Author: BAWriting

Writing Is…

On this morning that has surreptitiously slid on into early afternoon, I am clutching a cup of coffee and letting the warmth through the thick mug make my hands hot and thereby my body warm, while I wait for the words to come. They come in fits and starts…ideas that seem good and look wan on the page until I backspace them into almost having never been and wait quietly for the new, good things to emerge. I reach for the mug again, suspecting that perhaps it is the heat of the muddy water that will fuel the words, and if the past is any indication, my suspicions are probably on to something.

This is one of those days that has emerged from a tunnel of crazy intensity and obligations in all its nubile simplicity. I don’t have to get anything done today, and the lightness of the day disarms me a little after the onslaught of days rife with heaviness and requirements. In a strange way it is welcomingly unsettling, and I am prone to put requirements on it myself so that it doesn’t just float away, lost.

But I am tired, and stacking weights of purpose onto the center of the moments is in and of itself more than I can do today. And I have to remind myself to be grateful for the lightness. To remember that these days are just as good and right as the ones when I am hustlin’. In fact, maybe they are better.

These are the days I used to wander in and out of with ease, when they were my norm, the heavy and purposeful days standouts in a sea of easy being. I take a moment to remember, to feel my legs on the chair, my breathe in this space, my soul not running, but resting.

I recently read an article about burnout and it resonated with me and reverberated along the back of a life I have built of hustlin’ like sabre tooth tigers are casing my retirement account and the sun seems to only sit in the sky for 23 minutes out of every day.

It is on these days that I turn to writing. And I find that kind of funny because I write for work. I teach writing for work. I work with writers for work. And yet, when I am tired or I am trying to remind myself to sit with the quiet or breathe, I write.

There are rows and rows of book on the topic of writing, but I think it is interesting to think about what writing does—at least it is for me.

There is a part of me that wants to do one of those 30 days of thinking about writing things or 15 days of tweeting or sharing my creative process on instagram in order to create a buzz and something to follow.

I, however, am not one of those people. I consider it a win when I brush my teeth twice in one day and even that necessary regularity is a bit much for me sometimes.

That being said, I do want to investigate what writing means for me and what the act of writing does, but I think it would work better for me to do it when I feel inclined. Maybe I’ll post three days in a row and then maybe not for a week or two. But I will post. And I can commit to using a consistent hashtag. You have to know what you can do and honor that.

So here’s to a mishmash series of writing about writing whenever I want to, outside of temporal bounds, and organized only by two consistent hashtags #writingis and #bawriter.

I hope you follow along, and if you’d like to talk about what writing is for you too, then please, by all means, join in, and hashtag away.

Hockey Puck Monkey Brain: AKA When You’ve Got Nothing

I write a lot of different things in a day.

On any given day, I might write

  • Emails
  • Feedback for student papers
  • Social media posts
  • To-do lists
  • Reminders
  • A blog post
  • Product copy
  • A section of book that I’m working on
  • Notes for class

And the list goes on.

Some of these are because I am a writer, and some are just the writing that everyone does in a day.

As a writer, the lines between work and non-work can get a little blurry.

Is this post for fun? Work? What about these notes I’m jotting down? Are they for a future book project or just random ruminations that will go nowhere? Wait a second, this to-do list is half work and half “stop the mail” and “clean the toilet.”


There are some times though when the writing is clearly work.  When you have to produce because someone is waiting for it and they will pay you if only you will send them some words on a page, it’s easy to choke and realize that just like Lorelei Gilmore of the famed Gilmore Girls, the only thing in your head is “hockey puck, rattlesnake, monkey, monkey, underpants.”


When Hockey Puck Monkey Brain happens, how do you overcome it?

How do you get it together and make real sentences come out? And not just ones people can understand, but ones that are relevant to the project people are going to pay you for?

I’m sure there are a lot of ways, but for me, there are a few tried and true.

  • I reread the information that I have about the project. In detail. Multiple times.  This helps to focus me and remind me of the desired outcome.
  • I also get out an old school piece of paper…like the kind made from wood pulp or bamboo. There is just something for me about the scratchiness of a pencil on paper that jogs the mind.
  • I give myself permission to not get it right the first time, and I dive headlong into brainstorming.
  • I also reflect back on other times when I was in this situation, and I remind myself that the project always gets done.

I’ve felt this way before, and I was successful, so I can stop freaking out and let the pressure off a little.

It’s amazing what that can do for the creative process.

Of course there are always all the other things that your mom would tell you like

  • Don’t wait until the last minute
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a vegetable
  • Walk outside

But really…who does those things?

I know that this is not just for writers, and anyone can have days where focus, motivation, and creativity are running low.

How do you overcome HPM brain? Share your tips below so that we can all get more done and quit earlier on Fridays. 

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Writing Adventure: How to Encourage Writing for Fun and Self-Reflection

As a writer, it’s always a fun day when I get to announce that I have a new book out.

Writing Adventure: How to Encourage Writing for Fun and Self-Reflection

is now available for sale as an ebook here on Amazon.

I’m excited because this short book takes on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. For those of you who may not be familiar with my story, I used to be a middle school language arts teacher. That experience was transformative and immersed me in the ways that young people engage with words. I am so thankful to those students for bearing with me as I was a young teacher learning right along with them.

Through the years, I have continued to spend a lot of time teaching, tutoring, editing, and working with people to create writing that they are proud of. In my experience, however, I have found that while there are a few people who really love writing, many approach the experience with hesitancy, at best, and often more likely dread.

As a writing teacher, I got to thinking about our cultural narratives around the process of writing, and I realized that writing is almost always contextualized as an assignment or a task or something that needs to be done.

But writing is so much more. Writing is an expressive experience, and one that I think is important to the development of young and old alike. I began to ask myself what it would look like if we changed our talk around the concept of writing, and we began to think of it as something that is fun and fulfilling.

This topic is an enormous conversation and one that could fill volumes because it is personal and expansive and rooted in educational theory and self-awareness and the entire lexicon of the place that words hold in the human experience. So this book, well it is truly just a starting point. It is a short collection of my thoughts around the idea of writing as more than a task and the ways that adults can encourage young people and peers to engaging in a more personal writing practice.

There are no concrete answers here, but there are ideas and questions and things to think about as we work to redefine the role that writing has in a world where, in my opinion, it is as important as it has always been.

If you have young children or teens, I hope that this book gives you a place to begin new conversations around writing. If you are an adult, I hope that the ideas and examples are rooted in enough truth to translate into the adult experience.

Life is certainly an adventure, and I believe that writing is a great way to experience that adventure.

Here’s to your own Writing Adventure!

You can buy Writing Adventure here.

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How to Write on a Hot Summer Day: Finding Rest and Inspiration

This summer has been a scorcher so far. During these hazy, lazy days of summer, sometimes it can be a little difficult to get motivated to do much more than what is necessary and then sit by the pool or in the shade of a rock until the heat subsides.

Out here in the desert we are having our usual high temps, so it’s no surprise, but the rest of the country seems to be pretty toasty too.

I find summers kind of funny because if it gets too hot, it is much like winter where you can’t go outside on account of the weather. The difference is that in the winter you can layer on more clothes, but in the summer, removing clothes beyond a certain point is relatively frowned upon.

Once you’ve taken off everything you can and you grab an ice-cold lemonade, how do you get motivated to get your words down on the page?

It probably depends on your life.

  • Maybe your kiddos are home for the summer, and you find that your days are packed with pool trips and library reading groups and more noise.
  • Perhaps you are a teacher and you have summers to catch up on sleep and seeing friends and all those things you don’t have time to do during they year when you are educating the future.
  • Maybe you work and your summer is just like every other time of year except that it’s hotter.
  • Or maybe you have some extra time on your hands and you’re bored and after you catch up on laundry, you are planning to wile your day away doing nothing.

What about your life makes the summer the perfect time to write? And what about summer makes writing difficult?

Thinking about what you want from your summer is the first step in harnessing these sweat-laden days.

I find that when we change to the summer season, I so badly want to get everything finished that I had to put aside during the school year.

Summers seem to be about excitement and change and expectations of fun. And while summers days can be all of those things, I find that sometimes I get really busy just like I do during the rest of the year, and then I am prone to be even more frustrated because I was really hoping to get a lot done in this different season.

This year I am really challenged to have clear expectations for myself. I have a few projects that I would like to get finished, and I am working toward those being done. But I am also giving myself a break and acknowledging that I have a tendency to over plan and even projects need time to grow.

The garden at Baker’s Seed Company in Mansfield, Missouri.  Go check them out if your summer plans include growing amazingly cool, heirloom plants.

I also like to look to summer days for inspiration.

Writing is, oddly enough, not just about writing.

Writing is about translating the human experience into words for other people to relate to.

And in order to do that, I find that it helps to set aside time to take in moments and the beauty around me.

If your schedule is a little upended in the summer like mine is, that can be the perfect time to see what is new around you.

  • Different fashions
  • New foods
  • New places
  • Sitting quietly with an iced coffee watching a group of kids not using their inside voices—so much funny

Lunch at a new place Palette in Atwater Village.  Food and colors are great inspiration.

And those hot days can also be great for rest.

Recharge.

Set down the expectations you have for your day and see what emerges. Read a magazine or watch the clouds move in the sky.

Cultivating a life of writing is about filling the tank so that you have something to say, and if you’re exhausted, it can be hard to keep going no matter the weather.

How do you spend your summer days? Do you find it easier to get writing and creating done or do you let it go for a while? What adventures have you found this summer and how have they inspired you?

 

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What Laura Ingalls Wilder Can Teach Us About Writing

This is the house that Laura built—Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband Almanzo. Last week I had the privilege of visiting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homestead in the Ozarks of southern Missouri. This pastoral white home set on a knoll in green fields is a writer’s paradise.

Almanzo and Laura built this house after moving to Missouri when they were just starting out. The house was built in sections, each room added as the couple had the time and money they needed to create their home.

Times were tough in those days and farming and survival consumed them.

 

I have to admit that I do not have a childhood connection to Laura’s books. I knew about her stories from the TV show, but I hadn’t read her writing. I think my nose was pretty stuck in LM Montgomery’s tales of Anne during those years. What can I say? Sometimes you just fall in love.

My lack of knowledge, however, certainly didn’t deter me from having assumptions about the writer.

I assumed that Laura was a writer for her whole life and that she lived in her childhood town even after she grew up.

But I was wrong.

 

Laura had moved from North Dakota to Missouri after she and Almanzo had their daughter Rose, and they lived in the little town of Mansfield for the rest of their lives.

Laura didn’t write her first book until she was in her 60’s. While she had written pieces for the local paper, it was Laura’s daughter who encouraged her to write her stories. Rose Wilder Lane had lived all over the country and become a rather well-known writer at the time. She moved home and during those years worked with her mother to create the Little House books. How much Rose was involved is a question surrounded by mystery and much speculation. While some surmise that Rose was a creative partner with her mother, Rose firmly insisted until her death that she had simply been the catalyst who encouraged her mother to get her words down on the page.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Rose Wilder Lane

No matter how the Little House books were born, there is no doubt that their stories have become a beloved feature in our canon of children’s literature.

Laura talked about writing these books as she watched the world changing and losing those things she had loved about her childhood. She wrote to remind us of the simpler times and to paint a picture of a world that she valued and thought had something to teach us.

Her stories are simple, but in their simplicity, they are profound because they are about real people living real lives, and nothing is more profound than life. Her accounts wrestle with the human experience from the perspective of a child, a perspective that is not easily captured.

But perhaps most importantly, Laura wrote what she knew.

As a writer I often think about that scene in Little Women when Jo is trying to write fantastical romances and Professor Bear kindly encourages her to write what she knows. I understand Jo’s disappointment in that dramatic scene. I want to think that my stories will be more than my life.

But over the years, I have learned that Professor Bear’s sage advice does not limit me to only telling what I have lived, but it does help me ground my writing and characters in emotions and truths that I can connect with and hopefully my readers can too.

I think that is what Laura did remarkably well. Her childhood during those years was not unique, and it could have been easy for her to dismiss her own life as usual or mundane. But it was the way that she used stories to create a world and share her understanding of those years that readers have engaged with for years.

Original Book Cover for the First Edition of Little House on the Prairie

The visit to Laura’s house was about Laura and her adorable writing room with a fainting couch and a living room with the best window seat ever, but there was no escaping the concurrent story of Rose and her encouragement.

Without that part of the story, we may have never had the opportunity to reflect on a child’s life on the plains all these years later.

Laura teaches us that writing what we know can be precious and insightful and allow readers to connect to truths across time and geography.

She also is a great example that writing can be wonderful at any age.

And Rose, well, she is a reminder to thank those who have encouraged us to write and to encourage those around us.  It was kind of an amazing thought that without someone I never heard of, there might not be the Little House books.

Laura’s homestead is definitely worth a visit.  The home is beautiful, and learning about the way that the stories came to be is inspiring.  Go here for more information about how to visit her home.  http://lauraingallswilderhome.com

If you can’t make it to Mansfield, I also really enjoyed the video Beyond the Prairie with lots of great stories about Laura’s life.

Here’s to writers who write their truth and the people who encourage them along the way.

 

Have you visited Laura’s homestead?  What motivates you to write?   Where do your stories come from? Who has been instrumental in your writing life?  

 

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Why I Don’t Tweet (Much): Confessions of a Low-Tech Writer

I am not someone who shuns social media. I’ve been on Facebook forever, and I also recently began to use Instagram.  While the idea of a relatively text-free interface was a little strange at first, I found that I loved getting to display moments and have a snapshot of my life curated on one page. (And you can follow me here @bawriting.)

I have tried Twitter and heard of Snapchat and Periscope and Google+, and I have a Pinterest and a LinkedIn account, but I am not a regular contributor to any of these platforms for one very simple reason.

I have a limited amount of creative energy.

Writing is a creative enterprise.

It is an endeavor that requires my attention and focus and even the space that I leave empty in the back of my brain just to work on ideas when I’m cooking.

Writing is also generative process.

If I were just a writer who thought about ideas and characters and concepts, but I never generated actual written work, then I would be an ideaer and not a writer.  I have to create and produce, and as much as I love it and even in those moments when words flow and the creativity feels great, it is still costly. It takes time and effort and space in my soul.

 

I found years ago that the energy I expended trying to be clever on Twitter or curate articles and keep my account fresh or the process of engaging with others in those spaces robbed me of creative energy and time to generate writing.

This is not to say that I don’t waste time.

I do. Like a lot of people, I watch too much on Netflix, and I scroll through Facebook and Instagram like a robot when I’m in line at the post office.  I take time to grab pics for my Insta, and I try on occasion to share funny happenings on my FB.

My goal with media accounts has been for me to own them, rather than for them to own me.

It’s a difficult balance to strike.  I don’t always keep them up to date, and if I need to write, I might go dormant on either platform.

With Twitter, I felt that the pace and expectations were more, the content was harder to create, and the interactions were exhausting.  That being said, I do tweet a little bit, just to keep my presence alive.

Most people will tell you as a writer that you need a platform.

I resisted this reality for years.  I felt that the processes of creating and feeding the monster that I thought was a platform would rob me.

But I have come around a little.

If you want people to read you, you do need a platform.

You need a place for people to find you.

 

But that is it.

You do not need to win the internet.

You do not need to run 57 platforms.

You do not need to forget what you are doing while you “media.”

 

Maybe Twitter is easy for you.

Maybe you don’t enjoy Instagram.

Maybe you dislike them all and you designed a splash page with your name and email and a picture of your book.

You have to find what works for you.

 

Remember the goal and why you are engaging in media.

Remember that it is not about creating content but creating.

Don’t let creating your content and online self become a bear and  replace the time you could spend creating and being yourself.

What media platforms do you use? Do you find some easier and more enjoyable than others? Have you ever spent so much time creating content you didn’t have any time left to create? What advice would you give writers who are developing platforms?

 

 

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It’s All About Perspective

Over the weekend we took a little time to get out in nature and enjoy the quiet. Even though we live in the desert and our corner of it is pretty and peaceful, there is still something about heading down a dirt road into an expanse of untamed land.

The huge boulders are one of the amazing things to love about the desert. They come in a variety of shapes and are scattered in piles all over the landscape like Legos in a toddler’s playroom. While you can drive for miles through crazy Joshua trees with no boulders around, one turn, and you can come up on monstrous rocks ripe for the climbing.

It’s the juxtaposition of huge, smooth boulder piles and flat mesas dotted with spiny yuccas that defines this part of the desert, and we love it. There is nothing like clambering up the grippy rock to chill and watch the view and breathe in the quiet air.

This weekend, I was reminded about much perspective matters. I had climbed up into a shady spot of a boulder pile and was chilling out. It was a 100 degree day, so it was more suited to sitting still and observing than scrambling around on the rocks. In front of me was a view totally filled with other rock piles. Some of the rocks jutted up to the sky like fat arrows and others curved and fit together with the architectural precision brought about by years of weather and erosion. The shadows of the rocks to my back fanned out in front of me providing shade from the heat of the same sun that aided in painting the long grey obelisks at my feet and sending them out across the rocks. For the those moments, my world was filled with rocks.

My hubs headed on a short walk and explored the rocks out in front of me. He climbed some of the piles and then came back to sit with me in the shade. When we walked back to the car, I turned to look at the rocks I had been sitting on, one cluster among many, hardly unique.

It wasn’t until we got home that I saw this picture. He had taken it from the rocks in front of where I was sitting. And the amazing thing about the picture is that it looked completely foreign to me.

I had had no idea that the backdrop to the rock pile I was on was a valley of open space. I didn’t realize that that pile almost sat alone at the edge of the other piles and that there was emptiness all around it. My view into the rocks was cozy and close, but the one behind me was extensive and sweeping.

I could not see a complete view of my place in the world at that moment because of my perspective.

It got me thinking…how much does perspective factor in to the way that I see my life? How does it affect my view of the world, and how does it influence the things that I write?

The stark contrast of what I had seen during my day and the way that this picture captured the moment was a great reminder that my view is only one view. Both what I had seen that day and this picture are valid representations of the afternoon, but maybe sometimes it’s worth considering the way that my perspective is fundamental to what I can see in any moment.

Have you ever seen a picture that challenged your perspective?  In what ways have you experienced perspective shifts in your life?

 

 

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Trusting Yourself on Days You Can’t Write

Sometimes when I try to write, it feels like this grey, stormy sky.  It feels like there should be a lot going on, like words should  be raining down around me, but in reality I have a head full of cloudy quiet.

In those moments, I am tempted to make myself write…to just get the words out on the page.  And sometimes, I think that works fine.

But there are other moments when I give myself permission to sit in the quiet and wait.

I know that I can’t always force the words to come.

I can write and see if they begin to flow, but if they don’t, then maybe it’s not a day to write.

Maybe I need to get out and eat an amazing salad or see a beautiful tree or listen to an awesome song.  Perhaps I need some sleep or a little caffeine.  There is a chance I need a break.  Or some inspiration.

But what I always need is trust.

That is hard when the sky is quiet and the words are held up in the clouds.

Creativity is not a mechanism or a machine.  It is not something I can push and pull and contort to my own will. While it takes dedication and focus and practice, it also takes quiet and listening and feeling and being.

I have learned on those days when the words seem a little further away, that I need to let myself enjoy life, breathe, listen, and wait patiently for their return.

Do you ever have a hard time writing?  What do you do on those days when the words do not flow?  What are some things you do to get the juices flowing?  Let us know below.  

 

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