Keep Writing

Keep Writing (Or Reading) Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesWinter, which felt like it was going to last forever, is coming to an end. Leaf buds are swelling and apple and cherry trees are blooming. So how’s your writing life going?

I know. Odd question. What does a writing life have to do with spring?

For me, the constant lover of fresh starts, it represents renewal.

Renewal and the Writing Life

There are so many things in life that can derail the best of writing plans, but the good news is, they do not have to stay derailed.

A blog post I read this week has really renewed my writerly determination and positive outlook.

12 Tips for the Best Writing Life Ever

On The Write Conversation with Edie Melson, Melson listed 12 lifestyle tips for a successful writing life. Tips 1, 3, and 12 really resonated for me.

  • 1. Writing is a mind game—and our minds play tricks on us.
  • 3.  Take care of yourself physically.
  • 12. Keep writing no matter what.

The dreary days of winter are always a mind-challenge for me. Furthermore, this has been a year of health issues as well, and when ill or tired I find it a challenge to both work on my writing and maintain the proper mindset to work on my writing. Melson is right. Taking care of your mind and body is key to producing solid work. My default tends to be to neglect myself, however I recognize the wisdom of her words and will strive to take care of my body and mind in the months to come.

I found her final tip, though one I’ve encountered and valued in the past, even more inspiring. Keep going. Keep writing.

Here, I must extend my appreciation to you, my readers. Knowing I have built a relationship with you and have a responsibility to you has been a great spur to keep writing, at the very least, these weekly blog posts.

My love and gratitude goes out to my critique group as well. I once quipped, “Anyone can bring one page.” Since then, I do not dare show up without something to read. (I will be eternally grateful to them for many more reasons than this, but that is a topic for another post.)

Keep writing. Keep going. This will be one of my themes for this season in my life.

Renewed Commitment

Therefore, I commit to keep writing here, to you.

In addition, I will finish the revisions on The Swallow’s Spring, my novel that is 98% done already and then launch into the next phase of this novel’s life—the great agent quest!

Then I will move on to a number of other projects I’ve got waiting in my queue. It is very exciting to think of the work that awaits me.

Your Turn

How will you renew your writing life this spring?

Please share your plans in the comment box below. Let’s inspire each other!




Wonderful Words: Dipping into My Quote Collection

Wonderful Words: Dipping into My Quote Collection: Dipping into my Quote Collection, Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives

I became a quote collector many years ago. At first it was just copying out particularly meaningful or beautiful passages from books I was reading, mostly novels. However, in my desire to continue to grow in my craft as a writer, I started collecting from my reading of writing periodicals, blog posts, and of course, more books.

Here are 3 random selections from my collection:

Quote 1, from my index card collection of quotes to use as writing prompts for language arts class daily writing:

“When I see books that I have read on library shelves, it is like running into an old friend on the street. I often take the book down and browse through it… Like friends, these books have gone into the making of whatever and whoever I am.”                                                                  ~Kevin Starr

Isn’t that so true! And when I discover books I love on a new acquaintance’s book shelves, I take it as a sign that we will have much in common.

Quote 2, from my laptop quote collection:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘presson’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”                                         ~ Calvin Coolidge

I like to think the positive side of being stubborn is being persistent.

Quote 3, from my quote file:

“I draft much of my work looking at a computer screen. Cutting and pasting with ethereal bits make new versions easier. But I find that I need to print drafts out. I want to hold the paper in my hand, so I can make a mark with the pencil, cross words out and write others in. It helps me to be in touch with my work.”                                                                                  ~Stuart Kestenbaum, Poet

I love to read about how writers work. Unlike Stuart, I prefer to draft in pencil, mechanical pencil, preferable, in a college ruled spiral notebook. The first draft gets entered into a word document. I can do surface editing onscreen, but, again, I do much better work when I print out the chapter and edit by hand.

Your Turn

What about you? Any quotes you love? Please share them in the comment box. It is always a delight and a pleasure to discover more wonderful words.

How to Nurture a Literate Lifestyle in a Crazy, Non-stop World

How to Nurture a Literate Lifestyle in a Crazy, Non-stop World: Debby Zigenis-Lowerys Literate LivesAs someone whose famous last words as a child were, “Just let me finish this chapter!” and who discovered at an early age that I think best with a pen in my hand, the crazy, joyous, busy holiday season, while wonderful, is also a severe challenge to my quiet spirit, and no more so than this year, when I came down with a cold the Monday before Thanksgiving and never quite got over it until nearly Christmas Eve.

Here are a number of literate practices that helped me to manage my stress and keep my eyes on the blessings and special joys of the season:

  • write emails, letters, and texts
  • make lists
  • doodle meaningful vocabulary
  • read blog posts
  • read seasonal books
  • engage in devotional/inspirational reading
  • collect quotes
  • braindrain to collect memories

Write Emails, Letters, and Texts

As with most families, the holiday season, like any other time of year, came with both its trials and joys. I relied on emails and letters to support an uncommunicative relative who was going through a difficult time.

Also, due to how hectic the days felt, if I needed to contact someone, I relied on emails and texting whenever possible, thus avoiding long drawn out phone conversations.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? Prioritize your time by using the most efficient means of contacting people, and save phone conversations for meaningful interactions.

Make Lists

When you work full-time, are a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, friend, blogger, and writer, you have a lot of relationships and responsibilities to juggle. This December, I did not rely on my memory. I made lists for what I wanted to accomplish each day, lists for baking plans for the season, multiple lists for the grands’ Christmas craft party, not to mention shopping and gift lists, and lists for our family’s Christmas Eve gathering. I was able to do, complete, and  provide everything that mattered most to me.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? When things matter to you and there’s a lot going on in your life, commit them to lists so they do not get forgotten, you can track your progress, and you will not be disappointed when you discover it’s too late to do that thing you were looking forward to.

Doodle Meaningful Vocabulary

I love Sybil Macbeth’s Praying in Color book and website. This year she posted an article on honoring Advent, the season before Christmas, by doodling an Advent themed word each day. She had a list of words I started with, then I brainstormed some more of my own. While I did not do this every day of Advent, I found when I did practice this, using a 3″x 5″ card, I experienced a sense of stillness, calm, and deep meaning in the present moment (which served as a great stress-buster as well).

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? When you are very, very busy and don’t have time to journal or write, choose a word, or brainstorm a list of words that make this time meaningful to you, then pick one to doodle for five or ten minutes. It’s very refreshing. (P.S. You don’t have to be an artist to do this. Note I used the word doodle. Anyone who can hold a writing utensil can doodle.)

Read Blog Posts

Often functioning in a state of overwhelm or exhaustion, I did not have the energy to sustain the attention necessary for my favorite form of reading, the novel. So, I read a lot of blog posts–much shorter, more easily digested–and thus kept my reading-loving brain satisfied.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? What types of short works do you like to read? Switch to “shorts” during challenging times–short stories, poetry, essays, magazines, blogs… There is much to be gleaned from short, tight writing that can be satisfying to the spirit.

Read Seasonal Books

I love to read Christmas novels and novellas in December. So when I had the leisure and energy, I indulged. The stories were lighter fare than my usual reading rotation, which helped with my lack of energy and time, and they helped remind me of what I love about the Holiday season.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? Read something seasonal, whether it’s a romance novella for February, a beach read for summer, or a cozy mystery for fall, to remind yourself to savor the season you are in.

Engage in Devotional/Inspirational Reading

For me, Christmas is meaningless without Christ. Fortunately, there is a whole Christian marketplace full of devotional books with short daily readings. I chose one and tried to read faithfully each day. (However, I did not beat myself up when I missed a day, rather I looked on that missed reading as a short bonus pleasure I could slip in on another day.)

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? You don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy inspirational reading. There are so many themed books of readings in the marketplace. Topics include: seasonal thoughts, collections excerpting a particular writer or group of writer’s work, themed collections of daily thoughts, and of course, publications from your own philosophical tradition. These kinds of readings can remind you of what you love, what you value, and what you want to focus your attention on.

Collect Quotes

I love words; I love quotes. A short quotation can be so meaningful, comforting, and inspiring. So, whenever I found a quote that “spoke” to me, I either cut and pasted it into an email to myself or jotted it down for my collection.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? When you hear or read something that makes you stop to think or appreciate, collect it. It doesn’t take long, but to your inner reader will find it most satisfying.

Use a Braindrain to Collect Memories

I keep a journal, but during times like this past holiday season, I do not have time to sit down and write in it in a leisurely manner. Christmas Eve, my husband and I had such a wonderful time with our kids and grands, and fell into bed exhausted, with a travel day planned the next morning to see my parents and brother. But I so wanted to remember all the highlights of our own Christmas party. So, that morning, while I drank my coffee, I did a braindrain of all the special memories. I didn’t worry about, spelling, grammar, or complete sentences. I didn’t worry about putting everything in the right order. I just jotted each delightful memory down so it could be savored latter. And I thoroughly enjoyed the process.

How can you apply this to any busy or stressful season? Sometimes our minds are so full and we long for time to just sit down, pen in hand, and reflect on it all, but there are no big enough chunks of time in which to do so. In such situations, a braindrain can be most satisfying.

Your Turn

Thanks to these strategies, I enjoyed a peaceful, meaningful, joyous holiday season.

How do you nurture your literate spirit when times get tough? Please use the comment box to share a strategy that you love or have found particularly effective. Thanks for you willingness to nurture our literate lives.

Happy New Year! Hopes and Dreams for Your Literate Lifestyle in 2018

Your Literate Lifestyle in 2018 literatelives.wordpress.comHappy new year! I hope your holiday season was peaceful, joyful, filled with abundant blessings.

And now it is a new year. I love the opportunity for a new start, so much so I think “new year” in both January and September. Having been a student, been the parent of students, and the teacher of students, September is just a very logical restart.

However, for me, January is a little more magical. It starts with clean new calendars and clean new plan books. And after the inevitable joyful excesses of the Christmas season, it feels like being washed by a raging current into a quiet side stream. Time for quiet. Time for reflection. Time for dreaming and goal setting. (I love the quiet of January after December!)

What hopes and dreams, plans and goals do you have for the new year? I have two I’ll share right now:

  1. to blog about how having a literate lifestyle keeps me sane during crazy-busy/sick seasons
  2. to add an additional day of content this year (coming late spring)

I pray this greeting finds you refreshed and dreaming.

Use the comments box below to share your hopes and dreams for your literate lifestyle in 2018. Let’s inspire each other!

Wishing You a Very Merry Christmas & a Wonderful New Year

Wishing You a Very Merry Christmas & a Wonderful New Year

Thank you, dear readers, for following Literate Lives. I will be taking a little time off over the holidays, but want to assure you I’ll resume next year (yikes, 2018!!!) on Tuesday, January 9.

However, I cannot take my break without wishing all of you a very merry Christmas and an abundant, blessing-filled new year.

I pray this holiday brings you peace and joy, the enjoyment of loved ones, and lots and lots of time to read and write!

Advent Calendars: Counting Down to Christmas

Advent Calendar: Counting Down to Christmas, Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesIs it really time to begin counting down to Christmas?

Well, actually, it is. There are two forms of traditional countdowns, both falling under the heading “Advent Calendar.” The first counts down the days of the Christian Church’s Advent season, which this year began December 3. The second counts down the days of December until Christmas. Over the years we have often practiced both types in our home.

Not Ready for the Christmas Season

This year, I “missed out” on Thanksgiving. I came down with a bad cold that hit its peak Thanksgiving Day. It’s not that I couldn’t be grateful when I was sick. I try to practice gratitude daily regardless of calendar date. It’s just the holiday itself, and all the trimmings that I missed.

Of course, the annual Christmas extravaganza launched with Black Friday, but even after recovering from my cold,  I’ve been having a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea the holiday season is really here.

I Wanted Something Different

Deep inside me, maybe because I was not feeling particularly peppy, I wanted a quieter, more meaningful way to enter into Christmas, one I could enjoy and practice at home, even all by myself. Then, one morning, during my daily reading time, I stumbled onto…

Sybil MacBeth’s Year Round Advent

In this article, on The Living Church‘s website, MacBeth reflects on the meaning of Advent, the vocabulary of the season, and a variety of ways to incorporate Advent practices into your life.

I have been in love with MacBeth’s book Praying in Color for ever since a friend introduced me to it. Inspired by the Advent vocabulary from her article, I decided I would doodle a 3 x 5 inch card with one word from the Advent vocabulary each day until Christmas.

An Advent Vocabulary

Here is the word list I generated from MacBeth’s article along with the additional words I brainstormed after reading:

Preparation, Anticipation, Wonder, Star, Journey, Waiting, Watching, Attention, Patience, Hope, Despair, Expectancy, Darkness, Light, Fear, Faith, Repentance, Trust, Pregnant, Luscious, Angle, Mary, Shepherds, Gifts, Prayer, Invitation, Transformation, Salvation, Blessing, Love, Search, Celebrate, Share, Give, Make, Create, Grace, and Worship.

More Advent Options

Sybil Macbeth's Advent Calendars, Counting Down to Christmas, Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesA few days later, MacBeth’s next blog post hit my inbox: Last Call for 2017 Advent Calendar Templates. This posts refers readers back to her November 7 2017 post, Advent Calendar Templates, where you can download her coloring calendar templates.

If you choose to practice this method of Advent celebration, simply print out a template (there are more than I show here), and fill in a section with images, thoughts, or prayers. Day 1 was December 3, the first Sunday of the Advent Season.

I hope you and your family will find a practice to enjoy this holiday season.

Your Turn

How do you like to count down to Christmas, or to any other special Calendar date? Please share your ideas in the comment space below. Who knows? Another reader might decide to celebrate the season your way!

Reading Response/Writing Prompt for Characterization

Characterization Reading Response Writing PromptSome of my most viewed posts are the ones I create for use in the classroom. Thank you, teachers! However reading response exercises are not only useful in teaching reading, but for helping fiction writers develop their stories. Today’s focus: Characterization.

Characterization Reading Response

What is the main character (or one of the supporting characters) in today’s reading grateful for?

This question helps to build students inferential reading skills, as it is not particularly likely their selection will have dealt with the topic of gratitude. Students will need to look for clues in the text that help them understand what the character likes, what the character longs for, what the character values, in order to infer what this character is grateful for.

Characterization Writing Prompt

What is the main character, or a supporting character in your story or novel grateful for?

Strong characters are created, not when we sit down and list their traits, values, and preferences, but when these things are demonstrated through your character’s actions, words, thoughts, and feelings–especially sensory feelings. This is the season for Thanksgiving, so leverage that holiday feeling by imagining what your main character or other characters are grateful for.

Your Turn

Can you share what you are reading? How about providing the author and title of the work, and one of the things a main character is grateful for.

Writing? Whose character did you develop today? What is he/she grateful for?

I love to hear from you. Happy reading and writing, and thanks for joining me here at Literate Lives!


Best Books of September and October 2017

Time has run away with me this past season. School has started. Wildfires have burned unfathomable numbers of acres. I have struggled with, first, smoke-triggered asthma then simply continued asthma complications, and now we are one week into November, and I have not shared any of my favorite reads with you from the past two months.

I shall now make amends.

Two of the books I enjoyed this fall were continuations of series, Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal and Beastly Bones: a Jackaby Novel by William Ritter. Both are historical fantasies with female protagonists, but that is about as far as their similarities go. Both were equally as good as their predecessors, and I enjoyed them immensely. If you would like to know more about them, click here.

During these months, I also discovered a new mystery heroine (and author), and hunted down more books about her. Therefore, I would like to introduce you to To Shield the Queen, by Fiona Buckley, as a third, best read of the fall.

In To Shield the Queen, Ursula Blanchard goes to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I and finds the court aswirl with gossip about an affair between the married Robert Dudley and the queen. Literate Lives Best Book of September and October 2107 Fiona Buckley's To Shield the QueenSent by the queen to quash these rumors and help care for Dudley’s ailing wife, Ursula discovers the truth behind the scandal and uncovers a murderous plot that strikes far too close to herself and those she loves.

I enjoyed not just the delightful puzzle a mystery always poses, but also the character, Ursula, the people she comes to care about, and the portrait of her world created by Buckley. I am looking forward to reading more of the books in this series.


November Fall Gratitude Leaves Classroom Project

November Gratitude Leaves, Teachers File Drawer,

Tomorrow begins one of my favorite class activities of the whole school year–the daily posting of “gratitude leaves” on our windows.

Why do I love it so? Well, visually, the month of November in Oregon is terribly gloomy. With this practice, the gloom outdoors is gradually obscured by brightly colored leaves.

Even more so, here in the U.S., Thanksgiving falls in November, and so it seems appropriate to focus our thinking on things for which we are grateful.

Most significantly, Studies have shown that people who are grateful tend to live happier, healthier lives. I want the best for my students, and as the holidays make life more hectic, I need to remember I have so much to be grateful for!

What are Gratitude Leaves?

They are individual paper leaves, that we as staff cut out in a variety of shapes and colors. Each day, at the beginning of the school day, we pass out a single leaf to each students and every adult present. Then everyone writes one thing they are grateful for and tapes their leaves to the window. We continue to do this until we break for Thanksgiving.

By the time Thanksgiving break comes our windows glow with beautiful autumn colors as the western light shines through them.

My Gratitude Leaves, 2016

Here is what I wrote on my leaves last year:

  • I am grateful to have a husband who loves me and who is my friend and partner in life.
  • I am thankful Emmy snuggled with David and I to watch the family Halloween movie.
  • I am thankful that using the treadmill yesterday woke me up enough to get my work done.
  • I am thankful for my Grandparents and the way their love helped shape who I am.
  • I am grateful to be a child of God.
  • I am thankful for my delightful Grandkids.
  • I am grateful for my college education.
  • I am grateful to have a mother who loved to read, that learning to read came easily to me, and I have had ample access to books.
  • I am thankful for my charming, delightful, funny, marvelous grandchildren
  • I am thankful for chocolate.
  • I am thankful that I know how to read and have access to books!
  • I am thankful to be able to come back to work.
  • I am grateful for parents who love me.
  • Today is my writing day!

Your Turn

Today is my writing day! However, before I move on

The Value of Writing and Reading Fiction (And Maybe, Non-fiction, Too)

Last weekend I read a blog post that was so provocative, inspiring, and engaging, that I decided I couldn’t wait for a monthly round-up; I had to share it now.

5 Reasons Writing is Important to the World

In this post, on, K.M. Weiland shares the experiences that made her a writer, the questions that had her doubting her career choice, the wisdom of others that provided answers to her questions, and the five reasons she is able to conclude “writing is important to the world.”

Don’t take my word for it. Go read the post now, and then come back.

Wasn’t That Inspiring!

I’m tempted to quote so much of what she said, but of course, you’ve already read it. Instead I’d like to comment and elaborate on her 5 conclusions and how they resonate for me.

5 Reasons I Agree Writing, and Thereby Reading, Stories, both Fiction and Non, is of Value for Us Personally and for Our World:

“1. Stories give us good truths.” They show us how the world works. They inspire us to be better and often show us how. Stories, both fictional and non, are therefore empowering.

“2. Stories give us bad truths.” Stories, again both fiction and non-fiction, can serve as warnings. They provide a training ground for discovering strategies and ways of being that work and ones that do not. Better yet, as a reader, you get to discover these things vicariously, rather than have to suffer the consequences of dangerous, foolish, or selfish/narrow-minded actions.

“3. Stories open our minds and teach us empathy.” Effective educators know that reading fiction and experiencing life through a character’s mind and heart, expands our and our students’ wealth of experience. They show us how other people’s feelings and thought processes work, as we experience them through character. Thus story, both fiction and non, helps develop empathy for others.

I love this Merriam Webster definition of empathy:

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :the capacity for this

In a world that seems to be growing smaller, more crowded, and more conflicted each day, empathy is an absolutely essential skill for living together in harmony.

“4. Stories offer us archetypal role models.” Weiland asks “if you’ve ever been in the midst of a difficult experience or faced by an overwhelming decision—and you were helped in remembering a character who endured something similar?” Have you? I know I have. At one very difficult time in my life inspiration provided by a fictional character helped buy my children 15 more years with an intact, functional nuclear family.

“5. Stories teach us to hope.” In our messy, messy world and our imperfect, challenging lives it can be tempting to just give up. But stories show us the effort to not just survive, but thrive is worthwhile. They remind us that light and hope remain in our world. While we cannot live lives of unadulterated bliss, times of joy, of love, of peace do exist, and if we make wise choices on our journeys, we will experience them and carry their memories within us along the way.

Your Turn

What do you feel is the value of reading and writing? In focusing on Weiland’s post, is there anything you think I missed? Please share in the comment space below. I love to hear from you!