Archives for posts with tag: writing process
Beltany Stone Circle, from its west side, sout...

Beltony, up the road from where I lived outside of Raphoe, and where I enjoyed walking my dogs Inca and Honey.

I remember my first holiday in Nebraska. I was expecting something out of The Waltons: snowy fields, blustery cold and a roaring fire. What I got was dry corn stubble poking out of dirt that hadn’t seen snow in weeks and unseasonably warm temperatures. It was so warm, in fact, that I walked the fields thirteen miles outside McCook in shirt sleeves. I didn’t know that Mother Nature would more than make up for that first snowless disappointment. Over the next four years – while I attended Doane College in Crete (just south of Lincoln) – we experienced more than our fair share of blizzards and frozen mornings. To keep warm I stole an arctic Army coat marked “Kiln Crew” from the art department and trudged through knee-deep whiteness to campus.

I had a fair chance of a white Christmas in Donegal, Ireland. Although more often than not the snow mixed with rain and then froze. If that happened I wouldn’t dare drive my car the two miles downhill into Raphoe. We were lucky if a truck came by with grit and even luckier if it was plowed. I’d walk and slide to Raphoe if need be but mostly I’d cancel my yoga classes, tell my bodywork clients to curl up with a good book and then I would do that, too, for as long as the ice lasted. During my last winter in Raphoe we had a few days of freezing fog. On the first day I could see Raphoe from my hilltop. As the fog developed (it didn’t ‘roll in’ like it does through the Golden Gate – the fog in Raphoe seemed to simply manifest itself) the town was wrapped in a white cloud that slowly spread and weightlessly lumbered up my road until everything around me was seen through a veil of drifting ice crystals tumbling on air. It was as if we had all turned to ghosts – the horses, the trees, the fields and the sheep – all ghosts. And I was a ghost, too. One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

I prefer my winters and my holidays with a bit of grey. I still feel a tickle of anticipation when the weather forecast promises a dusting of snow on the Santa Cruz Mountains. It won’t snow where I am but that’s a fair trade for the perfect summer days we experience pretty much from April through October.

But I don’t want a perfect summer day today. I want a day that tells me its winter. A day that reminds me of the mountains of plowed sidewalk snow I’ve seen in Nebraska, of the crawling frozen fog in Donegal. I want a day that gives me permission to stay in my pyjamas. And that’s the day I’ve been given.

On this Sunday morning in Northern California the rain is pouring and the skies are dark grey. There’s a fair wind – not too strong but just strong enough. It’s the type of morning that begs for a second cup of coffee with cream and honey. It’s the type of day that calls for warm toast with melted butter and jam. It’s a curling up day.

And that’s what I’m going to do.

550 words (more or less)/about 30 minutes with ten minutes for noodling

Dental floss 日本語: フロス使用例

I’m having my teeth cleaned today. I’ve only just woken and haven’t checked news reports but last I heard Australia was unscathed. So I figure I might as well enter the holidays with clean teeth.

While I like having clean, shiny teeth, I don’t enjoy visiting the dentist. Who does? They mean well – dentists – but the anticipation of learning how I’ll atone for my toothly sins gives me nervous stomach. One look in my mouth and my dentist knows every bit of mischief my teeth and gums have been up to since my last cleaning in April. She just knows. Every cup of coffee, every glass of red wine. Every cube of ice I’ve cracked with my molars, every pistachio shell broken with my canines. Every hair pin pried opened with my incisors.

She’ll know, of course, that my flossing is on the more random side. At the last visit she even knew that in the rare moment that I did floss I was using wimpy waxed flossing tape designed for the flossing challenged and not a brawny, blood drawing, gum tenderizing cable of rope thick enough to moor a small dinghy.

Big deal. So I don’t like to floss. I’m also not a fan of the lecture about flossing the hygienist will deliver when I’m at my most vulnerable: trapped in a chair with a bright light aimed directly toward my gaping mouth which at that moment is so filled with cold metal tools and warm wiggling fingers that I’m unable to say, “Please don’t give me the lecture about flossing. I know. I don’t floss regularly. I know. Consider it a lifestyle choice.”

I’ll leave the office forty-five minutes later with a new toothbrush – soft to protect my delicate gums and with a petite bristle head as to not crowd what my dentist said was a small mouth. I have a small frame (with a hefty amount of flesh supporting it). Small frame – small jaw. Small jaw – small mouth. Who knew?

On the way out the hygienist will slip me a cute little sample sized box of dental floss. Mint flavored. I’ll even promise to use it. Because despite my reluctance I understand the importance of flossing. Really. I do.

When I arrive home I’ll admire my pearly whites in the mirror and consider sipping red wine through a straw. I’ll tuck the new toothbrush into the overnight bag I use when I’m house sitting and set the dental floss on the table by my bed.

“Every night.” I promise myself. I promise.

405 words/20 minutes and maybe another ten minutes of quick revision

Rice n' Shine with goat milk, toasted coconut flakes and banana...yummy!

Rice n’ Shine with goat milk, toasted coconut flakes and banana…yummy!

Over the past few months I discovered the joy of having sit down meals shared with a friend. Let’s face it. Meals taken in a cramped studio apartment aren’t ideal. Until I found two TV tables at a garage sale “Dinner at Mimm’s” meant one of us at my desk and the other with a plate of food balanced on their lap.

But I digress.

On our road to attempted good health (gluten free, organic, limited GMOs) my friend and I began to shop for our groceries together. Rather than split the bounty we kept everything at his house. His was the bigger kitchen – it even had counter space AND space for a table and four chairs.

And that’s why my alarm has been pulling me away from dreamland at 5:30 AM. If I want breakfast I need to make the three-mile journey down the road and up the hill to his house. Crazy? Maybe. I’ll confess: at first it was torture. But when I decided that I could sleep in sweats and a tee-shirt rather than my Nick & Nora Monkey Pajamas rolling out of bed and behind the wheel of my CRV became much easier.

Add a dollop of yogurt, a drizzle of honey and a few blueberries....

Add a dollop of yogurt, a drizzle of honey and a few blueberries….

Lunch and dinner meant coordinating strange schedules. But we managed. It was worth it. Preparing food, sharing meals and even sharing clean up with an open heart and mindful attitude is lovely. It temporarily changes the pace of life and offers us a chance to savor each moment and each morsel.

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Fresh pressed juice featuring beet root, carrot and ginger. A ruby glass of goodness!

My friend and I don’t always get along. We’re like family that way. But sitting down and slowing down to share home-cooked meals has been one of the highlights of this year. I kid you not.

And that’s why I better get my rear in gear. It’s ten minutes past six. If I don’t face this frosty morning soon I’m going to miss breakfast!

310 words, 14 minutes this morning and a bit of evening revision

 

DSC_0025 (2)_2This time of year I have some spare hours on my hands. Moments that I usually squander. Minutes that I typically spend sitting in my fat green chair pondering what great works I can accomplish. And then, before I know it, the next year has begun and it’s back to work.

I agree. It’s nice to simply be still. Stillness has plenty going for it. But to be frank, I have plenty of stillness in my life. I mean – I’m a yoga teacher. I spend a good part of each and every day sitting in stillness. Practicing stillness. Encouraging others to find stillness.

I don’t need stillness. I need action.

So maybe this year I won’t squander these days between Thanksgiving and the New Year. The days when clients visit family and quarterly classes take a break. Starting now.

At the beginning of the year I stopped writing. The same way I stopped creating visual art. “It’s all right,” I told myself. “I don’t need to write for others – writing for myself is enough.” And, in truth, it should be enough. Spilled words falling from the heart with truth and courage should be all any one writer might hope for. It should satisfy.

Except I had plans. Ideas. Intentions.

And instead of allowing the words I needed to write fall from my heart, I allowed my intentions to fall by the wayside.

But it seems the universe has other plans.

I was resigned to the situation. Reasonably content. Who was I to think I had any talent? And at this time in my life isn’t ambition as tacky as me trying to pull off a leather mini-skirt?

But in the past month I’ve been approached twice by two different and disparate organizations and asked to write 1,000 words. Asked to spill.

Initially I didn’t believe I had it in me anymore. Until I sat down and tried.

Those moments that don’t just gently nudge a dozing spirit but smack it in the face with a wet trout are pretty powerful. I remembered what I had planned to do four years ago. I gave myself five years.

I have twelve months left.

But I need to get back into shape. I need to work a part of my brain that, quite frankly, I’ve allowed to atrophy.

So, in these spacious weeks the universe gifts me this time of year I’m going exercise. Twenty minutes or two hundred words – which ever comes first – each morning before anything else. It’s a Julia Cameron-esque attempt at waking up my writing muscle. Tuning in to that faint creative buzz that I know I have buried somewhere deep in my cerebral cortex.

Wish me luck.

 453 words written in fourteen minutes. I used the remaining six minutes for revision.

 

 

Your Daily Prompt #1

I stopped writing for a while.

When it was time to begin again I thought for a while.  Then thought some more.

I took a walk with a friend this past Saturday through UC Berkeley’s beautiful campus.  On our way to Telegraph Avenue we passed an over flowing trashcan.  Next to it, crumpled and discarded, was a denim jacket.  Someone had set fire to it, or it had caught fire, and then was abandoned.  No longer useful.

“That would make a good writing prompt.”

“What?”  The beauty of the day and a raging case of indigestion distracted my friend.

“That denim jacket.  It would make a good writing prompt.  I should take a photo of it.”

But I didn’t.

Instead, I’ll post this photo.  Your daily writing prompt.

Now feel free to pick up a pen and write.

A few ground rules:

  • Timed writing – 15 to 30 minutes
  • 200 to 500 words
  • If you want to share, post your work as a comment

Here are my 263 words from Your Daily Prompt #1:

She admired the pattern of raindrops on the linen envelope and looked for the return address.  There was none, and the postmark had blurred from the rain and was now a red smeared remnant from a former destination.  But there was something familiar in a long ago way about the handwriting.

The freezing rain made her fingers ache.  Clare dropped the letter on the breakfast table next to the half finished porridge and cold tea.  Whatever it is, it can wait.  Her first spoken words of the day woke Jack.  The black tabby stretched down from his kitchen chair and rubber his body against her ankle.

Clare lifted the plate from the Stanley, took up the coal bucket next to the stove and spilled shining black chunks into its belly.  She made a second cup of tea – two teaspoons of sugar and a drop of milk – then sat down by the window.

She looked through the raindrops past the McSweeny kid’s swing set, past the arch of identical white bungalows that carved the green hill.  She looked all the way to Barnesmore Gap, all the way to the Atlantic and across.  She looked to a rocky shore, then cities, mountains, people, mad dreams and fields of wheat.

Jack reached his paws to her lap.  Come on then, she said, and Jack was in her lap.  She picked up the envelope and tore it open. Inside was a single sheet of ordinary paper, folded in quarters and on that folded piece of paper was taped a single Gingko leaf and the words “Remember me.”

Is it possible that my writer’s block doesn’t actually exist?  After all, at this very moment am I not sitting at this desk, listening to the rain, engaged in the very task of putting words in order?  Am I not writing?  Maybe what I want to call ‘writer’s block’ is simply generic malaise.  An unease or a longing that I can’t quite define.   If that’s true, then I’m lucky, because I love December.

December, sandwiched between my birthday and the New Year, is a gift. My teaching schedule is reduced and many of my private clients take days off to travel.  In other words, I’ve got time on my hands.

For this reason, I always look forward to the month.  I know everyone else is going to be preoccupied with shopping and skiing and partying.  Everyone else will be running faster than normal.  And I, more than any other time during the year, am given days of stillness.

Yes, I love December. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost my ability to unwind.  Instead of sitting back with a good book, I’m pacing and twiddling my thumbs.  I’m racked with guilt and the tape in my head is playing “I should do this, I should do that” on a continuous loop.

A chronic optimist, December is the month when I eagerly plan for the next year. This is the month I count on to recharge my batteries.  To fill me with hope.   This year, however, I find myself incapable of thinking beyond my next meal (speaking of which, it’s almost time for lunch). I often advise my students to not become overwhelmed by thoughts about the past or the future. To remain in the present.  But I feel stuck here, in the present – in a bad way.  I’m spinning my wheels and there’s no traction.

Maybe 2010 was too big a year for me.  Maybe I’m going to need more than a reduced schedule to recover.

Here are the Top Ten Moments, listed chronologically:

  1. In January I completed my first novel and prepared two non-fiction proposals for yoga books I’ve been noodling around with for a couple years. Anyone who has attempted this will understand the work involved.  I’m proud of the accomplishment.
  2. In February I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference and pitched my novel to six agents.  I am not a natural sales person, yet the agents I met all requested that I send them pages. Speaking to those agents and being asked for more was a huge victory – even if, after sending them my work, the answer was still ‘it’s not for us’.
  3. In March I flew to Washington DC and witnessed a friend receive the Congressional Gold Medal for flying military aircraft during World War II.  She was a part of the civilian Women Airforce Service Pilots.  I wish I had even half her bravery.
  4. In April I polished and submitted Practically Twisted (one of the yoga book proposals) to a local publisher for review.  It was ultimately rejected, but still a worthwhile experience.
  5. In May I also began working with a mentor.  Our weekly meetings, which continued for several months, lifted my writing but demonstrated how much more I needed to learn.
  6. In July I had my first colonoscopy.  Stop giggling.  It counts.
  7. In August I attended my two-week Yin Yoga Teacher Training. I promised myself I would continue the thirty-minute meditation practice we began each day with when I returned home.  Right.
  8. In September, days after my return from Yin training, I boarded a plane bound for Pennsylvania and reunited with my mom.  We had not spoken to one another in over two decades.  I had not seen her since 1984.  I’m still processing.
  9. I also reunited with my high school friends Beckie, Patty and Donna.  Everyone looked exactly as they did in 1976.  Seriously.  We did.  Especially Beckie.
  10. In October I drove to Reno, Nevada.  My first solo road trip (I’m a road wimp.  This counts more than the colonoscopy). I had another reunion, this time with my friend Mike.  During college, he and I were good friends.  We lost contact, as friends do, but found one another again on – where else – Facebook.  Of all the moments this year, sitting in his music room, picking up the guitar again and singing brought me the closest to home.

Meanwhile, I continued to teach yoga classes and saw individual clients for private yoga sessions and body therapy. Of the three hundred and sixty-five days of 2010, I housesat for two hundred and thirteen.

And I continued to write.  I entered dozens of writing competitions and submitted essays and poems to several literary magazines.  Not only did I not set the literary world on fire, I don’t even think I threw a spark.

But there’s always next year.

And as this year winds down, I know that I am lucky.  Other lives had tragic losses.  I had warm reunions. Other lives had breathless gains.  I moved forward, sometimes patiently, one single step at a time. It was a good year.  A big year.

But I’m worn out.  And hungry.  It’s time for lunch followed by a nice, long nap.

Most folks who talk about wanting to write never do.  They just keep talking about it.  So I would imagine there’s a ton of good writing that never gets written.

Then there are the folks who stop talking about writing.  They sit their asses down in front of their computer every day and hit the keys.  They aren’t the most imaginative storytellers or the best grammarians; their talents may lie in self-promotion and marketing – but they do it.  They pound it out and they make their daily word count. They send their work out into the world.  They smile at rejection and try again until someone says “yes”. They stick to it.  They improve.  They succeed.

Three years ago I stopped talking about it.  I showed up every morning and hit the keys.  I wrote a few essays, a couple of bad short stories (seriously bad) and several poems – one even found its way into an on-line anthology.  I attempted to maintain two blogs and wrote a guest post for Jane Friedman.  In case you missed it, it’s here.  Oh yeah – almost forgot – I also wrote my first novel.  And the moment I typed “the end” I began my second.

Meanwhile, I bought the “how to” books and subscribed to the magazines that made me feel like I was part of the club. I attended the Stanford Publishing Conference and then the San Francisco Writer’s Conference intent on learning the business of writing.  And, at the end of the day, writing is a business.  I continue to attend a critique group every week without fail and even, for a time, had a mentor.

And then, about three weeks ago, I stopped.  I hit the Mother of All Blocks, equivalent in size to the Great Wall of China with a Berlin chaser. Except for an essay I’ve been noodling around with, this confessional blog post is the only work I’ve done.

I’ve simply run out of steam.

The problem is, I believed that after thirty-six months I’d have more to show for my dedication.  Yes, I’m smiling as I type, because I know with absolute certainty that, in a writer’s life, thirty-six months is nothing.  But in these days of immediacy and constant contact we’re conditioned to believe it all happens overnight.  It doesn’t.

And so I find myself standing on the ledge asking myself this question:  what is it that I want, and how badly do I want it?  Is it more important to be a good writer or a popular one?  And is the sacrifice worth it?

When I returned home to Pennsylvania in September, I had ulterior motives.  I wanted to see my mother, of course, and I wanted to visit dear friends, which I did.  But most of all I wanted to write.

Things, however, didn’t go as planned.

I anticipated a resolute commitment to plot, form, structure and characterization by the time Labor Day weekend was over.  (Yes, I do believe in miracles.)

What actually happened is I came to the conclusion that the outline I had written just a few short weeks earlier bore no relevance to the story I wanted to tell.  Oh well.

Prior to realizing the error of my ways I was forcing dialogue, bending situations, and following a convoluted story arc that led to no satisfying conclusion.  It was like trying to shove my size six feet into size five and a half Stuart Weitzman pumps.  It just wasn’t going to work.  The pumps…er, plot…had to go.

And so, after my long weekend in Pennsylvania, the only thing I was bringing back to California was a new title for my novel:  The Growing Season.

So I stopped writing.  I wasn’t concerned at first.  I knew I needed to process everything; I knew I had to fall back into my normal routine.

A couple more weeks passed and nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  I was bringing old, reworked dreck to my critique group or waiting until the very last moment to pull together fifteen hundred sloppy words.

No – this was not a good sign. I reached the point of feeling comfortable not writing.  I felt all right about giving up.  I convinced myself I’d be happy dropping the occasional blog post to get it all out of my system.  After all, my life would be so much simpler if I didn’t write.  I could read for recreation, watch more television, shift that ten pounds I gained with the first novel.  Heck – I might even develop a social life!

So I stopped showing up.

But then it happened.  They started talking to me.  Nagging me.  No, not in a ‘it’s time for your medication’ way – but in that itchy way we feel when there’s something on the ‘to do’ list that we keep putting off.  Eventually Cora, Wanda and Rose let me know in no uncertain terms they weren’t ready for me to give up.  And when Scott’s grandmother Helen Hamm arrived I couldn’t get a word in edgewise!

During my time away from the computer Cora, Wanda and Rose took flight.  As their characters developed, they liberated me from the burden of true experience.  It’s their story I’m telling now, not mine.

And now the words are flowing again.  Isn’t that the most exquisite feeling in the world?

 

Sometimes writing is an angst-filled-guilt-fest.  All you have to do is scroll back to – um, say – pretty much every post and you’ll find me whining:  ‘I’ve let myself down’  ‘I want to give up’ ‘rejection hurts’ or my favorite ‘no one told me it was this hard’.  Pah-leese.  The only thing positive about my dirge-like pity parties is that they’re usually followed by the rallying cry ‘Yes, I Can!’.

Yes, I can.  We all can. But sometimes, whether you like it or not, it takes a bit of a break before you can believe in yourself again.  Sometimes breaks are a self-imposed part of the plan and sometimes they drop from the sky without warning.

I didn’t intend to not write for a month.  And, in fairness, I managed the occasional blog post accounts of my yoga adventure in Soquel and my journey home to Pennsylvania.  But these posts fell far short of my intentions. They weren’t my ‘real writing’.

I wanted to write but I didn’t seem to know how anymore. I tried to think about the revision that needs to happen for Maggie’s WASP story to soar and I expected a hike to a quarry I loved as a child in Lynnport to be all the inspiration I needed for The Growing Season to take root.

Yet the words weren’t there.  Nothing was there. I thought I was done.  I began to wonder if all the early mornings, all the classes, the all too brief one-on-one sessions with my brilliant teacher – were all for nothing.

Still, I kept showing up.  I continued to set my alarm and every morning I continued to sit in front of my laptop.  Waiting.  And while I waited, I processed.  And when I finished processing, I re-grouped.

And now I’m writing again, and it’s good.

No matter what your dream is – when it feels impossible and feels so far away that you know you’ll never hold it in your arms – keep showing up.

“I want to write,” said Chicken Mimm.  “I think I’m going to try to write.”

“Write?  Braawwwk…there’s no money in that, you know.”

“You won’t find an agent.”

“You’ll never be…brawk…published.”

“Sure, Mimmsy dear, don’t we all want to write? Trouble is not too many of us are any good at it.”

When they were finished explaining why writing could never work out for a chicken, the hens cocked their heads and looked at Chicken Mimm.  Naturally they were sympathetic. Every Chicken has big dreams.  But no one knew the world outside of the coop.  Chicken Mimm would be better off if she just forgot about writing.  She’d be better off doing what she’d done all her life:  waking up, preening her feathers and then running into the yard to wait for Mrs. Lubbick and her bucket of feed. After all, she was a chicken, wasn’t she?

I’m one of those people who always write.  I have a bookshelf of journals I began when I moved to California in 1980 and somewhere in Pennsylvania are the notebooks of childhood.

But I don’t think my heart considers writing a practical option. Writing flirts with me and I flirt right back but I’m beginning to wonder when we are going to have a serious relationship.

Oh, it’s not writing’s fault.  It’s me.  I have – ahem – issues.  Commitment issues.  Bravery issues.  I mean, what if I’m actually good at this?  What happens if I actually succeed?

I wonder how often the dreaded Fear of Success keeps people from their dreams?

I’ve been spending time organizing files.  I discovered unfinished and forgotten personal essays, short stories, a few poems and one or two ideas for children’s books – all tucked away in the dark recesses of my hard drive.  Guess what?  I liked them.  They were rough but a bit of polish…yep, they were good.  More importantly, they reminded me why I write.

Because I have to.

Mrs. Lubbick?  This chicken’s bustin’ outta her coop.