Give Yourself Over

Give yourself over. That is what you must do each time you pick up a pen or sit down in front of your computer.

Give yourself over to all the words, images, ideas ready to pour out of yourself and onto the page, the screen. Step aside, make way. Don’t stop yourself before you even get started.

But it is hard to find that mental place where your mind is alight with possibilities and creativity practically pulses through your fingertips.

Not all of us can reach this place on a consistent basis. Dean Wesley Smith in Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Rewriting Part 2 says professional writers have taught themselves to access this mindset whenever they need to. But for the rest of us mere mortals, it can be a challenge to write while contending with everyday distractions.

While I was traveling, I didn’t write. It’s not that I didn’t have time, not exactly. I could have stayed in the bedroom a little bit longer each morning to write or “take a nap” in the afternoons when we didn’t have any other plans. But staying in my in-laws’ house added a self-consciousness to the act of writing that’s not present when I sneak away to the coffee shop or library.

I even went to a coffee shop on two separate occasions while we were traveling – ostensibly to write. But the words would not come. I was too busy worrying about getting back to the house, all the errands and activities still needing to be done. In short, I wasn’t writing on my own terms.

But as one week turned into two, two weeks into two-and-a-half, I was desperate to get back to work, to immerse myself in my WIPs. I even came up with a new short story idea. But I still didn’t write. Even in the airport and on the plane ride home, I did not put pen to paper because I was too exhausted by the whole trip.

A good night’s rest in my own bed did the trick. A return to routine and a burning desire to make up for lost time had the words coming fast and strong.

I found that creative space in my mind quickly, now that I had the chance. But it was more out of necessity, since it had been so long, than any ability to access this part of myself at will.

Even times when I’m writing on a consistent or at least semi-consistent basis, I can’t always rely on my momentum to keep me going. Instead, I have to reread my previous work or write blog posts like this one to prime the pump, so to speak, before launching into any “new” writing.

Some people swear by taking showers or regular exercise, or even meditation. There are whole books out there on how to find and harness inspiration, as if it’s some light switch we can turn off and on.

But for me, it always comes down to giving myself permission to write. Shucking the self-consciousness for at least a few hours so that the words come more easily.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve come a long way from where I was when I first started writing on a regular basis. I’ve gotten better. But I do feel like I’ve regressed a bit after this trip. And now I’m trying to make my way back to where I was before.

I need to give myself over to writing. But typing it is easier than doing it.
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Changing Things Up

I tried out a new coffee shop on Monday. In a different part of town. Far enough away I had to drive instead of ride my bike. I love writing in coffee shops, and wanted this new place to be worth the disruption in my normal routine. So I printed off the latest draft of a WIP and crossed my fingers.

You never know what you’ll get when you try out something new. Luckily, I found comfy chairs, first-rate java, and a pleasant space conducive to writing. And best of all, I got some work done.

Then I saw someone who I would never see at my usual coffee joint. A bodybuilder with a shaved head, wearing a red flannel shirt and gray spandex shorts (that left nothing to the imagination), with the phrase “What doesn’t kill you / Makes you stronger” tattooed down each brawny forearm.

A big difference from the suited yuppies, bored hipsters, and yoga moms at my regular spot. (Side note: I am none of these).

This man, so different from me and the characters I tend to write about, was a good reminder that we all need to change things up every now and then.

When I write, I sometimes find myself sticking to what I’m comfortable with. The same characters in different stories, the same stable of gestures and physical reactions. The same patterns of storytelling.

And while that’s ok, especially when drafting, sometimes you need to change things up, particularly as you revise to make your story the best it can be.

Sometimes it’s a simple as writing in a new locale. Or tackling a writing prompt to push yourself to write about something new or someone different from yourself. Think of that bodybuilder, tight shorts and all. What would he make of your story? What would he do if he was in your story?

I’m not saying every story needs some big man hopped up on ‘roids to pack a punch. Or that you need to give your MC a tat just because. But I do think it’s important you step outside yourself and analyze your work through someone else’s eyes. To see if you have pushed your story and your characters beyond the realm of your own experience and into that of a general audience.

You might just find what’s missing.

How do you change things up with your writing routine? How do you push your craft forward?
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Spring Is In the Air

I almost didn’t write a post for today. Why not? Because I had other things to do. And I did not want to make the time, especially when we had a week of sunshine with temperatures in the upper fifties. Spring is close.

The days are getting longer. They warm up faster. I can run outside now, without having to wear all my thermal gear that protects me from the elements. I rode my bike for the first time this year on Monday. To the coffee shop no less.

The daily rhythms of my life are changing as hints of spring are easier to discern. I have to adapt, but I’m not quite there yet.

This means instead of driving to the coffee shop or library, I ride my bike. It means I’ll have to relearn how to write despite the sweat that gathers at the small of my back or the chill I’ll feel once I cool down from the exercise. I ride at times where I’ll avoid the bulk of traffic – rush hour, lunchtime, the end of the school day. I’ll be getting up earlier in order to fit a run in before my day begins. Writing, so often an afternoon activity in the winter, will start creeping into my mornings now. Theoretically I’ll be more productive.

Do the shifting seasons affect your writing patterns? Or am I just a SAD person? And apologies to those of you without any weather breakthroughs just yet.

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Slow But Sure

I got nothing done over break.

Well, I did read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. And marveled at how people got through the first 300 pages and went on to rave about it. I plodded on and learned to love the characters like everybody else, but it does make me angry when I see things like slow beginnings that some writers (i.e., not me) can get away with doing. (If you are interested in more analysis of the trilogy, check out James Killick’s blog post Eight Writing Lessons from Larsson.)

But as to actual writing, that didn’t happen. Now that I’m back home, the Christmas decorations put away, and the opportunity to get back on track is here, I’m dragging my feet. And a head cold last week just gave me another excuse not to pick up the pen.

It helped that my writing group met up again Monday night. I haven’t been able to attend in over a month, and my writing skills were definitely rusty as we plowed through the first prompt. The second prompt came more easily, and I was reminded how much I missed writing. I followed this up with a trip to the coffee shop on Tuesday to capitalize on my momentum.

To stay motivated, I signed up for the webinar How to Hook an Agent with Your First Pages through Writer’s Digest. This time last year I took a writing class through the nearby university’s continuing education program – although I enjoyed it, the class was geared towards beginners and I needed something more in-depth than my classmates. I’m hoping this course will do the trick. If you are familiar with the Pub Rants blog, you know that the agents of Nelson Literary know their stuff. To get an idea of what the session will cover, check out these posts:

There’s also a presentation on developing characters next week through one of the local writing organizations I’ll be going to and another open mic night later in the month I might attend.

So even if my writing’s hit or miss in the meantime, I’ll be busy enough to feel like I’m accomplishing something with my craft. Fake it until you make it. Am I right?
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Spousal Rhythms

or My Post for the Early Bird Thanksgiving Blogfest

It’s that time of year where we not only eat, drink, and be merry but also contemplate what we are thankful for.

I have a wonderful life. I ask my husband what we are going to eat, not how. I worry about the logistics of traveling home for the holidays, not the financing. All of Maslow’s basic needs are covered. I have my health, a wonderful family, supportive friends, and more and more confidence each day that all this writing stuff is going somewhere. And I am thankful for all of these things.

But if I had to choose one thing I am most thankful for this year, it is my husband’s support. It is his job, his abilities, his willingness to let me explore, that has given me the opportunity to write fulltime. There are no guarantees anything will come of it – we both know that – but he supports me just the same.

I get most of my writing and reading done while he is away at work during weekdays. Nights and weekends are our time, whether it’s making dinner, doing dishes, or running errands. But because he’s a researcher, sometimes personal life gets pushed aside in favor of deadlines for proposals, conferences, and journal articles. It is during these crunch times that I simply reach for another book or tinker with another WIP afterhours. I get more work done when my husband’s workload increases.

It’s kinda funny, but I also think it’s a time when we both understand the most about each other’s work. When he’s writing proposals or articles, he gets so frustrated when the words don’t come. Or when the writing sucks hard but he knows he just has to get it down in order to fix it later. Sound familiar?

On weekend mornings, we’ll go to coffee shops and hunker down at a table for two hours – he’ll be typing away on his computer or highlighting an academic paper, while I’ll be scribbling in my notebook or red-lining a printout of my latest story. Sometimes we’ll both catch each other staring off into space, thinking about our next words, or working out a new idea, or simply taking a break from all the mental exertion that goes on at our little table. We’ll smile, maybe make a joke, discuss our new idea or where we got stuck, and eventually start working again.

It’s a nice arrangement – how his working rhythms dovetail with mine. It’s not something I expected, but now that I have it, I can’t imagine going without. How do spousal rhythms influence your writing? Do they cheer you on? Work with you side-by-side? Or give you the time and space to do your thing?

I am thankful my husband gives me a little bit of everything.

This post was written for the Early Bird Thanksgiving Blogfest, spearheaded by Jeffrey Beesler. You can find a list of other participants at Jeffrey Beesler’s World of the Scribe.

Happy Thanksgiving!
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