Tag Archives | Elizabeth Zimmerman

Keep Calm and Carry On Writing

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-poster-degradado-1280-300x240Keep calm and carry on.  The saying is a cliche of the highest order by now, its initial message as positive propaganda during World War II long since co-opted for commercial purposes.  But for some reason it popped into my head a few days ago and wouldn't leave.

Maybe because my life has been anything but calm lately and I'm struggling to carry on with my writing. I'm not complaining, mind you.  Life is hectic because I went on vacation, I've got obligations to friends, family, and community, and oh yeah, work.  All of which I love.  But none of which are especially conducive to getting words on the page.

And there's something about the keep calm and carry on message that is, well, calming.  It reminds me of another favorite saying, from the late doyenne of knitting, Elizabeth Zimmerman (also a Brit): Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises.  

We could amend that to Write on with confidence and hope, through all crises, don't you think?

Yeah, but how?

One of the stories that stays with me from the time years ago that I went to a creativity workshop with Julia Cameron was how she wrote during one of the worst times of her life, thus coining her phrase, keep the drama on the page.  And she had drama then, yes she did.  Her then-husband, Martin Scorsese (yes, that Martin Scorsese) was cavorting around Europe with Isabella Rossellini and friends were helpfully sending her press clippings about the scandal.  (This was, gasp, pre-internet days.) And yet, as I recall, she credited this with one of the most creative periods of her life.

Again, how?

Here are some ideas that I've been drawing upon the last few days as I work myself back into a regular writing schedule.

Start with the breath.  In moments of busyness or anxiety, you've become apart from yourself.  The fastest way to get centered again is to take a minute to focus on your breathing.  Stop, take a breath, and connect with yourself (or whatever source you believe in, if you prefer).  Are all the things that are making you frazzled and anxious really that important? Take another breath.  Probably they aren't, huh?  You are still here and still breathing and all is well.

Make writing a priority.  No matter what all else you have on your agenda, make writing your priority, as if its the most important thing in the world, above even the most beloved thing in your life.  (Wait, writing is the most beloved thing in your life, right?)  Act as if your very life depended on you writing. Because, for your sanity, it does.  And sometimes, you just have to set aside everything (yes, everything) else and do it.  And when you have this mindset, you will be able to:

Let the world fall away.  All those items on your to-do list will still be there waiting for you after you've written.  And your life is not going to fall apart if you take a few minutes for yourself.  Really, it's not.  I am reminded of a TV ad for some kind of chocolate from long ago, which featured the image of a woman happily biting into a piece of candy.  In the background, you heard a bell and a child's voice saying, "Hey Mom, phone's ringing."  But Mom clearly didn't care–she was savoring her chocolate. And you, too, will be savoring your writing.

Know That You Have Enough. You have enough time, enough money, enough energy and enough focus to do this.  The ingrained cultural message we constantly hear is the opposite–that there's not enough time, money or energy for anything.  (By thus playing on our fears, they can sell us stuff that will supposedly plug the "not-enough" hole.)  So often when I think I don't have enough time, I stop and remember that I do–and voila, things fall into place.

Stop the Negative Self-Talk.  I think this is the modern-day heart of the keep calm and carry on message.  I don't know about you, but for me, when I'm frazzled, I'm also busy berating myself–because of course, it's all my fault I'm in this situation.  (Remember, I'm not enough.)  And so taking a minute to listen to the terrible things you are saying to yourself can allow you to stop it.  And thus make space to take a breath, calm yourself–and get back to your writing.

Those are some of the things that help me.  Nothing earth-shattering, but then the practice of writing is all about the small decisions we make to commit to the page, over and over and over again.  What about you?  What helps you keep calm and carry on?

For more information on the Keep Calm and Carry On phenomenon, here's an interesting blog.  And, good old Wikipedia has a lot of history on it here.

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