Category Archives: A Room Of Your Own

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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yoga frog

Don’t push it. That’s my advice this week. Happy writing!

Much better this week. Not perfect, but better. I wrote six of seven days. Slowly, but that’s my pace right now. I mostly got to bed by nine on the weekdays, save one or two restless nights. I hope do the same or better this week, but I’m not attached to that result. It doesn’t equal success or failure. Those are long-term, future-focused words that when you break down get pretty muddy in their true meaning. I gave this advice to another writer in my weekly critique group last Monday. I asked her what her goal was for her work and she said to finish it and get published.
Seems like the obvious goal, right?
In my experience, that goal will leave you hamstrung and miserable.
I choose joy.
Each day I sit down to write for all the time I have to offer the work. I am working on a first draft of a second novel in a trilogy of books that take place in Olympia and all feature a central character who is struggling to find his/her path. Around that main character is a cast of quirky characters who sometimes recur between books.
Of course, I want to finish them and publish them.
But I’ve learned not to think of that when I am drafting and revising. I try to take each chunk of writing time as it comes. I try not to set deadlines for when I should be done, because what I’ve found is that I will reach those deadlines. Even when I shouldn’t. Even when the work isn’t ready to be done, I will finish on time. And then after a couple of weeks away, of maybe sending the work out to the world, I’ll read it and see what I didn’t see before, face the truth. And sometimes my forcing the work to completion will have created more problems to fix than before.
I’m learning to trust the work to tell me when it’s done, to not push it with imposed deadlines. I am working on a first draft of a second book, trying to write every day, getting feedback on the first book in my critique group, and when I finish this first draft, I’ll set it aside and start in on draft two of the first book. Then I’ll write the first draft of the third book. I have no idea when any of this will be done.

Happy writing week to you, my friends. May your words flow freely and your heart be light.

 

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Imagination

An invitation to let go and burn, baby, burn.

Getting to sleep earlier proved harder than I thought for a few reasons this week. I’ve got a lot crammed into my weekdays and last week was an especially bloated example of that. I went to two critique groups, one Monday, one Thursday, attended three yoga classes and coached Debate until four Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I tried to cook real meals when I could, which is especially important now that I’m vegan. There’s more, but you get the idea. Getting to sleep by nine was hard and the fact that I was so focused on it made it even harder. That is the way our minds play tricks on us. Oh, you need to get to bed early, do you? Let me throw some random fears your way and see how you do. Did you leave the oven on? Did you send that email? Does someone need you and you weren’t there?
But I tried every day. I shut down early, put a sleep mask on and committed to tossing and turning. And I will try again this week and the next until I’ve retrained my body and mind to be asleep by nine.
My second goal for the week was to get my word count in on weekends and weekdays. I did not even try to do that. Saturday I spent sleep-deprived judging Debate. Sunday I went to yoga and to a movie with Chris, and now here I am writing this blog, the first words I’ve penned all weekend. I blame this in part on the fact that I back-tracked in my writing week and so need to push myself forward again. I rewrote the outline for my novel and rewrote some beginning sections. It’s a first draft and I’m supposed to be writing forward. You know as well as I do though that these re-grouping moments are a crucial part of the writing process for any draft. I’ve got a new outline and am ready for another go at my goals this week. How about you?
My goals: 1. Write 500 words each day, including weekends. 2. In bed, eyes closed by nine on weekdays. 3. Do the Wednesday prompt (Red Dress Press) for fun and practice.
What are your goals?
The movie Chris and I went to see was La La Land. There’s this moment toward the end of the movie where the aspiring actress played by Emma Stone suffers a crisis of confidence familiar to anyone who has ever gone out on a creative limb. It hurts too much she says when she finally gets to the heart of why she wants to throw in the towel. She means the rejection and the not feeling good enough. It does hurt to put your best work out there and have it rejected or torn down in critique, even to attempt to create something and never have it come together as you envisioned it would. The movie is a boon to artists if you haven’t seen it. An invitation to follow your dreams, however difficult or impractical they might seem.
It’s the heart of winter and here in Olympia the coldest days of the year so far. We’ve had over a week of temps in the low to mid-twenties. We are all in need of an invitation to keep our fires burning, our imaginations moving. I hope this post might be one for you. Set some goals for the week and do your best to get there. That is all. Let go of attachment to a particular result. Simply show up and do the work.

 

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sleep well

Duh. Sleep. How could I neglect that?

Except for Friday when I needed to wake early to be on a bus to a Speech Tournament by six, I woke at four and wrote every morning last week. I managed to get my 500 words in, at least, though I need to work on making time on the weekends. I wrote no words on the weekend. This fact is a bit of a stumper for me since on many weekdays I am booked from end to end and I’m lucky if I can manage to make time to cook dinner, let alone write 500 words. Why am I more likely to make my word count on days that I work and therefore have less time? Take today, for instance. A typical Monday. I walk to work, walk to catch a yoga class before my critique group that starts at 6, am picked up from critique between 8 and 8:30, and am supposed to be in bed by 9 to get the right amount of sleep to make the four o’clock wake up productive and not sleep deprived.
So, one thing I need to work on is making time to get my 500 words in on weekends. That should be easy and I have no excuse, except that I just haven’t been doing it. Did I mention I’m a Speech and Debate coach? No? Well, I am. And this weekend I spent Friday and Saturday at the University of Puget Sound and while a good chunk of that time I was busy judging, I had ample time to get in my 500 words. That’s about practice. And we have another tournament coming up this weekend, so I will report next week on how that goes, and I will bring my story with me. This week, if I can’t make my 500 words on the weekend days…I will for sure need to make some sort of rescue plan for my behavior.
Back to weekdays and sleep deprivation, though. When you look at my writing log for last week, it looks pretty damn good. I woke up, I made my word count, I did it again the next morning. A+, right?
Wrong. I struggled to get to bed before ten or eleven every single night, but still woke up at four. Imagine the progression of the dark-eyed stare as I sat at my computer each morning, heaved an exhausted sigh and set to work. Okay, so now I’m laughing at myself. Let me tell you last night’s story.
On tournament weekends, I am gone until late Friday, home for maybe four hours of sleep before I need to get back on the bus Saturday morning. Home late Saturday where I pretty much collapse onto the bed and sleep like the dead. This particular Saturday I woke in a puddle of exhaustion drool. Okay, so Sunday then is my only weekend day left, so I wake up late and stiff and wanting to just stay in bed and read all day, which I do for a couple of hours. Until I realize that I have one weekend day to fit in all the weekend things I planned to do. So, I make a list and set to work, adding to that list go grocery shopping, make vegan cheese and soup, and watch a documentary with Chris. I even schedule the TV time. 8 PM. We’ve got the popcorn popped and we’re watching this documentary about the Barkley Marathons that if you have not seen is…just watch it. It is an amazing story of the human will and imagination. Anyway, I’m setting my alarm for four and settling in to read a chapter of my book before I go to sleep. It’s 10:30.
I open the book. The chapter’s subtitle: The Consolidating Role of Sleep. This is a book about how we learn, filled with examples about writers, because, really, when we write we really are learning, we really do need the learning aspects of our brains to be top-notch. Memory and problem-solving for instance.
I read the subtitle again and laugh out loud. I close the book, turn out the light, and settle in to sleep. What a fool I’ve been! I’ve been ignoring a critical part of this whole creative process and it’s even a part I like and am pretty good at. Sleep.
That is what I’m going to work on this week: sleep. Can I get up and write at 4 AM and get my 500 words in while still getting the 7-8 hours of sleep I need? I think so and I’m creating a little wind-down ritual for myself to help. At 8, I plan to drop everything and wind down with a little time spent practicing guitar (I am finally learning after years of envying others) and a few restorative yoga poses. Hit the pillow by 8:45.
Wish me luck, writer peeps! Goals this week: Sleep by nine and make word count on weekends. What are your goals for the week?

 

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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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hallelujah book cover

Making time, people. Are you?

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Chris and I read Big Magic this summer. If you are loosing heart, not making time for your creative work, read it–read it now. We actually carried a hardback copy of the book into Enchanted Valley and back, read the entire thing out loud. As we walked the last 2.5 miles of road to our car, we finished the last pages of the book and perhaps because our bodies were aching, torn, and exhausted, but also because of how the book spoke to us both, there were a few tears shed before closing the paint-splashed cover and driving home.

It’s Saturday morning, the first weekend after the first week of school and I’m at Mudbay Coffee in Olympia writing. My best writer friend Carrie  is writing across from me and Chris is in the corner working on a short story. This, for me, is so much bliss. I’m finishing up the first draft of a novel I’ve been working on for a year and a half and starting to think about draft one of book number two in the trilogy. In the past year, I self-published two beautiful books through Red Dress Press, a self-publishing service co-founded by me, Chris, and my baby sister, Em.

I have a routine and I’m making time. That’s how I’m getting there. It’s not easy getting up at 4 in the morning to write, but this feeling of accomplishment, having made two books I’m proud of, putting the finishing touches on a draft of a story I love writing, makes it more than worthwhile.

 

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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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patience

On patience in revision.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of patience this morning, how it is so necessary, but also something that has to be learned. Why, you ask, was I thinking about this? I spent the morning going through a first draft of a novel, charting all the changes to make before I begin draft two. I charted scenes that are currently in the novel in one column, scenes that I want to be in draft two in a second column. I charted POV, motifs, and details. I feel great about this slow process of revision, but it is something that has taken me twenty years to come to.

Maybe you, like me, came to writing in the first place because you loved the creative immersion, the flow, the story–and I won’t lie–the idea of being a writer? But that only gets you so far. Patience and discipline carry you the rest of the way. Suzannah Windsor Freeman wrote about this idea on Jeff Goins blog. Her post is worth a read. Maybe it will resonate with you the way it did with me?

 

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first draft editing

Yep. It’s a first draft, all right.

This week, I finished up another draft of a manuscript that is in nearing the publishing phase of the editing process, then finished a read-through of a first draft of a novel I’ll spend the summer revising. A pretty productive week! I had this moment after reading that first draft where I let loose an enormous, heavy sigh. That sigh was me letting go of all the delusions of grandeur I’d let mount over the months I’d spent writing. In fact, in spite of my highest of hopes, it was a true first draft, lacking so much of what I’d intended to be there, including some things I had intended, but that now seem like a pretty bad idea. I’m okay, though, I have a plan.
First, I’ll go through the book again, charting some notes on key scenes, details, conflicts, and motifs chapter by chapter. Then, I’ll write more before diving in and making changes to that first draft. I’ll write new scenes first before going in to delete and change what I already have. Then, I’ll begin weaving it all together into a second draft, hopefully, better than the first. This is how we do it. It’s not magic. It’s first inspiration, then persistence, discipline, and planning.
Tomorrow; however, is Friday, and with all this editing in my life right now, I’m aching for that first draft feeling where it’s all vision and flowing words, and damn, you’re good! So I’ve declared that as for my writing process, my Fridays are going to be something akin to casual Fridays and I will write new words, first drafts.

 

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beach path writing retreat

Learning from a confidence crash: Reflections from a writing retreat.

I started this blog as a way to keep myself writing. It was the same kind of desperate attempt to build good habits that causes people to talk their significants into doing dietary cleanses with them. I needed an audience, some accountability outside my insecure self. It wasn’t enough to just remind myself why I was writing, how I was writing, that I deserved to make time for writing. I needed to shout it out loud.
That’s still true, but over time it has become a creative work of its own. A voice has emerged, a voice I didn’t know I had. A voice strong, confident in the fact that she has something to say that’s worthy of being heard.
I’m in Ocean Shores on a writing retreat now. This is a place I know well. I’ve spent many hours with my cousins on the beach, the adults who brought us sheltered from the wind in the car we’d driven right onto the beach. Yesterday, I drove into town on my own to pick up a few things from the store, get gas, shop for some souvenirs. I went in to pay for the gas, began pumping, sat in the driver’s seat to wait for the tank to fill. That’s when it happened. My self dissipated. What was I doing here? Who was I kidding? What kind of fraud had I perpetrated, masquerading as a writer for over twenty years?
I’m mostly immune to these kinds of identity crises, though as a young writer they plagued me. You see, I’ve built good habits in getting up in the morning to write, keeping this blog, annotating every book I read. I love the work and I’m not so worried about who approves anymore. In the face of this unforeseen confidence crash, I parked my car at the IGA and went for a walk through town, breathing deep and consciously, feeling the straps of my backpack, each stride. I shook it off, remembered I don’t care about that shit anymore. I simply make time and do the work. Beginning my summer vacation with a writing intensive that includes my summer writing schedule (up at 5AM for a run, shower, then pour a cup of coffee and get to work) is likely the cause of the crisis (when you retreat for a week to write the pressure to get work done is great) and now that I’ve recovered, I’m glad I had that moment. Because when I had returned to my body and was breathing freely again, I felt immense gratitude, commitment to do the work, to stay in the room, focused on the goal or two I’ve set for the day.

 

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