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.

Wednesday Within: How I Get Derailed (You, Too?)

Lights_christmas_light_226586_l

My brain looks like these Christmas lights some mornings.

Another title for this post might be Why You Need a Routine.  Or more to the point, why I need one.

Here's the setup: A morning in December. After a busy weekend of Christmas parties (we survived hub's resurrected Christmas office gala!) and work deadlines (yes, on the weekend—it was for a special project that I will reveal soon), I woke up at 5:45 as usual.  (My eyes pop open any time from 5:30 to 6.  Don't shoot me, it's just the way it is.)

As usual, I went right to my computer, with one quick detour to grab coffee and a big glass of water, with the intention to get back to work on my novel rewrite.  It is cruising right along but last week I hit a bump of the my-brain-needs-a-break-to-think-about-the-story sort.  And it was high time to get back to it, because I've assigned myself a deadline of finishing by the end of January.

And so I opened the computer, with the idea to work on it.  And I didn't.  I checked email.  Looked at blog stats.  Opened the Buzzfeed story that featured photos of Prince George.  Clicked back over and answered an email.  Thought about a blog post I'd committed to write later in the week, and a student packet that was almost late, and a program I was doing about goal-setting.  Looked at email again. Checked what was going on over at Hootsuite, and tweeted my Tumblr prompt of the day.

Only after all that did it occur to me that I was farting around.  But that morning, instead of beating myself up about it, which generally leads to more farting around in a rather rebellious teenage, you-can't-tell-me-what-to-do-way (and yes, I do know I'm rebelling against myself), I paid attention to the conditions that led to this disorganized state.

I'd had a lot going on over the weekend, and didn't take time to clear the decks.  As I greeted the day, I had a gazillion tabs, including both email inboxes, open.  I had a to-do list with lots of left over items on it, and as I sipped coffee, I added more.  My desk was a mess, covered with the afore-mentioned to-do lists, a new calendar and journal to be made into a bullet journal, a notebook full of goal work, mailing envelopes to send books off in, and Christmas lists of presents I still need to buy.

So is it any wonder that my mind was just as messy as my surroundings?  Gee-sus.

My morning routine is theoretically that I go right to the computer and work on my novel.  Most days this happens.  But sometimes it doesn't.  On the days it happens, I'm happy.  And all day long the world flows around me peacefully.  Or even if it doesn't, I can handle things with aplomb.  And when I don't, I feel edgy and off all day.  Which is understandable–I've started the day with a massive fail.

So, I dunno the answer.  Because my early morning writing hours are often the only time I have to work on fiction.  And they are also the time when I think about it best.  But sometimes it seems like I need a lead-in, like morning pages for instance.  (I did them for years.)  On the other hand, if I spend time doing morning pages, then I have less time to work on my novel.  But on the other other hand, if morning pages would lead me into my writing, then working on them would be time well spent.

Many, many people (myself included) have written about the benefits of a morning routine, doing such things as yoga, meditating, or whatever.  And that appeals to me, yes it does.  But it also brings up the same problem: if I do yoga or meditate first thing, there goes my time to write.

Sigh.  Here's what I do know: I need to get into the habit of closing down distracting tabs and inboxes before I go to bed, so that all that is open is the one lovely file containing my rewrite.  I guess that's a good start.  Or I could just blame it all on Christmas and call it good.

Am I the only one who obsesses about such things?  Do you have a morning routine?  Give me some ideas, please.

 Photo by reuben4eva.

How to Establish a Regular Writing Practice

I love headlines and titles that promise me they are going to teach me something basic, like a few years ago when a book came out titled, How to Think.  Now that's basic.  So I was going to title this How to Practice but then I thought perhaps that was too vague, because one can practice a lot of things besides writing.  Like the ukelele, or meditation, or making perfect. Practice-makes-perfect-concept-23764447  

So here we go with some advice on how to establish a regular writing practice.

The impetus for this is an article by Antonya Nelson about her tips rules for writing that a friend sent. The rule I keep pondering is this one, #8:

Be tolerant of dry spells. Understand that being a writer is not illustrated solely by the act of typing. Mulling, reading, meditating, lollygagging, cooking, joking, traveling, watching television—all activity, as pursued by a writing sensibility, is potentially the stuff of writing.

I am the first to acknowledge that creativity comes in cycles, and sometimes you just have to wait it out until it comes back again.  But I also know, and have observed in myself and others, that "being tolerant of dry spells" too often turns into Not Writing.  Period.  And that those dry spells you are so happily tolerating can stretch for months and then years and then a lifetime and then there you are–you've become that person who put her unfinished novel in the drawer and there it sits for your children to find after you are dead.

So that's why I think that a regular writing practice is a good idea.  You don't have to be writing brilliant words on your potential bestseller of a novel regularly.  You can write in a journal, or just free-write on prompts, or scrawl a one-stanza poem every day, or nearly every day.  In my humble experience, writing, no matter what kind, leads to more writing.  And if you're a writer, as you and I are, you are not truly happy unless you are writing something.

So, write already.  Here's help for how:

1.  Follow your natural rhythms.  I'm a morning writer.  I love getting up at 5:30 and heading straight to the page.  By evening all I want to do is down sip a glass of wine and watch TV or read.  My brain is not alive enough for writing.  But you may be the opposite–I know plenty of people are. Go with what works best for you.  I know, simple advice, but I myself have spent years trying to twist myself into what others think best and I suspect you have, too.  Because that's what we humans do, crazily enough.

2.  Define what regular means.  Maybe regular to you is not once a day, but two or three times a week.  Or once a week.  Whatever.  My whole life and my coaching are built around encouraging people to discover what's best for them and then do more of it.  But here is where I step away from that platform and remind you that in defining regular, you need to commit to more than once a year. Or even once a month.  Because practice means "the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use." (I got that from consulting the Google.)

3.  Set a reasonable goal.  I know, I hate the G word, too.  I really do.  I start squirming in discomfort when I read books written by logical, left-brained business types about accountability and all that.  And sometimes I rebel against my own goals.  But I still think they are useful.  Set yourself a word count or page goal and have at it.

4.  Lower your standards.  You don't have to write the whole novel in one week, nor should you. Books get written one word at a time, so all you have to do is get yourself to the page and write a few of those words.  Julia Cameron talks about how three pages a day doesn't seem like much–but at the end of the month you've got 90 pages, which is one-third of a novel.  I read a book last summer (forgive me, the name of it has escaped into the ether) in which the author recommended a writing practice of a few hundred words a day.  That, my friends, is achievable by anyone.

5. If all else fails, give up.  Walk away from it.  Throw up your hands and say forget it.  Release your dream of being a writer.  Because here's what I think: you really do want to be a writer.  And writers write.  So if you give it all up and are able to stay away from it and not write, then you're not really a writer.  But if you really are a writer–and I'm certain you are–you will not be able to stay away.  And you'll figure out a way to make it a regular practice in your life.

What are you best strategies for making writing a regular practice?  Please share in the comments!

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.