The Reason You Aren’t Writing #2

In a recent post, I talked about the #1 reason I hear people give for not writing. In this post, we’re looking at another common reason for not writing: not being able to stay with the writing and go deep with an idea, character, or scene. Some people call the ability to do this FLOW.

It’s not uncommon for people to carve out the time, then sit down at their desk or go to a coffee shop with the best of intentions, only to find themselves unable to locate the next nugget they can use to move their story forward.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote that being in flow means “…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

We’ve all experienced flow, and it feels amazing, right? And because we’ve felt it at times makes it even more frustrating when we can’t get there again. The truth is, we won’t float off into flow state every single time we sit down to write. Or at least, we ought not count on it.

There’s a trick to help with this, and most – if not all – of us know about it, yet we rarely do it.

Freewriting.

The next time you’re sitting, staring at a blank page or screen, uncertain about where to begin, do this freewriting exercise, and use the prompt at the end of this post.

With this in mind, let’s have a go at it.

If you’ve forgotten the rules of freewriting, here they are.

  • Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  • Write non-stop. Don’t let the pencil or pen leave the page until the timer goes off (and yes… you have to do this the old-fashioned way with pencil/pen and paper and not at the keyboard. Don’t ask me to explain because I can’t, but when we write by hand, something different happens in our brains).
  • Give yourself permission to not know. If you get stuck, simply write something like “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write.” Eventually, something new and unexpected will replace it. (It’s only 10 minutes. Try it!) Again… magic.
  • Don’t worry about perfection. Just let it all out. Spelling and punctuation be damned!
  • Envision a garden hose. Think about the first time you turn on the hose in the Spring. It’s full of dirt, webs, and bugs that have made the hose their home. Turning on the water flushes out all the “stuff,” and eventually, clear, clean water flows. That’s what free writing does for your writer’s brain. Flushes, cleans, and primes the creative pump. Think of this as a mini version of flow.
  • Dry, rinse, and repeat as needed throughout the day, week, month, year… the rest of your writing life.

Before you get to work on the short story, novel, script, memoir, or whatever gem you’ve got going, do some freewriting. Even if you aren’t stuck, freewriting is a great warm-up for your regular writing practice. Think of it as priming the creative pump to enable flow. Words you didn’t know were knocking around in your brain will flow right out your hand and onto the page. Really. It’s magic.

Here’s your prompt: As soon as she turned the corner and saw it, she remembered why she had come.

After you’ve completed the writing exercise… head over to the Writing Through the Body™ Writers Group on Facebook and let us know how it went. You don’t have to share what you wrote (unless you want to, of course!), but let us know what the process was like. Tell us what poured out onto the page that allowed you to create something new or add to your in-progress work. (AFTER you’ve written it, of course…) 🙂

I can’t wait to hear how it went!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Reason you aren’t writing #1

WTB_EBook_Welcome

I’m sure your days are full (otherwise, that book or writing project would be finished by now, yes?).

Let’s think of ways to build writing time into your busy life.

But first, I have two requests.

1) Please avoid putting pressure on yourself to write every day. If it isn’t possible, it simply isn’t possible. And getting two pages each week is better than no pages, right?Take some time to think about how you spend your days. When do you wake up? When do you go to bed? What do you do in between those times? If you have a job and/or a family, chances are, there are plenty of other people wanting and needing your time.

2) Please don’t put yourself last on the list! As you read in the Intro to Writing Through the Body™ eBook (and if you haven’t, sign up for my email list and it’s my gift to you), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term and concept of flow, says—in a nutshell—when we achieve flow, we experience happiness. So—in the interest of your happiness—please stop viewing writing as a luxury or a frivolous desire that you’ll fit in after all the “important” items on your To Do List have been taken care of.

I know from experience that that day will never come if YOU
don’t make it a priority.

You must make a point of privileging your writing
and sharing your brilliant ideas with the world.

Of course, your job or your clients need your attention, as do your important relationships, and if you have kids of a certain age, they still need your help, BUT there are ways to make time to honor the gems in your fabulous, creative brain, extract them, and transform them into stories and characters that will touch people, affect people, and create positive change in the world.

Which brings me to Time Banking.

Time Banking is like saving money, only with time.

First, track how you spend your time for at least TWO DAYS (a week is even better). Be as exact as possible. If your life doesn’t allow a minute-to-minute accounting of your days, get as close to 15-minute segments as possible. Pay attention to the amount of time you spend cooking, doing dishes, taking care of other people, phone conversations, watching TV/Netflix/YouTube, social media, at the job, driving, etc.

Then, begin to sort out which items are absolutely essential, and which are not.

For instance, a few suggestions:

1) If you’re spending a fair amount of time cooking every day, how can you cut down on that time? Can you do bulk cooking on the weekends and store it for use all week? Can someone else at home take care of clean-up throughout the week?

2) If you find yourself mindlessly sucked into Facebook, Instagram, or some other social media platform on a regular basis, give yourself an allowance. As with changing any habit, if we attempt to go cold turkey, it usually backfires. So… allow yourself your indulgences, but plan for them: 3 times per day, 5-10 mins. each time. That’s a total of 15-30 mins. FOMO be damned! Your life will be no less rich if you miss a few random posts. Promise. (In fact, it might be richer if you do.)

3) If you watch a lot of TV, Netflix, YouTube, or some other such outlet (I know I do), shorten the amount of time each day, or allow yourself a one- or two-hour viewing session 3-4 times per week. Or avoid watching all week and indulge in a little binge watching over the weekend. Set a pre-determined amount of time and stick to it! Set a timer if necessary. It will always be there…

4) Do you have a friend or family member who likes to call you and strike up lengthy phone conversations just to shoot the breeze, gossip, or complain? If so, ask yourself if this is truly a good use of your time. Think of all the writing you could be doing, all the words and ideas you could be unloading in the time this uses. If this is one of your time stealers, do what you can to enlist your friend’s/family member’s support in helping you realize your writing dreams. (If they care about you, they won’t want to continue to abuse your time this way.)

Then, after you’ve accounted for all your time and deconstructed your days, reconstruct it.

Make a plan to wake up at least 30 mins. earlier. It’s AMAZING what a quiet house can do for still-fuzzy morning brain. (For some people, this is the BEST time to write.) Or if you’re a night person, stay up at least 30 mins. later, after everyone has gone to bed. If you can’t do this every day, schedule it for 2-3 days/week. As I’ve said before, something is better than nothing. And when your brain gets accustomed to its new schedule…

Magic will unfold.

Then… head over to the closed Writing Through the Body™ Writers Group and let us know what changes you made. Let us know how it’s going after a week, two weeks, or more…

Note: This is not a way to check up on you… it’s a way to celebrate your successes!

I’m pulling for you. I want you to write! And any change or progress you make—no matter how small it might seem to you—will be a gold star in my book!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Kate Spade – stories behind the stories

I know this is a little “late,” but there’s something about Kate Spade’s suicide… I just needed some time.

I really felt it on June 6 when I learned about her passing at her own hand. I have no deep connection to her. I don’t own one of her bags, and I really didn’t know anything about her or her company until I listened to the interview with her and her husband, Andy, on the podcast How I Built This a while back.

As a gritty, motivated entrepreneur, I listen to the podcast religiously. I find it inspirational, and so many of the stories I’ve heard there have inspired me to keep going and to believe that I, too, can build something notable, meaningful.

Kate and Andy Spade’s interview stayed with me. There was something about how they were together, and something about her, in particular, stuck. She had style. There was a sense of calm in her voice and an assured knowledge she possessed as a businesswoman.

The conversation with them created an image in my mind of their life, of her, of them together, and so when I read about her suicide, I was surprised. And saddened.

The precision, the class, the style of her products – of her presence… she brought a certain upscale sparkle to the world. She reminded us that aesthetics matter, that they aren’t frivolous, but necessities of life. Because when we surround ourselves with beautiful things – not for the sake of materialism, but because beauty touches us – our lives are enhanced, and our souls and spirits respond for the good.

Her passing – and the soon-after passing of Anthony Bourdain – made me think of the snapshots we have of each other’s lives. The way we see snippets that we think inform us of the whole of a person, when, in fact, what we know is really only a sliver of their world, much the way photographs work.

The still moment caught by an onlooker, the smiles, the seemingly joyous moments in life that may have been real in that isolated moment, are oftentimes a miniscule glimpse of the real story that lies beneath.

Like so many others, Kate Spade led two distinct lives. The one for the “camera” and the full one… the one embroidered in the variegated emotional colors of humanity striving to do its best, while feeling alone, deserted, desolate.

My fascination with the human condition and with human stories compels me to care about Kate Spade. About her husband, and now, especially, about her daughter. I want to know who Kate Spade was, what she was like, and I want to know about her struggles. I want to know her family. I want to know the woman behind the name change that came not long before she left this plane of existence.

Not in a voyeuristic or intrusive sort of way, but because I crave to hear, understand, and embrace the human condition and all its dark, messy – even dirty – corners… those places where the truth hides… the truths we hide from others and from ourselves.

And it makes me acutely aware that I need to check in on the people I care about regularly and ask them how they are… not in a passing sort of way but in a real way… no, how are you, really? Are you suffering? Can I help? Are you happy? About what? I want the details…

No doubt Kate Spade had people in her life who were concerned about her, and even though they may have reached out – even though we can reach out daily to the people we love – it’s no guarantee that we can stop them from doing what they’re going to do.

But we can form a bond with them based on real human connection. A bond that reverberates between worlds, between realms, and can maybe, possibly, serve as a healing balm in times of loss.

Border stories – helplessness and hopelessness

Every day, I’m appalled, disheartened, and sickened by the glimpses of stories I see in the news about families being separated at the border.

A large part of me resists even looking, but I can’t help but see the headlines, images, and videos when I get on social media to take care of business.

To resist – to turn a blind eye – feels wrong, yet reading, watching, and listening, leaves me feeling helpless and hopeless. It’s like watching your house burn to the ground and know that the raging flames are bigger than you and all the other people who’ve gathered to try and put out the fire.

I think about the stories. The stories of the families, the parents, the kids – some babies – and the enduring consequences these separations bring to them, their cultures, and our culture. These separations have set in motion the ripple effects of broken spirits and smothered souls that will reverberate far, far into the future.

The ignorance of the powers that be around trauma and separation are astounding – they clearly don’t see the deeply damaging impact of their actions. Or they don’t care.

It’s likely both.

I find myself fantasizing. I want to tell these border stories. I want to tell all of them. I want to meet these families and individuals, talk to them, and tell their stories. I want to put their faces and voices, sadness and heartbreak, dread and trauma front and center…

And then I think about how the impossibility of one single person without the means to make that a reality stands in the way. And I think about how it wouldn’t likely make a difference because we are in a state of such upheaval and disrepair, that any form of retribution on those who have created this atrocity – and continue to nurture it – as well as all the other atrocities that continue to unfold, feel beyond impossible.

And I feel helpless and hopeless all over again.

I don’t know the point of this post, other than to say that I feel this way. I don’t think I’m alone, but it sure feels that way.

Stories about strangers – writing to create connection with people, even if you never know them

I recently wrote about how strangers can enhance our writing, and I want to elaborate more on that here, based on scenarios I witnessed outside my apartment window over the course of a few weeks.

Here in Portland, we’re experiencing an epidemic in homelessness, and as a downtown dweller, I see the effects of this problem firsthand. Camps are frequently set up, then dismantled, in the two-block circumference surrounding my apartment.

Several weeks ago, a couple set up their tent right across the street from my four large windows that overlook a fairly main thoroughfare downtown. The city’s MAX train run right by, and during the day, there’s a pretty steady stream of cars. At night, the motorized traffic ebbs and I become more aware of foot traffic.

A few weeks back, I saw a couple pitch their bright blue tent, which took up about a 5′ x 7′ area, and they put out a small welcome mat. They left no footprint other than this. One morning, when I opened my blinds to start my day, I saw the man standing outside the tent wearing his usual dark grey, wool coat over a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt. A knitted tan beanie covered his head. The woman stepped out in a pair of colorful yoga pants and a hoodie, and she began to run a lint roller over his shoulders and down his back. The man picked up the walking stick that lay across their welcome mat every night – the walking stick that I imagined he had carefully crafted from a limb; it was perfectly carved and polished and it added another dignified dimension to his already dignified appearance – and he set off down the street.

Later that day, while I was riding the streetcar, I saw him on the corner looking for cans in the garbage, and later that day, I saw him return to their tent with a bag of groceries. I watched them share a granola bar and a bottle of water.

At this point in my observations (and I’m sure I’m starting to sound like a voyeur, of sorts), I couldn’t deny their humanity, the grace with which they lived each day (from the snippets I witnessed), and their pride in their home… and a story started to blossom in my mind.

I needed names for these two, maybe partly because that’s what the writer in me does… but maybe more as a way to give them some humanity – a need I had, not as the privileged bestower of something they already possessed. He looked like a Mark to me, and she, like a Maria. If you’re a writer, you might be able to understand what was happening here for me… my writer’s mind was forming a story – not out of exploitation, but out of seeking to feel a connection through a story. It’s second nature.

I considered, several times, leaving them a note – or telling them in person if they were home when I was outside – ‘thank you’ for being such good neighbors. They were quiet, respectful, clean, and tidy.

Over the course of these several weeks, I saw people stop by to socialize with them and move on. A new man showed up and pitched his tent next to theirs. His footprint was larger and more disheveled, and a few days later, the police came and arrested the man. They took him and a little plastic packet of something away – but not before going back to his site and collecting his shoes for him. Mark talked to the police, and from what I gathered, they were allowed to stay. I watched him tidy up his neighbor’s site and neatly cover it with blankets.

Within a couple of week’s time, another couple made the sidewalk across the street from me their home, right next door to Mark and Maria. They had more and they were loud. I could hear their voices through my opened windows, and I could see Mark talking with them, but his soft-spoken voice never made it across the street. By now, the weather had warmed, and he had shed his wool coat for a tan corduroy blazer and continued to walk the streets with his walking stick and have people over in the evenings – many of them much younger males. With his staff, long-ish white beard, and dignified presence, I imagined him to be the wise sage in the community.

I imagined him to be an artistic soul… a wood carver or a painter. And I imagined Maria to be a dancer. I imagined them living a creative life together for years until a series of events changed the course of their lives and put them on the streets. I imagined the effort it took to maintain the sense of dignity I saw in them, their quiet and poised presence. I wondered whether either of them had kids and if so, where they were. Maybe these two had been imperfect parents to the point of estrangement… I don’t know.

But if this were the case – if they had made such a mess of their lives that they found themselves alone (but together), sleeping in a tent on the cement in downtown Portland – they seemed to have a powerful aura of pride and self-respect about them. Maybe this quality they exuded was redemptive, and maybe the redemption came after year upon year of bad choices and missteps, or maybe they were victims of the system…

Eventually, the people who set up camp next to them brought chaos and clutter, and someone called the police, who came and made them all pack up and move. I watched Mark talk with the police, then set out to remove his and Maria’s belongings from the tent and pack them in a few knapsacks. I watched him dismantle their bright blue tent and roll up their welcome mat, and I watched them walk away down the sidewalk to find another spot they could call home.

A few days after they left, I was on my way to a meeting on foot, and I passed Mark on the sidewalk.I saw him coming toward me, and the impression I had of him through the window was doubled, tripled, quadrupled as he passed me. His weathered but kind face, his tired but kind eyes, an obvious sense of peace emanated from him.

I almost said something to him. I almost stopped him. But I didn’t. At that moment, I was at a loss as to what I’d say. I doubted my own ability to say anything to this man from my privileged position that wouldn’t come across as condescending or trite. (I think part of my one-sided connection to Mark and Maria was that I have had – many times in my life – the there-but-by-the-grace-of-God-go-I thought. I have felt close more times than make me comfortable…)

I let him walk on past and I have not seen him since. I still wonder what their real story is, and I kick myself for not stopping him to say something. I, as a person who values people’s stories so much, froze from fear. I failed to reach out and connect. I wish I knew their story, and I wonder what they would think of the one I created. Would they feel honored, insulted? Would they think it funny and naive that I even tried?

I still can’t explain my draw to these two, and I will likely always remember them as Mark and Maria, the homeless artist and dancer who live one day at a time and have found a way to experience grace and humility amidst daily uncertainty about their survival.

Maybe I’ll always think of them this way because to think otherwise might just break my heart.