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.

Going It Alone

img_3598While becoming a little annoyed by Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, I have to admit the course has brought big changes and been a good companion on what has been an amazing and mostly solo journey. Julia’s been nagging me to take a walk, but I’ve been too busy dancing.  And very week there’s a new artist date to plan; these dates are to be taken alone so nothing I do with friends counts.

This week I got the bright idea to combine a date and a walk and take myself on a beach walk. I’ve been five minutes from multiple beaches for a couple of months, but not once have I ventured to a beach alone. Not sure why. I love walking on the beach. The mellow sound of the waves rushing to shore. The gritty sand under my feet. The way each new wave washes my toes clean. The glitter of sunshine reflecting off water.

I guess it’s just always been something Al and I do together. If there’s any prevailing theme of this winter in Florida, it is Going It Alone. It’s been fine, but, honestly, I didn’t get married so I could be alone. I was terrified much of last year leading up to this time, worried about how I would handle things on my own. Al calmed my concerns by pointing out that it would only be for this one year–he planned to retire in December of 2017. That plan has changed, and it looks like I may be here on my own again next year, and possibly the year after that.

img_3502I don’t have to be here. I can stay with him in Michigan and we could rent this place out for the season. But I have a choice and I know I don’t want to live through another Michigan winter ever again. This has stirred up a bunch of uncomfortable feelings. I feel selfish. I feel tricked. I never planned to have a long distance marriage, even for a season, so I’m attempting to overturn an image, burnished over a lifetime, of what I thought a good marriage should look like.

Honestly, I’m a little upset with my husband for deciding not to retire quite yet even as I understand that he’s his own person and he should pursue his career the way he sees fit. He has always allowed me that same freedom. So yeah I’m a little pissed off at Julia and Al but I also know that each of them, in their own way, is helping me go mine.

 

Hypnotized

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A few days ago, not quite halfway into my three month experiment of living alone in a Florida beach town, I was waiting for something to happen. I’m reading Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, the book that had promised to break things open for me, I was living an experience I knew would challenge me and maybe, I hoped, release some kind of something inside.

My hopes for this time alone were ambitious. I wanted to finish a book, start blogging and lose weight (again). I was so far away from inspired when I came down here. I’ve been round and round the weight loss routine for too many years to really believe I could create lasting change. I was starting to give up on ever finishing the book I’ve been writing off and on for a few years now. I needed help, but only the kind I could provide for myself. I had to do the work, whatever that was.

Julia’s book is at the center of my plan. At the end of each week, she concludes with a series of questions about how things went. She always asks about synchronicity. Synchronicity is when you notice that certain themes keep popping up in your life. After weeks of faithful work, I wasn’t having any of that, and I wanted some. The thing with synchronicity is, you might be having it and just not notice. It might be tugging at you and you’re brushing it off.

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Two weeks ago I read a novel by one of my favorite authors with a hypnotherapist main character. Since I read that book, I’ve been thinking about learning more about hypnosis. Then out of the blue the other day my dad (who quit smoking via this method) mentioned hypnotherapy. This propelled me to the bookstore where I found Instant Self-Hypnosis. When I got home I realized I’d just experienced synchronicity.

Hypnosis is not exactly what I thought it was. There is no “going under” there is no time where the hypnotized person is not in complete control and fully aware of what’s happening.  After you’re hypnotized, you remember everything that happened while you were in the trance. It’s like the flow I enter when I meditate, or when I write.

The difference is, with hypnosis, the place I enter is not the still calm center of my consciousness or the place in the story where my characters are currently playing out my plot. The entry point in hypnosis is your subconscious. By relaxing, the conscious mind opens a door into the unconscious and then slips in an intention, like losing weight or finishing a book. It’s a simple process, takes about 20 minutes. The author suggests you undergo the process three times for any one thing you want to change in your life. So three 20 minutes sessions for weight loss, three more for finishing the book.

I’m going to try it. The thing that made me really believe that hypnosis can work was not that the AMA (American Medical Association) has given hypnotherapy its stamp of approval as a solid method to help stop bad habits and start good ones. No, what intrigued me most and felt most promising to me was something that I intuitively knew was true about myself. On a conscious level, I really do want to lose weight.

But on an unconscious level, I know I’m ambivalent about the weight loss. Does it mean I must forever forego chocolate? Wine? Pizza? Chips? Not Fun. And that formerly unconscious false belief that all fun will be drained from life if I lose weight is what has kept me from losing weight for good. I’ve lost 25-30 pounds half a dozen times. But I always gain it back…probably when I decide, on an unconscious level, I’m done being deprived and want to have fun again.

I understood this dynamic in a flash. But understanding a false belief is not the same as changing it. For that, I’m going to try hypnosis.

On the Bayou

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We’ve been here in our new home for a week now and are loving it. We come from a much colder climate in Michigan like many of the “snowbirds” here in Florida. Al will be with me for a few more weeks and he has been great with helping me stock the house. He arranged for WiFi and is going to paint the bedroom tomorrow. We have furniture coming and we’d like to paint the whole place first, but not sure Al will want to tackle the other rooms. Meanwhile I have three sample colors I’m considering for most of the rooms.

I started Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late program. I’ll be here 12 weeks and the course is 12 weeks so I think it will be an excellent anchor, especially after Al returns to Michigan and work. I was able to get a “good enough” draft of the crime novel completed before I left Michigan, so mostly the writing I’m doing now is for the Cameron course. It’s not as difficult as the crime novel was for me … probably because my inner critic doesn’t care about my personal writing. My inner critic only pipes up when she thinks I’m trying to be clever, then she slaps me down.

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And it’s true I was trying to take a leap with the crime novel. Whether I succeed or not is TBD by my publisher. If they print it, I’ll feel I succeeded. Meanwhile, I am letting it sit for awhile in Michigan as I adjust to this new way of life on the Bayou. The library is my favorite room, this is only one shelf of about twenty. I don’t have a bookshelf in the condo yet. After painting is compete, I plan to get one. Or several. And go buy some real books at the bookstore. Meanwhile I have my Kindle and all these books in the library.

Filling the Well Redux

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For ten days, I unplugged from the electronic world. It is one of the best ways I know to “fill the well” — everyone gets depleted, and that includes creative types who love their work. Sometimes I just need to stop the normal routine and do something completely new. I came back with a fresh perspective and within hours accomplished more than I had the previous month. Yes! The book is going to galleys, finally:)

There I am on Puget Sound, 2000 miles from home, taking in the new and releasing the old. That was a week ago. Today I found the following post from 2003 (!) and thought it expressed just what I wanted to write about today. Circumstances have changed, but the idea remains the same:

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is one of my favorite all-time writing books. I use her suggestions and ideas constantly in my own writing life. One of the most convenient is the notion of “filling the well.” Until I heard Cameron explain it, I never realized that creativity was something to be nurtured, something that needed care and cultivation. I simply assumed that there was a never ending supply and that when I started to feel uninspired and cranky it was because my muse was pissed off about something I’d written.

She was pissed all right, but not in the way I believed. In truth, she wanted a break. She needed to fill the well. Happily, my muse fills the well by doing the sort of fun things I like to do when I’m not writing. She likes going on vacation, getting away from the four walls of the writing room. She likes a shake up in the routine, which should always include wild dancing and fine wine. Also friends, lovers, artist dates, good food, many laughs.

All of which I am happy to oblige her with…

This weekend, I had a fabulous couple of days with two dear friends, Kris and Ann. Ann’s lovely sister lent us her cottage on an island in the middle of Lake Erie. Since it’s pre-season, the island was only pleasantly populated with boaters out for a good time instead of it’s high summer packed party people atmosphere. We brought plenty of wine and chocolate and ate our meals out. We talked until all hours as the candles flickered down. We slept late and read our novels over coffee in the morning. On Saturday, we danced the afternoon away to an awesome cover band called New Decade. All weekend we were wild and free and my muse was in alt.

It’s always good to get home, however. Rusty missed me and Al has vacation all this week. He’s got projects around the house and I’ve offered to help with painting the garage. In the meantime, we’ve been hanging out, listening to music, sleeping late, having our own fun. Yesterday I talked him into going out to lunch, and then for dinner we fired up the barbecue. The weather’s been so fine here in Michigan. My daffodils are in bloom. Life is so very good. All of this as a way of saying I won’t be doing much writing this week. I’ll be too busy accomodating my muse by filling the well.