Category: Writing

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.

Project WritingIs…Grounding

Life is a little crazier than it’s normal brand of crazy this week, and this morning I got that itchy need-to-write feeling creep up in my chest which made me remember my #WRITINGIS project that, as promised, I have left hanging in the wind, forgotten in only one short week. But it’s nice to have it out there to come back to, so here I am with my ruminations on the page and my desire to write defining my morning while I let some tasks go unfinished for a little while longer.

And why? Why do I need to hastily untangle my ear buds to shove them in my ears and get typing? Why do I need to write right now? Why am I ignoring my phone and my email? And anyone trying to talk to me?

Because WRITING IS grounding.

In this moment, I need to remember who I am and what I am doing. I need to feel the careful pressure of the keys beneath my fingers while I breathe in deeply and remind myself that life swirls all around us and has a way of getting piled up and messy and as unmanageable as a toddlers curls are apt to be, and I need time to sit with it.

Sometimes in the crazy-busy, breathing is a healthy act of resistance, and writing reminds me to breathe.

It makes me stop.

It creates space.

You can only type so fast. You can only think so fast.

And when you write, you have to write something.

For me that something is sometimes

A word-laced root from my heart to the ground beneath my feet.

I watch the words emerge on the page, my breath fueling their creation, my mind settling into the rhythm of creating, my body feeling itself in this moment.

All the distractions and requests and lists pinging into my tired body are held at bay in this brief moment that I have carved out with the practice of putting words on the page.

It is a tiny reprieve, but it is a necessary one that reminds me about the rhythm of life and the need to be intentional about creating space and time and a connection to who I am and to what matters.

Writing does that for me. It lets me own my moment. It lets me use words to remember to feel my feet on the earth underneath me and to breath because #WRITINGIS so much, but for today WRITING IS grounding.

 

What is writing for you today?  Do you find writing to be grounding?  Follow along and let me know here and on instagram and twitter @bawriting with #writingis.

 

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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Accidental Writer: Debunking Myths of How Writers are Made

I used to think that I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t have a childhood full of notebook scribbling and books illustrated with crayons. I didn’t write stories until I was in college, and those certainly left something to be desired.

I’m also not one of those people who reads books all the way straight through. I have books strung out behind me in varying degrees of unfinishedness and many stay that way forever.

And I’m not an exceptionally adept grammarian, so there’s that.

So imagine my surprise when one day I woke up and realized that I was a writer. There were none of the signs, and yet, here I am.

It was important for me to let go of all of those ideas that I had about what it means to be a real writer. I hadn’t been training since childhood under my covers with a flashlight, and I wasn’t going to stumble into the field as a journalist or accomplished line editor. I love to read, but rarely in a straight line.

But I do love words—not so much vocabulary and lists and spelling—but the power locked up in unuttered words to describe the ways that we live and feel our lives.

And writing, it found me.

During a particularly turbid bout of change, I started thinking about an experience, one that challenged what I thought I knew and left me a little unglued at the edges. Every night when I laid my head on the pillow, I’d string those words together into blurry sentences and gauzy paragraphs until I fell asleep only to repeat the next night.

All this brain writing led to excessive tossing and a husband who lovingly encouraged me to go write everything down so that we could both get some sleep.

That was my first book. It’s still on my shelf. It’s personal and waiting.

But it was the push that I needed to know that I could write.

And the rest, as they don’t say, is my present and hopefully my future.

I write and teach writing and think about writing pretty much everyday. And people pay me to do it, which is pretty cool. But there are plenty of days when I still wonder how the words find me. Maybe that is the point. Maybe we write when we are ready, when we give up.   When we let our experiences leak out in black and white. I’m still not quite sure how it works, and despite all the mystery and a complete inability to correctly use a relative pronoun, I am, for the most part, one happy writer.

When did you know that you were a writer?  Did you have all the signs from childhood or was it an unexpected journey?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  




 

 

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