Replenishing and renewing yourself–you need this (A love letter)

Let’s start off with a true confession—I stole that phrase about replenishing and renewing in the title from my friend Patty Bechtold, one of the wisest people I know. She had me as a guest on her podcast this week and that was our topic of discussion.

Patty lives in Santa Rosa and I live in Portland and we’ve never met in person. But we talk on the phone every week—long, rambling, deep soul talks. One thing we’ve been talking about a lot lately is how to replenish ourselves after the year that was 2017 and the ongoing rush of news and information that we deal with every single day.  So we decided to do a podcast on it.

But something else happened this week that made me think about replenishing specifically as it applies to writing. And that was this: I finished the rewrite of my novel that my agent has been waiting for since, oh, the end of October.  It wasn’t a huge rewrite—but I made it into one.  I got myself stalled about how to deepen the motivation of my protagonist and then I turned that into a huge freaking deal that paralyzed me for a couple of weeks. Does that sound familiar? I hope not. I wouldn’t wish the pain of being creatively blocked on anyone.

But earlier this week, I finally finished the rewrite and sent it off.  I was home alone at the time, and right after I emailed it I had a bunch of appointments back to back. So there was no big celebration, just a quiet little “yay” and a rush to get ready to head out the door. The next morning, I rose early as usual, got my coffee and went to my desk and….did nothing but mindlessly cruise around the internet.

Because I had nothing to work on.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I have a ton of things to work on—plans for a class I’m teaching this Saturday, a short story I’m in the middle of a first draft on, a novella to rewrite, a new novel with one chapter finished to plunge back into. And the weekly installment of this newsletter.

But it was as if there was a blank wall between me and any of those projects in my brain. I couldn’t focus on any of them.  Could barely even remember what it was I needed to do. My brain had short-circuited. Fried.

I’d gotten a pretty good roll of momentum going as I finished the rewrite. Getting up early every day, making steady progress—and now that the project was done everything collapsed.  It is obvious I need a big dose of replenishment before I launch back into any other big projects.

I’d like to say that I took the next couple of days off, doing whatever I wanted. But I didn’t. Things are crazy right now, with a home remodeling project about to start, a writing retreat in France in six weeks, and a ton of appointments as I start a new treatment for my bum knee.  And that’s on top of working with my wonderful coaching clients, babysitting grands, and having time to spend with my husband.

But I did take a break between appointments yesterday and indulged myself with an hour of knitting.  I enjoyed a couple glasses of wine by the fire after a long, rainy drive home from the knee doctor. And I have a massage scheduled for next week. (Okay, truth is I try to get massages every two weeks—they are excellent for my knee issues.)

More than anything, I believe that replenishment and renewal is an inside job. As in, you have to give yourself permission to do it. Permission to take a day off from the writing and/or social media, permission not to check email or answer the phone, permission to do what will make you happy and light again.

Your writing will thank you for it.

What do you do to replenish and renew yourself? Leave a comment and let me know! I always need ideas.

And don’t forget to listen to the podcast!


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!

The Three Fastest Ways to Improve Your Writing in 2018

Here we are, two weeks into the new year. How are those resolutions going for you? Like, say, the one where you promised yourself you would improve your writing? Perhaps improve it so much that you’d nab yourself a publisher—or feel confident enough to publish your work yourself?

Don’t despair if you feel you haven’t made much progress on this goal. Because I’m here to tell you how to make it happen.  There’s just one catch.  You have to promise to do what I’m telling you to do. Okay? Okay. Let’s get to it.

Thing #1

Write.  Write a ton. Most especially, write fast.  Yeah, I know that seems counter-intuitive to improving your writing, but actually, it isn’t.  Because by writing fast, you get words on the page. And then you have something to work with that you can improve. If you don’t have anything written, you can’t make it any better. So write.  Go for quantity over quality—until you get to the revision stage. But that’s a topic for another day. 

Thing #2

Change your mindset.  Nobody likes a gloomy Gus, especially when it comes to writing. Yeah, there’s a glut of indie books on the market and traditional publishing is impossible to break into. But who cares? Your book may be the one that beats the odds.  Plenty of authors and writers are making good living doing what they love. And beyond that, writing is an innately powerful activity in and of itself. And, I would also submit, that shaping said writing into a story of some kind is even more powerful. Life changing, even. What you’re doing when you sit down to write is important. Don’t forget this. Celebrate it.

Thing #3

This is the one you’re going to hate.  Ditch social media. Specifically, Facebook. Because, really, it is an insidious plot to turn us all into complacent citizens who do nothing more than scroll through their news feeds.  So rise up and rebel! Spend your time writing instead of scrolling.  Oh, wait, there is that small fact to consider that you will want to spend time on social media building your platform. But if you do that intentionally and mindfully you won’t get lost in the Facebook vortex, wherein you tell yourself you’re just going to take a quick look and half an hour later you’re still scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.

Okay, who’s with me on this? Let’s do it.  Leave a comment and tell me how you’re improving your writing this year.

And if you’re struggling with any of these things maybe you need a coach. I have a couple spots open on my roster.  Email me if you’re interested!

On Feeling Sorry for Yourself (A Love Letter)

I awoke one morning this week to an email with the headline Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself. I don’t even know what the email was about—it is one of many (way too many) I get because I signed up for something somewhere along the line.

The email stopped me for a minute. Because, right at that very moment I realized, I actually was feeling a bit sorry for myself.  So I stopped and pondered why. And realized there was no good reason for it. Maybe ….. because I was a little tired, still waking up. Because my big toe hurt. Because I was still dragging myself through the rewrite of my novel when I should have been done a week ago. No good reason.  No real reason.

You ever feel this way, too?

Well, I have two words for you. (And me.)

Stop it. Just stop it.

We have all the things in the world and yet we feel we don’t have enough.  I had a huge epiphany last week when I was working on some goals for the new year. (Finally, it took me forever to get to it.) When I think I don’t have enough, then I go for too much. Not enough food? Overeat. Not enough money? Overspend. Not enough time? Waste it.

And, worst of all, not enough writing talent? Squander it.

And of course, the whole idea of not enough is an illusion anyway, fed by my primitive, reptilian brain that is still convinced I’m living in a time when food and resources truly were scarce for days.

I’m convinced this vague feeling of not enough translates into feeling sorry for ourselves. And that translates into resentment. It’s really hard to write when you’re feeling put upon and woeful and resentful.

So, again, to you and myself, I say stop it.  In the most loving and kindest of ways. But if you want a really funny version of someone saying stop it, watch the video below. It may just become your new catch-phrase to yourself for the new year.


Living the Astonishing Writer’s Life (A Love Letter)

As you read this, I’ll be finishing up a five-day stay in Louisville, Kentucky, after a conference/celebration at Spalding University, where I got my MFA.  The celebration part was to honor Sena Jeter Naslund, the founder and long-time director of the MFA program, who is retiring.

Sena is the author of many wonderful novels, including my favorite, Ahab’s Wife, and is also an amazing teacher and inspiring speaker.  One of the things she says is, “writers get everything everyone else does—plus the pleasures of a writing life.”

That quote encompasses everything about the life of a writer and why it is the best life imaginable.  We get everything everyone else does—and more.  And, conversely, everything in our non-writing world (that part everybody else gets) impacts our writing world.  It’s sort of like the double helix of the DNA strand—our writing and civilian lives combine and recombine, constantly fertilizing and enriching the other.

A walk on a beautiful fall day inspires description for a novel. A snippet of overheard dialogue makes its way into a scene.  Reading a book deepens your understanding of your main character.  And you also get to enjoy those things as aspects of living life.  A beautiful fall day, some interesting eavesdropping, the pleasures of sinking into the world of a book.

“You were made and set here to give voice to this, your astonishment,” says Annie Dillard.  “Instructions for living a life: pay attention, be astonished, tell about it,” says Mary Oliver.  We writers are the lucky ones because we get to not only be astonished, but then tell about it.   We get to live twice, as Natalie Goldberg points out.

And that, my friends, is astonishing, no?

I do often wonder how non-writers make it through. I can’t imagine living without a writing practice, be it journaling, writing this newsletter, or crafting novels, in which to process my thoughts and figure things out.  How do people live without a container in which to place their astonishment at the world?

Aren’t you glad you’re a writer? Leave a comment and tell me the best part about being one.



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!

On Writing and Determination (A Love Letter)

Hi Writers,

I babysat my 10-month-old grandson George one day this week, as I do most weeks, and as he gets older and more mobile I’m struck by one thing: his determination.

He’ll attempt to climb on his rocking moose, for instance, but miss and plop on the floor. Up he scrabbles again.  Then he discovers the moose’s handles, but in so doing, takes a header. Cries for a minute, starts over again. He’s teaching himself to walk by pushing chairs across the dining room floor.  Up, walk, walk, walk, fall, cry or sometimes not, up again, walk some more.

The sheer amount of effort it takes to grow from a baby into even a tiny toddling-size human is astounding, and I’m constantly in awe of his determination to get there. And observing George reminds me that writing takes energy and determination, too, just of a more cerebral kind.

I’m not naturally good at it.  Determination, I mean.  Sometimes I wonder what people would say my biggest tragic flaw is and I think I know—I give up too easily.  I remember how, early in my career, I got good comments from agents when I sent out novels but the faintest whiff of rejection and I got discouraged and quit. I also often made the rookie writer mistake of hiding something I’d written away when somebody critiqued it.  Note: I said critiqued it, not criticized. Big difference. But I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I wasn’t good enough.

I lost faith in myself.  Over and over and over again.

And that’s the underlying key here, the one that I’ve discovered as I’ve aged. Determination is tied to faith in yourself. Because that’s when I quit. When I convince myself I’m not good enough.  When I lose confidence.  When I get scared I don’t have what it takes. I think that’s when we all quit.  If you have no confidence in yourself, it is hard to go out and face the big, scary world.

But—and here’s a big but—I’ve learned this about myself over the years. It is my natural tendency (yours, too?) to flounder when it comes to having determination and faith in myself.  (Getting older is good for some things. Quite a few things, actually.) And so now I can catch myself when I’m quitting because someone said boo to me. Or if I start worrying too much about product versus process when I’m writing. (As in: what will my agent think of this? What will my beta readers think? What will the public think? And of course, the thing is, the public will never have a chance to think anything about it because the writing won’t see the light of day if I keep second-guessing myself.)

Babies are good for reminding adults of lots of things, especially when said adults are grandparents and have a bit more distance from in-the-trenches, day-to-day parenting.  And what George reminds me of is this: we’re all born with this determination, or we wouldn’t be walking, talking adults.

And so next time you get rejected by an editor or agent, remember this.  Next time you throw up your hands in disgust because you think your writing isn’t good enough, remember.  Next time you decide you don’t have what it takes to finish Nanowrimo, remember.

Remember and go back to the page. Or back to the next person on your agent list. Go back to that novel rewrite. You can do this. You just gotta muster up a bit more determination. But I know it’s there somewhere.  It has to be—you got this far, didn’t you?

Leave a comment and tell me about a time you used your determination. Or just say hi.

Why Writing is Like Eating (A Love Letter)

If you’ve been reading my work for any length of time, you know that I’m a big believer in doing things your own way.  In whatever way works for you.  How you want to do it. As long as you do it, the process is yours to decide. Right?  Ask any of my family and friends, and they’ll tell you I’m independent to a fault.  It’s that “to a fault” part that I want to talk about today.

Because sometimes being independent becomes the cause in and of itself, for no other reason than stubbornness. And this harms me.  Often, for instance, I won’t read a bestseller because everyone else is reading it, and I want to be independent. Then I read the book and love it. Or I’ll resist buying a Mac because I don’t want to be part of the cult of Apple worshippers. Then I buy one and love it.

I see this manifest in other writers, my students and clients, all the time. After all, we creative types tend toward the fringes of society, the edges where the independents reside.  And so we don’t like it when people tell us we have to do something. Like revise our first draft, written in glorious wild independence without thought of grammar or structure or rules. Or work on our writer platforms.  Who, me, stoop to marketing? Uh-uh.  I’m too busy writing with fierce abandon.

A friend of mine took her book proposal to a conference to pitch it. The multiple agents she met with told her it was one of the best proposals they’d ever seen—but to contact them in a year when she’d developed some kind of platform. Because she had nada—not even a website—because she’d been too busy writing. And being independent.  But publishers wouldn’t even look at her work without some kind of social media presence.  Despite how good the proposal was.

I tell variations on this to my people all the time—how they need to establish a platform, build a list, write a blog, do social media.  Market themselves.  And they ignore me.  “I’m too busy writing,” they tell me.   Or, “I’ll do it when I get a contract.” (Reread the previous paragraph please.) Or, “I don’t know how.”

Well, learn it.  There’s a million tutorials out there, many of them free. Because unless you are Stephen King or Danielle Steele, you’re going to have to do some marketing.  And it is not just for the indies out there.  Major publishers expect you to do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing.

But this is not a love letter about marketing. It is about doing those things you don’t want to do, even though you are a fiercely independent wild creative type. Like me.  And here comes the part where I compare your writing career to eating.  When it comes to food, we have to face the fact that we cannot eat everything (like sweets and junk food) we want all the time and maintain any kind of health.

I really am sorry to tell you this. I wish I could eat French fries and cheeseburgers followed by a tubful of macarons every night but, um, no. Maybe you’ve been blessed with an amazing metabolism that allows you to do this, but I am not.  Same goes for writing.  I’m not Danielle Steele so I have to do my own marketing. And yeah, I have to revise those wild and crazy first drafts, too. (At the rate she pumps out books I’m pretty sure she has somebody to do that for you.)

So here’s what I hope you take away from this rant love letter.  In everyone’s writing career, you’re going to have to do some things that are not quite as much fun as writing.  But who says you can’t make them fun?  Like the old saying, eat dessert first.  Writing is my dessert, and marketing is all the rest of it—like vegetables and protein.  But here’s the deal: I’ve grown to love vegetables as much or more as I love dessert.  Maybe you learn to love the parts of your writing career you now hate, too.

Please do hit leave a comment and tell me what you love—and hate—about your writing.

The Importance of Telling the Story

Tell the story.

A friend calls.  A terrible thing has happened. She’s okay. But this terrible, unthinkable thing happened.  She tells me about it in great detail, going over every detail and then back again, looping around and around.  I listen, giving her the space to say whatever she needs, to repeat the particulars as many times as necessary.

Because I know she needs to tell the story.

Years ago, we had a fire in our home.  My family and animals escaped from the burning house as fire fighters arrived to put it out. We were all okay. Displaced for many months, but okay.  I found myself telling the story over and over again. To people. To my journal. In my head as I walked.

Because I needed to tell the story.

Telling the story is healing, people. I would go so far as to say that it is a necessary part of life.  Which is why you need to tell your story—whether you’re writing non-fiction or fiction. Because, guess what?  Not only is telling the story healing but so is reading it.

When I read a memoir about somebody who overcame great suffering, I’m inspired. It reminds me that the problems I face aren’t such a big deal—and that I can overcome them, too.  When I read a novel with a fierce, fearless heroine I remember that I can be that way, too.

And there’s this: in our current political climate, people are seeking stories with happy endings.  In a story in Salon, bookseller Leah Koch says, “…we have seen more readers turning to romance than ever before, especially those who are new to the genre.” Others interviewed in the story back her up. People are seeking solace and healing in happy tales.

I can get mired in thinking, where’s the good in writing? Others are out there saving the world, being activists, building wells in Africa, researching cures for cancer. And I just sit at my desk all day and make shit up.  But then I am reminded of the power of story. We really can’t live without it.  And that’s what you and I are doing.  Our words allow people to live vicariously, and hopefully heal a little bit, too.

Never forget that. Telling the story is vital.  And that’s your job.

What story are you telling this week? Leave a comment.

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter. If you’d like it to come directly to your inbox, sign up on the form to the right. And–I’m gearing up to get back to regular blogging. More original posts soon!