Category Archives: Writing

Rethinking My Morning Pages

morning pagesScribble, scribble – my morning pages

I’ve posted a few times recently about being stressed—and often not even knowing I’m stressed until I manifest physical symptoms. So I’ve been working on ways to help me deal with my stress.

Doing Julia Cameron’s morning pages is one of the things I’ve turned back to. The idea of the morning pages comes from Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way; the idea is to handwrite three pages of stream of conscious writing every morning, words which you will never go back to reread (so it’s nothing like a journal).

I’ve had great success in the past with morning pages, in terms of commitment—I did them for about an eight year period, during which I very rarely missed a day. I never reread any of them, either. I just kept them all in a stack, and when we moved to the city several years ago, I spent half a day putting all those pages through the shredder. (Not that I really had to. I could have just recycled them as-is. The picture above is a sample of one of my pages, and as you can see, it’s a scribbly mess.)

And I’m finding now they work really well for me when I’m stressed. Just the act of dumping all the things that are stressing me out—sometimes things I’m not even aware of until the words show up on the page—seems to provide the kind of relief I need. My day usually brightens up from there, and I feel lighter.

But I don’t feel the need to go to my morning pages all the time. I have mornings when I’m feeling inspired and motivated, which for me signals the start of a really great day. And I’ noticed something—on those days I put off doing my morning pages, and have to drag myself to do them. And then when I’m done, the inspired, motivated feeling is gone.

I say I “noticed” this, but what really happened was this: yesterday, while doing my morning pages (which I really needed, as I had a lot to unload), this observation spilled out as well. It took me by surprise, but when I examined it, I realized it was true.

The thing is, I did the morning pages for eight years. They felt magical to me. But the bottom line is, I never got anywhere closer to my dreams during the time I did them. In fact, I backtracked. I did hardly any writing at all. Those were my “lost” years when it came to writing, except I felt really productive, because hey, at least I was doing my three pages of stream of conscious, braindump it on the page writing every day.

Based on my past experience, I think I’ve figured out what works best for me. The morning pages are great for helping me let go of the stressors in my life. But it seems they also help me let go of inspiration and motivation, too. So I’m going to use them when I need them. And even though I don’t always know when I’m stressed, when I wake up in the mornings I can always feel if it’s going to be an inspired day, or if I’m feeling ho hum.

Those ho hum feelings? A sign that I’m stressed. And when it comes to blasting away those stressors, the morning pages are second to none.

Have you ever tried doing morning pages? How did they work for you?

Clickety Click Clack

Up until last week, I’d never even heard of a mechanical keyboard. But I receive Shawn Blanc’s newsletter (cause, you might remember, I love my newsletters) and one link lead to another and I found myself reading about Shawn’s clicky keyboard experiments.

So what’s a clicky keyboard? It gets a little technical (I can say this with confidence as I dived headlong into a number of technical pages as a result) but mechanical keyboards are often made with what’s known as Cherry MX switches, and the one many, many writers love is the  Cherry MX blue switch, which produces that distinctive clicky sound reminiscent of a typewriter. (To hear for yourself, check out Shawn’s post and scroll down to the section on the Das keyboard. There’s an audio file there for you to listen to. Doesn’t it sound lovely?)

I’ve always loved the sound of typewriter keys at work, so after some investigation and a day of hesitation, I decided to order myself the Das Professional Model S Mechanical Keyboard as my own Mother’s Day gift. It arrived today (I’ve never been good about being on time with gifts). I’m using it now and loving the sounds I’m making as I write this post.

And here’s a close-up of it on my keyboard tray (please ignore the crumb-filled state of said tray, which I’ve tried to crop out of the picture).

Das mechanical keyboard

It’s really easy to type on but will take some getting used to on my part because for the past ten years or so, I’ve been using the Microsoft ergonometric keyboard. The keys are placed a little differently on the ergonometric keyboard, so I’m making more mistakes as I type, but that should ease off as I get used to the keyboard. I’m also sitting further from my new keyboard so I can keep my wrists straighter, which is supposed to be better for them..

I read a few articles which said ergonometric keyboards don’t necessarily help prevent repetitive strain injuries (RSI), and so I’m hoping I’ll be fine with the switch. I’ve never had RSI before, and was using my ergo keyboard as a preventative measure since I do a boatload of typing. I’m really loving the sounds this new mechanical keyboard makes so I’m hoping my hands will enjoy it just as much. Also, I’ll probably switch back and forth, and continue to use my old one for my indexing work, which is where I normally do the bulk of my typing.

And the main reason I decided to get a mechanical keyboard? I’m hoping the sounds will give me an incentive to work on my fiction writing more. As a kid, I’d banged out page after page of short stories on a very very old manual typewriter my parents had found for me at a garage sale. It was one of those heavy, black Underwood models that used a spooled ribbon. Let me tell you, finding replacement ribbon for it wasn’t an easy thing! I have such fond memories of the clickety click sounds I made as I typed away. I figured it was worth trying to recapture the flow of those old days.

It sounds good to me … literally!

Wednesday Inspiration: A Mish-Mash of Stuff

Wednesday inspiration

I still haven’t settled into anything resembling a groove yet. My mom gets discharged tomorrow, though, and will be settling back into her place so hopefully things will get back to normal soon.

I’m spending a bit of time every morning reading stuff online, though—all those newsletters I get, right? And occasionally getting inspired. So I thought I’d share those mini-hits of inspiration with you all today.

I mentioned on Monday how much I love Austin Kleon’s newsletter. A while back, he shared what filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt said about his writing process, and the description just took my breath away:

“it’s like you’re floating in an ocean, and you want to build a raft. so you just float there and you wait and wait. and eventually this little piece of something comes drifting by, maybe a memory, and you hang on to it, and then another little piece comes around, it is unrelated, maybe it’s a funny sentence you overheard somewhere. and you keep collecting all these little things that just sort of drift by… a dream, a beautiful sentence in your head that just appeared while doing the dishes, an anecdote you stole from your old diary… and eventually you find connections between all the things and with all these parts you’ve gathered up you now have enough stuff to build a raft. and then once you have the raft you can remove all the bits that don’t quite fit anymore, the spare parts that you didn’t need after all, you toss them back or maybe save them for another raft later. when i write, there isn’t a lot of active effort or swimming around, or calculation… for me that can be very poisonous to creativity. the big ideas won’t happen right when you mentally stress on them… it is more a matter of being patient and being open to all the things that just drift in”

I’d really like to write like this all the time. I’ve only done it once, for the most recent short story I wrote. Things came to me line by line. I wrote the story in about four or five days, and in the beginning I didn’t know who my characters were, or what they were doing. I’d pull open my Word document and jot down a few lines throughout the day. At night in bed I’d think of another line. And miraculously, when I finished, everything fit. The story somehow ended itself.

I really liked the way it felt.

So maybe if I took more meditation breaks I could get into this drifty kind of headspace? What do you think? Another piece that spoke to me recently was this one, about ten minute meditation breaks, or time-INs.

I could definitely use more of that.

And this morning, I was very inspired by the idea of Structured Procrastination, which I found through David Seah’s blog. Structured Procrastination. Don’t you just love the sound of that term?

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Could it really be so easy? There’s only one thing in the world I procrastinate, and that’s my writing. If I can find some tasks that “have clear deadlines (but really don’t)” and “seem awfully important (but really aren’t)”, maybe I could give it a go.

So that’s my inspiration for this week! What’s inspired you this week?

April is a short story a week month

Ray-Bradbury-quote.png

Sometimes Twitter can be dangerous. Early last month I tweeted a link to my post on Ray Bradbury and a short story a week and soon got caught up in a great Twitter conversation with my friends Adriane Giberson and Kim Switzer about actually writing a short story a week.

You can guess where this is going, right? We decided, right there and then, to write a short story a week in April.

And it’s April now. It’s actually been April for a while, but since April 1 fell midweek and also (excuses, excuses …) I was sick with the stomach flu, too, I think it’s a good idea to count this week as the first week in April.

Ray Bradbury’s challenge was actually to write a short story a week and submit a short story a week. I’m not quite ready for the submission part yet, although I do have two stories that are almost ready to go out. Only problem is, they’ve been at this almost ready stage for quite a while now.

There are people out there who are doing this as a year-long challenge. I just want to get my feet wet so for now I’m sticking to April.

Tonight I pulled some prompts to get my brain going. Here they are:

  1. creaking door
  2. destroyed what one values
  3. zombie/living dead/vampire/werewolf (oh, the choices!)
  4. stalker

My goal? To have the first short story written by this Sunday!

Ray Bradbury and a short story a week

So my 365 days of story seeds is pretty much a bust.

I gave up on it when things got really busy back during the end of January. Unlike the other 365 day projects I still want to do, I found I wasn’t really getting much out of it.

I had hoped that writing a sentence or two in response to daily prompts would give me story seeds that would spark something bigger. But after three weeks of doing it, it had become a tedious task I kept forgetting to do until the last minute.

Which was a good enough reason to drop it. There are already enough tedious tasks in the world that I have to do, why add more to the tedious task load in my life, right?

But I am still very much enamoured of the idea of story seeds and what they can lead to. And as is often the case with me, one thought leads to another and yet another and now I’m contemplating this:

Ray Bradbury quote

Yes, there are actually people doing this challenge. There is even a Facebook page called “Ray Bradbury’s 52 week short story challenge to aspiring writers”.

And there are tips out there on how to accomplish such a challenge. 12 Secrets to Being a Super-Prolific Short-Story Writer, for instance. And author Jay Lake talks about his story a week experiment here. “Eventually, it just became a habit”, Lake says in the interview.

It’s a crazy idea for me, though. So I’m not going to do it.

At least, probably not.

I just have to get my mind to let go of the idea now.

Putting a habit trigger to work: daily journaling

Have you heard of habit triggers? In addition to helping you get rid of bad habits, you’re supposed to be able to use them to get develop new, positive habits, too.

According to Leo Babauta,

Habits become automatic after we’ve created a bond between the trigger and the habit — the stronger the bond, the more ingrained the habit.

He then goes on to outline some common triggers, which include waking up, eating breakfast, your morning commute, your afternoon commute – really, anything that you do every day can become a habit trigger.

I have wanted to develop a consistent journaling habit for a very long time. The key term there is “consistent”. I have so many notebooks and journals lying around with a page or two filled, a sign of my many attempts to develop a journaling habit.

journal

And why do I keep trying? Because I do feel that compulsion to write things down, as Joan Didion describes in her marvellous essay, “On Keeping a Notebook” (pdf):

The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

It’s just that I don’t feel that compulsion consistently. Hence all those aborted attempts at keeping a regular journal.

So I decided to try using a habit trigger. I have a morning ritual that’s quite indulgent – it includes meditation (good) and surfing around online (not so sure about this one). It’s not the most productive of rituals, but it’s definitely become my morning ritual.

Last week, I decided I’d add journaling into the mix. And to make things easier on myself, I also decided to use my Bullet Journal. I put all of the rest of my life in that journal anyway, so why not, right?

What I’ve been doing is writing in my Bullet Journal every morning. I write about what I’m thinking, ideas I have, what I’d like to get done. Then I do a very very short to-do list for the day. I love the idea of to-do lists but I’m very bad at them. Even though I only have between two to four items on my daily to-do list, often I only accomplish half of the items. Some days, only one.

How has it been working out? It’s only been a week, but it’s already starting to feel like a habit! So this habit trigger thing seems to work.

Once I have this new routine nailed down, I’d like to work on a nightly observation log a la Lynda Barry.  The only problem? I don’t have something I do consistently every night (other than going to bed and all the things associated with that – none of which feels conducive to sitting down and writing).

When I’m on deadline, I usually work until I am too tired to think straight. And when I’m not on deadline, I do a lot of puddling around, but nothing consistently. I was thinking maybe my night time ritual should be reading followed by an observation log. And the habit trigger could be … feeling tired? Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like it will work!

Photo credit

365 Days of Story Seeds

365 story seeds

One of my goals for 2015 is to complete a 365 day project. I have a 365 day reading project that I’ve already posted about (my Short Story a Day project) but I wanted to do a 365 day project that was writing-related.

So, on January 1, I started my 365 Days of Story Seeds project. Every day, I pick two writing prompts from my box of prompts, and paste them into my notebook. I’m not writing a full scene for each prompt; I’ve tried to do that before and it stopped being fun because it wasn’t always easy getting a full scene from a prompt or two.

Instead, I write two or three sentences. Snippets of dialogue, some description. A couple of times I started off with “What if …” and wrote out the idea the prompts inspired instead.

When I’m done, I upload a picture of the prompts to the Tumblr blog I hastily started up for the project: 365 Story Seeds. Other than posting to this Tumblr, I haven’t had time to do much else with it, so right now it’s using the default Tumblr template. (But finding a new template for it is on my Bloggiesta list of to-dos for Monday!)

It’s been fun, and pretty quick and easy, too. I’ve been doing the prompts right before bed, but I try to pick the next day’s prompts right after, on the theory that this gives my subconscious mind 24 hours to do something with them. I don’t think that’s been working well so far, though, because honestly, I’ve been forgetting the prompts almost as soon as I’ve glued them into my notebook!

My favourites so far? It’s hard to pick, because I haven’t really written any particular story seeds that have jumped out at me yet. Probably these are the ones I like best so far:

http://365storyseeds.tumblr.com/post/107187089626/day-4-prompts-human-sacrifice-and-loser

http://365storyseeds.tumblr.com/post/108326642451/day-16-this-is-another-one-that-might-develop

http://365storyseeds.tumblr.com/post/107769051866/day-10-came-up-with-a-story-idea-for-this-one-i

And hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have a notebook filled with story seeds, some of which may spark a longer story!

{TSS} Bookish Bliss: The War of Art

The War of Art quote

Back in December I made a commitment to myself: in the new year, I would sit down every day and write. And when January 1 rolled around, I started doing just that.

I initially set a daily goal of 2,000 words, but within a few days realized that wasn’t reasonable. Some days it was very doable, other days it wasn’t. So I reduced my goal to 1,500 words.

And rolled along merrily … until yesterday. It was kind of a lost day. I took my youngest to dance classes, which ate up the entire afternoon. I’d brought my iPad and keyboard but I found needed the comfort of my regular keyboard and laptop to write. When I got home, I wasn’t feeling well, I was tired – and I had a bunch of blog posts to write for one of my writing clients.

I sat down and I was only able to write about 600 words on my novel.

One of the word tracking spreadsheets I’m using makes the day’s word count light up only if I meet my daily goal. Yesterday’s word count definitely wasn’t even close to getting lit up.

But I still felt good, typing in those three digits into my spreadsheet. Why?

Because despite everything, I had sat down at the keyboard and I had done the work.

When Joy Weese Moll announced The War of Art readalong I knew it was a book I needed to reread. And it was a book I needed to reread now, in January, right when I’m determined to set up new habits and implement the systems I need to make real changes to my life.

For years now, I’ve done a lot of talking about how I want things to change. This is the year I’m committing to actually doing the things necessary for the changes I want to happen. It’s no secret: I spent too many years not doing much writing. I had my rationalizations: I had to work, make enough money to get us through day by day, month by month, year by year. I had kids. I had no time. My God, I didn’t even have time to read, much less time to write. And so on.

Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor. It’s Resistance’s way of hiding the Big Stick behind its back. Instead of showing us our fear (which might shame us and impel us to do our work), Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.

What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate. …

What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that all this means diddly.

– Steven Pressfield

Reading through Book One of The War of Art, which is all about Resistance: Defining the Enemy, I was a little startled to see how well I know so many of the characteristics of Resistance. I know this is a reread for me, but I can’t remember, for example, nodding my head quite so vehemently when I first read the passages on “Resistance and Trouble” and “Resistance and Self-Dramatization”.

Because the way Resistance shows up in my life has always been two-fold. First is that initial Resistance to sitting down and starting. As Pressfield says:

It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

Over and over, I’ve been able to defeat this first part of Resistance, even if it’s only for a short while. I’ve done it several times for NaNoWriMo, but I’ve also done it for months at a time outside of November. It’s  never lasted (this year, that will change …) and one of the main reasons it’s never lasted has been because of those two other characteristics of Resistance: Trouble and Self-Dramatization

Last year, for example, right after I finished writing a novella in July, I came face to face with some personal issues. And then after that cleared up, I came down with chronic back pain and unexplained nausea. Once that cleared up (the nausea turned out to be a magnesium deficiency, of all things) I was neck deep in work deadlines as my busy season began.

I participated in NaNoWriMo for three weeks but the work pressure was too much for the final week. And for most of last year both my blog and my reading landscape were like deserted wastelands.

And now that I’m writing daily and am really committed to staying on course all this year? That chronic back pain has cropped back up. I haven’t been feeling well. I’m starting to think about some of those personal issues again. My sister just emailed to tell me she thinks my mom needs someone to help her with her apartment and she can’t do it because she’s too busy with work. Meanwhile, January is looking to be even heavier with deadlines than last November was.

In other words, Resistance is back at work, brewing up more Trouble and Self-Dramatization.

It’s good to see this so clearly. I plan to stay on track, and “knowing your enemy” makes this much easier.

By the way, if you’re interested in The War of Art and Steven Pressfield’s other books, make sure to pop over to Joy’s The War of Art #Giveaway. It’s a wonderful giveaway opportunity, as the winner will receive not just The War of Art, but also his other two books on defeating creative blocks, Do the Work and Turning Pro as well as The Authentic Swing, the story behind his writing of his first big novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance.

Have you read The War of Art? Is there an endeavour or activity in your life, creative or otherwise, that’s been calling to you and to which you’ve been feeling Resistance?

{2015 Goals} Writing and creativity goals

It’s shaping up to be a very goal-oriented year for me. I’m pretty sure I’m trying to make up for how unmotivated and unproductive I felt during 2014! The one thing that’s saving me from feeling overwhelmed by all these things I want to accomplish this year is remembering that most of my goals are things I find fun. Not all of them (exercise comes to mind), but most of them. And that really makes a difference!

Articulating my goals has been helpful, too, especially in terms of keeping me accountable. Yesterday was the first day of the new year, and I did everything I said I’d do! (This is huge for me, by the way – discipline and I are not usually the best of friends, except when it comes to work deadlines.)

I’ve already discussed my bookish/reading goals for 2015. Here are my writing and creativity goals for the new year:

1. Write 1,500 words every day.

Since I’m using SMART goals this year (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely), I decided on a specific number of words, instead of just saying “I’m going to write every day”. At first I picked 2,000 words, but today, as I was sitting down to Scrivener and writing, I thought to myself, “I’m not going to make 2,000 words today” so I went to the word count spreadsheet I’m using and changed my daily goal to 1,500.

Mind you, after all that, I ended up writing 2,220 words today. But still, I want this goal to be doable but not stressful, right? Anyway, even at 1,500 words a day, I’d still end up with 547,500 words at the end of the year, which would be nice.

2. Be #CreativeEveryDay

I’ve signed up for the Creative Every Day challenge in previous years – and failed spectacularly (meaning, I’d sign up and then promptly and conveniently “forget” I’d signed up). This year, though, I’m prepared.  I’ve got a stack of books to go to if I need an idea plus a number of inspirational artsy sites bookmarked. And for additional motivation I’m in a Facebook group with a few other book bloggers who are interested in art journaling.

I’ve also set up a Tumblr blog to which I’ll upload a daily photo (I’ll do the same with Instagram, but I’ll be a day behind on there, I think). The Tumblr blog is pretty sparse right now – I haven’t even selected a template! But I figured it was more important to be accountable than it was to have a pretty looking Tumblr, especially since I know myself well enough to know if I made a “pretty little Tumblr” my priority, I wouldn’t have things ready until mid-way through the year!

3. My 365 Day Project

I’ll post more about my 365 day project in a few days, but I’ve decided to do a writing prompt a day. This is my first 365 day project, so I’m a little nervous. But the challenge I’ve set up for myself is small and fun, so hopefully I’ll have some success with it.

4. Daily Brainstorming in My Book of Lists

I haven’t started this yet, but I’ll be adding it to my daily routine once I have everything else on track. The plan is to begin a “Book of Lists” as an idea resource. I decided I wanted to give this a try back in the fall after talking with Suey about the Laini Taylor presentation and writing workshop she attended. Suey got me all excited about starting a book of lists to generate ideas, and then I googled around and found a post Laini Taylor wrote on her Not for Robots site about ideas and brainstorming and got even more excited (she also has a great post on writing a novel here). And I’ve wanted to do this ever since. Just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

One of my plans is to use my brainstorming time to “fill the well” in my Book of Lists. I have stacks and stacks of nonfiction books about all sorts of strange and interesting things, very few of which I’ve actually read. Despite this, I keep accumulating them (but usually when they’re at a discount, thank goodness).

Photo 2015-01-02, 4 56 29 PM

So now’s my chance to put them to good use. I’m going to start collecting tidbits of interesting information from these books in my Book of Lists.

Another plan is to do “100s lists”, where you just sit down and brainstorm a hundred things. I’m thinking it might work well when plotting a story or developing a character, and also for worldbuilding. I’m not much of an outliner, so any way I can get more information down before I start writing will probably be helpful.

5. A Personal Photo a Day

I’d also like to begin documenting my life in photos, mainly because I have this tendency to live a hermit’s life and having to take an interesting photo every day should help me change that. I have a lovely DSLR camera that I still need to learn to use, but for now I’m quite content to use my iPhone. I’ve never been very good about taking daily photos, but that will, hopefully, change this year. Instagram is definitely a good motivator!

So these are my writing and creativity goals for the new year. What about you? Did you set any creative nonbookish goals for 2015?

{2015 Goals} Complete a 365-Day Project

I’d really like to complete a 365-day project in the new year and so, as usual, I’ve been diving into Google and searching a little obsessively for 365-day project ideas.

I actually scrolled through all the blog posts at the Make Something 365 & Unstuck blog looking for ideas. Noah Scalin is the author of 365: A Daily Creativity Journal, which contains prompts for doing a 365-day project. I don’t have this book, but I do have his other book, Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing at Home, at Work & in Your Studio (which I haven’t read yet, but it looks good).

365 Creativity Journal

 

The project ideas he features are interesting, but almost all of them are art or photography-related, and I’d like my 365-day project to be writing-related. I’ll probably be signing up for the 2015 Creative Every Day challenge, which is art-related, but my main focus for the year will be on my 365 day project.

I also read through most of the posts at Year of Creative Habits, where artist Crystal Moody posted daily drawings she made during her year of creative habits.

(I did mention I’ve been a little obsessive about this, right?)

I’m almost sure what my project will be – I just need to do the prep work to make sure I’m properly prepared for the long haul and don’t do a major fail (or at least, not immediately, like around January 15 or something!).

I don’t know exactly why I want to do a 365-day project, other than the whole commitment and intention thing I wrote about the other day. And I do like the idea of ending up with a body of work I wouldn’t have otherwise. And I guess, like my 365 days of blogging, I’m kind of testing myself, and my ability to be disciplined and stay committed.

But most of all, I’ve been thinking how much fun it will be!

Have you done a 365-day project in previous years? Are you planning on doing one this year?