I love seeing pics of the surroundings in which the writers whose work I love create their works. It’s energizing for some reason. So I thought, hmmm…why not take a snapshot of my own writing space? I did, and the pic you see is the result. When I step back and look at it, my space looks cozy but rather dark and it is dominated by that one-eyed monster perched atop my desk. If you’ve ever fought the tyranny of the blank white page you can imagine what it feels like to stare into a blank white page on this screen. It’s great for doing layouts and keeping multiple apps open and running. But writing in front of this thing is really different from writing in a composition book or on a typewriter or on my iPad or my smaller laptop. It’s more fatiguing. So…the pic is useful. It shows me some things I might want to change about my writing space. What about your writing space? Have you taken a picture so you can pull back to see how it works for–or against–your writing? Might be worth a try!
Do you ever feel like your mind has become a wasteland filled with countless identical grains of sand? These days, mine often does. I know why: it’s the morning news. Since last November I have let the crazoids featured in the day’s news dominate my mornings. I used to read books. Now I read whatever pops up on my iPhone news apps. The only good thing this has done for my writing is to get me to say “yes” to writing lyrics for a protest song a musician friend had a hankering to create. But that’s not much when it comes to output. Garbage in…little to nothing out. I know that great writing, great literature, has come out of every human struggle, but when you’re on the sidelines watching the struggles you don’t have a real experience; you can’t write with the realism, relevance, or authority needed to craft something truly credible and worthwhile. What to do? I’m now on a quest to broaden the input going into my brain, to read more books, and to do more real-world things to re-energize my writing.
Meanwhile, I’m still adjusting—post being downsized out of my editing job—to being able to sit down at my writing desk at almost any time of day and write something. It’s somehow…stymying. Weird, but true. So, here’s my question for the day if anyone out there has answers: What do you do that brings energy to your writing rather than sapping writing energy like an ink-sucking vampire? What practices make it easy to sit down to write rather than difficult? I’d love to know!
Today is my granddaughter, Lola Mae’s, third birthday. I’m jazzed to have her in the world and in my life. See that look in her eyes? That’s the look I always want to see when a kid listens to me read one of my books…heck…any book. Those inquisitive young minds need stories that will transport and transfix them. They need stories that will show them how to become the best humans they can be. I recently read a stat from, if I remember correctly, a British publication that said you can predict the number of prison cells a population will need based on the number of illiterate 11 year olds. Books change lives. Lola Mae is one of the lucky ones. She has parents who adore her and who read to her and surround her with music and a beautiful natural environment. As monies drift away from hiring school librarians and entire counties in Oregon have had to close their libraries for lack of funds, I fear for the future of our citizenry. So, writers and book lovers and teachers and parents wherever you may be, please…put books into the hands of kids and help them learn to read them!
While I’m here, let me tout the Oregon S.M.A.R.T. program (getsmartoregon.org). They’re doing a great job of making new readers and they’ve even published a book of short stories written and illustrated by Oregonians to celebrate their 25th anniversary. It’s a great book and a purchase supports this vital volunteer organization. If you get your hands on one, check out my story “Will and the Piper.” You’ll also find stories by my awesome writer peeps Judy Cox, Barbara Kerley, and Nancy Coffelt, and many more. Enjoy!
Sometimes when I sit down to write my mind is still. Totally at peace. My life right now is virtually stress-free, filled with leisurely moments (and long hours) of contentment. I have all I need–a home, plenty to eat, and the love of my life finally showed up to joined me. I live in the beautiful artsy town of Ashland, Oregon. The RV my hubs and I live in is cozy, parked beneath a towering redwood. It’s our version of the American Dream and it fits us as perfectly as we fit together. So when I sit down to write, my mind is still. Turns out, that’s a bit of a problem. To write, that stillness must in some way be disturbed. Often, I find it difficult to disturb the peace of my existence to make way for story. I can hop on the Internet and rile myself up about something, but that just sucks away hours that would be better used writing. Often, I crave a change of venue to give me back a bit of the edge I need to write. Coffee shops. Writing outside. Putting together a makeshift workspace with a chair and a music stand to hold my iPad with keyboard so I can sit outside my husband’s workshop and do a bit of crafting. Those changes help, but what helps most? Writing practice. Just putting my fingers on the keys and starting to type. I get sucked into writing the same way I would if I’d chosen to open Facebook and scroll through the posts. I forget at times how well writing practice works. This blog is helping me to remember. So…what about you? How to you train or trick your way into writing? I’d love to hear!
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I love series…and I hate series. A great series has characters and settings to fall in love with and get to know. There’s edge-of-your-seat anxiety as the plot heats up and unfolds, and you can’t wait for that oh-so-satisfying conclusion. … Continue reading
One of my wonderful writers shared with me something picture book author Candy Fleming told her: to keep in mind that most of what we write will be crap. Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron also remind us to feel free to write the worst garbage in the world, especially first thing every day. What I like about the idea of “writing sketches” is that we can explore all kinds of things in quick sketch form. Writing sketches are much like the sketches artists do for a painting. Before uncapping an expensive tube of alizarin crimson oil paint an artist will do page after page of sketches, often looking directly at a subject in different poses, different lights, on different days. That’s what it takes to truly understand a boy dressed in blue or a woman draped on a couch or a vase of sunflowers or a starry night.
If we think of quick writes to explore place or character or emotion or tension as sketches and realize that we’ll do many of them before we find the best way to write something, we’ll be polishing our skills the way artists polish theirs. I’m reading The Monster Calls by Patrick Ness which has the most amazing illustrations by Jim Kay. On his web site Kay writes about doing 30 sketches of the boy for one scene. 30! How often do writers write something 30 times trying to get it right? Ever? Few of us do. We are too attached to the way our words first fall on the page or we think we are supposed to be able to get things down perfectly the first time. We even feel like we’re not really writers if we don’t.
That’s just weird, really, when you think about it. How many times must a choir rehearse a song or a violinist practice scales? What I think now is that we’re not really serious writers unless we sketch as much with words as artists do with pencils. We writers haven’t developed enough ways to do writing practice nor have we required it of ourselves. As if out of all creative types we are the only ones who can (and must) get it right either the first time or after a few little tweaks.
Let go of that! Give yourself permission to write and write and write some more knowing that among the sketches will be some things that might become masterpieces. It might be the way the girl at the next table keeps laughing as she reads her journal or how the cold coming off the plate glass window beside your table has seeped into your bones or the fact that the man standing in line for coffee wears light gray pants with creases sharp enough to cut paper. Think about this—if you’re not doing lots of writing sketches, your stories and books will have the quality of a first sketch. And that, my writing friends, will not a masterpiece make.
And if you’re tempted to submit a manuscript to an editor before you’ve done enough sketching, just take a look at Leonardo da Vinci’s journals. You’ll be inspired, I hope, to buy and carry around a writer’s sketchbook. And if you use it, I promise your writing skills will begin to shine. And you’ll have a lot of fun, too!