Category: Writer Life

Writing Is…A Whole Lot of Getting Ready

It might be easy to think that writing is just about waking up to birds singing sweetly outside your window, grabbing a cup of organic coffee, reading the paper, and then sitting down in a pristine, perfectly decorated office and writing.  Dreamy, really.

Sometimes it can seem easier to do absolutely anything other than what you know you need to be doing.  Most of us have probably been at the “I have a project due” and “Boy, do I love cleaning toilets” corner once or twice.

Sometimes when I am putting off writing, it’s because I’m just stalling.  But I actually think that there may be some method in the madness.

 

We have very full lives and minds.

There is a lot going on in this modern world. I find that I am regularly juggling emails, projects, work, cleaning, business paperwork, exercise, feeding myself, making sure to check in with people, travel plans, and everything else that gets thrown in to a busy life. You have your own list, and I’m sure it’s quite full as well. All of those things hang out in our heads, reminding us to make sure we don’t miss paying bills on time, getting to doctor’s appointments, picking up kiddos from school, or meeting a friend for a much needed coffee.

But if you’ve ever tried to write or do serious creative work and thinking while all the things you need to do are swirling up in your brain, then you know that it can be very hard to even hear yourself think.

So what is a writer (or really any creative) to do?

You wouldn’t try to cook without a kitchen or the ingredients you need for a meal, and you wouldn’t train for a marathon without good shoes.

And I don’t think you should try to write without getting ready either.

You will never have everything done

and a perfect moment to sit down and write.

Just in case that’s what you are waiting for to get started writing, let me say that again…

You will never have everything done.

That’s ok.

Writing is not about having nothing else going on, but it is an endeavor worth taking seriously enough to prepare for.

What are the things on your list that are nagging at your brain that you could easily finish?

Could you get those done in predictable set amount of time and then have time to write?

If so, get the nagging things off your plate first.

What other steps could you take to create a calm thinking space?

For me, I have a tendency to pile up documents on my desktop until they are six deep, messy, and completely impossible to see and use. There is never a deadline for cleaning these up, but at some point, the mess gets so bad that it begins to bug me, and I want it clean.

If that desktop is bothering me to the point that I am thinking about it, then it might be worth taking some time to pick it up.

This is not time taken away from writing.

This is time spent creating a space and life to be a writer.

 

What are the things that you can actively and intentionally shelve?

Like I said before, you will always have things to do, but some are nagging and disruptive and others are all in a day’s work.

  • Make a list of the swirling to-dos in your head.
  • Read over them and come to peace with knowing that you have a list and you can reference it instead of keeping it all in your head.
  • Decide to let the list hold the busy space for you while you write.

This requires intention, and along those lines, perhaps it is helpful to be realistic and realize that you cannot pop a cone of silence over your head and your brain. New things may come to mind as you write, but keep your list handy and jot the things down, knowing that the list is there for you.

There is no doubt that physical space is another important part of getting ready to write which I will address later, but creating open mental spaces to think expansive, uncluttered thoughts is a good first step.

Now…off to clean my desktop.

 

 

How Our Words Define Us

It took me a long time to tell people I was a writer. I remember a few years ago when my writing jobs were few and far between, and I was much more actively a teacher and a graduate student. During that period of my life, every time someone asked me what I did, I know my face looked like I had just broken out of jail and was still holding the spoon that I used to dig out.

I would try to stumble through a career description that attempted to capture teacher/grad student/freelance /tutoring/etc. I was younger. I’m sure it was amusing for the people watching. I’d practice different versions on different people, hoping against all hope that in one of those conversations, I would discover what it was, exactly, that I did.

As you might suspect, clarity didn’t come in those moments. And then I decided to write more. And as I wrote, I would occasionally toy with the idea of adding writer to the list of things that I did, until one day, I realized that writing was most of what I did.

And yet, it seemed beyond presumptuous to me to say that I was a writer.

Why, I’m not exactly sure, but if you Google “when to say you are a writer,” you will see that I am not alone in this dilemma. #thestruggleisreal.  Maybe it’s because as a writer you do not usually work for a salary at a company and even if you are a staff writer for a magazine or something, there is still an air of the mysterious around the work. Maybe it is because we are afraid that to say “I am a writer” is to act like we are trying to join the ranks of Hemingway even though we have barely gotten started.

And then there is the whole “everyone can write thing,” so that tends to cut into the boundaries of the career definition. But I was writing, a lot, and I was even getting paid some to do it. And then I started teaching writing, and it got pretty real.

So one day, even before my book had officially hit the shelves, I started trying it out. At the time I was living in Los Angeles, so people were quick to ask if I wrote for TV and wanted details about the kind of writing that I did. LA was a wonderful place to venture out into owning being a writer, because in LA, it is a real job.

Incidentally, being a writer is a real job, but see above for #thestruggleisreal.

So I just started saying it. “I’m a writer.”

The first few times my voice was shaky and my head tilted toward the side while I waited for someone to call me out. I braced myself for the really? nod and smile that I was so afraid would follow my admission, but I found that when I said it like it was an actual thing, people believed me.

And then I kept writing, and I kept saying it, and one day, I realized that even I believed myself. People would almost always ask me what I wrote or the kind of writing I did, and for the most part, they were kind and interested, and it felt good to own my choice.

Writing enough to say that I was a writer was the first step in becoming one, but owning my career as a writer was an essential second step. When I trusted myself enough to say the words and identify that way, it was the catalyst that propelled me into growing as a writer.

Whatever you are and whatever you do, I think that owning your endeavors is such an important part of becoming your dream. There seems to be this cyclical reality that our actions create us and our words define us and the two work together to grow us into who we already are and who we want to be.

And the writer in me thinks those are pretty powerful truths.

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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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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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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8 Essentials for A Day of Writing

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee

Or tea masquerading as coffee

@chromeyellowtradingco in the ATL

Technology (with a side of coffee)

Sometimes I want to write on my computer, but there are certainly days when I really need paper and an awesome pencil to get my ideas down.  And then there are those days, where an iPad is perfect for jotting notes and creating images.  It also helps to have a sturdy bag to carry it all, and my Patagonia backpack is comfy with the right organization inside.  And the charging cords, never forget the charging cords.

 

Earbuds

These little guys get their own category.  You can always write on a random napkin with a borrowed pen if you forget everything else, but your earbuds, they are a lifesaver when your chatty coffee shop partners feel the urge to utilize speaker phone or the music is not your jam or you need to drown out the world to hear yourself think.

Writing Space

Where I write can make all the difference in the world.  This is why I can often be found traipsing around the greater Los Angeles area in search of the perfect coffee shop or writing space.  And then there are the spaces that we create in our homes.  Comfy chairs are always nice, and it never hurts to have a trendy giraffe looking over your shoulder.

 

A Nice View

This might be superfluous, but I do think that having nice views and nature and beauty help the creative juices flow.  Some days my nice views are spectacular, and sometimes they are just a little flower outside a window in the city.  They don’t have to be grand to be beautiful.

Inspiration

Writing is a creative process, and in that process, inspiration is always welcome.  Wether it be art or going for a bike ride or the perfect quote to remind you of your dreams, find inspiration that speaks to you and fuels your creative drive.

 

found @shophemingway in Silver Lake

Tunes

There are times that silence is golden for life and writing, but plenty of times, tunes focus me and help me feel my words.  I have different playlists for different types of writing.  Some are for deadlines. Others are for dreams.

Snacks

There is no doubt when I write that I can get lost in the words, but it’s important to remember to feed that brain and those fingers.  Snacks and meals can be a source of healthy nutrients, and if they are tasty and beautiful, they can also be inspiration.

@bellesbagels@urthcaffe

@donutfriend

What do you need when you write?  How do you stay focused and inspired?  Where do you enjoy letting the words flow?  Tell us in the comments what makes your writing day perfect.  

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