Do You Need to Recover Your Writing Equilibrium?

NEWS FLASH! Okay, when I started writing this I knew that good things were afoot--but now I can make the announcement: Erin Niumata of Folio Lit has agreed to represent me!  She will be repping my novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, and future works as well.  I will write about the process (which has happened fast--like in a week) in a future post.  So now the following will make sense: Scale_gram_kilo_239552_l

I'm buzzing with excitement over new developments in my life, so much so that it is hard to come back down to earth.  But there are words to be written and work to be done.  What to do? How to move forward on the page after a big event has happened in your life?  Read on.

2015 has been a great year for me.  We're only one month in, and things are happening! And, I'm aware that not everyone is so fortunate.  I've had downer winters, believe me.  And if I had read about someone leaping about with happiness during one of those downer times, I probably would have wretched.  So forgive me if that is where you find yourself--my aim is to inspire, not depress.

But here's the thing--either great excitement or great discouragement often has the same result: you feel disconnected from your writing, unable to work.  And yeah, it feels way, way better when you're wandering around with your head in the clouds because good things are happening but it can be just as distracting.  (It is funny how often the good and the bad result in the same feeling inside. Excitement and nervousness, for instance--pretty much the same feeling in your stomach and chest. Remember that the next time you're really nervous about something.)

What you need to do is root yourself back in your life.  What do I mean by this?  Often when I'm reading a manuscript, I get the feeling that the characters are floating in the air.  They talk and move about but I have no idea where they are.  There's an easy fix for this--drop in a hint or two about the physical location to keep the reader grounded.  And so that's what I need to do--come down from the air where I'm floating and reconnect with my life!

Some suggestions (for me and you):

1.  Give into it.  I'm a great believer in celebrating--and wallowing.  Whether your news is good or bad, you likely don't feel like writing.  So, don't.  I know, shocking.  I never say that.  But in this case, trying to write while you are excited or devastated is fruitless.  You'll just stare at the computer screen.

2.  Get away from it.  This week, I've given up.  I'm not writing--instead, I'm working on cleaning my desk off and packing up my office to move it downstairs, a long-delayed project.  It is really, really hard for me to step away from the computer, but allowing myself time to do something else feels good.

3.  Do something for someone else.  At times like this we I tend to be totally focused on me, me, me.  After you have celebrated or wallowed, try focusing outward and see what happens.  Give a homeless person a Starbucks card, or offer to walk your neighbor's dog.  

4.  Indulge in some self care.  And now we get to the polar opposite of #3.  What can I say?  I like contradictions.  In truth, we think of self care as selfish, but it really isn't.  And if you are in a time of great or bad things happening, you're in a time of stress. I've been writing about self care this week, so I won't repeat myself here.  Besides, you know what you like.  (For me lately, its a massage.)

5.  Write your way back into it.  I know, I know.  The issue at hand is that you're too distracted to write. But you can, and maybe should, journal.  Pouring your heart out on the page can sometimes be the most helpful thing of all--and it just might lead you back to your beloved WIP.

Okay, that's all I've got.  What is your favorite way to come back to earth?  Leave a comment!

Image by Pontuse.


A Guide to the Care and Tending of Writers, Part Two

So, this week & last, we are on the topic of self care for writers.  I know, wahk (that's the sound of a Buddha_buddhism_religion_581602_hbuzzer). But this is an important subject for you to pay attention to, so that you don't burn out.  So listen up. But first, go read Part One. Because in that ditty, I wrote about how you can tell you're in overwhelm and need to take a break.

But, really?  You need to give yourself a break every day.  You're putting crazy energy out into the world as you write.  Be aware of that and cultivate some time to yourself to get some of that energy back.  And--if you are like me, at first you will have to force yourself to do this. If you're like me, you'll resist.  You'll sit at the computer, certain that the words will come at any minute, sure that the fog of indecision will lift.  But it won't.  

You need to take a freaking break already!

And the one thing I've learned over years of doing this is that if you do these things, create, gasp, a routine of them, your writing will flourish.  So here are some suggestions for incorporating self-care into your life:

1.  Stretch.  I'm working on getting up from the computer every 20 (okay, it is usually more like 40) minutes and doing a couple of simple stretches.  This makes an enormous difference in how I feel at the end of the day.

2.  Artist's Date.  Julia Cameron advocates this in her book, The Artist's Way.  It is something you do alone, and can be as simple as taking your journal to the coffee shop.  Or going to an art gallery. Whatever makes you happy and fills the well. I'm lousy at doing this.  Really lousy.  But when I do, it is mind expanding.

3. Color.  Like in a coloring book, the way you did as a kid.  I'm not kidding, it is really relaxing. There's a whole series of Mandala coloring books you can get if that makes you feel more adult.  Or scribble shapes on a pad of paper and color in the blanks.  Here is a really cool link I found where you can print separate pages out.

4.  Read.  As I've mentioned a time or two before, if you're a writer, you need to read.  Words in, words out.  If I'm putting a lot of words out on the page, I need to pull a lot of them in as well.  And, it is relaxing.

5. Walk.  Get thyself out of the house and into the fresh air.  Carry index cards or your phone to take notes on (I highly recommend Evernote) because you will get ideas that you will want to write down.

6.  Enjoy a hobby. Cook, bake, garden (come to my house and pull some weeds if you like). Knit, crochet, sew.  I used to think that doing creative projects other than writing pulled me away from my writing--but really, it just enhances it.

7.  Get a mani-pedi.  Or just a pedi. Guys, you too.  Hit a salon that has a massage chair and you'll have a relaxing time, while your feet get spiffed up, too.

8.  Get a massage.  I've had the enormous luxury of getting a chiropractic massage weekly (thank you, health insurance) this year.  This is because my body is a bit out of whack.  The massages are helping me physically, yes, but also mentally and emotionally.  Well worth it.

9.  Sit under a tree.  When my kids were little, upon occasion we would visit the nearby park and I would let them play while I sat a picnic table and wrote or simply pondered life's issues.  Getting out into nature is soothing in a way nothing else is.

10.  Get outta town.   Okay, so I am fortunate to live in Portland, Oregon, where the ocean is an hour in one direction and the mountains an hour in the other.  But do I avail myself of these delights?  Rarely.  Don't be like me.  Take a day trip.

11.  Meditate.  Or, keep it simple and not so scary and just pause and take some huge deep breaths every so often throughout the day.

12.  Do nothing.  Closely related to #11.  Just sit and do nothing.  Or stand and do nothing.  Or lie down and do nothing.  Wait, better skip that last one, because if you're like me you'll fall asleep. Which actually isn't a bad idea--napping is good, also.  Honestly, think about it--when is the last time you let yourself really do nothing?  I know, ages ago.  Me, too.

What else?  Well, what relaxes you?  What makes you happy?  Make a list--and then indulge yourself once in awhile.  Blame it on me if you must, but do it.  

Do you build time into your day or week for self care?  What's your favorite thing to do?


A Guide to the Care and Tending of Writers, Part One

Let's talk about self care.  Yeah, I know, you'd rather be writing than fussing about some dumb old self care crap.  But here's the point: taking care of yourself will enable you to write more and better. Truly.

An example, taken from my own life: Boracay-beach-paradise-1561148-h

Yesterday, I completed two big projects.  Both are under wraps for the moment, and only one is related to writing, really, but it was an application that necessitated a bunch of thought and filling out.

Today, I'm in full-on fart around mode.  I have a list a mile long to complete--and I'm not doing any of it.  Instead, I'm cruising around the internet, looking at sites I've not checked in on in ages, reading stupid stories about celebrities, wasting time.  

And now, as the day begins to wane, I'm feeling a bit creaky and antsy and unsettled.  How much better it would have been if I'd just said, f$%# it, I took two huge steps yesterday, I'm going to read and knit all day.  In other words, indulge in things I truly enjoy.  Relax after the full-out effort I put in yesterday. In other words, practice self care. 

I don't know why it is so hard to force allow yourself to do this.  Because if you're like me, you'll resist.  You'll sit at the computer, certain that the words will come at any minute, sure that the fog of indecision will lift.  But it won't.  And my day today is a case in point.

(The truth of the matter is, I've had this blog post--which is going to be two parts, by the way--in the works for a couple of weeks.  And it is sheer coincidence synchronicity that my behavior today so aptly proved my own point.)

So, here's the deal: you need to take a freaking break already!

Spoken by the same woman who constantly exhorts you to write every day.  So let's go at this from a slightly different angle, with a handy-dandy list of Possible Signs You Are Burned Out and Need to Replenish:

1.  You have a hard time focusing.  You can't seem to concentrate on the words in front of your face, or you land or a website and wonder why you clicked on it. Then you click on another one and remember why you were on the first one and so you go back there, read for awhile, then head over to the second website.  While your writing file sits open and ignored.  Yeah, that.

2.  You can't connect with the story of your WIP (work in progress).  You remember vaguely that its about...a woman...who does something.  But you can't recall what in the hell it is she does, or the name of any of the other characters or why you wanted to write it in the first place.

3.  Your eyelids get heavy when you open your WIP file, and you don't feel like writing, you feel like sleeping.

4.  The People magazine website is suddenly the most interesting thing you've ever seen.  And you are compelled to read mindless puff articles about people you've never heard of before.

5.  A glass of wine is the thing that you need right now, at this moment, because it is five o'clock somewhere.  And once you take the first sip, it is all downhill from there...

The first three of this list are the most important to heed because they are the most insidious.  You won't ever realize you are doing them until you look back at the end of the day and see that you've accomplished nothing.  Nada.  But even worse, you likely won't identify the root cause of your behavior as needing self care.  No, you will beat yourself up and tell yourself what a lazy ass you are.

How do I know this? Because I do it all the time my friend told me about it.

So, start paying attention.  Take a break.  Figure out some ways that you can do self care that isn't goopy.  How, you ask?  That is the subject of part two of this post, coming right up whenever I can quit procrastinating.

What is your favorite way to waste time?

Photo by The Wandering Angel.


Wednesday Within: How I Get Derailed (You, Too?)

Lights_christmas_light_226586_l
My brain looks like these Christmas lights some mornings.

Another title for this post might be Why You Need a Routine.  Or more to the point, why I need one.

Here's the setup: A morning in December. After a busy weekend of Christmas parties (we survived hub's resurrected Christmas office gala!) and work deadlines (yes, on the weekend—it was for a special project that I will reveal soon), I woke up at 5:45 as usual.  (My eyes pop open any time from 5:30 to 6.  Don't shoot me, it's just the way it is.)

As usual, I went right to my computer, with one quick detour to grab coffee and a big glass of water, with the intention to get back to work on my novel rewrite.  It is cruising right along but last week I hit a bump of the my-brain-needs-a-break-to-think-about-the-story sort.  And it was high time to get back to it, because I've assigned myself a deadline of finishing by the end of January.

And so I opened the computer, with the idea to work on it.  And I didn't.  I checked email.  Looked at blog stats.  Opened the Buzzfeed story that featured photos of Prince George.  Clicked back over and answered an email.  Thought about a blog post I'd committed to write later in the week, and a student packet that was almost late, and a program I was doing about goal-setting.  Looked at email again. Checked what was going on over at Hootsuite, and tweeted my Tumblr prompt of the day.

Only after all that did it occur to me that I was farting around.  But that morning, instead of beating myself up about it, which generally leads to more farting around in a rather rebellious teenage, you-can't-tell-me-what-to-do-way (and yes, I do know I'm rebelling against myself), I paid attention to the conditions that led to this disorganized state.

I'd had a lot going on over the weekend, and didn't take time to clear the decks.  As I greeted the day, I had a gazillion tabs, including both email inboxes, open.  I had a to-do list with lots of left over items on it, and as I sipped coffee, I added more.  My desk was a mess, covered with the afore-mentioned to-do lists, a new calendar and journal to be made into a bullet journal, a notebook full of goal work, mailing envelopes to send books off in, and Christmas lists of presents I still need to buy.

So is it any wonder that my mind was just as messy as my surroundings?  Gee-sus.

My morning routine is theoretically that I go right to the computer and work on my novel.  Most days this happens.  But sometimes it doesn't.  On the days it happens, I'm happy.  And all day long the world flows around me peacefully.  Or even if it doesn't, I can handle things with aplomb.  And when I don't, I feel edgy and off all day.  Which is understandable--I've started the day with a massive fail.

So, I dunno the answer.  Because my early morning writing hours are often the only time I have to work on fiction.  And they are also the time when I think about it best.  But sometimes it seems like I need a lead-in, like morning pages for instance.  (I did them for years.)  On the other hand, if I spend time doing morning pages, then I have less time to work on my novel.  But on the other other hand, if morning pages would lead me into my writing, then working on them would be time well spent.

Many, many people (myself included) have written about the benefits of a morning routine, doing such things as yoga, meditating, or whatever.  And that appeals to me, yes it does.  But it also brings up the same problem: if I do yoga or meditate first thing, there goes my time to write.

Sigh.  Here's what I do know: I need to get into the habit of closing down distracting tabs and inboxes before I go to bed, so that all that is open is the one lovely file containing my rewrite.  I guess that's a good start.  Or I could just blame it all on Christmas and call it good.

Am I the only one who obsesses about such things?  Do you have a morning routine?  Give me some ideas, please.

 Photo by reuben4eva.


What Makes You Stop Writing?

Stop_symbol_plate_238801_lThe other morning, I had a lot on my mind.  Tasks to finish, things to get organized before a trip, stuff to do.  I rose early, as I always do (my eyes pop open at 5:30 pretty much routinely), got my coffee and went to the computer.  I looked at email but didn't answer it because I was going to get right to my writing.

Except I didn't.

Something caught my eye on the internet and I clicked on it.  And from there I saw something else that interested me.  And on and on.

After a few minutes, I stopped and told myself I really should get to my writing.  But then there was that other fascinating headline....

And after a few more minutes, I realized my mistake that morning: I knew I was overwhelmed with to-dos in my brain, and even so I didn't have a clear plan for writing.

If I'd known what I wanted to work on (one of my good curses at the moment seems to be too many projects) I would have had a better chance of getting to it.  And, if I'd realized ahead of time that my brain was a bit overloaded, I might have thought things through a bit more.

All this made me start thinking about what stops me from writing.  Because once you know your enemy, you can figure out how to fight it.  My anti-writing enemies are:

1.  Overwhelm.  As above.

2. Tiredness.  When I'm worn out, my brain doesn't work well.  Sometimes I have the actual time to write, but not the mental energy.  Writing requires hard mental work.

3.  Other work.  As in, the necessity to make a living.  Oh yeah, that.  I'm lucky in that I love my other work--teaching and coaching and some ghostwriting.  But it is still not my own writing. (Though when I dream big dreams and envision my life devoted solely to my writing, with no teaching or coaching it makes me happy for about two seconds.  Then I realize I'd really miss it.)

4.  Laziness.  Sometimes, honestly, I just don't feel like writing.  I want to loll on the couch and watch TV or sit on the back deck with a glass of wine.

5.  Fear.  Of what?  Of everything.  That my work won't be good enough.  That it will be really good. That I won't be able to write it the way I want to.  That I'll go in so deep that I won't want to come back.  That people won't like my work.  That they will.  That....well, you get the picture.

6.  Distraction.  As in, mindless internet surfing.  (Do we still call it that? Sounds a bit archaic now.)I think we all battle this.  We've got so much information coming at us all day every day.  But I tend more towards distraction when any of the above listed elements are present.

Those are my top six that stop me from writing.   What are yours?

Photo by brokenarts.


7 Ways to Master Concentration

White-Background-Hand-87578-lOne morning last week I worked on social media: answering blog comments, and scheduling tweets.  (I collect quotes and love to tweet them--if you have any to share, let me know.)

But I was feeling, to put it mildly, unfocused.  I couldn't concentrate on one thing for long.  I'd check Twitter, then answer a blog comment, then click onto my home page to see what was up on the news, stare off into space, check Twitter again, answer an email, look at my blog stats.

Felt to me like I was totally and completely lacking any kind of concentration.

I beat myself up over this, kept talking to myself about how unfocused I was that morning.  And then I thought to check what I'd done: answered numerous blog comments and scheduled a day's worth of tweets.

Oh.

This experience made me realize that sometimes I'm my own worst enemy.   I'd accomplished much more than I'd thought, all while berating myself that I wasn't concentrating.  And all this got me thinking a lot more about concentration, mostly because being intently focused on work (like a piece of writing) is more pleasant than the distracted state I describe above.  There's nothing I love more than being in flow while writing, and yet this can be an elusive place.  So I thought about and tracked what allows me to concentrate and here I share the results with you:

1.  Feelings Lie.  Emotions are tricky buggers.  We think they are always telling us the truth when sometimes they are overwhelming us for a completely unrelated reason--like that something triggered a long ago subconscious memory.  If your feelings, like mine, are telling you that you're unfocused, look deeper.  Maybe you've gotten more done than you think.  Give yourself a break already.

2. Set a Timer.  I proselytize about this all the time, because it works so well.  Seriously, try it.  This is how I get most of my writing done these days.  I set the timer on my phone for 30 minutes and dive in, doing nothing but writing for those 30 minutes.  Then I take a brief break.  Only usually I'm so absorbed I hit the timer off and keep going.

3.  Keep a Success Journal.  I've been doing this lately in relation to my writing non-negotiables.  At the end of every work day, I pull out my Moleskine and ponder what I've accomplished, and then I write it down.  It's very pleasing to review and it also helps with #1 on this list.

4.  Change Your Venue.  If you're distracted at home, pack up and go to a coffee shop and vice versa.  Try a different room in your house, or go outside on your deck.  Even though I have a laptop, I get rooted in place in my office and once in awhile I need to remind myself to change things up.

5.  Keep At It.  True confession: my concentration was initially all over the place as I started this article.  But I kept returning to the work, and eventually concentration kicked in.

6.  Nap.  Sometimes there's just no substitute for some shut-eye.  I actually hate to even admit this, coming from a family that abhorred inactivity and napping, but sometimes it is exactly what you need.  Doesn't have to be a long nap, close your eyes and doze for 5 or 10 minutes.  It can be incredibly mentally renewing.

7.  Learn What Works For You.  Napping may make you sleepy all day and changing your venue may destroy any concentration you could muster.  What works for me may not work for you, so pay attention and figure out what does.

And speaking of which....please share.  I'd love to hear your tricks and tips for concentration and focus.  I'd love it if you left a comment!

Photo by Batreh.

 


How to Keep Writing Through Holidays and Other Distractions

Easter_candy_chocolat_242057_l"Get back to me after Easter."

"Let's deal with that after Easter."

I've heard that several times this week and it has gotten me thinking about how we deal with our lives around major holidays and other distractions. Specifically, how we deal with our writing.  Even more specifically, how we get writing done when holidays and major distractions (spring break, anyone?) occur.

Sometimes we don't.

And honestly, when that happens, when you know there's just no way you're going to get any work done, its best just to go with it and not beat yourself up. 

But what if you truly, desperately want to keep working through busy periods?  If you're coming down the homestretch of finishing a novel, say, or in the white hot heat of beginning one?  Following are some tips to keep you sane.

1. Find a way to touch base with your WIP.  Even if you can't write, you can take time to read a page or two.  (C'mon, this takes only five minutes.) Staying in touch with your project in this way keeps it planted in your brain and allows your subconscious to work on it.

2.  Write first thing.  I know, you night owls hate this one.  But there's nothing like the feeling of getting your most important work done first thing in the morning.  Even if its just twenty minutes, somehow connecting with your most important project first thing makes the whole day go better.

3.  Write while exercising.   You keep up with your exercise routine, right?  (Somehow its easier to tell your demanding family you're going out for a walk than it is to tell them you're shutting yourself away in your writing den.  I know, I've been there.)  Take a voice recorder and talk your next scene into it while walking.  Or just hide out at the coffee shop and work instead of writing.  (Maybe you could walk to the coffee shop so you wouldn't technically be lying.)

4.  Take your manuscript with you wherever you go.  Then, you can take an extra few minutes before grocery shopping to look through you recent pages.  (Everyone knows grocery shopping takes forever, you can snitch a few minutes.) Or work on it while you're waiting for your daughter after school.  Or while you're waiting for something to download at work.

5. Think about your work.  Thinking is a highly under-rated activity for writers.  You always have your brain with you, right?  Instead of obsessing about politics, direct your brain to think about your WIP.  And write down the ideas you get anyway you can--on a scrap of paper or your phone.

6. Eat lunch with your WIP.  Wouldn't you rather spend time with your manuscript than the latest issue of O?  Okay, I read O with lunch all the time, but when pressed for time, try connecting with your WIP during breaks.  At the very least, it will keep the work fresh in your mind.

7.  Maintain an attitude that there is enough time.   We spend so much time convincing ourselves that there's no time, it's no wonder we're stressed and overwhelmed.  Try taking the opposite tack and affirm to yourself that you have enough time.  This actually does work.  At the very least, you'll be a lot more relaxed.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: This Easter season, try approaching the hoopla and rush a bit differently.  Remind yourself that your writing is worth it and experiment with the above ways to stay with it over the holiday.

What about you?  How do you find time to write during busy periods?  Got any good tips for us?  We'd love to hear them.  And if you enjoyed this article, please share it on social media through the buttons below.

 

Photograph by Zela.


Dealing With Distraction

I'm distracted from my writing this morning, for the following reasons: Skull-light-lightbulb-39846-l

1.  My beloved pug's health problems.

2.  The earthquake in Japan.

3.  The ensuing tsunami watch on the Oregon coast (gotta watch those one-foot storm surges).

4.  Thoughts about the show I'm going to attend tonight.

5.  Things I gotta do, like finish organizing the closet I started working on Monday.

So, what's a person to do?  How do you deal with distraction?

Here are my best tips: Create containers and use the power of your subconscious.  The two actually go hand in hand.

There are lots of ways to create containers, be it making a file for a new client, or buying a new journal to write in.  But there are more subtle ways to think of this, too.  For instance, when I have a project to work on the next day, I pull out everything that I have on it.  Files, notes, research I've done, whatever.  Or, just this morning I decided to work downstairs in the dining room so that my ailing pug doesn't follow me up the steps, which is hard on her.  So I gathered up my computer, my to-do list, and all the various spirals and legal pads I need in order to work.  I'm creating a container for my work day.

And this is very much related to utilizing your subconscious.  Seeding it with thoughts about your project is effective because it will go to work once you let it know what you're going to write about.  This morning I gathered up all my notes and spirals, set up in the dining room, and then took a shower.  All that time my subconscious was working--even on this blog post.

Dealing with distraction is also easier if you have the habit of writing regularly.  Because then your little brain is already working away on ideas for your novel and if crazy world and personal events pull you away from your writing, there's still that connection.  Its easier to get back to it when the distractions are done.

Oh, and by the way, if distraction threatens to overwhelm you, maybe you need help.  I offer writing and creativity coaching, which can be enormously helpful in getting on track.   I also offer Get Your Writing in Gear sessions, and they happen to be on special.  Its a March Madness sale, through this month, with $50 off, bringing the cost of the session to $100.  Book now!

So, tell me--how do you deal with distraction?

Photo by dakinewavamon, from Everystockphoto.

 

 


Why I'm Distracted Today

Twopugs
Ally
BusterSitting (Excuse the sideways photo, its how my phone sent it to my computer and as far as I can tell, Typepad doesn't let me rotate it.  Why, Typepad, why?) 

Anyway, meet Ally (the fawn) and Buster (the once-upon-a-time black one).  Ally is 7 and Buster is 13.  Poor old guy is pretty rickety but he is a love.  The two of them were raised together and given up by a family who didn't have time for them.  Yes, Buster is a bit high maintenance but I love him anyway.  It is so wonderful to have pugs and puggie sounds in the house again--Ally follows me everywhere and is currently snoring beside me.