Tag Archives: creativity

The importance of place.

I’m four pages in to chapter two of my new book, a book I’ve outlined, made character sketches for, and even bought markers and big pieces of white paper to make visual maps of motifs and character relationships. I feel so ready to write this book!
Until, I don’t.
I’m on my second week of getting up at four in the morning to write, and I’m in the thick of chapter two. This morning I was writing a scene in a kitchen with two teens and their Dad, a primary setting in this story. As I visualized the scene in my head, moved the characters in space, rendered their words, thoughts, and actions, I realized a piece I had forgotten to plan.
I hadn’t planned the layout of the house my characters lived in, or the individual rooms. The story takes place in Olympia, but I hadn’t even planned what part of town, let alone the details of the house. For that matter, there’s a chunk of it that takes place at a school. What does it look like? In 2005?
Without an intentional plan, in order to write forward, I picked a house I used to rent as a model for my story. The point here is, though, that I did this without any awareness. Once I realized what I had done, I had to decide whether the choice was a good one or merely a familiar default. Should the story be in a different place? Where?
It is in this way that we continue to plan our stories, add to our outlines as we get deeper and deeper into the writing. The key is to recognize when to pin down the details. I noticed where I had placed my story because I was struggling with some of the details. You see, I hadn’t committed to that old house, that particular setting. I just used it to keep writing.
I have committed to it now, but I could just as easily have moved the story to a different house, across town. Two understandings emerged for me in this moment of attention. The first is that when you are writing about people in a place, you should know that place in as much specificity as possible. What color are the curtains? Does a faucet leak? Whether it’s a real place or imagined—set your story down somewhere with walls of a certain color and doors that creak, with smudges of dirt on the light switches. Draw it or pick a place you know, or both. The second thing?
Welcome these moments that demand that you add to your outline as a critical part of the process. There is such an urge to write, let nothing get in the way, because writing is hard enough. But I think I’ve caused myself more trouble than necessary writing this way.
When I print out first drafts of chapters to edit, I highlight all the specific details that emerge, mostly as a tool to keep them in the visual landscape I move through in my mind as I put words to page. Shouldn’t we welcome these breaks to draw, list, and diagram as part of creating a place for your story that seems real?


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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.
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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A Room Of Your Own: Wake Up Early

A few days ago I was whining to my best friend (also a writer) about how I lack discipline and am not writing consistently.

We have this conversation quite often. We both teach high school and have families. We both have a tendency to want to solve everyone else’s problems before our own. We both really want to publish a book some day.

Now, we know that means sitting down to write on a consistent basis. Daily, really. We just don’t always do what we know we need to do. Sound familiar?

It’s summer and if I choose to I can sleep in every day.

I really want to sleep in every day. I love sleeping in. I could sleep through anything.

The problem is than when I sleep in, by the time I get up, I am drawn into the daily grind and too distracted to settle in to write. I go through my day promising myself that I will get to it later.

Later, I am too tired.

The early morning is a writer’s paradise. The world is quiet and no one needs anything or wants to talk to you.

I didn’t exactly wake with the roosters this morning, but I did set an alarm and was ready to leave the house before 9.

My friend and I drove to Bayview Market downtown Olympia and sat outside trying to write to the squawking of seagulls (a nice soundtrack for writing, I think).

I struggled. It had been days since I’d really gotten into a flow. I was beginning to doubt everything. I considered leaving after writing only a page (it had been an hour). Look what you did! I told myself. You wrote a whole page! That’s good for a day, right?

But when I looked over and saw my friend, hands on home row, focused and still writing, I stayed on for more.

In the end, I had finished a chapter I felt good about and written an outline.

*reluctantly sets  alarm*

What sacrifices are you willing to make to achieve your writing goals?


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A Room Of Your Own: Write one sentence

The end of a school brings a flood of emotion. Woo-hoo! Summer-time–Cooking outside–Sleeping in–Reading whatever I want.I’ve started three lists of all the marvelous ways I’m going to spend my summer time this year. (Yes, writing is on it.)   But everything must be graded before that last day and you need to check out with EVERYONE and they sign your paper saying that you don’t have any overdue library books and everything that you were supposed to check in is checked in and the asset number on everything you want to check out has been properly documented. You may or may not know what classes you are teaching next year and either situation gets your mind reeling.

After school today, I found it hard enough to string words together into sentences, let alone muster the energy and inspiration to sit down to write. I took the dog for a run, a measly two and a half miles (cut down during the run from four). I dragged my body along, conscious of every step.

It was on this run that I conceived the idea for this blog.

When you can do no more, just write one sentence. Then, write one more. And one more. And one more. Until you have a page. Maybe more?

I have wasted so much time living under the myth that sitting down to write constitutes a major commitment of time and energy. When I’m feeling tired or vulnerable, thinking this way makes it virtually impossible to write.

On these days, I tell myself that I must only write one sentence today. I tell myself this one sentence at a time.

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imagination tree

Dear Imagination Tree,

Dear Imagination Tree,

Half way into a ten mile run, half way up a doozy of a hill, you shifted my perspective the instant my brain received the sight of you. Trudging up that hill, by breath, by cadence, by will, I felt your influence before I understood its meaning.

You are like the sight of a rainbow caused by sunlight through a window prism, like stumbling upon a hopscotch board with time and inclination to spare, like the urge to turn a cartwheel just to make sure I still can. I saw you and longed to play under your branches, to let imagination trump sensibility, to pause mid-hill to play.

Imagination Tree, you remind me to:

skip rocks

splash in puddles

smile when I run

and, most of all,

to write what pleases me.


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A Room of Your Own: Boundaries

Let the people you live with know when you are sitting down to write. Tell them that for an hour or two or a page or a word count or whatever your goal is to please not disturb you.

It is your fault that at first they won’t listen to you. You’ve been at their beck and call for so long that they will need you without even thinking.

And you like that they need you.

Even if they do listen to you and they leave you to write just like you asked, you will start to feel guilty about twenty minutes in and begin to wonder how they are getting on without you. You may even make an excuse for needing to talk to them.

You forgot to ask how the oral book report went.

What are some synonyms for relaxed?

Did you remember to pay the car insurance?

What do you think of a trip to the beach this weekend?

You will need to be willing to let the domestic paradise that is your household fall to pieces without you. And you know it will fall to pieces without you.

Barring blood or broken bones, you will need to ignore every crash, every whine, every hard-shut cupboard or door.

When they don’t listen to you, you have to channel another you. The you that is a writer. The you that knows that in the long term you are helping the people you love more by showing them that if you really want something, you have to be ready to put in the time and work at it.

So, tell them when you are going to write and for how long and prove to them that you mean it by staying in the room and writing your heart out until you reach that day’s goal.


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Dear Paper and Pen,

Dear Pen and Paper,

I bought a manual typewriter from a junk shop downtown Aberdeen and typed my first short story on it. I was eighteen. I didn’t own a computer until college. My son was just learning to walk and he spoke only in the roundest sounds and brightest gestures. Before then, I composed in notebooks. I never went anywhere without a notebook in my hand or backpack. I often had several notebooks going a once.

Finding time to write then felt the most impossible it ever has, enrolled in eighteen credits as I was, tied as I was to my first responsibility–parenthood.

In ten years, I composed fifteen or so short stories on the computer and filled twice as many –more–notebooks with a disorganized collection of journal entries, quotes pulled from other writers, poems, and story ideas. On my computer now, I have hundreds of poems, more than fifty short stories, and four full-length novels in various stages of development. But, pen and paper, I always start with you. When I’m stuck, I fall back on your forgiving blank page, nothing like the cold white of the computer screen, cursor flashing.

Pen and paper, with you, I can write anywhere and recline while I write, and there is something about the hand’s grip, the way ink loops and scratches across the page with my whim or intent, something about the way I can scrawl out lines or words and draw arrows to move pieces of prose around on the page.

Pen and paper, I prefer you for starting anything and when I’m stuck. You are my choice for letters and love notes. Among all the remedies prescribed for writing emergencies–the software, the apps, the social networks–you emerge as that simple solution people sometimes talk about.



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A Room Of Your Own: Don’t Put The Groceries Away

It started with some wild honeysuckle on my way home from writer’s group. A deep red like I’d never seen growing right there at the edge of the parking lot. I picked one, then four more.  Then, it was California poppies from the edge of someone’s yard. I felt rebellious. Did anyone see me pick them? I looked around. Then calendula, rhododendron, and some white decorative something–also from the edge of people’s lawns. When I reached my house, I added some fading forget-me-nots from my backyard. While I’m writing this blog, I am looking at the bouquet I made from them.

For the second week in a row, I didn’t bring any pages of my own to writer’s group. I didn’t have many and I’m feeling protective of the ones I have. On the walk home tonight I was listening to Stephen King’s On Writing. As always with audio books, I lost track of his narrative in parts, but I caught what he said about how a story should start inward, then move outward. Yes, I thought, this story is still inward.

When I came in the house tonight, my stomach growling, a bag of groceries I had stopped off to pick up on the way, I put the grocery bag on the counter and sat down to write. People are trying to talk to me (my son; my boyfriend) and I want to talk to them( I love talking to them), but I am mostly ignoring them so that I can write this blog. I’d rather be taking a shower–eating dinner–finding out how the evening went. I didn’t even put the groceries away and I’m not sure I’ve ever just left the groceries sitting out.

How did I get in the room tonight?

I picked a bouquet of flowers and sat it next to my writing desk.

I did not put the groceries away.

What are your tricks, writer friends?


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lion pose

The Power of Play

At risk of sounding like the worst of self-help gurus, I’m going to sound off about the power of play in nurturing (yes, I said nurturing) a consistently productive creative practice. And at risk of insulting the dead, I’m calling for an end to the tortured, self-loathing writer. I’ll begin by telling the story that inspired me to write this.
Despite all my prayers that my son and only child would not struggle with the reticence and hyperconsciousness that I struggled with and that his father struggled with even more and despite the fact that at home he is opinionated and animated (and I mean animated like a cartoon character), he assures me, he is “shy”. Assures isn’t the word—he insists he is shy. So, I try not to dwell on it, not to smother him with encouragement, but to encourage him–damn it–encourage him. Though he was leery about playing basketball for his middle school because of the public spectacle of the competition, he loves to play. He was worried about being on the student news station they show every morning in home room. He was just worried that he’d be too shy to succeed. I acknowledged his feelings and made him try. Now, if he was that shy, there would have been no pushing him. It was to my relief that he reluctantly conceded the point.
How happy was I when he returned from his first practice red-cheeked and smiling? So happy! I knew he would sail through the first three weeks—only practice—and prayed that come time for his first game, camaraderie would trump “shy”. That didn’t exactly happen. The first three games weren’t painful, but I could tell from his reports that he was holding back on the court.
Now, here’s where I get to the point. Friday after the third game, his coach set up a practice based solely on play. He came home elated—chattering about kids laughing so hard they couldn’t dribble.
“You know how I’m usually so shy when I dribble?”
“Uh-huh.” I said.
“Well, today I wasn’t…and he was laughing so hard he couldn’t shoot…and I played so hard.”
“Uh-huh.” I said.
“The point guard said I should be point guard…he said I should be on varsity.”
“Uh-huh.” I said, thinking Yes! Yes! Yes!
And, what do you know? The next game he scored three points and said, “Now that everyone knows I can dribble, the expect me to…”
Yes! Yes! Yes!
I am overjoyed that he is conquering his self-diagnosed shyness, and every day when he comes home, this pattern of growth continues. Yes! Yes! Yes!
What does this have to do with writing? In order to push forward in producing work in spite of all the obstacles we face, there is this too often untapped resource—play. Here are some ways to not take yourself too seriously and so write more and feel better about it:
1. Put on your favorite dance tune. For me that’s Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”. Let loose.
2. Get outside and play first, then write. A tuned-in walk about town? Frisbee? Fetch with the dog?
3. Give yourself permission to write the worst lines. Do it on purpose. Write the sappiest, most trite, worst stuff you’ve ever written. Read it aloud.
4. Bite, poke, or otherwise harass a friend on facebook.
5. Brig a whoopee cushion to your writer’s group.
6. Kick your feet while you write, or engage in playful fidgeting of your choice.
7. Wear a funny hat while you write.
8. Write upside down (intentionally left up to your interpretation).
9. Doodle in the margins.
10. Fill a page with writing. Then, fold it into a paper airplane and send it sailing.


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