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The Rich Writer

The Rich Writer: September 2010

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Work Space and Productivity

willowgirl As I continue to work my way (slowly) through Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way, I continue to experience moments of synchronicity in my life. Cameron’s definition of synchronicity is when you put a request out to the universe—for instance, your desire to take up acting—and the universe replies—for instance, you meet a woman who teaches a beginning acting class at a dinner party.

I think there’s another type of synchronicity: as I learn a lesson from one source, I’m likely to notice complementary lessons elsewhere. For instance, one of the exercises in this week’s chapter was to design a creative space for myself; the idea, although not explicitly stated, is that by surrounding oneself with things that are inspiring, comforting, and beautiful, you free your creative side to come out and play.

It turns out that Cameron’s wisdom, penned nearly 20 years ago, is now backed by scientific research. While a graduate student at University of Exeter in the UK, Dr. Craig Knight performed research on employees’ attitudes, work satisfaction, and productivity as they relate to employee control over workplace environment.

His work challenges the mentality of many corporations, where “managers often create a 'lean' working environment that reflects a standardized corporate identity.” In a study of over 2000 office workers, he consistently found that the more control people have over their work environment, the happier and more motivated they are. In two additional studies, researchers compared the productivity of workers in “lean” environments, “enriched” environments (decorated with plants and artwork), and “empowered” environments (employee-decorated spaces). They found that employees who designed their own work spaces were 32% more productive than those in lean environments without increases in errors.

tea and books The lesson for writers: where you work IS important. Giving yourself a place that nurtures your spirit will improve your creativity—and productivity. After all, it’s not just an artsy thing any more: science backs it up!

:) Cheryl 

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Ethics of Medical Writing: Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Used Ghostwritten Articles to Promote Product

As someone who writes on science and medical subjects, this recent report* in PLoS (Public Library of Science) Medicine disturbs me greatly.

masklDr. Adriane J. Fugh-Berman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Georgetown University Medical Center, analyzed ghostwritten reviews and commentaries published in medical journals and journal supplements that “were used to promote unproven benefits and downplay harms of Prempro—a brand of menopausal hormone therapy (HT)—and to cast competing therapies in a negative light.”

As a writer, it makes sense to me for a pharmaceutical company to hire professional writers to assist in editing, or even creating, articles for publication (the key word being “assist”). However, Fugh-Berman reports that academic physicians were invited to “author” prewritten articles that Wyeth had paid the medical writing and marketing company DesignWrite to produce. In addition, Wyeth paid for numerous reviews, commentaries, and opinion pieces for publication in medical journals—where they are not under the strict FDA regulations seen elsewhere. These types of articles are not usually peer-reviewed, but they can still have an immense influence on physicians’ understanding of disease and its treatment.

According to Fugh-Berman’s analysis Wyeth’s ghostwritten articles were designed to “Mitigate perceived risks of hormone-associated breast cancer”; “Promote unproven, off-label uses, including prevention of dementia, Parkinson's disease, and visual impairment”; “Raise questions about the safety and efficacy of competing therapies (competitive messaging)”; “Defend cardiovascular benefits, despite lack of benefit in RCTs”; and “Position low-dose hormone therapy”. She also states that many physicians have been impacted by these reports, believing that the benefits of hormone replacement therapy outweigh the risks in asymptomatic women, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

I find medical writing to be fulfilling as well as lucrative—it feels good to be writing material that will help someone better understand breast cancer, for example—but the truth is that most medical writing is funded by the pharmaceutical industry, which definitely has selling drugs as its agenda. So where did DesignWrite cross the line in their medical writing business? How can other medical writers avoid doing the same thing?

I think the answer lies in that DesignWrite intentionally designed a marketing strategy that incorporated these ghostwritten articles as means to promote the product—and to promote off-label use of the product. Pre-writing articles for academic physicians to “author” rather than beginning with material from the expert also seems to cross that line from medical writing into medical marketing. One thing is clear: any time a company pays someone to write an “informational” article for them, there’s the possibility that the article will be slanted in that company’s favor. Writers beware.



*Fugh-Berman AJ (2010) The Haunting of Medical Journals: How Ghostwriting Sold ''HRT''. PLoS Med 7(9): e1000335. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000335.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

More on Computer Games…

To add to my angst about all the time my kids are spending in front of the screen, I just read this report on how “Video games lead to faster decisions that are no less accurate.”*

imageResearchers at the University of Rochester tested students ages 18 to 25 who didn’t usually play video games. Half of them were required to play 50 hours of the high-action games “Call of Duty 2” and “Unreal Tournament”; the other half played the slow-moving game “The Sims 2”. Afterward, they tested students’ ability to make quick decisions—and found that the action game players were up to 25 percent faster and just as accurate as those who played the slower-paced game. Researcher Daphne Bavelier says, “It's not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate…[they] make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference.”

Do me a favor: don’t tell my kids about this, okay?

:) Cheryl

*This research will be published in the journal Current Biology in a paper authored by Daphne Bavelier, Alexandre Pouget, and C. Shawn Green.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Computer Games: Friend or Foe?

wow This has been a challenging school year for me thus far, for a weird reason: World of Warcraft. Not that I’m playing. My kids are playing. They both have accounts—that they pay for—and they are both spending hours and hours every week online, slaying monsters, completing quests, laughing, and having fun.

As a children’s writer and someone who’s chosen not to have a TV in the house for the past 20+ years, this disturbs me greatly.

How does such a thing happen, you ask? The problem is…not really a problem. That is, the kids have been given permission to play computer games without regulation as long as they’re getting chores done, logging half an hour of exercise a day, staying current on homework, and getting good grades. And the problem is that they’re doing it. And they’re seeing friends, playing Magic the Gathering at lunch, and participating in various clubs and after-school activities, so I don’t have an excuse to kick them off their machines.

Yes, this decision to let them have unlimited computer time is a slight point of contention in our household, but I can’t argue with the results. When I ask them to get off and help set the table, they do so with (usually) good grace. When they miss chores, they lose computer privileges the next day with few complaints. And the chores get done. Where we used to have arguing and conflict, now we have clear expectations, no reminders, no nagging, and simple consequences. And both kids are happy.

So what’s the problem? My kids are spending five million freaking hours on the computer every day!!!!


Not that I’d exaggerate. Much. I just keep telling myself that this is a good problem to have….

:) Cheryl

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How a Writer Goes Camping…

She stops at her local thrift store to pick up some inexpensive camping togs...


...then hits REI to stock up on her camping supplies...

...and finally visits Staples to purchase pens and notebooks. Because how can you camp without writing materials?

I'll be out of town for a few days to camp with my dad, who has been trying for years to get me to join him on his annual hunting trip in the Colorado mountains. He knows his daughter: it'll make a great story, Cheryl, says he. Blatant bribery.

But I guess it worked, because I'm going! :) It's good to have a dad.

:D Cheryl

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI Fall Conference: Bruce Coville Wows and Inspires

Coville_Bruce_100 I have a special place in my heart for Bruce Coville’s books. It’s not just that they’re lots of fun—which they are—or that they’re great examples of craft, plotting, and storytelling—which they are. His book Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher saved my life.

This happened a few years ago, when I made one of my overly optimistic cross-country drives from Colorado to Pennsylvania with two kids in tow. Just before Christmas. In horrendous weather.*

After three days of driving and too many hairy moments to recount, we made it to PA late at night, in the middle of a snow storm. We were supposed to spend the night at my sister’s house with her husband and kids because my parents were at the hospital, where my dad had just had surgery. I’ve been to my sister’s house. It’s a large white farmhouse with a red barn only just off the road and, theoretically, it’s not that hard to find. At least, it’s not that hard to find in the daylight. At night, in a snowstorm, in one of the darkest counties in PA, when one’s brain is theoretically addled from WAAAY too many hours on the road, it’s another story. I drove up and down that road without seeing it.

Meanwhile, the snow is getting heavier, my eyelids are dragging, and both kids are awake and pathetic in the back seat.

Jeremy_Thatcher_Dragon%20Hatcher_hc What does this have to do with Bruce Coville, you ask? Well, it was his story, performed by his audio book company Full Cast Audio, that kept me awake and kept the kids and I sane for much of the cross-country drive and for ALL of that stressful night. We listened to it as we searched for my sister’s house. We listened when I finally gave up and headed to my parent’s house, even though I knew it was empty. We listened to it as we slipped and slid our way down their very long, very snowy driveway and I left it on for the kids while I stomped through snow drifts trying to find an open door and, when there wasn’t one, breaking into the house. We listened to it over the next week every time we drove from one house to another, because this was rural PA, where the minimum driving time between any two locations is 25 minutes. We listened to it when the cousins joined us in the car and we needed entertainment (so that I didn’t go crazy in my stressed-out, overtired state.)

So: it was with great interest that I sat down Saturday morning for Coville’s Keynote address. I came to the conference seeking inspiration and encouragement—and he didn’t disappoint. But more on that in a few days…

:) Cheryl

*Yes, I know. The weather is BOUND to be horrendous somewhere along a cross-country drive at that time of year. See overly optimistic, above…

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Writing Friends…

bar1_udnr …are the best antidote to writing stress. I met with my writing buddies Chris and Laura at the Huckleberry this week, where we enjoyed freshly-brewed chai and scrumptious breakfast creations like their salmon omellette with fresh herb cream cheese, seasoned potatoes, and buttermilk biscuit, all in this cute lavender building in the Louisville Historic District.

Two hours of talk and food and de-stressing. Yay! We have to do this more often!

:) Cheryl

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Inner Mean Girl: Week 4


This is week 4 of the free online class Inner Mean Girl Cleanse, a class for which I signed up and then promptly decided I didn’t have time for (promptly meaning as soon as I realized the class involved weekly 1-hour calls). But…I’d already signed up and so I’ve continued to get their inspiring emails and links to expert interviews…so I feel like I’m auditing the course :). And this week’s topic feels so applicable to my current life that I figured I’d dive in and share.

Toxin: Unrealistic Expectations
Self Love Antidote: Give Yourself A Break

In case you hadn’t guessed from the sparse postings of late, I’ve been running a little ragged lately. This is just the message I need to hear right now. Or, to get more pointed:

  • It’s okay if the laundry’s not all put away.
  • It’s okay to take a nap and then serve salad for dinner.
  • It’s okay to ask for help from kids and husband.
  • It’s okay to stop and breathe.

Picture 090 I spent time yesterday (the class runs Wednesday through Wednesday) journaling and thinking about their message for the week, with the result that I *did* take a break and serve salad for dinner, and you know what? No one died. In fact, the meal was probably much more pleasant because I wasn’t exhausted and stressed.

This morning, I opened my blog reader to catch up on some reading, and this was the first post I opened: “The Minimalist’s Guide to Cultivating Passion”. In it, guest blogger Cal Newport challenges readers to do less in order to have time for our passions. From there, I ended up on reading the post “letting go of fake needs”. Hmm. Anyone think there’s a message for me here? 

Even if you missed the beginning of the class, you can find call recordings, inspirational essays, and interviews online at Inner Mean Girl Cleanse. There are also a number of Self-Love Ambassadors who are blogging their journey through the program, like my friend Wendee Holtcamp. Feeling a little stressed, overwhelmed, or like you can’t get everything done? You’ll find it worthwhile to take a look.

:) Cheryl

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Flora and fauna reports a la The Artist’s Way

artistsway-t Tuesday morning, for the first time in a while, I woke up feeling energized and ready to face the day. This comes during week three of working through Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way, which is a fantastic course on getting your head straight as well as fostering creativity.

In it, Cameron writes about the importance of taking time to notice things. “Flora and fauna reports,” is her example, an aunt’s lengthy letters detailing the flowers blooming in her garden, the cottonwood’s leaves, and other snippets of beauty and joy. My ability to notice and enjoy the world around me is one of the things I like about myself—but when I get crazy busy, it’s one of the first things I stop doing. I duck my head and plow forward, trying to survive one day to the next.

So Monday night, I took a break from the endless to-do’s to spend a little time in my garden. Not long: I spent about half an hour watering flowers, pulling weeds, and collecting windfall apples from my lawn to compost. For half that time, I press-ganged my older son into picking apples with me as the sun sank behind the mountains. I got my hands wet and muddy; the smells of crushed mint and sage filled the air from the flower beds; and we ended up with a full compost bin and a colander full of red and green apples.

cookbook I spent the next half hour luxuriating in those apples, cutting and chopping (there were quite a few bad spots to remove) and plopping them into a few inches of water in my pressure cooker. I have a great pressure cooker cookbook by Lorna J. Sass, so I turned to it for guidance on how long to cook apples to make applesauce. Instead, I found a recipe for cranberry applesauce…and since I had a wayward bag of cranberries in my freezer, I decided to give it a try. I added one bag of frozen cranberries and about two cups of water to my apples (6 cups or so), brought the pot to pressure, and cooked for 5 minutes (the advantage of a pressure cooker!). Then I put it all through an applesauce maker (a sort of pot with a strainer on the bottom and a hand-turned crank that presses the soft fruit through the strainer while leaving peels and seeds behind), added a few tablespoons of chopped candied orange peel (the recipe called for orange zest, but I didn’t have any), a bit of sugar and a dollop of agave nectar…

applesauce …and the result was this jewel-toned creation. It satisfies the senses in every way: bright, colorful, tart, sweet, yummy.

And the next morning I awoke refreshed. Coincidence? I prefer to think of it as a sign that I’m on the right track.

:) Cheryl

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Gusts, fire danger, beauty, and joy

Through the ruff timesIt’s Thursday night, 10:00 PM, as I write this, and it’s the kind of beautiful, blustery night that makes me want to stand face to the wind, arms outstretched, and let it blow through me. It’s the kind of night that’s fierce and wild and wonderful, gusting cool air through the halls and blowing papers free of the refrigerator and bulletin boards.

Earlier today, the Four Mile Canyon fire had been reported 30% contained and some of the homes reopened to their owners—but threats of incoming windy weather (this weather that’s currently rattling trees outside my window) prompted officials to reinstate the evacuation order. Firefighters entered the night worried that the gusting wind and dry air might fan the fire into a monster again and carry it past their line.

Late this afternoon, the city issued an announcement that people living on the west side of town should prepare for possible evacuation. Friends living on the mountain’s borders, even those who know it’s incredibly unlikely the fire would reach them, are gathering photos and keepsakes. Just in case. And when we drove back into town after an evening north of town, the smell of smoke once again filled the car.

These were the thoughts in my head as I pulled into my driveway tonight: that the fire might spread; that it’s touching so many people; that the night was this weird mix of beauty and power and fear. And in the midst of this, loud music comes from the bike path behind the house, where a stream of bicycles are passing with music and wheels decorated with Christmas lights and laughter—Boulder’s Thursday night bike ride. The kids come running to shout “Happy Thursday!” to them, because that’s what we do on Thursday when the ride passes our house, and the bikers all yell “Happy Thursday!” back to us, one after another, as they pass in a parade of color and light.

P1170851 “They make me happy,” my 11-year-old said. “I don’t know why, but they make me happy.”

And I guess that’s what keeps hitting me in the midst of this: tragedy brings out stories of heroism and compassion and a community coming together. Qwest, our local phone company with a reputation for poor service, sets up a generator-powered phone relay so that the mountain schools will have phone service as they reopen. A local woman buys piles of socks because she hears that one of the relief centers is in short supply. Others open their homes to evacuees and to their pets; or simply offer their garages to people looking for a place to store things until the fire danger passes. The Thursday bikers spread good cheer and grins.

Maybe it doesn’t put out the fire, but it helps.

:) Cheryl

PS: If you’re interested in helping those who have lost their homes, a donation site opened tonight in Boulder to collect gently used children’s clothing, size large adult clothing, personal hygiene items (unused), diapers and school supplies.

For those of you who live farther afield, Boulder’s Daily Camera has compiled a list of resources for how to help.

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When the fire's too close to home...

We returned from camping this weekend--and several days out of touch with the rest of the world--to see a plume of smoke rising from the direction of home.

By the time we reached Boulder, the sky was clouded with smoke, the sidewalk peppered with ash. The smoke came from Four Mile Canyon, where a fire started Monday morning and proceeded to grow into the 6000+ acre wildfire fire fighters are still battling three days later. More than 3000 families have been evacuated from the mountains west of town.

I feel this disaster more than you might expect, given that it's not threatening my home or family. Every member of my family, though, knows people who have been evacuated: friends, teachers, other kids on the bus, other families from orchestra, fellow writers. It feels as if threads of connection run every direction, tying us to the families who have been uprooted.

I think it also hits hard because Four Mile Canyon is such a special place for me. We lived in a little cabin half a mile up the canyon for seven years and it felt like home in a way that our current "town" house never will. I wrote the book that brought me back to writing seated at a desk overlooking an immense lilac; I dreamed plot twists lying in a patch of sun on my bed, with the stream gurgling only ten feet from my window; I found inspiration in long hikes up the mountain behind the house. I still dream of this place and still hope, one day, to return. I still think of it as “my house” even though we haven’t lived there for more than eight years.

Today, some of the families are allowed to return home, although they've been warned they might have to leave again at any moment. Others' homes remain in areas considered too volatile for non-fire fighters to enter. Meanwhile, in town we can hear the steady drone of slurry bombers shuttling back and forth with their fire-fighting cargo. It makes me wonder if this is something like what people felt during war times, hyper-alert for the noise of aircraft overhead and hyper-aware of what each different sound might mean.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those fighting the fire and those whose homes are threatened and lives in disarray.



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I can’t remember…

  …the last time life crept up upon me and dealt me such a round of busy-ness. I expect the usual summer slide of time, when there are kids home and vacations and travel and other such time-consuming activities; but the last few weeks have brought such a slew of work and errands and writing and so on, that I’ve started to lose track of what day it is. Seriously.iStock_000011488510Medium

I saw the light at the end of the tunnel today, not because I reached the end of my to-do list (I didn’t) and not because I reached the bottom of my in box (not even close)—but today, I finally took the time to water my poor pots of flowers, which had been threatening to die completely in the end-of-summer heat. It might sound silly, but when I’m this busy even the two minutes required to water four flower pots becomes…overwhelming. Maybe it’s not really an unmanageable task, but there’s always some other task more urgent until I reach the dropping point.

Yes, I can be a bit all-or-nothing. I’m working on it.

The bad part about being so busy is that without some down time, I start to lose touch with my creativity. I don’t come up with blog ideas; my book rewrite seems hopeless and overwhelming; and I wonder why the heck I ever thought I could be a writer.

But today I saw the light. Even took a few minutes to show my face in the blog-o-sphere ((WAVES WILDLY)) whilst sitting on my front porch beside the afore-mentioned flower pots. They’re a little scant in the flower department, but hey, with a little water, they’ll be better in no time.

Kinda like me!

So—here’s hoping that all of you are finding time to write and time to recharge and time just to be, because sometimes that what the Muse requires before she doles out inspiration and delight. Being busy has its place, but in my life, at least, it’s time to slow down a bit!

:) Cheryl