R – Reflection

I hear many people share with me that they just ‘have to do this thing’ before they can relax and slow down.
The truth is that taking the time to be still and reflective actually increases productivity and gives more joy to what you’re doing when it’s time to take action again.
Maria Erving

Of the new writers I speak to, about 70% of them don’t understand that writing requires “off time.” Call it mindlessness, pondering, boredom, reflection, or chilling out, we need time for our stories to incubate, time to ruminate on the characters and plot. It takes idle brain time for ideas to come forth.

It’s no secret I advocate a simple lifestyle, and the biggest reason is that busyness hampers us creatively. Filling my schedule with tasks and places to be and calls to make leaves no time for my pre-frontal cortex to switch off and the creative mind to work it’s magic. I’ll even be so bold as to say social media and smart phones are major contributors for the frustration new writers feel.

Our writing forebears might have been greatly helped by life prior to modern conveniences. When one spends significant time weeding the garden, cleaning laundry, or going about any number of rote chores, the brain has a chance to enter this neutral state.  These days, we walk (as many great writers have done) or exercise. Showers and baths are great. So is housework. Handwork is also a good alternative (knitting, crochet, and embroidery work, but I’ve had less success with counted cross stitch as I’m constantly referring to the pattern. My favorites are machine quilting, swimming, sitting at the pottery wheel, and washing dishes. Of course, nothing beats sitting in the window with a hot cup of coffee and watching the world go by.

In all of these cases, the body is doing its thing without active thought. Indeed, the brain is in a form of automatic pilot. It’s a different mode from when we are watching TV or playing on our cell phones.  It’s different from listening to music or quiet activities such as reading. It’s more like that state just before falling asleep or just after waking up, when the brain waves are not yet affected by the cortex. It’s believed to be created in part by the synchronization of the heart and the brain into rhythmic movement, and in part by being in neurological “neutral.” In both cases, relaxation is a big part of it. That’s a hard place to get to when busy, rushing, or filling time with less important activities.

I certainly don’t want to go back to the days when I’d be kneading bread or washing clothes by hand, but I do realize such mundane physical tasks are the perfect environment for the brain to create. As soon as I can get new writers to embrace this idea, they are amazed at how fruitful their minds become.


How do you incorporate mental stillness and reflection into your life? Can you tell the difference when you don’t get that time? Do you think I’m nuts or controversial for telling people to pare down their calendars or do physical labor?

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Take Responsibility for Your Writing Life

Well. I’m a little red-faced today. The crime scene series will continue. As soon as I find it. Don’t worry, I have backups of backups. I just transferred everything to a new computer this week and apparently missed a few files. Embarrassing! And entirely my fault.

But it got me to thinking.

I like excuses. They seem to provide lubricant for slipping out of situations in which I am at fault. However, I try hard not to make excuses because, really, who cares? They don’t change the failure, right? They can’t undo a missing post, a lost opportunity, or a broken promise. Excuses might appease and reduce the fallout, but doesn’t let us own our mistakes and face them.

For that, we need to take responsibility.

As writers, aren’t excuses just easier?

  • I was too busy to write today.
  • The boss needed me so I couldn’t write.
  • The kids are sick so I was too tired to write.
  • I just wasn’t feeling it today. Maybe tomorrow.

Who are we appeasing? Ourselves, of course. We don’t want to acknowledge our failure or our lack of commitment. It’s easier to excuse ourselves to ourselves than admit we blew it.

What would it look like if we take responsibility instead?

  • I chose to spend my time elsewhere.
  • I elected to focus on something else.
  • I decided not to write while the kids napped.
  • I didn’t care enough to sit down and start.

It might sound a little harsh, but it’s honest, right? And it also requires us to own up to our choices rather than hide behind circumstances or other people.

Life does sometimes get in the way. That’s just a fact. But taking responsibility rather than making excuses gives a much better picture of our writing life and a much better gauge of our resistance.

Do you make excuses for not writing? I still do, even as I want to take responsibility instead. How do you feel after you tell yourself an excuse? A little relieved? A little dirty? I do, and ashamed besides.

How does it feel different to take responsibility? For me it feels a bit grim, but also honest, like a hard look in the mirror. Sometimes it’s clear there wasn’t much I could do. Most of the time, what’s clear is that I was lazy, uncommitted, or scared. Then I get a little mad. Taking responsibility has gotten me back out of bed to do my daily writing because I don’t want to see myself as a person who can’t fulfill her commitments.

For the next week or two, listen to what you tell yourself. Examine the excuses and rephrase them as taking responsibility.  If you need help, call your accountability partner (or get one). Holding myself accountable to another person who wouldn’t accept  excuses was how I began to understand the whole subject in the first place.

If you struggle to get your writing done, ditch the excuses, take responsibility, and get a little mad.

 


Which positive outcomes might we find by moving from excuses to responsibility?

Reviving the (nearly) Lost Art of Writing Letters

I’ve been promising myself (and my mother) for several years that I would start writing letters.  One would think my raging addiction to stationery and note cards would automatically have me using them, but, well, other than thank you notes, not so much.

I have kept a journal for decades and poured all my thoughts and feelings into it (an average of 70 pages a month). But I realized that, while my journals hold all the evidence of how much I care for friends and family, they aren’t going to share. That’s on me.

So this year is the year of letters. And though I’ve written about two dozen at this point, I’ve already learned a few interesting things:

  • Writing letters satisfies the same need/urge as writing in a journal. In fact, I’m writing much less in the journal as I’m taking that drive into letters.
  • People really do appreciate receiving them. Whether it’s a happy break from bills and “current resident” mail or the fact that someone took the time and spent the money on a stamp, or both, letters have been met with surprised pleasure.
  • Technology dies hard. I write and receive Skype or email in return, but I told everyone at the outset there was no pressure to write me back. I am particularly amused by the older generation, for whom letters were standard, but now Skype me a response.
  • The younger generation struggles with reading cursive handwriting. Some schools are even dropping penmanship from their curriculum, which gets me on my soap box every time the subject comes up. I won’t print for them, though. It’s a skill we’ll need for several generations, yet. I don’t want to think of a world in which people no longer write by hand.
  • I’ve learned that I can write from my heart, just as I do in my journal, and let people get to know me in a way I haven’t for most of my adult life. A letter is a gift of oneself. It’s a tangible bit of caring that can be held in the hand instead of living in a device.

Letter-writing really is becoming a lost art. I certainly can’t revive it on my own, but perhaps my efforts will cause a few ripples in the people I write to and keep it alive a little longer. I’ll let you know how the year of letters is progressing as the year goes on, but today I am hopeful that I have established a new habit and that I will be able to share my inner self with the people I care about in ways that journals don’t allow.

Have you felt the same urge? Have you wanted to write letters or do you already? We’re writers here, so I imagine more of us write them than the general population. If we don’t write them, who will?

What do you think will happen if personal correspondence moves entirely to electronic means? Will our great-grandchildren read about letters in history class?


What is your reaction when you receive a personal letter in the mail?

 

12 Tips for Making the Most of Your Writing Time

Making Time to WriteAs we wrap up the Making Time to Write series, here are twelve tips for making the most of your writing time. As always, take what works for you. These are a mix of practical “boots on the ground” tips and those designed to enhance your brain’s readiness.

1. Think about your scene before you sit down to write. Play it in your mind, decide where you will start, and run through the mood.

2. Use Rachel Aaron’s method: Take five minutes at the beginning of each writing session to make notes on what you plan to write before beginning.

3. Minimize interruptions as much as possible. This will save you needing time to get back into the story. (And yes, your family can be trained. 🙂 )

4. Conversely, some writers are good at training themselves to immediately continue after interruption by suspending or pausing the story in their minds. Use tip three or tip four according to what works best for you.

5. Use a timer, either the Pomodoro method or an adaptation that works for you.

6. Consider dong word springs with writer friends. This also helps with overcoming resistance, and is easy to do via Skype, Twitter, or your favorite social media.

7. Take a warm sower before your writing session.

8. Take a notebook to bed. Get comfortable and write until you fall asleep.

9. Cultivate mindlessness (a form of productive boredom). Walking, exercise, washing dishes, vacuuming, and similar tasks occupy y our front brain while your writer mind gets busy. When possible, go straight from mindlessness to writing.

10. For the socially minded, schedule regular write-ins with your writer group or writing friends. This puts writing on the schedule in a new way. 🙂

11.”The desire to write grows with writing,” said Desiderius Erasmus. The more we write, the more we get into the story, the more we want to write. The more we desire to get words on the page, the more we will naturally look for time to do it.

12. Seek an accountability partner to encourage you and also deliver a swift kick when needed. Set goals and then report on those goals the next time you speak.

I hope the Making Time series has been helpful and given you a few useful tips to try in your own writing life.


Do you feel this series is helpful to writers? Which tips spoke to you?

Making Time to Write

Not-So-Obvious Time Wasters

Finding Hidden Time

Becoming Portable

Forming the Write Habits

The Job vs No Job Myth

12 Tips for Making the Most of Your Writing Time