When You Don't Know How to Write

Painter_sidewalk_easel_596182_hYears ago, as a freelance writer, I wrote a lot of articles about art.  One of them was about the Makk family of artists, who lived in Hawaii.  The big thing I remember from this article happened while I interviewed the Eva, the matriarch of the family. She told me how when she was a young artist she had images in her head that she wanted to paint--but it took her a long time to figure out how to get those images onto canvas.

I could relate.  As a fledgling fiction writer, I often had trouble translating the stories in my head onto the page.  And even now, after writing fiction a gazillion years, sometimes I just can't quite get what I'm writing to work right.   I have the idea in my head.  I can see it.  But when I put it on the page, it is dead and lifeless.  Something about it doesn't work, and I moan and groan and wring my hands and decide I'm going to sell yarn for a living.  Or get a job in a restaurant.  Or something, anything, other than writing. At times like these, I need to remind myself how to write all over again.  

But the great thing about writing for so many years is that I've figured out a few things about how to get myself out of these situations.  And so I offer them to you.

1. Write a scene.  Often, deadly boring prose is written in narrative summary, which is, as the name implies, words written in summary.  She spent the afternoon reading on the couch, is an example.  Or, six months later, the baby was born.  You glide over a short or long amount of time or compactly explain some information.  Narrative summary most definitely has its place--it is a useful technique for all manner of things--but when it is used too often it results in big yawns.  Writing a scene, which incorporates dialogue, description, action, and interiority, will be much livelier and it may be just what the writing doctor ordered.

2. Try a line of dialogue.   Have one of your characters say something.  This can often lead you into a full-blown scene, or a half-scene, which is a bit of narrative summary with a line of dialogue as its anchor.  This link has great definitions of half-scene, scene, and narrative summary.

3. Copy exactly.   Take out your favorite novel or memoir, prop it next to your computer, and copy a scene word for word.  You know, of course, that I offer this as an exercise only and you aren't going to use this plagiarizing for anything but your own learning purposes.  This is kind of an amazing way to get the cadence of writing into your brain and heart and is a great learning tool.  Try it.  You'll be amazed at how much you glean from it.

4. Copy and rewrite.  A variation of the above.  First complete #3, then take the scene or paragraph and rewrite it in your own words, maintaining the same idea and actions as the original.  Another surprisingly fabulous learning tool.

5. Read.  Take a break from your struggles and go read a book.  Nine times out of ten, this sends me running back to the computer.  Its as if I just need to refill myself with words.  Note: reading blog posts, gossip sites, news articles, or anything on the internet DOES NOT COUNT.

6. Take a class.  If you are a true rank beginner, a class is going to be your best starting point.  If you are an introvert or don't have time for an in-person class, there's a ton of great offerings online, and many of them are self-paced.

7. Hire a coach.  Like me.  This would sound incredibly self-serving but for the fact that I'm not taking on new clients for the time being--unless you call and beg me on bending knee, in which case I'll consider it.  But whether it is me or someone else you work with, a coach can point out your strengths and weaknesses and help you learn to implement more of the latter.

So there you have it.  Oh, by the way, you might also be interested in my post on What to Do When You Don't Know What to Write, which inspired this one.

What do you do when you don't know what to write?

Photo by moriza.


What to Do When You Don't Know What to Write

Thoughtful-creative-moved-22614-lSo there you are.  You've cleared your schedule and made time to write.  The kids are farmed out, the dog is asleep, your partner is happily watching something stupid on TV.  You open a file, place your hands on your keyboard, and ..... nothing happens.

You don't know what to write.  And when you don't know what to write, writing doesn't happen.

This can occur whether you are starting something new, or in the middle of a writing project.  And no matter when it happens, it can stop you cold.  Maybe you're trying to parse out the plot of your novel, or maybe you're partway through and you thought you knew where you were going but suddenly you don't.

One of the single best pieces of advice I can give you, writer to writer, is this: always know where you are going next.  (My daughter-in-law drove up to Bainbridge Island last weekend to hear one of her favorite authors, Annie Barrows of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society fame speak, and guess what?  That's the exact same advice she gave.)  I'm experiencing this first hand as I get up and work on my new WIP every morning.  The days I know where I'm going next, my fingers fly.  The days where I'm not sure, I meander.  And on those meandering days I get nothing done.

But what if you find yourself at the page and you don't have a freaking clue what to write?  Here are some suggestions.

1.  Write about your project.  Don't worry about writing within the project, write around it.  I always keep a spiral handy for notes and "writing about" sessions.  These help me clarify where I am and can get me back to the project at hand.  I thought everyone did this, so much so that I'd never bothered to mention it--but then we had a long discussion about it in the writing group I lead and to most, it was a novel idea.  Go figure.  Anyway, for me, inspiration always comes through the writing itself.

2.  Use a prompt.  Yeah, I know.  But they work.  There are tons here and a million other places on the web.  The thing to remember about using prompts successfully is to not make yourself hew to them religiously.  By this I mean, use them as a starting point.  Doesn't matter if the prompt is about a cat and you write about dogs.  The idea is to get you getting words on the page.

3.  Fill out a character dossier.  This is another thing I thought everyone did.  Turns out, not so.  I have standard character forms I've developed from a variety of sources over the years--and I invariably find myself figuring things out as I write fill them in.  (If you need a template for that, just email me and I'll send you mine.)

4.  Remember, nothing is wasted.  Sometimes it is valuable just to plunge in.  Put your character somewhere and start writing.  It may not turn into anything at all, but then again, it might.  And even if you don't use it this time around, maybe it will work itself into your next WIP.  Who knows? The muse works in mysterious ways--but she's happiest when you meet her partway.

5.  Also remember that maybe something is wrong.  If you are in the middle of a project and you don't know what to right, consider that something isn't working.  Maybe you've conceived the scene wrong, or it belongs in a different place.  Maybe it needs to be in a different location or with a different set of characters.  In order not to get stuck here, either move on to a different scene, or write something else--play around with a short story or an essay, for instance.

6.  Make a list of what you know and don't know.  Approach this like free writing and set a timer, then write down every thing you can think of that you don't know.  Ask yourself questions.  Make odd connections.  See what comes out on the page.  You know more than you think, you just need to unlock it from within.

7.  Change up your routine.  I rarely listen to music while writing, but at the moment I'm listening to a soundtrack that purports to zap you into the right brain and allow the words to flow.  It seems to be working! (Though I must admit I found the bird calls on it a bit distracting at first.) I've written recently about how working outside every morning has improved my writing.  So try something different--it may give you inspiration, and that's really what we're talking about here.

8.  Write a description.  Some people love it, some people hate it, but writing it is good practice.  Maybe you'll actually use it somewhere--or maybe it will spark the words you're looking for.

9.  Walk away.  If all else fails, go do something else.  Take a walk, mow the lawn, pull weeds, something.  It amazes me how often I don't know what to write next, get up from my chair, and find myself running back to the computer because everything has clicked into place.

10.  Keep a writer's journal.  Carry a journal around with you and take notes.  I don't do this as often as I should but when I do, it makes me happy.  Write about the woman with magenta hair and tattoos sitting next to you at the coffee shop, make notes on dialogue.  You can do this quickly, in phrases and lists, or elaborately, whatever your pleasure.  Then when you're sitting back at your desk, despairing because you don't know what to write, flip through it for inspiration.

So....what do you do when you don't know what to write?  Please share in the comments.

Photo by corpitho.


The Love-Hate Relationship With the Creative Process

MosaicHeartBeing immersed in the creative process--writing a novel, creating a class, knitting a sweater, planting a garden--is my most favorite thing in the world.

Until I hit a block.

And decide that the novel stinks, nobody will want to take the class, the sweater won't fit, the garden won't grow.  And then I hate the creative process.

I was reading about this very thing on another blog this morning when it hit me.   The tension between the love part and the hate part is what keeps us working at it.  If the creative process--say, your writing practice--was all good all the time, you'd get bored.  And if it was all bad all the time, you'd get frustrated and quit.

A well-known psychological principle is that of intermittent reinforcement, and that's what we're talking about here.  This principle states that reinforcement is doled out in an intermittent manner is far and away the strongest motivator.  Why? Because we never know what we're going to get, and we're always hoping for the good outcome--the wonderfully satisfying writing session as opposed to the time when you sit and stare out the window.

But we're also talking about tension, the lifeblood of all stories.  It's what keeps readers turning pages, the tension in the story itself and the tension the author has embedded in the story.  Without tension, or conflict, there is no story, its a simple as that.  Which is why, of course, the news is full of awful stories about horrible things happening.

While it is frustrating to hit the lows of the creative process, if you just remember that its all a cycle and the highs will soon return, I think you can ease yourself through the times you hate everything you create.  Remind yourself that the work would not be nearly so compelling if it were all easy, all the time.  

And take yourself back to the page once more.

How do you handle the lows of the creative process?

Photo by Carbon NYC.


Are You a Right-Brain or Left-Brain Dominant Writer?

ElliottBayBooks
A Stack 'O Writing Books

I learned a different way of looking at my writing this weekend, a way that I think will help inform how I plan and plot a novel. (One of the things I love best about writing is that there's always something new to learn.  It's impossible to be bored by it.) I'm thinking this thing will help you, too, so let's discuss.  But first, some background.

This past weekend, I went to Seattle with my daughter.  We took the train up and back (the best way to travel), stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel downtown, and reconnected with an old friend and met her new family.  (One of the most adorable two-year-olds on the planet, second only to my own granddaughter.)

One of the best times we had was Saturday afternoon, when we hung out at the new (to us) location of Elliott Bay Books.  The bookstore is dotted with large tables at which you can while away the afternoon.  Which is exactly what we did. It felt like the height of luxury to spend a couple of hours doing nothing but looking at books.  My daughter perused books from the design section, and I pulled out stack after stack of titles from the writing section.  I read through many of them,  took notes from some, and ended up buying two:

Naming the World, and other exercises for the creative writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  I remember being at AWP years ago right when this book came out. It is comprised of brief essays and accompanying writing exercises from a wide variety of writers.  I'm always looking for exercises for myself and my students--I'm not sure why I haven't bought this one earlier.  It is excellent.  (I especially love the section of Daily Warm-ups at the back.)

PlotWhispererThe Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson.  I've read her blog, but for some reason shied away from the book, which has been out a few years.  I'm only a short way in, but the book is excellent.  And the thing that has grabbed my attention is the distinction she makes between left-brain dominant writers and right-brain dominant writers.  To wit:

The left-brained writer thinks in language more often than images and is quite comfortable with action.  He might also be analytical and detail-oriented.  Alderson says that if you crave action and "spew out dialogue at will" you are a left-brained writer.

The right-brained writer thinks in pictures rather than language and likely starts his writing developing characters or emotional moments in the story.  He takes a more intuitive approach.  If you fall in love with your characters and love to ponder theme and meaning, you are more right-brain oriented.

Raise your hand if you recognize yourself in one of the descriptions above.  Me! Choose me!  I'm a right-brained writer through and through.  I can't think of a novel or story I've written that didn't start with a character, and because of this I also have a few abandoned stories littering my computer, because I didn't know how to develop action for the character.

It doesn't matter which one you are, but it helps to figure that out from the get-go.  Because just as I've struggled with action in my stories, the left-brained writer will struggle with getting character emotion and detail into her work.  And if you know that going in, you'll know where your weaknesses lie and you can figure out how to correct them.

You'll know that if your left brain tends to be more dominant, you'll need to learn to focus on character, imagery, and emotion.  Conversely, if your right brain rules the roost, you'll have to focus on plot and goal and structure.  (There are ways to do this without freaking yourself out.)

Alderson has an interesting offer on her website.  (I'm in no way affiliated with her, just intrigued by the info she's presenting.)  It's called Writing a Story Takes You on an Epic Journey, and since it is in beta, it is really inexpensive (like $14.99, amazing). 

So that's what I learned this weekend.  Does the concept of left-brain dominant and right-brain dominant writers resonate with you?  Which are you? Do discuss in the comments.

All images are by moi.  I've been using Instagram a lot lately.  Come follow me there, why don't you?


The Only Way Out is Through

"If you're going through hell, keep going."  Winston Churchill Ngtrans_walkway_brick_228315_l

"The only way around is through."  Robert Frost

The only way out is through.   We usually don't want to hear this particular bit of advice, but I have found that it is true.  

I thought about it as I was out walking this morning, my legs in some pain.  After struggling with a knee issue for the last couple of years, I've finally found a chiropractor who is helping. Turns out I have one leg shorter than the other, and now a lift in my right shoe to balance things out.  And that, in turn, works muscles in my legs that haven't been used in ages.

So, pain.  And, my legs just have to get used to it as I gradually build up my steps.  The only way out is through.

Same thing is true, of course, in writing.

Stuck on your work in progress? The only way out is through the wilds of the manuscript.

Got another rejection? The only way out is to feel the discouragement and despair, get through it, and send it out again.

Don't know what to write? The only way out is through taking notes and free writing.

Books aren't selling? The only way out is through more marketing.

You get the idea.  

This concept may seem the tiniest bit depressing, but I find it comforting.  Nobody is going to come save me, I have to do it myself, whether that means putting another word on the page or taking another step.

 What do you think?  Does this concept resonate with you?

Photo by ngould.


Writing Tip: The Process Mindset

Years ago, I attended a creativity camp in Taos, New Mexico put on by Julia Cameron of The Artist's Way fame.  (Yes, it was as cool as it sounds.  To say something is life changing is a cliche, but in this case, it truly was.  Fromt that point on, I took myself seriously as a creative person. I also met friends with whom I'm still close.)  

Process
My Taos Creativity Camp pillow.

Every morning in camp, we listened to Julia talk and did exercises from the Artist's Way and her other books.  Then, after lunch, we were free to wander the grounds of the San Geronimo Lodge, wend our way into town, or engage in creative classes, like fabric painting, doll making, drumming and others I've forgotten.

Having always been a textile person, one day I chose to do the fabric painting.  The deal was we'd paint a pillow and at the end of the week it would be sewn and stuffed and ready for us to take home.  I was filled with excitement about what I was learning on the creative process and I painted my pillow with two phrases that had resonated with me at the camp: 

Do the work, don't judge it.

Process is everything, product happens.

I have beleived fervently in these ever since.  And I have instituted them in my life with varying degrees of success, sometimes totally into the concepts, others, not so much.

For whatever reason (the position of the planets? the stretching exercises I'm doing? the yogurt I'm eating for breakfast?) I am currently in a huge process mindset phase.

And let me just tell you, it is glorious. 

The process mindset is about putting words on the page.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Put words on the page and don't worry about how good they are, what they sound like, if you should add more here or subtract some there.  

And when you approach the work with this mindset, a funny thing happens.  You start to put your true self on the page and later, when you read back over the words, you realize that they are kinda good.  But it really doesn't even matter, because you know that soon enough you'll be in a revision mindset phase and then you can go over the words and make them really good.

The best way I know to get myself into a process mindset is to tell myself that, it's just writing practice. As I wrote in this post, writing practice is any writing that is not related to your WIP.  And that takes the pressure right off, and if your experience is anything like mine, away you will go, writing like crazy. What's really cool is that writing practice can function as either a warm-up--write 300-500 words and then switch over to your WIP, or it can segue right into the WIP, as happens with me more and more.

But the key is the process mindset.  If you're loose and easy and tell yourself all that matters is that you get words on the page, it makes all the difference in the world.

(I wrote specifics about how to do a daily writing practice in the above-mentioned post.)

Do you have a writing practice that helps you get words on the page?


Writing by Hand Versus Writing on the Computer

Do you favor writing by hand or on the computer?   Painted-printed-blue-401-l

This may well be one of those never-the-twain-shall-meet dichotomies.   

We all start out writing by hand as little kids, and for many of us that remains the preferred method of composition.  For years I've taken lots of notes by hand before I switch to the computer.  I even wrote half of a novel by hand once.  (I ended up abandoning that novel, so I'm not sure what that says.)  

And, for years, I've been a proponent of writing by hand when journaling or free writing.  There's a more direct connection between hand and brain when you are writing by hand.  And sometimes it is helpful to step away from the computer with paper and pen to write.  (For other benefits, read this article.)

But lately I've been rethinking my position.   I've noticed that when I write by hand, I get bored quickly and can't seem to force my pen across the paper.  I quickly get into a this is stupid, why am I bothering frame of mind and I quit.  A client and I were talking about this yesterday and she said when she writes by hand what comes out on the page feels very juvenile and not at all adult.  I love that--I know just what she means.

And another problem is that my handwriting is increasingly difficult to read.  (Just ask my husband how hard it is to read my grocery lists.)  When I write something that I want to keep, it is hard to find it in the scrawl of my journal pages.  And often when I go back, I'm unimpressed with what I wrote anyway.  I've read that some people take all their free writes and put them onto the computer, but I simply don't have time for that.  So many of my free writes are not about much of anything and I use them as warm-up exercises.

A month or so ago I bought a book called Writing From the Senses: 59 Exercises to Ignite Creativity and Revitalize Your Writing.  I've not made it very far in the book, but what I read in the introduction changed my writing life.  Here's what Laura Deutsch, the author of the book, wrote:

"A word on whether it's better to write by hand or on the computer.  Many people feel there's a heart connection when writing by hand.  I, too, feel a difference.  Yet, I usually write on my computer because I can write faster and because I can save my freewrites."

So, apparently all it takes for me is for one person to give me permission because ever since I read that I've been off and running, doing freewrites and writing practice on the computer.  Last week, I did a journal entry of sorts on the computer--I wanted to remember an experience I'd had and hand writing it just seemed way too onerous.  

Now I'm a huge proponent of freewriting on the computer.  And, the thought occurs that this may be a phase I need to go through and that some day I'll get back to writing a lot by hand.  But, whatever--I don't care.  As long as words are getting on the page one way or another, I'm happy!

What is your favorite way to write?  Please leave a comment.

Photo by brokenarts.


When Not Writing Becomes an Art Form

Bricks_brick_walls_221878_l
My mind the last few days.

This will be a short post because I'm very busy this weekend, Not Writing.  

Instead of writing, I'm reading, knitting, working on a project cleaning up part of the basement, working on another project cleaning up the driveway, doing the crossword puzzle, cleaning the house, enjoying an Independence Day neighborhood barbecue, checking email (of which there is little this holiday weekend), and petting the cats.

You know, Not Writing.  Studiously Not Writing, I might add. Turning Not Writing into an art form.

It happened this week that all my clients put off their appointments until after the long holiday weekend.  And I got caught up on a lot of chores, leaving me time to write.

Except I didn't.

I did all of the above-mentioned activities, but I didn't write.  Every time I thought about it, my mind reached a blank, white wall.

I've been at this game long enough to know that I need to take such a time of Not Writing in a relaxed way.  Why?

--Because my brain needs a break.

--Because big things are brewing in my subconscious

--Because I know once the time is right for me to get back to my writing, it will all come out in a huge rush that will make me giddy with joy

My job at the moment is to just go with it.  As I was pondering this blog post today, an email newsletter from neuropsychologist Rick Hanson came in.  The subject? Rest.  Here's what he has to say about it:

Tell the truth to yourself about how much time you actually - other than sleep - truly come to rest: not accomplishing anything, not planning anything, not going anywhere. The time when you don't do anything at all, with a sense of relaxation and ease. No stress, no pressure, nothing weighing on you in the back of your mind. No sense of things undone. Utterly at rest.

 Probably not much time at all, if you're like me.

Also acknowledge to yourself any unreasonable beliefs or fears about resting - for example, that if you rest you'll lose your edge, things will fall apart, you'll let people down, others will judge you.

 Now imagine a kind, wise, fearless friend looking over your shoulder and knowing both how little time you rest and your "reasons" for not resting more. What will your friend tell you? Similarly, listen to your own innermost being about you and resting; what is that still quiet voice saying to you?

Imagine the benefits for you and others if you listen to the support and wisdom of your dear friend and innermost being.

Then commit to what makes sense to you, in terms of nudging your schedule in a more restful direction, refusing to add new tasks to your own bucket, taking more breaks, or simply helping your own mind be less busy with chatter, complaints about yourself and others, or inner struggles. 

So, he calls it rest, I call it Not Writing, but it is one and the same.  And I've got to go now and do more of it.

Do you take rest times?  Or do you struggle with the need to be always busy?


How to Write More Than You Thought Possible

That title offers a pretty bold promise, huh?  But I really do believe that what I'm going to write about today will help you write more than you imagined possible.  What might this mystical thing that I'm going to write about be?     Gandhi

Are you ready?

Wait for it.

It is writing practice.  Also known as free writing.

We will define it, for the purposes of this post, as any writing that you do that is not strictly related to your WIP.  It is the writing that you allow yourself to write with abandon, that you likely do to a prompt, that you for sure do fast and without worrying about what words you are putting on the page.  It is, at heart, writing for no purpose.

I've been doing writing practice for the last week or so, inspired by a book I bought on a visit to one of my favorite bookstores.  The book is called Writing From the Senses, and it focuses on "using your senses as prompts."  I like the short chapters and the writing prompts at the end of each of them.  

But what I really like is the permission the author, Laura Deutsch, gave me to do my practice on the computer, and to keep it short, like 300 words.   I, like many of you I presume, have always done free writing by hand.  Don't get me wrong--I love writing by hand and find it very freeing.  But I also never took the time to transfer any of my handwritten free writes to the computer and lots of good stuff got buried in my spiral notebooks.

But Deutsch says it is perfectly fine to write on the computer.  And, yes, 300 words is plenty.  I find that these little short bursts on the computer act as warm ups that lead me directly to my current WIP and allow me to work on it with just as much abandon as I do the free writes. 

I find that this writing for no particular purpose other than to do it takes the pressure off, which allows the words to flow.  And once they are flowing, it is easier to get into the flow with your other work as well.  This, in turn, makes me eager to get to the page.

I am reminded of a quote I read long ago from Mahatma Gandhi.  (I don't have the exact quote and have searched and searched for it.  If you happen to know it, please send it to me.)  He said, in effect, that he had a busy day, so he better spend an extra half hour at his spinning wheel.  In other words, he's making the counter intuitive choice to take time to make time.  By taking longer at the spinning wheel, he knew he'd be much more centered and ready for the day.  

So, too, with your writing.  By taking time to do some writing practice, you'll be better able to make good progress on your current project, because you'll be centered and in the flow.

Some simple guidelines:

1. Start with a prompt, just because it gives you a way in.  I've got tons here on this site, or you can get books full of them, or you can consult the Google.  (For my newsletter subscribers, I also always include a new list of prompts each issue.)

2.  300 words is fine.  500 would be plenty.  

3.  You don't have to stay on topic.  Go wherever your hand takes you.  Let it rip, let it flow.

4.  Keep writing no matter what.  Its much better to get something, anything, on the page, than to stop and gaze off into space.

That's it!  Do me a favor and try doing writing practice and then move right into your WIP and see what happens.  

Do you have a favorite activity that encourages your writing?

 


What Makes You Stop Writing?

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

Except I didn't.

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

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

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

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

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

1.  Overwhelm.  As above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by brokenarts.


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.


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.


What To Do When The Words Just Don't Sound Right

(Note: I was going to call them damn words in the headline, because sometimes the words feel like they need cursing.  But then I censored myself, because this is going out in my newsletter, and I don't want to offend people.  Do words like damn offend people?  I don't know.  You tell me.  I wouldn't be offended, but you might be.  Anyway...)

Lettering_letters_close_260818_lI had an email this week from a young writer whose friendship I treasure.  She is in her early teen years and an avid writer.  Or has been an avid writer.  According to her email, all of a sudden, when she writes, nothing sounds, well, right.  It comes out cliched.  Doesn't ring true or feel authentic.  And she asked me what she should do.

It is a very good question, and a difficult one to answer.  When I think back to the answer I gave her, I'm not sure it was particularly helpful.  So this is my attempt to rectify that and maybe help some of you who've struggled with this as well.  (Who am I kidding?  I'm also doing it to help myself--because yes, this happens to every writer at some time or another.)

Process, not product.  We too easily get wrapped up in thinking about the end result of our writing.  The same impulse that causes writers to inquire of me, "I've got a great idea for a book, how do I get an agent?" (answer: write the book first) also causes us to worry about the end result.  When first you are starting a project, your job is to get words on the page and not worry how they may or may not be.

Do the work, don't judge it.  This goes hand in hand with the above.  Because if you're judging the work, there's a good chance you're not allowing yourself to get into the flow of it.  Again, write.  Throw words at the page.  Let yourself get swept away in the wonder of the creative process.  Fall in love with writing again.

Creativity comes in cycles.  This not liking your work is a stage, and probably a sign that you're onto a different level in your writing.  Because, in the past you might have been satisfied with the way these words sound.  But now you're not.

Mind the gap.  Riders on the London Underground are familiar with this exhortation to watch the space between the train and the platform.  But gaps happen in writing, too.  There can be a huge gap between the story you see in your head and your ability to get it on the page.  And this can cause frustation as you struggle to master your craft.  Of course the best thing to do is:

Keep writing.  In truth, at a time like this, you should write more.   Write journal entries, poems, flash fiction, political polemics, personal essays, character sketches, or anything else you can think of. It doesn't matter so much what you are writing as that you are writing.  Because the more words you throw at the page, the more understanding you will have of how to put them together so that they sound pleasing to you.

Don't second guess yourself.  Commit to something and write it.  Don't question whether you should be writing a novel or a memoir or a short story, just get started on a project and work at it. And please don't second guess you decision to be a writer.  

Finish things.  I will confess: I'm terrible at this.  I abandon stories when I can't figure out where they are going and I despair over longer pieces and give up.  (And you should see my yarn closet, it is full of half-finished pieces.)  However, I'm working to get over this tendency, which stems from bright shiny object syndrome, because finishing WIPs puts you in a different place.  You know more about your story when you get to the end and you've learned more about writing when you complete a piece.

So those are some suggestions that I hope you will find helpful.  What do you do when you find yourself in this situation?

Photo by clix.


The Benefits of Writing Crap (A Reminder)

DeskbytheseaLast weekend, I was at my desk.

I had just started a new chapter.  (I'm almost to the halfway point in my WIP, so I'm well into the dreaded muddle of the middle.)  And I was throwing horrible combinations of words at the page.   Really, when I say horrible, I mean horrible.

Feeling a little, um, less than happy with my work, I took a break to check email.  And, wouldn't you know it, there was a message from some publisher or another trumpeting an author's "masterful literary debut."  Which made my shoulders sag and my chin drop to my chest.

Because of course, I immediately started comparing myself.  And what I was writing was not masterful, in any way, shape or form, as we used to say.  I imagined the process of the author of this masterful debut.  No doubt, she wrote beside a window, looking out at the sea, with gentle ocean breezes ruffling her hair.  Which was styled, unlike mine, since I still hadn't showered.  And her desk was clean, unlike mine, the surface of which hasn't seen daylight in months.  And most especially, no doubt every word this author wrote was a gem.

Unlike my horrible combinations of words.

I went to that imaginary scene of this masterful debut author writing despite the fact that I know better.  (Exhibit A: the gazillion articles I've written about this over the years on this blog) I know that this author went through a process, just like me, and that she no doubt despaired over her Shitty First Drafts (not to mention subsequent drafts) as well.  

But my mind went there anyway. (For some reason, I'm particularly prone to thinking this about female English novelists.  Maybe because they always seem so accomplished and efficient? And also, Isabel Allende, whose fingertips seem to produce incredible novels like clockwork.)

And so I was forced to remind myself that writing is a process.  And that process does not start with perfectly formed sentences, despite what my runaway imagination was telling me.  And so, I reminded myself:

--When writing a first draft, you're laying down the spine of the story.   Because you most likely do not yet fully understand the spine of the story, your scenes will not spring, full formed onto the page. Rather, they will of necessity be somewhat sketchy.

--Not only are you figuring out the spine of the story, you're still deciphering the story itself.  Yeah, so you think you know how its going to go--and then that new character walks on.  Or your heroine says something that takes the chapter in a whole new direction.  This is why we write first drafts--to let the story have a life of its own.

--You'll figure out things about the story only when you get some distance from it.  For instance, last night I met with my writer's group and reviewed an earlier chapter from my WIP.  And realized that there is a thematic element I need to weave in through subsequent chapters.  This is what God made second drafts for.

--A first draft gives you something to go on in the future.  Because you will rewrite this draft.  And you'll rewrite it again after the first time. 

So, don't rush the process.  (And I'm talking to myself as much as to you.)  At the same time, I think its important to acknowledge that writing "masterful literary debuts" does not have to take years.  (For instance, the above-mentioned Isabel Allende started her latest book, Ripper in January of 2012 and it is available now.  Given the glacial pace that legacy publishing moves at, she wrote that baby--nearly 500 pages of it--fast.)

And remember: writing crap is good.  Writing crap is glorious.  Writing crap will get you where you want to be.

So....what about you?  Do you have to remind yourself to write crap?  To let the words be awful on the page?  Or are you one of those rare breeds who polishes every word of the draft before you move on?

As a reminder, my short story Blue Sky is up on Amazon.  (I'm trying to get to making a new book page, on this blog, stay tuned for that one of these days.) It's a quick read, and just 99 cents!


Aiming High or Over-reaching?

Kenneth-armitage-sculpture-123578-lThis is one of those posts that I write because I don't know the answer and I'm trying to figure it out. (Ha! Like I ever know the answers.)  So bear with me as I sort it out.

Imagine:

--a writer, talented but still raw, without a lot of words beneath her belt, finishing a short story and submitting it to the New Yorker.

--an under-achieving professional applying for jobs--and assuming he'll get them--way beyond what his experience warrants.

--an entrepreneur starting a business from scratch--and setting a goal that she'll reach one million in sales by the end of her first year.

Or how about the emails I get on a fairly regular basis that go something like this: I've got an idea for a book, how do I find an agent?  Note, the writer has an idea only.  Hasn't written a word of said book, but he/she is already looking for an agent.  Or the writers I used to meet whose main goal was getting on Oprah, still without having written a word? (I still remember one such woman, who had seen herself sitting on Oprah's couch in a vision.  She was certain it was going to happen.  Writing the book that would get her there was just a pesky nuisance in between.)

Sigh.

What do all of these people have in common?  

Over-reaching.

But you could also call it aiming high.  Having confidence.  Who's to say it won't work out?  Who's to say that story won't be accepted, you won't get the job, you won't win the millions?  One of our enduring cultural zeitgeists is the exhortation to dream big, to reach for the stars.

And who am I--or you--to dash the hopes of our strivers by pointing out the reality of the situation?

Yet I'm certain all of us have heard such stories and rolled our eyes.  Tut-tut-tutted at the silliness of these over-reachers.  

Which is a terrible, toxic reaction that shows more--perhaps--about ourselves and how we're not going for our own dreams that anything else.  However, part of that reaction is grounded in truth.   And I think I'm starting to figure out why we bristle when we hear the unrealistic goals of these dreamers:

Because they want to skip steps.  They want to go from zero to 90 in one second, without any work in between.  

And those of us who've been working towards our goals for a long time know that doesn't happen. 

Usually.

When it does--such as when a college student gets a big book contract, or an obscure blogger catapults himself into the spotlight, or, you fill in the blanks--we feel a bit like they've cheated.  And skipped the steps that most of us have to take.

There's also, I think, a sense of entitlement inherent in over-reaching:

--Give me this job because I deserve it, even though I've never done anything like it before, ever.

--Publish my story because I wrote it, even though I've not rewritten it and worked to get it right.

--Buy my product because I made it, even though I've not done the market research to know if you'll want it.

Aiming High

On the other hand, it's good to dream big, right?  It's good to imagine the job, the publishing contract, the massive business success.

Yes, it is.  We humans live on hopes and dreams.   So there's absolutely no harm in imagining the big payoff.   Think about it every day, and see it happening.

And then forget about it and get down to work.  Because that is what is going to make it happen.  

Those folks who get the publishing contract while they are still in school, or make the product that nets them a million?  Outliers.  And yeah, it could happen to you, or to me, but in the meantime let the universe decide and keep at what you're doing.  Behind most overnight successes you'll find years of toil.

Reach, match, and safety.

So here's what I tell my students and clients.   When you're ready to submit a story--after you've written and rewritten it, and then gone back and rewritten it yet again--make a list.  At the top, put your pie-in-the-sky places (The New Yorker and Tin House come to mind).  Then choose some middle-ground publications.  And then, opt for a long list of publications that will be most likely to want to publish your stories.  Send them out.  And keep writing.

This is much like the advice given to high school students applying to college.  Opt for reach, match, and safety schools.  I think it's a good policy for us as writers as well--go for reach, match and safety publications, or editors, or agents.  

(This list is a great starting point for those of you submitting to journals.)

This way, you can aim high and not over-reach.  Because as long as you continue to work and hone your craft, one of these days you'll get your ambitious goals, I'm sure of it!

Do you have experience with over-reaching and being disappointed?  Or are you a big believer in confidence?  Please comment!  And feel free to share on your social media of choice.

And don't forget--tomorrow I pick (by random selection) the winners of the blog birthday giveaway! You have until the end of today to enter, I'll choose first thing tomorrow morning.  (And, also, for a mere 99cents, you can buy my new short story on Amazon.)

 Image by kloniwotski.


How I Wrote (Almost) 10K Words Yesterday

I finally did it.

I cleared away appointments (except for one) and committed to participating in Milli Thornton's 10K writing day.  (Regular readers will remember the guest post Milli recently wrote for me.)

I've wanted to do this forever but other commitments kept getting in the way.  Until yesterday.  

And so, I rose at my usual time of 5:30 (I know, it's crazy to get up that early--but it's what time I naturally wake up) and started writing.  

By 8:30, I had amassed 3,000 words.  I took a break to shower and read the paper and drink some more coffee.

Back at it by 9:30--and by noon I was up to 6,000.  I'd finished a novella I've been working on and was ready for lunch.  Not just ready--famished beyond words.  Writing that much takes a lot of mental energy.

I have to admit, this is where my energy started flagging.  6,000 words and completing a project seemed like a good day's work to me.  And later when I thought back over the day, I realized that in a perfect world, if I were devoting every day all day to fiction writing, 3,000-5,000 words a day would be a great goal for me.

But I really wanted to see how far I could get, so back to the computer I went.  I took a break for a client appointment mid-afternoon and then continued writing, finishing up by about 5, when I needed to feed the cats, cook dinner, and get ready for an evening meeting.

My final word count? 9, 247 words.  

Yeah, I know, I was floored too.

And my head was about ready to explode as well.  I have a bit of a headache today and I suspect it's from staring at the screen so much yesterday.

Now, bear in mind--these are rough draft words, people.  Those 9K + words were pure glumping onto the page and will need rewriting and editing and polishing and all that stuff we do before we send our work out into the world.

But--I have over 9,000 more words on the page than I did on Tuesday.  And that makes me happy.

By the way--Milli is hosting another 10K day this Saturday.  I found the support of the blog and the others participating invaluable--and a lot of fun.  (I also learned about Bounty bars, which I am now desperate to try.)  I can't participate this Saturday, but I sure plan to set aside time to do another 10K day next month.  

What's the most words you've ever written in a day?  Does the idea of writing 10K words in a day sound like fun or make you want to run for your life?  Please share.


The Creative Trance

Melbourne_victoria_australia_54546_hI'm working on a project that puts me into a trance.

My fingers fly across the keys and I'm totally and completely absorbed in it.  Time passes and I have no sense of it--if you asked me what the hour was, I wouldn't have a clue.  Dim thoughts that I should get up from my chair arise (I'm trying to stand up and move every 30 minutes) and they leave my brain again just as fast.  Because my fingers are moving across the keyboard, as if of their own volition.  It doesn't even occur to me to check email or see what's up on the internet. My fingers just keep moving.

When I finally come out of it, I'm wrung out--but in a cheerful, energetic way, if that makes sense.  I'm ready to take a break and I also cannot wait until I get to go back into the trance again.

This is what writing is all about.  This is how I like my creativity.

And, I recall, this is how writing used to be for me always.  Before I started worrying about how it sounded.  Or doing it right.  Or if the client would like it. 

So why is it suddenly happening for me again?

I think because I'm playing around with a different genre.  It's something new, I'm not worrying so much about the rules, and I'm allowing myself to have fun.   At the same time, I've got enough of a sense of mastery that I'm not second guessing myself all the time.

But also, I believe there's a sense of allowing myself to let it happen at play here.  I have to admit, in the past I've felt close to being in a trance state and talked myself out of it.  Got up from the computer, clicked over to check email, gazed out the window instead.

And I think I know why.  Because once  you're in the trance state it is the most wonderful place imaginable.   But it's also a bit scary.  You're out of control of your conscious mind to a certain extent.  You're in the grip of something bigger, something beyond you. 

What if you never come out?  What if you get so compelled by this trance state that you give yourself over to it totally--don't bother to shower, forget to pick up the kids, ditch cooking and cleaning?   What if you give yourself to it so fully that you become the madwoman who wanders around town talking to herself?  

Okay, so realistically, we're all pretty sure that's not going to happen.  But, still, it could, our inner critic insists.  And so we reign ourselves in, listen to that voice, attempt a more measured approach to writing.

But here's the thing: the writing I do while I'm in a creative trance is my best work.  It flows, it has a sense of authority, and at the same time, ease.  I wrote it effortlessly and it reads effortlessly.

So, I, for one, am vowing to allow myself more time in the creative trance in 2014.  

How about you?  Have you experienced the creative trance?  Do you like it or loathe it?  

Photo by Scott Sandars.


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.  


10,000 words in a Day? Impossible!

By guest blogger Milli Thornton 10K-Day-header-cropped

10,000 words in a day? Impossible!

That's what I said in 2006 when my friend Jenny Turner asked me to do a "10K Day."

To be accurate, I didn't say it was impossible for Jenny. I already knew she could do it. I said it was impossible for me.

I had my reasons. I'm a slow writer. I'm a believer in creativity. Creativity is not about hammering out words like some maniac on an acid trip, right?

Funny how hard we can cherish our beliefs--that sometimes turn out to be nothing but assumptions.

There are ten rules for the 10K Day. I know, I know. It already sounds like a forced march of writing, and having rules just makes it sound more militant. But it's an unbelievably fun way to spend a day. And the rules really help. When I followed them on my very first 10K Day, I ended up (to my great surprise) writing 10,277 words. I had started with very low expectations that day, but there's something about the rhythm and momentum of the 10K Day that pulls it out of you.

Breaking the barrier left me feeling liberated in a way I could not have imagined before I tried it.

Here are the rules:

1. No editing or rewriting.

2. No looking back over what you’ve written. Keep forging ahead.

3. No rummaging--either in notebooks or in your computer files--for writing you did some other time.

4. No research. Make it up.

5. Don’t fuss about the rules of writing. Just write.

6. Don’t fuss with structure. You can format, add chapter headings (or whatever) some other time.

7. No struggling. ("Allow yourself to be crappy." - J.R. Turner)

8. Take a 15-minute break every two hours. Use this break to refresh your body, brain and spirit.

9. Report to your writing companions during your break. Use the check-in page that shows the correct date for the event you’re attending.

10. No agonizing over your word count. Yes, the goal is 10,000 words, but not at the cost of your peace of mind. This is not a competition--not even with yourself! Have fun instead.

Adapted with permission from 10K in a Day by J.R. Turner

The problem with assumptions (mine, anyway) is that they usually focus on the wrong thing. In a vague way, if we think it through at all (I sure didn't), when we hear "10K Day" we automatically react by assuming the writing will be the problem. What will I write all day long? Or what if my writing sucks? That type of thing. But a simple plan can take care of the first one--and Rule #7 should take care of the second.

No, what I've noticed (in more than four years of running this monthly event) is that the writing is not the problem. Our waffly boundaries are.

Many of us believe, somewhere deep inside, that everybody else's needs come before our writing. (If you don't think so, watch how you react next time an interruption comes along while you're writing.) There are also myriad distractions in this cyber-world to tempt us away from our writing dreams. The 10K Day asks us to set aside one day a month for our writing. And if we actually DO set aside the whole day--which means rescheduling the needs of others and shutting out distractions--it really is possible to write that many words.

The other trick is to take regular breaks and drink enough water. If your brain gets burned out, you'll have to quit early. That can easily be avoided by taking regular breaks. We recommend every two hours.

The most inspirational thing about the 10K Day is the writer-to-writer support. There are no comparisons made, and everybody's word count is cause for celebration. There's no pressure to reach 10,000. We cheer for anyone and everyone who shows up and gets some writing done!

So. Just one day a month. That's not much for your writing to ask of you. But the rewards can be great.

P.S. Remember Jenny, the friend who introduced me to the 10K Day? She has eight novels published as J.R. Turner. Jenny has used the 10K Day many times over the years to help her write her books.

Want to join us for a 10K Day? We offer a Wednesday and a Saturday every month. Check out November's event dates at 10K Day for Writers.For those who enjoy some extra learning, guidance and support, there's also an online course called Ace Your 10K Day!

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Milli-Thornton-Nov-2011-bio-sizeMilli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course and Unleash Your Writing!, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and Screenwriting in the Boonies and coaches her amazing clients at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.


How to Go Places That Scare You In Your Writing

Webcomics_webcomic_scary_449578_lThe Halloween spirit is in full swing at my house and all around the city.  I love decorating for Halloween, though I don't go nearly as all out as some of the places I see which feature scarecrows and witches and ghouls rising from tombstones.  Love it all!

Halloween is supposed to be frightening, with many people (not me) watching scary movies and wandering through graveyards or impenetrable corn mazes.  But I've been thinking about scaring yourself in a different way--through your writing.

Specifically, going to the places that scare you in your writing.

This may be writing about something bad that happened to you in your past, or writing a fight scene when you have an aversion to conflict. Maybe sunshine, lollipops and rainbows scare you (okay, I couldn't resist--see below for the video of that song.) 

Whatever it is that scares you, it is important to go there.  Why?  For a number of reasons.  Because once you get it out on the page, it won't scare you anymore.  Because there's fabulous gold to be mined in the scary places (stories are nothing without conflict).  Because if you're not going there, you're probably not putting your true self on the page.

But how do you go there, when it's too scary?  Below, find some of my best tips for doing so.

1.  Cultivate uncertainty.  We all assume that we know with certainty what's going to happen tomorrow.  We'll get up, go to work, come home, have dinner.  But we don't really know that for sure. You might wake up sick and not go to work.  Or get out to the car and it doesn't start so you decide to take the day off.  Instead of clamping down on this (i.e., feeling you must exert control), learn to live in the knowledge that nothing is certain.

2. Make Friends With Discomfort.  When I flew to Paris by myself this summer, I was nervous. When last I was in France, the people were, um, there's no tactful way to say it...they were rude.  I don't speak the language, either (well, haltingly).  Finally, I realized I was afraid of my own discomfort.  I'm not rich, but I live a pretty cushy life compared to most of the world, and I reckon that most of you reading this can say the same thing.  We don't have to experience discomfort very often, and thus we protect ourselves from it.  So, instead of running from it, go towards it, especially in your writing.  (And by the way, I found the French people absolutely lovely this time around.)

3.  Free Write Lavishly.  Getting into that space where you are not really thinking but your hand is moving across the page is the best way to get into the scary places.  Once more with feeling, the way you free write is set a timer, begin with a prompt, and then have it--let your hand move across the page without stopping.  Did you get that last part?  Without stopping, even if you are writing one word over and over again.  It's this constant movement of the hand that accesses the deep parts of the unsconsious.  Oh, and don't worry about sticking to the subject of the prompt.  It is just there to get you started.

4.  Keep it Private.  Remember that just because you are writing the scary stuff down, it doesn't mean you have to share it with anyone.  Nobody has to read your journal entry, your halting attempts to write that scary scene, the episode of your memoir.  You might eventually get it polished enough and feel brave enough to share it, but that's in the future.  Right now, it's just you and the pen and the paper and neither one of them is going to talk.

5.  Trust the Process.  As a wise soul (maybe Emerson, but don't quote me on that) once said, "The only way out is through."  Yeah, it's true.  You've got to walk through the fire to get to the other side, and if you go around it, you don't get the same benefits.  You get to stay stuck and so does your writing.  And we don't want that, do we?  You will survive writing about the scary things.  Nobody has ever died from writing in private in their own little room.

So there you have it--my recommendations for getting to the scary places.  And here's that video (you can thank me when you wake up singing this song tomorrow):

How do you get yourself to write about the scary places?

 

Photo by I'm Fantastic, used under Creative Commons 2.5.