Tag Archives | not writing

Just Put The Words on the Page: Why is This So Hard Sometimes?

Soundsky-1229984You’ve heard it a million times, and so have I.  Hell, I’ve said it a million times: all you have to do to write is get yourself to the page and throw words at it.  And yet, sometimes this is just ridiculously difficult.

Like, for me, this morning, when I struggled with writing a scene. I let my attention wander to ponder a book I desperately needed wanted for research, and this led me down one rabbit hole after another.

All I had to do was throw words at the page until I finished the scene (which I had sketched out in note form already).  And I wasn’t doing it, until finally I strong-armed myself into completing the scene (which didn’t turn out half bad for a rough draft).  But it started me to thinking, once again, about why this happens.  We love writing or we wouldn’t be writers, right? And yet sometimes it takes the 10th army to get us to the page.

And I realized that for me, and maybe for you, too, its the constant carping of my inner voice.  When I listen to it, it leads me astray.  It says things like aw, c’mon just go check your email one more time.  Or, you know you’re a crappy writer and this particular scene sucks so why bother? Or, you’re stupid and so is your writing.  Or even, everybody hates you. (Now if that isn’t ridiculous, I don’t know what is.)

Yet when I’m able to ignore it, I go directly to the page and my writing flows.  I don’t waste time obsessing about what other people think of me or how my writing is going to be received.  I’m happy and I feel free.  These times have historically been few and far between, but they are getting more common with my understanding of the carping inner voice and some techniques to deal with it.

The inner voice is, of course, your ego and your ego’s job is to keep you safe.  S/he has done a good job up till now, because here you are, reading this in one relatively unscathed piece, correct?  And yet in your ego’s efforts to keep you safe, it sometimes often goes a bit too far.  Your ego would probably be delighted were you to stay safely at home, never risking venturing out into the big scary world.  This goes for the physical world and the mental world.  Free, unfettered creativity is the ego’s worst nightmare.

Because what if you reveal something deep and true and unique about yourself that people might judge?  What if those words you’re putting on the page become a book and people, gasp, actually read it? What if you succeed? What if you fail? What if people criticize you?  On and on the ego’s fears run, a constant litany and threat of doom.  If you listen to it, you’ll never get any writing done, trust me.

So not listening to it is the key.  But your inner voice is a persistent bugger, and it will continue to carp at you non-stop no matter how many times you scream at it to shut up.  Another way is called for.  That way is to acknowledge it and then let it go. As the revered meditation teacher and Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, just say hello and goodbye. This is surprisingly effective, especially when done over time.

And one of the things that has really helped me is something I learned from Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. Think about that inner voice as if it were a real live roommate in your home.  Would you give its constant chatter any credence? Would you pay attention to anything it said? Would you believe its crazy stream of words? Of course you wouldn’t.

If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, its a person who talks non-stop.  I end up tuning them out, ignoring them.  And yet I often let my inner voice run my life.  So I’ve given my inner roommate a name–Irene–and when she starts spouting nonsense I say to here, “Hello Irene.  Goodbye Irene.”  Then she can go off and spout away but I don’t have to listen to her.

This is a wonderful practice not just for writing but for every aspect of life.  It is such a relief to get away from Irene whenever I can!  And when I’m not listening to her, I can appreciate the present moment, and I can write with a whole brain and a whole heart.

Do you have an inner roommate who talks at you constantly? How do you tame him or her?

(Note: you may also be interested in posts I’ve written about our inner critics, a different but similar beast. You can read about that here or here.)

Image by seungmina.

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How To Have Writer’s Block

Blocks_262707_lI don't know about you, but I sure want writer's block.

I have absolutely no interest in writing quickly and easily.  Or feeling like the words are tumbling off my fingers so fast I can barely keep up.  Uh-uh, not me.  

I would MUCH rather sit and stare at the blank screen on my computer.  And when that gets boring, look out the window.  I'd prefer to do laundry, or scrub the kitchen floor.  Or organize my junk drawer. I don't know about you, but I find that surfing the internet all day is vastly preferable to getting a lot of writing done.

But, writer's block.  No matter how hard we try, sometimes it is just damned hard to get there.  So I offer the following suggestions so that you, too, can spend whole days not writing:

1.  Don't know where you are going.   Start randomly anew each day, without any concern for what came before.  Just pluck inspiration out of thin air and write.  Because, you know, that happens.  Not.  But fortunately you don't want it to, so you are all set!

2.  Don't do any prep work.  Similar to above, remember that you don't need to know anything about your characters, or where they live and work, or the theme, or absolutely anything about anything at all.  Just tell yourself to write!  Not knowing any of the above will bring on writer's block faster than you can whisper grammar.

3.  Don't write regularly.  Nah.  Much better to give yourself, oh, say an hour every month or so. Because then by the time you've remembered what it was you thought you might write, your time will be up–and you won't have written anything!  Which is, after all the goal.  Writer's block, baby!

4.  Focus on how blocked you are.  Because, you know, what you focus on, you get more of.  So pondering your writer's block in all its glory is a surefire way to make sure it sticks around!

5. Check email every five minutes.  Surely something to distract you will have arrived.  Oh look–here's a missive from a nice man in Nigeria who wants to give you money.  It's probably worth writing back to him, don't you think?

Wait, what? You're tired of having writer's block after all? Your kitchen is sparkling, your laundry is finished, and there's nothing happening in the world worth reading about on the internet  You want to write again?  Geesh.  Some people.  Well, if you insist, here are the antidotes to the above suggestions:

1A. Always have a place to go.  Hemingway famously stopped mid-sentence at the end of a writing session.  That may be a bit much, but leave off somewhere that you know what happens next.  And/or, write yourself a note about where to go.  Time and time again I find that I flounder when I'm confused about where I'm going.

2A.  Do your prep work!  This will help enormously with #1A. A really fun approach is this book called The Writer's Coloring Book, which I just discovered today.  But even if it doesn't suit your style, do some advance work.  Think about character, setting, theme and plot.  It will pay you huge dividends if you do.

3A.  Write every day.  Just shut up and do it.

4A.  Good, better, best.  The Qi Gong master I follow emphasizes this.  Do your best in the given moment, whether that is five minutes of writing or two hours.  And focus on what you've done, not what you are not doing.  Good is better than nothing.

5A.  Shut out distractions. Ha! I'm the queen of checking email and looking up news stories.  But I also use Freedom, which disconnects me from the internet for a pre-set amount of time.  It is a lifesaver for a writer, and at $10, a steal of a deal!. (I just went to the website to check the link, and you can also download a tool that blocks you from social media.)

That's it for my suggestions.  How do you encourage writer's block–or find ways to get over it?

Photo by wbd.

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When Not Writing Becomes an Art Form

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My mind the last few days.

This will be a short post because I'm very busy this weekend, Not Writing.  

Instead of writing, I'm reading, knitting, working on a project cleaning up part of the basement, working on another project cleaning up the driveway, doing the crossword puzzle, cleaning the house, enjoying an Independence Day neighborhood barbecue, checking email (of which there is little this holiday weekend), and petting the cats.

You know, Not Writing.  Studiously Not Writing, I might add. Turning Not Writing into an art form.

It happened this week that all my clients put off their appointments until after the long holiday weekend.  And I got caught up on a lot of chores, leaving me time to write.

Except I didn't.

I did all of the above-mentioned activities, but I didn't write.  Every time I thought about it, my mind reached a blank, white wall.

I've been at this game long enough to know that I need to take such a time of Not Writing in a relaxed way.  Why?

–Because my brain needs a break.

–Because big things are brewing in my subconscious

–Because I know once the time is right for me to get back to my writing, it will all come out in a huge rush that will make me giddy with joy

My job at the moment is to just go with it.  As I was pondering this blog post today, an email newsletter from neuropsychologist Rick Hanson came in.  The subject? Rest.  Here's what he has to say about it:

Tell the truth to yourself about how much time you actually – other than sleep – truly come to rest: not accomplishing anything, not planning anything, not going anywhere. The time when you don't do anything at all, with a sense of relaxation and ease. No stress, no pressure, nothing weighing on you in the back of your mind. No sense of things undone. Utterly at rest.

 Probably not much time at all, if you're like me.

Also acknowledge to yourself any unreasonable beliefs or fears about resting – for example, that if you rest you'll lose your edge, things will fall apart, you'll let people down, others will judge you.

 Now imagine a kind, wise, fearless friend looking over your shoulder and knowing both how little time you rest and your "reasons" for not resting more. What will your friend tell you? Similarly, listen to your own innermost being about you and resting; what is that still quiet voice saying to you?

Imagine the benefits for you and others if you listen to the support and wisdom of your dear friend and innermost being.

Then commit to what makes sense to you, in terms of nudging your schedule in a more restful direction, refusing to add new tasks to your own bucket, taking more breaks, or simply helping your own mind be less busy with chatter, complaints about yourself and others, or inner struggles. 

So, he calls it rest, I call it Not Writing, but it is one and the same.  And I've got to go now and do more of it.

Do you take rest times?  Or do you struggle with the need to be always busy?

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What Makes You Stop Writing?

Stop_symbol_plate_238801_lThe other morning, I had a lot on my mind.  Tasks to finish, things to get organized before a trip, stuff to do.  I rose early, as I always do (my eyes pop open at 5:30 pretty much routinely), got my coffee and went to the computer.  I looked at email but didn't answer it because I was going to get right to my writing.

Except I didn't.

Something caught my eye on the internet and I clicked on it.  And from there I saw something else that interested me.  And on and on.

After a few minutes, I stopped and told myself I really should get to my writing.  But then there was that other fascinating headline….

And after a few more minutes, I realized my mistake that morning: I knew I was overwhelmed with to-dos in my brain, and even so I didn't have a clear plan for writing.

If I'd known what I wanted to work on (one of my good curses at the moment seems to be too many projects) I would have had a better chance of getting to it.  And, if I'd realized ahead of time that my brain was a bit overloaded, I might have thought things through a bit more.

All this made me start thinking about what stops me from writing.  Because once you know your enemy, you can figure out how to fight it.  My anti-writing enemies are:

1.  Overwhelm.  As above.

2. Tiredness.  When I'm worn out, my brain doesn't work well.  Sometimes I have the actual time to write, but not the mental energy.  Writing requires hard mental work.

3.  Other work.  As in, the necessity to make a living.  Oh yeah, that.  I'm lucky in that I love my other work–teaching and coaching and some ghostwriting.  But it is still not my own writing. (Though when I dream big dreams and envision my life devoted solely to my writing, with no teaching or coaching it makes me happy for about two seconds.  Then I realize I'd really miss it.)

4.  Laziness.  Sometimes, honestly, I just don't feel like writing.  I want to loll on the couch and watch TV or sit on the back deck with a glass of wine.

5.  Fear.  Of what?  Of everything.  That my work won't be good enough.  That it will be really good. That I won't be able to write it the way I want to.  That I'll go in so deep that I won't want to come back.  That people won't like my work.  That they will.  That….well, you get the picture.

6.  Distraction.  As in, mindless internet surfing.  (Do we still call it that? Sounds a bit archaic now.)I think we all battle this.  We've got so much information coming at us all day every day.  But I tend more towards distraction when any of the above listed elements are present.

Those are my top six that stop me from writing.   What are yours?

Photo by brokenarts.

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The Writer’s Guide to Happiness

Fetr-fitr-ramadhan-53473-hWhat does it take for you, the writer, to be happy?

This is a question much on my mind lately.  What does it take for me to be happy?

Does having my novel about to be published make me happy? Yes, very.

Does not having time to work on my next novel as I finish a big editing job make me happy?  No, not at all.

Would I sacrifice the editing job in order to have time to write?

Now that's a thorny question, because its the editing job that is paying the bills this month.  Ah, thorny questions.  Don't we love them? Yet in the process of pondering and answering these questions, I've come to some conclusions about what makes me happy as a writer, which I offer below.

But before we go there, let me remind you of one thing: the Dalai Lama himself says that the purpose of life is to be happy.  Ergo, the goal of being a happy writer is an important spiritual motivation.  So quit feeling guilty about it and see if you agree with what it takes to make a writer happy:

Process.  Or, to put it another way, writing.  Being involved in the actual process of writing is the single most important thing to make a writer happy.  Obvious, right? I know, I know.  But sometimes we get so engrossed in the peripheal stuff that we forget this.  If you need some help writing regularly, I've got seven practices that will help.

Balance.  Sitting at the computer and writing all day makes Charlotte a dull girl.  And a broke one.   I tell myself I'd love nothing better than to write all day, but when the opportunity presents itself, I procrastinate.  I need variety–a little of this, a little of that.  Working on a huge editing project makes me long for my novel writing.  And vice versa.  It's all about the balance.  There's also the idea that writers need something to write about–as in a life well lived.  You've got to do a bit of both, with the trick being not too much of any one thing.

Support. The writer's life can be a lonely one.  Something that can help it not be quite so lonely is finding a community of like-minded writers.  I wrote about this topic last week, in a post you can read about here.  Never underestimate the happiness that connecting with other writers can bring.

Joy.  What brings you joy?  And why do I ask?  Because joy feeds writing.  For too long we've believed the opposite, that only angst-ridden writers produced deep work.  It's time to put that outdated paradigm to rest.  Joy is what gets my creative juices flowing. And having my creative juices flow makes me happy.  So what brings you joy?  Watching the sunrise through the trees? Taking your dog for a walk? Spending time with your family? Swimming in the ocean?  Only you know.  And only you can make sure you spend time in doing what's joyful for you.

Rest. A rested writer is a happy writer.  An unrested writer is a cranky, anxiety-filled disaster waiting to happen.  Don't buy into the old, stupid paradigm of the over-the-top writer staying up all night only to crash for days after.  Rest–eight hours of sleep at the least–fuels a consistent writing practice.  And that will make you happy.

So, did I get it right?  What would you add or subtract?  What makes you a happy writer?

**The one thing that makes me happier than anything is writing novels.  My Get Your Novel Written Now class starts next week, join me?  Read more about it here.

Photo by Hamed Saber

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My Life If I Weren’t a Writer

My daughter came over for breakfast on her way to work today.  I actually got a good little writing session in before she appeared, but as I was cooking bacon at an unusual hour the thought occured: this is what non-writers do instead of worrying about writing first thing in the morning.

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So I starting thinking.  What would my life be like if I weren't a writer.  Here's what I came up with:

  • I'd drink coffee, read the paper and eat breakfast first thing in the morning, rather than taking my coffee to my office with me to write.
  • I'd read for pleasure only, instead of constantly studying to see how other writers do it.
  • I'd watch movies without straining to pick out the plot points and mid points.
  • During the summer, I'd have a suntan from being outside, instead of inside writing.
  • I'd actually make sense when I talk to the grocery clerk during my first outing of the day, after a long day at the computer.
  • I could truly relax, instead of constantly thinking, I should be writing.
  • My desk would not be littered with ideas written on scraps of paper.
  • I would have no desk.
  • My hair would not stand on end from me pulling at it when pausing to search for the right word.
  • I would never have traveled to Nashville and many other interesting places.
  • I would not know the best and most interesting people in the world, both in-person and online.
  • I would not know how to make sense of my life.
  • I'd be dreadfully bored.  And even more dreadfully boring.

This is just a beginning list, off the top of my head. How about you?  What would your life be like if you weren't a writer?

Photo by kiamedia.

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On Not Having Time to Paint

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For Christmas, I asked for and got paints.  I got acrylic paints, canvases, a cool wooden box to put the paints in, paintbrushes, one of those round plastic palettes, a couple books on painting.  Just looking at all these art supplies makes me tingle with anticipation.

I've been feeling the urge to paint for awhile now, and so getting all this for Christmas made me really happy.  After the rush of the holiday was over, the tree down, the decorations out of the way, I took over an extra table in the guest room for my art.  I arranged all my paints, found an old mug to stick the paintbrushes in, set the books out for easy reference.  The art supplies look good there, all ready to use.

And so far all they are doing is looking good.

Because I haven't touched them.

Not once.

My daughter actually made a semi-snide reference to the fact that I wanted the art supplies so bad and hadn't yet used them. 

"I was gone in Nashville for a week and a half," I pointed out to her.

She backed down quickly and I felt pleased with myself for being right, and having such a good excuse for not having spent any time with my paints.  But later, when I was opening the shades in the guest room so Lieutenant, one of my new cats, could sit in the window, and look out my eye fell on the paints.  And I realized that being out of town was just an excuse.

  • I have other excuses for not painting, too.  They include:
  • I have to get my messy office organized first
  • I have to work
  • I have to watch American Idol
  • I have to go see a movie with my friend Paula
  • I have to go out to dinner
  • I have to go to Eugene

Good excuses, all.  But the fact remains that they are just excuses, and there is one real reason why I've not yet gotten out the paints.

  • It is because I am scared.  And because I am scared, here are some of the things I tell myself:
  • I'm not a painter
  • I don't know how to paint
  • I won't be good enough
  • It won't be right
  • I won't be perfect
  • I don't know what to do first
  • Someone might see me doing it and expect me to be good

Dumb, stupid excuses all.  And because I am a person who tends to think that everything that happens in my life has meaning, I am not only looking deeply at my resistance to painting, but also likening it to writing.  It gives me renewed empathy for the writers that I coach, for those of you who desire so strongly to put words on the page, for everyone who hesitates before committing pen to paper. 

Because my experience with not paint makes me empathize with everyone who is not writing.  So let's make a deal, shall we?  I'll paint if you write.  Okay?  Easy.  We can do it.  I know we can. 

***Besides writing, my favorite thing to do is coach creatives to become prolific and prosperous writers.  I'm working on getting my coaching page up, but in the meantime, if you're interested in hiring me, just email me.  You'll find the address at the top left of this page.

7

Happy Halloween

I'm in the process of cleaning and cooking for a Halloween party we're having tonight.  Somehow, my610px-Jack-o'-Lantern_2003-10-31
annual chili dinner for one or two friends has turned into a last-minute shindig.  Alas, this means not a lot of time to write today.  However, I did rise early to work on Emma Jean,inspired by comments from my critique group last night. And I've made huge progress on my ghostwriting projects this week.  So you know what that means?  It is time to party!

Meanwhile, I've been racking my brain for a clever Halloween post.   Or a trick or a treat. I heard that Bruce Springsteen has a free download for Halloween on his website, but that seems a bit off-topic.  A couple of internet marketers have offered me free Ebooks, but they've turned out to be not worth the time it takes to download them.  And since I'm busy cleaning and cooking, I don't have a lot of time to figure anything else.

Ah, but light has dawned as I am writing this.  Seeing as how today is Halloween, it is a Friday, and tomorrow is November 1st, when many of you are starting Nanowrimo, how about we all give ourselves a huge pat on the back and take the day off?  We could start a movement to have Halloween be National Take the Day Off From Writing Day. 

Are you with me on this one?

I suppose you have to be a crazed workaholic like me in order to really get behind it, or at least a person who feels guilty if they don't write every day.    I know there are many of you out there.  So, c'mon, stand up and be counted.  We can make this happen.

The thought occurs to me that by writing this post I am, um, writing.  So I've got to knock it off.  See you all tomorrow, when I expect reports from everyone who has begun Nanowrimo (Kate and CJ, this means you, and I know I'm missing others so stand up and be counted.)

Photo by Toby Ord, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.5.  I found it on Wikipedia.

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