Writing is Never Done (A Love Letter)

As you read this on Sunday morning, I’ll be in Astoria, gearing up for the welcome dinner for the Feast of the Senses writing workshop. I’ll be thinking about the workshop, and how best to make sure it is useful and inspiring for participants. And I’ll be thinking about my writing—my current WIP, a rewrite of the first draft of a novel that is so massive it hardly counts as a rewrite at all. More like a brand-new project. It has my brain engaged, the novel-writing synapses firing.

I’ll be pondering how, exactly, I can make that scene that has too much narrative in it work. How to deepen the character arc of the protagonist. Where to set the first big love scene. And I’ll be thinking about when I can carve out a moment to work on it.

Because, when you are a writer, your work is never done.

This is true of other occupations, both paid and unpaid, of course. Housework comes to mind, along with the old outdated saw, a woman’s work is never done. Well, cleaning is never done anyway.

But writing is different, because cleaning doesn’t constantly occupy your mind. (Okay, at least it has never taken up much space in my mind.) When you are a writer, there’s a constant yearning to write. Right? A constant pull to shut out the real world and enter the world of your imagination—putting words on the page.

I imagine this experience is quite similar for other creative activities, like painting, for instance. I do know I ponder knitting (what should I make next? How will that ribbing look? Should I use garter stitch instead?) often. But it doesn’t hold the huge amount of space in my brain that writing does.

And sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have the kind of job that you leave at work. That doesn’t come home with you. That you turn the light out on and don’t think about until the next morning. That doesn’t nag and pull at you. The kind of job where you can come home, cook dinner and sit in front of the TV without so much as a you should be writing kind of thought.

Because when you are a writer, the thought you should be writing is always just below the surface. You’re always aware of it. Brief moment to relax? You should be writing! Appointment canceled? You should be writing! Day off? You should be writing! I can’t imagine what it would be like to have the kind of life where this pull to write is the constant drumbeat of my life.

And honestly? I don’t think I really want to.

Prompts

Here is your prompt of the week:

No matter how hard I work it never all gets done.

Happenings

France 2019—Would you like to study writing in the south of France with me? You can! Find all the details here. Space is filling up fast so hop on over and check it out!

Facebook Group

And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already. I post lots of good links and often we get some good conversation going.

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole (A Love Letter)

A couple of mornings ago, Friday to be exact, I woke early, as I do, grabbed a huge travel mug of coffee, and headed to my office to write. I’ve been on a pretty good roll, working on my next novel. I have a loose outline in place and so far most of the time I feel on track. And I’m enjoying the writing.

But Friday morning I didn’t go right to the page. I had a bee buzzing about in my head. I’m almost done knitting one sweater and I’d realized I had some gorgeous wool  that I could use to start another. But I needed a pattern! And this was VERY important because I’m going to Astoria, Oregon in a week to teach and I NEED to start this new sweater before then so I have something to work on while there.

So I told myself I could browse for five minutes. And then I made the tragic mistake of the morning. I opened Ravelry. For those of you who don’t knit or crochet, Ravelry is where all the patterns live. All of them. (Seriously, the site had 7 million members as of 2017.) Not only can you look at the pattern designer’s information, but you can click through page after page of member postings showing how they knitted the sweater, complete with maker notes.

It is the mother of all rabbit holes for knitters. And Friday morning I happily tumbled into it for forty-five thirty twenty minutes. Oh, it was glorious as I considered one pattern after another as the minutes ticked by. And then, while I was at it, I saw that I had an email I wanted to look at, so that took some time. It took more time to answer it. And while I was at it, I needed to check my other email inbox. (Yes, I have two. Don’t ask why. It made sense at one time.)

And then I finally looked at the clock. And realized I’d wasted nearly my entire writing session.

Here’s the deal: I felt like crap afterwards. I had the same sick feeling inside as when I’ve willfully eaten too much or drank too much wine. Funny how all over indulging makes you feel the same, at least emotionally. And when I compared how that felt to how I feel after I’ve actually done the work I set out to do (Energized! Happy! Excited!), I cringed.

Your rabbit hole is probably not Ravelry. But I’m pretty sure you have one. (If you don’t, please contact me immediately so I can pick your brain about how you grew up to be a responsible adult with no bad habits.) We all do. So the only way to deal with it is awareness. For me, that starts with dissecting why this happened:

THE NUMBER ONE REASON IS BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW WHERE I WAS GOING. I’d taken the day off from working on the novel the day before, because I had to get up and out and didn’t have time for my usual writing session. And in the mad rush of all the things that happen in a day, including a long board meeting that night, I forgot where I was. (This would have been an easy fix, one I preach often myself: open up the damn file and re-read it. Or even skim it. Just to get it back in your brain.)

Because I lied to myself. As in, oh, I’ll just look for that sweater pattern on Ravelry for five minutes. I deserve a long break because of that long board meeting (see above) last night. Oh, Charlotte. You know better than that. Those five minutes can stretch to thirty-five in a couple clicks down the rabbit hole. As they did.

Because I didn’t use any of the fifty million tricks I know to get myself back on track. Things like free writing to a prompt. Writing something, anything in my journal. Setting a timer to limit knitting pattern time. Using Freedom to restrict access to the internet. Writing one crappy page. Writing nonsense. Writing anything, just to get words on the page. Because often that’s all it takes to get going again.

Because I convinced myself this was a noble activity. My brain needed a break. (Again: long board meeting. I like to belabor excuses.) I deserved to spend a little time looking at patterns. Oh, and hey, knitting is creative, too! (But mindlessly clicking through patterns is not.) And, even more noble, I had just also talked myself out of buying a very expensive yarn kit! Winning! All the more reason to look at patterns, because I was nobly using yarn I had. (I have a LOT of yarn.)

Because I didn’t stop myself long enough to do a gut check. And maybe if I had, I’d remember that I feel like crap after wasting time like this and I feel great after writing. So this is the crux of it: someone I (and maybe you) need a way to short circuit the procrastination momentum. One way suggested by Becca Syme in a class I took last spring, is to set a timer when I browse the internet. Another could be doing something physical to break the trance. This could be as easy as standing up from the computer. What works for me might not work for you, so let’s experiment, okay?

That’s it for now, and excuse me, I have a sweater pattern to go download.

Prompts

Here is your prompt of the week:

Down the rabbit hole we go.

Happenings

Virtual Retreat Link—Thanks to all of you who joined Patty Bechtold and I last week on our winter virtual retreat. We delved deeply into the sensory reactions to the season, and did some fun writing exercises. For those of you who missed it, you can have a listen here. And yes, we plan to do something similar again soon!

France 2019—Would you like to study writing in the south of France with me? You can! Find all the details here. There’s a discount if you commit before the end of the year, so check it out now.

Facebook Group

And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already. I post lots of good links. Lately we’ve discussed the different types of editing, memoir writing, and more.

Your Most Important Priority (A Love Letter)

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Last week amongst the flood of junk interesting emails in my inbox, I had two that stood out. Each one caught my attention separately, but since they were variations on a theme, their messages really caught my attention.

The first was from prolific author Chris Fox. His message? You don’t have priorities, you have one main priority. Or should. And, of course, he and I both think it should be writing. Because if you keep saying you want to write, but then you don’t do it, writing is not a priority.

Here’s more from Chris on the topic: “…you don’t have priorities. You have a single priority. The word was originally singular, but somewhere along the way we expanded it. And the problem with having more than one priority is that if eight things are important, nothing is. Establishing your priority is critical. If you make something a priority, then I guarantee you it will get done.”

Those words really resonated with me, because since August I’ve had a host of distractions from my writing. There was the month in France  in September (not complaining about that one), surgery in November (not complaining about it, either), and then, of course, Christmas. With all of that behind me, I’m ready to focus on new priorities. Oops, I mean a new priority, singular. Which is actually an old priority. Writing, of course.

Because I’ve had the experience over and over again that when I make writing my number one priority, everything else falls into place. There is magically time for the blog posts, the client work, the teaching, the creation of new products. When I’m writing regularly, there’s enough of everything—time, energy, and most of all, joy. When I’m not writing, all of those things feel in short supply.

Which is why the subject line of Skye Warren’s email caught my attention as well: “When You Want Something You Will Find a Way.” Um, yes. Turns out this part of a quote from Rachel Hollis: “When you want something you will find a way. When you don’t want something, you will find an excuse.”

Oh, ouch. Are you squirming uncomfortable like I am? Tough love (for all of us), babe. Years ago I read in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a story that illustrated this maxim. It went something to the effect that when a man is interested in a woman, he will find the time to contact her. Okay, that story sounds a bit dated in today’s current cultural climate, but those of us of a certain age know there is truth in it. It’s really very simple. If you really, really want something, you’ll make time for it. This goes for exercise, or cooking healthy meals, or spending time with loved ones, or, oh yeah, writing.

For me, thinking of my writing as my priority makes everything else fall into place. It illuminates what is most important to me, and from that all else follows. I hope making writing your priority will do the same for you.

Prompts

Here is your prompt of the week:

Somewhere, beyond the horizon they sailed.

Happenings

France 2019—Would you like to study writing in the south of France with me? You can! Find all the details here.

Facebook Group

And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already. I post lots of good links. Lately we’ve discussed the different types of editing, memoir writing, and more.

The Importance of Your Writer’s Ethos (A Love Letter)

Let’s all be as enthusiastic about our writing as this dog is about his ball.

I have long held the belief that the practice of writing involves two tracks: the writer’s craft and the writer’s ethos, or mindset. And, honestly? In many ways, the ethos is more important.

Here’s a definition of ethos for you: the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution. (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)

So, think about it. What are your distinguishing characteristics as a writer? Are you cranky and negative? Gloomy about the state of the publishing world? Glum about your odds of success as a writer? Do you shun the company of other writers, and knock their work? Do you work when the muse strikes you, and oh well if that is just once in a blue moon?

Or, are you dedicated to your craft, working every day or as close to it as possible? Cheerful (most of the time) about your writing, because you are aware of how lucky you are to be one who writes? Do you network with other writers, and do your best to support them as much as you can? Are you open to new ideas, to learning?

Be honest—maybe you are a little of each. Most of us are. But I submit that those writers who fall more into the latter category will find more success in the end. Yes, it is cool to be cynical and sophisticated, especially in our current social media climate, but give me enthusiastic and positive any day—even if that enthusiasm edges toward naivete.

Because the writer with the enthusiastic, positive ethos is the one who will get their butt in the chair every week. The writer with the enthusiastic ethos is the one who will keep going when she gets discouraged, knowing that every writer faces fear and resistance and rejection. The writer with the enthusiastic ethos is the one who keeps honing his craft. The writer with the enthusiastic ethos is the one who is willing to learn something new—marketing? Publishing? Master a new genre? Social media? The enthusiastic writer may not be the most talented, but she will keep at it when others with talent in droves give up.

The writer with the positive, enthusiastic ethos is in it for the long haul. And that is what this business takes. Sure, there are flashes in the pan, but they tend to burn out quickly and are never heard from again.

This kind of writer—I’m certain you are one of them—is the one who will ultimately snag that agent, finish that memoir, get that novel published. And that is why honing your writer’s ethos is as important as honing your craft.

Prompts

Here is your prompt of the week:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Happenings

Virtual New Year Retreat—There’s still time to sign up! I’ll be co-hosting this two-hour retreat with the wonderful Patty Bechtold. It’s free, and you can find more about it here

France 2019—Would you like to study writing in the south of France with me? You can! Find all the details here. There’s a discount if you commit before the end of the year, so check it out now.

Facebook Group

And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already. I post lots of good links. Lately we’ve discussed the different types of editing, memoir writing, and more. 

Plant Your Butt in The Chair, Already (A Love Letter)

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

(Warning—this has turned into a loooong letter. But I hope it has some helpful tidbits in it.)

It’s 2019 and this is your year! You’re going to write that novel, finish that memoir. You start out with the best of intentions, fresh-faced and eager. You’re ready to go! But then things start popping up to derail you. I’m not going to bore us all with a list of what they might be—because you know damn good and well what they are.

But even though you know exactly what they are, you still let them stop you from getting to the page. From planting your butt in the chair and writing.

Because that is really all it takes. Somebody asked me on Twitter how I dealt with writer’s block. My answer was that I wrote. I don’t think he liked my answer because I never heard back from him. But that is the simple, universal truth of it: in order to be a writer, you must write.

So why do we make it so hard? As we start this bright, shiny new year, how do we truly, once and for all, make this the year that we do finish that novel or memoir or short story or essay collection? You’ve probably read the same five million articles on getting things done in the new year that I have. They are mostly all variations on the same theme—because ultimately the way to get anything done is to do it. The way to get the writing done is to write.

And yet I constantly talk with people who are having a hard time doing that. (And, um, that never, ever happens to me, of course. Hahahahaha.) But I do have some expertise in this area, based on long, hard personal experience, much study of productivity, and years of teaching and coaching writers. So if I were coaching you (and I kinda am, through this love letter) here are some things we might explore:

–Is it lack of time or lack of energy that’s stopping you? Let’s face it, lots of us have the time. We come home from work and plop down in front of the TV after dinner. Not judging, I do it, too—because my brain is often fried and I don’t have the mental energy to do anything else. Not one more thing. But, theoretically, I could write during that time, if I felt like it. So quit telling yourself you don’t have time. You do. Try tracking your energy levels and fit in your writing sessions accordingly. Because I’m brain dead in the evening, I like to get my writing done first thing in the morning. You may be the opposite. Figure out what works for you!

–Are you telling yourself that it is your non-supportive family that is holding you back? It’s a bitch when the people around you don’t support your goals, no doubt about it. And that gives you a whole other layer to wade through before your get to your own personal stuff. But only you can let them hold you back. Worried the kids won’t have lunches or your husband will miss his bus because you’re writing instead of dealing with them? If they go hungry or miss their ride once or twice, they’ll figure out how to do it themselves. Okay, so maybe that sounds a bit harsh. Sorry. But there is huge truth in it.

–Always know where you are going next. This is when I get writer’s block resistance: when I have no idea what I should write next. I’m stuck trying to figure out the next scene. Or I don’t know some aspect of character. Something is puzzling me. Antidotes: Hemingway famously ended writing sessions mid-sentence, so he’d always have a place to go. You could try that. Or make a note to yourself of what comes next before you end your writing session for the day. Use free-writing (see below) to delve into your subconscious and get your thoughts moving again. Try—gasp—outlining, even a loose list. Momentum is the most wonderful feeling for a writing project, and it will occur when you know where you are going.

And here are a couple of assignments I might give you for those times you are experiencing resistance to your writing. (I think I am going to banish the phrase writer’s block for 2019.)

–Pick a prompt, set a timer and write for 15 minutes. Keep your hand moving across the page. This is key. I once taught a workshop in which we did this and looked around the room and half the people were staring off into space, pondering deep words to put on the page. Don’t let this be you. It is not the point. The point is to break through the resistance that is always at the ready and let the words out. Also, don’t roll your eyes at this advice, it has been known to set many a writer back on the writing path. You can use it in a million different ways—as a warm-up, as the way you get your novel written (spurts!), as a way to figure out where to go next (see above). Trust me, it really works—if you just freaking do it.

–Mind map. This alternative way of outlining is like a mainline to your subconscious as well. Put the topic in the middle of the page and start writing what occurs to you around it, connecting the words with lines. Use the whole page. It’s really helpful to do this, then do a free-writing session. Watch out! You’ll be spewing words on the page with this technique.

My New Year’s wish for you is that you will write all the words you possibly can and by the end of 2019 you’ll be thrilled with your output. It’s my wish for me as well! May we all achieve it, easily, happily, and gracefully.

 

Leave a comment and tell me your best strategy for getting butt in chair and words on the page!

Prompts

Here is your prompt of the week:

List all the reasons you can’t write today. Now list all the reasons you can—and must. Now go make a list of starters for whatever project it is you want to write. Set the timer and write on it for 15 minutes.

Happenings

Virtual New Year Retreat—There’s still time to sign up! I’ll be co-hosting this two-hour retreat with the wonderful Patty Bechtold. It’s free, and you can find more about it here

France 2019—As I write this, it is gloomy and gray outside my window. Easy to dream about the warmth of southern France. Wouldn’t you like to study writing there with me? You can! Find all the details here. 

Coaching—Speaking of coaching, and I was, in the letter, I’m taking on a few new clients in January. I’ve already committed to several people, and don’t have a lot of room for more, so if you are interested, send me a email and we will talk.

Facebook Group–And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already. I post lots of good links and we often have lively writerly discussions going. 

On Refilling the Well in the New Year (A Love Letter)

One of the best things you can do for yourself if refill your writing well. (I am rebelling against using the term self-care, because itis overworked to the point of meaninglessness.) There are many ways to refill the well, and only you can decide what works best for you.  Some suggestions:

–Reading

–Walking

–Gardening (at least come spring)

–Knitting (pour moi, a biggie)

–Yoga

–Meditating

–Driving

–Cooking or baking

In pondering the past year, one of the themes that came up for me over and over again was connection. It is one of the chief ways I refill my well . Through connecting with family, and connecting with friends. And connecting with other writers.

I co-lead a bi-weekly writing workshop here in Portland, andI teach one-day workshops throughout the year. Then there are the two week-long workshops in France every September. And this year, a week in Astoria. I coach writers one-on-one. Many of the writers I teach are also close personal friends.  Friend and student alike, they help me refill my well.

Another way I refill it is through connecting with friends I’ve met through business networking and online.  One of these friends lives in Portland and I get to see her in person regularly. One lives in the Seattle area but is in the process of moving to Montpelier, France—so I will get to see her on my annual jaunts over there.

And one of these friends is my dear Patty Bechtold, a gentle and wise therapist from Santa Rosa, California.

I mention her not only because she is so important to me, but because she and I are doing a virtual retreat together to start out 2019.  In some of our phone conversations (we’ve never actually met in person), we’ve talked about how tired we are of the race to keep up, to do more, to have the most successful business around.In one of the podcasts we did together last year, we did some expressive writing together and one of the phrases that came out was “the glow of the gentler lifestyle.” This was on the eve of my month-long writing sabbatical in France last March, where a gentler lifestyle is very much possible.  But that phrase keeps coming back up in our conversations. And so finally we decided to do something about it.

Which is taking the form of a free two-hour virtual retreat to welcome in 2019 in a gentler manner.

Read some of Patty’s wise words about it:

What if the start of this new year could be different?

  • No need to sort out the past year
  • No resolutions to make
  • No goals to set

Instead,just a simple, gentle process to unearth your own unique rhythms and bring you home to yourself.

Perhaps you’ve grown a bit weary of predetermined plans.

Or the constant pressure to know where you’re going.

And, even if you do find end-of-year/beginning-of-year planning helpful, maybe there’s something more that you’re longing for.

Something more to center you as you cross the threshold from one year to the next.

And that something is exactly what we are going to be doing—hosting a retreat to center and anchor you as we enter this new year. On January 17th at 5 PM Pacific, we will share reflective writing exercises, some thoughtful prose and poetry, maybe a meditation or two. You can find all the details and sign up here, and best of all, it is FREE!  A recording will be sent out afterwards if you can’t attend live.

I hope you will join us. But even if you don’t, I hope you will take a few minutes to ponder what refills your well—and then go do it. Writing takes a lot of mental energy and you don’t want to deplete it.I’m convinced that mental fatigue is the cause of what many consider to be writer’s block.

And, when next we talk, it will be 2019. So Happy New Year!

Happenings

France 2019—We’ve posted the information for next year’s workshop! Find all the details here.  There’s a discount if you commit before the end of the year, so check it out now.

Coaching—I haven’t done a lot of it this past year, but I’m taking on a few new clients in January. I’ve already committed to several people, and don’t have a lot of room for more, so if you are interested, reply to this email and we will talk.

Facebook Group

And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook  group if you haven’t already.  I post lots of good links and we often have lively writerly discussions going.   

A Love Letter About, Well, Love Letters

It’s two days before Christmas, and whether you celebrate or not, odds are good you are caught up in a swirl of festivities. So, I will keep this missive simple.

I’ve been thinking about writing letters.

Recently, after my surgery, I wrote thank you notes to people who had sent me flowers or care packages, and I wrote one note to a dear friend who had a devastating diagnosis.  Nearly every person I wrote to expressed their delight at receiving a hand-written note. And I vowed to write more of them in 2019. Because for as much delight as they had in getting the note, I received more in writing it. That sounds schmaltzy, but it’s true. I was so touched at the love and support I got that I truly wanted to return it.

I also took part in Amnesty International’s Write to Right campaign, in which I wrote letters in support of unjustly detained or people otherwise in urgent need of help. (You can read more about it here.) And even though my hand was sore after all that writing, it gave me all the feels that I was helping someone in a far distant land. Those letters were love letters, too.

And then, by happenstance, I learned about a site called More Love Letters.  You can sign up to write letters to people who have requested them. Love letters. What could be better, right? Of course I am signing up to write letters in the new year!

Such thinking about letters brings to mind this letter that I write every week. So, let me tell you what I think this blog is really all about. It’s about love—love of writing, love of creativity, love of life. That’s why I call them love letters.  I feel all the feels when I write to you guys, too, even this blog comes to you electronically and not hand-written.

All of this reminds me of one simple fact: words have power. We can and must wield them wisely, with love, be it in a letter, a Christmas card, an article, blog post or novel. Words of love. Love letters, all.

Prompts

Here is your prompt of the week:

I am writing this love letter because….

Happenings

A very cool teleseminar! Called, Writing Into the New Year. I’m going to be sending out full information on this to all of you soon but on January 17, my dear friend Patty Bechtold  and I are doing a special expressive writing workshop.  It is called Writing Into the New Year, and it is FREE! Sign up here. 

France 2019—It is not too late to ask for a trip to France to study writing for a Christmas present. Right? We’ve posted the information for next year’s workshop! Find all the details here.  There’s a discount if you commit before the end of the year, so check it out now.

Coaching—I haven’t done a lot of it this past year, but I’m taking on a few new clients in January. I’ve already committed to several people, and don’t have a lot of room for more, so if you are interested, reply to this email and we will talk.

Facebook Group

And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already.  I post lots of good links and we often have lively writerly discussions going.   

What to Do When You Hit a Creative Wall

Last weekend, I hit a creative wall. It wasn’t full-blown writer’s block, mind you, but a wall. Maybe a half-wall. I’d been working steadily and strongly all week on a couple of chapters and finished them. That got me to a natural stopping place before the next action began.

Admittedly, most creative walls are not this cute. Mine sure aren’t. Photo by Hannah Lim on Unsplash

Only problem was, I wasn’t sure of what that next action might be.

It’s easy for me to tell when I’ve hit a wall because of a couple things: First, I’m resistant to sitting down at the computer or page. And second, I’m not thinking of the work much. Not connecting with it mentally in odd moments throughout the day, as I usually do.

And when that happens, the forward progress stops.

And let’s just pause here and remember: writing is hard work. Committing to any kind of writing project is challenging. It is also exhilarating, engaging and exciting. But those things are challenging to manage, too. So: hard work. Give yourself a break, okay?

That’s recommendation one for what to do when the creative wall hits. Take a break. Go relax and do something that refills the well.  NOTE: generally wandering about on the internet or checking email does not count as refilling the well. Neither does scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. I’m talking about doing something that inspires, energizes or relaxes you.

You might be familiar with a more formal version of this concept from Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way. She calls it an artist’s date, and recommends you do it once a week, by yourself. I’ve always had a bit of a hard time with this concept, mostly because it adds one more thing to a burgeoning to-do list and I risk feeling guilty about it if I don’t do it. Then it’s not rejuvenating, it is guilt inducing.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

But you can do a mini-version of it without making a big production about it. Depending on what you enjoy, pick up a pencil and draw. Bust out the watercolors (maybe your kids have some you could borrow?) Pick up your knitting. Plan a garden. Bake a cake. Cook a gourmet meal. Go for a walk to the park. Swing on the swings. Read a book, or leaf through a magazine.

The point is to indulge in some intentional relaxation, doing things that make you happy. (And note I’m not including watching movies or TV on this list. Yes, I realize you might find it relaxing, but I’d guess you take plenty of time for all kinds of screen time already. Just saying.)

But, here’s the deal. (And this is why I often don’t allow myself to relax.) Don’t let all this intentional relaxation go too far. Because if you do, it can quickly turn into a full-blown block. So that’s recommendation two: don’t indulge in this creative-wall-relaxation for too long.

Which brings us to recommendation three, which is to force the issue. Sometimes you have to twist yourself back into the writing flow, that’s all there is to it. Give yourself some good old-fashioned tough love to get yourself back into it.

Here are some things to try:

Free writing to prompts. You can take a prompt from your WIP if you like, or use a line of poetry, or search the archives on this blog (see tags on the right column) to find some. Set yourself a timer for 15 minutes and go to it.

–Mind-mapping, which, as you likely know, is a right-brained way to outline.

–Meditation. Quit your bitching and just do it (she said to herself as well as everyone else). It will free your brain and open you to new ideas.

–Journal. Because getting your whiney crap thoughts down on paper is always a good idea.

–Read. Something, anything. Words in, words out. Sometimes reading a novel or memoir or short story will give you an idea that will get you started again.

And then, of course, if none of these work, then go back to recommendation one and start over again.  Just remember not to give up.  Because you really, really, really do not want this brief interlude to turn into a long bout of writer’s block.

Good luck. Let me know how it works out for you. Leave a comment!

This post contains affiliate links.

On Leaving..And Coming Home (A Love Letter)

As you might have guessed, I am home from France. Jet lag has not been terrible this time. We got home Tuesday evening and as I write this on Friday, I’m feeling pretty good. Which gives me time to dig into all the things that got put on hold while I was gone.  And, boy, do things pile up.

Some views of Collioure

I’ve got a ton of recommendations this month because I had a lot of time to read and also many confined hours on long flights in which to watch movies (which I’m usually bad at). But I did want to write a brief recap of the trip and encourage you to think about coming with next year. So here goes.

We landed in Paris on the last day of the month and spent an afternoon wandering about the neighborhood near the Gare De Lyon, which was surprisingly appealing.  Also, getting a good dose of daylight helps with jet lag. After a pretty good night’s sleep, it was on to Perpignan via the fast train, which is comfy and relaxing.  Dali called the Perpignan train station the center of the world, and while that seems a bit excessive, the city is growing on me. We stayed in the historic center, full of twisty streets and fun shops and a divine place to eat, Restaurant Le St. Jean.   (In case you ever find yourself there, it is right next to the Cathedral St. Jean and you actually eat in a courtyard right next to the church.)

The next day it was on to Collioure, our location for the next three weeks. That included two weeks of writing workshops and one week of leisure in between. There is something so special about sinking into one place for an extended period of time. Even though I was working two weeks out of three, it is infinitely relaxing. On workshop weeks, we meet every morning from 9:30 to 12:30 (except on Sundays and Wednesdays, which are market days, so we meet at 10 in order to give everyone time to wander the stalls). Our teaching is a combination of mini-lectures on writing, discussion of assigned books (see below), writing exercises and prompts, and discussion of the assignments everyone has completed the night before. You may think that people don’t make much progress on their writing when billeted in paradise, but the opposite is actually true. Every year we see writers make huge leaps in their works in progress, get re-inspired, and write more than they thought they would—all while enjoying the hiking, shopping, eating and drinking of the region.

But three weeks does fly by—and last Saturday it was back to Paris, this time to stay in a lovely Airbnb in Montparnasse , my favorite neighborhood in the city. It rained like a mofo on Sunday afternoon but once the rain cleared, everyone emerged, and we were able to celebrate the hub’s birthday at a fun restaurant. The next day we played tourist and went to the top of the Arch de Triomphe (there was an elevator, thank god—my poor hip couldn’t have done the stairs).  And then, sadly, the next day it was time to leave.

But leaving is made easier by knowing I’ll be back next year. And even more than that, by knowing that my family awaited me back home. Along with good friends, my own comfy bed, my crazy fat cats, the even crazier family dog, and good plans for the fall—not to mention crisp autumn days. (Temps in Collioure were in the mid-80s, but the humidity was very, very high and the mosquitos were killer.)

So that’s my story about leaving and coming home. Oh, while there, I read over my novel one last time and fixed a couple inconsistencies. My agent is submitting it even as we speak I write. And I made some good progress on my next book. So, there was that, too.

We should now be back to regular weekly programming here. So, I’ll see you next week—but please do leave a comment and tell me what you’ve been up to.  And see below for the links to September reading and watching, as well as a new feature, a weekly prompt or two!

A Prompt

We had such fun using prompts at the writing workshops in France, I thought I’d start a new series and give you a prompt thematically linked to the love letter’s topic each week. Here is this week’s effort:

Write about a time you hated leaving. Now write about a time you couldn’t wait to leave.

September Round-up 

Reading

An American Marriage  by Tayari Jones.  This was one of the books we assigned in our France workshops (the other being Educated, by Tara Westover, which I highly recommend). I had decidedly mixed feelings about this novel and can’t help but feel it is over-rated. We did have lively discussions about it, though!

Pardonable Lies, the third Maisie Dobbs mystery, by Jacqueline Winspear.  I picked up #10 or #11, not sure which, of this series and liked it so much I’m reading them from the beginning.

The French Exit,  by Patrick DeWitt. I hate to speak ill of a fellow Portland writer, so I won’t. But I will say this book was just not my cup of tea.

Two books by J.A. Jance, both in the Ali Reynolds series. A friend finished Deadly Stakes in Collioure and gave it to me to read. I enjoyed it, so I downloaded the first in the series, Edge of Evil.  I’ll definitely read more.

Slain in Schiaparelli, the third Joanna Hayworth vintage clothing mystery, by my friend Angela Sanders. I love everything she writes, her capers and her kite mysteries written under the name Clover Tate, as well.

Watching

 A Wrinkle in Time. This was my favorite book growing up—my sister and I read it a million times. But the movie was terrible, awful, wretched. I hated it.

The Post. Conversely, I loved this one. It tells the story of the Washington Post publishing the Pentagon Papers, and how that turned the paper into the national publication it is today, as well as changing Katharine Graham from a D.C. socialite into a powerhouse publisher. Highly recommended.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The Mr. Rogers documentary. Proof that Fred really was as nice as he appeared on TV. Wonderful.

Book Club. Pure fun. Loved it. Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, and Diane Keaton.  So good.

Facebook Group

And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already.  I post lots of good links and we often have lively writerly discussions going.   https://www.facebook.com/groups/1910275502543679/

 

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter. It  contains affiliate links.

 

 

 

 

Your Story Needs Something. How to Figure Out What That Might Be.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

When my granddaughter Olivia was a toddler, just learning to talk, she used to suddenly stop what she was doing, say, “need something,” and stagger in a babyish sort of way to the kitchen.  When Livie said “need something” she always meant food, so it was easy to satisfy her.

Alas, it is often not so easy for writers.

I’m in Collioure, France, teaching the second of two week-long workshops.  We meet every morning for instruction and writing and most often the assignments we give are related to the writer’s work in progress. During the first week, my co-leader Debbie decided that one of the pieces “needed something.”

I immediately thought of Livie, of course, because it always amuses me to hear those words. But then I thought further–about how to figure out what it is that your work needs. Sometimes that can be quite opaque. You know it needs something, but what? And how do you identify that what? These are the kinds of thorny writer problems that can stop you for days–or weeks.

But “needing something,” doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. Rather than let it do that, apply the cold light of writerly analysis to it, or at least as analytical as it gets around here (this being the province of a dedicated right-brain, ENFP, process-oriented writer).

Most often you’ll be asking yourself what is needed for a scene or character, but you can also apply some of these ideas to the big picture. You could try asking the following:

Collioure

Does it need a different setting? So often, a simple location shift can suddenly open up a scene.  Amazingly, nine times out of ten I find this to be the case. Changing a scene to a different setting is sometimes just what it needs. Sounds so simple as to be un-useful, but trust me and try it.

Does your character need more depth?  I am the type of writer who figures out the basics, doing some prep work in character, setting, and getting a rough idea of the story, and then plunges in. I learn from the middle what the story needs. And this often results in characters needing more depth. When this happens, I go back to the well, and learn more about their backstories and motivations. I look at their arc–where they start and where they end up–and study how that will affect events that happen in the novel.

Does the dialogue need more differentiation?  It is easy, especially in first draft writing, for all characters to end up sounding the same.  And, let me stress, this is totally okay in first drafts, because you’re just trying to get the story on the page. But if you’re feeling like your story needs something while you’re immersed in a later draft, take a look at the dialogue. Try giving your characters speech tics, or phrases they say repeatedly. Also remember that some characters might talk a lot, some only a little. Some might speak in long sentences, others in short bursts. Play around with it.

Does your scene rise or fall? Or, in other words, is it flat? A scene with rising or falling action starts in one place and ends in another.  Your main character may start out the scene feeling on top of the world–and end it as discouraged as she’s ever been. Or vice versa, in multitudes of variations. Examine your scene and see if you can give it some life by un-flattening it. An excellent book that tells about this in depth (maybe even too much depth) is Story by Robert McKee.

Do you need a second thing? Sometimes, a story, whether long or short, just needs another element.  We writers are often afraid to put too much into our stories, scared we’ll lose the focus. But often the opposite is true–we don’t put in quite enough. Is there a sub-plot you can add in? Something that

So as you can see, when your work needs something, you can view it through the lens of the fundamental aspects of fiction and figure out what is missing. I hope. Let me know how it works out for you.

And if you want to come to France for a writing workshop in an idyllic location next year, you can! We’ll have information about the 2019 event shortly.  In the meantime, you can check out our website for more information. But if you want to get on the mailing list, just email me.

This post contains affiliate links.