Saying YES to the Writer Inside You

Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

I don’t know about that. I’ve had some bigger agonies in my life than that.

HOWEVER, after several years of burying an untold story inside me, I’ve decided to take some concentrated time to get the story on paper.

Halting Progress

I started this novel five years ago. I have started and stopped this novel so many times I’ve lost count. I still love it, but it’s one of those novels that isn’t commercial (no Amish vampires), isn’t a series, and isn’t edgy. But I love it. It stays with me every time I pause to write a series for someone, or teach a workshop, or critique a novel, or write a work-for-hire book for an educational publisher.

My novel is languishing half finished, and I’ve decided to take the time to finish it now. Three months of study and writing time is going to be my gift…to ME!

Changes

What will that mean? Several things. For three months (until August 1): 

  • I won’t be writing new blog posts. If you’re looking for help, there are hundreds of blog posts available here on all kinds of topics. (See the list down the right-hand side.)
  • I won’t be doing novel critiques for three months.
  • I won’t be available for guest blog posts, online interviews, or teaching a workshop.
I’ve been writing lately about retreats, but I decided I needed more. It’s like a sabbatical, time away from activities that can burn you out, then taking that time and energy and pouring into your work. I’m excited about the coming months! See you back here August 1!

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Let’s All Say “Ahhhhhhhh…” and Retreat!

Even when life is going well, the writing pressures, the marketing, the waiting, and the deadlines can make you dream of taking a writing retreat. Add in too many volunteer activities, caring for a baby, taking elderly parents to all their doctors’ appointments, and some days you want to run away.

Last week I mentioned a “book in a box” called The Writer’s Retreat Kit: A Guide for Creative Exploration and Personal Expression by Judy Reeves. I’ve looked longingly at it several times and read some of her ideas of creating writer’s retreats lasting from twenty minutes to several days, depending on the time and money you have available.

Madly Treading Water

This time, though, I’m not going to sigh and put the book box back. I’m going to delve deeper into the retreat idea and try some of the experiences. It’s no surprise that I’m as tired as I am–it’s been months since I could take a weekend (or one day) truly “off.” When I read the following opening page, I let out a big Ahhhhhh! I bet some of you will too. Judy writes:

Getting away: the wish and dream and fantasy of every writer I have ever known and, I expect, of nearly every writer I will ever meet, except for those rare and blessed souls who are lucky enough, or determined enough, or rich enough, to already be “away.”

What is “away”? It is someplace else. It is the place that each of us craves, and when we close our eyes, comes to us in all its wooded shadiness or vast, unending blueness. We visualize a mountain cabin; a cottage by the sea; a secret, hidden monastery; a wide-decked, win­dowed, pillowed, sweet-smelling, abundant, nurturing, solitary place where there are no “musts” or “have tos” or “shoulds.” No dishes to do or phones to answer or children/mates/partners with whom we must interact. No set time to start or stop, to wake up or go to sleep. No television. No email. No deadlines. No place to drive to. It is sim­ply a place to be.

“Away” is generally where we long to be as we arm wrestle the elements of our daily lives to make time for our writing and for that private and soulful part of us that we long to be with but so often set aside.

Getting Rid of False Guilt

It is not that we don’t love our lives; we do. Mostly. And we love the people in our lives — family and friends — and the work we do that allows us to afford the lives we mostly love. But sometimes it’s a little too much for a little too long.

What we want is to get away for a little while. We don’t want to just go on vacation, but to a place we go alone, or maybe with a few like-minded souls who also want to be alone, but in an alone/together way. To renew and refresh and explore and create and refill. To retreat. And to write.

A writing retreat.

Maybe it will be a place you rent. Maybe it will be a free picnic table in a park. Maybe it will be your own backyard swing.

The inner pressure is building. I’m about ready to run!

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A Writer’s Need to Prune: Mentally, Physically, and Emotionally

The natural tendency of grape vines is to grow shoots and leaves rather than produce an abundant crop of grapes. Each year, in order to have an abundant crop, unproductive parts of the plant must be cut away.

Writers are like grape vines. Here’s how:

Thick leaves look luxurious, but that beautiful foliage can block sunlight from getting to where the grapes need to form.

Without pruning, the thick foliage will sprawl and look impressive, but the vines won’t produce many grapes. All the plant’s resources must be used to support the unproductive shoots and leaves. Vital nutrients needed to grow grapes will be used up.

You can grow lots of foliage or lots of grapes–but not both. Therein lies the problem: both for the vine grower AND FOR A WRITER.

Dying Dreams

We all have dreams and visions for certain projects or accomplishments. We plan, we dream, we tell others, we organize ourselves to do the work…but then something happens. Or many “somethings.”

Something’s got to give, we find ourselves muttering for weeks and then months. I just don’t have enough time and energy to do this, we finally admit to ourselves. I’ve been saying this about a pet writing project for nearly five years, I realized this spring. My life is filled with glossy, impressive, good foliage–but few grapes. And I’m taking steps to do something about it.

It’s NOT Just Time Management

Over the years, I’ve tried every time management system there is. I’ve done accountability groups, hired a writing coach once, and kept myself to a strict schedule (until emergencies threw me off). Each thing worked–for a while.

But before Easter I de-cluttered my kitchen and pantry, which had been hard to work in because there was just too much junk sitting around everywhere. Then I de-cluttered my office for the same reason. A de-cluttered writing space helped my mental state.

However, I realized that my schedule itself was toxic. I had added on too many things in the last year, NONE of which were my idea or passion. They’re all important jobs, but if I keep them all, I will never get to this writing project I dream of trying. I need to de-clutter my schedule.

What about mental de-cluttering? Since January 1, I have been using Caroline Leaf’s 21-Day detox program for de-cluttering my brain of negative thoughts and beliefs I need to eliminate. I want my brain to be used for something more productive.

De-clutter Before Committing

I got into these situations because I commit to new things without pruning out previous things. This works for a short time, but soon I find that time for exercise and time to sleep and time to fix healthy meals has been squeezed out. And I get sick.

But I want to start my writing project in a couple weeks, after my last school visit and trip. Between now and then, I plan to do some pruning so I can find room for my dream project. I want more grapes–and that’s going to mean less foliage.

How about you? Do you need to prune some activities, or time-wasting habits, or rotten mental attitudes so that you can find the time to live your dreams? Then I encourage you to start today!

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“They Say…” Writing Advice

I hope you new writers question everything “they say” you have to do to succeed. That includes any advice I might give on this blog.

Thirty years ago “they said” a new writer had to find a way to get to New York and meet the editors face to face if she wanted to sell a book. I had four small children and couldn’t afford that, but still got in “over the transom” to be fished out of the slush pile. I didn’t meet my editor face to face until I had done seven novels with her–and someone else paid for a business trip to NY.

Over thirty years, I’ve had 44 books published by various traditional publishers. Today “they say” you must attend conferences to meet editors face to face and increase  your chances of selling to them. I have met some lovely editors and agents at conferences I both attended and spoke at. I’ve paid for critiques with some of them. However, I’ve never sold anything that way.

Don’t Get Me Wrong

I’m not saying to avoid conferences or trips or critique groups or social networking or anything else “they say” you must do to succeed. There is some wisdom in all that advice. But does it all apply to YOU? No one else can tell you that.

This week I am taking some time to re-think a few writerly things I’ve been doing that “they say” are so important for writers to succeed in the digital age. Some things I will keep doing. Some, I suspect, I will drop.

Real Writing Advice

Some writerly advice never changes though. If you want some wise advice for writing success, read Rules for Writing and Life” by Jane Resh Thomas.

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Retreat Time: Is It Possible?

While recovering from an illness I picked up simply (I believe) from being exhausted, I was going through my favorite writing books.

One caught my eye and created an instant longing: The Writer’s Retreat Kit: A Guide for Creative Exploration and Personal Expression by Judy Reeves. It’s like a writer’s retreat in a box, with ideas for one-hour retreats, half-day retreats, weekend retreats and longer. They can be retreats at home or far away.

Retreat: a Definition

Among other things, the author wrote:

A writing retreat isn’t just about the time spent writing. Perhaps equally important as the time spent writing is the time given over to nourishment… For many writers, a retreat is a time for reconnecting with nature, for long walks in quiet woods or beside a restless seashore, for rowing on a lake or canoeing on a river. We long for a soundtrack of birdsong or trickling creek, for the lazy sway of a hammock beneath a shading tree, for a rocking chair on a generous porch, mint tea, a glass of wine or fresh, sweet water within reach. We want someone to bring us lunch. A retreat is a quiet place (except for the birds or maybe the profound purring of cat on lap), and when the time is right and good and when we are ready, it is writing.

Since I have met all five writing deadlines (some book length, some not), I am seriously considering giving myself the “gift of time” that such a retreat would take.

Pressure to Write

I’ve only gone on one writing retreat, and during that time, I felt the pressure to write continually. I had no one to cook for, no Internet connection, no one needing me for anything. It wouldn’t be like that when I returned home, so I felt much pressure to write, write, write!

But oh! A retreat without pressure or guilt? Wouldn’t that be heavenly? It wouldn’t have to be expensive–or even cost anything at all. I live near a pond and greenbelt area to walk in, I have a porch with a swing and three rockers, and I can fix the tea.

It’s the time that will cost me–time away from people and expectations and deadlines. It would be having the guts to say “no, I can’t,” when I’m home and free. Right now, I can barely fathom what it would feel like to retreat like this and not write until I really felt called back to it.

But oh! What an idea! I think I’m going to take a serious look at my calendar!

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