Category: writing (page 1 of 2)

publicly recommitting to the muse

It’s that time again–when the dog days of summer have finally ended and you want to put on some socks and sit at your computer with a nice cup of hot tea. I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month! In November, many writers spur each other on to complete a novel in thirty days with local and virtual write-ins and events. I have participated two other times, but have yet to come out the other side with an honest-to-goodness complete novel, or even one I cared to keep working on beyond November 30th. This year I have a much more solid plan for the first in a series of young adult novels that I’m very excited to write.

My long-term plan, in a nutshell, is to create books and book-related products for children and parents who want more from their children’s education so they can:

  • foster a love of reading,
  • learn not to be afraid of big ideas,
  • think critically, and
  • dive deeper into important primary texts.

This introductory novel is the first of many things to come within that mission. In each subsequent book in this series, our heroine will resurrect a great thinker from history who will help her piece together truths about how to overcome tyranny, what makes a just society, how to be an ideal citizen of the world, and how to start rebuilding the world she lives in.

Here’s a brief synopsis of what I’ll be working on for NaNoWriMo:

A young girl lives in a police state in which books no longer exist. Her parents were the last of a generation of people who knew how to farm the traditional way, with soil and seeds. And they were the last of the literates. They secretly passed down to their daughter the knowledge of every book they could remember by telling stories connected to animal characters that they had crocheted.

Her mom was killed in the resistance, and her dad tries to teach the girl everything he knows before the year’s end, before they’re caught, and before his daughter starts to remember that he was killed in the resistance, too.

You see, the little girl has the power to resurrect one person from the dead for one year. She had wished for them to come back, but didn’t know her own gift. Now she must make the most of her power. Now that her parents are truly gone, who can she bring back? Who can guide her? Who can help bring about the change her world desperately needs?

It sounds cheezy to condense it down like that, but there’s a whole world left to unpack. I’m excited to see what unfolds when I commit to writing an average of 1,660 words per day over the next thirty days. In the words of Kevin McCallister in Home Alone, “This is it. Don’t get scared now.”

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baby steps

Slow and steady wins the race. Action beats inaction. Taking small steps is so much more important than thinking about big steps. Sometimes I have to remind myself that tiny positive things add up and that’s so much better than stressing about making big progress (which adds up in a negative way).

I think of it like driving veeeerrrry slowly in your car: eventually you’ll get further than just sitting there revving the engine and wasting gasoline.

I have a huge project ahead of me, and it’s daunting. It’s so big that sometimes it’s paralyzing. But I know that I need to chip away at it a little bit at a time.

So I am making a bit of a pivot in the content of this blog, and I want you to know what you can expect in the future. I will still be writing about creative resistance, but it will be more along the lines of what I’m specifically encountering in my current creative projects.

First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the idea of overlapping (working a day job for financial stability while you work on what you’re passionate about on the side until it can support you), I highly recommend the book Overlap by Sean McCabe.

My passion is to make big ideas accessible to young people. I believe that the ability to think critically is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on future generations. I’m writing and illustrating a series of young adult and children’s books making the ideas of the Great Books (Plato, Dante, Augustine, et al) super digestible. I want to normalize what used to be a standard education but has unfortunately become very rare. Everyone is capable of learning big things and no one should be scared or ashamed to be exposed to “smart people things.”

I want to get kids excited about reading through book related products, as well. Hand-lettered bookmarks, handmade book bags, and crocheted animal plushie characters that introduce kids great literary characters and their authors.

I’m making myself publicly accountable for making this vision a reality, and documenting the process. I invite you to follow along, to sign up for updates on the book release, to join the conversation in whatever way you’d like and ask questions about what makes actually doing creative things so dang hard sometimes.

It will be messy. Most things are before you get to the finished product. And that’s okay, because perfect is an illusion that keeps you from doing the important, messy things. Thanks to those who have stuck with me thus far, and thank you/welcome to those who are newly jumping in.

I invite you to make messes and take baby steps with me. 🙂

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your inner editor

A favorite exercise of those who want to get over the mental block of writing and just get words on the page is to pretend there is no backspace key on your keyboard. The goal is to just write like you should, to type as you’re thinking and get into a flow state to get lots of words on the page. You’ll write much faster by turning off your inner editor. Just keep typing.

For those like myself who just can’t help but use that backspace key, there are apps that completely eliminate that temptation:

  • First, there’s nope.press. Any time you try to use the backspace key, you’ll be greeted by an audible “nope” instead.
  • If you need a little more incentive to keep getting those words on the page, “the most dangerous writing app” takes it a step further by deleting your work if you don’t keep typing.
  • Then there’s write or die. This is for the truly masochistic writer. Not only will it delete your progress if you don’t keep going, but it’s as evil as you want to make it beyond that. You set a timer and a word count goal. Then it’s up to you if you want a pleasant auditory or visual reward for continuing to type (such as nature sounds or kittens in the background), or an unpleasant consequence (like spiders crawling across your screen).

It’s such an ingrained habit to use the backspace key. I hate seeing mistakes on the page because I hate the idea of having to go back later to fix them. That’s me in a nutshell: I’d rather get unpleasant tasks out of the way right freaking now so I don’t have to remember to do them later. But perhaps I’m sabotaging myself more than I realize with this kind of mindset.

I find that if I write without a backspace key, I write slower so as to avoid mistakes. That defeats the point of the exercise. I’m supposed to turn off my inner editor. Mistakes aren’t the enemy. Failing to get words on the page is the enemy. Mistakes are a part of practice.

Your internal editor can disguise itself as your friend but really be a form of resistance that can go unnoticed for years. I’m realizing now for the first time that that inner editor goes deeper than with writing. I want to fix things as they arise, which may be taking time from what I really need to be focusing on. I need to get the bulk of the work done first, to get in the flow of doing it to get my best work out. You get your best work out on the first try when your thoughts are raw, not by editing them as they come out. Get out the good work onto the page as it exists in your mind now, in its most purest, freshest form. You can fix it up later. The important thing is to preserve the original thoughts. If you compile all of the time that you would have used backspacing or erasing or otherwise fixing little mistakes along the way (or doing things peripheral to, but ultimately distracting from, the task at hand), it will probably add up to a lot more time than you would like to admit.

There may be thoughts in your head that don’t get a chance to make it onto the page because you focused your attention to editing or something else, to something like writing down another idea as it pops into your head. Now your focus is on your to-do list rather than the subject you were initially writing about. Now you’ve broken your momentum. There were thoughts in your head about the subject you had started a flow of writing on, but you broke that stream of consciousness and aborted something that might have turned into a good bit of writing.

Just keep going. That is the important thing. You did the hard work of showing up, now you have to do the hard work of keeping solid focus and finding your flow state. You’ve sat down to do the work, you’ve eliminated distractions, now the really hard part is undoing that thing that has become such a habit in your creative life and every other part of your life. You have to turn off the part that wants to “fix it now.” If you’re a perfectionist like me, this is a deep-seated habit. But your work with will thank you for it if you just let yourself get into that flow state. Dive into the work distraction-free, without the pressure to be perfect, and you’ll be surprised what comes out of you. You could have pages and pages that would have remained in your head if you were editing along the way. You could make something much more beautiful than your editing hands normally allow if you can force yourself to turn off your editor brain, to let your brain go where it wants to go, unencumbered by the pursuit of perfection. Perfection is not the goal. Perfection is the enemy of done. Ge get the important work done. Edit later. So what if you waste a canvas? It’s a first draft of an idea. You can paint it again better if you want to. The important thing was that you tried it on the page. You tried it on the canvas. You brought it into existence. There is absolutely nothing wasted if you write a super messy first draft. You do, however, risk wasting an awful lot if you edit as you go and don’t get all of the gems in your mind onto the page.

I imagine someone panning for gold. You can’t find all the gold out there. Know that going in. But if you want to find the quality gold, you don’t walk along the river bank hoping to find one perfect nugget of gold. You grab a ton of sand and sift through it. You take a pan full of dirt and let the current take it. You let the river do the work until you’re left with lots of little bits of gold to sift through later. Then you compile all those tiny flecks into something valuable. But you can’t find the flecks unless you sift through the sand, and you’ll never see them if your only goal is to find perfectly formed nuggets on the bank.

Similarly, if wheat harvesters walked through the field and gathered individual grains, at the end of the day they will not have even gathered enough usable grain to feed themselves. Instead, they glean whole stalks at a time. Later, they separate out the usable grain by allowing the wind to blow away the unusable chaff.

First you think bigger and just go forward. Go with the flow without worrying about precision. Later, you can pick and choose what you want use and what you want to throw away. You are a gleaner and a gold miner, but only if you don’t waste your time expecting a perfect end product to fall in your lap. It’s important to get the crud out of the way to uncover the good stuff. Send your inner editor on vacation so you can just WRITE WRITE WRITE (or draw, or paint, or whatever it is you’re passionate about doing). That flow state is where you want to be.

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showing up when you’re sick

When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you. –Unknown

We all experience the occasional betrayal by our immune system. It’s yet another form of Resistance rearing its ugly head, trying to keep us from our important work. It’s very tempting to let this be an excuse to let ourselves off the hook. A missed day or two in favor of healing is not the end of the world, so long as it doesn’t cause you to fall irreparably behind. The important work is what we do when we really don’t feel like it. Encouragement, friends, for not letting illness derail you.

Resistance makes you stronger. Writing when you don’t feel like it is the best way to improve your writing habit. Showing up only when it’s easy doesn’t make you stronger. There will always be obstacles. Overcoming them is what makes you better at what you do.

Ride the high. Be inspired by your illness-induced stupor. Take advantage of the fact that your inner editor is too tired to give a crap and go wild. Write something you wouldn’t normally write, like maybe trying your hand at poetry. Or work your symptoms into a scene. Can you learn something about your character through how you currently feel?

Give yourself permission to suck. It’s always good to get the crap out to make way for better work. If you often feel like the words on the page are somehow too precious to throw out, this may be a good exercise in writing something that is meant to be scrapped. It’s cathartic to shred work sometimes. It takes the pressure off. Be happy to have work you don’t feel bad about shredding. Some days you just have to half-ass it. It’s still better than not showing up at all.

Plan ahead. When you’re well, try to stay ahead by keeping a schedule and writing more than your daily quota. This will give you some wiggle room when unexpected things arise, like illness or an emergency. If you have deadlines, make sure you have content well ahead of time. Anticipate that things will crop up and don’t wait until the last minute. If you stay ahead, there will be margin for you to have a day or two of down time without having to do too much catching up later.

Let go of the little things. Eliminate any unnecessary activities. Most things can be postponed for a couple of days. Avoid cleaning, cooking, gardening, or anything else you might be tempted to do. The world won’t crumble if you don’t do everything you’d normally do when you’re well. Call in reinforcements if you need to. If someone can help with a meal or kids, that will give you the time you need to rest and knock out a few words–even if it’s nothing more than a haiku about how messy your house is.

Don’t give up! Even if you feel like you want to die, or just sleep all day, don’t give yourself permission to break the chain of showing up every day. You’re allowed to write garbage. Just show up a little bit. It’s okay; we’re all human. But even if you show up and just do the bare minimum that ends up being thrown away, it will make you feel better about yourself that you’ve accomplished what you promised yourself you would do. If writing has become as much of a habit as breathing, it will make you feel worse if you don’t do it. Keeping the chain going will lift your spirits because you didn’t give up. You may even find that just jotting down a few words–even if they don’t make a lot of sense–may put you into a state of flow that takes your mind off of how awful you feel.

Take care of yourself. Don’t prolong your illness by not resting or listening to your body. Do what you can, but don’t create more stress by expecting to knock it out of the park. You can only come back swinging if you let yourself get 100% better. You won’t do yourself or anyone else any favors by pretending you’re not sick. The sooner you rest, the sooner you’ll get better.

Happy writing, and feel better, champ!

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