The Future of Physical Writing

I know, It’s a dramatic image, isn’t it?

I’ve had my grandson since April, and I’ve taken charge of the homeschooling his district is doing through the COVID  closures. He is eight years old and in advanced programs for math and reading.

It breaks my heart to say this, but he hates writing.  He hates the physical act of holding a pencil and putting marks on the paper. He’s come close to hating composition, and that was entirely unacceptable in my house.

He’s composing on the computer, now, knowing he has to copy it all to paper when he’s done, and his attitude has improved slightly. He’s a bit too eager to write down my examples rather than use them to create his own prose.  We’re getting there, with his teacher’s support.

If you took literature in college, you might have had to learn to read Middle or Old English.  People do it because we wanted to read works in the original (or appease our professors). Five years ago, I had a conversation with my nephew, in which he informed me they were no longer being taught cursive writing. I asked him how he would read the constitution or the letters of historical figures if he couldn’t read cursive.  His response was to tell me if it wasn’t printed, he’d have to learn. He was eight then and could read cursive from both his grandmother and myself.  I had hope.

My grandson cannot.  In just five years, kids can no longer do that much. How long before cursive writing is something people consider must be translated?

Oh, they will be fine. I know this. the Digital Natives prefer to compose on keyboards. I do probably seventy-five percent of my composing on a keyboard these days when in flow. The kid will learn to do the same and he’ll be fine. It still makes me sad, though. The thought that he might not be able to read letters between his great-grandparents or any of the genealogy files makes me sad. That I have to print for him makes me sad and frustrated.

I can’t recall another moment in history that moved us away from writing by hand. The printing press merely prevented us having to copy ad nauseum. Steel nibs meant more geese got to keep their feathers. We still had to write…put pen to page.

Times change. We evolve. Those of us meant to write will still write, just without a pen or a pencil. As for those who want to read history in its original form, well, I guess there will be classes or segments of classes in the future to teach kids how to read cursive. After school programs, perhaps? Maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll learn to read and write cursive, and it will not be lost to history.

Well, that’s the hope of this grandmother. Perhaps in my seventies, I’ll teach community classes on the subject, teaching this very thing. Then again, I’m still hoping I won’t have to.

The Journey Creates New Words

It’s amazing how life can be somewhat peaceful and then turn you on your head. I’ll give you the basic run down, but the chaos of the last 2 1/2 years is not the topic of this post.

In January, 2018, my husband died. In May, I developed a pulmonary embolism. In November, the building attached to mine burned to the ground, taking the water main, the electrical, and my car with it (totaled…the building fell on it). My condo is fine and the photo is from the actual fire. However, my adult son and I ended up sharing a hotel room for fifteen months.  Not how I would recommend for anyone to spend time, trust me. To be trapped in a small space with a talkative extrovert tested my sanity at times. 🙂 In March, 2020, just over two years after all this began, I’m finally back home, a bittersweet thing as there were leaks and my kitchen needs to be ripped out.

I didn’t write after my husband died. In fact, though I journaled, I didn’t write fiction for a year. The confidence with which I used to approach posts here was gone, too. I had coaching training, but no clients, I’d lost the one editor I trusted absolutely, and I wasn’t sure I was cut out to publish any more. The dark night of the writer’s soul, I suppose.

In January, 2019, I was exasperated, not sure what I was supposed to be doing as other paths had opened up, and very much felt like Jacob, ready to wrestle the angel. I got angry, shook my fist in the air and demanded to know where my focus should be. For a week, I did nothing but go down each path in my imagination, trying to imagine life in the future. One thing that became clear…the only thing I had endless patience with and energy for was writing.

The dam broke loose January 19th.  I sat down at the computer, found myself opening up Scrivener for the first time in recent memory, and more than nine thousand words poured out of me that day. Within a week, I had a routine and was actually producing stories.

It was like going from a hose that dripped once a day to a fire hose in my face. I’m still shocked when I look at my daily averages and word count for 2019. Where did it come from?

I thought a lot about this event, and I think there are insights useful for all writers. The first is the truth that, as writers, we watch ourselves when we go through painful things. We remember those emotions and lend them to our characters. The best scenes are the ones that bring tears to your own eyes as you write them. My ability to write three-dimensional characters has expanded hugely. My willingness to be vulnerable on the page and take chances as a writer have stretched.

I think another reason this torrent happened is because I said no to other paths, acknowledged that I was a writer before almost anything else, even to the point of understanding I’d rather write than have a steady relationship that took time away from the words. Believe me, that was a revelation that caused a few tears. I’ve always imagined myself to be writer and many other things. I coach. I encourage. I teach a very little. Whatever else I may do, I am a writer. That’s who I am, that’s my primary focus and priority, and there is no conflict as to my lifestyle. Words rule. If I do nothing but put words on a page for the rest of my life, I’ll be content.

Here’s another. Stop worrying about what you write and just let it come.  Of course we want to be focused and produce to our goals, yet there is a time and place to open a new document and just type. It may be something totally outside what you usually write. It might provide adhesive to your current work. I’m an advocate of free-writing about stories and characters. I am no longer surprised when the free-write becomes something all on its own. It’s okay. No guilt. Just creative process. I’ve now written in genres that scared or intimidated me. And I liked it.

Though I believe writers write and do not advocate putting my hand to my forehead to declare it’s just not there today, I have discovered there are times it’s okay if the writing dries up for a bit. If you make a living writing, you’ll find a way to break through it if you can. If not, if you have the time and space, as I did during the initial recovery from the embolism, just sit with it. I still wrote in my journal every day, but lost all fiction. At some point, I think you just decide to give yourself a break and let it be. Relaxing about it and taking the pressure off probably had a lot more to do with the flood being so productive when it arrived. Regardless, not beating myself up as hard as I would have the year prior helped me to be open to whatever would come word-wise.

There’s a good chance this post seems egotistical or woe-is-me. That’s not where I’m at. I think, in a way, I’ve finally found my feet. So many losses in the past three years. Losses, disruptions, and more. Yet my word count is no longer an issue. My willingness to sit down and compose isn’t something I think about. I do it first thing.  Would I have all this if I hadn’t dried up for a year? Would I have all this if I hadn’t lost my closest friends, my husband, and for a time, my mobility and health? I have finished several first drafts that I actually like. It’s been a while.

For writers, no life experience is wasted. We grow. Our capacity to write well and with deeper meaning grows. Our characters have new opportunities to grow.

If you’re in the midst of something that hurts right now,  you have my empathy. Keep your notebook close. Take notes on phrases, feelings, observations. Let yourself really feel and describe it. Then put the notebook away and simply sit with life until you’re ready to write.

The Writer and–Ooh, Shiny!

Reminder:   The 50% reduced coaching fees in honor of Int’l coach week end at midnight, Sunday, May 21. To take advantage, be sure to email me before then. More details here.

I was going to title this post the Agony of Choice, but let’s be real. No one wants to talk about agony, right?  And we are all familiar with “Squirrel Syndrome.”

Sometimes a shiny is just a shiny. It attracts our attention and we wander after it as happily as a child chases a butterfly. However, we are soon back with our project, the shiny object now a mere smile on our lips as we forge ahead on our original track. To carry the analogy further, most of us know that catching those butterflies can damage them, so we have learned to wait patiently for them to land on their own.

Sometimes, though, the shiny (or squirrel, depending on your preference) is a mask. It’s not just when we can’t decide between existing options . . . this character or that plot, this project or that. Those moment s of indecisiveness are hard enough when the choices are clear-cut. It’s when we have too many really good ideas worth pursuing to settle on any of them. It’s like being in a field filled with butterflies, mesmerized and still, as they flutter, land on us, flutter again. It’s a beautiful place to be, but man is it hard to pick a favorite, you know?

When so many ideas have so much potential, it feels so impossible to pick just one. So we stand there in the agony of choice.

It’s all well and good when the options are butterflies, beautiful to watch. But, on occasion, those pretty wings turn into a cage (or worse, hail or stinging rain) and we become trapped, frozen,   That’s the agony. That’s the pain of indecision.

If you have ended up there simply because you are afraid you’ll lose all the other ideas if you choose one, there’s good news. As John Steinbeck said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” The writer is never short of ideas. They come from everywhere. They land like fairy dust on the pillow, the breakfast table, the conference room. All we have to do is sweep them up. Only the new writers are worried about lack of ideas or losing those they have captured. More ideas will come to us than any of us could write in a lifetime. Grasping this truth leaves us free to pursue one idea, knowing dozens are lining up for our attention later.

If you ended up there due to fear (fear of producing, fear of judgment, fear of choosing), there’s also good news. Either your drive to write will overcome fear long enough for you to get started (and begin negotiations with that fear) or that fear will distract you from writing all together. Either way, you’ll move beyond this point.

The true agony, for me, comes when I’ve developed a couple of ideas enough to see where they are headed and what their potential is. I like them all, the characters are active, the plots creep into my dreams. I would count it a great success if I only had one, or a great one and a good one. The choice is easier then, of course. Once in a while I have even managed to combine two of them into a stronger story. My painful indecision comes when two or three are actively campaigning for my attention.

I think it’s helpful for writers to have a clear idea of their goals at moments like this. If you plan to write only historical romance, or to focus on science fiction, it’s simpler to eliminate all the good ideas that don’t fit. If you are publishing your work, continuing your series probably carries more weight than writing a stand-alone novel. Knowing your goals gives you something by which to judge each idea and concept.

To make the process easier, I’ve developed a list of questions to answer when I am stuck in the agony of choice. I’ll draw columns for each idea and use the questions as rows. My goal is to find out which story has the most meaning for me personally, (which is usually directly correlated to how much it make me uncomfortable), and which seems to have the most “juice.” Some ideas look fantastic when first developed, but not all of them have the juice to carry a full novel.

Every writer develops their own list of questions. I’m sharing a few of mine in case you need a starting point.

  • Which of these stories am I dreaming about?
  • Which of these stories pops into my head most often?
  • Which of these stories feel like they can wait?
  • Which of these stories brings emotions to the surface?
  • Which of these main characters is most/least like me?
  • What is the Truth for each of these stories/characters?
  • Which of these stories or characters makes me most uncomfortable?
  • Which character makes the most profound change in their arc?

You get the idea. I use about 16 questions on average. Generally speaking, it’s worked for me to go through a process like this. What’s most telling (and kind of maddening, in a good way) is when I write a lot about one idea and feel it’s the best option only to throw it all out the window and run after the other idea full speed. I don’t think I’d have found the hidden commitment for it if I hadn’t put it through the process.

Squirrel Syndrome gets us all at one time or another. The Agony of Choice will, too. In both cases, however, we can take control.


How have you resolved your Agony of Choice? If prone to Squirrel Syndrome, how often do you let it pull you off course?

 

 

Just for You, Our Muses

Happy Monday! I hope you had a great weekend and/or Mother’s Day.

If you read the A to Z series in April, you might have caught the news that I’ve spend much of the last year training to become a life coach specializing in creativity, the creative process, and writers. YOU are the inspiration for that endeavor. This community not only gave me the courage, you gave me the vision for how I can give back and share all I’ve learned over a lifetime of creativity.

Because I feel so blessed to be part of the Muse community, I wanted to share with you a couple of opportunities before anyone else sees them. In fact, I’m not offering these anywhere else, though you are free to share them.

The first is that, now that training is complete, I need to amass 100 coaching hours for my first certification rank with the International Coach Federation. Though I’m well on my way, I discovered I could “give away” 30 of those hours. This is first for the Muse community and then for anyone you know that might be interested: up to ten sessions of coaching on subjects of your choosing, m. The best thing about coaching is that it serves YOU, not the coach. If you are interested in becoming a pro bono client (or know someone who is), please email me at robynalruecoaching [at] gmail.com. Preference goes first to this community and then to the people we know.

The second is that International Coach Week begins May 15th. In honor of ICW, and again for the Muse community, all coaching is 50% off if booked through midnight on May 21st. For a description and more information, I’ve set up a page here for reference.

In addition to individual coaching, I also offer group coaching, with the enhanced opportunity for peer-to-peer learning. I’m only running one “program” at this time, which is Habit Builder 45, designed to help you establish new habits for a lifetime. Again, click here for more information.

I am so honored to be of service to a community that has been so supportive. I’ll be writing posts here with what I’ve learned that is both of general benefit and specifically of benefit to writers. I’ve got a whole year of post ideas backed up between my ears!

If you have any questions at all about coaching or anything in this post, please do not hesitate to ask them in the comments below or privately at robynlaruecoaching [at] gmail.com.

Z – Zest

Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating, by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road he wants to go, I would only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.
Ray Bradbury

I was sure I’d lost my zest. I was pretty sure my gusto had flown the coop.

I tend to expect a lot of myself in terms of creative work. In the past I’ve enjoyed a high output of words and never thought that would change.

Until it did.

Last year, my body delivered its opinion of my expectations and how I handle stress by planting me in the hospital (10 days in March).  I’m still working on the necessary lifestyle adjustments it was clear I needed, including my attitudes toward my own production. Overachievers beware.

I came out of the hospital with two goals: make meaning and find middle ground. So I started a course to become a creativity coach and I got some accountability for my expectations. It’s a good thing I did because November brought the removal of my cancerous thyroid (great news) and the issues of adjusting the replacement hormone, which is a surprisingly long process. Fatigue on a whole new level, folks. If I had gone through that without someone reminding me it would be a good idea to “adjust your expectations, Robyn!” I’d have fallen into my old ways pretty fast.

Mind over matter and “just do it” have been a big part of my life until this past year. I’ve got a whole new level of compassion and empathy for people struggling to get their creative work done. I’ve got a whole new picture of what we do to ourselves with unrealistic expectations, both high and low. I’m navigating toward that middle ground.

So it seems the zest is still there. The gusto hasn’t flown away. I have good habits in place and a craving to put words on paper. Not long ago I complained to my coach about not getting thing done well enough or fast enough. She laughed and pointed to the task list I sent her, reminding me I was getting things done. And I do. I’ve had an enormously productive six months.

Just not the way I used to.

And I need to be okay with that.

Because I still have my zest.


How is your gusto? Do you feel that zest regularly?