What I love about de Botton’s writing is that he is basically taking texts and narratives that are seemingly impenetrable and framing them in a way that makes them delightful for someone like me who has struggled to get through Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.
Here’s what Alain has to say about writing the cliché:
“The problem with cliches is not that they contain false ideas, but rather that they are superficial articulations of very good ones. The sun is often on fire at sunset and the moon discreet, but if we keep saying this every time we encounter a sun or a moon, we will end believing that this is the last rather than the first word to be said on the subject.”
He gives an example of Proust’s challenge to take more care in describing a subject that’s been described endless times before — in this case, the moon appearing during daylight hours. Here’s Marcel:
“Sometimes in the afternoon sky a white moon would creep up like a little cloud, furtive, without display, suggesting an actress who does not have to ‘come on’ for a while, and so goes ‘in front’ in her ordinary clothes to watch the rest ofthe company for a moment, but keeps in the background, not wishing to attractattention to herself.”
Ah… such lovely writing. Maybe I’ll give Swann’s Way another go…
I’ve seen more of the Stephen King film adaptations than I’ve read his books, but I admire the sheer volume and consistant originality of his work, so I was drawn to what he might have to say about his process. I listened to the audio version of this book because it really is just as much a memoir as it is a tool box for the creative person and I love hearing an author read their personal story. It was a joy from start to finish.
There are so many excerpts I sparked to, but as someone who has had her material critiqued and also develops material for writers, I found this one particularly helpful:
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”
I’ve been reading and re-reading my friend Tatiana’s brilliant novel as she types her way through the home stretch. The book is done, now comes the part where she needs to sharpen it, tie up loose ends, clean up the clutter here, pull out more detail there — but it’s really good. She’s had super smart people read it and give her feedback and everyone has their own personal take on what they love and what they’d like to see fixed. Is anyone right? Is any note wrong? As the author, how do you know what needs to be fixed?
As soon as you let someone else read your work, whether a friend or a stranger posting a review on Amazon, you have to accept that your book has now become their experience. Some may call the moment of releasing your project a Pandora’s Box, but let’s not forget that while opening the box unleashed strife and woe — at the very last came hope.
One of my very best friends gave me this book over 20 years ago, and I still return to it again and again. Natalie is a Zen Buddhist and thus her practice of writing is very much rooted in the Dharma of Zen.
Here’s a favorite excerpt from the book:
“My goal is to write every day. I say it is my ideal. I am careful not to pass judgment or create anxiety if I do not do it. No one lives up to his ideal… Nobody cares much whether you write or not. You just have to do it”
The lesson here is that we have to be compassionate with ourselves through our process and that really, we’re the only ones waiting for our work to be completed — the rest of the world will move on to the next if we don’t do it.
So write every day, even if you can’t. Don’t judge yourself if you don’t write, but make sure you do!
I read this book years ago, and to be honest I haven’t picked it up in quite some time, but it really stuck with me. It should be called The RULES of Dramatic Writing because the author is very strict about the elements necessary to keep the audience engaged and invested. It was written more than 70 years ago and is meant for playwrights, but really — whatever you’re writing can benefit from his timeless teaching.
As he writes:
“Some men may obey all the laws of technique, yet their work is lifeless. Others—and there have been such men—utilize all the available data, obey the rules which they find valid, and fuse this information with their emotions. They lift their knowledge on the wings of their imagination, and create a masterwork.”
The first rule, or technique, according to Lajos, is that the key to any great work is a great premise. The writer must believe the premise with tremendous conviction and then all of the characters and plot must follow that conviction with their choices. And from that, your fantastic story can grow.
This book has become a real treasure to me. If you read my postings, you know how important I believe a good writing exercise to be. The authors have made it very simple — each chapter is a specific task, idea, to do without a lot of “deep” discussion about process.
One of my go-to exercises is “I remember…” I set my timer for 15 minutes, start with the words I remember and then let a thought flow. When that thought fades in fuel, I start again. I remember…
It’s amazing what those two words will conjure.
The more experience I get, the more it’s clear to me that when you work smart, you don’t actually have to work that hard. I know that flies in the face of many a motivational poster, but if you take a step back from your routine and really examine its efficiency– you might be surprised at how much you’re spinning your wheels.
Here are some tips on working smarter so you don’t have to work so hard:
Whenever any TV show or magazine features a segment on “getting organized” it always comes down to having a place to put your stuff. That’s fine for books and belts, but what do you do with something less tactile like tasks and to dos? Apply the same concept!
For example: your email in box — sometimes a frightening place, sometimes a doorway to joy. And let’s face it, it’s easier to immediately respond to the fun ones while we drag our feet on the annoying ones. The trick is to not judge them as anything other than “actionable” or “it can wait.” Set up a range of folders to place the messages in your in box. I give you permission to label one “annoying.” It actually helps to call it what it is. Don’t even open an email unless you are able to act on it — either by responding or moving it to the appropriate folder. I have a folder I labeled “Need to Respond” where I put emails I don’t need to reply to right away. At the end of each day, I check the folder to see if any are actionable. Do the same for your computer desktop and desk desktop. Don’t burden yourself with just an “IN” and “OUT” box. Have a few that help you order your action.
And then like most good advice, it only works if you do it all the time. People who work smart don’t slack on putting things where they belong. Create a filing system for your ideas, your obligations, your everything. It will make a difference.
David Allen’s book Getting Things Done really helped me rethink how I organize my work load and life in general. I recommend it for getting deeper into ways to work smart.
When it comes to our to do list, there will always be things that need immediate attention because they’re due or falling apart. But when you aren’t in crisis, set a routine where you are dealing with things immediately as they come in and not adding to your to do list. When I get an email that my car payment is due, I don’t let the alert sit there — I take the 2 minutes to get it done. There’s something emotionally exhausting about adding to your list of things that need doing, so whatever you can “catch and release” make it so.
I use Quickbooks accounting software to sort through my income and expenses and make sure I’m in balance with my bank account. I have my credit cards and other accounts set up as well so that my transactions are logged throughout the week. When it comes time to hand over the details to my tax accountant — every penny I spent has already been logged and assigned a description that lets him know if it’s a write off/deduction. As a freelancer and a person who has her own business, I have found it’s so much easier and the process flows so much more smoothly when I take little bits of time throughout each week to record my costs. That way, it’s fresh in my mind and I don’t have to worry about this dark cloud of accounting at year’s end. It’s like a happy fluffy white cloud.
This is a concept rooted in Zen Buddhism that basically means our emotional and reactionary set point should be level, like a clear lake on a windless day. When a circumstance comes up that sends a ripple, we react appropriately as water would, but then return to calm, as water would. I have been guilty more than once of acting like a boulder was dropped in the lake of my mind, when really it was just a pebble. I take much longer for my mind to return to calm than water would. I’ve gotten better as I practice meditating for at least 15 minutes every day. I’m not very good at it, but there are sometimes minutes where I get what it’s all about. Purposefully quieting my mind (or at least trying) has helped me to purposefully take a beat before I react to a person or situation. It just feels better to react appropriately. Thanks for the lesson, water!
Most of the time we’re consumed with all we need to get done with our work, the thought of stepping away from our desk feels the last thing that would help us. But here’s a medical fact to give you permission: you’re brain only has about 90 minutes of fuel (glucose) before your best focus burns out. Picture the wrinkles smoothing. Not helpful. So if you take even just a 10 minute break you allow your glob of gray matter to recharge and get back to it. Keep a jar with things you like to do that will give your brizain a brizake. A walk around the block, vacuum a room, or maybe get loosened up with 10 sun salutations. Namaste THAT! When you take a break, you make the time you are working much more productive.
While I do believe life rewards stepping up and taking action, if that action isn’t coming from an inspired place, then it won’t necessarily get you where you want to go. My grandmother used to say, “You can’t push the river” and I agree, yet you can often find me jumping in the water mid stream, tried to move the current along, screaming “faster! faster!” (a lot of water metapors here… stay with me).
Action alone isn’t enough. You have to get your mind in a place where you are connected to the current of your idea and then let it take you. Use your creative tools to make the process as fluid and fun as possible. Let inspiration find you by showing up to your desk, crunching out an exercise or two, re-ordering the list of what needs to get done. You know how good it feels to latch onto an idea and see it through. Relax into your process and the right action steps will flow.
Think about what you want to say– what you want to get across. Write a full page on that subject. Now see if you can impart the same idea, feeling, thought with less words. I know a few writers who are super funny, they know they’re funny, but they don’t know how to pull back when they’re on a riff. Sometimes a red chair is just a red chair- not red like the bicycle you had when you were seven that made you scared and excited to ride on the sidewalk past Ralph Smith’s house to see if he was outside jumping on his trampoline.
I would say more, but in an effort to practice Economy — I’m going to trust that you get it and you’ll stop over-writing.
This is a science-y word that basically means a measure of the amount of energy in a physical system NOT available to do work. So if you aren’t able to do your work, how MUCH can’t you do it. I’m talking about your EXCUSES, really. You know you make them. You know that getting rid of them closes the gap between what you want and achieving it. Write your most common excuse: no time, writers block, pen out of ink, you know what they are. Contemplate them. How true are they? Are they more powerful than your desire to complete your project?
Do you write prose? Why not take a section of your story and turn it into scripted form? Can you simplify it into a poem? The point is to experiment with forms of story telling that are new to you. It will either make you appreciate the form you identify with or open up new ways you like to tell your stories. We can get stuck in our platforms, so try different modes to sharpen your skills.
If you’ve ever entered a race — whether it’s Ironman or a local 5K — you know how valueable it is to exercise and train before the big day. Why would you do anything less for your writing? I’ll be posting some exercises that always help me get my process started and I encourage you to take 10 minutes each day to bust one out.
It’s important to set a standard for yourself — a work ethic. So much of what we do will be speculative. And then a huge percentage of that will never amount to anything we’re paid for in the market. Get this: there are many different types of compensation from the creative process, cash dollars money being just one. Allowing our minds to create benefits us in ways you may not expect. Being practiced at expressing yourself engenders more confidence; it helps you problem solve in day to day tasks; it sharpens your eyes and ears to what is around you. Develop a code of ethics and then honor that.
This week’s “5 Tips” is a celebrity edition. Whether you watch the Kardashian Family Programming or not, they are a part of our lives due to their clever ability to pervade all media. The easy route is to scoff and be a hater — but today I’m choosing to glean some inspiration from the arguably most successful K’Dash: Kim.
Here are 5 things we can learn from Kim Kardashian that will help our creative process.
Destroyed by Mom? Hardly. This cover headline should read “Championed by Mom!!” Kim’s mom, Kris Jenner, is her champion, defender and momager. No matter what any of her children do (or don’t do…) their mom is right beside them, or even better — Kris is in front of a camera, explaining how they were in the right and how wonderful they are. Having this kind of support can really make a person feel important and invincible. It doesn’t matter if your champion is taking 20% of your net proceeds– what matters is that when you have someone ferociously rooting for you — how can you feel anything other than grand? I’m not saying having a Champion is enough to win because, wow, there would be a lot more successful people. And truly, if Kim had nothing going for her, she wouldn’t be able to stay in the “Opportunity Room” the door led to as long as she has. The lesson here is to find someone to champion your dreams and then watch amazing chances come your way.
2. If a decision you make doesn’t work out – make another decision.
Kim has made a lot of decisions that didn’t work out for her — and they didn’t work out in a very public way. Kim got married to some guy when she was young. I think he was the brother of someone, but I would have to look it up and I don’t feel like doing that. They got divorced at some point. Cut to an amount of time later I would have to research — she decided to marry a really tall guy, whom she only had been dating a little while. And then after another little while, she decided she didn’t want to be married to this tall guy — resulting in her second divorce. All of these decisions and she wasn’t even 30 years old! What’s amazing about Kim, is that she’s positioned in such a way that businesses give her money so that these decisions don’t have much of a material cost to her. Can you imagine? What I’m saying is this, if you have a circumstance requiring you to make a decision, you can ask yourself WWKKDD (What Would Kim Kardashian Decide to Do) and then trust that no matter what happens, you are safe if you are willing to keep making decisions.
Creative types hesitate, procrastinate, ruminate and generally “ate” a lot of the time. There are lots of reasons, but I think we’re afraid of making something “less than”. We don’t want to misstep our awesome idea into a work of meh. Look at Kim in this picture. Was it a mistake to fall asleep in the sun without sunscreen? Yes, it was because now she has what looks like a painful sunburn. But wait… was it a mistake? She tweeted this photo and now she seems more regular. Just when you think you can’t relate to her because she got the sunburn on a yacht off the coast of some fancy island that’s not Catalina — here she is sharing her pain. Her mistake makes her relatable and we love her for it. (and by “we” I mean some others who are probably not us). Here’s the takeaway: Like running out of gas — or even running out of toilet paper– getting a sunburn is avoidable if you choose to pay even the smallest bit of attention, but is it a mistake? Not if you LEARN from it. With a little pivot of thought, a mistake becomes a lesson and all is well. So don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself– dance like no one is watching, sing like no one is listening and sunbathe as if there’s no such thing as melanoma.
Here, when I say lemons I mean “a distributed sex video that was maybe meant to be private” and when I say lemonade I mean “money.” She’s not the first person to have a personal, intimate moment sold, but I would say among all of them, Kim K’Dash has most creatively parlayed what she has gone on record saying was her most mortifying and shaming moment into more and more opportunity. She is so very, very ashamed of her documented sex time that she has chosen to be photographed partially nude quite a bit and maybe fully nude (I didn’t see the Playboy thing, was she fully nude?). I know you’re thinking “That doesn’t make sense. Why would she perpetuate this if she was ashamed?” and I tell you it’s because she is making riDUNKulous lemonade. If you could take your worst nightmare and turn it into a sustainable career, would you? Be honest.
As creatives, we’re always wanting to sharpen our unique voice. In what ways can we develop our tone, our skill, our talent so that it’s potent enough to be branded? Potent enough to be a perfume! Look at Kim, here with her very own fragrance you can purchase. I think I read somewhere this is her 83rd scent out on the market! (I made that up). Say what you want about her, but this lady is prolific. If you had your very own fragrance, as a writer or painter or whatever you do, what would it be called? I think mine would be called “Nevermind” and it would smell like grapefruit with a hint of wallpaper paste. Take a minute to write down words that describe your “brand” as a creative person. Are you the quirky DIY type? Are you muscular and leathery? If you don’t have an answer, yet you still want to have your work out there for public consumption– it’s worth giving some thought.
I appreciate the flexibility being a freelancer gives me, but the occasional gaps between jobs and the uncomfortable uncertainty that comes along with that aspect is pretty awful. Awful not only from an income perspective, but also because I identify with my work and the intensity of it. To help me through the uncertainty I like to distract myself with things that act as metaphors for the life of a creative person. Each time I try one of these, I get more and more comfortable with not knowing what’s next. A much stronger place.
1. Plant something
One particularly dry spell between jobs, I decided to do something that was actionable, requiring trust, but not much skill. My “garden” in Brooklyn had spent years unattended once my neighbors Juliette and Jill moved out of the neighborhood. I wanted to make it pretty again. I really like tulips because they look like big waxy cups on long leathery green sticks. I didn’t know much about planting them, but a quick google search and delivery of an Ebay order later, 10 large tulip bulbs arrived. On the east coast, the optimal time to plant them is October — before the ground freezes. I couldn’t tell the bottom from the top in some cases, but I put each bulb in the ground according to the instructions and hoped for the best.
I didn’t think about the bulbs much after that. Winter in Brooklyn can be aggressive and I’m sure I was just trying to hide under warm blankets until it passed.
After the thaw, the first green leathery petals peaked through, then the stalks followed by the bud and finally they opened. And they were RED. wha??? Red? I thought I ordered White. Unexpected, but totally lovely.
In Feng Shui color theory red means energy, good luck, courage, passion — so thank you red tulips for imparting some of that to me.
2. Take a Road Trip
I drive back and forth between Brooklyn and Los Angeles quite a bit. The trust I feel that some time after passing through the Holland Tunnel I will arrive Los Angeles is the type of trust I would like to carry through all of my ventures. When I pull through St. Louis, I never say to myself “well, I’ve been at this a couple days and still no Los Angeles. I should just give up now.” Hell to the no. I keep driving, knowing that it is possible, I will get there and – oh, there’s a Panera!
3. Get On An Actual Roller Coaster
I’ve recently returned to my love of Roller Coasters. It’s over-said that life is a roller coaster — full of ups and downs. But what I like about this metaphor is that the climbs, the fall, the twists and turns are what we came for. No one stands in line for a roller coaster, gets to the ride entry, then– upon seeing the exit sign says “oh, we’re eventually going out that way, so I’ll just do that now.” No one wants to skip the ride! We didn’t wait in line to miss this by jumping to the end. Get on the ride, it’s gonna be fun.
4. Ride a Lazy River
We spend a lot of time paddling toward what we want– sometimes even against the current. Once in a while, let yourself drop the oars and just float down the river. Whether it’s at a water park or the Merced River at Yosemite — let yourself float with only the tide to take you. Gripping a paddle, like clenching a fist, creates tension. Let your fingers uncurl, lay your head back so that your hair dips into the water. Rest.
5. Try a new recipe
I started to cook at home more in recent years because it’s one of the few things we can attempt where instant gratification is possible AND tasty. Nothing about the selection of ingredients on my counter when I’m about to make my favorite carrot cake cookies would suggest “these will taste great”. But I trust that when I put them together, pop them in the oven and ultimately spread the cream cheese/honey filling — they will be fantastic.
I love the site Epicurious.com because along with their original content, they pull recipes from all the great cooking magazines each moth. Their weekly “dinner rush” section (http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/everydaycooking) not only plans your weekday meals, they make it easy to make a grocery list for what you need to make everything. No excuses.
Thanks for reading!
Pull back the layers of excuses you’ve created and decide that each day, you’ll take five minutes to set yourself up to succeed.
I know you have five minutes, so don’t even start. Actually, if you’d like to take five minutes to complain about how you don’t have enough time to do these little exercises — I’ll allow that.
If you read the Creative Coach postings, you’ll find that we think it’s just as important to prep for creative time as it is to actually create. When you do, your sessions will flow with greater ease and efficiency; you will develop tools to deal with any blocks. There’s no down side to weaving one or more of these ideas into your routine.
Here are five ways to spend five minutes prepping yourself for a productive creative session.
1. Sing your favorite song. Out Loud.
I don’t care if you need to go in the closet, out to your car — wherever it takes to get in a comfortable place so you can belt it out like you’re the star of the show that is your life. Make it that epic moment in the broadway musical where the character is giving it all they got or they’re going home.
If you don’t want to take my advice, take it from these guys:
2. Binaural Beats
Binaural beats are tones, frequencies really, that stimulate the brain. Specific beats and certain frequencies can induce your brain toward your desired set point. Before writing, you want to set your brain to its optimal creative power– somewhere between Alpha and Theta. A simple iTunes search for binaural beats will yield great offerings to bring your brain to the optimal creative position. There are also many cool BB apps. Make sure to listen with headphones on. No need to make it loud. I really like the work of Jakub Koter.
Here’s an example:
If you’re looking for a five minute boost for the body, soul and mind trifecta — get a mini trampoline immediately. Fitness benefits aside, jumping on a mini trampoline brings out the kid in you while getting your heart pumping and ideas bumping.
What’s even more amazing – jumping on a trampoline is the most effective method for increasing lymph circulation (google it. it’s all true and more!). A healthy lymphatic system contributes to an effective immune system, which means you will have less excuses not to write because you won’t be under the weather as often!
5. Book of Positive Aspects
Keep a notebook on your writing desk and call it the Book of Positive Aspects. Before a writing session, set your egg timer for 5 minutes and begin to write a list of all the things you can think of that are going right.
Look, some days the only thing that will come to mind is that there is ink in the pen. But really do search for the positive aspects around you. A comfortable chair, a moment alone, a warm cup of tea — or maybe you have a something even more fantastic, like a good idea you’re ready to work on.
Turn your attention to what you have going for you in that exact moment — even small stuff, seemingly insignificant or something you take for granted – like electricity to power your computer.
Taking five minutes to program your brain to expect things to work out can add value to the creative process.
Thanks for reading!
Is there a breadcrumb trail we can follow? One that leads to inspiration, ease in process or the ever-elusive finished project?
Here are five lessons one can learn from fictional writers.
Okay, he’s an actual writer, not a fictional character, but some of my favorite essays by David Sedaris are the ones where he went some place outside of his comfort zone. The job at Macy’s Santa Land, the nudist trailer park or moving to France with his partner – all immersive experiences that spawned hilarious, sometimes barbed narrative. He would have to leave his usual day to day in order to experience the following: “The woman was topless, and her breasts hung like two kneesocks, each stuffed with a single orange.”
The Takeaway: Put yourself in situations and among people that force you to do something, see something, or experience something new and unexpected. Don’t be afraid to get neked!
To make a habit of writing can be a challenge, but when you commit to daily journaling, you’re working the muscle it takes to get your creativity flowing. For some, writing about your personal day to day thoughts, observations, experiences etc… becomes a real resource for future material. Bridget Jones Diary is an excellent example of how journaling can help hone your unique voice, uncover themes that are important to you and ultimately serve as a map of where you’ve been, which can help you choose where you want to go next.
The Takeaway: While it may seem self indulgent, keeping track of who you are right now can be super useful, if only that it gets you writing.
•• Having said all of that, I recently unearthed a stack of journals I wrote in my 20’s and they were pretty much volumes of useless ramblings, dearth of anything I’d want to relive, let alone re-read. I bagged and dumped them outside my Brooklyn apartment only to find a couple of hipsters leafing through them the next day. Laughing out loud. I can’t blame them and I felt no shame.**
In The Shining, Jack Torrance is hired as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. This is a really great opportunity for a writer. Aside from his wife and son, there is no real distraction at a place like that. Alright, that’s not true. The hotel has lots of distractions in the form of ghosts and evil spirits trying to convince Jack that he should put down his writing and murder his family. But you can go online and research writing retreats in your area that inexpensively offer a safe place to do your work in what’s usually a lovely, natural setting.
The Takeaway: Retreats are an awesome opportunity to focus on your project. Avoid places where you may get distracted by menacing ghosts.
In the movie Swimming Pool, Sarah Morton is offered her publisher’s house in the south of France to finish her latest novel. She’s writing under the burden of being successful for some time and yet, not being able to muster the same marketable work. She’s blocked and unable to summon fresh ideas. The gift of retreat isn’t enough for her – she needs something more: A Muse! And well, she sure finds it in the form of Julie, her publisher’s indiscriminate daughter who likes to sex it up all the time. Sarah eavesdrops, spies and judges Julie’s choices with eye rolling resentment. But while at first annoyed that she has to share the house and have her concentration disrupted by Julie’s lifestyle, she is suddenly and happily inspired by this vivid character. Sarah begins to write and write and write. Julie ends up killing a guy and gets Sarah to help her hide the crime and bury the body, but really, what matters is that Sarah has finished her book and can return to London with a completed project.
The Takeaway: A muse can be a terrific reference point for character or plot, but don’t get do overly involved to the point where you’re digging a grave and have to have sex with a 90 year old gardener to protect the secret.
Whether you get paid for it or not, writing can feel like a job. It’s important to fill your days with a range of interests. Making time for things that challenge your mind, body and spirit will make sitting at a your computer a relief. Even better if the hobbies can inspire your writing. Jessica Fletcher is a retired school teacher turned successful mystery writer in the endearing and long lasting TV Series Murder She Wrote. She’s become rich and famous as a writer – and still remains prolific, but yet… it’s not enough. Jessica is also an amateur detective! Because she lives in what, after 12 seasons on the air, amounts to the deadliest city in America – Cabot Cove—she is almost obligated to help the local police who are clearly overwhelmed by the workload. Most people would want to move away from a place like that, but Jessica Fletcher dives into the cases, unpaid, knowing every moment will be fodder for her next novel. Even on a book tour, or visiting a friend in Monte Carlo — some sort of felony crime goes down and Jess saves the day.
The Takeaway: They say one should write what they know. Pick up some intriguing hobbies and see what characters or plotlines come from them.
No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, the first step must always be the same: Set yourself up to succeed.
If you’re baking a cake, you make sure you have all of the ingredients, pans, etc… before you start, right? Without them, you can’t make a cake.
If you’re goal is a flowering garden, you make sure you have a welcoming soil bed to plant your seeds. If you don’t to that, your seeds won’t grow and your plants won’t survive.
Do the same for your creative project.
Take a beat before you jump into your process to make sure you have what you need to stay with the work.
Here are five things you can do to set yourself up to succeed:
1. Define Your Workspace
Whether you’re working at an office, a cafe or from home, where you sit down to write needs to be a kind of ’sacred’ space. It helps to write in the same space every day because consistency is a key tool in developing a habit of writing.
Go get a writing desk that works for you. My kitchen table is a bit too tall for me to write comfortably — you want to make sure your wrists are in line with your hands when you type, or slightly tilted downward so you don’t strain them. I sit next to my kitchen table, but place my computer on a desk I got at Ikea for twenty bucks called “David.” It’s small enough and can be broken down easily, making it fit well in my small apartment.
Also, make sure your chair is comfortable, but supportive.The goal is to sit for a long while so that you can give yourself time to get inspired. You need a great chair for that!
2. Create a Ritual
Repeating the same steps as you sit down to write can be very comforting as well as help set the tone. Pick a few things you enjoy and create a ritual out of them.
Here are some of the things I go in and out of doing:
• A Warm Cup of Something
There’s something good about holding a warm cup of fragrant tea. I make a cup of Earl Grey with a little bit of milk whenever I sit down to write.
• Special Candle
I light a candle as I write because it feels like symbolic illumination to my creative path. I’m a big fan of a cheap, grocery store votive, especially the ones with graphic religious imagery. (I am not religious, but admire the drama of it). One with The Powerful Hand is burning right now. I have no idea what it is or what it means, but it seems like something is working on my behalf in the ether… a Cosmic “High Five”.
• Dedicate Practice to Someone Else
We’re sometimes better at doing something for someone else than ourselves, so I dedicate my writing session to person, whether I know them or not. Today my work is dedicated to Gary Busey. He seems to be kind of a maniac and I like that for what I need to get done in this session.
Prep your snacks for the session before you start. Something easy to put together, but will also give you energy. Favorites of mine are tea sandwiches, celery sticks with something good to dip them into, sliced apples with peanut butter or cheese, pita chips with humus… I could go on.
Make a little shrine in your writing area. A shrine is really just a sacred space dedicated to something. You want your writing area to have images respectfully hung that speak to the mysterious nature of the creative process. I’m agnostic, but I do believe in the value of acknowledging my spirit. I switch the images out, but right now I have a picture of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, and the Hindu deity Ganesh, who is said to remove obstacles for writers and artists.
I also like to have a picture of Judge Judy. She’s a no nonsense kind of lady and that’s how I want to approach my process.
3. Commit the time
I’m not going to say too much about this. You know better than anyone how much time you have to set aside for writing. You know about your distractions, excuses and valid reasons for staying away from the writing desk. You know the length of the gap between what you want to accomplish and the time you have to get it done.
Some truth: Each day, you are free to decide whether you will write or not. If you choose not to write, you make it easier to stop writing. If you choose to write, you make it easier to keep writing.
4. Battle the Block
It’s awful when you set aside time to write and then nothing comes. Sometimes it’s a work for hire deadline you’re in peril of missing or a spec project you’re committed to, but can’t muster the inspiration.
Never undervalue the power of a writing exercise. The benefit of writing when you set aside time to write is the real value. It may feel like a waste if it isn’t related to your specific project, but you’d be surprised what will come. I have a recycled pickle jar on my desk filled with small scraps of paper that have writing exercises, assignments and inspirations written on them. When I’m really looking after my process, I start each day with one — it really works.
5. Collect Your Tools and Use Them
Keep an egg timer on your desk and use it. Use it to give yourself 10 minutes to do a writing exercise, feel sorry for yourself if you aren’t inspired — whatever. Time it and listen to the ticking. It will trick you into feeling under the gun.
Have a small dry erase board on the desk and use it to write your one main priority for that writing session. Also use it to put your favorite inspirational quote. It’s helpful.
A cork board is a good place to tack images or clippings that inspire you. I print encouraging emails from friends and keep them in front of me as a reminder that even if I don’t see my ability in that moment, others I respect see it.
In closing, remember to have fun with your work. Otherwise it becomes toil and no one wants that. Thanks for reading.