was TV, before there was TV.

It’s a great adventure, a “movie for your mind” as Jim French from Imagination Theatre says. Dramas, mysteries, sci-fi and fantasy, thrillers, comedy, westerns and even variety shows, I appreciate them all. One of my favorite things to do in high school and college was come home, set up my easel and turn on some music or a radio show to listen to while I lost myself in my work.

I don’t have an antique radio, but I do have a vintage iPod.
A classic iPod for listening to my favorite radio shows.

Not being presented with a visual picture allows me to create my own in my mind. I imagine the detective as I know him and the damsel in distress might have the face of a good friend. The room the dinner party guests are gathered in as Sherlock reveals the killer, might look a little like a room I’ve been in before. Filling in the blanks with a stock of images from our own lives is what makes the story resound with us. It makes it real.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so fond of radio dramas, it reminds me of what I love most about writing fiction. Those moments when you are  describing a scene and picturing it in your head; you are pulling from your own experiences to give your fiction a ring of truth. It’s  magic – creating a world so real that it can draw anyone in. That kind of writing lasts generations.

My husband says I’m a “classic” person because I enjoy classic things. I like to think it’s a matter of quality. I appreciate top shelf things; writing in particular. Hemingway is like a nice quality cardigan, it will never go out of style. That’s the type of writing I strive for. It’s timeless.


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The Tortured Soul

Many have argued that the best artists are the ones wielding a tortured soul. With serious issues like drug induced inspiration, gambling addictions, drowning sorrows and looking for answers in the bottom of one kind of bottle or another. They had some kind of weakness or childhood trauma that they overcame or channeled and turned into great works of art. I’ve always teased my parents that they ruined my chances at being a great writer by giving me a great childhood.

So I don’t have a drinking problem, or do drugs. I’ve never gambled with anything more than skittles in a poker game or by not taking my umbrella on an ominous looking cloudy day. I’ve never been divorced or suffered a premature loss of a loved one. All the typical dirt that a tormented artist uses to fuel their inspiration is beyond me. So what are my vices? Do I really need to start working on a drinking problem? (Seems expensive if you ask me). What could I use to tap the depths of my “un-tortured” soul?

Well, thankfully I have come to terms with, what some may call, a hum-drum life. And while I don’t think you have to have a tortured past or a narcotics problem to write, I do believe that writers can create beautiful work, sharing truths discovered by living lives both fully and sometimes, terribly. I believe it simply comes down to writing honestly.

Every writer pulls words together for a reason, and that reason doesn’t necessarily have to be dark. You can write for joy too! Happiness can be just as fueling as misery and in fact I think more fulfilling to write about. While it is necessary to learn from our mistakes, we can discover truth in the good times as well. A marriage, the birth of a child, a victory, a successful meeting, even a perfectly executed somersault or figuring out how to set the clock on the stereo; all of these things are gems and make great fodder for writing.

Living, loving and suffering. We pull emotions from all these things that reveal truths that are often too great to keep to ourselves. That’s what makes us writers, recording our experiences and, if we want to, sharing what we’ve learned.

I do think that a widow writing about loss is more powerful than an equally skilled writer without the same experience. And there are some artists who have created great work while under the influence of one thing or another. But these circumstances are not a guarantee of great work, they are simply part of life and the human condition.

Fydor Dostoevsky, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Hemmingway, Beethoven, Tennessee Williams, Vincent van Gogh; these are the models upon which the tortured artist is based. They were all amazing artists. And yes, they committed suicide or died in physical, financial or mental ruin.

But the issues that plague great artists, low self esteem, terrible health, heartbreak, depression, domineering parents, alcoholism and post traumatic stress disorder, are all human issues. People who don’t write, draw, sing, play, dance or paint go through these same issues and God help them all. These are not ailments of a tortured artist, these are symptoms of our fragile humanity.

I do not encourage you to stay sad for the sake or creativity, or to drink and do drugs for the sake of creativity. What I do encourage is that you live your life fully and truly and by all means, write with your heart and your gut. But above all else, write with honesty.


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Following My Dream: Beginning the Book Proposal

Why do we ever do anything other than to follow our dreams? Even the ones we don’t know we have yet, the ones that are taking shape?

There was a time when my boss–the news director at the TV station where I worked–advised me, for the sake of my credibility as a budding journalist, to reconsider bringing baked goods to the newsroom for my coworkers to eat. I was young, blonde, and had a unique name rather than a trusty Anne or reliable Rachel, and therefore had to be careful, lest people start thinking of me as the newsroom Martha Stewart. These days, as a food writer, I question whether that would have been such a bad result.

I was aiming for a career in news at the time and was so dedicated to the opportunities already presented to me so early on that I did what I thought it would take to land my first on-air job. I cut and dyed my hair, bought the wardrobe fit for a reporter, and read books about interviewing and doing live on-air standups. I recorded my résumé tape in my spare time and mapped out a plan to eventually leave my big-city writing and producing job to pay my dues as a reporter in a smaller market before working my way back to Seattle.

I had so many people supporting me in my endeavors, from the news director who was my mentor of sorts, to some of the city’s veteran anchors—not to mention my soon-to-be husband, who stood behind my career goals that had already defined so much of our lives. So I think it was a surprise to a lot of people when in August 2007 I left my job and said goodbye to the world of television news. I took the proverbial leap of faith and decided to make a foray into print journalism, ultimately landing upon a communications and marketing job at a theater–something unexpectedly perfect for me at the time.

As I look back on my career in TV news and the experiences I have had since, I am awed by how each step has built upon the next to bring me where I am today, still a writer but with a different goal: writing a book. Today I am making a commitment here on Nooks & Cranberries to keep that goal going.

There’s no one warning me that baking might ruin my credibility, because baking is part of what my goal is founded upon. I have been wanting to write a book, a food memoir related to my Scandinavian heritage, and it is time to start taking the steps to make it happen. So this is when I follow my dreams. The first step: starting the book proposal. I did that nearly two weeks ago, on October 18. Rather than committing to a timeline right now, I need to dig in and determine the steps I need to take to get the proposal just right. The timeline, I expect, will come organically. Besides, I have a commitment on the pages of this blog, where you are part of my accountability network. If six months from now you haven’t heard me tell you about the progress I’m making on the proposal, then I ask you to tell me, “What’s stopping you from pursuing your dream?” Because each dream starts with one small step, a step that is incomparably easy next to the daunting process that we might see before us if we don’t break it down in our minds before starting. Why not begin right now?

Image: Collage features photos of things I’ve baked and shared at Outside Oslo. Hungry? Check it out!

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Your Reason for Writing, and Why it Matters


Why do you write? It’s a simple question, and may seem a bit rhetorical, but I want you to answer it. Knowing your answer may make all the difference when you’re ready to give up. Take a moment and think it through. Be honest. Does your reason look anything like any of these?

  • Words are like puzzle pieces just waiting for you to arrange them into something beautiful that only you can uniquely do.
  • Writing unscrambles the thoughts in your head by allowing you to capture and then process them.
  • You want to see your name in print, whether it’s a front-page byline or the cover of a best-selling novel.
  • Much like photographs of special times, writing records the memories you never want to forget.
  • Ever the encourager, you use words to soothe the distressed, comfort the grieving, and uplift the discouraged among your loved ones and friends.
  • The act of creating a story gives you pleasure, much like the joy you experienced playing dolls or playing make-believe as a child.

Those of us who call ourselves writers have a wonderful gift. Yes, writing can be difficult—sometimes it’s one of the hardest things we can imagine doing—but once the rough patches are over and we have a draft in hand, the rewards are great. We need to remember what drives us to write, plus the positive experiences that will come.

Perhaps you’re a journalist, and no matter how many articles you write, seeing the final draft in published form always gives you a sense of satisfaction—especially if it was a difficult assignment. After carrying the article along from the initial interviews to the final draft, the process is complete when the story is finally laid out in print. Similarly, while writing and producing a major Seattle newscast, I could envision the final product as I wrote, choosing the best soundbites and writing to video. Seeing the finished product on their air (when I had time to turn away from the computer to watch the TV for a minute) with all the pieces in place, was such a treat.

In addition to the satisfaction, I want my words to count for something more than entertainment. When I think of my favorite novels—Les Miserables, Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, Jane Eyre, to name just a few—they’re great stories, but they also give the reader plenty to think about. When we watch Jean Valjean wrestle with his identity as an escaped convict as he heroically risks his freedom and well-being to protect Cosette, we ask ourselves questions about our own morality and values. Watching Jay, Jake, Daisy, and the rest of the Gatsby party loll around Jazz Age New York, we observe their selfishness and the toll it takes on those around them. The list could go on and on, including fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose.

What are your reasons for writing?


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Finding Balance

Scandinavian Almond BarHello.

It’s the middle of a new week. And I barely have any writing to show for it.

Time is whirling a little out of control right now. Do you know what I mean? Just a couple of weeks ago I felt like a writing superwoman. I was at the top of my game. I was writing, writing, writing, and produced some things I felt pretty darn good about.

Today you should see my office (it’s a mess). And my list of personal to-do’s (it’s backlogged). My blogging schedule is all out of whack. Deadlines are the only things keeping things going.

However, lest you think I’m complaining, I should say that life is good. Outside of the digital world and my office, things couldn’t be better. I’m blessed beyond measure. And enjoying and maintaining that other world–the one that’s more important, in all reality, than the one that resides on a desk chair and in front of a computer screen–has led to my current situation. I wouldn’t change a thing.

As the week goes on I’ll work at regaining a little ground here in this office of mine. I’ll keep writing, keep blogging, keep trying to get organized. Because that’s where a core part of my life and identity reside. But in the meantime, it’s good to know that I can find balance, that I can identify my priorities and live life accordingly. Now if only I could master my time management, find a way to be too places at once, and always be on top of everything…

What are your tactics for maintaining balance in your own writing or creative life?

(By the way, that photo up there shows tea and a cookie, a Nooks & Cranberries-style way to slow down and reflect. But it gets better than that–the cookie is a delicious Scandinavian almond bar, from recipe I remember from my childhood. I’ll be sharing it over at Outside Oslo soon, so be sure to visit in the coming days!)