Tag Archives: maketime

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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Ready to write?

It’s the infamous hump day in my writing week and I felt it on my morning run. I had to shuffle my way up every hill one tiny step at a time. Toward the end of the run I did get an idea for a short story I’ve been mulling over that I look forward to drafting soon. So, I suppose though I was power-walking toward the end of the run, in one sense I finished strong.

I’m about to settle into writing for the day now. I’ve got a fresh cup of coffee and a bowl of apricots to guide my way. A pair of noise cancelling headphones arrived in the mail this week and they are amazing. Most of the time, I don’t even put any music on, I just wear the headphones to muffle distractions. When I finish this blog, I’ll jot down my goals for the day and get to work. Who knows what the day will hold for me, but I showed up.

How about you? How are you showing up for your creative work today?

 

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patience

On patience in revision.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of patience this morning, how it is so necessary, but also something that has to be learned. Why, you ask, was I thinking about this? I spent the morning going through a first draft of a novel, charting all the changes to make before I begin draft two. I charted scenes that are currently in the novel in one column, scenes that I want to be in draft two in a second column. I charted POV, motifs, and details. I feel great about this slow process of revision, but it is something that has taken me twenty years to come to.

Maybe you, like me, came to writing in the first place because you loved the creative immersion, the flow, the story–and I won’t lie–the idea of being a writer? But that only gets you so far. Patience and discipline carry you the rest of the way. Suzannah Windsor Freeman wrote about this idea on Jeff Goins blog. Her post is worth a read. Maybe it will resonate with you the way it did with me?

 

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first draft editing

Yep. It’s a first draft, all right.

This week, I finished up another draft of a manuscript that is in nearing the publishing phase of the editing process, then finished a read-through of a first draft of a novel I’ll spend the summer revising. A pretty productive week! I had this moment after reading that first draft where I let loose an enormous, heavy sigh. That sigh was me letting go of all the delusions of grandeur I’d let mount over the months I’d spent writing. In fact, in spite of my highest of hopes, it was a true first draft, lacking so much of what I’d intended to be there, including some things I had intended, but that now seem like a pretty bad idea. I’m okay, though, I have a plan.
First, I’ll go through the book again, charting some notes on key scenes, details, conflicts, and motifs chapter by chapter. Then, I’ll write more before diving in and making changes to that first draft. I’ll write new scenes first before going in to delete and change what I already have. Then, I’ll begin weaving it all together into a second draft, hopefully, better than the first. This is how we do it. It’s not magic. It’s first inspiration, then persistence, discipline, and planning.
Tomorrow; however, is Friday, and with all this editing in my life right now, I’m aching for that first draft feeling where it’s all vision and flowing words, and damn, you’re good! So I’ve declared that as for my writing process, my Fridays are going to be something akin to casual Fridays and I will write new words, first drafts.

 

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beach path writing retreat

Learning from a confidence crash: Reflections from a writing retreat.

I started this blog as a way to keep myself writing. It was the same kind of desperate attempt to build good habits that causes people to talk their significants into doing dietary cleanses with them. I needed an audience, some accountability outside my insecure self. It wasn’t enough to just remind myself why I was writing, how I was writing, that I deserved to make time for writing. I needed to shout it out loud.
That’s still true, but over time it has become a creative work of its own. A voice has emerged, a voice I didn’t know I had. A voice strong, confident in the fact that she has something to say that’s worthy of being heard.
I’m in Ocean Shores on a writing retreat now. This is a place I know well. I’ve spent many hours with my cousins on the beach, the adults who brought us sheltered from the wind in the car we’d driven right onto the beach. Yesterday, I drove into town on my own to pick up a few things from the store, get gas, shop for some souvenirs. I went in to pay for the gas, began pumping, sat in the driver’s seat to wait for the tank to fill. That’s when it happened. My self dissipated. What was I doing here? Who was I kidding? What kind of fraud had I perpetrated, masquerading as a writer for over twenty years?
I’m mostly immune to these kinds of identity crises, though as a young writer they plagued me. You see, I’ve built good habits in getting up in the morning to write, keeping this blog, annotating every book I read. I love the work and I’m not so worried about who approves anymore. In the face of this unforeseen confidence crash, I parked my car at the IGA and went for a walk through town, breathing deep and consciously, feeling the straps of my backpack, each stride. I shook it off, remembered I don’t care about that shit anymore. I simply make time and do the work. Beginning my summer vacation with a writing intensive that includes my summer writing schedule (up at 5AM for a run, shower, then pour a cup of coffee and get to work) is likely the cause of the crisis (when you retreat for a week to write the pressure to get work done is great) and now that I’ve recovered, I’m glad I had that moment. Because when I had returned to my body and was breathing freely again, I felt immense gratitude, commitment to do the work, to stay in the room, focused on the goal or two I’ve set for the day.

 

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selfie

I grow old… I grow old…

How can 42 be the answer to the ultimate question regarding life, the universe, and everything when it’s so damn old? Seriously, my face has actually begun to slide away and I have three witch-like chin hairs that regularly appear there. I usually notice them when I’m already out of the house, which is why I now carry  tweezers in my purse.

I grow old…

I grow old…

I can no longer buy cute cheap bras at the discount store because most of those bras no longer hold me in. I have to go to Macy’s or Penney’s or somewhere and try the damn things on. I hate trying things on. And yet, teasing allusion to Hitchhiker’s Guide aside, I’m finding I rather like this growing old business. The signs are clearer along my path and pulsing with more urgency (perhaps because death is more imminent).

In my ninth grade English class today, I had five different girls show me poems for the poetry anthology they’re putting together. Every single one of them was about the agony of unrequited or undeclared love. One of the girls stayed after class to add (her poem being about undeclared love) that she was sure her friends planned to tell him. She said, “I don’t like that at all,” but her eyes said maybe yes?

The trouble with the romance of youth is you wind up spending a lot of energy trying to get and keep love, the romantic kind and the friendship kind. You’re very insecure and unsteady in it all, which can have all kinds of devastating consequences, because there are vampires out there.

I’ve grown old and continue to grow old. Yet, amazingly and in spite of chin hairs, in this forty third year of my life I’ve wizened up in an important way.

I won’t detail all the little steps it took me to get there (that’d be a book). It’s the shift that matters.

A self-sacrificing woman raised me, taught me to serve. An illustration of that point comes by way of the fact that for my birthday she game me a charm bracelet with my wedding photo inside a silver heart and hand-dyed a beautiful towel set, hand-embroidered the edges. They are beautiful and must have taken her hours. At twenty-one, I had a baby and being a mom filled me with a sense of purpose I had never had. There’s nothing I’ve done in my life that brought me more joy and fulfillment than raising my son.

But that son is raised and I’m in a second marriage with a man whose kids are not yet raised. It’s taken me some time to get a clue as to how to be in this situation. My default is to serve. So, I tried. I tried to serve as if they were my own children. I worried and expressed that worry to my husband, as if we were equal partners. I wanted to be a part of helping them get good grades, so I logged into their online grades and emailed teachers. I tried to forge a friendship with their mom over email. I took charge in finding perfect birthday gifts, and made long mental lists of likes, dislikes so that I could pick up certain things at the store. I behaved as if I too was their parent. This served to create much unhappiness in me, because not one person in the entire situation appreciated my efforts. Most, at times all, resented them. A wise friend of mine had warned me as much in a letter before this chain of disappointments began, but I just couldn’t stop myself. It was so easy to fall into these familiar patterns of concern and sacrifice. Those of you who’ve been there could read this story with all it’s dramatic irony. Stories like these are why fairy tales are rich with evil stepmoms.

Here I am, forty two years old, and my greatest purpose in life has been to serve. While that may be fine for someone–it is not fine for me. This is what I now realize.

I was babysitting my sweet niece Minerva yesterday (3 months old). My stepdaughter had just spent fifteen minutes cuddling little Mini on the couch. I was standing, holding her, rocking from side to side, because movement seems to soothe her. I made a comment about how good babies smell. My stepdaughter is famous for her did-you-knows, which range from truly fascinating to what the fuck is the Internet doing to our children. Did I know, she said that women’s brains actually produce dopamine from the smell of babies’ heads?

Huh.

So, I looked up this study, because something about it didn’t sit quite right with me. What I found is that men were not included in this 2013 study, so the doctors could not be sure that this was not just an innate human response. Still, article after article boasted “women”, showcasing women holding babies. This, folks, is why feminism still matters and how gender inequality is endemic to our culture. My twelve year old stepdaughter is of a generation supposedly enlightened on the politics of gender identity, yet she believes it is a fact that she is biologically programmed to be addicted to babies because she is a girl.

What I’m getting at here is that while babies are awesome and compassionately serving others goes selfiea long way in building up our spirits and our humanity, I have gotten pretty good at these things already. What I am not so good at is not apologizing for every little thing, asking for what I want, and diving deep into my own adventures guilt free. These are the things I’m looking to practice this year.

 

 

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nanowrimo novel writing

Reflections on Nanowrimo at the midpoint, plus the not-so-sexy-after-all struggle

Yesterday morning I made it to 25,800 words on my Nanowrimo novel. My writing morning went as usual, with one significant difference. My alarm blared Bryan Adams “I’m Gonna Run To You” (Jack FM) at 4 AM and I slammed down the snooze button. Twenty minutes later “Come On Feel The Noize” and I slammed down the snooze button again. I got dressed, made coffee while the dogs ate fresh heaps of kibble, then donned my faux fur lined jacket for a walk which only a few months ago I took wearing shorts and flip-flops. Now it’s dark and cold and even the dogs want to just get down to business.

I pour two cups of coffee with cream, placed a plate over the top of one to keep it warm, because although Chris’s alarm will go off any  minute, he’ll also want some snooze time. I sit at my writing desk, set my electric blanket across my lap (thank you, Carrie), then I start a session of freedom.

What’s freedom, you ask? It’s an internet blocking service I’ve known about for a while, but didn’t use. I choose a sixty minute session. This is my fourth day of freedom and I have seen the light. True, I can’t fact-check as I go, can’t look up synonyms to get the wording just right, can’t check my email “real quick”, can’t find the perfect pop culture reference for the time or browse books published the year my story takes place.

I have no choice to keep writing forward.

I’ve known for a long time that this was a good way to write a first draft, but for me struggle is the sexy dark horse. Meaning, it would be too easy to take that good advice I’ve come up against again and again. I am that person who when the yoga instructor says to pay attention to how it feels in your body, I think it’s a “good stretch” when there is a dull throbbing pain up and down my leg. Because I tend to stubbornly persist through whatever quagmire I find myself in. Because I am a person who works hard and perseveres and is resilient. Why would I take an easier way out? Plus, I can be a bit of perfectionist with my sentences, reading them aloud until they’re just so.

Why has it taken me so long to understand two thing that I teach high school students all the time?

 

  1. Have a process.

 

As I teen I was fascinated by ritual, terrified by the idea of falling into too many patterns, imprisoning myself. I was obsessed with trying to force spontaneity. The paradox I’ve discovered in writing (and perhaps it applies to life too) is that the more ritual I have, the more spontaneous my writing can become. There is a freedom in the space of writing when the creative mind is familiar with that territory, has been there before, when the process is clear. Also, patterns will emerge, with or without your input. Don’t you want to have input? Don’t you know better than your fear? Your laziness? Your self-loathing?

 

Be as specific about your process as you can. Borrow from others. Don’t worry about whether it’s perfect for you. Pick something and try it for a while. Your process can and will change, but you’ve got to have one.

What times and days will you write?

What are the rules for writing your first draft?

What will you look for in your first revision?

At what point will you invite other people into your work? For what purpose?

 

Keep a logbook and/or spreadsheet of each time you write or edit to track your work over time. Include in your logbook notes about struggles that emerge for you in your work.

 

  1. Time, place, manner.

 

Have a process and trust it. Draw boundaries for the steps of your process. What parts of your writer self will you invite in with the first draft? Will you kick the editor out? What will it take for you to do that? What will you focus on for the second draft? The third?

My process for the past 20+ years has been to sit down and write, then go back and revise. It was a miracle when I sat down to write at all, and when I did, it was often a battle with aspects of myself, particularly the one who wants to write the story and the one who wants to pick it apart along the way. While I’m writing the first draft of the novel I’m working on now, I’m making a list of revision consideration for the second draft. Writing them on that list is my way of setting them aside for now. I am learning to hold myself to the idea of a first draft. I’ve heard this advice over and over again. The struggle was too sexy. I couldn’t resist. But I’m getting it now. I no longer think cool boys in leather jackets are enticingly mysterious and I get that writing can be more or less difficult. More difficult if you don’t follow a plan, including to show up every day. There is a time to pick apart your sentences. It isn’t in the first draft. Just like there is a time to talk about your grade in my class. it’s not in front of the whole class, in the middle of explaining a new present moment assignment. Oh, and put your phone away. You should have checked your grades before you came to class.

 

What’s your process? How do you make it happen?

 

 

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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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zen accident

Zen Accident

I began writing poetry at fourteen or fifteen, some terrible lost and vulnerable age. I wrote reams of poems about how profoundly I didn’t understand anything, using juxtaposed words like vomit truth and playground nightmare. It seems I’d always been a gawker, but I started to write little snippets of what I saw in my notebooks: man at bus stop shaving his feet, woman screaming fuck you fuck fuck on her way to the library, or an orange is a globe of light. I also started to write down the sentences from what I read that sent a charge of delight up my spine. If I could write like that!

I’ve identified as a writer from a young age and over the years I have continued to write, record my observations, and collect sentences with inconsistent commitment. This blog is dedicated to the commitment I’ve made to make time for writing in spite of the real and imagined demands on my writing time. I’ve been distracted by so many projects during my adult life including running a marathon and earning a Masters degree, both of which took far less effort and commitment than writing a book does. I’m not saying I shouldn’t have done these things, not at all. One can’t write every single moment of every single day. When you are not writing, though, everything else is a potential distraction.

Over this past winter break I had a moment of epiphany regarding my sometimes absurd cycle of professing I need time to write, then getting that time and struggling to write three sentences, then drowning my sorrows in a glass or two of red which of course completely kills my impulse to write and clouds my thinking. Of course there are other times where the writing flows and I finish my writing time absolutely buzzed by the feeling that I’ve created something dangerously close to what I want to say and with some tweaking, by God, it just might do. I’ve strategized ways to induce this kind of creative flow. I’ve turned corners of rooms into writing nooks, made signs for doors warning: Writer At Work, snuck away to cafes, bought noise-canceling headphones, and on and on.

We’ve just moved to a new house and by winter break we’d been there nearly a month and I hadn’t even once sat in the writing nook I fashioned in one corner of our bedroom. I’d written, but never there. And that’s when a new way of looking at the whole situation struck me dumb. Over the next few days I sat to write at our family computer that is literally wide-open in the middle of the house in the family room, the most unprivate spot one could possibly occupy.

What happened? Yes, children interrupted me. Dogs too with their endless need for ear-scratches and lap time. I’m pretty sure Chris also asked me where I had put the coffee filters, which were right in front of his face where they always are, just tucked a little toward the back. As all these disruptions happened, I didn’t react resentfully to them. Each disruption happened, then I returned to the writing. This is how I finished the novella I’ve been working on for six years.

Happy accident? Result of a recently revived meditation practice?

I don’t know, but I’ll take it.

 

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Dear Present Moment,

Dear Present Moment,

The click of keys. The ponderous pause. The long-distance stare. Alert, alive, creating. The problems to solve are diverse, complex, and many and I must be some kind of brainiac because I am solving problems left and right. What is the mood here? What is the consequence? Will this seem real to a strange reader? Will it break his heart? What’s the story? A comma here?
Present moment, the struggle emerges when you elude me, when I focus on the future goal or that time I left critique group with a fresh bruise on my cheek, a deep scratch on my collar bone.

Seeking you,
Liz

 

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