Writing

Much Ado

This isn’t The Bard’s creative life

In writing, I often find I’m the one getting in my own way. Letting days go by without writing much more than a grocery list and then berating myself about my own self importance, that someone would actually miss the words I didn’t write. But the point of writing, at least for me, is not to hit the publish button but to feel a sense of self accomplishment about lining up a few words in a way that makes sense of what I’m feeling.

I’m in the third part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear, a section titled Permission. It’s my third or fourth read through of a book that can always reignite my passion about writing when it starts lagging or falling apart as it has been lately. Here is the sentence I needed to read this morning…

Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal of it.

This gives me permission to simply write, spill out my thoughts, get them down for a first draft that no one will ever have to see. I don’t have to spend thirty minutes on the right word for bravery when bravery is exactly the word to use. I don’t need to freak out that someone’s going to know all my secrets when and if they read this thing. I won’t suddenly combust if that happens. Another thing I don’t need to do because no one is strapping me to my desk, is to write. I’m doing it because I want to do it.

So keep at the writing, even and especially if you’ve fallen off for a few days, weeks or months. You know there’s something inside you that wants, needs, you to keep doing this mystical thing. There is something about it that satisfies and soothes or you wouldn’t feel called to do it. Right?

Nope, nothing to see here. Just doing a little writing. No big freaking deal.

MC

Writing

Here I am

Last week I wavered powerfully on my writing project. It’s too hard. It feels too far in the past. Why would anyone want to read what I have to say? Who do I think I am? It would be easier to quit writing altogether! I can enjoy life more if only I didn’t put so much pressure on doing this thing. Short of wiping my hands clean of the whole project, I decided to shelve it while on vacation. Too much was competing for my attention, especially the warm sunshine of Florida which I wasn’t going to have for a while if I didn’t soak it up then and there.

I am now home in my empty house looking at a dreary, gray sky from the writing space in my loft I haven’t been able to visit for weeks due to a broken leg. It is so quiet and nice. Is it wrong I missed this so much? I am also a day away from having my walking boot removed and I’m hoping I’ll be cleared to drive. I am two weeks post my second Covid vaccine and life is blooming with possibility along with the daffodils in our front garden. I feel like I am once again coming alive.

We are in the 30 minute space of my Monday writing class where we work on free writing. The questions posed this morning to get us going were all about honoring this call to write. The one I latched onto was how to use a physical object to represent your project this week. Looking around, my eyes settled on a small marble bowl of rocks brought home from various journeys. Chief among them, the start of this collection, came from climbing Croach Patrick, a rocky mountain that towers above the villages of Murrisk and Lecanvey in County Mayo, Ireland.

It was late August 2012 and we went to Ireland for a Notre Dame football game in Dublin later that week. On my husband’s bucket list was to climb this mountain and I said I’d be honored to do it with him, not realizing how tough of a climb it would be for me, how the drizzling rain would make it much harder than usual, especially the last bit which is pure loose rock. At the bottom of the mountain, just as we were starting the climb, an American went into cardiac arrest and we found out later in the hike he had died there at the foot of the St. Patrick statue. This strengthened my resolve to continue the climb, that I could do this no matter how hard the climb became. One step at a time.

It took over 4 hours to get to the top and we were greeted by cloud cover, unable to see the view but there was a feeling of great accomplishment in doing something I didn’t think I could do. Remembering some of the worst things I have gotten through over the many years of my life so far are inspiration to keep me moving forward even when I want to quit. Croagh Patrick is the biggest physical challege of my life while surving my brother’s suicide is the mental counterpart of that. I know that with time and patience I will do this too. One word at a time.

MC

Writing

Writing interrupted

My writing routine has slipped away. Getting up in the morning to read and write before the rest of my house has gone by the wayside for the last couple of weeks and I need to refocus. To that end, I decided to wake early today and get back at it, I need to read something, write something.

I picked up The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a book I ordered ages ago when I was in a daily rhythm with my writing. Things were going so well, I thought it was advice I didn’t need, forgetting how this writing thing goes with its peaks and valleys. The first section of the book is about facing resistance, to do the thing you want most to do when every other thing in life is calling you, tempting you away from it.

This paragraph bluntly encapsulates where I am:

As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We uplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., buy only by doing our work.

How did I know I was in trouble? I didn’t do any new writing on my project this week. For the past 8 weeks I have produced 7 new pages of work to share with a peer in my writing group, have put my all into it, honed and edited to get the words just right. But not this week. It felt a little bit like failure. Luckily we rotate writing partners every Friday and I could give them a piece I’d already sent out. But it was a wake up to get back to work.

The War of Art carries brief snippets of encouragement with each tiny chapter, prodding me back to my purpose. It was exactly the book I needed this morning.

And so here I go, back to work.

MC

Writing

Reading About Writing

When I decided to start writing a memoir last fall, having contemplated it for many years, I knew I would need a lot of guidance. As my new morning writing routine kicked into gear, a favorite part of it was selecting books about writing to read, choosing well experienced authors as my guide. The first was a book I had on hand from one of my writing classes when I started signing up for classes in the months after getting sober. Marion Roach Smith’s, The Memoir Project, could be read in an afternoon but I chose to savor each chapter by reading just a little bit each day. The best advice I gleaned from it was to a) write every time with intention and b) always ask yourself what is this about. She incorporated bits of her own story and these tripped my own memories and provided writing inspiration without the use of prompts which she doesn’t like to use in her teaching. There is also a personal connnection to Marion because I worked with her husband for many years and met her on a few ocassions. She is personable and striking with beautiful red hair and you can tell she pays attention.

For my next book, I chose Alexander Chee’s, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. While it is not a writing book per se, I found the biographical stories he wrote to be beautifully written. He is my age and grew up in a small Maine town which is somthing I can relate to. His stories reminded me of my own stories even though he is part Korean and gay, two things I am not. These stories were marvelous prompts to write about my own experiences, particularly high school since we were of the same era and many times it offered a contrast to my life, particulaly my path to writing. He knew early on he wanted to write and doggedly pursued it from the beginning. I had absolutely no confidence that I could be any good at it and gave up before I got started. The idea I came away with here was to write as if your life depends on it, as if you were dying. The point was driven home in a story he wrote about a barista friend who was writing a book and died of AIDS before finishing it. Chee wrote a memorial piece about the man and it was on display in the coffee shop’s window and it was a daily reminder for him to keep writing.

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Writing

Why do you write?

This was one of the initial questions the writing Mastermind teacher asked us on our first Zoom encounter in early January. I looked at the squares of women, twenty-eight of us in all, embarking on this six month quest to devlop a non-fiction project we hoped to publish. I felt overwhelmed and wondered who I thought I was to embark on such a quest.

Why do I write? It started after my brother Jeff’s suicide when I was a freshman in college. A glorious new world of freedom was at my feet and I was now facing the biggest stumble of my life. Grief. Loss. Hopelessness. The only thing I could think to do was to write about it. My mom brought me to a therapist shortly after Jeff died but I was all clogged up, didn’t know how to speak out loud the things I was feeling, the dark thoughts rolling around in my head. Pen and notebook saved me. Denial did too.

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Writing

Writing Routine Revise

Before my accident last week, I had a faithful morning routine and had been writing daily since late October. This came after months of not writing, at least not regularly and it was almost like I had hit rock bottom as far as self-motivation goes. Maybe I can blame it on the pandemic. The rock bottom part was triggered by an incident that will go unnamed to protect my people but it was heartwrenching. During this same time I was working on a jigsaw puzzle and listening to the audiobook Atomic Habits by James Clear. It was almost as if God knew what I needed by sending me this book which I had never intended to read.

But as the puzzle pieces of my Italian landscape came together, so did the idea of starting small with putting new habits in place. The first thing I took away from Atomic Habits was to start each new habit with the tiniest of practices – 2 minutes on the treadmill, 2 minutes meditating, 2 minutes writing. The other idea was to stack habits so that it becomes a routine and this is how I worked up to my new two hour routine.

Since I am a morning person and work best with no one around me, I changed my wakeup time to 5:00 a.m. That made all the difference in keeping the comittment to myself to do this every day. Within a couple of weeks, I was in my daily rhythm working out (listening to an audiobook), making tea or coffee to bring to my office in the loft, sitting for meditation, reading books about writing and then finally doing the writing. It wasn’t easy to do at first but over time, I began to look forward to every part of the routine. I’ve listened to several wonderful memoirs and non-fiction books during my morning exercise, read many books about writing and have written well over 100,000 words since I started. The website 750words.com was pivitol in maintaining my daily writing practice.

So now what? Time to put in place a new routine. I will no longer be able to do key parts of the morning routine and my office will be dark for the next nine weeks or so as I’m unable to climb the spiral stairs that lead to it. I have been giving myself a break (haha) this week and am going with the flow. If I don’t write as much, so be it. I’m starting to think about what my new routine will be and I will have a little more freedom as far as time of day as I’m unable to work right now.

Do you have a routine that works for you?

Writing

Therapy

“What is your project about?” is the question that often comes up in the non-fiction writing Mastermind I signed up for last month which goes from early January to late June. Good question, I say. I’m hoping to write about my brother’s suicide and how it changed the course of my life, how I turned to alcohol, how life went on and how it turned out to be actually OK. Tears usually well up in my eyes when I start talking about my brother Jeff as I get choked up explaining what he meant to me, how I feel it’s important to talk about suicide, out in the open. Let’s talk about all the crap. But I don’t want it to be a downer of a book either for there is so much hope in surviving and coming through to the other side. The others nod, understanding what I mean about hope. It’s really a story of resilience, overcoming the shit life throws at you, surviving and even thriving.

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Writing

Writing a blog in Ulysses

Today I am testing out a new (to me) writing tool called Ulysses. The why behind this is that I am attempting my first draft of a non-fiction book and I have a lot of miscellaneous writing for it scattered in various places and want to corral it into one spot. Ulysses was an option that was mentioned in the writing class I started earlier this month, the class that is supposed to help me tame the wild beast of my ideas and harness them into something possibly publishable, possibly not which is what the critical voice inside my head is telling me.

There are three areas on this version of Ulysses I find appealing because I use all three to write: My Novel, My Blog and My Diary. For the past year my online diary, or journal as I prefer to call it, has been contained using the website 750words.com and it has worked well for me, especially these last three months as I have committed to daily writing. It keeps track of my word count, makes sure I stick around for at least 750 words, and encourages me with a visual clue to track my days in a row streak. It also gives me the ability to look at my writing analytically (which I rarely use anymore). It tells me if I’m happy, sad, optimistic, looking toward the future or stuck in the past. It tells me if I’ve stayed in PG level words or if I’ve strayed to R rated material (as if!), whether I am obsessed with death, money or food. Pretty cool, right?

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Writing

I went on a walk

Considering it is 25 degrees here in upstate New York, that is an amazing feat! It dawned on me as I was doing my morning writing, reflecting on a writing retreat I took part in yesterday (more on that to come), that I hadn’t completed the assignment she had left us with yesterday afternoon in the minutes just before this country became chaotic and unimaginable. I could not believe the things that were happening on the screen I had tuned into as I was seeking to get an update on the fate of the Senate races in Georgia. Instead, what started out as a normal rite of passage, the certification of the votes for the next President, soon turned into anarchy and violence. So glued was I to the unfolding news that it took a text from my son reminding me he was done with school to rattle me back into my world.

The rest of the day went along, I moved away from the screen, into a book, into conversation with my son, back to my email where a teacher had responded to a note I had sent the day before. The school year hasn’t been without struggles and this teacher and my son have not had an easy relationship this year. She wants him to act a certain way (understandable), but he is bored and unchallenged and there is more stress than ever due to Covid so other options aren’t readily available. Feeling her response was terse, I tamped down the urge to respond in kind, something regretful, and so I put it away. The first response is not always the best, I have found. I decided to sleep on it.

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Writing

Searching for words

It has been a while since I’ve written (on the blog) but it’s rarely far from my mind. The words have just disappeared again and even though I’m faithfully (well nearly faithfully) writing the “morning pages”, topics to write about with clarity or usefulness just don’t seem to be on the menu. And so when I was browsing at Target yesterday I picked up a small book called Burn After Writing and felt compelled to add it to my cart. This book ticks all the boxes for me: the cover was alluring, robins egg blue with the image of a red pack of matches front and center, the feel and size was perfect, the pages invitingly blank with simple writing prompts and the intro about engaging in honest assessment (for my eyes only) seemed a call to action at this particular moment in time.

Today I woke earlier than usual, trying to get back into some sort of morning routine again. I bundled in my robe, grabbed a deliciously hot coffee and made my way up to the loft I’d abandoned sometime last spring when the unending days of quarantine left me little space for tending to my own needs for routine. The first order of business was the 750 word sprint on 750words.com so I could get my daily check box that affirms I am writing. Then I opened the book and decided to start from the beginning. The questions were easy, no rigorous honesty needed yet, just a nostalgic meander through my younger years.

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