Ways to Renew Your Writing Spirit

IMG-4881I am spiritual, although my journey has been interrupted for a few years while I fretted and fumed about the state of the material world, politics, how unloved I felt and what ranking my new novel had on Amazon. These were some of the dark concerns that drew me away from my spiritual practices.

Enter my dear friend and fellow writer, Weam Namou. Weam is many things: a writer, a filmmaker, a journalist, a cable news host, a wife and mother. She is also a teacher and a healer. To that end she organized a spiritual retreat this past weekend. Her program, The Path of Consciousness, brought together many workshop leaders in a beautiful setting for three days of practicing both writing and matters of the spirit. These teachers showed participants how to blend the two. I never knew how to marry spirit and writing, or if I did, I forgot. This retreat was just what I needed.

My day of spiritual renewal started with a vision board workshop with Sonya Julie. I have done vision boards for my novels and vision portfolios for my home and work life. When you are attracted to something, envision it as part of your life. There’s a good chance it will manifest. To keep the vision front and center, have a visual reference. Sonya brought magazines, glue sticks, scissors and colored pens—as well as index cards—for each of us to create a vision card. The card I made in her class became my motif for the day.

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Next class went for a walk in the woods with Patty Shaw. She used the root chakra to help us drop what was holding us back so we could move forward into the new. We stood still before a set of steps that led down into the woods and felt the negative energies we held so tightly inside gather in the root of our body. Then we went down the path into the woods where we dropped the negative energy into the earth where it dissipated. Next we filled ourselves with the good in nature and emerged from the dark path into the light. The was more on this walk but that moment, when I let go of so much negativity, was life-changing.

I didn’t really get how writing and spirit worked together until a sacred experience in meditation class. We did a guided mediation with the third eye chakra (indigo blue) and the sacral chakra (orange). Heather Rae, owner of Little Lotus Wellness Studio in Ferndale, instructed us to envision the third eye and color as the higher creative spirit inside and the lower sacral chakra and color as the birth of creativity. She had us envision passing from one to the next, pouring into and feeding each other.

I did not expect what happened next.

As I envisioned this chakra energy as colors, it began to wind through me and I could see in my mind’s eye that, as the colors met, they blended. It was like I had a circle of energy passing through me and even out into the air. It was amazing. I felt totally refreshed after that. I saw how writing and spirit co-exist.

Weam herself taught the last workshop. I have been journaling for many years. It’s my firmest ritual, and I’ve come to depend on it to ground me at the beginning of every day. Still, my routine had become a bit, well, routine. I was going through the motions but nothing was happening on an energetic, spiritual or even creative writing level. Yes, I was clearing a path, but perhaps Weam could show me how to do more with this beloved practice.

The best advice for me, and I feel it will energize and recharge my morning pages, is that when I notice my writing (this is free writing, so nothing that you’d publish or even share) gets bogged down with negatives, to turn it around with a question. “Why am I feeling so hopeless?” for example. Next, quickly write down ten reasons why you may be feeling less than positive. I have a list. It starts with politics and ends with gender bias with a slab of sexual violence toward women in between. Where do I get all this from? Another list…television, social media, print media, books, conversation. How to heal this negativity? Pretty easy. Limit television news. Choose friends wisely and keep books and media positive.

It has not been lost on me that my biggest obstacle in this life is fear. Fear is also the name of a book currently on my Kindle. I’m not going to put my head in the sand, but I am going to work on balancing my life by being more focused on the spiritual. Spirit is what has been lacking. It’s always been there, but I’ve ignored it in favor of worldly chaos.

One thing Weam said makes so much sense. “Look deeper into your negative patterns of thought. What is in your home? What is on your phone? Your television? What kind of pictures are on your walls?”

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Weam pointed out that there are metaphors for what we need to heal everywhere. For me that’s especially true in my home. I’ve worked really hard to make my home reflect my spirit. But I could do more. So I brought out my crystals and singing bowl from where they were tucked away on a shelf and put them front and center in my writing room. I turned off the television and turned inward. And as I hoped it would, this retreat into spirit has unburdened my soul and renewed me for the journey ahead.

 

 

Beware of Darkness

colt3.FullSizeRender-3A year ago, after a lifetime of being an advocate for gun control, a switch flipped inside my head. I decided I needed to learn how to shoot and own a gun. I discussed it with my husband who agreed to take lessons with me and to purchase a pair of handguns. As an older American, I felt vulnerable. A gun (or two) could protect us. This thinking was such a huge departure for me. I ruminated over it long and hard, talked it over with plenty of friends and family. I was surprised to learn how many already had guns and knew how to shoot them.

At the same time, my writing also took a darker tone. As often is the case, a character I loved acted out things I had been thinking, like taking shooting lessons and buying guns for self-protection. She also felt vulnerable. The title of my upcoming novel reflects this blacker mood in my world view. I finished that book, which I am proud of despite its darker themes. That’s the way it works with writers, or with me anyway. Whatever is on my mind finds its way into my current work. The books, in my view, are always stronger for it.

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Still in the pro-gun frame of mind, I began another novel with my same beloved character. I wanted her to find a way out of her darkness. I thought it could be a psychological thriller with a victorious turnaround for my damaged character who had suffered so much. There were two shootings in the first chapter. Of course my character is on the side of the righteous and wants to find the shooter and see justice done. It was my job to help her do that.

Meanwhile, in real life, I never did push for those shooting lessons. I started to think maybe we didn’t need guns in the house after all. And I noticed I was reluctant to continue with the draft of this more violent novel. I thought I was being silly, and, ignoring my inner voice, forced myself to continue writing, telling myself It’s fiction! It’s not real! It’s a challenge. The pages accumulated and I had a solid start on a new and different novel in a fresh voice. My critique group thought it was great.

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Then yesterday: the mass shooting in Oregon. After much reflection and the familiar unwillingness to sit down with my manuscript, I finally admitted to myself that I may not be up to this particular writing challenge. I just don’t have the stomach for it. Not now. Maybe not ever. Sure it’s just a book, but after yesterday it hit home: I don’t need or want to add any more to the world’s darkness, or my own, not even a little bit.

Digging Into Revision

Back when I missed my deadline last October, I marked off the month of January as what one of my writer friends calls “writing cave” time. No distractions, appointments, or lunches. Just write. Every day. Except Saturday, which is my day with Al.

So six days, flat out, all day, until dinner or until I hit my page target (ten pages a day), or until I burned out. So how’d that turn out? Well, I think I’m going to make it before my trip to Seattle. But there were a few bumps along the road. Some days I struggled to enter the cave at all. I got a cold. Sniff. That was two days. I had burn out days. One or two. I had a problem, a psychological block, which Chuck Wendig (hilarious writer who blogs about writers and writing and other things) would call FAKE WRITER’S BLOCK but I know was just me working out a knotty problem with a character and her situation.

You might guess: it was the sex scene that wasn’t about sex. I finally got it right. But that took a few more days. Other than those things, I wrote most days. I also grocery shopped, cooked, cleaned the kitchen, did the laundry, and dusted and vacuumed the living room and my cave. I’m lucky. Al takes care of the bathrooms. We have three. And he also does a ton of other stuff around here.

When I’d made that January promise, I’d conveniently forgotten about Luke. My book. The one that came out in December that I have done hardly a thing to promote. I mean, really, I have a folder of ideas but that’s it. Everything else, other people did for me, without me asking. I’m lucky twice. Today I posted a picture of the “real Luke” family on Facebook for #TBT. That’s Throwback Thursday for non-FB people.

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It’s  not really promo because I didn’t put it on my author page, but my friend page. I didn’t add a “buy” link or anything. I didn’t even mention Luke or the book. I will get to promo, just not yet. It’s too cold out for one thing! And my Mac is busy doing other things, like writing this blog post. I have kept up my twice a week posting because it’s something I really love to do. But blog posts aren’t really promo…I don’t think social media really works as far as promotion. I like to tweet and sometimes I’ll (rare) throw up a link or quote a review of Luke, but mostly I make a few quick visits to tweeps (Twitter-speak for those of you not on that site) do some RTs (re-tweets) and follow links. Except for the blog, I have spent far less time on social media than usual. As I said, I don’t think it helps sell my books, but it relaxes me and I get to connect with other writers that way.

You know, we all work alone in caves so it’s nice to get out and wave hi every once in awhile. But the way to get the work done is to limit social media and defer all other activities until the pages for the day are done. My limit was ten pages a day but I always went over that. I’ve clocked several thirty-page days. But the thing is, this is revision of a first draft. So those thirty (or however many) pages get edited again the next day.

I remember Louise Erdrich saying that’s how she works from the first draft. She picks up the pages from the previous day and makes them as good as she can before moving forward. I’ve been doing that with this second draft, so it’s a combination of second draft and third round edits. Next I will let the manuscript rest while I’m in Seattle with Owen, then read it again when I return. If I can bring myself to ever leave this little sweetheart!

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Something occurred to me as I went through this month of intense revision. I realized that it was okay to go at a pace that felt natural to me. It was okay not to make my self-imposed deadline. (My editor said “take as long as you need.”) I only have this one life and maybe it’s about more than writing (gasp!) This is, after all, the first month of my formal retirement from teaching college. Writing is now my only job. For the rest of my life. I should enjoy it, not push myself because soon a new semester will be underway. So, I gave myself permission not to finish if it didn’t happen. Yet, it is happening. It was a goal, so I’m happy it’s looking like I’ll meet it, as I’d like to finish this book already and move on to what’s next.

Notice I didn’t say “the next book.” During this month in the cave I realized there’s a lot going on outside. And I want to be part of it. Even though it has a treasured place in my heart, writing has never ruled my world. It’s always been “people first, writing second.” When I was working the day job and wishing for the time of life when I could devote myself entirely to writing, I had no idea that when that day came, I might have other things on my mind. Like a new grandson coming in April. Let’s see, I have a trip to see my first grandson in February. Then in March, two weeks with Al in sunny Florida. New grandbaby in April. Maybe in May I can get focused on writing again. Meanwhile, I’ve got some living and loving to do.

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Five Ways to Find Writing Time

Lately, I just cannot find the time to write and it’s making me crazy because if I don’t write, I don’t fully enter into my inner reality. I live a shallow, surface, running around being busy kind of life. No month is busier than December and no time in recent memory have I been more occupied with everything except writing than these last several months.

One way I worked around my hectic schedule was to write, if nothing else, morning pages every day. They save me when I just can’t find more than a few minutes in my day  to write. It’s like exercise, even 20 minutes with pen and paper (or on the yoga mat) is enough to keep body and spirit in tune. Only just, but some days that’s got to be enough, and it is. I still follow Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” directions: three pages uncensored first thing every day. It works. It has worked for me since 1992. Here’s what Cameron says about morning pages in The Artist’s Way: “There is no wrong way to do morning pages. These daily morning meanderings are not meant to be art.” That’s key because my “real” writing needs to be polished and shaped and pretty. So this takes the pressure off thinking about what word to use or if I went off on a tangent  or didn’t add enough detail or any of that other stuff revision requires. Revision takes time. Lots of time.

Two things I never thought I would say “I can’t do lunch” and “I don’t have time to read.” When I first read a writer talking about not going to lunch with friends because it disturbed her writing flow, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. That was before I was published. I didn’t know then what I know now. When you are writing one book, correcting proofs on another, and promoting a third, it takes time and skillful management of your day. For me, I began to notice that writing, real writing–which for me right now is revising a novel–came in dead last. “Promotion” on Twitter and Facebook and even here on the blog is fun writing. It’s interactive. I don’t go deep into the writing cave all alone for hours at a time. Putting a stop to clicking around the internet is just another way to say “writers can’t have lunch.” At least until the days’ writing is done.

Three books are currently on the go in my Kindle. A novel, a non-fiction, and a book of short stories. I used to read books for a living and became a very fast reader as a result. These days even that doesn’t help as I struggle with my twin loves of reading and writing. I have heard MANY published writers say they don’t read at all when writing a book. This used to astound me. If I had to choose one, I’d choose…well, thank stars I don’t have to, because I became a writer as a result of my love of reading. So to hear a writer say they don’t read … it’s like a sin or something. Or so I thought. Until I took a look at my schedule and saw where my time was going.

Four things occupy the greatest amount of my time these days: teaching, home-making, socializing, and shopping. It is December, which accounts for the shopping. Also the decorating and baking  puts “home-making” higher on the list than usual, and socializing means cooking more for my own parties and for other bring-a-dish type events. I have one Saturday and one Sunday. Would have had a lunch here on Tuesday but I fell Monday and had to cancel. And then school…just like any day job, it takes the majority of time. But the end of term is in sight. Sigh of relief.

Five ways to find more writing time: Put writing first every day, stay off social media until after the real writing is done, promote your writing after the actual writing is done, don’t do lunch, and take calendar in hand, look at how you manage your time, and then rearrange your schedule so writing becomes a daily priority.

This isn’t easy to do. My day gig is about to end, so that won’t be an issue, but Christmas will. I’m not canceling anything already on the books. Neither am I adding anything else. I’m just saying no. And I have started telling my friends that January is my writing month and I will not be available for visits, lunch, shopping, or anything at all from 6 am until 2 pm Monday – Friday.  Since most of my friends are not writers, they do not understand this at all. They might even be upset with me for putting writing before time with them. They might think “it’s just one day out of the month” but what they don’t think about is that I am blessed with many friends. And once they figure out I’m done teaching for the winter, I will receive many lunch invitations. I’m just going to say no.

My novel was due in OCTOBER. If I say no to lunch in January and get down to serious work, it WILL be finished and on my editor’s desk by February 5, when I leave Detroit for Seattle to cuddle my grandson. My friends know how much writing means to me, but my motto has always been “people first, writing second” and I lived by that. Now I’m changing. Now I’m putting my own desire to write ahead of everyone else and finally am determined to be there for myself and my heart’s desire.

If you want to write more than anything, if you finally want to finish that novel or memoir or book of poetry, then you may have to make some difficult choices. Yours may differ from mine. But one thing I only recently learned is that is okay to put yourself, and your own special dreams and desires, first. Writing doesn’t consume my entire life: I take the weekends off. When I finish a book, I take a month or two to play and travel before I start the next story. When I’m not on deadline, or past deadline, I play with my week sometimes.

But when it comes down to finding ways to write, if you want it, you will do it. I have found ways to write all my life. The ways constantly evolve depending on my life stage. Being a mom and wife came first for a long time. I still wrote, but family came first. Always. Now my children are grown and have families of their own. My husband still needs me, but weekends are our time. Writing is what I want to do with my time right now, and I have a simple plan to make it happen.

Endings

Photo on 9-18-14 at 10.11 AMWanted to write about Quiet today. The book & my need for some. Been feeling raw and unsettled and have not yet reached that place where I can claim my quiet, although I am working on it. Progress slow, but being made. I make things out of no-things all the time. Today I made ten pages of a book out of blank white paper. Turned them dark and inky. Sprinkled in a little bit of light.

One of the phrases I loved the most, snatched from my notebook with glee, was useless. It was beautiful and I adored it, but it didn’t fit anywhere. Maybe it still will because I have not finished the book. I’m through the messy middle and I’ve reached everyone’s climax (ahem) but now to bring them to an ending. There’s an easy way to do this. A connect-the-dot way. I use it all the time. Happy ending. Problem solved. Murder avenged.

Now that there have been, much to my surprise, two murders committed on my pages, it would seem that okay, I can just use the endings that conventional romances (Plot A) and mysteries (Plot B) traditionally use. Except. That sly Lily. She was just a teenager in Blue Heaven but now she’s finished college and she’s back in town trying to take over the book. She came creeping into my head this week and demanded to have her own spin-off series. She wants to solve crimes and shoot guns and stuff. I’m telling her to shut up because I don’t know a thing about any of that but she says I’ve written it before. I’m writing it now. And she’s right.

So what does that have to do with this book’s ending?

If Lily is going to have her series, or at least another book, and I think she will, if I can just get some quiet to develop her new storyline, I’m going to have to leave room in this book for loose ends. I’m gonna have to break some hearts and leave them unmended. I’m going to have to sink blood, bones, and soul into this story’s end.

How do you do that? In “An Anatomy of Endings” David Chase suggests that instead of my typical “closer” type ending where loose ends are tied, and relationships restored, I might go with a “clincher” that “surprises by tying story strings together in an unexpected way or throwing a new, ironic light on the whole recent past.” Yeah, ironic. Lily can do that. I can do that.

Or can I? Chase lists all the ways a “clincher” can fail: the cop out, the let down, the tie up, the wrap up, the aha, the huh? are all filled with pencil-type peril. I do know this: I’ll try anything once. I have never been afraid to take the leap. It’s just a book. There’s always revision. Which basically means I’ll try anything twice. Or even three times.

The next question is: will Lily’s landing be soft or hard? I think right now it’s gotta be hard, even though everything inside me longs for strong soft & quiet.