What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part One

asok_project365_mydesk_1059218_hWherein I talk about what it takes to be a writer, in my humble opinion, anyway.  To finish a book project, or even an article or short story.  To get the book out in the world, either into the hands of an agent and editor, or publish it yourself, which is a whole other enterprise. To hit the bestseller list. To rinse and repeat, which you’re going to need to do to build a career as a writer. What it takes to accomplish whatever your dream is.

Fresh off teaching a recent workshop in France, I’ve been pondering this.  Working with writers, listening to their hopes and frustrations opens my eyes over and over again, because their concerns echo mine in my own writing practice.  We are all gloriously different, right? And, at heart, we are also all very much alike.  To that end, here are two arenas in which many frustrations lie:

  1. Mindset
  2. Butt in chair

Let’s look at mindset,  otherwise known as the way you think, first.  It is easy to groan about this, to hold up your hands and say “Don’t tell me I am what I think!” But the cold, hard truth of the matter is that it’s true. If you think you can do it, you will be able to. But if you don’t think you can, you won’t. Sigh. You really do need to master your mindset about your writing.

But here’s a lot of the reason why—because after thinking about it, you need to do it. I know. Duh. But if you’re busy telling yourself that you can’t do it, you won’t. It’ll be too much pressure. You’ll get bored and wander away, take up archery or long-distance swimming or bird-watching.  Thoughts wear grooves in your brain and if you keep thinking you can’t, then your brain will believe you. And you won’t take time to write, because, well, you’re convinced you can’t. Or that you’re a bad writer. Or that the odds are stacked against you.

I follow a young woman named Jennifer Blanchard.  She is always ranting fervently about mindset and how important it is, how one must write down their goals every day, or at least re-read their goals. Etc., etc.  Part of me loves this stuff. Loves it. And part of me—the part that actually has to take the action—rolls my eyes at it.  But the thing is, everything she says about mindset is true.  You gotta get your brain in the right place to be a writer.  And that means doing whatever it takes, be that rereading your goals every day or monitoring those pesky negative thoughts.

Most of all it means you have to believe you can do it. Because if you don’t believe, you won’t make the time for it.  You’ll read knitting blogs (like I do when I get blocked), instead. Or you’ll decide the kitchen floor needs mopping. Or the cat’s nails need trimming. And the thing is—you won’t even realize why you’re indulging in these procrastination activities. You’ll convince yourself that it’s because there’s that spot of dirt, right there on the floor where everyone can see it.  Or that you absolutely must read that blog because you have to figure out where you went wrong on the sweater you’re knitting.  Or that the cat pulled up a thread on your gorgeous slipcover. Like that.

What’s the antidote to this? In truth, a lot of it is in taking action, which I’ll get to in a moment. Because the more you write, the easier it becomes and the easier it becomes, the more you’ll believe you can do it. Yeah, there is definitely an endless loop going on here.  But here are a couple other hints about mindset:

  1. Visualization has scientifically been proven to help. Not visualizing the moment you stand at the podium and accept your Nobel Prize for Literature, but visualizing yourself actually sitting at the computer writing. Thinking about how it feels as the words flow and your fingers range across the page.

Here’s an article that gives a good rundown on how to do it, and here’s one from Psychology Today on its benefits.

  1. Meditation and positive thinking. Activities that go hand in hand with visualization are meditation (you knew I was going there) because it quiets the damn monkeys in the brain enough to allow you to think positive thoughts about your writing, and affirmations. Yeah, I know. Dopey. I get it. But you can use them in the most casual of ways, as in when you’re thinking how you just can’t seem to get the scene right instead of berating yourself for being an idiot who can’t write, turn it around and tell yourself you know the story and you can figure out the scene. Just tell yourself that the rest of the day. C’mon, you’re a storyteller, right? So tell yourself a positive story. That’s all an affirmation is, in truth. You’re going to be telling yourself something all day anyway, it might as well be something positive.

As for meditation, just try it. Really. It is ten or fifteen minutes out of your day, and if it helps you become a better writer, isn’t that time well spent? I highly recommend downloading the Insight Timerfor your phone and using it. You can set interval bells so that the fifteen minutes doesn’t seem to stretch to fifteen hours, and there’s all kinds of cool ambient sounds you can meditate to, as well as a selection of guided meditations to try. Plus, it’s like social media for meditators. You can create a profile and interact with others all over the world.

Okay, so, alas, one cannot sit in one’s recliner and meditate and visualize and think positive thoughts all day and become a writer.  Would that we could. So I’ll discuss part two of the topic of what it takes in a blog post slated for Wednesday.

Until then, happy mind-setting. Or meditating. Or whatever.

And do tell what you think it takes to be a writer.

Deconstructing Sacred Writing Cows

Property_ranch_estate_243078_lI'm tired of people telling me what to do.

I'm tired of people telling me how to eat.  (Don't eat dairy! No grains! No eggs! And puh-leeze, no sugar!)

I'm tired of people telling me to exercise.  (Walk.  No, walking isn't enough.  Run.  No, running is bad for your knees, interval training.  No, you have to do cross-fit.)

I'm tired of people telling me how to think.  (Case in point: the recent election.  Or every day on the Internet.)

And so the thought occurs that you, my dear readers, may be tired of me telling you what to do, or more precisely, how to write.  And that maybe it might be time to reconsider some of the tenets by which we live.

In my forthcoming novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, our heroine discusses her three sacred cows: her fans (what she calls her readers), her students, and her husband, Peter.  "They were the three things
in life, besides writing, that Emma Jean cared about most—the holy triumvirate,
her sacred cows."

And so, herewith, let's consider some common sacred writing cows and decide if they should be upheld or not.

1.  Meditate.  This might not be one of your sacred writing cows, but it is to me.  However, meditating is like exercise–we hear so often how good it is for us that we might tend to rebel against doing it.  At least, that's how my mind works.  You may be a bit less prone to fight yourself.  I'm certain I'm a lousy meditator–my mind is all over the place–but I'm also sure that this is one time when trying is what counts.  I find that not only is my meditation session my favorite time of day (besides writing), but it also helps me focus on my writing and worry about it a lot less.  So, yeah, I still count meditation as a sacred cow.

2.  Writing every day.  Stop groaning.  You know it's good for you to write every day.  And you know you want to.  This is advice that every writer and her uncle, including me, offers up on a regular basis.  And those of you who lead busy lives most likely want to plug your ears and stick out your tongue when you hear it.  I get it, I do.  It can be overwhelmingly difficult to find time to write every day.  But the rewards–oh, the rewards are so many!  Even writing a measly few minutes a day can net you massive benefits, not the least of which are momentum.   And besides, when I miss a day of writing, as I did earlier this week due to getting stalled, my day just doesn't flow as well.  So I'm afraid I'm going to keep beating this drum also.

3.  Use prompts.  Most of the time, I'm a fan of prompts (I better be, I've got tons of them on this site.)  Prompts can get you going when nothing else will, and using them can help you learn to let your writing flow.  When all else fails and you don't know where to go in your writing, grab thyself a prompt and write without stopping for 20 minutes.  And, sometimes prompts can lead you astray.  Or waste valuable writing time while you go on about something that is relatively unimportant.  So I can see both sides of this sacred cow.  I give it half credit.

4. Let it rip.  Or, in other words, write one draft start to finish (what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft), then go back to the beginning and rewrite, start to finish.  Rinse and repeat for as many drafts as it takes.  This is how I write my novels.  And it's how I tell you to recommend you do it, also.  Because I've seen too many people–myself included–get hung up trying to make the first part of the novel perfect. And then guess what happens?  You don't make any forward progress because it gets frustrating.  And soon that novel is consigned to a drawer and you've set aside your dream of writing.  Thus, letting it rip remains one of my sacred cows.

5.  Don't multitask.  Do I even have to go into this sacred cow?  Multitasking is death to creativity.  How can you get in the writing flow when you're texting and checking emails and reading a story on the latest scandal?  You can't.  Period.  This one stands.

Those are the sacred cows that occur to me.  What are yours?  Do they hold up under your scrutiny?

A Meditation and Exploration for Your Book

I finished going through the papers from long ago that had landed on the floor of my office, but Everystockphoto-4703759-hyesterday I tackled another organizing project: office supplies.  Read: journals.  As in unused ones. I've got tons of them.  After my initial foray into sorting them, I told my husband that if I ever uttered the words, "I need to buy a journal," he was under orders to shoot.

Because I've got boxes and boxes of them, enough writing paper to last me nearly a lifetime. (And, you mark my words, I'll be buying another one within the month because I won't be able to find one that feels just right in the moment.  I know myself too well.)  Some of them are inappropriate for my needs and clearly need to be given away, which is the project at hand.  Along the way I'm finding several journals that only have one or two pages filled out.

And that's where today's post comes in.  On one of those pages, I found the following meditation, scrawled down years ago for my coaching clients in a moment of inspiration.  I figured I'd share it with you.  This meditation was written down and forgotten, so its not been tested in real life.  I decided I'd test it on you guys, since I love you so much.

(This meditation was designed to elicit information about a book you might want to write, but you could adapt the process slightly to make it work for anything else, such as an article or a story.)

Here goes:

1. Sit quietly and center yourself.  Take a few deep breaths and then focus on yourself breathing in and out as you quiet your mind.

2. Now allow your mind to settle on an image.  It's you, sitting behind a table at a book store.  The table in front of you is stacked with books.  Your book!  Picture the whole thing in your mind and then zone in closer.  Now notice:

–What your book looks like

–What is the title?

3.  As you hone in on the book, witness yourself opening the book.  And see:

–What is the book about?

–What does the subject matter on the Table of Contents cover?

(It doesn't matter if you don't see it all this time through.  This will give you a starting point, a springboard for further exploration through free writing.)

4.  As your signing ends, a person come out of the crowd that is now leaving, books in hand.  Oh my goodness, she looks just like a fairy godmother.  She is a fairy godmother!  And she has something for you.  She hand it to you.

–Open your hand and describe what she gives you as fully as possible.

This is your touchstone to carry with you as you write this book. 

That's it!  That's the meditation.  Hope it's helpful.  Have fun with it and adapt it any way you see fit.

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Experiment with meditation,either guided or not,  in your life and see how it affects your writing practice.  Do you see a difference in your writing?  In how you approach it?

Please share your ideas on meditation.  Do you do it regularly?  Once in a while?  Never?  How does it impact your writing?  I'd love to hear your opinions on the subjec. 

Photo by MVWorks.

Meditation for Writers

Buddha_statue_asia_224789_lI know.  Meditation. Gag me.

We're writers.  Our heads are full of words and images.  Our heads are supposed to be full of words and images so that we can transfer them to the page. 

But.

The transferring to the page is often the tricky part.  The place where we get hung up.  Because we worry.  About whether or not our words are good enough, or people will like them.

And so sometimes the words and images get stuck in our heads.  And then they whirl around and around, driving us nuts.  Which is usually when I recommend that you get you some prompts and engage in some free writing.

But lately I've also been working with meditation.  Yeah, I know, I'm a bit late to the party.  I've had an on-again, off-again (mostly the latter) relationship with meditation for years.  However, the spiritual tradition I'm now very involved with emphasizes meditation and so I've been forced to take another look at it.

Because the point of meditation is to be still, focus on your breath, and quiet the mind.

And really, isn't that exactly what we, as writers, need?

I like to remember who is breathing me.  That would be God, and the fact that I'm breathing in and out, in and out, is proof of the divine and infinite love of the universe.

And that is where I want to remember to live.  In love, always.

Do you meditate?  What's your favorite meditation technique for writing?  Or do you hate it?  Either way, feel free to chime in.

Image by clix.