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!
Yes, you read that headline correctly. I am going to set about telling you why writing more is easier than writing less. KEEP READING. I know you were about to click away when you read that writing more bit. But stick with me. You can throw tomatoes at the end if you like, but at least give my brilliant and thought-provoking words a ponder.
Years ago, (not even going to tell you how many), when I was learning to drive, my sister would sometimes take me out to practice. (Seeing as how she was only three years older than me, that would be illegal today.) There was one curvy stretch of road fronting the air base that tended to be traffic free, which is where we headed. As I got behind the wheel, my sister urged me to step on the gas, saying “Driving faster is easier than driving slower.”
While the fact that I had three older sisters to share such helpful tidbits might explain a lot about me, it also illustrates the principle of writing that I want to share: more is better. But first, let me mention another example, that of meditation. Yes, yet another topic you don’t want to hear. I’ve experimented with meditation for years and never managed to get a regular practice going. I’d sit down for five or ten minutes, as the experts told me, planning to gradually increase my time. But here’s the deal: nothing happened. I felt no effects from it. Only when I regularly carved out twenty minutes of time to practice did the benefits begin to accrue.
And now back to writing. I have been a bit stymied with my WIP. This first draft is a mess, complete with all caps notes to myself like THIS IS THE WORST PIECE OF CRAP EVER AND THIS SCENE MAKES NO SENSE. I’m not kidding. I was rocking along, forcing myself to write 500 or 1,000 words a day.
But one day, I managed to eked out 2,000 words. And suddenly I enjoyed writing it again. I set a goal of 2,000 words a day (generally accomplished first thing in the morning) and started flying. Not only were the words piling up, but I fell in love with the story and the characters all over again. The more I wrote, the better I felt. Truly, committing to a higher word count a day became easier than trying to get excited over 500 words.
Here’s why I think this happens:
Mental momentum. When I get more accomplished each day, I think about it more. The characters pop into my brain throughout the day, and I find myself scribbling notes often. By writing more, I’m engaging my brain more.
Encouragement. Man, its nice to see that word count pile up. I was despairing that I’d ever write a eke out a full novel with this story and suddenly I have 75,000 words.
Writing fast. In order to accomplish my goal, I have to write fast and not worry too much about getting it perfect. This allows me to get the story on the page and push through the doubts. Much better than wringing my hands because I don’t know where to go next
Writing breed writing. Or, the more you do, the more you can do. Just like energy breeds more energy–its all true.
It gets easier. The more you write, the easier it is–and I mean this in terms of having ease as you are writing. If you only write a little bit once in awhile, your writing habit is rusty and it is hard. But if you’re writing a lot every day, you get into the rhythm of it and fingers fly.
So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it because it is true. So say I. What say you? What’s your word count goal?
Also–a note for regular readers. Do you remember a post I did recently called Meditation for Writers? It would have been since the start of the year, or at the very end of last year. I am certain I wrote the damn thing, but I can’t find it to save my life.
Over the last month or so, I've gone back to doing Morning Pages. I started mid-December and have been picking up steam ever since. I've been writing so much in my journal that I began a system of indexing it so I could keep track of everything. Ideas pour from my pen. I figure things out. I write about what happened the day before. I list to-dos, start scenes, unknot pesky writing issues. And once again, I've become an enthusiastic proponent of morning pages.
What are Morning Pages?
Morning Pages were popularized by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way. As she describes them, "Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning." Don't think about them too much. Just write. There's no wrong way to do them. For real. (Though Julia does recommend keeping them to three pages. Shorter than that, and you won't get the benefit. Longer, and you spend too much time with them.)
My History with Morning Pages
I first read the Artist's Way many years ago at a very difficult time in my life. Our house had burned down and that had thrown me off kilter creatively for awhile. (Ya think?) I'd seen the book at the book store (told you it was a long time ago) but was put off by the word "artist" in the title, thinking it was more for visual artist types. But I bought it eventually and went through the whole program.
I resisted Morning Pages at first. One thing, like this guy, I'm not much of a follower. I squirm about when people tell me what I should be doing. And then I tend to do the opposite of what they say. But I'd committed to doing the program and so I started Morning Pages. And did them religiously for the next ten years. At least. I did them because they worked for me in every way–creatively, spiritually, and emotionally.
And then I quit. I think it was when I started writing fiction first thing in the morning and didn't feel I had time for Morning Pages. That was about ten years ago and since then I've dipped into doing MPs off and on but haven't made them a regular practice. But I'm recommitting to them once again because my results this time around have been spectacular.
Why You Should Do Them
For about fifty million reasons, really, but mostly because they will boost your creativity, help you find and maintain your spiritual center, and maybe most important of all–because they will freaking make you feel good.
As I've been gathering my thoughts about this post, I've run across a couple of related quotes that I share with you here because, though they are not specifically about Morning Pages, I think they shine light on why they work so well.
Here is what Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass, says about journaling:
Meditate and/or journal and/or spend lots of time in nature, dance - do whatever you have to do to strengthen your relationship with The Motherlode. Because when you get into the flow and out of your head, your doubts, fears and worries fall away because they do not exist in the flow. Awesomeness, strength and joy exist in the flow. Connection to your mightiest self exists in the flow. Get. In. The. Flow. Yo.
Yeah, and sometimes it is not so much about connecting to your mightiest self but just setting yourself up for the day. I'm re-earning that doing MPs is replenishing. One morning recently I woke feeling foggy, vague and overwhelmed. I had so much to do–and my brain didn't seem to want to do any of it. But then I pulled my journal out and started writing. And suddenly I saw that things weren't so bad. Moreover, everything that I needed to do came into focus.
This is because morning pages create space. They do this in a couple of ways. First of all, they are a physical space in which to download all the things–bad and good–that clutter your brain. Dump 'em all on the page. Second, they create space in your brain by getting all that stuff out of it. Suddenly, the world opens up when your mind is not so cluttered.
Here's what Tara Stiles, author of the Make Your Own Rules Diet and some other books on yoga that look really cool says about the necessity of finding space in our lives:
We all feel great when we have space for ourselves. Room to breathe, feel, think, and exist. When we lack that space, we often (unknowingly) form destructive habits to provide the temporary illusion of it. We can’t escape our need for space, but we can change how we create and sustain room for ourselves so we can live happy, healthy lives.
Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?
If You Want to Try Them
If you haven't tried Morning Pages, you are likely grousing that you don't have time for such thing. I hear you. But I say you'll create time by doing them. Because you'll have more clarity, less anxiety and more of an ability to focus on what you really want to do throughout the day. So try it:
Set your alarm for 20 minutes earlier than you usually rise and make the coffee the night before so its all ready to turn on. (Sometimes I start my pages sitting at the kitchen table while the coffee is brewing.) Grab yourself a notebook and pen and have at it. Or try doing them on the computer here. (Yeah, Cameron says to do them longhand and I agree. But I'm also a big proponent of whatever works. So if writing on the computer works better for you, go for it.) That's it! That's all you have to do. Okay?
If you need more information on the process, there's now an Ebook that Julia Cameron wrote specifically about Morning Pages, which you can find here. Though I'm here to tell you that you really don't need it. Trust me. All you have to do is write.
Update: In the department of synchroncity, just as I was scheduling this post, an email from Tim Ferriss, author of the Four-Hour Workweek, popped into my inbox. And it was about–you guessed it–the value of Morning Pages. Read it here.
Have you ever tried Morning Pages? Did you find them helpful?
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.
I'm writing this post for me as much as for you. Pay attention, me.
How do you schedule your writing? (I'm talking passion projects here. For those of us who do writing for a living, we write all day, sometimes leaving little time for the work we love. But everyone has challenges fitting their writing into their day, from the new mom to the executive.)
For years, my fallback position has been to get up early and get to my writing first thing in the morning. Writing novels and books is the most important thing to me, and when I focus on what's most important, magical things happen. All my other to-dos fall into place. And I feel good all day long.
I've established a pretty good schedule over the last couple of weeks. (I have a new novel that is coming together and I look forward to getting up early and working on it.) I've been rising early and going right to the page.
The problem is, going to the page means going to the computer. And going to the computer means that enticements beckon.
I'll just see if there's anything pressing I need to look at, I say to myself.
And you know what? On the internet, everything is pressing. And I get pulled in. Yesterday morning an hour went by before I looked up and said, whoops. I'd tweeted and pinned things on Pinterest and responded to emails. My writing time was almost over.
And so I am doing what any self-respecting writer would do–confessing publicly with the hopes that this will remind me, in future mornings, to stick to my morning routine.
You may not have a morning routine that you dedicate to writing, but surely you have an allotted time at some point during the day. Or someway that you fit it in. Would you care to share in the comments? Working together, we all raise each other up.
Create a successful, inspired writing life: Look at your current writing schedule. Is it working for you? Why or why not? Figure out how to make it work. Or, if you don't have one, make one. And figure out how to stick to it.
We're writers. Our heads are full of words and images. Our heads are supposed to be full of words and images so that we can transfer them to the page.
The transferring to the page is often the tricky part. The place where we get hung up. Because we worry. About whether or not our words are good enough, or people will like them.
And so sometimes the words and images get stuck in our heads. And then they whirl around and around, driving us nuts. Which is usually when I recommend that you get you some prompts and engage in some free writing.
But lately I've also been working with meditation. Yeah, I know, I'm a bit late to the party. I've had an on-again, off-again (mostly the latter) relationship with meditation for years. However, the spiritual tradition I'm now very involved with emphasizes meditation and so I've been forced to take another look at it.
Because the point of meditation is to be still, focus on your breath, and quiet the mind.
And really, isn't that exactly what we, as writers, need?
I like to remember who is breathing me. That would be God, and the fact that I'm breathing in and out, in and out, is proof of the divine and infinite love of the universe.
And that is where I want to remember to live. In love, always.
Do you meditate? What's your favorite meditation technique for writing? Or do you hate it? Either way, feel free to chime in.
Drove to my daughters to let the chickens out and gather eggs.
Decided that rather than a protein bar eaten on the run, I needed to cook one of the fresh eggs for breakfast. It was delicious.
Made it to my 10 AM appointment with 5 minutes to spare.
My mindset. I decided to believe that it was possible to get everything done in time. And I did. And furthermore, the reason I was able to believe it was because I nailed those 1,000 words. So here's the deal:
Mastering mindset begins with your morning routine.
The way you start the day is the way your day will go.
And guess what? If you're a writer down to your heart and soul as I am, I believe the very best way to start your day is with writing. Because, when you are a writer down to your heart and soul like I am, writing is the most important thing to you.
And when you do the most important thing first, magic happens. Because, truly, what is right for you is right for the world and somehow, I'm not quite sure how this happens, somehow the world rearranges itself so that everything else gets done.
My latest theory on why this magic occurs is that you're so excited by doing the work that you release all kinds of energy to speed through everything else.
But, really? It is simply magic, so trying to explain it is fruitless. Instead, just do it. Or find your own magical route to making everything right in the world.
I'd love to hear your theories on this, as well as what kinds of routines work for you.
**Be sure to get your free Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With a Vision Board, by signing up to the right. And if you want to know how powerful vision boards can be, read this post.