Category Archives: Memoir

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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First accessory

Wind-up watch.

 

In second–maybe third–grade, I had a Strawberry Shortcake watch with a red leather strap. It was the first accessory I ever coveted.

It was a wind-up watch, not a digital, and I wore it everywhere I went. And, I went. Though I lived in a city famous for rainfall, my friends and I lived outdoors where we were free. We would roam and there would always be some dinner time we were supposed to be back by five or six, or seven. We were always running late and winding that coveted watch back by fifteen minutes, a half hour, to prove that we weren’t really late at all.

 Ah, I sometimes miss the days when I could be not really late at all. 

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capable weirdo

I am a capable weirdo.

I’ve managed to contain my PTSD into a neat little container. I can’t drive on the freeway. If I do, I panic. Panic of the sort that in my teens and early twenties could hit me while brushing my teeth or standing in line at the store, irrational fears that all the worst things that can happen will happen in the worst way and there is nothing I can do about it.
This past couple of weeks I had a situation come up where I had to face the shame of the fact that I do not drive on the freeway in a way that really got under my skin. It became clear to me as I communicated with several people about my plans for a trip that did not involve me driving a rental car, but instead involved careful planned taxis, public transport, and ride sharing, that no one else did those things in this situation. I kept getting met with pushback. This stirred my thinking about how intolerant most of us are for personality differences and quirks. Worse? I’ve bought into that crap all my life.
Our bigotry is evident everywhere. We use words like “issues”, “illness”, and “strange” to describe people who think and act differently than we do. We try to hide our quirks and differences, spend time and money trying to fix them. We are all so afraid of crazy, we leave no room for eccentricities. We live in shame of our every strangeness.
Now I know that there are some pockets of society where we accept strangeness and eccentricity, but as a whole, we do not.
I’m tired of pretending.
I am a nutcase at times. I battle anxiety, sometimes depression. I have shades of OCD in my obsession with organization and keeping things in their place. At times of highest stress, I get eczema on my hands and then I run scalding water them to relieve the itch and give temporary relief because the pain stops the itching. When there is pain, there is only pain. I am extremely reticent around strangers. I battle insecurity and feel inferior on a daily basis.
I am a capable weirdo and I wouldn’t want me any other way. My weirdness pervades every aspect of who I am. What needs fixing is our obsession with fixing everyone to make them the same. Perhaps if we embraced our own strangeness we could find a way to embrace the strangeness of those people who are truly mentally ill and in need of our love and support, not our fear.

 

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making of harry potter common room

Staring is necessary.

My IB students are reading The Things They Carried now and just finished The Great Gatsby. The order in which you teach books brings to light different aspects of them. I don’t believe I’ve ever juxtaposed these two titles before. So, as we read each vignette of The Things They Carried, the burden of being an observer in war is the thread I keep being drawn to. Both Nick and O’Brien seem to exist as a lens through which to view the story, take little part in the action, only rarely turn that lens on themselves. They are both writers. Go figure, I’m drawn to this persona, the observer. I know just what I’d do if I ever stumbled upon an invisibility cloak as Harry Potter did.
“Stare hard, retard,” people used to say when they caught me staring. And sometimes on my walks to work, I get so caught up in the physical details of the world around us that I just want to keep walking right past work, spend the day collecting images. I did this when I was in high school quite a lot. I’d walk to school, reach the building, decide to keep walking. I grew up in sister cities and I’d walk to the edges of them both, walk between them.
This is at least a part of why I prefer to walk to school even though Chris drives and works at the same place. This is why I prefer spring and summer days, because I can walk and walk without the extra weight of an umbrella or the inconvenience of getting cold or wet. I used to at least try to keep a journal collecting some of my impressions from the day. It’s been difficult to find time lately, but I’d like to try to get back to that practice, just a little writing before bed. *moves journal to night stand
I’ve sometimes felt ashamed of my observer personality (“Stare hard, retard”), but reading O’Brien I’m embracing that part of myself, feeling part of a tribe of storytellers. So, dear writer peeps, if this sounds like you, I have a challenge for you this week:

Spend 10-20 minutes sitting in public just observing everything you can.
Observe and record a conversation between two people you eavesdrop on.
Stare at an object. Stare again. Keep staring until you’ve written a two paragraph description of the thing.

 

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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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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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