I know many of you want to write a book, or at the very least, have a regular writing practice. I also know that way too many of you are struggling to make it happen. Creating, developing, and maintaining a writing practice requires both intention and attention. It also requires a whole lot of self-love. Making a few tweaks to your thinking could very well make all the difference and set you on your way to not just starting—but finishing—that book that’s been rumbling around in your mind and heart for way too long.
Think of it as an investment in yourself.
I always tell my clients and workshop participants that honoring our impulse to write and create is an act of self-love.
I believe this impulse to create is our life force wanting to move and flow, and when we stifle it, we experience dis-ease on mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. Living in the modern (read: capitalist) world puts most of us to the test when it comes to honoring our creativity—and sometimes even recognizing it.
To truly tend to our own precious minds, hearts, souls, and spirits, we must tend to our creative impulses and invest in ourselves.
So, how can you invest in yourself when you want to write a book?
Privilege your writing practice in your mind.
Make it as important to your day as all the responsibilities you make time for on a regular basis. Instead of thinking I’ll get to my writing after I’ve taken care of X, Y, and Z, think I’m going to write XX days each week (or XX hours or XX pages).
Let people who are close to you know that you’ve made a decision to privilege your writing. Tell them what you need from them to make it happen. Time? Space? Quiet? Respect?
Give it space—in your day, on your calendar, and in your home.
Change some habits if you need to. Reduce time spent on social media, TV, and shooting-the-breeze phone conversations to create more time in your days. It all adds up.
Mark it on your calendar and treat it with respect. If you had a doctor’s appointment for yourself, for one of your kids, or for your pet… or a meeting at work, you’d remember it, you’d plan the rest of your day around it, and you’d show up for it.
Designate a spot in your home as your private, personal writing space where no one else is allowed. If you’re not able to do this, find a time when the people you live with are out of the house or asleep. Or find a place outside your home where you can write. If you don’t need quiet, coffee shops and pubs are great places to hole up and let the words flow (and you’ll be supporting local business at the same time!). If you do need quiet, head to your local library and find a quiet corner (some libraries even allow you to reserve a separate room to use for a specified period of time).
Get a new writer’s notebook.
Think of this notebook as a place for you to jot down your ideas and thoughts—about your writing—that drift in and out of your brain as you go about your day, as you’re drifting off to sleep, or when you first wake up in the morning. If you’re a journaler, you can keep doing that, but in a separate notebook. A writer’s notebook and a journal are two different things.
“Reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” So says Annie Proulx. Read books in the same vein as the one you want to write. Read books that are different from the one you want to write. Read short fiction. Read non-fiction. Read novels. Read poetry. There’s something to learn from them all.
View yourself as a writer.
Instead of seeing yourself as a parent or an employee at a company or organization who wants to write, see yourself as a writer who happens to also be a parent and/or an employee. And if you’ve yet to be published, it doesn’t make you less legit than people who have been published.
If it helps, use a mantra. Say I am a writer over and over in your thoughts throughout the day. Or writing is not a luxury. Or writing is an act of self-love. You’ll start to believe it.
Know that it’s a mind game.
So much of the act of getting the words on the page—is all in the mind. When we can think about writing differently, we can show up for it and give the creative impulse inside us the respect it deserves.
What can you do to move your writing practice further up your list of “Important Things To Do”?
“Writer’s block” is a widely embraced ideology, not just in writing circles, but in time-honored narratives around the writing process. We don’t hear about painter’s block or composer’s block or dancer’s block. While painters, composers, and dancers may, indeed, experience periods of time when the flow of their work is more challenging than usual or when it comes to a halt, writers are the only creative demographic that get a name for this struggle.
Fear of what they don’t yet know—the subconscious can be a scary place until we make friends with it, and rooting around in one’s own darkness can unveil all kinds of startling discoveries.
Fear of what they already know—we’re indoctrinated at a very young age to fall in line with cultural norms. When we don’t shame is a significant detractor in being true to ourselves.
Fear of what others will think—our need to be accepted and not abandoned is an inherent human need.
I had a conversation with a group of writers the other day about feeling that tug of holding back when writing, thinking about what other people—family members, in particular—will think.
Not wanting to make waves and jeopardize our connection with our Tribe—our connection with the people who gave us life and shaped us: parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—is understandable. Our history can feel like a lifeline, and our culture tells us these blood ties should be maintained at all costs.
But I disagree.
Virginia Woolf wrote about the angel in the house in her paper, “Professions For Women.” According to Woolf, the angel was the voice of society that sits on the shoulder of every female writer with its great white wings and whispers in her ear about what was acceptable and not acceptable for a woman to express on paper. She wrote about killing her angel by clocking it in the head with her ink well.
One of the first things I do when I work with clients and students is ask them to write a letter to their angel—or angels (some of us have many). The purpose of this letter is to create a story that allows for the killing of the angels so the writer is free to move forward with her writing project, unfettered of the ignorant, uninformed, narcissistic yammerings of the voices inside her head, which usually belong to the writer’s culture and/or family.
I can tell you from experience that doing this exercise will piss you off and getting pissed is essential to not caring, a skill all creative people, and maybe especially writers, must acquire.
“Why get pissed?” you might ask.
Every time someone reacts to your words, every time someone whines or shames or cries or yells at you for what you’ve written or what you’re in the process of writing, it is an attempt to silence you. They may not see it that way, but it is.
And if that doesn’t royally piss you off, it should. It should offend you. It should rile you. It should make you want to come out punching and jabbing, metaphorically, of course. And what better way to punch and jab at the world and its attempts to keep you in its tidy little box—so no one has to feel uncomfortable, so no one has to encounter a truth other than their own—than to use your exquisite voice?
This isn’t easy, especially when we love the people who react to our work. If a stranger calls me out on my content, I really don’t care. If someone I love calls me out on my content, I still don’t care (which is different from not caring about the person), but there’s the complicated tug of knowing someone I care about isn’t able to take in my work, isn’t able to celebrate the thing that means the most to me. Ultimately, it means that they aren’t able to see me.
It’s a shame, to be sure. But hear me now, dear writer. We are not here to pet the boo boos of others. We are not here to hide ourselves so other people can maintain the comfy little personal world they’ve created for themselves. We are here to utilize the gift we were born with—to use words to make meaning of life, and in doing so, to make the world a little bit better.
A family member once accused me of “making fun” of our family. The piece they referred to was actually doing the opposite—honoring what I come from and realizing that, despite my attempts to “rise up” and out of the blue-collar existence, I had, in that moment, come full circle and found myself square in it: cleaning houses for a living with four college degrees. Oh, the irony.
A friend once wrote to me and said, “I’m worried about you,” when she read a blog post I wrote that discussed the certainty of death. How gauche of me.
And I’ve had family members experience anxiety when they believed my stories hit too close to home, when they believed they recognized themselves or other family members in the writing.
As Ann Lamott once wrote, “If people wanted you to write warmly of them, they should have behaved better.” AMEN.
Part of this problem comes from non-writers not understanding how a writer’s mind works, how the creative process—specific to writing—works. They don’t understand the spark that may, in fact, come from a lived experience can morph into a fictional story about a fictional character who is not the writer or the writer’s child or partner or ex-partner or parent or whomever the hell. They don’t understand that while we may—oftentimes, subconsciously—model characters after real-life people, we’re not writing about the actual people. We’re likely making sense of our lived experience that could, possibly, include someone else’s stupid bullshit behavior.
A friend, also a writer, once told me a story about a writer friend of hers who published her first novel. She was nervous about her mother seeing herself in the shrewish mother in the story. When her mother read the novel, she did see herself… but not in the mother. She saw herself in the kind and loving aunt. So, it seems that people will see themselves in our work the way they see—or what to see—themselves in life. They will feel exposed by our work no matter what we do. Bottom line: We’re all narcissists to some degree. Some people want to put themselves at the center of our world. They can’t imagine this not being so.
Not all resistance is to our writing is about perceived exposure, though. Sometimes, it’s because we’re touting beliefs that run counter to what we were taught. In my mind, this is very simply, a phase of growing up. Of individuating.
When I teach my Writing Through the Body™ workshops and we discuss the traits and expressions of the Root Chakra, we talk about how sometimes the Tribe doesn’t have the capacity to allow the individuals within it to transform into their own unique persona. Sometimes, this requires breaking from the Tribe in some way.
In the workshops, we’re applying these traits and expressions to characters, but they apply to us as well. (In fact, they applied to us first.)
The truth is: people will do what they do, and they’ll think what they think. Our job is to mine the narratives of our lived experience to make meaning of the human condition. Nobody said it would always be pretty. Nobody said it would always be fun. But one guarantee is that when we have the courage to step out of the tiny, suffocating box our culture and our family has constructed for us, when we have the courage to set our bizarre, ghastly, taboo, crazy, kinky, beautiful thoughts free, they have a chance to find connection with other people who have the same bizarre, ghastly, taboo, crazy, kinky, beautiful thoughts, we find our people. Because it’s very possible that the people who brought us up, who shaped our identities are not, in the end, our people.
If you’re faced with the fear of offending family, making someone mad, or hurting someone’s feelings, try this letter writing exercise.
Write a letter (BY HAND) to each voice.
Give the voice a name and a shape. (If you can put a live person to the voice, use them, or if, after reading the rest of the exercise below, you aren’t comfortable doing that, make up a name and give it a shape. It can be anything.)
Describe to the voice what it says that stops you.
Tell the voice how this affects you.
Tell the voice what it takes from you.
Tell the voice why you won’t allow it to stop you anymore.
Tell the voice what you’re going to do to stop it.
Write, in great detail, a descriptive passage of you squelching the voice—killing the angel in the house. Be as graphic as you like. No one will see this but you.
Finish with a “now that you’re gone” passage. What will your writing life look like moving forward?
Give a try and let me know in the comments how much weight you shed. I’m pulling for you, creative soul.
I’m off now to write something that will bring discomfort to someone, somewhere.
As you’ve probably read from me before, I think Mercury Rx gets a bad rap. Sure, this frequent (4x/year) planetary event can wreak havoc on communication of all kinds, technology (including our computers and cell phones), travel plans… and more. But it’s also a good time to slow way down (maybe even stop), reflect, rethink, reassess, revise…
This one went retrograde on 12/29, and it’s in practical, over-achieving Capricorn. So, think: order and organization, reviewing and redoing—to get it right. This Rx will go a long way in helping us all recalibrate and return to lapsed projects, as well as providing us with the time and head space to reconsider how we might achieve goals and complete projects in the months ahead.
So… if you have a writing project that’s gathering dust, or if you finished one and could use a little time to reread and polish before you start submitting it to publications or querying agents, now’s the time.
Here are five tips to help your writing practice and get 2023 off to a satisfying start:
Remember your body—As I’ve written many times, writing is a whole body experience, so now is a great time to get back in touch with your unique physicality and give it what it needs. To start with, incorporating a writer’s walk into your day is a great way to clear your mind. When you tend to your vessel in this way, it will repay you with not only the benefits of low-impact exercise, but it will also maintain the flow of your creative life force (your chi). Read “Five Non-Negotiable Must-Dos to Maintain the Health of Your Writerly Body and Soul.”
Recommit to you—It’s way too easy to get distracted from our creative impulses and goals. Living in a capitalist culture, which is designed to direct our focus to working for others to survive (and support their growth in the process), it takes a warrior spirit to keep a clear eye on your own creative projects. If you have the impulse to create—whether it’s writing or some other artistic form or medium—it’s a sign that the world is responding to your innate abilities and asking that you add to the profound life energy that moves in, through, and around us every day. And as I have always told my clients, when you honor your impulse to write, it’s an act of self-love. Read “Want to write? Invest in yourself.”
Reassess your writing goals—Sometimes, we start a project and find ourselves stuck, unable to move forward. It could be that we need a break from it to give it time to reshuffle in our brains and our hearts. It could also be that it’s a project that we can let go of—if not indefinitely, at least for now. Give yourself the compassion and latitude to put projects to rest when they—and you—need it. Read “The Power of Slowing Down to Create.”
Rethink how you spend your time—Getting caught up in our day-to-day routines can happen slowly and insidiously because the afore-mentioned capitalist culture we all live in can keep us distracted, even numbed. Carve out a few hours and take the time to plot out a new approach to your minutes, hours, days… Let go of unhelpful habits that interfere with your time and ability to write… Read “Why You Aren’t Writing — Reason #4.”
If taking on all five of these tips feels overwhelming, pick one or two. Starting somewhere is starting… And it’s what we have to do if we want to finish.
Wishing you a fulfilling and productive writing life in 2023.
Miranda stood in the attic surrounded by cobwebs and old cardboard boxes. Dust balls itched her nose, and the cold, damp air made her shiver. Aunt Minna was on her knees hunched over an open box. “I thought since you’re here, you might as well get some of your things,” she said. “I’ll box them up for you. If you can’t get it all on the plane, we can mail everything before you leave.” She held up a doll with orange matted hair and no clothes. It winked, its left eye stuck shut. “Was this one yours or Elizabeth’s?”
“Elizabeth’s,” said Miranda. “The head fell off mine. We threw her out.”
Miranda had broken the head off her doll in a rageful fit when she was seven. She was in her room stifling an outburst, the reason for which she couldn’t remember now. A scream gathered inside her. She pounded her bed with her fists until her wrists hurt. She spotted her doll lying on her pillow next to a small brush and comb from earlier that day when she and Elizabeth had been playing beauty parlor with their matching dolls. Miranda’s lay on its back, its eyes stuck in a stare at the ceiling. Stupid doll, she thought. Laying there, doing nothing. She grabbed the doll by the legs, banged the back of its head on the wooden bed frame until it popped off and rolled across the floor, its dead stare aimed at Miranda. She cried and cried, did her best to reattach the head to the body. I’msorryI’msorryI’msorry.
Though Miranda couldn’t name it as such, the incident embedded a deep, searing shame in her, and it stayed with her, hidden beneath other unidentified emotions, tucked in her many layers. It was the same feeling she’d had when Aunt Minna found her and David “playing doctor” behind the chicken coop, or when Uncle Frank found her pressing her young body against Jack, the hired help, ten years her senior.
Now, it crept up on her, slow and gradual, the way day turns to night. Standing there in the attic, Miranda shrunk. Her edges shriveled, leaving her tiny and new inside.
Aunt Minna opened more boxes, retrieving baby hats and sweaters, small books, crayon drawings of stick figures with I LOVE YOU scrawled by a shaky hand. Inside one box with MIRANDA written across the corner of a flap, they found an old, broken Oriental fan Miranda hadn’t been able to throw away for some sentimental reason she couldn’t remember now, a plastic change purse full of fake foreign coins, a pop bead necklace, a 1973 calendar saved with the intent to frame the pictures of mountains, and the kaleidoscope Uncle Frank won at the Illinois State Fair in Canton the summer Miranda was nine.
She pulled the black cylinder from the bottom of the box and put it to her eye. The light from the bare overhead bulb was too dim to illuminate the colored chips inside.
“You just loved that thing,” said Aunt Minna.
Miranda moved to the window at the far end of the attic, passing through a spider’s web. She dragged the sticky strands from her hair and off her face and wiped them on her jeans. At the window, she put the tube to her eye and turned it. The plastic jewels tumbled against each other, taking shape, then changing again with the slightest move. Their colors were not as luxurious as she had remembered from years before when she sat on her bed until daylight disappeared, mesmerized by the changing colorful designs that formed and fell away. She thought it unfortunate that we can’t bottle moments of pleasure from our childhoods to consume years down the road when we need them because she could use something like that now.
She held her stomach, and a heavy pressing ache in her head grew. “I don’t feel very well,” she said. “I think I need to lie down.”
Hand-drawn illustrations New Moon in Libra Dianthus | Love and appreciation
She dusted the mantle and the bookcase, vacuumed the musty carpet, and gathered and stacked the ever-present books, papers, and colored pencils. Next to the defunct fireplace in her living room, she placed a few pumpkins she had bought at the Farmer’s Market as autumn decor, alongside the bunch of dried wheat stalks, resting in a bronze barrel-shaped canister. She washed her sheets and pillowcases and remade the bed, her toe grazing the remnants from a midnight snack she had slid beneath it, a plate with a cellophane cracker wrapper and a dried streak of hummus, which she took to the kitchen, then set to work on a flower arrangement. She poked orange chrysanthemums and bright, yellow black-eyed Susans with a few wisps of purple fountain grass for effect into a half-full vase of water she had treated with sugar and vinegar to maintain the bouquet’s freshness. This would go on the nightstand next to her bed where David would sleep, along with a couple of books: The Essential Rumi and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Humming a non-descript tune with no form, she worked on a second arrangement for the kitchen, plunging the cut stems from a batch of deep maroon dianthus into a tall vase of the treated water, their spicy clove scent mingling perfectly with the warm honey fragrance of the sweet alyssum she used as filler. She wiped down and cleared the kitchen table of graph paper and colored pencils, a twist tie from a bread sack, and a stack of random flyers she had gotten in the mail, which she tossed into a paper bag to be taken down to CU’s new recycling center in Boulder, and placed the vase in the center of the table.
She heard gravel pop beneath slow-moving tires. Her heart stuttered a couple of beats, and she headed for the front door with happy conviction. She opened it wide just as David stepped out of the beat-up Toyota Corolla, packed to the roof with his worldly belongings. He stood and stretched, then turned when he heard Miranda say, “Hey, little brother.”
A giant smile graced his weathered face, and he opened his arms wide. She ran right into them, and as he folded them around her, he said, “Hey, big sister.”
She breathed in his smell: deodorant overpowered by the tang of sweat, a faint scent of laundry detergent, and a thin trace of weed smoke, all laced with his natural pheromones, the vapors of their familial DNA mixing and mingling between them, within them, and in the ethers around them. She rested her cheek on his chest, his strong arms around her, her eyes warming with a tinge of moisture.
Her mother appears again, behind David. Her father has come along this time. He leans against the trunk of a tall Douglas fir. Her mother sits on the large, rounded rock at its base. They smile at Miranda. It has been months since her mother last appeared, and Miranda had since written her previous visits off as the result of a grief-addled brain. She inhales a jagged breath at the sight of them.
“You alright?” asked David, his arms still around her.
Miranda nodded as her parents faded. “You smell like Daddy,” she said.
David gave a little “Hm” in acknowledgement, not remembering their father himself. Miranda knew this from discussion they’d had at various junctures in life, Miranda hoping that as David aged, he would recall some small thing—a laugh, a touch, a scent—that would bring them back to him.
“I was too young,” he had said many times over.
A strange, small wave of jealousy passed through her. If only she had not remembered them the way David had not remembered them, maybe the depth of her loss would have been less. When she finally let go of him, he said, “No wonder you love it here. This is fucking beautiful.”
“Wait until you see out back.” She grabbed his hand, pulled him inside and across the living room, into the kitchen, and out to the deck, him scanning the interior as he passed through, noting the smell of fresh-baked zucchini bread. She opened the back door and presented the lake.
“Holy shit,” he said, hands on his hips. He took in the still, sparkling body of water and the surrounding trees, awestruck. His expression changed, and he looked at Miranda. He put his arm around her. “You okay?” he asked.
She leaned her head against him. “I’m okay,” she said. “Better now that you’re here.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch,” he said. “I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. Must’ve been hell for you.”