Category Archives: A Room Of Your Own

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.

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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?

 

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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.

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purple spring flowers writing

Some writing advice and some inspiration for your week to come: Let’s do this!

How is the writing going?

Earlier this year, my best writing buddy and I were struggling to make time to write. Both teachers, the school year—and it was clearly going to be a doozy—had us firmly in its grasp. We wanted to get away. Maybe a weekend at the beach or—hell—even a cheap motel in town (as we have done in the past). But we couldn’t afford that. So we committed over a long weekend to dedicate most of each day to writing.

We made a retreat basket for each other. We each had a box to open three times each writing day: morning, afternoon, and evening. The idea here is that you’d have to write through the morning to get your afternoon surprise.

Inside our boxes, we might find an inspirational note, chocolate, or anything really. We had a lot of fun surprising each other and being clever. I even got a piece of bread to toast.

It is memories like this lately that keeps me from throwing in the towel.

I’ve had so many colleagues this year say to me: I don’t know how you do it all. For a moment this makes me proud. Clearly, I am getting shit done and getting noticed for that. Then, I admit the truth to myself. I’ve been writing, but every time I sit down to write, my time is up just as I’m getting into the flow.

 

Getting my act together.

But I made a new writing schedule for the rest of this year and another one for summer, which is the first thing I do when I can’t seem to make enough time. I put the schedule in my phone and set all the reminders, then I added “I wrote today” to my habit tracker app. I looked back at my daily goals for last week and cried, but then shook it off and continued to make a plan.
Here is my current mantra for making time:

Let it go, let somebody else take care of it this time.

This beautiful intention is the gift this past school year has given me. Now? Onward. To a new writing schedule, summer, and making time!

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Creative Challenge for the week:

If you live in a family: Every time this week you notice something around the house that needs to be done, ask someone else to do it. It’s just a week. Let it go.
If you live alone: Notice what needs to be done and then let it pass right back of your mind and finish the writing first.

Writing Prompt/ Inspirational Photo:

Prompt: Write something that includes some colors of spring.

purple spring flowers writing

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Write it Down

Make a plan. Write it down.

Still here! Still doing the work! Because I took on some extra responsibility in my doing job, it’s been enough this school year to find time to write, let alone keep this blog about making time to write current. I have a schedule that I keep in my digital calendar that allows one to two hours of writing time, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. Having a schedule for the week is something I’ve done for a long time. Here’s an additional tweak I’ve added since this year when I’ve learned that when you only have an hour here and there, it’s important to get right down to work. you don’t have any time to spare. Here’s my advice: Make your writing goals for the week in advance.

Here is my schedule for this week:

Monday: Edit Chapter 3

Tuesday: Make a scene chart

Wednesday: Complete scene chart

Thursday: Edit five middle chapters

Friday: Freewriting

Saturday: Finish middle chapters

Sunday: Edit end chapters

Make a plan and write it down. Persist and forgive yourself every time your life intervenes or you sabotage yourself. Start again each day.

I am assuming that you are like me, that doing this work is so entrenched in who you are and have yet to become that ceasing to arrange words on the page in the service of story and the expression of thought and feeling means to lose a vital part of who you are, a part that gives you access to a very particular, ennobling joy and connection to others.

Make a plan and write it down. Also, allow time for play-writing like prompts or freewriting.

Because it’s April and I’ve been writing a poem a day in April for twelve or so years, that is my time to play right now. And I am almost caught up! Even though I bought a house and moved a week ago. Here are a couple of my favs so far, plus the prompts and a link to the prompt site I’ve been using.

It isn’t too late to jump in!

Here! I’ll share some of my work to inspire you:

 

Prompt: Write a poem in which mysterious or magical things occur.

 

Dark December morning,

woke before the alarm,

frightened bird heart–

cold sweat, hollow bones.

You moaned a protest to waking.

I stepped carefully

out the door

down the stairs

to brew the coffee, by habit:

grind, pour, wait, pour more.

Morning meditation,

that healer, habit,

evokes stillness, for now.

 

Prompt: Write a haibun that takes place in the natural landscape where you live.

Mud and ferns, rain falls unceasingly.

We are water-logged. Everything is harder,

plus the clouds shield us from the sky.

We can learn to stand tall

like the evergreens all around us,

to take their offering–

fresh air

that is meant to be breathed well–aware.

So that we might notice the fronds unfurling,

the light returning,

stand in awe of light and rain.

 

Access prompts at napowrimo.net

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Make Time

I’m still here, making time.

What?

The theme of this blog is how to make time. In spite of all of the obligations we face as writers who also work full time, raise children, love to lose themselves in reading books, enjoy creative side projects (for me lately that is brewing my own kombucha and making vegan cheese)–in spite of all of these things and all the other pulls on our time I didn’t list here–how do we make time to write?!

Why?

If you are my audience, I don’t have to explain the why. It’s not logical, practical. There is no publication goal you have to meet in order to legitimize what it is that you do. You do it out of a need that only other creatives will understand. You do it for the joy of creating.

 

The joy of creating. Remember that. Next time you spiral into some crisis of confidence, some self-imposed or peer-inflicted question of your legitimacy. You do it because you enjoy creating stories. You are drawn to frivolous creation and in the act of creation, you find a kind of connection to the universe, a stripping away of the self that is transcendent.

 

I haven’t been blogging much lately about how to make time, because I have little time to make for many months now.

How?!

I wake at four most weekday morning to squeeze in an hour or more of writing. How much time I get depends on whether and how many times I hit snooze, whether I let in distractions, whether I have a clear goal in mind,  and all the other factors that make up any effort to sit down and focus on the task of writing.

 

This school year I am working an extra class period, which somewhat amusingly (knowing what I know) is called a “super FTE” by our school district. This means six classes instead of five in a day, no planning period. An extra class to plan for, grade for, with less time allotted. I am also coaching Speech and Debate with takes up a couple of hours for practice in the afternoons for the first five months of the school year and nine or so weekends for tournaments.

 

Point being, making time has been extra difficult lately. But I keep getting up, keep working toward my goal, log the writing work I do each day on my calendar. I go easy on myself on days when I oversleep, am too tired and get little done, fall into some distraction that takes up all the time I have available.

 

All of you who are out there also doing this work are a boon to me. My writer’s group peeps who I see every Monday too. I am grateful.

 

I have been thinking again lately about the power of mindfulness in the act of writing. I’ve read a couple of books on the subject and the idea is tied to my long-term interest in yoga and meditation. I’ve written before about how other meditative acts such as yoga and running can strengthen our writing practice. That still emerges as a core truth in this question of art and time. The idea has been living in me since I read Writing Down the Bones at age sixteen and did all the exercises Goldberg offers in that classic book on how to free the creative spirit from the grip of doubt, fear, and anxiety and just get some words on the damn page for starters.

 

I’ve got about twenty-five more minutes left before I need to get ready for work, so I’m going to go edit two pages before this writing session is over. I just wanted to pop in to remind you that I am still here making time and so glad that you are here making time with me.

 

Love,

Liz

 

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spider web

I was a spider muse.

I was a spider muse? A dream catcher? A story weaver? I can’t recall, actually. I know it was Halloween and I had invented my own costume. The idea came right from my imagination and for once (I was reticent, insecure) I followed my creative impulse. I was thirteen, carrying around a body bloated by fear and anxiety, but I put on the gold tights, the hand-painted t-shirt, the dangling silver star earrings, the gold, and silver face paint.

I stood in the mirror. The self-hatred committee in my head had already started up their noise. But I went to school anyway. I had to be careful not to touch my face, smear the makeup. I sat on my hands the whole bus ride, my face burning hot with shame.

“What are you?”

I knew they’d ask. That was the point. I was no pop culture icon, no meme of the day. I had come fresh from my imagination and though that was the point, I found myself sputtering with hesitation now. I made it through first period somehow, the riot in my brain drowning out my senses. Mr. B’s blurred mouth moved, but I couldn’t make out the words. I thought I might fall dead right there in the middle of his lesson on The Declaration of Independence. Somehow, I made it through class, maneuvered the halls—eyes to the floor—to the nurse’s office. I lay on the nurse’s cot moaning for the stomach pain that, like my costume, had come right from my imagination.

When Mom picked me up from school, she said it was sad I’d put all that work into my costume only to get sick. I agreed, held all the rest inside.

I think of this girl, this day, from time to time. Sometimes I still am her and that terrifies me because I’m all grown up and know better now, plus I don’t give a damn what people think of me the way I did then. Well, mostly.

It’s a real pain in the ass when this scared, sad girl spoils my writing time. The act of writing is simple and happens in the moment. Words on the page. Words rearranged. Imagination let loose. Then she shows up and wants to know what it is I think I’m playing at, why I am wasting my time churning out mediocre stories when everyone knows you aren’t brave enough to free your imagination. She sees the worst in me, no worth in me.

I am inviting my spider-muse, dream catcher self into 2018. Take my hand, I tell her. Let it go, old friend. Open your heart. Walk boldly in your gold tights and face makeup. There will be others along the way who will open their hearts in recognition. That’s all that matters.

 

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Misplaced

This morning I misplaced an entire folder of work. Here’s what I realized.

If you told me one day I’d be looking for a file on my computer I’d misplaced–a novel draft–and, unable to find it, I would shrug and think well I guess I have to start over without despair, with optimism even, I would have laughed, disbelieving. And yet, that just happened.
Here’s where I am in my writing at the moment. I surprised myself by making my way through a first draft of a second novel in a trilogy of books with somewhat interconnecting characters that all take place in Olympia (setting is key) and deal with the different character’s different anxieties that keep them from being fully present and alive. Huh, it felt good to write that sentence. I haven’t crystalized what the books are about on the page until this moment. I’ve kept the ideas, the connections rattling around in my brain. Writing it just now was like scratching an itch you didn’t know was there. I’m planning to write the first draft of book #3 for NaNoWriMo this November. I’ve written a partial draft of this book before, but it’s become a new thing since then. I can’t decide whether to even look at the old draft before I begin.
That’s the file I was looking for. It’s actually a folder containing seven chapters and an outline. I found it, but I didn’t panic. I would have been okay without it. What am I to make of this strange shift? My former self would have wailed and moaned, spent an entire day moping for the death of all of those precious words.
Here’s what I figure. Now that I’ve been putting down words regularly for more than twenty years and have folders and folders of false starts, flat stories, poems for no one’s eyes but me, I don’t value every single word effort as if each sentence is a thread of my worth and any loss could unravel the whole garment. Much of what I’ve written in my life was practice and that’s not just okay, it’s the way it should be.
You’ve got to be willing to lose whole books and still return to the page. You return because that page is Home and the click of the keys is your dance while no one is watching.

 

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procrastinating mind

Dear Procrastination, (Part 2)

Dear Procrastination,

I’ve written to you before, but you didn’t reply. You look at me the way my grandmother used to when I asked a stupid question. I get it, you are necessary, and if I spend too much time with you, well, that’s my fault, isn’t it?
You are necessary. You are where the sketch before the painting happens, the outline before the outline. I know I said I would write and now I’m walking the dogs, stringing a beaded necklace, knitting a hat, cleaning the gutters, alphabetizing my books, dusting the cobwebs from the corners. Can you believe these things are part of the process too? Not always, but sometimes, when I’m meditating on story.
I’m sorry I came off adversarial before. I was trying to gather my courage to write. I did not trust you. I lashed out. I get it. I get it, you are part of the process. Can I possibly welcome you? Even find joy in you? Trust myself to know when to close the door on you and get to work, when to open the door again and go out to play?
I will try, dear friend, I will try.

 

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flying clocks

What are you doing this week to make time? Me? I’m willing to change.

Most weekday mornings I wake at four AM and get to work. I’ve even gotten better at writing on weekends, which I explained in an earlier post–to my surprise–proves harder to make time than they days I work a full day. Yet, I still crave more time, feel it’s too little. My days, once I set off for work in the morning, lately don’t slow down until bed time. It’s hard for me to imagine that I used to write in the afternoons. Whatever time I had then, life and other interests have filled to brimming.
Last week–Tuesday, I think–I was feeling pretty whiny about how quickly my writing time passed, how soon I had to jump up and start getting ready for work. 6:00 AM to be out the door by 6:30, to Capital by 7:15. You see I walk to work most days, have walked to work most days for the last eleven years. I refused to change this habit even when we moved and my three-minute walk became a 45-minute walk two and a half years ago. It’s not just work. I have a thing about walking everywhere I can. I walk to yoga from work. I walk downtown often. When the weather is nice, you’re likely to see me walking just about anywhere. This walking is a life-long habit that started when I was young, maybe even as young as 11–certainly by 13.
Walking calms my anxiety. My thoughts unwind and reconfigure. Walking is my idea space. So many poems, story ideas, understandings about myself and the world occur when I’m out walking. Just as Tuesday while walking to work this idea occurred to me:
If I rode to work with Chris on the days he doesn’t leave early to take his boy to zero hour (1-2 days per week), I would extend my morning writing time by 45 minutes. I could double my word count in 45 minutes. And who says I can’t take a 45-minute walk in the evenings instead?

The idea is obviously good, yet I struggled with is pretty hard.
Why?
Habit is a powerful part of identity. Would I still be me if I no longer walked to work every day? No longer set out each morning, sometimes in the dark and pouring rain, sometimes with a too-heavy book bag, a yoga mat, and a lunch sack too?
Routine is the backbone of a healthy writing practice. Just read a few writers on the subject and you’ll hear the advice reverberate. But a routine that is too rigid can make us stagnate, keep ourselves and probably our writing too confined.
Be willing to change. Change the time of day you write. Change your word count goal. Change another habit (like walking to work) that frees up space to create.
When people hear what time I wake up to write, they say I could never do that.
That’s a lie.
You can.
If you want to make time badly enough, you will.
What habit can you change right now to make time?
I am writing this just after coming in from evening walk. Tomorrow morning I look forward to double the writing time.

 

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