Tag Archives: busywriter

procrastinating mind

Dear Procrastination, (Part 2)

Dear Procrastination,

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

 

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flying clocks

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

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

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

 

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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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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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dandelion

A reminder to Make Time.

Hello writer friends!
By this time of year I’ve normally posted an anxiety fueled post about the start of the school year, the subtext of which is always HOW IN THE HELL AM I GOING TO FIND TIME TO WRITE? The title of this blog is called Make Time for good cause. Make Time is a tip of my hat to a truth that’s taken me a youth to arrive at. We don’t find time for anything. If it matters, we Make Time.
What can really drive you crazy is when you can’t find time because you are making time to please and impress everyone else around you. Your laundry is folded on Sunday. Your lesson plans are hot enough to post on Teachers Pay Teachers (yet another potential distraction promising immediate monetary compensation for your ideas). And by crazy I mean dreadfully unhappy, jealous, and resentful. That is what happens when you don’t Make Time for the creative impulse that is calling you particularly.

Why have I not posted such a blog yet? When we’re now six weeks into the school year already?

Well, I’ve been busy writing. I just looked at my writing logs, and–WOW–I’ve been keeping a regular schedule since April 1. No fooling! I get up between 4 and 4:30 most weekday morning to write, plus I write Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and on weekends. When I wake up to write in the morning, I open a word file, not my web browser (distraction!)

When I stop to think about it, I fall to my knees and kiss the ground. I’ve been trying to find time since the 90s and much of that time has been me wishing time would fall in my lap while I dutifully went about making other people’s lives easier.

This morning, after writing, I spent some time sifting through old files on my computer, getting organized. I found this folder FULL of articles I’d downloaded from EBSCO Host in 1995, all on the craft of writing. I smiled to recall myself then, eager as now to write. That was the year my son was born. He’s twenty now. What other permission do I need than that to carry on? That’s no short lived impulse.

Writing exposes us, along with all our fears and doubts. Good writing requires solitude in the drafting, an audience in revision. You must take what matters to you and make it matter to readers. This is not something you find time for. You can do better than that, my friend.

Make Time.

 

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makeawish

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Wake before the sun? Are you kidding me?

At the moment, I am flying high and nothing is wrong in the universe.
Why?
Because it’s 5:30 in the morning, I haven’t even started my work day yet, and I’ve already written 700 words on my novel.
Now, I know this feeling is temporary, but humor me. Can we just relish in how I got there for a bit?
In the past ten years, I have made hundreds of writing schedules, all of them avoiding the wee hours in the morning when I prefer to be sleeping. Then, last week I had a particularly scattered, brain-tired struggle of a writing session in the evening and I panicked, realizing that I cannot end the school year thinking that fall comes I’m going to go back to the same evening writing sessions and find success. I that moment of panic, I hit upon the idea that perhaps the trouble is that I’ve been trying to fit my creative time in at the end of the day when my mind is taxed and my energy low. How does that make sense? Wouldn’t it make more sense to write first when the mind is slow in a good way and fresh?
Yikes, though. That would mean—I calculated that I’d have to get up at 4 to make coffee and walk the dogs to be writing by 4:30. I’d also have to give up walking to school in the mornings. I like walking to school. I like the slow pace and the solitude. But I could walk home from school, right? And as far as getting the exercise, my evenings would be free to stroll all I wanted because I wouldn’t be sitting at my desk beating myself up to write three sentences. Or procrastinating sitting at my desk to write three sentences by sending Carrie pins or doing the dishes.
Then, I thought: What are you willing to change to prioritize writing?
Well, I’m on day two of rising at 4 am to write and I haven’t written like this in weeks. Today I wrote 695 new words on my novel and now I’m writing this blog. I took notes on how the writing went and made a road map for tomorrow. The quiet and solitude of the morning coupled with the stillness of my rested mind is the perfect place for writing.
I never thought I’d say this…
After all, I am a morning person.

 

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