The Writing Life

Thursday Obsessions

OrchidMy granddaughter, the lovely Olivia, who at 14 months is learning to walk quite efficiently, is here today and so no deep thoughts on writing.  While she naps, I'm compiling this post of things I'm currently loving (with thanks to Beverly for the inspiration).

1.  Suddenly, I'm all about writing practice.  I'm working on a whole post about this for next week, but in the meantime I'm reading this and this and I just got this and haven't yet had a chance to dive into it. From what I've seen of all these books, all are highly recommended!

2.  This kid's book: A Walk in Paris.  When my grandson, Henry, stayed with us last winter, I fed him honey from my Air BandB lodgings the previous summer.  This led to a discussion about how someday I would take him there.  Which has led to him, every so often, stopping whatever he is doing and saying quite seriously, "Henry go Paris with Nonni." This book allows  me to show it to him.  (I'll be back in France this summer–and you could join me!  Click here for more details.)

3.  The fact that the University of Glasgow is actually calling for applications for a knitter-in-residence. My current knitting consists mostly of log cabin cotton washcloths, because they are easy to take along when traveling. And they are uber cool besides.

4.  My chiropractor.  And the fact that she has got me walking without pain for the first time in a couple of years.  

5.  Buzzfeed.  Whatever you do, do NOT subscribe to any of their email lists.  You'll never get any writing done.

6.  Resonate wine.  I'm in love with this deep, luscious red by Enso.  While they are a local urban winery with a cool tasting room, they also ship all over.

7.  The wonderful Sandra Pawula's Living With Ease home study course.  Highly recommended.  I took the live class in the winter and found it very helpful.  I also did an interview with her that you can read here.

8. Alegria shoes.  Fantastic walking footwear.  I found a pair of Mary Janes at Goodwill before I realized Alegrias were a thing, and I have a pair of sandals on the way.  Because, you know, one must look good when walking around Paris.  (Refer to #2.)

9.  My local library.  It's the second-most-used library system in the country and I'm sure that's because of me.  I love that I can put books on hold and then its like Christmas when they all come in. If I get a book I don't like, I don't have to feel guilty that I spent money on it.  (And all that being said, I am still a huge book buyer and believer that we need to support other authors.  You should see how many titles I have on my Kindle.)

10.  Mahi mahi.  I'd never eaten this fish before a couple of weeks ago when I had it at my sister's.  I've cooked it a gazillion times since then.  It's inexpensive and delicious.  Grill it with butter and garlic, that's all you need to do.  Oh–and serve with mango salsa.  Amazing.

11.  Orchids.  I'm a lousy gardener (the raised-bed vegetables on my driveway that don't seem to grow being exhibit A) but for some unknown reason, this spring I've been blessed with three orchid plants that have re-bloomed.  (See above photo.)  They are spectacular!  I just wish I knew what I've done to make them bloom again.

12.  The conference I will be attending next week.  Being around like-minded, positive people feeds my soul and that in turn powers my writing.

What are you obsessed about this week?  Writing?  Stories?  Beer? Cats?  Calculus? Water-skiing? Tell us in the comments.

You Are Allowed…To Be a Writer

You are allowed to get so engrossed in your writing you forget to cook dinner (but set an alarm so you don't forget and leave children stranded in odd places).

You are allowed to follow the peaks and valleys of the creative process.

You are allowed to passionately practice your writing every day.

And, you are allowed to take a day off from it when the need arises.

You are allowed to not talk about your WIP if you don't want to.

But, you are also allowed to make time with other writers for inspiring shop talk.

You are allowed to publish your work any ole way you want.

You are allowed to be the final arbiter and judge of your work.

You are allowed to despair over your lack of progress.

You are allowed to take joy in completion.

You are allowed to cry over rejection.

You are allowed to love your work better than anyone else.

You are allowed to seek help with your writing when you need it.

You are allowed to revel in every single aspect of the writing life, the good and the bad.

You are allowed..to be a writer.

(With thanks to Jen Lee for the inspiration.)

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.

Rain or Shine Readings

School-study-person-3790-lMy business partner Debbie and I have volunteered to take over the organization of a local reading series.  It was begun last year by a mystery writer and when he moved away, one of our local writing groups, the Oregon Writer's Colony, took it over.  

The series is held at a coffee shop close to my house called Rain or Shine.  It's every Thursday night from 6:30 to 7:30 and Rain or Shine kindly stays open just for us.  Anybody can read, published or unpublished, member of OWC, or not.  You just have to sign up ahead of time (this is not an open mic deal). The series runs from September through June and we are already booked up for this year.

Debbie and I decided it would be a lot of fun to get out once in awhile and meet more local writers.  Portland is nothing if not a great writing and reading town.   Last week was our first time as official hosts and it was great fun.  It helps that the coffee shop serves pie (which, ever since Pi day is my new obsession despite the fact I worry so much about eating sugar that I rarely let myself consume it) on Thursday nights and that they make great lattes.  We try to encourage everyone who attends to buy something in order to support the venue.  The host of the evening gives a brief intro for each reader and the reader reads for 20 minutes.  

I have a feeling we're going to get way more out of it than we put in because that's what happens when you get serious about making connections.  I've written recently about ways you can connect with other writers, and going to readings is one of the best.  They are not as much of a commitment as a workshop or retreat (though I'm a huge fan of those, so much so that I host one in Europe every year) and take just an hour or two of your time.  And yet the rewards are great–you get to meet other writers, hear their work, and get a night out away from the computer.

So, PDXers, check out this series on Thursday nights!  (We'll be taking names for next year's schedule soon, too, if you'd like to read.) And if you don't live in Portland (and most of you don't) seek out readings you can attend.  I know I've been guilty of going months or years at a time without bothering to attend one, blaming tiredness, or rain, or sheer laziness.  But supporting other writers is a huge part of the writing life and the more actively I engage, the happier I am (I just need to remind myself of that on cold winter nights).

And, don't forget, you have until this Thursday to enter my drawing to celebrate this blog's birthday. I'll be drawing the names of the winners on Friday morning.  Wahoo! 

Do you attend readings regularly?  Do you have a favorite venue where you live?

Photo by Svilen001.

The Perfect Storm

BlueSnowstormFriday.

I felt like crap.

My stomach ached and rumbled and just didn't feel right.  

Outside, snow fell, the second round of our first big snowstorm in five years.  (People always think we get a ton of snow here but we just don't.) 

Inside, my two-year-old grandson roamed about the house doing what toddlers do. ("Read book.  Want naner.  Play legos!")  He was staying with us for three nights while his parents worked in southern California.

Suddenly, I knew I was going to lose it.  Into the bathroom to hug the toilet.   Back out to the living room to collapse on the couch.   The muscle soreness hit my entire body and I wondered how anybody endured such pain.

The snow raged.  The grandson wreaked havoc.  My husband didn't feel so hot, either.  We hung in there as best we could.

I lay on the couch and texted a friend with whom I was supposed to have a phone appointment.   Told her being sick was a good spiritual lesson because all I could do was be present.  Not that being present was much fun.

Even with all that being present, writing was the furthest thing from my mind.  

It got worse.  I felt like I was going to die.   And then, suddenly, it got better.  (I'm convinced it was because my friend called Silent Unity for me.)  That night I felt more like my usual self and by the next day, I was nearly 100%.

But outside, the snow turned to ice falling from the sky (ice storms are one of our specialties).   My daughter and son-in-law's plane flight home got cancelled.  She was desperate to see her boy and rescheduled.  

Much worry as they landed in the teeth of the ice storm.  All public transportation shut down.   Except, thank God, for cabs.  They stood in line for an hour to nab one and shared it with a man who worked for the television show Grimm.

And made it to our house where they stayed put.

By Sunday, I felt that antsiness that signals I'm not writing.  The world felt out of whack.  I sat at the computer and answered the five thousand emails that had piled up.  Downloaded a program about Qi Gong I'd bought a month ago.  Did some odds and ends, none of which added up to any writing.

 And then, when I finally had time to get back to my writing, there came that edgy feeling.  What am I doing? How do I do this?  Maybe I should be doing something else.  I can't do this.  Why did I ever think I could write?

But then, slowly: one word, and then another.

And, finally:

My fingers flowing across the keyboard.  

Sweet relief.

Writing again.

All is right with the world.

 How do you get back to writing after an interruption?  Please share in the comments.

***If you are feeling up to snuff, how about a contest?  My friend Jeffrey Walker is sponsoring one that will not only win you prized, but also help clarify the message of your story (book, course, or brand). The idea is that we writers often overthink things (who, us?), so Jeffrey urges you to distill your message to six words. Go here to join the fun.

 

Image from PhotoExpress.

The Writing Life: Berry Picking

Berry_fruit_fruits_241170_lWhen you're a writer (or any kind of creative person) you link everything back to your writing.  At least I do, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.  It's the nature of the creative process to become a sponge for everything around you.  This is particularly true when you're in the middle of a long-term project.

Lately, part of my writing life has included berry picking.  We drive out to the berry farm on nearby Sauvie Island, the same farm where my son and daughter-in-law got married three years ago, and pick marionberries, raspberries and boysenberries, then bring them home and either freeze them or make jam.  I spent most of last Saturday making jam, so come on over if you need some for your sandwiches.

Since I was making jam on Saturday, I wasn't writing.  And therein lies the crux of a dilemma: do I spend my free time writing or my free time doing fun things like berry picking?  For years, the answer to this for me has been writing, hands down.  And, it still is. 

Partly this is a matter of choice.  As I've recently realized, nothing has held the same consistent interest for me over the years as writing.  My interest in cooking waxes and wanes, and, though I love crafts, especially those of the fiber variety, I'm an on and off partaker.  Because, most of the time I'd truly rather be writing.  While this has its upside for word count, it has a downside for things like clean houses, nutritious meals and interest in the kinds of things that normal people talk about.

Partly, though, I think that the writing bug gets inside you and won't let go, like a virus that cannot be eradicated.  For instance, I live with the constant internal exhortation: you could be writing, you
should be writing, you would be writing if only you were more
disciplined.  I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be a person who is engaged in creative activity and thus doesn't feel the constant pull to be working. 

On the upside, I haven't been bored in the last 5,000 years.

But then there's the question: does all this focus on writing make Charlotte a dull girl?  (You could ask my family and friends–no, don't!  I don't want to hear the answer. )  It's the age old question: do you spend time writing or go out in the world and find something to write about?

I did the latter this weekend, and enjoyed the Zen quality of berry picking, the bees buzzing about the fruit, the taste of the berries when I just had to pop one in my mouth, and the sun beating down on my scratch-covered arms.  (I wrestled with a few raspberry bushes.)  And when I got home, I loved the alchemy of turning berries into jam, using pectin and sugar.

And, I found something to write about.

Photo by yohanl.

Making the Magic Happen: Committing to a Writing Schedule

Writing is magic.
Objects-stars-feathers-40007-l

We think up an idea, and put it on the page.  Whole worlds spring to life beneath our fingers.  And all we need to do this, at base, is a pen and paper.  Oh, sure, a typewriter or computer helps, but if worse came to worse you could do without one and still write.

What you do have to come up with is time to make the magic happen.  You have to sit at your desk, or your arm chair, or in the coffee shop, and put words on the page.  And that takes time.

And that is where many of us falter.  Me, too.  I struggle with finding time just like everyone else.  But lately I've realized that all my important non-writing activities stretch to fill the time I allot them.  So, if I give myself all day to read three manuscripts, that's how long it will probably take me.  And if I give myself all day to read said manuscripts, I won't get any writing done.

And therein lies the problem.

With the necessity of doing marketing around my book release, many days this winter I became a writer who didn't write.  Well, there were blog posts.  And there were guest posts and interviews and ariticles, all of which I love.

But in my heart of hearts, its not the same as working on fiction.  And if a fiction writer is how I identify myself, if that is what I truly want to be, then I need to find time to work on it consistently.

I used to get up and work on it first thing in the morning.  But that schedule no longer works for me–I simply have too many emails and other internet chores pulling on me to allow me to focus.  I'd sort of pretend I was writing and actually get about 20 minutes in.  Not conducive to making progress on a WIP.  I was working on it, but in fits and starts–a stolen moment here, a bit of time there.

Last week, in my travels around the web, I read an interview with an author said that she wrote every morning from 9 to noon.  (I wish I knew who this was or where I read it, but I can't remember.)  This struck me like a thunderbolt.  Bad cliche, sorry, but it did.  I realized that if I put myself on a schedule like that, I'd actually get my writing done. 

And so I did.  I'm now writing from 9 to noon every day.  I'm showered and at my desk by 9 AM.  No more stretching internet time until 8 AM, then working on the crossword puzzle for awhile and getting in the shower when I felt like it.  (Hey, its the benefit of working at home.)  Nope, I'm ready to write at 9 AM sharp.  And I'm getting a ton done.

What I wasn't so sure about was getting everything else done, but so far that hasn't been a problem at all.  I've always harped on said that when you make your passion your priority, everything else magically falls into place.  And it is true.  I'm simply much more focused.  Plus, the high that comes from fiction writing follows me all day, allowing me to power through dumb chores and errands with joy. 

I really can't describe how profound this change feels. 

I've got an exciting new ghostwriting job coming up, and a couple other things in the works, so we'll see how I stick to the schedule when those come in.  But in the meantime, don't call me in the morning, because I'll be writing.

Do you schedule writing time?  Are you able to stick to it?  What works for you?

Clarity for Writers

So, there's clarity for writers, and clarity about writing. Flowers_daisy_daisies_249172_l

In a post about writing clarity, I'm being clear as mud.

So let me explain.

A few days ago, I was sitting in the backyard of a friend.  Gorgeous summer night, and the surroundings were gorgeous, too: neatly mowed lawn and perfectly weeded and edged garden beds.

I thought to my own backyard, which is full of flowers, but in a wild, uncontrolled way.  My husband's currently working on a garden path when he has time and let's just say you might see a weed or two back there.

The comparison of my friend's perfect back yard with my own wild one made me feel bad for a bit.

But then I remembered something: earlier this year, after a valiant but losing battle with weeds in the front garden beds, I got very clear about something.  And that something was that I didn't want to spend a lot of time gardening.  This year I hate gardening.  (I reserve the right to love it again in the future, as I have in the past.)  This year I want to focus on writing my novel and working on my business.

Clarity for this writer.

Which makes my life so much easier.  Because I know that I have goals other than a perfect garden in mind, I don't have to waste time making myself feel bad about it.  And this goes for other things, too.

Which is where the clarity about writing comes in.

I know exactly what I want to work on in the next few months: my next novel, my writing retreats, my novel-writing class, and my coaching.   You may also know exactly what you want to write, and I hope you do, because this, too, makes life easier.  There's no fussing about with deciding what to do, you just do it.  (If you don't know what to write, may I suggest checking out my Punch for Prompt page? Choose a prompt and write to it for 20 minutes.)

Clarity is essential for writers and writing, and if you don't have it, I suggest you work on getting it.  You'll get a lot more writing done.  And you can quit making yourself feel bad about the weeds.

Do you have clarity about your writing?  If you reach a murky point, how do you get clear again?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

**Need clarity about your novel?  My new Get Your Novel Written Now class starts August 14th, and I'd love to have you join in.  You can read more about it here.

Photo by unit25.

Balance vs. Excellence

Everystockphoto_187217_mA Post Wherein I Explore Two Approachs to Writing and Confess I Don't Know Which is Best.

Let's begin with balance.  It has been a bit of a massive buzz word the past few years, with experts telling us we need it in our lives and offering advice on how to achieve it.  Seems it's what we're all looking for, that elusive balance between working hard and taking time off to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

What does balance look like?  For me, its something like this:

–I rise early after sleeping well.

–I head to the computer, ignore my email inboxes, and work on my novel.

–After a rousing writing session, I eat breakfast and shower.

–The rest of the day is spent working on assignments or coaching.

–After dinner I take a walk and am able to relax and watch trash TV or read.

Plenty of time to work, plenty of time to relax.  Balance.

But lately, I've read some things dissing balance, saying it really isn't all that it's cracked up to be.  That balance equates mediocrity and who wants to be mediocre?  Chris Guillebeau, whose writing I admire, wrote about it a few weeks ago (and of course, now I can't find the exact link.  But go check out his site anyway.  After you're done here, of course.

What does the other way look like? (Loosely, we'll call it the pursuit of excellence.)

–It looks the same throughout the day, with the exception that I probably rise earlier.

–After dinner, I'm not wasting my life watching stupid TV.  Nuh-uh.  I'll return to my office and work late into the night, only to get up early and do it all again the next day.

As I was writing this post, I got an email from somebody hyping a telecall discussing how important it is to achieve balance, because if you don't, you'll blow out your adrenals, with drastic consequences to your health.  Which is the antithesis of working all hours to finish a project.

So what's a writer to do?  Which way to seek?

My answer: I dunno.

What I do know is that my life bounces between the two extremes and I suppose that is its own kind of balance.  I love, love, love the days when I've had a satisfying and productive day and can knock off by 5:30 or so.  But I kind of like the weeks when I'm madly working to finish a million things, and return to my computer for at least an hour, if not longer, in the evening.

As a vote for the side of balance, I know that creativity begins in the darkness, in the quiet hours we sit in silence and if we're rushed and stressed new ideas are not going to arrive in our psyches.

As a vote for the side of excellence at all costs, I also know that I desire to create a life and body of work of high caliber and have no desire to be mediocre.  And if that requires staying up late a few nights, so be it.

How about you?  What works best for you?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Experiment with scheduling your writing and other responsibilities and see what works best for you.

Check out my new coaching packages when you get a chance!

Photo by dancerinthedark.

The Delicate Tension of Being a Writer

 

Highwire-tightrope-glasgow-86595-h

When you're a writer, you are always pulled to write.

If you're like me, and I fancy that you are, because we writers share odd (yet wonderful) traits, you're constantly thinking, I should be writing.  Or, I wish I was writing.  Or, why aren't I writing?

The pull of the story is always with us.  And that creates a constant tension in our lives.

Do you remember what it is like to live without this tension?  I don't.

Because the desire to find time to write colors every day.

I think this same tension is present in the lives of other creatives–artists and musicians and dancers.  It is the urge to create, the pull to make something from nothing, the yearning to put something of ourselves into the world.

My favorite line from The Artist's Way is something to the effect that we are most in God's image when we are creating, seeing as how He created the world.

And so even though I live my days with a constant undercurrent of tension, and somedays I think that life would be easier without it, I welcome it, because that tension causes the compulsion to create.

And without it, my life would be pretty damn dull.

 

PS–Please note the snappy new tagline.  Cool, huh?  I feel it is more in line with what this blog actually covers.  Also please note below my new effort to help you take the ideas discussed here and pull them into your own life.  I'd love to hear what you think of all this.

*Create a successful, inspired writing life: Sit in silence for a few minutes.  (Doesn't even have to be that long, trust me.) What's the tension in your creative life?  What is it calling you to create?

**Comments are welcome: do you feel a creative tension in your life?  How does it compel you to create?  Or is it a hindrance in any way?

***Don't forget to sign up for my free newsletter and Ebook!  Just fill out the form to the right.

 

Photo by _gee_.