Spotted this on a walk the other day. Good advice, especially for writers.
Need a clue? Take a hike.
I get some of my best ideas while I’m “not working.” Washing dishes, raking, weeding, walking. In fact, I often write while walking whether I intend to or not. There’s something about moving the body that gets the brain working creatively, and, for many writers, there’s something specifically about walking that works.
I find that getting an idea isn’t the hard part. For me the hard part is how to nourish that idea—how to keep feeding it so it stays alive and grows into something more.
For me, holding a whole story in my mind and heart is hard. With 300 or 400 pages of thoughts and actions, stuff gets lost. I can’t count the number of times (don’t even want to know!) I have written a scene only later to go back and find that scene doesn’t make sense because of something that came before it. One of the ways I know to keep the whole story fresh in my mind is to tell it to myself as I would tell it to a friend. And the best way I’ve found to do that is to put on my sneakers and start walking. As I walk, I imagine a good friend next to me, and I tell her the story like I’d tell the story of another book I read and really loved.
Over the course of a year or two or three or however long it takes to write that story, I will have to tell it to myself over and over again.
What about when I don’t know the whole thing? How does a writing walk help then? Well, I tell myself what I know so far about the people in the story and what’s happening to them. Walking while imagining my people lets me get out of my own head and my own way and immerse myself in the world of my story. On a good day I can write an entire scene in an hour walk.
Next time you’re feeling stuck or feel like you could use some fresh energy, hit the trails. (Don’t forget to take a small notebook or a smartphone!)
Every writer has that moment (or moments) when they worry about their work. Will I finish? Will it be good enough? Do I have anything to say? Will my husband, mother, best friend still like me if I publish this? What if I fail? And on the list goes. Self-doubt is part of the creative process. Actually, a better headline for this post would be: Fear, dear writers, but write anyway.
As I work on the rewrite of my next novel, I'm dealing with some fears of my own, so I asked some author friends how they deal with their inner Doubting Thomas or Thomasina. Their inspirational and funny answers follow.
Fear vs. reality
"I think it's about realizing that fear is just a feeling. It's not the truth. I used to think that being afraid meant, ‘I can't write.’ Now I know it just means I'm afraid. With more experience, you learn to tolerate the fear and accept it as part of the process... but certainly not the final word on the work itself." – Attica Locke, author of Black Water Rising
"The 'Doubting Thomas' will never go away completely, but you can learn to ignore it (the NLP technique of changing the sound of the voice to, say, Mickey Mouse, works great) or balance it with more positive voices. Meditation is a great way to learn the difference between your internal monologue and sensations...and the real you." – Steven Barnes, author of Shadow Valley and co-author with Tananarive Due and Blair Underwood of the Tennyson Hardwick mysteries. (more…)
Both are about creating something where before there was nothing. Bare ground, blank page. With both, the best stuff comes when we dig deep. With both, we strive for beauty and for contributing something to the world around us.
My husband and I started out with a plan for our front yard, which we mostly followed. We had the rock company put the boulders where we wanted them, and we planted evergreen shrubs and trees where we wanted. We (when I’m referring to hard physical labor and say “we,” I mean “he”) dug up the lawn with a sod cutter. Then we (this one includes me too) laid down long sheets of brown paper to cover the weedy soil, which we topped with a few tons (literally) of recycled wood mulch. We let this sit for a winter and then the next spring we started planting perennials — blue flax, yarrow, California poppies, black-eyed Susans, moonbeam coreopsis, fire witch dianthus (how could a writer resist these names?). And we (well, ok, I) strayed a bit from the plan. (more…)
The voice that tells you you’re no good as a writer and you’ll never be any good is not the devil. It’s your mother, your father or your ex. You know it’s not the devil because you can easily vanquish this voice. If you write every day, your mother, your father or your ex will one day say, “hmm,” and start in on how you need a haircut or point out how many calories are in the muffin you just ate. No, the devil is slicker than that. And he’s not out to hurt your feelings. He wants to confuse you because confusion will keep you from achieving your goal. So the devil says things like “hey, that’s good, but you know what would be better?” After you’re halfway through your story, the devil tells you to try third person instead of first, and to rename all your characters after Greek gods and goddesses because the symbolism will heighten the drama.
This is going to shock you, but I’m here to say: listen to the devil. (more…)
I’m an anxious person by nature. My instinct is to worry first and ask questions later. In the spirit of accepting myself, I have to acknowledge there’s a lot of good that comes with that, especially for a working writer. A worrier stays on top of things—we don’t miss many deadlines. But it takes a toll too. How much more could I accomplish if I freed up some of that anxious energy? What if striving to meet a deadline could feel more like free-writing? How much more creative might I be then?
A few years ago I came across Buddhist metta (loving kindness) meditation, a way to build compassion for one’s self and others. Anxiety makes my chest feel tight and makes my whole body close up. Metta is about opening your heart and allowing that open feeling to radiate to other people. There are various takes on this meditation, but in general you prepare yourself by getting comfortable and quiet and taking a few deep breaths or allowing your breath to get even. One of the “tricks” I’ve learned to instill a loving feeling before you begin is to imagine singing a lullaby to a baby or to picture a beloved pet. Then recite to yourself a few simple statements such as:
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be healthy.
May I be free from fear.
May I be free from suffering.
Then you move on to someone close to you. A mentor, a friend. Then to relatives and more friends. Then to someone “neutral” (a stranger or someone you have no strong feelings about). Then to someone you don’t like or someone who has hurt you. Finally, everybody—all creatures.
In a hard place with my current novel (It sucks. I suck. Everything sucks.), I decided to try a little loving kindness for my writerly self. The following is what I’ve come up with. It helps me. Maybe it’ll help you too. Try it before you sit down to write. (more…)