Tag Archives: focus

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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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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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 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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