Tuesday Writing Tip: Treasure Your Tools

I love my current journal.  I’ve only had it a couple of weeks, and so I’m still in the honeymoon phase with it.  In another few weeks, I’ll be ready for a brand new one.

When I need a new journal, which is often, I have to find just the right one for the moment. I don’t follow any specific requirements, I just sort through the gigantic basket of journals that sits atop a bookshelf in my office. Or, more often, I decide none of them work and that I need to buy a new one.

The same thing is true of pens. I must have one that writes the way I want it to, flowing smoothly and easily, with the ink not so thick that it shows through the paper. I’ve been known to order pens a case at a time when I find one I like. And do not even get me started on daily planners.

But all of this is because tools for writers matter.

One of the great things about writing is that you can do it anytime, anywhere, with the crudest of tools.   Paper and pen.  Or, use a stick to scratch letters in the dirt or sand. (I once knew a woman who did this on the beach at dawn every morning.) Pull out an ancient computer, or a typewriter, for that matter.

But when I write in my journal I want to write in something that pleases me, with a pen that pleases me, also.  Because the act of writing is still a physical one and if it doesn’t feel good to your hand you’re writing is not going to feel good to your brain. And if it doesn’t feel good to your brain you’re not going to want to write.

It’s about creating a space for your writing. Respect it and honor it whenever you can and it will respect and honor you back.

So don’t ever feel guilty about searching for just the right pen or paper or even computer!  Treasure your tools as you treasure your writing.

Passion and Consistency (A Love Letter)

You’ve got passion, right? I’ve got it, too, in droves. I am passionate about many things—my family, my writing, my hobbies, creativity, teaching, France, wine, and popcorn. Okay, maybe popcorn doesn’t quite qualify as a passion.

I’m certain you could also reel off a list of things about which you are passionate.  And writing would be chief among them.  Because that’s why we do it, is it not? Sure, we have dreams of publication, recognition, maybe even earning a living at it. But at heart we write because we love to do it. Because we’re passionate about it.

But what about consistency? What are the things you are consistent about?  I’m pretty consistent about doing and enjoying the things on my list, probably a bit too much so when it comes to the popcorn and wine. Hahaha.

It is funny—and enlightening—to think about our passions and our consistency in the same brain neuron. Because that is where they need to be. Linked together like two peas in a pod, or an old married couple. Completely, totally entwined.

Happy people with full, engaged lives are people who make time for their passions. Unhappy people meander through life, spending time farting around on the internet instead of writing their novel. Or obsessively cleaning the house instead of painting. As Annie Dillard said, and I have so often quoted, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

And let me just tell you something. Your passion isn’t going to last long if you’re not consistent about it.  Off it will evaporate in a puff of steam, probably unnoticed by you.  Use it or lose it. They say that about the brain, but it is also true about your passions.  But consistency is damn freaking hard to accomplish when you can barely even get your butt in the chair to write once in a blue moon, isn’t it?

Why yes. Yes, it is.  But never mind how you manage it. You must find a way to make it happen.  And the best way I know how to accomplish that is to let your passion fuel the consistency.

It’s like meditation, or exercise.  You have to do it regularly enough so that the doing feels better than the not doing.  Where if you don’t meditate for a few days you feel edgy. If you don’t exercise for a while, you feel lazy. If you don’t write, you feel lost.

Like that.

So let your passion fuel your consistency.  And before long, passion and consistency will be cozied up together, as snug and happy as two bugs in a rug. How are you spending your days? Are you consistently enjoying your passions? Or not? If not, when will you begin?

Leave a comment and tell me what you’re passionate about this summer.

*** New! I’m offering Conjuring Calls at a very low price. Why the name? Because we are going to conjure up some magic for you—be it brainstorming plot intricacies, tips on getting you to the page regularly, or accomplishing that thing you’ve stalled out on.  Doesn’t have to be writing related, but of course, it can! Hit reply and tell me you’re interested and I’ll email you the details.

**** And remember, I have a Facebook now. It is called Prolific and Prosperous Writers, because that is what we all want to be, right? Please come join us! I made it a closed group, so we can have some privacy to discuss those writerly issues the rest of the world might not understand. Just head here  and ask to join.

(By the way, this post is based on the weekly newsletter I send out. Join us! Just fill out the form to the right.)



Make Like a Bird and Sing (A Love Letter)

I’m betraying my age here (which is fine, I’m old and I own it), but when I was younger there was a common saying that people would twist in funny way.  I’m going to make like a banana and split, you’d say when you were leaving.  Or, make like a busboy and get the fork out of here.  Or, make like a tree and leave.  We said them for all kinds of occasions.

Ah, yes, those were simpler times.

But I thought of those sayings the other morning when I was outside writing early in the morning, listening to the birds greet the day as the sun rose over the houses across the street. And I thought, I need to make like a bird and sing.  (Only in my case, sing is a metaphor for write because, trust me, you don’t want to hear me sing.) Or, make like a flower and bloom.  Or, make like an Oregon grape plant that the husband planted against all objections and take over the garden.

My point being: the birds don’t worry about who, if anybody, is listening, or if they are singing it right. The flowers don’t worry about if they look fat in that color of red, or if they are arranged in a way that will be pleasing to everyone.  And the Oregon grape? Well, I’m pretty sure it has world domination in mind but never mind.

Because, wait for it here:  we need to make like a writer and write.  Because like birds singing, flowers blooming, and Oregon grape dominating, that’s what we do. Writers write. Except when we don’t.  Because we worry. About how it will sound, how it looks, is it right? Will the agent I want to submit to like it, how will my readers react, what will my mother think when she reads that sex scene? Did I spell that word right, is the grammar correct, and how do I punctuate a sentence like that?

It gets worse when you start writing professionally (or aspire to) because all of those concerns can be front and center all the time.  You have to push yourself to write fast, to go back to writing for the joy of it—even if you’ll eventually get paid, too.

Because I wager that none of us got into this writing biz because we wanted to fuss and worry over punctuation and sentence structure.  (Okay, I know there are some of you grammar geeks out there shaking your heads.) We got into it because writing, to us, is singing, blooming, growing so marvelously lushly that there’s no room to walk past us on the deck. Am I right? And it really is easy to forget that.

So, next time you sit down to write, remember the birds. And the flowers. And the Oregon grape. Okay, not the Oregon grape. Remember why you do this…and make like a bird and sing.

Motivation Monday: Sometimes, in Writing and Life, You Just Have to Let Go

Yesterday I wrote about resistance.

But today I’m writing about its opposite, letting go. Which is funny, right? Like life is funny.

Anyway, here’s the deal. This past weekend, the hub and I took an overnight trip to Eugene, a hundred-ish miles down the road from Portland, and home of one of my alma maters, the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!).  We were going to attend a birthday party for my friend and client, Kim Leval. (And what a fun party it was–but that’s a story for another day.)

When we take a short road trip, I usually make ask my hub to drive so that I can knit. (I wear these so I don’t get carsick.)  This past weekend, I had the perfect idiot knitting project (one you can do without paying much attention to). It is an airy scarf that I hope will be wide and long enough to wear as a shawl.   I’m not that far along on it, but I made good progress in the car.


Something bad happened to my knitting.  It started slanting.  As far as I was concerned, the thing was supposed to come out all nice and neat, eventually forming one gargantuan rectangle I could artfully wrap around my shoulders. But instead it was freaking slanting.  I kept telling myself it just appeared to be slanting, and that if I yanked on it enough, it would stop. So every knitting session turned out to be a marathon of yanking on the edges of the damn thing, then holding it up to see if that made any difference.  

It didn’t.

I wasmaking myself crazy trying to make the shawl into something it was never going to be.  And I might just as well have been getting my teeth cleaned for all the enjoyment I was getting out of it.

Finally, driving home yesterday I had an epiphany: the shawl is slanting because it is creating a bias drape as I knit. I have no idea how or why this is happening. (I’ve been knitting since I was a kid, and still the craft offers mysteries to me.) But it is happening and no amount of yanking is going to change it. So I decided to quit fussing over it and relax and enjoy it.

I no longer care, either. It will be what it will be. Maybe it really is forming a bias drape, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it will magically become the giant rectangle I have in mind! But most likely it won’t. Doesn’t matter.  Because, suddenly, the knitting is fun again.  I am no longer resisting the natural shape of the shawl and instead I’m relaxing and enjoying it.

I don’t know about you, but this is all too familiar to me in other areas of my life. Like all the times I’ve tried to force a character (or a real person) do something they have no interest in doing.  Or when I hang on to the idea of how a scene should go when it is clear that is leading itself in a different direction.  Or when I keep trying to do the same thing over and over again in my career when it is clear it isn’t working.

And when I finally let go (which is surprisingly hard) the relief is so sweet.

Is there something in your writing or life you’re hanging onto that you need to release?

Update: I almost forgot! (Well, technically, I did forget.) My How To Get an Agent Class is tomorrow! Come join us! Just in time for summer pitching!


A love letter about resisting the status quo

There’s a lot of noise in the world at the moment.  Political, and societal to be sure. But there’s also all the information we get from the interwebs constantly, all day and even all night long. And much of it is designed to ensnare us—to click onto the website, read the news story, buy the item, support the cause.

It’s the status quo.

And as writers, it is our job to resist.

But wait, you say.  You need all that information.  You need it in order to have something to write about, you need it to support your WIP (as in research), you need it because you must know what is going on in the world.

Yeah, I hear you. I’m a huge input person.  Next to writing, one of the things I love best in the world is gathering information. Set me up with a topic to research, a pile of books, and access to the internet, and I’m a happy woman.

But, there’s a limit to how much I—and you—can take in before it starts to become a detriment.  Before it starts to affect our concentration levels, and our focus, to say nothing of our emotions and energy, both physical and mental.

Which is why I say you need to resist its lure.

Because when you do, you gain so much. It is difficult in the moment—I’ve had to tell myself not to click over to the internet numerous times as I’ve been writing this—but what I’ve gotten in return is clarity and focus.  And far more enjoyment of the writing process.

And by resisting, you’re claiming your right to be different.  To be a person who stands for writing and creativity and art.  A person who dares to challenge the status quo.  A person who follows her own inner tune.

That’s not always easy in this world, but it is vital.  If you are going to do good work, you need to be able to hear your inner voice and you can only do that if you tune out the noise of the world.

So, let’s do it together. Resist the status quo! Turn to the page instead of the latest news story or blog post. And together we will change the world one word at a time.

Leave me a comment about what you’re writing–and resisting.

(FYI, this originally appeared as my weekly newsletter. If you’d like to get it delivered directly to your inbox, just fill out the form to the right.)

Freedom, Independence, and Writing ( A Sunday Love Letter)

Tuesday is Independence Day in the states. Yesterday was Canada Day in, um, Canada, which I think has something to do with becoming a country but I couldn’t quite tell from the Wikipedia page. (Forgive me Canadians, and perhaps one of you could enlighten me?)

The idea of independence and freedom is afoot in the world.

It’s something we all want, right? I mean, who wants to live their life in chains, real or imaginary?  For most of us, thank God, the only kind of prisons we will experience will be mental and emotional.  But those prisons can be excruciating and powerful.

And I am here to assert that the feeling of freedom and independence comes from one place only—within. Okay, I’m fresh off a weekend of watching kid movies, Trolls and Moana, so I admit maybe I’ve been a bit unduly affected by their messages.  But this idea that it all comes from within is something I fervently believe in, and forget often.

So here’s a reminder for me and you: freedom comes from within, and the best tool I know to access that is writing. Yes, writing. Whether you’re exploring your emotions on the journaling page, or pouring them into a character in your WIP novel, or shaping them in the memoir you’re writing to make sense of your life, writing is your best path to mental freedom.

Because, you can put the drama on the page, as Julia Cameron says.  And then it does have to go out into the world, where it can damage tender relationships. Freedom.

Because, you can spend time expressing yourself, doing what you feel called to do, rather than plopping down in front of the TV or computer. Freedom.

Because, you can put your stories out into the world, where they will affect others in positive ways, maybe even loosening some of the bonds that bind them.  Freedom.

So, let freedom ring.  Set pen to paper. Let it rip. It is your path to freedom and independence.

And don’t forget–my Freedom and Independence Coaching special runs through July 5th.  Learn more here.

What are you working on this holiday weekend? Do leave a comment and let me know.

(This post originally appeared in my newsletter. If you’d like to have it delivered to your inbox every Sunday, just fill out the form to the right.)

Photo by kplantt.

Friday Finesse: When Should You Share Your Rough Draft?

Friend and fellow writer Jenni asked me an excellent question about writing rough drafts: when is the best time to share it with others? She asked if one should “dump, then do some editing, then share? Or just dump and plow on until you have a full first draft completed?”
Such a good question.  And, as I was formulating the answer in my mind, an email from writer Chris Fox popped into my inbox.  Chris Fox is a novelist and an author of many helpful books for writers, and he once wrote a novel in 21 days. Yep, you read that right. 21 days. (He also happens to share a name with one of my very favorite cousins, which always confuses me when I see his name in my inbox.)  Chris is launching a book today, but in his email he also included a link to his most recent video.
I’m glad I watched it, because it saves me lots of blog-writing time today. He essentially answers Jenni’s question, though that’s not the point of the video. He talks about how to get into the state of flow, and why you want to.  The flow state (also known as the zone), is when you are flinging words at the page.  Or dumping them, as Jenni said. His main point is that this state of flow is a very different brain state from that of editing. And if you are trying to do both, you are essentially multi-tasking. And, as we all should know by now, multi-tasking does not work.
But here’s the bit that speaks to Jenni’s question: Chris says you can either stay in flow for the whole draft and then edit, or do a chapter or chunk at a time and then edit. What is valuable about the latter option is that you can learn what is and isn’t working–and then apply it as you move forward, during your next flow state.  So you write in flow, edit and analyze, figure out what isn’t working, rinse and repeat. Make sense?
I think he explains it better than I do, so here’s his video:

What do you think? What is your working pattern?