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.)

Your Creative Type ( A Love Letter)

Last week, I was helping a client search for agents to whom she could submit her book proposal.  (Fun times.) One of the titles we came across in the process is a book called Your Creative Type.  Both of us allowed as how it sounded like a fun book to read.  I added that I had no idea what my creative type might be, but I was pretty sure it was something to do with being wild and free. (That undisciplined crazy woman flinging words at the page, sometimes literally, in the corner? The one who has a million projects going at once, including some random art and craft things? That’s me.)

Okay, so I jest, sort of, but the premise of the book is valid.  It is that we each have a specific creative type and knowing it can help you in your daily creative efforts. Some people are motivated by thoughts of fame and fortune, some by the idea they want to change the world.  Others, (me, apparently—there’s a test you can take on the site) just want to express the deeply profound thoughts inside them. Release the emotions, and all that.

The book looks like it offers some good points, and I may put it on hold at the library, so I can maintain my weight lifting exercises hoisting the huge stacks of books I bring home and never have time to read.  I’m all for anything that will help us be more creative—write more often and with more freedom.

But what I am not for is books and theories that try to harness creativity.  That quantify and categorize it.  That tell you it can only exist under certain circumstances.  Reading anything along those lines brings out my rebel faster than you can say, “I’ll prove you wrong.”

And that rebellious streak is also why I get so angry at writing experts who tell you exactly how to approach your writing.  That you have to have an incredibly detailed outline, noting every pillar of the story, or, conversely, that you’re stupid if you waste time doing that and you should just plunge in.  A human could go nuts trying to follow all the advice out there.

Including, ahem, mine.  When I first started writing about writing and creativity ten years ago I tried really hard to hand down authoritative opinions about how you should do things.  But I soon gave up. (Wild and free, remember?) Because I’ve learned, over years of working with writers, that if I try to impose a certain way of doing things on someone who is not comfortable with it, they’ll shut down. And that doesn’t serve anybody.

So it really is worth your time to learn what works for you.  All of us so-called experts can present you with ideas, tips, and thoughts about what might be helpful. But you’ll do better, and be happier I will bet, if you figure out what works for you and ditch the rest.

And now I must go rustle about through my stacks of projects and decide which to work on next.

Tell me about your creative type?

And don’t forget to join the Facebook page! Just click here to ask to join and I’ll approve you!

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.

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.)