Category Archives: A Room Of Your Own

Commit, and slay those focus vampire habits!

Dear writer friend, 

Last week I paid attention to the amount of time I spend thinking about getting started writing during the time I’ve committed to writing. It’s a lot. If I were to watch myself live, I would be yelling at myself, “What are you even doing?! Get to work already.” I can’t use the excuse that I need to warm up. I already get up and feed the dogs, make coffee, meditate for five minutes, walk the dogs, and read a few poems. And…yet…I caught myself checking my phone, my email, my Facebook–”real quick”. It was not real quick and also doing those kinds of things gets you out of the mood for writing and amps up anxiety. So, I made some changes once I noticed this focus vampire of a habit. 

Commit to doing the work

My challenge to you this week is to commit to the work. When you sit down to write, don’t do anything else “real quick”. I mean it. If you have to, stare at the wall and watch your breath for a few breaths before you get started, but don’t check your email and don’t pick up your phone. 

Don’t do anything that is not on your writing list for the day. For me that’s read a few poems while I sip my coffee, then write for at least three twenty-five minute sessions (5 minute break in between to free write about what I’m working on), then submit three pieces of work for publication.

That’s what writing looks like for me on a typical day right now. This may change and that’s okay because I have a notebook where I write down my goals for every writing session. 

Tip: I open the timer app I will use for writing in a separate browser before I go to bed at night, so that I do not open a browser and see my email sitting there. Have no other tabs open. Just the timer. I use Tomato Timers.

Reward yourself

Focused and finished? Send a brag text to your writing accountability partner(s) and allow yourself a little time to play in your email or social media. You should set a timer for your play time too. I’m sure there are some other goals on your list today! 

You don’t need to decide every morning whether or not to get started writing. Commit right now. 

Write it Down

January 11–17 2021. Focus on what you did; Put down your phone; Call for reinforcements

Dear Writer Friend, 

Here we are again at the start of another week. It might be tempting to look back at your goals last week and notice what you didn’t do. Resist that urge. Focus on what you did. I did not come near meeting my goals, but I did finish one chapter and start another, critique two submissions for my writer’s group, finish an editing project, and have a couple of really good ideas I jotted down and put on simmer. 

Writing is especially hard right now. Give yourself credit for everything you do. Disregard what you didn’t.

That brings me to another important thing you can do this week to do the writing work you want to do. Limit the time you spend in that digital space of disgust, disbelief, despair, and rage. Put down your phone. Two people said the same thing to me yesterday about the new year. One was in an email and one was the checker at the grocery store when I went out to do my Sunday shopping. What did they say? “Well it can’t do anything but get better.” These are hard times, and so much of that is way beyond our control. Making time for your creative work is how you infuse a bit of better into every single day. Put down your phone and do it. 

Lastly, if you don’t already have a fast track to communicate with a writer or two or three who you can add to a text thread or email chain or what-have-you, then get that set up. Update that group as to what you did each day. Focus on what you did. Never write about what you didn’t do. They will know what to do–bring on the encouraging gifs and words to cheer you on. You will do that same for them. Two things in the thread–what each of you did and accolades. That’s it. 

We’ve got this. See you next week. 

cup on desk with writing plan

Happy new year, writer friends! How are you making time in 2021?

Purpose.

It’s been a pandemic since I last wrote here. I started this blog as a way for me to crystalize my own craft insights and to inspire others who have a story they long to tell but who do not yet believe in themselves enough to Make Time. I am proud of all that I’ve gathered here and I often look back to remind myself of my own insights and practices when I get off track or caught up in the internal interferences of doubt, gloom, or indecision. I’ve been working away at this practice for more than thirty years now ,and I’m pretty happy with where I’ve come in my practice, but it has taken time. It has taken persistence. It has taken the willingness to constantly interrogate fear and doubt. I have been buoyed by other practices, such as yoga, running, and meditation. I have learned and borrowed from many other writers to find the things that will work for me. I have built a network of writer friends who I support and who support me. 

Not all of the grand ideas others suggest will work for you, and that’s okay. You are perfect just the way you are. Keep choreographing your own dance.  

This will never be a blog focused on how to write the next bestseller and market it. This is a blog about how to make time for the open-hearted work that is writing, persisting in finding your voice, having the courage to take risks when you feel compelled to, and cultivating joy in your creative process. I’ve been posting here for at least fifteen years, and as we move into 2021, I hope to continue to inspire other writers to join me in this work. 

Practice.

What works for me right now is to keep a planner and honor that plan. I am currently in love with this one. Scheduling specific time to write and honoring that allows me to enjoy the time I’ve carved out and set the work aside during other times. In the past, I’ve struggled with procrastination and the work of writing always looming over me as a thing I should be doing. That never resonated with how I actually feel about the work. It’s not a looming responsibility. It’s a joy and a passion. I use a Pomodoro app (this one) to single-task. I use this app for writing, editing, the submissions process, and most recently practicing guitar. Committing to do just one thing, to push forward in my work for twenty-five minute intervals increases my productivity times four, at least. I participate in a writer’s group, even when the feedback I am getting is inconvenient for my desire to finish the work. Especially when this is the case.

One area that I have consistently struggling with is submitting work. I sat down last week and made two spreadsheets to better track my submissions. I don’t how I resisted this so long, but I know why. As I was combing through emails I had filed away and putting those rejections into a spreadsheet, I had to admit that stuffing those emails away under a label as soon as they came in was not unlike stuffing a negative emotion down when it comes up. Each email I opened and then logged in my spreadsheet brought up surges of self-doubt and self-loathing. But do you know what helped me combat that? Putting them into a very concrete, unemotional spreadsheet. This also helped me to see that I hadn’t submitted nearly as much as I thought I had. I have been inconsistent and haphazard. No more! I never thought I’d be so grateful for the straightforward reality of a spreadsheet. 

As you start this new year with some new writing goals of your own, I hope to meet you here Sundays for a week in review. Until then, I’ve linked some more resources here below that might be helpful to you as you build your writing goals for 2021. As always, I am happy to here from you here or via email (eatyourwords.lizshine@gmail.com). 

More resources.

Past blogs that might inspire: 

Zen accident

Washing the dishes

Write slowly

A celebration of the pause

Monday, a run through the driving rain…

Think you might benefit from a one-on-one writing coach to get you back on track? Consider hiring me to coach you. More information here

journal with inspiring word on it and a pen

It’s really tempting to just binge-watch and eat all day.

It’s really tempting to binge watch and eat all day while scrolling through all the distractions on my phone. One second another breaking news alert about the death toll or social distancing, the next minute a recipe for a black bean buddha bowl I just have to try.  And it’s okay to spend some time doing that. This blog is about how to make time to make art even when we work full time, have families to tend, have other hobbies and interests, etc. Basically–How do you make time to do the solitary, hyper-focused, emotionally taxing work that is art?

All of a sudden I find myself with nothing but time at home. The high school where I teach is closed. My yoga studio is closed. I can’t meet my friend for coffee. This is no longer about making time for me. This is no longer about setting a timer to squeeze a spare half hour before work to make progress on my novel. This is about how to set aside the anxiety of the moment to get some writing done. Some things that are working for me: 

Wake up early

On weekdays I am still setting my alarm for 4 to get up and write. As always, this is my best creative time, because the house is totally quiet and the sun is not yet up. There is no solitude like the solitude before dawn. 

Put your phone in quarantine

I am leaving my phone downstairs at night, not checking it until after I write, and setting it aside or turning it off for big chunks of time during the day. There is this app that sends me a digest of the news on any given day that takes two minutes to read. Over the course of this past week, I’ve noticed something. Spending more time than that reading my news feed does not give me more news. It just gives me more time worrying about the same news. If you really feel that you must be an informed public citizen, pick a publication you love and trust that reviews the news and set designated time aside to read just that publication. 

Get you work out there

If you’ve got work ready to send out into the world, get it out there. Whether that means submitting work to agents or journals, updating your artistic portfolio, self-publishing, or whatever it is for you that is equivalent for you putting your work into that little paper boat and sending it across the water–do that. Yesterday, I revised my query and sent it out to two agents. Just that act was enough to float me through the day. But then–guess what? They both replied asking for more pages. Getting our work out is how we artists who are solitary beings by nature connect. Now is the time to connect. 

Make a schedule and be gentle, but firm with yourself about keeping it

It’s taking me much longer to get settled into the work, and I’m much more distractible, but if I set a schedule to sit at my desk writing from 5–9, I am going to set at my desk attempting to write from 5–9. Will I waste some of that time? Sure. No big deal. Just sit for the time you’ve promised to. 

A note for those of you with younger children

Our kids are grown or mostly grown, but I realize that some of you may just have flipped time. Time you would have been at work, you are now spending homeschooling your kids. I have seen a lot of advice online for parents about how to make a schedule for their kids. For your sake, I sincerely hope that part of that schedule includes (if your children are old enough not to be a danger to themselves) unstructured playtime where they can do their own thing and you can get a couple of hours of creative break time for you. Especially moms out there–kids need to see you reading, making, and living apart from them and they need the same. Take a cue from famed short story writer Alice Munro, the most badass stay-at-home mother/ writer ever. 

picture of a zine made by Liz Shine about how to make time to be creative

I love the feeling when a new story starts to take shape…

I wrote the prologue of my new story last week. It’s maybe 1000 words, maybe not even, and I know I will need to go back to it. It took me two weeks to write. I dipped out of writing often to research. I spent a fair amount of time just staring at the blank page. I wasn’t in love with at the end. 

This morning I started in on chapter one. This book is a multiple point-of-view book about three women who were in college together and have grown apart. It’s about the scripts we fall into and how difficult it can be to rewrite those scripts. It’s also about isolation and how social media shapes our thoughts and feelings. I think. It’s awfully early to say what the book is about, but I think it is about those things. 

As I started chapter one, I almost immediately had that skull-shining feeling that one gets when a story begins to take shape around you, when it’s no longer just you trying to type words on the page, but there are these characters, and these places, and these desires that you want to follow to the end. 

Needless to say, writing went well this morning. Despite the fact that my brain glitched and stalled when I first sat up in bed at four and reached for my laptop. No matter how tempted I was when I say that my computer was going to take time to update to just close the damn thing and go to bed. 

quill pen with text that reads "make time"

Make Time in 2020.

The Dark Side of Grit

It’s been almost a year since I last posted to this blog. Things had gotten to the point that if I had any time to spare for writing it had to be for working on my manuscript. No time for free writing! It was also right about this time I resolved to let it go in 2019. And what let it go meant to me was to let go of work that I took on just because I could, because my impulse to prove my worth had become so automatic, and I was so run-down and divided. I wrote all about it in my igloo builder post, where I explored the darker aspect of what has always been a fond memory of my ability to persist. This is the trait that help me run a marathon. This is the trait that got me through college with a 3.8 GPA and a toddler in tow. But is there a dark side to this grit and determination? Turns out that yes there is, and thankfully nothing is fixed forever. I am still revising my story, after all. 

Finding a Way

I spent the year cutting out work and consciously slowing down. I set up a meditation space and started using it. I started writing down three things to be grateful for every day. I added the most gentle yoga class offered at my studio to my weekly practice (thanks, Anne, if you ever read this). I quit my coaching job. Bit by bit, I quit overparenting and hypervigilance about little things that didn’t seem to concern anyone else, so why was I making such a deal? I have been learning and am still learning the power of knowing when to take a deep breath and let it go and when to hold fast and strong. I have also become more apt to ask for help around the house. In the process I’ve realized how everyone benefits from housework. Overachieving in that realm deprives family members of opportunities to build self-worth and connection to home and the people who cohabitate there. 

It’s a New Decade, Friends

What has resulted? For starters, I have the energy again to write in the mornings, and I am finally learning to play guitar. I have longed to play my entire remembered life. All those memories of my mom plucking away and singing. Perhaps one of a few times I knew for sure I was safe. I knew those songs and even if they were sad, I knew what was coming. Those are the same songs that I sing to soothe myself to this day when right in the middle of life panic takes me and squeezes me in its unrelenting fist. I am working on a new book (working title: Scripts) and am deep in edits on another. I wrote for almost two hours Monday morning and again this morning. Pretty amazing considering it was the first Monday after winter break! 

The peace and relaxation I feel has paved the path to eliminating my near daily habit of needing wine to unwind all the tension I accumulated during the day. I haven’t needed to do that in two weeks now, and at the moment, I have no desire to. It seems like such a waste of precious time. 

Precious writing time!

My goals for writing in 2020 do not include making any specific accomplishments. I simply hope to make time for writing whenever possible and to enjoy the spaces in between. I will seek opportunities to get my work out into the world and take those opportunities without hesitation. I will invoke my spider muse.

I woke this morning and finished a rough outline of my new novel. All I ever write are rough outlines. I am one of those writers who doesn’t know the way until she sees her characters come to life on the page. This means I will never finish a book Kerouac style, and I am okay with that. Tomorrow I will write the prologue. My only goal is to have a few pages to bring to writer’s group next week. 

Friends, I hope to write something that might inspire you in your creative goals this year at least once a week. If we aren’t making art in the face of it all, we aren’t truly doing all we can. So let’s keep making time.

 Send me a personal note about what you are working on in 2020 and I will send you some inspiration in return. Email: eatyourwords.lizshine@gmail.com.  

turtle

Write slowly.

The cult of speedy writers.

There is a lot of hype out there tying triumph in writing to your ability to write fast. Success in self-publishing seems to have more to do with the number of works a writer can churn out than anything else.The goals seems to be to create a link of works that can be consumed one after the other after the other. NaNoWriMo has done it’s part to popularize, even grossly extend, the virtues of the so called shitty first draft.

Writers everywhere seem obsessed with word count. I have tried these ways and I don’t argue that they work for some writers really, really well.

What mindfulness has taught me about myself as a writer.

As the new year got rolling, I re-committed myself to writing and slashed some commitments that were getting in the way. I started using an app to write in singularly focused short bursts with breaks. My goal right now is at least three such intervals every day. I also re-committed to a regular meditation practice and I’ve only missed a few days all year. I believe these two practices in conjunction have allowed me to observe my habits and reactions a little more clearly.

I noticed at first that when I started the timer and didn’t have words immediately ready to flow from my pen, I got nervous. Time was literally ticking after all! I observed this a couple of times and then began to examine this way of thinking. Was it okay to spend some of my writing interval staring out the window wondering what was really motivating my character in the scene I was working on?

The answer was of course, yes. I may be setting a timer, but I am not running a race. Or if I am, I am running tortoise style, because over the years that is the way I have always felt I should be writing. Sometimes I need fifteen minutes to write a sentence, sometimes fifteen seconds. Trying to write at a certain pace, obsessing over word counts–these habits not only don’t work for me. They suck all the joy out of writing for me. They cause me to focus more on the end product than the experience of each moment in a story. The former makes me feel anxious and insecure; the latter is what flow looks like for me.

Be a tortoise or a hare.

So, be a tortoise or a hare in your writing! There is no right way to go about this work. As for me, I will ignore all the buzz about writing fast and making word count. It’s just not how I’m gonna roll. At ease with my tortoise pace, I have finished four new stories in six weeks time without really trying to.

igloo

Building Igloos

The Igloo Story

When I was fifteen or so I built an igloo in the snow. We were having Thanksgiving (or was it Christmas?) in Yakima at my aunt’s house. There was way more snow than we ever got in Aberdeen. Anyway, somehow my cousins and I got started building an igloo and even when we hadn’t finished and our hands were numb and the sun had set, I refused to give up. I stayed out in the cold and the dark to finish that igloo.

I’ve hung on this memory ever since, and I’ve tended to focus on how it was an early indication of my ability to persist, to keep tirelessly pursuing a problem or project until it’s done. That’s not untrue. I am not one to give up easy.

I am seeing this memory from a different angle right now, its shadowy side.

Stuck in a rut

You may have noticed I haven’t written a blog here since last July. the trouble really started before that. For many months now, I’ve been stuck in a rut writing-wise. As you know if you read this blog, I will do just about anything to make time to write. Even wake up at 4 AM! I don’t do this anymore, but I did for a couple of years. For a while, this allowed me to keep writing in spite of everything else that I do in a day. It worked until I reached the point where I was sitting in front of my laptop at 4:45, working on my second cup of coffee, having written three sentences and deleted nine all the while in a zombie state, my heart a cold stone.

It wasn’t getting up at four that created this burn-out state. It was something else. It was the shadow side of that igloo story.

I can’t pinpoint one event in my life that forced a change, but change is actually what is happening right now. It was really a culmination of circumstances that pushed me to the wall where I had to choose: fight or die?

I chose to fight.

The circumstances? An ever mounting workload brought on by my own overachieving and perfectionist tendencies. More work piled on when my partner took ill and could not do much of anything for weeks. Months of random fits of sadness that brought me to tears. My own nagging resentments and unhappiness. Day after day in my plan book with nothing written under the daily log labeled WRITE. The habit I’d fallen into of numbing my pain each evening with a glass or three of red wine.

What this all has to do with igloos

Here’s the shadow side of that igloo story.

I’ve struggled my entire remembered life with anxiety and imposter syndrome. I learned through childhood trauma and fifteen year in an abusive relationship to make myself small. So, it’s no wonder that I’ve spent so much of my life feeling like I had to prove my worth. It’s a vicious cycle. You feel like a fraud, so you try to do more in hopes that you might become worthy.

That igloo? I was one hundred percent aware that my cousins kept checking back with me and that they had reported to the adults exactly what I was up to. There was no way I was not going to build that igloo with all of those people watching.

The drive to achieve has served me well on so many occasions, but it is also the reason I found myself sitting like a zombie at my writing desk last September. And it has taken me all these months to bring myself back to life.

What needs to change?

So I am making some changes.

I am only building the igloos I truly want to build. I won’t do it for approval, because I don’t want to say no, or because someone else thinks I should. I am choosing my igloos carefully from here on out.

I am shedding responsibilities I never wanted right now to make room for more of what I love. I am learning to say no, to delegate, to ask for help. I am learning to say “I don’t know”. I am shedding habits that don’t serve me and I’ve been making the time to meditate daily for two weeks now. This is really helping me see all the rest of this more clearly.

As for writing, what is working for me now are short bursts of hyper-focused writing. I use an app called BeFocused to time and log my writing sessions and I aim for two to six sessions per day every day. In the past two weeks, I’ve polished up four short stories and readied them for send-off, made an outline for my connected stories, and started a new story.

I hope to get back to this blog more often, though it feels right to keep my posts to when I really have something meaningful to communicate about this journey we are on to live creative lives in the face of commitment, distractions, and our own self-defeating habits of mind. Also, more ironic listicles because I really like writing them.

Happy New Year fellow creatives! I’m here and I’ll be checking in from time to time. In the meantime, keep choosing only the igloos you want to build.

The word writer, hashed out with a don't sign

Five ways to sabotage your writing time

Want to sabotage your writing time? Have I got some ideas for you.

1. Do anything else “real quick”.

This includes checking email, social media accounts, doing a little food prep for dinner, taking out the trash. There are so many important tasks that will show up as soon as you event think about writing. Just do a few real quick.

2. Listen to negative self-talk about your story.

When you are in the middle of death-defying act like sky-diving or some crazy triple-flip aerial is that the time to question whether or not you are cut out for skydiving or gymnastics?

No.
Same goes with writing. You want to kill your mojo real quick? Let all those negative thoughts in. Engage with them.

3. Be narrow-minded about when and how much time you need for writing.

If you’ve decided that if you need two hours for writing, but you’ve only got an hour and a half, bag it. Go watch TV instead.

4. Always take your work seriously.

Don’t ever freewrite. Don’t ever intentionally write your story as cliche, full of adverbs, and over-told as you possible can for a laugh. Always be severe in your expectations.

5. Work on more than one thing at a time.

Hope springs eternal, right? If you finally sat down and made time, why not try to bust out two short stories instead of one? Do some research and write a blog? There’s no effing way you’ll get past the first thing on your list and you’ll feel like a failure, but goals are good–right?

 

Buy my books here. 

flying clocks

Dear Teacher-writers: the idea that you’ll have more time to write in the summer is a myth. Let’s face it.

I often tell people that part of why I teach is so I can spend my summer writing.

I don’t mean to lie.

Before I became a teacher, I thought this would be how it would work. I mean it makes sense to believe this. If I’m not working, I should have more time, right?

I have found that the answer is NO!

Every year since I started teaching I hold out hope that summer will bring all the time, inspiration, and motivation I need to write with speed, fluidity, and voice. Truth is, in summer we still have to work to make time. For one thing, there is nothing more devastating to a writer than losing her routine.

The routine is the only thing keeping the momentum in spite of self-doubt, exhaustion, and criticism. What happens to teachers in summer?

The bell ring. *Poof* No routine. Or maybe a new routine if you have a summer job–which is equally devastating.

Two weeks ago I wrote a summer writing schedule and a fall writing schedule. Then I downloaded an app to track my writing time. I’m ready! Tomorrow when that bell rings, I’ve got a plan in place and I’m not lying to myself this time. Writing this summer will not be easier than during the school year. In fact, at first, it will be harder because of the disrupted routine.

It helps to know that you will be here making time with me.

Buy my books here.