Author Archives: lizshine74

About lizshine74

Liz Shine wrote and read her way out of small-minded, small-town doom. We’re not talking about riches here. We’re talking about how a practice like writing can save a person. How it can give hope, shape identity, and ignite purpose. She hopes to write stories and poems that move readers the way certain works have made all the difference to her. She lives in Olympia, WA in the USA. She believes in the power of practice and has been practicing writing since some time in the early 90s when she became an adult in the rain-soaked city of Aberdeen. Writing began with journaling, as a way to understand a confusing, sometimes violent coming-of-age. She writes mostly fiction, some nonfiction, and poetry, and holds an MFA from Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writers Workshop. She has published in Shark Reef, Dual Coast, and Blue Crow Magazine. She is a founding editor at Red Dress Press.

woman at race finish line

Adjust your pace accordingly

A lesson that has been coming up for me again and again in various aspects of my life is the importance of paying attention and adjusting my pace accordingly. I’ve had some runs of late where I start to feel low on gas mid-run. As soon as that happens my mind starts to tell the story about why I’m too tired to run the full route. Maybe I didn’t eat enough or I didn’t sleep enough or whatever explanation my imagination can find for why that original feeling of low-energy means the run is over, I may as well start walking now. Here’s what I’ve started doing in those moments. I keep running, but I slow the pace and listen. I let go of my sense of urgency and expectation. Just about every time I do this,  I find my stride again.

I’m writing this to remind both of us that the same is true for writing. Lately I feel like I’m moving slow motion through molasses to even get a paragraph written. The longer this goes on, the longer my list of ideas and projects get. When this happens writing starts to feel like a chore that never gets done. Something responsibility that you have, but you have no time to do it in. I’m reminding both of us that writing is a choice and YOU get to set the pace. I heard a trainer say to someone at the gym the other day “you are not running a race” to get them to slow down the pace of each lift. 

This is true for writing too. You are not running a race. Be happy with a paragraph is that is what you get. It will be your bridge to the next sixth paragraphs tomorrow. 

If you’re like me, you drum up this sense of urgency. This desperate need to finish the book. For me, it’s about outrunning death, about meeting some imaginary timeline by which I should have accomplished such and such, but mostly about wanting to get through the difficult parts of writing as soon as possible. 

Here’s what I’ve noticed, though. When I slow my pace and listen? The work opens up. The writing is better. 

The picture I’m posting along with this blog entry is a photo of me at mile 26 of the first marathon I ever ran (2005). You might be thinking, but wait that doesn’t fit at all with your “you’re not running a race” analogy?! My only goal in that race was to finish with dignity. Endurance was the ultimate goal. Adjusting my pace is how I finished that race.

You are doing many other things while also trying to write and all of these things will impact your focus and energy. Adjust your pace accordingly. That will allow you to write through even the tough times, so that when your energy begins to flow again, you will be poised, warmed up, and ready.

Interested in a writing coach? Click here for more information.

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It’s all about the routine–and how you shake up the routine

It is about making a schedule and sticking to it. It’s about getting up before everyone else and setting aside all distractions to get to work. It’s about stopping at the coffee shop on your way home and claiming those two hours before you go home to your family, really claiming them. Not taking texts during that time. Deep-diving into that single focus during the time you have set aside for you and your work. It is about that. And yet, you will feel impatience because that time goes faster than you think and that goal you made is taking longer than you thought. When you feel that impatience coming on, you might be tempted to throw up your hands in defeat and take up binge-watching as a more suitable hobby for you. Why not shake up the routine instead?

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Set your alarm for fifteen minutes earlier than you already do.
  • Take one weekend and drop everything from your schedule except writing. Turn off your phone, and dive into a virtual retreat. Don’t make coffee dates, skip the Saturday appointment at the gym. Just for one weekend–single focus. Try this once a month if you are feeling particularly motivated toward progress. Here is a link to my virtual retreat form to help you get your goals lined up for this weekend. More forms available on my coaching page.
  • Make easy meals or do a family fend-for-yourself week and write during the dinner hour. 
  • Write during your lunch hour every day for a week. Reward yourself for your commitment at the end of the week. Plan the reward in advance and follow through with it. 
  • Try using audio memos to talk through your ideas when out walking or doing housework. Yes, you will look like you’re talking to yourself, because you will be talking to yourself. Own your crazy. 
  • What ideas do you have? I want to know. This list is for me as much as it is for you. 

Happy writing this week, my writer friends! 

Oh, and here’s a free Pomodoro timer to keep you honest. When you hit that timer, do just that one thing. Ah, ah, ah–put that phone down. Just that one thing. 

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picture of a zine made by Liz Shine about how to make time to be creative

Editing hack acquired!

Dear Writer Friend, 

This week I discovered one of those little hacks. You know the kind. The kind you want to tell everyone about, the kind that I still have yet to discover for the process of shelling garbanzo beans–anyone? This particular hack happens to be for editing/revision.

We all know that it’s a good idea to read your work aloud when you’re editing. If that’s something you do, then you also know that it’s not perfect. Speaking is its own kind of effort and can take brainpower away from the line editing you are trying to do. While most of you have already discovered how to have your Word read your document to you using the speak feature, I had not until now, and I love it. Below are links to directions for how to use this editing hack and also for how to use Google Docs to do the same. For me, this improves my editing game. And who doesn’t need whatever help they can get with the process of editing? 

Instructions for Word

Instructions for Google Docs

What hacks did you use this week to meet your writing goals? I want to know. Some of my favorites are: using a pomodoro timer, writing out my goals each morning before I write, and sticking to a strict routine. I’m not quite as rigid as David Lynch about it, but I am aspiring. A fixed routine is a sort of time magic that opens up a portal you can step through to get the work done free of distraction and doubt.

What are the most important parts of your routine to you and why?

Interested in hiring me as a writing coach?  I’d love to work with you!

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Lake in the Olympics

There are things you will have to give up.

I’m assuming you are like me, trying to write while also working full time. Like me, you may have a family and hobbies that keep you happy and sane. A big part of your work as a writer is how to make time when there isn’t all that much excess time to start with. I am constantly making little shifts to carve out time to write. Over many years of trial and error, I have found that morning is my best time of day (fresh, open mind). Lately, my routine has been to wake up at 4:30 on weekdays to make coffee, walk the dogs, and write until it’s time to get ready for my workday. This usually yields me anywhere between an hour or two hours of writing time each weekday. 

Out of a constant negotiation for an equitable distribution of duties, my husband has been walking the dogs on weekends, while I sleep in a little longer. Well, guess what? I have been trying unsuccessfully to add more writing time to my weekends for months. Then, the obvious solution dawned on me. 

I negotiated for morning dog walking responsibility every day and won. Truth be told, he was happy to hand that job over. He’s less of a morning person than I am anyway. All for the best. 

When I told my son about this he asked, “But won’t you miss sleeping in?” 

The answer: No, not if I kept it framed in my mind as a choice I made. I get to get up early so that I can get some writing time. So, recently, I have given up sleeping in to make time, but that’s just the start of the things I’ve given up. Here’s some others: 

  • regularly watching TV or movies
  • phone games
  • scrolling social media
  • surfing the web
  • reading the news except in three minute digests

There are things you will have to give up. And, there are also practices that build your focus, concentration, and ability to believe in yourself even when the struggle is real. Like what, you ask? Like meditation, yoga, long walks–mindfulness practices that increase your ability to sit and just be in the moment, which is a lot like being in a scene of fiction in your imagination and trying to write through it. Writing guru Natalie Goldberg is a good source if you’re looking to zen up your writing practice.

If you are a woman, you will have to fight against a culture that has taught you that you are responsible for keeping everything together, that whatever needs to be done is yours to do. This one is the most difficult for me and is why morning is my best time for writing. I am the only one awake, so there is no one and nothing else to tend to. 

There are things you will have to give up, but if you’re like me, it’s an obvious choice. You’ve worked too long and too hard to give in to distraction and entertainment now.  This craft is the foundation you are built on. 

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close up of an eye

See it, to achieve it.

Dear Writer Friends, 

So, you are making the time. You are sitting down at your desk, bichoktam. You are doing the work. You honor your writing time and do what it takes to minimize distractions, whether that’s a focus app or a set morning ritual, or if you’re me–both. The war on your attention is real, and you are not a mere victim in that. Your monkey mind gets you all the time. It’s a practice and you will have good days and less good days, but you are keeping at it. 

This week I want you to focus on putting some energy into what your long term goal is, to really visualize it, because when we take the time to visualize what we want, we are more likely to believe it is possible for us. When we believe, we take the steps to make it happen with more confidence. So, right now, write down a goal you have for your writing within a specific time frame–three months? A year? Your choice. Now, close your eyes and picture the scenario. Don’t brush past it. Flash out all the detail just like you would in an important scene of your story. Set a timer for two minutes and stay in that visual. 

Go to this awesome web tool and write yourself an email set for an intermittent time between now and your goal. In the email, describe your goal in all it’s detail and remind yourself that it’s okay if you’ve gotten off track, but you are writing to remind yourself what it is you want. Remind yourself that getting off track is part of the process. 

Print the email you wrote yourself before sending, and tuck it away somewhere so you can pull it out as a reminder anytime you need it. Return to your visualization as often as needed to fend off self-doubt and bolster your confidence. 

Looking for more motivation and support? Visit my coaching page.

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Commit, and slay those focus vampire habits!

Dear writer friend, 

Last week I paid attention to the amount of time I spend thinking about getting started writing during the time I’ve committed to writing. It’s a lot. If I were to watch myself live, I would be yelling at myself, “What are you even doing?! Get to work already.” I can’t use the excuse that I need to warm up. I already get up and feed the dogs, make coffee, meditate for five minutes, walk the dogs, and read a few poems. And…yet…I caught myself checking my phone, my email, my Facebook–”real quick”. It was not real quick and also doing those kinds of things gets you out of the mood for writing and amps up anxiety. So, I made some changes once I noticed this focus vampire of a habit. 

Commit to doing the work

My challenge to you this week is to commit to the work. When you sit down to write, don’t do anything else “real quick”. I mean it. If you have to, stare at the wall and watch your breath for a few breaths before you get started, but don’t check your email and don’t pick up your phone. 

Don’t do anything that is not on your writing list for the day. For me that’s read a few poems while I sip my coffee, then write for at least three twenty-five minute sessions (5 minute break in between to free write about what I’m working on), then submit three pieces of work for publication.

That’s what writing looks like for me on a typical day right now. This may change and that’s okay because I have a notebook where I write down my goals for every writing session. 

Tip: I open the timer app I will use for writing in a separate browser before I go to bed at night, so that I do not open a browser and see my email sitting there. Have no other tabs open. Just the timer. I use Tomato Timers.

Reward yourself

Focused and finished? Send a brag text to your writing accountability partner(s) and allow yourself a little time to play in your email or social media. You should set a timer for your play time too. I’m sure there are some other goals on your list today! 

You don’t need to decide every morning whether or not to get started writing. Commit right now. 

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Write it Down

January 11–17 2021. Focus on what you did; Put down your phone; Call for reinforcements

Dear Writer Friend, 

Here we are again at the start of another week. It might be tempting to look back at your goals last week and notice what you didn’t do. Resist that urge. Focus on what you did. I did not come near meeting my goals, but I did finish one chapter and start another, critique two submissions for my writer’s group, finish an editing project, and have a couple of really good ideas I jotted down and put on simmer. 

Writing is especially hard right now. Give yourself credit for everything you do. Disregard what you didn’t.

That brings me to another important thing you can do this week to do the writing work you want to do. Limit the time you spend in that digital space of disgust, disbelief, despair, and rage. Put down your phone. Two people said the same thing to me yesterday about the new year. One was in an email and one was the checker at the grocery store when I went out to do my Sunday shopping. What did they say? “Well it can’t do anything but get better.” These are hard times, and so much of that is way beyond our control. Making time for your creative work is how you infuse a bit of better into every single day. Put down your phone and do it. 

Lastly, if you don’t already have a fast track to communicate with a writer or two or three who you can add to a text thread or email chain or what-have-you, then get that set up. Update that group as to what you did each day. Focus on what you did. Never write about what you didn’t do. They will know what to do–bring on the encouraging gifs and words to cheer you on. You will do that same for them. Two things in the thread–what each of you did and accolades. That’s it. 

We’ve got this. See you next week. 

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cup on desk with writing plan

Happy new year, writer friends! How are you making time in 2021?

Purpose.

It’s been a pandemic since I last wrote here. I started this blog as a way for me to crystalize my own craft insights and to inspire others who have a story they long to tell but who do not yet believe in themselves enough to Make Time. I am proud of all that I’ve gathered here and I often look back to remind myself of my own insights and practices when I get off track or caught up in the internal interferences of doubt, gloom, or indecision. I’ve been working away at this practice for more than thirty years now ,and I’m pretty happy with where I’ve come in my practice, but it has taken time. It has taken persistence. It has taken the willingness to constantly interrogate fear and doubt. I have been buoyed by other practices, such as yoga, running, and meditation. I have learned and borrowed from many other writers to find the things that will work for me. I have built a network of writer friends who I support and who support me. 

Not all of the grand ideas others suggest will work for you, and that’s okay. You are perfect just the way you are. Keep choreographing your own dance.  

This will never be a blog focused on how to write the next bestseller and market it. This is a blog about how to make time for the open-hearted work that is writing, persisting in finding your voice, having the courage to take risks when you feel compelled to, and cultivating joy in your creative process. I’ve been posting here for at least fifteen years, and as we move into 2021, I hope to continue to inspire other writers to join me in this work. 

Practice.

What works for me right now is to keep a planner and honor that plan. I am currently in love with this one. Scheduling specific time to write and honoring that allows me to enjoy the time I’ve carved out and set the work aside during other times. In the past, I’ve struggled with procrastination and the work of writing always looming over me as a thing I should be doing. That never resonated with how I actually feel about the work. It’s not a looming responsibility. It’s a joy and a passion. I use a Pomodoro app (this one) to single-task. I use this app for writing, editing, the submissions process, and most recently practicing guitar. Committing to do just one thing, to push forward in my work for twenty-five minute intervals increases my productivity times four, at least. I participate in a writer’s group, even when the feedback I am getting is inconvenient for my desire to finish the work. Especially when this is the case.

One area that I have consistently struggling with is submitting work. I sat down last week and made two spreadsheets to better track my submissions. I don’t how I resisted this so long, but I know why. As I was combing through emails I had filed away and putting those rejections into a spreadsheet, I had to admit that stuffing those emails away under a label as soon as they came in was not unlike stuffing a negative emotion down when it comes up. Each email I opened and then logged in my spreadsheet brought up surges of self-doubt and self-loathing. But do you know what helped me combat that? Putting them into a very concrete, unemotional spreadsheet. This also helped me to see that I hadn’t submitted nearly as much as I thought I had. I have been inconsistent and haphazard. No more! I never thought I’d be so grateful for the straightforward reality of a spreadsheet. 

As you start this new year with some new writing goals of your own, I hope to meet you here Sundays for a week in review. Until then, I’ve linked some more resources here below that might be helpful to you as you build your writing goals for 2021. As always, I am happy to here from you here or via email (eatyourwords.lizshine@gmail.com). 

More resources.

Past blogs that might inspire: 

Zen accident

Washing the dishes

Write slowly

A celebration of the pause

Monday, a run through the driving rain…

Think you might benefit from a one-on-one writing coach to get you back on track? Consider hiring me to coach you. More information here

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journal with inspiring word on it and a pen

It’s really tempting to just binge-watch and eat all day.

It’s really tempting to binge watch and eat all day while scrolling through all the distractions on my phone. One second another breaking news alert about the death toll or social distancing, the next minute a recipe for a black bean buddha bowl I just have to try.  And it’s okay to spend some time doing that. This blog is about how to make time to make art even when we work full time, have families to tend, have other hobbies and interests, etc. Basically–How do you make time to do the solitary, hyper-focused, emotionally taxing work that is art?

All of a sudden I find myself with nothing but time at home. The high school where I teach is closed. My yoga studio is closed. I can’t meet my friend for coffee. This is no longer about making time for me. This is no longer about setting a timer to squeeze a spare half hour before work to make progress on my novel. This is about how to set aside the anxiety of the moment to get some writing done. Some things that are working for me: 

Wake up early

On weekdays I am still setting my alarm for 4 to get up and write. As always, this is my best creative time, because the house is totally quiet and the sun is not yet up. There is no solitude like the solitude before dawn. 

Put your phone in quarantine

I am leaving my phone downstairs at night, not checking it until after I write, and setting it aside or turning it off for big chunks of time during the day. There is this app that sends me a digest of the news on any given day that takes two minutes to read. Over the course of this past week, I’ve noticed something. Spending more time than that reading my news feed does not give me more news. It just gives me more time worrying about the same news. If you really feel that you must be an informed public citizen, pick a publication you love and trust that reviews the news and set designated time aside to read just that publication. 

Get you work out there

If you’ve got work ready to send out into the world, get it out there. Whether that means submitting work to agents or journals, updating your artistic portfolio, self-publishing, or whatever it is for you that is equivalent for you putting your work into that little paper boat and sending it across the water–do that. Yesterday, I revised my query and sent it out to two agents. Just that act was enough to float me through the day. But then–guess what? They both replied asking for more pages. Getting our work out is how we artists who are solitary beings by nature connect. Now is the time to connect. 

Make a schedule and be gentle, but firm with yourself about keeping it

It’s taking me much longer to get settled into the work, and I’m much more distractible, but if I set a schedule to sit at my desk writing from 5–9, I am going to set at my desk attempting to write from 5–9. Will I waste some of that time? Sure. No big deal. Just sit for the time you’ve promised to. 

A note for those of you with younger children

Our kids are grown or mostly grown, but I realize that some of you may just have flipped time. Time you would have been at work, you are now spending homeschooling your kids. I have seen a lot of advice online for parents about how to make a schedule for their kids. For your sake, I sincerely hope that part of that schedule includes (if your children are old enough not to be a danger to themselves) unstructured playtime where they can do their own thing and you can get a couple of hours of creative break time for you. Especially moms out there–kids need to see you reading, making, and living apart from them and they need the same. Take a cue from famed short story writer Alice Munro, the most badass stay-at-home mother/ writer ever. 

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picture of a zine made by Liz Shine about how to make time to be creative

I love the feeling when a new story starts to take shape…

I wrote the prologue of my new story last week. It’s maybe 1000 words, maybe not even, and I know I will need to go back to it. It took me two weeks to write. I dipped out of writing often to research. I spent a fair amount of time just staring at the blank page. I wasn’t in love with at the end. 

This morning I started in on chapter one. This book is a multiple point-of-view book about three women who were in college together and have grown apart. It’s about the scripts we fall into and how difficult it can be to rewrite those scripts. It’s also about isolation and how social media shapes our thoughts and feelings. I think. It’s awfully early to say what the book is about, but I think it is about those things. 

As I started chapter one, I almost immediately had that skull-shining feeling that one gets when a story begins to take shape around you, when it’s no longer just you trying to type words on the page, but there are these characters, and these places, and these desires that you want to follow to the end. 

Needless to say, writing went well this morning. Despite the fact that my brain glitched and stalled when I first sat up in bed at four and reached for my laptop. No matter how tempted I was when I say that my computer was going to take time to update to just close the damn thing and go to bed. 

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