Category Archives: Inspiration

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. 

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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.  

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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.

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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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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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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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cell phone that says "my phone is my castle" on the screen

It is called a mobile, after all.

We had an unexpected dumping of snow in Olympia that afforded me a Monday snow day yesterday. This allowed me to easily and leisurely meet my word count for the day and also to reflect on the week, writing, the sheer size of the flakes floating down out the window. And that’s not even the whole of the day. I also read some of The Circle, which is turning out to be a page-turner and two chapters of A Moveable Feast which Chris and I are reading out loud to each other in preparation for the Book-It performance in March. It felt decadent to have the day, since the weekend had been so satisfying, and that, or at least the reason for the satisfaction is what I want to write about here.
As I’ve mentioned in past posts, weekends are the hardest times for me to get my word count in. This is counter-intuitive since I teach high school Monday through Friday and have weekends off. Shouldn’t I have more time on weekends and therefore write more? One would think so, but the opposite is true. I write less on weekends.
What made the difference this weekend? I turned off my cell Friday before bed and didn’t turn it on again until Sunday at noon. Lo and behold, I wrote double my goal and broke through two barriers in my story.
How can I explain this?
On weekdays I do my writing early in the morning while the house is still asleep, before picking up my phone or checking my email. It’s this sweet little pocket of solitude and leisure before I am standing in front of a classroom of sometimes reluctant always skeptical students. Always skeptical because they are high school age and they should be. (It’s the unskeptical ones I worry about. What innocence shaking novel should I slip them to shake them up and get them on track? Back to the point–) The weekend; however, is an unstructured free-for-all time wise and it’s easier to passively gawk on social media than struggle with creating fiction. So, I cave to my impulse to check in with the world of digital interactions and eye candy my phone has to offer off and on all weekend which makes it difficult to focus and relax, two things we need to write.

What will I do with this new-found self-knowledge?
It is called a mobile, after all, and I’d like to start treating it like one. A great device to connect outside of home. At home, I want to keep it turned off more often. Like from Friday nights to Sundays at noon, except when I’m out on the town. Also weekday mornings before eight and as soon as I get home on weekday evenings. This not only feels like a good tweak to my writing life, but a tweak that is consistent with how I’ve been feeling for a long while about how we come home and sink into our social media threads when we should be interacting with our families, cooking a good meal, reading a book, or just sitting and letting the day sink in. Resonates with how I feel about how we bring our phones to bed, to the table, to the easy chair. This feels like a right tweak, like an I should have thought of this long ago tweak, and I’m excited to see the effects.
I know that after a day and a half break, my shoulders were more relaxed. I was breathing more freely. I wrote with more ease and without distraction.

What habits are working for you to keep you focused?
What are your writing goals for the week? the month? the year?

Sneak peak: Next month I’m kicking off the daily writing warm-ups a little early. You know we’ve got poetry in April and scenes in May, so what’s in store for March?
In March, we will travel to a new place each day with a prompt to describe a place in 200 words or less. Stay tuned!

 

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And so it’s a new writing year. 

I updated my daily writing log template to better suit my needs, tore out all the pages logged in 2016, and tossed them in the recycling bin. I made a list of goals for the year, including to continue waking up at 4 am to write on weekdays and to log at least 500 words per day. I moved my writing desk to a better location and cleaned it. I burned a sage stick after the room was clean and just sat in my space thinking about the past, looking toward the future, feeling grateful in the moment.
I’d love for all of you to help me get reach my goals this year. Anyone out there need a motivation buddy? For a few months last year a writing friend of mine asked me to be his accountability partner. It was simple and effective. When we hit our goal for the day, we texted the other person, then waited for the high-five in return. It did make a difference in my motivation to know someone else was counting on me, rooting for me.
I haven’t blogged as much these past few months, but it isn’t because I haven’t been writing. Quite the opposite! It’s because I have been. I finished edits and layout design on my novella and sent it out into the world. I wrote an entire first draft of book one in what I’m for now calling my Olympia trilogy. I edited and designed a book of poetry for Red Dress Press that will be out in time for Valentine’s Day. I edited a friend’s murder mystery. I’ve been too busy to blog about how to make time.
For 2017, I commit to a weekly blog about how the work went over the past week, plus an occasional blog post about the shit that makes me want to rant or rave like books, meatless living, and yoga.
How will you make time for writing this year? Looking for encouragement? Well I hope you’ll find some here. That’s what I’m here for. To help you and me to make time for our Art.
Wishing you words in 2017, all the words you desire. *mwah

 

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Ready to write?

It’s the infamous hump day in my writing week and I felt it on my morning run. I had to shuffle my way up every hill one tiny step at a time. Toward the end of the run I did get an idea for a short story I’ve been mulling over that I look forward to drafting soon. So, I suppose though I was power-walking toward the end of the run, in one sense I finished strong.

I’m about to settle into writing for the day now. I’ve got a fresh cup of coffee and a bowl of apricots to guide my way. A pair of noise cancelling headphones arrived in the mail this week and they are amazing. Most of the time, I don’t even put any music on, I just wear the headphones to muffle distractions. When I finish this blog, I’ll jot down my goals for the day and get to work. Who knows what the day will hold for me, but I showed up.

How about you? How are you showing up for your creative work today?

 

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trail running

Monday, a run through the driving rain, hail, a sweet reminder.

I started running at twenty four. I could not even run a mile before I started to wheeze. But, within two years, I was up to five miles five to six days per week and within two more years I was training for my first marathon. Running helped me through some challenging years, gave me some sweet solitude when solitude was hard to come by. It made me strong enough to make some tough decisions, eventually.

By the time I moved home to Olympia in 2006 from where I’d spent seven years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d run a dozen half marathons and three marathons. Returned home, I ran a dozen more, joined a running group. I was proud of the fact that I could run a half marathon without training at all, if I wanted to. It wouldn’t be pretty, but I could do it. I took that strength for granted.

No that I’m back to running regularly after two years of minimal to no running due to stress fractures, I am humbled. A three-four mile run is currently my limit, a run I would have called a short run a few years back.

In order to keep myself true to a schedule, I now keep extra clothes and shoes in the closet at work, so I can have accomplished a run before I even get home in the evenings. Going out again for a run after returning to the comfort of home is not easy for me. The moment I walk in the door, responsibility beckons. So, last Monday, a burst of sun broke through a cloudy day at about 3:15 in the afternoon and I hustled to change and get out the door. Being mid-March, I knew that sun could disappear in an instant. And, it did. The rain started in a downpour that turned to little hail pellets bouncing off my skin as I ran at a slow pace, head down up the Garfield Nature Trail with a brain freeze, something I had no idea could happen from getting hailed on.

What did I feel in that moment?

You might be surprised to hear that I felt strong and ecstatically alive. Well, okay, at first, I felt cold and annoyed. But as I propelled my cold, wet, annoyed body forward, I remembered how the struggle we face on a particularly hard run and they way we learn to breathe and move through that struggle makes us stronger for all of life’s struggles, gives us strength, endurance, and trust. Then, I felt strong and ecstatically alive.

I’m glad to be back in my running shoes. Not just glad, but grateful. This shift back to running is part of a larger reconnection with my physical body, a body that saved me from so much, so often. It wasn’t just the injuries, it was also work stress, and life changes. Not only was I not running, but my yoga practice had also dwindled to almost nothing. I’m back on the mat too, beginning with a minimum of thirty minutes per day. I celebrated spring yesterday with 108 sun salutations, something I used to do twice a year, but hadn’t done in…six or seven?

I suppose whether it’s running or yoga or hiking, which I also love, or any other practice that demands movement of the body and breath, doesn’t matter. So long as we go there. I wrote a novella about the role of breath and movement can play in saving a life, yet in the midst of the second draft, I broke, and then other things rushed in to fill the empty spaces where those practices had been. Things have a tendency to do that, which is why we have to MAKE TIME for the practices that fulfill us. We have to run, write, stretch, breathe–move.

 

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