joanne Weck Author Page

Saturday, March 30, 2013


"Those rituals of getting ready to write produce a kind of trance state."  John Barth

 Rituals have a purpose in our lives--to help us prepare the state of mind and focus our energy and spirit. As most writers I know, I, too,  have my specific and peculiar rituals when I prepare to  write.

Early mornings are my most productive time. After I rise, while still in a drowsy state, I reach for my "Dream Journal" and jot down any dreams or dream fragments I can recall. While my coffee is brewing I prepare for the day. I spend thirty minutes doing yoga or meditating. Then I turn on music conducive to my creativity, chosen according to what I'm working on--anything from classical to rap.

I take my coffee to my desk and before I  begin I close my eyes and engage in a small ritual I learned from studying Gestalt therapy. I conjure up my "Inner Wisdom"-- a figure representing the divine inner source that connects us to our deeper knowledge. Other mornings I imagine a magical doorway that opens onto a garden of ideas. This helps me to enter my writer's trance for the next two hours.

I  turn on my computer and begin by re-reading and revising the last pages I worked on as a way to re-enter the piece. After that, I don't look back but let my fingers speak my thoughts until my  alarm chirps to remind me I've been writing for two hours. The chirping breaks my trance and I stop and stretch. I don't look back at what I've accomplished for now.  I get another cup of coffee. By now it's daylight and my dog is begging for her morning walk.

If I have time later in the day I  read over my work and make revisions. But the one appointment not to be broken, is morning writing. If I neglect this ritual on rare occasions I have a nagging conscience, berating me and reminding me that I've left something important undone.

What rituals work for you? What encourages and assists your productivity and creativity? What helps you to WRITE ON!

Thursday, March 28, 2013


“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg

A question that often comes up in my writing group, especially from the members who are memoirists and essayists: "Should I write about something that haunts me, even something offensive or shameful, that I don't feel comfortable sharing?" 

The best advice I ever had came from one of my own writing teachers: "Nothing is off limits for a writer. Write it for yourself. You can decide later whether or not to share it."

We writers often don't know exactly what we think or why certain obsessions keep surfacing until we allow ourselves to write freely. Certain motifs, symbols, and situations appear and reappear, even if we think we've changed the subject. An obsession or secret haunts our stories until we exorcise or claim the source from whence it came--those early guilty discoveries, those fire and brimstone sermons, that seductive aunt or uncle who stirred  the imagination. 

Knowing is powerful; decoding the mystery can lead into labyrinths of discovery.Writing is self-revelation. Writing is therapy. Write for yourself. 

Write it down. Let it marinate. Revisit it. Rewrite it. Transform it.  But write. WRITE ON!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


“The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes.”
—Andre Gide

Dreams are a form of madness. The mind, unmoored from reason, freely generates hallucinations roiling with symbols and scenarios from the deepest part of the unconscious. Sometimes whole story lines develop. Sometimes an emotion or a fantastic landscape emerges.  Often, my dreams render insights into real life or fictional issues that I am struggling with in a story.

When I was pregnant I dreamt of giving birth to a strange purplish sea creature who spoke to me in riddles and of a child so tiny she vanished down the sink when I bathed her. Such images, illuminating my fears of motherhood, became the dreams of a pregnant character in a current novel.  A dream vision of exaltation and glory atop a cloud-swathed mountain expressed a character's epiphany in a short story. And even if not specific, the accumulation and analysis of dream images deepen my writer's storehouse.

 Some images are horrific, some beatific, but if scrutinized, they can reveal the coded message of extraordinary value.  I keep a notebook beside my bed to jot down even a ragged tail end of an elusive vision. It speaks to me in time, slithering unexpected into a story to deepen and enrich. WRITE ON!

Monday, March 25, 2013


"I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning. ~ Peter De Vries

Making a specific appointment with myself doesn't guarantee that I'll be inspired, but sitting down at my computer at the same time every day, six days a week, does make it much more likely. Just like becoming adept at any physical sport or exercise, my body and mind need reenforcement to keep the writing habit strong.

Yoga exercises both mind and body. When I haven't kept my yoga date they remind me that I require the stretching and meditation. If I skip my writing date, I feel the same lack and the same tug at my consciousness--an unfulfilled desire, a yearning to sit at my computer, place my fingers on the keyboard, and let my thoughts flow.

A second type of writing date, one I add to my repertory when I'm trying to complete a piece within a specific time, is to make a writing date with a fellow writer. By meeting at a particular time and place, to spend a certain period of time writing and doing nothing else--no talking, no interruptions, we force ourselves to be as creative and productive as possible.

Writing can be a solitary occupation. A writing friend with the same agenda can bolster intention and inspiration. And after the writing period there is always conversation and coffee. WRITE ON!

Sunday, March 24, 2013


"I consider the process of gestation just as important as when you're actually sitting down putting words to the paper. ~ Wole Soyinka

One day a week I allow myself to skip the the two-hour early morning writing routine. It's a holdover from when I worked full time and Sunday was the one day I slept late, read the New York Times, played with my dogs and watched movies. Every week needs at least one Sunday.

Taking a breather gives the creative spirit a chance to reboot.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”
—William S. Burroughs

What techniques can a writer use to keep the Muse engaged and supportive? I ask this question when she seems elusive.

Is there a creative advantage for a writer to "hide" behind a pseudonym? There were certainly reasons in the past, especially for a woman to use a masculine nom de plume. Or for someone who had a reason to cloak his real identity to use a pen name. But why today?

It started out as as experiment. When I wrote my first mystery I created a pen name because I hoped it would free me to discover a new style. Using the unfamiliar name felt like putting on a disguise. It lured me into another mindset, made me feel wiser, tougher, younger, different, almost like becoming one of my own characters.

Eventually I published CRIMSON ICE,  A Pocono Mountain Mystery, under my own name. But using a pseudonym during the writing helped me to move outside of my usual sphere, to take an excursion to a darker world.  I felt alive to possibilities of a dangerous existence. Taking on another persona helped me to discover a catalyst  to my creativity. WRITE ON!

Friday, March 22, 2013


"Be always ecstatic. Be filled with a divine intoxication." Henry Miller

Easier said than done.

Do great writers set out to express a philosophy or a world view or is theme something that seeps out through dialogue, characters and plot? I can't always articulate my novel's "theme" until I've completed it. Maybe that's why I sometimes find myself at a dead end. In fact, I lose my sense of ecstasy, of feeling plugged into a source of power that comes from somewhere beyond.

When I feel obstructed, unable to go forward, it helps, at times to step away from the keyboard and stop thinking about the project directly. I go for a walk with my dog, taking in the beauty of nature if I'm in the country. I focus on a single leaf, a flowering tree, a caterpillar, a raindrop.

If not, I people-watch while I listen to music. That way I can better observe body language, facial expressions, and interactions. I go into a museum or gallery and absorb the essence of paintings or sculpture. I read poetry or philosophy or anything that has no obvious connection to what I'm writing. I keep a special shelf for all of the banned books that were once considered too dangerous to publish and pick one up at random. Sometimes I meditate, do yoga, or listen to a deep relaxation self-hypnosis recording. I try to remember all of my dreams.

When I'm ready to approach the computer again, I don't begin with the section that left me scratching my head. Instead, I let my fingers play over the keyboard, allowing my thoughts to flow freely in any direction. Typing, not writing, anything that comes into my mind--something like the exercise Julia Cameron recommends as "morning pages" in her book The Artists' Way--a sort of clearing out of the mind in order to let creativity reboot. Surprisingly, I usually find ideas for my current work beginning  to bubble up and find their way into the nonsense writing. When I realize I'm back in the flow I return to my project with renewed enthusiasm. WRITE ON!

Thursday, March 21, 2013


“The writing of a novel is taking life as it already exists, not to report it but to make an object, toward the end that the finished work might contain this life inside it and offer it to the reader. The essence will not be, of course, the same thing as the raw material; it is not even of the same family of things. The novel is something that never was before and will not be again.”
—Eudora Welty

What real life stories inspire you? I find that certain family stories, news articles, or overheard conversations lodge in my mind like small rough pebbles and refuse to dissipate until I've turned them over and over, examined and embellished them. Finally they emerge as short story, play, or inspiration for part of a novel.

Family stories especially intrigue me. My parents often related incidents about people from their past, ancestors who came from Germany and Poland, who had worked the land or worked in the mines, women who raised broods of twelve on a hardscrabble farm, marriages arranged, three brothers who married three sisters from the neighboring farm, daughters who eloped, suicides, feuds, love stories.

By the time a grain of sand becomes a pearl (at least a gem of some sort) it no longer is  recognizable as having come from its original source; the vague figures having been fleshed out as full dimensional human beings. Still, upon reading one of my published stories, a sibling or cousin occasionally says, "That story reminds me of one Grandpa used to tell about his Great Aunt Martha."

Perhaps a news story grabs my attention because of its poignancy or some element of irony or its essential human drama. Sometimes I research it to understand the elements that coalesced or the background of the drama. More often, though, it simply provides a springboard for the imagination.
The writer, someone said, is essentially a cannibal who would "rather eat a heart than a ham bone,"

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


"When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained. "Mark Twain

I’m a good person, right? An ethical person? I hope to leave the world a little better than I found it. But I’m a writer. Of fiction, mostly. Plot thrives on conflict. I can’t write only about characters who are virtuous. Interesting people are often mean, selfish, calculating, or outright evil.  I need to write from the internal perspective of my creations. These include criminals as well as normally  imperfect human beings, who unintentionally inflict pain and unhappiness on themselves and others.

How to create believable characters, who are not just stereotypes or caricatures? How to, in the most extreme case, inhabit the mind of a murderer, a thief or  a sociopath?

This is when I confront my own dark side. I coldly examine my most vicious thoughts and worst impulses. Didn’t a murderous rage sweep through me when the dry cleaner closed the door in my face just as I came for the outfit I needed for tonight’s anniversary dinner? Wasn’t I wracked with jealous envy when my friend signed a big contract for her newest book? Didn’t I entertain a delicious revenge fantasy and imagine the downfall of the editor who rejected my latest attempt with a few harsh words?

 I use these emotions to connect with my character's world-view. What actions might spring from it? .Sometimes I need to take to these to the extreme in order to identify with my character. And a visit to the dark side can be very exciting, vicariously satisfying in fact. WRITE ON

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


"Writing's easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and cut open your vein." (Variously attributed)

My Muse's Interpretation of her Portrait

"Why write at all?" Every writer must occasionally ask this question as I do, especially when the thought of putting words on a blank screen or paper seems as inviting as sticking needles into my eye. However, for every morning when writing seems painful, there are more mornings when sitting down to my computer while the rest of the world sleeps seems as indulgent as eating chocolate for breakfast. I sip my morning coffee and go into a pleasurable trance that may last for more than the two hours I demand of myself. My answer to feeling stuck--just sit down to write as though I feel the Muse whispering in my ear, spend the time even if nothing pours forth.

I write, as most writers do,  because it is a passion, an obsession, an addiction. Mine started when I was six and wrote my first poem. I experienced the "writer's high" for the first time, a connection to my spirit and a joy in composing something original. After that I spun out stories and poems like a spider spinning out a silken web. I write because if I don't I feel choked, incomplete, unfulfilled.

So to the second question, "Why publish?"If the pain and pleasure is in the process why suffer the rejection involved in the elusive goal of publication?  My answer has nothing to do with being famous or rich or even the need to for validation. It has to do with sharing my inner vision, wanting to join in the conversation of all writers past and present. The spirit demands expression of its unique voice and it needs nourishment and feedback to survive and continue to create. A painter doesn't generally hide her pictures in a closet; neither does a writer (except perhaps J. D. Salinger) lock his efforts away in a drawer until after his death. The essence of writing is the desire to communicate. WRITE ON!

Monday, March 18, 2013


"Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought? ~ Joan Didion

When I feel that I need a bit of inspiration to revamp my own writing, I turn to Natalie Goldberg, one of the best. I can open WRITING DOWN THE BONES to any page and immediately feel as if I’m sitting at the kitchen table of my most creative and quirky friend, having coffee and cake, while she entertains me with her oddball but deeply insightful observations and suggestions. “Writing is not a McDonald’s hamburger,” she assures me and then urges me to let go of everything when I write. “Come to writing not just with your mind and ideas, but with your whole body--your heart and gut and arm.”

In her chapter “Don’t Marry the Fly,” she advises me against getting caught up in miniscule and pointless details at the risk of losing the main picture. “Stay on the side of precision,” she advises, “know your goal and stay present with it. If your mind and writing wander from it, bring them gently back.” Sage advice, but more important, advice that is absorbed because of the striking images and clever approach that anchor it into my mind.

Every chapter is replete with insights and advice that catch me by surprise--first by the lighthearted almost folksy delivery and second, by the depth and truth of her vision. My favorite chapter, I believe, is the one called Blue Lipstick and a Cigarette hanging out Your Mouth. Here she discusses drastic ways to find inspiration when I am feeling the ennui that besets many writers, becoming, “sick of ourselves, our voice, and the usual material we write about.” I laugh aloud at her advice, but it also loosens me up, inspires me. “Dye your hair green, get your nose pierced, dress as the opposite sex, perm your hair.” She explains the use of props to dream into another world. “Borrow your friend’s black motorcycle jacket, walk across the coffee shop like a hell’s angel and sit down and write.”

Often a few words from Natalie kick start my sluggish mind back into the realm of creativity. Of course it isn’t necessary to take her advice literally. I doubt I’ll ever dye my hair green. (Purple is more becoming with my brown eyes, I think.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013


“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”
—Jim Tully

You've heard it often enough--"Write what you know." This is excellent advice for the novice who is learning her craft. However, to engage your readers and make them care as much as you do about the characters and story springing from your imagination, I think you must also write what you feel.

By this I don't mean fill your story with melodrama or tell the readers what to feel--I mean tap into the emotions inside that  compel you to write this particular story. Every story I've written that has been successful has sprung from some incident lived, observed, or read about that moved me deeply, haunted my mind, and metamorphosed eventually into the germ of a short story, play, or novel.

My first short story that won a contest was based on a true incident. As a child I loved to read about fairies. I yearned to believe in them and so in turn I told my younger sister elaborate stories about the lives of the little people who populated the woods. In an effort to make her believe, I once dressed twenty tiny dolls in gauzy wings and bright silk material and hung them on threads from the limbs of the highest tree I could climb. They fluttered like little birds when the wind blew. I never forgot her look of enchantment when I led her out to see them in the early dawn. 

This, with a twist of fantasy, became "Flight of the Fairies," and won first place in the first Fantasy Gazetteer contest. The story was fiction, the emotion was genuine. This has proven a truth that guides me. Write from your heart. WRITE ON!

Saturday, March 16, 2013


"Once your life is organized so beautifully that there's a table, and a chair, and a typewriter, that already is an incredible triumph."
—Leonard Cohen

Structure is good. Showing up on a regular basis is good. But sometimes we might need to break routine, suspend our rules to fire up our creativity.  I tend to be a bit rigid about my writing schedule and surroundings, but I also find a change can be inspiring. Challenging yourself to write under different circumstances may produce surprising results.

What tools do you need to write? Do you feel you must have a quiet room and a computer?  Or are you just as creative with a pen or pencil, writing in a notebook you carry with you? Do you need a quiet sanctuary or do you like the background conversation of a Starbucks? Do you still use a word processor or an old fashioned typewriter? A very special Watermark pen? Do you have a scheduled time to write, or do you write only when you feel inspired? Each writer needs to find what works best, of  course.

I find that structure is helpful for me--two hours early in the morning at my desk in a corner dedicated to writing--sitting at my computer, with music playing, stacks of books surrounding me for inspiration, looking out to my back yard where birds flit from the trees to the feeders.

Recently I found myself on an early morning flight to California squeezed between two very large people.  I felt the need to complete a chapter I was working on and decided to pull out my laptop and try to concentrate despite the close quarters, bumps, other distractions. Earphones in place, my favorite background music playing, I felt the immediate setting fading away as I entered the world of the mystery I was writing. Amazingly, the hours sped by. I wrote more intensely and for a longer period than I usually do. I had the main tool I needed--my own imagination!

Friday, March 15, 2013


“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” 
—Flannery O’Connor

Certain objects are more than objects. When you look at them or touch them they conjure up visions of the people who might have owned them, used, them, and treasured them. I love to wander through little antique shops and speculate about the photographs, the pictures, and clothes, inspired by the aura of the past that clings to them. These often become symbols of a certain time and place, of a certain person. I search for artifacts that tell a story, that make me dream or remember.

When I found this silver brush and mirror set I was enchanted. I wanted to hold it, to gaze into the mirror and stroke the brush through my own hair. They called up memories that later inspired me to write a novel. 

One summer a cousin I'd never met was sent from the city to stay on our farm while her parents divorced. She was lonely and lost and she clung to the objects she'd brought with her to an unfamiliar place.  All of her clothes and small possessions, a jewelry box, a bracelet, seemed lovely and romantic to me, so unlike anything I owned. She used her silver brush each night before she went to sleep in a strange house in a world she didn't know.

Can you see a girl with golden hair seated at an old fashioned vanity slowly brushing her hair and counting out 100 strokes?

Thursday, March 14, 2013


“There is no place for grief in a house which serves the Muse.” 
― Sappho

Sometimes my Muse is an elusive spirit, a naughty imp who wants to play hide and seek when I need her aid. Sometimes she's a hungry ghost, demanding food and drink. How do I nourish my Muse? Art inspires Art. Creativity feeds on creativity.

When the stream runs dry you have to visit the river. Sometimes I do this literally--by immersing myself in Nature--a walk through an autumn woods, a quiet afternoon staring out at the ocean or watching a sunset.

I can also nourish my Muse on a smaller scale--by rearranging the inspirational photos, sketches, and watercolors I keep near my desk--my writing sanctuary. Sometimes I open my huge book of Art Reproductions--sometimes a Rembrandt provides the best inspiration. Sometimes it's a Picasso. Or it's a pastel watercolor by my friend, the Houston artist, Margaret Carson. If I'm writing in the voice of a teen protagonist I might seek out the work of a graffiti artist, Death Star anime, or a graphic novel.

A bowl of camellias or lilacs fills a room with fragrance and awaken my senses. I spend a few moments stroking the silky hair of my Maltese. Music often inspires the mood I'm  seeking--sometime it's Billy Holliday or Edith Piaf. Sometimes it's Amy Winehouse or Lily Allen. Dylan, Jackson Brown, even Springsteen, Usher or Rap--whatever the writing might call for.

Just as in any relationship, you have to cherish and nourish that important connection with your Muse, your creative spirit.  You nurture one another. WRITE ON!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


"Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice."
Henry Louis Gates 

When I sit down to write I begin by inviting my Muse in any way that feels right for that morning--a brief meditation, a lighted candle, a plea for inspiration. But what to do when her Nemesis shows up instead--that evil gnome who hisses that my writing is garbage, that I have nothing to say, that I'm too stupid, too old, too crazy, too boring to produce anything of value?

My method is to give her space, to listen for a moment, to allow her to spew out the worst possible criticism, the ugliest invective she can come up with. Then I address her directly (that is the part of me that has allowed this succubus to invade my brain) and I sternly inform her that she's had her say, that I've heard her, but it's time to let me get on with my work. I know I haven't defeated her permanently. She may stalk the pathways of my brain again tomorrow, but for now she fades away.

Once again I invoke my Muse and I soon feel her presence. She is more powerful than the Other. I write automatically, as badly as necessary for as long as it takes until that surge of power kicks in. I allow the words to spill out for at least the two morning hours I dedicate to writing. I'm in tune with the source from beyond us. WRITE ON!

Monday, March 11, 2013


“The muses are ghosts, and sometimes they come uninvited.” 
― Stephen King

Every writer needs a muse. Who is yours? Is there someone in your past or current life who inspired you? Who gave you "permission" to write? Someone who had faith in you and made you believe that whatever you wanted to do was possible?

My first muse was the one aunt out of eight who was different--who was an artist--who fled from the small town where she was born and dared to live her dream. She travelled, she painted, she wrote poetry. She gave me a vision of a wider world, a life that celebrated the divine gift of creativity. She was grace and elegance and beauty. I turn to this Muse for inspiration when my well runs dry, when I'm not certain if I'm taking the right path. Although she's no longer walking on this planet I can hear her whispering encouragement when I request her aid.

If no muse has appeared in your life you can create one--an ideal friend, a fellow artist who encourages and inspires you.  Find that part of you that is loving and joyous.  My purpose is to discover and share daily inspiration for the task of writing, to find the way to overcome obstacles and keep the divine connection alive. Become your own muse. WRITE ON!