Renewing Writing Practices

Reading and journaling these past weeks with Colleen Story’s game changing Writer Get Noticed, so many of my writing plans have come into sharper focus, including how best to adjust my writing practices. Specifically, I’m looking at changing writing routines when my husband retires at the end of the year.

When I finish Jane in St Pete in December, I have no plans for a next novel. Al’s retirement is not the only reason it feels right to take a break from writing novels. Since I’ve been publishing books, I’ve steadily released at least one a year. I noticed a slow down with Lily White in Detroit, my tenth novel.

At first I attributed my decreased output to the added research that comes with writing crime novels, but after studying Colleen’s writer’s self-help guide, I realized I’ve come to a natural stopping point, at least for now, at least as far as writing novels.

As I worked through the illuminating exercises Colleen lays out in a genius step process, I learned that while adjusting to a new life passage that involves fun, travel and moving out of my home state, I still want to keep some portable writing practices. Writing a novel takes a big chunk of time, a room of my own and steady commitment, day after day, month after month.

My life is not going to have those long stretches of time in a writing room, at least not for a year or maybe even longer. Although…I start every day with morning pages, and have done for many years. I won’t give up my journal and gel pen. And I don’t want to give up my fiction writing groups and friends, either.

Short stories helped me fill the gap after Lily White and gave me something to bring to my critique groups. Stories kept my craft skills sharp. And eventually, they led to Jane in St. Pete. Like many writers, I started writing fiction with short stories. I published a few of them, but mostly they were a way to begin to figure out my voice and how to write a narrative.

Things can get stale for me if I keep doing them over and over without hitting refresh, and that happened recently with morning pages. I’d write a half page and sit there with nothing to say. Julia Cameron, who introduced me to morning pages, recommends three pages every morning. That’s still what I shoot for. Answering the questions Colleen poses became a way for me to write not just three pages every morning, but four, five, even six pages. All while discovering what to do next.

I was on fire as I got deeper into the heart of what I really want out of my writing life now. More flexibility. Less sustained attention. Writing I can finish in a couple of hours or days. Long before I began the daily discipline needed for writing novels, I was a blogger. I also published book reviews, personal essays, poetry and short stories. All things I enjoyed and could do around my teaching job.

With the help of Colleen’s therapeutic method of writerly inquiry, I was able to figure out how to keep the writing I love close while figuring out how this new adventurous phase of married life will look in retirement. I have so many new goals. I’m looking forward to finishing Jane and going through the editing process with my publisher’s guidance. I can’t wait to gear up for the marketing aspect of a new release–Colleen also helped me clarify how to do publicity my way.

I’ve learned what does and does not work for me as a writer. I love morning pages, social media, my blog. I especially enjoy giving my website a fresh design, which will happen in 2020 along with that novel I’ve been working on for a while now. 🙂 I’ve still got a ways to go with the novel, but the revision is coming together even as I decide what to pack and what to leave behind on this next great adventure.

Feeling Published

Remember flame wars? In 2002, this same week, I got torched on a Yahoo Fan Page. Which led me to leave a group I’d really loved. It was so hard, and so much on my mind, I told my son about it. I shocked myself when cried a little bit before wiping my tears away and laughing at myself.

My son Mike asked me what I’d liked so much about the group. I thought about it. I finally said I liked talking about writing. Which was something we did a lot in that group. I’d miss having that outlet. Mike said “Mom, you should start a blog.”

I sniffed and said I wouldn’t know how to do that, and anyway, weren’t blogs over? He replied that he’d set up the site for me and also, no, blogs were not over. They were only going to get bigger. He was in IT, so I figured he knew more about the internet than I did. I said yes, thank you, that sounds like fun.

I hadn’t published a book yet, just some poems, short stories and book reviews in magazines, but the minute I posted my first blog entry, I felt published. It was an incredible validation. All these years later, I still feel so good about my blog, which my son continued to help me with for more than ten years, until his first son was born.

I have such happy memories of this adventure. Choosing wallpaper for a custom template, learning to write a key lines of code, blogging every single day about the novel I was working on. In 2002 there wasn’t any software that did tech things for you, so Mike did them for me. He was so patient when I wanted to change my blue stars wallpaper to pink flowers. The blog was a joint project and my son was my teacher. What a gift.

Mike said he could still do the work on my blog after the baby came. By this time we had been through Blogger and Moveable Type and were firmly into Word Press. I’d met Barb of Bakerview Consulting online and was sure she could do the housekeeping chores. I was also sure Mike was about to be way busier than he could begin to imagine. Both of these things turned out to be true.

What started out as a way to talk about writing became my author platform and I didn’t even know it until I read Colleen Story’s “Writer Get Noticed!” I’m learning more about my writing self from Colleen’s book…like what specific things I want from this writing life I’m living. The answers will be different for everyone, but the discovery process is the same.

It starts with the question Mike asked me all those years ago: What do I like about doing this? Why do I like it? These days I’m revisiting those questions and so many more that Colleen poses. Doing the exercises in Colleen’s book is an illuminating way to fill my morning pages. Which is the way I always start my day. Why? Because I like it.

Why do I like it? Any of it? Morning pages, blogging, writing novels, participating in a Twitter hashtag? It’s all one reason, really. It’s the best way, the perfect way for me, to communicate with the world. And I didn’t really put it all together quite like this until I read Colleen’s book, so thanks Colleen. And thanks to Mike, who set me off on this adventure. And most of all to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, reading this. ❤

Flow in Writing & Life

I’ve been reading Ursula LaGuin’s blog posts No Time to Spare in book form on my Kindle. I’m interested just now in reading about aging…I’d like to write about it, too, and I’m trying. It’s a challenge, but I love when writing presents a new challenge. We’ll see how it works out for me, although LaGuin does a beautiful job. She has a way of making the profound seem like common sense.

The other thing I’m doing is writing with my Florida group. There are ten of us this year. Our leader gives us prompts and we write a page or so. Everyone reads aloud. This week’s prompt “A Memorable Teacher” was particularly difficult for me. I’ve been thinking about it since Friday, so five days. When you get to my age, especially if you love learning and seek it out like I do, you’ve had a lot of teachers, good ones and bad ones, horror stories and terrible bores.

What seemed obvious to me was that life is the best teacher. Marriage and children are profound teachers, too. I actually learned how to stay married (after two failed attempts) because of my sons. I didn’t want to put them through another divorce, so in spite of sometimes wanting to give up on my third marriage, I stuck with it. Because I loved my boys more than I’d ever loved any other human, I learned to compromise, forgive, and stand up for myself with a husband. I also learned how becoming a grandmother expands the capacity to love beyond limits.

Finally, I thought of who or what helped me and taught me how to maintain sanity and happiness through rough times. The best lesson I ever learned. My favorite teacher. The runner up taught me how to teach and how to love Shakespeare. That was a lot! The winning teacher was Brian, my yoga teacher. He wasn’t my first and he won’t be my last, but he was absolutely the best because he taught me how to truly inhabit my body.

Brian’s best lesson went something like this: “Close your eyes during practice. Don’t look at the people around you to see how they are doing the poses. Don’t compare your body to anybody else’s. Make this time about you and your relationship to your body, mind and spirit. Flow your own way through the poses. Find your own edge. Remember to breathe. Be grateful for your body and your breath.”

I was, by far, the oldest person in Brian’s class. I had the biggest belly. My hair frizzed and I didn’t wear make up because it would just melt off. I had to get over all that, and it was easy to do once I really understood what Brian was saying. It clicked in pretty quickly and I was good there with all the young and lithe yoginis. I was in my 40s when I went to Brian’s studio. Now I’m in my 60s. I still take his advice every day. Not comparing myself to any other is such a relief. Accepting my own limits is humbling and freeing at the same time.

Brian’s advice goes beyond yoga. It has helped me in other ways. Like with writing ~ I don’t compare my books to other authors’, I don’t compare sales, or calculate at what age others achieved success. I pay no attention to what level they’re at or how I do or do not measure up. I’m in my flow of writing and life and you’re in yours. It’s all good. Namaste.

15 Years

15 years ago this month I started this blog. Back then, I called it “A Writer’s Diary” as a  homage to the Virginia Woolf book of the same name, the one with all the writing related entries from her journals assembled by her husband after her death. I read Woolf and other writers’ biographies, memoirs, and even their collected letters. I read May Sarton’s “Journal of a Solitude” and Hemingway’s “A Movable Feast.” Pretty much anything writers had to say on their craft, I read.

The internet was pretty new then, or it was to me. I did belong to one fan group though, on Yahoo. Are there still fan groups? I don’t even know. Anyway, a fan started a group to talk about one of my favorite contemporary writers so I joined. I got really into it. Maybe a bit too much. I posted lots of writerly type comments, asking the other fan/writers questions or just getting something writing related off my chest. It was fun and a highlight of my day. Then it wasn’t anymore.

I know this about myself: sometimes I am too enthusiastic and I can get ahead of things. Always with good intentions, but some people don’t like it and if I try to leap over them, I stumble. This happened then and I left the group. I was telling my son about it while he was hooking up my new computer. Telling the story, I started to cry a little bit, which was embarrassing because I always try to be strong for my kids. I told him how stupid I felt about tears. It was a dumb fan group and the mean girls made me look bad in front of the famous author. Big deal.

My son was so sweet and sympathetic. He said “You should start a blog.” This was 2002. I said “Aren’t blogs over?” He laughed and said “No, they’re going to get a lot bigger.” And he set me up. He registered cynthiaharrison.com, found me a host, designed my first page and managed my blog for ten years. Eventually it grew into a website highlighting my blog posts.

I uploaded an entry every day of those ten years, usually about whatever novel I was working on, what was going good and what my problems were with the days’ pages, which editor from what publishing house was interested in a query. Who had rejected the current manuscript. It was raw data. I never edited those posts. Really, when I started blogging, nobody edited their posts and they weren’t meant to be polished pieces.

My first novel came out around that ten year mark and I realized my son had been exactly right. Tons of people were blogging about writing, some of them authors using their  websites as platforms for their work. The official word from marketing departments  was that writers should blog to keep their websites “live” and attract readers. Not every writer has a website, and not every writer with a website has a blog. But lots do.

After 2,519 blog entries, and ten published books, my blog is now occasional and only one part of the ever-expanding website. Barb of Bakerview Consulting (I found her five years ago on Twitter!) designed a site I love that reflects my pride in having become a published author as well as my new laid back approach to blogging.

Today I was having coffee with a friend who suggested I take a look at my blog posts. She believes there’s a book in here somewhere. I just sent my current manuscript off to my editor, and I don’t have a good idea for new novel yet. Maybe, like my son’s suggestion 15 years ago, this is something I can do.

Last Post

I just bought a home in a Florida beach town. I’ve lived in Michigan all my life except for a brief season in Key West when I was on the brink of twenty and recovering from a teenage marriage. I still live in Michigan, as my husband is not yet retired and I very much like living with him. But as Michiganders of a certain age sometimes do, we’re taking a second home to avoid the brutal winters.

Until I can convince Al to retire, he won’t be down south with me as much as I’d like. He does have several weeks’ vacation, so he’ll be there a good chunk of the time. Probably not in February where I will try to console myself with lots of writing time and feathering the new nest. Also a consolation: not having to cook all those suppers and shop for the vast quantities of groceries he makes disappear with alarming regularity.

IMG_2744

Still, I’ll miss him when we’re not together.

It feels really strange to have two houses in two states, but strange in a good way, like an exciting adventure. And as one adventure begins, another ends. After fourteen years and 2482 posts (!!!) this is my last one. I started blogging as a way to motivate, understand and identify myself as a writer. I was unpublished and wanted a place to hold the dream of one day being the author of books. So I did what I set out to do and made some good friends along the way. Thank you all for reading. Now on to the next adventure.