Spring Cleaning Your Writing

It’s sunny and warm in Portland, and there’s no better place on earth when such is the case. (People visit here in spring or summer, fall in love and move. Then the fall and winter rains set in. Rah roh.)

This year, more than any I can remember recently, I’m feeling very spring-y. Maybe it is because I spent a month in France earlier this year (seems like a distant memory now), or because there are so many ongoing changes in my life. But whatever it is, I’m feeling like shaking the cobwebs out of my house, my brain, and my writing. Time for a refresh!

Here are some things I’ve been thinking about cleaning up:

Mindset. This word is becoming cliched, which is too bad, because I like it. Wave the word under my nose and I’ll follow you anywhere. Maybe because I’ve always believed how important it is to maintain a positive mindset, even if I can’t always do it. Things I’m looking at: Am I constantly complaining about how little time I have to write, or actually sitting down and getting to it when I do have a few minutes? Am I fretting about how “good” I am or am not? am I complaining about how hard it is to complete this rewrite? I need to pay attention to the crap my brain spews at me and change it to a more positive message. I’m reading a book called Train Your Brain that talks about this. There’s not a lot new in it, but she explains it in a simple, logical manner. I like.

Process. Remember how glorious it was, when first you started writing, to get so absorbed in your work that time passed and you had no sense of it going by? Yeah, me, too. That feeling is why so many of us write. And it is really easy to get led away from it. Happens like this: you start obsessing over every word and sentence, polishing your prose relentlessly before you move onto a new scene. Uh-uh. There’s a process to follow for your writing and it goes like this.

–Write a discovery/rough/first draft. Make it crappy. You won’t have to try too hard to do this, because it will be crappy. Discovery drafts are. That’s why there are called that. You’re learning the story and getting it down on the page.

–Rewrite the draft. Go back over it, ponder, rearrange, deepen characters, makes sure your plot is working, look at theme, and then write a second draft.

–Rewrite again. And again. And again–for as long as it takes.

–Revise. When your characters and plot and everything else is working, then you can start polishing.

So take a look at where you are in the writing process and clean it up. Are you writing a discovery draft, but toiling over every line? Cut it out. Write fast. Get that story on the page. Are you ready to revise (see below) but still tinkering with character motivation and arc? You need to go back to rewriting.

Polishing. Remember that you need to wait to do this until the final run-through! Though one caveat is if you know you use too many adverbs, you can start being aware of that as you write. But no obsessing! Here are some things you might want to pay attention to:

–Strong verbs. Are you using them? Or reverting to the same old, same old variants of “to be?” The blog post I wrote on this years ago is still one of my most popular ever, so I think it is something we all struggle with. But also something worth spending time on.

–Adverbs. Gotta love ’em. I do. And I use them way too much. There is a place for the use of adverbs, there really is, but the key concept is to use them judiciously. That way they will have some oomph and impact.

–Sentence structure. Make sure yours is varied, for one thing. Nothing is more monotonous than reading the same sentence structure over and over again. And, also consider shortening up those babies. Here’s a great blog post that explains more.

Reading. I’ve been trying to spend more time reading books and less time on the internet, reading forgettable articles. Besides Train Your Brain, mentioned above, I’m finally getting around to reading A Gentleman in Moscow, which I highly recommend. There’s a satisfaction in sinking into a novel or memoir that you just don’t get from quick hits on the interwebs.

Foundation Rituals. All the “boring” stuff, like meditation, exercise, eating healthfully, getting enough sleep. Yada, yada, yada. You’ve heard it all before a million times and so have I. (And I’ve written about it.) But these things really do make a difference. And at this time of year, it is easy to get re-inspired to walk more and eat all the seasonal produce that is coming into markets. Right?

So, that’s the spring cleaning I’m thinking about. How about you? Leave a comment and tell me how you’re cleaning up your writing! And if, in all this cleaning, you realize you might need a little help with your writing, maybe I can help. Hit me up and let’s chat about your work.

Photos from everystockphoto. 

The Mental Cleanse For Writers (And Others!)

Seems like every other person I meet these days is doing a cleanse. Everystockphoto-78603-m

I get it.  Stuff gets stuck in your digestive passages and other organs and affects you in negative ways.  You don't have as much pep, or as they used to call it, get up and go.  You feel a bit blah and depressed and you're not sure why.  And so on.

So, I'm all for the cleanse.  But I believe that probably even more important than a physical cleanse is a mental cleanse.

Think about it.

Just as food particles get stuck in your digestive system, so too do old ideas and energy get lodged in your brain.  Scientists say that neuropathways get carved in our brain, and in order to create new habits, we have to create new neuropathways.  So it stands to reason that a mental cleanse is an important first step in this endeavor, no?  And that by cleansing mentally, we create crazy room in the old noggin for new ideas and yes, new writing projects.

So here are my recommendations for your mental cleanse:

1.  Let go.  Easier said than done, but letting go of worries and fears is incredibly cleansing.  And it frees up tons of space in the old noggin.  So, instead of focusing on how you're going to pay your car insurance, or even something as simple as what to cook for dinner, let go and let God (or whomever or whatever it is you pray to).  Not only will you actually have room in the brain to ponder the next chapter of your book, amazing things will happen.  Because, that's what happens when you let it all go.

2. Forgive.   This is, of course, closely linked to #1.  Because forgiving is all about letting go–of resentments, of anger, of grudges.  And when you forgive you clear your brain.  And when you clear your brain, you've got more room for new stuff.

3.  Operate from your heart.  Just give the old brain a rest.  Center yourself in your heart and work from that consciousness for a change.  Life-changing.

4.  Trust your gut.  Another way to give your hard-working brain a rest is to listen to your intuition, which is traditionally centered in your stomach.  A few years ago, information came out that we actually have another brain there.  So use it.  Let the brain in your head take a break.

5.  Locate the place where you ego talks to you.  Mine speaks clearly to me from a location in the upper part of the right side of my brain.  I know, weird.  Anyway, observation is the first step to change, and by knowing this I can easily identify when it's my ego speaking to me.  The ego is a sneaky beast, and loves to hide itself.  So knowing when it is talking is vital.

6.  Befriend your inner critic.  First, you must meet him or her.  Give her a name and describe her.  And then see what kind of deal you can broker.  Can you get him to entertain himself while you are writing, for instance?  Or to be quiet while you're meditating?  Offer her a job–revising is a great one–and that will go a long way towards mollifying her.  For a wonderful example of someone who did this and wrote a charming post about it, go here.

7.  Deal with negative thoughts.  Nip them in the bud, release them to God, scour them out one way or another.  I believe they are as bad for your brain as alcohol is reputed to be.

So there are my thoughts on giving yourself a mental cleanse.  In truth, these are all practices I strive to follow every day, not just when I think the gunk has piled up a bit too much.  How about you?  How do you give your brain a break?

**PS–Don't forget my free coaching sessions.  You will be amazed at how much we can clear out in 15 minutes.  Click here to find a time.

Photo by ardelfin.

Brain Vacay: Catching Up on Odds and Ends

Its somber at my house with the death of my sweet little pug Ally over the weekend.   My brain has been elsewhere.  (I wrote about dealing with distraction like this on Friday and I wrote about Ally's death on Saturday, mostly in the comments section.)

Since my brain seems to be taking a bit of a vacation, I figured this would be a good time to clear out some clutter and catch up on some odds and ends.  I've been doing a lot of clutter clearing lately, and it is good for the creative soul, that's for sure.  Also, keep reading, because this is good stuff I just haven't been able to fit in anywhere else.

1.  My good friend Ruth Williams (that's her in the photo on the right) has a new book out.  It is called The Prescription for Joy, and its 6a0120a6269bb7970c0120a5f363ac970b-150wi pretty damned cool.  Never mind that I helped her with it the wee-est bit.  If you knew Ruth, you'd know that she is one of the most joyful people walking the face of the earth, and her book reflects that.  Plus, it tells you how you can get in on the action.  Click here for more info. 

2. Also, writing about Ruth reminds me that Room to Write is coming right up.  Why does Ruth remind me of that?  Because she has been to every single one of these Nashville writing retreats.  If you're in the area, you should come, too.  There's lots of time to write, meals prepared for you, and connection with fellow writers.  And, I'll be on hand to guide and coach you.  Check out the Scarritt Bennett website for more details and book soon because it always fills up.

3.  Writing about Room to Write reminds me that I'll soon be in Nashville for that event.  And, I'll  have a few days there before it.  So, if you're wanting an in-person Get Your Writing in Gear session, or a chance to connect with me about coaching, shoot me an email at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com.  I'd love to meet with you!

4.  About a month ago, I won a Facebook contest and received Laura Fitzgerald's new novel, One 51svuAQeQ5L._SL500_AA300_ True Theory of Love, as the prize.  I have not had a chance to read the book yet because I put a gazillion books on hold at the library.  And every time one of them comes in, I have to put it at the head of the reading queue because I've got to return them on time.  (And odds are good that if I've put a hold on a book, so have at least 50 other people.  So they aren't renewable.  But, lord, I love the library.)  Anyway, I promised her I would mention the book on the blog.  I wanted to review it, but that will have to wait.  In the meantime, here's the mention.  It looks like a great book, so check it out.

5.  My new Twitter friend Rob has a great project that he is requesting submissions for.  Here's his blurb:  Submissions call out for an Australia-initiated writing project – The Book of Fascination. Contact Rob Kennedy at http://thebookoffascination.blogspot.com/ I love this concept and I'm planning to write something up for him.  Dibbies on writing about writing.

 Those are my odds and ends for now.  My brain is now going back on vacation for a bit.  Because, you know, self-care and self-love is important, too.

And if your brain has taken what is looking like a permanent vacation, perhaps you need some help jump-starting your creativity.  How about a Get Your Writing in Gear session?  I'm having a March Madness special all month.  You can book an hour-long session with me for only $100 through the end of the month.  Oh, and if you want to book it now but won't have time until later, I have two things to say to you: 1. you really need the session and 2.  you can book it now and do the actual session later.  Check out the page here.