From Spark to Story Workshop Report

SBCApril2015
Scarritt Bennett Center

I am back from Nashville, y'all.  

I went there to teach a workshop with my good writing friend Terry Price.  We called it From Spark to Story, and planned it to be just that: a journey from gathering inspiration, to getting it onto the page, to shaping it into a story.  

It worked brilliantly.

Well, okay, so maybe I exaggerate just a little.  But the 17 people who were there (20 signed up but several had last minute snafus) seemed to enjoy it and get a lot out of it.  And I know that Terry and I loved teaching it.  Here are some of my main take-aways:

--15 minutes a day is all it takes.  Both Terry and I came to this separately and planned to present it as a method to find your way back to your writing and, just as important, sustain a writing practice. It resonated deeply with the participants, and many of them tweeted and posted on Facebook on Sunday morning that they'd done their 15 minutes.  (We created a hashtag for it if you're so inclined: #15minsday.)

If you were to, starting now, write 15 minutes a day every day you could have a novel written in a year.  Really.  I'm not kidding.  Do the math.  And the other thing is that often when you tell yourself all you have to do is 15 minutes, you get so engrossed that you end up writing longer.  But that's not even necessary.

--Prompts are good.  We worked some with a variety of prompts on Friday night and Saturday morning and our writers found them useful as portals to all kinds of inspiration and epiphanies.  So often writers sniff at prompts as being the province of beginners, but I use them all the time (hence, my prompt blog).  If you've not had luck with them in the past, try again.  Just remember to keep your pen moving across the page.  Its when you stop to ponder and stare out the window that prompts aren't as effective.

--Clustering can unleash you from your left brain.  More often now called mind-mapping (I like clustering better), this technique was popularized by the late Gabriel Rico in her book Writing the Natural Way.  To tell you the truth, I'd forgotten about it, but Terry is a fan and he made people try it.  Since I was icing my foot (I had a terrible attack of plantar fascitis while there) I didn't do it in the workshop, but I've been playing with it since and I can see its value.  Give it a whirl.

--Get thee to a labyrinth.  Scarritt Bennett Center, where I stayed, and where we held the workshop, has a labyrinth modeled on the one at Chartes, France.  It is a marvelous creativity jogger.  You ask a question or think of a problem before you enter, walk to the center, pause to listen, then walk back out again.  Note that a labyrinth is different from a maze.  With a maze, you're trying to find your way out.  With a labyrinth, you're finding your way in.  Take a journal with you because you'll likely have an inspiration or two to write down.  It has never failed me yet.  To find a labyrinth in your area, try Labyrinth Locator.

I'm sure more thoughts will bubble up over the next few days and weeks and I'll report.  For me, it was a rejuvenating experience to be back in Nashville and reconnect with a city I love and so many of the people I know and love who live there.  Southern hospitality truly is the most generous in the world and I've always been welcomed so warmly.

And stay tuned--because we are cooking up a Spark to Story Part Two to be held in the near future!

 


Do the Most Important Thing First

Clock_clock_262668_lI've not harrassed myself people about this for awhile, so as 2015 starts, it seems a good time. And, there's a hashtag going around on Twitter so its hard to avoid. (Of course now that I've gone to look for it, I can't find it.)  And, most importantly, I truly, deeply, madly believe in this concept.

The concept is, of course (as my three-year-old grandson says), that you get up in the morning and do what's most important to you the very first thing.  This likely means you will need to set your alarm (unless you are like me, whose eyes pop open at 5:30 no matter what) to get up early enough to accomplish whatever is most important to you.

For me, the most important thing is writing. Always has been, always will be.  I am at my best all day long if I've gone straight to the page when I get up (with one quick detour to the coffeepot, of course).  Lately I've been writing morning pages for 20 minutes or so and finding them nourishing and energizing.  Most days, they lead me straight to the computer and the file of my WIP, allowing me to bypass my email and social media without a thought.

But your most important thing might be yoga or running, as my neighbor Sheila does every day, or meditating, or, I don't know--fishing.  Or crocheting.  Or weeding the garden by moonlight. Or art journaling.  Or playing piano.  Only you can decide.

And the point is, what you do doesn't matter.  But you will find that if you are doing what is most important to you first thing, it matters a lot.  Because you will start the rest of your day knowing that you've already knocked off what you want to do most.  No worries or stress about when you will actually get to it.

This is life changing.  People say this about things all the time, but this really, truly is life changing. If you commit to only one thing in 2015, commit to this.  You'll thank me at the end of the year, after your novel is written, your garden has bloomed all summer, or you've crocheted a hundred sweaters.  

Here's what Austin Kleon has to say on the subject:

"What I usually recommend: get up early. Get up early and work for a couple hours on the thing you really care about. When you’re done, go about your day: go to school, go to your job, make your family breakfast, whatever. Your teacher or your boss or your kids can’t take your work away from you, because you already did it. And you know you’ll get to do it tomorrow morning, as long as you make it through today."

(The article this was taken from is about doing something, anything, towards your most important goal every day.  Its worth reading.) 

I could go on and on about this, but I'm not going to.  Because the thing is, you just need to do it. So, off you go.  Enjoy!

 Here are other posts I've done on similar topics:

Inspiration for Writers: The Morning Ritual

Morning Routine

Writing Every Morning

Do you have a morning routine, something you commit to each day?

Photo by vierdrie.

 


So Long, Farewell, Auf Weidersehen Goodnight to 2014

(In case you don't know--what, you've lived under a rock for the last umpteen years? Kidding, just kidding--my title is a take-off of a song from The Sound of Music, the best musical of ALL TIME, and no I'm not talking about the stupid rip-off live version with Carrie Underwood in it.)

The-sound-of-music-1920x1080This is the last time you will hear from me this year.  And I thought it might be fun to look back at what inspired me, perhaps inspiring you to think about what inspired you this past year and what might inspire you in 2015.  I've been doing a lot of work with goals (there is nothing I love more than planning and pondering) for the new year, and an important part of that is looking back to see what happened in the last year.

I've had a few disappointments, goals that didn't get accomplished and progress not made in certain areas.  But I really prefer to dwell on the positive, and besides I have it on good authority (I read it in two, count them, two different places on the interwebs and we all know how reliable that source is)that 2014 has been a year of discovering what it is you truly want while 2015 will be all about accomplishing it.  

Here we go with my inspirations (in no particular order except for the way they came out of my brain):

1.  Indie publishing.  As the year began, everyone, all over the webs, was talking about making it as an indie writer.  All you had to do was throw shit up on Amazon and it sold and made you a millionaire!  I was intrigued.  Then, in March I went to AWP in Seattle and heard Hugh Howey, the poster child for indie publishing speak.  More enthusiasm! Much excitement! He made $150K in one month with his books!

I was intrigued enough to experiment with putting a wee bit of effort out, and posting a story for sale.  While I didn't get rich selling it, I do like to think that it has introduced some new readers to me.  Maybe.  Not sure.  

Now, as we head towards 2015, I hear much less noise about how easy it is to make tons o' bucks on Amazon and I think they may be due to their Kindle Unlimited option.  I don't know the exact details but it is something to do with customers getting all the Ebook downloads they want for free with a Prime membership.  Yeah, that might put a crimp in author's royalties.  Ya think?

However, I still applaud the indie publishing movement.  It's going to continue to be fascinating to watch the battle between Ebook and print, and indie versus traditional publishers as the future rolls along.  And I am planning to publish my MFA novel myself, because it is sitting on my computer, so why not?

2. France.  'nough said.  No, wait.  Not really.  Because, France.  And Paris.  And writing with a group of like-minded people.  It really is the best.  Getting away from your regular routine and devoting yourself to writing in an exotic location rocks.  That's all there is to it.  (You can still join us--3 spots left.)

3. Family.  Always and forever.  I am blessed, no doubt about it.

4. Splashy Success.  Not mine, not yet, but as the year ends I've got people like Cheryl Strayed on my mind. She is, of course, the author of the memoir Wild, which burst splashily upon the world when Oprah reinstituted her book club in order to feature it.  And then Reese Witherspoon made a movie of it, which premiered recently.  I saw the movie a couple of days ago and I liked it.  The film is about courage--the courage to confront the demons of your past and put one foot in front of the other over and over again while you do so.  

By all accounts, Strayed, who is a Portland resident, is a woman who went from so-broke-she-couldn't-buy-Christmas presents to millionaire status seemingly overnight and has maintained a lovely even keel throughout.  

5. Writing Fast.  The class I took about it was a bust, but never mind.  More and more I'm seeing that writing fast without thinking too much is the way to go.  Because, rewriting.  Once you get the words on the page, then they are there for you.  As Henry, my 3-year-old grandson would say, of course.  But we so easily forget that of course and allow our writing to stall as we stare out the window at the 27-degree morning because we don't know what words to put on the page.  These days, when I catch myself stopping to think, I force my fingers to fly across the keys.  There's nothing more satisfying to a writer than toting up a massive word count for the day!

I'm in the midst of rewriting my novel at the moment, (on page 209 of 305 and I'm aiming to complete this rewrite by the end of January) so I'm not actively writing a rough draft, though every so often I do write 1K words or so on a new idea I have.  (New ideas are one of my tragic flaws. Bright shiny object!  Let's abandon this WIP and start a new one! I really have to be careful with this tendency.)  But, in September, when I took the above-mentioned class that really was more like a support group, I batted out 24, 280 words in the first two weeks of September.  Then I got on a plane to France and that was the end of that.  However, the novel is waiting for me on my computer and when I complete the current rewriting project I shall return to it.  The story needs a lot of work, and I've had ideas that will take it in a new direction, but again, all those words are sitting there waiting for me.  Woot woot!

6.  Breathing.  I'm going to brag here for a minute, so avert your eyes if that bothers you.  But, many, many years ago now I bore two children.  And I brought each of them into the world without one bit of anesthetic.  Completely natural births (though I did have to have Pitocin the second time through, because he got stuck and it turned into an emergency, but that's another story).  And how did I accomplish this?  Through breathing, of course.

So I find it ironic that all these years later I have realized how often I constrict my breathing.  I just did it as I wrote that sentence!  I hold my breath at the throat as I write and I'm not sure why I've developed this habit.  Anyway, I've been working on becoming aware of it and changing and also just taking deep breaths throughout the day whenever I think about it.  The results are quite wonderful, though I confess to backsliding a bit during the holidays.  It is something I will continue to work on in 2015.  (I wrote about it earlier in the fall, too.)

That's it.  I know there's a lot more that inspired me, but those are the things on my mind as the clock ticks toward a glorious new year.  I wish you all the very best for next year and I thank you for reading my blog.  Why not take a minute and share--what inspired you in 2014?

A couple of quick notes:

--Don't forget to download my book of free writing prompts!  There's one for every day in January. Fun, fun, fun.  (And it will help you with writing fast.) Go here.  It is free, free, free.

--And for anybody who lives in Portland, I'm having a signing next week!  My Twitter friend (and guest poster here) Tam Holland and I will be signing books, drinking coffee, and chatting with "fans" as the wonderful coffeeshop owner calls them on Wednesday, January 7, at 4 PM.  The location is the Rain or Shine coffee shop on SE 60th and Division.  Come meet us!


This is a post about cookies. Yes, cookies. Christmas cookies, even!

I was tagged by my purple-haired Twitter friend Kristina Martin (we live across the river from each other but have never met in person--one of these days, I hope we will) to participate in a Virtual Cookie Exchange Blog Hop.  

Virtualcookie-exchange-blog-hop-1My first thought was that I don't do this kind of thing.  This is a blog about writing, for Chrissakes.  I thought that very loftily, I might add, especially since its been quite some time since I baked cookies. But then I realized that I have the perfect cookie recipe to share with you.  And that a Virtual Cookie Exchange Blog Hop sounded like fun.  And that one of my goals over the last couple of months has been to branch out some on this blog, with personal posts every Wednesday.

And so I said yes.  To paraphrase something Kristina said on her post about the cookie exchange, the things I do for people.

But, honestly?  You are going to thank me for writing this post.  You are going to bless me for this cookie recipe.  Because it will save your bacon over and over again, as it has for me for years.  It is our family cookie recipe that we've all made since forever.  It is so easy you can always remember the ingredients, and also you will always have them on hand.  You can make it plain and simple, or you can add things to it.  (Don't tell anybody, but its really not a Christmas cookie recipe.  But if you add stuff to it, you can make it work for the holidays.)  And most importantly, this cookie recipe is freaking delicious!  As in, eat-every-cookie-in-the-batch-delicious.  (The dough is to die for also.) 

Also, this cookie recipe is gluten free.  It was gluten free long before GF became a thing.  Truly, I've been making this cookie recipe for 30 years, and who had heard of gluten free back then?  Nobody can believe it when I tell them it has no flour in it.  And on dark days when you desperately need sugar you can actually convince yourself that these cookies are good for you because they have protein in them.  

Okay, enough of the big buildup, here's the recipe:

World's Best Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe

1 egg

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup sugar

That's it.  Those are the only ingredients you need, trust me.  Mix everything together and drop spoonfuls onto cookie sheet, then smoosh them with a fork in that way we do with peanut butter cookies (dip the fork in water if you need to).  Bake at 350 degrees and check them after 10 minutes, though they will likely take longer.

Adaptations:

--My daughter has tried this recipe with Splenda, but it didn't come out so well.  You might have better luck, though.

--Add chocolate chips

--To make them more festive for Christmas, put red or green or both sprinkles on them

--You could also try adding M and Ms or other candies as you like.

But they are also delicious just plain!

And now, part of my deal with this exchange is to tag other people to participate.  These four will post their recipes and posts in one week, on December 23rd.  I choose

Kayla Dawn Thomas, romance writer extraordinaire

Patty Bechtold, amazing counselor and life coach, artist, and insightful blogger

Suzanne Peters, baker of divine gluten free goodies and real foodie

Beverly Army Williams, wonderful novelist, writing teacher and fiber artist

(I have glorious internet friends, don't I?  I encourage you to visit all their sites, even before the 23rd.)

Since are talking cookies, how about chiming in and telling us about your favorite cookie to bake or eat at Christmas?


Loving Your Writing Up

Heart_hand_valentine_269058_lI was in a place last week where there was much talk of getting loved up.  Which means, in case you hadn't guessed, beaming love onto a person so that they feel wonderful, amazing and fantastic.  

And this got me thinking about loving up our writing.  

Because much of the time we don't.  Instead we critique it, let it be rejected, revise it, rewrite it, delete it, don't finish it, leave it in a drawer (metaphorical or otherwise).

And yes, we do need to be discerning about our writing.  All of the above steps are necessary (except for leaving it in a drawer).  But shouldn't we be giving our writing a bit of love, too?

Yeah, I know--you're afraid its egotistical to do that.  But I'm not talking about the kind of puffed-up, fake love that the ego gives.  I'm talking about just loving our writing.

Loving (and honoring) the impulse that makes us rise early or stay up late to throw words at the page.

Loving the times the words are coming so fast that we can barely get them onto the computer.

Loving the times we gaze out the window because the words won't come.

Loving the times in between those two poles (which is what writing most often is for me).

Loving the finished product, be it short story, poem, novel, article or memoir.  

Loving it all.

Because, this:

You're at a cocktail party and someone asks you what you do.  You say, "I'm a writer."  The person's eyes light up and they say, "Oh really?  What do you write?  Have I read anything of yours?"  

Do you think people at cocktail parties get that excited when they are told most other occupations? No, they do not.  People get excited to meet writers because writing is hard.  And sometimes easy.  And wonderful.  And an amazing way to spend your time.  People get excited to meet writers because what we do is special.

Don't ever forget that.

And now go love your writing up.

You could also leave a comment and tell what you're working on as a way of loving it up!

Photo by brokenarts. 


Keep Calm and Carry On Writing

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-poster-degradado-1280-300x240Keep calm and carry on.  The saying is a cliche of the highest order by now, its initial message as positive propaganda during World War II long since co-opted for commercial purposes.  But for some reason it popped into my head a few days ago and wouldn't leave.

Maybe because my life has been anything but calm lately and I'm struggling to carry on with my writing. I'm not complaining, mind you.  Life is hectic because I went on vacation, I've got obligations to friends, family, and community, and oh yeah, work.  All of which I love.  But none of which are especially conducive to getting words on the page.

And there's something about the keep calm and carry on message that is, well, calming.  It reminds me of another favorite saying, from the late doyenne of knitting, Elizabeth Zimmerman (also a Brit): Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises.  

We could amend that to Write on with confidence and hope, through all crises, don't you think?

Yeah, but how?

One of the stories that stays with me from the time years ago that I went to a creativity workshop with Julia Cameron was how she wrote during one of the worst times of her life, thus coining her phrase, keep the drama on the page.  And she had drama then, yes she did.  Her then-husband, Martin Scorsese (yes, that Martin Scorsese) was cavorting around Europe with Isabella Rossellini and friends were helpfully sending her press clippings about the scandal.  (This was, gasp, pre-internet days.) And yet, as I recall, she credited this with one of the most creative periods of her life.

Again, how?

Here are some ideas that I've been drawing upon the last few days as I work myself back into a regular writing schedule.

Start with the breath.  In moments of busyness or anxiety, you've become apart from yourself.  The fastest way to get centered again is to take a minute to focus on your breathing.  Stop, take a breath, and connect with yourself (or whatever source you believe in, if you prefer).  Are all the things that are making you frazzled and anxious really that important? Take another breath.  Probably they aren't, huh?  You are still here and still breathing and all is well.

Make writing a priority.  No matter what all else you have on your agenda, make writing your priority, as if its the most important thing in the world, above even the most beloved thing in your life.  (Wait, writing is the most beloved thing in your life, right?)  Act as if your very life depended on you writing. Because, for your sanity, it does.  And sometimes, you just have to set aside everything (yes, everything) else and do it.  And when you have this mindset, you will be able to:

Let the world fall away.  All those items on your to-do list will still be there waiting for you after you've written.  And your life is not going to fall apart if you take a few minutes for yourself.  Really, it's not.  I am reminded of a TV ad for some kind of chocolate from long ago, which featured the image of a woman happily biting into a piece of candy.  In the background, you heard a bell and a child's voice saying, "Hey Mom, phone's ringing."  But Mom clearly didn't care--she was savoring her chocolate. And you, too, will be savoring your writing.

Know That You Have Enough. You have enough time, enough money, enough energy and enough focus to do this.  The ingrained cultural message we constantly hear is the opposite--that there's not enough time, money or energy for anything.  (By thus playing on our fears, they can sell us stuff that will supposedly plug the "not-enough" hole.)  So often when I think I don't have enough time, I stop and remember that I do--and voila, things fall into place.

Stop the Negative Self-Talk.  I think this is the modern-day heart of the keep calm and carry on message.  I don't know about you, but for me, when I'm frazzled, I'm also busy berating myself--because of course, it's all my fault I'm in this situation.  (Remember, I'm not enough.)  And so taking a minute to listen to the terrible things you are saying to yourself can allow you to stop it.  And thus make space to take a breath, calm yourself--and get back to your writing.

Those are some of the things that help me.  Nothing earth-shattering, but then the practice of writing is all about the small decisions we make to commit to the page, over and over and over again.  What about you?  What helps you keep calm and carry on?

For more information on the Keep Calm and Carry On phenomenon, here's an interesting blog.  And, good old Wikipedia has a lot of history on it here.


Consistency for Writers

Little_boxes_high_599073_hConsistency.

Yawn.

The word is much like the word discipline in that it elicits yawns and boredom from us.  I mean, who ever got excited about the word consistency?

And yet, consistency is how writing gets done.

When you have a consistent writing practice, books get written.  Blog posts get written.  Essays get written.  I was thinking about this today when I was despairing about a lenghty ghostwriting project I've got going.  The topic is dense, the information complex.  And I'm getting the book written one word at a time.  I keep going back to it consistently.  I keep putting it on my to-do list. And the chapters are piling up.

So, too, with my latest novel.  I keep plugging away at it (actually, that makes it sound like it's not much fun working on it, and the opposite is true--I love it) and with a consistent practice of 1000 words a day, I got 100 pages done from the time I came up with the idea.

Consistency, in my mind, is better than wild late night sprints staying up until all hours working--and then crashing for days.  Consistency is the turtle, not the hare.

Here's a consistency story for you:

In November of 2007, I left a comment on a blog about Zen practice.  I'd found the blog and "met" its owner through what was then a hot site for bloggers called BlogCatalog.  (Many of my initial online friends and blog readers came from this site.  This was before Twitter, before Pinterest, before Instagram, and one year after Facebook opened its doors to all comers, not just college students.)  The blog's owner, Derek Ayre, a Welshman, emailed me and thanked me for the comment.  I emailed back.

A pen-pal friendship across the oceans was born.

At first we wrote every day.  Then we wrote every other day. Now we write each other about once a week, though sometimes life gets in the way on either end and it turns out to be weeks before one of us answers the other.  

But here's the deal: we always answer each other eventually.  Because the pen-pal friendship is important to us.   And so we are consistent with it.

(I have a bit of an ulterior motive in mentioning Derek because he's got a guest post coming up here on Tuesday and I wanted to spend more time introducing him than a short bio would allow.)

If, at any point in the past six years that we've been corresponding, one or the other of us became inconsistent, the friendship would have died.  But we've been consistent in honoring our email friendship and the result is a connection I treasure.

So, yeah, if you're looking for a good buzz word for 2014, you could do worse than to choose consistency, my friends.

What are you consistent about?  Your writing? Something else?  Please comment.

(And come back Tuesday for Derek's post.)

Photo by 416Style.


The Radical Act of Play

Wonderbook-coverI'm reading two books about writing at the moment, and together they are making my head explode. In a good way.  It's exploding with ideas.

The first one is called Wonderbook, and it is by Jeff Vandermeer.  I'm only at the very beginning of this baby, having just gotten hold of it last week.  This book is like no other writing book you've ever seen, I guarantee it.  Wonderbook is a lavishly illustrated feast of information, essays, and tips for the writer in all stages of writing a novel.   Just go check out the site to see what I mean. It's an amazing book in conception and finished product.

In the opening section, on inspiration, Vandermeer writes about play and how we sometimes (more like often) sneer at it, as if it is beneath us, as if play, at its heart, is not the very essence of creativity.  To wit:

"Modern ideals of functionality and the trend toward seamless design in our technology have taken the very human striving for perfection and given us the illusion of having attained it (which, ironically, seems very dehumanizing).  In this environment, some writers second-guess their instincts and devalue the sense of play that infuses creative endeavors: "This antique Tiffany lamp must provide light right now, even before I screw in the lightbulb and plug it in, or it's worthless."

Vandermeer goes on to point out that the idea of play thus becomes "immature and frivolous" and we come to think that "all creative processes should be efficient, timely, linear, organized and easily summarized."

I think this also has to do with our emphasis on time, or more to the point, the lack thereof. Taking time to play and be creative seems like at time-waster when it doesn't immediately produce a finished piece.  This attitude can lead to a reluctance to use prompts or writing exercises, or to do anything that isn't directly related to our WIP.

Which leads me to the second book I'm reading, The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way From Inspiration to Publication, by Dan Millman and Sierra Prasada.  (Please note, the publisher, New World Library, graciously provided me with a copy of the book for review. I'll be sharing more about it in a future post.)  The authors delineate five stages that the writer goes through Dream, Draft, Develop, Refine, Share.  Right now I'm reading about the first stage, Dream, in which, "a sticky idea calls you on a quest, and you set out to slay your own dragons." Creative-compass

The authors talk about starting a conversation with yourself, and then take it further to a technique they call Dreaming in Dialogue.  (Which I'm not sure is the best name, because whenever I see the word dialogue in a writing book I presume it's talking about the act of writing about conversation between characters.)  But, I love, love, love the technique itself and I think it is a fun writing exercise--worthy of taking time to play with.

The idea is to initiate a conversation with your alter ego, as they call it.  So, on the page, you actually have a back and forth about your plot (or whatever).  So (I made all the following up):

Writer: And then the angel landed right in front of her and she got scared so she ran away.

Alter Ego: Why did she get scared?

Writer: Because angels are scary, with their big wings and the whooshing noise they make as they fly.

Alter Ego: They make a whooshing noise as they fly?

Writer: Yes, and they also sing loudly.

I can see how this technique would be useful in furthering a writer's knowledge of the story he's trying to get on paper.  To use it a slightly different way, the authors mention that Harold Robbins, he of the glorious potboiler novels, started each day out with a conversation with his typewriter, who spoke to him as a female.  So you can use this technique with yourself, an imaginary person, or an inanimate object.

I know exactly who I'm going to try it out with: a character who resides within in named Passionate Creator.  She's the one responsible for all the writing I churn out.  She lolls about on a tufted chaise lounge, eating chocolate and sipping wine, and writes and writes and writes.  She can't be bothered with anything having to do beyond actually getting words on the page (that would be the job of Layla, Business Lady, who Passionate Creator ordered from a catalog).  But man, oh man, is she good at getting the writing done!  So we're going to have us a conversation about where the novel is going, she and I.

(I wrote about play a little bit a couple years ago, in this post. )

What books have inspired you lately?  What playful techniques have you used to engage your creativity?

 


One Technique for Overcoming Writer's Block

Gray_brick_block_220245_lAh, our old friend writer's block.  It can take so many shapes and sizes, just like fear, which it is, of course, based on.  And just as writer's block can take a gazillion different forms, so, too, can its cure.  Which is why you should try a variety of strategies if you are hit with writer's block, whether you're procrastinating writing the next scene in your novel or haven't been able to work on your memoir in years.  Here's one possible approach.

A friend told me this tip in regards to getting over procrastination and getting things done (clearing out clutter, anyone?) in non-writing arenas of life.  But it will work just as well for you (yes, you) with your writing block.

Here's the crux of it: micro action.

All you have to do is commit to one small (tiny, even) action each day.  Do that and call it good.  Really.  Consider it done.  You've accomplished your goal.

Here's a non-writing example.  I've got an upstairs that has somehow accumulated quite a bit of clutter that I'd like to clean up.  But I'm busy.  I've got a book launch coming up and I'm doing publicity for that while maintaining this blog and continuing to do client work and teach.  And plus, I hate clearing clutter.  I get confused and overwhelmed really fast.  Like five minutes fast.  So here's my micro action: deal with one piece of paper or item per day.  That's it.  That's all I have to do.  The other day I picked up a piece of paper and put it in the recycling bag.  And I had met my goal.

 I'm not sure what the experts say about why this works, but here's why I think it does: because it gets you used to doing whatever it is you're avoiding.  And then you realize it's not the big scary monster you think it is.  When you don't do something, it tends to loom large and take on proportions way bigger than reality.  The other thing that happens is that you trick yourself into it.  That one piece of paper uncovers another that I deal with in the moment and then another and another and before you know it, the shelf is cleaned off.

So let's apply this to writing.

If you're seriously blocked (and really, any block is a serious block because we writers are born to write and when we're not writing life is not good) set yourself a micro action goal of writing one sentence.  If you're seriously seriously blocked, maybe your goal will be one word.  That's your accomplishment.  Write your word or sentence and you are done for the day.  Or maybe you'll set the goal to write for one minute.  Or five minutes.   I'd be willing to bet serious money that eventually--way sooner than you think at this moment--that one sentence will turn into a paragraph, which will then turn into a scene. And you'll be writing again.  Because here's the deal: you've established yourself a habit.  And once something is habitual, it's not scary anymore.  (Unless you're smoking.  Or drinking too much.  Then it gets frightening.)

Here's a tip--don't become an overachiever, at least when you first start this process.  For instance, I'm using this process to re-commit to a regular walking routine after injuring my knee. If I so much as walk out the door I've accomplished my goal.  But for me, getting outside (step away from the computer...) is the hardest thing to do, so usually, once I'm walking, I'm quite happy.  I noticed last week on a walk that my knee was starting to get a bit tired.  And my reaction was to start coercing myself to do more.  Telling myself I hadn't gone far enough.  Berating myself for being lazy.  But then I remembered--I'd already accomplished my goal.  And I headed for home.   Because of this attitude and my micro goal,  I now look forward to walking.

So if you're struggling to make forward motion on a big project, try this micro action technique.  And then report back after your novel is on the best-seller list.

Have you ever tried something like this to get yourself going again?  What were the results?

 **By the way, speaking of book launches, wouldn't you like to celebrate mine with me?  Click here for the details.

Photo by Rotorhead.


Essential Conditions for Writing Success

Pencil_notebook_writing_237689_lWhat, exactly are the essential conditions for writing success you ask?

Here's a hint:  only you can figure them out for yourself.

Let me explain a bit about the type of conditions I'm talking about here.

Last month (I guess it's actually last year now) I took an afternoon workshop from a fabulous woman named Janet Connor.  In it she told the story of how she went from making an appointment to consult with a bankruptcy attorney to making $12,000 in one month. 

Janet figured out the secret to manifestation.  And that secret is this, from Thich Nhat Hanh: "When the conditions are sufficient, there is a manifestation."  Turns out this is also, in slightly different words, of course, wisdom from Jesus and the Buddha and probably a whole host of other wise figures as well.

Once you get the underlying conditions of your life in order, all else will follow. 

Janet's conditions are of a spiritual nature, things like saying her prayers out loud every day.  I think it's a wonderful idea to figure out what your spiritual conditions for a fabulous life might be, but our topic here is writing.  And I believe the concept of uncovering the conditions that will call forth your best writing (and thus, I also believe, your best self) can be enormously beneficial as we start this new year.

Only you know what your conditions will be, but to give you a little boost, I offer up my own as an example:

--Deep journaling every morning.  This is not the same as morning pages, at least to me.  Yes, I do them first thing every day and yes they are free-form and uncrafted.  But my morning pages tend to devolve into to-do lists and minor rants about what's wrong with my life.  My deep journaling is more exploratory, more questioning, more connected to spirit.

--Write at least one hour every day on my own projects.  As a writer and a writing teacher, I do a lot of work around writing.  I read and comment on manuscripts.  I write blog posts and newsletters and guest posts.  I create workshops and classes.  I love doing all these things, but sometimes my own writing gets pushed aside.  And so one of my conditions is to spend at least one hour every day writing, really writing, on my own projects.

--Breathe.  Sometimes I become conscious that my breathe has caught in my throat.  Yeah, not a good thing for a writer, seeing as how the communication chakra is located in the throat.  How can I hope to write freely if I'm not breathing freely?

--Ask for help.  When things aren't going well, I need to remember to ask for help.  I intended this to be about asking for help from God (or spirit, if the word God makes your nervous, or goddess, or universe, or Allah or your higher self) because that always seems to work.  But as I started writing about it, I realized that asking for help can take many forms.  Requesting that a trusted friend read a manuscript, or hiring a coach.  The idea is to be willing to be humble enough to ask.

Those are my conditions.  Now you might be wondering how to go about figuring out yours?  Mine have revealed themselves in two ways:

--Through writing.  No, duh.  For a writer, the best way to discover anything is to write about it. 

--Through meditation and prayer.  Sometimes I think that my most powerful meditation is actually through the act of writing.  But irregardless of that, I still do my best to find time to sit in silence every day.

So, how about you?  Does this idea of conditions appeal to you?  Do you know what your conditions might be?

***By the way, according to my calculations there are 42 days until my novel is released.  I'll post the cover image here as soon as I get it from my editor!

Photo by len-k-a.


We Are the Light

Lights_christmas_light_226589_lWe've made it to the eve of another Christmas.

Not only that, we've sailed through what some feared would be the end of the world and many others felt would be the dawning of a new world, with a different consciousness.

There's been quite a bit of darkness along the way.  Recent shootings here in the United States have left many of us with a heavy heart.  The first thing I thought when I woke this morning was: it's Christmas Eve!  And the next thing I thought about was all the families that won't have their children to celebrate with this year.

The other night, my friend Rachel came over for dinner and she and my husband and I did a ritual to mark the passing of the Mayan calendar.  We burned what we wanted to release and wrote down and strung up into a prayer flag what we wanted to manifest.  And while we were doing all this, we talked about dark and light:

  • How one doesn't exist without the other.
  • How it's the darkest time of the year, but as of Saturday, the light is returning.
  • How some believe that there's lots of light flooding into the planet right now but we aren't quite ready to receive it, so thus there's even more darkness than usual.
  • How it's all a matter of balance.

I'm left with one overwhelming feeling this season: that we are the light, and we must be the light for each other.  That the only way to truly change the world is to change what's within and we do that one person at a time.

And so this holiday season, let's all be the light for each other.  Let's practice being kind, and compassionate, and non-judgmental, and open and eager to serve.  Choose how you want to be in this world, how you want to show up for yourself and others, and then be that way.

One thing that I am in droves is grateful.  Grateful for so much in my life, my writing, my family, my friends.  But more to the point here, I'm grateful for you.  For those of you who have been reading me forever or you who just landed on the blog recently.  I'm deeply grateful for you.  My goal is to be a light in the world of writing and creativity and it's my readers who make this possible.

So thank you.

And Merry Christmas--or Happy Holidays, depending on what you celebrate.

 

Photo by rueben4eva.


12 Ways to Kick-Start Your Writing

We are writers. Comedy-funny-failure-746-l

And writers write.  No matter what, we write.  No matter if the world seems like it is going crazy or if we're going nuts within, our job is to write. To pour it all out on the page.  To be chroniclers and bear witness.

And yet.

Sometimes this writing, this flinging words at the page, is beyond us.  And no matter how hard we want to do it, we just don't seem to be able to.  The words won't come.  We can't drag ourselves to the page.  We sit at the computer and stare off into space. 

But here's the conundrum: when you're a writer, the only thing that makes you feel better--the only thing that makes you feel like yourself again--is to write.  So when you're not writing, you feel even worse.  Oh, it's a vicious, mean cycle, I tell you.  And the only way out is to get started writing again.

So, herewith, I present you with 12 ideas to kick-start your writing.  The only thing you have to do is experiment with them and see which one works for you.  Promise me you'll do that next time you're stalled and not just sit pretending to write when you're really playing Spider Solitaire.  Because one of these ideas will lead you back home again.

1.  Switch it up.  Write by hand if you're used to doing drafts on the computer, or vice versa.  Every time I get stalled on my novel, I switch to writing in a spiral notebook, et voila, the words flow once again.  It's magical.

2.  Choose a random word from the dictionary.  Combine it with another word or use it as a one-word prompt.  It works great if it's a word you don't know because then your mind can go in any direction it wants.

3.   Use a sentence box.  This takes a bit of advance preparation.  Cut apart old manuscripts into sentences and put them in a bag or a box, then draw one when you get stuck and use it as a prompt.  You can also do this with words and draw several, then string them together.

4.  Pick a prompt.  The key with prompts is to pick one, any one, without thought or emotional investment.  And then just write like crazy.  Don't try to stick to the topic of the prompt, just write and see where you end up.  I've got tons of prompts on this page.

5.  Use the first line of a favorite poem as a prompt.

6.  Use the last line of your WIP as a prompt.

7.  Re-read your recent work.  If this doesn't get you back in the flow, go over notes you've taken.  Look through notebooks you've compiled about the work.  Maybe something will strike you in a new way.

8.  Read a book on writing.  Often I don't finish reading writing books because I get so many ideas from them I go to the page and never get back to the book.

9.  Draw a card for guidance.  You can use a Tarot deck or one of the gazillion types of guidance decks from various authors.  I once went to a psychic who used a regular old deck of cards.  Have no idea what she saw in them, but the reading was fantastic!

10. Create a ritual.  Light a candle, put on some soothing music, drink a glass of water--whatever works for you.

11.  Cut out images to inspire you.  I describe this in more details in my free Ebook, Jumpstart Your Book With a Vision Board, which you can download to the right.

12.  Doodle to get your mind going.  I'm a doodler.  I doodle when I listen to lectures or in meetings.  It doesn't mean I'm not paying attention--to the contrary, it keeps me anchored in the moment.  Lately I've been reading about the positive effects of doodling, and I think it's beneficial for writing, too.

Those are some of the ideas that work for me.  How about you?  Do you have any sure-fire kick-starters that you rely on to get you going again?  Leave a comment and share.

Photo by robchivers.


Radical Gratitude

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.  It's a day when we pause from our normal routines to eat a lot of turkey and be grateful.  Accordingly, the Internet is inundated this week with posts about gratitude. Turkey_gobble_dinner_268746_l

It is not in the least coincidental that my spiritual community has just begun a 21 day gratitude process, which involves writing what we're thankful for in a gratitude journal.  It is especially meaningful for us because we've come through a lot in the last year--a conflict that split the congregation this summer, and just a couple of weeks ago, a flood that destroyed the lower level of the church.

Maybe not exactly things you think of to be grateful about.

But the kind of gratitude I'm discovering is what I call radical gratitude, and it involves saying yes to everything in your life, good and bad.  It involves realizing that everything that happens to you is designed for your own good, and saying yes to it is a lot easier than resisting it, which is usually my knee-jerk reaction.

This can get tricky, however.  You can repeat to yourself "I'm grateful for my bum knee" over and over again and not really believe it.  So over the time I've been attempting to apply gratitude to my life, I've developed a bit of a system.  Here it is.

1.  I say I'm grateful when I truly am grateful.  Like for you, my readers.  For the fact that my novel will be published on February 12. For my wonderful family.  For my amazingly talented friends, online and off.  For the fact that I am a creative person.  For the gorgeous autumn leaves on the tree in front of my daughter's house.  And so on.

2.  I bless something when I'm not overtly grateful but want to acknowledge it.  For instance, the rejection letter you got from that agent you really wanted to work with.  It's hard to honestly be grateful for such a thing.  But what you can do is bless it, which acknowledges it and leaves the door open for perhaps being grateful in the future.  And it takes away that knee-jerk resistance, as in, "No! Why is this happening to me!"  Remember: what you resist, persists. 

And that's it.  That's really all there is to it.  Radical Gratitude.  It's the easiest--and the hardest--thing to do in the world.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?  I'd love to read about it in the comments.


The Writer's Guide to Happiness

Fetr-fitr-ramadhan-53473-hWhat does it take for you, the writer, to be happy?

This is a question much on my mind lately.  What does it take for me to be happy?

Does having my novel about to be published make me happy? Yes, very.

Does not having time to work on my next novel as I finish a big editing job make me happy?  No, not at all.

Would I sacrifice the editing job in order to have time to write?

Now that's a thorny question, because its the editing job that is paying the bills this month.  Ah, thorny questions.  Don't we love them? Yet in the process of pondering and answering these questions, I've come to some conclusions about what makes me happy as a writer, which I offer below.

But before we go there, let me remind you of one thing: the Dalai Lama himself says that the purpose of life is to be happy.  Ergo, the goal of being a happy writer is an important spiritual motivation.  So quit feeling guilty about it and see if you agree with what it takes to make a writer happy:

Process.  Or, to put it another way, writing.  Being involved in the actual process of writing is the single most important thing to make a writer happy.  Obvious, right? I know, I know.  But sometimes we get so engrossed in the peripheal stuff that we forget this.  If you need some help writing regularly, I've got seven practices that will help.

Balance.  Sitting at the computer and writing all day makes Charlotte a dull girl.  And a broke one.   I tell myself I'd love nothing better than to write all day, but when the opportunity presents itself, I procrastinate.  I need variety--a little of this, a little of that.  Working on a huge editing project makes me long for my novel writing.  And vice versa.  It's all about the balance.  There's also the idea that writers need something to write about--as in a life well lived.  You've got to do a bit of both, with the trick being not too much of any one thing.

Support. The writer's life can be a lonely one.  Something that can help it not be quite so lonely is finding a community of like-minded writers.  I wrote about this topic last week, in a post you can read about here.  Never underestimate the happiness that connecting with other writers can bring.

Joy.  What brings you joy?  And why do I ask?  Because joy feeds writing.  For too long we've believed the opposite, that only angst-ridden writers produced deep work.  It's time to put that outdated paradigm to rest.  Joy is what gets my creative juices flowing. And having my creative juices flow makes me happy.  So what brings you joy?  Watching the sunrise through the trees? Taking your dog for a walk? Spending time with your family? Swimming in the ocean?  Only you know.  And only you can make sure you spend time in doing what's joyful for you.

Rest. A rested writer is a happy writer.  An unrested writer is a cranky, anxiety-filled disaster waiting to happen.  Don't buy into the old, stupid paradigm of the over-the-top writer staying up all night only to crash for days after.  Rest--eight hours of sleep at the least--fuels a consistent writing practice.  And that will make you happy.

So, did I get it right?  What would you add or subtract?  What makes you a happy writer?

**The one thing that makes me happier than anything is writing novels.  My Get Your Novel Written Now class starts next week, join me?  Read more about it here.

Photo by Hamed Saber


On Not Knowing What to Write

Seed_weeds_weed_242627_lI wanted to write a blog post this morning, but my mind was empty of ideas.

This is an unusual situation for me.  Usually my brain is brimming with thoughts to share on writing.  Not today.

Was it because I just returned home from Nashville last week?  Because I'd finished the greater part of a big editing job? Maybe my brain was dead because I'd turned in the Emma Jean edits before my trip?

Who can say?  And does it really matter when the end result is the same? (To ask why, I've learned, is often useless speculation.  What matters is what.  As in, what can I do about this situation?)

I assigned myself thought exercises.  Told my brain to cook up a topic.  That didn't work.  So I pulled out the little paisley notebook I use for blog ideas.  Actually found one I hadn't used and started working on it. 

Until I realized I really didn't care much about the topic at the moment and my heart wasn't in it.

And then my friend Sandra tweeted a link to this post.  (Because, of course, when the muse is absent you go look for it on Twitter.  Right? You do, don't you?) And I thought, why not dive right in and see what happens?

And here I am, I've made it this far.  And at this very moment, my thoughts are turning to control.  And how much of it I unwittingly exert over my creativity.  How rarely I allow myself to plunge onto the page, unfettered, as I have with this post. 

For instance, I always start a post knowing what I'm going to write about (except for today).

I always have at least a starting point when I start work on my novel.

Hmmm.  It occurs to me that this is why morning pages are so good for me--I just open up my Moleskine and begin to write.  And whatever comes out, comes out.  Of course, nobody sees that except for me.  So the control gets exerted when my writing is for public consumption.

Which makes sense--and yet.  And yet, I think I could benefit from more unfettered writing in my life.  More journal entries.  More crazy fun flash fiction.  More sitting down and having at the novel without worrying about exactly where its going.

And so I vow to try to loosen up a bit.  I'll keep you posted.

What about you?  Do you tightly control your writing or let it rip?

Photo by hberends.


On a Writer, Being Alone

I assumed I'd have plans.

I'm in Nashville, and I always have plans.  Like, for every minute.

But it turns out that I didn't.  I texted a couple friends to go grab a glass of wine, but it was Saturday night and I was way too last minute.  Everyone was busy.

And so I faced a loooooong evening alone in my room, which, it needs to be said, is smaller than most prison cells.  And has no television.  And spotty wi-fi.

Normally I love being alone, but normally I have TV for company (for some reason I always leave it on in hotel rooms).  Normally I have the internet.  The night stretched ahead, empty.

I know: why didn't I write?  I am a writer, after all, one known to whine quite often about not having enough time to work on my novel.  But bear in mind that two days of taking in information about writing tends to clog up one's head.  And it was already well and truly congested from a bad cold.

We not only need time for writing, but energy.  Mental energy, and I had none.

I thought perhaps some wine might change that.  It had been a couple days since I'd had a glass and I'd been thinking hard through workshops and presenting one myself.  But I was staying on an alcohol-free campus.  Yes, there are a gazillion restaurants and bars nearby, seeing as how Vanderbilt University is right across the street, but they are usually quite crowded with college students.  Not the kind of places you'd be comfortable sitting in a bar alone.

And besides, I was out of the habit of going out to eat alone.  I'd done it before (and wrote about it here) but it had been awhile.  The thought made me nervous.  Hanging with the college kids made me nervous.  In that moment, everything made me nervous.

But then I had two brilliant ideas:

1.  If I went early, the bar might be quiet

2.  If I faced my fears, I'd feel better on the other side

And so off I trundled.

And found the bar at Bound'ry with all the sliding windows open, the breeze swaying the flower baskets hanging from lamp posts right outside.  And, it was gloriously empty.  Except for me.

You know what facing your fear feels like? It feels like jumping into a pool of clear, blue water.  It feels like sailing from a trapeze.  It feels like driving too fast down the freeway.

And on the other side is deep, soothing relief.

Wine and trout for dinner and back to my room.  Where I did work a little on a piece of flash fiction I'd written at the workshop, and re-read my novel (which I can finally get back to, now that the Emma Jean edits are done).  I also texted with family and friends back home about the score of the Duck game.  (Just try to find a TV playing a Pac-12 game in Nashville.  Try it.  I dare you.)  And I talked to my friend.

It was a glorious night.

Have you faced any fears lately?  Do you face them in your writing?


Does Your Habitual Thinking About Writing Serve You?

Sitting-outside-park-33150-lThe other night, in the middle of the night, I came to a realization (I guess being wakeful has its uses). The realization was this: every time I think of something I want, my next thought is, but I can't afford it.  It doesn't matter if I'm thinking about buying a luxury automobile or a five cent piece of candy, every thought about something I may buy is inexorably linked to I can't afford it.

Talk about habitual thinking.

Talk about negative habitual thinking.

This thought was so ingrained that it took a drowsy, unguarded moment to shake it loose, and I was actually amazed that I remembered it in the morning.  As I thought about it, I pondered buried habitual thoughts and wondered how many I might harbor about writing.  Quite a few, I'd wager.  Thoughts like:

I'm a writer. But I'm unpublished.

Not too harmful, right?  Except that what we focus on grows.  So how about changing that thought to:

I'm a soon-to-be published writer.

Great, you say, except.....it's not so easy.

Yeah, I hear you.  And I've also been working diligently on changing my habitual thoughts for years.  The morning I woke up with the realization I think I can't afford anything, I wrote down the process I use for changing thoughts and herewith share it with you. 

1.  Be Aware.  This is probably the hardest part--figuring out what those habitual thoughts are. Once you start to pay attention, it gets easier.  The old stalwart brain training rituals like meditation or exercise will help here also.

2.  Feel.  It's not enough to become aware, you've also got to feel it in your body.  You've brought it up from the murky depths, don't let it sink back in.  What part of your body does it lodge in?  How does it make you feel? Concentrate on it and allow it to intensify.

3.  Cut Cords. Imagine fine silky cords running between your original thought (I'm a writer) and your negative thought (But I'm still unpublished). Now lop those cords off.  That's right, go ahead and snip 'em.  If you believe in guides and spirits you can ask one of them to do the cutting. Doesn't matter.  Just get rid of the cords.

4. Think a New Thought.  One unencumbered by negativity.  Like, oh, say, I'm a writer.  Plain and simple.  Because you are!

5.  Rinse and Repeat.  Whenever you're feeling down, look at your thoughts.  And repeat this process as needed.  It really does help. 

In general, changing your thoughts makes a huge difference.  At the very least, it is way more pleasant to think positive thoughts than negative thoughts.  At the very most, it could make an enormous difference in your writing career. (Because, what we focus on is what grows.)

So, tell me--how do you deal with habitual negative writing thoughts?

***And don't forget my Get Your Novel Written Now class, gearing up for a new session in October.  Sign up here.

Image of woman sitting on the bench by Zizzy0104.


Clarity for Writers

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

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

So let me explain.

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

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

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

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

Clarity for this writer.

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

Which is where the clarity about writing comes in.

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

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

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

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

Photo by unit25.


7 Ways to Keep Writing in Summer

Waiting-landscape-tourism-4870-lAh, summertime.

Blue skies, sunshine, lazy days and heat-induced lethargy. Barbecues, vacations and great, relaxing fun times.

But what about the writing?  When does the writing get done in all this fun?

Relaxation is great for the heart and soul, but it can be hell on the writing.  All the good times can leave little time for writing, and even if you have the time, you might not have the mental energy writing requires.

So what's a writer to do?

Here are a few suggestions, taken directly from my own life.  Because, you see, all of a sudden I'm back in love with writing my novel and I'm doing whatever I can to find time to work on it, which sometimes means coming up with some creative solutions.

1. Find nooks and crannies of time.  This is my best advice for busy times.  You can get a lot done in 15 minutes.  Even 5 minutes lets you reconnect with your work. Set a timer and go.  Work on your current project, write to a prompt, do a journal entry.  Writing breeds more writing and the more you write the more you'll write.  Do you really need to catch up on the news about Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise? Does that email have to be done right now? Write instead.

2. Write outside.  Working inside on beautiful days can feel confining.  So take your writing outside.  I love sitting with my laptop on my deck, writing.  I spent Saturday afternoon out there reading manuscripts.  When my kids were little, I'd take them and my journal to the park.  I'd sit at a park bench and write while they played.  Never failed to re-inspire me.

3.  Get up early.  It's still lovely and cool in the early morning hours.  The birds sing and you can watch the sun rise (or at least see the sky lighten--my office faces west).  Nobody else is awake yet to bother you and you can get a lot of writing done.

4. Write on vacation.  Yes, really.  Travel inspires my writing and so does, in some strange way, movement.  I love writing on planes and in cars.  If you are bothered by motion sickness, try Sea Bands, which you can get at your local pharmacy.  They are cloth bracelets with a plastic tip embedded that stimulates a pressure point on your wrist and they work like magic.

5. Set your intention.  Never underestimate the power of thought!  Set the intention that you're going to make time to write and repeat this intention to yourself often.  Makes it much easier to follow through.

6.  Get fired up.  As I mentioned above, I'm now in love with the novel I'm writing.  It took a bit of slogging to get to this point, I'll admit, but now that I'm here I'll do anything to make time to write.  So get yourself fired up--and honestly? The best way to do this is to work regularly until you find your groove.

7.  Release the worry.  Think of all the energy you spend worrying about not writing.  I know I do.  Let it go and release that energy for your writing.  Often when you give up the obsessing it clears the mental space you need to focus again.

These are my best tips for getting the writing done during these glorious days of summer.  What are yours?

**It's not too late to register for the Authenticity + Creativity class tomorrow night.  Click the snazzy button to the right of this post or check out our special page.

Photo by mterraza.


What Inspires You and How?

Jelly_blue_party_18598_hIn the overall scheme of writing things, it is relatively easy to get inspired.  (See my list of things that inspire me at the end of this article.) But the more important question is: how do things inspire you?  What is the process by which inspiration translates to action?

Having inspiration is meaningless if it doesn't propel you to do something about it. Inspiration is a thought that lodges in your head and, hopefully, moves you to action.  Most often inspiration moves me to write, but I can also be inspired to donate money to a cause, volunteer time, call a friend, book a trip, buy an item of clothing--you name it.

I'm interested not only in the things that inspire us but also the process by which this works.  Here's my theory: a thought or idea enters your head or an event occurs, which creates emotion, and that emotion moves you to act.  For instance, I read a blog which tells a story about a suffering family (idea)which creates sympathy (emotion)which moves me to donate to aid their support (action).

I know, I know.  This is somewhat obvious, at least in theory.  In reality in can be murky as all hell and sometimes the first two steps get engaged but the last, and most important, lies dormant.  And that is what truly interests me--idea to emotion to action.

The process might not be quite so clear cut for writing inspiration, because, as we all know, the muse works in mysterious ways.  Sometimes it works in an oblique way, as in I watch somebody, say, an athlete, excel at an activity and that makes me want to go excel in my own activity of writing.  The important thing to recognize is what actually makes you get up from the couch and go write.

To activate the process of inspiration, you first have to look for it.  To assist you in that endeavor, I've listed some of the ways that I get inspired below.  Steal as many ideas from it as you want and use them as you compile your own list.  Think of it as an ongoing, ever-changing list. And then expose yourself to these sources of inspiration as often as possible to allow it to motivate you to take action.

The Inspiration List

1. My family

2. My friends

3. My clients

4. Napping

5. Walking

6. Reading

7. Writing (of course! Writing inspires more writing.)

8. Travel

9. Movies

10. Story

11. Flowers

12. Freedom

13. Athletic Events

14. Counting my blessings

15. Animals

16.  To be continued...

Now, tell me.  What is your process of getting inspired?  What will you add to your inspiration list? Please let us know in the comments.

And remember, there's still time to sign up for the one night teleclass on Authenticity + Creativity.  Click on this page to learn more, it's going to rock!

 

Photo (its a jellyfish) by Steve Jurvetson.