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.

However.

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?

Motivation Monday: Where’s the Joy in It?

Sitting in church yesterday, one word kept popping out at me, even though the message wasn’t really focused on it. And that word was joy. I kept thinking about it in terms of writing. I wondered: where’s the joy in it? Lord knows, writing is a tough business full of rejection and low-paid work. So, is it worth it to keep at if there’s no joy in it? Am I still finding joy in it? Are you?

I am one of those writers who can’t not write.  Even if you told me that I’d never make another penny from my work, never see anything published ever again, I’d still keep writing. I love the puzzle-like fun of putting a novel together and continuing to discover things about my characters. I love the self-discovery that ensues from a good journaling session.  And I love writing about writing (and motivation and inspiration and all that good stuff) in my blog and newsletter.

So yeah, I still find joy in it.  There’s nothing like the feeling I get after a good writing session, when I look up and find myself in love with everything in the world. That’s what sustains me when I get another rejection or I can’t seem to think of a topic for a blog post or the vicissitudes of life keep me away from my writing.

It’s the joy of it.    

The joy of the creative process, of putting words on the page, one after another.  When it is going well, it’s bliss.( Of course, when it’s not going well, it’s hell—but that’s a topic for another day.)  That’s what keeps me going. And I assume, because I’m pretty sure you and I are not so different, that it’s what keeps you going as well.

But what happens if you’ve lost the joy in it? What if you long to write but the fire has gone out?

Here are a few things to try:

–Write fast.  A lack of joy in writing comes from perfectionism, which manifests as laboring over every word.  Short circuit that tendency by vowing to write fast.  Set a timer and see how many words you can get on the page before it goes off. The words don’t have to be pretty, they just have to be on the page.

–Remember that writing is a process.  Too often we get hung up on product.  The joy comes in the process of writing, in that lovely feeling when you are so absorbed that time passes and you’re not even aware of it.  Let yourself focus on the process without worrying about the end result.

–Write any old thing.  If you’ve lost the fire for your novel, write an essay about a topic dear to your heart. If you’re struggling with your memoir, write a short story. Write a poem. Write in your journal.  Write a play or movie script.  Shake those brain cells and neurotransmitters up!

–Take a break.  Tell yourself you can’t write. Can’t work on any of your projects. Can’t journal. If you are anything like me, you like to rebel against yourself, and this is a surefire way to get back to it and kindle some joy.  If you really do end up taking a break, you’ll come back to it with space in your brain and heart to find the joy again.

I hope some of these suggestions help to motivate you. And if you are having a hard time finding the joy, might I suggest that coaching can help? Continuing through midnight on July 4th, I’m running a coaching special.  For three-month, paid in advance clients, I’m offering two free extra sessions.  That’s 14 sessions instead of 12. And for six-month, paid in advance clients, I’m adding on 4 sessions. Woot! That’s 28 sessions instead of 24.  Just think what you can get done in a few months of one-on-one coaching with me. You could get a huge start on your novel. Or finish the project that’s moldering in the drawer. Or start the process of getting an agent—or get your book self published.

Interested? Contact me and let’s chat.

A Love Letter About Writing and Heat Waves

(I’m experimenting with posting my weekly newsletter here on the blog as well. If you’d like to have it delivered right to your inbox, fill out the form to the right. I will never do anything untoward with your information!)

Yesterday it was 97 here. Today it is forecast to be the same.

Now I know many of my readers may exist in more modern conditions than I, as in, you have air conditioning.  But we live in an old house that doesn’t have it. And, at least historically (not so much anymore), we would only get maybe a few days of extreme heat every summer, and so there really wasn’t much need for it. So when it is hot, I suffer. Oh poor me and all that.

But there is still writing to be done, right?  When you are a writer, there is always writing to be done, no matter what.  The baby cries, the cows need milking, the beloved ancient parent needs tending.  But there’s till writing to be done. And so one needs to find a way to do it, in heat waves and cold snaps alike.  And even if you are cossetted from it, extreme heat is still energy-sapping. (For those of you reading this from the Southwest, I hope your terrible temperatures abate soon.) You still have to get from house to car and from car to work and from work to the grocery store.

A couple of summers ago I got in the habit of taking my computer outside and working at the table on the back deck in the cool early mornings.  When the sun hit the fence beside me, I knew my writing time was over for the day because soon it would be shining on my monitor.  It was a lovely way to get my writing done and set myself up for rest of the day.  Later, when I’d be toiling in my hot office, I’d remember my morning sojourn outside and smile.

I often observe how my cats behave in the heat. Mostly, they stretch their fat selves out as far as possible and sleep.  We should emulate them in the heat, right? Ha! Would that we could. But in some parts of the world, they do such things. The other day I was at my daughter’s and we were trying to get my five-year-old grandson to have thirty minutes of quiet time.  Not even a nap, mind you, just quiet time. So I told him about what happens in the small towns of France (and many other European countries).  How every day from noon to two the stores close and every one goes home for a break. Quiet time.  It is a lovely habit and one that can serve the rest of us well during heat waves.  Just allow yourself to take a break once in a while, for goodness sake.

Doing research for my Do That Thing class, I ran across some information last week that said most people spend a good chunk of their precious time worrying about expectations. They feel they must be perfect parents and perfect on the job. And I know for a fact that writers often feel they need to be perfect the second they throw words on the page. This makes my heart hurt. All these harsh expectations we place on ourselves.

And I think the hot days of summer when you don’t feel like doing much of anything are a good time to start practicing slowing down a little. Give yourself a break from those expectations that control you.  Get your writing done in the cool of the morning. Find an air-conditioned coffee shop and camp out there with your computer.  Go easy on yourself.

Do leave a comment about how you beat the heat!

Okay–are you ready for the big news? I have created a Facebook group for us! People are engaging in all kinds of different ways these days, and Facebook is a biggie, obviously.   The group is called Prolific and Prosperous Writers and it is closed, which means any posts you make won’t appear on your personal timeline–that way you have all the freedom in the world to kvetch about your writing without worry that civilians (those who may not understand) will read it. Join here. Please do, I can’t wait to chat there!

Offerings:

Freedom and Independence Coaching Special:

I’m running a Freedom and Independence Coaching special through the Fourth of July.    For three-month, paid in advance clients, I’m offering two free extra sessions.  That’s 14 sessions instead of 12. And for six-month, paid in advance clients, I’m adding on 4 sessions. Woot! That’s 28 sessions instead of 24.  Just think what you can get done in a few months of one-on-one coaching with me. You could get a huge start on your novel. Or finish the project that’s moldering in the drawer. Or start the process of getting an agent—or get your book self published.

Interested? Email me and we’ll set up a time to talk.

My new How to Get an Agent class is on July 11th.  (I moved the date out because I, um, forgot I was going to be out of town.) It’s a one-session class that will tell you everything you need to know about getting an agent, from query and pitch through what to ask when an agent is interested in your work.  Just in time for summer writing conference season, and the class includes an upgrade option for a critique of your query. Find out all the details and sign up here.