Do What You Can (In Writing and Life)

This is an embarrassing confession from a writing coach, but last fall I got blocked on a project.  I was working on the rewrite of a novel for my agent. She and her staff had given me excellent revision suggestions and I was excited about them. But part of it involved giving the protagonist more motivation, digging into her backstory. And to do that, I had to add a couple of chapters. And to do that, I had to figure out to make them flow seamlessly into the book.

Usually I’m pretty good about such things. I wring my hands for a couple of days and then get to it. But this took weeks to get over.  Meanwhile, I wasn’t doing any other writing, either.   And when I get into that state in life, I am a very cranky girl.  Finally, I began writing a short story set in the same world as the novel I was supposed to be rewriting (there will be a whole series of novels set there) and that got me going again.   I turned in the revision to my agent earlier this week.

As I ponder the process I’ve just been through, the song running through my head, is Do What You Can. (Apparently I made the song up, because even though it is playing in my brain on a constant loop now, I can’t find lyrics or a video anywhere.) I wrote that title down on the note pad that is always beside my computer a few days ago to remind myself of its importance.

Because, I don’t know about you, but I tend to get stuck on one thing. I tell myself, I must finish that novel, or I have to write my newsletter, or any one of a million other things. And then if that particular thing doesn’t go well I’m either wringing my hands or farting around on the internet, reading stupid or upsetting stories.

This is at least partially about setting impossible expectations for myself. As in, I’ll sit down to that rewrite and it will flow smoothly from start to finish. Right-o.  Can’t think of when that has ever happened so why do I place such ridiculous ideals upon myself? I think it has to do with an outdated image I carry around in my brain.  I know better than this based on years of experience, but still it pops up. I hear the word romance novelist or English author and there it is my brain immediately: an image of a woman (beautiful, of course and dressed impeccably), devoting every minute of her days to writing her novel.  She sits at a beautiful desk in the country somewhere, stops only for tea, and never gets blocked.

I swear to you, this is a thing I carry around in my head. And the reality for all novelists and authors is quite different. We stop and start.  We wear yoga pants, or, often, jammies and drink coffee by the gallon. And there are plenty of times when the writing ceases (witness my afore-mentioned recent experience). This outdated image I can’t seem to shake is part of the reason I don’t turn my attention to another project when I get blocked.  Because I’m starting to believe that doing whatever I can on my writing is the best way to have a prolific writing practice.

Others reasons I don’t do this might be:

  • I’m afraid I’ll get totally absorbed in the new project and never go back to the old
  • I’m afraid I’ll forget where I am in the old project and lose the thread entirely
  • I’ll do so much switching back and forth that I’ll never finish anything

All valid concerns, and yet also easily dealt with.  Because, ultimately, isn’t getting something done better than nothing? You know the old saying–energy breed energy, I’ve found that to be true.  If I sit for too long I become one with the chair and I feel sluggish and lethargic. But when I’m making an effort to get up and walk around often, I feel much more energetic at the end of the day.

And the same is true of writing–writing breeds writing. If you’re blocked on a long project, write something shorter.  Scribble a blog post or a brilliant missive to a friend.  Start an essay or a short story.  Writing breeds more writing for sure, and somewhere in all of that you’ll find your way home to the thing you got blocked on.

It takes quite a bit of single-mindedness to finish a long writing project like a memoir or a novel. You must continually turn your face back to it despite all the marvelous distractions of life. And I think we end up taking this single-mindedness too seriously sometimes.  But once in awhile, maybe you could unloose the grip and give yourself some rope.

Do you focus all your energy on one writing project at a time or many? Please do share.  Also, if you’re having trouble with any aspect of your writing, I do have some coaching slots open. I’m currently revamping my coaching pages and they are a bit of a mess, so the best thing to do is contact me and we’ll chat!

My 2018 Word of the Year

So, every year I choose a word to represent the year. Actually, most years I choose three words.  And usually I write a blog post about my words in December.  Well, December is long gone and I never wrote the blog post.

And that’s because I felt uninspired about choosing a word–or words.  Usually they come to me easily. This year, nothing.  Was it because of the year in politics and current events? It was a tough one, no matter what your political persuasion.  Was it because I have fifty-one projects going and can barely focus on all of them, much less choosing a word? Probably.

But two things happened to finally change this. First, we attended a Burning Bowl service on New Year’s Eve. This is a most wonderful event that I love. You go through a whole process of writing down what you want to let go of and then literally throw it in a huge flame.  There’s something about sitting in a candle-lit sanctuary with hundreds of other people all focusing on intentions that is wonderfully affirming. And while at that service, I read something that has stayed in my mind ever since.

Every moment of every day is a new beginning.

I have so many things I want to accomplish (witness the aforementioned fifty-one projects) and sometimes I get caught up in what I’m not doing. Not taking all the steps. Not eating all the vegetables. Not writing all the words. But if I can remember that every second of every day I can begin again? That is hugely comforting. I don’t have to do all the things at once! And if I fail, in the next moment I can begin again.

The second thing that happened was, funnily enough, in another church service, this one called a White Stone service.  The white stones come from Jerusalem and symbolize freedom–because in biblical times when prisoners were released from jail they were given a stone to remind themselves of freedom.  One thing that happens during this service is that there’s a meditation wherein you get a word.

My word came to me immediately.  Breathe. As in, with every breath, a new beginning. A new chance to begin again. Freedom. I don’t have to do all the things all at once. If I feel like I’m screwing up, I can go back to my breath and remind myself–begin again. The best part of it is that my breath is always, always with me.

So that’s my word and I’m excited to see if I can remember the simple instruction it gives.

Do you have a word–or words–this year? Care to share? Leave a comment!

The Three Fastest Ways to Improve Your Writing in 2018

Here we are, two weeks into the new year. How are those resolutions going for you? Like, say, the one where you promised yourself you would improve your writing? Perhaps improve it so much that you’d nab yourself a publisher—or feel confident enough to publish your work yourself?

Don’t despair if you feel you haven’t made much progress on this goal. Because I’m here to tell you how to make it happen.  There’s just one catch.  You have to promise to do what I’m telling you to do. Okay? Okay. Let’s get to it.

Thing #1

Write.  Write a ton. Most especially, write fast.  Yeah, I know that seems counter-intuitive to improving your writing, but actually, it isn’t.  Because by writing fast, you get words on the page. And then you have something to work with that you can improve. If you don’t have anything written, you can’t make it any better. So write.  Go for quantity over quality—until you get to the revision stage. But that’s a topic for another day. 

Thing #2

Change your mindset.  Nobody likes a gloomy Gus, especially when it comes to writing. Yeah, there’s a glut of indie books on the market and traditional publishing is impossible to break into. But who cares? Your book may be the one that beats the odds.  Plenty of authors and writers are making good living doing what they love. And beyond that, writing is an innately powerful activity in and of itself. And, I would also submit, that shaping said writing into a story of some kind is even more powerful. Life changing, even. What you’re doing when you sit down to write is important. Don’t forget this. Celebrate it.

Thing #3

This is the one you’re going to hate.  Ditch social media. Specifically, Facebook. Because, really, it is an insidious plot to turn us all into complacent citizens who do nothing more than scroll through their news feeds.  So rise up and rebel! Spend your time writing instead of scrolling.  Oh, wait, there is that small fact to consider that you will want to spend time on social media building your platform. But if you do that intentionally and mindfully you won’t get lost in the Facebook vortex, wherein you tell yourself you’re just going to take a quick look and half an hour later you’re still scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.

Okay, who’s with me on this? Let’s do it.  Leave a comment and tell me how you’re improving your writing this year.

And if you’re struggling with any of these things maybe you need a coach. I have a couple spots open on my roster.  Email me if you’re interested!

On Feeling Sorry for Yourself (A Love Letter)

I awoke one morning this week to an email with the headline Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself. I don’t even know what the email was about—it is one of many (way too many) I get because I signed up for something somewhere along the line.

The email stopped me for a minute. Because, right at that very moment I realized, I actually was feeling a bit sorry for myself.  So I stopped and pondered why. And realized there was no good reason for it. Maybe ….. because I was a little tired, still waking up. Because my big toe hurt. Because I was still dragging myself through the rewrite of my novel when I should have been done a week ago. No good reason.  No real reason.

You ever feel this way, too?

Well, I have two words for you. (And me.)

Stop it. Just stop it.

We have all the things in the world and yet we feel we don’t have enough.  I had a huge epiphany last week when I was working on some goals for the new year. (Finally, it took me forever to get to it.) When I think I don’t have enough, then I go for too much. Not enough food? Overeat. Not enough money? Overspend. Not enough time? Waste it.

And, worst of all, not enough writing talent? Squander it.

And of course, the whole idea of not enough is an illusion anyway, fed by my primitive, reptilian brain that is still convinced I’m living in a time when food and resources truly were scarce for days.

I’m convinced this vague feeling of not enough translates into feeling sorry for ourselves. And that translates into resentment. It’s really hard to write when you’re feeling put upon and woeful and resentful.

So, again, to you and myself, I say stop it.  In the most loving and kindest of ways. But if you want a really funny version of someone saying stop it, watch the video below. It may just become your new catch-phrase to yourself for the new year.


Wearing Radical Pajamas

Most mornings, I follow the same routine.  I get up, drink coffee, and work at my computer for a couple of hours (theoretically writing and not looking at the internet). I do the crossword puzzle while eating breakfast and then shower, to get ready for the rest of my day.

But sometimes I just keep writing. I eat breakfast (because: breakfast) but don’t bother with the shower. And if I’m really into my writing, I stay in my jammies.  I tell myself I’ll get dressed, but then another word beckons.  Another sentence forms in my mind. Another scene begs to be written. And so I don’t bother.

Honestly, though? I kind of have to force myself to let this be okay. It is ingrained in me to get showered, put on make-up, fix my hair.  Put my game face on.  It makes me feel a little bit nervous.  Like, what if someone comes to the door and there I am, still in my jammies? And recently, while writing in my journal about how to devise the perfect schedule for myself (a constant quest), I figured out why.

Because staying in my jammies to write is in many ways a radical act, precisely because I am not putting my game face on. I’m not putting any face on. I’m facing the computer. My work. My writing. My passion.

I’m putting all that first instead of worrying about what the world will think. Me first. Not the rest of the world. A radical act, especially for women.

And yeah, I know you could make the argument, and many have, that it’s a good thing for those who work at home to act as if they are going to the office. To show up at their home office with game face on. It’s a mental thing, they say.  Showing your readiness.

But I like my radical jammies idea better.  I like turning to face my work first, the world second. Not making myself into an image of what I think I should be, but allowing myself to be what I want to be.

One of my favorite Instagram images from the past year was around Halloween. A novelist named Tif Marcelo shared a photo of her daughter’s costume. She was attired in bathrobe and slippers and a sign around her neck proclaiming “Tif Marcelo, Author.” A seven-year-old’s view of her mother’s job.  Isn’t that the best thing ever?

I mentioned a couple newsletters ago that I was having trouble indulging in my usual end-of-the-year sport of setting goals.  Still am. But now I have one: wear radical pajamas more often.  I leave you with a Crescent Dragonwagon quote and wish you a very happy new year.  See you in 2018!

“Choose, daily, for and on behalf of the best and highest in yourself. Choose for what and who you aspire to be. Choose what will serve the you that you are growing towards, however uncertainly, not the you you were or even are, but the future you.”

What are your goals for 2018? Leave a comment!

Both images from everystockphoto

Ah yes, the holidays (A love letter)

If you read this on the day I’m publishing it, which is doubtful, seeing as how it is Christmas Eve and you likely have a million other things to do, you may be any of many things:

–Snug in the comfort of a family holiday, feeling happy and joyous, or barely surviving the holidays with your family, convinced once again that you were switched at birth.

–Feeling all the feels, or feeling about as blue as a person can be.

–Happy and excited about what the fast-approaching new year will bring, or dreading it.

–Thrilled with what you’ve accomplished in 2017 or frustrated with yourself once again.

–In love with the hoopla of the season or just wanting it all to be over.

Maybe you feel a little bit of all these things—I know I do. But mostly I am feeling the feels of the season and loving it.  There are things I didn’t accomplish this year that rile me, and the year itself was awful interesting, but Christmas is a time when we get to pause, at least for a day or two, and forget all that.

So whether you love this time of year or despise it, I recommend that you allow it to take you wherever you want to go.  Enjoy the season in the arms of your family or curl up alone at home and binge-watch your favorite show.  Celebrate or grumble. Whatever your choice, I hope that writing will be a part of it. Because I know for me, that whatever is happening in my life, good or bad, writing makes it all worth it.

So my wish for you is for a very merry Christmas, if you celebrate, and peace and joy if you don’t.  Well, how about merriment, peace and joy for all of us?

Best wishes of the season!

About Intentions and Goal Setting (A Love Letter)

Usually around this time of year I am deep into reviewing the past months and planning for the next twelve. There’s something about the dark days of November and December (which I love) that encourage introspection, pondering, and planning.  I’ve been known to fill up entire journals this time of year.

But this year is different for reasons I cannot discern.

I’m not journaling.

I’m not reviewing 2017.

I’m not busy setting intentions and goals.

And I’m not in the least bit tempted by any of the end-of-the-year programs and books that people are attempting to get me to buy. (Yeah, I’ve succumbed to many of them in the past.)

It’s weird. And yet I’m okay with it.

I had a long discussion with my wise friend Patty about this, and I’m not sure we came to any conclusions about it, but we are planning to do a podcast about it come January so stay tuned for news about that.

Here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

–This year has been so brutal in so many ways that I really don’t want to spend time going back over it.

–And, I’m busy writing. I’m more than halfway through the rewrite of my romance novel, and I’m quite happy with my efforts so far. I’m also working on a Christmas short story set in the same world (Oregon wine country).  I’m way too late for this year, but I’m letting the spirit of the season infuse my work.

So that’s a good explanation for why I’m not reviewing the year, but I’m not sure that entirely explains my antipathy to goal setting.  Part of it may be that I’ve reached my limit with the online marketers, many of whom are trying to convince me I need one of their programs.  These are not just the goal-setting programs, but ones that will teach me how to boost my business, write a best-seller, be thinner, happier, more brilliant, you name it.

And I think I’m tired of myself as well.  Tired of setting grandiose goals and then going back over them in June and realizing that not only did I not meet any of them, but that they were impossible in the first place.  Then, too, I’m aware that the first few months of the year are already booked, with workshops in Portland throughout January and February, and a month in France in March. Add to that a home remodel that will be getting going soon after the first of the year (we’re knee-deep in refinancing at the moment) and, well, it seems I’ve got plenty to do without adding more.

Mostly, all I want to do is write fiction, work with my clients, teach workshops here and in France, and spend time with my family.  Drink some good wine.  Take time to knit and crochet and weave and stitch.  Continue to heal my body through regular exercise. And then write some more. And there are already not enough hours in the day to finish all that so why would I want to add on more stress?

Right? Amiright?

Are you feeling at all like this? Maybe I’m just late to the party and most normal people always react this way to the end of the year.  I dunno. Is the stress of 2017 making you ready for a year full of ease and writing and fun? Or is it just me? Leave a comment and talk to me.

You Have a Choice (A Love Letter)

You have a choice.

You wake up in the morning and you get to open up your kitchen cupboard and decide—coffee? Tea? Smoothie? All of the above?

You open your closet and you get to choose what to wear.  (Or, if you work at home like me, you get to decide if you’re going to bother to get dressed or stay in your jammies all day.)

You get in the car for the drive to work and choose which way to go. Freeway? Nah, its jammed up.  It’ll be surface streets this morning.

And most importantly, you have a choice about your writing. Specifically, how you feel about it.  This is one of the most important choices you will make each and every day.

Will you:

–Tell yourself its awful and nobody is ever going to want to read it so why bother anyway? And then make the choice to go back to bed or go eat chocolate cake instead of writing.

–Tell yourself it’s likely awful at this moment, but that’s why rewriting was invented to make it better. And then make the choice to sit down at the computer and write some more.

You can make the good choice! But sometimes it is really hard to remember this. The other morning I woke up cranky and out of sorts with the world.  Everything—including my writing—felt like a big blah, blah, blah. No color.

I dragged myself around feeling this way for awhile. And then I remembered. I have a choice. I can find a way to make myself feel better.  In my case, that particular day, it was meditation, because it had been awhile. But often I find the answer in the writing.

The funny thing is, I think I don’t want to do it. How can I write when I feel irritable, depressed, fill in the blanks? But making the choice to write always, always, always is the right one—because it always makes me feel better.

What will you choose today?

Leave a comment and share.

Why Writing is Good For Your Brain (A Love Letter)

Here’s reason #5,001 (I’m counting): that writing is a worthwhile activity: it’s good for your brain.

Allow me to digress a bit. I’m teaching myself to crochet. (Head on over to the blog if you want to see a photo of my first finished piece, a scarf heavy enough to qualify as a weighted blanket if it were an afghan).   Every time I start a new project, I puzzle over the directions, which read like a foreign language—even to somebody used to deciphering knitting patterns like me.  Then I need to Google obscure abbreviations I don’t understand, and often refer to two or three sites to figure out what I’m supposed to do.  And finally I usually have to start the project several times before I get it right.

While I’m doing this I swear I can feel all the neurons in my brain firing.  Learning something new like this is good for my brain! And if there’s one thing I desire to maintain, it’s my brain. Which is why I do crossword puzzles, read a wide variety of book genres from non-fiction to fiction, and try to get my butt out the door or to my stationary bike to exercise. (Yes, exercise is good for the brain as well as the body.) 

But as I loop yarn around my crochet hook and congratulate myself for being a lifelong learner, I keep thinking about writing.  The thought occurred to me that it must be an excellent thing for your brain to be engaged in. Because, think about how hard your brain works when you’re trying to figure out how to make a plot work, or what happened in your character’s backstory that created her motivation that powers the story.  It’s hard to think up new worlds and create people to populate them.  (And I believe that is the reason some struggle to find time to write—they don’t have the necessary brain space to do it, what with the crazy amount of input we get these days.)

So I went to the Google and looked it up. And found this: “challenging your brain activates processes that maintain brain cells and stimulate communication between them.” Boo-yah. But this is even better: a German study observed fiction writers at work and found that their brains showed similarities to people skilled at other complex actions, such as sports.

Sometimes I think we need excuses to take time to write (which is why I maintain that afore-mentioned list). So next time your partner complains about you burying yourself in your writing cave, you can haughtily inform him or her that you are improving your brain.  Never mind that you’d much rather be writing than watching Fast and Furious #18 for the thousandth time.

Do leave a comment and tell me how you’ve improved your brain recently.

Note: these love letter are taken from my weekly newsletter. If you’d prefer to have them come right into your inbox, sign up to the right!

Begin Writing and The Answer Will Appear

I spent this just-past Thanksgiving weekend at the beach with a rotating cast of family members in attendance.  It was a blast. And, I got some writing done. I woke up early every day and sat at the dining room table and wrote on my laptop. (It helped immeasurably that the house has no wi-fi.)

I’d been struggling with rewriting two chapters, the segments of which needed rearranging.  I had looked at them every which way from Sunday and back again. I would get to a point where I thought I had it all figured out and then I would realize it wouldn’t work.  So I’d go back to making notes and lining each chapter out and again, it would all collapse and go to that place where plots that don’t work go.

Finally I started writing. I went with my latest organizational scheme (because I thought I had it all figured out) and just freaking started writing. Which is when I realized that what I thought would work wouldn’t. Again. However, this time I found the answer in the writing. The arrangement of scenes flowed effortlessly, organically.  No angst or wringing of hands.

While we were at the beach, we spread out a jigsaw puzzle, which turned out to be a very difficult one, so difficult that there was much cheering every time a new piece got fit in. That’s how I felt with my chapters.  I figured out the order. Much cheering.

But here’s the main takeaway: START WRITING. It amazes me over and over again how the answers always lie in the writing itself.  Why I forgot that and need to remind myself so often is a mystery.

How do you find answers to your writing problems?