Why I look odd: It is full-on spring here, a few days early, and I’ve got the allergies to prove it–my eyes are all pink and itchy. Fifteen years ago, I got really sick with a horrible, unidentified virus that resulted in hives, and ever since then I struggle with over-active histamines. This year even my go-to natural supplement, Antronex, is not putting a dent in the problem, and I’ve actually been taking anti-histamines. They haven’t helped much, either. If anybody knows anything that will tame them, please do share.
Fun medical test I’m taking: Here in Portland, we’ve had a big scandal with air quality lately. The Forest Service found abnormally high levels of heavy metal in moss, particularly around the locations of a couple of art glass companies that make their home here. Turns out the DEQ knew about the results and didn’t bother to do anything about it for quite some time. Political brou-ha-ha ensued! Anyway, I live near a mini heavy metal hot spot, because, wait for it, we have a bong maker nearby. So I’m taking a urine test for heavy metal toxicity, which involves swallowing some pills, peeing into a bottle for 6 hours, and then shipping it off to the lab. Fun times.
What I just bought: On a more cheerful note, don’t judge, but I just bought a spiralizer. Yep, I did. Now I can make zoodles! We’re trying to eat as many vegetables as we possibly can around here and I thought spiralizing them looked like fun. Guilt-free pasta! Check out some recipes here.
What I’m reading: The Color of Light, by Emilie Richards. Love this book. It is women’s fiction about a minister whose congregation gets edgy when she lets a homeless family stay in an empty apartment in the parish hall. There’s a love interest in the form a faith-questioning priest. I think it is hard to write about religion without a heavy hand, and this author does it well. Helps that her husband is a Unitarian minister, Unitarians being the least woo-woo of the bunch. (I should know, I grew up in the Unitarian church.)
How many scenes I have left to write in my WIP: Three. So I better go write them.
What’s up with you these days? Please do tell in the comments.
And here's one final offering from the archives, back in September of 2012.
Yeah, so, you want to write a novel. And you're even thinking of doing Nanowrimo this year. (Nanowrimo = National Novel Writing Month, just in case you don't know, and it's in November.)
But then the voices begin:
The dreaded blank page.
The dreaded blank page.
You'll never get published.
It's a waste of time.
You could be doing other things. Worthy things.
You think you can write?
Who do you think you are to write a novel?
And so on. I'm sure you know the variations.
But I'm here to tell you otherwise. To inform you that writing a novel, in and of itself, for no other reason than to do it, is a worthy activity. It is. Even if you never get published. (Which, with all the publishing options we've got these days, you probably will, one way or another.) And here's why:
1. It's a creative act. And the world needs as many of these as we can get. Creativity breeds creativity, just as energy breeds energy. Who knows what spending time writing this novel might lead to? It might lead to a best-selling novel, or an amazing idea in another area. And, it doesn't matter if that doesn't happen because the simple act of sitting down to create is important.
2. Novels change the world, in big ways and in little ways. Novels deliver stories, which we're hard-wired to accept, and stories change us. Think of novels with grand, culture-baring themes. Or remember how you felt the last time you read a small, intimate novel. It changed you a little, didn't it? And that's how changing the world happens–one person at a time.
3. Novel writing makes you happy. At least it makes me happy. I love it. And I presume that it will make you happy, too. Lest you think that happiness is an unworthy goal, remember that none other than the Dalai Lama says that happiness is the point of life.
4. Writing a novel is an accomplishment. The first time I finished a novel (it's the one sitting in my office cupboard)I was so amazed at how much oomph it took that I vowed to respect every single book ever written, even the crappiest romance novel. And I do. You should too–especially the one you're writing now.
5. Writing a novel hones your skills. And remember, getting better at one thing affects the way you do everything. Improving your novel writing will impact your blog posts. And your articles. And your diet. As the ancients used to say, as above, so below.
6. Writing a novel helps you understand the world. To write a novel, you must populate it with characters, and to create characters, you must understand people. And, guess what? People are what make our world go around. Writing a novel helps you understand them.
7. It's your deepest, most heartfelt desire. Don't let that desire go unanswered. Go do it already.
Here's what I recommend: create your own list of reasons to write a novel. Name it the Novel-Writing Manifesto, or something a bit less grandiose. Post it next to your computer. Read it often–especially after something has shaken your confidence. It'll snap you right back into a novel-writing space.
What are your reasons for writing a novel (or any project)? Do you use them to steer yourself back on course?
While I am out, I'm posting link round-ups of various sorts. I looked at the calendar and realized, Nanowrimo is a little over a month away! (If you don't know what Nanowrimo is, you probably won't be interested in these links. But for the record, it is National Novel Writing Month, wherein you write at 50,000 word novel in a month.)
Here are some articles I'm published on the topic through the years:
It is hot here in Portland, mid to upper 90s all last week and more of the same this week, with temps predicted to reach into the 100s by the weekend. We usually get some hot hot weather during the summer, but this is very early for a heat wave and it is lasting a long time.
My office is upstairs (I'm in process of moving it downstairs, but that project is taking forever) and that automatically makes it hot. (We, like many Portlanders who live in older homes, don't have air conditioning.) But it also gets stuffy, the air stagnant, and because it is full of boxes (the afore mentioned moving project), its not a very inspiring space at the moment.
In self defense, I moved my computer and all my notes downstairs last weekend and then one early morning around 6 AM I got the idea to move my operation out back. I set up on the outdoor table on the deck and listened to the birds sing and wrote my heart out. I started out a few weeks ago setting my Iphone timer for 15 minutes and telling myself I was just going to write, simply as a way to get to the page. But now, I think it is safe to say that these daily outside writing sessions are turning into my next novel–and that my daily writing practice has transformed my writing life.
The tree above me
I now set up outside every morning and it has quickly become my favorite time of day. It is peaceful and cool and quiet aside from the occasional dog barking and I am getting a lot of writing done every morning. It is amazing to me what a change of venue can do for your writing. Some people love to go work in coffee shops, but me? Not so much. I'm far too distracted by people and noise and activity. Besides, I do my best work early in the day, in my pajamas, and that doesn't work so well anywhere but home.
By 7:30 the sun hits my back and lights the screen and I can't see so well and I'm starting to flag anyway. But the point of all this, besides encouraging you to look at where you write and how well it is working for you, is to share a few tips I've learned (relearned?) as I start writing a long project (i.e., a novel), again.
1. Call it Daily Writing Practice. Some times the daily writings are just random scenes, sometimes they actually turn into a scene for my WIP, and sometimes they become me obsessing about where I am in the WIP. But gradually, the daily practices have turned into real, consistent work on my next novel, and the sessions have lengthened out considerably. But at the beginning, I just called it daily practice and all I had to do was write something, anything for 15 minutes. Whether or not your writing sessions pertain to your WIP is up to you—but if it doesn't, that's okay.
2. Keep a Writing Log. I've started a daily writing log, wherein I write about my feelings and thoughts on what I'm writing. I wish I'd done this during the writing of my most recent novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery. Now that it is finished, that novel exists in a sort of magical haze for me, and I've convinced myself that writing it went smoothly from the idea to the end. But a few days ago, I opened, by chance, one of my daily writings from last summer–and read a whole long rant about how stuck and frustrated I was on the progress I was making. Because, the thing is, when a novel is done, you forget the day to day grind that went into it. Because the Bonne Chance was somewhat magical in origin, with the entire story essentially downloaded to me in the shower, it has been easy to forget the hard parts. Instead, I labor under the delusion that the writing of it was easy and sure in every letter and word. While parts of it were, much of it wasn't. And it is reassuring to remember that as I struggle to start anew.
For a look at how a major literary figure used a diary, check out this great Brain Pickings piece about the journals John Steinbeck kept while writing the Grapes of Wrath.
3. Set Word Count Goals. Once you get beyond the random daily writing practice (and its okay if you never do, truly), it is fun to set yourself some goals. I was hitting 1K words a morning with ease, so today I notched it up to 1,500. It helps to give me some kind of framework for what I'm doing.
4. Give Yourself a Place to Go the Next Day. If you are working on a long project, write a sentence or two about what happens next, so that you know where to start the next day. If you are doing random writing, choose a prompt so that you don't go in search of one on the internet and get distracted.
5. Stay Organized. For some dumb reason that I will probably regret, I like to save each days' writing in a separate file, labeled with the date. I think I like to see the files pile up in the folder I've created for them. What I will likely soon do is put all these pieces together into a file labeled "full manuscript." But I am notoriously terrible at organization, so you can probably figure out your own system that works well for you.
Okay, that's it! I hope you are making progress on your WIP or enjoying writing something. Do you have any tips for sustaining a regular writing practice?
I'm sure just about all of us have witnessed the Tortured Writer Syndrome. Perhaps we've even experienced it personally.
The syndrome begins with a bit of writer's block, some rubbish first draft material, a savage critique or just some good ol' white page fright.
It then grows into the expectation that writing is a difficult, thankless task that requires many hours of hard work with inevitable disappointment at the end.
Eventually this syndrome can even turn the best of writers into a martyr to their craft as they face weeks, months or even years of frustration, without ever feeling the wonder, excitement and exhilaration of what it truly means to be a writer.
Where Does It All Go Wrong?
The process starts getting all twisted when we do too much thinking and not enough actual writing.
Instead of starting our day with a freewrite to get the words flowing (and get the rusty first 300 or so out of our system before we get down to business), we worry about what we're going to produce today.
We start wondering: What am I going to write about? Will it be any good? Do I have anything worth writing about? Will anyone want to read what I'm writing anyway? Within three or four sentences we've completely lost our motivation, stopping up our natural flow with so much negativity that it takes a phenomenal effort every day to overcome it.
Then comes the inevitable writer's block and other woes of the writing life which become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe writing is hard, then it most certainly will become so. Words have power, especially the ones we use on ourselves.
So many writers are in this rut, that they are in the majority – posting, tweeting and talking about their difficulties – when the writers who are prolifically enjoying their writing life are too busy writing to respond.
How do I know?
I'm one of those prolific writers. When my words are in full flow, it's easy to write over 1,500 high-quality words in an hour. I sit down to my computer each morning with a relaxed but expectant attitude.
I feel like Sharon O'Brien who said, "Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say."
So what's the secret?
How Can You Loosen Yourself Up and Making Writing Fun Again?
Here are a few points to get you back on the road to an enjoyable writing life.
• Get the bilge out early. Start your day with a journal entry or a freewrite. If you're in any way nervous about what you're going to write, then set 15 minutes on a timer and pour your thoughts onto the page. Once you've got them out of your head, you'll be amazed at how much lighter and more confident you feel.
• Lower your expectations. You don't have to sit down at your computer and write a best-selling novel. Start writing something true – about yourself, or about life in general – and keep writing that truth until it turns into a narrative and that narrative finds a protagonist and then that protagonist goes on a journey. Allow the words to flow wherever they want to go. When you're finished, then go back and decide what to do with the end result.
• Enjoy the process. Putting words onto the page should be a cathartic experience. It's best done regularly, daily if possible, so that the words literally flow out of you. At the end of your writing day, look for one thing you especially liked about what you wrote, even if it was just a sentence or a word. Carry that positive feeling with you through to your next writing session.
• Ask for help. So many writers struggle with certain aspects of their writing. Don't let this hold you up. Get yourself a writing coach, a creativity coach, an editor or even just a good book on the subject. Invest in yourself. Show yourself that your writing is worth the extra time and effort. An outside perspective will usually pick up on where your problem lies – and you'll often be surprised at how easy the fix is.
• View your writing life as a journey. You're never going to know it all. Even the most experienced writers are still learning and honing their craft. Rather than looking at writing as something you will be graded on, view it as the narrative of your life. As you grow and change so will your writing. Get your story written now so the next story can appear and surprise you.
What about you? How do you keep your writing relaxed and fun? I'd love to read your comments!
I’m in LA, visiting a friend. I’m distracted by good food to eat, events to attend (yesterday a book signing for a fabulous cookbook and a Native American Thanksgiving ritual). And yet I’m writing every morning. I’m a rolling stone, merrily cavorting down the long hill of novel writing. I’ve achieved the vaunted state of momentum, where even if I wanted to quit writing, I probably couldn’t, because I’m caught up in something bigger than myself.
For the record, this is my favorite state to find myself in. When I’m in it, I feel most like myself. When I’m not in it, I want to be, desperately. When I’ve achieved momentum in my latest project, I’m in love with my writing and my world. It’s an amazing state, one marked by energy (getting up at 5 to write every morning is not difficult in the least), focus and joy.
And it’s not always the easiest state to arrive at.
I’ve written before about the tasks that will help you achieve this vaulted state of momentum, such as:
Taking good notes to prime the pump, moving your body, reading (I highly recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel), and writing every day (which is why Nanowrimo is so popular, because it gives people a structure to help them do that).
These activities are all well and good–and important, but they are often more easily done once you’ve established momentum. So what underlying mindsets will help get you there in the first place?
Discipline. Which is not a dirty word. We writers like to think it’s antithetical to creativity, but truth is, its not because creativity doesn’t exist without it. If you can’t muster the discipline to get your butt in the chair regularly, no book will flow out of you.
Gratitude. Yes, gratitude. The concept is much written about this time of year, with Thanksgiving soon to be upon us. People on social media are busy making lists about how they are grateful for family and friends and pets and their glorious lives. But it’s a practice that is well applied to writing also. Be grateful for the words you’ve written. Be grateful you’ve got a good brain to think with and two strong hands to write with. Be grateful that you’re a writer in the first place. It will make you feel all warm and fuzzy–and warm and fuzzy is much more conducive to momentum than anxiety and angst.
Positivity. This is easy in theory, harder in practice. At its simplest, focus on what you’ve done, not what you’ve not done. I wrote 773 words this morning, so it would be easy to bemoan the fact that I didn’t quite make it to 1,000. But I’m actually quite happy about the words I did get on the page, because I was in a bit of a difficult spot that I had to write my way out of.
Connection. Whether through journal writing or prayer, connect with that thing that’s bigger than you. It might be God, it could be the goddess, or Allah, or Buddha, or even the great nothingness of the universe. Find it
Courage. Courage to go to the dark places. Courage to labor away at something when you’re not sure what the outcome will be. Courage to get up every morning and face the blank page. Because that’s what creativity demands of us–courage. (Which is why so many people never, ever do anything creative.)
Those are my ideas on the subject, what are yours? How do you get to a place of momentum in your writing? Please leave a comment.
I'm working on a post for Thursday that will appear here and go out in my newsletter as well. It's about the advent of autumn and ways to jumpstart your creativity and writing for the remaining months of the year.
As I wrote, I realized something: we've got a little more than three months until 2014. 101 days (I asked the Google).
So let me ask you this: how are your writing goals for 2013 coming along? What would you like to accomplish the rest of this year?
I'm a gentle, supportive, type of writing coach and teacher (just ask the participants at our French retreat, who referred to my biz partner Debbie as the "bad cop" and me as the "good cop") so I don't usually rag people about goals. But counting down the days to a new year seems like a good excuse to look at what you wanted to accomplish this year.
Taking a look at my own year, I've had two huge highlights: the publication of my novel, and the success of the retreat in France. I've also had two fantastic ghostwriting jobs and enjoyed working with a ton of writers and their manuscripts. But, and this is a big but, I'm not as far along on writing my next novel as I'd like to be.
So, here's my goal for the rest of this year:
To finish a draft of the novel, which just yesterday I titled Lost Causes.
Now that I've announced it publicly, I expect y'all to hold me to it.
And, perhaps you would like to share what exciting things have happened to you so far as well as what you want to finish in the time you have left this year? I'd love to hear about it–leave a comment.
(And come back on Thursday for the blog post on 10 Ways to Welcome Autumn and Awaken Your Creativity.)
Cheating because the rules of Nanowrimo say that you can't have written any of your novel before November 1st, and I'd written, oh, 60 pages. But I wanted to use the energy of the event to galvanize my writing and get back to a regular writing schedule.
So I set a goal for myself to write 2,000 words every day and I met that goal every day in November until Sunday.
When my writing screeched to a halt.
I knew exactly why the flow stopped. It was because I only had a couple day's worth of work until I didn't know where I was going in the book. Up until this time, I could let the words roll because I knew what scene happened next.
Now, after a few more sessions, I'd be stuck.
And I let the fear of that moment stop me.
But I really didn't want to lose my momentum. So I did what any self-respecting writer would do. I lowered my standards.
First, I told myself that I only had to write 1,000 words a day. Then I reminded myself that I could write as badly as I wanted. Not only could, but should, write what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft.
Lowering my standards did the trick. Writing 1,000 bad words a day is at least making progress, and that was the point of participating in Nanowrimo in the first place.
Today my assignment is to figure out what comes next. I have ideas, they just aren't in any logical order. And even if I lower my standards to only spending 15 minutes on this project, I'll have met my expectations.
I'm telling you, lowering your standards is amazing. It will help you get the writing done. If there's one thing I know for sure, to borrow a phrase from Oprah, it's that we're all way too hard on ourselves anyway. Lowering your standards is one way to subvert this.
Have you ever successfully lowered your standards around writing?
**By the way, sometimes even lowering your standards doesn't help. If you're well and truly stuck in your writing, I can help. Check out my services page for more information.