Depending on Your Point of View (A Love Letter)

You live for adventure and global travel. Or you love to stay home by the cozy fire. You can’t stay still—you have to be doing something. Or everything you love to do involves sitting. You love gardening. Or you hate getting your hands dirty. You agree with everything our president says, or you take to the streets to protest him. You love kale. Or hate all vegetables. You love summer. Or you hate being hot.

I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

My point is this: there are many points of view in this big, wide, wonderful world of ours (and now more than ever, it seems).

And, as I like to remind you incessantly often, as in life, so in writing. (Or vice-versa.)

We writers talk a lot about point of view (or viewpoint, if you prefer) and it has been much on my mind recently because of a book I’m reading. The book is Women in Sunlight, by Frances Mayes, and man oh man does she do strange things with viewpoint.

The story has a lot of characters, but the main ones are Kit, a woman who lives in a small town in Italy, and Julia, Camille, and Susan, all of whom have had recent upsets in their lives. They decide to move for a year to the same town where Kit lives.

Kit’s viewpoint is in first person and all the rest in third. But Mayes head-hops between them. Constantly. All the time. Sometimes it is impossible to tell which character is narrating.  At one point, Kit related something that happened to one of the other characters when she wasn’t there. It is massively confusing.

Despite all this, I’m absorbed in the book and I am almost finished with it. (I will confess to skimming a lot of her excessive descriptions. But if you love Italy cuisine and travelogue, you’ll likely read every word.) I decided to check the Amazon reviews to see if others had similar reactions to mine. And, yup, readers range from lukewarm to ecstatic about it. But one thing that struck me was how many mentioned their confusion over who was speaking when. (Doesn’t help that all the characters sound alike, and talk in long speeches.) Some had a hard time keeping the characters straight.

And, here’s the deal, people: when it comes to viewpoint, your average reader doesn’t know if you’re doing a point of view violation. But they do know when they get confused. And a confused reader is a bored reader. And a bored reader is a reader who puts the book down.

So, a couple of simple viewpoint reminders:

–Omniscient is really hard to pull off. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

–To maintain viewpoint sanctity, just remember to be in your character’s head. What she can see and hear and touch and smell you can report. Nothing else!

–It doesn’t matter what viewpoint you choose. Some people love first, some hate it. Some like single viewpoints, others prefer multiple. Doesn’t matter! Just stay consistent. And stay in whatever character’s head you’ve chosen at the moment you are writing.

Have you ever read a book whose viewpoint turned you off? Hit reply and tell me. Also—might you need help with viewpoint? Need a supportive coach to help you with your writing? Hit me up. I’ve got room for one client this summer.

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Creative Tension in the Writing Life

Once I had a writing friend who set her computer screensaver to show the words, “Why aren’t you writing?”

And, indeed, that is the question, isn’t it? It is the question at the heartbeat of a writer’s days. Why aren’t you writing? Why are you watching TV when you could be writing? Why are you mopping the kitchen floor when you could be writing? Why are you playing Spider Solitaire when you could be writing?

That question strikes to the heart of the creative tension that drives a writer. When we’re not writing, we feel we should be. It’s a tension that I’m not sure non-writers (or non-creatives, because I’m sure artists of all stripes feel this way, too) get.

Sometimes I imagine how wonderful it might be just to go through life as a normal person. A person who isn’t constantly thinking and worrying about writing. A person who doesn’t wake up first thing in the morning and start planning when she’ll be able to write. A person who doesn’t start thinking about when he will write tomorrow as soon as his head hits the pillow. To not have this constant pull to create something.

But, truthfully, I’d hate it. Because I don’t honestly know how non-creative people get through. Do you? My writing is my constant companion, the page that receives all my worries and joys and brilliant ideas (along with the duds). It’s where I process life, where I figure things out–and this goes for fiction, non-fiction, and journaling. And I don’t know what I’d do without it.

So if the constant tension to create is the payment for the writing life, I’ll take it. How about you?

Leave a comment!

On Not Following Protocol or Systems or For That Matter, Anything

I am my own worst enemy. This is true when it comes to writing or living. I cannot follow a system to save my own life. I come up with brilliant ideas that will make my writing easier or more organized or better and then I don’t follow them.

I was reminded of this earlier today when I posted on my Facebook group page about journaling and my technique of indexing journals so I can mine the pages for information. But then I remembered that usually about halfway through a journal I forget to add topics to the index and another few pages later I’m forgetting to number them.

I’ve taught classes on the importance of prepping before writing a novel but the last one I wrote I just launched into without much. (And ended up rewriting it a million times. I should follow my own advice.) Because, of course, every time I start a new novel, I do it differently.

I love putting information on index cards. Until I don’t. Then I love putting it on Evernote. Until I don’t. Then I decide everything should go into binders. Until that becomes too much trouble. Then I switch to file folders. Until I decide I hate that. And the process starts over again.

I’ve been known to buy numerous planners every year. I find one that is going to finally get me organized forever and ever and a month later I hate it and buy a new one.  And that usually happens about 3 or 4 times. Unfortunately for the planner industry, I’ve finally gone digital and use my phone calendar.

And then there’s the whole bullet journal thing.  I tried it once with great success, never to be duplicated again. And now I look at all the elaborate pages people make and I wonder how in the hell they ever do anything but journal.

I have five thousand icons on my desktop because if I file any of them away I’ll never find them again. I decide to get systematic and make folders for everything and then I use names that I can’t remember and so I make a new folder.

I start out the week making a to-do list in the spiral I keep by my computer for notes. But then I turn the page because I have to use a new page for my brilliant idea that just occurred. And then I make notes about the novel I’m working on. And by the middle of the week, my to-do list is buried so I grab a sticky note to write on. By the end of the week my desk is covered in sticky notes, so, of course, I grab a piece of scrap paper and write a new list.

It is kind of a miracle that I ever get anything done. But I do. I’m not sure how.

Do you have any organizing foibles? Please, please share them with me in the comments. It will make me feel better about myself.

Photo from everystockphoto.

How To Get Obsessed

Writing, like so many creative endeavors, is a strange gig. We writers do everything we can to avoid working on our projects, but then when we finally get to it, we don’t want to stop. While in many arenas, obsession is not considered a good thing, we creatives tend to cultivate it. I’ve recently written about the strange paradox that the more you do of something, the more you want to do and can do.  Which leads to…dum dum de dum….obsession. So here’s a handy guide on how to make it happen. (And let it be known, I’m talking about the good kind of obsession here.)

How to Get Obsessed

Make a commitment to your work and then follow through on it. I know no better way than this to get obsessed. Go to the page every day, or as often as you can, and you’ll find yourself gaining momentum.  So often, you find what you need in the writing itself. You may not think you know where the scene is going, but once you start writing, it shows you. But you won’t find it if you don’t sit down to the page. So do it, even when you aren’t inspired. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself obsessed. You’ll be thinking about your work all the time.  Using every few spare minutes to work on it. Coming up with brilliant ideas right and left.

Why You Want To

Because there is no better feeling on earth than that which you get from working steadily on a creative project. Have you ever focused intently on your writing, and after your session felt like you were in love with everything in the world? That’s the writer’s high that you get when you’ve got momentum in your work. When I’m on a roll like this, everything in my life works better. I smile at the cranky grocery store check-out clerk and let all the negativities of the day slide off me.  All the things on my to-do list get done–because I’m so happy I don’t mind doing them.

How to Get Un-obsessed

Okay, honestly, being obsessed with your work all the time is not the best state of being. For a couple of reasons: first, you need to get out from behind the computer to experience life so that you have second to write about. (In other words, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Or Jackie a dull girl.) And second, that old myth about the tortured writing staying up all night to work ends up with said writer collapsing and then not being able to write for another month. So the key is to get a steady burn going. Step by step we travel far, as my Mom always said.

It’s a good idea to take breaks often. And by breaks I mean intentional breaks. Not lollygagging across the internet, but doing an activity that means something to do you. That will refresh you. And for God’s sake get up from you chair and walk and stretch once in awhile. (Which I have a difficult time with, partly because of pain in my knee.)

And also, know that at some point, your obsession will end. It just will. That’s part of the creative cycle. You can’t go full out all the time, and nor do you want to (see first paragraph in this section.) If you’ve suddenly lost the urge to write, maybe your brain just needs a break. Listen to it and give it one.

Are you obsessed with your writing? Leave a comment or discuss on the Facebook page.

Photo from everystockphoto.

Have You Noticed This Weird Paradox? (A Love Letter)

First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who are mothers. The best mother’s day I ever had was the one in which I took myself out to a writer’s tea for the day—leaving my young children behind.  Anyway, to the rest of you—Happy Wise Women’s Day. Is that a thing? I thought I saw it somewhere. And I’m quite sure that every single one of my female readers is a wise woman. So happy day.

This week, I’ve been reminded of a weird paradox. I’m seeing in all areas of my life. It’s this: the more you do, the more you can do.  The more energy you expend, the more you have available to you. The more your read, the more you can read. The more you write, the more you can write. The more you knit, the more you can knit.

Okay, you get my drift.

And you might be disagreeing with me, scowling as you read. But hear me out. At first glance this paradox seems to make no sense. It’s backwards, right? There’s only so many hours in the day. How can the solution for getting more of something in your life be to add more of it?

But, it’s a thing, I tell you. I’m noticing it in my knitting. The more often I pick my current project up and work a few stitches, the more I want to. And the more I want to, the more I pick it up and work on, thus actually completing things (something I have difficulty with). So it’s a loop.

It’s been happening in my writing this week, too. I love journaling every morning but sometimes tell myself I don’t have time. I must get my word count in! Work on that rewrite! Write a blog post! Read manuscripts! But lately I’ve been starting my day with journaling again. I’ve also been doing random writing spurts to prompts in my writing notebook. And my writing productivity has increased exponentially. I was meandering along on my rewrite and suddenly I’m obsessed with it. Working on it is all I want to do.

Why does this happen? Here’s my theory: it has to do with passion and momentum and commitment. You allow your passion to have free reign (don’t take me too literally here) and that engenders momentum. And the more momentum you get, the more committed you become.

It’s a bit like being obsessed. And I don’t know about you, but I like this state of being because too often I’m meandering about the opposite way. How to achieve it? A lot if is about allowing. Allowing yourself to pick up the pen, even when you are feeling tired. (Writing is a surprisingly energetic activity, at least as far as your brain is concerned.) Allowing yourself to dive fully into the work. Allowing yourself to steal minutes away from watching TV and write instead. In other words, it’s as choice, my friend. It’s all about commitment.

And once you get obsessed, don’t forget to take some breaks once in awhile, too. In yet another weird paradox, getting too obsessed can lead to burnout and creative breakdown.

What have you gotten obsessed with lately? Leave a comment and tell me.

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, which also includes links to cool things I’ve found in my internet travels. To sign up, click here.

Charlotte’s Monthly Round-Up Love Letter

Okay, so I probably should have done this last week, because we are already six days into the month, but I just thought of it. I’m talking about a new feature I’m trying—a monthly round-up of what’s going on in my writing life. Hopefully you will find things of use to you.

Outside my office window, the blossoms on the cherry tree are already fading. I can’t believe it is May! My month in France seems like a distant memory. And it is—I’ve been home nearly a month and a half. I’ve been busy working on my rewrite (see below), organizing my office, teaching, and working with clients. Oh, I also do quite a bit of shepherding of small children. (In case you need catching up, my daughter and her family moved in with us in March.)  It’s like being a parent all over again, only at least this time I can go close the door to my office. (Never mind that my office is the most favorite place of the two miniature humans who now live with me.)

Often sometimes I long for the gentle pace of the days in France, but I feel pretty blessed to have so much going on here.  We’re settling into a good balance. And if all else fails, there is wine. So let’s get to it.

What I Read

Train Your Brain, by Dana Wilde.  This book covers familiar ground—what you think affects your life—but the author writes about the topic in a way that I found convincing and easy to grasp. I’m a total wonk for brain stuff, and she talks about it without getting too science-y for me. Woo-woo warning: the topic lends itself to the woo, can’t be helped, so if this is not your thing, stay away.

A Gentleman in Moscow. I am loving this book. I bought it in hardcover for my husband a year ago Christmas. He read it and loved it but I ignored it. Finally picked it up and it’s so good. Amor Towles writes in an elegant style. He is also very good at dropping you into a scene, and explaining later. Something to emulate.

The Hazelwood, by Melissa Albert. Wasn’t thrilled with this one, though I had high hopes for it. I got confused with all the activity in the other world they enter and thought it went on a bit long. But points for inventiveness.

Digging In, by Loretta Nyhan.  This was a good garden-variety (hahahaha, I crack myself up) women’s fiction novel about a protagonist getting over the death of her husband through gardening. That she pisses off the home owner’s society in the process is a fun bonus.

On My To-Read List

Love and Ruin, by Paula McClain.  This is about Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn, who was quite a star in her own right. She was a globe-trotting journalist in a time when that was relatively rare. I’ve always wanted to know more about her.

Willpower Doesn’t Work, by Ben Hardy. I hear this is a great book on productivity, which is a topic dear to my heart. I also recommend his newsletter.

What I’m Loving

My rewrite.  I was having hand-wringing fits about it earlier in this month. But, finally, I’ve reached some momentum on it again. I’m rearranging chapters and man, does that get complicated. My friend Mayanna says I need to get Scrivener for this. But when I’ve used it in the past I’ve ended up so frustrated I ditched it. Your advice?

What I’m Excited About

I never thought I’d want to teach writing. But when I got my MFA, there was a built-in component on teaching. From there I got hired to teach at MTSU in Nashville (distance program) and turns out I love it! I learn so much from my students and also from the process of figuring out how to share what I know.

Debbie (my teaching partner) and I taught a class on motivation yesterday and it was a lot of fun. Tricky topic—one of those ones that sounds so easy but is really quite complex. We’re teaching another half-day workshop here in Portland on May 19th, this one on arc—another tricky topic.

I love these classes because they are very hands-on. We build in lots of time for in-class exercises and discussion, which makes them more fun. And, I submit it is a better way to learn than to listen to one of us lecture on and on.

This is the same format we follow for our France workshops, and we just happen to have a couple openings. You know you want to come study writing (and write) by the shores of the Mediterranean in a charming town. Right?

What I’m Listening To

So, try as I might, I haven’t gotten on the podcast wagon. Because I’m so visual, I don’t process information auditorily well. That makes it hard for me to retain information I hear.

And, I don’t listen to music while writing because it distracts me. So, sorry, no play lists from me. But I do like to listen to music at other times and since we were gifted an Echo from Amazon (which we usually just call the Alexa, since that’s the name you use to get her to do something) we’ve been listening to a ton of it. So far, we’ve not been able to stump her, although my son said he asked her to play Frank Zappa and she didn’t know him. Shocking!

On The Blog

Spring Cleaning Your Writing

Is It Procrastination or Percolation?

The Usefulness of Thinking Small (In Writing and In Life)

Writing Rituals That Work

Write It Imperfectly, Do It Imperfectly

The Ritual is Opening the File (How to Get Your Writing Done)

How About Some Writing Prompts?

On Story Questions and Traveling Home

I’m hoping that May brings a lot more of the same—writing, reading, working with clients—only that more of it will be done outside! What about you? How is your writing going? What have you been reading? I’m always in the market for new titles. Leave a comment and tell me everything.

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Writing Rituals That Work

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how, really, the only writing ritual that works is opening the file and starting to write. There’s no magic mug to drink from, or a systematic routine that will all of a sudden have you flinging words at the page. You just have to do it.

It is so, so easy and yet so, so hard.

We look for a magic ritual in order to make it easier, I think. So that we can believe there is a method to the sometimes-irritating madness of creativity. A way to beckon it to us. A way to make it happen day in and day out without ever a moment of hesitation.

So, sorry, no magic rituals here today.

What I do have, though is something far more valuable–the concept of foundational rituals. Things that aren’t necessarily writing-related, but will help you with it all the same.  Things you probably struggle to find time to add to your schedule and then easily brush aside, thinking they are not that important. But I’m here to tell you that they are! Using foundational rituals can mean the difference between a steady, productive writing practice and a haphazard one.

What are these rituals of which I speak? Really, they can be anything that grounds you, centers you or calms you, especially that overactive brain of yours. (How do I know it is overactive? Because I’ve got a crazy one, too.) Here are some examples:

Meditation. This is my number one foundational ritual. I’ve been meditating regularly for almost three years now. And by regularly, I mean I aim for once a day and usually hit 4 or 5. It’s like exercise–I can tell when I haven’t done it for awhile and need to get back to it. Meditation makes me calmer, less reactive, more centered. And I just about always get a great idea or two during a meditation session.

Journaling. I’m a lifelong journaler. I go through phases of journaling a lot and then slacking off, but I find the times when I’m journaling regularly I’m more productive and have a ton more ideas. No surprise there. Lately I’ve been following Michael Hyatt’s journaling template, with a couple of tweaks to make it suit me better.

Exercise. I know you know this one. I do, too. And yet I still struggle to do it regularly. Next time you’re balking, remember that it is just as good for your writing as your brain and your body. It clears the cobwebs and gives you more energy–exactly what we all need.

Intentional relaxation. By this I mean doing something you love instead of mindlessly perusing the internet or scrolling through photos on your phone. Go for a walk around the block, knit a few rows, leaf through a magazine. Just make sure its a real thing that you enjoy and that will relax you,.

Mindfulness / Breathing. Similar to meditation, though not quite as codified. Try taking a few minutes out of your work day to sit quietly and just breathe. Focus on your breath or what is going on around you. Tune into your senses. What are you seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, touching?

Observation. This is an excellent practice for writers. Put down your phone, close the lid on your computer, and just sit, watching everything that’s going on around you. Make notes in your journal about what you saw–you never know when something might come in handy.

Walking the Labyrinth. My buddy Terry Price is an expert in this and he’s got all kinds of good info on it at his site. Walking the labyrinth can be like a journey into your subconscious brain.  Ask a question before you enter. Every time I’ve walked it, answers have come.

And, in case none of these float your boat, here’s a link to an article in Time magazine that lists 10 things you should do for yourself every day.

Do you have any foundational rituals you use? Please do share in the comments.

 

The Relief of Routine (A Love Letter)

Routine. Since returning home from France a week and a half ago, I’ve struggled with establishing a writing routine. In France, I followed the same routine as I have here at home for many years: wake up, get coffee, sit down to the computer and write.  Okay, I will admit to looking at email while the coffee brews. My excuse is that this allows me to make certain there is nothing pressing to deal with (lame, I know). And yes, I DO GET DISTRACTED from my purpose to write, just like everyone else. But I’m pretty good about eventually getting down to it. After a couple hours at the computer, I eat breakfast, shower, and carry on with my day.

But, in my month-long absence, my daughter and her family moved in, complete with two small boys, one of whom loves nothing more in the world than hanging out with me in my office. And so, all of a sudden, my precious routine was totally disrupted. Jet-lagged and stiff in every muscle in my body after 14 hours on two different planes, I woke early and groggily sat at my computer in the living room. My daughter had organized a sweet office for me in a tiny room upstairs, but I couldn’t quite face setting up there yet.

For several days, I felt unmoored. Unrooted. Adrift in a strange new world, which was chaotic after the calm, focused days in France. I wasn’t getting any writing (or any work of any kind) done. But I was worrying a lot. How would I ever do any writing with all this going on around me? Would I ever return to my rewrite or the novel I wrote 30,000 words on in France? How would I ever accomplish all the things I want to do?

And then, finally, I set up my computer upstairs and the next morning carried a thermos of coffee up with me very early. And got to work. Jumped back into the rewrite. Suddenly, the world opened up again. I felt like myself again. Because I was writing.  The planets had righted themselves and my life was back on a firm foundation.

Because writing is the foundation of my life and if I’m not finding a way to work on it, I’m unbalanced. Yes, I heard the pitter-patter of little feet an hour and a half into my work session, and my grandson appeared in my office. But by then I’d gotten enough work done that I could cheerfully let him play with my colored pens while I dealt with email.

And the only way I got back to it was by returning to my routine. Finding a way to make it work again, which really wasn’t difficult. If I hadn’t had that routine in place I’d probably still be casting about in the dark for a way to get my writing done.

It is easy to think of routine as boring and rote, the province of boring, rote people—certainly not creatives! But, ultimately, it is routine that will save you. Do you have a routine you follow? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment and tell me or head on over to the Facebook group  to talk about it.

By the way, I’ve got room on my coaching roster for one or two clients.  Email me if you want more info and we can set up a time to talk about it.

Don’t Lose Faith in Your Writing (A Love Letter)

This week I read an ominous post on a friend’s Facebook feed. Something to the effect that people were praying for her, but there was no specific information beyond that. I messaged a mutual friend and learned that the worst had happened: my friend had died.

I’m very far away from home, and so there is not much I can do. I’ll likely miss the memorial service, because I’m here in France for a few more weeks. One thing I have been doing, though, is thinking about my friend. A lot. It’s my way of honoring her life.

She was a lovely, creative woman, and I admired her for that. And yet, when I think of her I think of her spinning, in the metaphorical sense. She’d go in one direction, then stop herself. Become convinced that a new direction was the ticket, but then she’d stop herself again, before she even had a chance to make progress. And the thing of it was, if she’d only kept going in the same direction, it would have been awesome. Because she was awesome. I’m just not sure she knew it.

Because she’d no sooner get started on something, then she’d lose faith in it.

I know how easy that is to do, and you probably do, too. Committing to writing, or any other kind of creative project, over the long haul takes courage. It takes energy and focus. I’m not saying that my friend didn’t have any of those qualities. She did. But I think other traits overtook her.

And it is so, so easy for that to happen. I’ve experienced it repeatedly. It’s the voice that says you’re not good enough. Your writing isn’t good enough. Why are you wasting time on this? You’re never going to make it. Look at all those other writers who are so much better than you—why do you even bother? People will laugh at you. Everyone will hate you.

Most of us who write regularly give into these taunting voices briefly and then forge on ahead. But I do know there are many, many people out there who, once they’ve given in to the voices, have a harder time moving on.

I hope you’re not one of them. I hope you’re able to maintain your faith in your writing, to stick with it, to keep at it, no matter what those critical voices say. Because you don’t want to die with the best of your stories still in you.

Please join the Prolific and Prosperous Facebook group for some fun writerly discussion!

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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!