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!

Also, this post can come directly to your inbox! All you have to do is sign up to the right. And you get a free book, too!

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!

Don’t listen to writing advice (A love letter)

One day this week, I rose at 5 AM.  I worked for an hour and a half—nailed the organization of a book project—and then drove to my son’s house for emergency babysitting duty at 6:30. By 9 AM that morning I’d knocked a big item off my to-do list, watched George, eaten breakfast and done the crossword, showered and gotten ready for the rest of the day.

I love getting up early. It’s when I get my best writing done, and over the years my brain and body have adjusted to this and cooperate by waking me with the dawn, or before, naturally.  Rising early works for me.  But I’m donesies by dinner—I’ll do no work requiring energetic thought after 7, and by 9 I’ll be dozing in front of the TV.

So if you asked me to advise you on the best schedule for productivity, I would enthusiastically endorse waking early, telling you that by creating time to do what’s most important to you first, you set yourself up for success the whole day.

But consider my friend Robin.  She gets her best work done starting about the time I’m dozing off. By midnight, she’s in full work mode, often staying up until 2 or 3 AM. And I know not to text her first thing in the morning, because she sleeps in until 10 or 11.

If you asked Robin the secret to productivity, she’d tell you to stay up late.

My point, which I’m sure you’re already gotten, is that what works for me may not work for you. This goes for how your schedule your days, how you live your life, and yes, how you write. We are all different, thank God.

There are a ton of experts online and elsewhere who want to tell you how to write and when to do it. I’m one of them!  Many will try to convince you that their way is the only way. But don’t listen to us. You know best what works for you.

And, here’s the caveat to this: you are responsible for figuring out what works best, for following your own path.  And that’s not as easy as it sounds, and its where we “experts” come in. Read what we have to say, absorb it, put our brilliant advice to use and see how it works.

Experts can help light many ways, but only you can figure out what way is best. Knowing yourself is a lifelong pursuit.

Please do feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you’ve taught yourself!

Go With The Flow

This morning when I got up at my usual early hour (made even earlier this week with the time switch), I had plans to work on the rewrite of my novel. Because that’s what I do when I get up early to write. It is my sacred time, devoted only to writing fiction. (Except for those times when I, ahem, devote it to reading blogs and interesting news articles.) It is part of my daily morning routine.

But this morning I awoke and the juicy bits at the top of my brain were for newsletters.  (Which, if you don’t know, I send out every week–I post them here but you can get them right into your inbox by filling out the form to the right.)

So I did what any self-respecting writer would do–I argued with myself. Told myself I HAD TO WORK ON THE NOVEL AND NOTHING ELSE.  But the newsletters wouldn’t let hold of my mind. And when I tried to connect with my novel, nothing was there. It was like a blank wall in my brain.

And so I grudgingly did what my brain was telling me to do.  I ended up knocking out two newsletters (I’ll be out of town next week so I’m setting one up ahead of time) in no time at all.

What would have happened if I hadn’t gone with the flow? Knowing me, I most likely wouldn’t have gotten either the newsletters or the work on the novel done. Instead, in trying to force my brain somewhere it didn’t want to go, I would have ended up not doing either and heading off to my procrastination default of farting around on the internet.

And now, later on in the afternoon, I’m going to steal an hour or so to work on that novel rewrite after all–because I got everything else done. So sometimes it is a good idea to release expectations of what you should be doing. We should ourselves way too much anyway.

What do you should yourself about? Leave a comment!

A love letter about pain

This week.

It couldn’t have been more awful.  The terrible tragedy in Las Vegas, coming on the heels of a month of devastating natural disasters, was almost too much to bear.  People I know and love are suffering from these events. And on top of all that, I have a friend and a family member in the hospital—one dealing with surgery, one with the aftermath of being hit by a car.

My heart weeps.

And yet, on the other hand, things in my personal life are pretty good. I had a wonderful time in France, and got a lot of writing done there.  My agent is excited about my next project and still sending out the first book.  After a month of physical therapy and a cortisone shot, the pain in my body has lessened considerably and I’m walking more again.  I have great clients and fun upcoming teaching gigs. My family is amazing.

How to reconcile all this? How to exist, feeling grateful for what I have and yet heartbroken for the pain in the world?

While in France, I posted photos of all the things: the Mediterranean Sea by day and night, the phallic tower that rises above the water in Collioure, dogs and cats and beautiful old people. And all the while, back home, hurricanes and floods and fires swept the land.  Should I not have posted photos of what I was experiencing in deference to the disasters? Should I have included a disclaimer with everyone, something to the effect that I knew what people were going through and sent them love?

In other words, as I told a friend, I’m asking: what should my response be? How do I live in this world now?

Luckily, that friend was the very wise Patty Bechtold and she told something that really helped. She’d read it years ago, in the work of Robert Johnson. He likened such experiences as standing in the middle of a teeter-totter, with one foot on either side.   Balance. Getting comfortable with the gray area in the middle, even though most of us would much rather like things plain and simple, in black and white.

And maybe we just need to accept that this is how we must live now.

I’ll tell you what helps me live in the gray areas. Two things: creativity and connection.  I found solace in my writing this week. And I also found it in connecting with friends and family.  Maybe these things gave you solace, too. I hope so.

So here’s the only antidote I have to offer to make sense of the gray area: take to the page. Write your pain out. Or focus your energy on your current writing project. And when you are finished, go kiss a child, or a pet, or your spouse.  Call a friend; say hi to a neighbor. Email that aunt you’ve not talked to in a long time.

Creativity and connection. I’m astoundingly grateful for them both.

A love letter about time

I’m writing this to you at 4:30 in the morning, sitting at my desk back home in Portland.  Yes, you read that right: 4:30 AM. Because: jet lag.  I’ve been waking at this hour every day since we returned home from France on Tuesday night. It’s great for getting writing done, but hell for trying to stay up past 9 PM.

And it bears on the topic I want to talk about today: time.

As most of you know, I spent three weeks in the south of France (the less-crowded Lanquedoc region, near Spain) teaching a couple of writing workshops. And time flows differently there.  I actually began writing this letter there, in the Mediterranean town of Collioure, sitting on a terrace surrounded by ancient stone and concrete houses.  A typical day went something like this: writing workshop in the morning, delicious lunch (often three courses, with wine), a petite nap, and then writing.

My desk in Collioure

It doesn’t sound like the best time recipe to get a lot of work done, but I did.  I wrote the first chapter of a new book, worked on the rewrite of my WIP, and took one more spin through the novel my agent is shopping.  All the while feeling relaxed and happy.

How I wish I could replicate that feeling of productive ease here.  I ponder: was it the sea air? Walking several times a day? The wine? (I truly didn’t drink it every day at lunch. But, um, there was plenty of wine every night.)  But here at home, life presses in: appointments, client work, family obligations. Which is why, precisely, going away to write is such a great idea.

And yet, we can’t always do that, can we?

Time is such a slippery beast. It slows to a crawl when you’re waiting for something you want to do or someone you want to see, and it flies by without notice when you’re deeply engrossed in a creative project.  (Which is why the old writing saw, fast is slow and slow is fast is so useful to remember.  If your character is doing something with a slow past, dispense with it quickly.  If something is happening really fast, slow down the action.)  And most often, we end up feeling as if we just don’t have enough time.

In pondering all this, here’s my takeaway. I can’t replicate the atmosphere of a seaside village in France here in Portland, but I can consciously slow myself down. I can approach life with a more relaxed atmosphere and refuse to get caught up in the harried schedules most of us keep. I can say no once in a while (except to grandkids).

And hopefully, my writing productivity will rise in inverse proportion to my relaxed attitude about it.

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter. If you’d like to join the list, see the form to the right.

And if you’re interested in learning about next year’s writing workshop, head on over to the Let’s Go Write website and join the mailing list there. We’ll have 2018 info ready soon.

On eclipses…and love (a love letter)

Dear Writers,

Tomorrow (August 21) is the Great American Eclipse, and as you read this I’ll either be on my way or soon to be on my way to view it.  Me and about a million other people—that’s how many visitors are forecast to arrive in Oregon, a broad swath of which is in the path of totality.  Traffic jams and food and gas shortages are predicted. You can’t get a hotel room or rent a car to save your life anywhere near by Portland. (We are just a few miles north of the path of totality.)

I love mass events like this.

And I love eclipses even more. I’ve been greatly enamored of this eclipse since it first came on my radar several years ago.  Because: eclipses are when day becomes night and night becomes day.  They shake things up, astronomically and astrologically.  And sometimes, shaking things up is good.

They are also about showing us our shadow side, the darkness in us that generally stays hidden.  All you have to do is look at the events of the last week to see that in action.  And difficult as it is to witness, I believe to my core that you can’t eradicate the darkness until you can see it.

On a far less serious and more personal level, I see the eclipse as a giant reset button, a chance to challenge old, stale ideas. Like: creativity is just fluff (even though it is vital to our health and well-being), or, you can’t make a living as a writer (even though you can these days, in a million different ways), or one of the biggies: there’s not enough (of course there is).

But the biggest outdated idea of all is the most pernicious: that of the other. As in, you’re different than me and that make me better. And all the variations on that theme that result in abuses of power, politically, financially, and morally, over and over again.

So I suggest, that along with our personal resets, we also focus our eclipse ideas on a grand scale.  And let this event uncover the fact that there is nothing more important on this planet right now than loving one another.

Because there isn’t.

Happy eclipse.

Leave a comment and tell me if you plan to view the eclipse! (And what you might like to reset.)

On Being Sick…and Getting Well Again (A Love Letter)

I have a fraught history with getting sick.  Well, duh, who doesn’t, right?  But I like to think I have a particularly difficult time with it because in my family it just wasn’t acceptable.  When any of my sisters or I complained of feeling ill and wanting to stay home from school, my Mom, would say, “You’ll be fine. Get up and get going.”

And so we did.  I realize now, after having raised children of my own, that my mother’s attitude stemmed more from desperation at having a kid underfoot during her precious days alone, than an inability to abide sickness.  But that kind of attitude was not conducive to lingering in one’s sick bed for any length of time. Or at all.

So it is inculcated in me to avoid illness at all costs.  Imagine, then, my surprise and embarrassment when earlier this week I sat up from the Pilates machine at my physical therapist’s and the room spun.  It spun in a way I’d never experienced before, even when I drank too much MD 20-20 as a teenager. An alert PT aid asked me if I was okay and when I said I thought I was going to vomit, brought me a wastebasket.

Into which I promptly retched.  In the middle of a gym full of people.  Somehow I made it home, running into the house and throwing up more upon arrival. And that was how the rest of the day went: massive vertigo with any kind of movement followed by vomiting.

I was not a happy camper.

But, after a couple days of rest, I am pretty much back to my normal self. (And desperately sympathetic to anybody anywhere who struggles with vertigo.) And let me tell you, the world looks like a bright, shiny new place. It is as if someone has pushed my reset button.  Getting in the car and driving to the grocery store, a chore I hate so much I often order online, is a pleasure, because: I’m out of the house! Taking the car through the car wash is a fascinating experience.

And it makes me wonder how much I miss when I’m meandering along through my life, thinking same old same old.  How many stories and ideas are passing me by because I’m pondering what a drag it is to have to go grocery shopping?

This is when I vow to turn my journaling habit—which tends to be navel gazing and figuring my life out entries—into more of a writer’s notebook, in which I will write brilliant observations, copy down witty dialogue, and note gorgeous descriptions.

Yeah, right. But I will say that’s the one good thing about getting sick—you come out the other side feeling like a fresh, new human being.

What’s going on with you these days? Leave a comment and let me know.

And don’t forget to join the Facebook group! (I’ll be on there regularly during my blogging hiatus.)