Writers: Take a Tip from Gandhi

If You Want to be a Writer: Action Expresses Priorities

Writer Tip ActionA few months ago a greetings card in a store caught my attention: An Asian statue of a dancer in a wheel against a sunset sky. Then I read the quote beneath the photo, “Action Expresses Priorities.” The quote rang home even more loudly than the image – bright and clear like a wake-up bell.

I bought the card to send to my friend Fiona in London. But that bell kept ringing in my head until I realized that, I’m sorry, I didn’t want to send Fiona the card. It called to me so loudly I needed to keep it for myself. The quote has become my mantra for this year.

Every year I take a quote or saying as a guiding mantra. Sometimes I keep it close to my chest, even my husband doesn’t know what it is. But I’ve been sharing “Action expresses priorities” left and right.

I started mentioning it in my coaching calls and online seminars with writers because so often the message spoke to the issues the writers brought to me. Every time I shared it there was an intake of breath, an “Mmm” of recognition, the same recognition that I felt when I read it. Hey, the saying is attributed to Gandhi, so perhaps it’s no surprise.

What does “action expresses priorities” mean to a writer?

For me, it reminds me that if I am not actively doing my creative work, taking action towards my dreams, my ambitions, my most cherished projects, then they cannot be much of a priority for me. This leaves me with a bit of an ‘ouch’ feeling because of course they are a priority in my heart. They are just not getting prioritized in my day.

Also, when I’m dollying around wasting time on some ridiculous task I’ve set myself (spending an hour online to save $20 on a flight) or disappearing down the rabbit hole of Facebook, what does this say about my priorities? Usually, it means that I have (literally) lost the plot, because there is no way I’m writing a short story while I’m watching videos of dancing ferrets.

If you want to prioritize your writing this year, this saying is one to take to heart. Use it as a tool, as a benchmark to choose what you will or will not do, as a sweet prayer of encouragement.

5 Ways to Take Action and Prioritize Writing

1) Make time to write. It’s very simple. If you don’t make time in your life to write then your brilliant novel is not going to write itself while you are watching TV / researching Twitter hashtags / partying with the dancing ferrets.  Even 10 minutes of writing a day makes a difference – it shows that even in your busiest days, you are showing up for yourself, for your priority of being a writer.

2) Find a community of writers. Writers in our online Write to the Finish course always say that the sense of community is a vital part of the course for them.  For 9 months they have the support of other writers on the same path, all striving to write a book. (Often writers stay in touch for years after their Write to the Finish course ended, even traveling across continents to meet and write together. When writers bond, they bond hard!)  I have my own writing communities – almost all consistent/successful writers do. Whether online or in the real world, it’s important to spend time with other writers who understand you and who will have your back when the going get tough.

3) Speaking of which, don’t give up when the going gets tough. Express your priority to keep writing by just doing it: hang on in there, stay committed. I promise you that the tough time will pass.

4) Create a scaffolding. Study books in your genre, take writing courses, read books on how to write, attend workshops and conferences, do things to support your priority of being a writer. (But watch out! If you only read books about how to write and don’t actually write, your action simply says that your priority is to read writing books!)

5) Learn to say No. Don’t spend time doing things that don’t express your priority of writing. Sometimes that will mean saying a kind “no” more often – to others or to yourself. Start practicing.

By the way, even though I kept the inspiring card for myself I didn’t deprive my friend Fiona of the “action expresses priorities” quote. I ‘fessed up and told her on a Skype call and showed her the card — the gorgeous statue of Shiva danced its way across the Atlantic ocean via my Skype camera.  (Because another of my priorities is to share truth and beauty where I find it, even if I am too clingy to send the actual card!) Then Fiona and I had a vigorous conversation about what “action expresses priorities” means for each of us.

The message feels huge both for my personal life and for my writing life. What does it mean to you?
If you want to tell us, I’d love to hear in the comments box below. If not, then just breathe it in for yourself, keep it warm against your heart.

Tania Casselle is a writer for magazines, book publishers, and online media. She also coaches writers and leads online writing seminars  including the successful Write to the Finish online course by phone and email for writers working on a book. She leads in-person writing workshops and retreats in beautiful places, usually teaching with her husband, the Hemingway award-winning author Sean Murphy. See more WriterMuscle posts or sign up to receive future Writer Muscle updates – down-to-earth advice from a seasoned writer.

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New Simplified Home Office Tax Deduction: Writers, Do the Math!

Any freelance writer who spends hours calculating business use of home expenses for their tax return might shout a fervent “hurrah!” when they hear about the new simplified home office tax deduction option. But writer beware – the easy option could cost you dollars.

Read my full article explaining and comparing the two home office deduction methods at The Word, published by the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Reading with a Writer’s Eye: Clues on Craft (for Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2013)

Chapter in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2013 (Writer’s Digest Books) by Tania Casselle.

“What’s your best tip for new writers?” That’s a question I’ve asked more than 50 authors in radio interviews, and they’re often quick to reply: “Read! Read a lot. Read with a writer’s eye.”

It’s advice that newer writers sometimes take with a grain of salt, perhaps suspecting that those already on the publishing ladder are just trying to sell more books. And even if we do take their advice, what does it mean to read with a writer’s eye? We don’t want to sound like someone else, we have our own voice and style. So how can reading other people’s work practically help with our own writing?

Chapter includes interviews with authors Pam Houston, Lisa Tucker, John Dufresne, John Nichols, Robin Romm, Tara Ison, Don Waters, Robert Wilder.

From Monkey Mind to Wild Mind with Natalie Goldberg

From Monkey Mind to Wild Mind
Interview with Natalie Goldberg by Tania Casselle for UK magazine Mslexia.

Just as a writer sits down to face a white page, so the Zen master must sit on a meditation cushion and face a white wall – hour after hour, day after day. Both are tormented by the chatter of Monkey Mind. For writers, there’s a lesson to be learned from the Zen way of taming the monkey…   Author Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) tells us how.

“In our society we all have this great need to be productive,” says Goldberg. “Writing practice can be very frightening because I’m asking people to step into the emptiness of their own mind, with no project. That’s the landscape of the writer, understanding the mind.”

Feature for Mslexia magazine including interview with Natalie Goldberg and advice for writers.

Writers on Radio: Award-Winning Author Interviews

Casselle interviews poet
Sam Taylor.
Photo by Robin Collier of Cultural Energy

Writers on Radio Hosted by Tania Casselle

Tania Casselle was the host of Writers on Radio for five years, a literary chat show broadcast in New Mexico/ Colorado on NPR-affiliate KRZA, and syndicated to stations including KTAO, KVOT, KUNM and KLDK.  Writers on Radio was sponsored by SOMOS and produced by Cultural Energy.

Casselle interviewed 60+ authors and poets for radio including Pam Houston, Natalie Goldberg, John Nichols, Antonya Nelson, John DuFresne, Tara Ison, Lisa Tucker, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Levi Romero, Robert Westbrook, Miriam Sagan, Dana Levin, Don Waters, Robin Romm, Matt Donovan, Rick Collignon, Mirabai Starr, Judith Arcana, Eliezer Sobel, Judyth Hill, Heather King, Barbara Waters, Mark Scott, Anya Achtenberg, Katie Kingston, Lara Santoro, and many others.

She won the National Federation of Press Women Communications Contest 2010 for Radio Interviews, for her interview with best-selling author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez broadcast on KRZA & KTAO.

Casselle also won the New Mexico Press Women’s Communications Awards 2009 for Radio Interviews, for her program with bilingual poet Levi Romero on KRZA, KTAO, and KLDK.  In the same year she was awarded 2nd place for her interview with novelist Frances Washburn discussing readers’ expectations of Native writers, and an Honorable Mention for her interview with author John Nichols.

Tania Casselle’s radio interviews are archived on the web by producers Cultural Energy for listeners all over the world.


The Write Stuff: Put Pen to Paper to Promote Well-Being (for Fit Style)

The Write Stuff: Put Pen to Paper to Promote Well-Being

If the longest thing you’ve written lately is a shopping list – it’s time to sharpen your pencil. Studies prove that writing your feelings out on the page has a positive impact on physical health, reduces stress, boosts self-esteem, and hones concentration and memory. Writing can improve immune function, fight depression and anxiety, and even alleviate symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Article on the benefits of writing and keeping a journal, with suggested writing exercises, for Fit.Style magazine.

Don’t Take No for an Answer: Dealing with Rejection (for Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2012)

For Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2012 (Writer’s Digest Books) by Tania Casselle.

If you’re reading this book, you are no doubt all fired up to submit your fiction to the many great literary journals featured here, or to hit ‘send’ on queries for your novel. May the writing gods smile on you to receive an acceptance first time out, but if you’re in the writing game for any amount of time, sooner or later you’ll receive a heart-sinking “Sorry, this isn’t for us.”

As you rip up the letter and kick the nearest object that won’t kick back, THIS is the time to remember the real secret to publishing success: Only one thing differentiates between decent writers who are published, and decent writers who are not published, and that is perseverance. You can’t send one story to one journal and, if it’s rejected, throw your hands in the air and stop submitting. Well, you can of course, but then you’ll join the long line of other decent but unpublished writers who did the same thing. And to persevere on the writer’s path, you need to be able to handle rejection.

2,500 word chapter on how to deal with the dreaded rejection slip includes insights from an editor, a novelist, and a short fiction writer.