Category Archives: Goals

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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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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One day spent chaperoning debate nerds. Two insights about writing fiction.

I say nerds admiringly. After all, I was one of them back in highschool when I regularly skipped other classes to work on my debate cases. Am one of them, really. I no longer geek out on arguing the ethics or efficacy of various philosophical schools, all of which I was  learning solely to build my rhetorical arsenal. All of which were making me more befuddled as to what I really thought and believed. Now, for me, it’s books and the things that make up books. Precious sentences!

For the two judges sitting across from me in the judge’s lounge that day it was crossword puzzles. To be precise, four of them. Another judge they knew, a tall bespectacled man carrying a fresh copy of the New Yorker, noticed they were currently working on the LA Times and proceeded to rib them. How could ladies of their caliber deign to do any crossword puzzle than NY? They laughed. They had that one too, tucked under the LA Times. This was the seed of my first insight of the day into writing fiction. It has to do with character, specifically archetypes and models. As I was sitting there drinking the coffee but trying to avoid the white sugar parading as mini bagels by munching out of my baggie of trail mix, it occurred to me how far one can get in developing a character’s identity by first figuring out what social sub group they belong to. You can sketch a lot about what they wear, what they do in their free time, what topics of conversation they lean toward, what books they might read, even what they value. The danger of course is to stop there. And since I had ten hours of basically just sitting around watching people that day, I did a lot of sneaky staring and character sketching. I eavesdropped on stories and began to see the individuals emerge in this group that at first seemed strikingly aligned. What emerged for me from this exercise was that it’s useful to begin sketching a character by identifying a model. The danger is to stop there. Perhaps a more pervasive danger exists in fearing models that are out of our own social comfort zone We must push past the judgement that emerges when values clash to create human characters who inhabit ways of being that are difficult for us to empathize with. Because, in the end, characters should be individuals, not models.

At one point I grew bored even of people watching and decided to go for a walk around the University of Puget Sound’s campus. I had no idea where I was going, no destination. That became part of the fun. As I walked, I began to build stories in my head, urged on by what I was seeing with my eyes. A persistent yellow rose, a bit weary, but persevering winter. An old style chalkboard on wheels, some unknown equations written across it. A fountain with the head of a fish next to the head of a lion, the leo and the pisces locked in natural conflict. A rooftop fire escape. I even hopped onto an elevator at one point and pushed the button for the floor I thought was the one I started on. The doors closed, but the elevator didn’t move. I almost panicked, then browsed the buttons again, selected my second choice. The elevator lurched, moved. The doors opened right where I began. What had been on the floor it wouldn’t let me out on? My imagination scrolled through story possibilities for what was on floor M. And here’s where the second insight into writing came to me. Be present as you adventure into the world. Collecting images of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Taking photos and writing descriptions in our journals or recording our own voices describing these things on our mobile phones. This builds the muscles of our imagination.

 

Here’s a prompt and a challenge for you. Take one of the images below and turn it into a poem or a short work of prose. If you’re willing, share it.

 

I’m wishing you all another week of flowing words. As for me, I’m just past the half point in the first draft of a novel I’m writing called It May Look Like Disaster, the first in a series of three Olympia novels. I’m waking up at 4 AM on weekdays to write and trying to edit stories and type in handwritten pages in the evenings. I submitted stories to three journals last week and my goal is to submit every week of 2016.
Blessings to you. Make time.

 

 

 

elevator gargoyle fountain yellow rose         escape spider web

 

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new year mantras

New Year Mantras: Love inward, and outward; Speak your mind; Get your work out; Love your gorgeous body.

I can’t resist the call to set intentions for a new year. Call them goals, resolutions, crazy schemes—whatever you like. I love making them. And I don’t fret about failure. I know that I am fantastically imperfect and will fail in some things. I know that I’m already a pretty sleek model of a human being. Reflecting on the past and setting intentions for the year allows me to move forward a bit more assure, see the path ahead more clearly. For 2016, I have four mantras that I will post somewhere where I can see them everyday (wall by desk? lock screen?) Do you mind if I tell you what they are and why? If so, you best click that back arrow on your browser right now. But if you read on…Maybe you will find some inspiration in my sharing? Maybe you can offer me some guidance along the way?
Mantra 1. Love inward, and outward.
Love inward
I’ve been betrayed in love, so I’m a bit guarded. Mostly I’ve been betrayed by me. Whether the tendency was handed down, whether it’s the particular deference of the middle child, whether it’s a byproduct of the legacy of the abused—some combination of all these things?—I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter. The result is that I moved rather desperately through my love life (not just sex, friendships too) for much of my life. It’s taken me a lifetime to realize that I should discriminate. I deserve to be picky.
I have been torn apart by rejection. I have lived in the shadow of enabling addiction. I have stayed quiet when my body, my conscience were violated. I have even excused those violations. Doubted myself. Believed I deserved them. I have done all these things too often, too easily. I have violated my own body, my own conscience in order to gain acceptance, to be liked. I have cared too much about being liked. I allowed this to be a factor in measuring my own self worth. I have allowed doubt of my creative work to stop my writing, even though the act of writing is a lifeline for me. I stuff feelings, nurture anxieties, doing violence to my self. I have tried to outwork and outrun these tendencies. It can’t be done. Time to face them. Squeeze them out with love.
Some affirmations for loving inward in 2016 are:
—I am smart, funny, and adventurous naturally. 
—I am lovable and loved. 
—Guilt and shame do not serve me. I will be the best person I can be in each moment. 
—I am a capable, caring, compassionate woman. 
—Happiness is created, not waited for. 
—Boundaries help everyone. Draw them, kindly. 
, and outward
 
Every single time I open my mouth and let fly words that attack another person, I know I’ve acted poorly, feel guilty . And my “love” for those I care about too often manifests itself as worry. Two things I’m feeling strongly as I head into year 42: 1. Violent speech hurts you and others. 2. Worrying is not helpful to anyone and all those bad vibes might actually hurt more than help.
One practice I started a could of months ago that profoundly diminished my tendencies to criticize and worry is a very simple practice born one morning out the loneliness and desperation of worrying about my son, but feeling powerless to help him. I walk two miles to work most days and often I walk home. During my walks, I practice a sort of meditation where I pray mostly for others, sometimes for myself. I send out hope, courage, strength, conviction, insight, confidence, whatever seems needed. I do this for myself, for friends, for people whose shins I’d like to kick. After one week of doing this, my heart felt full and the son who I had been so worried about had done just fine in all his struggles without me. Instead of spending the week worrying about him, I spent the week sending him hopes for courage and strength.
This will be my walking meditation for 2016.
Mantra 2. Speak your mind. 
For those close to me, this will sound like a strange goal since those people know me as an opinionated person who speaks her mind. But in many ways I am still that shy Liz who struggles in large group discussions, fails miserably at small talk, and deeply considers my words before speaking them. This isn’t all bad and I suppose I will always be somewhat verbally reticent. However, there are some ways I’d like to make 2016 a more vocal year.
I once had a bumper sticker on my car that said, “Speak Your Mind, Even If Your Voice Shakes.” That’s what I want. My affirmation to make this happen is:
Use your voice. You deserve to be heard. 
I’ll need to remind myself of this even when faced with disagreement, apathy, or a voice louder and more confident than my own. This pairs well as a goal with practicing outward love (compassion). Where we often go wrong in our obsession with hearing our own voice is that it does matter what we say, and how.
Mantra 3. Get your work out. 
I’ve made a calendar for 2016 to plan this with care and intention. I want to send my writing out into the world weekly all year. I’ve hoarded my work too long. I even ruined some good pieces by tinkering and tinkering too long. Every week. I’ll keep a log and report back to you all here.
Mantra 4. Love your gorgeous body. 
 
This means get outside, stay active, do more yoga, and eat well. This also means wear only clothes that feel good. Sit and listen to your breath. Take naps when needed. Hug often. Make time for self care. Cook good food. I am done, done, done with the endless suffering over perceptions of beauty.
To recap my intentions, I open my heart in 2016 to:
—Love inward, and outward
—Speak my mind
—Get my work out
—Love my gorgeous body
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A celebration of the pause.

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I can be an intensely goal-oriented person, and mostly this has served me well. I wrote a semi-autobiographical novella in part about resiliency, or at least that was the seed. You see, directly and indirectly I have heard all my life that for me, success was unlikely, that my success is a particular miracle, unexpected. So I wanted to explore how it is that I don’t feel particularly resilient at all. I wanted to put a character in a situation somewhat like mine and see just how she might come to save herself. It’s true I was a welfare kid, a victim of childhood abuse, an intensely shy child who suffered severe allergies for all of my pre-adult life. It’s also true that genetically I am predisposed to self-destruct through addictive behavior and that I have suffered anxiety as long as I can remember.
My ability to set goals and work toward them has enabled me to manage anxiety without medication, to go from being unable to run at 24 years old to running my first marathon at 30, and to be a now National Boards Certified Teacher, 15 years of teaching experience behind me. I am a compulsive list maker and goal-setter. I can read through old journals and see that this pattern established itself early. But I’m not writing this blog as a celebration of goal-setting. I’m writing in celebration of the absence of moving toward a goal, a celebration of the pause, something I’ve come to appreciate these past few weeks.
Certainly my lists and goals serve my writing. It is this tendency that has inspired me to wake up at 4 and 5 in the morning to write first each day, that allows me to add practices to my work that keep me moving forward, like keeping a writing journal on my desk and writing down short and long term goals. But what I’ve discovered in this early morning writing time is that in the writing itself, I am best served when I can let go of all goals and give myself up to the writing itself. When I try to write fast, when I try to finish a work before it is ready to be done, when I rush editing, I ruin the work. I’ve done this over and over again.
Fortunately, I am a fan of Whitman’s insight about contradictions and I too believe I contain multitudes, thus am capable of writing slow, pausing to take walks or just stare out the window in spite of the anxious, goal-oriented me. Practices that strengthen my ability to pause include the writing itself, yoga and meditation, and time spent in nature. As I write this, I am thinking of this work we do as writers as a kind of dance where we are called to move through many aspects of ourselves to do our best work.

 

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