Writing In the Summertime

Writingoutside
My outdoor writing space

It is hot here in Portland, mid to upper 90s all last week and more of the same this week, with temps predicted to reach into the 100s by the weekend.  We usually get some hot hot weather during the summer, but this is very early for a heat wave and it is lasting a long time.

My office is upstairs (I'm in process of moving it downstairs, but that project is taking forever) and that automatically makes it hot.  (We, like many Portlanders who live in older homes, don't have air conditioning.) But it also gets stuffy, the air stagnant, and because it is full of boxes (the afore mentioned moving project), its not a very inspiring space at the moment.

In self defense, I moved my computer and all my notes downstairs last weekend and then one early morning around 6 AM I got the idea to move my operation out back.  I set up on the outdoor table on the deck and listened to the birds sing and wrote my heart out.  I started out a few weeks ago setting my Iphone timer for 15 minutes and telling myself I was just going to write, simply as a way to get to the page.  But now, I think it is safe to say that these daily outside writing sessions are turning into my next novel--and that my daily writing practice has transformed my writing life.

Firtreeoutback
The tree above me

I now set up outside every morning and it has quickly become my favorite time of day.  It is peaceful and cool and quiet aside from the occasional dog barking and I am getting a lot of writing done every morning.  It is amazing to me what a change of venue can do for your writing.  Some people love to go work in coffee shops, but me? Not so much.  I'm far too distracted by people and noise and activity.  Besides, I do my best work early in the day, in my pajamas, and that doesn't work so well anywhere but home.

By 7:30 the sun hits my back and lights the screen and I can't see so well and I'm starting to flag anyway.  But the point of all this, besides encouraging you to look at where you write and how well it is working for you, is to share a few tips I've learned (relearned?) as I start writing a long project (i.e., a novel), again.  

1.  Call it Daily Writing Practice.   Some times the daily writings  are just random scenes, sometimes they actually turn into a scene for my WIP, and sometimes they become me obsessing about where I am in the WIP.  But gradually, the daily practices have turned into real, consistent work on my next novel, and the sessions have lengthened out considerably.  But at the beginning, I just called it daily practice and all I had to do was write something, anything for 15 minutes. Whether or not your writing sessions pertain to your WIP is up to you—but if it doesn't, that's okay.

2.  Keep a Writing Log. I've started a daily writing log, wherein I write about my feelings and thoughts on what I'm writing.   I wish I'd done this during the writing of my most recent novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery.  Now that it is finished, that novel exists in a sort of magical haze for me, and I've convinced myself that writing it went smoothly from the idea to the end.  But a few days ago, I opened, by chance, one of my daily writings from last summer--and read a whole long rant about how stuck and frustrated I was on the progress I was making.  Because, the thing is, when a novel is done, you forget the day to day grind that went into it.  Because the Bonne Chance was somewhat magical in origin, with the entire story essentially downloaded to me in the shower, it has been easy to forget the hard parts. Instead, I labor under the delusion that the writing of it was easy and sure in every letter and word.  While parts of it were, much of it wasn't.  And it is reassuring to remember that as I struggle to start anew.

For a look at how a major literary figure used a diary, check out this great Brain Pickings piece about the journals John Steinbeck kept while writing the Grapes of Wrath.

3.  Set Word Count Goals.  Once you get beyond the random daily writing practice (and its okay if you never do, truly), it is fun to set yourself some goals.  I was hitting 1K words a morning with ease, so today I notched it up to 1,500.  It helps to give me some kind of framework for what I'm doing.

4.  Give Yourself a Place to Go the Next Day.  If you are working on a long project, write a sentence or two about what happens next, so that you know where to start the next day.  If you are doing random writing, choose a prompt so that you don't go in search of one on the internet and get distracted.

 5.  Stay Organized.  For some dumb reason that I will probably regret, I like to save each days' writing in a separate file, labeled with the date.  I think I like to see the files pile up in the folder I've created for them.  What I will likely soon do is put all these pieces together into a file labeled "full manuscript."  But I am notoriously terrible at organization, so you can probably figure out your own system that works well for you.

Okay, that's it!  I hope you are making progress on your WIP or enjoying writing something.  Do you have any tips for sustaining a regular writing practice?


Stupid Writer Tricks: 7 Crucial Mistakes Writers Make

Dunce-school-punishment-857281-hSometimes I like to tell myself stories, say, when I'm doing the dishes (which my husband might claim is rare) or putting on my make-up and drying my hair.  And it occurred to me recently, that a couple of my favorite stories fell into the category of colleagues doing Stupid Writer Tricks. (Because, in the stories I tell myself, I'm always the heroine who is five times smarter than anyone else--and of course, I never do any of these myself.  Nope, not ever.)

And then it occurred to me that these stupid writer tricks warranted a blog post.  So here you go.  In all seriousness, these are bad habits that can derail a writing career faster than my cats attacking their food dishes at 4 AM in the morning.

1.  Not utilizing the basic tools of the trade.  In the course of my travels through the writing landscape, I have come upon several practitioners of our craft who do not have word processing programs.  God only knows what they type on, but this means, at a minimum, there's no formatting and no spell check.  It also often means that others cannot open their manuscript.  It for sure means that their submissions to anyone anywhere in the entire publishing world will be ignored and they will be branded as an amateur.

2.  Ignoring conventions of genre and structure.  Like, writing a mystery without a murder. Or thinking that it really doesn't matter if their novel's characters don't want anything.  It does to matter, because, DESIRE MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND.  And furthermore: yes, the conventions of literature apply to you.  No, your genius is not such that you can ignore them all. And if you persist in coddling your genius in this manner, guess what? The world will ignore your work.

3.  Ignoring the critiques of those whom you have entrusted to read your manuscript.  There's a fine art to taking criticism.  Sometimes, it is so clearly not applicable and that's fine.  Reject it.  But I've seen writers ignore advice that would have made the difference between a meh book and a wow book and that's just plain dumb.  Rule of thumb: if more than one person is bumping over something, consider changing it.

4.  Ignoring submission guidelines.  Years ago, at one of the first writing conferences I ever attended, an audience member inquired at an agent panel, "Does my manuscript have to be typed?" Sure wish I had a photo of the expressions on the faces of the agents there that day.  I don't think anybody these days is quite that stupid, but you'd be surprised how many people I know fail to follow the most basic of submission guidelines.  Bottom line is this: go to the website of the agent or publication to whom you wish to submit and DO EXACTLY WHAT THEY SAY.

5.  Not using social media.  Yeah, I know.  It's beneath you.  Tough.  Do it anyway. If you don't like Twitter, use Facebook, and vice versa.  If you don't like either, try Instagram (my current favorite).  Or Pinterest. Maybe you'll even be one of 10 people who like Google+!  Whatever, find something, anything that you like and work it.

6.  Posting all self-promotion, all the time.  I have a friend. She is the bane of all her writer's friends existences because all she does on social media is talk about her great she is and how everyone loves her book so much and how now she's appearing at this conference (where everybody loves her) and now she's reading at this event.  Barf.  I've got news for you--after awhile, nobody pays attention.  I know its a cliche, but what we want is to engage.  Start conversations.  Comment on what other people post.  Chat a bit. It'll get you way more followers--and it is way more fun.

7.  Not writing every day.  Because none of the above matter one bit if you don't.

Which of the above are you guilty of?  Okay, maybe you don't want to confess publicly.  So which ones are your writer friends guilty of?


Cement Your Writing Habit (A Proven Process)

PowerofHabitbookcoverOne of the best books I've read this year is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.   He spent a few years studying habits, how people form them, and how they can un-form them, and then distilled his findings into this book.  You'd think it would be about as exciting to read as watching grass grow but the way he writes and tells stories, it is fascinating. 

You don't even really have to read the book to get the concept, though I highly recommend it because it is entertaining and he uses a lot of different examples that really set the idea in your head. (Though if you truly feel pressed for time, there's a cool study guide here that will give you the gist.)

And the best thing about it is that you can apply his techniques (which are all scientifically based) to anything.  Like, um, oh, I don't know...your writing, maybe?

To start with, you need to understand our basic habit loop, which is how habits are formed.  (And bear in mind, that we humans need habits, to, oh say, get us to work on time, feed ourselves, take care of children...you get the drift.)  The habit loop is three steps, and once you remember these steps, you'll be able to apply them to anything in your life:

1.  Cue.  This is what signals your brain to go into automatic mode.  You enter the library, and boom, you're ready to study.  You smell food (or in my case, see it) and ta-da, you want to eat, even if you're not hungry.

2.  Routine.  This is the behavior that leads to the reward.  You study for your test, eat the doughnut that appeared in front of you, drive to work the same way you do every morning.

3.  Reward.  What you get out of the routine.  For instance, that sweet taste of sugar on your tongue, or a raise from your boss because you've been so timely.

You change habits by manipulating this loop.  If you want to change a bad habit, you look at what cues you to overeat or smoke or drink and then you look at the reward.  Once you've figured that out, you can change the routine (the habitual part) in the middle.

So what about writing?  What struck me as I was writing about the habit loop, is how many writers have had routines or rituals to get them to start writing.  I wake up in the morning, stretch, get my coffee and water, and head to my desk.   I usually start by hand writing, in my journal or my novel notebooks, because--if I open my computer odds are I'll head to my email inboxes.  Booyah--habit loop.  The cue is opening the computer, the routine is checking email (just in case there's anything important, I tell myself), and the reward is the rush of news.  I've cemented my first-thing-in-the-morning writing habit by changing the cue (not opening the computer).  Other ways to do this might be to close down all your inboxes and tabs before you go to sleep, or set Freedom first thing upon rising.

The key is to look carefully at what your habit loop is, and adjust accordingly. Though I am a lover of, and consequently a firm proponent of writing first thing in the morning, because I like to do my most important thing first, I know others for whom this doesn't work at all.  If you're a dedicated night owl, trying to force yourself into becoming a lark just ain't going to cut it. 

Here's an interesting article on the habits of some famous writers.  I love the Jodi Picoult quote, "You can't edit a blank page."  And another article from Brain Pickings which has some choice quotes.  And here is a whole Tumblr devoted to the routines of various writers.

So here's how to cement your writing habit:

1.  Pay attention to what you currently do.  The thing about habits is that they are automatic, so we often don't realize what we're doing.  Next time you get yourself to the computer (which I hope will be today), stop and think for a minute what you did before you got there.

2. Identify if you have a good habit loop or a bad habit loop.  Do you grab coffee and sprint to your desk when its your allotted writing time? Or do you grab coffee, talk to your spouse, decide you better put a load of wash in, then pet the dog, then make more coffee and by the time you get to your desk your time is up?  First example=good.  Second example=bad.

3. Look at your cues, routines, and rewards and modify accordingly.  In the first example above, the writer is grabbing his coffee and getting right to work.  The cue is the coffee, the routine is the writing, and the reward is likely that feeling we get when all is right with the world because we have written.  In the second example, the coffee is a cue to fart around.  The second writer might want to find a different cue, or change her routine so to be more like the first writer, with the coffee getting her right to the computer.

4.  Read some of the links provided above for insight into how other writers do it.  If your routine is not working, some fresh ideas might help.

5.  Create a plan and work it.  Figure out what a workable positive habit loop might be for you and then put it into action.  It might take a few days or even weeks to make it happen, and you'll probably backslide along the way, but stick with it.  The rewards are worth it.

So that's it, and I hope you'll try it.  Do you have a writing routine that works for you?  Please share in the comments, as it will help other writers to read about it.


I've Invented a Writing Machine

Everystockphoto-nasa-space-64361-hJust for you, because I love ya, I've invented a new writing machine.  Here's what it does: with a long metal robotic arm, it reaches out, grabs paper and pen, and plops it down in front of you.  You can also program it to grab your laptop, tablet, or computer keyboard.  There's an optional feature that will, if you so choose, chain you to your chair for a set period of time.  

Here's the rub: that's as much as the machine does.  After that it is up to you to start writing.  This may be a bit of a news flash to you, but in order to write something like a novel, a short story, or a memoir, you have to ... write.

Dude. Imagine that.

But, you know what?  We forget that.  Even I, who have been making my living doing this for years, forget that.  Lately, I've been very stern with myself.  I've had so very many important things to get done.  Manuscripts to read, a rewrite to finish, workshops to plan.  And so I laid down the law. There is no time for writing.  We must work.  And work hard.  Nose to the grindstone and all that.

Yesterday I awoke in a brain fog, staring off into space, overwhelmed by the week ahead.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spied my pink journal which had been unopened for a couple of weeks.  I stared at it, with one eye squinting until it occurred to me....perhaps I should write. 

And so I did.

And it was exactly what I needed to do.

But my journal practically had to jump up and down in front of me to get me to open it and start writing, which is why I'm inventing the writing machine for all of us.  Because it's one of those crazy paradoxes: when you're blocked in your writing, the solution is to write. 

I think what happens is that we crank ourselves into perfectionist mode.  When I'm not writing, it starts to seem like this big impossible thing that I can't do because I start imagining that every word I write has to be stellar.  But if I can just get myself to write one word...and then a sentence..and then a paragraph, I remember:

  • All I have to is put words on the page.
  • I don't have to write well.
  • I can write crappy sentences
  • Nothing has to make sense.

Because once I do put words on the page, things start to flow.  Ideas form and spill off my fingers. Crappy sentences straighten themselves out.  Scenes begin to write themselves. And I am writing.

So, yeah, that writing machine should be going into production soon.  In the meantime, I've got the next best thing here.

What do you do to get yourself to write?


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.

 


Do You Pay Attention to the Physical Aspects of Writing?

Writing is hard mental work, we all know that.  But it is hard on your body physically as well.

Yeah, right, you say.  All I do is sit in a chair at the computer all day. Morro-strand-stretching-98145-h

And that is exactly why writing is so hard on you--because it is not good for you to sit all day.   Not even one little bit good.  Our human bodies were made to move, and our ancestors moved all day.  But we don't.  We sit in a chair all day and our bodies don't like that.  Studies have shown that even if you run five miles after work, if you sit all day, you're not healthy.

I've experienced this first-hand over the last couple of years, with an ongoing knee problem that I'm finally getting some relief for.  Turns out its not about the knee at all, but rather very tight muscles in my hip and sacrum area.  Chiropractic and laser treatment, along with icing, daily stretching and yoga, is making a huge difference.  

But in the course of my chiropractic treatments, I've realized how stiff and tense my neck and shoulder muscles are.  I was so used to them feeling this way, it took my chiropractor asking about them every visit for me to realize--wait a minute, my neck is sore.  And my shoulders are stiff.  And they feel like this all day, every day. (Having had two children without any anesthetic, I have a high threshold for pain.)

I have plans to live until I'm 100 years old, in good physical and mental health, and I also plan to continue writing all those years--so I've got to pay attention.  I've been following my chiropractor's orders and researching ergonomics so that I can live and write for many more years.  Here's what I've found helps so far:

Stand up every 15 -30 minutes.  This one is tough.  You're writing away, the words are flowing--the last thing you want to do is stand up and move away from the desk.  But I find I feel much better at the end of the day when I do this.  Set a timer, if you must, but once you get it in your head, you'll remember.  My rule is, if I think I should stand up, I need to. So I do it.  And then I stretch or wander around for a minute.

Drink a lot of water.  My chiropractor says 70 ounces a day.  Yep, 70 ounces. This helps with muscle inflammation and trust me, it also assures you will stand up often--because you'll have to, to use the bathroom.

Develop an arsenal of stretches for your neck, shoulders, and back.  Have a regular practice of this and also do them throughout the day.

Check your posture.  Since I've started to pay attention, I've noticed a bad habit: I jut my neck forward and hunch my shoulders up.  It's no wonder my neck hurts.  Now I work to keep my head aligned with my body and if I do sit forward, I angle my whole body.  We all develop strange habits as we work--check to see if you have any.

Look at your computer set-up.  According to this physical therapist, your computer monitor should be at eye level.  Arggh!  Mine is several inches below.  Gotta work on that--its probably causing some of my neck strain, too.

Consider a stand-up desk.  I know I can't stand at my desk eight hours a day but I'd like to be able to stand for thirty minute or hour-long stretches throughout the day.  And so I'm ordering this nifty little laptop cart that also doubles as a stand-up desk.  I'll let you know how it works out!

Make sure you have good lighting.  Eyestrain can be a source of headaches, as I'm sure you know. Beware of glare on your screen, and make sure you're working in a well-lit room in the evening. Some experts recommend glancing away from you computer every 20 minutes or so--gazing at anything green is especially restful.

Ice is your friend.  Get thee some ice packs and keep them in the freezer for the times when you are stiff and sore.  Ice reduces inflammation and will make you feel better--especially on a hot day.

Okay, those are some of the things that are helping me, and I admit my efforts are a work in progress. I have to constantly remind myself to stand up, to stretch, to look away from the computer screen and give my eyes a rest.

Do you have any other recommendations for good writing ergonomics?  Please share.

 Photo by mikebaird.


My Mind is as Dry as the Desert

(Brief aside: you know how you can remember the difference in spelling between dessert and desert? You want more of dessert, and thus it has two of the letter s in it.  My seventh grade teacher, Charles Nakvasil, taught me that.  He owned movie theaters after he quit teaching.) Desert-arizona-summer-47866-h

Last week I was out of town.  This was not the usual kind of travel I do, to writer's retreats or workshops or conferences or meetings with clients.  This was for fun only.  My nephew graduated from Pepperdine law school and two days later got married in Malibu.  Yeah, he's kind of nuts.  Runs in the family.

We, all of us, went to the wedding. Kids, grandkids, the whole shebang. Long-lost brothers and sisters-in-law.  Stayed at the same hotel, congregated for breakfast, hung out by the pool, like that.  We spent a day in Santa Monica (on the beach!) and wandered around the Venice canals. And then, when the kids went home, my husband and I played tourist, taking the best Hollywood star home tour ever, and wandering along Hollywood Boulevard to see the Walk of Stars and Grauman's Theater.  You gotta love all that.

And now, I'm home.  Have been for a few days.  Came back to appointments and laundry and family duties and tons of errands to run, as one does.  

But I haven't done a lick of writing.  

I've not written down a single idea.

Taken even the tiniest note.

I can't seem to land on anything.  My brain is full up, that's for sure.  But nothing is coalescing.  When I think that I should sit down and write, I can't seem to remember any of the projects I was working on before I left.  (Um, that would be the novel, and the two stories, and the idea for novella.)

I can't connect with anything.  My brain is as dry as the desert.

And, of course, I know the antidote for this.   Say it with me now:

Write something.  Anything!  Just put words on paper! 

And so I will.  Because I'm familiar enough with the creative process to understand that this happens sometimes, and while it's often important to just go with it, as I have been, it is also important to break the spell at some point with activity.

In other words, writing.

It's gone on long enough, and so I shall get to it.  Because if I don't get to it, the Not Writing may become a habit, and I can't allow that to happen.

What about you?  How do you break dry spells?  Leave a comment!

 

***For fun, some other posts I've written about southern California:

 Here's a post I wrote about attending a party on the Venice canals a few years back.

A post on why travel is good for your writing.

A letter from L.A.

A post titled, Ah, L.A., in which I discuss how its illegal to be anything but thin and blonde and tan there.

There are no doubt more, but that's all I can find for the moment.  Enjoy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone!

 Photo by Wolfgang Staudt.


In Training for Writing: A Dozen Ideas

 

RansomnoteEvery night after dinner, I do a little work and then by 8 PM you'll find me cozied up on the couch beneath my favorite quilt, ready to watch the Olympics.   The Winter Olympics are my absolute favorite, so I've been in heaven since they started last week.

These athletes inspire me.    Ski jumpers, snowboarders, downhill racers, figure skaters--I watch them contort their bodies and think, I'll never know what it feels like to move like that, but it sure is fun to watch someone else do it. 

The other huge benefit is that it makes my job look easy.  Really easy.  (And it is, something we'd do well to remember on those days when the words aren't flowing so well and we're wringing our hands over writer's block.)

On the surface, we writers have little in common with Olympic athletes.  (Stop laughing--I know even the comparison is funny.)  They exercise their bodies, we exercise our minds.  They are super-fit and we are...well, I'll speak for myself here, but let's just say sitting at the computer all day is not the best recipe for fitness.

However, there is one arena in which we can compare ourselves and that is with our training regimen.  Olympians train hard for months out of the year, and when they aren't training in their specific sport, they are lifting weights, running, and keeping themselves fit.  And we writers train, too.

Right?

Um, maybe not.  Because who has time for training when there's real writing to be done?  When there's only one hour in the busy day in which to find time to write  that hour, by necessity, must be devoted to one's beloved WIP.

Well, hold on a minute.  Training for writers is not such a bad idea.  Just as Olympians rely on it to create muscle memory in their bodies, so, too, can we utilize the idea of training to facilitate ease and flow in our writing.  (And, if you are a beginning writer, you might focus solely on training until you have a few gazillion words under your belt.)  Think of training for writing as warm-up exercises, or practicing scales, or hitting a tennis ball against the wall five thousand times, or...you get the idea.

What follows are my suggestions for training.   Train for 5-15 minutes a day and see if it's helpful to you. If so, keep doing it.  If not, ditch it.  The idea here is to loosen up and have fun, get your fingers flying across the keyboard or page.  Train first thing in the morning, before your writing session, when you have a few minutes to spare, on your coffee break. Do what works, is my motto.  

1.  Free Writing.  The classic.  Set a timer for 10-20 minutes and move your hand across the page without stopping.   Don't worry about following any particular train of thought, just write. To engage in free writing, the following are useful:

2.  Prompts.  These are one-line starters that are either random sentences (Snow fell, covering the shoulders of her green coat), or sentences that make you think (Write about a time your character felt sorrow).  Write your prompt at the top of the page and have at it.  You can find prompts  under the Punch for Prompt tab, or by asking the Google.

3. Use your thesaurus or dictionary.  Open to a random page and choose a word.   See how many different ways you can use it in a sentence.  Or combine it with another word, make it into a sentence, and use as a prompt.  

4.  Write morning pages.  First thing in the morning (okay, you can get coffee) write three pages.  It's free writing on steroids.  Just write.  Get your yayas out.

5.  Write poetry.  Write bad poetry.  Write good poetry.  Play with images and symbolism in the poetic microcosm.   Even if you don't consider yourself a poet, you can learn much from arranging words this way.

6.  Write flash fiction.  300-1000 words, a complete story with all the usual elements.   Keep it loose, keep it easy, keep it fun.

7.  Keep a stash of writing exercises handy.  There's some on this blog--just scroll down and look in the left column under "Pages."  And you can also ask the Google for help with finding more. Here's a page that has some interesting ones.

8.  A to Z.  Start at the top, with A.  Write as many words that begin with A that you can think of in five minutes.  Then choose a couple of those words, make sentences, and write.  Or just use the word itself as a prompt.  Add to your list as you go throughout your business. The next day, move onto B.  (If you like to be contrary, you can start with Z and work backwards.)

9.  Make ransom notes.  Recycle old manuscripts by cutting them up into sentences and words and pasting those together.    Make these into a story or use them to kidnap your neighbor's dog or rob a bank.  Kidding!  

10.  Keep a God box.  I don't know where the name for this came from, but it's a box full of stuff. Like cool things you pick up in your travels--ephemera from trips or a night on the town, fun little things, found objects, bits of jewelry.  Open the box, pick an object, and write about what the object evokes.

11. Practice description.  Grab your journal, or your computer.  Close your eyes.  Now open them.  What's the first thing you see?  Write about it as if you're describing it to an alien from another planet who has none of the same references you do.

12.  The sentence game.  Write a sentence.  Now use the last word of that sentence to start the next sentence.  See how long you can keep this going.  You can also do this with first words of sentences.

Okay, these ought to keep you going for awhile.  Do you train for writing?  What are your favorite training routines?  Please share.

Photo by theloneconspirator.


Getting Back To Writing

I was out of town last week and I didn't do any writing.  (Yes, you read blog posts while I was gone. I had them scheduled ahead of time.)  I didn't even have my computer with me, which was shocking even to me.  I never go anywhere without my computer (except to France, but I wrote on my Ipad while there).

I knew ahead of time that I would be in meetings and working on reports unrelated to writing while gone and so I didn't  attempt to write.  I was so busy (and then brain dead at the end of the day) that I didn't even think about my writing.

Which was fine.  Then I returned home.  And my brain refused to connect with any of my creative writing projects.  It was as if they were just gone.  The current novel I love?  Couldn't remember what it was about.  That short story I've been working on?  Hmmm, remind me who the characters are again?

But, in the words of none other than the Dude himself, this aggression will not stand, man.

And so I set out to get back to my writing.  Here's what I did:

I re-read my work.  Fortunately for me, my critique group meets this week and I needed to send a chapter to them.  So that became my entry point--re-reading the chapter I'd written before I left and doing some light editing on it.  Oh, that's right.  I remember what's going on here.  From there, I got interested in how I'd envisioned the plot and I re-read my scene list.  And made some small changes.  And from there, I remembered a new character I'd thought up and wanted to create a dossier for--and whadda you know, I was writing.

As I re-read, I took notes.  I love notes.  Notes are my best friend.  I think they should be yours, too.  Notes prime the pump.  They get story ideas going.  They reconnect you to your work. Notes are amazing.  Take lots of notes.  They will lead you back to your writing.  (It is worth pointing out that I take notes by hand and I think you should, too.  This is part of why they work--because you're utilizing a different part of the brain than when you are on the computer.  Or at least that's what it feels like.)

Finally, I did research. What writer doesn't love research?  It can be the best procrastination device ever.  But in this case it helped me get back to my writing by delivering some interesting litle tidbits that sparked ideas.

So that's how I got back to my writing this week.  These are simple techniques you can use any time you've been away from your writing for awhile, or if you are experiencing the dreaded writer's block.

So, tell me--what do you do to get back to your writing after being away from it for awhile?

 

 


10 Foundational Writing Practices

Work-174946-mMy church is currently featuring a series on foundational spiritual practices and as I listened to our minister a couple of Sundays ago, I started thinking (as always) about writing.  What, I wondered, would I consider to be foundational writing practices?  I pondered and made notes on this for a few days and this blog post is the result.

What do I mean by foundational practice?  I mean the activities that will insure you a successful and inspired writing life, one that will keep you productive and make you happy. (Because I am convinced that if a writer is writing, the rest of her life can be falling apart and she'll still be happy, or at least deeply satisfied.)

So, here goes--my list of the ten foundational writing practices I think are vital to your life.

1.  Write every day.  Something, anything.  Even if it is for five minutes.  Committing to this has the potential to change your writing (and you) in a powerful way.

2.  Follow the writing process.  Let her rip!  Write a shitty first draft in which everything you got at the moment is glumped onto the page.  And then rewrite and revise it until your manuscript is a glowing jewel. 

3.  Read as much as you can in your genre--or any other genre, for that matter.   If you're not reading you shouldn't be writing.  Period.  You've got to get the rhythm of words inside you in order to be able to spit them out onto the page.

4. Study craft.   Read the experts so you can master the fundamentals--and then go beyond them.  Read writing books, writing blogs, and any article on craft you can get your hands on.

5.  Keep a journal and/or an idea book.   Journaling and morning pages are wonderful tools to develop ease and flow in your writing.   But sometimes when you're wrapped up in your WIP, you don't want to take time for journaling.  That's cool.  But at least keep a journal of ideas.

6.  Learn the fundamentals of grammar and spelling.  But don't obsess about them, either.  You've got to learn the basics!

7.  Connect with other writers.  Okay, I know you're an introvert and would rather spend hours at your desk.  But the rewards of connecting with other writers are immense.  Nobody gets a writer like another writer, period.  And these days you can connect online and never have to leave your desk.  Except you also want to consider:

8.  Move your body.  Sitting at her desk all day makes Mary a wide girl.  It's really important to move those bones--walking, running, yoga, something.  

9.  Calm your mind.  Pay your hard-working brain some attention, too.  Spend time in meditation, or prayer, or even just take a few deep breaths to clear the cobwebs out throughout the day.  This will help with:

10.  Stay positive.  This is a tough business.  You're going to get bad reviews, rejections from editors, crappy emails from people who don't like your work.  If you maintain a positive mindset, it is easy to say, f--k it when this happens.

Okay, those are mine.  What are yours?  

Photo by clarita.


How You Can Gain Weight While Writing!

Chocolate_stack_snack_239996_lIt's everyone's goal to gain a little weight, right?  Well here's the good news: your writing practice can help you with weight gain.  It is so effective that it is akin to a magic pill for weight gain!  How can you make the magic happen?  Below are some top ideas gleaned from many years of trial and error experimentation (I did the work so you don't have to.  No need to thank me.)

 1.  Reward yourself with food.  Grab a brownie when you've reached your word count.  Better yet, grab two.  Or put ice cream and chocolate sauce atop your brownie and make it into a sundae.  

2.  Snack while you're writing.  But please, no fruit or veggies!   An open bag of cheetos is a good starting point.  Or try chips, kettle corn, M and Ms, Hershey's Kisses.

3.  Frequent fast food joints.  You don't want to take time from you work so your best bet is to hit McDonald's or Wendy's where you can grab a burger fast.  Add french fries to your order for bonus pounds.

4.  Fuel up with sweet caffeinated drinks.  Starbucks has a good area of these--lattes with sweet flavorings added, mochas, and when it gets warmer--Frappucinos!  Be sure to ask for whipped cream and an extra drizzle of sweetness.  

5.  Drink pop all day long.  If coffee doesn't float your boat, you're going to need something to keep you going.  Soda pop is a great idea for this.  The regular ones are loaded with sugar, which is a great attribute, but even the diet versions goof with your metabolism and help you gain weight.  It's a win-win!

6.  Don't exercise.  Forget your morning yoga routine--get right to your writing.  Afternoon walk? Uh-uh.  It won't add pounds and it will take you away from your writing.

7.  Don't get up regularly.  It is far, far better to get so engrossed in your work so that you sit for long hours without ever getting up.  

Those are some practices that have helped me with weight gain. Do you have any to contribute?

Photo by Whizzy.


Shhh! Here's the Secret to Prolific Writing

WhispersPlease welcome guest poster Jessica Baverstock to the blog this morning and read her wise words on getting a lot of writing done.

by Jessica Baverstock

 I'm sure just about all of us have witnessed the Tortured Writer Syndrome. Perhaps we've even experienced it personally.

The syndrome begins with a bit of writer's block, some rubbish first draft material, a savage critique or just some good ol' white page fright.

It then grows into the expectation that writing is a difficult, thankless task that requires many hours of hard work with inevitable disappointment at the end.

Eventually this syndrome can even turn the best of writers into a martyr to their craft as they face weeks, months or even years of frustration, without ever feeling the wonder, excitement and exhilaration of what it truly means to be a writer.

Where Does It All Go Wrong?

The process starts getting all twisted when we do too much thinking and not enough actual writing.

Instead of starting our day with a freewrite to get the words flowing (and get the rusty first 300 or so out of our system before we get down to business), we worry about what we're going to produce today.

We start wondering: What am I going to write about? Will it be any good? Do I have anything worth writing about? Will anyone want to read what I'm writing anyway? Within three or four sentences we've completely lost our motivation, stopping up our natural flow with so much negativity that it takes a phenomenal effort every day to overcome it.

Then comes the inevitable writer's block and other woes of the writing life which become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe writing is hard, then it most certainly will become so. Words have power, especially the ones we use on ourselves.

So many writers are in this rut, that they are in the majority - posting, tweeting and talking about their difficulties - when the writers who are prolifically enjoying their writing life are too busy writing to respond.

How do I know?

I'm one of those prolific writers. When my words are in full flow, it's easy to write over 1,500 high-quality words in an hour. I sit down to my computer each morning with a relaxed but expectant attitude.

I feel like Sharon O'Brien who said, "Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say."

So what's the secret?

How Can You Loosen Yourself Up and Making Writing Fun Again?

Here are a few points to get you back on the road to an enjoyable writing life.

• Get the bilge out early. Start your day with a journal entry or a freewrite. If you're in any way nervous about what you're going to write, then set 15 minutes on a timer and pour your thoughts onto the page. Once you've got them out of your head, you'll be amazed at how much lighter and more confident you feel.

• Lower your expectations. You don't have to sit down at your computer and write a best-selling novel. Start writing something true - about yourself, or about life in general - and keep writing that truth until it turns into a narrative and that narrative finds a protagonist and then that protagonist goes on a journey. Allow the words to flow wherever they want to go. When you're finished, then go back and decide what to do with the end result.

• Enjoy the process. Putting words onto the page should be a cathartic experience. It's best done regularly, daily if possible, so that the words literally flow out of you. At the end of your writing day, look for one thing you especially liked about what you wrote, even if it was just a sentence or a word. Carry that positive feeling with you through to your next writing session.

• Ask for help. So many writers struggle with certain aspects of their writing. Don't let this hold you up. Get yourself a writing coach, a creativity coach, an editor or even just a good book on the subject. Invest in yourself. Show yourself that your writing is worth the extra time and effort. An outside perspective will usually pick up on where your problem lies - and you'll often be surprised at how easy the fix is.

• View your writing life as a journey. You're never going to know it all. Even the most experienced writers are still learning and honing their craft. Rather than looking at writing as something you will be graded on, view it as the narrative of your life. As you grow and change so will your writing. Get your story written now so the next story can appear and surprise you.

What about you? How do you keep your writing relaxed and fun? I'd love to read your comments!

Jessica_0551_cropped_sml (1)Jessica Baverstock blogs at Creativity's Workshop where her Creativity writes in purple text. She offers creative coaching for writers. You can read her latest book De-Stress Your Writing Life for free as she blogs it over the coming months.


How To Not Get Writing Done

Frustration_cranesbeach_ipswich_1173445_hThe other day I was looking for something on my computer.  (I spend a fair amount of time doing this.  I probably need to get my files a bit better organized.)  And I ran across an old guest post I wrote a few years ago, the title of which was something to the effect of, Taking Responsibility For Your Creativity.

Back then, I thought that was quite the concept--that we have a responsibility to our creativity.  And I still do, because it's true.  If you're a creative person--if you have a book or painting or song or movie inside you longing to burst out--you have a responsibility to bring that creative project to the world.

And yet so many of us don't.  We just don't.  Because....well, just because.

Because it's hard.

Because it takes thought.

Because we're scared.

Because we're lazy.

Because we'd rather watch TV.  Or drink wine. Or do something, anything, other than writing. 

So for all of us you, today I have a handy-dandy guide about how not to get writing done.    I think you'll find it very helpful.

1.  Fill your day with meaningless activities like surfing the internet.  Or watching a reality TV show.  Or getting drunk. Or arguing with your spouse.  The choice of activity is yours--just make sure it is not fulfilling, wastes time, or damages your self-esteem or health.

2. Multi-task.  Whatever you do, do not focus on one task at a time!  C'mon, we all know that's the best way to get your writing done.  So do not do it.  Open as many tabs on your browser as you possibly can, make sure your phone is always near by and turned on, and while you're at, turn the TV or radio on, too.

3. Expect perfection.  Whatever you do, do not allow yourself to splash words on the page in wild abandon.  No, far better to agonize over every word.  To second guess every word choice.  To circle back around and edit everything one more time before moving on.  And let's face it, working this way you won't ever get to move anyway.

4.  Judge your work. This is especially important to do while you are in the process of writing. It will shut you down faster than anything, and that's what we're after here!  Be sure to tell yourself how awful your writing is, and also mock and jeer at the way you put words together.  Bonus points if this is done in the voice of your highly critical third-grade teacher.

5.  Do not worry about studying your craft.  Don't read books about writing. Don't visit other blogs on writing, and never, ever hire a coach.  This means no reading, either.  Don't read books similar to what your writing (novels if you are writing a novel, memoirs if writing a memoir) because reading is a fabulous way to teach yourself to write.  And we wouldn't want that to happen.

6.  Talk about your project as much as possible.  Tell everyone you know all about your project.  Relate every single aspect of it, over and over again.  This is helpful because talking a book out almost certainly makes it impossible to write it out--you've taken all the air out of it.  Good on you!

7.  Whatever you do, don't meditate, pray, do yoga or walk.  Or any other baseline activity that might calm and center you and thus enable writing flow.  Instead when you get frustrated, just get more frustrated.  When you're depressed about your work, don't even attempt to take a few deep breaths or change your mindset in any way.  Uh-uh.  That might get the words flowing again, and we can't have that!

Those are my sure-fire ways for not getting any writing done.  I bet you have some good ones, also.  Care to share?

Photo by sandcastleMatt.  


How to Procrastinate

1.  Keep all your email inboxes and social media sites open all the time. Pencil-tapping-distractor-213269-h

2.  Check your email often.  Like, every five minutes.  You might just have a Very Important Email to which you need to respond.  Or, equally urgent, you might have notification of a Very Important Blog Post that you must read immediately.  Or a message about a Very Important Sale that you need to check into.

3.  Surf the internet often.  At least every ten minutes.  Who knows what our pesky government is up to now?  Or what the star of your favorite TV show said last night?  Or where Miley Cyrus most recently appeared nude?  It is crucial that we know all these things ten seconds after they have happened.

4. Click onto the Huff Post site.  There's always something to distract yourself with there.

5.  Pretend to meditate.  Falling asleep at your computer nets you bonus points.

6.  Better yet, close your eyes, pretending you are going to think deep thoughts about your WIP (work in progress).  Falling asleep here also is good for more points. Lots of them.

7. Text a friend.  Choose one who you know will answer your texts instantly.  Carry on a lengthy conversation via text.  There's nothing like the ding of a text coming in to distract you from your writing.

8. Do some research.  Yes, it is imperative that you learn the date of the beginning of the Civil War right this very moment.  Even though you're not writing anything remotely historical.  You still need to know.

9. Never, ever, read over your work the night before you get up early to write.  Your characters and plot will be in your head, driving you to open that computer file.   Do not allow this to happen.

10.  Tweet about how distracted you are, then wait for the retweets and responses to come in so you can talk about how awful it is.

11.  Do the crossword puzzle.  Taking time to google for possible answers is good for, you guessed it, bonus points.

12.  Go out for lunch.  Perhaps that friend you were texting with is available?  An added benefit is that if you eat a lot, you'll be too sleepy to work when you return home.

So, those are my top twelve ways to procrastinate.  What are yours?  Please leave a comment!

Photo by Rennett Stowe.


Working With Your Subconscious

Estock_commonswiki_126921_lSo, we all know that it's important to be alert and focused while writing--present and conscious, so to speak.  But what about utilizing your subconscious, that part of your brain that is always running, no matter what you're doing? Have you thought about how to take advantage of that?

I have.  

Because, basically I'm lazy.  I like passive income, passive exercise, and passive writing. (Passive in the sense that its easy to do, not passive in the construction of sentences.) So, over the years I've perfected some techniques of using the subconscious to work for your writing.  And here, I share them with you:

1.  Seed the brain. (Sometimes known as writing while you sleep).  Read your WIP before going to sleep and see if any brilliant ideas pop into your head upon rising.  Scan your latest chapter before you head out the door to work and let your subconscious chew on it while you're doing other things.  Your subconscious is always at work--might as well give it a writing-related issue to ponder.

2.  Fill your brain up.  Years ago, I read a book called The Technique for Producing an Idea.  The process was simple: read every single thing on the topic at hand until your brain is filled to the brim. Then stop and go golf (the book was written by an ad guy in the sixties) or something.  Et voila, up will pop the idea you were looking for.

3.  Mix it up.  Write by hand!  Or, if you write by hand most of the time, write on the computer.  I'm not a brain expert, so I'm sure of this, but I think these different modes of expression trigger different areas of the brain--and when I write by hand, my subconscious feeds me material like crazy.

4.  Get up from the computer.  Time after time I've risen from my desk chair and immediately had a thought about my WIP, causing me to run back to my desk. The subconscious is no doubt a trickster, liking the idea of me running back and forth from computer to whatever else it is I want to do.  I think that sometimes the brain just needs a bit of space--and getting away from the computer allows this.

5.  Practice repetitive activities.  This one is magic and never fails to work for me.  Knit, weed, mow the lawn, sew, vacuum, whatever.  There's something about the repetitive motion that encourages ideas for your writing.  

6. Take a shower.  I got the idea for the novel that I'm currently fired up about in the shower. Something about the ions being released by the water?  Or maybe its' because you are removed from all other stimuli? I dunno, I just know it works.  

7.  Turn a negative into a positive. This one is far and away the hardest, because it takes constant practice.  When you have a negative thought about anything--your body, your life, your writing, your spouse--train yourself to think about WIP.  This is a two-fer, as it saves you from damaging negative thoughts, and it will help you write your novel.  And, let me repeat, it is freakin' hard. 

Do you work with your subconscious?  If so, what technique do you use?  Leave a comment!

Photo from Wikipedia.


10 Ways To Return to Writing Regularly

Note_creative_author_260972_lTrue confession: I haven't been writing.

Okay, that's not exactly true.  I've been writing blog posts, guest posts, interviews and comments on my client's work.  I've been writing in my journal every morning.  But I haven't been writing writing.  I haven't been working on my WIP.

Until this week.

In my case, I had a wonderful reason not to be writing: my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, was recently released and I got caught up in the hoopla surrounding that.  But in the past, I've gotten distracted for the most mundane of reasons: all the events of day-to-day life.  There's just no two ways about it, it's easy to get distracted from your writing. 

But this week, as I said, I've started back into working on my WIP.  It took me awhile, but I'm back.  Watch out world!  It didn't happen all at once, however.  I don't think it ever does.  Getting back to writing regularly is  a process.   I found ways to ease myself back into it, which I share with you here:

1. Download Scrivener.  This writing software for writers is intuitive and helpful--who knew such a thing was possible? I'm still playing around with it, going through the tutorial, but I think it's going to be wonderful.  And I feel like I just got a new toy at Christmas, which alone is worth it because it makes me want to go play with it.  You can get a free 30-day trial here.

2. Direct your thoughts.  Consciously tell yourself to think about your novel, as in when you are driving, when you are vacuuming, when you are walking the dog.  It's also especially good to do this when you're thinking negative thoughts about how you're not writing.  Direct those thoughts to pondering character or plot instead.

3.  Take notes.  I'm a huge fan of jotting things down, because it leads to more jotting and before you know it you're in the middle of writing a scene.  Put all the ideas you get from #3 onto paper.  The other thing that happens is that ideas breed with each other, like rabbits.   Soon you'll have so many of them you'll be at the page writing.

4.  Familiarize yourself.  On the most basic level, this is about getting accustomed to working on the novel again.  Remember where the files are stored on your computer, stare at your vision board, recall where you were in the manuscript when last you wrote.

5.  Take micro action.  Now that you've gotten oriented again, set yourself a very small task.  Like, opening one file.  I'm not kidding.  Set yourself up for one tiny action and call it good.  This is a way of tricking yourself back into interacting with the work regularly.

6. Research.  Reconnecting with the ideas and topics of your novel can get you excited about it again.  Make a Pinterest board for actresses who might play your character or locations in your novel. Do a Google search for that obscure subject that fascinated when you began. Look for images of your settings.

7.  Use bursts.  Feeling ready to write?  Okay!  Set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing else but write until the buzzer goes off.  This means no surfing the internet, no looking at email, no chatting on the phone, no getting up to get more coffee.  At the end of 30 minutes, you get to take a break.  Then start the process over again.

8.  Read!  Nothing makes me want to write more than reading.  I just got a Kindle (last person on the planet to do so, I know) and I'm amazed at how it enables me to devour books.  Which, in turn, makes me want to cover pages with words.  Most of us come to writing because we love reading so much, so use that impulse to propel your work.

9.  Reread.  While you're in a reading mode, go reread your WIP.  From the beginning.  Immerse yourself fully in the world you've created so that you can go forth and make it come even more alive.

10.  Create a vessel. Commit to a schedule of some sort.  Now, I am the first one to struggle with this--I end up rebelling against myself.  But when I wrote Emma Jean, I rose every day at 5 to work on it before the day began.  When I wrote my previous (unpublished) novel, I was earning my MFA and I had deadlines for 35-50 pages every week.  Each of these examples enabled me to complete a novel.

So there you have it--my rundown of how to get back to writing regularly.  Have you tried any of these, or something else?  What works best for you?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments.


Deconstructing Sacred Writing Cows

Property_ranch_estate_243078_lI'm tired of people telling me what to do.

I'm tired of people telling me how to eat.  (Don't eat dairy! No grains! No eggs! And puh-leeze, no sugar!)

I'm tired of people telling me to exercise.  (Walk.  No, walking isn't enough.  Run.  No, running is bad for your knees, interval training.  No, you have to do cross-fit.)

I'm tired of people telling me how to think.  (Case in point: the recent election.  Or every day on the Internet.)

And so the thought occurs that you, my dear readers, may be tired of me telling you what to do, or more precisely, how to write.  And that maybe it might be time to reconsider some of the tenets by which we live.

In my forthcoming novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, our heroine discusses her three sacred cows: her fans (what she calls her readers), her students, and her husband, Peter.  "They were the three things in life, besides writing, that Emma Jean cared about most—the holy triumvirate, her sacred cows."

And so, herewith, let's consider some common sacred writing cows and decide if they should be upheld or not.

1.  Meditate.  This might not be one of your sacred writing cows, but it is to me.  However, meditating is like exercise--we hear so often how good it is for us that we might tend to rebel against doing it.  At least, that's how my mind works.  You may be a bit less prone to fight yourself.  I'm certain I'm a lousy meditator--my mind is all over the place--but I'm also sure that this is one time when trying is what counts.  I find that not only is my meditation session my favorite time of day (besides writing), but it also helps me focus on my writing and worry about it a lot less.  So, yeah, I still count meditation as a sacred cow.

2.  Writing every day.  Stop groaning.  You know it's good for you to write every day.  And you know you want to.  This is advice that every writer and her uncle, including me, offers up on a regular basis.  And those of you who lead busy lives most likely want to plug your ears and stick out your tongue when you hear it.  I get it, I do.  It can be overwhelmingly difficult to find time to write every day.  But the rewards--oh, the rewards are so many!  Even writing a measly few minutes a day can net you massive benefits, not the least of which are momentum.   And besides, when I miss a day of writing, as I did earlier this week due to getting stalled, my day just doesn't flow as well.  So I'm afraid I'm going to keep beating this drum also.

3.  Use prompts.  Most of the time, I'm a fan of prompts (I better be, I've got tons of them on this site.)  Prompts can get you going when nothing else will, and using them can help you learn to let your writing flow.  When all else fails and you don't know where to go in your writing, grab thyself a prompt and write without stopping for 20 minutes.  And, sometimes prompts can lead you astray.  Or waste valuable writing time while you go on about something that is relatively unimportant.  So I can see both sides of this sacred cow.  I give it half credit.

4. Let it rip.  Or, in other words, write one draft start to finish (what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft), then go back to the beginning and rewrite, start to finish.  Rinse and repeat for as many drafts as it takes.  This is how I write my novels.  And it's how I tell you to recommend you do it, also.  Because I've seen too many people--myself included--get hung up trying to make the first part of the novel perfect. And then guess what happens?  You don't make any forward progress because it gets frustrating.  And soon that novel is consigned to a drawer and you've set aside your dream of writing.  Thus, letting it rip remains one of my sacred cows.

5.  Don't multitask.  Do I even have to go into this sacred cow?  Multitasking is death to creativity.  How can you get in the writing flow when you're texting and checking emails and reading a story on the latest scandal?  You can't.  Period.  This one stands.

Those are the sacred cows that occur to me.  What are yours?  Do they hold up under your scrutiny?


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.


Writing Habits

Wine_glass_alcohol_240313_lSo, I'm doing things totally backwards.  (Many will say that's not unexpected from me.)

I've got a big post on habitual writing thoughts coming up on Thursday that I just scheduled.  But I  had thoughts on writing habits that I want to talk about today.  So here goes.  And I'll keep it brief.

Often we think of habits as dull and boring.  Except when it comes to writing.  We actually want to create a writing habit, as in, perhaps, writing every day.  That would be good, wouldn't it?

Recently, I formed a habit.  Two habits, as a matter of fact.  When I was in LA at the beginning of August, I stayed with my friend Suzanne.  Every morning, we'd drink coffee and write morning pages outside in her wonderful back yard (okay, we chatted a bit, too).  And every evening, we'd re-convene in the yard for Happy Hour (red wine and delicious treats that she whipped up).

After a week of this, guess what I did when I got back to Portland?  Went outside to my wonderful back yard every morning to write and every evening for Happy Hour. 

And thus beginneth a habit.

I don't think it took that long to form the habit--probably a couple of days.  I love this habit--I look forward to getting up in the morning to write and ending the day in  the same place with a glass of wine.  (And by the way, the days are getting shorter and cooler fast.  This habit will soon be a thing of the past, which is why I'm enjoying it as much as I can for the moment.)

You probably have figured out why I'm mentioning this. 

Because if it is this easy and quick to form a daily habit of morning pages and wine at opposite ends of the day, it is easy to form a habit such as working on your novel every day.

Just saying.

How do you form habits?  Do you have a good writing habit?

***I'm teaching my Get Your Novel Written Now class again come October.  I've updated the page with testimonials from those who took it in August.  Check it out!

Photo by EmZed.