Archive | inspiration

The Glorious Avidity of the Beginner’s Mind

A giant Sitka Spruce

A giant Sitka Spruce

“In the beginning mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Suzuki Roshi

I don’t know about you, but I consider myself an expert. Yep, I sure do.  Because I’ve been writing novels for a gazillion years and teaching fiction writing for half that time. I’ve studied long enough to have earned an MFA and blogged long enough to remember when WordPress barely existed. So, yes indeedy. Expert here.

You’re probably an expert, too.  Maybe in writing—you’ve probably been at it for a while, too. Or maybe in other areas of your work and life.  By the time you reach a certain age, you’re a bona fide expert.  That means you and I know a lot.

It also means we have a lot of preconceptions.  Maybe a mind that is a tiny bit closed to challenges to our knowledge.  A brain shut tight to new ideas, to an expansive openness that lets the light in.  And we may not even notice, being so very busy in our expertness.

I was reminded of all this last week when I taught a group of beginners (or raw recruits as I liked to call them). Out of a group of eight, seven came to the novel-writing workshop with no prior experience writing full-length fiction.  They had ideas, but some were vague.  They knew nothing about plotters and pantsers and plot points and character dossiers or how to write a scene or structure a novel.  By the end of our three days together, they walked out with a plot and characters firmly in mind, close to being ready to write.vertigo-dizzy-dizziness-321395-h

I attribute this readiness not to me, but to them—and their marvelous beginner minds.  They soaked up ideas like the moss on my sidewalk soaks up water during rainy Oregon winters. Their beginner minds filled up with knowledge and ideas at an astounding pace and they inspired me—and this post—along the way.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with attaining expert status.  There’s the whole 10,000 hours thing espoused by Malcolm Gladwell , who claims you need to practice a thing that many hours to be considered an expert.  Do a quick spin around the interwebs and you’ll find all kinds of references to mavens and experts and specialists and professionals.  And they are all good. We need their knowledge and expertise.  But there’s something amazingly wonderful about approaching one’s work with a beginner’s mind, as I witnessed last week.

Following are some ideas for maintaining a beginner’s mind. But also go read this lovely article about it from a Buddhist abbess.

Be open.  I know, duh.  But how often to you find yourself listening to another person and eagerly pondering what you’re going to say in reply? Or getting defensive and upset about their words? Yeah, me, too.  So, for instance, if a writing friend is going on about how great it is to write without an outline and you fervently believe the opposite, try just being a tiny bit open to his point of view.

Be willing to admit you’re not always right.  Often we desire to be right more than anything. I’m not sure why this is—perhaps it gives us a sense of power or security in the world.  But it can be detrimental, too. Though my husband and I like to joke that I’m always right, I can think of some times when I’ve been very, very wrong. A willingness to admit it would have saved me tons of grief.

Be willing to admit you don’t know everything.  There are all kinds of literary terms whose meaning I don’t get. Okay, I admitted it.  And I still sometimes get confused about omniscient viewpoint.  And don’t even get me started on math—my son, the mathematician has explained prime numbers to me at least five times. I still don’t understand them.  And that’s okay.

But don’t close your mind just because you don’t know.  Don’t let not knowing keep you from being curious.  I could probably stand to learn Excel, for instance, an app I’ve told myself repeatedly I can’t master.  With an attitude like that, it’s likely I never will.

So the not knowing thing cuts both ways.

Approach life and writing with a sense of adventure.  Every time I’ve said to myself, “Life’s an adventure,” it has turned out to be.  You can’t have an adventure with a closed mind, you just can’t. And life and writing are ever so much more fun when you’re adventurous.

Okay, those are my thoughts. And now I’m going to go apply a beginner’s mind to looking at my WIP (work in progress for those with beginner’s minds).  I invite you to come on over to the blog (        )  to comment on how you cultivate beginner’s mind.

Photos: top by me, lower right by woodleywonderworks.

4

My Three Words for 2016

Ha, you thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?celebration_champagne_cheers_240063_l

Because every year I choose three words to guide me.  Except usually I do it in early December.  Not this year, though.  For some reason, most of December seemed like one big blur to me this year.  But never mind.  Here it is the last day of the old year and at last I’m getting to it.

Oh, whoops, apparently I was a bit late with my words last year, too, which I discovered when I went to find that link. But better late than never–truly.  That is one cliche that is very true.  Anyway, I like to choose three words because it sets the tone and intention for the coming year.  One of my most favorite activities during these dark days is to plan for what I want to accomplish in the new year.  Hey, new year’s resolutions? I LOVE them.  I do.  I dislike all those naysayers who say they don’t work.  And I consider my three words of the year as sort of mini-resolutions.  What I want my year to be distilled into simple, easy to remember form.

This year, for one brief, misguided moment, I thought I might actually choose only one word.  Ha! That lasted about half a second.  Because in my world, more is more.  More is better.  More is the best.  So three words it is and here they are:

Momentous

Festive

Vigorous

One could consider these odd choices, or perhaps one could not, if one were odd like oneself.  So here’s a bit of explanation.

Momentous.  I really want to evoke the idea of mindfulness, but all the words I could think of that were related to it and even the actual word itself were sort of blah.   And then, while looking up something else, I hit on the word momentous, which means,  “of great or far-reaching importance or consequence.”  Yes, indeedy, I would love me a year like that.  And the added bonus about this word, which is quickly becoming one of my favorites, is that it contains within it the word moment.  Which is a fine substitute for being present in my mind.  And being present through meditation is one of the rich gifts I gleaned from 2015.

Festive.  This word means “joyous and merry,” and that is how I like my life to be.  We are a family that celebrates everything, as one of my daughter’s friends once said with disdain (my daughter took it as a compliment and so did I).  But it is easy to get un-festive if one if worrying about being momentous.  So I want my year to be made up of many, many festive moments.  And finally….

Vigorous.  Because this is the year my lower back and knee pain leaves me.  (In my continuing search for ways to accomplish this, I’ve found a new tool: ashiatsu massage, also known as Oriental Bar Therapy.  Check out this link, it is when the therapist USES HER FEET ON YOUR BODY. And it is amazing.) So I’m looking for health, glowing physical health, but again that word, health? Insert buzzer sound here.  So I came up with vigorous, which is much more, well, vigorous, don’t you think?

So there you have it.  Momentous, festive and vigorous.  My three words for the year.  Do you choose a word or words? Care to share in the comments?

**Oh, PS: I thought this was interesting.  The word of the year, according to Dictionary.com, is identity.

***And, PSS, or PPS, whichever is correct, we still have a couple of spaces left for the Room to Write retreat in Nashville next week.  Start 2016 out right, with a weekend devoted to writing! Click here for more info.

Photo by a_glitch, from Everystockphoto.

14

From Spark to Story Workshop Report

SBCApril2015

Scarritt Bennett Center

I am back from Nashville, y'all.  

I went there to teach a workshop with my good writing friend Terry Price.  We called it From Spark to Story, and planned it to be just that: a journey from gathering inspiration, to getting it onto the page, to shaping it into a story.  

It worked brilliantly.

Well, okay, so maybe I exaggerate just a little.  But the 17 people who were there (20 signed up but several had last minute snafus) seemed to enjoy it and get a lot out of it.  And I know that Terry and I loved teaching it.  Here are some of my main take-aways:

–15 minutes a day is all it takes.  Both Terry and I came to this separately and planned to present it as a method to find your way back to your writing and, just as important, sustain a writing practice. It resonated deeply with the participants, and many of them tweeted and posted on Facebook on Sunday morning that they'd done their 15 minutes.  (We created a hashtag for it if you're so inclined: #15minsday.)

If you were to, starting now, write 15 minutes a day every day you could have a novel written in a year.  Really.  I'm not kidding.  Do the math.  And the other thing is that often when you tell yourself all you have to do is 15 minutes, you get so engrossed that you end up writing longer.  But that's not even necessary.

–Prompts are good.  We worked some with a variety of prompts on Friday night and Saturday morning and our writers found them useful as portals to all kinds of inspiration and epiphanies.  So often writers sniff at prompts as being the province of beginners, but I use them all the time (hence, my prompt blog).  If you've not had luck with them in the past, try again.  Just remember to keep your pen moving across the page.  Its when you stop to ponder and stare out the window that prompts aren't as effective.

–Clustering can unleash you from your left brain.  More often now called mind-mapping (I like clustering better), this technique was popularized by the late Gabriel Rico in her book Writing the Natural Way.  To tell you the truth, I'd forgotten about it, but Terry is a fan and he made people try it.  Since I was icing my foot (I had a terrible attack of plantar fascitis while there) I didn't do it in the workshop, but I've been playing with it since and I can see its value.  Give it a whirl.

–Get thee to a labyrinth.  Scarritt Bennett Center, where I stayed, and where we held the workshop, has a labyrinth modeled on the one at Chartes, France.  It is a marvelous creativity jogger.  You ask a question or think of a problem before you enter, walk to the center, pause to listen, then walk back out again.  Note that a labyrinth is different from a maze.  With a maze, you're trying to find your way out.  With a labyrinth, you're finding your way in.  Take a journal with you because you'll likely have an inspiration or two to write down.  It has never failed me yet.  To find a labyrinth in your area, try Labyrinth Locator.

I'm sure more thoughts will bubble up over the next few days and weeks and I'll report.  For me, it was a rejuvenating experience to be back in Nashville and reconnect with a city I love and so many of the people I know and love who live there.  Southern hospitality truly is the most generous in the world and I've always been welcomed so warmly.

And stay tuned–because we are cooking up a Spark to Story Part Two to be held in the near future!

 

11

Do the Most Important Thing First

Clock_clock_262668_lI've not harrassed myself people about this for awhile, so as 2015 starts, it seems a good time. And, there's a hashtag going around on Twitter so its hard to avoid. (Of course now that I've gone to look for it, I can't find it.)  And, most importantly, I truly, deeply, madly believe in this concept.

The concept is, of course (as my three-year-old grandson says), that you get up in the morning and do what's most important to you the very first thing.  This likely means you will need to set your alarm (unless you are like me, whose eyes pop open at 5:30 no matter what) to get up early enough to accomplish whatever is most important to you.

For me, the most important thing is writing. Always has been, always will be.  I am at my best all day long if I've gone straight to the page when I get up (with one quick detour to the coffeepot, of course).  Lately I've been writing morning pages for 20 minutes or so and finding them nourishing and energizing.  Most days, they lead me straight to the computer and the file of my WIP, allowing me to bypass my email and social media without a thought.

But your most important thing might be yoga or running, as my neighbor Sheila does every day, or meditating, or, I don't know–fishing.  Or crocheting.  Or weeding the garden by moonlight. Or art journaling.  Or playing piano.  Only you can decide.

And the point is, what you do doesn't matter.  But you will find that if you are doing what is most important to you first thing, it matters a lot.  Because you will start the rest of your day knowing that you've already knocked off what you want to do most.  No worries or stress about when you will actually get to it.

This is life changing.  People say this about things all the time, but this really, truly is life changing. If you commit to only one thing in 2015, commit to this.  You'll thank me at the end of the year, after your novel is written, your garden has bloomed all summer, or you've crocheted a hundred sweaters.  

Here's what Austin Kleon has to say on the subject:

"What I usually recommend: get up early. Get up early and work for a couple hours on the thing you really care about. When you’re done, go about your day: go to school, go to your job, make your family breakfast, whatever. Your teacher or your boss or your kids can’t take your work away from you, because you already did it. And you know you’ll get to do it tomorrow morning, as long as you make it through today."

(The article this was taken from is about doing something, anything, towards your most important goal every day.  Its worth reading.) 

I could go on and on about this, but I'm not going to.  Because the thing is, you just need to do it. So, off you go.  Enjoy!

 Here are other posts I've done on similar topics:

Inspiration for Writers: The Morning Ritual

Morning Routine

Writing Every Morning

Do you have a morning routine, something you commit to each day?

Photo by vierdrie.

 

6

So Long, Farewell, Auf Weidersehen Goodnight to 2014

(In case you don't know–what, you've lived under a rock for the last umpteen years? Kidding, just kidding–my title is a take-off of a song from The Sound of Music, the best musical of ALL TIME, and no I'm not talking about the stupid rip-off live version with Carrie Underwood in it.)

The-sound-of-music-1920x1080This is the last time you will hear from me this year.  And I thought it might be fun to look back at what inspired me, perhaps inspiring you to think about what inspired you this past year and what might inspire you in 2015.  I've been doing a lot of work with goals (there is nothing I love more than planning and pondering) for the new year, and an important part of that is looking back to see what happened in the last year.

I've had a few disappointments, goals that didn't get accomplished and progress not made in certain areas.  But I really prefer to dwell on the positive, and besides I have it on good authority (I read it in two, count them, two different places on the interwebs and we all know how reliable that source is)that 2014 has been a year of discovering what it is you truly want while 2015 will be all about accomplishing it.  

Here we go with my inspirations (in no particular order except for the way they came out of my brain):

1.  Indie publishing.  As the year began, everyone, all over the webs, was talking about making it as an indie writer.  All you had to do was throw shit up on Amazon and it sold and made you a millionaire!  I was intrigued.  Then, in March I went to AWP in Seattle and heard Hugh Howey, the poster child for indie publishing speak.  More enthusiasm! Much excitement! He made $150K in one month with his books!

I was intrigued enough to experiment with putting a wee bit of effort out, and posting a story for sale.  While I didn't get rich selling it, I do like to think that it has introduced some new readers to me.  Maybe.  Not sure.  

Now, as we head towards 2015, I hear much less noise about how easy it is to make tons o' bucks on Amazon and I think they may be due to their Kindle Unlimited option.  I don't know the exact details but it is something to do with customers getting all the Ebook downloads they want for free with a Prime membership.  Yeah, that might put a crimp in author's royalties.  Ya think?

However, I still applaud the indie publishing movement.  It's going to continue to be fascinating to watch the battle between Ebook and print, and indie versus traditional publishers as the future rolls along.  And I am planning to publish my MFA novel myself, because it is sitting on my computer, so why not?

2. France.  'nough said.  No, wait.  Not really.  Because, France.  And Paris.  And writing with a group of like-minded people.  It really is the best.  Getting away from your regular routine and devoting yourself to writing in an exotic location rocks.  That's all there is to it.  (You can still join us–3 spots left.)

3. Family.  Always and forever.  I am blessed, no doubt about it.

4. Splashy Success.  Not mine, not yet, but as the year ends I've got people like Cheryl Strayed on my mind. She is, of course, the author of the memoir Wild, which burst splashily upon the world when Oprah reinstituted her book club in order to feature it.  And then Reese Witherspoon made a movie of it, which premiered recently.  I saw the movie a couple of days ago and I liked it.  The film is about courage–the courage to confront the demons of your past and put one foot in front of the other over and over again while you do so.  

By all accounts, Strayed, who is a Portland resident, is a woman who went from so-broke-she-couldn't-buy-Christmas presents to millionaire status seemingly overnight and has maintained a lovely even keel throughout.  

5. Writing Fast.  The class I took about it was a bust, but never mind.  More and more I'm seeing that writing fast without thinking too much is the way to go.  Because, rewriting.  Once you get the words on the page, then they are there for you.  As Henry, my 3-year-old grandson would say, of course.  But we so easily forget that of course and allow our writing to stall as we stare out the window at the 27-degree morning because we don't know what words to put on the page.  These days, when I catch myself stopping to think, I force my fingers to fly across the keys.  There's nothing more satisfying to a writer than toting up a massive word count for the day!

I'm in the midst of rewriting my novel at the moment, (on page 209 of 305 and I'm aiming to complete this rewrite by the end of January) so I'm not actively writing a rough draft, though every so often I do write 1K words or so on a new idea I have.  (New ideas are one of my tragic flaws. Bright shiny object!  Let's abandon this WIP and start a new one! I really have to be careful with this tendency.)  But, in September, when I took the above-mentioned class that really was more like a support group, I batted out 24, 280 words in the first two weeks of September.  Then I got on a plane to France and that was the end of that.  However, the novel is waiting for me on my computer and when I complete the current rewriting project I shall return to it.  The story needs a lot of work, and I've had ideas that will take it in a new direction, but again, all those words are sitting there waiting for me.  Woot woot!

6.  Breathing.  I'm going to brag here for a minute, so avert your eyes if that bothers you.  But, many, many years ago now I bore two children.  And I brought each of them into the world without one bit of anesthetic.  Completely natural births (though I did have to have Pitocin the second time through, because he got stuck and it turned into an emergency, but that's another story).  And how did I accomplish this?  Through breathing, of course.

So I find it ironic that all these years later I have realized how often I constrict my breathing.  I just did it as I wrote that sentence!  I hold my breath at the throat as I write and I'm not sure why I've developed this habit.  Anyway, I've been working on becoming aware of it and changing and also just taking deep breaths throughout the day whenever I think about it.  The results are quite wonderful, though I confess to backsliding a bit during the holidays.  It is something I will continue to work on in 2015.  (I wrote about it earlier in the fall, too.)

That's it.  I know there's a lot more that inspired me, but those are the things on my mind as the clock ticks toward a glorious new year.  I wish you all the very best for next year and I thank you for reading my blog.  Why not take a minute and share–what inspired you in 2014?

A couple of quick notes:

–Don't forget to download my book of free writing prompts!  There's one for every day in January. Fun, fun, fun.  (And it will help you with writing fast.) Go here.  It is free, free, free.

–And for anybody who lives in Portland, I'm having a signing next week!  My Twitter friend (and guest poster here) Tam Holland and I will be signing books, drinking coffee, and chatting with "fans" as the wonderful coffeeshop owner calls them on Wednesday, January 7, at 4 PM.  The location is the Rain or Shine coffee shop on SE 60th and Division.  Come meet us!

10

This is a post about cookies. Yes, cookies. Christmas cookies, even!

I was tagged by my purple-haired Twitter friend Kristina Martin (we live across the river from each other but have never met in person–one of these days, I hope we will) to participate in a Virtual Cookie Exchange Blog Hop.  

Virtualcookie-exchange-blog-hop-1My first thought was that I don't do this kind of thing.  This is a blog about writing, for Chrissakes.  I thought that very loftily, I might add, especially since its been quite some time since I baked cookies. But then I realized that I have the perfect cookie recipe to share with you.  And that a Virtual Cookie Exchange Blog Hop sounded like fun.  And that one of my goals over the last couple of months has been to branch out some on this blog, with personal posts every Wednesday.

And so I said yes.  To paraphrase something Kristina said on her post about the cookie exchange, the things I do for people.

But, honestly?  You are going to thank me for writing this post.  You are going to bless me for this cookie recipe.  Because it will save your bacon over and over again, as it has for me for years.  It is our family cookie recipe that we've all made since forever.  It is so easy you can always remember the ingredients, and also you will always have them on hand.  You can make it plain and simple, or you can add things to it.  (Don't tell anybody, but its really not a Christmas cookie recipe.  But if you add stuff to it, you can make it work for the holidays.)  And most importantly, this cookie recipe is freaking delicious!  As in, eat-every-cookie-in-the-batch-delicious.  (The dough is to die for also.) 

Also, this cookie recipe is gluten free.  It was gluten free long before GF became a thing.  Truly, I've been making this cookie recipe for 30 years, and who had heard of gluten free back then?  Nobody can believe it when I tell them it has no flour in it.  And on dark days when you desperately need sugar you can actually convince yourself that these cookies are good for you because they have protein in them.  

Okay, enough of the big buildup, here's the recipe:

World's Best Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe

1 egg

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup sugar

That's it.  Those are the only ingredients you need, trust me.  Mix everything together and drop spoonfuls onto cookie sheet, then smoosh them with a fork in that way we do with peanut butter cookies (dip the fork in water if you need to).  Bake at 350 degrees and check them after 10 minutes, though they will likely take longer.

Adaptations:

–My daughter has tried this recipe with Splenda, but it didn't come out so well.  You might have better luck, though.

–Add chocolate chips

–To make them more festive for Christmas, put red or green or both sprinkles on them

–You could also try adding M and Ms or other candies as you like.

But they are also delicious just plain!

And now, part of my deal with this exchange is to tag other people to participate.  These four will post their recipes and posts in one week, on December 23rd.  I choose

Kayla Dawn Thomas, romance writer extraordinaire

Patty Bechtold, amazing counselor and life coach, artist, and insightful blogger

Suzanne Peters, baker of divine gluten free goodies and real foodie

Beverly Army Williams, wonderful novelist, writing teacher and fiber artist

(I have glorious internet friends, don't I?  I encourage you to visit all their sites, even before the 23rd.)

Since are talking cookies, how about chiming in and telling us about your favorite cookie to bake or eat at Christmas?

4

Loving Your Writing Up

Heart_hand_valentine_269058_lI was in a place last week where there was much talk of getting loved up.  Which means, in case you hadn't guessed, beaming love onto a person so that they feel wonderful, amazing and fantastic.  

And this got me thinking about loving up our writing.  

Because much of the time we don't.  Instead we critique it, let it be rejected, revise it, rewrite it, delete it, don't finish it, leave it in a drawer (metaphorical or otherwise).

And yes, we do need to be discerning about our writing.  All of the above steps are necessary (except for leaving it in a drawer).  But shouldn't we be giving our writing a bit of love, too?

Yeah, I know–you're afraid its egotistical to do that.  But I'm not talking about the kind of puffed-up, fake love that the ego gives.  I'm talking about just loving our writing.

Loving (and honoring) the impulse that makes us rise early or stay up late to throw words at the page.

Loving the times the words are coming so fast that we can barely get them onto the computer.

Loving the times we gaze out the window because the words won't come.

Loving the times in between those two poles (which is what writing most often is for me).

Loving the finished product, be it short story, poem, novel, article or memoir.  

Loving it all.

Because, this:

You're at a cocktail party and someone asks you what you do.  You say, "I'm a writer."  The person's eyes light up and they say, "Oh really?  What do you write?  Have I read anything of yours?"  

Do you think people at cocktail parties get that excited when they are told most other occupations? No, they do not.  People get excited to meet writers because writing is hard.  And sometimes easy.  And wonderful.  And an amazing way to spend your time.  People get excited to meet writers because what we do is special.

Don't ever forget that.

And now go love your writing up.

You could also leave a comment and tell what you're working on as a way of loving it up!

Photo by brokenarts. 

4

Keep Calm and Carry On Writing

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-poster-degradado-1280-300x240Keep calm and carry on.  The saying is a cliche of the highest order by now, its initial message as positive propaganda during World War II long since co-opted for commercial purposes.  But for some reason it popped into my head a few days ago and wouldn't leave.

Maybe because my life has been anything but calm lately and I'm struggling to carry on with my writing. I'm not complaining, mind you.  Life is hectic because I went on vacation, I've got obligations to friends, family, and community, and oh yeah, work.  All of which I love.  But none of which are especially conducive to getting words on the page.

And there's something about the keep calm and carry on message that is, well, calming.  It reminds me of another favorite saying, from the late doyenne of knitting, Elizabeth Zimmerman (also a Brit): Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises.  

We could amend that to Write on with confidence and hope, through all crises, don't you think?

Yeah, but how?

One of the stories that stays with me from the time years ago that I went to a creativity workshop with Julia Cameron was how she wrote during one of the worst times of her life, thus coining her phrase, keep the drama on the page.  And she had drama then, yes she did.  Her then-husband, Martin Scorsese (yes, that Martin Scorsese) was cavorting around Europe with Isabella Rossellini and friends were helpfully sending her press clippings about the scandal.  (This was, gasp, pre-internet days.) And yet, as I recall, she credited this with one of the most creative periods of her life.

Again, how?

Here are some ideas that I've been drawing upon the last few days as I work myself back into a regular writing schedule.

Start with the breath.  In moments of busyness or anxiety, you've become apart from yourself.  The fastest way to get centered again is to take a minute to focus on your breathing.  Stop, take a breath, and connect with yourself (or whatever source you believe in, if you prefer).  Are all the things that are making you frazzled and anxious really that important? Take another breath.  Probably they aren't, huh?  You are still here and still breathing and all is well.

Make writing a priority.  No matter what all else you have on your agenda, make writing your priority, as if its the most important thing in the world, above even the most beloved thing in your life.  (Wait, writing is the most beloved thing in your life, right?)  Act as if your very life depended on you writing. Because, for your sanity, it does.  And sometimes, you just have to set aside everything (yes, everything) else and do it.  And when you have this mindset, you will be able to:

Let the world fall away.  All those items on your to-do list will still be there waiting for you after you've written.  And your life is not going to fall apart if you take a few minutes for yourself.  Really, it's not.  I am reminded of a TV ad for some kind of chocolate from long ago, which featured the image of a woman happily biting into a piece of candy.  In the background, you heard a bell and a child's voice saying, "Hey Mom, phone's ringing."  But Mom clearly didn't care–she was savoring her chocolate. And you, too, will be savoring your writing.

Know That You Have Enough. You have enough time, enough money, enough energy and enough focus to do this.  The ingrained cultural message we constantly hear is the opposite–that there's not enough time, money or energy for anything.  (By thus playing on our fears, they can sell us stuff that will supposedly plug the "not-enough" hole.)  So often when I think I don't have enough time, I stop and remember that I do–and voila, things fall into place.

Stop the Negative Self-Talk.  I think this is the modern-day heart of the keep calm and carry on message.  I don't know about you, but for me, when I'm frazzled, I'm also busy berating myself–because of course, it's all my fault I'm in this situation.  (Remember, I'm not enough.)  And so taking a minute to listen to the terrible things you are saying to yourself can allow you to stop it.  And thus make space to take a breath, calm yourself–and get back to your writing.

Those are some of the things that help me.  Nothing earth-shattering, but then the practice of writing is all about the small decisions we make to commit to the page, over and over and over again.  What about you?  What helps you keep calm and carry on?

For more information on the Keep Calm and Carry On phenomenon, here's an interesting blog.  And, good old Wikipedia has a lot of history on it here.

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Consistency for Writers

Little_boxes_high_599073_hConsistency.

Yawn.

The word is much like the word discipline in that it elicits yawns and boredom from us.  I mean, who ever got excited about the word consistency?

And yet, consistency is how writing gets done.

When you have a consistent writing practice, books get written.  Blog posts get written.  Essays get written.  I was thinking about this today when I was despairing about a lenghty ghostwriting project I've got going.  The topic is dense, the information complex.  And I'm getting the book written one word at a time.  I keep going back to it consistently.  I keep putting it on my to-do list. And the chapters are piling up.

So, too, with my latest novel.  I keep plugging away at it (actually, that makes it sound like it's not much fun working on it, and the opposite is true–I love it) and with a consistent practice of 1000 words a day, I got 100 pages done from the time I came up with the idea.

Consistency, in my mind, is better than wild late night sprints staying up until all hours working–and then crashing for days.  Consistency is the turtle, not the hare.

Here's a consistency story for you:

In November of 2007, I left a comment on a blog about Zen practice.  I'd found the blog and "met" its owner through what was then a hot site for bloggers called BlogCatalog.  (Many of my initial online friends and blog readers came from this site.  This was before Twitter, before Pinterest, before Instagram, and one year after Facebook opened its doors to all comers, not just college students.)  The blog's owner, Derek Ayre, a Welshman, emailed me and thanked me for the comment.  I emailed back.

A pen-pal friendship across the oceans was born.

At first we wrote every day.  Then we wrote every other day. Now we write each other about once a week, though sometimes life gets in the way on either end and it turns out to be weeks before one of us answers the other.  

But here's the deal: we always answer each other eventually.  Because the pen-pal friendship is important to us.   And so we are consistent with it.

(I have a bit of an ulterior motive in mentioning Derek because he's got a guest post coming up here on Tuesday and I wanted to spend more time introducing him than a short bio would allow.)

If, at any point in the past six years that we've been corresponding, one or the other of us became inconsistent, the friendship would have died.  But we've been consistent in honoring our email friendship and the result is a connection I treasure.

So, yeah, if you're looking for a good buzz word for 2014, you could do worse than to choose consistency, my friends.

What are you consistent about?  Your writing? Something else?  Please comment.

(And come back Tuesday for Derek's post.)

Photo by 416Style.

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The Radical Act of Play

Wonderbook-coverI'm reading two books about writing at the moment, and together they are making my head explode. In a good way.  It's exploding with ideas.

The first one is called Wonderbook, and it is by Jeff Vandermeer.  I'm only at the very beginning of this baby, having just gotten hold of it last week.  This book is like no other writing book you've ever seen, I guarantee it.  Wonderbook is a lavishly illustrated feast of information, essays, and tips for the writer in all stages of writing a novel.   Just go check out the site to see what I mean. It's an amazing book in conception and finished product.

In the opening section, on inspiration, Vandermeer writes about play and how we sometimes (more like often) sneer at it, as if it is beneath us, as if play, at its heart, is not the very essence of creativity.  To wit:

"Modern ideals of functionality and the trend toward seamless design in our technology have taken the very human striving for perfection and given us the illusion of having attained it (which, ironically, seems very dehumanizing).  In this environment, some writers second-guess their instincts and devalue the sense of play that infuses creative endeavors: "This antique Tiffany lamp must provide light right now, even before I screw in the lightbulb and plug it in, or it's worthless."

Vandermeer goes on to point out that the idea of play thus becomes "immature and frivolous" and we come to think that "all creative processes should be efficient, timely, linear, organized and easily summarized."

I think this also has to do with our emphasis on time, or more to the point, the lack thereof. Taking time to play and be creative seems like at time-waster when it doesn't immediately produce a finished piece.  This attitude can lead to a reluctance to use prompts or writing exercises, or to do anything that isn't directly related to our WIP.

Which leads me to the second book I'm reading, The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way From Inspiration to Publication, by Dan Millman and Sierra Prasada.  (Please note, the publisher, New World Library, graciously provided me with a copy of the book for review. I'll be sharing more about it in a future post.)  The authors delineate five stages that the writer goes through Dream, Draft, Develop, Refine, Share.  Right now I'm reading about the first stage, Dream, in which, "a sticky idea calls you on a quest, and you set out to slay your own dragons."
Creative-compass

The authors talk about starting a conversation with yourself, and then take it further to a technique they call Dreaming in Dialogue.  (Which I'm not sure is the best name, because whenever I see the word dialogue in a writing book I presume it's talking about the act of writing about conversation between characters.)  But, I love, love, love the technique itself and I think it is a fun writing exercise–worthy of taking time to play with.

The idea is to initiate a conversation with your alter ego, as they call it.  So, on the page, you actually have a back and forth about your plot (or whatever).  So (I made all the following up):

Writer: And then the angel landed right in front of her and she got scared so she ran away.

Alter Ego: Why did she get scared?

Writer: Because angels are scary, with their big wings and the whooshing noise they make as they fly.

Alter Ego: They make a whooshing noise as they fly?

Writer: Yes, and they also sing loudly.

I can see how this technique would be useful in furthering a writer's knowledge of the story he's trying to get on paper.  To use it a slightly different way, the authors mention that Harold Robbins, he of the glorious potboiler novels, started each day out with a conversation with his typewriter, who spoke to him as a female.  So you can use this technique with yourself, an imaginary person, or an inanimate object.

I know exactly who I'm going to try it out with: a character who resides within in named Passionate Creator.  She's the one responsible for all the writing I churn out.  She lolls about on a tufted chaise lounge, eating chocolate and sipping wine, and writes and writes and writes.  She can't be bothered with anything having to do beyond actually getting words on the page (that would be the job of Layla, Business Lady, who Passionate Creator ordered from a catalog).  But man, oh man, is she good at getting the writing done!  So we're going to have us a conversation about where the novel is going, she and I.

(I wrote about play a little bit a couple years ago, in this post. )

What books have inspired you lately?  What playful techniques have you used to engage your creativity?

 

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