Tag Archives: writer’s block

Want to be a Great Writer? How You Live Matters.

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Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

I was recently reminded that what I do when I’m not writing, may be as important to the creative process as writing itself. Well, almost. Clearly, I still need to put in the work. But if you, like me, get stuck often or procrastinate, take a look at your daily habits to see if they are helping or hurting. I attended a seminar a few weeks ago that suggested specific lifestyle changes in order to better tap into the subconscious mind, energize the non-dominate side of the brain, find an authentic voice and banish crippling fear.

The main tidbit of advice? Put down that martini, tumbler of scotch, wine glass and/or cigarette and take a long, cool drink of water. Yup. We all can’t be Hunter S. Thompson and go down in a flame of booze, cigarettes and drugs. Writers and bad habits often go hand-in-hand. Partly, it’s cultural. When I was a newspaper journalist, I remember more than one editor drinking on the job. In graduate school in New York, most writers I knew met up at bars and pubs to ‘talk’ into the wee hours. I was working too many jobs to do this often, but when I did, I remember how many of my creative writer friends seemed to idolize Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever and Truman Capote. All iconic writers. All alcoholics. I know this much: good writing comes from the depths of our souls. It can come from an inner whisper of trauma. It can be a vulnerable place to live. Yes, you may be writing fiction, but the truth that may emerge can painfully mirror fears, demons, love, longing, insecurities, loss, heartbreak…It’s all raw. And strangers will read it. And being raw, in and of itself, takes a toll. I know. Last Christmas I wrote the most painful chapter of my novel Uriel’s Mask. My boys were with their dad. I was alone for nearly two weeks. I started to slip into a depression as I wrote about abuse seen from a six-year-old’s eyes. I was having night mares. I slept with the light on. I wanted to drink. My relationships suffered. What I was experiencing must be close to what actors feel when they are in character. Some days I walked on the beach and cried after writing for hours. It wasn’t explainable to friends, so I didn’t bother. But I was raw and I was needy without knowing what I needed. But there it is. That vulnerable place of truth leaves us feeling exposed, uncertain, adrift. The feelings can be overwhelming—even if cathartic or beautiful. It’s understandable to have the urge to swallow them. But here’s the rub: in order to keep writing and finish that powerful novel, screen play or short stories that will resonate with readers…FEEL those damn feelings and push through without relying on stimulants or depressants. This is what I’m currently trying to do. It’s hard. And that’s why it’s so easy to push the writing aside. Don’t.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Exercise! Dean Nelson, Ph.D., founder and director of Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium, Behind The Scenes, shared recently at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference that many of the best-selling authors he has interviewed over the years link their career longevity to exercise. Running is Nelson’s choice. When he’s stuck, he says he’ll step away, go for a run in San Diego where he can find a great vista, and just let his mind drift.
  • Meditate. Giving my brain a pause lets me detach and float up into my subconscious mind. It also gives me a break from my fear of failure—or success—and gives me a mini-vacation from my life. Not only is meditation great for creativity, it has amazing health benefits that can’t be disputed. From keeping Alzheimer’s at bay, to reducing blood pressure and anxiety, meditation is life changing.
  • Yoga. I place yoga in a different category from exercise or meditation, although outsiders may wonder why. Yes, it is a form of exercise, and yes, there is meditation at the end. But yoga, in and of itself, is like mindful movement that improves my focus and goal setting. Deep hip opening poses have surprisingly released memories, grief and grudges. While heart-opening poses force me not to close down with my alignment—which then influences my actual being. And, finally, yoga helps me embrace my authentic, timeless self. And, it just feels damn good. I smile. I’m surrounded by heart-felt people. I leave energized and suddenly ready to tackle the next project, the next chapter, the next assignment. It’s amazing.
  • Reduce caffeine. This is SO tough for me! But I know that 3 to 4 cups of joe just makes my heart and thoughts race. Plus, I don’t sleep as well. It doesn’t help me craft eloquent lines.
  • Write a few pages long hand. Step away from the computer, go outside (if possible) and put pen to paper. Something magical happens. Maybe it’s tactile, but somehow, if I’m blocked, the words start flowing again. Try it.
  • Write a few paragraphs with your opposite hand. It’s supposed to jog that non-dominant side of the brain. When I do it, I’m amazed at what I actually say.
  • Paint or draw. Painting just takes me away from my fears, anxieties and my daily grind. I become razor focused on the present moment. I come back refreshed and grateful.
  • Cut off the cell phone and internet for a few hours a day.
  • Read other books! Seriously, it just gets me so excited to read my favorite authors, even if only for just 30 minutes at bedtime.

If you liked this article, try Finding the Sweet Space of Between.

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Finding Courage to Stay on Course

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I recently read an inspiring quote from a friend, (I’ll paraphrase): “All the shit, drama and pain you’ve dealt with in life has prepared you for this present moment, this present action, this present course.”

It’s so true, right? Well, sometimes. It’s only true if each painful experience propels growth. As long as I can see that each time someone has hurt me, hasn’t seen, or heard me, or said something cruel, or treated me without respect—it was exactly what I needed in order to find my boundaries, my self-respect, my strength, my confidence, my kindness, my direction. And even when I hurt others, or typically myself, if I can learn to forgive, have more compassion and ‘own’ my issues, I’ll become stronger and closer to the person I want to be.

All of this sounds groovy now, but when I’m in the thick of it with someone, it’s hard to keep in mind. But I’m learning that that’s ok too—maybe I’m letting myself feel more now, and not dismiss things so quickly in order to avoid confrontation. I don’t know. Here’s an example:

Someone recently hurt me by saying I needed to give up writing—that it would never work out and that I needed to move out of California or I’d be destitute within 3 years. Ow.

Ok, that was really negative. My eyes welled up with tears and my stomach felt like it had been kicked as I listened. (It didn’t help that this conversation came a week after I had been heart broken. But that’s not for this venue.) This judgmental tirade came after I said, happily, that I had finished polishing 150 pages of my novel…I was in shock as I listened to the negative rant. The old me, the me before daily yoga and meditation, would have likely not said anything, took more abuse, felt horrible, internalized this, doubted myself, and then finally complained to a few friends in order to try to garner some sort of support. The new me just looked at this person, felt the pain that was welling inside my stomach and said quietly that the conversation wasn’t kind. The conversation didn’t end, sadly, with more justifications as to why I would never get published and was living beyond my means…but in my mind, I knew I responded authentically and calmly—in the moment–(a big deal for me) and was able to mentally button up the judgement as unsupportive, fearful, negative.

I’ve been a journalist and writer for 15 + years and this person hadn’t read anything of mine or even a chapter of my current book or my first novel. And, of course, I won’t be destitute within 3 years!

Honestly.

But for some reason, over the past two weeks, I’ve come back to this conversation in my mind to see what I can learn from it. I’ve decided to dismiss the negativity of it. What you think is what you can manifest right?

But it struck a chord. I have half my novel finished and the rest outlined. I’m very excited and a few friends have read a bit of it to give me feedback. But since this summer, I have found so many distractions. I am to blame for allowing each and every one them. Between soccer games, homework, sickness, volunteer demands, friend demands, work, trainings, it can get hairy. But, at the end of the day, I am in control of my schedule. I am in control of my time. I am in control of my thoughts, my actions and who I choose to let into my life.

So with that in mind, I’ve decided that the reason why I keep floating back to this conversation is that I realize that I’m out of balance. It can seem almost insurmountable with kid demands, but there really is at least 2 hours a day to work on my book. And I can fit in yoga and mediation for my sanity. (All you single parents know just what I mean!) So, if that means that dishes pile up in the sink or that my kiddos don’t have rooms made or the perfectly-kept house, who cares?

I’m taking the steps I need to get published. I spent more money today (Egads! One more step toward destitution! ha ha) and signed up for the La Jolla Writers Conference next weekend. Yup, there are soccer games, a bar mitzvah, and my son’s birthday party to prep for. But I’ve decided that I have to put my writing goal on my to-do list each week. If it means missing a soccer game, or having a birthday party that isn’t perfect. So be it.

I’m so excited (and nervous) to go as many agents and authors attend this conference where they give feedback on work, have writer jam sessions, as well as listen to “7 minute pitches”.  So now I have to hone my 7 minute pitch for Uriel’s Mask—as well as polish my one page synopsis. But it’s what I need to do. If I expect an agent, who likely works 50+ hour weeks in this field to take me seriously, I have to push aside distractions and take my writing just as seriously. I even ordered new business cards.

So, I’m officially taking the plunge. And you know what? I’m actually thankful for the hard knocks this month…they are helping me to focus on my path, my journey and GET IN CONTROL OF MY LIFE.

I’d really love to hear from any of you out there who have had similar experiences where either fear or distractions kept you from finishing a project or keeping you from your art. How do you stay on course? Any single parents out there trying to carve out a regular schedule for an artistic project? PLEASE reach out. I’d love to share motivational strategies. Some days, I feel like I’ve run a marathon before 10 a.m. Lets share strategies to keep a daily schedule or to stay on track.  Thanks so much for reading! XO