My 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.
Please welcome guest poster Julie Duffy today. Julie and I connected on Twitter and I'm glad we did! She is a writer and also the creator of A Story A Day--the extreme challenge to write a story every day in May. (And guess what–you can start any time. If you get going now, think how many stories you'll have by the end of the month.) Please join me in welcoming Julie, I think you'll like her ideas for overcoming writers' block.
Writer’s block can come out of nowhere. It can be temporary and related to one project, or it can be chronic, stopping you from writing anything creative. Sometimes, it’s important to figure out the underlying problems that are contributing to the block. Is it a technical problem with the work? Have you lost the plot? Do you hate the characters? Finding out the root cause allows you to start forming strategies for tackling the block. But sometimes you just need to knuckle down and do the work. For those days, here are 15 fundamental fixes to help you work through your worst writers' block.
1 – Lower Your Standards
Don't strive for greatness. Go for entertainment. Especially on a first draft. And a second. Save the sixth revision for making it perfect. For now it's enough to ask: is it fun to read (by that I mean enjoyable and entertaining, even if it's sad)
2 – Rewrite Something
Take a look at something you've written before. Don't waste time worrying about what doesn't work. Start it again, rewrite it (or sections of it, if it is a longer work) without the use of 'cut and paste'. Just take another stab at it. Or retell a classic story, just to warm up.
3 – Start
Sometimes you literally have to put the pen on the paper and start making shapes. It doesn't matter what you write, but putting something — anything — on the page will snap you out of your terror. Keep the pen moving until you're thinking only about the story and not about yourself. Put your pen on the paper. Put your fingers on the keyboard. Make some words.
4 – Free-Write
If you are horribly blocked, don't try to write a story as soon as you sit down. Free-write. Write about anything: about what you want to do, about why you hate your project, what you're trying to do with this story. You should either solve some of your problems or get so sick of listening to yourself whine that you decide you'd rather be writing a story than complaining any more.
5 – Turn Off Distractions
Turn off the Internet. Yes you can. Unplug the router, if you're home alone, or turn off the WiFi on your laptop. If you can't pull the LAN cable out of the back of your computer without upsetting your techies, do the next best thing: turn off email notifications, Twitter pop ups and Facebook, IM or any other chat windows. Ignore your calendar. Set a timer or a word count and go. If you have an old busted laptop, use that and store your work on a USB key. Turn off your phone if it gets email alerts. Do whatever you have to do to kill all the distractions.
6 – Write From A Different P.O.V
If a scene or a story is not working for you, try writing it (again) from a different character's point of view, or in a different voice. Even if you decide not to use the piece, writing it from a different point of view may show you why it wasn't working before, or why you were resisting working on it.
7 – Work On A Different Part Of The Project
Here's a tip: you don't have to write your story in the right order. If you can't get excited about the scene right after the opening, leap over it and get into a meatier part of the story. Then at least, you'll know exactly what you need to set up in that ho-hum scene that you don't want to write today.
8 – Accept that Writing Is Hard Work
If it wasn't everyone would be doing it (and they're not. Trust me. Even though you know a lot of people who write, there are actually a larger number of people out there who aren't writing. Weird, but true.) Every professional writer who ever gave an honest answer in an interview has said some version of, "I just have to sit down and write, you know? It's a job." You have to take it seriously. No matter how much you love your job, there are days when you'd rather not be doing it. The same goes for writing. But you have to turn up anyway.
9 – Change Projects
It is OK to be working on more than one project at once. Now, don't go crazy because you'll never finish anything if you keep abandoning projects when they get hard. But it is OK to switch between a project or two when you need a change.
10 – Write A Little Then Stop
If you're having trouble writing a lot, then don't worry about writing a lot (unless you have someone standing over you with a contract and a stop watch). Write as much as you can. Write a little bit more, then stop. If you can get away with it, don't make yourself sick of a story by pushing too hard.
11 – Edit Something Out
If your story is stuck, maybe it's because your characters can't take that road trip you've been setting up. Even if you really, really wanted to write about a road trip, maybe you need to accept that this is not the story where it happens. Trying to write something when you know it's not working is a sure route to writer's block.
12 – Write First
Make writing the first thing you do, before the distractions of the day get their claws into you.
13 – Write Every Day, Even If It's Twitter Fiction
The act of writing every day proves to yourself that you are serious about this writing business. Writing something as small as Twitter fiction (140 characters) on a busy day at least means that your imagination knows it can’t go to sleep. If you know you HAVE to write something today, your imagination and your subconscious will keep looking around for ideas. In the process you will pay much more attention to the world around you — something that will pay off later, when you are working on another piece.
14 – Don’t Be Fancy
Use simple words. If you are trying to write something and it’s giving you trouble, just say it as simply as possible. Don’t worry about saying it in a beautiful way. You can get hung up on searching for the perfect word and it can stall your whole project. Come back and change it later if it needs changed (it probably won't.)
15 – Write What You Love
Maybe you've got high-flown ideas about writing what you think you 'ought' to be writing. Or maybe you've heard that a certain type of fiction sells better, or is better regarded, or is more likely to get you an agent. Maybe all these ideas have got you writing work that isn't you, that you don't love. Take some time out and write something with no thought of publishing. In fact, promise yourself you won't show it to anyone, that it's just for you. Above all, keep writing. Even if it's bad, even if it's just OK. Words on the page can be fixed. So stop worrying and write something!
What about you? What tricks do you use to jumpstart your writing?
Last week I wrote about some slightly different regular writing practices (beyond the usual round-ups of meditating and all the other things we try to do regularly and fail at). And now here I am again, with the word practice in the title of the post.
At the moment, I'm obsessed with the concept of practicing because I'm working hard to do it myself–as in practicing writing regularly (to the tune of 1,000 words a day on my WIP). And when one is trying to maintain a creative practice, having some other practices that you do as a baseline is helpful indeed.
I'm not sure if this will be helpful to you, or if that matter if it will be helpful to me over the long haul, as I only just discovered it yesterday, in church. (When you're a writer, everything is grist for the mill. I get some of my best ideas in church. I often take notes during the messages and my little carry-around journal is a mishmash of ideas I want to remember from the sermon and thoughts on my current WIP or other projects. And this does not mean I'm not paying attention. It just means my mind is particularly open. Or so I tell myself.)
A Practice For Feeling Whole
Anyway, Lisa, my minister, talked about a process for feeling whole, based on the work of neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness and other books. He also writes a cool regular newsletter, from which the quotes I used of his are taken. The idea is to open your mind beyond that which it usually obsesses about (I'm stuck on knitting blogs at the moment) to take in the whole of your experience. This has the delightful effect of getting you away from the critical voice of the ego who likes to scream hateful things at you.
Why It Might Be Helpful
1. Because it could help your writing. If your ego (you can also call it your inner critic if you like) is in the habit of screaming the aforementioned hateful things while you are writing, then you really want to practice this practice. (Hahaha, I couldn't resist.) As Hanson says, "With moments of practice that add up over time, you will feel more like a whole person, less fragmented and partial, less yanked this way and that by competing desires in your head." (Such as, write, no, I'm terrible at writing, I must stop, no, I yearn to express myself, write, oh who am I keeping I must stop, no I must write….and so on.)
2. Because it could help your ability to see. You're a writer, and you've got to have something to write about, as in, you need ideas. But when you're stuck in your critical mind, worrying about one thing or another, like your relative worth in the world, it is difficult to be open and receptive to that which is going on around you. And you really need to be paying attention to the world, because that is where ideas come from.
How to Do It
1. Practice for 12 seconds at a time or longer. (I give you permission to estimate.)
2. Become aware of all the sounds around you. As Hanson says, "Disengage from inner verbal commentary abou them; stay with the experience of sounds as a whole." In other words, don't judge, just listen.
3. Become aware of all the sights around you. If you look toward the horizon, this activates "neural networks that process sights in a more global, I'm-integrated-with-the-whole-world-way."
4. And then become aware of your breathing, all of it, the sensations of it in your entire body.
My minister thought this feeling whole process was a dandy way to become more aware of God, and of being in a whole universe. I agree. And, I think this process is a marvelous way to become more centered in your creative self, without your inner harpy screaming at you. Try this process before your next writing session and let me know how it goes, won't you?
While you're at it, I'd love to hear about any processes or practices you use to enhance your writing.
My church is currently featuring a series on foundational spiritual practices and as I listened to our minister a couple of Sundays ago, I started thinking (as always) about writing. What, I wondered, would I consider to be foundational writing practices? I pondered and made notes on this for a few days and this blog post is the result.
What do I mean by foundational practice? I mean the activities that will insure you a successful and inspired writing life, one that will keep you productive and make you happy. (Because I am convinced that if a writer is writing, the rest of her life can be falling apart and she'll still be happy, or at least deeply satisfied.)
So, here goes–my list of the ten foundational writing practices I think are vital to your life.
1. Write every day. Something, anything. Even if it is for five minutes. Committing to this has the potential to change your writing (and you) in a powerful way.
2. Follow the writing process. Let her rip! Write a shitty first draft in which everything you got at the moment is glumped onto the page. And then rewrite and revise it until your manuscript is a glowing jewel.
3. Read as much as you can in your genre–or any other genre, for that matter. If you're not reading you shouldn't be writing. Period. You've got to get the rhythm of words inside you in order to be able to spit them out onto the page.
4. Study craft. Read the experts so you can master the fundamentals–and then go beyond them. Read writing books, writing blogs, and any article on craft you can get your hands on.
5. Keep a journal and/or an idea book. Journaling and morning pages are wonderful tools to develop ease and flow in your writing. But sometimes when you're wrapped up in your WIP, you don't want to take time for journaling. That's cool. But at least keep a journal of ideas.
6. Learn the fundamentals of grammar and spelling. But don't obsess about them, either. You've got to learn the basics!
7. Connect with other writers. Okay, I know you're an introvert and would rather spend hours at your desk. But the rewards of connecting with other writers are immense. Nobody gets a writer like another writer, period. And these days you can connect online and never have to leave your desk. Except you also want to consider:
8. Move your body. Sitting at her desk all day makes Mary a wide girl. It's really important to move those bones–walking, running, yoga, something.
9. Calm your mind. Pay your hard-working brain some attention, too. Spend time in meditation, or prayer, or even just take a few deep breaths to clear the cobwebs out throughout the day. This will help with:
10. Stay positive. This is a tough business. You're going to get bad reviews, rejections from editors, crappy emails from people who don't like your work. If you maintain a positive mindset, it is easy to say, f–k it when this happens.
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.
Over the last week, I've been revisiting the writer's process. (You can get caught up on the other posts here and here.) As promised, today's post begins a look at each step of the process.
And so today we talk about the fine and wonderful art of glumping.
Glumping is a word that I've always used for the magical process of spewing words onto the page in your first, or discovery draft. (Don't know where I came up with this word, to be honest. I thought it was a made-up word I picked up somewhere along the line, but dictionary.com defines glump: to manifest sulleness, to sulk. Which is what happens to writers when they don't write.)
For many people, this step engenders the magic of writing, the truly creative time when ideas fly and words combine in fabulous ways. (For others, rewriting is when the deeply satisfying work begins, but we'll get to that in the next post.)The most important thing to remember about glumping is this: just do it. The act of getting words onto the page in a first draft really boils down to picking up your pen and writing, or turning on the computer and pounding away on the keys.
So simple and yet so difficult.
Because sometimes it is damned hard to glump.
If you find that to be the case, remember the three Ps of glumping:
1. Prepare. Glumping will go much easier if you ponder your project ahead of time. (Okay, I'll quit with the ps now, I promise. Oops, sorry.) If you're writing a novel, make character dossiers, a loose outline of the plot, write descriptions of locations, and so on. For non-fiction, a list of points you want to follow. Anything that will help seed thoughts for writing.
2. Prompt. Oh, the poor, maligned prompt. People love to sneer at these clever sentences, when really, all they want to do is help you get your writing going. If you're staring a blank page or computer screen without a clue what to write, they can be a lifesaver. Use them as a way to get words flowing. I recommend keeping a list handy in your journal or writing notebook and pick one at random ( do not stop to make value judgments about which prompt you want to use–just choose one). Then write. The first few sentences may be totally off topic, but soon you'll settle back into your draft.
3. Practice. As in, practice makes perfect. Because, it does. The more you write, the easier it gets. When you spend more time working other aspects of the writing process, like rewriting, returning to glumping feels strange and out of control. But soon it will become second nature again. That is, if you practice regularly.
So there you have it, the three Ps of glumping. How do you glump (or should I even ask, that sounds vaguely obscene)? What are your expriences with the writing process?
Do you ever get certain phrases ringing in your head?
My latest is, "bringing full attention to bear." As in full attention to my creative work, though it could be applied to just about anything.
It was brought on by reading an article written by Christine Kane, in which she talked about how important it is to cherish your attention. To show up to write when you say you're going to, and then stay present and focused on your writing. In other words, to follow through on what you aimed to do.
I think the phrase has been repeating itself in my mind because I'm working on a new approach to setting goals for my writing and this casts light on it. I used to set word count or page goals. I've been known to advocate showing up and writing something, anything, in your allotted time.
But that can lead you down a dark road. You can write and write and not really know where you're going and be unhappy with what you are writing and continuing to write doesn't solve the problem. (And yes, I know that you can also continue to write and the light will turn on.)
So now I'm setting a time goal. As in, I'll work on my novel for one hour a day, every weekday. I like to get up and write first thing and so the deal is, if I don't get my full hour in, I have to finish it up sometime during the day. So far so good. And the best thing about writing first thing in the morning is that I get the work in my head and it sticks with me all day. My subconscious chews on it and I'm ready to go again by the next day.
But here's the deal: when I show up for my hour, I have to be there. I have to be present. I have to set aside thoughts of checking email or what I might eat for breakfast or what I need to accomplish during the day. I need to just be present and write. Or if that fails, think about what I want to write. In other words, I need to bring my full attention to bear on the creative project at hand.
What kinds of writing goals do you set for yourself?
This is going to be a short post today (I know what you're thinking–ha! when has she ever managed to write a short post?) because, ta-da, my office furniture is assembled (thanks to my long-suffering husband) and I want to spend time moving myself back in.
This is actually the very first post I've written from my new desk. Amazingly, I can sit comfortably at it with my computer on the desk, instead of in my lap, as has been the case for the last few years. I can already feel my shoulder problems easing.
I promise to post photos when it is all in order, but the picture to the right is a bit of a teaser, an image of one of the wall cabinets. For those of you who are familiar with Ikea products, it is the "Effektiv" line of office storage and it is quite handsome as well as efficient.
But all of that is actually a warm up to the real topic of this post, which is something I'm calling the carry-along book.
But lately I've been doing things a bit differently.
My journaling has taken the form of Active Imagination, which to me, requires a bigger canvas on which to throw words, so I've been using large sketchbooks from my new favorite place, Columbia Art and Drafting.
(In case you don't know about Active Imagination, I wrote about it in the most recent issue of my newsletter. It's a technique devised by Carl Jung, and it involves accessing a "trusted source" which can be your intuition, your higher self, God, the goddess, whatever in writing. Just choose a source and then do an actual dialogue on the page, using the names.)
But the larger sketchbook is hard to take with me. Yet I need a place to scrawl notes, to write down things of interest, to note observations. One of the practices in my-soon-to-be-renamed Writing Abundance system is cultivating, which is basically the habit of observing, listening, and gathering. Taking stuff in so you can spit it back out on the page. Usually this stuff goes right along with regular journal entries, but that won't work at the moment. So I needed a carry-along journal.
Which I didn't even know until I started using one.
When I was in Nashville I found myself drawn to a journal on a rack at a coffee shop in the 12th Avenue South neighborhood. (Somebody help me out here, I've forgotten the name of the place.)
As you can see from the lovely accompanying photos, the journal is awesome. It is small in size, 6 by 8 ish (my ruler is still packed). As a matter of fact, I hesitated to buy it because of its size, thinking that it was too little to journal in. But I was so compelled to buy it, I did…and then I started the Active Imagination and the rest is history.
One of the great things about it is the way it is bound, with the edges threaded and two separate covers bound together, allowing it to lie flat. So now I'm in love with a new style of journal (this one was handmade but I found others in this style are available commercially).
But all of this points out something crucial about writing: it is a living, breathing practice. And sometimes that practice changes as we change. I reserve the write to go back to my beloved Moleskines, and I probably will at some point.
Meanwhile, if anybody knows how to make this kind of journal, I'd love being pointed to a link.
So, what kind of journal do you write in? Do you mash everything together in one, or use a carry-along journal and another for lengthier entries? Or perhaps you have numerous journals?
***By the way, when I grow up I want to be Ann Patchett. Read her great essay about the Nashville floods here.
****I almost forgot, the maker of this journal is Holly Frees, of Hope Sewn Journals.
The other day, I was out walking in a neighborhood next to mine. And for some reason, I started thinking about the name of the neighborhood that I live in, which is Rose City Park. And the thought occurred to me that it is a lovely, evocative name. This is something I've always known, but forgot.
As I walked I pondered how cool it sounds when someone asks what part of Portland I live in.
"Oh, Rose City Park."
Something about that sounds so elegant. There are roses involved for one thing. And then there is the element of having a city within a city. As if our little enclave is so important it has been elevated to city status, even though we're just a neighborhood. And then you add on the park part and that evokes images of lush green and tall firs. All of which are true about the actual park that lies a few blocks away from my house. It is true of the neighborhood itself, come to think of it. One of the things that drew me here in the first place are the tall firs that tower in nearly every backyard.
But I hadn't thought about the name of the neighborhood for years.
Which got me to thinking. What else do I need to look at with fresh eyes? Are there things in my writing that I need to take a new look at? New genres to try? New worlds to conquer? New skills to develop?
I don't have answers for these questions. But I'm pondering them. And co-incidentally, I'm thinking a bit about going back to the basics. About which I will write tomorrow.
In the meantime, how about you? Have you taken a fresh look at anything recently? If so, what did you see? Or does reading this bring to mind an area you think needs some looking at? Please share.
It is 3 PM on a glorious spring day in Portland. My cat's in the window making that weird clicking-in-the-back-of-the-throat sound that kitties make when they see birds or squirrels. It's spring break, so every normal human is outside enjoying themselves.
I'm sitting at my desk, near where Captain is making odd cat noises. There's a nice breeze blowing in the window, but it is not the same thing as being outside, enjoying the day, taking a hike, hanging out in the park, sitting on the deck at the local pub, raising a glass.
So why don't I just quite whining and go do something?
Because I have a blog post to write.
I made a commitment to myself to write a blog post every day until further notice or some other unforeseen event makes it impossible. I wanted to see if this would help my traffic (it has) and also lay the groundwork for some upcoming things like an ebook release and some day, the publication of my novel. Also, because, um, I love writing these here posts and most days it is so much fun I can't believe I get paid for it.
But some days it is 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I haven't blogged yet and I'd rather be doing anything than sitting at my computer wondering what to write. But here I am. And guess what? This is what commitment looks like. And commitment is what creates abundant writing careers.
And so here I sit until the blog post gets done. And, amazingly, now it is. And sitting here doing it reminds me, again, that this is what commitment is all about.
How about you? What are you committed to? How does that look in your life?