How to Write More Than You Thought Possible

That title offers a pretty bold promise, huh?  But I really do believe that what I'm going to write about today will help you write more than you imagined possible.  What might this mystical thing that I'm going to write about be?     Gandhi

Are you ready?

Wait for it.

It is writing practice.  Also known as free writing.

We will define it, for the purposes of this post, as any writing that you do that is not strictly related to your WIP.  It is the writing that you allow yourself to write with abandon, that you likely do to a prompt, that you for sure do fast and without worrying about what words you are putting on the page.  It is, at heart, writing for no purpose.

I've been doing writing practice for the last week or so, inspired by a book I bought on a visit to one of my favorite bookstores.  The book is called Writing From the Senses, and it focuses on "using your senses as prompts."  I like the short chapters and the writing prompts at the end of each of them.  

But what I really like is the permission the author, Laura Deutsch, gave me to do my practice on the computer, and to keep it short, like 300 words.   I, like many of you I presume, have always done free writing by hand.  Don't get me wrong–I love writing by hand and find it very freeing.  But I also never took the time to transfer any of my handwritten free writes to the computer and lots of good stuff got buried in my spiral notebooks.

But Deutsch says it is perfectly fine to write on the computer.  And, yes, 300 words is plenty.  I find that these little short bursts on the computer act as warm ups that lead me directly to my current WIP and allow me to work on it with just as much abandon as I do the free writes. 

I find that this writing for no particular purpose other than to do it takes the pressure off, which allows the words to flow.  And once they are flowing, it is easier to get into the flow with your other work as well.  This, in turn, makes me eager to get to the page.

I am reminded of a quote I read long ago from Mahatma Gandhi.  (I don't have the exact quote and have searched and searched for it.  If you happen to know it, please send it to me.)  He said, in effect, that he had a busy day, so he better spend an extra half hour at his spinning wheel.  In other words, he's making the counter intuitive choice to take time to make time.  By taking longer at the spinning wheel, he knew he'd be much more centered and ready for the day.  

So, too, with your writing.  By taking time to do some writing practice, you'll be better able to make good progress on your current project, because you'll be centered and in the flow.

Some simple guidelines:

1. Start with a prompt, just because it gives you a way in.  I've got tons here on this site, or you can get books full of them, or you can consult the Google.  (For my newsletter subscribers, I also always include a new list of prompts each issue.)

2.  300 words is fine.  500 would be plenty.  

3.  You don't have to stay on topic.  Go wherever your hand takes you.  Let it rip, let it flow.

4.  Keep writing no matter what.  Its much better to get something, anything, on the page, than to stop and gaze off into space.

That's it!  Do me a favor and try doing writing practice and then move right into your WIP and see what happens.  

Do you have a favorite activity that encourages your writing?

 

What Do You Give Up to Write?

Funny story: I've had this  blog post in mind for the last few days.  And then when it was time for me to sit down and write it, my blog host, Typepad, had two DOS (denial of service–I looked it up) attacks, on Thursday night and Friday morning.  So I had to give up the chance to write it for a while. And because Typepad was out all morning and now I don't have as much time as planned, this will be a short post.  (Of course, I often say that and then run on.  And on. And on.)

Anyway.

Legomen

Mindless types who have not given their all to writing.

Years ago, I heard an author (whose name has been lost to the mists of time) say, that in order to write a novel, "You have to be willing to give up sunny days." 

That might not mean as much to those of you who live in climates that are sunny year-round, but here in Portland where it rains a lot, it's practically a law that on a sunny day you have to be outside.  

And so this author had given up her sunny days in order to stay inside and write.  And her comment has stuck with me all these years.  

I wonder what all of us have given up to write.  Maybe:

Money

Maybe for some of us, its the higher income we'd have if we had a full-time job.  And then there's the fact that writers can shell out a lot of money for classes and conferences, not to mention computers and paper and notebooks and pens.

Time

For most of us, this is the biggie.  Because, as we well know, books and articles and stories do not write themselves.  So we have to make time for them to get written.  Time that might otherwise be spent watching the shows everyone is talking about, like Game of Thrones.  Time you might share with family members or friends.  Time cleaning house or organizing closets or doing laundry.

Fun

Have you ever declined a social invitation in favor of writing?  And then if you explain to your friends why you've declined they say, "You need to get out and have some fun."  And you say, "But writing is fun."  And they think you're nuts?  Yeah, me too.  But we've all probably given up a chance to have other kinds of fun.

Sex

Kidding.  Sort of.

Why Writing is Worth It

I just realized that this post is starting to sound a bit negative–like, poor us, we have to give up so much in order to ply our beloved trade.  But I don't mean it that way at all, I really don't. Believe it or not, I conceived this post as a sort of celebration of what we've let go in order to succeed as writers. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know. But there's a lot of power in choosing how we want to spend our time.  So many people don't–they fill their days with mindless activities that they aren't fully invested in.  

But we choose to spend our time honing words and telling stories.  I've shared this quote before, but I love it so much, so here goes again.  It's from Christopher Vogler, The Writer's Journey (one of my favorite writing books ever):

"But take hope, for writing is magic.  Even the simplest act of writing is almost supernatural, on the borderline with telepathy.  Just think: We can make a few abstract marks on a piece of paper in a certain order and someone a world away and a thousand years from now can know our deepest thoughts.  The boundaries of space and time and even the limitations of death can be transcended."

And that, my friends, is why writing is worth it.

What have you given up to write?  

 Photo by lemort.

Getting Back To Writing

I was out of town last week and I didn't do any writing.  (Yes, you read blog posts while I was gone. I had them scheduled ahead of time.)  I didn't even have my computer with me, which was shocking even to me.  I never go anywhere without my computer (except to France, but I wrote on my Ipad while there).

I knew ahead of time that I would be in meetings and working on reports unrelated to writing while gone and so I didn't  attempt to write.  I was so busy (and then brain dead at the end of the day) that I didn't even think about my writing.

Which was fine.  Then I returned home.  And my brain refused to connect with any of my creative writing projects.  It was as if they were just gone.  The current novel I love?  Couldn't remember what it was about.  That short story I've been working on?  Hmmm, remind me who the characters are again?

But, in the words of none other than the Dude himself, this aggression will not stand, man.

And so I set out to get back to my writing.  Here's what I did:

I re-read my work.  Fortunately for me, my critique group meets this week and I needed to send a chapter to them.  So that became my entry point–re-reading the chapter I'd written before I left and doing some light editing on it.  Oh, that's right.  I remember what's going on here.  From there, I got interested in how I'd envisioned the plot and I re-read my scene list.  And made some small changes.  And from there, I remembered a new character I'd thought up and wanted to create a dossier for–and whadda you know, I was writing.

As I re-read, I took notes.  I love notes.  Notes are my best friend.  I think they should be yours, too.  Notes prime the pump.  They get story ideas going.  They reconnect you to your work. Notes are amazing.  Take lots of notes.  They will lead you back to your writing.  (It is worth pointing out that I take notes by hand and I think you should, too.  This is part of why they work–because you're utilizing a different part of the brain than when you are on the computer.  Or at least that's what it feels like.)

Finally, I did research. What writer doesn't love research?  It can be the best procrastination device ever.  But in this case it helped me get back to my writing by delivering some interesting litle tidbits that sparked ideas.

So that's how I got back to my writing this week.  These are simple techniques you can use any time you've been away from your writing for awhile, or if you are experiencing the dreaded writer's block.

So, tell me–what do you do to get back to your writing after being away from it for awhile?

 

 

How You Can Gain Weight While Writing!

Chocolate_stack_snack_239996_lIt's everyone's goal to gain a little weight, right?  Well here's the good news: your writing practice can help you with weight gain.  It is so effective that it is akin to a magic pill for weight gain!  How can you make the magic happen?  Below are some top ideas gleaned from many years of trial and error experimentation (I did the work so you don't have to.  No need to thank me.)

 1.  Reward yourself with food.  Grab a brownie when you've reached your word count.  Better yet, grab two.  Or put ice cream and chocolate sauce atop your brownie and make it into a sundae.  

2.  Snack while you're writing.  But please, no fruit or veggies!   An open bag of cheetos is a good starting point.  Or try chips, kettle corn, M and Ms, Hershey's Kisses.

3.  Frequent fast food joints.  You don't want to take time from you work so your best bet is to hit McDonald's or Wendy's where you can grab a burger fast.  Add french fries to your order for bonus pounds.

4.  Fuel up with sweet caffeinated drinks.  Starbucks has a good area of these–lattes with sweet flavorings added, mochas, and when it gets warmer–Frappucinos!  Be sure to ask for whipped cream and an extra drizzle of sweetness.  

5.  Drink pop all day long.  If coffee doesn't float your boat, you're going to need something to keep you going.  Soda pop is a great idea for this.  The regular ones are loaded with sugar, which is a great attribute, but even the diet versions goof with your metabolism and help you gain weight.  It's a win-win!

6.  Don't exercise.  Forget your morning yoga routine–get right to your writing.  Afternoon walk? Uh-uh.  It won't add pounds and it will take you away from your writing.

7.  Don't get up regularly.  It is far, far better to get so engrossed in your work so that you sit for long hours without ever getting up.  

Those are some practices that have helped me with weight gain. Do you have any to contribute?

Photo by Whizzy.

Consistency for Writers

Little_boxes_high_599073_hConsistency.

Yawn.

The word is much like the word discipline in that it elicits yawns and boredom from us.  I mean, who ever got excited about the word consistency?

And yet, consistency is how writing gets done.

When you have a consistent writing practice, books get written.  Blog posts get written.  Essays get written.  I was thinking about this today when I was despairing about a lenghty ghostwriting project I've got going.  The topic is dense, the information complex.  And I'm getting the book written one word at a time.  I keep going back to it consistently.  I keep putting it on my to-do list. And the chapters are piling up.

So, too, with my latest novel.  I keep plugging away at it (actually, that makes it sound like it's not much fun working on it, and the opposite is true–I love it) and with a consistent practice of 1000 words a day, I got 100 pages done from the time I came up with the idea.

Consistency, in my mind, is better than wild late night sprints staying up until all hours working–and then crashing for days.  Consistency is the turtle, not the hare.

Here's a consistency story for you:

In November of 2007, I left a comment on a blog about Zen practice.  I'd found the blog and "met" its owner through what was then a hot site for bloggers called BlogCatalog.  (Many of my initial online friends and blog readers came from this site.  This was before Twitter, before Pinterest, before Instagram, and one year after Facebook opened its doors to all comers, not just college students.)  The blog's owner, Derek Ayre, a Welshman, emailed me and thanked me for the comment.  I emailed back.

A pen-pal friendship across the oceans was born.

At first we wrote every day.  Then we wrote every other day. Now we write each other about once a week, though sometimes life gets in the way on either end and it turns out to be weeks before one of us answers the other.  

But here's the deal: we always answer each other eventually.  Because the pen-pal friendship is important to us.   And so we are consistent with it.

(I have a bit of an ulterior motive in mentioning Derek because he's got a guest post coming up here on Tuesday and I wanted to spend more time introducing him than a short bio would allow.)

If, at any point in the past six years that we've been corresponding, one or the other of us became inconsistent, the friendship would have died.  But we've been consistent in honoring our email friendship and the result is a connection I treasure.

So, yeah, if you're looking for a good buzz word for 2014, you could do worse than to choose consistency, my friends.

What are you consistent about?  Your writing? Something else?  Please comment.

(And come back Tuesday for Derek's post.)

Photo by 416Style.

The Creative’s Dilemma: Routine or Free Rein?

Planting_fall_sonoma_283067_lWe creative types like freedom. 

"Don't fence me in!" we cry.

We need to be unfettered and unchained in order to do our best work.

And this particularly applies to anything so prosaic as schedules and routine, which are the polar opposite to creative passion.

Right?

That attitude is certainly the romantic vision many of us have about creativity.  I know I tell myself, I need my freedom, every time I spend an unexpected half hour farting around on the internet, or stay in bed instead of getting up early to write.

I need my freedom.  So don't talk to me about writing regularly. Because, you know, it will get done when it gets done, okay?  Which, with this kind of attitude might be, ahem, never.  Case in point:

My Morning Routine at the Start of This Year

I rose every day at 6:30, got my coffee and went directly to the office chair where I like to write in my journal, meditate and pray.  I wrote like a demon issuing orders to her minions.  Pages and pages every morning.  Ideas, brilliant thoughts, parts of scenes.  All that good stuff.  It was glorious.  And then one day it ended.  It just….ended.  I'm not really sure why.  I simply stopped doing it.

My Morning Routine Until a Couple Weeks Ago

I rose every day at 6:30, got my coffee, and went directly to my computer, where I would have the absolute best intentions of writing, but instead would open my email inboxes.  Oh, who am I kidding, they don't need opening–I never close them.  And then–an hour, hour and a half, sometimes two hours (gasp) later I would realize that I had accomplished nothing more than a few tweets, and answering some emails (but they were very important emails).

This bothered me every day I did it, but apparently not enough to do anything about it.  And so the stream of early morning tweets and emails continued.  And then, one day, as suddenly as my writing had ended, a new thought occurred: this transgression shall not stand!

My Morning Routine Now

I rise every day at 6 (I'm doing my best to work it back to 5:30), put on work out clothes, grab my coffee,  and write for 45 minutes to an hour.  Then I walk my husband to the bus stop (30 minutes round trip), thus solving one of my other problems, the fact I sit too much. (The other trick is to stand up every time I think, I've been sitting too long. It's harder to do than it sounds.) Upon returning home, I often sometimes convince myself to go back to the writing but usually breakfast beckons.

So, 45 minutes to an hour–not a lot of writing, right?  Yeah, I know.  But it's a helluva lot more than I was doing.  And I find that with the story in my mind after working on it first thing, I'm apt to steal a few minutes during the day to work on it.  I'm likely to have a couple ideas about it that I jot down.  I'm inclined to take some time on the weekend to work on it.

And when my dear, sweet, wonderful ego starts screaming about how I'm such a creative person and I can't be fenced in and I can't commit to a routine because that would kill the creativity, I tell her to shut up so I can write.  And so far its working out pretty well.

So, really, I'm not going to let any of you off the hook here.  I confess all this so that you know that I know how tempting it is to give into the illusion that we creatives need free rein.  No, we don't.  We need discipline and structure, just like everyone else. 

If you want to get your writing done, you've got to find a way to make it a routine part of your day.  Period.  And for me–and many others–the best way to do that is to get up and get it done first thing in the morning.  You'll feel good about yourself all day, I promise. 

What is your creative routine? 

 Photo from freerangestock.

The Fine Art of Cultivation

The sun slants in my office window, turning the leaves of the orchids on the desk translucent.  Purple_orchid_flower_30860_l Though the glass, I see a thicket of dead branches with a small brown bird hopping through it. The tips of the bamboo plant wave in a stiff breeze.   Further out are the roofs of neighboring houses, barren of snow now, and beyond them the dark green silhouettes of pine trees in the brilliantly blue winter sky. I hear the snores of my pug, and the whirr of the garbage truck as it makes its rounds.  The furnace clicks on, then off.  My computer hums. 

Those are the sights and sounds that I see and hear from my office this day. 

Not terribly earth shattering. 

But vitally important.

Because an integral part of being a writer is learning the fine art of cultivation.

Cultivate.

Which means, among other things, to:

–develop or improve by education or training, train, refine

–to promote the growth or development of, foster

–to devote oneself to (as an art or science)

I like to apply the word to cultivating the writer's mindset into your life.  Cultivating is one of the key practices in my Writing Abundance system, because it underlies everything we as writers do. Such as:

Observing.  But not just casual observation.  Deep observation.  Really looking at things, so that you can go home and write about them later.   Looking at the different kinds of noses people have, or the way the sky looks right before a rainstorm.  Imprinting these images on your mind so deeply that you can call them forth when you need them while writing.

Listening.  Instead of eagerly waiting for your turn to speak, try really hearing what the other person is saying.  A fine ear for dialogue is an acquired skill, and it is a handy talent for all kinds of writing.  But beyond how things are being said, there's this: what, exactly, are people talking about? What are their concerns? Story ideas galore abound in the dailiness of life.

Reading.  Words in, words out.  Sometimes the more I read, the more I can write, I think because I need to fill myself up with words in order to spit them back out again.  And then there are all the things you learn from reading.  A person could teach themselves to write solely by reading, and many have.

An open mind.  Ideas do not land in open minds.  The perfect solution for that problem you're having in chapter seven will not appear if you're so set in your mental ways that there's no room for new thought.  Stay open.  Read magazines on topics you think you're not interested in, check out a random book from the library, drive home from work a different way every day.  Maintain an air of avid curiosity.

Time.  The major bugaboo.  "But I don't have time to write!" I know, none of us do.  It sucks.  And yet, when we do somehow find time, flowers bloom, trees bud, the world opens to us anew.  If you cultivate time, you're never going to be a writer.  Period.

So, be a cultivator.  Cultivate the seeds of the writer's mindset and watch your work blossom as a result.  And tell me, what do you do to cultivate your writerly brain?

 

Photo by Thor, from Everystockphoto.

 

Writing Your Way Back To Yourself

This morning I woke up tired, headachy, and full.   Yesterday was, after all, Thanksgiving.  And I cooked for 12 people, which is enough to give anybody an exhaustion hangover.  As I stood in the kitchen, sipping my coffee, I thought that I'd skip my morning routine of writing first thing.  Because, well, I didn't feel like doing anything more than slumping over the newspaper at the kitchen table. But then I told myself I would feel better if I wrote.  So I dragged my tired ass up the stairs to my office and my journal.  And after about a page of writing, I realized something.

Everystockphoto_154391_m

I was beginning to feel like myself again.

I can feel the writing bringing me back to myself, I wrote.

And isn't this a most wonderful gift?

All you have to do is write.  It doesn't matter what you write on, or with, or where you write or how, or even what you write about.  All you have to do is write and you'll find your way back to yourself.  And if you do this regularly, well then, miracles might even happen.

It doesn't matter if you write for a living, writing for a business, write with the hopes of someday publishing, or write for your own pleasure, I believe firmly that establishing a regular writing habit will serve you well.  It actually doesn't even matter if you want to be an artist, or a dictator, or the best barista on the planet, I still think that a regular writing habit will serve you well.

Because it will bring you back to yourself.  Again and again and again.  And I think it is one of our strangest and dearest foibles as humans that we need to be brought back to ourselves over and over again.  For most of us, this is a lifelong quest, to remember who we are and come back to it.  Some people never figure it out.  But I believe we writers and creative types have an advantage–because through our creations, we are constantly figuring it out.  And that is why we return to the page again and again and again.

And now, please excuse me while I go eat some leftovers.

I'd love to hear how your writing habits serve you.

 

Photo by clarita, from MorgueFile.

7 Ways to Put Your Writing First

Let's get one thing straight at the outset: I know the subject of this post is not news to you.  It is not news to me, either.

What it is, is a reminder.

A reminder I seem to need every so often, so I figure you might, too.

Because putting writing first in one's life is hard.  These days, we all have so many other things pressing at us.  There are the usual suspects of family, friends, beloved pets, and work.  And nowadays writers, creative professionals, and entrepreneurs are required to write a blog, send out a newsletter, host teleseminars, tweet on Twitter, and keep up with everyone on Facebook.

Honestly, when are you supposed to write?

Before you do anything else, that's when, whether you take that literally or metaphorically.  Because when you put your writing first, everything else falls into place.  I used to think that this process was somewhat magical, and it is, but I've also realized why it works. 

Love_heart_bark_227772_l

Because writing makes you fall in love.  And when you fall in love you have tons of energy and when you have tons of energy you don't care if you have to stay up later at night to finish some of the other items on your to-do list.  Because you are in love–with your writing, your life, and yourself. 

And so herewith, 7 ways to fall in love and put your writing first:

1. Schedule time for it and then hold to that schedule.  I know, duh.  But how many times have you told yourself you were going to write and then not done it?  Take personal responsibility for your need to write and do it when you say you are going to.  You'll feel so good when you do.

2. Define what you're going to work on.  Do this ahead of time so that you have an immediate place to go and you're not flailing about, thinking, hmmm, I wonder if I'd like to work on such-and-such today.  Instead you can plunge right in.

3. Leave your phone charging in the other room.  Where you can't hear it ring.  God invented voice mail for writers, he told me so.  If it's important, they'll leave a message.  (The only possible exception to this is for parents of small, emphasis on the word small, children.  In your case, keep the phone with you, but put it on vibrate.)

4. Close down your inboxes.  This is the painful one for me.  I don't really like talking on the phone, but give me an email to write or read and I'm a happy girl.

5. Close Twitter.   Or Facebook.  Or whatever your particular devil might be.  Let the world know you're taking a break to go write.  They'll respect you more in the morning for it.

6. Feed the cat.  Or dog.  If your pets are like mine, they will get very vocal when they are hungry.  And a vocal cat is a very distracting thing.   Feed them, so that they will go curl up in their furry bed and leave you alone.

7. Have confidence in yourself, your writing, and your contribution to the world.  We need your voice.  We want your voice.  We're not going to get it if you keep procrastinating about your writing.

Now go forth and schedule your next writing session–for whenever putting your writing first makes sense.  And do feel free to tell what your favorite tricks are for putting writing first.

 

Photo by chancaca, from Everystockphoto.

 

I’m Not Writing, I’m Putting on Make-up

We interrupt finishing the novel to bring you this slightly weird post.

If weird posts offend you, stop reading now.

Yesterday morning as I was getting ready for the day I had thoughts that were directly related to the putting on of make-up.

Now, this may sound like a bit of a stretch to you (hence, the weirdness).  It was to me as I thought it.  But at this point in my life, especially this point, it would be easy to say that I endeavor to link everything in my life to writing.  Actually, this happens naturally, but sometimes the thought process is, well, weird.  And I'm leery of sharing it because  I've read posts seeking to link writing to odd bits of life that come off just sounding labored.

But if you are a writer, such is life.  It seeps into your bones, your living quarters, even the putting on of make-up.

So here goes.

I've been wearing make-up and thus having to put it on, every day of my life for an alarming number of years, back to high school days.  Yes, I know its vain and silly, like pretending my hair is naturally platinum blonde, but I do it anyway.  I do it on weekends, I do it when I know I'm not going anywhere, because, you know, you can never be certain who might turn up on your doorstep unexpectedly and it is important to look good and be wearing full make-up at all times just in case.

This morning, as usual, I put on my make-up.  But I was in a hurry to get to the novel revisions, so I told myself, just slap it on, baby, you can fix it later.

(Am I the only one who talks to myself in the second person?)

So slap it on I did, in order to get to my writing.  And last night when it was time to go out, I
looked in the mirror and thought, hmmm…not great, but not horrible. 
A little more mascara here, a bit of blush there and you'll be looking
better.  And then, how about some lipstick?  Suddenly things are
looking pretty good, presentable even.

I sometimes forget to slap words on the page.  Just get 'em out
there.  Write something, anything.  It does not have to be perfect and
nor will it.  But the act of getting something out of yourself and onto
the page then gives you something to play with.  It gives you a sense
of satisfaction, and it gives you courage to write more.  And when you go back to it, you may think, hmmm…not so bad.  Not great, but I can make it better.

Why, you may ask, was I bothering to put on make-up before getting to work on my novel?

That is the crux of the matter.  Because there's this weird thing that happens.  If I don't get it on first thing in the morning, it never looks right.  There's something about getting make-up on first thing that allows it to meld and soften on my skin.  If I try to put it on later, it always looks garish and harsh.  It is as if the make-up becomes part of me.

So, too, with writing.  If I get to it first thing in the morning, whether I'm writing in my journal, doing a blog post or looking at the pesky novel revisions, my day is set.  The work becomes part of me.  It sets the tone for the day.  I've put writing first because it is the most important thing in my life and somehow that intention colors my whole day.

So there you have it.  Writing and make-up.  Who knew?